Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Colour-ringed Waxwings and an old friend returns

The UK is having its largest Waxwing invasion in 3 winters just now with birds being reported up and down the country during November and December, 2016.

We have colour-ringed over 300 birds in and around Aberdeenshire so far this winter, including 140 in Ballater. We would be very grateful for any reports of these birds so please check all Waxwings (AND YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS) and report them to or

We were delighted to hear from Shetland photographer and birder, Hugh Harrop recently about a returning Waxwing we had colour-ringed in a previous invasion

NW49165, colour rings red over white right leg, metal over red left leg (see photo) was ringed as an adult male on 03/12/2013 in Burnett Place, Aberdeen. Hugh had it in his garden at Hillwell, Shetland on 12/11/16. So it was very interesting to hear about this bird again, returning to the UK 3 winters later!
Hugh Harrop © Hillwell, Shetland 12/11/16
We get a lot of resightings of colour-ringed birds throughout the winter of an invasion (mainly in the UK) but this is only our 8th ringed bird recorded returning to the UK in a subsequent invasion out of the several thousands we have ringed over the years.

As an added bonus, this Waxwing had a little bit of history during its visit in 2013/14. It was resighted still in Aberdeen at the end of December 2013 before making a trip across the North Sea at some point and turning up in Hilversum in the Netherlands towards the end of February 2014.
Harry de Klein © Hilversum, Netherlands 26/02/14
Results from Waxwing ringing in previous winters can be found on the Blog, the BTO Online ringing reports or (specifically ringing in Ballater in 2010) a PDF summary can be emailed if you get in touch.

Have a very Merry Christmas and guid New Year from Grampian Ringing Group, hopefully with some Waxwings to watch and enjoy.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Ruff recovery in Nothern Spain

Last week, while I was catching up with some of the best birding blogs I know from Spain, I came across a surprise I really wasn´t expecting. My good friend Ernesto Villodas had posted a few pictures (see his blog at: a flagged ruff he had taken on the 18/09/2016 at Colindres, Cantabria (North Spain). Thanks to Antonio Gutierrez he found out that it could be a GRG bird and he mentioned Raymond´s name in his blog post but wasn´t able to contact him. What are the chances of me coming across my trainer´s name on a Spanish bird blog?? As soon as I saw this, I emailed Raymond with all the details and, within 10 mins, he confirmed it was a juv male (054 and red ring above the knee) they ringed near the Ythan estuary just 8 days before! For me, it was definitely one of the most exciting moments since I first started ringing back in March.

Ruff 054. Photo by Ernesto Villodas
It has now been confirmed that the bird was first seen on the 16/09/2016 by Gabriel Esturo, which means the bird flew at least 1500km in under 6 days. It will be interesting to know if it decides to spend the winter at the site or if it decides to continue its southwards journey. If it decides to stay I might even get to see it when I fly home over Christmas!

Photo by Ernesto Villodas

Monday, 15 August 2016

Leucistic? – Gingerism? – NO Erythrism!

BTO CES Session 9 (31 July 2016) began the same as the previous 8: 0330 hrs alarm, met at 0445 hrs, walked in, set nets and assembled ringing station.  In between the frequent short rain showers, Raymond, Lindsay, Hal and I carried out regular checks of the nets extracting any birds.

Little did we know what excitement lay ahead?  As Hal and I approached Net No. 3 we spotted 2 birds, the nearest one was clearly a Song Thrush but the second bird struck us as being a very strange colour.  On closer inspection it was obviously another Song Thrush but the colour was one that Hal and I had never seen before.  We returned to the ringing station with our find eager to show Raymond.  On seeing the bird, Raymond, in all his many years of ringing, hadn’t seen anything like it since Innes left for Edinburgh 20 years ago.  After all the bios were completed on both birds I took a series of photos before the birds were released.

The wise group of ringers concluded it was a strange kind of leucistic plumage which they christened Gingerism. However, in later consultation with an even wiser ringer (and former Biology teacher) Ally Duncan (of Oystercatcher ilk) we were reliably informed that this was called “Erythristic” – an unusual red pigmentation of the feathers. 

Erythrism is a genetic mutation which causes an absence of normal pigment or excessive production of others.  In some mammal species diet can cause a similar reaction.  After researching the Internet it is clear that there is very little information available.  It would appear that this colour phase is much rarer than albinism and leucistic birds.


Monday, 11 July 2016

Double control Sandwich tern!

In bird ringing a control is the name given to a bird which has been ringed out with the area/region in which a ringer/ringing group operates.
Always a bit more exciting than your own retraps as you have the mystery of not knowing where it has come from until you hear back from ringing friends/BTO HQ.

