11 Jul 2024

Puffin Islands - Kittiwakes

The last Puffin Island ringing trip of the year is always Kittiwakes and is always enjoyable mixed wit ha tinge of sadness. Enjoyable because Kittiwakes are probably our most beautiful 'gull' and sad because I know its our last trip of the season and that in previous years Kittiwakes have had pretty disastrous breeding seasons on Puffin Island with the number of chicks produced dropping year on year.

This year saw a new dynamic added to the normal ringing and colour ringing process. Researchers from Liverpool University were going to fit geolocators to try and determine where 'our' birds  winter as there seems to be a big difference between breeding success between various colonies with colonies relatively close together having similar success rates. These geolocators weigh less than 1 gram and have a 2 year battery life and the data collected, once the geolocators are removed if the birds are recaught in subsequent years, will hopefully provide us with valuable data.

See here for more information on these geolocators.

Once again the weather hampered our plans and with the forecast for Saturday being being grim we switched to Sunday. Even then the weather looked poor early on but was forecast to improve by lunchtime so we decided to make a leisurely 11 am start rather than the usual early morning.  At least  I got a couple of extra hours in bed and a decent breakfast before leaving

Previous visits to the island and a visual productivity count suggeseted there were more nesting pairs with young than in the past few years and so it proved with the best total of young ringed for 5 years. A still rather paltry 22 but compared to recent years where we'vehad single figures or even zero it was a big improvement. There are only so many nests we can reach wit hladders and there were many more inaccessible nests with young so it looks as if the breeding season is going to be fairly successful.

Kitiwake chicks are impossibly cute but have a less endearing hait of vomiting their stomach contents all over you as a defence mechanism. As their diet consists of squid and small fish the resultant vomit is very smelly and reminiscent of half digested sushi. By the end of the day my clothes reeked of fish.

Me with a Kittiwake chick - thanks Katherine for the photo. Its a rare one of me actually ringing a bird. You can see the nesting ledges on the cliffs behind me

Kittiwake chick 

Kittiwake nest with eggs 

As well as a god number of chicks ringed the adult geolocator tagging went well with all 20 geolocators deployed and a a total of 37 new bird caught and 8 retraps from previous years.

Adult Kittiwake fitted with geolocator

Kittiwake processing team sheltering under an umbrella until the weather improved.

Once we'd finished with the Kittiwakes we spent the rest of our allotted time ringing a few more Guillemot and Razorbill chicks that we'd not had time to ring on our previous visit. A visit to Puffin Island isn't complete with at least 1 Puffin to ring and this time we managed to catch 3! 

Another great day and lovely to catch up with friends I hadn't seen for awhile. Sadly thats it for this season  but I'm hoping I'm still fit enough for next year! 

8 Jul 2024

Puffin Island seabird ringing trips - cormorants, gulls and auks

It was good to be back on Puffin island again this year following several years disruption due to covid and then, later, AI. The weather gods conspired against us though with poor weather delaying some of the breeding season and trips being rescheduled. Bad weather meant we also had  to reschedule some trips literally the evening before we were due to set off. 

Despite the delays ity appears that birds have had a good breeding season and, following a winter eradication programme, there weren't many signs of the plagues of rats that have caused problems for the last few years. Hopefully this winter will see the remaining few finished off.

As per our usual samples 250 Cormorants were ringed of which 50 were colour ringed. The colony seemed smaller this year with birds more spread out but we still managed to ring our sample size quite easily after which we searched for a few gull chicks before starting on ringing a few more Razorbills and Guillemots.

Greater Black-backed Gull chick
Greater Black-backed Gull chick

Searching for gull chicks in the long vegetation above the cliffs

Many of the Razorbills were ready to jump and join their parents on the sea and they were a perfect size to ring.
Razorbill 'jumpling'

Slightly younger Razorbill chick

Compared to Razorbills, which nest under boulders or rocky overhangs, Guillemots nest on communal ledges and are often covered in a horrid festering mix of regurgitated food and their own faeces. Even the adults become covered in the stuff and handling them isn't for those with a weak stomach. They really are the smelliest of birds.  Occasionally we get bridled guillemot and this form is generally quite rare so far south but becomes commoner the further north you go in their breeding range. To catch three on one breeding ledge in one session was a real surprise.

15 Jun 2024

First Puffin Island trip of the year - Razorbill rings and Puffins.

We recently had a short break on Anglesey with our two youngest granddaughters ( 3 & 5. We took them on a boat trip round Puffin Island to see the seabirds and seals. After last year's birdflu out break I was a bit worried about what we'd see. Rats have also been an issue in the last few years but an eradication programme organised by the RSPB seems to have been successful. We didn't see any rats whereas in previous years they were everywhere and we encountered signs of egg and young predation. Gnaw stations (choclate impreganted wax blocks) are still deployed and checks suggest around 98% of the rats were eradicated over the winter. Good news indeed! 

Seabird colonies, in other parts of the UK, have been photographed showing huge gaps on ledges traditionally used by Guillemots. I needn't have worried - the colonies were absolutely bustling & I'm glad to say we all saw Puffins! 

Roll forward to the 1st official trip of the year to photograph as many Razorbill rings as I could as part of our long term RAS (retrapping adults for survival) project. My impressions from the previous week's pleasure trip weren't mistaken. The cliff ledges were bustling with activity with Guillemots nesting where we'd never seen them before. Razorbills were also doing well although it appears they're a week or so late egg laying and we only found one chick - plenty of eggs though! 

Despite getting easily distracted by the sights and sounds around me I still managed to photograph approximately 90 Razorbill rings! 

