Thursday, 8 November 2012

Winter Shag Sightings

European shags have been intensively studied on the Isle of May since 1998 and the majority of breeding adults and offspring have been ringed with field-readable darvic rings. More recently shags have also been darvic ringed at other sites in the UK, including at the Bullers of Buchan! This project is linked with the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and Aberdeen University and is actively supported by the Grampian Ringing Group –  in the form of scaling cliffs to ring chicks and through people sending in their resightings.

Darvic ringed shag; by Ed Duthie

We have now been out getting winter resightings for 6 weeks and have managed to accumulate just under 4500 sightings of more than 1700 individuals!  Our main areas for resightings are in Aberdeenshire, Moray and  Fife. However, we also get resightings sent in from all over the east coast (from as far up as Thurso to a rather lost juvenile on a windowsill in Lowestoft...).

The main sites around Aberdeenshire include Scotstown Head and sites in Peterhead and around Fraserburgh, with the number of birds seen at each site varying a great deal depending on tides and weather conditions. Jane is currently holding the title for seeing the most darvics in one place – 115 at Scotstown- with Moray a close second with 97 darvics!

Shags and cormorants at Buchanhaven

In amongst the unringed birds there are always a surprising number of birds with darvics. The darvics come in yellow, red, blue, green and white, and on each ring there is a unique 3 letter code. The information that is linked with each bird is extensive and all of these resightings are helping us to understand where the birds go in the winter in relation to breeding colonies along the coast. Armed with all the resightings, we aim to answer a range of questions, including whether birds are faithful to a specific winter location over multiple years and if winter location effects a bird’s future survival and subsequent breeding success.

A highlight of the winter season so far has been seeing a juvenile bird at Scotstown that was ringed as a chick on Stroma, Caithness earlier this year (Red ring; code RDR)! 

A keen shag spotter

Thanks to everyone to has sent in these valuable sightings, your contributions are greatly appreciated. There are still five months of winter shag spotting ahead of us! If you are interested in finding out more about the project or would like to send in a resighting, please email or contact me directly at

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