So when Ewan Weston spotted a Sandwich Tern with a metal ring on each leg whilst doing some ring reading at Forvie NNR it was clearly an interesting bird.
Both rings were quickly read and whilst one appeared to be a chick ringed at Forvie the other clearly wasn’t as it bore the letters SAF in the address……..SAFRING SOUTH AFRICA!

Ewan contacted some tern pals and quickly assembled the birds interesting history.
It wasn’t a Forvie bird after all. DB28806 had been ringed as a chick at Liddel, on South Ronaldsay in Orkney on 09/06/2001 and was now breeding at Forvie.
There have been several chicks from South Ronaldsay recorded breeding at Forvie over the years, as well as chicks from other colonies such as the Farne Islands, Ireland and even the Netherlands.

And then on 10/09/10 Tony Tree retrapped it at Berg River mouth, Velddrif, Western Cape, South Africa and added Safring No. D34025.
This is an important wintering area for many of the Forvie and UK’s Sandwich Terns.

Some fascinating wee snap shots from the life of a Sandwich Tern.

And through the round window……………………….you can see both rings.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Durris Siskin City

Following various blog reports during the autumn/winter about high Siskin numbers being ringed in England we’ve been lucky enough to “find” an amazing site at Durris near Aberdeen to help keep the picture of movements through the country going into the summer.

Thanks very much to Edith Beveridge for mentioning in passing she had counted 73 Siskins on a friend’s feeders one winter . I’m not sure if she was allowed to even finish the sentence before being interrupted to ask where, when and would her friends maybe like to see some bird ringing done in their garden!

Edith’s friends Lesley and Colin Blackhall were only too pleased to have us out to ring their Siskins and here we are 2 months and 1292 Siskins later now enjoying playing England shires and counties as details of some of the 27 birds ringed elsewhere start to filter through from BTO HQ.
See map for movements so far.

We thought we’d peaked at a session with 306 birds caught on 7th May followed by a spell of fine weather and “only” 37 caught on 14th May but emails from Lesley the following week saying numbers were back up again encouraged another visit on 22nd May. A gentle 10 whoosh net and 9 mist net catches and 6 and a half hours later and we stood at 403 birds caught. A check of the feeders before leaving suggested we’d only caught half the Siskins present. Incredible!
Unfortunately with everybody busy trying to keep up with the breeding season we have had to lay off the Siskins for a bit but we can’t wait to get back in the “autumn”. This years’ Juveniles are already beginning to swell numbers again!

Many thanks to Lesley and Colin Blackhall for very kindly allowing us into their Siskin City to have such an amazing time ringing the birds in their garden. We look forward to sharing ring exchanges up and down the country in the coming months to continue monitoring the winter/summer/winter movements of this awesome wee finch.

PS Lesley tells us she has been feeding the birds and getting loads of Siskins for years!!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

More amazing news from the Aberdeen Mandarin

Well folks, here's the latest mind-boggling episode on the life and times of 'Mac' our local celebrity drake Mandarin Duck!

Following an email I received yesterday morning suggesting that 'Mac' had possibly been sighted away from the Johnston Gardens area I put out a request for sightings/info to try establish his last know sighting locally.

Amazingly, Vicky Hall (via a local FB wildlife group) has been able to confirm with the aid of the photo below that 'Mac' was present at Walker Dam, Aberdeen, till at least 6.30pm on Thursday 14th April.
 What's more astounding is… just 110hrs (4.5 days) later, at 9.00am on the morning of 19th April, our very own wee 'Mac' was again photographed (see second photo below) but this time the photo was taken by Morten Lie ….have you guessed what's coming next?  Yep, wee 'Mac' has indeed flown back over the North Sea and was snapped by Morten at Krokstadelva near Drammen, just south-west of Oslo!!! How mad is that?
 It was major news in the bird ringing world to learn of his initial journey over here last September after being ringed near Oslo last Spring but for him to return there now makes this record truly unprecedented!

It now very much appears that this wee fella has been traversing the North Sea annually, spending his winters here in Aberdeen (since approx. 2011/12) and summering over near Oslo. We'd have known nothing of his amazing adventures and assumed he just moved away from Aberdeen each summer to find a mate locally had he not been ringed last spring near Oslo?

So I wonder what will happen next? I guess we'll just have to wait till later this summer/autumn and see if we can pick up his arrival back in Aberdeen to continue the story?

