A Ringer’s Year: August 2022

North East ornithologist, Phil Hanmer, shares a new update summarising bird ringing across Northumberland throughout August.  

Returning to one of four late nesting Barn Owls on the 18 August we had a pleasant surprise. This tree box near Fontburn had six eggs and a two-year-old female bird in residence on the 21 July. On the 18 August all six had hatched and we were able to ring all but one of them, which was exceptionally small. Checking two more near Longhorsley on the 31August we found one box had failed while another had succeeded with four well grown young owls. This leaves us one more to return to check in September.        

Turning to ringing at Howick, we had a report of an unusually well-travelled Long-Tailed Tit from the British Trust for Ornithology. It was of a bird we ‘controlled’ as a retrap on the 29 July that was originally ringed on the 25September 2021 at Gravelly Marsh, Needs Ore, Hampshire – 519 kms away.

We started to see the first signs of autumn migration on the 5 August. In amongst the 44 birds we processed (26 new & 18 retraps) there were some adult warblers on the way to Africa. Willow Warblers are becoming quite rare at Howick so seeing a well feathered and newly moulted adult bird was very nice. There was also five very young locally hatched Blackcaps and five similarly local Chiffchaffs. All these juvenile birds will have to ‘feed-up’ more to put on ‘fat’ before they can migrate. The last bird captured was a young, but very strong and noisy, Jay. This is a resident that does not migrate, and its siblings hung around in the trees waiting for it to be released. The retraps included a Coal Tit first ringed in 2020 and a pair of Nuthatch ringed as adults last year. 

On the 6 August two of my licensed C ringers, travelled from Newcastle to ring at Howick. They brought with them a doctorate research student from the University. This young lady is from the Philippines and wants to add to her ringing experience before going back home to conduct ornithological field work. During the session we captured 32 birds (20 new & 12 retraps) including another adult Willow Warbler together with more juvenile Chiffchaffs and several very young Goldcrests. There was also an adult female Blackbird in main moult, replacing her Primary Flight Feathers.  Blackbirds suffer in long dry summers as they find it difficult to find food, so this one was probably coming to a bird-feeder when she flew into our net.

We had a larger catch on the 12August: 50 birds (37 new & 13 retraps). All but two of the new birds were juveniles of the year including Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Tits and Robins.  The few adults were a Great Tit and a Bullfinch. We had three more Bullfinch in the retraps, first ringed in 2020 and 2021 at Howick. Numbers fell back to 41 (18 new & 23 retraps) on the 13 August but were still mostly juvenile birds, except for one adult Blackbird. This time we had four juvenile Bullfinch, several Blackcaps and some Chiffchaffs.  The retraps included an interesting male Chaffinch first ringed in 2015 that is now eight years old.  On the 19August only 30 birds were processed (18 new & 12 retraps). Most of the new birds were juvenile and included seven Blackcaps but there was also an adult male Blackcap with nice new plumage, having finished its main moult. There were also four juvenile Goldcrest.

Ringing on the 26 August captured 40 birds (30 new & 10 retraps) again mostly this year’s juveniles. These included Tits, Goldcrests, Chiffchaff, Blackcaps, Chaffinch and the first Garden Warbler of the year. The Garden Warbler is a long-distance migrant on its way to humid West and Central Africa, south of the Sahara.  Its close relative the Blackcap rarely crosses the Sahara preferring to winter around the Mediterranean or North Africa. In amongst the retraps there was an adult Chiffchaff first ringed in 2021 as a juvenile. It will be interesting to get the full details on this birds travels from the BTO.

We are continuing to be at the Howick Ringing Station, weather permitting, most Friday and Saturday mornings until the end of October. If you’re interested in seeing what we are doing just call in at the picnic-benches at Howick.

Phil Hanmer

Phil Hanmer is an ornithologist and bird ringing trainer working to monitor the North East’s birdlife as part of the Natural History Society of Northumbria Ringing Group.  E-mail: tytoalbas@btinternet.com