Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Black suns, big bills and bitten fingers - let the hawing begin!


Today marked the first day of catching Hawfinches at Dolgellau in the excellent company of Hawfinch maestro Dave Smith and garden-feeding Hawfinch champions Trevor and Chris Bashford. There were plenty of birds present today but catching was modest with just 7 birds caught including 4 new and 3 retraps.

Dave also had news of one of our birds that had been found dead in a Churchyard in Denbighshire yesterday. It had originally been ringed Yellow C68 as a 2 year+ male at our main woodland study site on 7th April 2012 (on a visit with Lee and Rachael Barber). When next caught on 5th May 2012 (at the same site) it had already managed to crack off its colour-ring so was re-ringed Yellow E10. On 15th June 2013 it was recorded at a nest-site several kilometres from the ringing site by Dave Smith. Amazingly the next sighting was in Trevor and Chris's garden feeding recently fledged (ringed) young over 6km from that known nest on 2nd July 2013. Following 25 more positive sightings and 1 retrap it was last recorded in the Dolgellau area on 27th June 2015. On 5th February 2017 its two bloodied rings and a pile of freshly plucked feathers were found by John Harrop in Ruthin, 50 kms from where it was ringed!! There is clearly much still to be learnt about this stealth finch with nomadic tendencies.

Dave has recently written an article on Hawfinches in Meirionydd for Natur Cymru, I will attempt to get a pdf copy and post a link

Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Norwegian visitor

On Monday Silvia and I were trying (unsuccessfully) to ring Waxwings at a site just down the road where there has been a flock building for the past few weeks. During one of the many times I scanned the flock for colour-rings I suddenly caught sight of a bird with an engraved Yellow Darvic! Annoyingly, despite three pretty good scope views over the next few hours, all I could make out was something that looked like U*U. A quick message to Ewan Weston of Grampian Ringing Group confirmed the bird had been ringed in Norway. The following day saw Paul, Silvia and I attempting to see/photograph/catch the bird in question to clinch its identity. Eventually Paul managed to grab a few photos that confirmed the ring code as Yellow ULU.

On Wednesday, with the Norwegian birds identity confirmed, I returned to try and colour-ring a few more to add to the 33 that we have already caught this year. Once again the flock was very mobile with the birds feeding at any one of a vast number of berry trees available. Eventually the flock settled by a net and a passing car flushed them towards it. They all appeared to have flown over the top but on closer look with the binoculars I could see a Waxwing hanging there with its yellow-ringed leg stuck out! What are the chances of that? (well about 1 in 60 actually!).


Email confirmation has been received that the bird, a first-winter male, had originally been ringed by Kjell Mork Soot on 15th October 2016 at Grimstadvatnet, Hareid, Møre & Romsdal, Norway 1,264 km NNE of where it was re-trapped.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Hawfinch and Dipper RAS submissions for 2016 finished!


Inputting all the ringing and re-sighting records for our two RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) projects is always a bit of a chore but thankfully it is all over and done for another year! The results make interesting reading and show clearly the huge effort that the members of the Mid Wales Ringing Group (and our helpers - particularly Trevor and Chris Bashford) go to to help assess the population health of these two key local species. Our Dipper RAS is one of eight operating nationally on this popular species whereas our Hawfinch RAS is one of just two and the only one currently being used to generate the national trend for this species. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the modelling programme failed to produce estimates using the 2015 data. Hopefully this can be investigated and rectified at some point in the future.





Tuesday, 3 January 2017

First recovery of the year is a cracker!


Photo (C) Venke Ivarrud

The photograph above shows one of our colour-ringed Hawfinches on a bird-table in Oddatunet, Trondheim, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway taken by Venke Ivarrud. The bird was ringed as a first-winter female at our feeding site near Dolgellau on 14th March 2015 1452 kms to the SW of where it was photographed. 



As can be seen from the map above this is our 4th movement of a Hawfinch between Dolgellau and Norway, the furthest north to date, and also the first to be reported there in the winter. Thinking this might be unusual I enquired as to how common Hawfinches were in Norway in the winter and Håvard Husebø of the Norwegian Ringing Scheme replied as follows: -

"The Hawfinch is a relatively common species in Norway, also in the winter. It is a partial migrant and might, as other finches, show irruptive tendencies in their occurence, so the wintering population probably varies between years. But it is a commonplace wintering species especially along our southern and eastern coast, but also in the area where this bird was seen, in the county of Trøndelag."

