19 July 2017

Short summer summary

It's been a while since we blogged, but it doesn't mean we've not been busy. We're now at a stage where there are only two Barn Owl broods left to be ringed (with the running total now over 95 birds ringed this season), so will be looking at the numbers soon. It feels like the season started well, with plenty of large clutches, but has since gone downhill, with much smaller broods and a few failed sites. One site even had four large chicks where two attempted to fledge early and sadly ended up predated.

The limit of the first flight of one of the birds fledged from the barn in the background
Away from Barn Owls, our other main summer ringing once again focused on seabirds, with mixed fortunes. Our annual gull-ringing trip to Mullion Island was a quick affair, with the island seemingly devoid of gulls. In fact, we only found and ringed five chicks, which is the lowest number since 2013.

Slightly more successful were our Kittiwake trips to Trewavas Head, where we have continued to read colour rings on many of our own birds (43 from previous years) and also several French birds, some of which are now breeding here. We've also strayed further north to check the colonies Portreath and Porthmissen, the later being so much quieter than in previous years. From the precarious viewpoint at Porthmissen Bridge it's possible to see most of the ledges, but the photos below show large areas of the colony have failed completely, with around 60 nests still with chicks.

The occupied area of the colony...
...and the depressingly quiet deserted ledges
One of the two French-ringed birds at Porthmissen this week, ringed as a chick in 2003

If reading colour rings takes patience then reading metal rings is a whole different ball game! But two rings read in the last week were both worth the effort, even more so as they were both on upside down! A Cormorant at Helston Boating Lake was ringed as a chick on Little Saltee Island, Co Wexford, in 2016, and a Black-headed Gull at Swanpool, Falmouth (below) was ringed as an adult in Dorset in 2011.

29 June 2017

Photogenic Stonechat

Having been photographed as a scruffy young bird at Gunwalloe back in September 2016, we wonder if Z994461 was keen to show of its better side now it looks rather smarter? Local wildlife photographer Terry Thirlaway managed to photograph enough of the ring on a Stonechat in the lighthouse garden at Lizard yesterday to identify it as this same bird - quite an achievement!

So just to celebrate the change from scruffy juvenile to proper grown-up we thought we'd share some pictures here.

24 June 2017

Busy week of Barn Owls, Kittiwakes and Stormies

We've spent lot of the last week catching up on monitoring and ringing of some of our breeding birds. This has mostly involved Barn Owl boxes and Kittiwakes, but also some new-moon Storm Petrel and urban gull ringing.

So far this year we've ringed 16 adult and 30 nestling Barn Owls, and recaught 10 adults already with rings (including this bird from Suffolk). The birds at Windmill Farm reserve on the Lizard always offer a surprise and this year was no exception. Last year we saw one of the palest chicks we'd ever seen in the brood there and again this year we ringed one very pale chick. But of more interest was the unusual patterning on the wing, with the outer three primaries very different to the rest!

Amongst the other boxes visited was this brood of four chicks which chose not to use the whole of the box, but simply all bundle up on top of each other!

Aside from monitoring the Kittiwakes at Portreath from the cliff-tops, we continued our colour-ringing project at Trewavas Head at the weekend. While two group members kayaked round from Portleven, one climbed in bringing along a ladder to help reach some of the more lofty ledges. It's a good sign when a lot of the birds in the colonies here are already ringed, so we only managed to add another nine adults to our colour-marked population.

OWM-RNN (hatched in France in 2007) with a chick at Trewavas Head, the first time we've seen it breeding. It's been seen at Trewavas Head every year since 2012 but this is its first breeding attempt.

As for Storm Petrels, despite the light wind and early date, we managed to catch an impressive 81 birds at Lizard on one night, including three birds that were already ringed. One of these was from the Channel Islands, with the others both being ringed in 2016 in west Wales. One was ringed on Skokholm Island on 26th July and the other at nearby St David's four days later, providing further proof of the Celtic links of our Stormies.

