Sunday, 27 July 2014

Persistence pays off - twice

In late June, on my regular drives up to North Wales in search of Nightjars, I had noticed a late pair of Grey Wagtails popping into a roadside cutting near Cerrigydrudion and had ear-marked it for a closer look in case there was a brood to ring. In early July, Paul and I stopped to have a look and noticed that the male of the pair was wearing a BTO ring. Needless to say we put a net up to try and catch him (especially as I know there aren't many active ringers in that area) but he wasn't carrying food and was  having none of it. 

This morning on the way past Damian Clarke and I noticed the female in the road carrying a big beak-full of insects. She was soon joined by the BTO-ringed male and the nest, containing three perfect ringing-age pulli, was quickly located. Thankfully it was quite low down on the cutting so a net was soon in place and not long after a single adult threw itself in. Now normally this would have been the wrong bird but in this instance it was the one we were after. 

A quick look at the ring number told me it was actually one I had ringed myself!! Checking my records when we got back showed that it had been ringed as a chick the previous year on the River Ithon near Llanbadarn Fynydd some 64 km south of where it was nesting. 

The interesting thing was that I had found the nest, on a small riverside cliff, whilst I was doing our Dipper RAS but didn't have all the necessary gear to get to it so I had returned the following day with Lloyd and a rope and harness. I'm now really glad I did as I nearly didn't bother!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Convergent evolution

It is a common thread of evolutionary theory that unrelated animals subject to the same requirements will evolve into similar forms. Swifts and Nightjars (although they aren't strictly speaking unrelated) show this very well as both are aerial insectivores and share features suited to this way of life, streamlined head, big inset eyes, small beak, long wings and short legs 

and of course big mouths!

Yesterday demonstrated very well though that although they share similar body forms certain aspects of their lives still differ greatly! At midday on one of the hottest days of the year so far, I found myself crawling through the cramped, dust-filled, attic of a large Victorian house in Rhayader in search of swiftlets. 

Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cheroo - the aftermath of a successful swiftlet ringing attempt and a brief taste of what a Victorian chimney sweep's life must have been like. Some of you may not be able to see the difference!!

Swift nests are very easy to locate, by the screaming parties of adults circling the building, but are usually nigh-on impossible to access in the deep recesses of a cavity wall or in a narrow gap atop the wall-plate. So it was very pleasing to discover that at least two of the half-dozen or so nests in this building were (relatively!) easy to get to and four young Swifts were ringed along with one brooding adult.

An adult Swift with its three chicks. Swifts incubate from the first egg and so the chicks are usually stepped in size with the younger ones not making it in a bad year.

Both Swift and Nightjar chicks can lower their body temperatures and go into a state of torpor to enable them to survive short periods of bad weather when the adults may not be able to catch sufficient insects to feed a growing brood.

Although Swifts never land they still manage to collect nest material floating about in the air and construct a very reasonable nest of this all held together with a bit of Swift spit.

A Swift nest is made entirely from building materials blowing in the wind!

I will be going back after the Swifts have left for their African winter quarters to investigate the possibility of installing nest boxes to increase the number of pairs using the building.

Nightjar nests on the other hand are extremely easy to access as there isn't actually any nest. The eggs and young are just placed directly onto the ground. They are however incredibly well camouflaged and the adults have perfected their behaviour so as to avoid giving away the nest site to any potential predator and unfortunately that includes BTO nest-recorders and ringers!!

Spot the Nightjar nest!

These two Nightjar chicks are also clearly visible in the photo above

A few days older and ready to ring

and weigh!

This year, with the able assistance of Paddy Jenks, we are working on three separate Nightjar sites, one in North Wales, one in South Wales and one in West Wales.  Last night I ringed our 47th Nightjar of the year and found the 19th nest so despite their best attempts  things aren't going too bad !!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Something a bit fishy

Over the past few weeks it has been our privilege to visit three of the four known Welsh Osprey nests in order to ring and Darvic the chicks. First off I visited the well-known Glaslyn Osprey nest at the request of Adrienne Stratford and Kelvin Jones as they were short of a climber to go up the tree and send the young down for them to ring. This is consistently one of the earliest Osprey nests in the country and at the time of writing the three young are already well on the wing. More info on the history of the Glaslyn Ospreys can be found at

Next, at the request of Steve Watson and Darren Moore of 'Friends of the Ospreys',  Dave, Jane and I visited a much less well known nest in North Wales and ringed a very healthy brood of three young. 

