Thursday, 21 April 2016

More amazing news from the Aberdeen Mandarin

Well folks, here's the latest mind-boggling episode on the life and times of 'Mac' our local celebrity drake Mandarin Duck!

Following an email I received yesterday morning suggesting that 'Mac' had possibly been sighted away from the Johnston Gardens area I put out a request for sightings/info to try establish his last know sighting locally.

Amazingly, Vicky Hall (via a local FB wildlife group) has been able to confirm with the aid of the photo below that 'Mac' was present at Walker Dam, Aberdeen, till at least 6.30pm on Thursday 14th April.
 What's more astounding is… just 110hrs (4.5 days) later, at 9.00am on the morning of 19th April, our very own wee 'Mac' was again photographed (see second photo below) but this time the photo was taken by Morten Lie ….have you guessed what's coming next?  Yep, wee 'Mac' has indeed flown back over the North Sea and was snapped by Morten at Krokstadelva near Drammen, just south-west of Oslo!!! How mad is that?
 It was major news in the bird ringing world to learn of his initial journey over here last September after being ringed near Oslo last Spring but for him to return there now makes this record truly unprecedented!

It now very much appears that this wee fella has been traversing the North Sea annually, spending his winters here in Aberdeen (since approx. 2011/12) and summering over near Oslo. We'd have known nothing of his amazing adventures and assumed he just moved away from Aberdeen each summer to find a mate locally had he not been ringed last spring near Oslo?

So I wonder what will happen next? I guess we'll just have to wait till later this summer/autumn and see if we can pick up his arrival back in Aberdeen to continue the story?

Harry Scott

PS. Many thanks to everyone who's been involved in this story so far, every little bit of information has been a huge help to keep an accurate track of this hyper-mobile wee dazzler!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Urban nesting oystercatchers

Oystercatchers again! 

This year we are carrying out a census of urban breeding oystercatchers in Aberdeen and round about. We would be grateful if you would report to us any breeding, or suspected breeding, pairs of roof or ground nesting oystercatcher in the city or suburbs. 

Please contact any of us as below:

Alistair Duncan -  alistair (at)
Raymond Duncan  - Raymond (at)
Brian Pirie  -  bpirie8910 (at)

Also remember to look out for any Darvic ringed birds. There is still a reward of a litre of Grouse for a sighting of N87 white!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Migratory Mandarin!!!

I recently noticed a post by Brian Battensby on a local FaceBook wildlife group suggesting that our now famous (been on t’telly and everyfink!) Johnston Gardens drake Mandarin might have a ring on its leg, so I thought I'd head in to Aberdeen to take a look and hopefully investigate its origins.

An unringed drake Mandarin has been over-wintering at this tiny ornamental pond in the heart of Aberdeen since around January 2010 as far as I can tell, I remember seeing it there on 8th February 2014.

After reading Brian's post reporting it as ringed I became curious as to whether our returning wintering bird had been caught and ringed recently, or whether it might be a different bird altogether - surely it would be very odd to have different drake birds frequenting the same wee inner city pool?

When visiting the gardens, several folk I chatted to suggested it was originally from the Hazelhead Zoo and that's where it was ringed etc - sort of makes sense that it then spends it's winters nearby in JG's?

Anyway, I got snaps of the ring …on its LEFT leg! Being ringed on his left leg kind of implies that he's been ringed overseas - 'generally' UK ringers are encouraged to ring birds on their right legs. So the left leg ring was intriguing me but then lots of exotic wildfowl originating from captive collections generally have rings. So my initial thoughts were that he was indeed most likely from a collection such as that at Hazelhead Park.

When I got home I was finally able to read the digits but a single inscribed word instantly caught my eye and confirmed that he definitely wasn’t one of my Deeside birds and more importantly… he’s NOT an escape from Hazelhead!

I was utterly gob-smacked when I saw what was inscribed on the ring…


Luckily, as he moved about I was able to get pretty much all the inscribed digits on the ring… "427439…" so I set about entering the details in to the Stavanger Museum web site - within 24hrs I received a full report of the birds history;

His full ring number is 4274391 and he was ringed as an adult male on the 9th of April 2015 at Bestumkilen, near Akershus, Oslo in Norway! Four days later, on the 13th April 2015, he was re-sighted at Minneparken, Porsgrunnselva which is about 150km SW of Oslo. He was not then sighted till he turned up in Johnston Gardens and was first sighted here on 6th September 2015 by Les Andrew. So, in the 325 days since ringing he's travelled over 803km to join us here in Aberdeen!

Having now had a look at the national BTO ringing data, it appears that just 7 Mandarins have previously travelled between the UK and other countries; 1 ringed in France turned up in the UK and another ringed here went to France; same story with the Netherlands as we recovered one of theirs and they recovered one of ours, two UK ringed Mandarins have been recovered in the Russian Federation… and lastly a Norwegian bird was shot in the UK (see below). So, our bird is just the 4th UK recovery of a foreign ringed Mandarin Duck, how amazing is that?

I received the following email from Håvard Husebø at Stavanger Museum:

Thanks a lot for your report of a Norwegian ringed bird. This was a great record! The Mandarin Duck is a relatively scarce bird in Norway. It is of course being kept as domestic park bird, but there also annually about 20 – 30 records of free-living individuals. With a peak of records in April and early May, which indicates that these do in fact migrate, possibly following other ducks on their route.
I’m not aware of any breeding of the species in Norway at the moment, although there were a few records back in the early 90s.
There is in total 21 Mandarins ringed in Norway. And your finding is actually our second recovery in UK. The first one was also ringed near Oslo and shot just north of Newcastle (09.11.1962). We also have one which was recovered way down in eastern Germany.”

