Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Greenshank double resighting at Rutland Water‏

Thanks very much to Peter Hill, Jonathan Lloyd, Steve Lister and Andy MacKay for a great, recent double sighting of colour-ringed Greenshanks at Rutland Water in Leicestershire. Right leg: red/blue - left leg: light green/light green (see great photograph by Peter Hill at Rutland) was ringed on the Ythan Estuary, 10kms north of Aberdeen, on 31/8/13 and was first reported at Rutland on 26/9/13, still there on 6/10/13. Right leg: dark green/blue – left leg: orange/red was ringed on the Ythan on 1/9/13 and also turned up at Rutland on 26/9/13 but wasn’t seen again.

 We don’t get many inland sightings of the birds we ring on autumn passage in NE Scotland and few are seldom reported together after they have departed the Ythan. Ringing has shown many of these birds are heading for Ireland for the winter whilst others head south to France and Spain and sometimes even further into North Africa with one site faithful bird wintering on the Cape Verde Islands, well who wouldn't?!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Fascinating Sandwich Tern pre-migration movements

The North Sea population of Sandwich Terns is highly mobile after breeding with birds remaining in the vicinity for several months post-breeding. It has long been known and indeed our ringing has also shown that Sandwich terns from other parts of the North Sea Population arrive on our coats in late autumn prior to migrating south for the winter. Although this is a phenomena we know occurs it is still poorly understood. Hopefully some of the efforts we and Dutch researchers are undertaking will shed some light but for now little or no information exists on the inter-annual movements of individuals. As the study is no reaching its 3rd year we are now starting to gather some intriguing evidence. Today I received several sightings from a local researcher that had spotted 8 colour ringed sandwich terns while reading shag colour rings on the local coastline. One of the birds was a real gem of a sighting having first been caught and colour ringed in late August 2010 and subsequently located breeding in the Netherlands in both 2012 and 2013 (see photo). That information alone is interesting but in 2012 I observed it in early September again in north-east Scotland. So we know that this individual that breeds in the Netherlands has returned in late autumn to the same stretch of coast in Scotland at least 3 of the last 4 years prior to migrating south. Fantastic information that we would never have been able to get without the use of colour rings and the dedication of international observers! Hopefully with further ringers using colour rings in the UK and a lot more sightings we can shed some light on this fascinating behaviour.

Sandwich tern EKA breeding in the Netherlands (Fred Visscher)

EKA on a pre-migration trip up to Peterhead (Jenny Sturgeon)

Saturday, 31 August 2013

A really old one!

The only member of GRG to have their own Wikipedia page has just turned 50. Raymond Duncan is a born and raised Aberdonian, and is also the cornerstone of Grampian Ringing Group having capably led the group for well over a decade. His enthusiasm for bird ringing was kindled as a young lad and he has been an avid bird ringer and nester since; spending almost any conceivable moment carrying out some sort of bird ringing related project. During his ringing career he has been recognised for his services to the BTO in being awarded the BTO’s Tucker Medal for outstanding service in 2008. Raymond has not just given his time to furthering our understanding of birds through his countless projects; he has also trained dozens of ringers over the years, providing them with a hugely diverse skills base to build on as they develop under his encouragement and enthusiasm.

Although he is perhaps best known for his waxwing studies which have seen the colour ringing of thousands for birds to allow their irruptions to be followed through the movement of individuals, he is best known to us for his love of coke, chocolate, sweeties and the Beano. So Happy Birthday Raymond (aka “Big nose”, “Ramie wrecker” etc)! 

Up a Christmas tree for LEO's

Always a nester

 Raymie wrecker in action with a gull darvic.

