A project is under way to colour-ring stonechats breeding and over-wintering on a west Norfolk nature reserve – and the public has been asked to help record sightings of the bird.

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The North West Norfolk Farmland Study and Ringing Group is working in conjunction with Natural England (NE) on the project at Dersingham Bog, near Sandringham.

The aim is to improve understanding of where the birds are breeding and to provide information on whether individuals are returning to the same general nesting areas.

It will also monitor the effects of human disturbance on the birds, their productivity, and the survival rate of fledglings – which may assist in future management of access to some areas of the site.

The work is seen as an extension of studies at Thetford Forest, Kelling Heath and Weybourne Camp, particularly as colour-ringed birds from some of these sites have previously been recorded on Dersingham Bog.

The research will allow NE to determine whether the birds spread onto recently-restored heathland areas, stay in Dersingham during the winter, or fly in from other parts of the county.

Keith Herber, of the North West Norfolk Farmland Study and Ringing Group, said: “Following earlier habitat management on Kelling Heath it was noted that the number of pairs were slowly increasing and it was considered to be of conservation value if the origin of these incomers could be established.

“Of additional interest has been the increasing number of reports in recent years of unusually ‘black and white’ male stonechats on passage and sometimes staying to breed, along the coasts of south-eastern and eastern England.

“It was suggested that these more colourful birds may be of a form more usually found in mainland Europe and, clearly, trapping and making any of these birds individually identifiable in the field by colour-rings would provide the opportunity for their subsequent movements to be monitored.”

By December 2012, more than 140 nestlings and fully-grown stonechats have been colour-ringed in north and north-west Norfolk. Any sightings of these birds can be reported by emailing keith.herber@btinternet.com or noelelms1@mypostoffice.co.uk.

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