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!!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Foreigner First

As they were on a Christmas/New Year break in Wales and keen to see Golden Plover and Woodcock in the hand I offered to take Lee and Rachael Barber out dazzling (Lee works at the BTO processing ringing recoveries so he is a very good man to keep in with!). As it is full moon and clear skies at the moment we had to get up very early to take advantage of some forecast wet weather in order to stand any real chance of catching anything. On arrival at 4.30 am it was snowing quite heavily and the ground was pretty sodden making it difficult to spot birds and then to approach them silently. After a fair few snipe and a few Golden Plover had flushed at a good distance things weren't looking great. In the middle of the third field I spotted the first Woodcock. It was sitting pretty tight but there was a flock of sheep walking directly towards it! It became a bit of a race to see if I could get there quietly before the sheep and without causing them to stampede. With only seconds to spare before the sheep flushed the bird I managed to get there and drop the net on it. This was the first bird I'd caught in 2015 and my initial disappointment (on Lee and Rachael's behalf) on seeing that the bird was already ringed soon turned to whoops of joy as I realised the ring wasn't a BTO ring! Without my glasses on me however it fell to Lee to confirmed it as a ring from the Riga, Latvian ringing scheme! It was originally ringed by Oskars Keiss as an adult some 1,600 km away at Pape, Rucava, Latvia on 27th October 2012.

In the past 5 years we have caught over 2,000 different Woodcock and had a good many foreign recoveries but this is the first one to be caught wearing a ring from a foreign ringing scheme. After the excitement of processing this first foreign Woodcock control we tried a few more fields and managed to catch another two unringed Woodcock, a Snipe, a Golden Plover and a Fieldfare. Not a bumper catch but one that will certainly stick in the memory for a fair while! Cheers Lee and Rachael - you can definitely come again!!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Roosting Redwings...

Last night myself and Silvia headed to a place near home where we had seen a couple of thousand Redwings coming into roost a few weeks back. Unfortunately the numbers had dropped to only a couple of hundred, but with the lure playing we managed to attract a few birds in to the net. We managed to catch 9 in total, and saw several others 'bounce' out. It wasn't the massive catch we were hoping for, but it was nice to catch some. We did try to catch them in the morning as they left the roost, but unfortunately the wind had picked up over night and catching was very difficult! Only 2 more Redwings were added to the catch, but it was nice to get to see them in daylight!

the aptly named 'red wing'

While the light was fading yesterday evening and we were thinking of packing up, a few Tawny Owls started to call very near to where we had set the nets up! A quick change of call on the iPod and we soon had a male and female Tawny Owl in the net!! This definitely made the trip worth while!!

Monday, 29 December 2014


Day-time ringing opportunities at this time of the year in Mid-Wales are a bit limited but at the beginning of December I started feeding the garden again after the summer break. Almost immediately this attracted the attention of a sizeable flock (or 'charm') of Goldfinches. 

Not the best of photos but it does show just how busy it can be under the feeders. Not sure why they seem to prefer to throw it all out on the floor rather than eat at the feeders but the dog seems to enjoy helping himself to most of what they spill!!

At times there can be nearly 50 Goldfinches on, under or around the 6 nijer seed feeders and keeping them all topped up is costing me a small fortune. Well worth it though as this month alone I have caught nearly 100 different Goldfinches in the garden including 86 new birds and a control. 

This bird caused a bit of confusion. It is obviously an adult based on the even colour of the primaries and tertials and the shape of the tail feathers. With a wing of 82 mm, red well behind the eye and predominantly black lesser coverts I sexed it as a male but the photo clearly shows it has very white nasal bristles, a feature supposedly found on females?

 A more typical male showing black nasal bristles. Whatever colour the bristles they are a stunning little bird and it is great to see them here in such good numbers.

