Sunday, 26 July 2015

Geolocation, geolocation, geolocation

Female Nightjar on nest. Photo  © Jacques Turner-Moss

Over the past month and a half I've spent pretty much every night out tagging, tracking or nest-finding Nightjars at two sites at either end of Wales. Both sites are major wind farm developments in the construction stages and the Nightjar monitoring is part of agreed planning conditions aimed at avoiding disturbance to breeding pairs and assessing any effect of the developments on the resident Nightjar populations long-term. Two or three years of pre-construction monitoring at each site will be followed by post construction surveys and the results can then be used to inform any similar future developments.


One of this year's nests in South Wales was very close to a major track upgrade and, whilst I was sure the passing lorries etc wouldn't disturb the birds during the day as long as a suitable buffer zone was instigated, the earthmovers did need to get quite close! As there was a significant cost to any delay Mike Shewring and Dan Carrington (onsite ecologists for Natural Power Limited) and I agreed to install a nest-camera to monitor any disturbance so that operations could be go ahead but be instantly halted if the birds were disturbed. As the above clip shows, all progressed well and the single hatched chick fledged successfully last week.

Another part of the monitoring, being conducted in conjunction with the British Trust for Ornithology and Natural Power Limited, is using state-of-the-art GPS dataloggers to record the Nightjar's location to a high degree of accuracy at frequent intervals in order to study their foraging patterns. We tried this a few years ago using conventional radio-tags and it was almost impossible to keep track of the birds. These new tags record the bird's location to within 10m every 3 minutes!!! 

The downside is they cost about £350 each and you need to retrap the bird to get them back so that the data stored onboard can be downloaded. We have so far deployed 4 tags in South Wales and on the night of the 21st/22nd, on one of  my most successful Nightjar trapping sessions ever (7 birds - 4 new and 3 retraps), Mike and I recovered our first tag.

As the map above shows the bird in question didn't move very far in the 5 days the tag was recording but the results are, none-the-less, nothing short of amazing - effectively over 650 retraps in 5 days!!  There is a massive potential here to finally get to grips with exactly how these upland Nightjars cope with the vagaries of the Welsh weather and where exactly they go to find moths when it is doing what it often does in Wales - p***ing it down!!

Male Nightjar brooding two large young.  Photo © Steve Parr

Despite the awful summer we are having the Nightjars seem to be doing rather well. So far 11 chicks have fledged from 7 first brood nests and 4 of the females are currently back down on eggs so hopes are high that we can deploy and retrieve a few more tags yet.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Romania 2015 - part 1

Once again Silvia and I find ourselves in the heart of Transylvania for 8 weeks surveying the bird life as part of a 5 year pilot project into how beneficial the traditional farming methods are to all the wildlife out here. While Silvia is carrying out point count surveys in the surrounding of each of the 8 villages we are surveying, I am misting netting at 1 sometimes 2 sites in each village to closer monitor individual birds and to get a better idea of population sizes of certain species. Netting always seems to turn up the odd species that tend to hide away in the thickets and avoid being detected during the point count.

With so many awesome species out here it's difficult to choose which photos to post, so below are a small selection of some of the birds that have stood out for me.

Red-backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
 Scops Owl

As nice as it is to catch all of these species, we're also catching lots of species that were once common all over the UK. Species such as Tree Sparrow, Woodlark, Green and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are still very common here, and hopefully with the work we're doing here with Operation Wallacea and Fundatia Adept they will continue to be common throughout the region.

 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
 Green Woodpecker

We are half through the project and so far we've caught just short of 500 birds of 34 species. At the end of the 8 weeks I will post a complete list of the totals. Some of the totals are already standing out. I've ringed more Tree Sparrows in just 4 weeks here than the Mid Wales Ringers have collectively ringed since we started the blog in 2011!!

Friday, 17 July 2015

That ain't no Nightjar!!