Harry Scott

PS. Many thanks to everyone who's been involved in this story so far, every little bit of information has been a huge help to keep an accurate track of this hyper-mobile wee dazzler!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Urban nesting oystercatchers

Oystercatchers again! 

This year we are carrying out a census of urban breeding oystercatchers in Aberdeen and round about. We would be grateful if you would report to us any breeding, or suspected breeding, pairs of roof or ground nesting oystercatcher in the city or suburbs. 

Please contact any of us as below:

Alistair Duncan -  alistair (at)
Raymond Duncan  - Raymond (at)
Brian Pirie  -  bpirie8910 (at)

Also remember to look out for any Darvic ringed birds. There is still a reward of a litre of Grouse for a sighting of N87 white!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Migratory Mandarin!!!

I recently noticed a post by Brian Battensby on a local FaceBook wildlife group suggesting that our now famous (been on t’telly and everyfink!) Johnston Gardens drake Mandarin might have a ring on its leg, so I thought I'd head in to Aberdeen to take a look and hopefully investigate its origins.

An unringed drake Mandarin has been over-wintering at this tiny ornamental pond in the heart of Aberdeen since around January 2010 as far as I can tell, I remember seeing it there on 8th February 2014.

After reading Brian's post reporting it as ringed I became curious as to whether our returning wintering bird had been caught and ringed recently, or whether it might be a different bird altogether - surely it would be very odd to have different drake birds frequenting the same wee inner city pool?

When visiting the gardens, several folk I chatted to suggested it was originally from the Hazelhead Zoo and that's where it was ringed etc - sort of makes sense that it then spends it's winters nearby in JG's?

Anyway, I got snaps of the ring …on its LEFT leg! Being ringed on his left leg kind of implies that he's been ringed overseas - 'generally' UK ringers are encouraged to ring birds on their right legs. So the left leg ring was intriguing me but then lots of exotic wildfowl originating from captive collections generally have rings. So my initial thoughts were that he was indeed most likely from a collection such as that at Hazelhead Park.

When I got home I was finally able to read the digits but a single inscribed word instantly caught my eye and confirmed that he definitely wasn’t one of my Deeside birds and more importantly… he’s NOT an escape from Hazelhead!

I was utterly gob-smacked when I saw what was inscribed on the ring…


Luckily, as he moved about I was able to get pretty much all the inscribed digits on the ring… "427439…" so I set about entering the details in to the Stavanger Museum web site - within 24hrs I received a full report of the birds history;

His full ring number is 4274391 and he was ringed as an adult male on the 9th of April 2015 at Bestumkilen, near Akershus, Oslo in Norway! Four days later, on the 13th April 2015, he was re-sighted at Minneparken, Porsgrunnselva which is about 150km SW of Oslo. He was not then sighted till he turned up in Johnston Gardens and was first sighted here on 6th September 2015 by Les Andrew. So, in the 325 days since ringing he's travelled over 803km to join us here in Aberdeen!

Having now had a look at the national BTO ringing data, it appears that just 7 Mandarins have previously travelled between the UK and other countries; 1 ringed in France turned up in the UK and another ringed here went to France; same story with the Netherlands as we recovered one of theirs and they recovered one of ours, two UK ringed Mandarins have been recovered in the Russian Federation… and lastly a Norwegian bird was shot in the UK (see below). So, our bird is just the 4th UK recovery of a foreign ringed Mandarin Duck, how amazing is that?

I received the following email from Håvard Husebø at Stavanger Museum:

Thanks a lot for your report of a Norwegian ringed bird. This was a great record! The Mandarin Duck is a relatively scarce bird in Norway. It is of course being kept as domestic park bird, but there also annually about 20 – 30 records of free-living individuals. With a peak of records in April and early May, which indicates that these do in fact migrate, possibly following other ducks on their route.
I’m not aware of any breeding of the species in Norway at the moment, although there were a few records back in the early 90s.
There is in total 21 Mandarins ringed in Norway. And your finding is actually our second recovery in UK. The first one was also ringed near Oslo and shot just north of Newcastle (09.11.1962). We also have one which was recovered way down in eastern Germany.”

So, I guess the main question now is, is he brand new to Johnston Gardens this winter? Has he been the bird, which has wintered here over the last 5–6 winters, travelling backwards and forwards between Aberdeen and Oslo? Or have we all been seeing more than one individual at Johnston Gardens? Surely we'd have seen two together on at least one occasion if this were the case?

Anyway, it would be very much appreciated if everyone can continue to look back through their photos and firstly confirm any dates when you've seen a Mandarin at Johnston Garden / Walker Dam and secondly if a ring was seen on it's leg?

Harry Scott