Monday, 6 February 2017

An auld dipper

After a tip-off from Maureen and Gordon Berry that a ringed Dipper had appeared on the Cowie River in Stonehaven, myself and Sam decided to try to retrap the bird and see where it had come from. Dippers aren’t generally known for long-distance movements, and with no birds having been caught there for several years, it was an interesting sighting. 
Maureen and Gordon's ringed dipper which set the ringers in motion © Gordon Berry
We met up with Gordon and got a net set up near the river mouth, with a Dipper keeping an eye on us all the time. Sadly, the only thing we caught in 3 hours of waiting in the rain there was an over-excited dog - so after repairing a broken shelf string, we decided to try somewhere else!

We moved upstream about a kilometre, to a wide, fairly shallow, rocky area that looked like Dipper heaven. It was some way from where Gordon had photographed the ringed bird, but we were hopeful it would be around there somewhere. After resetting a net here (with the rain still falling), we didn’t have to wait long before we caught our first Dipper - a fine 1st winter female, but not the ringed individual we were after. Then came another, this time an adult male, but unringed as well.

Third time lucky - the ringed bird, an adult female. A quick text to Raymond with the ring number and we got her details - ringed as a chick at Cullerlie, around 20km inland from here, back in the spring of 2011. A good movement for a Dipper, and at 5+ years old, a good age too, with the oldest recorded in Britain at 8+ years old. 

The second and third birds that were caught in quick succession, the third being the retrap we were after
The retrap bird. This is a clear adult with no contrast between juvenile and adult feathers in the greater coverts. 
Soon after this we caught a fourth bird - a young male. There’s a good chance that these four birds constitute 2 pairs using the river. 

A successful day in the end, with 3 new birds ringed and an excellent recovery - worth getting a soaking for. A big thank you to Maureen and Gordon for the tip-off, and sorry we didn’t catch while you were with us!
The same adult retrap bird. Dippers can be sexed using wing length - with a short wing of 88mm this bird is a female. 

Alex & Sam

Friday, 27 January 2017

Waxwings on the move - thankyou for all your sightings

What a difference a few weeks can make in the life of the Waxwings! Since previous update on 6 January.

Five in Ireland, a record number for our studies and at least one on the Isle of Man (which then diverted to Wales rather than carry on over to Ireland).

A build up in middle England, including GB who didn’t like the east coast.

Movements down the east side with noteable build ups in Tayside and Fife, Eastern Scotland; NE England with birds in Newcastle (3), Hull and Durham and around London into Kent and our furthest bird south so far in Crawley, West Sussex.

And we still have quite a lot in and around Aberdeen.
Maps below show the changes since 06/01 and an interesting comparison with the same time in 2010/11 when cold weather suddenly increased berry competition and lots fled rapidly south, not lingering in Scotland………..with a build up along the south coast.

Waxwing sightings up to mid-January on our last invasion 2010/11

Waxwing sightings from the last update just over two weeks ago

The current waxwing distribution map, based on colour ringing information
A huge thank you to everybody for their sightings and photographs so far. Each contributes greatly to the overall picture of what the Waxwings are getting up to across the country. All are greatly appreciated. Keep up the good work. A free plug on Winterwatch didn’t do any harm either!

We can only show a wee selection of your great photos here. Thank you very much.

Grampian Ringing Group

Rachel Hynes © Waxwing BB (colour rings blue/blue) in Lucan, Dublin, Ireland 12/01/17

Brian and Karen Mullins © Waxwing LOW (colour rings light green/orange/white) in Sligo Town, Ireland 07/01/17

James O’Neill © Waxwing LGL (colour rings light green/dark green/light green) in Portadown, N. Ireland 15/01/17

Sue Blyth © Waxwing RRW (colour rings red/red/white) on the Isle of Man 08/01/17
and then 12 days later in Wales..
Clive Hurford © Waxwing RRW in Newtown, Powys, Wales 20/01/17
Waxwing GB (dark green/blue) the next bird after BB in Dublin to be ringed in Ballater on 04/12/16.
Andrew Easton and Rob Wilton © Great Yarmouth 08/01/17
then 16 days later
George Ewart © 414km W in Derbyshire.
And as we were out ringing Waxwings in Aberdeen on Saturday 21/01 we received a text message from Tony Cross and his colleagues in mid Wales to say they had just caught Waxwing RB (red/blue), ringed in Ballater at the same time as BB and GB! And Waxwings WL and YB also ringed in Ballater at the same time were in Aberdeen at the weekend!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Waxwings – Going, staying……..and wandering aboot

It’s turning out to be a tremendous winter for Waxwings (hopefully) throughout the UK. In and around Aberdeen we are getting the best of both sides we think. It’s early January and we still have 100s here whilst, thanks to so many birders, photographers and observers around the country our colour ringing project is helping us keep tabs on the movements and fortunes of many of those birds which have chosen to move on.

