Bird Ringing

Introduction to Ringing

Long term studies of the wild bird population includes the licensed catching and ringing of birds. This occurs throughout the world and in GB is organised and managed by the British Trust for Ornithology. A number of licensed ringers are operating within three Ringing Groups in Northamptonshire and I work within the Northants Ringing Group (NRG). 

Regular ringing occurs at a handful of sites with less regular activity at a variety of locations. Of the well-known birding locations within the county, probably the most active sites for ringing include Pitsford Reservoir, Stanford Reservoir, Stanwick Gravel Pits, Earls Barton Gravel Pits and Stortons Gravel Pits. Pitsford is a regular venue for us with most of the ringing occurring within the Wildlife Trust reserve. Preliminary ringing totals for Northamptonshire for 2016 and previous years can be accessed by visiting the BTO Home Page, clicking on Ringing under 'Core Surveys' and then clicking 'on-line reports'.


Common Snipe






Short-eared Owl
Jay






Maps are now available to show some of the movements of our
international recoveries.  By way of example, the following map
refers to a Fieldfare caught locally and then found in west Finland.
LC22245 Adult 07-12-2010   Heyford Hills, near Nether Heyford: 52°12'N 1°3'W (Northamptonshire)
Freshly dead 06-05-2011   Kuhmo: 64°1'N 29°51'E (Oulu) Finland 2,223km NE 0y 4m 29d 


Another example is a Blackbird found dead in our garden which had
originally been ringed in the Netherlands.  The British Isles are
clearly important wintering/passage areas for our northern thrushes.

NLA First-year Female 14-10-2010  Reddingbootpad: 53°15'N 4°57'E (Vlieland) The Netherlands
L350952 Freshly dead (predated) 29-01-2011   Hanging Houghton, Brixworth: 52°21'N 0°54'W (Northamptonshire) 406km WSW 0y 3m 15d 







Chase Park Farm ringing report 2015.

During 2015 I made 11 visits to the farm for the specific purpose of ringing, totalling 34 hours and 20 visits for the purpose of nest box checking and general recording totalling another 43 hours.
The highlight this year for me was the chance to ring a Raven that had been trapped in one of the Gamekeepers Larson traps. This was a magnificent bird and whilst I have seen Ravens before this was the first opportunity to see one close up.



During my 11 ringing visits to the farm I caught a total of 397 birds of which 193 were new adults, 148 nestlings and 56 re-traps (birds ringed during previous visits and/or years). The species caught this year were.
Species
Full grown
Pulli
Retraps
Total
Sparrowhawk
1
0
0
1
Great Spotted Woodpecker
1
0
1
2
Wren
4
0
1
5
Dunnock
10
0
1
11
Robin
9
0
3
12
Blackbird
4
0
0
4
Song Thrush
1
0
0
1
Blackcap
7
0
0
7
Chiffchaff
1
0
0
1
Willow Warbler
2
0
0
2
Goldcrest
2
0
0
2
Long-tailed Tit
13
0
0
13
Marsh Tit
3
0
1
4
Coal Tit
5
0
2
7
Blue Tit
101
77
34
212
Great Tit
19
67
13
99
Jay
1
0
0
1
Jackdaw
0
3
0
3
Raven
1
0
0
1
Chaffinch
5
0
0
5
Greenfinch
0
1
0
1
Goldfinch
1
0
0
1
Bullfinch
2
0
0
2
Chase Park Farm Total
193
148
56
397

During my 31 visits in total this year (Ringing, feeder refills and general walks) I recorded the following species.
Blackbird
Greenfinch
Red-legged Partridge
Blackcap
Grey Heron
Redwing
Blue Tit
Grey Partridge
Reed Bunting
Bullfinch
Grey Wagtail
Robin
Buzzard
House Martin
Rook
Canada Goose
House Sparrow
Skylark
Carrion Crow
Jackdaw
Song Thrush
Chaffinch
Jay
Sparrowhawk
Chiffchaff
Kestrel
Starling
Coal Tit
Lapwing
Stock Dove
Collared Dove
Little Owl
Swallow
Cuckoo
Long-tailed Tit
Tawny Owl
Dunnock
Magpie
Teal
Fieldfare
Mallard
Whitethroat
Goldcrest
Marsh Tit
Willow Warbler
Golden Plover
Moorhen
Woodpigeon
Goldfinch
Pheasant
Wren
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Pied/White Wagtail
Yellowhammer
Great Tit
Raven
Green Woodpecker
Red Kite

