WELCOME TO THE SORBY BRECK RINGING GROUP BLOG FOR 2015
Our group blog includes interesting anecdotes and photos to illustrate the group's ringing activities throughout 2015. Blogs for previous years can be accessed via the links below or if you are interested in a particular species, use the links on the 'Index' page.
Mute Swan Round Up (22/07/15)
Each year, Sorby Breck Ringing Group enjoys some of the highest number of ringed Mute Swans in the country included in our annual totals. This is due mainly to targeting established local breeding pairs and young broods during the summer months, and the non-breeding flocks throughout the remaining seasons. Ringed birds are both metal and colour ringed as part of our long term study into this species, which has now entered its 10th year, providing fascinating results.
Furthermore, the Group's close partnership with Yorkshire Swan Rescue rules out mechanical movements of birds to provide genuine recoveries, of which we receive hundreds every year from fellow ringers, veterinary surgeries, interested members of the public and the like.
Throughout July and August, birds in flock situations undergo their annual moult. As birds become flightless during this period, it provides a perfect opportunity to catch large numbers of birds in a single catch through the coordinated use of canoes and boats.
After many weeks of organisation, this year has finally seen the Group undertake our first ever successful moult catch of Mute Swans, targeting a small non-breeding flock in Rotherham on 18th July. The catch was well attended by both Sorby Breck members, trainees, visiting ringers and Swan Rescue volunteers, and a healthy number of birds were caught for ringing.
Our sincere thanks must go to Sheffield Canoe Club for their voluntary assistance in gently shepherding the birds to be caught, to Kane Brides from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust for his advice and guidance, to David Atkinson for the photography, and to all who attended to ensure the event could happen.
The inaugural swan round up team, July 2015
Now we have some good experience to build upon, we plan to make this an annual occasion, targeting other non-breeding moult flocks in our study area for further catches. Watch this space!
Night Shift (06/07/15)
A couple of nights this week we had an attempt to catch Nightjars at two different sites. The first night was successful and we caught a nice adult male. On the second attempt we didnt catch a Nightjar but the evening brought us a Woodcock first and then a Tawny Owl.
Everybody got something from both sessions and the fact we had a few people out meant we could double our chances by ringing different locations at the same site. We had many good views of Nightjars flying around, but the fact it was a bright moonlit night and quite breezy on the second attempt thwarted our chances. Im sure the birds could see the nets. We were all entertained by a lightning show going on behind us. People who attended were Phil, Kevin, Jess, Ian, Louie, Paul and Amy and me.
An Engaging Jay (01/07/15)
On arrival at 4 Acres Farm on 19th June, the site owner informed me of
a Jay visiting one of the feeders each day around 5pm. As it was early
morning I thought nothing more of this comment. Ringing was slower than
anticipated so I wandered over the farm-yard and scanned the adjoining
grass field. Plenty of feeding Wood Pigeon and then bobbing up and down
in the grass were 5 Mistle Thrush, some displaying juvenile plumage. I
try to record the birds I observe at my ringing sites and forward my records
to the local bird watching group SK58 Birders, however this is dependant
on the number of birds being ringed.
After nearly two hours of ringing I checked the nets and found a Jay lying in a bottom shelf. I thought of being pecked and clawed as I reached for the bird, however no such thing. The Jay made no protest, allowing me to easily remove from the net, without pecking or trying to claw me.
The ringing process also took place without protest from the Jay. I counted
11 cross-bars (black tip not counted) on the outermost greater covert,
typical for an adult. Wing length was 185mm, so within the measurements
quoted in Svensson for a male of 177-195mm. The bird also checked out
for a CP, so I recorded this Jay as 4M. Despite being alone I decided
to photograph this Jay and again the bird remained docile and was in no
way photo shy!
