Thursday 23 November 2023

Just a Quickie...

It's cold, it's grey, it's damp, and so are we. What could be finer then, than to wander out in the dark and stick up a few nets?

So far we have ringed large numbers of warblers over the summer and especially the autumn, but now the warblers have all gone. For full details, readers are advised to wait for the annual report, which will be out in the New Year. We now have migratory thrushes coming down from the north, and so have ringed decent numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Blackbird.  

First Fieldfare of the year, what a stonker!

The last few sessions have been a bit well, thin, with a hit of birds first round and then fairly sparse rounds after. However, we plough on. Recent storms have blown a few interesting birds in, and here is one such:

Definitely a Wagtail!
This is a very unusual bird to be mist netted at Stanford. In the UK, we usually have Pied Wagtails, Motacilla alba, subspecies yarrelli, which as the name suggests are largely black and white birds. However, on the continent the subspecies is called White Wagtail, M. alba alba (the nominate subspecies), which is much paler. Given the pale grey mantle on this juvenile, could it be the latter, which would be quite exciting? Cue much head scratching, looking in guides, and calling Chris H, our resident birder. Anyway, to cut a long story short, no this juvenile looks a bit paler perhaps than most, but fits easily within yarrellii
Still, an interesting discussion, and it supports the idea that birds who turn up at unusual times and in unusual places, are always worth a through examination!

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Wing-Tagged Marsh Harriers at Stanford Reservoir

Chris Hubbard, our eagle eyed Sightings Officer, continues his reports of exciting birds encountered at Stanford Reservoir:

In early September two Marsh Harriers appeared at Stanford Reservoir. Initially, the birds were quite distant, often feeding over arable farmland and the bordering hedgerows but on the 7th, one came close enough to see that it was fitted with orange wing-tags – at that point no code was read due to the distance.
On Saturday 9th September the number of Marsh Harriers had increased to an unprecedented three birds and I was able to obtain close views of them and to my surprise two of the birds had orange tags and the other was untagged - the first time ever we have had tagged birds at the site. With patience I was able to obtain the codes on both birds. I found this much easier to do when the birds rested in the trees bordering the reservoir – they were much more difficult to read when in flight.

Marsh Harrier ‘ZC’

‘ZC’ was the first to be read. This bird was ringed and tagged on the 19th June 2023 at Breydon Water, near Great Yarmouth. The bird was sexed as a female and she had two siblings, both were males. This was the first time the bird had been observed since being ringed/tagged.

Marsh Harrier ‘6A’

Whilst watching ‘ZC’ along the Leicestershire reedbed a second bird flew in and settled in a nearby tree and was immediately read as ‘6A’. This bird was ringed and tagged on the 2nd July 2023 at Welney WWT. This bird was also sexed as a female. This was the first time the bird had been observed since being ringed/tagged.

Ongoing Observations
Like many sites in the county, Marsh Harriers are often short stayers or fly-throughs but both ‘6A’ and ‘ZC’ had extended stays.‘6A’ was observed up to the 13th and ‘ZC’ up to the 19th September. As at the 21st I thought that both birds had departed. However, ‘ZC’ was then picked up again on the 29th and is still present at the time of writing this article (17th October), some 39 days after the initial sighting.

The Project
The project was started in 2011 and is run by the North West Norfolk Ringing Group, with the objective of finding out more about how or if juvenile Marsh Harriers disperse from their natal area. It is now in its 12th year and some interesting and in some cases unexpected results have already been obtained.
In 2011 the tags had an individual identifying combination of two letters or one letter and one number in White. From 2012 a combination of two letters or one letter and one number in Black on a lime green tag were used. In 2018 after all the lime green codes had been used, orange tags with Black numbers or letters were used.

I would like to thank Phil Littler for providing the information on both birds. More information can be found at 

Photo of MH in flight courtesy of B Silverman, others CH.  

Chris Hubbard

Friday 1 September 2023

Stanstock IV: 37 Species in 13 Days!


As the poster shows, Stanstock nominally runs for the week leading up to the August bank holiday. It is such a good time of year for migrants, that it can also start earlier (Friday 18) and run late (Thursday 31), which was the case, especially when Mick is on the saunter.

Anyway, it was nets and tents up on Friday 18, and onwards. We set up two ringing stations, one on the railtrack, one at the bench:

Railtrack team hard at work including Adam, Ed, Kate, Peter and some anonymous knees. 
Heather, Dave and Stuart keeping it together at the bench.