There are now 28 Blue/Great Tit, 4 Barn Owl, 2 Tawny Owl, 2 Little Owl, 2 Kestrel and 5 Treecreeper nest boxes that I monitor around the farm plus the nest boxes that Mrs Armstrong has in her garden. Again none of the Tawny Owl or Kestrel boxes were used but one of the Barn Owl boxes had a roosting bird and evidence, in the form of multiple pellets that the box is used on a frequent basis.
The two Woodpecker boxes were not used by Woodpeckers but one was used by a Great Tit who must have spent ages gathering all the moss that lined the box. The new design of Treecreeper box were not used by the target species but two were used by Blue Tits with the nest and brood crammed into the small internal space. One Little Owl box was used by a Jackdaw and the other has yet to be used although Little Owls have been seen in the vicinity.


Nick Wood.
Northants Ringing Group.       




Portugal 2017.

The following images relate to a trip to Portugal in September 2017 when members of the Northants Ringing Group migrated to warmer climes to assist in bird migration studies on the fabulous Santo Andre reserve south of Lisbon...



Woodchat Shrike
courtesy of Neil Hasdell.

Iberian Magpie.

Bluethroat.


Wryneck.

Nightjar.

Little Owl.

Crested Tit.

Northern Wheatear.

Savi's Warbler.



In July 2018, Northants Ringing Group member Kenny Cramer ventured north to assist the
Sule Skerry Ringing Group to ring Puffins and other sea-birds. In some respects this could be regarded as 'extreme ringing' as the regime is rather relentless and punishing on this low rock some hours off the mainland of Scotland. Here Kenny tells his story...


Trip Report – Sule Skerry 20 – 27th July 2018
Prologue

After 3 years of anticipation, I finally hit the road on Wednesday 18th July with the plan to stop off at an old school friend’s place in Glasgow. The first leg of the journey was uneventful apart from several large stretches of roadworks on the M1/M6 which slowed my progress. I hit Glasgow just after 6pm and settled down to reminiscing over dinner and a few beers with my pal Jonathan.
The next day, I set off towards Dundee for another catch up session, but not before having a drive around my old stomping grounds in the village where I grew up. It’s always an emotional, bittersweet experience reliving those fond old memories but it feels somehow necessary whenever I’m in the area.

I arrived in Dundee mid-afternoon and after a brief stop at my friend Barry’s place, we headed out to Anstruther to sample some award winning fish and chips. It was a perfect day for a fish supper by the seaside and all too soon it was time to head back to get my head down for the night.

After an amazing cooked breakfast (I had no idea Barry could cook!), Friday morning was the day I set off into the unknown for the final leg of my northerly journey. The A9 seemed to stretch on forever but the stunning scenery, a few good tunes, and the anticipation of what lay ahead kept me going until I finally pulled into the car park of The Weigh Inn, Thurso.

From my comfortably appointed room I had stunning views across the Pentland Firth and could just about make out the MV Halton waiting in Scrabster harbour. I treated myself to a hearty steak for dinner and a couple of local beers would help send me off to sleep in a proper bed for the final time before the real adventure began.

Day 1 - Saturday

I rose from a broken sleep around 7am, savoured my final shower and made my way down to breakfast. I opted for the Full Scottish (it would have been rude not to!) which consisted of bacon, pork link, square sausage, black pudding, haggis and potato scone. At breakfast I scanned the room trying to see if I could spot anyone else who might be on the trip, but apart from a few salty sea dogs, everyone else looked like families on more conventional summer holidays.

I did my final bits of organising luggage then headed down to Scrabster with plenty of time to find the Halton. I got to the end of the A9 with a palpable sense of reaching the point of no return, and quickly spied the boat moored in the first harbour. I was apparently the first one there as I pulled alongside and started to change into my waterproofs and unload my barrels.