At the moment I am in the thick of two Nightjar contracts, one in South Wales and one in North Wales. This means that I spend most of my time in a state of near continuous sleep deprivation in midge infested forests or driving from one end of Wales to the other.  I'm not moaning, Nightjar's are one of my favourite birds and I am very lucky to be able to make a living studying them. The problem with Nightjar ringing, if there is one, is that because of the time of day and the places the nets are set that is pretty much all you catch - Nightjars or nothing. Last night in South Wales, Mike Shewring, Dan Carrington and I had a  large and welcome addition to the night's Nightjar catch. Whilst driving from one part of the forest to another I had noticed a couple of birds roosting on a low cliff just above the track. Having previously failed (by the narrowest of margins) to lamp one of them off the ledge I was pleased to see they were back again last night and willing to let me have another go! 

An iPhone record shot just before it ripped a great big gash in my thumb!!

I have ringed plenty of Ravens in my time, having studied them in Wales and Shropshire, but rarely did I manage to catch an adult. They seemed to be able to spot any sort of clap-net or cage trap as something to stay well away from, confirming their status as perhaps the world's most intelligent bird.  A short while later, wrestling one in the dark, it didn't seem like such a good idea after all!!  Ravens are well known for being able to tear flesh off carcasses and it appears you don't have to be dead for them to try!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Dyfi Osprey ringing 2015

I was going to put a short post up about the Dyfi Osprey ringing this year but why bother when Emyr has already done such a brilliant job? Here's the link - I'm sure you will enjoy the video (and the soundtrack)

Friday, 26 June 2015

Not something you see every day!

Whilst driving back from Nightjar surveying in South Wales this morning I spotted a Curlew in very atypical habitat! There is only one reason I can think of why a Curlew might stand on a gate.

Yeah, that was it!!. Great to see that they are managing to rear a few young then. Productivity in my Shropshire borders study area (conducted on behalf of the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme) has been very low this year (I'll post a summary update at some point in the near future).

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Disco Tony shows some moves!

On Friday 12th June Jane and I joined the BTO's Cuckoo man Chris Hewson in an attempt to catch and satellite tag another Welsh Cuckoo in the Tregaron area. This was a fortunate opportunity bought about by a "spare" tag following an earlier trip to Lancashire where they had failed to catch a suitable bird to deploy the tag on (the Cuckoos that are tagged have to be male, above a certain weight and obviously in good health). The 12th June is actually quite a late date to catch adult Cuckoos as they are starting to go off the boil and move off so hopes were high but reserved!

A call to Andy Polkey, warden of Cors Caron NNR soon secured permission to try catching here where we successfully tagged Indy a couple of years ago. David of course, tagged nearby in May 2012, has proved a very valuable addition to the research project as he returned again in 2015 making him the second longest tracked BTO Cuckoo after Chris.

With nets erected in a suitable site and a stuffed female Cuckoo (in an alluring pose) safely secured to a post in front of the net, a tape call of an ensuing Cuckoo "orgy" was turned on and soon the local male Cuckoo was too! In what proved to be too good to be true the male flew fast and low across the bog, paused briefly on the handrail of a footbridge, then proceeded at speed straight into the bottom half of the net!! Less than 5 minutes after turning the tape on for the first time our target bird was in the net. Less than 8 minutes after turning on the tape, whilst Chris ran as fast as boggy ground would allow, our target bird was out of the net again!!       Bo***cks!!

A couple of frustrating hours followed as we tried a few other local sites and other Cuckoos showed less enthusiasm or greater powers of net detection. 

As we prepared to break-off for lunch a last minute decision to try a secluded valley at the top end of the bog proved a life saver. Within a few minutes of erecting the net we had two Cuckoos in bags and one still trying to court the lure whilst deftly avoiding capture. One of these Cuckoos was a female, so not tag-able. 

Chris Hewson with Female Cuckoo 

Success therefore depended on the weight of the second bird. It surely felt plump enough in the hand and thankfully the Pesola balance confirmed he was well over the lower weight limit. 

The subsequent migrations of Disco Tony (as he is unofficially but affectionately known) can be followed, along with those of the other BTO Cuckoo's on their excellent and frequently updated website.

At the time of writing he has left the soggy and cold shores of Britain and is more than half-way down France on his long journey to the Central African rain-forests.

Disco Tony showing a single retained juvenile secondary
confirming that he was hatched in 2014

PS  Should anyone be suffering Ruffled Feathers cold turkey in the recent dry spell please visit my old mate Steve Parr's "Notes from Wild Places" blog  where you can read about why there hasn't been a lot of free time to update posts recently!

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!