Thursday, 26 March 2015

No pain, no gain!

Had an interesting head's up from Lee Barber the other day of an impending recovery of one of our Dolgellau Hawfinches. The bird, a 1st-winter female, was ringed on 13th April 2013 at our main feeding site and was resighted on the 19th, 21st, 24th and 27th April 2013 (obviously paired to the same male on all occasions) by Trevor and Chris at the feeder in their garden.

Sadly the ring was found in a Tawny Owl pellet in a nest box this February. Initial confusion over the species and the metal ring number was resolved because the yellow ring (E40) was also present!  A sad end to a cracking bird.

Oh, forgot to say - the nest box was in a wood in Nesto, Central Norway! 1,350 odd kms from where she was originally caught and the most distant recovery yet of a British-ringed Hawfinch.

This recovery raises a couple of interesting questions. We have previously caught a Norwegian ringed Hawfinch at this site so we have known for some time that a proportion of these birds are continental migrants.  The 27th April seems very late for a bird to be leaving though and, as it was so obviously paired whilst it was here, do they migrate as a pair? Guess it was asking too much for E41 to be present in the same nest box!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Somethings bubbling up!

This year I have been awarded a contract with the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme to monitor breeding Curlews in a small area of the Shropshire Powys Border. We are going to be doing some nest monitoring, chick survival analysis (using radio-tagged chicks) and landowner liaison to try to secure Curlew friendly habitat management. It is an exciting new project to be involved with and will hopefully help to stem the steady decline of Curlews in this part of the world. Running alongside this project we have initiated a colour-marking project to look at adult survival rates. We may try ringing a few birds on their breeding sites but a good way to get started is to mist-net birds at pre-breeding communal roost sites. One such site, close to the study area, is the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Reserve at Dolydd Hafren. Staff at MWT have very kindly agreed to allow a limited number of netting sessions to take place during the spring in an attempt to colour-ring some of the 150+ Curlews present. The birds roost on shingle islands in the middle of the River Severn and have several to choose from so netting was not as straightforward as I had hoped. Previously I have netted Curlews at roost on small muddy pools where their flight lines and behaviour has been far more predictable. On the first session we caught a single Redwing. On the second session things improved somewhat and we caught 2 Curlews, an Oystercatcher, a Goosander and a Fieldfare.

Curlew Yellow AA, the first bird marked under our new colour-marking project, being ably displayed by yours truly and the Fenix chin-torch - a must for all ringers!

All Curlews caught under this project will receive a Yellow, 2 letter Darvic on the left tibia
 and a plain Orange ring on the right tibia with a BTO on the right tarsus.

A nice added extra was this female Goosander, one of about 40 present

By the third visit, last night, I think I had finally sussed what to do and myself and Paul Roughley had a very reasonable catch of 9 Curlews, 2 Green Sandpipers and a Fieldfare. 

A record shot of one of the two Green Sandpipers ringed last night

I'm hoping there might be an opportunity to get one more catching attempt in before they all disperse to their breeding grounds but that seems to be happening already so we might have to wait until after the breeding season now.

Please keep your eyes open for colour-ringed Curlews - all records gratefully  received 

Many thanks to Liz Lewis-Reddy and the rest of the staff at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust for granting permission and to Paul Roughley for invaluable assistance in setting nets. Thanks too to Chris Townsend, Fiona, Fiona's husband and everyone else who came along  to help.

Sunday, 15 March 2015


Yesterday, Dave, Brendan, Hannah and I had another go at ringing Hawfinches at one of our North Wales ringing sites for our RAS project. Catching has been a bit slow so far this year, presumably because there has been a lot of natural food around. One of the sites has hosted a large Brambling flock for the past few weeks but frustratingly they have shown an almost total disinterested in the black sunflowers we have been putting out. The Hawfinch hadn't been showing that much more interest either!