A few minutes passed and two more cars arrived containing Jenny, Toby and Gary. After greeting my first Sulemates, we were met by Vicky, one of the crew of the Halton, who instructed us on lowering our barrels and bags down to the boat using ropes – the tide was out and the deck of the Halton was a good 15 feet below the harbour. A very chatty type, Vicky started to fill us in on the previous weeks’ action, the challenges of the initial load out, and the drama of one of the participants, Colin, having been helicoptered off with a broken leg.

Next to arrive was George, finally followed by Phil who had been issued with a shopping list for re-stocking some essential supplies on the island. We loaded their kit, then took our cars to the parking area in a farm at the top of the hill just before the road dips into Scrabster. We accompanied Phil to Lidl to assist with the shopping then got aboard while Phil parked his car and walked back.
Bob, the captain of the Halton, gave us a quick safety briefing, which included showing a map of the general area we would be traversing. What stood out to me were the spots on the map helpfully labelled as “Area to be avoided.” Not wishing to appear ignorant, I resisted the urge to ask why they were to be avoided and opted to believe that this was due to the abundance of sea monsters in these parts.

The boat had a comfortable sitting area with tea and coffee making facilities, and taking the ladder down below decks led to a corridor with a toilet and 6 cabins, each containing bunk beds.

Before long, the engines revved up and we were manoeuvring out of the harbour on the start of our 5 hour crossing. The excitement got the better of me and I went out on deck to watch us pulling away from Scrabster and heading out to sea. We were quickly surrounded by gannets, puffins, bonxies, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and guillemots. A common dolphin briefly surfaced next to the boat. The sea was quite rough and the boat was bumping up and down on the waves, which occasionally sprayed over the few of us still on deck, determined to spot an avian rarity or cetacean.

Eventually I was the only one left on deck, getting wetter and wetter, and starting to feel the effects of the constantly churning seas. I decided to quickly visit the bathroom and get my head down in one of the cosy looking cabins for the remainder of the trip. It was a good plan but I found that as soon as I was inside the boat, out of sight of the horizon, and desperately trying to keep myself upright, the nauseating effect was amplified and exacerbated by staring at the contents of the toilet swilling around.

I managed to hold myself together long enough to collapse into an empty bunk and close my eyes. Having not had a good night’s sleep for at least 3 days, I was quickly asleep but awoke shivering in the chilly sea air. After re-adjusting and adding an extra layer of clothing I slept on until I sensed the engines drop, signalling our arrival.

Gingerly making my way up on deck, I was met by a stiff wind and drizzle which was quickly pushed from my mind by the sight of Sule Skerry, and the thousands upon thousands of seabirds swirling around and around. The boat was circling while a rib ferried us across to the landing point. I briefly greeted the folks who were leaving the island before I received my instruction to get on the rib. This was challenging in the swell, requiring a certain amount of timing, but soon Toby and I were speeding across the last stretch of water between us and Sule.

In a few short minutes, we were clambering up the rocks on the other side, into the waiting arms of our island hosts. Re-adjusting to be being on dry-(ish) land, we quickly gathered our belongings and were led up the old train track to the main camp and were ushered into a shed where tea was being served. Once everyone was present, we were introduced to Mick, Roger, Candice, and Garry who were part of team spending the entire 3 week trip on the island.

After a briefing from Mick, a very welcome meal of Tuna and Pasta was served. By the door, a whiteboard listed the bird numbers for the trip so far, offering a tantalising glimpse of what lay ahead in the coming days. It was decided that it was too wet to put up tents that evening, so we were divided up amongst the spare tents and the dinner shed (affectionately referred to as the Sports Bar.)

That first night attracted very little sleep and despite being warm when I went to bed, I woke in the early hours feeling cold and needing a pee. I found my way to the toilet shed in the semi-dark, added a few extra layers, and got a bit more shut eye before the camp started to rouse and prepare for the day’s activities.

Day 2 – Sunday

Having chosen to sleep in the Sports Bar, I was soon awoken from a broken sleep by people coming in to get the kettle going. At 5am, the first order of business was to gather up the newly fledged pufflings that had congregated around the lighthouse during the night and were hiding in amongst empty barrels, water drums and the assorted flotsam of our kit. We had soon collected over a hundred rather bemused looking pufflings and deposited them in keeping boxes where they would be safe from marauding gulls and bonxies until dark.

