Thursday, 27 December 2012

Waxwings – all over the shop this winter

It’s a very different picture so far this winter from the last large invasion of 2010/11. See 2 maps below for comparison. Colour-ringed birds have been reported in Ireland, mid-Wales, SW Scotland, Walsall and Warwickshire (2 together) in central England, down the east coast as far as Spurn and Humberside and one across the North Sea near Arnhem in the Netherlands. Despite the huge number of resightings in 2010/11 none were reported in Ireland, Wales or the Netherlands!

Orkney colour-ringed Waxwings (yellow left leg) in Walsall 08/12/12 Andy Purcell  

Another Orkney ringed bird in Humberside 08/12/12 Graham Catley.

Two Aberdeen colour-ringed Waxwings in Warwickshire 06/12/12 Stephen Clarkson

Aberdeen Waxwing in Northumberland 10/12/12, Tim Mason 

Aberdeen Waxing in Huissen, near Arnhem, the Netherlands 23/12/12  Niek and Chris Klaassen.

Just as interesting is what the map doesn’t show, 100s still around Aberdeen this Xmas (at least 40 colour-ringed birds still present) compared to the near complete exodus in late November 2010 when the snow came big time. 

Remarkably one of the mid-Wales birds was actually originally ringed in Fair Isle on 4th November then retrapped in Aberdeen 15th November where the colour-rings blue over black on the left leg were added. Phil Owen then photographed it in Newtown, Powys on 9th December, photo below.

He passed the photo on to local ringer Tony Cross and colleagues who’d been colour-ringing Waxwings at the site that day only to cause them great consternation when they looked at the picture and saw the rings were on the opposite leg to what they had been doing! Remarkably they managed to catch it later in the day to find, much to their relief, that it had been colour-ringed in Aberdeen with same blue/black combination but on the opposite leg! 

Nearer home a visit to our neighbouring Tay Ringing Group was made to help them try to ring some of the flock of 800 Waxwings feeding on Yew berries in a Dundee cemetery. It was good to catch up with some old friends but also nice to meet up again with a newer friend……..Dennis The Menace, Waxwing with colour rings red/black/red which had been ringed 10 days previously in Aberdeen. A very appropriate combination and nickname given that the home of the Beano comic and character Dennis The Menace (wearer of a red and black striped jersey for the limited few who may not read the comic on a regular basis) was just round the corner at DC Thomson & Co. in Dundee!

“Dennis The Menace” ringed in Aberdeen 5/12/12 and rtpd in Dundee 15/12/12

More of your photos will feature in Tarry Harry’s Aboyne roundup if he ever gets round to finishing off the “Good, the bad, the ugly……..and the awesome” Waxwing feature posted up previously.

Thank you very much to all who have reported sightings and sent photographs of colour-ringed Waxwings. All are very much appreciated and help monitor the progress and fortunes of some of these Viking invaders during their visit to Britain.



For a very interesting overview of the movements of Waxwings being colour-ringed in mid-Wales this winter go to

Raymond Duncan (on behalf of this winter’s GRG Waxwing ringing squad)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sri Lankan Darvic Recorded!

Well, the above headline is true, though not related to our local area. During November and December I visited India and Sri Lanka on a birding trip and before setting off, the joke was “How many colour rings will you see?”

As my tour was scheduled to visit a number of wetlands, the possibility of finding a ringed bird was indeed intriguing. Many birds with potential were seen, including herons, waders and cormorants. However, it was not until we visited the Bundala Nature Reserve in south-east Sri Lanka that a ringed bird was spotted.

 Bundala is an area of wetlands consisting of brackish water lagoons, salt pans, freshwater reservoirs and freshwater marshlands. Although outside the Palaearctic area, Sri Lanka is at the end of the Central Asia Flyway, therefore many of the waterbirds, waders, terns and herons are common to this region.

During the brief visit, large numbers of waders including Pacific Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Kentish, Greater Sand and Lesser Sand Plover were recorded. Terns consisted of Great and Lesser Crested, Caspian, Whiskered, Little and White Winged.

 A typical snapshot of the numerous birds using Bundala

Among the many assemblies, was one of Little Stints, the first time I had seen a flock of these small waders foraging together. Closer inspection highlighted one bird with what looked like a large metal ring.  A telescope view verified this as a white darvic with a code of 0034. Additionally, the words DWLC Sri Lanka were also read from the ring.

The only ringed bird that was seen – 0034

Upon returning to North-east Scotland I set about trying to report this sighting. Initial searches for a contact at the Sri Lankan Department for Wildlife Conservation drew a blank. Even the advertised website address returned an error. I then came across the Field Orni-thology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) - I therefore sent my sighting to the leader of this organisation.

The feedback indicated the bird had been ringed on 22 January 2012 in the same area as it was found. The bird had therefore completed at least one migration to its breeding grounds and returned to the same wintering site. This was the first re-sighting of the bird since ringing.

Ringing in Sri Lanka appears to be in its infancy, but through FOGSL, more projects are being implemented. Details of this ringing project can be found in the following paper:

Although the sighted bird had only a limited history, further visitors to Sri Lanka and expeditions to Siberia will hopefully build upon this modest start.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Waxwings – the good, the bad, the ugly...and the awesome

Wow, we seem to be on a great run of bi-annual large Waxwing invasions into the UK in recent years (2008-09, 2010-11 and now this winter again). It is amazing how each one has been different one way or another and this one is no different…….em well it is also different!

