15 January 2018

Wandering Peregrine

It's not often we get the chance to read colour-rings on Peregrines outside of the breeding season, as birds are often hard to pin down to a single location to read the ring. But with a few local photographers becoming more aware of the various colour-ringing projects we run, the chances of reading rings on fly-by birds is increasing.

But it was a member of the ringing group who photographed a passing Peregrine near Predannack Airfield yesterday, only to find it was wearing a yellow colour-ring.

The group has been using yellow colour rings on Peregrines for several years now, so we presumed it was a local bird, but it was a surprise to find it was actually ringed as a chick in north Cornwall in 2016. We've had a few long-distance movements before of our own birds, but it's always nice to have a surprise like this. Thanks to Tony Blunden for the photo and Tony John for confirming the details for the bird.

7 January 2018

Returning Sibe Chiff kicks off 2018

In the first mist-netting venture of the year, it only seemed right to head to the sewage works. So just two of us braved the early morning frost to get a few nets up at Gwennap Sewage Works. It took a while for the sun to stir up the insects enough to get birds moving, but once they did (and with the addition of a 'sewage mix' on the MP3) we didn't do too bad, ending up with 62 birds.

The total included 23 Chiffchaffs, two of which were Siberian 'tristis' Chiffchaffs. Interestingly, one of these was already carrying a ring, having been ringed at Gwennap in December 2016. This is only the second time we've recaught a tristis in a subsequent winter, adding to the evidence that these are returning wintering birds, not lost vagrants.

Of just as much interest was the recapture of the bird below, originally ringed in September 2016 in North Norfolk! This was presumably a recent autumn arrival in Norfolk when ringed, so was presumably from points north/east.

Just to round off the day nicely, and very typical of this autumn/winter, we ringed an impressive NINE Firecrest, which is a good winter total, never mind from one morning.

29 December 2017

First Chiffchaffs of the winter

Mist-netting has been a bit slow of late, but with the weather finally turning cold and the wind amazingly light we took the opportunity to make our first visit to the local sewage works. First stop was Gwennap, where as many as 65 Chiffchaffs were feeding in low hedges and bushes around the site, so with just two nets we were able to catch 35 birds, including a single 'tristis' bird and also two birds ringed last winter (both on 5th January). We only caught five adults, so two ringed was a reasonable ratio!

Next stop was Carnon Downs, where there were fewer Chiffchaffs (perhaps just 25), but they were all now in the tops of the trees in the warmer afternoon, so we only caught a single bird. But we did see another 'tristis' bird and also a ringed bird, so we'll be back again as soon as the wind and weather are favourable.

Apologies for the lack of photos, but we were a bit busy ringing birds to take photos...

14 November 2017

Lost Greenland White-front reunited with family

White-fronted Goose isn't the commonest bird in Cornwall, so Alan James was happy enough to find and photograph one on 1st November at Marazion Marsh. This was no ordinary bird though as it was carrying an orange neck collar and also a data logger.

Having spotted this we quickly emailed Tony Fox who was almost certainly responsible in some way for this bird. Thanks to Tony for the very quick response, which is summarised here.

Orange V3Y was a Greenland White-fronted Goose ringed at a place called Hvanneyri in west Iceland on 23rd September 2017 and was fitted with a GPS logging device and solar cell. Whilst at Hvanneyri it associated with CDZ (a juvenile male), another adult female fitted with a GPS logger and an unringed adult (probably male) that evaded capture. This small social group moved to a farm called Leirulækjarsel in Mýrar on 25th September where they remained until they departed.

The team don't have online access to live tracking data from V3Y, but the other GPS-tagged bird left Leirulækjarsel at around midday on 28th October en route to its wintering grounds in southern Ireland. What happened next is pretty amazing, because it made southern Ireland safely on its way south no problems, passing over Co Waterford at 4:30am on 29th October but seemed to not realise it was so close to Wexford! It continued southwards for some reason, eventually doing a tour of the Channel Islands and Brest in Brittany before turning back north, reaching Tacumshin in Co Wexford at 5:30am on 30th October. It rested only briefly before continuing north to Wexford Slobs, arriving at 7:20am the same day.

The GPS track of one (or all?) of the social group, all in under two days!
Without its own tracking data, the best guess is that V3Y followed a similar route for the majority of the journey, but got separated from the flock before turning up at Marazion Marsh on 1st November. But the story does have a happy ending, as John Wilson (who started the tracking project of Greenland White-fronted Geese back in 1983, resighted the whole social group (CDZ, V3Y, the GPS-logged bird and the unringed adult) at Wexford North Slob on 8th November. So despite an impromptu stop-off in Cornwall, V3Y found her way home eventually and rejoined her family!

**UPDATE** Thanks to Reuben Veal for adding to the story, as the bird he reported from St Gothian Sands on 5th November was V3Y, adding extra detail to this fascinating story!