After pufflings, cereal and tea, the east rail and north ridge net runs were opened for catching adult puffins. Over the next few hours I learned that puffins are aggressive, scratchy, bitey little bleeders, capable of administering a painful nip, even through thick gloves. In the first hour, I managed to drop and lose my special ‘E’ pliers that had kindly been lent to me by Neil, and resorting to normal pliers slowed me down. Fortunately, Gary found my E pliers which was a massive relief and helped speed me to 40 new birds, keeping us all busy until 10am when a cooked breakfast/brunch was served.
By this time, I was ravenous and very ready for the steaming plate of bacon, eggs, beans and tomatoes that awaited me.

After brunch, the next activity planned was a visit to the gannet colony which was just a short distance from our camp. These beautiful, powerful and dangerous birds were simply awesome, and learning how to handle them and to close a K ring was a challenge, but soon everyone was gaining confidence and by lunch time we had ringed and colour marked over 40 birds.

Lunch was a simple pasta salad with optional bread, cheese and biscuits. We took the opportunity of a dry spell to quickly get our tents up and I transferred my kit out of the Sports Bar.
No time was wasted and soon we were setting off to the periphery of the island in search of guillemots and shags. Learning how to close the special triangular Guillemot rings was another good skill to get to grips with, and we had plenty of opportunity to practice on both adults and chicks. Along the way we also picked up several shag chicks and I stumbled across a great black backed gull chick which was almost perfectly camouflaged as a chunk of granite amongst the vegetation.

We also found a couple of bonxie chicks on our travels which we did not ring as we were awaiting a fresh supply of colour rings, due to come ashore with Jez the next day. Their locations were carefully noted for future reference.

These activities took us up to dinner time by which time we were all famished again. Sausage, mash and gravy once again filled us up, and talk turned to the final activity of the day. It had been intended to try and get a storm petrel session in, but the increasing wind and drizzle led us to abandon this plan and our last task was to ring and release the pufflings collected that morning, under the cover of darkness.

Wing and weight were collected on these birds as useful fledging data, after which they were bagged up and taken to the east landing for release. There was something very special about launching these hardy little birds on their first voyage out to sea. As soon as they touched the water, instinct kicked in and they immediately started preening, swimming and diving. Hopefully by giving them this helping hand, we improved their chances of making it safely out into the open sea, avoiding the island’s top predators.

After our introductory “puffing chucking” session, it was time to catch a few hour’s shuteye with alarms set for 04:30.

Day 3 – Monday

Once again, the early part of the day consisted of grabbing a quick bowl of cereal and a cup of tea, before heading out to gather up the morning’s batch of bemused pufflings and opening the net lines that appeared to have the greatest throughput of adult puffins. It was a busy session with three of us just barely managing to keep the east rail clear.

Soon it was brunch time and it was around this point that the Halton arrived with a precious cargo of fresh bread (and Jez!) The next task was discussed and it was decided to go out and target fulmars in an area that had not yet been covered on previous days, then do more gannets after lunch. The crew of the Halton, Bob, Rachel and Ainsley bravely volunteered to join us on our fulmar session.

We hurriedly put on overalls and waterproofs to give some protection from the maelstrom of fulmar puke that awaited us, picked up a few fleyg nets in case the opportunity arose to catch any adults, and set off in earnest.

Within minutes we were knee-deep in fulmar territory (and regurgitated fish soup.) The adults proved elusive at first, but we soon learned that the trick was to approach from the direction of the wind, making it harder for them to get enough lift before we could get within netting range. The cute, fluffy chicks were much easier to deal with, provided that we could avoid the streamers of hot vomit that were jetting in our direction. We soon clocked up a respectable fulmar total, interspersed with the occasional guillemot or shag.

Just as we were getting into our stride, the weather closed in and a cold drizzle started to fall. An executive decision was made to cease operations and head back to camp, but not before we rescued a seemingly grounded gannet that appeared to be stuck in a crack in the rocks. The continuing drizzle meant that our planned afternoon visit to the gannet colony had to be cancelled, so after lunch we re-opened the puffin lines with a view to collecting an extensive set of biometrics on retraps.

