Wednesday, 2 April 2014

2014 Dipper RAS off to a flying start

Had a day going around Dipper nest sites with Brendan Sheils and Hannah Dawes yesterday. Managed to check 50 nests during the day and also identified nine of the breeding adults from colour rings. This doesn't seem like many but at the moment most are still on eggs or laying up so very few of the adults were hanging around and we didn't have time to either. 

Pair of colour-ringed Dippers near the nest-site

Dipper nest on top of a large pipe under a road bridge

1st pulli anything of 2014!

In the late afternoon we met up with Dave Pearce and managed to ring the first 4 pull of the year at a nest he was monitoring near Craven Arms. Later on we ringed a couple more broods totalling 11 chicks in all and including one brood that were pretty close to fledging already!. A cracking start to the year but a very long way still to go to reach last year's amazing total of 666 Dippers ringed.

Friday, 28 March 2014

More Haws

The last few weeks have seen various combinations of the team sat around for days on end at our two Hawfinch feeding sites. The results have been pretty rewarding though.

Hawfinch waiting to come down to the feed. They tend to have a good look for quite a while before dropping down and anything that disturbs them in the meantime, such as other birds in a net, squirrels or people passing-by means they just won't drop. Whoosh netting seems to get around this problem......... well two bits of it anyway - no unwanted tits in mist-nets and the current Grey Squirrel whoosh-net total is 7!! Just need to sort the passers-by now.

This year we have largely switched to whoosh-netting rather than mist-netting and it is paying great dividends. So far we have caught and ringed 60 new birds along with a dozen or so retraps. We have also managed to catch the Forest of Dean bird (White F3) that was photographed by Trevor Bashford on his garden feeder last summer. 

An immigrant from the deep south!

Also of great interest is the trapping of three more of last year's pulli. We have now caught and colour-ringed about 20% of the pulli we ringed last year which shows that post fledging survival in this species must be pretty good locally (given that there are undoubtably others out there that we haven't retrapped yet). 

Last year we only managed to ring 64 new birds, but with the best month for catching still to come, I think this year will see a massive increase on last year's figure.

Cracking adult male showing square ended tail feathers and 
deeply "crinkled' inner primaries.

Unlike Opal Fruits (or Starbursts to our younger readers!), these are made to make your eyes water!!

Thanks to Brendan for the photos.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Woodcock sprung into migration.

It's been a very busy Woodcock ringing winter for me, with a record of 263 birds caught this winter. Ten days ago I caught and ringed my 1,000th Woodcock since Tony Cross kindly agreed to train me in the dark arts of dazzle and netting back in 2008.

A fortnight ago, assisted by Terence Lambert and Sarah Cookson, I fitted a satellite tag to a Woodcock on my ringing site near Aberystwyth, this and 10 geolocators are part of a long term study of Woodcock being conducted by Dr Andrew Hoodless of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

So far 24 satellite tags have been fitted to Woodcock in the UK over the past two years, with another 12 this winter. Although it was inevitable that as these tags, which required sunlight to keep batteries charged, would be stretched to give a constant data flow, the knowledge gleaned from this project has been well worth the money and effort.

We now know that Woodcock migrate in a series of long stages of up to 1000km before pausing to recover body condition over a period of a week to ten days.

Three of the Woodcock in our study have flown much further east than expected spending the breeding season in Siberia.

The pattern of dispersal from one wintering site such as Cornwall, where several Woodcock have been tagged, has been wide and range from Sweden 2,000km away to Siberia a journey of 6,000km.

Tagging has also allowed us to accurately monitor departure dates. Correlation with weather maps is beginning to reveal just how savy Woodcock are on how and when they migrate. One Woodcock, Busy appears to have made a large U turn in the middle of the English Channel on his spring migration last year. Inspection of weather maps suggest that this was due to him encountering increasing head winds on his final stage to Cornwall, so he diverted to the Isle of Wight.

It has been very exciting to follow some of our Woodcock over several year. Rebecca who I tagged near Llandovery in February 2012 has returned to exactly the same wintering site each year. In the next few days she will set off on a third spring migration. It is amazing to be able to compare the migration routes taken by Rebecca each year and to note that she appears to be very loyal to both wintering and breeding sites.