Setting my new Moudry whoosh net in the Hawfinch wood

Thankfully something has now changed and the Hawfinch at least seemed very keen to avail themselves of free supplies. During the course of the day we whoosh-netted 36 different Hawfinch including 17 new birds for what is our record catch of the past 4 years. We have now ringed 49 new Hawfinch already this year and traditionally our best catching period in still to come in mid-late April as the birds prepare to either migrate or nest. Fingers crossed that the increased interest is maintained.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Blimey, NOT Charlies's

Sarah, Brendan, Hannah and I had a go at netting Cross Inn today but with the ringed Shrike now clearly in our sights. 

With it being a nice sunny day the number of Redpolls on the feeders had dropped significantly and we managed a catch of exactly 50 birds including 6 retraps and a control. Luckily the control was the Great Grey Shrike!! 

A while back I splashed out on large cage trap from Zdenek Moudry the Czechoslovakian ringer extraordinaire. Not cheap but a brilliant and well-made trap that, with the aid of a box of locusts from Pets at Home, seemed to do the trick a treat! 

No animals were killed in the taking of this shrike (although a locust did succumb to injuries sustained in battle a short time afterwards!)

Seeing that the ring was a BTO ring I was pretty certain that it was going to prove to be one of the two birds ringed by Charlie Sargent in Carmarthenshire in November but on speaking to him on the mobile we were both amazed when it turns out it wasn't. 

(Sorry - not a lot of hand washing facilities in Cross Inn!!)

Calling in a few favours fast-tracked the system and it turns out it was ringed at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory, Lincolnshire on 14th October 2014, presumably fresh in after a North Sea crossing.

Amazing, so maybe it did have a ring on a few months ago after all!  I wonder if this is the same individual that has been around for the last 6 years or so? It would have been great to have colour-ringed it so that we could see if it returns again next year but, despite having suitable rings on me, it would have been irresponsible without all the necessary permissions in place. Chances are if there's a ringed Great Grey Shrike in Cross Inn Forest next year it will be the same one - but then again!

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Great Grey Incentive

One of the new sites we have been netting this winter is Cross Inn Forest. I've had permission to ring Nightjars there for several years but have never really managed to find the time, especially given that I've being paid to catch them elsewhere! I have had a couple of trips but they have always been late in the season and with no success. Last year, having seen the potential of the site on these earlier visits, I applied to NRW for permission to carry out general, all-year-round, mist-netting and have been there on several occasions this winter. The main catch so far has been Goldcrest (in good numbers) but we have also caught a few thrushes, a fair few Bullfinch and a handful of Willow Tits. We have also put up a few feeders in an attempt to attract Redpolls and Siskins and this has just started to pay dividends with nearly 100 Redpolls present recently. Unfortunately wind and rain have so far put pay to any attempts at catching since the feeders went up.

Last weekend, whilst topping up the bird feeders, Brendan managed a couple of reasonable photos of the resident (in the winter anyway) Great Grey Shrike which we had been hoping might oblige and throw itself into a net one day.  In the photos it can clearly be seen to be wearing a ring. The Shrike that was there in November definitely didn't have a ring on so where has this new one come from? Is it one of the two Charlie Sargent caught at his site in Carmarthenshire? (see It's not a million miles away but the bird could quite equally have been ringed in its summer haunts. Unless we can read the number we will never know so there is going to be a bit of a re-doubled effort to catch this bird before it heads off in a few weeks time. I'll let you know if we are successful!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

AHA, 3 Norwegians!

Had a batch of recoveries from BTO headquarters today including the details of the 3 Norwegian-ringed Dunlin we caught at Ynyslas back in September. 

Two of the birds were ringed at The Makkevika Bird Reserve near Giske, 1,262 kms from Ynyslas, and had been ringed 18 and 44 days previously. The third bird had travelled 917kms from Revtangen, Klepp in just 8 days. It weighed 42 grams when originally caught but, not unsurprisingly, only 35.3 grams when it was retrapped.