Dave in one of the most stressful moments of his life! 
As can be seen the Osprey wasn't too fussed at all!

Pressure off.! Well I know we aren't supposed to smile when we are ringing but hey, 
sometimes you just can't help yourselves!!!

This is the third year this pair have reared and they have progressed from a single chick in 2012 to two in 2013 and three in 2014. Hopefully they will manage three chicks most years from now on. More information on 'Friends of the Ospreys' can be found here

Most recently Andre, Sarah and I visited the Ospreys at the Dyfi Osprey Project for the fourth year running and ringed the two chicks in that nest. These are the latest of the four known broods in Wales and not due to fledge for another week or so yet. 

Dyfii Osprey 'Gwynant' ignoring the urge to play dead. Photo by Emyr Evans

A short video showing footage of the ringing at the Dyfi Osprey Centre can be viewed here and of course there is the Dyfi Osprey Project's Facebook page at 

The remaining nest, containing two chicks, was ringed and colour-ringed by NRW staff so in total 10 young Ospreys have been ringed and colour-ringed in Wales this year.  Hopefully we will be seeing some of them back in Wales in a few years time, helping to swell the increasing population of this amazing bird.

Many thanks indeed to all involved.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Week one in Romania...

As Tony mentioned, myself and Silvia are currently in Romania trapping and ringing birds as part of an on going project to prove how benificial the traditional farm methods are for the wildlife.  A couple of the main differences in how the land in managed in this protected part of Transylvania, are that no pesticides are used and the hay can only be harvested after the 1st July (most of this is still done by hand too). Just from these two simple things, it's amazing how much more wildlife there is out here.

Anyway, in the 6 mornings that we mist netted we managed to trap nearly 250 birds. Highlights included 37 Marsh Warblers, 2 Barred Warblers, 1 Wryneck and 12 Red-backed Shrikes.

As if that wasn't enough, on our last night we headed out to a site where we'd heard Long-eared Owl chicks. With some stealthy walking, we managed to creep up on this one and catch him by hand. There were at least 3 others, but unfortunately a long way out of our reach. We were also rewarded with some great views of the adults too.

Hopefully the next 4 villages will be just as rewarding.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cootlets or Cootlings?

A good while ago I was sent some colour-rings for Coots by Kane Brides, who runs a large-scale nationwide colour-ringing scheme for the species, just in case we caught any locally. On the way home from Nightjaring in South Wales this morning (more on this in a forthcoming post) I finally managed to fit a few to a brood of four that had strayed a little too far from the water's edge - blimey they can run fast, even at this age!! Please check any Coots you see this winter for colour-rings and report them through the link at the top of the page, it will make my near heart-attack from all that running well worth while!

'Who's BLD'

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Amusements at Borth

Whilst Paul was having a very profitable day catching Little Ringed Plovers and other inland waders at Glasbury, Jane and I were ringing their coastal cousins at sunny Borth. This nest containing three little Ringed Plovers, was just metres from the main drag and had amazingly survived the thronging crowds and drunken hoards of holiday-makers for which Borth is well renown!. It has been a good while since I ringed Ringed Plover chicks on this stretch of coast. The previously deserted golf-course car-park at Ynyslas Turn used to be a favoured location for a couple of pairs back in the 1980s and 1990s but is now a very popular hang-out for an increased numbers of camper vans instead.

Let's hope nobody in Borth puts a foot wrong for a bit longer - a big ask I know !!

We even managed to catch and ring mum too!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Inland waders...

Although most of our inland wader ringing is carried out during the winter months, the breeding season can be rewarding too!