As sod’s law dictates, the ringed birds seemed to know what was up and evaded the nets while we were inundated with new birds. A few hours in, we had managed to collect a decent number of retraps and as I was on the dishwashing rota, I took my leave to start getting the dishes ready for dinner, which today was a satisfying chilli con carne.

During dinner, Jez confirmed the rumours that we would have to leave the island on Wednesday due to an incoming weather front that would bring strong south-easterly winds which would whip up the swell at our landing point. This basically meant we had one more full day on the island so we made a plan for the following day to ensure that all the newbies got to handle the species they still wanted and that we used up the remaining gannet colour rings.
It also meant that this was also our last opportunity for an evening storm petrel session, so after a brief power nap, we set off down to east landing to open the nets as the clock struck midnight. 

Conditions were not perfect with a bit more wind than we would have liked, but we still managed to catch around 60 birds including around half a dozen leach’s petrel giving everyone a chance to handle this relative rarity.

Once again the lighthouse and campsite was awash with pufflings, which were merrily wandering into tents, into the ringing tent (convenient!) and into the kitchen and dining area. It’s fair to say we were literally tripping over them and after collecting several sacks full, my head finally hit the pillow at around 03:30.

Day 4 - Tuesday

My last full day on the island started at the slightly more sociable hour of 09:00 and once again involved puffin netting until breakfast. The top priority was to use up the remaining 90 or so gannet colour rings so after a hearty feed, we made our way back to the colony and set up our production line. Having had some practice in handling these big, aggressive birds and closing the tough K rings, we were a lot more efficient and rattled through the first 40 odd rings in a little over an hour. To minimise disturbance, we went back to camp for a tea break, then moved to the other side of the colony and again took an hour or so to use up the remainder.
After lunch we broke up into two groups, one group led by Garry B was aiming to mop up the last few species people wanted an opportunity to handle, while the others made a final attempt at catching retrap puffins for biometrics. I was on Garry’s group, hoping to snag a few kittiwakes and after a few puffin and fulmar shaped distractions, we soon connected with the kits which were duly ringed and colour marked. The last task was to find a bonxie chick for Gary C which was surprisingly tricky as the fluffy brown blighters were hard to spot amongst the mayweed – especially with the adult birds constantly divebombing us!
Eventually we achieved our goal and headed back to camp in the fading light for a late dinner. At the end of the last ringing day we were exhausted and ecstatic, but there was truly no rest for the ringer as we then had to start assisting with the breakdown of the camp in order to have a good amount of gear ready to go the following morning.

Once again, the final task was to ring the mass of pufflings that had been gathered through the course of the previous evening and day. Over a hundred pufflings were ringed, measured and weighed, then taken down to east landing for their maiden voyage to the open sea. By this point my ringing hand was literally aching and I was very ready for my last sleep on Sule.

Day 5 – Wednesday

The time had come for the final breakdown and to cart all our gear down to the east landing. We had the benefit that many of the water and food containers were now empty but it did make us appreciate the effort it must have taken to get all that water onto the island at the start. The path to the landing point is a fairly steep walk along the old train track which is broken and treacherous in places, necessitating a lot of chaining stuff across gaps.

Gary C and I had volunteered to go out to the boat to help load gear on, a job that is not everyone’s cup of tea as it involves bobbing around in the swell for hours on end. The benefit is that you do less walking up and down the railtrack, but the disadvantage is that if you happen to suffer from motion-sickness, it takes a long time to bring all the gear across on the rib. As it happened I found I was fine if I had a bit of fresh air, and kept my eyes locked to the horizon. The only time I started to have a problem was when carrying barrels across the deck which forced me to look down and away from the horizon. Thankfully I managed to hold it together and soon the rib was bringing the remaining Sulemates across and we were on our way.

We had brought the last few pufflings on board to let them go at sea, away from the black backs and bonxies patrolling the island and after the last ceremonial puffin chucking, I found an empty bed and slept all the way back to the mainland.

I awoke in a slightly befuddled state, wondering why the boat was no longer rocking back and forth and realised we were back at our mooring in Scrabster. I emerged, blinking into a glorious sunny evening and immediately set about unloading our gear onto the harbour side. Considering the time it took to load the boat, it seemed to take a matter of minutes to get everything off.
We then started sorting out the gear and loading up the hire van and Jez’s car. Soon, the heavy lifting was all but complete and with the adrenaline wearing off a sense of melancholy started to descend and decisions had to be made on my next move. I decided I wasn’t ready to drive or to say goodbye to my new friends just yet, so I joined the group who were planning to sleep on the boat and set off early next morning.

