Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Pictures from the past few days

 pallas's warbler © Andrew Walker 

 dusky warbler © Andrew Walker

Red-breasted flycatcher © Andrew Walker

 ring ouzel © Andrew Walker

fieldfare © Andrew Walker

More photos are available on Andrews website.

23rd October

Over night the wind was NE and after yesterday I had high hopes.  Arriving on site it was misty but unlike yesterday there was hardly a bird to be seen or heard.  A woodcock was trapped on the first net round which was nice after missing two yesterday.  Andrew Walker joined me again today which was a massive help.  After saying that we couldnt beat yesterdays pallas's warbler and red-breasted flycatcher we checked Walters net (The 40' net that has trapped the PG Tips and 2 barred warblers).  The first bird I came across looked like a chiffchaff but was darker and had a distinct supercilium with pale legs.  I noticed the slender bill and realised it was a dusky warbler.  I had to get Andy to take several paces back and look at the bird through his bins as birds in the hand can be very confusing close up.  A few of the local birders were in the vacinity and were lucky enough to see it in the hand.  The bird was relocated in the afternoon by Keith so at least John got to see it as he was working in the morning.  Over the morning it was clear that blackbirds have been replaced by redwings. Robins were also more numerous than yesterday.  The afternoon was similar to the morning with a continuous flow of redwings, goldcrests and robins.  A ring ouzel was trapped and ringed in the afternoon and was another new species ringed in the coastal park.  A great grey shrike dropped onto the Big Mound by the ringing hut however swiftly flew over the the quarry and out of site.  Overall another fantastic day, just a shame I have to work tomorrow.

Ringing totals were 134 birds including 47 redwing 28 robin, 25 blackbird, 22 goldcrest, 8 song thrush and singles of fieldfare, ring ouzel, dusky warbler and woodcock.

Monday, 22 October 2012

22nd October

The wind finally went east after a week or more of southwesterlies yesterday evening.  I got to Whitburn early whilst it still dark.  The place was lifting with thrushes.  The first net round was fairly quiet but it soon picked up with the majority of trapped birds being blackbirds.  A immature male fieldfare was trapped and a few goldcrests.  Two woodcock were flushed in the Big Mound but both missed the nets.  In the afternoon more goldcrests arrived and a pallas's warbler was trapped and ringed.  What a beautiful bird!!  On the next net round an Acrocephelus warbler was trapped, thinking it was possibly a blyths reed warbler, but surely it couldnt be.  I was right and it turned to be a bog standard reed warbler.  A few robins also started to arrive in the late afternoon.  A red-breasted flycatcher was located in the afternoon and was soon trapped and ringed.  In total 147 birds were trapped and ringed.  This was the highest ever day total at Whitburn.  It wont ever beat portland or spurn but it was a terrific day!

Ringing totals included 64 blackbird, 32 goldcrest, 21 robin, 13 redwing, 5 blackcap, 3 song thrush, 3 wren, 2 chiffchaff and singles of fieldfare, reed warbler, pallas's warbler, red-breasted flycatcher.

 pallas's warbler (c) Andrew Walker

reed warbler (c) Andrew Walker

Sunday, 21 October 2012

21st October

With westerly winds and clear skies over night, there was no expectations on today.  The first net round produced NO birds.  However this didnt continue as we trapped the first fieldfare ringed for the autumn at Whitburn.  By mid afternoon the tits and finches started to arrive and we started catching ok.  In the end it was the highest ringing total for this season with 77 birds of 15 species.  A further 2 great spotted woodpeckers were trapped and ringed bringing our total to 11 this year.  A jay was observed in the Whitburn coastal park however it did not make it into one of the mist nets.  The barred warbler remained in the bushes over the road from the lighthouse entrance, though was elusive for most of the day.  A snow bunting was observed mid-morning around the coastal park.

Ringing totals were 77 birds including 14 lesser redpoll, 11 coal tit, 10 greenfinch, 9 blue tit, 7 long-tailed tit, 6 great tit, 5 chaffinch, 4 goldfinch, 3 goldcrest, 2 great-spotted woodpecker, 2 blackbird and singles of robin, dunnock, tree sparrow and brambling.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Finally a Barred!