The map below shows the distribution of colour-ring sightings (up to 06/01/2017) of birds ringed in Aberdeen and shire during November and December 2016.

Just some of the great photographs being sent through:

Mike Sinclair © Waxwing LGY Motherwell 02/01/17

Waxwing YLO, ringed as a young male in Aberdeen on 27/11/16, was photographed by Neil Alderson and Yvonne Williams in the B&Q car park in Llandudno, north Wales on 30/11/16 then 5 days later by Emyr Evans 82km south in Machynlleth in mid Wales.

Neil Alderson © Waxwing YLO Llandudno, north Wales 30/12/16

Emyr Evans © Waxwing YLO Machynlleth, mid Wales 04/01/17

Alan Scoullar © Waxwing YOB Wrexham, north Wales 30/12/16 Also reported and photographed by Hugh Linn
David Preece © Waxwing WLO Roade, Northhamptonshire 02/01/17. Also reported and photographed by Duncan Baxter and David Jackson

Trevor Williams © Waxwing LLB Cromer, Norfolk 31/12/16. Also reported and photographed by John Furse

Sadly not all reports/photographs have been of happy berry eating birds. Below is Waxwing BLO found dead after striking a window in St Andrews in Fife.

18/12/16 Malcom White ©
Windows and Perspex bus shelters are a very real and fatal hazard to Waxwings. Despite our best efforts around Aberdeen we have still had over 20 birds reported dead in the city due to striking windows.

Meanwhile other birds colour-ringed at the same time as some of the movers above are still being recorded in Aberdeen. Having almost completely finished the rowan berries (apart from a couple of trees still being guarded by reeeeeally hard Mistle Thrushes) they have now moved onto Tree Cotoneaster, a species so abundant around town this should keep birds with us until May.

Some of the birds don’t seem to have decided if they are going or staying though. Once the flocks had finished the berries in rural towns such as Inverurie and Ballater (22km NW and 58km W of Aberdeen) colour-ringing has shown that some birds moved away south whilst others moved into the city where berries were still plentiful. One decided to be different and headed 77km W over the hills into Speyside while a bird ringed in Aberdeen City Centre on 28/12/16 decided to head 35 km W back out into the countryside to Aboyne where it was photographed on 05/01/17.
Desmond Dugan © Waxwing RO Nethybridge, Speyside 27/12/16

And wanderer of them all so far is a bird colour-ringed in Perth, Central Scotland on 15/12/16 which turned up in Aberdeen on 05/01/17, a movement NE of 117kms!

So a very big thank you to all you folks (too numerous to thank individually here) who have kindly taken the time and trouble to report a colour-ringed Waxwing to us. Each sighting contributes greatly in helping us to follow the movements and fortunes of these truly awesome Scandinavian invaders. If you do see a colour ringed waxwing then let us know: 

Happy New Year

Raymond Duncan

(on behalf of Grampian Ringing Group)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Colour-ringed Waxwings and an old friend returns

The UK is having its largest Waxwing invasion in 3 winters just now with birds being reported up and down the country during November and December, 2016.

We have colour-ringed over 300 birds in and around Aberdeenshire so far this winter, including 140 in Ballater. We would be very grateful for any reports of these birds so please check all Waxwings (AND YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS) and report them to or

We were delighted to hear from Shetland photographer and birder, Hugh Harrop recently about a returning Waxwing we had colour-ringed in a previous invasion

NW49165, colour rings red over white right leg, metal over red left leg (see photo) was ringed as an adult male on 03/12/2013 in Burnett Place, Aberdeen. Hugh had it in his garden at Hillwell, Shetland on 12/11/16. So it was very interesting to hear about this bird again, returning to the UK 3 winters later!
Hugh Harrop © Hillwell, Shetland 12/11/16
We get a lot of resightings of colour-ringed birds throughout the winter of an invasion (mainly in the UK) but this is only our 8th ringed bird recorded returning to the UK in a subsequent invasion out of the several thousands we have ringed over the years.

