Bird Ringing on Walney Island

A programme of bird ringing by trained and BTO licensed volunteers has been carried out on Walney Island since the beginning of the observatory. Bird ringing is used to assist research into the migration patterns, population changes, biometrics and longevity of birds. Although ringing takes place at sites across the island, the majority of activities occur within the confines of South Walney Nature Reserve and a combination of five helgoland traps and a few strategically placed mist nets produce in excess of 1,000 birds per annum. To date over 50,000 birds of almost 140 species have been trapped on the island and ringed with a uniquely identifiable metal ring. Foreign recoveries include Shelduck to Germany, Jack Snipe to Spain, Long-eared Owl to Russia, Short-eared Owl to Spain, Meadow Pipit to Spain and Morocco, Robin to Spain, Redstart to Spain, Whinchat to Morocco, Blackbird to Finland, Sweden and Germany, Redwing to Russia, Willow Warbler to Gibraltar, Starling to Germany and Spotted Flycatcher to Nigeria. In addition, controls of birds ringed elsewhere and relocated on Walney Island include Barnacle Goose from Spitzbergen, Brent Goose from The Netherlands, Canada and Iceland, Spoonbill from The Netherlands, Black-tailed Godwit from Iceland, Knot from Norway, Turnstone from Canada, Black-headed Gull from Denmark, Kittiwake from France, Sedge Warbler from France, Garden Warbler from Belgium, Blackcap from The Netherlands, Willow Warbler from The Netherlands and Linnet from Spain.

Two of the heligoland traps in operation on Walney Island.

This style of trap is named after the island of Helgoland, found in the North Sea off the coast of Germany, where they were originally designed and built at the beginning of the 20th century when a bird observatory first became established there. This humane method of catching birds for ringing studies comprises of a funnel of netting strung across a wooden frame, which progressively narrows down to a catching box at the end. The trap is usually sited over an area of plentiful cover that encourages birds into the area and often includes an area of open water at the mouth. Although Walney Island is the only site with operational Helgoland traps in Cumbria, a number of these permanent structures have been built at other bird observatories around Britain and Ireland. However, the advent of mist-nets - introduced into Britain from Japan in the 1950s - has much reduced the need for these traps, which are high maintenance and require constant repair and attention.

Lesser Redpoll caught in a mist-net, the use of mist-nets under special licence are an increasingly frequent tool used on the island

If you would like further information about bird ringing, or are interested in training to become a bird ringer, please contact the British Trust for Ornithology who organise the British and Irish Ringing Scheme.

Recent Ringing Highlights

A Sedge Warbler initially trapped on the island on 23rd April 2011 and later retrapped in breeding habitat on 23rd June 2011 was then controlled at Donges, Loire-Atlantique, FRANCE (750km S) on 15th August 2011.

A Blackbird ringed on the island on 21st October 2005 was found dead during the breeding season at Ousang, Ljusdal, Gavleborg, SWEDEN (1440km NE) on 4th June 2012.

The Goldfinch colour-ringing project which began in 2012 produced it first continental recovery with a bird observed in a garden near Calais, FRANCE.

A Chaffinch ringed on the island on 28th October 2008 was recovered at Schoonrewoerd, Zuid-Holland, THE NETHERLANDS (603km ESE) on 18th March 2012.

A flock of 63 Barnacle Geese flock on 16th February 2013 held four colour-ringed birds including birds ringed at Ny Alesund, Svalbard on 11th August 1987 and 1st August 2005 and Caerlaverock on 3rd November 2006.

A mixed flock of Sanderling and Dunlin roosting over the tide on 4th May 2012 held the third colour-ringed Sanderling of the spring; it had originally been ringed at Sandgeroi, ICELAND on 22nd May 2011 (1240km NW). In addition a colour-ringed Dunlin had been ringed Brito Saltpans, Alcochete, Tagus Estuary, PORTUGAL on 2nd February 2009 (1800km S).

