Bird ringing on Cape Clear
Bird ringing has been carried out on Cape Clear since 1959 and while it will never be a major part of Observatory life, it does have an important role to play. Compared to some other observatories, the relatively low number of migrant passerines mean that it is unusumore than a hundred birds ringed in a day. This largely reduces the chances of obtaining 'controls' - birds you have ringed that are retrapped elsewhere, or were ringed elsewhere and retrapped by you. It is these controls that ringing was initially set up for, as a guide to migration patterns. This being said Cape Clear has a rather impressive ringing list of 128 species (to the end of 2016).
Nowadays, the population levels and shifts are seen as equally important and with the resident island populations of several species, annual ringing totals can reveal whether these are increasing or decreasing and how this compares to the national trend. It also shows strange occurences, such as a Blue Tit caught in Cotters Garden that had been ringed on Bardsey Island in Wales nine days earlier - and continues to be the only live record of a Blue Tit crossing the Irish Sea in either direction! Or ringing 125 Coal Tits in the autumn of 2008 when the total number previously ever ringed numbered only 91.
Of course, there is always the possibility of catching something that nobody had seen around, like the Red-eyed Vireo in September 2004, still the earliest European record or the Thrush Nightingale or the Little Bunting or....
In the early ringing reports from Cape, there was an annual plea for more ringers to visit the island, not only to increase coverage but also to encourage young Irish ringers. That plea is as relevent now as it was then and we still need visiting ringers to help keep up the numbers. Given the right conditions and the obligatory slice of luck, a trainee or C Permit ringer can vastly increase their species list as well as, if the slice was a big one, catching the odd rarity.