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Little beggars!

Turnstones with rings, Scarborough, 7th Nov 2015
Turnstones with leg rings, Scarborough, 7th Nov 2015

Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) are a common sight all around the harbour, during the winter, in Scarborough. Many of them have been fitted with coloured leg rings and flags (PVC) which is part of an ornithological study to investigate where they migrate to in the summer. Turnstones which have been ringed in Great Britain & Ireland have been recovered, i.e. found and released again, in Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and all the way down the coasts of western Europe and West Africa (1).

Turnstones waiting for scraps, Scarborough
Turnstones waiting for scraps, Scarborough

Anyway, the ones that live in Scarborough during the winter are quite tame, and like to hang around the car parks near the pier waiting for people to throw scraps – the remains of their pasties or fish and chip lunches! – out of the car window. When a car door opens, they rush over to see if anything edible is being tossed out! It often is. In the meantime, they were waiting in a space, enjoying the winter sun. I liked the way they cast a shadow in the afternoon light.

Turnstones with shadows, Scarborough
Turnstones with shadows, Scarborough

Quite a few of them had rings and flags. They carry these little coloured markers with them on their journeys across the world. According to the British Trust for Ornithology, a bird with a coloured ring is a bit like wearing a watch is for us! (2) A bit like wearing a Swatch watch I expect! Well maybe, but bird rings are not totally without effects. Some studies have demonstrated problems caused by plastic rings (3). They are however, mostly benign and generate a lot of useful information which benefits the species in terms of conservation and knowledge. So these little beggars will have to keep wearing their coloured watches for a while yet!

Turnstones with shadows, Scarborough
Turnstones with shadows, Scarborough
  3. Griesser, Michael, et al. “Causes of ring-related leg injuries in birds–evidence and recommendations from four field studies.” PloS one 7.12 (2012): e51891.

rcannon992 View All

I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

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