A flock of 250 Turnstone along the maritime shore held a colour-ringed bird that had initially been ringed at Weston Shore, Southampton Water, Hampshire on 21st March 2009, it was seen again at the same location on 23rd July 2011 before appearing on Walney Island on 14th April 2012. This is the first time it has been seen in the UK away from its ringing site.

The remains of a Whooper Swan found in a field at Biggar on 16th January 2012 had been ringed as a cygnet at Lake Brunnvatn, ICELAND (1440km NW) on 3rd August 2010.

A flock of 80 Sanderling on spring passage on 14th April 2012 held two colour-ringed birds that were originally ringed at Gardskagi, ICELAND on 15th May 2011 and Siglingamerki, Sandgeroi, ICELAND on 19th May 2011 (1240km NW) respectively.

A couple of Sedge Warbler returns have recently been received. A young bird ringed at South Walney on 18th August 2011 was controlled at Lytchett Bay, Devon (375km SSE) on 24th August 2011 - just six days later. While an adult controlled at South Walney on 23rd April 2011 had previously been ringed at South Milton Ley, Devon (421km S) on 9th August 2010.

A Great Black-backed Gull ringed as a chick at South Walney on 17th June 1988 was found dead at Cockerham Sands, Lancashire (25km ESE) on 15th July 2010 - 22 years and 28 days after ringing and becomes the oldest Great Black-backed Gull to be ringed by the observatory. The pattern of occurrence of recoveries for this species suggests that few venture far from their natal colony.

One of the staple species caught on the island; a couple more interesting Greenfinch recoveries have been received. A young female ringed at South Walney on 1st October 2011 was found dead at Southport, Merseyside (45km SSE) on 25th October 2011 and a male ringed at South Walney on 2nd October 2011 was controlled at Over Kellet, Carnforth, Lancashire on 22nd October 2011.

A trio of interesting Goldfinch returns have been received. A male controlled at South Walney on 25th March 2011 had previously been ringed at Rawcliffe, Lancashire (29km SE) on 10th November 2010, while young birds trapped and ringed at South Walney during autumn passage on 16th October 2010 were controlled at Baldwins Hill, East Grinstead, Surrey (397km SE) on 21st February 2011 and at Calf of Man, Isle of Man (105km W) on 28th March 2011.

A Canada Goose controlled at South Walney on 21st September 2010 had previously been ringed at Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria (40km NNE) on 27th September 2009, perhaps it had heard of the proposed cull to take place on Windermere.
Foreign recoveries are few and far between so a Willow Warbler controlled at South Walney on 25th April 2010 that had previously been ringed at Polderweg, Vlieland, THE NETHERLANDS (544km E) on 27th August 2008 is especially pleasing.

On 27th November 2011 the Twite flock contained a colour-ringed individual that had previously been ringed at Machrihanish, Mull of Kintyre, Scotland during 2010. A Greenfinch ringed at South Walney during post-breeding dispersal on 9th August 2011 was controlled at Heysham, Lancashire on 17th November 2011 (19km E)
Amongst recent recoveries of Lesser Black-backed Gull nestlings ringed at South Walney were a couple of interesting movements. A bird ringed on 1st July 1989 was shot at Alfsnes, Kjossar, ICELAND (1540km NW) on 25th July 2009 and one ringed on 8th July 2000 was shot at Geitagil, Orlygshofn, Vestur-Bardastrandar, ICELAND (1727km NW) on 13th May 2009.

The full details on two Goldfinch movements have recently come to light. A first-year female ringed at Bromhey Farm, Kent on 1st December 2009 was caught on spring passage at South Walney on 24th April 2010 (382km NW) and a first year trapped South Walney during autumn passage on 16th October 2010 was controlled at Gomshall, Surrey (364km SSE) on 8th December 2010.

Details for a couple of Greenfinch have recently come to light. A first-year male ringed on spring passage at South Walney on 7th April 2007 was killed by a cat at Blackrock, Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway (123km NW) on 4th September 2010 and a female trapped at Ponteland, Northumberland on 5th September 2010 was controlled at South Walney (145km SW) on 31st October 2010.

