Blog Category | Ringing

Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 8

Blue Rock Thrush (juvenile male)

A dismal morning turns rapidly into a great day with good news and a fantastic catch. After the usual light round of Blackcaps and the threat of further showers and strong gusts threatening the safety of the nets, Julia returned with a single bird bag and a very big grin. Blue Rock Thrush - a target bird but very elusive. As the picture shows, the colour of the bird, despite being a juvenile, and length of the bill are both striking. Fortunately it was a male with little of the brown that characterizes females. Carl and my name were in the hat and I had the privilege of ringing the bird. What a perfect end to a great fortnight.

In the middle of the excitement, Richard Seargent texted to say that today he had reached his target of 200 members of the Army Ornithological Society and before he hands over. I know that we’ve all done our bit but great effort Richard!

There are two days remaining but my flight leaves soon and therefore this will be the last blog of the series. We have all benefited hugely from the experience of ringing birds out of our normal environments and with a lot of fun thrown in. Thanks to all my fellow ringers, Mark Cutts, Carl Powell, Julia and Robin Springett and particularly to Julia and Robin for setting up the exped. Lastly, Ann Powell has kept me under control and returning to the UK several pounds heavier. A great team.

The Team


Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 7

Short-toed Treecreeper

Who asked for a change of weather? It rained all last night and for most of the morning and into the afternoon. The upper slopes have been swathed in dense cloud. As there is no shelter on the slopes and it would take time to empty nets in a hard downpour, the ringing site was abandoned for the day. A couple of nets opened in the garden where we could monitor continuously, caught a new and a retrapped Blackbird. Suppressed excitement!

View from the uppermost nets

Wrestling to make something of the day, admin took priority and a chance to work on some species’ totals. It is without doubt that Blackcaps have once more held pole position and followed by Robins. On different days, other species have topped the list - Blackbirds, Pied flycatchers and Sardinian warblers in the early days, Redstarts in the middle and lately Chiffchaffs. Of the 748 birds processed, 300 have been in the last two days.

The team stay on for another couple of days but my last day’s ringing (weather permitting as storms are due) is on Monday before an afternoon flight out and home via two days with the BTO. Hopefully the final blog comes from Gibraltar airport.


Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 6

Grasshopper Warbler in typical pose

Two great days of ringing at last! Weather in Spain and then a shift in wind to the East has resulted in a massive fall of birds for which we were unprepared. A high number collected in the first round was a clue, followed by the extraordinary sight of masses of birds in every single net. Now we were seeing chiffs and Willow Warblers that need careful handling and because of their size, were the most tangled. In total 197 birds on Friday. Today started with a gale and glum looks all round and we decided to keep many of the nets closed to avoid damage to the birds but the remainder, in the more protected places on the hill, still managed to catch 140 birds. Stars amongst them were Iberian chiffchaff, Grasshopper warbler, and Dartford warbler.

One of our overlapping diagnostic birds! Suggestions?

Oddly, this fall of passerines was not complemented with a passage of raptors. A Merlin put in an appearance and Ring ousel have so far evaded us. Still no nightjar despite their numbers during the dawn unfurling of nets and the Barbary Partridge have resisted the urge to take flight and be caught. To our discomfort, Jew’s Gate bird observatory have managed to catch Scops again and today caught the first recorded Common crossbill for Gibraltar. Nevertheless we did catch a control - a Blackcap ringed on the north coast of Spain near San Sebastian.

Both of our readers will have noticed that there was no blog last night. Slasher’s run ashore, before meeting up with the rest of the team for supper in the town, was a lapse in judgement and not to be repeated. However, his wife Nicky has now joined us and, less for the rugby this evening, normal service is resumed.


Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 5


After yesterday’s fall of nightjars we rather expected a repeat today. So much so that we managed to persuade Steve Copsey to get up early and accompany us out to the nets well before dawn. This reasoning was reinforced by the sound of Scops owl calling from the garden during the night and a brisk breeze blowing across the slopes. Despite Jews Gate catching a record 5 Scops in their nets, nothing for us and so it was with relief that the first net round of the day produced a good mix of birds including redstarts and our first Chiffchaff.

The redstart theme continued for most of the morning (total of 6 birds) but usually with juvenile birds and it was mid morning before we caught the first male in full striking adult plumage. Always good to catch several species at the same time as it is one of the few times that plumage can be compared. A total of 54 birds altogether including 9 robins and, oddly considering the habitat and altitude, our second Reed warbler. Probably the best sighting of the day for all of us was a juvenile Cirl bunting and only the second to be seen since 1991. Regrettably no photos!

Comparing juvenile Redstarts

On the admin side, no lasting effects from last night’s chilli, Steve reverts from under command exercise to under command his wife who flew in this morning and Robin has discovered Wavepad - an excellent sound system for tape lures.


Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 4

Slasher, Carl and Julia processing

At last some good news and it started as we drove from Bruce’s Farm up to the ringing site. A Red-necked nightjar sat on the road dazzled by the car headlights. An attempt was made to creep up on the bird but at 6 feet away the bird flew. This was followed by close sightings of two further birds and Carl Powell finding yet another sat on the net pole. Here the luck rather runs out as no birds flew into the nets but we now know that they’re back!

Plenty of Pied flycatchers today for which we have managed to sort out the sexing while ageing is not a problem. There are still juvenile birds that we are unable to sex as biometrics often show the characteristics of both sexes but we have grown more comfortable with this. A single Spotted flycatcher was a treat as was the Garden Warbler and sad to say, the Wren. Other than some interesting plumage variations, only a single Sardinian warbler reminded us that we were ringing abroad.

Garden Warbler

Our garden nets newly erected last night have yet to prove their full potential but Slasher is on the job. Starting the Scops owl tape at full volume under my window at 04:45 was less than guaranteed to get a good reception at breakfast but if it catches owls... So far only Blackbirds and Pied fly caught but we have faith.

Steve Copsey’s trip up the Rock confirmed that yesterday’s raptor numbers have dwindled to Kestrels and Sparrowhawks with no migrants but as nothing escapes him, we are pretty sure that the ringing team have missed nothing. Tonight the naval contingent are cooking and giving Ann and Julia the night off. Chilli con carne with a variety of sauces for extra heat. The Andrex is in the fridge!