On the cliffs for seabirds

Raymond's invented holder for when we catch loadsa finches

Keeping an eye on trainees with Clunie

A big twite catch c2002

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

5 Terns of 5 Countries

As I blogged about a single tern of 4 countries last time I thought this time I’d give an update of our tern ringing season so far. On still nights at the weekend with favourable tides we have been attempting to catch terns at night. Our main target is sandwich terns and we are steadily amassing a really interesting dataset. Sandwich Tern numbers during a lot of August on our catch sites tends to be fairly low as many of our local breeders move round into the Moray Firth – and a recent deluge of excellent sightings from Findhorn bay indicates this is the case this year. So august can be a relatively quiet period for Sandwich Terns while the local breeders are further north and the mass of continental and British birds still to arrive (hopefully!).

Two of our colour ringed sandwich terns in Findhorn Bay (Richard Somerscocks)

During this lull in Sandwich Tern activity we have been focussing our efforts on Arctic Terns with over 1000 caught so far this Autumn (over double the total number ever caught in a year in the UK previously) and with these good numbers has come excellent information from ringed birds. Although we will have to wait for the recovery details of the ringed birds we have caught we can get a reasonable idea where they are from as 12 of the 41 ringed Arctic Terns caught this autumn have been ringed abroad.

Juvenile Arctic tern (Harry Scott)

Before the end of July we caught 2 Swedish ringed juvenile Arctic Terns, surprising as they had crossed the North Sea so quickly. 5 other juveniles have since been caught with Finnish rings, with 3 on the same night in mid-August. Alongside these Baltic juveniles have been adults from Finland, Estonia and Denmark and it is interesting to see that so many Baltic breeders arrive in the East Coast each autumn. We also caught a Belgian ringed Sandwich tern earlier in the season so we have had 13 foreigners from 5 countries so far this year!

Adult and juvenile little tern (Euan Fergusson)

Alongside the fantastic number of Arctic and reasonable numbers of Sandwich tern we have also caught 3 other species of terns. As well as Common Terns we have caught a small number of Little Terns and a single Black Tern. The latter being the first for Grampian ringing group.

Juvenile Black Tern (Jenny Lennon)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A tern of 4 countries

It has been a while since we have posted anything on the blog about our sandwich tern study, but this is not due to lack of activity. Our dataset is growing rapidly with the many sightings that we and the birding community have sent to us. Through our tern work we keep in close touch with a number of tern ringers elsewhere in Europe and in particular we have good contact with the Netherlands. A massive population of sandwich terns breed in the Netherlands and each year a significant portion end up venturing up to Scotland in the autumn prior to migrating south. Generally these birds arrive during August and into September, so a portion of the birds we are colour ringing on the Ythan Estuary in autumn breed in these colonies.

Blue EBA at a breeding colony in the Netherlands (Pim Wolf)
This summer we have had a steady stream of sightings from several observers in the Netherlands including one partial sighting of a colour ring that looked like ELV but as it was at a breeding colony and we could not be 100% certain. Pim Wolf, who had managed to photograph the bird continued to look out to confirm the combination but was unfortunately unable to relocate it in the colony of 3800 pairs.

A tantalising glimpse of red ELV in the Netherlands (Pim Wolf)
The trail went cold for a while until yesterday when Pim and myself both received emails from Lee Collins with a sighting of 2 colour ringed birds associating together on Dawlish Nature Reserve in Devon. We were both emailed as the sighting related to one of my birds (an adult -red ELV) and one of Pim’s (a juvenile - white NL1). This chick was ringed at the colony where ELV had been possibly sighted during the breeding season and the close association suggested it was likely to be its fledged juvenile. A further twist to the tail is that when I colour ringed red ELV it already had a metal ring that showed it had been ringed in BELGIUM as an adult in July 2007!
7T61672 during processing - it was 672 days before we heard from it again (Ewan Weston)
Ewan Weston


Friday, 12 April 2013

Aberdeenshire Osprey in Spain

Since 1993, Grampian Ringing Group has ringed over 160 young Ospreys in tree nests, fitting coloured darvic rings supplied by Roy Dennis as part of the Scottish scheme. At least 11 of these have been recovered or resighted abroad, in Spain, Portugal, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Ghana. Increasingly, resightings are coming from birdwatchers using digital cameras.

