Friday, 12 September 2014


Glad I did go back down to Ynyslas last night because we caught another 35 Dunlin including 2 retraps and a Norwegian control!! Will post details when they arrive.

Also managed to catch the other (or another?) Curlew Sandpiper

 and another Knot too, not a particularly common bird on the Dyfi.

Juvenile Knot showing the dark subterminal bars on the coverts

In the morning Sarah and I had a successful go at tape-luring Meadow Pipits in Borth. 70 pipits and 20 Reed Buntings were ringed along with 5 Reed Warblers which was a bit of a surprise - I thought they had largely gone already.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Living in a box...

we're living in a cardboard box.... 

A small proportion of the 58 waders dazzled last night at Ynyslas

but only temporarily!  Last night was one of those rare occasions when we managed to dazzle enough waders at Ynyslas that it necessitated taking them off to ring and process in an easier and more comfortable location than the car-park, complete with copious supplies of tea and good lighting (both increasingly important with advancing age!). The birds once ringed and processed are placed temporarily in large cardboard boxes (with ample breathing holes!)  before being returned to the beach as soon as they are all done.

It also allows for a closer  examination and appreciation of the more exciting members of the catch such as this juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, one of the two seen during the evening.

Always nice to see a white rump amongst all the Dunlin!

On the last set of high tides a fortnight ago we ringed just short of 200 Dunlin in four nights - exceptional by Ynyslas standards but not totally unexpected for new moon high tides at this time of the year. Last night with a glaring full moon and no cloud cover whatsoever we 'dazzled' 55 Dunlin, 1 Knot, 1 Redshank and 1 Curlew Sandpiper. I have rarely seen so many small waders on the strand line at Ynyslas and have never caught so well under those conditions so I will definitely be heading back for another go this evening before all the birds push through to winter quarters as far south as Mauritania and beyond?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A successful day starts with BO!

It is apparent from hearing what other ringers and nest-recorders have been finding that Barn Owls are having an absolutely amazing year this year. About time too as the past few years have seen a big decline in numbers following a succession of hard winters and wet summers. Chris Griffiths has been out and about ringing a few second broods in Montgomeryshire so, not to be left out of the action, I decided to check a few sites in west Wales too that I either hadn't checked previously or where an early first brood had already fledged.  Not really expecting that much it was very nice indeed to ring 10 more pull and 1 new adult yesterday morning from two sites out of the four I checked. Spurred on by this unexpected success I think a few more boxes might get checked in the next week or so!

A nice late brood of 6 Barn Owls in a site that was vacant 
for the first time in a long time last year

After doing the Barn Owls I met Andre at Borth fto have a go at netting the Swallow roost. Soon after we arrived large numbers of Swallows were quickly circling the tape lure, over 1000+, but this wasn't surprising given the millions upon millions of nasty, bitey midges that were particularly vicious in the perfectly calm and muggy conditions and absolutely ate us alive. 107 Swallows and 2 Sand Martins were ringed along with Andre's first ever Greenshank, caught in broad daylight in a net over the river. This is also the first Greenshank I've ever caught in broad daylight, usually their eyesight is faultless! Hopefully it was one of the two that narrowly evaded capture a few days before!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Way down on the swany river!

Well actually it was the not-so-swany canal!! Yesterday Paul Ashworth and I covered most of the 25 mile length of the Montgomery Canal between Newtown and Llanymynech on the English/Welsh border. I have been ringing the Mute Swans on this stretch of canal for about 20 years now and it usually holds about a dozen breeding pairs. Due to the lack of fluctuation in water level, they usually do pretty well (unlike many on the nearby River Severn) raising about 50 cygnets a year between them.  This year there were 13 occupied territories. Two of them appeared to have just one bird resident. Of the other 11 pairs, 6 had no cygnets at all, 2 pairs had just a single cygnet, 1 pair had 2 cygnets, 1 pair had 4 cygnets and the remaining pair had 8 cygnets. Sixteen cygnets in total!! At that rate I'll be able to afford to take Caroline and the kids away somewhere nice on holiday this year!

The success to swan ringing on the canal is to have a swan hook that will reach the far side!! All swans encountered were either ringed or their rings were read. You don't  achieve a 100% record for many ringing projects!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What a night!

