A Ringer’s Year May 2023

Take a look at the exciting birds that were ringed during May.

I mentioned back in March that I had controlled an already ringed male Blackbird in the garden. Details of this bird have come through and it’s interesting to see that it was ringed near Druridge Links back on the 14th of October 2017 as a juvenile. So sorry to shatter anybody’s illusions that the Blackbird you see in ‘your garden’ is not necessarily the same Blackbird you saw the last time. But, it is nice to see that this particular individual has so far survived into its sixth year.  Another bird which is six years old is a Barn Owl that’s been found preparing to nest by a fellow ringer near Causey Park. This owl has not travelled as far as the Blackbird because it was ringed back on the 15th of June 2017 near Longhorsley.

Much time this month has been spent monitoring nesting Tawny Owls. Unlike Barn Owls, we don’t have many Tawny boxes although, some of my C Ringers are starting to put more up. This year our Tawny Owls have not done very well. Only 12 attempting to nest, compared with 14 in 2022. Out of these 12 ‘Nest Records’ eight were successful; compared with 11 successful out of 14 last year.

While the reason for nest failures is difficult to know precisely some owls seem to have found finding food difficult. For example, one owl was recorded as having laid three eggs. But later, had only one; another had two eggs that went down to one. Later both these owls gave up incubating. I suspect that this year’s very variable Spring weather has been at the root of these problems. Certainly, very hungry owls will eat their own eggs. One of the owls failing to hatch any eggs was ringed back in 2018 at the same site and has been successful in the past.

The largest successful brood, of four, came from a box used for the first time. This was put up two years ago in a small piece of ancient woodland that’s never recovered from Storm Arwen.  One of the longest-standing box sites is at Craster and it was used every year by the same female from 2014 to 2020. However it then stood blank until this year when a brand-new female took it on and raised two young.

The most amazing box was near Howick where a box has stood completely unused since 2010. However, on 11/4/23 I discovered there was an owl in residence with two eggs but there was also a hole in the roof of the box!  Nevertheless, the owl has now raised one young owlet and I have promised her a new box for next year. A very new box in a small wood near Longfram also raised two young from three eggs. This was seen by a small audience when my colleague ringed them. Another box specially put up for Barn owls produced two tawny owlets from four eggs. 

Regular readers will be aware that Tawny owls regularly compete with the unusual nesting Goldeneye Ducks in the Breamish Valley. Generally speaking, it’s the owls that get the boxes they want. At one reliable box; used by the same female since 2017 two owlets were raised. This is the only box left out of three in a wood that was struck by Storm Arwen. At another site we had originally discovered seven Goldeneye eggs; then we found an adult owl and a Tawny egg! The usual scenario at this point is that the duck gives up and the owl takes over the site.

However, revisiting on the 18th found at least ten warm eggs; although no owl or duck in residence. We revisited on a few occasions, but it was not until the 29th that Alison successfully captured the female goldeneye incubating her eggs. She proved to be my retrap [FH79908] from 2022 when she hatched 11 eggs in another box (see picture). Most amazingly while we were processing the duck, I found a broken owl egg just below the box on the ground; with a beak-shaped ‘bash’ in it. It looked like the clever duck had been able to evict the Tawny’s egg.

Damaged Tawny Owl egg © Phil Hanmer

At an entirely different site south of Rothbury there is a box in a wood that was used successfully last year by a Tawny Owl. This is the box that I mentioned last month appeared to have nine Mandarin Duck eggs in it!  Returning to this with Hilary on the 7th I was greeted not by the expected quacking sound of a duck but a distinct hissing, as if from a snake! It did however prove to be a beautiful female Mandarin, incubating 12 warm eggs. Hilary was able to ring this duck with a small audience of local folks.

Female Mandarin Duck © Phil Hanmer

This month has also seen us monitoring many small bird boxes along with trainees; including several Farne Island Summer Wardens. The last two checked which were at the Breamish Caravan site were interesting in that they had entirely different outcomes.  One originally had eight eggs and a female retrap Great Tit from 2019. By the 29th she abandoned her nest, now of ten eggs, as a wasp nest was over taking it. The other was a nest of 8 Blue Tit eggs that we recorded on the 12th when we ringed the female for the first time. On this visit, we ringed seven healthy and well-developed Blue Tits.

While Blue Tits and Great Tits are the most common species to use nest boxes there are others. Hilary was pleased to find both a nest of Marsh Tits and Nuthatches on the 12th. Returning in the 18th these were large enough to be safely ringed as eight Marsh Tits and five Nuthatches.

Read about the ringing activities from the month of April here.

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