It won't be that long now until they are joined by the returning Siskins and Redpolls and then the wallet really will take a hammering!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Woodcock Breeding

Following Tony's recent post on Woodcock this winter, I have more information on the 2014 breeding season. I have been in touch with Francois Gossmann who is the French Woodcock expert and his view is that although juvenile numbers are down this winter this does not represent a significant breeding failure and is part of the yearly fluctuation that happens due to the variation in weather conditions in Russia over the breeding season. This summer conditions in much of the area in Russia where Woodcock breed was dry, this impacted on the avialability of worms that are so vital for feeding broods.
I have also been in touch with Vadim Vitovsky a Russian biologist who studies Woodcock in the St Petersburg area. Each autumn they catch and ring Woodcock and have found that body mass this year was about 10% lower than normal reflecting poor feeding conditions, however Vadim also said that this was not an unusual occurrence.

Looking at the data on adult/ juvenile ratios from a selection of our ringers working in areas where there are few breeding Woodcock we can get a reasonable picture of what is happening with migrant woodcock for the past 4 years.

2011/12    65% juvenile  (sample 249)
2012/13    73% juvenile  (sample 178)
2013/14    70% juvenile  (sample 195)
2014/15    62% juvenile  (sample 144)  up to 12/12/14

Now that the Woodcock Network has a way of monitoring yearly breeding success we can keep shooter informed and urge them to use restraint on years when there has been lower breeding success. I have written a piece on this which will be published in 'Shooting Times' this week.

This is all possible due to the dedication of our Woodcock ringers who venture out on cold wet and windy winter nights to ring and gather this valuable information. People often question the need for ringing, but ringing Woodcock demonstrates the value of gathering biometric data across the country which can be used to the benefit of the species.

Since the Woodcock Network started ringing in 2008 we have learned that Woodcock are much more abundant than previously thought with our ringers seeing high numbers on sites throughout the country. What has also emerged is that migrant Woodcock are highly loyal to their wintering haunts. Since starting to ring Woodcock on my site in West Wales I have seen my re-trap level of birds ringed over previous winters grow each year.

2008/9     5.4%       of all adults caught
2009/10  11.3%       "         "            "
2010/11  29.4%       "         "            "
2011/12  30.5%       "         "            "
2012/13  47.0 %      "         "            "
2013/14  43.0%       "         "            "
2014/15  75.0%       "         "            "  up to 12/12/14

We are keen to get more ringers working on Woodcock so that we can improve our understanding of this secretive species. If you need advice on catching techniques please give me a call on 01974 272654.

Monday, 15 December 2014

What a load of old Scolopax!

After a slow start it looks as if the Woodcock have finally arrived in Wales en masse. I caught my first one of the winter on the 28th October, a pretty usual date for seeing the first few returning birds, but although there have been reasonable numbers present since there hasn't been anything spectacular. The last two nights though have been very different! In the early hours of Sunday morning, after catching a few Snipe and Jack Snipe at Ynyslas with Matt Potter, I ventured out to one of our regular sites just inland of Aberystwyth and had a catch of 16 new Woodcock. Then last night I made the first visit of the winter to a regular site in Carmarthenshire and caught an amazing 27 Woodcock (25 new birds, 1 retrap from Feb 2011 and another from Jan 2012). That's 41 new Woodcock ringed in less than 24 hours!

Francios Gossman from the French equivalent of the Game Conservancy had recently contacted Owen to request information of the ratio of adult to young birds we were getting as there is some early suggestion that it may have been a poor breeding season for Woodcock in Russia this year as it has been so dry. The 43 birds I've just caught comprised 18 adults and 25 juveniles or 42% adults which is actually higher than the mean of around 30% observed over the past few years so perhaps there is something in it. Hopefully Owen will be able to post a more comprehensive assessment later when he has gathered comparable counts from other Woodcock ringers.

In the spotlight - if, through adult:juvenile ratios at trapping, Woodcock can be shown to have had a poor breeding season then the shooting community can be asked to exercise restraint so that numbers are allowed to recover.