18 May 2017

Hola TBZ and a Chough update

After a day out ringing Chough chicks in the far west of the county (more on that later) it was a pleasant surprise to find an email reporting one of our Mullion Island Cormorants in Spain! We've had a bird seen in France before, but Spain is a great record. It's not unprecedented though, and two chicks ringed in Cornwall in the 1960s were later found dead on the north coast of Spain. But this is the first live sighting.

TBZ was ringed in 2016 and was seen near Castropol on the northwest coast of Spain, so thanks to Gilberto Sánchez Jardón for the photo and for reporting it back to us.

As for Choughs, it was mixed news sadly... We visited three sites in West Penwith: the first produced two male and two female chicks, the second just a single chick and the last nest site was empty! This was rather surprising as the pair had been showing all the usual behaviours seen when feeding young, but the nest (below) was very clean and obviously hadn't held any chicks.

Thanks to Alan and Christian who came along to ensure that we safely got into these sites, so do check out their Rope Geeks page on Facebook. Also thanks to Robbie Phillips for the photos.

15 May 2017

A very Lizard day

As part of the celebrations for the extension of the Lizard National Nature Reserve the group ran a ringing demonstration at the weekend at Windmill Farm, which is jointly owned by Cornwall Bird Watching & Preservation Society and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

It was great to see a few young faces coming along to see what we do and we were able to show them a variety of birds, including some long-distance migrants, some local breeders and even a very recently fledged young Blackbird.

Whilst down on the Lizard we also took the opportunity of a low tide to get into one of the sea caves to ring the first of the year's Cornish Choughs. After a climb and a scramble it was a pleasure to find four very healthy-looking chicks in the nest, all at a perfect size for ringing. Each then got its own combination of coloured rings which will allow the dedicated band of Chough-watchers to follow their progress and movements around the county in years to come. This gives a vital understanding of the behaviour and conservation needs of this iconic Cornish species.

Leg length is one of the best ways to identify the sex of nestlings

After returning the chicks to the nest, we took the opportunity to look at their nest site from their own perspective. You can see how well-protected the nest is from the worst of the Cornish weather and also pretty safe from predators. Perched at the top of an isolated sea cave, their view of the outside world is limited - for now.

10 May 2017

Glow in the dark owls

Yesterday saw us doing our first round of Barn Owl nestbox checks, covering just 13 sites on the Lizard (but almost 100 miles of driving). It looks like this will be a good year, perhaps following on from a very dry spring. Most of the boxes we checked had clutches of five or six eggs, several of which were just in the process of hatching, with many boxes also having very full 'larders' of rodent prey. Quite a few of these sites were new ones for 2017 as well, so with occupancy rates very high this is again an encouraging sign for a productive season.

Newly-hatched chicks still dwarfed by some of the prey stashed for them!

It is always useful for us to catch the adults in the boxes, as we can track the repeated breeding efforts of birds across years, but also any birds caught can be returned to the box, where they invariably settle back down straight away to continue incubating or brooding. We've also been looking at using a small UV torch to better see distinctions between old and new flight feathers in adult birds, which can help in ageing them. We've not quite mastered this yet, but the photo below shows the pattern on one bird, with two new moulted flight feathers fluorescing pink against the surrounding older feathers. ore info on this technique can be found online (http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1676/09-125.1).

4 May 2017

Welsh Kittiwake moves house

We're quite used to seeing colour-ringed French Kittiwakes in our Cornish colonies (24 different birds in the last five years), but birds from elsewhere are few and far between. In Cornwall, birds have been found dead originating from Norway (Porthtowan in 2013), Northumberland (two birds), Northern Ireland (two birds) and Wales (two birds). So it was a pleasant surprise to find a red-ringed bird in the colony at Portreath yesterday, which I knew was from Puffin Island, Anglesey. At first it wasn't clear if it was AXE or AXF, but after some patient sitting and watching (such a hardship on a sunny clifftop) it eventually shuffled and revealed it was in fact AXF.

Thanks to Steve Dodd for the quick reply on the bird and it was another surprise. I presumed this would be a bird ringed as a chick a few years ago, moving colony, but EY22283 was ringed as an adult female on the island in July 2016. It's not clear if this was a wandering bird when ringed rather than a breeding bird, but it does look quite settled at Portreath now!

1 May 2017

Missing out on Mullion Cormorants

The bank holiday weekend plan was to see if we could ring some of the Cormorant chicks on Mullion Island, so a group of five of us paddled out on Saturday to have a look. We'd had to leave it this late as there were several nests 'behind the curve' this year, so ringing the larger chicks would have exposed the smaller chicks to predation from the many Great Black-backed Gulls also nesting on the island. However, because of the delayed visit the larger chicks were now too large to risk going onto the island, so we just satisfied ourselves with a paddle round the island counting breeding auks instead.

All was not lost over the weekend though, as a check on one of our Dipper boxes found not eggs but chicks, which were the perfect age for ringing. This was a bit unexpected, but perhaps my timings were a bit off! Sadly the second box on this stretch of river was unoccupied for the first time since we started monitoring in 2013.