As an added bonus, this Waxwing had a little bit of history during its visit in 2013/14. It was resighted still in Aberdeen at the end of December 2013 before making a trip across the North Sea at some point and turning up in Hilversum in the Netherlands towards the end of February 2014.
Harry de Klein © Hilversum, Netherlands 26/02/14
Results from Waxwing ringing in previous winters can be found on the Blog, the BTO Online ringing reports or (specifically ringing in Ballater in 2010) a PDF summary can be emailed if you get in touch.

Have a very Merry Christmas and guid New Year from Grampian Ringing Group, hopefully with some Waxwings to watch and enjoy.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Ruff recovery in Nothern Spain

Last week, while I was catching up with some of the best birding blogs I know from Spain, I came across a surprise I really wasn´t expecting. My good friend Ernesto Villodas had posted a few pictures (see his blog at: a flagged ruff he had taken on the 18/09/2016 at Colindres, Cantabria (North Spain). Thanks to Antonio Gutierrez he found out that it could be a GRG bird and he mentioned Raymond´s name in his blog post but wasn´t able to contact him. What are the chances of me coming across my trainer´s name on a Spanish bird blog?? As soon as I saw this, I emailed Raymond with all the details and, within 10 mins, he confirmed it was a juv male (054 and red ring above the knee) they ringed near the Ythan estuary just 8 days before! For me, it was definitely one of the most exciting moments since I first started ringing back in March.

Ruff 054. Photo by Ernesto Villodas
It has now been confirmed that the bird was first seen on the 16/09/2016 by Gabriel Esturo, which means the bird flew at least 1500km in under 6 days. It will be interesting to know if it decides to spend the winter at the site or if it decides to continue its southwards journey. If it decides to stay I might even get to see it when I fly home over Christmas!

Photo by Ernesto Villodas

Monday, 15 August 2016

Leucistic? – Gingerism? – NO Erythrism!

BTO CES Session 9 (31 July 2016) began the same as the previous 8: 0330 hrs alarm, met at 0445 hrs, walked in, set nets and assembled ringing station.  In between the frequent short rain showers, Raymond, Lindsay, Hal and I carried out regular checks of the nets extracting any birds.

Little did we know what excitement lay ahead?  As Hal and I approached Net No. 3 we spotted 2 birds, the nearest one was clearly a Song Thrush but the second bird struck us as being a very strange colour.  On closer inspection it was obviously another Song Thrush but the colour was one that Hal and I had never seen before.  We returned to the ringing station with our find eager to show Raymond.  On seeing the bird, Raymond, in all his many years of ringing, hadn’t seen anything like it since Innes left for Edinburgh 20 years ago.  After all the bios were completed on both birds I took a series of photos before the birds were released.

The wise group of ringers concluded it was a strange kind of leucistic plumage which they christened Gingerism. However, in later consultation with an even wiser ringer (and former Biology teacher) Ally Duncan (of Oystercatcher ilk) we were reliably informed that this was called “Erythristic” – an unusual red pigmentation of the feathers. 

Erythrism is a genetic mutation which causes an absence of normal pigment or excessive production of others.  In some mammal species diet can cause a similar reaction.  After researching the Internet it is clear that there is very little information available.  It would appear that this colour phase is much rarer than albinism and leucistic birds.


Monday, 11 July 2016

Double control Sandwich tern!

In bird ringing a control is the name given to a bird which has been ringed out with the area/region in which a ringer/ringing group operates.
Always a bit more exciting than your own retraps as you have the mystery of not knowing where it has come from until you hear back from ringing friends/BTO HQ.

So when Ewan Weston spotted a Sandwich Tern with a metal ring on each leg whilst doing some ring reading at Forvie NNR it was clearly an interesting bird.
Both rings were quickly read and whilst one appeared to be a chick ringed at Forvie the other clearly wasn’t as it bore the letters SAF in the address……..SAFRING SOUTH AFRICA!

Ewan contacted some tern pals and quickly assembled the birds interesting history.
It wasn’t a Forvie bird after all. DB28806 had been ringed as a chick at Liddel, on South Ronaldsay in Orkney on 09/06/2001 and was now breeding at Forvie.
There have been several chicks from South Ronaldsay recorded breeding at Forvie over the years, as well as chicks from other colonies such as the Farne Islands, Ireland and even the Netherlands.

And then on 10/09/10 Tony Tree retrapped it at Berg River mouth, Velddrif, Western Cape, South Africa and added Safring No. D34025.
This is an important wintering area for many of the Forvie and UK’s Sandwich Terns.

Some fascinating wee snap shots from the life of a Sandwich Tern.

And through the round window……………………….you can see both rings.