The work conducted by The Woodcock Network by ringing over 1,200 birds in the UK and Ireland each year is providing data which would have been impossible without the dedication of our ringers who leave the comfort of their arm chairs on cold and wet winter nights in order to catch and ring Woodcock. Although this hi-tech research is very exciting, no clever gadget will ever be able to find out the details that the sustained 'grunt' work of gathering biometrics give us when we are ringing.

A sustained ringing effort on my site near Aberystwyth where I have caught over 700 Woodcock in the past 5 years is now giving us valuable data on such things as wintering site fidelity. In the winter of 2012/13 of the 88 adults I caught 41% were retraps form previous winters! Work is now being done to see if this is the case on other sites in the UK.

I will always be grateful to Tony Cross for so enthusiasticly agreeing to train me to ring Woodcock back in 2008. I guess neither of us realised at the time what would grow from these early few steps out onto a muddy field. The Network now has over 30 ringers, from the North of Scotland to the Channel Isles, infected with a passion for Woodcock ringing, huge thanks are also due for their dedication. 

If you indulge in Facebook you can get regular information about Woodcock from enthusiasts who post details from all over the world. just look us up at The Woodcock Network. You can also follow Woodcock migration on the website run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

With our wintering Woodcock now leaving we will soon be counting down the months until we catch our first Woodcock of winter 2014/15.... but there's a summer to enjoy first... isn't there?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Gardening update

Bamboo is still there and yes, it still looks like it could do with a bit of attention, but what an amazing year so far in the garden ringing wise. Had another catch of 37 new birds today including the first Brambling. So far this year I've managed to ring 228 Siskin, 107 Goldfinch, 76 Lesser Redpoll, 6 Chaffinch and a Brambling. Paul, who is only 6 kms down the road, has had another 210 Siskin, 65 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Common Redpoll, 16 Goldfinch, 12 Chaffinch and 4 Greenfinch. Quite a few birds, including this smart adult male Lesser Redpoll, have visited both gardens and we've also had a couple of control Lesser Redpolls and Siskin. Who said garden ringing was uninteresting?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

All this wind had to be good for something!

Photo courtesy of Jayne Williams

I recently received the above photo showing one of our colour-ringed Kestrels making good use of the windy weather at RSPB's Conwy reserve in North Wales. It was originally ringed on the Great Orme in July 2013 so she's not moved far but good to know she's still going, as, following fairly major declines in the population of this small falcon here in Wales over the past few decades, we need all the Kestrels we can get.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Luck of the Irish with a Swedish beauty!

Last winter we were revelling in the rare opportunity to colour-ring Waxwings at Newtown. Exactly 100 birds were caught including one previously ringed on Fair Isle and then re-trapped in Aberdeen. Subsequent re-sightings of these birds during the same winter came from far and wide in the UK but also included one in Switzerland, the second furthest record ever of a BTO ringed Waxwing.

This winter the blogs have been largely silent on the subject of Waxwings as the mild winter has presumably kept them at more northern wintering locations. Confirmation of this arrived yesterday when Waxwing colour-ring co-ordinator Raymond Duncan forwarded me an email from Hans Petersson with attached photographs clearly showing one of the birds we had colour-ringed feeding on apples in his garden in Holmen Lane-Ryr, Uddevalla, Sweden. 

Waxwing White/Blue right feeding on apples near Uddervalla, Sweden

This bird was originally colour-ringed on 9th December at Newtown College and was one of those done by my Irish mate Damian Clarke on a flying visit. Guess there must be something in the old saying after all!

Much more on the subject can be read about from the Waxwing expert Raymond Duncan on the Grampian Ringing Group's blog

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Mealy nice find...

There was a nice surprise this morning when I noticed this Redpoll feeding on the lawn amongst a flock of Lesser Redpoll, Goldfinch and Siskin. He stood out like a sore thumb, not only in colour but in size too. After rushing outside to open the net, all of the birds seemed to disappear for an age. But only 20 minutes later I noticed a lone bird in the bottom shelf, sure enough it was him.         

With nearly 200 Lesser Redpolls ringed by myself and Tony in our gardens over the last 14 months, it was a species that I thought we would eventually catch up with. Hopefully the first of more to come!

The two photos above show how obviously pale the Redpoll was, and the photo below shows just how much bigger he was than the average Lesser Redpoll!