On Tuesday night Adrienne Stratford paid a visit to a Chough roost in Mid Wales and recorded a staggering 60 – 65 birds and she also managed to positively identify at least 47 individuals from their colour-ring combinations. This one visit alone has collected a whole mass of data for the Cross & Stratford Welsh Chough Project that would just not be possible to collect from conventional BTO metal ringing alone and makes the long days of flogging around the coast carrying ladders, ropes and metal spikes well worth the effort.

Of the 47 birds positively identified  
17 were juveniles ringed this year comprising;
3 out of  a brood of 4 from a local natural site
3 out of a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 1km distant
1 out of a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 9 km distant
2 out of a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 17 km distant
2 out of a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 20 km distant
3 out of a brood of 3 from one of our nestboxes at 24 km distant
1 out of a brood of 1 from one of our nestboxes at 28 km distant
2 out of a brood of 4 from a natural site at 32 km distant

14 from 2013 were:
1 of unknown origin caught locally as Age 5 female, May 2014
1 out of a brood of 3 from a local natural site
1 out of a brood of 2 from one of our nestboxes at 9 km distant
1 out of a brood of 2 from a natural inland site at 19 km distant
2 out of  a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 21 km distant
2 out of a brood of 3 from one of our nestboxes at 24 km distant
1 out of a brood of 2 from one of our nestboxes at 28 km distant
1 out of a brood of 4 from a natural site at 32 km distant
1 out of a brood of 3 from a natural site at 36 km distant
1 out of a brood of 2 from one of our nestboxes at 40 km distant
1 out of a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 44 km distant
1 out of a brood of 3 from a natural site at 57 km distant

7 from 2012 were:

1 out of a brood of 2 from one of our nestboxes at 24 km distant
1 out of a brood of 3 from one of our nestboxes at 26 km distant
1 out of a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 28 km distant
1 out of a brood of 4 from one of our nestboxes at 29 km distant
3 out of a brood of 4 from a natural site at 51 km distant (one of which was also id’d at a distant nest sites earlier this year).

Nesting pairs
Local breeding pair: female from nestbox at 29 km distant in 2006, male from natural site at 13km distant in 2009.
Local breeding pair: female caught at site as adult in Sept 2007, male unringed.
Local breeding pair: female unringed, male from nestbox at 21 km distant in 2006.
Local breeding pair: female unringed, male caught as adult in May 2014.
Breeding pair from 1km distant: female from nestbox at 21km distant in 2010, male unringed (not seen).
Breeding pair from 13 km distant: female from natural site at 51 km distant in 2007 (see 2012 above), male from nestbox 44 km distant in 2004.
Breeding pair from 44km distant: female from local nest in 2007, male from nestbox 26 km distant in 2006.

The data above also shows just how important our nestbox scheme is for this rare and locally important member of the crow family.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Romania roundup...

The intention was to write an update after every village, but free time was hard to come by and internet access was even harder!! As posted in the previous post some weeks ago, our intentions were to trap and ring birds year after year in a protected area in Romania to prove how important the traditional farming methods are to the wildlife. As well as point counts, mist netting is also being carried out to get more accurate information about population sizes and the health of the birds. With it being the first year, finding suitable site proved to be difficult in some of the villages, but we did get lucky with some of the sites and some good catches were made, with which we will hopefully be able to compare year after year. The bird life out here is pretty much how I imagine the UK’s used to be 100+ years ago (with a few other species thrown in). Intensive farming in the UK really has made a massive dent in the population of many species, let’s hope the work we’re doing out here will stop it from happening to another country.

So, what did we catch? One of the main species we were trying to target was Red-backed Shrike, as these are a good indicator of how rich the area is in insects. In the 5 weeks we managed to trap and ring 95, so a good start. Other highlights included 5 Long-eared Owls, 2 Wrynecks, 4 Barred Warblers and many more. Complete list below (species in no particular order sorry!).

