Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A little bit of magic!

On Sunday, Jaques was keen to have one last ringing session before he heads off to Prince Edward Island, Canada on a 2 month ringing trip. We started with a little bit of dazzling just south of Aberystwyth where we managed to catch a Bar-tailed Godwit, an Oystercatcher and a single Dunlin which, apart from a few Ringed Plovers, was pretty much all we saw.

This time of the year is a good time to tape-lure Meadow Pipits as they commence their autumn migrations. The weather was perfect too with light winds and a little bit of hill fog so at first light we headed into the hills and set up a couple of mist-nets in a 'V' shape and placed the sound lure in the centre. Almost instantly pipits began responding and during the course of the morning a modest but steady 44 were ringed. Most were 1st year birds aged on the moult limit in the greater coverts although there were a couple of adults included, both showing the last traces of moult on their inner secondaries.

1st year Meadow Pipit showing pale and 'toothed' median coverts

The activity of the pipits attracted the curiosity of a couple of Stonechats, one of which was also caught and ringed.

 1st year male Stonechat

After browsing the Ringers' Facebook page for a while on Jacques phone, and trying to decide if social media is really all that 'sociable', I glance up. "What's that in the net?" I ask whilst simultaneously bundling myself out the door as fast as I can manage.

This stunning adult male Merlin was obviously hunting pipits too (but luckily no pipits were hurt during the taking of this bird)! A classic example of how ringing is full of lovely little surprises!

Friday, 9 September 2016

A very unusual ringing site!!

On Wednesday evening Jacques and I were heading down to Borth to try for a few more Swallows and then kick start the Group's new Dunlin colour-ringing scheme at Ynyslas later on. Anticipating a long night we thought we better fuel-up beforehand so stopped off at the Acorn Fish and Chip shop in Borth where the great excitement amid the queuing customers was the presence of a small bird fluttering in the dark recesses of the wooden A frames high above the deep-fat fryer, periodically sprinkling the chips with dust and droppings. "We'll sort that for you" I said "we're bird catchers!" A blank expression confirmed that the Oriental women behind the counter had absolutely no idea what I was on about. "No, really we are" adds Jacques - but still no recognition! "Want us to catch it for you?" I try again. "I would" says one of the other waiting diners, so, quick as a flash I run to the car and come back in with an extending hand-net. One deft swipe at full stretch and the bird (which bizarrely for a sea-side town with no trees whatsoever turns out to be a Treecreeper) is safely under the net on the floor of the chippy to rousing applause from the open-mouthed onlookers (well almost)! It was perhaps one of the most pressured and therefore one of most satisfying catches ever, a bit like a scene from Ghostbusters (the old version, obviously!). "Thank you very much" says the Oriental women smiling broadly, "no problem" I say, "Worth free chips that?" I try but unfortunately the blank expression had already returned! Still it prevented said Treecreeper from becoming just another Scottish delicacy!

I wonder if this is the first bird ever caught and ringed in a serving chip shop?!

A record shot of one lucky Treecreeper just prior to being liberated on Borth Bog

In something of an anticlimax the Swallow roost behind Borth produced just 20 new birds, although it is getting on and they will possibly be the last 20 of the year.

In the early hours at Ynyslas though we were soon back on a roll with a catch of 30 Dunlin, 7 Ringed Plover and a Knot. Very respectable given that the tides are low at present and I wasn't really expecting to catch anything other than maybe one or two  Dunlin to try the new colour-rings on. The 30 Dunlin ringed took the total number caught at Ynyslas in 2016 so far to over 1,000! Hopefully a lot more colour-rings will be applied soon so please keep your eyes peeled for Dunlin with a Yellow engraved ring on the right tibia and a plain Orange one on the left. All birds will look identical unless the code is read so also keep a telescope or camera and long-lens handy!!

 The first Dunlin (juvenile) colour-ringed by the group in what is hoped
 will become a major new project over the next few years.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

One good tern......

deserves another....

Last night David Tompkins and I had a netting session at Ynyslas to try and colour-ring a few more Sandwich Terns. This set of high tides has been a bit frustrating so far as the wind has ruled out the use of mist-nets and so we have been relying on dazzling, and terns don't dazzle!  Although there have been a few Sandwich Terns around they don't seem to be using the point as a roost and we failed to catch any on this set of tides. We did however catch two Common Terns and two Roseate Terns. These are only the fourth and fifth Roseates to be caught at Ynyslas. The previous three birds had all been ringed in the Republic of Ireland and it is almost certain that the juvenile we caught wearing a ring last night has been too. The adult it was with was unringed, and given the intensive ringing projects in operation in Ireland for this species I bet there aren't that many of them around.

A first for me was the capture of an adult Knot. It is not unusual to catch Knot in small numbers at Ynyslas at this time of year but they are invariably juvenile birds freshly arrived from their breeding grounds.

