Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Rock Pipit Soap Opera

Breeding at Girdleness, 2012

I began colour ringing Rock Pipits in autumn 2009. To date, 146 full-grown birds and 110 nestlings have been “blinged” along the coast. The main study areas are between Pennan and Rosehearty, on the north coast (mainly looking at wintering birds), and Girdleness, near Aberdeen Harbour (where I study breeding ecology).

This breeding season was more productive than the last, despite the “pants” weather, which affected many other species. At Girdleness, numbers of singing males remained low, at just seven. However, all were paired up this year (two did not attract females in 2011). Unfortunately, one of these unlucky males became single again, after his female disappeared in the second week of May.

Better news for “Norman” (Metal/Green Yellow/Yellow), a popular bird, with many sightings from the public last year, singing away under the Battery. After the indignation of a pair nesting on his territory then, that ringed female paired up with him this year, with two of their four nesting attempts fledging young.

©AMB A very confiding female nest-building. Paired with “Norman” (M/G Y/Y)

After some nifty hand-netting by Raymond, some spring traps, and lots of luck, we managed to catch a further four of the breeding females on or near their nests, leaving just one unringed. Catch of the year however, was a metal-ringed male, who has been taunting me in the cove under the lighthouse, since the project began. First recorded there on 14/06/2010, he had evaded capture, despite me trapping his two females during the previous two years.

©AMB NR94975 taunting me with his metal ring in June 2011. The photo wasn’t sharp enough to be able to read the ring number.

With his first brood just fledged, we erected a mist net on his patch, and also decided to set the previously unsuccessful spring traps nearby. Having watched him fly round the end of the mist net, I’d pretty much given up on him again, but this time the mealworms proved too tempting. Success!!! NR94975, ringed as a (big) chick by the group on 27/05/2006, in a nest just 500m away from his territory. He is now sporting a single Yellow ring, on the opposite leg to his Metal (I was unable to add the full compliment of three colours because the metal ring is on the wrong leg).

©AMB NR94975 retrapped at last. Note the unmoulted central tail feathers & tertials (hidden behind a big thumb).

A star bird for many reasons: he is the oldest bird in the study, although he still has a way to go to break any records (9 years in Britain, and 12 years in Europe). He is the only bird ringed as a chick that I have found breeding. He is also my most productive bird: successfully fledging young from all nesting attempts I have monitored (five in the last three summers).

This year he was paired to the same female as last year. Their first brood had already hatched by the end of April, the earliest I’ve recorded so far. By the end of the season, we managed to find a record eleven nests in the area, six of which successfully fledged young, with fourteen juveniles being resighted so far. Many thanks go to Raymond for occasionally taking off his “Linnet blinkers” this year.

Away from the natal area, I received word from a member of the public of a juvenile photographed at Cove Harbour, 5.4km south, on 16/09/2012. This is the only report of a colour-ringed bird south of Aberdeen. There must be many more lurking down that way, just waiting to be discovered. Fingers crossed for better weather next breeding season, so I can do a proper search “doon sooth”.

Thanks to everyone who reported colour-ringed birds and helped with nest finding.

Next time I’ll fill you in on what’s been happening up north. 


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