After some brief car juggling, we headed to the Weigh Inn for dinner and a well-earned pint. We laughed and reminisced on our adventure with a sense that we had all shared a special and unique experience. Back on the boat, the whiskey came out and we chatted into the night. One by one, people headed off to bed and despite wanting to savour every last moment, the weariness started to get the better of me. I crashed into a bunk where I immediately sank into a deep sleep and dreamed of birds.

Epilogue

By the time I surfaced on Thursday morning, Jenny, Jez and Roger had already gone. I said my goodbyes to Toby, Gary, Mick and Phil, jumped in the car and started on my journey home, taking the opportunity for a short detour to John O’Groats. After a spot of breakfast and souvenir shopping, I made my way back to Dundee for an overnight stop with Barry. On Friday I had another incredible cooked breakfast, had a quick sentimental visit to my grandad’s old house, then headed off on the long journey south.

Traffic was kind until I got to Stafford where the M6 was closed and I was taken on a lengthy detour through Stafford city centre. Further roadworks, accidents and breakdowns continually added time to the ETA shown on the SatNav and I finally pulled into my driveway at 02:30 on Saturday morning.

Massive thanks are due to the Sule veterans - Jez for all the organisation that goes on behind the scenes, Roger for his tireless gannet snagging and great cooking, Garry B for his patience, calm guidance, and manning the spring traps, Candice for looking after us all and keeping us well fed, and Mick for his leadership, enthusiasm, and wicked sense of humour.

Big hugs to my fellow 1 weekers – Toby, an excellent young man and top class birder with a great ringing career ahead of him, Gary C, father of Toby and all-round good chap with a natty taste in bandanas, Jenny – a studious and keen ornithologist, flying the flag for female ringers! George – ringer in charge at Gibraltar Point, super knowledgeable guy and my dishwashing tag team partner, and last but not least, Phil, who ably demonstrated that a few days on Sule is more than worth a few hours of extreme sea-sickness! Thanks to you all for your comradeship and company that made the trip extra special.

To everyone else on the first two weeks of the trip, I hope you had an equally awesome time and hope to be able to meet you on a future expedition.

Thanks are also due to Neil McMahon who convinced me to apply for the trip in the first place. I thoroughly enjoyed it despite all your graphic descriptions of island life!

Finally, I have to thank my better half Sarah for all her support and encouragement and managing to keep her anxiety just about in check to allow me to go off-grid to cavort with the birdies once again.

See you all next time!

Kenny


















Oct 2018

In September 2018 contingents from two ringing groups descended on a nature reserve
in Portugal, an annual event hosted by the warden at Santo Andres on the Atlantic coast south of Lisbon. Here we worked together in an effort to record migrants passing through the reserve, mostly in a southerly direction as migrants move from North Europe towards the Mediterranean and beyond.

Rory Akam, Colin Graham, Helen Franklin and myself commenced with a couple of days birding in the south and in the Castro Verde area, moving up to Santo Andres and spending the last seven days birding and ringing around the reserve. The following images depict some of the birds we saw and processed...



Yellow-legged Gull.


Shoveler.

Lesser Emperor.

Drake Shoveler.

Audouin's Gull

Short-toed Eagle.

Yellow-legged Gull.
Traditional windmill
Castro Verde.


Rock Bunting
Monchique.

Red-rumped Swallow.

Melodious Warbler.


Cattle Egret (and sheep)!

Adult male Bluethroat.

Grasshopper Warbler.

Iberian Marsh Frog.

ant sp!

Woodchat Shrike.

Sedge Warbler.





Cetti's Warbler.

Sardinian Warbler.

Spotted Flycatcher.

Savi's Warbler.

Yellow Wagtail.


European Nightjar.



Great Reed Warbler.

Yellow Wagtail.



Dunlin.

Little Owl.

Snipe.

Turnstone.

Spotless Starling.



Grasshopper Warbler.


Bar-tailed Godwit.



Wryneck/

Subalpine Warbler.

Sardinian Warbler.

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