Saturday, 22 August 2015

Norwegian Hawfinch update

Dave reminds me that I hadn't posted the details of our 2nd Norwegian Hawfinch recovery! The bird, an adult male, was ringed at our main feeding site near Dolgellau on 22nd March 2014. It was controlled by a Norwegian ringer at Batteriveien nord, Lyngdal, Vest-Agder on 13th April 2015, 387 days after original ringing and 905 kms distant. It will be very interesting to see if we can get a "bounce" and retrap him back in Wales this winter.

The Red markers show the two recovery locations (most recent bird on the left) and the Green marker shows the original ringing location of the Norwegian-ringed control. The Blue marker is the main feeding site.

The map above clearly indicates that there are regular movements occurring between South Norway and Wales and therefore what we might once have regarded as a resident population is obviously augmented by continental visitors in the winter months.

Monday, 17 August 2015


Well, another Hawfinch season has come to an end, bruised and bitten fingers slowly healing!

2015 has been something of a revelation though, for a number of reasons. Firstly, our year's total of 184 new birds is a record for this project, even beating the first year's number by some margin. Secondly, I've had the real pleasure of enjoying my whoosh-netting permit for it's first season........186 self-caught Hawfinches later and I'm starting to deal with extracting ten biters from a whoosh-net in one go.......on my own. Thirdly, we had the company of research scientist Will Kirby during the breeding season, who was radio-tagging and tracking some of our birds as part of the wider study on the species currently being conducted by the RSPB. Largely as a result of Will's involvement, we extended the trapping season into the summer period, catching 46 fledged juveniles from late-June to the end of July, adding another dimension to this project and hopefully some interesting future data.

One of the sixteen female birds we tagged. The intention being to follow these birds back to their nests, monitoring breeding outcomes and gathering data on site selection.

   The long and short of it: Above - Will's tracking work revealed some fascinating site selection, such as this quite unexpected nest site low in a Hawthorn in 'ffridd' type habitat; Below - a more typical site, high in a large Oak, requiring a fully extended ladder and a Red Bull-fuelled A.V.Cross!

The two young in the nest located in the large Oak above. Unfortunately all three nest we managed to erect nest cameras on failed in three days of exceptionally wet, cold and windy weather in early-May. Later nests appeared to fare better though, with good numbers of juveniles noted generally later in the season.

As well as the record ringing totals for the year, it's been another exceptional year for re-sightings, with over 400 positive sightings of colour-ringed birds in the locality. The majority of these have been in Trevor and Chris Bashford's garden in Dolgellau which continues to draw an extraordinary number of birds to the small amount of sunflower seed provided each day, with over 160 different birds recorded in the first five months of the year alone! The only negative news from this Hawfinch hotspot being two very worrying cases of likely Trichomonosis noted in visiting birds, which we can only hope does not become a serious threat to this species.

Exciting news of a second movement of one of our ringed birds to Norway emerged in May, thankfully this individual still being alive and well, unlike the previous long distance traveller taken by a Tawny Owl! (more news on this movement to follow).

  J33, one of 46 fledged juveniles colour-ringed during June and July. Hopefully this sample will  help add insight to the survival, breeding and movements of locally bred birds.

The next challenge is to extend the trapping season into Autumn and early-Winter, with a likely site in mind and bait ready. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Romania 2015 - part 2

Silvia and I have finally come to the end of our 8 weeks surveying and ringing birds in Romania on behalf of Operation Wallacea and Fundatia Adept. Although we are only in the third year of a five year pilot project, it's easy to see why we are out here gathering data on what birds (and other wildlife) are present in this beautiful part of the world before industrialisation and intensive farming come in and start to destroy very important habitats!

Subsidies are already being offered to farmers who either cut their grass by hand either before 1st July to benefit Lesser Grey Shrike and Red-footed Falcon, or to cut it after 31st July to benefit Corncrake (there are various others subsidies available too) which is great news. Unfortunately these subsidies have already been cut, and it's only the second year they've been available. Lets hope with our findings that this cut is cancelled, otherwise there will be no incentive to keep traditional farming methods in practice and before too long Romania will follow the rest of Europe and lose so much of it's incredible wildlife!!

On a happier note we were able to trap and ring some more amazing birds again this year. It's surprising what little birds are hiding away in the middle of the scrub surrounding the massive hay meadows. Pictured below are a few of the highlights from the last four weeks.


Ictrine Warbler
 Thrush Nightingale

With all these small birds around, birds of prey were never too far away. Although a Sparrowhawk was seen 'bouncing' out of one of the nets, catching this fine adult Hobby seems to more than make up for it. Unsurprisingly we also caught 99 Swallows this morning as well.

Silvia releasing the hobby.

So after 8 long and hot weeks all of the small catches made each day have combined to make a pretty impressive catch. Short term, most of these species should be pretty safe here, I hope the same can be said for the long term future as well!!

The totals.

