Thursday, 8 June 2017

Ringing on Bardsey (Spring)

It’s an incredible privilege to be able to undertake ringing activities on Bardsey. The miscellaneous and versatile habitats that the island offers means a rich diversity of birds can be caught and ringed, which leads to some interesting results and recoveries. The concept of ringing is quite simple, each bird has a unique ring size which matches its tarsus width, each ring then also holds its own matchless number. This means if the bird is recaptured elsewhere the ring can be read, and corresponded with its original capture and data. This has aided many studies to be able to understand longevity of birds, their migration, population trends and much more!

As I’m writing this article I have ringed 960 birds of 40 species on Bardsey this Spring. Outside of a Bird Observatory like Bardsey these sorts of figures would be incredibly difficult to match, especially for a trainee such as myself. I have experienced a dramatic learning curve during this time, where I find myself learning new features and aspects of ringing every day! Personally, what I find most fascinating about ringing and processing birds, is the opportunity to study them up close. Trying to age a bird can mean having to look very closely at its tail, greater coverts, iris etc. which opens a whole new world of understanding bird plumage.

The last few months have been amazing to say the least! March began rather slowly with only the first few trickles of migrants making their way through the island, mostly concerning Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus Collybita and Goldcrests Regulus regulus with 22 and 15 ringed respectively. A few other stragglers also hit the nets, with the first Blackcap of the year arriving near the end of the month and Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs and Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis adding to the diversity.

Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus are often the most numerous bird ringed on Bardsey annually, this largely being due to the incredible falls we experience each year around the mid-spring period in April and later in August. This spring’s peak count was an astounding 691 logged on a single day! Therefore, my most numerous bird ringed were Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus with 276 ringed, followed by 78 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and 77 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla! Mixed in with the Phylloscopus warblers and Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla were also the occasional scarcer migrant, Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia, Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, Whitethroat Sylvia communis, Garden Warbler Sylvia borin, Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea flammea or Lesser Redpoll Carduelis flammea cabaret. However, the most notable bird was a Pallas’s Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus found in the nets in the morning of 18th April which was only the seventh to be ringed on Bardsey this decade!

From left to right, top to bottom, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpolls, Woodpigeon, Grasshopper Warbler, Chiffchaff, Common Redpoll, Chiffchaff and Pallas's Warbler

In May sheer numbers were substituted for diversity, with Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia, Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca, Garden Warbler Sylvia borin, Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata and Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca all appearing on the months ringing list. This was combined with over 100 Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, 30 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 54 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and a good selection of other species. The scarcer migrants appeared to be the results of a small push of migrants in early May, the later part instead was predominantly spent ringing various chicks during the day followed by Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus in the evening. Which has raised my Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus totals to just under 200 birds! The most surprising results were however concerning the four Lesser Whitethroats Sylvia curruca ringed this month, with the usual annual mean being closer to 2.87!

From left to right, top to bottom, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Redstart, male and female Sparrowhawk

I look forward to the coming months, and am very much intrigued to see what I’m going to learn next. Hopefully I’ll be able to achieve my goal of ringing 2000 birds in a year!

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