We went back over to the Yorkshire Coast at the weekend for MigWeek – this one organised by the Flamborough Bird Observatory team. The sessions included demonstrations of ringing by the experts there. My goodness this was an eye opener. What a dedicated and skilled bunch of people they are.
Bird Ringing generates information on the survival, productivity, and movements of birds, helping us to understand why populations are changing. It is due to this work that we now know that Swallows arrive here in the spring after wintering in South Africa. In the past there were many theories for what happened to them over winter including one that suggested that they hibernated at the bottom of ponds.
The team at South Landing on Flamborough had about 12 nets set up each morning and did a circuit to check them every 15 or 20 minutes. Each time they came back with a handful of small birds – carefully carried in cotton bags. Each bird was checked, weighed and its data was logged for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) database. Ringing is an International project and all data is shared as obviously the birds have no concept of political boundaries. It takes years to become qualified as a ringer and you can see why – the gentleness and dexterity of the ringers is crucial and the welfare of the bird is paramount. Once they had done their data and science stuff they then held each bird briefly for us watchers to have a good look at them. Phone photos here but you can see how stunning they are.
You cannot imagine how beautiful a little Long Tailed Tit is close up – and the Wren almost brought me to tears. It was a real privilege and we will definitely be going to other demos next year.
To see some of the work of the BTO they have a fabulous cuckoo project with GPS trackers on them. You can see their route to sub-Saharan Africa here. There is a really good animation on that page that shows the routes that each bird took.
On much less positive news, there has been a lot of news of dead Guillemots in the North Sea this summer. We saw for these for ourselves, with one dead in the shallow water in Bridlington Bay and another just sitting on the ground near Filey, just up the coast. This was obviously a not happy bird and the RSPCA was called, though we suspect it was not going to recover. The reason isn’t clear but most seem to think that is that warmer seas have enabled algal blooms that are toxic to these birds. Whatever the reason, we are hopeful that sufficient numbers survived to return next year.