Our usual river site in Caersws hasn't been that productive this year, so I headed down to our other main stretch of river in Glasbury where we also manage to trap and ring a few waders each year.

Despite it being the middle of the day, and only being armed with a 20' and a 30' net the catching was very good. After only a few hours I'd managed to trap and ring 13 waders: 11 Common Sandpipers, 1 Green Sandpiper and 1 Little Ringed Plover. Not satisfied with that, I headed back down there in the evening with the help of local trainee ringer Andy King. We managed to add another 2 Common Sandpipers and 2 Little Ringed Plovers to the day's catch. 17 waders anywhere is a great days catch, let alone inland!!

Earlier in the week I managed to find 4 newly hatched Little Ringed Plovers on the same stretch of river.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Bryan Jones

It is with great sadness that I have to report the passing of one of our 'group'. Bryan Jones passed away peacefully yesterday morning after a very brave fight against cancer. He will be greatly missed. Our sincere condolences go to all his family and friends. Rest in peace mate.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

3Jays at Cors Dyfi

Thursday night/Friday morning saw what was hopefully the first of several mist-netting visits to the Dyfi Osprey Project at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Cors Dyfi reserve. Netting is being conducted at the request of Emyr Evans to discover what else, other than Ospreys, are using the reserve to breed and in what numbers. Hopefully this may develop into a CES in future years adding to the BTOs network of CES's and helping to boost the low number of such sites in Wales.

Lots of the young warblers were still recently fledged so not moving about much but even so we did manage to catch almost 80 birds including 12 Willow Warblers, 10 Blackcaps, 10 Reed Warblers and 10 Sedge Warblers (including one wearing a French ring). 

Also caught were 3 Jays (not a bird we catch all that often) one of which got its own back on me during the photo-shoot!

'Gurning' whilst holding birds for photos is increasingly frowned upon 
but I guess in this instance it might be justified!

Unfortunately, despite showing early promise, none of the four Cuckoos present wanted to co-operate and I guess that by the time we return in a week or so they will have left on their long journey to Central Africa.

More can be found on the DOP's Facebook page

Thanks to Emyr Evans for the Jay photos and Maria Wagland for the one of the Sedge Warbler

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Bit of a catchup

May, June and July are probably the busiest months for most bird-ringers as we struggle to get around all of our nest boxes, find nests, do dawn catches and, if you work on Nightjars, stay up all night catching and tracking them too!! It all doesn't leave a lot of time for anything else, including blogging!

Here then is a quick run-down of what's been happening lately.

Apart from ringing over 300 Dipper pulli and checking over 250 Pied Flycatcher/Tit nest boxes (including this one with a brood of nine Marsh Tits) 

and ringing the odd Hawfinch brood, May was mostly filled with colour-ringing over 250 Chough chicks in partnership with Adrienne Stratford

and also catching a few of the un~ringed adults

as well as confirming the identity of all the ringed breeders!

In recent years June has been devoted largely to ringing and wing-tagging Red Kites. This year we concentrated on the Red Kites in Shropshire and Herefordshire and largely ignored all those nesting in Wales as happily it is now far too big a job with so many pairs nesting.

Some of the kite nests in Shropshire are in big trees mind!!

but, hey, always up for a challenge!

Three of the 30 odd kite chicks ringed this year.

The time freed from ringing and tagging all those kites has been spent tracking down and ringing more Kestrel chicks, 46 so far 

and Merlins

Nighttimes have been spent in pursuit of Nightjars 

but dusk and dawn also provided the odd opportunity to catch Cuckoos including this female.

All the coastal Chough activity has allowed for a Fulmar or two

Fulmars, although they look gentle enough sat on a cliff ledge are best dealt with with assistance (in this case Zac Hinchcliffe see Apart from throwing-up over you like a scene from the Exorcist they are also armed with a formidable hooked beak that they aren't shy of using!

and even the occasional Shag!

Thanks to Gareth Jones for the use of the Shag and Fulmar ringing photos.

Now that the pressure is off normal blogging will resume shortly!