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)

Monday, 19 November 2012

They're terning up everywhere!

Since 2010 we have fitted inscribed colour rings (darvics) to nearly 600 sandwich terns on and around the Ythan estuary in North-East Scotland.  All but 90 have been captured as fully grown birds during the late summer and early autumn (July, August and September). During the short time since we started colour ringing them we have had 455 sightings. With the project coming into its third winter we are starting to get some really interesting results.
The first bird to make it back to its wintering haunts was ETT, originally ringed in September 2010 and sighted 5 times last winter in Namibia. By the time this bird had made it to its wintering grounds there were still a few stragglers in and around the UK. While a majority of Sandwich Terns winter in West Africa a small number brave the Northern hemisphere winters and we have been lucky enough to have 2 such birds so far this winter.

The first bird EHP was ringed on the Farne islands in 1996 as a chick and later recaptured on the Ythan Estuary in late July 2011 when it was given its individual colour ring. EHP was also the 3rd oldest sandwich tern we have caught with the oldest being ringed in 1986 in Northumberland.  Last winter EHP was sighted in southern England on 3 occasions between mid-September and late November. The next sighting and the photograph above came from across the channel in France at a site where over 50 Sandwich Terns were spending the winter. EHP was seen back in Portsmouth in early November ready to spend another winter in the English Channel.

Another Northern wintering tern has recently been reported in Douarnenez, France on 3 occasions during this November and had been seen in the same area in late November 2010. Apparently a small flock of 5-15 sandwich terns regularly winter there now. Unlike the Farne Island’s bird we are unsure of where this bird was hatched as it was unringed when we caught it in 2010. We do however know that this bird breeds in North-east Scotland on the Ythan estuary where we have sighted the bird this summer in the colony alongside 50 other colour ringed sandwich terns. So while some of the Scottish breeders such as EAN below are sunning themselves at the end of an arduous migration to winter 9,000km away a few individuals are braving the winter only 1,000km away.

Thanks to Mark Boorman, Jenny Lennon, Jean Pierre Marie & Gilles Coulomb for the fantastic photos. Any sightings of Sandwich Terns with colour rings starting with the letter E should be sent to ewan_weston  "at"

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

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Very Uncommon Gull

The biggest Common Gull colonies in the UK are in North East Scotland, and this summer we started colour ringing the species for the first time, mostly at a large inland colony at Tillypronie (below). So far we've had 5 local sightings along the coast this autumn, giving us an interesting, albeit predictable look at chick dispersal.

However, we've also had an extremely surprising sighting we definitely didn't see coming. A chick (2XKN) ringed at Tillypronie on 30th June was seen 983 miles away on 1st November, at Santa Cruz, La Coruña, Spain! A photo of the bird by Antonio Lopez Porto is below, complete with a Mediterranean Gull for proof of its location!

What makes this sighting so unusual is that it is the first Common Gull ringed in Scotland to ever be recorded in Spain, and only the second for the UK. The first record was from a chick ringed in 1957 in Kerry, Ireland, which was shot in Spain a few months later, amazingly only 7 miles away from where our bird was sighted! 

UK ringed Common Gulls recorded in other southern European countries are very rare, with only 1 recovery in Portugal, and 1 in Italy.

Hopefully continued colour ringing and sightings will help us discover more about the movements of Scottish Common Gulls. All our birds have orange rings with 2X followed by two letters. Please send any sightings to


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Waxwing on the way back to UK?

With waxwings beginning to arrive in the UK again we received a great piece of news from one of our Highland ringing neighbour’s, Brian Bates. Brian had been browsing some photos on a Bird Photographic website and after looking at several images taken by Elsa M. Wallumrod on 27th October at Horten, near Oslo, Vestfold in Norway he somehow managed to spot a colour-ringed bird, bottom left in the image taken by Elsa below. Does he scour these websites with a magnifying glass?

After requesting a zoomed in and higher resolution photo of the bird, Brian forwarded on this 2nd image from Elsa and it proved possible to individually identify the bird by its colour rings.

RNY had been ringed as a young male in Ballater, Royal Deeside (40km west of Aberdeen) on 30th October at the start of the large invasion of  2010. As a bonus it had a little bit of a history during that winter in the UK. It was photographed as a teenager hamming it up in a Montrose hedgerow by Harry Bickerstaff a couple of weeks after ringing (see below) then Tony Sweetland resighted it 3 months later in deepest England, in Bracknell. Who knows where it has been since until now?!