The weather was largely cool, the winds tended to pick up around 1000, and it was a bit showery, fortunately largely in the afternoons. Although not ideal, clearly the weather worked for our migrants. A total of 3,296 were ringed, plus 264 retraps and 11 controls (all warblers). The new birds were as follows:

Blackcap 958, Whitethroat 582 , Sedge Warbler 414, Willow Warbler 405, Reed Warbler 270, Garden Warbler 155, Lesser Whitethroat 119, Chiffchaff 64, Robin 61, Blue Tit 42, Redstart 40 (!), Reed Bunting 40, Wren 27, Grasshopper Warbler 23, Great Tit 15, Long Tailed Tit 12, Dunnock 10, Goldcrest 7, Goldfinch 7, Greenfinch 7, Song Thrush 7, Linnet 6, Stock Dove 6, Treecreeper 4, Blackbird 3, Chaffinch 3, Tree Pipit 3 (!!), Kingfisher 2, Mallard 2, Sparrowhawk 2, and single Bullfinch, Grey Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, Swallow, Whinchat, Yellowhammer and Wryneck (!!!). 

One of many beautiful Redstarts from Stanstock

 Our annual Whinchat

Two Tree Pipits on the 20th August- their preferred date every year!
Our annual Wryneck turned up too. What a bird!

Thanks to Chris H who stepped in for a lot of scribing during the week. Well done too, to our trainees Heather, Jade and Beth, who have progressed in their confidence and skills throughout the week. Finally a barbeque was held on the Thursday supplemented by Chris' cheese and port, which raised £25 for the group- definitely a fixture for next year. 

A splendid time was had by one and all!!

Sunday 13 August 2023

Stanstock IV is Imminent!

 Just a brief reminder, our fourth celebration of autumn migration starts next week when, weather permitting, we will be ringing every day from Saturday 19th August to Monday 28th. Anyone wanting to visit is welcome to contact me on, or indeed through any other member of the group. Expect lots of, er... Blackcaps...

But lots of goodies too!

Blyth’s Reed Warbler 8th September 2022 – a New Bird for Stanford & Northamptonshire

Chris, our Sightings Officer has written up an account of another exciting warbler which was ringed at the reservoir last year. Remember too, to have a look at previous year's reporting in our rivetting annual reports, which can be accessed from

Ringing activity at Stanford Reservoir tends to moves up a gear in the autumn.  The 8th September presented perfect conditions to ring, so Mick Townsend (MJT) and Adam Homer (AGH) were out early erecting a number of nets in Blower's Lodge Bay on the Northants side of the reservoir. Chris Hubbard (CMH) was on site to take on the scribing duties for the first couple of rounds, which do tend to be the busiest.

Around 80 birds were brought back from the first round and MJT and AGH commenced the process of ringing these. MJT got to bird number four which was clearly an acrocephalus warbler. It is worth pointing out that the ringing group have ringed over 7000 Reed and 4 Marsh Warblers in their 40 years at the site. Each bird is carefully checked to establish the wing measurements and the position of the P2 notch. On completing the initial check MJT immediately said that the measurements didn’t fit Reed and it could be a Blyth’s Reed!

Before a bird is ringed it should be positively identified so MJT went about gathering key data and referring to Svensson's Identification Guide to European Passerines whilst AGH continued the process of ringing the other birds. Key biometrics were obtained and cross checked with Svensson, confirming MJT’s initial thoughts that this was indeed a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. CMH continued to scribe whilst also documenting the key biometrics on the BTO Rarity Recording Form. The bird was ringed and then a number of photographs were taken, two of which are included below. The bird was subsequently released in Blower's Lodge Bay and the enormity of what had happened began to sink in. The bird was not seen again after it’s release. The record was subsequently accepted by the Northants Records Committee as the first Blyth’s Reed Warbler for Northamptonshire.

Key Identification Points
    • Primaries emarginated P3 to P5 – only P3 in Reed / Marsh.
    • P2 notch =12mm = tertials.
    • Wing length – 63mm.
    • Rounded wing.
    • Short primary projection.
    • Forehead peaking behind the eye.
    • Fairly indistinct supercilium behind the eye.
    • Lower belly whitish. 

A feather that was dislodged in the ringing process was subsequently sent to Martin Collinson at the University of Aberdeen for DNA analysis. The team confirmed the bird was A.dumetorum, Blyth’s Reed Warbler.

Written by Chris Hubbard, Mick Townsend and Adam Homer

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Marsh Warbler at Stanford Reservoir, 7th June 2023

Chris Hubbard, our Sightings Officer, keeps a very close eye on the birds at Stanford, here is his account of one encounter with a very elusive species: 

As we moved into June, I became increasingly aware of a significant influx of Marsh Warblers into the UK. June is also a month when Icterine, Melodious or Blyth’s Reed can turn up and all are possible at an inland site with suitable habitat. As an avid patch birder, you should never rule anything out and events across the rest of the country are often early indicators of something good happening on the patch.