A number of barred warblers have been found along the south shields coast recently however none have made it into the Big Mound.  A barred warbler was located on the otherside of the road from Souter Lighthouse where there are a number of net height sycamore and alder bushes.  We put a net up and it wasnt long before the barred warbler along with a robin, a retrap blackbird and dunnock was found in the net.  This barred warbler was the third ringed for the site following birds in 2009 and 2010.  It is a bird that John has long been waiting for as I ringed the first and john's trainer - Graham ringed the second.  There was a variety of other species trapped including more tits, finches, goldcrests and the third bullfinch for the site.

Ringing totals for the day was 47 and included, 12 long-tailed tits, 6 greenfinch, 5 lesser redpoll, 4 blue tit, 3 goldcrests, 3 chaffinch, 3 goldfinch, 2 blackbird, 2 great tit, 2 coal tit and singles of robin, dunnock, barred warbler, chiffchaff and bullfinch.

barred warbler (c) Dougie Holdon 

Monday, 15 October 2012

October 12/13 & 14th

The weekend started off well as I got a call at Friday lunchtime from Paul Cook telling me he had found another pallass grasshopper warbler at Marsden Quarry.  I took the afternoon off and popped down to see it.  I dipped it so Andy and I headed down to the coastal park to find several thrushes in the Big Mound.  There had been a large fall of birds during the morning but I decided not to go ringing due to the strong winds.  We found a couple of sheltered net rides and put a few nets up.

Ringing totals for Friday totalled 14 including 6 blackbird, 3 song thrush, 2 goldcrest and singles of redwing, chiffchaff and robin.

The sky went clear on Friday night so I was expecting most of the days migrants had moved on by Saturday morning.  The morning was slow however the by the afternoon we were catching a trickle of migrants, mostly tits though.  Paul Cook was on a roll finding little bunting on the Leas and several yellow-browed warblers, while Dave Foster found richard's pipit at the coastal park.  I got a call from Paul in the afternoon letting me know that he had found a locustella warbler in the nature reserve section of the coastal park.  I went down with jeff and a net to trap it as Paul was certain it was  a common grasshopper warbler but we wanted to be sure.  We set the net and walked down the wall moving the bird towards the net however just as the bird got to the net it flew over the wall then into the reedbed.  Thankfully during the process both Paul and Dave got good views and confirmed that it was a common grasshopper warbler.  

Ringing totals for Saturday totalled 64 including 13 blue tits, 12 blackbirds, 7 coal tits, 7 long-tailed tits, 6 song thrush, 6 great tit, 3 brambling, 2 goldcrest, 2 chaffinch and singles of redwing, robin, wren, pied flycatcher, blackcap and siskin.

Saturday night was similar to Friday night so again no big fall of migrants were expected.  Paul Cook continued his run of yellow-browed warbler.  Andy and I tried trapping one of them on the other side of the coastal park however it had other ideas and flew over the net 3 times.  A pod of ~5 white-beaked dolphins were also seen close inshore feeding.

Ringing totals for Sunday totalled 53 including 11 blackbird, 11 goldcrest, 10 great tit, 6 coal tit, 4 redwing, 3 blue tit, 2 wren and singles of blackcap, song thrush, redstart, robin, greenfinch and goldfinch.

Redstart © Adrian George

Monday, 8 October 2012

New ringing species for Whitburn

It has been a rather quiet long weekend at Whitburn.  A high pressure system lingered over Whitburn and it meant that there was never going to be a fall of migrants.  On Saturday approximately 50 birds were trapped and ringed and Sunday saw only 35 birds ringed.  Today we trapped just over 40 birds.  The majority of birds belonged to the tit family.  We have now surpassed our previous record of coal tit (68 in 2008).  Highlights were our 9th great spotted woodpecker of the autumn.  It is highly likely that these are continental birds as they have been seen flying in off the sea at a number of locations.  Considering that in 4 years of ringing we have only trapped 2 great spotted woodpecker, 9 this year is incredible.