19 June 2017

Suffolk tourists visit the county

It's that time of year in sunny Cornwall where the roads slow down and lots of new faces arrive in the county on their summer holidays. Apparently this isn't just restricted to people though (emmits as we call them down here), with some birds from 'up-country' also finding Cornwall to their liking.

This might not be too surprising when we're talking migrants, but even we're surprised sometimes by the arrivals we find. Whilst recently checking Barn Owl boxes in the far west of Cornwall, we came across a ringed female in a box with her chicks, but the ring number was unfamiliar. It turns out this bird had been ringed as a chick the previous year in east Suffolk, which is quite remarkable! The box is monitored by the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project and this looks to be by far the furthest movement they've heard of from their hundreds of boxes.

Many thanks to the National Trust West Cornwall Barn Owl Project for helping monitor these boxes in Penwith and to the Suffolk project for providing us with some quick feedback.

Most of our Barn Owls seem to be at this stage, with chicks mostly under two weeks old
As if this was surprising enough, I was emailed by Sue Sayer (Cornwall Seal Group) the very next day with details of a colour-ringed Kittiwake photographed during one of their boat-based surveys at Porthmissen earlier in the year. In a strange coincidence, this bird was also from Suffolk, ringed as a chick in Lowestoft in 2014. It was seen again in Lowestoft in June 2016 but not since and may well be a young bird prospecting new nest sites.

The movements of these two birds are not quite unprecedented, although the only Barn Owls to have travelled further to Cornwall were ringed in Germany and The Netherlands. The only Kittiwakes to have travelled further were from Northumberland (x2), Northern Ireland (x2) and Norway.

Origins of our two visitors: K (Kittiwake) and B (Barn Owl)

1 June 2017

Attacking the Mullion Mallow

With Mullion Island's Cormorants mostly all grown up, it was safe to head over to the island yesterday in two kayaks to do our first Great Black-backed Gull nest count of the year. A small team of four were able to cover most of the island, just missing out areas where the young Cormorants (and some Shags) were perched up on the cliff ledges.

Shag nests on the south side of the island

Whilst some birds were nesting on open ground, most were tucked deep in the Mallow that covers half of the island. This doesn't make nest counting very easy, hence needing a small team to be able to line-search through the vegetation, which is often over head height!

In total we located 70 nests, although we did miss some areas of the island. This compares reasonably well to the record count last year, but there were slightly fewer eggs/chicks than expected. Totals over the years for the island are shown below for info.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
GBB Gull nests
62 37 83 70
GBB Gull eggs/chicks 98 174 90 204 166
GBB Gull chicks ringed 4 17 12 13
Cormorant nests 24 52 50 39 47
Cormorant chicks ringed 11 19 7 16 0

Whilst on the island we were also hoping to ring some Shag chicks, but in the end only two right on top of the island were in a safe enough place to get to.

18 May 2017

Hola TBZ and a Chough update

After a day out ringing Chough chicks in the far west of the county (more on that later) it was a pleasant surprise to find an email reporting one of our Mullion Island Cormorants in Spain! We've had a bird seen in France before, but Spain is a great record. It's not unprecedented though, and two chicks ringed in Cornwall in the 1960s were later found dead on the north coast of Spain. But this is the first live sighting.

TBZ was ringed in 2016 and was seen near Castropol on the northwest coast of Spain, so thanks to Gilberto Sánchez Jardón for the photo and for reporting it back to us.

As for Choughs, it was mixed news sadly... We visited three sites in West Penwith: the first produced two male and two female chicks, the second just a single chick and the last nest site was empty! This was rather surprising as the pair had been showing all the usual behaviours seen when feeding young, but the nest (below) was very clean and obviously hadn't held any chicks.

Thanks to Alan and Christian who came along to ensure that we safely got into these sites, so do check out their Rope Geeks page on Facebook. Also thanks to Robbie Phillips for the photos.

