Article originally published in the Assynt News during May 2014
UK Record for Clachtoll Bird
Twite Linaria flavirostris, meaning yellow-billed linnet in Latin or Gealan-beinne meaning mountain linnet in Gaelic, is most definitely one of those ‘small brown jobs’ in any birdwatchers formative years.
Tony Mainwood of the Highland Ringing Group has had more experience of these iconic birds of croft and hill than most. Tony started catching and ringing Twite at Clachtoll in 2007 and has continued every year since then. In Britain the bird ringing scheme is run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and all ringers have to be thoroughly trained and licensed through the BTO. The standard rings for Twite, issued by the BTO, are made from a light aluminium alloy each with a unique number and the address of the Natural History Museum in London. This enables individual birds to be traced if anyone finds the bird or it is caught by another ringer. During 2010 to 2012, in addition to the BTO rings, Tony also added plastic colour rings so that birdwatchers could report any birds that they saw without the bird having to be caught. He used a different colour combination for each year’s birds so although individuals could not be identified the time and place where they were ringed could be determined.
The trap used by Tony is a simple plastic coated metal mesh cage placed on the ground into which some of the Twite’s favourite food, rape seed, is placed. Once a bird, or several, are in the trap Tony simply pulls a trip wire which closes the trap. He then quickly retrieves the birds and places them in small individual cloth bags which calms them down as it is dark inside.
For most birds, in addition to having a ring put on their leg and their age and sex noted, the opportunity is also taken to record the bird’s wing length and weight. Each time an individual is re-trapped it will have its weight measured again to check on its condition. As well as finding where the Twite go at different times of the year valuable information on how long they live is gathered from the records of birds that return to breed in the Clachtoll area in subsequent years.
Similar Twite ringing schemes, also using colour rings, are in operation in Aberdeenshire and Orkney but mainly during the winter. Thanks to the dedication of the volunteer ringers much has been and is being learned about the Twite populations in the various areas, particularly about where they spend the winter and where they go to nest. One fascinating fact to emerge is that good numbers of Clachtoll birds go to Orkney in the winter but return to Clachtoll to breed in the summer. Our birds have also been re-trapped in Bettyhill; Aberdeenshire; Montrose Basin; South Uist and even North Wales and colour ringed birds have been sighted as far away as the Northumberland coast and in Dumfries-shire.
Since 2007 Tony has trapped an amazing 2367 individual Twite at Clachtoll but of course not all of them are alive today. Many of the young birds do not survive their first winter and those that do, on average, only manage another 18 months or so.
However, and to now explain the title of this article, on 16 April 2008 Tony ringed a Twite at Clachtoll which was at that time in its second calendar year i.e. it was hatched in 2007. The same bird was re-trapped by Tony at Clachtoll in 2010 and again in 2013; then on 23 April 2014 at Reiff Tony caught it again, 6 years and 7 days since it was ringed. Because all birds of all species ringed in the UK are recorded it is now official that our Twite is the oldest surviving ringed Twite ever in the UK. Of course it is older than 6 years 7 days as it was hatched the year before it was ringed.
Tony still continues with his ringing project at Clachtoll and several other local spots so it is possible that this same bird will be caught again increasing the record further. So while we all know how special Assynt is to live in or visit we can now, with confidence, say we hold at least one national record!
This is a selection of photographs by D. Haines of an immature male Twite being processed by Tony at Clachtoll on 7 May 2014.
D Haines/T Mainwood