Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Sweet SA

Last night was the first of the next set of high tides for ringing at Ynyslas. As the winds were light and conditions were right I decided to forgo wader dazzling in favour of mist-netting terns. On the last set of tides the estuary was brim-full of Sandwich Terns, Kittiwakes and a raft of other species but the winds were far too high to attempt any netting and unfortunately terns aren't really catchable by dazzling. Sod's law, conditions were now perfect but it was ominously quite on the tern front with nearly all having moved on! Still an opportunity to net terns is never missed even if there isn't much about. With assistance from Stephen Edwards and Gareth and Roy Richardson we set the usual 4 x 60ft wader nets on the point and waited. High tide was a bit early, such that there was no catching on the rising tide as it was too light and the nets were too visible. It did allow us to watch a juvenile Peregrine persistently terrorising the Dunlin (and seemingly inflicting needless damage as we caught four Dunlin with large rips in the skin of their breasts or sides). 

Needless to say I was relieved when we eventually caught our first few terns (Sandwich and Common) along with a few Dunlin, Knot and a Turnstone. The Knot and Turnstone were particularly welcome as it enabled us to kick-start two new colour-marking projects using leg-flags on both species. 

We catch a reasonable number of both species annually but in the past have had very few returns from just BTO metal rings. Hopefully the leg-flags will enable birdwatchers to help us collect additional information and greatly increase the data on movements etc.

Just as we were finishing processing the last few birds Stephen returns from a net round with the exciting news of a foreign-ringed Common Tern. "Wow, that's nice" I say. The reply was "yes, and its a South African ring!" 

My reply is, not surprising to some, unrepeatable!!

Saturday, 9 May 2020

We can CU

People call them "unprecedented times", I cannot possibly say what I call them!!

This year's planned Curlew work, along with so much else, has been shelved, just a small piece of the resulting worldwide data gap in long-term monitoring projects that we will never fill. It is, admittedly, a much smaller sacrifice than some have made and was necessary to help save lives but is a real and present pain in the proverbial all the same.

One small saving grace, for us anyway, is that whilst maintaining all rules on social distancing and not putting anyone at increased risk we have just managed to install Curlew Cam on another nest so that people bored with playing Fortnite or watching old re-runs of TV shows that weren't that great first time round can now fill their waking hours watching a Curlew sat motionless on a nest hoping to catch the once every few hours change-over!

Female curlew on Curlew Country's Curlew Cam 2020

This year's camera is on a nest where both adults have previous.

The male (YELLOW BI) was ringed at Dolydd Hafren on 6th August 2015. Unusually he is known to have nested for two years at a nearby territory (about 2km distant) before moving to the current territory near Church Stoke, Powys, where this is his third nesting attempt in three years (all these last three nests were fenced by Curlew Country and all produced hatched chicks. We cannot be 100% sure but we think at least one or two of the resulting chicks fledged successfully). This male is a bit of an A-lister in the Curlew world having starred in an award-winning film by Billy Clapham called Keeper of the Call and appeared on Springwatch in 2019. He is known to winter at Devoran in Cornwall where Mark Grantham has reported seeing him every winter since he was ringed.

Male bird on his winter retreat to Cornwall (photo courtesy of Mark Grantham)

The female (YELLOW ID) was also ringed at Dolydd Hafren on 27th March 2017. She is also known to have nested at another territory (some 10km distant) but is not known to have successfully hatched or reared young. She is a new pairing for this male who nested with an unringed bird last year. We do not know where she winters - yet!

The link for the live video feed will be available for the duration of the incubation and can be viewed on Curlew Country's website at

 Curlew Country Curlew Cam 2020

Hopefully things will have eased by the end of the breeding season otherwise the male might not be allowed back to Cornwall this winter!

Friday, 24 April 2020

The welcome return of KFC

No, not a news item about the slackening of Covid-19 restrictions in the takeaway industry.

Thuens Kruger, an avid Sandwich Tern colour-ring reader in South Africa, has just sent me details of Sandwich Tern KFC ringed as a juvenile on autumn passage at Ynyslas in 2016 (shown below) see

After a 3 year absence it was re-sighted at Eersterivier mouth, Macassar, South Africa on 7th Jan 2020 and 12th Feb 2020 and then again at Greenways, Strand, South Africa on 14th Feb 2020.