So, I guess the main question now is, is he brand new to Johnston Gardens this winter? Has he been the bird, which has wintered here over the last 5–6 winters, travelling backwards and forwards between Aberdeen and Oslo? Or have we all been seeing more than one individual at Johnston Gardens? Surely we'd have seen two together on at least one occasion if this were the case?

Anyway, it would be very much appreciated if everyone can continue to look back through their photos and firstly confirm any dates when you've seen a Mandarin at Johnston Garden / Walker Dam and secondly if a ring was seen on it's leg?

Harry Scott

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Leucistic Oystercatcher chick

On Friday 27 June Brian Pirie and I went to Hazlehead Academy to investigate a report of a possible albino oystercatcher chick. When we got there we found the bird was leucistic. Leucism affects the plumage of birds as they lack the pigment cells which are responsible for melanin productionWe caught and ringed it. Frustratingly neither of us had a camera but the janitor, Wendy Landragon, took some shots on her Smart Phone. It was a striking looking bird. The plumage was a pale brown/fawn colour on the normally black parts with a blue-grey eye. We would be pleased to have any sightings of this bird (and any others with coded rings on); the leucistic youngster has a white ring with the code T37. Please contact Alistair Duncan on alistair @ Many thanks to Wendy for the photographs.

Ally and Brian

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Golden plover in North East Scotland

Since 2011 GRG have been studying Golden Plovers at Rattery Head in North East Scotland.  Birds start to arrive in early July, complete their moult and then spend the winter here.

The first  birds arrive in early July peak about the 2nd week of August when there are between 500 and 1000 in the flock, this number remains pretty stable until the end of September when their numbers increase dramatically with up to 5000 being seen there.

Birds have been caught  and colour ringed with an individual colour combination to allow individuals to be recognised in the field. Among the birds we caught was a pullus that we had ringed on the Scottish mountains two years previously and another pullus had its ring read near Edinburgh the previous year. This gave us a strong hint that at least some of the birds present on the Scottish coast were in fact Scottish breeders.
Brood of golden plover with one egg still to hatch
One of the birds ringed in 2011 was then seen on the Outer Hebrides on the Isle of Harris on the 5 June 2012 again suggesting a Scottish breeder. This bird has not been seen again.

One of our colour-ringed birds on Harris, June 2012
Over the next couple of years from colour marked individuals from 2011 have regularly been seen again along the same stretch of coastline, suggesting some site fidelity of the birds to their wintering grounds, others have however never been seen again despite regular searches through the flocks for colour marked individuals. Many birds have been seen repeatedly.

Then on the 22 January this year DE52076 bird was reported form Curragh Racecourse, Kildare, Ireland, this had been ringed on the 21 August 2011 at Rattery Head. It had been previously seen at Buchanhaven /Peterhead in August/September 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Golden Plover DE52076 ringed 21 August 2011 at Rattray Head, Aberdeenshire
So why this bird now decided to move to Ireland after staying in the north east for the previous years we cannot say, however as the bird has been seen in the autumn only in the previous years it may have moved to Ireland every winter. Perhaps future years will provide more information regarding this bird.

Clearly we have much yet to learn about the movements of these birds and what initiates the need to move; cold weather can certainly be ruled out as the winter of 2014-15 in North east has been exceptionally mild.

We intend to continue ringing both pullus and adult birds in the forthcoming years and will be grateful of any sightings of colour marked Golden Plovers

Monday, 16 March 2015

A curlew sighting at last

In the summers of 2013 and 2014 we have been colour-ringing curlews in Aberdeenshire to look at brood survival and habitat use, as part of the RSPB's wider work locally in waders. On Orkney they have been doing similar and had lots of local sightings over the winter.
Curlew chicks in Donside (Jenny Weston)
We've not been so lucky and had a single sighting on the Ythan in August 2013 and a bird last summer in the non-breeding flock. A couple of weeks ago these got blown out the park by an email from Ireland of a chick ringed near Corgarff in Donside in June 2014 foraging on a sports field in Dublin! Many thanks to Conn O'Brien for passing this on to us through Birdwatch Ireland.
A curlew from Donside in Dublin (Conn O'Brien)
We had always thought that our lack of sightings and recoveries from curlew in the winter was because they were in very remote areas on the west coast of Scotland and Ireland, but it looks as though they are spending at least some of their winters on the football pitches of Dublin, in a slightly more urban setting than we previously thought!
Curlews in a slightly more urban setting than we're used to (Conn O'Brien)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Don't Panic! Gull sightings delay!

For those of you that are avid ring readers one of the great thrills is the near instant response that you can get when you send in a sighting of a colour ringed bird. Unfortunately from time to time there is a delay. Our colour ringed large gull project is experiencing such a delay at the moment. The scheme coordinator Euan Fergusson is currently ringing abroad and may not have had internet access for a couple of months - despite taking his database away so he could respond to sightings. Please be patient as Euan is fantastic at responding most of the time. I am sure when he returns from his travels normal service will resume, but I suspect there will be a considerable backlog to work through.