We had a new ringing species for Whitburn today, no it wasn't as rare as our recent pallas's grasshopper warbler - it was a Kestrel!!!  They regularly sit on the net poles but never end up in a net until today.  Andy had the pleasure of extracting it and ringing it (a new species for him).  On the same net round I had trapped our 10th sparrowhawk of the year (an immature male).

Overall a fairly good few days.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

2nd October

Today was much more of a quiet affair at Whitburn.  Rain in the morning delayed opening the nets and also forced the nets to be closed in the afternoon.  A total of 17 birds were trapped and ringed.  These included 5 blue tit, 4 great tit, 3 coal tit, 2 goldcrest, and singles of song thrush, chiffchaff and lesser redpoll

Monday, 1 October 2012

1st October

John has been joined by his trainer Graham for a weeks ringing at Whitburn (a tradition).  Andy has also taken two weeks holiday.  Today the winds were not as strong as over the weekend and the team managed to get most of the nets open.  It seems to be a good tit year at Whitburn, whether this is because tits have had a good breeding season (unlikely) or the lack of food up north in Scotland, we just dont know.  Falsterbo bird observatory in Sweden are recording huge numbers of blue tits at the moment due to presumably a poor beech mast crop.  1692 blue tits were ringed there yesterday, thats more birds than we ring at Whitburn in an entire year!  A flock of 20+ coal tits were trapped in one 60' mist net.  A final tally of 28 coal tit is the highest daily total of this species ringed at Whitburn since we started in 2008.

Today a total of 68 birds were ringed at Whitburn and included 28 coal tit, 12 goldfinch, 10 long tailed tit, 6 great tit, 4 dunnock, 2 song thrush, 2 blue tit and singles of robin, redstart, chaffinch and greenfinch.

coal tit © Adrian George

Saturday, 29 September 2012

September round-up

The weather during September was rather poor as far as ringing at Whitburn was concerned.  The majority of weather was strong SW winds and a fair bit of rain, however we managed 9 ringing sessions over the month.  It was looking like a quiet month until the weather forecast a long period of easterly winds last week.  From Birdguides it was clear that birds were starting to arrive on Tuesday with a white's thrush on Inner Farnes and good numbers of red-breasted flycatchers, yellow-browed and barred warblers along with other common migrants on the east coast. On the 26th Whitburn had a small fall of common migrants but there was very few scarce migrants yellow-browed warblers reported in Marsden Quarry and around Shearwater Estate (southern end of the Coastal Park).  However Whitburns remarkable run of rares continued with a pallas's grasshopper warbler (PG Tips) trapped and ringed.  Remarkably there was also another PG Tips found in Hartlepool earlier in the morning.  No scarce migrants were ringed at Whitburn during September, but we are not grumbling after the star bird.  Below is a list of the species and number ringed during September at Whitburn Coastal Park.  September 2012 has been the most productive September (288 birds) since we started ringing at Whitburn with the last highest total being 161 birds in 2008.

sparrowhawk  3
great spotted woodpecker  3
swallow  2
meadow pipit  1
wren  9
dunnock  7
robin  34
redstart  4
blackbird  7
song Thrush  31  
redwing  2
garden warbler  7
blackcap  10
lesser whitethroat  2
whitethroat  4
sedge warbler  1
pallas's grasshopper warbler 1
willow warbler  5
chiffchaff  14
goldcrest  25
spotted flycatcher  2
pied flycatcher  1
great tit  22
coal tit  20
blue tit  27
chaffinch  16
common redpoll  1
goldfinch  16
greenfinch  5
siskin  3

TOTAL - 288 birds

27th September

After the excitement of yesterday I decided to take the day off as holiday from work to go ringing.  Nets were open an hour before sunrise however it was soon apparent that there were fewer birds in the Big Mound.  The winds shifted during the night to northerly and was fairly clear so was expecting birds to move on.  The first few net rounds produced a handful of robins and song thrushes including some retraps from yesterday and a retrap garden warbler, so clearly some birds had remained to feed up.  The best bird of the day goes to a common redpoll.  Other birds trapped included goldcrest (3), chiffchaff (2), robin (2), whitethroat (1), sedge warbler (1), chaffinch (4), dunnock (1), goldfinch (1), blackcap (1), blue tit (1) and song thrush (6).