As if that wasn't enough, we also managed to catch some other notable birds today including 22 Bramblings and a Barn Owl!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Seven Finch Thursday

Last night I had planned to go lamping in North Wales with Dave Smith and then try catching Hawfinches first thing in the morning. At about 4 pm Dave text to say the weather was 'dangerous'. Now lamping can be good in wet and windy weather but dodging falling trees and flying roof tiles is a step too far. In an almost unheard of move I decided to cancel the lamping session and travel up first thing. It proved only slightly less dangerous though as I managed to lose control of the car in the snow on one bend which woke me up a bit!!

Since early February Dave has been feeding a traditional Hawfinch feeding site and this morning was our second attempt at whoosh netting some of the birds coming down to feed.

Whoosh net set for catching Hawfinches

Our first attempt, about a week or so ago, proved fruitless when the net failed to fire, twice, on the only occasions we had birds safely sat in the 'zone'. Todays efforts were more successful and eight Hawfinches were caught comprising six new birds and two retraps from previous years.

Angry Bird. A 'grumpy' C48 this morning.

C48 in more relaxed mood, photographed by Suzanne Williams in her garden in Bontddu.

Also caught alongside the Hawfinch were six Chaffinch and five Greenfinch. On the way home I stopped off briefly at one of our Brambling feeding sites and added another six new Bramblings. Meanwhile, back in his garden in Crossgates, Paul managed to catch a few more Siskin, Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll giving us seven species of finch ringed during the day! Now that doesn't happen too often, shame about the missing Bullfinch!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Willkommen heir Bergfink!

With the tail end of the 'beast storm" still hanging on and making it impossible to net the Redpolls, Siskins and Goldfinches in the garden I thought I'd pop over to one of our two Brambling feeding sites to see if the bad weather had made them hungry! Despite there having being lots of Bramblings present at both sites for well over two months now catching has been a bit slow to say the least. They've generally been none too bothered and clearly have other places to feed as frustratingly they'd often turn up, sit around for a while and then fly off again without coming down!  This morning was a bit different. maybe the natural food is running short or maybe it was the bad weather but they certainly seemed a bit keener on coming out of the trees and dropping onto the feeding area. Consequently, in just a couple of hours I managed to catch 51 in three pulls of the net, including 2 retraps and, more excitingly, a German ringed bird!!  A good number of Bramblings are ringed on the continent so we've been expecting a 'foreigner' for a while but this is the first from over 250 Bramblings caught so far this winter.

German-ringed adult male Brambling

'Helgoland, Germany'.

Lets hope we don't have to wait too much longer for the next one!

Visitors from HQ

Last Sunday there was a meeting of the BTO Welsh Regional reps in the Elan Valley. Travelling up for the meeting from Norfolk were Breeding Bird Survey National Organiser Kate Risely and Senior Research Ecologist Dave Leech. As there's not a lot else in these parts to keep visiting birders entertained on a cold, dark and wet January night they had arranged through Kelvin Jones to come lamping.  The night, as it turned out, was very wet and windy and as I made my way around the first site with Dave and Kate shadowing me behind the beam it looked as if it was going to be a bit difficult living up to the standard set on Kate's previous visit when we managed to ring 5 Woodcock, 5 Dippers and a Long-eared Owl!

Returning to the car empty handed having seen just 4 Golden Plovers and a few Snipe things looked a bit grim. Lucklly Paul, who had lamped the other half of the same site, was sat waiting in the car with an unringed Jack Snipe in a bird bag when we got back.

Moving on to another site nearby we again split up. By now the rain was driving pretty hard and there was surprisingly little present. This can happen at any time but particularly if a fox has been round the field just prior to your visit. Despite this we did manage to catch 2 Snipe and a Meadow Pipit between us.

As Paul, Dave and Kate ringed and processed the Snipe and Pipit I had a quick look in another field nearby which doesn't usually have much in it but amazingly 2 Woodcock were sat just a few yards from the car and despite the rowdy shouts of a few, well lubricated, passing youths, were soon being passed through the window to a couple of well satisfied visitors. Hat-tricks are usually pretty hard to come by but this winter they have been arriving thick and fast.

It is always good to meet up with like-minded devotees (even if the target species differ!) and to exchange stories and ideas. Many thanks to Dave and Kate for a great night and for the photos (despite all the well-planned product placement!).