On the morning of the 7th June, I had already walked along the Leicestershire side of the reservoir and as I often do, decided to turn around and walk back to the dam to re-check the reedbed.

As I walked along the path adjacent to the reedbed, I picked up on a very distinctive and different song coming from hawthorns bordering the area. My initial reaction was Marsh Warbler but I knew I needed to rule out Icterine, Melodious and Blyth’s Reed. I was very familiar with Icterine Warbler having spent several hours listening to one at Rutland Water in June 2021. Even though Icterine mimics other birds it has a very distinctive ‘squeaky toy’ note which this bird didn’t have. However, I was less familiar with the song of Blyth’s Reed and Melodious although I had listened to them in the past in anticipation of an event such as this.

On returning later I was able to get much better recording and some brief views - my view on the bird’s identification hadn’t changed. I had already spoken with Mick Townsend (leader of Stanford Ringing Group) about releasing the news given that it was a very narrow track with breeding birds in the adjacent reedbed. I also thought the bird would be popular with local birders so needed to consult with Severn Trent about potentially allowing non permit holders on site. On the basis that I would be there to monitor, I released the news and this allowed birders ample time to visit and enjoy this very rare bird for the county. I last heard it sing at 20.50 and it wasn’t present the following day. 

The bird remained incredibly elusive throughout. Overall, I had three brief views of the bird despite it singing from hawthorn only a few feet away. The combination of views were enough to confirm that the bird was an ‘Acrocephalus’ warbler. Crown and mantle were light grey-brown with off-white underparts. When I had slightly obscured views later in the day of the bird preening in the base of a willow, I felt that this off-white colour also looked tinged yellow / brown. The bird never sang from a high perch but remained either in hawthorn, cow parsley or the dog rose all bordering the reedbed. It seemed to do circuits between these positions during all of my observations (c.6 hours in total) but never gave a clear, unobscured view. It also fell silent for periods before starting to sing again from one of its favoured positions.

The song was the identification clincher. It is difficult to write down what a song sounded like but I have posted recordings on my Twitter feed and on the LROS Facebook page. It had very few pauses – very excitable made up of a number of elements of mimicry. I noted Blackbird alarm call, Great Tit, Song Thrush and House Sparrow in one section alone. Sometimes the song seemed quieter, but still excitable and quick. The speed of song, lack of clicking call between sections of the song and the array of mimicry ruled out Blyth’s Reed. Also, the combination of the song and the views confirming the bird as an ‘Acro’ ruled out Icterine and Melodious.

This is the sixth record for Stanford Reservoir, the previous records are summarised here:

17th June 1984 – ringed on the Leicestershire side
16th May 1989 – singing bird on the Northants side
7th June 2000 – ringed on the Leicestershire side
9th August 2018 – ringed on the Northants side
10th September 2020 – ringed on the Northants side

This is the ninth record for Leicestershire and Rutland and the first for 23 years.

Chris Hubbard

Images of a singing Marsh Warbler (reproduced with kind permission from Andrew C Sims) taken around the same time of year at Chapel Six Marshes, Lincs.

Tuesday 6 June 2023

Early Summer Round Up

Spring is now over with its rain and winds and we are now into summer, still with the wind, but no rain... so probably an improvement. The mighty SRG have rallied to the cause and we are all enjoying the regular Saturday and occasional midweek sessions. The days are still lengthening, but we (almost) relish the 0430 starts and the cold mornings. Surely it will warm up soon? So far we have ringed 791 birds of 31 species, a good start to the year.

Our residents are busy producing their young, and we are starting to pick up the occasional juvenile. Most of the tit boxes on both sides of the reservoir have produced good numbers. It is always nice to see young Robins fledged and getting ringed: 

To make the most of the long northern summers, our breeding warblers have returned, with the sad exception of Grasshopper Warblers who seem to have forsaken us as a breeding bird this year. All the others are back.


Sedge Warbler- newly returned

It is particularly nice to see birds we ringed in previous years returning to Stanford. Thus far, the number of returns are: Lesser Whitethroat 1, Blackcap 5, Sedge Warbler 6, Garden Warbler 8, Willow Warbler  10, Chiffchaff 11, Whitethroat 20 and Reed Warbler 28. 

Reed Warblers overwinter in West Africa. The challenges of flying and navigating 3,500 miles for a bird which only weighs 10 grams are fairly mind boggling, so we are always delighted when they arrive. The oldest returnee so far was ringed as an adult in 2017, therefore has made the journey at least 13 times, meaning that it has covered in excess of 45,000 miles. When I first drafted this blog, I checked my calculations twice, as it seems such an outlandish number, but what an amazing feat. To finish off, here is one of our favourite birds. also recently returned from Africa, from just south of the Sahara!

Lesser Whitethroat, always a delight!