Saturday, 3 October 2015

One small step for science, one giant leap for the Cross and Stratford Welsh Chough Project...!


By  A. V. Cross & A. Stratford

Wahoooo..... we've written a paper!! It might not be in the most lofty of Journals and it might be more Jimmy Carr than Rachel Riley in its statistical handling but its in print, its out there and it is already being used to further the conservation of its subject species which is why all of us "Citizen Scientists" (God, I hate that tag!) should ultimately strive to publish our results where possible. I've always held the view, and felt perfectly comfortable with the fact that, as trained and  licenced bird-ringers every single bird we ring is contributing in a small way to a pooled national database that is there for more learned, and able, scientists to mine, to transform, to regress, to interrogate, extrapolate and bootstrap but ultimately to produce meaningful and useful science. It matters little what our individual motivations are, collectively we are providing data, and these more learned folk can do nothing without data. I do have a slightly different view now however! Everything I previously thought still holds true but it is too good a feeling to give to someone else! It feels great to have produced something ourselves so maybe this is just the start!!

In the same way that every bird ringed adds to the national database, so every helper that provided re-sightings, carried a ladder, sat on a pin, slimed into a sea-cave or simply sat there and scribed has helped us collect the data we needed for this paper - your contributions may have seemed insignificant but collectively they were vital, thank you one and all!!

N. B. Birds in Wales is the twice-yearly Journal of the Welsh Ornithological Society, if you have the slightest interest in birds in the principality and are not already a member you are missing out. Please go to and join now.

Friday, 18 September 2015

The search for gold begins...

Last night Silvia and I headed up to one of our dazzling sites in Montgomeryshire. With it being one of our furthest sites from home it's always a worry that you might come back empty handed, so going up early in the season was a bit of a gamble. After scan around the first field, there wasn't a lot to be seen. This was no doubt because of the time of year and the fact that the grass was quite long. Despite this we were happy to catch a Snipe and 2 Skylarks, which now made the journey up there worth while. Before heading back we checked another field which looked a lot better straight away. It had recently been topped, which the plovers seem to favour. After lots of Snipe and a couple of Lapwing getting up from long distance I was beginning to think that catching anything else was off the cards. Thankfully that changed when a Lapwing decided to drop back to the ground. Soon after catching it another Snipe was caught. Happy with that I headed back to the car, when a familiar shape appeared in the beam. A very quiet tiptoe walk which seemed to take forever was rewarded with our first Golden Plover of the season. 6 birds dazzled any night is good, let alone mid September! Lets hope it continues.

Colour-ringed Golden Plover


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Terned up, eventually!

The last 3 nights have seen some good tides for ringing waders and terns and thankfully the weather was kind too, with the wind finally easing to allow mist-netting at Ynyslas on two of the three night-time high tides. The numbers of birds present were not as high as a fortnight ago with many of the terns and waders having already moved through but with the improved weather, Paul, Silvia, Jane and I did manage to colour-ring 13 more Sandwich Terns bringing the total colour-ringed this year to 41 (39 new birds, 1 re-trap and 1 control).

Juvenile Sandwich Tern. Amazingly past ringing returns have shown that some of these birds have come to Ynyslas from the Farne Islands, crossing overland in doing so and whilst still being fed by the adults!

The handful of Sandwich Terns we have managed to colour-ring in the past two years have already provided a good number of resightings (in Devon, North Wales and Northumberland) so this should be a real boost to the project. Last night we caught our only Common Tern of the year too. This is far from a “common” species for us but this year has been a particularly poor one for “smaller “ terns hanging about in the estuary.

Juvenile Common Tern

The outstanding feature of these recent catches though were the 21 Knot ringed. The Dyfi is not a particularly important estuary for Knot and most that turn up are brief stayers enroute to elsewhere. All of the 31 Knot ringed so far this autumn have been juveniles and represent the largest number of Knot caught in a single year since I started ringing on the Dyfi back in 1982!

A juvenile Knot, clearly identifiable by the subterminal black bands on the wing coverts 

To put things into context, excluding this year, only 94 Knot have been ringed here previously. In contrast nearly 3,000 Dunlin have been ringed in the same time period so the 85 caught this set of tides is a fairly normal showing. 

A nice addition to last nights catch was a Liitle Stint, our first since 2012 and only our 20th ever. Last year, surprisingly, there we no Little Stints ringed anywhere in Britain!

Juvenile Little Stint

Other birds ringed in the past few nights included 7 Ringed Plover, 5 Turnstone, 2 Redshank, 1 Curlew and 10 Oystercatchers, one of which was a partial albino!

