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.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Our furthest flung recovery ever!

 11 Feb
JHB, South Africa: On the hottest day recorded in JHB since Barn Swallow with tag on1973 a little fellow presumably overtaken by the heat of the day (it was 5:30pm and I was watering the garden) swooped down and proceeded to sit under the sprinkler. He looked very small and I decided to take a closer look. He didn't fly away and I was able to pick him up. I thought I'd better help dry him off a bit so that he could at least fly away to roost. While drying him off I noticed he had a tag on with the following inscription:Museum,London, SW7 Z115431
I'm going to keep him a little longer because he seems a bit weak, he was alone and I didn't see any other swallows around. I did enter the tags details onto a website called
Its just that the bird is so small.
Many thanks Charlene Tucker 

Thank heavens Charlene did enter the details on that website because Charlene's 'little fellow' was actually a Swallow ringed by Mid Wales Ringers at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Cors Dyfi Reserve on 20th July 2014 just 9,335 kms from where it was found taking a shower! I really hope it survived and was released because I'd like to think we might retrap it there this summer. Now that would be amazing!!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A quick update

No blog posts for a while as the nesting season is now in full swing and I'm very rarely in at the moment. Two quick updates though. Firstly, the Curlew project I'm employed on is going very well and I've confirmed over 25 territorial pairs so far. No eggs laid as yet but the really good news is that I've actually managed to locate and read two of the colour-ringed birds caught at Dolydd Hafren at nest sites in South Shropshire.

Secondly, the Dipper monitoring we undertake for our RAS scheme is going really well. To date we have monitored at least 170 nesting attempts, confirmed 95 full clutch sizes, identified 126 colour-ringed adults and ringed 324 chicks from 79 broods and we are only just over half-way through the season! It lis already our best year for identified adults and it looks like it will be a record year for the number of Dipper pull ringed too.

A dipper nest at a rare natural nest site in a bit of overhanging turf. 
Four chicks ringed there earlier this evening.

The same site in close-up!

One of this year's pulli Dippers out and about already (photo Brendan Sheils)

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Isle of Man visitor

Early this morning, after ringing over 4,000 Choughs, I had our first ever control of one born and bred on the Isle of Man. We have had a couple of Welsh-ringed Choughs travel to the Isle of Man before and a couple of those even came back subsequently but we have never recorded an Isle of Man ringed Chough in Wales before.  The bird was instantly recognisable in the field as being a Manx Chough by its extremely short rectricies.

To be honest I'm pretty jealous of the Manx Chough ringers now as we are struggling to find colour combinations to continue our Welsh study and that extra leg would more than triple their availability!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

A little surprise...

Despite our best efforts, Little Owls are hard to come by in this neck of the woods. So I was delighted to find a pair roosting in a small hole in an organic orchard where I was working today.

Over the past few years we've put up over 20 Little Owl boxes at sites where we know that they still exist. Although several of the boxes have had Little Owls roosting in them, none of the owls have used the boxes to rear a brood. Lets hope this year things will change so we can ring the chicks and hopefully monitor their dispersal and try to understand why their numbers are declining in this area so much!!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

No pain, no gain!

Had an interesting head's up from Lee Barber the other day of an impending recovery of one of our Dolgellau Hawfinches. The bird, a 1st-winter female, was ringed on 13th April 2013 at our main feeding site and was resighted on the 19th, 21st, 24th and 27th April 2013 (obviously paired to the same male on all occasions) by Trevor and Chris at the feeder in their garden.

Sadly the ring was found in a Tawny Owl pellet in a nest box this February. Initial confusion over the species and the metal ring number was resolved because the yellow ring (E40) was also present!  A sad end to a cracking bird.

Oh, forgot to say - the nest box was in a wood in Naresto, Arendal, Norway! Just over 1,000 kms from where she was originally caught and only the fourth overseas recovery of a British-ringed Hawfinch (there have previously been single records to Norway, Sweden and Germany)

This recovery raises a couple of interesting questions. We have previously caught a Norwegian ringed Hawfinch at this site so we have known for some time that a proportion of these birds are continental migrants.  The 27th April seems very late for a bird to be leaving though and, as it was so obviously paired whilst it was here, do they migrate as a pair? Guess it was asking too much for E41 to be present in the same nest box!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Somethings bubbling up!

This year I have been awarded a contract with the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme to monitor breeding Curlews in a small area of the Shropshire Powys Border. We are going to be doing some nest monitoring, chick survival analysis (using radio-tagged chicks) and landowner liaison to try to secure Curlew friendly habitat management. It is an exciting new project to be involved with and will hopefully help to stem the steady decline of Curlews in this part of the world. Running alongside this project we have initiated a colour-marking project to look at adult survival rates. We may try ringing a few birds on their breeding sites but a good way to get started is to mist-net birds at pre-breeding communal roost sites. One such site, close to the study area, is the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Reserve at Dolydd Hafren. Staff at MWT have very kindly agreed to allow a limited number of netting sessions to take place during the spring in an attempt to colour-ring some of the 150+ Curlews present. The birds roost on shingle islands in the middle of the River Severn and have several to choose from so netting was not as straightforward as I had hoped. Previously I have netted Curlews at roost on small muddy pools where their flight lines and behaviour has been far more predictable. On the first session we caught a single Redwing. On the second session things improved somewhat and we caught 2 Curlews, an Oystercatcher, a Goosander and a Fieldfare.