This autumn saw a larger than normal number of Dunlin ringed at Ynyslas, just short of 500 in fact, so maybe it was a very productive breeding season - well that's My Take on It!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

New Black Redstart longevity record?

Brendan sent me some photos recently of the Black Redstart on the Old College in Aberystwyth. In the various photos the last few ring numbers can clearly be seen as 893. This matches the ring number of the one and only Black Redstart we have ringed in Aberystwyth which was caught by Paul and I at the same location on 5th December 2010. The ring was read on previous occasions from photographs supplied by Janet Baxter and Kev Joynes and what is presumed to be the same bird has wintered on the Old College every winter since. 

Checking the BTOs online ringing reports (Robinson, R.A. & Clark, J.A.(2014) The Online Ringing Report: Bird ringing in Britain & Ireland in 2013 BTO, Thetford, the current longevity record is held by a bird ringed as a nestling in Sussex on 3rd July 1947 and retrapped by a ringer in Dover on 21st June 1952! It was 4 years, 11 months and 18 days between ringing and retrapping and since it was ringed as a nestling that is pretty much how old it was bar 7 days or so. The Aberystwyth bird was an adult when caught so was at least 16 months old already, making it at least 5 and a half years old! Unfortunately the age is measured soley on the elapsed time between ringing and recovery so we'll have to wait until next year to make it official but who said it wasn't worth ringing it ?!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Just like London buses...

I had to pick Silvia up from Luton airport on Friday so we decided to stay at my sisters in southwest London again. As my 3 nephews (aged 3,5 and 8) love it when we catch birds with them, I took my ringing kit with me. Normally when we mist net here, we catch the usual garden birds plus the odd corvid but never the brightly coloured Parakeets that regularly visit the feeders. It was looking like this was going to be the case again until Sunday afternoon when one decided to get caught in the mist net. Despite knowing their reputation for being a bit nippy with their powerful beaks, I quickly rushed outside and extracted it. Looking back it might have been useful to put some gloves on, but I'd seen a few escape on previous visits!! Needless to say it took several chunks of my skin, but worth it nevertheless. They are actually quite tricky to ring without getting bitten, but it's all very good learning. Only an hour or so after, a second Parakeet flew into the net. This time I managed to extract it with out being attacked as much.

Despite catching the 2 Ring-necked Parakeets, the star of the weekend was undoubtedly this very smart male Sparrowhawk, a species that I could never get bored of ringing!

All in all, another productive trip, with around 60 birds trapped and ringed, all adding to the bigger picture of the wildlife that visits my sister's amazing urban garden.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

2014 - The best year yet - by far!!!

This Mid Wales Ringers' Blog is a Blog currently detailing solely the activities of myself and all those ringing as "C" ringers or restricted 'C' ringers under my A permit. Although I have been a ringer for over 36 years now I have only recently had the time, desire or opportunity to take on trainees so this will I guess change in the near future as some of these C ringers progress to their own A permits.  We may one day take the plunge and actually decide to form a Mid-Wales Ringers' Group if that best fits everyone's needs. For now though the totals displayed over the past few years on this blog are those for all birds ringed on rings issued to A.V.Cross (3188) which makes it simple for me to keep a totals list. I know some people might disagree with such lists labelling them as tallies or notches in the bamboo pole but actually we are obliged to keep them and they can, with a good deal of caution, be used as a measure of whether a particular year was good or bad for a particular species. Ringing totals do, its true, obviously depend on how many ringers were active, how many times they went out, the weather conditions and all sorts of other random factors but they also reflect the number of birds present. Standardising, as much as possible, all the random variables allows you to better assess the population size based on the numbers caught (this is the basis of Constant Effort Site CES ringing) but CES cannot be done for all species in all situations.