Over the set of tides we managed to ring a total of 247 Dunlin, 9 Ringed Plover, 6 Knot, 4 Oystercatcher, 2 Turnstone, 1 Greenshank, 1 Redshank, 1 Sanderling, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 2 Common Terns and 1 Roseate Tern (plus the control juvenile). Many thanks to David, Mark Cutts and Jane for their invaluable assistance.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The nights are drawing out

For the past two and a half months I have been pretty much nocturnal, or crepuscular at least. I am extremely fortunate that much of my paid fieldwork these days is directed towards one of my favourite birds, the Nightjar. These are truly fascinating birds. A friend once called them a bird designed by the Japanese because of all the special features! Massive mirror lens eyes (the Tapetum lucidum), a set of well-developed rictal bristle to direct moths into the extremely large gape, and even a comb on their toe to comb these bristles. Their main feature however is their amazing camouflage and an ability to nest almost completely undetected!! Despite lots of fieldwork, radio-tags, GPS geolocators and thermal imaging cameras I have managed to find a grand total of just 6 nests this year. The poor weather has been a major hinderance with activity levels well below normal but amazingly all 6 nests produced 2 chicks each. So far this year we have ringed a total of 49 Nightjars, including 12 chicks and retrapped at least a dozen birds ringed in previous years.

A Nightjar chick, capable of flight but still being fed by the adults.

At several of the breeding territories the first real proof that the birds were even attempting to nest was the appearance of fledged young, although, to be fair, these could have moved in from outside the study area. GPS tags have been fitted to 6 males this year and three of these have already been recovered. Each tag has shown a great amount of movement around the forest with the birds visiting a great range of clear-fells over the course of a few nights. One tag recorded over 1,200 GPS quality locations showing that the bird was covering most of the forest, far from the rigid territoriality that would be expected and helpful! A great example of the fact that the more information we gather the more questions it poses.

A juvenile Nightjar

Along with the tagging and nest recording, this year we have been collaborating in a large study looking at the genetics of Nightjars being conducted by a Hasselt University in Belgium. Birds caught for ringing and chicks in the nest have been buccal swabbed under licence from the BTO and these will be compared with birds caught elsewhere in this country and in Europe.

Buccal swabs air-drying before being sent off for DNA analysis at Hasselt University, Belgium

Much of the monitoring work being undertaken aims to investigate any possible effects of onshore wind farm development on Nightjar populations including the avoidance of active nests during the construction phase

The past fortnight or so has seen some lovely warm nights, great weather for Nightjarring, and it has allowed us to trap and ring a few juveniles and target a few of the birds still wearing GPS tags in the hope that we may still get the odd one back. Thankfully though, the Nightjar season (and the massive amount of driving it entails) is drawing to an end and there is a brief chance to get some quality sleep before the Golden Plovers and Woodcock return.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Messing about on the river

This time of year is always full of different ringing opportunities with so little time to do everything you'd like (sleep!) and even less time therefore to blog. As a result, and because I couldn't do a better job myself anyway, please find a link to one prepared earlier by my old mate Steve Parr following a recent weekend visit.

Goosander and Common Sandpiper ringing

Saturday, 6 August 2016

A Chicken Sandwich?

Last night saw the first successful Sandwich Tern catch of the year with 4 new birds colour-ringed - 2 adults and 2 juveniles. The second bird of the night was a great sponsorship opportunity missed, especially given the trade myself, Jacques and David Tompkins have given the Oswestry branch on our way to and from Nightjarring this summer!!

Also caught were 20 Dunlin, 3 Sanderling and 2 Ringed Plover. Bigger things to come on the next few sets of high tides hopefully but a great start to the autumn. On the previous set of tides  Jane and I had an unsuccessful attempt to catch Sandwich Terns but did manage a modest catch of 10 Dunlin, greatly improved by the fact that the first one out of the net was wearing a San Sebastian ring!! Had me going for a while as I thought that might have been in South America!!

Reports have been trickling in recently of colour-ringed Sandwich Terns caught at Ynyslas in previous seasons including KDB back from Namibia (seen and photographed at Dawlish Warren along with 3 other Ynyslas-ringed birds KAL, KAH and a BTO only by Lee Collins), KBB at Rhos Point, Caernarfon (seen and photographed by Rob Sandham) and KBC at Ainsdale on the Mersey (seen and photographed by Peter Kinsella). Many thanks to all for taking the time to report their sightings. All good evidence, if any should be needed, of the benefits of colour-rings over ordinary metal ones.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The grass isn't always greener

Spent the morning catching up on a bit of much-needed paperwork today but was being constantly distracted by a family party of at least six Green Woodpeckers in the field behind the house. Not able to resist the temptation for long I quickly set a net in the garden and played the Green Woodpecker tape. Within a few minutes I had caught three of the 4+ juveniles and an adult had got out of the net too. Not bad in this part of the world where Green Woodpeckers are a bit thin on the ground.

