Thursday, 16 October 2008

Ringing at Vilamoura

Together with Ray Tipper, we went to Vilamoura yesterday morning to meet up with our friend Colin McShane and his team who are over from England for a week ringing birds in the Parque Ambiental. Colin, Rob Skeates, Lee Wells, Dave Clifton and Glynn Middleton were amongst those who came out here in October last year and were so impressed that they had no hesitation in planning a return. By the time we arrived at about 8.30am, the ringers had been in action for a couple of hours and they had already caught and processed lots of birds, greatly helped by Portuguese ringers, Ana, Miguel, Nuno and Rita.

At this time of the year huge numbers of birds are on the move, most of them migrating south from their breeding grounds to spend the winter somewhere that is warmer and has a better supply of food. From ringing we now know a great deal about these movements. For instance, we know that some of the Chiffchaffs that are arriving here now are from Northern Europe (including the UK), that some of them will stay here until February or March but that others will simply use the Algarve as a staging post and having re-fuelled will continue their journey south to West Africa. The same can be said of Bluethroats, Yellow Wagtails and Blackcaps.

Different species have different strategies for survival. Pied Flycatchers, Northern Wheatears and Whinchats, for instance, are all here now but will soon be continuing their move south, most of them crossing the Sahara. We still don’t know where some of these birds finish up. For Blackbirds and Robins, on the other hand, the Algarve is the end of their autumn travels and they will be with us until the nesting season. There is still much to learn and in these times of climate change and continual habitat destruction ringing is also an important means of monitoring birds.

It is always instructive to see birds in close-up, being handled by skilled ringers. Yesterday we saw a variety of warblers, finches, Bluethroats, Kingfishers, Robins, Blackbirds and others. As well as being ringed they were weighed and measured and, as far as is possible, their age and sex determined. It is always exciting when a ringed bird is reported from some remote country but those are very much a minority and a great deal of information can be gathered in other ways.
While we were there yesterday, two birds were caught that had been ringed elsewhere, both of them Blackcaps. One carried a BTO ring from the UK, the other had a Belgian ring.

One bird that we were particularly pleased to see was a Grasshopper Warbler, outside the breeding season a notoriously secretive and inconspicuous species that we had never previously seen in Portugal. Last year Colin and his team caught 17 Grasshopper Warblers during their week at Vilamoura! Without a mist-net you just wouldn’t know they are there. Who knows whatelse may be hiding in those reedbeds?


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