Friday, 28 September 2012

Mega Day

Over the weekend the weather forecast was for strong easterly winds for quite some time over the week to come and with that came rain.  With no heligoland trap at Whitburn Coastal Park I decided to brave the weather and work Monday and Tuesday over in Scotland so I could take the rest of the week off to ring if need be. Tuesday night was easterly winds including rain that fell upto approximately 3am, perfect for fall conditions. With a White's Thrush on Farnes I was rather excited.  I got up at 4am, 3 hours before sunrise in order to get as many nets open as possible. I was going to be the only ringer so knew that this would take some time to do.  When I entered the Big Mound there were a number of song thrushes calling so I was looking forward to the first few net rounds.  I intentionally set the nets slightly lower than usual in order to trap robins and redstarts hoping that a fox wouldnt go through the bottom shelve of the net. As expected these net rounds produced several song thrushes and robins plus garden warbler and blackcap.  I soon had a general warbler tape on that was helping pull in the sylvia warblers to the trapping area. The sky soon cleared and it became sunny, not ideal and it soon went quiet. Upto 9am I had already trapped approximatley 50 birds.  Several redstarts starting showing up in the area and a spotted flycatcher was trapped and lunchtime soon came around.  I was a little surprised that we had not trapped or had reported any scarce migrants such as yellow-browed warbler, red-breasted flycatcher or a barred warbler.  Little did I know what was about to happen.  Dougie had joined me by this point and as we went on a net round I noticed a bird in the bottom shelve of 'Walter's' net.  Expecting another robin or redstart I got closer and noticed the buff belly and thought reed warbler then as I got to the bird I could see that this was a locustella warbler and presumed grasshopper warbler. By this point a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (PG Tips) had been found at Hartlepool. As I extracted it I soon noticed the dark under tail colour and grey tips to the tail.  I have never seen PG Tips and was expecting the tips to be lighter.  I said to Dougie 'Is this a PG Tips? I think its a PG Tips, I think its a PG Tips!!!!  Adrenaline starting to flow.  Dougie initially thought I was joking then soon realised as I started to get excited that I wasnt.  Once out of the net we went back to the ringing hut and consulted the Collins Field Guide, forgetting that right next to me was this month Birdwatch magazine with an ID guide to Locustella warblers.  Sure enough it showed all the characteristics of a PG Tips.  Word was put out and it didnt take too long before bird watchers started to arrive.   I continued to do the net round and processed the birds that were trapped.  Mark Newsome (Durham County Recorder) turned up and I showed him the bird and he confirmed what I already knew, that I was holding a very very special bird and one that I thought I would never see, especially after dipping the bird in Whitburn in 2010.  The bird was ringed, aged as a juvenile and biometrics were taken.  The bird was released into the Small Mound (east of the Big Mound) and flew down into cover.  It wasnt seen until later that evening when Dave Foster re-located it feeding where it had been released.  This was great news as John who rings with the Whitburn Ringing Group was in Harrogate at the time it was trapped and managed to see it.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler © Ian Mills

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler © Ian Mills

Thank you to all the birders who donated money.  This will go towards ring costs.

Other species trapped included goldcrest (6), chiffchaff (2), willow warbler (1), wren (1), robin (20), redstart (4), blackcap (5), garden warbler (7), whitethroat (1), spotted flycatcher (1), blue tit (2), great tit (2), coal tit (1), siskin (2), dunnock (2), greenfinch (2), chaffinch (2), great-spotted woodpecker (1)song thrush (23), redwing (2) and sparrowhawk (1).  Photos of other species caught.

redstart - male © Stephen Egglestone

garden warbler © Stephen Egglestone

great spotted woodpecker - juvenile © Stephen Egglestone

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Mid-September review

We have had three ringing sessions at Whitburn during September with a total of 60 birds ringed.  As with many other sites across the UK, we are not catching many sylvia warblers.  A couple of lesser whitethroats, pied flycatcher and spotted flycatcher have been the highlight.  This weekend saw the first migrant robins and tits.  A flock of coal tits turned up on the site and a total of 8 were ringed. On the last net round on Saturday a rather grey looking willow warbler was trapped (picture below), Dave Foster popped by the ringing hut to give a second opinion to race, however given the large overlap between races we ended up not assigning race.