Many thanks to Alan for allowing us to use his photo and to Tony for the rapid reply and very comprehensive history of this social group.

9 October 2017

Mixed fortunes for Cornish Barn Owls in 2017

Just before we get carried away with ringing autumn migrants, it's a good time to have a look back at the 2017 Barn Owl season. With extra project funding coming in and new boxes located and/or erected it's been a busy summer!

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Sites visited 32 34 32 44 41 47 64
Unoccupied 2
Occupied but no breeding 13
Average clutch size
(where observed)
4.8 4.1 3.6 4.6 4.6 4.6 5.3
Average brood size
(where observed)
3.1 3.1 2.4 3.5 3.5 2.8 3.0
Number of chicks ringed 33 46 19 63 70 47 90

With so many new boxes put up in recent years (thanks to generous funding from Paradise Park), it's perhaps not surprising that the apparent occupancy rate was slightly down in 2017, but this will no doubt improve over time as birds move into some of the newer boxes. The relatively dry spring would have been quite good for rodent numbers, but it was still surprising to find so many large clutches, with an average of 5.3 being the highest we've seen since we started monitoring in 2011.

However, as the weather deteriorated into the summer, we weren't expecting quite such large clutches and this proved to be true, Most sites saw quite significant brood reduction, though the average brood size of 3.1 was still pretty good given the conditions. After the four complete failures in 2016, we only saw two this year which is more normal. We also some failures just after fledging, with two chicks from one brood found dead in surrounding fields soon after fledging, and two chicks from another found dead in a water trough a month after fledging.

But the total of 90 chicks ringed was also our highest to date and hopefully we'll break the 100 barrier next year. As far as adults go, we retrapped several adults, including one male that has now been in the same box since 2011. We also retrapped an adult originally ringed at a site in 2015 (where it raised three chicks), then found in a box just over a kilometre away in 2016 (didn't breed), but then back in it's original site for 2017, but still not breeding. It'll be interesting to see if it breeds next year, and if so where.

22 September 2017

Scottish Osprey drops into Devoran

Late summer and early autumn sees small numbers of Osprey staging in Cornwall on their southbound journey to west Africa. The wooded creeks and rivers that feed into Carrick Roads seem to be particularly favourable. Devoran Creek has had two individuals for the last few weeks and one of these juvenile birds was sporting a coded blue ring on the left leg. This instantly identified it as a Scottish bird as birds originating in England and Wales receive a colour ring on the right leg. Despite being quite showy the bird typically remained just out of range to read the ring, but with persistent observation and some digiscoping the ring was finally read as JF1.

This bird was ringed as a chick on 13th July this year near Monymusk, Aberdeenshire, by Grampian Ringing Group; one of a brood of three. On size, it was deemed likely to be a male and this is the first confirmed sighting of JF1 since leaving the nest.

JF1 in the nest just after ringing

With various Ospreys being seen elsewhere in the county it is very much worth looking out for these impressive birds and, if you’ve got your eye in, reading a colour ring! Thanks to Greg Wills for the words and pictures and Ewan Weston for the photo of JF1 in the nest.

9 September 2017

Curlew mystery solved

Thanks to Greg Wills for penning this post about his persistence in tracking down a mystery colour-ringed Curlew:

High tide roosts provide a perfect opportunity to pick through wader flocks for more unusual species and colour-ringed individuals. Gorrangorras Creek, adjoining Penryn River, plays host to one such roost, where birds gather on one of the few shingle banks waiting for the tide to retreat. The gathering typically holds good numbers of curlews and on 18th August a quick scan revealed a bird sporting a yellow colour ring. Due to worsening light, the complete code couldn't be determined and so a nervous wait took place hoping the bird would be present the next day in order to reveal the story the rings had to tell.

The following day after a brief walk further along the river, the flock was once again present; this time with distance and light on our side. The single ring instead revealed itself as a four-ring combination, all on the tibia.

Now the puzzle really began! The two lower rings were obviously metal and yellow, though the upper rings seemed off-white, something that needs to be checked with some scrutiny with light blue and light green (lime) rings all used regularly in schemes. And so ensued much deliberation between the observers, forum conversations and Curlew ringers across Europe. After much to-ing and fro-ing, the identity was confirmed as being an adult female ringed light blue/yellow, light blue/metal, ringed on its breeding grounds near Ladbergen, Steinfurt, Germany on 18th May 2012. She has returned to the same breeding area every year until 2017.

This isn't the first German-ringed Curlew to be found in Cornwall, with a bird from the same scheme Red/Metal, Red/Green seen at Rosemullion in August 2014. There was also a 25-year-old German-ringed bird killed by a bird of prey at Gwithian, a 20-year-old bird found dead near St Mawes and an 18-year-old bird hit by a car near Carnon Downs.

Thank you to Gerrit Gerritsen and Christian Kipp for their assistance in confirming the identity. Christian’s father Manfred has ringed round about 3,000 Curlews in Germany and between them they have resighted 160 colour-ringed birds in their breeding areas, most of them in Steinfurt.

