Chatting in Durham 2016

Stonechat at its wintering site in Lincolnshire, by Alex Lees

Following on from the first year of the project in 2015, I continued to colour ring Stonechat pulli in my study area. This year another 42 pulli were ringed and 10 NRCs submitted to the BTO. The birds continued to nest under heather and dead bracken, the nest itself always being on the ground.

At the most studied site, 3 pairs bred this year (2 pairs in 2015). They had a traumatic start with the very cold and wet period we experienced for a few days at the end of April. Two of these pairs lost broods of about 9 days old and the other lost their clutch. However, within a few days there were signs of them recovering and shortly after all 3 pairs relayed. This time they were successful and all went on to lay another successful clutch; six broods in total fledging. This demonstrates the resilience of Stonechat and their ability to recover from the effects of severe weather.

Elsewhere, another site was discovered with 5 breeding pairs, but unfortunately too late in the season to find more than one unfledged brood. This site will be a primary target in 2017.

Re-sighting colour ringed birds, other than at the natal site within two weeks of fledging has been problematic. The Durham uplands provide plenty of opportunity for widespread dispersal. However, this year one colour ringed male was relocated in late October, albeit within 1km of its natal site. It was though paired, with an unringed female, so hopefully will remain in this territory over the winter and they may be one of my breeding pairs next year. To have a colour ringed adult would help enormously with tracking the movements of an individual in its breeding territory. Over the winter I will continue to look for more wintering pairs. So far another two pairs have been located, but none were ringed. During the winter the birds on heather moorland appear to have very extensive territories. Indeed the territories may be so large; they hardly qualify for the term. Catching up with them is therefore very difficult, as they frequently don’t stay for more than a few minutes in any one spot.


Stonechat at its wintering site in Lincolnshire, by Alex Lees

The great news to announce though, is the first sighting of one of my colour ringed Stonechat outside of its natal area. The photographs show the bird on 23 October at a wintering site in Lincolnshire. The finder and photographer, Alex Lees, patiently waited until the bird presented each leg in turn! Let’s hope that this is the first of others, either here on our local coastline or indeed further afield. A sighting in southern Spain would just be perfect. My good friend, John Callion from Cumbria, recently received news of one of his Stonechat in the Seville area of Spain. Unfortunately it was the victim of a hunter.

John Strowger
November 2016

Read more about the stonechat project.