Bridled Guillemots are rare on Puffin Island but this form becomes commoner the further north you go. I always look out for them and was pleased to find at least one in with the tightly packed 'ordinary' Guillemots.

They really are beautiful looking birds.

Many of the Shags nests had young in with quite a few already at the 'runner' stage but with many more still on eggs.

Good numbers of Kittiwakes were also hanging around on their nesting ledges with birds being seen in areas they'd previously deserted. Hopefully this bodes well for this species that has seen a rapid decline on Puffin Island with only single figures of chicks being ringed in some years recently. I was surprised to see a 2nd calendar year bird flying around the cliffs.

No trip to Puffin Island would be complete without the obligatory Puffin photos and these feisty little 'sea parrots' posed up a storm. Unfortunately they're much warier than the Razorbills who, if you sit quietly, get curious enough to approach you. A shame as one was ringed but I couldn't get close enough to photograph or read the ring number.

Ringed Puffin

Plenty of gulls nests were found as well. Some of the Herring Gulls have already hatched but lots of nests had eggs that were 'chipping' with young birds egg tooth's just poking through the shell.

A great day and very productive. I'm looking forward to our 1st ringing trip of the year with eager anticipation. 

9 Jun 2024


Silvereyes are one of the commonest small passerines to be found in Australia. They're frequently found in gardens and parks as well as in the wider countryside. We regularly get them in our daughters garden in north east Victoria and this trip was no exception.

Looking at the photos of a bird I'd photographed feeding on insects hiding beneath the autumn leaves I was struck as to how rufous the flanks were. Something I'd not seen in other local birds before. A little bit of research suggested that it could be one of the migratory Tasmanian subspecies. These breed in Tasmania and move to the mainland in the autumn and winter. 

2 Jun 2024

A final trip to the dam.

Oh go on then. Another opportunity to photograph birds at the Barnawartha Depot Road dam presented itself and I couldn't resist the temptation to photograph more stunning Turquoise Parrots and honeyeaters.

Juvenile Crimson Rosella
Fuscous Honeyeater

Turquoise Parrots
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
White-naped Honeyeater

A fantastic place and its been attracting birders from as far away as Melbourne to see the Swift & Turquoise Parrots. Theres even been photographic groups rather than birders descending on the site. Some with very little field craft - sitting on chairs right up against the waters edge or standing right in the birds flight lines.........and then get all indignant when the birders present tell them to move back and sit down.Soemthings are the same the world over

23 May 2024


I must admit I'd never heard of an Antechinus . Whilst birding at the dam someone asked me if I'd seen the Antichinus. Assuming he meant a bird species that I'd not yet heard of I said no! It was only when I researched it later I discovered that Antechinus are a small carniverous marsupial rodent with a fascinating reproductive strategy

They exhibit semelparity or suicidal reproduction. This is more commonly found in plants and insects (think female preying mantis killing and eating the males or somme species of spider doing the same. The males die after reproducing during a one to three week orgy during which they mate with as many females as they can. This is because the stress hormone cortisol builds up during the mating season. High testosterone levels causes a failure in the physiological system that mops up excess cortisol. The gruesome result is systematic organ failure due to cortisol poisoning. Fascinating! 

Anyway, next time I visited I made sure to keep an eye out for this  cross between a shrew and a mouse. Sure enough one appeared from beneath the roots of a large tree and came down to drink on several occasions. 

From the photos I'm pretty certain this is a Yellow-footed Antechinus (also known as a Mardo). If its a male he's only got a few months to live! 

20 May 2024

Birding around my Australian 'local patch'

Most days whilst I'm here in Australia I take a circular walk from our daughters place to a local small bushland reserve alongside the local cemetery. Theres a dam, on private property, along the route but its visible from the road. The route takes about an hour to walk but much longer if I'm birding! 

Its only a small area but I've found some nice birds here and in the garden. This trip was no exception with Brown Quail, Yellow-tufted and New Holland Honeyeaters being garden 'firsts' within the first few days. There has been a small covey of Brown Quail visiting the garden on several occasions but they're incredibly shy - it doesn't help that I'm normally shadowed by two black labradors - Lucy and Max

New Holland Honeyeater
Brown Quail

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Six hundred metres up the road I reach the bushland reserve which is bordered on one side by the cemetery. The dam is usually worth a look but this time there have hardly been any birds using it apart from the ubiquitous White-plumed and Yellow- tufted Honeyeaters. This trip I managed to add Restless Flycatcher to the list of birds seen in the reserve.

Little did I know that a couple of days later they'd be much closer feeding on flying ants in the cemetery and using the railings and gravestones as perches to hawk from.

The bird in the photos above is a male, identifiable by his cinnamon breast band. The cemetery seems to attract lots of smaller passerine as well as parrots that all appear to be either feeding on seeds or insects in the dry grass. These have included Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Diamond Firetail and Red-browed Firetail,

Above: Diamond Firetails
Below: Yellow-rumped Thornbill

Parrots are usually represented by Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Red-rumped or 'Grass' Parrots, Galahs, Little Lorikeets and Eastern Rosella's. This trip there have been many more Little Lorikeets than usual with up to thirty being seen. They've even made the garden list with small parties flying over to roost most nights.

Eastern Rosella

Red-rumped Parrots
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Its a great place to bird for a couple of hours and theres usually something to see. Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Noisy Miners seemed to be recent colonists as I haven't seen them locally before.
Noisy Miner
Blue-faced Honeyeater

The Miners seem to be universally disliked due to their habit of driving out smaller species and their aggression towards them. See here for more information as to why, in many areas, theyre considered a pest.

Little Friarbird

Common Bronzewing

By far the best find this trip though has to be the beautiful Black-shouldered Kite that was perched in the top of on of the ornamental trees in the garden early one morning!