Red Kites (26/06/15)
Our visit to the Black Isle in Scotland this year was to coincide with Red Kite ringing. We ringed 26 chicks in all, including a brood of four; the first time our host has had two broods of four in the same season. Most were in broods of three, lying motionless amongst prey and artefacts brought into the nest. These artefacts included gloves, paper bags and flattened road kills amongst which were hedgehog, Red Squirrel and Red Deer fawn. One site was a nest alongside a parking bay in the woodland. We could look skyward and see the adults circling above, the female already in wing moult. All chicks were ringed and wing tagged.
Our thanks to Brian Little and Brian Evridge for their invite and to
Adam for his photographs.
Planning for Pulli (22/06/15)
SK58 Birders are a bird watching and recording group, concentrating on the Ordnance Survey SK58 10km square which is located around Anston and Dinnington. SK58 generously support Sorby Breck Ringing Group. The 'square' is mostly in South Yorkshire and includes part of Nottinghamshire also bordering on Derbyshire. Over many years this group along with a former SBRG ringer, Harry Vilkaitus, have placed boxes suitable for owls and raptors within the SK58 area and continue to do so.
A location map was given to me during April by SK58 Birders and I resolved to visit every box. Some of these boxes were passed on by Harry to Bryn, with whom I have checked boxes in previous years, ringing Barn Owls and Kestrels. Eleanor kindly offered to assist, so from late April we have met one day a week, apart from a couple of weeks, and visited these boxes, introducing ourselves to site owners, all of whom have welcomed us. Some boxes are derelict, overgrown or fallen down. However, so far we have inspected about 40 boxes, finding nesting or roosting Barn Owls, Little Owls, Kestrels, Jackdaws and Stock Doves.
Rings were first placed on 20th May to Stock Dove pulli and a surprisingly early clutch of Kestrel pulli due to fledge. Eleanor increased her species list with Jackdaws on 25th May, meeting on an alternative day to our usual one, to ensure success. Towards the end of May we became reasonably confident with the number of occupied boxes and agreed to target those containing nesting Little Owls (3 boxes) and Kestrels (5 boxes) on 9th June. Our planning came to fruition with rings being placed on just 2 Little Owls from 3 active nest boxes and 14 Kestrels from 4 active nest boxes. Little Owls don't seem to have fared well this year. The first box we visited contained one owlet, below, and 2 cold eggs.
At another site with nesting Little Owls we found the box empty, believed predated, however, the site owner was present and invited us to ring a brood of Swallows. We placed rings on 5 from one nest. Further nests contained eggs which we plan to re-visit. The last Kestrel box we visited is a small plastic barrel, only 3.5m above ground sited in a large tree forming part of a hedgerow.
We have a further Kestrel nest containing 5 eggs to re-visit, making 7 in total, also a Barn Owl with tiny pulli and eggs. I inform SK58 of the birds we find so their members can make regular follow up visits. For example, the 4 Kestrels ringed on 20th May were observed in early June having fledged and sat on top of a nearby horse shelter waiting to be fed by their parents. Thanks to SK58 for their support also especially to Eleanor for accompanying and helping me on these enjoyable days out.
Cuckoo No 2 (17/06/15)
I managed to catch another Cuckoo recently. This time it entered the net at 0505 hrs.
On the photo below you will notice an old secondary which allowed me to age it as EURING age code 5.
Garden Ringing (08/06/15)
My garden isn't what I call a good site for mist netting. However over the past 10 years I've managed to catch over 280 birds with Potter Traps. These include all the typical garden birds covering 10 species using mealworms and sunflower hearts. Starlings are my main target birds and one day I was rewarded by catching a control, first ringed in Blackpool a couple of years before.
Female Starling with pink base to lower mandible and pale iris ring
Male Starling with blue base to lower mandible and dark eye
Little Egrets (03/06/15)
Having spent some time over the last few weeks monitoring the very first nesting attempt of these birds at one of our local sites, last week we finally went in to ring our Little Egret chicks.
Despite their small but perfect ringing size, as we approached the nest, the egret chicks were soon on the move along the branches of the tall hawthorn. This is in contrast to heron chicks of the same size when in the nest, which tend to stay perfectly still! Despite the surprise set back and not to be deterred, both birds were quickly and safely caught and lowered down to be processed for ringing.
