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.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Rode Wouw - Wow!!

In 1985 I ringed my first ever Red Kite with Mr. Kite himself, Peter Davis. I was a student at Aberystwyth University and a keen C ringer.  The following year I obtained my first ever employment,  a contract with the Nature Conservany Council to monitor breeding Ravens and to be field assistant to Peter on his kite monitoring contract (I reckon he had witnessed my tree-climbing prowess the year before and was keen to keep me local!). For the next 8 years I had the great pleasure of helping Peter ring and tag the vast majority of young Red Kites fledged in Wales. In 1993 Peter decided to retire from kite ringing and I took over, ringing the first Red Kite on my own rings on 14th June 1994. Since that date I have ringed a grand total of 2,704 Red Kites, most of which have been either colour-ringed or wing-tagged too.  As a result, not much relating to the movements of our local kites surprises me anymore.  Last Sunday I was alerted to a definite 'first' though by Pete Stevens of the Southern England Kite Group. He sent me an email with photos attached of a wing-tagged Rode Wouw taken in Den Oever, Noord Holland!! 

     Photo (c) Maarten Hotting. Den Oever, Noord Holland 26th March 2016

 Photo (c) Maarten Hotting. Den Oever, Noord Holland 26th March 2016

The tags shown are without question those I had fitted to a chick ringed in a nest monitored by Dave Pearce near Church Stretton, Shropshire on 17th June 2014 (about 475 km west of its current location) - photo taken at the time by Leo Smith shown below.  It transpires that the same bird had been seen and photographed several times between the 15th - 19th March about 135kms south of Den Oever in an area just south of Rotterdam

We have previously had movements of Welsh-bred kites to Scotland, Ireland and even one on a gas rig out in the North Sea but have never had a sighting on the Continent before. Welsh Red Kites are essentially sedentary but the English and Scottish re-introduction schemes sourced birds from different populations, some of which (Swedish and German) were migratory.  There is clearly a bit of mixing going on now and this genetic blending has been the subject of a PhD study by Ilze Skujina at IBERS in Aberystwyth that we have been collaborating on. The results from that study had already indicated that Shropshire was an area where the different populations were merging, and this movement seems to back that up.

For now though, this particular Kite seems to have had enough of the UK and is presumably heading back to its ancestral roots!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Half right!

The latest locations for the two satellite-tagged Curlews suggest one might be a local breeder, as hoped, but the other is definitely heading north! But how far north will it go? Northern England, Scotland, Finland? Watch this space!

On Monday, Amanda Perkins, David Tompkins (our new field assistant) and I had a quick tour around our Shropshire study area. It was very pleasing to see a load of birds back on their breeding sites and even better to find two more colour-ringed adults on territory.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Satellite-tagged Curlews

On 8th March Paul Roughley and I paid a return visit to the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dolydd Hafren Reserve on the River Severn between Newtown and Welshpool. MWT have kindly agreed to allow us to catch birds at this important staging area and numbers since our previous visit, just 12 days earlier, had almost doubled to around 80 birds.  Eleven more birds were caught and colour-ringed and at least 3 other colour-ringed birds were present and identified. A total of 62 Curlews have now been individually colour-ringed here since March 2015 with two birds identified at local nesting sites in 2015 and two others re-sighted at distant wintering locations in Devon and Cornwall.

For the past 2 seasons I have, thanks to funding from the Ecology Matters Trust, had two satellite-tags (supplied by Microwave Telemetry) ready to be deployed on local breeding Curlews in order to investigate foraging range and habitat use around nest sites. Because of strict rules and guidance from the BTO on what percentage of a bird's body-weight it can safely carry, these tags' use has been specifically restricted to larger birds weighing over 800 grams (in effect meaning that they had to be fitted to large females). Sod's Law being as it is the only two birds I'd managed to catch at nest-sites were both males. I have been reluctant to fit them to birds caught at winter roosts on the coast as many of the Curlews here are probably continental migrants. Given that the tags won't last for ever, and as much of my time is now spent in Shropshire working on a Curlew project for the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme, I decided not to delay any further and to deploy them on the two largest birds caught on that night and just hope that they were both local breeders within our study area!

Two of Mother Nature's natural wonders and nearly £7,000 of man-made technological excellence combined! A pair of satellite-tagged female Curlews immediately after their release. Yes, the one on the right is tagged as well!

The first location received, a day or two later, was surprising to say the least and doesn't bode all that favourably! The first female had already moved over 50km due west and was enjoying the facilities at another of MWT's reserves at Cors Dyfi at the head of the Dyfi Estuary! I'm hoping she has just taken temporary umbrage and will soon return to the Severn Valley to nest - but who knows! The other female is presently just north of Welshpool. It will be extremely interesting to follow their progress over the next couple of months and I'm currently trying to work out how to make regular updates on the movements of these two birds freely available to a wider audience - watch this space!

Here is a map of the last transmitted location for both of these larger than average ladies! 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Old'un Goldie

Last night parental duties prevented me from making the utmost of some absolutely perfect lamping conditions but I did manage to sneak out to a site just down the road for an hour or two!

The catch was small, one new and two re-trap Woodcock but I did also catch a ringed Golden Plover. At first glance in the beam it looked VERY interesting as the ring was clearly aluminium and there were no colour-rings. A foreigner?? Luckily it sat tight otherwise I'd have been cursing for weeks! Whilst not as interesting as I'd hoped it did prove to be our oldest recorded Golden Plover to-date. I had ringed it originally with an old D ring back on 14th November 2009 at the exact same location to within 50m!

Now sporting colour rings! Hopefully our paths might cross again in another 6 years when it will be the oldest Golden Plover recorded under the BTO ringing scheme!

When originally caught this bird was aged as an adult i.e. at least a year and a half old so although officially only 6 years, 3 months and 18 days have elapsed it is at least 7 years and 9 months old. The current longevity record for a British-ringed Golden Plover stands at 12 years and 29 days so still a way to go yet! Waders as a group are generally long-lived and compared to some other species of comparable size this figure is fairly low. The current record for Oystercatcher stands at 40 years, 1 month and 2 days, for Grey Plover it is 25 years, 1 month and 18 days, for Lapwing 21 years 1 month and 15 days and for Knot 27 years, 3 months and 29 days. Even Dunlin stands at 19 years 3 months and 26 days! Given all the problems they face with habitat destruction, climate change and illegal hunting etc I am constantly in awe that such small creatures can stay out of trouble for so long! 

This link to the BTO's longevity pages may be of interest and may provide a few surprises!

I suppose with such big eyes it isn't that difficult to watch out for yourself!

Friday, 26 February 2016

AA was worth the money after all!

On 8th August 2013 our Sandwich Tern colour-ringing project started at Ynyslas with the ceremonial marking of Red KAA, an adult caught on autumn passage from breeding grounds as yet unknown.

Well, who would have thought, yesterday I had email confirmation from South African tern ringer extraordinaire Mark Boorman that he had just recorded it alive and well hanging out at 4 Mile Salt Works, Swakopmund, Namibia with a whole host of other Sandwich Terns, many of which have been colour-ringed by ornithologists from all over Europe! So far 4 of the birds ringed at Ynyslas have been seen at this one location - about 1 in 10 of all the birds we have marked so far. 

Thanks for all your efforts Mark, very good to know what is going on in our birds "other lives". The following is a link to a short paper by Mark on the tern ringing at 4 Mile salt works and the dangers the terns face from predatory Jackals and Hyaenas the dog-walking debacle at Ynyslas into sharp context!!