Happy returns – bird stories from the May

The winter is often time when we get news of birds ringed on the island and seen elsewhere or the alternative birds ringed elsewhere that turn up[ on the island.  Here are 3 such stories that we have recently heard about.


In May and June 2012 we had a great passage of interesting birds blown across the north sea by prolonged easterlies. Amongst those birds was an icterine warbler, like the one in the photo that was rung on the island and release. It is thought that often when birds are blown a long way off course they can died rather than retrace their steps. So it was with interest that we heard that the same icterine warbler was trapped again in July 2013 in Belgium proving that it managed to re orientate itself, fly back across the North Sea and make a more normal migration flight path the next year.  How long after being rung did in recross the North Sea? And in what sort of weather? I would love to know more.

arctic tern

Last summer in June when going down to meet the visitor boat I found a badly injured arctic tern in the Kirkhaven colony. It had a very badly broken wing and had to be put down. It seems most likely that it had been attached by a short-eared owl that was on the island and that had already been munching terns. Interestingly it had a ring on and the number was sent away. The news that came back was that this tern was ringed as an adult on the Farnes off the coast of Northumbria where there is a big colony of terns and a long running ringing project. What is most interesting is that this bird was ringed as a breeding adult and was thought to be also breeding on the Isle of May when it died. Adult terns don’t often change colonies unless the whole colony abandons but this one seems to have up sticks and moved north. Maybe the Farnes are getting too crowded and the Isle of May colony is getting re-established and growing again after some poor years?

GBB with darvic 2In October we know that there is a big influx of gulls onto the island to take advantage of the seal breeding season with its abundant food of dead pups, dead adults and afterbirth.  The totals are more than breed on the Isle of May so where  do these gulls come from?  Martina Quaggiotto is doing a fascinating PhD on the role that these gulls play in the carrion cycle of the island and in November she noticed a colour-ringed 1st year great black-backed gull with a darvic letter and colour ring on it. The news is that this bird was ringed in Aberdeenshire as a chick and had made the trip south to fill up on the May. But how did it know?  Was it just wandering and turned up by chance? or followed others? or is the information passed on in some way?

The stories that come out of ring finds are fascinating and shed some more light on these birds lives but often end up creating more questions than answers.


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