Despite the set back with a few of the villages not producing as much as I'd have liked, it was a pretty successful first year, and one that we can definitely work from. Roll on 2015!!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Consolation Otter

Last night Jane and I paid the first visit of the year to the Dyfi/Aberleri National Nature Reserve behind Borth. The intention was to set some nets, ring some Swallows, furl some nets, sleep, open some nets, ring some warblers. First half of the plan went OK with 87 Swallows and 10 Sand Martins caught but then we got to the 'ring some warblers' part. Inexplicably, in the middle of August, the reed beds were absolutely silent and just 1 Reed Warbler and 2 Sedge Warblers  were caught. 

By way of a consolation for the early start and low warbler turn-out a net over the Leri produced this cracking juvenile (male?) Kingfisher (and narrowly missed 2 Greenshank) and we briefly had an interested onlooker in a ring of murky water!

You looking at me?!

Photos by Jane

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Same old stuff!

Just too good a set of photos not to post something about Nightjars again!

And a few seconds later - Nightjar chicks can fly at a surprisingly early stage (about two weeks old) but, despite a good effort, this one isn't quite there yet! 

Pity it isn't in focus, could have been a good candidate for WPY if it had been - actually, it might still make the artistic category ;)

On Thursday night Jane and I found another Nightjar nest in North Wales with two perfect ringing-age pulli and managed to catch mum too. Paddy also managed to catch an unringed juvenile recently so 74 up!!

Last night Mike Shewring and I went to ring a second brood in South Wales but unfortunately the nest had already failed (probably in the recent heavy rains). It was quite a cold night (10C)  and everywhere seemed remarkably quiet. None of the radio-tagged birds were in residence during the middle part of the night so I guess we are pretty much at the end of the nesting season for most Nightjars now, although Paddty still has a nest which should only just have hatched. Fingers crossed for this very late nest which is the female's third clutch of the year - she reared two chicks on the first attempt and then failed at hatching on the second one.

Adult female Nightjar in the hand - a rare beast in North Wales this year!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Whoa, Black Belly (bam-ba-lam)

Adult Dunlin still in its smart, black-bellied, summer plumage

Last night Jane and I braved the massive tide and high winds to have a crack at lamping a few passage waders down at Ynyslas. There were a good number present, mostly Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers and Dunlin but the wind and bright conditions were never going to favour a massive catch. In the end we managed a respectable 11 Dunlin (including 4 breeding plumage adults - we usually only catch juveniles in the autumn) and 3 Ringed Plovers. Hopefully conditions will be better on the new moon tides in a fortnights time. Made a nice change from Nightjars anyway!

An adult female Ringed Plover showing the (relatively) new bling location on the tibia. Please check any dead Ringed Plovers you may find VERY carefully or you might miss them!!

The same adult showing the early stages of wing moult in the inner primaries

Saturday, 9 August 2014


Quite amazingly, on Thursday night Dave Smith and I caught the 70th Nightjar of the season. 70!! The most I've ever managed to catch in a season before was less than half that number. The increased success is down to  a number of factors, an increased level of contract work leading to increased effort (I've only spent about 6 nights in a bed in the past 2 months!!), improved weather conditions and Paddy ringing on our rings. None the less it is an astounding achievement and one that I doubt we will ever manage to repeat in the future.

Male nightjar with radio-tag fitted to central tail feather

The 70 birds comprised 32 males (27 new and 5 re-traps from previous years), 11 females (10 new and 1 retrap), 8 juveniles and 19 pulli. We still have a couple of nests on the go and the possibility of finding a few more second brood nests or catching a few more second brood juvs still exists so the total may yet rise higher. Whilst getting foreign recoveries was never the main focus of this work let's hope we get one anyway as a fitting reward for all our efforts. 

Juvenile Nightjar just prior to release

Nightjar recoveries, of any type, are few and far between though as detailed on the BTO Demog Blog recently so I'm not holding my breath! We have now ringed over 300 and are yet to be notified of our first foreign movement. I am currently investigating the cost and practicality of fitting a number of geolocators to birds in the future to increase the return for effort and to greatly add to our knowledge on their winter destinations.

For more info see

Thanks to Paddy, Paul, Jane, Dave, Brendan, Damian, Paul Ashworth, Rob Sandham, Zac Hinchcliffe, Henry Cook, Chris Jones, Mike Shewring, Dan the `Eco man and Tansy (and anyone else I may have forgotten) for all their assistance and company in the between crepuscular hours.