With that stated, 2014 was by far the most productive and successful ringing year since I qualified for my C permit back in 1981. In total 9,620 birds of 134 species were ringed including 7,306 full-grown and 2,314 pulli. Record totals were achieved for a whole range of species. The record totals for Woodcock (502), Snipe (178) and Jack Snipe (88) and the second highest total  for Golden Plover (232) reflected both a good year in terms of the number of birds present but also a sustained effort from Paul, Owen, Terry and myself helped, right at the end of the year by the qualification of Sarah, Andre and Dave as restricted 'C' permit dazzlers! All of these totals exceed the annual ringing totals for the entire British scheme for the respective species in some years showing just how great our input is to research on these target species.

Record totals were also achieved for Siskin (708), Lesser Redpoll (347), Goldfinch (276) and Brambling (284) and this reflects both an increase in the use of baited sites but also reflects a large increase in the number of birds present. The increase in the numbers of Goldfinch, Redpoll and Siskin coming to garden feeders during my time as a ringer has been nothing short of astonishing!

Some of our other main study species also recorded record years.  169 Choughs were individually colour-ringed in a study that first started in 1991 and 47 Kestrels were also colour-ringed in a more recently started project. The activities of Chris Griffiths and a particularly productive season for Barn Owls resulted in 165 Barn Owls being ringed, 139 pull and 26 adults. This is despite 2013 being one of the poorest on record. Another mild winter will, I'm sure, see this number increase further in 2015.

The total of 70 Nightjars ringed would have been almost unbelievable a few years back and reflects a marked increase in the Nightjar population within Wales but also dedicated and funded research at specific sites to identify the posssible effects of wind farm development. A considerable part of this effort was contributed by none Mid-Wales Ringer Paddy Jenks so due acknowledgment to him for all his help and expertise.

A few notable milestones were reached during the year including the 8,000th Swallow, 3,000th Chough, 2,500th Woodcock and Dunlin, 2,000th Willow Warbler, 1,000th Meadow Pipit, Robin, Redstart, Reed Warbler and Long-tailed Tit, 500th Snipe, 300th Nightjar, 250th Little Egret, 200th Common Sandpiper and 150th Kingfisher and Tawny Owl. Three new species were added to the list in 2014 too, Dartford Warbler, Common Redpoll and what was the other? Oh yes Great Snipe. This was only the fourth Great Snipe ever caught and ringed in Britain and amazingly the first proper rarity ever ringed by Mid Wales Ringers out of a total of over 120,000 birds ringed so far! It was an amazing find by Paul and he did well to hold his nerve whilst creeping those last few steps before he was able to drop the net. It doesn't bare thinking about what it would have been like to have knowingly missed such an unexpected, once in a life-time opportunity! That one capture resulted in nearly 2,500 site hits in less than a week, over three times our usual audience. It is a telling reflection on the interests and priorities of many birders nowadays I guess.

The full totals for 2014 will soon be displayed in the list of gadgets on the right and, since I have now entered all my historic ringing records, so will a 'Grand Totals' list covering all ringing done since autumn 1981!

I will also post something soon detailing some of the interesting recoveries and other results obtained during the year.

Many thanks to everyone who made this possible, obviously firstly to a brilliant team of ringers but also to all our helpers, landowners & tenants and anyone who reported seeing or finding a ringed bird.  2015 has certainly got something to live up to!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Riding the storm...

As most, if not all, of you will be aware, the weather is pretty rough in the UK at the moment! Whereas most ringers wouldn't even dream of going out in this sort of weather, the like of myself, Tony and a few others 'love' it! Although catching is still very difficult, with a slight change in technique, venturing out can be very rewarding! In the past 3 nights I have visited a couple of my dazzling sites, and have had some great catches. In total I've only caught 21 birds, which might not sound much, but when you see what they are the quaility more than makes up for the quantity.

Birds trapped and ringed were:
7(+2) Jack Snipe
4(+1) Snipe
2 Woodcock
1 Golden Plover
4 Fieldfare

Unfortunately I manage to upset an old injury in my leg last night so am unable to add to the totals tonight, hopefully it will be better soon!!