Neither photo is his best work but both certainly good enough and absolutely no doubt about the ring inscription, he also managed repeat sightings of KAL and KNB too. Really good to hear KFC is still going - waiting on news of its namesake now!

Monday, 20 April 2020

What a Twite!

One of the 8 Twite ringed at Ynyslas on 26th November 2018 - the first ever in Ceredigion

On 26th November 2018, at one of our regular ringing sites next to Ynyslas NNR, I caught my first ever Twite in over 35 years ringing there. In fact I caught my first ever 8 Twite! One of our then trainees, Ed O'Connor, had found the small flock, the largest seen in Ceredigion for a good many years, a week or two earlier. At my request he had pre-baited the site for a few days whilst we waited for some calmer weather for netting. On the off chance I had asked Kelvin Jones if he would mind sending me a few of his North Wales Twite colour-ring combinations in case we were successful. In a stroke of sheer fortune Kelvin was down in Mid Wales from his more usual North Wales haunts that very evening and I arranged to meet him on his way home to pick some up - hardly expecting they would actually be needed. The following morning we set a couple of 40ft single shelf mist-nets amongst the weed seeds and waited. A few Reed Buntings, Linnets and Chaffinches later Ed saw the small flock fly in off the saltmarsh and land immediately in front of the nets right by the sound lure. A casual saunter towards the nets was all that was needed to push the whole flock straight into the single shelf.

This morning, in what is the best lock-down lightener I had for a good few weeks, I received an email from Kelvin to say that one of them had just been photographed on the Isle of Skye, 575 km NNW! What an amazing result and a clear example of the added benefits of colour-rings.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Not well Choughed!

In September we had a report that two of our colour-ringed Choughs had been re-sighted near Settle in the Yorkshire Dales the first Choughs sighted in Yorkshire for 25 years! The birds were siblings from a brood ringed on North Anglesey in June 2019. Although they were siblings, they were a male and female and could possibly have bred in Yorkshire if they had survived to two years old or more, re-colonising an area that they used to inhabit but haven't bred in for well over 100 years. Unfortunately that isn't going to happen as the young male has just been found dead (no obvious cause). A very sad end indeed.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Baby come back

In 2016 and 2017 we had a brief spell working with the Powys Moorland Partnership monitoring their small Lapwing and Curlew breeding population. The above Curlew chick is the only one we ever managed to colour-ring there. It was ringed on 4th July 2017 near Ireland Moor by Jacques and myself after an epic stint trying to located it from a car some distance off. The main problem was it was highly mobile and every time we spotted it by the time we could run to where it was seen it had bunked off through a dense cover of bracken and hidden. Anyway patience and perseverance finally delivered and three years on we get the rewards of all the effort as it has just been re-sighted (and photographed) at Llangorse Lake by Mark Waldron.

Judging by the bill length it is almost certainly a female and she is likely heading inland to the very hills she was reared in to hopefully try and rear chicks of her own for the first time. Fingers crossed she succeeds, we need all the young Curlews we can get.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

A little bit of magic...

After several nights up on the hills trapping and ringing 'our' wintering waders, Silvia and I decided to head to the coast to try for some different waders at another one of our wader ringing sites. The first night we went out we weren't really too sure what would be there so we didn't bother to ask Tony for colour-rings, which was a real shame because we managed to trap and ring 4 Redshank and 2 Oystercatcher - both of which we colour-ring. We also caught 11(+1) Turnstone, which we are hoping to get a similar colour-ringing project on the go as we seem to have found a more effective way of trapping them. Either that or there's just a lot more about, but whichever it is, it would be great to get some re-sightings of them.

The second night, we made sure we had enough of each colour-ring and made the trip down to the coast again. There were still plenty of birds there, but they were proving a lot harder to catch. By the end of the night we were actually a little disappointed having only caught 2 Golden Plover, 1 Redshank and 2 Turnstone (this was a good catch, but we just had our hopes set a little higher after the catch from the night before). Walking back to the car a little deflated, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a small bird of prey sat in the field. It was a MERLIN!! After a couple of short flights, I dropped the net on it and slowly came to terms with what had just happened!!!

As Tony was ringing just up the road, I asked if he could quickly drop a colour-ring off for it - this was one of the few we didn't have with us!! By the time we were back at the car, Tony was there with the colour-ring.

Going by the size (wing 213, weight 182) and plumage of the bird it seemed like an obvious juvenile female, but after looking a bit closer at some of the plumage details I wondered if it could possibly be a juvenile Icelandic race Merlin - I'm still waiting to hear back from some people who are more familiar with these birds.

