A total of 3,042 birds were ringed in 2019. This was an increase compared to 2018, with large numbers of migrant passerines more than compensating for a comparatively low number of Manx Shearwaters; and in spite of the disappointing shearwater total, other nocturnal work resulted in a record 61 Storm Petrels being ringed, as part of the effort to understand their breeding population on Lundy.

Visiting ringers were on Lundy for four and a half weeks from mid April to mid May, catching spring migrants. Though weather conditions were changeable, more than 1,300 birds were ringed at this stage. These were mainly warblers, with Blackcaps making up over half of them.

Three weeks in late May and early June were spent on the long-term Wheatear study, together with some night-time Manx Shearwater ringing. Then over sixteen days in late August and early September there was more shearwater ringing, along with some productive targeting of Storm Petrels by night and autumn migrants by day. Migrants were then ringed during the last two weeks of September and three days in late October.

Blackcaps topped the totals list for the third year in a row, with 719 ringed. Swallows (517), Willow Warblers (431) Chiffchaffs (224) and Goldcrests (211) were all caught in greater numbers than in 2018, while Sedge Warblers (117) and Whitethroats (77) showed the most notable increases. In both cases these are the highest totals since 2000, with average annual catches over the intervening eighteen years of just 38 and 25 respectively.

The headline rarities were the remarkable five Subalpine Warblers ringed in spring, bringing Lundy’s all-time total for the species to thirteen. Also of note was a Cetti’s Warbler that was just the fourth to be ringed on the island, and a Little Bunting, a Nightingale and an Icterine Warbler brought their respective totals to seven, eleven and nineteen. Two Common Rosefinches were added to the 30 ringed in previous years.

In all, 49 different species were ringed during 2019, the highest number since 2012. A complete list of the year’s ringing totals is shown in the table below.

Manx Shearwaters

A combination of weather conditions, the timing of the shearwater breeding season and the dates of ringing visits to the breeding slopes all affect the number of adults and chicks ringed, and circumstances in 2019 resulted in fewer birds being caught, even though the colonies were clearly thriving. Totals of 141 chicks and 93 adults were newly ringed and 62 different ringed adults were recaptured one or more times. These included seven birds originally ringed as chicks. Four were from 2015 and 2016, returning at an age when they would be looking for burrows and mates, but birds from 2008, 2011 and 2013 were old enough to be breeders.

There was increased uptake of the shearwater nest-boxes, with five of them occupied. Nine different adults were found in them, and six of these birds had been ringed in previous years. Two were the returning pair that originally bred in 2017, but unfortunately they failed at the late egg or early chick stage in 2019. Two other pairs laid eggs and reared their chicks successfully.

Storm Petrels

Like Manx Shearwaters, Storm Petrels breed in burrows which they only enter or leave under cover of darkness. They are also much smaller than shearwaters, and almost entirely black, so finding and monitoring them is a considerable challenge. In an effort to discover more about their breeding population on Lundy, petrels were targeted with mist-nets in late August, at night, on the slope at the North End where they had been heard calling from burrows in 2017 and ’18.

At this site 76 birds were caught in 2019, 29 of them without the use of a sound lure. While sound lures result in bigger catches, they can attract large numbers of wandering birds that are not local breeders. So the strategy at the colony was to start each visit without using lures, then use them later in the night to boost numbers, noting which birds were caught in which phase. Twelve of the birds caught in 2019 had originally been ringed at the same site in 2017 or ‘18 or both, and in some cases were caught twice in the same year, so these are likely to be local breeders. Several birds were carrying very full crops of food, suggesting they were visiting burrows with chicks.

Another ten birds were caught in mist-nets on slopes between the Old Light and the Battery, while shearwaters were being targeted. Nine of these were caught while sound lures were playing, and one individual was caught again the next night at the North End. As it did not have a well-developed brood patch, it was almost certainly a wandering pre-breeder. However studies at other sites suggest that the opposite cannot be assumed: some birds develop brood patches before reaching breeding age.