Thanks to Paul for the photos (well apart from the ones of the albino Oystercatcher,  I take full credit for them !!)

Monday, 14 September 2015

It's good to be back...

After spending 11 weeks in Romania seeing and ringing some great species of bird, I can happily say that I'm pleased to be back home. The winds have been quite calm, which has allowed Silvia and myself to get out and do some mist netting at a couple of our regular sites. The first site we tried was a pine forest where we've had good catches of small passerines during late summer/early autumn in previous years. The forest was very quite and we only managed 30  or so birds. The next few days we tried some mixed willow scrub/conifer re-growth. This was definitely where all of the birds were hanging out. Over the space of 3 days and only about 10 hours netting we managed to trap and ring over 220 birds. Highlights over the 4 days netting were easily Firecrest and Redstart.

Firecrest (hopefully not the only one for this year!)


Total number of birds netted in the 4 days!

As well as netting we've also headed out on to the hills dazzling, to see what birds are 'in'. Despite (understandably) very few birds, we've still managed to catch 7 Common Snipe, 6(+1) Skylark, 1 Meadow Pipit and 2 Tawny Owl. Not bad for mid September, roll on the autumn!

Tawny Owl

Friday, 11 September 2015

Worth waiting for

I recently re-submitted details of this Dutch-ringed Bar-tailed Godwit that we controlled at Llanrhystud on 11th May 2014. I have just received the original ringing details from the BTO and it was first caught on 25th May 1994 at Zwinweg, Texel, The Netherlands. 

The recovery report shows an elapsed time of 7,291 days and a distance travelled of 617 kms. Whilst the elapsed time is impressive enough how much more impressive would the distance travelled be if we knew how far this bird had actually travelled in the last 20 years? I will be trying to contact the Dutch ringers to see what previous sightings there are of it - someone else must surely have reported it in all that time ! 

The oldest ringed Bar-tailed Godwit reported through BTO ringing was an amazing 31 years and 4 months between ringing and recovery so by comparison this one hadn't even reached retirement age!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Seeking Sandwiches but Dunlin prove to be the bread and butter

Over the last 3 nights there has been a set of perfect autumn tides for netting terns and waders at Ynyslas. At this site, for a successful catch, the high tides need to coincide with a good passages of birds, calm weather and a new moon or thick cloud. You also need to put the nets in just the right location! 

Looking good so far - nets sets at Ynyslas for tern and wader ringing.

Rarely do all of these things combine to give perfect conditions. On Saturday night the tide was a bit too early so it wasn't quite dark enough as the birds gathered and they could see the nets. Then the good folk of Aberdyfi decided to celebrate the Bank Holiday with a big firework display on the beach right on high tide which sent everything scarpering (including my dog!!!).  On Sunday night everything was near perfect.......that is until the good folk of Borth sought a fireworks rematch and tried to outdo Aberdyfi's previous night's exploits!!! Result, more scarpering birds (although at least I'd left the dog at home this time!).  Monday night was noticeably less fireworky but just a few Beaufort scales in excess of ideal and the billowing, whistling, nets proved too noticeable in the bright moonlight. This all sounds like a catalogue of excuses for not catching anything but, despite things being far from perfect, Sunday night in particular was very successful. Relative new boy Jacques and his girlfriend Bethan along with Jane and I had a catch of 94 birds which kept us busy enough! If they had all been Sandwich Terns it would have been amazing and a massive boost to our small colour-ringing scheme but as it turned out only 4 of them were. 

This Sandwich Tern was originally ringed at Ynyslas on passage on 4th August 2011 and hasn't been recorded anywhere else since. This time it got a colour-ring so we are looking forward to more records of it in the future!

The bulk of the catch, as is usually the case though at Ynyslas, were Dunlin.

The total of new birds caught over the three nights was 137 Dunlin, 5 Ringed Plover, 5 Turnstone, 5 Sandwich Tern, 3 Sanderling, 2 Knot and an Oystercatcher. Not too bad given the moon, wind and fireworks but so much less than it could have been with just a little more luck on our side!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Norwegian Hawfinch update

Dave reminds me that I hadn't posted the details of our 2nd Norwegian Hawfinch recovery! The bird, an adult male, was ringed at our main feeding site near Dolgellau on 22nd March 2014. It was controlled by a Norwegian ringer at Batteriveien nord, Lyngdal, Vest-Agder on 13th April 2015, 387 days after original ringing and 905 kms distant. It will be very interesting to see if we can get a "bounce" and retrap him back in Wales this winter.