Many thanks indeed to Venke for reporting her sighting - a brilliant way to kick-start 2017!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Whimbrel records building slowly


Today I received an email from José Velhote informing me of a sighting of one of our colour-ringed Whimbrels at Murtosa, Ria-de-Aveiro, Portugal (see photo above). This is the first sighting of a West Wales colour-ringed ringed Whimbrel in Portugal and follows on rapidly from a record of a colour-ringed bird from Pembrokeshire recently photographed in the Gambia (surprisingly the first record of a BTO-ringed Whimbrel in Gambia)

The bird in question was ringed at Llanon on 3rd May 2010 and was resighted on 1st May 2016.


Friday, 9 December 2016

North or South, that is the question!

Have recently received this photo from Andy Davis of a colour-ringed Kestrel at Little Neston on the Dee Estuary taken on 28th November 2016. Apparently it has been mobbing Short-eared Owls and stealing their catches.


Thanks to Andy for the record and allowing us to use the photo.
  Visit Andy Davis Flickr page for more stunning images

I assumed this was probably one of the few birds we colour-ringed in North Wales but having just looked it up was surprised to see it was a bird we ringed as a chick on 26th June 2016 in one of Chris Griffith's nest boxes high in the hills above Caersws, 85 kms from where it is now. The behaviour should have been a clue to its origins! It is one of the great fascinations of bird-ringing as to why one Kestrel from North Wales goes to Northern Spain for the winter whilst another moves north to winter on the Wirral! If it is still there at Christmas I'll have to nip over before dinner and say hi!


Friday, 25 November 2016

H'owls that!

Prince Edward Point Lighthouse at dawn,
 a scene which greeted me every morning 
With University finished and needing to spread my wings, I decided to volunteer for the autumn (fall) at Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory (PEPtBO) from late September until the end of October. Prince Edward County is located on the north eastern shore of Lake Ontario, about 2hrs east of Toronto - a whole oceans width away from Mid Wales.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, one of 715 caught
 in October
Although a relatively small bird observatory, due to its location right on the tip of a peninsular, it processes a huge number of birds in the fall. The operation is smoothly run by master bander Dave Okines and two fall banding assistants (one of which was me), and a brilliant group of volunteers. The first thing I learnt was some lingo: rings are bands and ringing is banding...luckily with Dave being an expat from Britain, skull ossification was kept to a minimum, with moult and feather wear being used to age birds instead.

The real draw to the station was to witness the fall migration of Northern Saw-whet owls, a small species which breeds in the boreal forest in the north of Canada and migrates as far south as North Carolina in the US. The owl banding was broken down into two separate periods: the standard 4 hour period carried out by myself and the other assistant, then a non-standard period which was carried out until morning by David if the weather and the wind direction was favourable. 10 owl nets were opened each evening around an audio lure which attracted the owls into the area.

Barred Owl, innocent looking but will quite
happily feed on Saw-whets if given the chance.
It certainly didn't disappoint. In total 715 Saw-whets were banded during October (an astonishing number), with 167 caught in one night alone, 93 of which were during the standard 4 hour period. Each bird was banded and biometrics and a moult card taken for both wings on birds exhibiting any moult before they were released to continue on their migration. Moult was often obvious, although it could be checked using a UV light with new feathers showing up pink from the presence of the chemical porphyrin. This eventually wears off over time, allowing a pattern to be seen between new and old..

Not quite a nightjar, an Eastern Whip-Poor-Will

It wasn't just Saw-whet Owls which were caught: 22 Barred Owls, 5 Long-Eared Owls and a single Eastern Screech Owl were caught during my stay. The owl nets also caught a couple 
American Woodcock, half the size of the 
European Woodcock I'm used to ringing
of species I was really hoping to see, but wasn't sure I actually would. An Eastern Whip-poor-Will was caught
whilst showing a visiting owl bander from the US the setup one afternoon. It helped demonstrate how quickly the nets could be opened and closed. The second  species was an American Woodcock which graced the nets early one morning - a very unusual fall record.

