Ringing history

A History of Bird Ringing in Filey

In memory of Michael Rowntree (1919 – 2007) and David Rushforth (1936 – 2000), both avid supporters of Filey and its ringing scheme

Hawfinch (Pete Dunn)

Hawfinch (Pete Dunn)

Ringing is an important part of the work of a bird observatory, particularly as the information about bird movements and populations can be used in scientifically structured projects. At Filey the first birds were ringed back in 1975 as a small garden project by long term Filey supporter David Rushforth (DAR). A couple of years later, at the invitation of group members, Roger Innes from York did a few sessions in Arndale – then the only sheltered area with a few bushes, as the ‘top scrub’ was still under development. He had six sessions between September 1977 and June 1978 capturing 140 birds of 20 species – the best migrant being a Ring Ouzel.

In early 1983, Peter Dunn (PJD) decided to train for his ringing permit (after some ‘helper sessions’ in Berkshire and at Spurn in the 60’s & 70’s) and enlisted Michael Rowntree as his trainer. Michael had a wealth of knowledge and experience having learnt to ring with Bootham School in York before the Second World War and regular sessions were held in Arndale – still the most popular site, as it acted like a huge Heligoland trap. These two were joined by Terry Hobson and David Rushforth and together they started to amass some good yearly totals. In the early years, not only were migrants more predictable but we had some good roosts of Linnet in Arndale and the fast developing Top Scrub.

Bluethroat (Pete Dunn)

Bluethroat (Pete Dunn)

In those first nine years over 5,800 birds were trapped, including over 600 each of Linnet and Greenfinch and over 700 each of migrant Blackbird and Goldcrest. That initial period was also a golden era for scarce and rarer migrants, with Marsh Warbler, Icterine Warbler (3), Greenish Warbler, Pallas’s Warbler (4), Yellow-browed Warbler (14), Radde’s Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Firecrest (3), Red-breasted Flycatcher (3), Collared Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Arctic Redpoll (2) and Rustic Bunting all being trapped. One reason so many were trapped was the lower density of good migrant habitat around the Country Park, as most of the trees were less than five foot high. This meant every bird passed through at ‘net height’ and very few were missed!

In 1992, PJD and DAR came up with the idea of amalgamating the Filey and Flamborough Ringing Groups to collate the bird ringing on the Yorkshire Coast and also cut the cost of ringing for its members, by applying for grants etc. That year the East Yorkshire Ringing Group (EYRG) was formed and the same group looks after the ringing at both sites (now both observatories) to this day.

There are two main sites for ringing at Filey. The main site is the Top Scrub, presently undergoing a major overhaul to manage the habitat and secure the site – this is the main migration ringing site where we hold the annual Ringing Week. The other site (run by LM and CR) is in the controlled area of Parish Wood. There are also a number of nest boxes monitored at both these sites and at the Dams, where Tree Sparrow is the main species and two Barn Owl boxes are also monitored each year.

Storm Petrel (Pete Dunn)

Storm Petrel (Pete Dunn)

Waders & Petrels
In 1984 we were contacted by Ron Summers who was studying Purple Sandpipers and in those years we were pulling in around 4-500 birds to the Brigg during the winter months. Ron had been ringing chicks on their nests in Norway and wanted somewhere safe to catch wintering birds by dazzling. He supervised the first sessions and we continued during suitable nights over a two winter period, resulting in 123 being ringed. The last bird to be ringed during that period was sighted four years later in Scheveningen Harbour, Holland.

Once that project was finished and with the cleaning up of the sewage outfall, the number of wintering Purple Sandpipers dramatically fell and no other waders were ringed on the Brigg until 2011 when Lucy Murgatroyd (LM) and Craig Ralston (CR) started an ongoing project to ring waders, particularly Redshank and Turnstone which were also colour-ringed. This is an ongoing project in conjunction with Hull University (Scarborough Campus) to monitor the movement of waders around the coast.

In between these two projects, in 1990 we attempted to catch Storm Petrels on the Brigg using a tape lure behind a mist net. The first session was a total failure, with only a ‘ghetto-blaster’ type player and a large crowd of expectant birders. However, once we had the right equipment and advice from Tyneside, better organised sessions continued throughout July and early August resulting in a total of 793 birds being trapped at Filey to 2013.

Collared Flycatcher (Pete Dunn)

Collared Flycatcher (Pete Dunn)

The early years were more successful, as the conditions during the month of July were almost guaranteed with westerly winds and no rain. However over the past few years July has been a very wet month and east winds were not uncommon – completely the wrong conditions. A normal night’s catch could be anywhere between one and ten birds, dependent on the amount of boat traffic offshore (the more the better) but on the night of 30/31 July 1991 an unprecedented total of 37 Storm Petrels were trapped – birds were flying around the nets in small groups. That same night, Tyneside caught the famous Swinhoe’s Petrel! During the sessions we have also trapped four Leach’s Petrels.

Up to the end of 2013, there have been around 35,500 new birds trapped at Filey involving 120 species. We have controlled 214 birds ringed elsewhere and 265 birds originally ringed at Filey have been controlled at other ringing sites, 23 outside the United Kingdom. Some of the more interesting ones are:

Storm Petrel
Twenty-nine birds controlled at Filey were ringed on sites where they breed between North Ronaldsay and the Irish Sea colonies, while six Norwegian birds and two Portuguese birds were ringed at non- breeding sites. There were some astonishing movements discovered here, such as a bird ringed on Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire (close to breeding sites) controlled at Filey ten days later and another ringed on the breeding site at Twinyess, North Ronaldsay in Orkney, controlled five days later at Filey. A bird ringed at Filey was controlled nine days later at Sheepland, Ardglass, Donegal in Eire. The two birds from Portugal were ringed on the same night but were controlled six day apart at Filey.

Leach's Storm Petrel (Pete Dunn)

Leach’s Storm Petrel (Pete Dunn)

Leach’s Petrel
The first bird trapped at Filey (2003) had been ringed at Sule Skery in Shetland eight days previously.

Five birds controlled at Filey from abroad came from Denmark, Germany, Norway(2) and Estonia

Pied Flycatcher
A bird that was seen with a large ring fitted in September 1996 was eventually trapped and found to have been ringed as a nestling in June that year at Tomsk in Russia, a distance of 5382 km in 80 days. This has now been accepted as the first British record of the eastern race of Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca sibirica.

Pallas's Warbler (Pete Dunn)

Pallas’s Warbler (Pete Dunn)

A first year male ringed at Filey in May 2000, collided with a ships’ light just off the coast of Norway at the Viking Bank 11 days later. It almost made it back!

Song Thrush
Migrants trapped at Filey during the October periods were later found in Portugal and France, unfortunately dead and probably hunted.

A bird ringed as a young male in the autumn of 1998 was found dead three years later in Safita, Tartous in Syria, probably having completed two return journeys to Africa!

Tree Sparrow
Our population was once thought to be sedentary, as a nestling ringing project only proved that many died in their first year, however three birds have since been controlled at Spurn Point so they at least move down the coast

Very few of our ringed Greenfinches were controlled or recovered in the early years of our ringing efforts but since 2009 the disease called Trichomonosis has hit the British population in almost epidemic proportions and we saw the effect in our local birds with 32 being found dead. The autumn numbers visiting the top scrub also reduced.

Barred Warbler (Pete Dunn)

Barred Warbler (Pete Dunn)