The Red markers show the two recovery locations (most recent bird on the left) and the Green marker shows the original ringing location of the Norwegian-ringed control. The Blue marker is the main feeding site.

The map above clearly indicates that there are regular movements occurring between South Norway and Wales and therefore what we might once have regarded as a resident population is obviously augmented by continental visitors in the winter months.

Monday, 17 August 2015


Well, another Hawfinch season has come to an end, bruised and bitten fingers slowly healing!

2015 has been something of a revelation though, for a number of reasons. Firstly, our year's total of 184 new birds is a record for this project, even beating the first year's number by some margin. Secondly, I've had the real pleasure of enjoying my whoosh-netting permit for it's first season........186 self-caught Hawfinches later and I'm starting to deal with extracting ten biters from a whoosh-net in one go.......on my own. Thirdly, we had the company of research scientist Will Kirby during the breeding season, who was radio-tagging and tracking some of our birds as part of the wider study on the species currently being conducted by the RSPB. Largely as a result of Will's involvement, we extended the trapping season into the summer period, catching 46 fledged juveniles from late-June to the end of July, adding another dimension to this project and hopefully some interesting future data.

One of the sixteen female birds we tagged. The intention being to follow these birds back to their nests, monitoring breeding outcomes and gathering data on site selection.

   The long and short of it: Above - Will's tracking work revealed some fascinating site selection, such as this quite unexpected nest site low in a Hawthorn in 'ffridd' type habitat; Below - a more typical site, high in a large Oak, requiring a fully extended ladder and a Red Bull-fuelled A.V.Cross!

The two young in the nest located in the large Oak above. Unfortunately all three nest we managed to erect nest cameras on failed in three days of exceptionally wet, cold and windy weather in early-May. Later nests appeared to fare better though, with good numbers of juveniles noted generally later in the season.

As well as the record ringing totals for the year, it's been another exceptional year for re-sightings, with over 400 positive sightings of colour-ringed birds in the locality. The majority of these have been in Trevor and Chris Bashford's garden in Dolgellau which continues to draw an extraordinary number of birds to the small amount of sunflower seed provided each day, with over 160 different birds recorded in the first five months of the year alone! The only negative news from this Hawfinch hotspot being two very worrying cases of likely Trichomonosis noted in visiting birds, which we can only hope does not become a serious threat to this species.

Exciting news of a second movement of one of our ringed birds to Norway emerged in May, thankfully this individual still being alive and well, unlike the previous long distance traveller taken by a Tawny Owl! (more news on this movement to follow).

  J33, one of 46 fledged juveniles colour-ringed during June and July. Hopefully this sample will  help add insight to the survival, breeding and movements of locally bred birds.

The next challenge is to extend the trapping season into Autumn and early-Winter, with a likely site in mind and bait ready. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Romania 2015 - part 2

Silvia and I have finally come to the end of our 8 weeks surveying and ringing birds in Romania on behalf of Operation Wallacea and Fundatia Adept. Although we are only in the third year of a five year pilot project, it's easy to see why we are out here gathering data on what birds (and other wildlife) are present in this beautiful part of the world before industrialisation and intensive farming come in and start to destroy very important habitats!

Subsidies are already being offered to farmers who either cut their grass by hand either before 1st July to benefit Lesser Grey Shrike and Red-footed Falcon, or to cut it after 31st July to benefit Corncrake (there are various others subsidies available too) which is great news. Unfortunately these subsidies have already been cut, and it's only the second year they've been available. Lets hope with our findings that this cut is cancelled, otherwise there will be no incentive to keep traditional farming methods in practice and before too long Romania will follow the rest of Europe and lose so much of it's incredible wildlife!!

On a happier note we were able to trap and ring some more amazing birds again this year. It's surprising what little birds are hiding away in the middle of the scrub surrounding the massive hay meadows. Pictured below are a few of the highlights from the last four weeks.


Ictrine Warbler
 Thrush Nightingale

With all these small birds around, birds of prey were never too far away. Although a Sparrowhawk was seen 'bouncing' out of one of the nets, catching this fine adult Hobby seems to more than make up for it. Unsurprisingly we also caught 99 Swallows this morning as well.

Silvia releasing the hobby.

So after 8 long and hot weeks all of the small catches made each day have combined to make a pretty impressive catch. Short term, most of these species should be pretty safe here, I hope the same can be said for the long term future as well!!

The totals.

As enjoyable as this all was, I (and Silvia I think) can't wait to get back to the UK to continue in the Mid Wales Ringers' long term study in to the use of welsh hill farms as feeding grounds for nocturnal feeding waders. Bring on the wet and windy weather!

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.