Around 3 and a half years ago (3 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 5 days to be exact but who's counting) I saw and very nearly caught my first ever Long-eared Owl. It was sat on a fence post, and I managed to get the net over the bird only for it to get snagged on some barbed wire. Needless to say, the Owl got away and never came close again!! I was faced with the same challenge this evening and the same story nearly happened. Thankfully tho I was aware that the net would get snagged, so as soon as I had dropped the net on the Owl I quickly grabbed it! I had local trainee ringer Elinor Parry with me at the time who couldn't quite believe what had just happened (neither could I!). Seeing a species for the first time is always a nice moment, but getting to ring it and have a real good look at it is even better.
Elinor getting to grips with the Long-eared Owl
Aged as a juvenile, so hopefully a 'local' bred bird
This autumn has been an exceptional one for Goldcrest ringing in our area. I know that perhaps we haven't tried as hard or as regularly in the past but even so there do seem to be a hell of a lot around at the moment
First net round yesterday produced 25 in this net alone but they are
pretty small so hard to see!
So far this autumn we have ringed over 400 and yesterday, at a new site south of Aberystwyth, Andre and I managed a catch of 60 Goldcrest in 3 nets along with 18 Long-tailed Tit, 7 Bullfinch, 5 Coal Tit, 4 Blue Tit, 2 Willow Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Wren and a Woodcock!
One of the 60 Goldcrests caught yesterday. As is usually the case the vast majority were birds of the year. Not the best photo as the defining feature isn't visible!!
One of the two Willow Tits we also caught. These smart little birds have declined massively nationally but there still seem to be reasonable numbers in our local conifer plantations where there are lots of rotten tree stumps to nest in.
Although we obviously catch a lot of Woodcock each winter it is a long time since I saw one in a mist-net. As Andre has just qualified for his 'C' specific for winter wader dazzling he got to start his ringing notebook off with this as his first bird!
Andre kicks-off his 'dazzling' C permit in broad daylight!
This bird was aged as a juvenile based on the broad brown tips to the primary coverts and the rounded, rather than flattened, ends of the inner primaries.
And it posed briefly for a photo on release too!
As dusk was falling we noticed several hundred Redwing and Fieldfare heading into a dense bit of re-growth and quickly put up a couple of 40ft nets and played Redwing song on the tape-lures. Wasn't a massive hit but did catch 7 Redwing, a Fieldfare and a Blackbird to add to the day's catch. Six more Woodcock were seen flighting out of the cover too so seems good numbers have arrived back now.
Hoping to go back for a more dedicated effort at the thrush roost soon as there were a lot of birds present and they were definitely in a catchable site given a bit more time to set nets.
While out dazzling waders at night time, you occasionally stumble across other species roosting in the fields. Species such as Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Fieldfare etc are regularly seen and trapped and expected to be encountered, but Stock Doves on the other hand are always a bit of a shock to see roosting in a field at night time especially when there are so many trees around! Maybe this is 'normal' behavior and we're only just realising? Needless to say I trapped another Stock Dove last night, along with 2 Fieldfares and 3 more Woodcock.
'3rd Stock Dove to be dazzled this winter'
'Fieldfares have finally started to arrive, but only in small numbers'
After Tony's success we decided to head out to some of our 'dazzling' sites in north Radnorshire to see what new birds had arrived on the recent full moon. After the first 3 sites we had managed to catch 3 Snipe, 4 Woodcock, 3 Golden Plovers and 2 Fieldfares which was what we would normally expect to catch, give or take a few birds. Despite it being very late we still had some battery power left, so I suggested we tried one more site! It was definitely worth the effort as this site seemed to be alive with Owls! On the section I was checking, I soon noticed an 'eared owl' in the distance perched on the ground. It was in the middle of a boggy area so I wasn't expecting to get anywhere near it. But with some very delicate foot work I managed to get close enough to catch the bird, it was indeed a Shortie!! Not long after I notice another 'eared owl' hunting in the distance, this one wasn't having any of it and kept its distance, I think it was a Long-eared. On the way back to the car a female Barn Owl dropped to the ground about 3 meters in front of me only to be put up by a Snipe!! Tony also saw a different Long-eared Owl on his patch, but this one also kept his distance. While driving back Tony spotted a different Barn Owl sat on a fence post, so we stopped and I had a go at catching one on a post, bingo!! As if this wasn't enough, we then saw Tony's Long-eared Owl again, and then nearer to home we managed to catch a Tawny Owl that was perched on the roadside!!