It felt such a privilege to be able to ring these birds, and we are really holding out hope that these birds become more established at this location in future years. My thanks to Bob Morris and his son Harry for inviting me along to assist.
I managed to catch a Cuckoo at exactly 0400 hrs last Saturday.
It was in the second shelf of the net on the right hand side between the speaker on the right and Clarrie the decoy Cuckoo on the left. The section of the bush nearest the camera is very thin and quite low, hence the position of Clarrie and the speaker.
Jackdaw day (21/05/15)
Will and I spent one morning last weekend looking in the boxes used by Jackdaws at The Butterfly House. 13 nests were found, 3 with eggs waiting to hatch, 3 with pulli too small to ring and 17 in 7 boxes large enough to ring. Jackdaws at this location lay 4 or 5 eggs, however the survival rate to fledging is 2 to 3 birds per nest. Some nests contained between 1 and 2 infertile eggs along with the growing pulli.
Jackdaw at this site normally nest in large boxes about 5m above ground, however one nest containing 3 eggs was found 3m above ground.
Jackdaw nest with Will alongside for scale
A further nest inside a tower room in one of the sites attractions held 2 Jackdaw pulli too small to ring.
Jackdaw nesting in tower room
After hatching a last minute plan, we made arrangements to meet at Renishaw one evening early last week, to take advantage of the nesting Grey Herons on the site.
We were assisted by my inflatable boat (above) with outboard motor, to safely transport ringers and equipment on to the island. Having immediately located a good number of nests, we set about tackling the tall willow trees. Despite our best efforts, only one young heron was rung (below). Many of the other nests were either inaccessible or the chicks were too old to safely remove and replace them within the nest.
A special thanks to Bob Morris for his time and confident climbing skills. At one point there was a loud crack of a branch being used to support Bob's weight - as Geoff quickly remarked - they call it crack willow for a reason!
Credit also to Geoff, Mark and Eva for their efforts. We hope to achieve greater success with these nesting birds in future, including the use of colour rings for this species too.
Back in April we found a few Lapwing nests on a farm where the management plan includes a strategy to support these beautiful birds. Some of the land is too wet to cultivate and the site is ideal for waders, with a small flock of Common Sandpipers being seen there on passage earlier in the spring. Redshank and Snipe have been reported in the winter too.
We found six nests but there are at least ten breeding pairs of Lapwing. Today we ringed three Lapwing chicks, but we only looked for them for a short time so as to prevent the adults being away too long. The middle chick is a bit camera shy.
It always amazes me that these birds will ultimately look like this.
With thanks to Eric for the adult photo which was taken at a different location, earlier in the year.
What goes around, comes around (03/05/15)
For the second time a natural Tawny Owl site had a Mandarin sitting on 7 eggs. Thanks to Eric for the photo and Bryn for his help.
No birds were harmed in the taking of this photo (28/04/15)
On 7th April I commenced examining the bird boxes at the Butterfly House,
looking in 74 altogether but not including the larger boxes (in total
107 boxes). I found 37 contained typical domed nest material characteristic
of Tree Sparrow. One box contained 4 Tree Sparrow eggs. Many others contained
partially finished nests typical of Great Tit and Blue Tit. I found a
Little Owl in a box specifically designed for this species, which I left
as I had no suitable gloves.
I've mentioned before about examining bird boxes in an enclosure for
Ring-tailed Lemurs, which are always curious but don't interrupt my activities.
It seems to be a spectator sport for them. The young lemurs, born last
year, can just squeeze through their enclosure fence. When I erect the
nets they appear to enjoy using my net poles to climb into nearby trees,
in which they like to find a suitable spot to 'sun bathe'. They have never
bothered the birds, are highly intelligent animals and, of course, are
herbivores. The photograph above shows a Lemur climbing the pole accompanied
by Lemurs in an adjacent tree. Nevertheless, despite their incredibly
gentle demeanour, I always work from a bench or bird hide in permanent
sight of my nets.