Thanks to 100s of observers throughout the UK and Ireland the waxwing colour-ringing has produced lots of resightings and a fascinating insight into their varied and unpredictable movements in search of berries throughout the country during invasions when we have been able to catch and ring reasonable numbers. See map of results from the invasion of 2010/11.

Once they depart from the UK in spring though it is a very different story. They seem to just vanish into the massive taiga forests of Scandinavia and Siberia never to be seen again and we receive very few reports. If we do receive any, they have more often than not been killed by cats (in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). One extreme recovery (link below) shows a bird in Aberdeen one spring then killed by a cat the next in the USSR 3714km away, east of the Ural Mountains, on a parallel with Azerberjan and nearer to Mongolia than Aberdeen……amazing!

A very big thank you to Brian Bates (I’ll buy you a pint at the ringers conference in a few weeks Brian) for his microscopic web scanning, to Elsa Wallumrod for the great photographs, to Andrew Clarke, coordinator of the Photographic Website, for the photos and further information, to the GrampianRG ringing team at Ballater that day in 2010 (Ewan Weston, Alistair Clunas and Paul Baxter) (and to Neil Cook, Harry Scott and Mik Marquiss who weren’t there but provided valuable intelligence), to Harry Bickerstaff and Tony Sweetland for keeping tabs on this marauding teenager once he’d moved on and to all other GRG waxwing ringers and all the 100s of observers who have subsequently reported colour ringed birds, often with tremendous  accompanying photographs.

Raymond Duncan

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. 


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Gull Update

We're now into the second year of the joint Grampian and Tay big gull project, and it's been another successful season. So far this year in Grampian we've colour ringed 280 fully grown gulls, mainly Herring but also the occasional Lesser and Greater-backed. We also ringed 120 chicks on the coast (including these Greater chicks below) 60 of which were colour ringed.

Tay Ringing Group colour ringed 70 gulls in Montrose. The St. Serf's island gull colony on Loch Leven was also colour ringed for the first time, with a total of 150 chicks, mainly Lesser Black-backed. So far we've had five St. Serfs birds seen in Portugal and two in Northwest Spain, one of which was photographed by Manuel Carregal (below). 

Also this year we started colour ringing Common and Black-headed Gulls for the first time. We've done 160 Common Gulls so far, mostly chicks in an upland colony, and have already got some interesting movements out of them, which will feature in a future blog post.

The Black headed Gull colony we regularly ring had poor breeding success, but we managed to ring a few chicks elsewhere, and also mist netted some fully grown birds in the Autumn.  Hopefully we'll get a snowy winter and catch lots more.  

  • For big gulls with yellow rings, with the code the letter T followed by a colon and three numbers, please report to Euan Ferguson at
  • For big gulls with yellow rings, with the code the letter T followed by a colon and two numbers, then either the letter A or C, please report to Neil Mitchell at
  • For Common Gulls (orange rings) and Black headed Gulls (yellow rings) with the code 2X followed by two letters, please report to Calum Campbell at
A big thank you to all the ringers and observers who have made these projects possible. Please continue looking out for colour rings. 


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Greater Hat-trick

On boxing day last year, me and Ewan did what most people do, and headed up to Peterhead, with a car full of bread and turkey scraps, to catch Gulls. Unfortunately our net did not fire as intended, and we only managed to catch three first winter Greater Black-backed Gulls.

However, our attempt was definitely worth the effort, as we soon discovered that T:007 (above) was sighted in St. Peter-Ording, Germany, only four days after ringing. It doesn't appear to have left since, as we've had sightings throughout the year in the same location from multiple observers, the most recent one being in mid-August.

Later in the year we got a report that another bird of the catch, T:006, had been seen in Hirtshals, Denmark on 26th June!  A photograph by the observer, Lars Pederson is below.

Amazingly that was not all!  Last month a sighting came through from the remaining gull of the catch, T:005, in Hanstholm, Denmark on 13th May.

So out of a catch of three birds, we've had a 100% foreign resighting rate! Not a bad boxing day after all! It really shows the benefits of colour rings on these species. All the locations the birds have been seen in are coastal harbour towns, so presumably the gulls have just latched onto and followed boats across the North Sea.

I will put an update up sometime soon about our Gull ringing this year.