'juvenile female Short-eared Owl'
'juvenile male Barn Owl'
'adult female Tawny Owl'
In all of the 'owl excitement' we managed to catch another 3 new (+ 2 re-trap) Woodcock and 1 more Fieldfare! A night that's going to be very hard to beat!!
With the weatherman giving warnings of high winds and heavy rain it was time to set off ringing again! These are just the conditions in which you can get a very good catch. Last night produced a couple of unexpected surprises though.
Secondly, whilst walking one rushy field I noticed what I initially thought was another "Shortie" hunting in the beam of the torch. I tried "squeaking" it in but it took no notice and eventually flew off. Later, on my way back, it was hunting the same patch of ground but this time it eventually perched on a fence post and I was able to walk up quietly and net it off the top! With the weather so mild on the continent at the moment it is likely this bird is probably one of our small local breeding population but there is also the chance that it has come in from Scandinavia to winter in our milder winter climate.
Long-eared Owl - absolutely stunning! A juv I think but the diagrams in Baker are a bit confusing to say the least!!
As our Barn and Little Owl man, Chris Griffiths, lives just a few miles down the road I gave him a call to see if he wanted to broaden his ringing experience, don't think he could have made it any faster if he had flown!
4 more Woodcock, 2 Golden Plover and a Fieldfare made it well worth going out for and the weather wasn't half as bad as it was forecast anyway!
Building up a picture of where our birds come from, or go to, and how long they live through ordinary ringing studies is all a numbers game. Recovery rates for many species are pretty low so unless you can afford to use some of the expensive new technologies you usually need to ring a lot of birds to get a small amount of information back. Glass half-empty people take this as a reason not to ring at all whilst the more enthusiastic and optimist of us see it as a reason to do as much as possible. Whatever the species, whatever the study, data can only be accumulated by increasing the sample size but you do have to start somewhere! Every project, even those that have been running for years and years started with the first bird. Although I have now ringed well-over 3,000, I can still remember vividly being lowered down a mine-shaft in 1986 to ring my first ever Chough and I even remember catching my first ever Dipper back in 1980! (I have now ringed over 5,000). The point of this? No, not trumpet blowing, just pointing out that every single bird ringed has the potential to add something to the sum of all human knowledge be it a common bird or a less common one. A couple of recent recoveries highlight this fact.
I have just been informed by HQ of a retrap of the only Cetti's Warbler we have ever ringed on Borth Bog (well actually the only one we have ever ringed outside of the Teifi Marshes). This bird, ringed as a 3J back in August 2012, was controlled 105km away at Shotton Steel Works, Flintshire in April and May 2014 by Merseyside Ringing Group. It may have been the only one ringed (and it may not have been part of a specific project) but it is now a line in the 2nd Edition of the Migration Atlas!
Juvenile Cetti's Warbler on Borth Bog
Similarly bird-watchers in Aberystwyth have reported the return of a ringed male Black Redstart to the Old College. It can't be absolutely confirmed yet (until someone gets a nice clear close-up photo of the ring) but my money is on it being the male Paul ringed back in December 2010 returning for his fourth consecutive winter. If so this adds just a bit more to our knowledge on site fidelity and life expectancy for this uncommon species in Wales and it is interesting to see how many local birders are now eager to know if it is the same bird rather than bemoaning the fact it has a ring on!
Male Black Redstart on the Old College in Aberystwyth (Photo by Janet Baxter)
I look forward to posting the recovery details of the Great Snipe in due course because that would add a whole new page to the Migration Atlas 2nd Edition!!
iPhone record shot of the first Woodcock of the winter.
This is the first Woodcock caught on our "dazzling" sites this winter. The first seen, just half an hour earlier, eluded capture and went off unmarked! So far this season we have ringed over 120 Golden Plover, 30 Jack Snipe, 60 Snipe and 1 Great Snipe which all bodes well for the main event which is going to be happening over the next four months!
Last night, Lloyd and I checked a load of Dipper roost sites along the whole length of the Red Lake (a river!) in Shropshire. This annual roost monitoring is currently taking place at more than 250 traditional roost sites, throughout multiple river catchments, in Shropshire and Mid-Wales and is giving us great information on adult and nestling survival rates, juvenile dispersal distances and weight data. This work compliments our summer pulli ringing and RAS project (which is completed mostly through resightings of these winter-caught colour-ringed birds).