Last week, I was invited along by Bob Morris of the Humber Group to assist in the ringing of Heron chicks at Knedlington, in the shadow of Drax Power Station on the banks of the River Ouse.
There are a total of eight nests at this Heronry, all containing live young and or eggs. Two nests containing broods of three and four respectively were deemed large enough to ring.
As I don't have a particularly keen head for heights, I was pleased that Bob was more than happy to make the climb up the Hawthorn trees where the birds were nesting. Once bagged, the birds were delicately lowered down to Bob's son Harry and I so they could be processed and ringed.
The adult birds were circling overhead, so time was, of course, of the essence. I was happy to add colour rings to five of the seven chicks in addition to the usual metal BTO rings. We shall return on a further occasion over the next few weeks to ring the remaining chicks, and to benefit the Nest Record Cards for these birds too. With thanks to Bob and Harry for inviting me along, and I think the three of us will still smell of rotten fish for days to come!
A ringing trip first! (18/04/15)
Just a few pictures from my first morning in Cyprus. I am out here for the second week only of a two week ringing trip, during which a number of Sorby Breck RG members visit the island every year to ring birds on spring passage. When we caught a Spotted Crake, below, Geoff told me it was the first time one has ever been caught by the group here in all the many years they've been visiting. Mark got to ring it as it was in his net.
I started the day with a Great Reed Warbler, above, (probably my favourite of the birds I got to ring this morning) and then we had a Little Bittern, below, later on.
Five new species for me on the first day and hoping for many more in the coming days!
I've always thought my Harry Croft site would see me catch an unusual bird. The site is industrial (disused mine) in the middle of countryside set in a hollow close to the Chesterfield Canal, surrounded by densely growing hawthorn and birch. I have to drive on a rough track for nearly a mile to reach this location.
Only 9 birds on 14th April, however, my first was a male Redstart EURING age code 5 (above) showing brown edges to all greater coverts (below).
The wind speed increased during the morning so I persevered with one net, hoping maybe for another unusual bird, but had to be content with a Chiffchaff for my final bird.
Meadow Pipit (19/03/15)
I set out on Tuesday morning on a mission to catch a Skylark or two on Woodhouse Tip. With three single shelf nets, three spring traps, a grey sky and very little wind I fancied my chances. The Skylarks seemed to be everywhere except where I wanted them, so after two hours I decided to try for Meadow Pipits. Almost immediately they were coming down to the player.
I ended up catching just two birds in the spring traps. The first one being a new bird, but the second was a retrap. On checking the ring number I saw it was only 200 rings out from my present sequence so obviously a group ring, but not one of mine. After a quick email I learned that the bird was originally ringed last year on Ringinglow Moor on the 13th of September during a Meadow Pipit catching session, by myself!
Whoosh net (15/03/15)
I have made a small whoosh net for use at home. It's approximately 125cm square and just right for catching Blackbirds etc. I caught two on Friday. I intend to use my larger ones on the upland site when I have fine tuned them, cut the grass and put feed down. I also plan to operate them by remote control when all the parts arrive and I've figured out the wiring method. I'll update you with how I get on.
A pair of Kings (02/03/15)
This winning hand was drawn last weekend at Creswell Crags. On each of our outings to the site, which began in 2013, in addition to our nets at the feeders, we also put a 3m net across the narrow waterway near the visitor centre. This winter our ringing at the feeders has resulted in catching new species for the site such as Siskin, Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll. We've caught more than 100 Blue Tits in the last two sessions alone at the feeders, but the blue jewels we were rewarded with on Sunday are much less common.
Kingfisher (female above and male below)
Kingfishers are regularly seen shooting along this narrow watercourse. During a ringing demo in 2014 we saw a blue flash dart upstream, promptly swerve around the net and then continue its uninterrrupted journey unfazed. Last weekend, one of our group commented that it's a bit like waiting for a bus, with nothing happening for ages and then two coming along at once. Kingfisher is a new species for Dean and Jack and we could compare the two sexes together in the hand. We all determined it was well worth the wait.