Desperately need to upgrade my iPhone, the camera on this one isn't the best!! Any special offers Apple? A juvenile Green Woodpecker, one of three caught in the garden this morning!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

It's a trap......!!!

Last night after struggling with weeks of far from ideal Nightjarring weather the heat was finally turned up and what a difference it made. Lucky mascot Dan Carrington (who has not yet been on an unsuccessful Nightjar session) and I caught an amazing SEVEN different adult birds comprising 6 males and a female.  We also checked on a nest with a point of fledge chick that will hopefully get ringed later today by Mike Shewring. Five of the birds were fitted with radio-tags for subsequent tracking and they were also mouth-swabbed as part of a BTO investigation into Nightjar DNA. As you can see there's not much difficulty in persuading a Nightjar to open its mouth for swabbing.

The only downside to the whole evening was that I somehow managed to let go of  the  first male we caught just after taking him out of the net so he didn't get ringed!  That  is  the  first and last time that's going to happen and a bloody good job it wasn't a trainee that did it.......!!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Wandering Whimbrel

I recently received an email with the photos below attached of Whimbrel D74 feeding in pasture fields at Dokkedal in Denmark on 11th July 2016. This is a great sighting and according to the BTO's online ringing reports it is only the fourth record of a BTO ringed Whimbrel in Denmark. It was originally ringed on spring passage on 30th April 2016 at Llanon, Ceredigion

Photos © Jens V. Vendelbo

Additionally, Dolly, one of the two Curlews we satellite-tagged at Dolydd Hafren, that was confirmed nesting on the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire (map shown in the last blog post), has now crossed the Irish Sea and is hanging around the Barrow Estuary near Waterford in Southern Ireland. Sadly Fran, the other bird, has not been heard of since Mid April and I'm afraid the tag has either failed or she is no longer with us.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Curlew catastrophe

During the spring Amanda Perkins, David Tompkins and I have been out talking to farmers and scouring the hills and fields of the Shropshire/Powys border looking for breeding Curlews as part of a 3 year HLF funded project run by the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme. 

Building on last year and assisted by an army of volunteer Curlew surveyors from the local Community Wildlife Groups, co-ordinated by Leo Smith, we managed to locate approximately 40 pairs of territorial Curlews. This information then helped guide us to find a total of 21 nests, almost twice as many as in 2015.

Most nests were located in hay or silage fields
 but some were in the more expected semi-improved or rough grassland

Most of these nests had surveillance cameras installed in an attempt to find out what was causing the nests to fail. Of the 21 nests located just three hatched a total of seven chicks and all seven chicks were known (or assumed) to be dead after less than a week. All seven chicks were fitted with small radio-tags whilst still in the nest. Two tags were recovered from under obvious perches indicating avian predation, one was recovered from under a hedge along with the metal leg-ring suggesting mammalian predation and one was the unfortunate victim of agricultural activity. Of the 18 failures at egg stage at least eight were due to foxes and at least three were due to badgers. One nest was trampled by sheep, another was trampled by cows and one nest was deserted, possible due to low and prolonged helicopter activity. The cause of failure at the remaining nests was not ascertained.

It is telling that at all three of the nests that hatched chicks we had installed electric fences, one from early on and two in the second half of incubation. It is our intention to fence far more nests next year in an attempt to increase the number of nests that progress to hatching. 

Three nests were protected by three-strand electric fences 
covering an area no less than 22m x 22m centred on the nest

It was a real ray of light in an otherwise frustrating and gloomy season that the farmers involved were so willing to engage with us in our attempts to monitor nests and to do what they could to help the Curlews succeed and our sincere thanks go to all of them.

Thanks to the agreement of the farmer the small area of un-cut grass in the middle of the field below the tractors held a Curlew nest that successfully hatched two chicks, although unfortunately both were subsequently predated.

To end on a slightly more positive note. During the spring another 40 odd Curlews were colour-ringed at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dolydd Hafren reserve. This brings the total ringed there in the last two years to 62. No fewer than eight of these birds were identified at local breeding sites, a brilliant result and something we hope to improve on in coming years. Two other Curlews, satellite tagged at Dolydd Hafren in March, were also tracked to breeding sites, one near Hay-on-Wye and the other on the Forest of Bowland!

The above map helped local RSPB Conservation advisor Gavin Thomas locate
 the nest of this satellite-tagged female from Dolydd Hafren

It is very pleasing that we still have a Curlew population locally, albeit very reduced, but if these breeding results are widespread, and there is absolutely no reason to suggest otherwise, then we may not have them for much longer. Curlews, being so long-lived, naturally have a low reproductive rate but they still need to get some young away each year!!

If you'd like to help please click here to donate to our Curlew appeal