Though population studies of petrel breeding colonies are very challenging, it is hoped that repeat visits to the North End site in future years will gradually shed light on what is happening there.

One bird caught north of Old Light and six at the North End had been ringed elsewhere, showing the extent to which some petrels wander during the breeding season. Two had come from County Cork in southwest Ireland, one from the southwest tip of Cornwall, one from north Devon and the rest from Pembrokeshire. Four of them had been ringed within the previous six weeks.

A remarkable record came from the Channel Islands, where the Storm Petrel ringed as a chick on Lundy in 2014 was mist-netted at a breeding colony, without the use of a sound lure. It will be fascinating to see if it is a settled breeder and is caught there again, or whether it just made a fleeting visit.

Full details of all these ringing controls are given below.

Wheatears

The long-term RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) project on Wheatears continued, with three weeks of trapping, ringing and observation of breeding birds in late May and early June, to study their rates of survival on migration and while wintering in West Africa. A record 55 Wheatears were newly colour-ringed, and 46 birds colour-ringed in previous years were re-sighted within the study area. One other bird bred outside the area and so does not contribute to the official data, but he is the oldest known Lundy Wheatear, at eight years.

Thanks as always to all observers who reported colour-ringed birds before and after the main study period, adding to our knowledge of the birds’ life histories. Any further records will be much appreciated.

Recoveries and Controls

In addition to the Storm Petrels described above, fourteen other ringed birds showed movements to or from Lundy in 2019. Most of these birds’ movements fit well with expected migration routes involving western Britain, Ireland, western France and, in the case of one Blackcap, on into Spain. Full details of all these are given below.

There is also a Willow Warbler record from 1989 that has recently come to light. It was not flagged up as a control at the time, and has now been discovered during the ongoing process of digitising old ringing records.

One particularly noteworthy record involves a Goldfinch that was ringed in the extreme southwest of Ireland in late April, when most pairs are settled and have already reached the egg-laying stage. By late August it was on Lundy, where it was caught along with two recently fledged young. That late in the breeding season, they would be from a second or perhaps a third brood of the year. What had prompted this adult to move more than 300 km at some stage between those dates?

Another interesting record is of a Guillemot, ringed as a chick on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, in 2013 and seen on Lundy in June 2019. It was not breeding, but had reached an age when it was likely to be looking for a breeding site and mate. It is unusual for Guillemots to breed away from their natal colony.

 

 

Number ringed in 2019

Woodpigeon

2

Storm Petrel

61

Manx Shearwater

(141) 234

Coal Tit

1

Sand Martin

15

Swallow

517

House Martin

11

Cetti's Warbler

1

Wood Warbler

1

Yellow-browed Warbler

1

Willow Warbler

431

Chiffchaff

224

Sedge Warbler

117

Reed Warbler

8

Icterine Warbler

1

Grasshopper Warbler

6

Blackcap

719

Garden Warbler

8

Lesser Whitethroat

3

Whitethroat

77

Subalpine Warbler

5

Firecrest

6

Goldcrest

211

Wren

31

Treecreeper

1

Starling

1

Blackbird

22

Redwing

7

Song Thrush

3

Spotted Flycatcher

24

Robin

32

Nightingale

1

Pied Flycatcher

7

Redstart

4

Stonechat

8

Wheatear

(4) 60

House Sparrow

27

Dunnock

19

Meadow Pipit

24

Tree Pipit

4

Rock Pipit

1

Brambling

2

Chaffinch

32

Common Rosefinch

2

Greenfinch

1

Linnet

10

Lesser Redpoll

2

Goldfinch

56

Little Bunting

1
   

Total number of birds ringed

3,042

   

Total number of species ringed

49

Numbers in brackets indicate pulli – i.e. chicks/nestlings – ringed in 2019. The number of pulli is included in the main total.

Ruppell's Warbler by Mike Langman from The Birds of Lundy

 

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