New species ringed at Blackburn Meadows (23/02/15)
A morning ringing at Blackburn Meadows recently only produced 8 birds but some special ones at that. Snipe is one species I target throughout the winter months, so a catch of three was very nice. An added bonus was the cutest Jack Snipe I have ever seen.
I've also been setting the potter trap for Water Rail. Unfortunately we didn't catch one, but my efforts were happily rewarded by catching the site's first Moorhen.
Unusual colouring in Goldfinch (21/02/15)
Since 2009 through the winter period, finches have been the most commonly ringed species on a site near Sheffield Airport known as 70 Acres, with Lesser Redpoll caught in the greatest numbers. The mixed finches on the site have come up with a few surprises, including a good number of Common Redpoll mixed in. Sure enough there are even stranger revelations with some of the birds' plumage characteristics, as shown with this Lesser Redpoll (below) first caught in 2009 which had normal coloration for a Redpoll, yet when re-captured in 2010 showed quite a lot of white in the plumage.
In 2015 another variation of colour turns up with a Goldfinch having a grey mantle in place of the rufous brown. This was the only colour variation on the captured bird.
Ringing demo at Hardwick Hall (16/02/15)
A ringing demonstration was held last Saturday for Hardwick and Matlock
Wildlife Watch Groups at Hardwick Hall. This has become an annual event
during the past few years and is always well attended by both children
and their parents. As there were two groups today, it was probably the
busiest ever with over 40 people attending.
Kev Bower (above left) had kindly arranged for himself and others to help, namely Ian Wilkinson (below left), Helen Hipperson and Ibraheem Mirza.
Twenty birds were caught and there were no surprises in the species Blue, Great and Willow Tits, Nuthatch, Dunnock, Robin and Chaffinch. Everyone was really interested in seeing the birds in the hand and I am sure it helped to develop the childrens interest in birds and wildlife.
Many thanks once again for all the ringers who helped make this morning a success.
Sparrowhawk at Rivelin (11/02/15)
I had been catching well in my walk-in trap for a couple of weeks in January: 12 Blackbirds, 6 Woodpigeons, 3 Moorhens and a Jay. On the 23rd of the month, I caught a Blackbird and a Woodpigeon. At 2 o'clock I looked out of the bedroom window to check the trap; 3 Blackbirds were inside and perched on top, looking down, was a large Sparrowhawk. I took some photographs from the window and then walked towards the trap taking photos every 5 yards or so. I got within 15 feet of the trap and the hawk still did not fly off. It eventually flew up into a tree but stayed 15 yards away and then came back to the trap to look at the Blackbirds. At one point I thought I may be able to make a grab for it. Eventually I scared it off so I could get the birds out of the trap. I ringed the birds and checked the trap half an hour later: 1 blackbird in and the Sparrowhawk sat on the top!
Leucistic Blackbird (10/02/15)
This Blackbird, with white feathers on its head, has been feeding around our garden for the last couple of weeks. It seems very nervous as the other Blackbirds keep attacking it.
Uttoxeter sewage works is situated between Sudbury and Uttoxeter and
is Robs main ringing site. It is a good site all year round but
the large number of wintering Meadow Pipits is an interesting feature
with repeat wintering pipits noted. Y962744 retrapped on 18th Jan 2015
was first ringed on 10th Nov 2013. This bird was aged as an adult but
interestingly had a tail more in keeping with that of a first year bird.
Chiffchaff ssp. tristis
Whilst the cold becomes the main bane of bird ringers lives at this time of year, the frost it leaves on the ground does create some impressive scenery. This was on full display at Geoff's sewage works site near Bakewell recently, where the minus temperatures almost had the effect of making a sewage works look pretty!