Curlew Yellow AA, the first bird marked under our new colour-marking project, being ably displayed by yours truly and the Fenix chin-torch - a must for all ringers!

All Curlews caught under this project will receive a Yellow, 2 letter Darvic on the left tibia
 and a plain Orange ring on the right tibia with a BTO on the right tarsus.

A nice added extra was this female Goosander, one of about 40 present

By the third visit, last night, I think I had finally sussed what to do and myself and Paul Roughley had a very reasonable catch of 9 Curlews, 2 Green Sandpipers and a Fieldfare. 

A record shot of one of the two Green Sandpipers ringed last night

I'm hoping there might be an opportunity to get one more catching attempt in before they all disperse to their breeding grounds but that seems to be happening already so we might have to wait until after the breeding season now.

Please keep your eyes open for colour-ringed Curlews - all records gratefully  received 

Many thanks to Liz Lewis-Reddy and the rest of the staff at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust for granting permission and to Paul Roughley for invaluable assistance in setting nets. Thanks too to Chris Townsend, Fiona, Fiona's husband and everyone else who came along  to help.

Sunday, 15 March 2015


Yesterday, Dave, Brendan, Hannah and I had another go at ringing Hawfinches at one of our North Wales ringing sites for our RAS project. Catching has been a bit slow so far this year, presumably because there has been a lot of natural food around. One of the sites has hosted a large Brambling flock for the past few weeks but frustratingly they have shown an almost total disinterested in the black sunflowers we have been putting out. The Hawfinch hadn't been showing that much more interest either!

Setting my new Moudry whoosh net in the Hawfinch wood

Thankfully something has now changed and the Hawfinch at least seemed very keen to avail themselves of free supplies. During the course of the day we whoosh-netted 36 different Hawfinch including 17 new birds for what is our record catch of the past 4 years. We have now ringed 49 new Hawfinch already this year and traditionally our best catching period in still to come in mid-late April as the birds prepare to either migrate or nest. Fingers crossed that the increased interest is maintained.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Blimey, NOT Charlies's

Sarah, Brendan, Hannah and I had a go at netting Cross Inn today but with the ringed Shrike now clearly in our sights. 

With it being a nice sunny day the number of Redpolls on the feeders had dropped significantly and we managed a catch of exactly 50 birds including 6 retraps and a control. Luckily the control was the Great Grey Shrike!! 

A while back I splashed out on large cage trap from Zdenek Moudry the Czechoslovakian ringer extraordinaire. Not cheap but a brilliant and well-made trap that, with the aid of a box of locusts from Pets at Home, seemed to do the trick a treat! 

No animals were killed in the taking of this shrike (although a locust did succumb to injuries sustained in battle a short time afterwards!)

Seeing that the ring was a BTO ring I was pretty certain that it was going to prove to be one of the two birds ringed by Charlie Sargent in Carmarthenshire in November but on speaking to him on the mobile we were both amazed when it turns out it wasn't. 

(Sorry - not a lot of hand washing facilities in Cross Inn!!)

Calling in a few favours fast-tracked the system and it turns out it was ringed at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory, Lincolnshire on 14th October 2014, presumably fresh in after a North Sea crossing.

Amazing, so maybe it did have a ring on a few months ago after all!  I wonder if this is the same individual that has been around for the last 6 years or so? It would have been great to have colour-ringed it so that we could see if it returns again next year but, despite having suitable rings on me, it would have been irresponsible without all the necessary permissions in place. Chances are if there's a ringed Great Grey Shrike in Cross Inn Forest next year it will be the same one - but then again!

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Great Grey Incentive

One of the new sites we have been netting this winter is Cross Inn Forest. I've had permission to ring Nightjars there for several years but have never really managed to find the time, especially given that I've being paid to catch them elsewhere! I have had a couple of trips but they have always been late in the season and with no success. Last year, having seen the potential of the site on these earlier visits, I applied to NRW for permission to carry out general, all-year-round, mist-netting and have been there on several occasions this winter. The main catch so far has been Goldcrest (in good numbers) but we have also caught a few thrushes, a fair few Bullfinch and a handful of Willow Tits. We have also put up a few feeders in an attempt to attract Redpolls and Siskins and this has just started to pay dividends with nearly 100 Redpolls present recently. Unfortunately wind and rain have so far put pay to any attempts at catching since the feeders went up.

Last weekend, whilst topping up the bird feeders, Brendan managed a couple of reasonable photos of the resident (in the winter anyway) Great Grey Shrike which we had been hoping might oblige and throw itself into a net one day.  In the photos it can clearly be seen to be wearing a ring. The Shrike that was there in November definitely didn't have a ring on so where has this new one come from? Is it one of the two Charlie Sargent caught at his site in Carmarthenshire? (see It's not a million miles away but the bird could quite equally have been ringed in its summer haunts. Unless we can read the number we will never know so there is going to be a bit of a re-doubled effort to catch this bird before it heads off in a few weeks time. I'll let you know if we are successful!