A flock of newly arrived Goldfinch on 15th April 2011 included a bird bearing a French ring – the first control of a foreign ringed Goldfinch for the observatory, although a bird ringed on the island on 18th September 2006 was recovered at Cerisy Buleux, Somme, FRANCE (564km SE) on 24th December 2008.

A Goldfinch controlled on the island on 17 October 2010 had previously been ringed at Crosby Hall, Lancashire on 07 March 2010 (70km S).

A Greenfinch ringed on 26th September 2010 that was controlled at Rossall Point on the opposite side of Morecambe Bay on 4th October 2010.

Further details have just been received on the colour-ringed Little Egrets that toured the island during the autumn of 2010. The majority had been ringed as nestlings earlier in the year at a colony near Bangor, Gwynedd, North Wales with DXWY also seen on the Esk Estuary, Cumbria prior to its arrival on Walney Island. Perhaps of more interest was BBWY that had been ringed at Bangor, Gwynedd, North Wales during 2009 that had been previously reported at Runcorn, Cheshire and Leighton Moss, Lancashire earlier in 2010 and a bird that had been ringed as a nestling at a confidential site in Lincolnshire during 2010.

A flock of 56 dark-bellied Brent Geese which visited the island on 28th December 2010 held the three returning colour-ringed individuals that had previously been ringed at Terschelling, The Netherlands on 17th May 2006.

Amongst the pale-bellied Brent Goose flock on 4th December 2010 were several colour-ringed birds, including N4WW which was ringed at Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland on 16th October 2007 and subsequently seen at ALFTANES, ICELAND during the spring of 2008, it has returned to Walney Island each winter since.

The results of three darvic ringed Barnacle Geese whose colour ring sequences were recently read have now been received. ZAA and ZFD are male and female birds ringed on 31st July 2008 as adults on the Nordenskioldkytsten coast in Sptisbergen (3600km NNE). They were seen a couple of times at Caerlaverock, Dumfries and Galloway on the Scottish side of the Solway last winter, and appear to be a pair, last being seen on 12th February 2010. CXL on the other hand was ringed on the Solway on 3rd November 2006 as a first-winter female and was last seen last winter on 11th March 2010 at Caerlaverock, Dumfries and Galloway.

A colour-ringed Twite seen on 14th November 2010 had been ringed at Heysham, Lancashire during the previous autumn. The flock which this bird was associating with also held two birds ringed at Machrihanish, Mull of Kintyre, Scotland earlier in the autumn.

The colour-ringed Raven ringed as a nestling at Sandside, Cumbria during 2005, has returned to the island for its second winter

A colour-ringed Twite seen on the island on 28th October 2010, 30th October 2010 and 14th November 2010 had been ringed at Machrihanish, Mull of Kintyre, Scotland earlier in the autumn.

A colour-ringed Greenshank recorded on the island between 4th and 20th October 2010 had been ringed on passage at Montrose Basin, Scotland on 13th August 2010.

Details have just been received of the first of the colour-ringed Little Egrets to be seen on the island earlier in the autumn – it had been rung as a nestling in North Wales on 7th June 2010 and was relocated on the island on 30th August 2010.

Details have recently been received of several of the colour ringed pale-bellied Brent Geese recorded during the winter 2009/2010. The first bird had been ringed on 5th May 2005 at Álftanes, Iceland and has been seen in subsequent winters at various locations around the British Isles including Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland; Hilbre Island; Langstone Harbour; Anglesey and Bannow Bay, Eire before visting Walney Island and spring sightings have occurred at Alftanes, Iceland while on 22nd July 2007 it was found on Bathurst Island, Canada (2900km NW) on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. A second individual had been ringed at Álftanes, Iceland on 12th May 2009 before visiting Loch Ryan, Dumfries and Galloway and then Walney Island during the winter of 2009/2010.

