Friday, 22 July 2016

The grass isn't always greener

Spent the morning catching up on a bit of much-needed paperwork today but was being constantly distracted by a family party of at least six Green Woodpeckers in the field behind the house. Not able to resist the temptation for long I quickly set a net in the garden and played the Green Woodpecker tape. Within a few minutes I had caught three of the 4+ juveniles and an adult had got out of the net too. Not bad in this part of the world where Green Woodpeckers are a bit thin on the ground.

Desperately need to upgrade my iPhone, the camera on this one isn't the best!! Any special offers Apple? A juvenile Green Woodpecker, one of three caught in the garden this morning!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

It's a trap......!!!

Last night after struggling with weeks of far from ideal Nightjarring weather the heat was finally turned up and what a difference it made. Lucky mascot Dan Carrington (who has not yet been on an unsuccessful Nightjar session) and I caught an amazing SEVEN different adult birds comprising 6 males and a female.  We also checked on a nest with a point of fledge chick that will hopefully get ringed later today by Mike Shewring. Five of the birds were fitted with radio-tags for subsequent tracking and they were also mouth-swabbed as part of a BTO investigation into Nightjar DNA. As you can see there's not much difficulty in persuading a Nightjar to open its mouth for swabbing.

The only downside to the whole evening was that I somehow managed to let go of  the  first male we caught just after taking him out of the net so he didn't get ringed!  That  is  the  first and last time that's going to happen and a bloody good job it wasn't a trainee that did it.......!!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Wandering Whimbrel

I recently received an email with the photos below attached of Whimbrel D74 feeding in pasture fields at Dokkedal in Denmark on 11th July 2016. This is a great sighting and according to the BTO's online ringing reports it is only the fourth record of a BTO ringed Whimbrel in Denmark. It was originally ringed on spring passage on 30th April 2016 at Llanon, Ceredigion

Photos © Jens V. Vendelbo

Additionally, Dolly, one of the two Curlews we satellite-tagged at Dolydd Hafren, that was confirmed nesting on the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire (map shown in the last blog post), has now crossed the Irish Sea and is hanging around the Barrow Estuary near Waterford in Southern Ireland. Sadly Fran, the other bird, has not been heard of since Mid April and I'm afraid the tag has either failed or she is no longer with us.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Curlew catastrophe

During the spring Amanda Perkins, David Tompkins and I have been out talking to farmers and scouring the hills and fields of the Shropshire/Powys border looking for breeding Curlews as part of a 3 year HLF funded project run by the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme. 

Building on last year and assisted by an army of volunteer Curlew surveyors from the local Community Wildlife Groups, co-ordinated by Leo Smith, we managed to locate approximately 40 pairs of territorial Curlews. This information then helped guide us to find a total of 21 nests, almost twice as many as in 2015.

Most nests were located in hay or silage fields
 but some were in the more expected semi-improved or rough grassland

Most of these nests had surveillance cameras installed in an attempt to find out what was causing the nests to fail. Of the 21 nests located just three hatched a total of seven chicks and all seven chicks were known (or assumed) to be dead after less than a week. All seven chicks were fitted with small radio-tags whilst still in the nest. Two tags were recovered from under obvious perches indicating avian predation, one was recovered from under a hedge along with the metal leg-ring suggesting mammalian predation and one was the unfortunate victim of agricultural activity. Of the 18 failures at egg stage at least eight were due to foxes and at least three were due to badgers. One nest was trampled by sheep, another was trampled by cows and one nest was deserted, possible due to low and prolonged helicopter activity. The cause of failure at the remaining nests was not ascertained.

It is telling that at all three of the nests that hatched chicks we had installed electric fences, one from early on and two in the second half of incubation. It is our intention to fence far more nests next year in an attempt to increase the number of nests that progress to hatching. 

Three nests were protected by three-strand electric fences 
covering an area no less than 22m x 22m centred on the nest

It was a real ray of light in an otherwise frustrating and gloomy season that the farmers involved were so willing to engage with us in our attempts to monitor nests and to do what they could to help the Curlews succeed and our sincere thanks go to all of them.

Thanks to the agreement of the farmer the small area of un-cut grass in the middle of the field below the tractors held a Curlew nest that successfully hatched two chicks, although unfortunately both were subsequently predated.

To end on a slightly more positive note. During the spring another 40 odd Curlews were colour-ringed at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dolydd Hafren reserve. This brings the total ringed there in the last two years to 62. No fewer than eight of these birds were identified at local breeding sites, a brilliant result and something we hope to improve on in coming years. Two other Curlews, satellite tagged at Dolydd Hafren in March, were also tracked to breeding sites, one near Hay-on-Wye and the other on the Forest of Bowland!

The above map helped local RSPB Conservation advisor Gavin Thomas locate
 the nest of this satellite-tagged female from Dolydd Hafren

It is very pleasing that we still have a Curlew population locally, albeit very reduced, but if these breeding results are widespread, and there is absolutely no reason to suggest otherwise, then we may not have them for much longer. Curlews, being so long-lived, naturally have a low reproductive rate but they still need to get some young away each year!!

If you'd like to help please click here to donate to our Curlew appeal

Friday, 1 July 2016

Busy, busy, busy

An Ospreye!

