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The early birder catches the sand martin

October 13, 2023
Harriet Day

The early birder catches the sand martin

It was an interesting start to our summer months!  

After my friend Ian Unwin and I discovered a natural sand martin colony, amongst the  banks of the River Don, we were able to see good numbers of breeding pairs foraging amongst the river and returning to their colonies, possibly to feed young in the nest. After closely monitoring them, we entered the site with permission for a closer look.

I was very intrigued to learn that the colony had been there at least 4 years. With no one previously monitoring the site or ringing it, I jumped at the chance to ask permission from the landowner at Hooton Lodge, Kilnhurst. Charlotte Buck was very interested in us ringing her site and was fantastic, allowing Sorby Brecks ringing group access to the private area of this nature thriving  site.

On Sunday 25th of June 2023 a 4am start was in order at Hooton Lodge for myself, Kevin Bower, Lydia Fretwell-Smith and Chris Corbin. 

We placed one mist net safely one metre in front of the sand martin colony, where 27 nesting holes were present. After not setting my expectations too high, I was delighted with the results.

In total we extracted, measured and ringed 21 out of 22 birds, (because one was already ringed), and we spotted that we happened to have a ringing recovery. Between us we carefully read the ring number out, to discover one adult sand martin was ringed previously by another ringing group! After patiently waiting for the recovery details from the BTO, the results were amazing.

It appeared that this male sand martin, weighing 14.6 grams and a wing length of 107mm had travelled 77km from Donnington on Bain, Lincolnshire to Hooten Lodge, Rotherham to breed. A Lincolnshire bird ringer had ringed this little fellow in the nest in 2019,making it 4 years old! This is a fascinating result for our first visit, especially when statistics show the average life span is thought to be 2 years old. Personally, for me, this sums up the purpose of what bird ringing is all about.

The data collected during the ringing session showed we caught and confidently sexed at least 10 males and 5 females with clear brood patches. It could be that we caught fewer females than males due to them potentially sitting incubating their eggs in the colony. However, we did catch 6 juvenile sand martins that had hatched this year from their first brood, in the colony at Kilnhurst. All the juveniles weighed between 12 grams and 13grams; this was nearly equivalent to the adults' weights, indicating a good source of food supply in the current area.

An update from the end of season ringing will follow later this year so we can share a comparison of our  findings from the roost before they migrated back to Africa to spend their winter.

Overall, our efforts have rewarded us with positive data and thanks to everyone and Charlotte at Hooton Lodge for allowing us to continue ringing the site, it would be great to see the future outcome of these Riparias!

The SBS Team

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