While pale-bellied Brent Geese are regular visitors to the observatory recording area the small flock of dark-bellied birds which frequents Morecambe Bay generally remain on the periphery of the area, only occasionally straying within range. A recent incursion saw three colour-ringed birds amongst the flock and details have recently been received. All had been ringed in a single catch at Terschelling, The NETHERLANDS (600km ESE)on 17th May 2006 and have been seen in subsequent years at Terschelling and Ameland both in The NETHERLANDS, however, this is the first time that the birds have been recorded in Britain.

The details of the colour-ringed Raven that has toured the island during the winter 2009/2010 have just been received. Not unexpectedly it is of Cumbrian origin having been one of four nestlings ringed at a site at Sandside, Kendal, Cumbria in 2005.

Details of a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull have recently been received. The bird had been ringed as an adult at Hellerup Havn, Gentofte, DENMARK (1025km E) on 23rd August 2008.

Details of two colour-ringed Little Egret seen on the island last autumn have just been received, both had been ringed as nestlings. DBYW was originally ringed at Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on the 13th June 2009 and was seen on the island on 20th to 22nd October 2009 while FAYO seen on 22nd October 2009 had been ringed at Faversham, Kent on 4th July 2003 and has subsequently been seen at Leighton Moss, Lancashire and Ulpha Meadows, Cumbria prior to arriving on Walney Island.

On 6th January 2010 the Brent Goose flock contained HIWW, initially colour-ringed at Strangford Lough, NORTHERN IRELAND on 15th January 2006, it has subsequently been seen at Alftanes, ICELAND, Snaefellsnes, ICELAND and Loch Ryan, SCOTLAND as well as Walney Island.

A Linnet found dead on 8th May 2008 had originally been ringed at SARINENA, SPAIN on 10th December 2006 (1379km S).

Amongst the colour-ringed birds in the Brent Goose flock on 14th November 2009 was N4WW, this bird was originally ringed at Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland on 16th October 2007 and has visited Walney Island each winter since.

A colour-ringed Twite identified on the island on 5th November 2009 had been ringed at Heysham, Lancashire on 31st October 2008.

Two pale-bellied Brent Geese (P2WW & PDWW) were identified on 4th November 2009 these are considered a pair and were originally ringed at Strangford Lough, Northern Island on 16th October 2007 and have been annual winter visitors to the island ever since.

A Cormorant (CJG) recorded roosting on the island on 6th September 2009 had been ringed as a nestling on PUFFIN ISLAND, NORTH WALES on 27th June 2009.

An adult colour-ringed Kittiwake which alighted briefly on a boat six miles off Walney on 25th August 2009 had been ringed on the nest at POINTE DU RAZ, FINISTERE, FRANCE during 1999 and was last seen there on 11th August 2009.

Mute Swan are rather sedentary in their habits and are not known for long distance movements, However, the female of the pair nesting on the island in 2009 was colour ringed as a first-year bird at CAERLAVEROCK, DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY, SCOTLAND on 24th January 2007.

A Turnstone ringed at ALERT, NUNAVUT, ELLESMERE ISLAND, CANADA on 30th May 2007 was found amogst a flock of 105 birds roosting on the island on 15th March 2009.

A Pale-bellied Brent Goose (HIWW) ringed at Strangford Lough, NORTHERN IRELAND on 15th January 2006 was seen at ALFTANES, ICELAND during the spring of 2006 and 2007 before appearing at Loch Ryan, Scotland on 17th December 2007 and subsequently Walney on 27th January 2008 where it remained until 8th April 2008. It was seen at SNAEFELLSNES, ICELAND on 11th May 2008 and had returned to Loch Ryan, Scotland on 20th October 2008 where it remained until 1st December 2008 and then reappeared on Walney Island on 22nd February 2009.

A Knot amongst 3000 birds feeding on the incoming tide along the maritime shore of the island on 3rd December 2008 had been ringed at IGALDAS, PORSANGERFJORD, NORWAY on 19th May 2008.