15 May 2017

A very Lizard day

As part of the celebrations for the extension of the Lizard National Nature Reserve the group ran a ringing demonstration at the weekend at Windmill Farm, which is jointly owned by Cornwall Bird Watching & Preservation Society and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

It was great to see a few young faces coming along to see what we do and we were able to show them a variety of birds, including some long-distance migrants, some local breeders and even a very recently fledged young Blackbird.

Whilst down on the Lizard we also took the opportunity of a low tide to get into one of the sea caves to ring the first of the year's Cornish Choughs. After a climb and a scramble it was a pleasure to find four very healthy-looking chicks in the nest, all at a perfect size for ringing. Each then got its own combination of coloured rings which will allow the dedicated band of Chough-watchers to follow their progress and movements around the county in years to come. This gives a vital understanding of the behaviour and conservation needs of this iconic Cornish species.

Leg length is one of the best ways to identify the sex of nestlings

After returning the chicks to the nest, we took the opportunity to look at their nest site from their own perspective. You can see how well-protected the nest is from the worst of the Cornish weather and also pretty safe from predators. Perched at the top of an isolated sea cave, their view of the outside world is limited - for now.


10 May 2017

Glow in the dark owls

Yesterday saw us doing our first round of Barn Owl nestbox checks, covering just 13 sites on the Lizard (but almost 100 miles of driving). It looks like this will be a good year, perhaps following on from a very dry spring. Most of the boxes we checked had clutches of five or six eggs, several of which were just in the process of hatching, with many boxes also having very full 'larders' of rodent prey. Quite a few of these sites were new ones for 2017 as well, so with occupancy rates very high this is again an encouraging sign for a productive season.

Newly-hatched chicks still dwarfed by some of the prey stashed for them!

It is always useful for us to catch the adults in the boxes, as we can track the repeated breeding efforts of birds across years, but also any birds caught can be returned to the box, where they invariably settle back down straight away to continue incubating or brooding. We've also been looking at using a small UV torch to better see distinctions between old and new flight feathers in adult birds, which can help in ageing them. We've not quite mastered this yet, but the photo below shows the pattern on one bird, with two new moulted flight feathers fluorescing pink against the surrounding older feathers. ore info on this technique can be found online (http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1676/09-125.1).

4 May 2017

Welsh Kittiwake moves house

We're quite used to seeing colour-ringed French Kittiwakes in our Cornish colonies (24 different birds in the last five years), but birds from elsewhere are few and far between. In Cornwall, birds have been found dead originating from Norway (Porthtowan in 2013), Northumberland (two birds), Northern Ireland (two birds) and Wales (two birds). So it was a pleasant surprise to find a red-ringed bird in the colony at Portreath yesterday, which I knew was from Puffin Island, Anglesey. At first it wasn't clear if it was AXE or AXF, but after some patient sitting and watching (such a hardship on a sunny clifftop) it eventually shuffled and revealed it was in fact AXF.

Thanks to Steve Dodd for the quick reply on the bird and it was another surprise. I presumed this would be a bird ringed as a chick a few years ago, moving colony, but EY22283 was ringed as an adult female on the island in July 2016. It's not clear if this was a wandering bird when ringed rather than a breeding bird, but it does look quite settled at Portreath now!

1 May 2017

Missing out on Mullion Cormorants

The bank holiday weekend plan was to see if we could ring some of the Cormorant chicks on Mullion Island, so a group of five of us paddled out on Saturday to have a look. We'd had to leave it this late as there were several nests 'behind the curve' this year, so ringing the larger chicks would have exposed the smaller chicks to predation from the many Great Black-backed Gulls also nesting on the island. However, because of the delayed visit the larger chicks were now too large to risk going onto the island, so we just satisfied ourselves with a paddle round the island counting breeding auks instead.

All was not lost over the weekend though, as a check on one of our Dipper boxes found not eggs but chicks, which were the perfect age for ringing. This was a bit unexpected, but perhaps my timings were a bit off! Sadly the second box on this stretch of river was unoccupied for the first time since we started monitoring in 2013.