The roost visits are limited to once or twice a winter depending on whether birds are missed on the first visit. Currently nearly 100 of the 250 roosts have been counted and 92 birds have been handled from the 115 present. Early indications are that juvenile survival has been good and numbers present overall are a bit higher this year than for several years. As usual, many roosts were empty and most had either 1 or 2 birds but one held an exceptional 11 birds! We will obviously know more when we have completed the survey and will keep you posted.
One of the 30 Dippers handled last night and almost appropriate!
A couple of nights ago, on the way home from catching Golden Plovers, I came across a new species for the group standing in the middle of the road - after a moments hesitation I decided against ringing it!
The owners of this cracking bird were very pleased (and surprised) to get her back the following day and she is now safely re-instated with the rest of her gaggle. Although pinioned (as required by law apparently) she still managed to fly so they were keen to know how on earth I had managed to catch her! "A trade secret I'm afraid"!
Most ringers hate wet or windy conditions. It usually signals an end to any plans to go out netting or nest-finding. The great thing about dazzling is that all that wet and windy weather we get in Wales in winter is absolutely perfect!!
Last night was a classic example. With the forecast predicting rain and high winds, and with no moon to speak of, both Paul and I headed out into the foul weather. Paul did two of our regular sites near Llanbadarn Ffynydd whilst I headed just over the border into Shropshire to do one of our main sites on the Ceri Ridgeway.
Some recent uninformed discussion on Bird Forum following Paul's amazing catch last week needs laying to rest! Dazzling is not about attracting passing migrants down out of the sky! We aren't lighthouses!! Our regular targets - Snipe, Jack Snipe, Woodcock and Golden Plover aren't all being disturbed at roost either! They are all nocturnal feeders so are all wide awake and padding round these wet pastures looking for lunch when we are out catching. Even without our attentions the birds are being constantly moved around the fields by foxes, badgers and owls. The essence of dazzling is that the ringer simply hides behind a bright light so the birds can't see them. This (sometimes!) allows the ringer to get close enough to drop a landing net on top of them. Because of the constant risk of predation these birds are finely tuned to ANY sound so if your wellies squeak, your trousers rustle, or you tread on a bit of dry thistle stalk the birds will hear you approaching and fly off quite normally! We might make it sound easy but stealth, an ability to read the bird's body language, and good hand to eye co-ordination are also essential skills for successful dazzling and not everyone is good at it. Many birds appear not to mind the light at all and we have frequently watched them carry on feeding right up until the time you drop the net on them!. Rain is good because it not only makes the birds hunker down but it also masks the sound of the approaching ringer so capture rates are very much improved.
Too wet for photos last night so here's one from last winter
Last night our combined catch was 15 Snipe, 9 Jack Snipe (including 2 retraps - 1 from this winter one from last), 3 Golden Plover (including a retrap of a returning 2013 bird), 4 Meadow Pipit, 2 Skylark and 1 Teal. The more ringers we can encourage to try their hands at dazzling the better the chance of getting the odd control. I did catch our first ever British-ringed Golden Plover control a few nights ago but obviously don't know where it has come from yet.
Despite getting absolutely drenched last night If it rains tonight I dare say I'll be out there again!
As ringers we have been encouraged by the BTO to move towards more project based ringing and as a group we are wholeheartedly embracing this advice. This blog aims to inform readers on the results of our projects on species like Nightjar, Chough, Dipper, Woodcock, Golden Plover, Ring Ouzel and Hawfinch - many of which are species of conservation concern.
The Great Snipe was caught incidentally whilst attempting to catch Woodcock/Golden Plover for our long-running projects on these species. So far we have ringed nearly 2,000 Woodcock with recoveries in Russia (20+), Scandinavia (4), Spain (2), France, Netherlands, Germany and Ireland and have recorded nearly 500 retraps throwing light on winter site fidelity, survival rates and cold-weather weight responses. http://www.ringwoodcock.net/ringing.shtml
We have also colour-ringed over 600 Golden Plover with movements to or from Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Finland.
Much data from our work, such as that on Chough, Nightjar and Dipper, is used by conservation agencies to inform direct species conservation such as species action plans, site management and development mitigation.