Well we have just seen the end of Flaming June, or flaming June as I'd prefer to call it! Generally the weather has been dire and not very helpful at all. None-the-less a great deal of ringing has been going on over the past two months and when we get a minute we will update you with a few blog posts. In the meantime here is one that has been expertly crafted by Emyr at the Dyfi Osprey Project to show one of our last ringing events of June, no similar hanging around by those guys! 

Dyfi Osprey Ringing 2016

Saturday, 14 May 2016


May is a good month to catch migrating waders. Most of the Whimbrel we colour-ring are caught in either the last week of April or the first two weeks of May so recently all attention has been on the coast, mostly south of Aberystwyth. On Sunday night however, Paul and Silvia went to Ynyslas on the first of a very good set of tides and managed to ring 49 Dunlin. With Paul reporting over 600 Dunlin present Jacques, Jane and I paid a visit the following night when the tide was slightly later (and therefore it was also a bit darker) and caught an amazing 110 Dunlin, 1 Whimbrel and a Short-eared Owl that was also cashing-in on the wader bonanza.

Interrupted eating an unfortunate Dunlin.
 This bird was aged and sexed as a 5F (i.e. hatched in 2015) based on tail pattern and the colour of the inner web of the outer secondaries and thick streaking on the underside.

By rights this should be a photo of a Dunlin but to be honest I've seen
 quite enough of them for a while!!

The total of 112 birds is the highest number of birds dazzled in a single evening by anyone within the group. With catching that good Jacques and I couldn't resist returning the following evening and managed to boost that record catch even higher to 156 with another 149 Dunlin (plus a couple of retraps), 2 Whimbrel, 1 Sanderling and a Turnstone. In the 30 years I have been ringing at Ynyslas I have never seen anything quite like it, there were  literally thousands of birds present and a good number were actually picked off the sand by hand! It was like walking through a blizzard.  Catching was limited solely by the time it took to bag birds up and the number of bird-bags I had with me. 

With so many birds to ring and process it was a late finish and a real struggle driving home - not good really for getting up early and driving 300 miles to ring Choughs in Cornwall the following day! 

Cornish Chough Ringing 2016

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Boyos are Back in Town!

Cuckoo 'David' when he was tagged on 30th May 2012

Our two Welsh Cuckoos David and Disco Tony, which were also satellite-tagged by the British Trust for Ornithology, have just safely completed their return journeys to Wales. Only seven of the previously tagged Cuckoos have made it back this year so Wales is very well represented. David is now on his fifth summer with a tag having provided data on four whole migration cycles matching the BTOs previous 'star' Cuckoo Chris, named after TV presenter Chris Packham.

Hopefully the weather will be favourable and they will successfully father a bumper next generation to replace those lost en route.

More info on the survivors and the fallen on the BTO's Cuckoo tracking website

Friday, 29 April 2016

Oh Carolina - a Shaggy duck story!

Whilst out catching Dippers tonight I caught something a little unexpected!

Mandarin Ducks are quite common on many of the rivers we ring Dippers on nowadays but examining this bird carefully the shape of the spectacle around the eye, the generally darker plumage and the shorter legs all indicated that this wasn't a female Mandarin but a female Wood Duck. Its a very tricky identification problem separating the two but the clincher for me was the male that got out of the net as I was running over to it ( I hope he could tell the difference!)

Whilst I know we can ring Mandarins I wasn't sure of the rules regarding Wood Duck so this one went off without a ring. Will have to check now in case I catch another.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Goodbye you old ravers!

Not a brilliant photo but it served its purpose. When zoomed in this snap of a female Raven leaving her nest on the side of the Long Mynd in Shropshire (taken on 21st March 2016) clearly shows an unringed bird whilst a telescope view shortly after confirmed the male was unringed too. This is hardly unusual but at this same nest-site last year there were two colour-ringed adults, the two sole survivors of over 800 nestlings I'd colour-ringed during the 1990s in a project involving the Shropshire Raven Study Group. 

The male had been ringed just a few kilometres away on 16th April 1998 and the female slightly further away near Kempton on 15th April 1999. When last seen alive by Leo Smith on 14th March 2015 he was 17 years and 332 days old and she was 16 years and 333 days old.  The BTO longevity record for a British-ringed Raven is 17 years 11 months and 15 days held by a Raven ringed in Cumbria in 1982 and found dead near Keswick on 23rd April 2000. If the male at the Long Mynd nest had survived another season he might have taken the title. This is undoubtedly the oldest pair of wild Ravens ever recorded in Britain and that is some achievement in a sheep-rearing area with so much ill feeling towards them!! 

It is not impossible that one or other of these birds could still be alive, having been widowed and then ousted from its territory by a bonded pair - fingers crossed!

The Shropshire study found over 50 colour-ringed nestlings at their subsequent nest-sites and followed them all through to their replacement by un-ringed birds. With these last two colour-ringed adults now presumed dead it is time to put pen to paper and write it all up!

P.S. Just last week, whilst checking some Chough nests, I resighted a female Chough that was coming up to 20 years old and a male approaching 18. It is very pleasing to record such long life histories, but also extremely sad when they come to an end.