My fiance Lisa has a keen interest in birds but the siting around between net rounds is not part of ringing process that she is keen on.  I have been ringing a few goldfinch in the garden which she soon asked to ring.  Whilst I spent the day ringing, Lisa visited me at Whitburn with her friend and her friends daughter.  They joined me on a net round and low and behold the spotted flycatcher was trapped.  As we have been looking for spotted flycatcher on several walks this summer,  she was very keen to ring it.  I ask myself is she hooked on ringing yet?  I guess it may take a few more little beauties to get her hooked.

© Adrian George

© Adrian George

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Nightjars at Slaley Forest

Whitburn Ringing Group gained permission from the Forestry Commission to monitor nightjars at Slaley Forest in July.  So far we have had two ringing sessions with both being productive.  On the 3rd August, Lisa and I headed to the site for the first ringing attempt.  I had been tipped off to the best spot in the forest for nightjar so we headed there.  I was really hoping we might get one bird as I had dragged Lisa out after a long week in the office.  I set nets against some young spruce trees, put on the tape recording and waited.  It wasnt long before the first bird was flying around the net and shortly after there were two adult male birds in the net.  Lisa and I ringed, took biometric measurements and released the birds.  In order not to overly disturb any potential breeding birds I went to take the nets down only to find a third unringed adult male and a brown long eared bat.  After that I managed to get the net down and leave the birds in peace.  This surpassed my expectations.

© Lisa Russell

© Lisa Russell

As the high pressure system was still hanging over the north of England, I decided to take full advantage and get the guys out for a second session.  We set two nets in different locations, with one at the original site.  After a walk up the track, two churring males were located so we set another net.  Shortly after I went on a net round and had two birds in the net above the tape recording. This was great as both John and Jason had not handled nightjar before.  One was yet another adult male and the other was originally identified as a female however was re-identified as a juvenile, which probably confirms breeding at the site for 2012. No other birds or bats were trapped that night but we all left very happy.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Little Owl ringing

I expect the brood of little owls ringed today will probably be the last pulli of the season.  Earlier in the season the pair of little owls in this box failed.  Jim checked the box again a month ago and had the female incubating.  A few checks later revealed 4 small chicks.  John was joined by Jason and Andy to ring the birds.  The female was trapped at the box but only two of the four chicks had survived this week. Pics below of the female.

© Jason Thompson

© Jason Thompson

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Poor end to one of our Song Thrushes

A song thrush ringed at Whitburn on the 2nd October 2010 was shot dead in Urrugne, France on the 15th December 2011.

Unusual Stormie movement

We all know the chances of a ringed storm petrel being retrapped is very high and on the 5th July 2009 two of our stormies were retrapped in Tullagh Point, Donegal, Ireland.  Thats no surprise as we have now had a few recoveries of our stormies in Ireland, however these two birds were trapped together at Whitburn on the 2nd August 2008 and were retrapped TOGETHER.  I am not sure of many other records of birds being trapped and then retrapped together (apart from local breeding birds, such as yellowhammers).  Below is a map of where the birds moved to, although unlikely to have crossed over England.

Sparrowhawk pulli

I have ringed quite a few birds over the years but this weekend I got to ring something new, sparrowhawk pulli.  Although we regularly catch fully grown sparrowhawks in the mist nets at Whitburn, I have not found a sparrowhawk nest before and not one that was so accessable. The nest was found during a ringing session at the coastal park, however they decided to nest right above one of the walkways between the nets.  When the nest was originally checked there were 4 cold wet eggs in the nest and we had obviously unknowingly kept the female of the nest.  I didnt have much hope for this nest at all, however we checked the nest in late june and heard chicks calling in the nest which was a huge surprise.  Again I was hoping one or two of the eggs would hatch after the eggs got cold but this must of been only a few days after they had been laid as all four eggs hatched.  Amazingly after all the wet and cold weather we have had up in newcastle, all four chicks had made it to 2 weeks old.