Crouching in the nest, playing dead (Photo: Ewan Weston)
One such bird was a single youngster, ringed near Monymusk in Aberdeenshire on 17 July near Aberdeen, Scotland.  It was raised in a nest in a forest plantation – one that has been there for many years and has fledged many young. 2012 had very bad weather during the summer and many Ospreys found it hard to rear chicks. It was very pleasing that the birds were successful! Usually, we try to ring young Ospreys at a good large size, but sometimes they have to be ringed at a younger age. This chick was a late, small bird, lagging distinctly behind other nests in the area.

Ringed and ready to go (Photo: Guy Anderson)

Once the birds have left the nests, often they are not seen again and their fate remains unknown. However, we received news a few days ago that this young bird - ringed on the left leg with a blue ring with the white digits 89, had been present at the Urdaibai estuary near Bilbao in northern Spain from March 15th to 8th April. It had been photographed and the ring read.

The Urdaibai estuary, north-east of Bilbao

Blue 89 at the estuary (Photo: Gari Bilbao)

We don't know where else the bird has been, nor whether it is likely to return to Scotland this year, as many young birds don't come back in their first year, but it is always nice to receive reports and photographs, and doubly so as it shows that late, small chicks can successfully fledge, migrate and survive the winter.

Ian Francis

Friday, 5 April 2013

When do the Waxwings go and richt braw Scottish Waxwing bird table

Many people ask when do the Waxwings leave.

The graphs below of numbers on fruit in gardens in Aberdeen in previous invasions gives some idea.

Timings differ between invasions but it’s not uncommon to have a large number (100+) during April when they start to fatten up and depart.

Double figures remain into May. The sudden increase and decrease in early May 2005 was accompanied by a bird caught which had been ringed earlier in the winter in Bristol, suggesting a surge of birds heading back north. However this appears to be very unusual. The number of birds returning back north is very, very small in comparison to the number which pass through earlier in the winter. Of probably over 1,000 colour-ring sightings in England, Wales and Ireland over the years none of these birds have been recorded back with us in NE Scotland on return spring migration. Most appear to depart from where they have settled earlier in the winter.

Finally thank you very much to Wendy Anderson for sending us a photograph of one of our colour-ringed birds from Aberdeen feeding in her garden in Culloden, near Inverness, 128km NW of Aberdeen. Their Waxwing “Scottish bird table” gave us all a richt guid chuckle. The colour-ringed bird can be seen top left. Hugh Insley and co. made a fine catch the following day, catching all 38 in a oner with a whoosh net.


Sunday, 31 March 2013

Rock Pipit Movements

As well as studying the breeding ecology of Rock Pipits, the colour-ringing project looks at movements of the birds. So far the project has discovered:
Sedentary birds, which remain on territory all year
Adults which move a short distance from their breeding site to winter on a nearby seaweedy beach
Local movements between beaches, probably driven by the availability of seaweed (which hosts their invertebrate prey), and/or social interactions
Daily commutes between a feeding area and a communal roost
Migration to and from Shetland, and probably beyond

Sedentary birds

Many (but not all) of the birds breeding at Girdleness, of both sexes, can be found there throughout the year. None have been found elsewhere, as yet.

Winter flocking on beaches close to breeding sites

A special mention should be made of the bird holding the record for the highest number of resightings. 2611107/Yellow Blue/Yellow was ringed as a juvenile male during the first catch of the project, on 26/09/2009, at Aberdour Beach. He has now been recorded forty times since, always on the same beach. Only one of these sightings was during the breeding season (21/05/2012), which is still enough to suggest that he breeds nearby, probably around the inaccessible cliffs to the west of the beach.

2611107/Y B/Y after ringing. © Allan Perkins.