Two tiny male Kinglet species, Golden Crowned Kinglet
 & Ruby Crowned Kinglet.
Migration monitoring also took place in the cedar woods each morning. This used a mixture of 38mm mist nets and larger 100mm hawk nets, along with a Jay Trap and 6 ground traps. These methods caught a wide variety of species during my stay, which ranged from the tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet to the somewhat larger Red-tailed Hawk!

Sparrow lineup: Lincoln's Sparrow, Slate coloured Junco,
Swamp Sparrow, juv White-Crowned Sparrow
With my very limited knowledge of North American birds it was a steep learning curve, but I soon got used to it and it wasn't long before I could identify and age the wide variety of fall warblers, flycatchers and sparrows which regularly appeared in the nets (they even seem to cause a lot of confusion to American birders). Other more obvious species were also caught such as the Blue Jay, a common and charismatic species that is caught in large numbers throughout the fall with 166 being caught in a single morning during peak migration.

Blue Beauty, adult male Sharp-Shinned Hawk
A surprising number of raptors were also caught during my stay, 6 species were caught during the fall. Sharp-Shinned Hawks were the commonest hawk caught, with both females and males banded allowing a range of ages and moult patterns to be seen. 5 Cooper's Hawk were also caught, with all the birds being young birds, a single Merlin, 2 Red-Shouldered Hawks and 4 Red-Tailed Hawks were also caught.


The standout highlight though had to be the juvenile female Northern Goshawk which was caught, a very smart if a little noisy bird to band. It was a brilliant experience, I learnt a lot, saw new ways of setting up nets and heard about some of the more unusual methods of lamping shorebirds and ducks (they use an airboat!). In total I banded and processed 73 species, with a surprising degree of similarity to the species I trained on in Britain. How amazing would it be if one of them ends up in the nets here in Mid-Wales...?

The Northern Goshawk and hairy bander, this is the only real way to show the size of the bird,
an amazingly long tail and this was only a SMALL female...

Monday, 7 November 2016

Colour-ringed Curlew Control


Just had the details of a colour-ringed Curlew I read in a field above Lledrod on 14th June 2016. Amazingly, given the time of year, it was a French-ringed bird!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Winter in Spain


Ever wondered where all the Kestrels are when you are trying to find one for your New Year's Day Bird list? Surprisingly a good number of our British breeding birds move south for winter. We have just been notified of a bird that I ringed as a chick in June 2015 in North Anglesey, that was recaught by ringers at Vitoria-Gasteiz, Aberasturi, Spain on 16th October 2016. Whilst there have been 181 British-ringed Kestrels found in France this is only the 21st to be recovered in Spain. There have even been 4 recovered in Morocco. If a sizeable proportion of our breeding birds are moving south into France and Spain for the winter then the wide scale use of rodenticide poison to control vole plagues in these countries could be one of the reasons we are seeing a decline in our breeding population.

Happily this bird was released alive and well - we will be keeping a keen eye open for it to see if it returns next spring.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Jackpot...

For the last few months I've been working away in Yorkshire, which on one hand has been great for bird watching but also very frustrating that I am so far away from any of our ringing sites. So when there has been any opportunity to go back to Wales, I've gone. Last night was one of those opportunities, so when I had finished work I headed home stopping at some of our winter wader ringing sites en route. With the moon not up until 23:45 I knew I had plenty of time to search the fields. The main species I was searching for was Jack Snipe (so Silvia and myself can continue our study on them), although as usual I'm happy to see/catch most species. I was not disappointed, after searching four of our sites I must have seen at least 30 Jack Snipe quite evenly distributed between the sites. Many of the birds we mixed in with Snipe 'flocks' making them hard to get near, but I did manage to find 10 or so on their own of which I caught 6! All 6 birds were new, which I was a bit surprised by, given that over the past 3 winters we've probably ringed 150+ individuals between the 4 sites. Maybe it's a sign that it's going to be a bumper year for them, fingers crossed.


Several other birds were seen throughout the searching including 50 Golden Plover (3 were trapped), 10 Lapwing, 250 Snipe (2 were trapped), 2 Woodcock (1 was trapped), 6 Fieldfare (2 were trapped) and 2 Skylarks.