Chatting in Durham

Adult stonechat by Ian Fisher

A conversation I had with two birding friends of very long standing, over a meal in Brampton, was bound to lead to ideas for new projects.  The rest as they say is history.   The result was 53 Stonechat pulli ringed, 48 of them with colour rings.

Stonechat pullus

I recorded 28 breeding attempts by 17 pairs. Three of those pairs each reared three broods, the last brood not being ringed until mid-August. Fourteen nest record cards will be submitted to the BTO Nest Record Scheme. Nationally in 2013, 173 nest record cards were submitted for Stonechat and in 2014, 248. My contribution is therefore not insignificant and may well be the first from Durham.

All of the nests were on the ground, but the surrounding vegetation was either heather or bracken.    Pairs were not consistent in their choice of habitat. One pair, for example, moved from bracken (see photo immediately below) to heather (see photos below) then to another heather site for its third brood.


The first nest (left) was in the bracken, centre of picture. The second nest (right), of the same pair, was in the bed of heather in the middle distance, 153m from the first nest site.

The heather chosen was invariably quite short and compact, the bracken always from the previous year. Those pairs which had multiple broods, sometimes only moved a few metres between successive nests, while others moved up to 153 metres. Favoured nest sites were in valleys and the nests were usually on south facing slopes.

Having colour ringed the pulli, the project continues into the autumn and winter with the hope that the wintering sites of some of these birds can be located. The pulli all have a green colour ring below the BTO ring on the left leg and a combination of two colours on the right leg. If suitable locations are found, attempts will also be made to catch adults on winter territories.  It will though, require a combination of site and weather to be both suitable and even then the fickle nature of the birds may intervene.

The project will continue into next year and, of course, I will be keenly looking out for any colour ringed pulli from this year attempting to breed.

An added bonus from this year’s fieldwork was the finding of two Whinchat nests, both broods being ringed.  The sight of my first Whinchat clutch will be forever etched in my memory, the colour of the eggs being nothing less than stunning.

The two friends referred to in the opening lines are Stephen Westerberg and John Callion. Stephen has been involved in detailed fieldwork on Whinchats at Geltsdale in recent years and presented his findings at the North East Ringers Conference this year.  John has been studying both Stonechats and Whinchats for about 20 years. Look out for his paper on Stonechat, which is to be published in British Birds, hopefully in December of this year.  Many thanks go to both, for their help and support.

John Strowger

August 2015