The initial arrival this winter has been widespread across the UK and into Ireland and for birds to be in places such as Cornwall, Devon and Wales before we have had any significant numbers here in Aberdeen, the self-appointed UK capital for Waxwings, is very unusual. Thankfully we did eventually get some nice flocks of up to 400+ (briefly, but more usually around 100 to 200) at some of the traditional berry sites around the city and although frustrated by mobile flocks and Sparrowhawks we have been able to individually colour-ring 385 birds in the past few weeks.


The good

  Waxwing flock getting ready to feed 

It's been quite a poor berry crop this year but luckily one wee heavily laden yellow rowan tree in Kincorth kept the Waxwings and us occupied for several days. First attempt on 14th Nov, Lindsay and Raymond trapped 20 in one go with a 30’ “stealth” net (well a “walk-in” net doesn’t sound so exciting does it?). We ringed 70 at that one tree over 4 days as the birds came and went with Walter and Lindsay getting the largest total of 29 on the 16th. Remarkably on the 15th with Fair Isle ringers Will, Jenny Sturgeon and Jess present we actually trapped a Fair Isle ringed bird. The speed of techno gadgety things nowadays meant we had the full details within half an hour! Poor Euan got the short straw that morning and had to stand by the hardest Mistle Thrush in Aiberdeen and no Waxwings for 3 hours. 

This biggest total of 29 was quickly trumped by Tarry Harry and (3 auld stoogies….just quoting, gentlemen sounds better!) out at Aboyne with a clap net catch of 32 on his back lawn before some of the other berry sites in town came on stream with 2 catches of 26 and 37 at Homebase, Bridge of Don (including a resighting of a yellow left leg colour-ringed Orkney bird).

Brian and Ally ringing in the Shrine wind tunnel

Eventually birds started visiting our best site, the “Shrine” where Lindsay and Euan put in a few long shifts with the best catch being 24, until Lindsay, Ally D., Brian P. and Jenny Sturgeon came up trumps on the snowy morning of 5th Dec.with a bumper catch of 49. Our success continued the following days, with another 13 caught on the 6th, followed by some more big catches of 48 on the 7th, and 42 on the 8th. 

 Pink-billed Waxwing (Bombycilla Garrulus Duncanus), a rare subspecies

Thanks very much to all for helping out… Walter, Calum, Alister, Ali D, Ian H, Jenny L, Tyr, Brian, Harry, Jess, Ewan, McEwan, Liz, Fin, April, Marta, Paula and Sarah.

First movement

Thanks very much to Gavin Chambers for a great sighting and above photograph of left leg Red over Lime near his home at Minnigaff, Dumfries & Galloway on 27th November. This bird had been ringed 13 days earlier on 14th at Kincorth. Gavin also provided sightings and photographs of 2 Aberdeen colour-ringed birds from the Glesga metropolis in the 2010 invasion. What a star!

The above map shows movements so far including Orkney and Fair Isle ringed birds.

 The bad

The "Waxwing graveyard"

Unfortunately Waxwings are notorious for killing themselves against windows and we started to receive casualties from local postie Derek Beverley at the Wallfield Crescent, the “Waxwing graveyard”. By the time the Waxwings had finished the berries in this tenement lined street we had 30 confirmed casualties, with many more possibly having died here.

7 window casualties found in one visit at Wallfield


The ugly

The " Allenvale"adult female Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks might be nice for us in the hand but Waxwings must hate the sight of them. Lindsay and Euan retrapped a big female in pursuit of Waxwings at the Shrine on 29th Nov. Interestingly it had been ringed by Lindsay and co. doing the very same thing a mile down the road at Allenvale Cemetery during the 2010 invasion. A bird obviously tuned into Waxwing invasions just like us. Another Sparrowhawk, this time a juvenile female, was then caught at the Shrine on the 5th Dec. Then on the 7th we got a bumper catch of 3, all caught in the same net, a second year female, an adult male and the Allenvale retrap again!

Lindsay with an adult female and second year female

So that's at least 4 different Sparrowhawks feeding on the Waxwing flocks at the Shrine, and it appears they have become very accustomed to humans! Lindsay had to almost fight off the Allenvale female as it headed for a bird in the net then flew round one of the trees and back in to have a go at a bird at the other end of the net, bold as brass!

There was also a very large and bold female Sparrowhawk in residence at Homebase, Bridge of Don. Ewan threw snowballs at it several times to try to scare it away but it would just fly 20-30 metres along the tree line before settling again to wait for the Waxwings.

Ageing & sexing

It’s great to see Waxwings being ringed up and down the country. This can only increase our chances of exchanging movements and building up a picture of this winter’s movements. There have been a few blog postings coming through the BTO blog showing wrongly aged and sexed Waxwings. Take 10 lashings and go and spend a morning with Sir Svensson going through the ageing and sexing of Waxwings (pages 98 & 99). 

Click to enlarge our guide above, the photos by Iain Landsman/Ewan Weston show good examples of adult and juvenile males and females together.

...and the awesome

Well we’ll leave Tarry Harry to tell you all about that in the next post!

Lindsay Cargill, Raymond Duncan and Euan Ferguson
(on behalf of this winter’s GRG Waxwing ringing squad)