Stanton-in-the-Peak sewage works
We werent there to admire the scenery however and after the six nets went up the birds started rolling in. There were around 100 Pied Wagtails (below) feeding on the beds all morning and it was these that made up the majority of our catch, with about 30 of the 60 birds caught being this species.
Other birds of note included a couple of Grey Wagtail (below bottom) and Meadow Pipit as well as six Starlings (below top).
A great morning all in all and a nice change from the usual winter ringing at feeding stations. Many thanks to Geoff for the morning.
Blackburn Meadows (21/01/15)
With the weather being stormy a week ago, we decided to do some cutting back on a couple of net rides. Blackburn Meadows Nature Reserve is one of our group's three CES sites, and it is important that the vegetation is the same as it has been in previous seasons. Here is my CES net ride no.2, not finished yet, but all net rides will be completely cut back in the next few weeks.
Net ride before (above) and after (below)
We also set the Potter trap to try and catch a Water Rail. This worked well as we re-trapped one that I originally ringed last winter.
Super Whooper (17/01/15)
On 29th December I was fortunate enough to catch and ring the group's first - and last - Whooper Swan of 2014, and the first since 2011.
The bird had landed in the territory of a pair of breeding Mute Swans on the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Canal at Kilnhurst, forcing the bird into the safety of the nearby lock. A quick thinking lock keeper closed the lock gates to prevent any further aggressive territorial fighting between the intruder and Mute Swan pair, and contacted me for assistance. Before setting my eyes upon the bird, I recognised its incredible call echoing around the lock walls, identifying itself immediately as a 'Super Whooper'.
I'm pleased to report the bird was completely uninjured and fighting fit, and within minutes was caught, ringed and released to the safety of the nearby River Don, free to complete the shorter part of its 1500+ km journey to the likes of Martin Mere or Slimbridge. Previous Whooper Swans I have ringed on behalf of the group have provided some very interesting recoveries; let's hope this bird follows the trend too!
Old year, new species (11/01/15)
On two of my last outings in 2014, I caught fewer birds than expected. However, a new species for me and a new bird for one of my sites, hid any disappointment. On Christmas Eve I visited a small orchard at 4 Acres, well before dawn, hoping to catch winter thrushes, but none were around. Around 9.00 am I noticed a Mistle Thrush, high up in a tall willow, so placed a tape beneath a 6m net below this tree. The bird was immediately attracted but took about an hour before flying into the net. This was my new species.
Mistle Thrush EURING age code 3
On 30th December Jack and I visited my site near Hodsock expecting a good catch of finches. Plenty of birds were around but were wary to approach the feeders. We came to conclusion the net stood out against the snow. Jack spotted a single Redpoll, so we played the tape and managed to catch one of six seen. This was a new bird for this site.
Male Lesser Redpoll EURING age code 4
Out in the cold (09/01/15)
Even though it was cold weather and snow was on the ground, it was worth the visit last week to a small orchard. Fieldfare were showing in good numbers with a mix of Blackbird and a surprising number of Robins in such a small area. Wil and I braved the elements for a successful morning with a ringing tick for Wil. We caught a good number of Fieldfare too.
Orchard with windfalls lying in the snow
BTO Conference (07/01/15)
Evie (second right) next to Chris Packham with her fellow speakers and Andy Clements, BTO Director (far left)
Along with five other young birders/ringers, I was invited to talk at the recent BTO annual conference about how our passion for birds and ringing started and what inspired us to have this passion. We arrived on Friday night to rooms full of birders ready for the weekend. It was great to meet new people and talk to them about birding and ringing. During our stay there were some amazing talks from people like Dave Leech and Ed Drewitt. All the young speakers had lunch with Andy Clements and Chris Packham, which was very interesting and exciting. On the Sunday we did our talks. Everyone did very well and we were all very proud. We were received so positively. You can read my full blog here
Evie, on the platform, giving her talk
Sorby Breck RG Annual Report 2014 (06/01/15)
Our report is currently being compiled and will be available soon - watch this space.