Local movements between winter beaches

In previous years Pennan has hosted brief sizeable flocks of Rock Pipits during the autumn. Although birds breed around the village, the origins of the birds caught there are unknown. One of these birds, 2611143/Yellow Red/Orange, ringed as a juvenile female on 28/09/2010, was spotted at various locations along the north coast, resulting in an almost-round trip of 34km, ending at Aberdour Beach on 21/05/2012. As with the above-mentioned bird, she was probably breeding nearby.

Map showing the local movements of 2611143/Y R/O.
A = 28/09/2010; B = 22 & 23/10/2010 (8km); C = 08/02/2011 (10km);
D = 08 & 10/01/2012 (10km); E = 21/05/2012 (6km).

Commuting between roost and feeding area

Communal roosting of Rock Pipits is not well documented. Thanks to the efforts of the “shaggers”, good numbers have been observed appearing in Fraserburgh Harbour on winter evenings, for the last couple of years. It took until autumn 2012 to raise my interest, when a couple of colour-ringed birds were reported. The first was ringed as a first winter female at Cairnbulg (3.5 km SE) on 20/03/2012, and not seen again in the interim. She has not been recorded back at Cairnbulg since. We retrapped her at the roost this February, and she was found 3 days later feeding nearby, on the Beach Esplanade.

2611325/G O/W retrapped at Fraserburgh Harbour roost 24/02/2013 almost a year after being ringed in Cairnbulg. © Amanda Biggins

The other bird was ringed as a chick near Quarry Head, Rosehearty (“Nest 1” in my previous blog post), on 20/05/2012, a distance of 9km. It was also photographed a month earlier at nearby Kinnaird Head.

Over the winter, the roost has held between 6 and 18 birds, with 11 so far being trapped and ringed there. Seven have been resighted back there subsequently. There is considerable movement between the roost and Cairnbulg, 3.5 km away. Half of the birds ringed at Cairnbulg have been seen at the roost, with five birds regularly moving back and forth between the two sites. Three birds have so far been observed at both sites on the same day.

To date, 17 different colour-ringed birds have been recorded at the roost, with at least 7 still unringed (and this is probably an underestimate), giving a total of at least 24 birds.

Rock Pipits preparing to roost in the wall crevices of Fraserburgh Harbour. © Amanda Biggins

Due to the limited daylight hours of the Scottish winter, the birds have not been arriving at the roost until after dusk. This has made it difficult to observe colour-ring combinations and it is likely that some have been missed. Also, birds may roost in other parts of the harbour, away from the main study area.


The regular migration of Rock Pipits was thought to be restricted to the Scandinavian littoralis race. Although there have been recoveries of Shetland-ringed birds (mainly from Fair Isle) in many parts of mainland Britain, this was thought to be juvenile dispersal, and that the adults remained on their breeding areas all year.

The first, and the longest, of the project’s long-distance recoveries involved only the second bird I colour-ringed myself. 2611110/Yellow Blue/Black, a first-winter, ringed on Aberdour beach on 13/02/2010. Having nearly knocked myself out going to retrieve it from the trap, slipping on rocks (I literally had cartoon Rock Pipits tweeting around my head), I was really pleased to hear from Jason Atkinson on the island of Whalsay, Shetland. The bird had originally been seen breeding at Skaw on 28/04/2010, but was too far away to identify the combination, until it was photographed feeding fledglings on 21/06/2010. I was on Shetland when I heard the news, and waved to the bird as we passed on the ferry to Out Skerries. It was last recorded at Skaw on 26/09/2010 and was not seen back in Aberdeenshire.

2611110/Y B/N breeding at Skaw, Whalsay, Shetland, 325km from where it was ringed. © Jason Atkinson

The second recovery involved a bird ringed on Fair Isle on 07/09/2007 and recaught at Aberdour Beach on 20/10/2010, when I was training the newly appointed Fair Isle warden, David Parnaby. 2551461/Green Red/Green was not seen again, until a possible sighting: the briefest glimpse, back at Aberdour beach 1 year and 9 days later. This bird could have been on passage both times it was caught, and was not seen back on Fair Isle in between it’s brief visits to Aberdeenshire.

