Those of us working on the Isle of May are drawn to dead birds and seals like flies to rotting meat, literally. This is not just down to a general fascination with these creatures and seeing them close up or a need for skulls, feet or flippers for the visitor centre touch table. It is the tags and rings that we are after. A large of number of birds on the island are ringed as a way of marking individual birds but this ringing effort is only useful if rings are seen or found after they have been fitted. Some special rings put on birds can be read from a distance but most are small metal rings that can only be read when the birds are in the hand and dead birds are the easiest to get in the hand hence the unhealthy interest in carcasses.
So a few weeks ago when out on Rona I found 2 legs attached to a bit of a freshly cleaned carcass that were probably from a whimbrel or curlew that had been killed and partially eaten by a peregrine. Glinting in the gore was a metal ring on one of the legs – goldust. A closer look at the ring and things got even more exciting as the ring was labelled “Museum Zoolog Helsinki Finland”, this bird had been ringed in Finland. I sent off the ring number and details to the Isle of May Bird Observatory ringing secretary who made contact through the right channels to the Finland Ringing Scheme. Apparently this bird had been ringed so recently that the details had not yet been submitted to the central office but the seems as if it is likely to have been a curlew ringed as a young bird in Finland. A look in the fantastic Scottish Birds book under curlews states that up to 2004 over 60 young curlew ringed in Scandinavia have turned up in Scotland. So through ringing a picture has been built up that shows that the Scotland is an important wintering ground for curlews breeding in the Nordic countries. We will have to wait and see what the details of this bird are but finding a ring like this makes all that turning over maggoty bodies and trying to find if the legs are still attached, worthwhile.