Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Babes are Back in Town!!...

Just like the buses, you wait and wait, and then suddenly two come along together!!
We have been waiting for the first of the family groups, which we ringed out on Axel Heiberg Island in the extreme north of Canada in late July/ early August, to appear.
This morning I had a text from Alex Portig, who was at the other side of the (Strangford!) Lough from where I was (we try to co-ordinate our ring-reading to maximise the use of our time). He was at Finlay's Road, and said that he had picked up the family group VNRB (in "our" speak - this is V right leg, N left leg, R ed right leg-ring colour, B lue left leg-ring colour), with its mate, VURB, and family, 9CRB, 9KRB, 9URB and 9ZRB. This family was caught as part of our last catch, on 02 August 2014, at Stang Bay, which, at about 80.5 degrees North, is the most northerly ever catch for the species. At this stage, these young were quite big - the attached photo was of these birds before ringing (and also note the arid conditions of the Arctic Desert) :

Then, around lunchtime, I received an email from Kane Brides, who receives colour-ringing submissions for all wildfowl species which are reported directly to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and then farms them out to the individual ringing groups. This indicated that another family had been recorded from the island of Islay, located off the west coast of Scotland, on 07 October 2014, reported by the RSPB Loch Gruinart Senior Warden, Mary Redman. This time the family was UKRB, with its mate USRB, and a single ringed juvenile, 7HRB. These birds were caught on 29 July 2014, further down Axel Heiberg Island, nearer to our camp. The photograph below shows the birds in this catch being herded into the net by "our" helicopter (with apologies for the dust "blob" which gathered on my camera lens!).

One thing to be said about these families. As with our last Expedition, in 2007, the size of the "chicks" when ringed is such that we have fitted smaller rings, so the juveniles, if you come across them, will have rings which may be much more difficult to read. Indeed, during our catches in 2014, we were able to replace quite a few of the juvenile rings from 2007. If you come across a Red/Blue bird, it will ALWAYS have been ringed out in Canada on the breeding grounds, as we have reserved this combination for birds marked there.
Whilst speaking about families, the increase in the numbers of these over the past week has been noticeable at Strangford Lough, and average brood size is increasing as well, so it will be interesting to see what productivity and average brood sizes the annual Census produces.


  1. Great news - good to see them back! What body weights were these birds Graham back in early August?

  2. VNRB and VURB (the parents) were 1270 and 1490 g., the heavier being the male. Their chicks ranged between 770 and 940 g. These juveniles were older when ringed than the juvenile 7HRB seen on Islay, which was a mere 400g. when caught!! Incredible to think that it has been able to grow sufficiently since the end of July to be able to make that big long journey!!

  3. Their growth rate is nearly as fast as mine! Thanks for facts Graham.