John and trainee Andy joined me to ring these chicks.  There was a single male and three females which were clearly much larger than the male.

Sparrowhawks (c) Adrian George

Barn Owl control

Whilst attempting to trap short-eared owls at Sharpley we also trapped a control barn owl.  Last week I received the peperwork back from the BTO.  We thought that this bird would be a locally ringed bird however it was infact ringed as a chick on the 15.07.09 near Wooler in Northumberland.  That is a movement of 93km SSE.  This movement may be part due to the severe winter weather that we have had over the last few years.

Sunday, 13 May 2012


The spring has been rather unproductive for John this spring at Whitburn.  Near constant northerly winds have meant that few birds have past through the coastal park.  There have been the usual chiffchaff and a handful of willow warblers.  Other warblers such as blackcaps and whitethroats are beginning to return with one male whitethroat returning to the same bush to breed.

Today seemed no different with northwesterly winds forecast, however John being John was at Whitburn by 0600 setting nets.  All his hard work paid off this morning with a cuckoo that was trapped and ringed at 0800.  Lets hope that this may be the start of a few more scarcities this spring.

 (c) Dougie Holdon
(c) Dougie Holdon

Thursday, 22 March 2012


I had a day off work last Friday so decided the only thing to do was to go ringing!  It was a little breezy so I decided to use my new whoosh net that I had bought from the Grampian Ringing Group last November.  It was slow going and I trapped a single robin and dunnock.  I was targeting tree sparrows although they were very wary of the net but I caught one.  The wind dropped so I put up a net and trapped another half dozen sparrows.  I whoosh netted 3 woodpigeons in the afternoon, however the star birds were in the form of a pair of grey partridge that walked over the set whoosh net on to the seed.  I didnt hesitate and fired the net.  I ran over to the net but the birds were jumping and running to the edges of the net, however I managed to bag both birds.  These were only the second and third grey partridge I have ringed in the past 11 years so I was over the moon. Well worth the trip out!!

One last seo

As the seo's were still about last weekend, I decided to keep going and try and trap one last owl.  I was only able to go out on the Sunday which was a shame as the weather on Saturday looked alot better for ringing.  I met Jason, Jim and Dave at the site near Sunderland at 2pm and got the usual two net lanes set. Whilst setting up two children flushed two seo of the mound so that gave us hope that the birds were still present.  Only problem was it was rather breezy and sunny, not great for catching birds with good eye sight.  We waited and we waited but the owls were not hunting.  I had said we would pack up at 6pm however as the sun set the owls came out to play.  At 6.30 an owl flew in and landed on a fence post very close to us and then continued to hunt so I said we would give it until 7pm.  As we walked to the first net we flushed an owl of the mound and I thought well thats it for the night.  I approached the second line of nets and noticed something dark in the middle net, thinking it was a blackbird or something I wondered over and a big pale wing rose from the deck.  I couldnt believe it, a short-eared owl had found the net at the last moment.  Jason had the pleasure of ringing the bird and it was soon released to join the other owl.

We have been very fortunate to ring 4 short-eared owls this winter.  I hope to submit an article on owl trapping for the ringers bulletin in the near future.  Thanks to the landowners for granting permission to ring on their land this winter.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Last owl session of the winter

During last week the weather forecast for Sunday looked very good for ringing, however by Saturday it had all changed.  I hoped to still get out but had to wait for the rain to stop which was not until 1500.  I spent the morning staring out of the window.  I got to Prestwick Carr just after 1520 and set the nets with a work colleague.  Two lines of three nets were set in the short-eared owls hunting areas by 1630.  Straight away there was a short-eared owl flying around the netting area.  The bird disappeared so I thought I would have a walk down the road to see where it was.  I was very surprised to see it in the top shelf of the net and only 20min after setting the net.  The bird was aged as an immature born last year and like the other two short ears trapped this year, I expect it is a male on weight.

I had nets up until 2000 however I did not catch anymore owls.  Other birds seen included a cracking peregrine with prey flying over the Carr towards the airport and c45 curlew.  A tawny owl was also heard calling nearby.

© Lisa Russell