With no trees anywhere near, I placed the bird on a nearby post and waited for it to fly off to find it's own roost place for the night. It's going to take a lot to top that!!

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The long and the short of it...

Last night Tony and I headed out to try to mist net some owls that he had seen a week or so ago near one of his ringing sites. We would have gone sooner to try for them, but as is normally the case in mid Wales, we had to wait for a calm night! We got to the site, set up a couple of nets with lures placed underneath them and waited! With not much happening we were thinking of packing up, but gave it 10 more minutes, then all of a sudden an 'eared' Owl was flying around the net! Bingo, in it went. I 'ran' over to the net, and could see that it was a Long-eared Owl (which was odd because we were using a Short-eared Owl lure). This however, turned out to be the one that Tony had caught a few nights ago. Nevertheless, it was still great to see in the hand!

We decided to leave the nets for a bit longer, but, after nothing was seen for quite a while we decided to call it a day and take the nets down. On his way to the net, Tony could see another owl in there, so (like a cheetah in peak condition) he sprinted over and managed to get to it before it escaped. This time we had caught what we were trying for - a cracking Short-eared Owl.

As if that wasn't enough, while I was out ringing Woodcock on Sunday night a Short-eared Owl decided it was going to chase one of the Woodcock that I was trying to catch. It disappeared out of site so I quickly put the call of Meadow Pipit on my speaker, and sure enough it came back to investigate!

Hopefully we will get some more calm nights, as there seems to have been a small influx of Short-eared Owls (at least in our area).

Monday, 4 November 2019

Ynyslas NNR exporting plastic to Africa!

Two recent examples as to why Wales exporting plastic to Africa may not be the terrible act it sounds!

A couple of emails today showed the huge value to be gained from adding just a very small amount of plastic to migratory birds caught for ringing. The first, from Marcelo Cabrera, contained details (and a couple of confirmatory photos) of a juvenile Dunlin ringed at Ynyslas on 17th August 2019 and found on 2nd and 3rd of November on the North coast of Fuerteventura, Canary Islands (OK, so its Spain officially but its Africa geographically). As far as I can see this is perhaps only the 2nd recorded movement of a BTO-ringed Dunlin to the Canary Islands. We have also recently received sightings in Morocco of two other Dunlin ringed at Ynyslas this autumn.

Then, this evening, I had an email from Theuns Kruger who had just photographed Sandwich Tern Red KAL for the third successive winter at The Strand, Western Cape, South Africa. This bird was ringed at Ynyslas as a juvenile, on passage, in August 2013 and has been a regular at Dawlish warren in Devon but we are still yet to discover where it is breeding.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Some tidy tides

The last set of high tides at Ynyslas at the end of August/start of September proved pretty amazing as would be expected at this time of the year. Visiting ringers Stephen Harris-Vickers and Kirsty Franklin helped out on all nights along with Paul Roughley on the Saturday and Lee Barber on the Sunday. Sunday night's activities were initially focussed on trying to mist-net and colour-ring a few more Sandwich Terns with a wildlife film-maker filming the procedure for an upcoming documentary on the Dyfi Estuary. However, low numbers of terns present and the slightly stronger than forecast winds meant that this was soon abandoned and catching was once again focussed on dazzling some of the large numbers of small waders passing through the site.

In total, over the complete set of high tides, 412 new birds and 21 retraps/controls were caught and ringed/processed comprising:-

Dunlin 279 (+12)
Ringed Plover 51 (+1)
Knot 42 (+4)
Turnstone 16 (+2)
Sanderling 14 (+2)
Curlew Sandpiper 4
Redshank 3
Bar-tailed Godwit 2 
and Little Stint 1

One of the ringed Dunlin was a Norwegian control and another had been ringed on the Tees Estuary in August this year. One of the unringed Dunlin was a leucistic individual, the first we have ever seen at the site.

 Leucistic Dunlin

We have already been notified that one of the Dunlin has been re-sighted in Spain and one of the Curlew Sandpipers (pictured below) ringed on 30th August had its metal ring read through a telescope at Tacumshin Lake in Co. Wexford, Ireland on 5th September

The same Curlew Sandpiper photographed on 30th August at Ynyslas and on 5th September in Co. Wexford (in company with a Semi-palmated Sandpiper!!)