As enjoyable as this all was, I (and Silvia I think) can't wait to get back to the UK to continue in the Mid Wales Ringers' long term study in to the use of welsh hill farms as feeding grounds for nocturnal feeding waders. Bring on the wet and windy weather!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Geolocation, geolocation, geolocation

Female Nightjar on nest. Photo  © Jacques Turner-Moss

Over the past month and a half I've spent pretty much every night out tagging, tracking or nest-finding Nightjars at two sites at either end of Wales. Both sites are major wind farm developments in the construction stages and the Nightjar monitoring is part of agreed planning conditions aimed at avoiding disturbance to breeding pairs and assessing any effect of the developments on the resident Nightjar populations long-term. Two or three years of pre-construction monitoring at each site will be followed by post construction surveys and the results can then be used to inform any similar future developments.


One of this year's nests in South Wales was very close to a major track upgrade and, whilst I was sure the passing lorries etc wouldn't disturb the birds during the day as long as a suitable buffer zone was instigated, the earthmovers did need to get quite close! As there was a significant cost to any delay Mike Shewring and Dan Carrington (onsite ecologists for Natural Power Limited) and I agreed to install a nest-camera to monitor any disturbance so that operations could be go ahead but be instantly halted if the birds were disturbed. As the above clip shows, all progressed well and the single hatched chick fledged successfully last week.

Another part of the monitoring, being conducted in conjunction with the British Trust for Ornithology and Natural Power Limited, is using state-of-the-art GPS dataloggers to record the Nightjar's location to a high degree of accuracy at frequent intervals in order to study their foraging patterns. We tried this a few years ago using conventional radio-tags and it was almost impossible to keep track of the birds. These new tags record the bird's location to within 10m every 3 minutes!!! 

The downside is they cost about £350 each and you need to retrap the bird to get them back so that the data stored onboard can be downloaded. We have so far deployed 4 tags in South Wales and on the night of the 21st/22nd, on one of  my most successful Nightjar trapping sessions ever (7 birds - 4 new and 3 retraps), Mike and I recovered our first tag.

As the map above shows the bird in question didn't move very far in the 5 days the tag was recording but the results are, none-the-less, nothing short of amazing - effectively over 650 retraps in 5 days!!  There is a massive potential here to finally get to grips with exactly how these upland Nightjars cope with the vagaries of the Welsh weather and where exactly they go to find moths when it is doing what it often does in Wales - p***ing it down!!

Male Nightjar brooding two large young.  Photo © Steve Parr

Despite the awful summer we are having the Nightjars seem to be doing rather well. So far 11 chicks have fledged from 7 first brood nests and 4 of the females are currently back down on eggs so hopes are high that we can deploy and retrieve a few more tags yet.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Romania 2015 - part 1

Once again Silvia and I find ourselves in the heart of Transylvania for 8 weeks surveying the bird life as part of a 5 year pilot project into how beneficial the traditional farming methods are to all the wildlife out here. While Silvia is carrying out point count surveys in the surrounding of each of the 8 villages we are surveying, I am misting netting at 1 sometimes 2 sites in each village to closer monitor individual birds and to get a better idea of population sizes of certain species. Netting always seems to turn up the odd species that tend to hide away in the thickets and avoid being detected during the point count.

With so many awesome species out here it's difficult to choose which photos to post, so below are a small selection of some of the birds that have stood out for me.

Red-backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
 Scops Owl

As nice as it is to catch all of these species, we're also catching lots of species that were once common all over the UK. Species such as Tree Sparrow, Woodlark, Green and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are still very common here, and hopefully with the work we're doing here with Operation Wallacea and Fundatia Adept they will continue to be common throughout the region.

 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
 Green Woodpecker

We are half through the project and so far we've caught just short of 500 birds of 34 species. At the end of the 8 weeks I will post a complete list of the totals. Some of the totals are already standing out. I've ringed more Tree Sparrows in just 4 weeks here than the Mid Wales Ringers have collectively ringed since we started the blog in 2011!!

Friday, 17 July 2015

That ain't no Nightjar!!

At the moment I am in the thick of two Nightjar contracts, one in South Wales and one in North Wales. This means that I spend most of my time in a state of near continuous sleep deprivation in midge infested forests or driving from one end of Wales to the other.  I'm not moaning, Nightjar's are one of my favourite birds and I am very lucky to be able to make a living studying them. The problem with Nightjar ringing, if there is one, is that because of the time of day and the places the nets are set that is pretty much all you catch - Nightjars or nothing. Last night in South Wales, Mike Shewring, Dan Carrington and I had a  large and welcome addition to the night's Nightjar catch. Whilst driving from one part of the forest to another I had noticed a couple of birds roosting on a low cliff just above the track. Having previously failed (by the narrowest of margins) to lamp one of them off the ledge I was pleased to see they were back again last night and willing to let me have another go! 

An iPhone record shot just before it ripped a great big gash in my thumb!!