The next recovery further dispelled the juvenile dispersal theory. 2611301/Green Green/White, or “Celtic” as he’s become known, was ringed as a 1st winter male at Rosehearty on 07/11/2011. Seen there regularly over the winter, up until 28/02/2012. He was first spotted on Fair Isle on 17/04/2012. He bred not far from the observatory, and was last noted feeding chicks on 21/06/2012. I unfortunately did not find him when I visited Fair Isle in early September. When I returned home I found out why: I found “Celtic”, now an adult, back at Rosehearty on 28/09/2012 - a round trip of 400km. He has so far been seen 13 times this winter.

2611301/G G/W, “Celtic”, back at Rosehearty, after breeding on Fair Isle. © Amanda Biggins.

We were alerted to the presence of a metal-ringed bird at Buchanhaven, Peterhead this winter by Ed Duthie, who sent us photo’s of most of the ring number (plus 2 colour-ringed birds). The photos showed that this was an adult. I took my fancy new telescope off to the area and soon located the bird. I felt a bit dodgy peering into someone’s front garden through the ‘scope, but luckily noone complained. I pursued it down the road to get the last digit. I discovered that, although not impossible, trying to read a Rock Pipit metal ring in the field brings to mind a phrase about a headless chicken. 2552406 was ringed on Fair Isle on 15/04/2009, and has been seen four times at Buchanhaven, between 30/12/2012 and 18/02/2013.

A colour-ringed Rock Pipit was reported from a remote part of Out Skerries, Shetland (summer 2011), which probably originates from Grampian. However, without the full combination, it was untraceable.

Next time I will talk about movements of birds ringed as chicks. I’ll hopefully find some breeding, to complete the stories of some interesting movements of these youngsters.


Thursday, 28 February 2013

2012 Totals

The totals for 2012 are in. 12,572 birds of 121 species were processed.

4 species were new for the group, Scaup, Red Grouse, Whimbrel and Paddyfield Warbler

The top ten species ringed were - 
  1. Swallow – 1552
  2. Goldfinch – 1078
  3.  Linnet - 580
  4.  Greenfinch - 468
  5.  Arctic Tern - 455
  6.  Waxwing - 430
  7.  Chaffinch - 422 
  8.  Blue Tit - 414
  9.  Sandwich Tern – 413
  10.  Herring Gull - 354

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Deeside Dazzlers

Following an amazing email forwarded to me the other night by Raymond, I thought I'd share this story in the hope that it might encourage folk to seek out and ring or photograph Waxwings. Who knows, it might result in a few more amazing emails?

It all started on 31st October 2012; Raymond circulated an email warning us that Waxwings were on their way! Amazingly, on 6th November I heard a single Waxwing fly over my house here in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, so I dashed out and stocked my garden with berries and fruit in the hope of attracting a flock to ring. Over the next two weeks Waxwing numbers around my housing estate gradually built up to 35 birds feeding on the berry trees in neighbouring gardens. On 18th November, once the flock appeared settled, Ian Halliday and myself mist-netted and colour-ringed 3 birds of the 28 present that day, tricky conditions but at least we’d made a start!

By 24th November I’d managed to get the flock feeding on the ground, this time Ian and I were joined but Anna Redpath and her family when we successfully woosh-netted 17 of the 21 birds present that day.

Finally, on the 26th November, I hit the jackpot; the flock started feeding in my garden!

During the early hours of 27th November I managed to assembled a crack team of local ringers (Walter Burns, Alistair Duncan and Brian Pirie), when the flock of 32 birds descended, we successfully caught 31 of them! A brilliant result I thought… time to sit back and watch / photograph them I thought…

How wrong could I be! The very next day (28th Nov), I immediately notice several un-ringed birds in the flock, AND… what looked to be a foreign ringed bird!!!  'Life' was instantly put on hold! All efforts were focused on catching the foreigner!  Luckily for me, the first bird caught on the 29th November was the foreign ringed bird which turned out to have a Stavanger ring – a stunning result!

