Friday, 9 February 2018

All out for Choughs!

Well the field season is really kicking off now!! Amy and I went down to Devon at the end of last month with Claire Mucklow (RSPB) and Peter Burgess (Devon Wildlife Trust) to help install some Chough nest boxes on National Trust property in the hope of encouraging them to spread from Cornwall or South Wales.

I then went straight to North Wales for a brilliant week with my Welsh Chough Project colleague Adrienne Stratford and old mate Tony Fox (Aahaus University) and his Danish colleague Henning Heldbjerg (Dansk Ornitologisk Forening) to GPS tag some inland-breeding Choughs. Using the 20 odd tags they have kindly lent us we are hoping, over the next few months, to trial a project to identify important feeding sites and investigate their foraging behaviour to try and determine why the inland Welsh population is in steep decline. Catching adult Choughs in snowy weather proved a challenge but we managed to catch seven and fitted tags to 6 known breeding adults. 

Four of the birds were previously ringed by us as chicks and ranged from 8 to 18 years old this summer! Was great to meet up with some old friends both feathered and unfeathered!!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Long and the Short of it.

Lamping has been a bit slow for me over the past few months and work has interfered generally with ringing hence the lack of posts. I have managed to get out a few times though and add to the number of Golden Plovers colour-ringed and have also had a good few Woodcock but there have been a few other more notable highlights. 

Having not seen one all autumn I caught two Short-eared Owls in successive visits to the fields around the Leri Boatyard whilst in search of Lapwings.

Aged and sexed this as an adult female based on central tail feather pattern and overall buff background colour but happy to be corrected by anyone with more experience.

The yellow eyes of this 'Shorty' are distinctively different from the
 orange eyes of the Long-eared shown below

Also caught this 1st winter Male Long-eared Owl off a fence post at one of our upland Woodcock sites and missed another unringed one just a few nights later at the same site.

Star bird without doubt though was the first Lapwing I managed to catch since we got approval to fit colour-rings from the IWSG. I noticed it had a ring on just as I dropped the net on it but was delighted to find it said Vogel Trekstation, Arnhem, Holland on it !

Monday, 13 November 2017

A very well-travelled Sandwich

Above is a photo taken by Theuns Kruger of a flock of mixed terns and gulls in South Africa with Table Mountain pictured in the background.

Here is a photo he took at the same site on 8th November 2017 of one of our Sandwich Terns, Red KAL, ringed at Ynyslas as a juvenile on 25th August 2013. This individual has been identified on passage at Dawlish Warren by Lee Collins in four of the five years since it was ringed!

At a little over 9,900km I think this is the furthest flung recovery of a ringed bird I have ever had out of well over 150,000 birds ringed -  many thanks indeed Theuns!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Final pulli of 2017?

On Tuesday afternoon I had a phone call from one of our Barn Owl landowner's near Aberystwyth to say that althought she new it was a bit unlikely she thought she might have young owls in the nest box again (I had already ringed a brood of 5 large chicks there in July). I knew that Chris Griffiths had ringed his final two broods of the year just a few weeks earlier so informed her that it was not that unlikely and that I would try and get over to check as soon as I could. Yesterday afternoon I checked the box and there was indeed a 2nd brood of 3 chicks which were duly ringed, weighed and measured and all appeared to be a good weight and in good health. 

The smallest chick had primaries less than half emerged and it is quite likely that, barring bad weather, it might still be in the nest in December!

Whilst this might not be that unusual in the milder climate of southern England it is pretty unusual for the hill-farms of Mid Wales. I have only ever ringed a brood of Barn Owls in November once before and they were at a more advanced stage so this is the latest brood I have yet encountered.  2017 has been a quite remarkable breeding season for Barn Owl in Mid Wales though with Chris having ringed over 200 chicks himself and the group having ringing well over 300 between us.

Another one for the 'dazzling list'...

Although my main target species when dazzling are Jack Snipe, Golden Plover and now Lapwing, I still try to catch whatever else I see while I'm out walking around my dazzling sites. Sometimes even the commoner species are a nice surprise, as was the case last night. While searching around one of my sites last night I noticed a very dark bird sat on the ground. I could see straight away that it was a Blackbird, but this one was from the 'continent'. I've only seen one or two of these larger Blackbirds (this one had a wing of 137mm) in the hand, so it was nice to get another good look at one.