3 September 2017

August at Nanjizal

Whilst September is the official start of autumn, migration has been in full swing at Nanjizal during August. During the month, there was no coverage from the 14th-20th (peak Sedge Warbler passage) due to family holidays and a short period at the start of the month. None the less, a non-too-shabby total of 1,698 new birds was achieved. Unlike a lot of coastal sites, good numbers of birds at Nanjizal usually coincide with still clear nights where the birds can pick good habitat, rather than being happy to land on the first bit of land they see whilst flying through inclement weather. As you can see from the totals the main species trapped are species that have a tendency to migrate SSW in autumn, with Sedge Warbler and Blackcap both funnelling down in big numbers. This funnel affect also brings a good number of dispersing British Robin, as we always get good numbers at the end of August into September. Other species such as Willow Warbler are never in such large numbers.

Top 10 species ringed in August
Sedge Warbler 837 Reed Warbler 80
Whitethroat 192 Grasshopper Warbler 56
Willow Warbler 176 Robin 56
Blackcap 107 Wren 25
Chiffchaff 102 Garden Warbler 14

Ringed birds recaught during the month came from Scotland, Leicestershire, Wales, Cheshire and Belgium, all bar one being Sedge Warblers. Most species seem to have done OK, with Whitethroat, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Grasshopper Warblers picking up after a slow start. Song Thrush seem to have done very well locally. Other unusual species ringed included seven Tree Pipit, two Firecrest and two Spotted Flycatcher.

The month also saw a few rare and scarce birds appear in the nets, predominantly birds from the south, as there hasn't been much arriving on the east coast to filter down. A blast of south-eastlies on the 22nd seemed to do the trick and a good run started with a Wryneck on the 24th, white-spotted Bluethroat on the 25th (one of 224 birds ringed that day). The 26th then produced the second Melodious Warbler of the month (the first was on the early date of 10th) and for the second month in a row a Blyth's Reed Warbler, this time a first-year bird.

30 August 2017

Something odd afoot in the Kittiwake world?

I'm not one for coincidences, but in all our years of colour-ringing Kittiwakes we've only ever had one sighting away from a breeding colony (a bird photographed at sea - more here) and no dead birds found. So it was a bit unusual that in one month we have reports of two dead birds and also two resightings. The first was one of this year's Trewavas Head chicks, found dead just a month later (on 12th August) at the unlikely location of Zeeland in The Netherlands. A second bird was then found dead in mid-August on Cape Clear Island off Co Cork, Ireland. UJ had also been ringed as a chick at Trewavas Head, in 2016.

The two sightings were both of birds at Porthgwarra (near Land's End), photographed by Jon Greep on 29th August. CP was ringed as an adult in 2013 and has been seen at Trewavas Head several times since, but always early in the season, never seen to be breeding. E2 was also ringed as an adult, in 2015, but hasn't been seen since. So we do wonder if these were both young, non-breeding birds when ringed.

So whether this run of unusual Kittiwake records is related to the same weather systems that have brought large numbers of seabirds over into the eastern Atlantic is unknown, but it does seem a very odd coincidence.

19 July 2017

Short summer summary

It's been a while since we blogged, but it doesn't mean we've not been busy. We're now at a stage where there are only two Barn Owl broods left to be ringed (with the running total now over 95 birds ringed this season), so will be looking at the numbers soon. It feels like the season started well, with plenty of large clutches, but has since gone downhill, with much smaller broods and a few failed sites. One site even had four large chicks where two attempted to fledge early and sadly ended up predated.

The limit of the first flight of one of the birds fledged from the barn in the background
Away from Barn Owls, our other main summer ringing once again focused on seabirds, with mixed fortunes. Our annual gull-ringing trip to Mullion Island was a quick affair, with the island seemingly devoid of gulls. In fact, we only found and ringed five chicks, which is the lowest number since 2013.

Slightly more successful were our Kittiwake trips to Trewavas Head, where we have continued to read colour rings on many of our own birds (43 from previous years) and also several French birds, some of which are now breeding here. We've also strayed further north to check the colonies Portreath and Porthmissen, the later being so much quieter than in previous years. From the precarious viewpoint at Porthmissen Bridge it's possible to see most of the ledges, but the photos below show large areas of the colony have failed completely, with around 60 nests still with chicks.

The occupied area of the colony...
...and the depressingly quiet deserted ledges
One of the two French-ringed birds at Porthmissen this week, ringed as a chick in 2003

If reading colour rings takes patience then reading metal rings is a whole different ball game! But two rings read in the last week were both worth the effort, even more so as they were both on upside down! A Cormorant at Helston Boating Lake was ringed as a chick on Little Saltee Island, Co Wexford, in 2016, and a Black-headed Gull at Swanpool, Falmouth (below) was ringed as an adult in Dorset in 2011.