I have ringed plenty of Ravens in my time, having studied them in Wales and Shropshire, but rarely did I manage to catch an adult. They seemed to be able to spot any sort of clap-net or cage trap as something to stay well away from, confirming their status as perhaps the world's most intelligent bird.  A short while later, wrestling one in the dark, it didn't seem like such a good idea after all!!  Ravens are well known for being able to tear flesh off carcasses and it appears you don't have to be dead for them to try!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Dyfi Osprey ringing 2015

I was going to put a short post up about the Dyfi Osprey ringing this year but why bother when Emyr has already done such a brilliant job? Here's the link - I'm sure you will enjoy the video (and the soundtrack)

Friday, 26 June 2015

Not something you see every day!

Whilst driving back from Nightjar surveying in South Wales this morning I spotted a Curlew in very atypical habitat! There is only one reason I can think of why a Curlew might stand on a gate.

Yeah, that was it!!. Great to see that they are managing to rear a few young then. Productivity in my Shropshire borders study area (conducted on behalf of the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme) has been very low this year (I'll post a summary update at some point in the near future).

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Disco Tony shows some moves!

On Friday 12th June Jane and I joined the BTO's Cuckoo man Chris Hewson in an attempt to catch and satellite tag another Welsh Cuckoo in the Tregaron area. This was a fortunate opportunity bought about by a "spare" tag following an earlier trip to Lancashire where they had failed to catch a suitable bird to deploy the tag on (the Cuckoos that are tagged have to be male, above a certain weight and obviously in good health). The 12th June is actually quite a late date to catch adult Cuckoos as they are starting to go off the boil and move off so hopes were high but reserved!

A call to Andy Polkey, warden of Cors Caron NNR soon secured permission to try catching here where we successfully tagged Indy a couple of years ago. David of course, tagged nearby in May 2012, has proved a very valuable addition to the research project as he returned again in 2015 making him the second longest tracked BTO Cuckoo after Chris.

With nets erected in a suitable site and a stuffed female Cuckoo (in an alluring pose) safely secured to a post in front of the net, a tape call of an ensuing Cuckoo "orgy" was turned on and soon the local male Cuckoo was too! In what proved to be too good to be true the male flew fast and low across the bog, paused briefly on the handrail of a footbridge, then proceeded at speed straight into the bottom half of the net!! Less than 5 minutes after turning the tape on for the first time our target bird was in the net. Less than 8 minutes after turning on the tape, whilst Chris ran as fast as boggy ground would allow, our target bird was out of the net again!!       Bo***cks!!

A couple of frustrating hours followed as we tried a few other local sites and other Cuckoos showed less enthusiasm or greater powers of net detection. 

As we prepared to break-off for lunch a last minute decision to try a secluded valley at the top end of the bog proved a life saver. Within a few minutes of erecting the net we had two Cuckoos in bags and one still trying to court the lure whilst deftly avoiding capture. One of these Cuckoos was a female, so not tag-able. 

Chris Hewson with Female Cuckoo 

Success therefore depended on the weight of the second bird. It surely felt plump enough in the hand and thankfully the Pesola balance confirmed he was well over the lower weight limit. 

The subsequent migrations of Disco Tony (as he is unofficially but affectionately known) can be followed, along with those of the other BTO Cuckoo's on their excellent and frequently updated website.

At the time of writing he has left the soggy and cold shores of Britain and is more than half-way down France on his long journey to the Central African rain-forests.

Disco Tony showing a single retained juvenile secondary
confirming that he was hatched in 2014

PS  Should anyone be suffering Ruffled Feathers cold turkey in the recent dry spell please visit my old mate Steve Parr's "Notes from Wild Places" blog  where you can read about why there hasn't been a lot of free time to update posts recently!

Monday, 11 May 2015

The wonder of Whimbrels in common have we

Over the past week or two Mid Wales Ringers and the Pembrokeshire Ringing Group have once again been targeting some of the many Whimbrel that pass through West Wales at this time every year on spring migration from their wintering areas in West Africa to more northerly breeding grounds. 

A few years ago I registered a colour-ringing scheme and we have since individually marked nearly 250 Whimbrel, including 40 this year so far. These birds are mainly birds caught by lamping at high tide. The Pembrokeshire Ringing Group have piggy-backed off this scheme, colour-ringing another 50 ish of the birds they have caught down there but this time mainly  by setting mist-netting at night. 

Sightings have been few and far between but have included birds in Brittany and Scotland, We also had the first North African recovery of a British-ringed Whimbrel found dead on a beach in Morocco. 

Last week I had and email from a birdwatcher in Portugal who had seen one of these colour-ringed birds sunning itself on a beach in the Algarve but unfortunately he never managed to get close enough to read the inscription so we can't say exactly which bird it was.

It is a bit disappointing that we have not had any sightings on the breeding grounds in Iceland and elsewhere yet but good things come to those that wait, I'm sure we will eventually. 

Hopefully the BTO will then be "making good use of the things that we find" in the next Migration Atlas. 

Thanks to Brendan for the Whimbrel flight shots.