Despite tucking him away 'safely' behind some vegetation, he preferred to be out in the open.

This Blackbird became the latest edition to my ever growing dazzling list from the hills in Mid Wales:
Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Great Snipe, Woodcock, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared owl, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Buzzard, Kestrel, Grey Heron, Mallard, Teal, Stock Dove, Grey Partridge, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Wheatear, Starling, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush and Reed Bunting. A few that have unfortunately got away are: Snow Bunting, Wigeon and Pintail. 

Just goes to show that there's plenty out there, it's just a matter of finding it!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

A Ruff night...

With strong winds and rain forecast over night, Silvia and I once again headed to a couple of our winter dazzling sites. As with Ophelia, Brian had seemingly 'forced' a lot of the birds to stay in more sheltered areas. Thankfully tho there were still a few birds to have a go at catching. The Golden Plovers were nicely spread out in the fields, and this made catching them 'easier'. I had just caught one of the Golden Plovers when I looked up and saw a different wader in the beam. I couldn't believe it, it was a Ruff (I know it's not the rarest of waders, but it's not something I've seen before while out wader dazzling in mid Wales). After giving me a little run around, I eventually managed to trap the bird. Although it appeared to be thin, it wasn't under weight so we ringed it and took some measurements before releasing it back into the sheep field.


It was a good night all round for catching with 30 other birds also trapped - 18(+3) Golden Plover, 5 Snipe, 1(+1) Jack Snipe, 1 Redwing and 1 Meadow Pipit.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Peewit project...

Last night Silvia and I headed out on to the hills of mid Wales, to a couple of our regular 'winter wader dazzling' sites to see what Storm Ophelia would help us catch. As predicted, the winds were very strong. This had clearly effected the number of birds that were feeding out in the open in the fields. Thankfully there were still some birds to have a go at catching! One of our target birds for the night was Lapwing as the group had recently received permission to start colour ringing them, and the colour rings themselves had just turned up in the post! Despite seeing up to 7 Lapwings at the first site, I couldn't seem to get near enough to catch them so I was beginning to think that we would have to wait to kick start the groups new project. Thankfully at our second site there were a few more Lapwings to try and catch. I altered my approach to the birds, and bingo within the space of a few minutes I had trapped 2 Lapwings.

CA and CC became the first two Lapwing to have our colour rings put on.

All of the Lapwings we catch from now on will have a red plastic ring above the metal BTO ring on the right tarsus, and a white darvic on the right tibia with (for now) 2 letters in black writing. Since 2010 the group has ringed over 200 Lapwings without receiving a single recovery. With our coloring ringing projects on Golden Plover, Curlew, Whimbrel and Dunlin already giving us some fantastic recoveries, we're hoping that putting colour rings on Lapwings will increase our chances of recoveries, and hopefully help us identify where our birds are coming from, and why they are declining as a breeding species in this area!

Its been a very productive few days for dazzling, and in the last 8 nights Silvia and I have had some very good catches. Total birds trapped are - 54(+4) Golden Plover, 2 Lapwing, 1 Woodcock, 29(+2) Snipe, 22(+7) Jack Snipe, 1 Redwing and 10 Meadow Pipit.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Numerous Notable Numenius

Over the summer I have once again been busy working on the Curlew Country project trying to reverse population declines of this charismatic wader in the Shropshire Hills and Welsh Marches. Part of this work involves colour-ringing adult Curlews at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dolydd Hafren Reserve on the Severn between Welshpool and Newtown. To date we have colour-ringed 114 adults there along with about 40 at other sites including a coastal site at Llanrhystud, just south of Aberystwyth. Our main focus is to gather information on breeding site fidelity and adult survival rates but long-distance movements are always of great interest. In May, a mate of mine, Clive McKay, emailed to say that whilst he was out doing survey work he came across one of our colour-ringed Curlews on its nesting territory in Lanarkshire. This bird proved to be one of the ones colour-ringed at the winter roost at Llanrhystud. On 4th May 2017, another of the birds from this roost was resighted nearly 2,000km NE on its breeding grounds in Lapua, Finland. These two recoveries show clearly how birds wintering together at a single site may have very different origins. Then, on 11th July 2017 the curlew below, ringed at Dolydd Hafren, was photographed at Petit Port, Jersey, Channel Islands by Mick Dryden- was this a local breeding bird moving south having failed in its nesting attempt? 