So… now could I relax? Nope, unfortunately not. I had to go away for the weekend 1-2nd December and my supply of fruit was pretty much finished, so I put ‘work’ to one side for a couple of days and concentrated on catching and colour-ringing as many of the new birds which joined the flock each day. Finally… just an hour before I had to go away, I ran out of colour-rings and a total of 59 Waxwings (including the Stavanger control) had been colour-ringed on my estate!

When I returned home on the Monday the flock had unfortunately departed. So, with the birds now gone, what next? Well… almost immediately I started to receive emails, sometimes with photos attached, reporting our Aboyne birds from other locations!  Initially, birds were sighted nearby in Aberdeen, soon afterwards they were further south in Dundee.

Then BOOM, out of the blue, one of our birds appeared in Northern Ireland! Just the 3rd time a colour-ringed Waxwing has been re-sighted in Ireland - I was so chuffed, what a brilliant result!

 BUT… as if that wasn't good enough, that report was quickly followed by another bird appearing in Kilnsea, East Yorkshire! Then, more recently, a bird appeared away down south in Essex! These are all unbelievable results considering we ringed just 59 individuals!

Well, like me, you're probably thinking it can't get any better than that?  Hmmm… the story continues I'm afraid!  Yep, at about 10.30pm the other night… it got a whole lot better! Raymond forwarded an email from a Hjördis Drexler…. yeh, tell me about it, even the boggin name got me totally freaked out!!!  With a stunning photo attached to his email, Hjördis was just informing us that he'd seen and photographed one of our Deeside Dazzlers near his home in Stade, GERMANY!!! This is only the third Waxwing to have ever been recorded travelling from the UK to Germany – another mind-boggling and surely ultimate result from our efforts here in Aboyne last autumn…. oooor is it?


If you can check or photograph any Waxwings for colour-ringed birds it would be much appreciated? As you can see in the map below, our 59 Deeside Dazzlers could be just about ANYWHERE now?


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Tawny Frogmouth Breeding Success

Former Grampian ringer Stuart Rae now lives in Canberra, Australia. Here he shares one of his studies on the local birdlife.

A brood of two Tawny Frogmouth chicks

I have been monitoring the breeding success of Tawny Frogmouths Podargus strigoides in Canberra, Australia, for several years and have found that the pattern is fairly constant. About half the breeding pairs rear two young to fledging; a few rear three in any year and about a quarter rear one chick. The proportion of pairs which fail to rear any chicks is about 24% on average over the years, ranging from 17 – 34% (Figure 1). I do not disturb the birds to record clutch size, but it is known to range from 1-3.

Figure 1: The number of young reared per breeding pair of Tawny Frogmouths in 2006- 2012, Canberra, Australia.

In recent years I had thought that more birds were failing to rear young, but this is just the impression gained as I have added more pairs to the study in the past few years. Although I have been recording more failures, this has been in proportion with larger sample sizes, there is no statistical difference (χ2 = 3.8, df = 6, P = 0.43). The main causes of failure, which is usually of whole clutches or broods, are predation by unknown species, but likely Brush-tailed Possum or Brown Goshawk. One male was taken off the nest by a feral cat. A few nests have been blown out of their trees by strong winds.

Figure 2: the number of Tawny Frogmouth pairs which fail to rear any young in any year is proportional (c 24%) to the number of pairs studied (r = 0.899, P = 0.003).

Further study will aim to determine whether there are any differences between the breeding success of frogmouths in grassy woodland, dry sclerophyll forest or suburban remnant woodland; or if there is any difference between years of drought and high rainfall. Fortunately the study has already covered these criteria.

Stuart Rae

A male Tawny Frogmouth protects his chick