28 April 2017

Trewavas Kittiwakes

It's always nice to be back out on the cliffs and today saw a couple of us out checking up on our Kittiwakes at Trewavas Head. This has to be the best place to run a boring old monitoring project, deep in the heart of Cornish mining country.

But an abseil down to one site and a scramble/coasteer to another was pretty productive and we managed to read 19 colour rings on birds in the two colonies. Most were birds we'd ringed ourselves in previous years, but 'EC' resighted today was a bird originally ringed as a chick on Gugh, Isles of Scilly in 1996, so now over 20 years old and still going strong!

Just some of the 50 pairs of birds at Trewavas Head, although none have yet started breeding proper
We also caught up with three French-ringed birds, all of which are regulars at Trewavas Head, ringed at Point du Raz in Brittany in the last 10 years. The bird below, WWN-OWM, was ringed in 2007 and has been seen at Rinsey and Trewavas since 2012.

Just to add to the Cornish-ness of the day, the walk out saw a pod of over 40 Bottle-nosed Dolphin, including a few calves, cruise past and the walk back saw two Choughs enjoying the updrafts from the cliff edge!

7 March 2017

Mullion Cormorant in France

With so much time taken up recently putting up Barn Owl boxes it seems like an age since we blogged. But news today of one of our Mullion Island Cormorants gave cause to put pen to paper.

TBP was ringed as a chick on the island in April 2016 and hadn't been seen since before being found dead with a neck injury in France on 3rd March. This is the second of our birds to be found in France and the furthest movement to date. Perhaps not surprisingly, birds do tend to stick to the English Channel area but it's surprising they don't stray further north.

The only other recent sightings have been a bird roosting on Helston Loe Pool (along with up to 16 Cattle Egrets!) and a bird that has spent the winter at Chard Reservoir in Somerset.

Adults are already sitting on nests on the island so it won't be too long until we're back out starting our 2017 monitoring.

We don't have a photo of TBP when ringed,
but it probably looked very like TBR

3 February 2017

Big boxes on the Lizard

Stuck in the middle of the usual winter storms, our winter mist-netting has been rather limited, so we've been occupying ourselves with our big nestbox projects. Thanks to funding from Paradise Park in Hayle, we've been able to start replacing old and siting new Barn Owl nestboxes around the county. This winter we've only put up eight new boxes, but with requests for boxes still coming this is just the start! This does take the number of sites we monitor up to 84 though, so it's going to be a busy summer...

Most of the boxes are being sited in large open barns in areas where we know Barn Owls frequent, so we're hopeful that take-up will be quite high. Below are just a couple of examples of the boxes we've put up, and you can see that this isn't always a simple procedure!

As an aside from the Barn Owls, we've also just started a project to put up Kestrel nestboxes, as many of the sites we visit have the potential to hold both species. This is a bit of a new thing for us, with the first Kestrel box going up at a farm on the Lizard yesterday. Unlike Barn Owls, Kestrels really do like a room with a view, so the box below is in the perfect location!
We know it looks wonky, but it's the photo - honest!

22 January 2017

Wonderful Waste Water Works

After a very busy Chiffchaff morning at Carnon Downs works, now seems like a good time for an update. Perfect conditions this morning allowed an amazing catch of 73 Chiffchaffs, including no fewer than eight tristis race birds! Our catch also included two controls from Nanjizal (45km as the Chiff flies), including a tristis ringed on 1st December. Equally interesting was the recapture of a bird ringed at Gwennap works on 5th January; the first time we've recorded any bird moving between two sewage works sites! It may only be 4.5km between these sites, but for all the time we've netted at various sites this is a notable first.

After such a big catch, we then decided to work out our Chiffchaff totals for the year. It turns out we've ringed 151 Chiffchaffs, including 14 tristis birds. This is a bit artificial though, so the more sensible totals are for the whole winter; 211 Chiffchaff ringed, of which 22 were tristis! These totals really do go to show how important these sites are for wintering Chiffchaffs. Just for fun, below are a few of the recent tristis birds, some taken in apparently poor light...

Two very different-looking tristis

Two tristis, with a collybita for comparison