Curlew at Petit Port, Jersey © Mick Dryden

Finally, to cap off a great set of recoveries,  a short while ago, on 24th September I was netting again at Llanrhystud and caught a German-ringed Curlew wearing colour-rings. 

                                                                    German-ringed Curlew at Llanrhystud © Tony Cross

I had hoped that this bird would have been one ringed by Natalie Meyer, with whom we have been working to promote Curlew conservation internationally and had spent some time with recently at the International Wader Study Group conference in Prague but alas it wasn't and I am still awaiting details.

Curlew Resightings Map © Mid Wales Ringing Group

The map above shows all the Curlew colour-ring sightings so far with wintering sites shown as blue markers and breeding season records as orange markers Although a fairly new project the Curlew colour-ringing has already provided a wealth of information and will continue to do so for many more years to come.

Whilst I'm blogging, here's a great shot of one of the other Numenius we colour-ring! A Whimbrel photographed on its breeding territory in Iceland for the second year running by Camilo Carneiro - ringed at Llanon on 26th April 2012.

Friday, 1 September 2017

There is a roving Spanish Dunlin.....

Just received another postcard, this time of YELLOW T67 1,142kms SSW in NW Spain (1,142kms). It was originally ringed just a week earlier at Ynyslas on 24th August. 

If your Spanish is up to it you can read more on Antonio Gutierrez's excellent blog here

P.S., for the younger readers out there, a postcard was how we older folk used to piss people off with our holiday adventures before the invention of Facebook!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Done-in by Dunlin!

Last night was pretty amazing! I have been ringing waders at Ynyslas National Nature Reserve for 35 years now and last night Paul Ashworth, Mike Shewring and I had by far the biggest catch I have ever witnessed - by almost 100%!! Conditions were nearly perfect with a high tide, new moon and a slight breeze. Autumn migration is in full swing at the moment and there were literally 1,000's of Dunlin littering the strand line.  By the early hours of the morning we had dazzled, ringed and processed some 220 Dunlin (and 1 Sanderling for a bit of variety!). 84 of the Dunlin were also individually colour-ringed as part of our monitoring project on this species. 

The previous night myself and Jane had caught and colour-ringed an additional 95 Dunlin and only one or two of these were re-sighted showing the massive numbers and turn-over of birds experienced at Ynyslas. Birds varied in condition with many carrying large amounts of fat. Some looked like tennis-balls and weighed in at over 60g. Others were clearly newly arrived from more northerly breeding grounds and were almost half that weight. Ynyslas is clearly a brilliant feeding-up location on their migrations further south. Last night's catch was predominantly juvenile birds whereas a few weeks ago it was mainly adults. This is usual with adults moving through early and rapidly. Many of the birds we caught last night could be in Spain, Portugal or even North Africa within a week or two perhaps joining the adults that are probably already there.

The colour-ringing only commenced last autumn but has already considerably boosted the number of recoveries from all the years of BTO metal ringing only. So far sightings have come from birdwatchers in Iceland (3), Sweden, Eire, Denmark, The Netherlands, France and Spain (2) as well as numerous records of birds scattered around the estuaries of Britain. All birds have an engraved yellow ring on the right tibia and a plain orange one on the left. Please keep your eyes peeled and report ANY sightings - even local records help us gather a picture about how long birds stay on average.

Below are a few of the holiday snaps so far received of colour-ringed Ynyslas Dunlin!!

21/04/2017 Tacumshin Lake, Wexford - Killian Mullarney

23/05/2017 Höskuldarnes, NE Iceland - Guğmundur Örn Benediktsson

26/05/2017  Rödkallen, Luleå, Botnic Bay, N. Sweden - Lars Sandberg

28/07/2017 Fanoe Beach, Denmark  - Kim Fischer

20/08/2017  National Park of Doñana, (Salinas de Bonanza) Cadiz, Spain 
David Fernández and Lidia Arroyo.