Friday 1 September 2023

Fortunate Photos Facilitate Following Falcons' Fortunes

Working so closely with the Welsh Kite Trust it is inevitable that MWRG focuses heavily on the study of birds of prey  - particularly falcons as they seem to be fairing less favourably than their fork-tailed cousins. The group have installed and monitor well over 50 Kestrel nest boxes with some success and an indication that the safer nest sites are resulting in increased nest success and greater productivity. Every year we colour-ring a sample of local Peregrine, Kestrel and Hobby nests and have been working on Merlins too although the state of this species in Mid-Wales is so dire now that we rarely get chance to colour-ring any. The last nest we ringed, in 2022, was sadly predated by a fox a week after we ringed them and we were unjustly held accountable by some. The colour-ringing has greatly increased the information gathered on the survival and dispersal of the young but reporting rates are still low. Recently we received a trio of photographs that helped in the data gathering.

Firstly a Peregrine photographed by stunned bird-watchers on a pelagic trip off Newquay, Ceredigion as it caught and carried off the first Wilson's Petrel ever recorded in the County was clearly seen to be wearing an Orange ring VSH. This bird had been ringed as a chick (male) at an inland nest site in South Shropshire the previous year. We have recently had Peregrines from our area recovered or sighted in Carnarfonshire, Cheshire, Buckinghamshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire and Lothian. 

NB. For Ceredigion birders missing out on a lifer and seeking revenge please note that the bird's DNA profile is held in the Nation Wildlife Crime Database as it was sampled, along with all the other Peregrine chicks we ring to aid any subsequent investigations into illegally acquired or killed birds.

Secondly a Hobby ringed as a chick in a nest near Newtown was caught on a camera-trap at RSPB's lake Vyrnwy Reserve on 26th July 2023 (thanks to Sam Sharpe for reporting).

Finally, a young Kestrel, ringed in a nestbox just south of Aberystwyth in June this year was photographed by local bird and wildlife enthusiast Shane Jones on 28th August. It had only travelled a few miles down the coast but still great to record that it was alive and doing well. We have previously had colour-ringed Kestrels reported from North Scotland, France and Spain so they don't all stay at home. Many thanks to Shane for allowing us to use his excellent photo.

Monday 20 February 2023

Costly menu!

Yesterday Adrienne Stratford, Jack Slattery and I replaced or installed a couple of new Chough nest-boxes in North Ceredigion. The first site, between Borth and Aberystwyth, which was used successfully in 2022 (rearing a brood of 4 chicks) was considerably the worse for wear with the top completely collapsed in. Not surprising though as I originally installed this with Mick Green back in the early 1990s! If it lasts anywhere near as long as the first one it certainly won't be me replacing it next time!

Unfortunately the local Peregrines have expensive tastes. No starlings or pigeons for them - Chough, Woodcock and Golden Plover seemed to be on the menu sadly - almost considered it personal!  Annoyingly, whilst leaving enough evidence of the wildlife crime they had perpetrated the Peregrines removed any evidence of whom the victims might have been (no legs/no rings). Hopefully the unfortunate Chough concerned was a yearling and not one of the breeding pair 🤞

Chough nestbox installed at a new site near Aberystwyth where a pair had attempted to breed, unsuccessfully, in 2022. Hopefully the addition of a much more secure and sheltered nest location will ensure success in 2023 and beyond.

Tuesday 2 August 2022

Danish Nightjar details

I have just received the original ringing details of the Danish-ringed Nightjar that I controlled in North Wales. It was ringed as a juvenile on 21st August 2021 at Glæde, ThistedViborg, Denmark.

Given the age at ringing and the date of ringing there is still some uncertainty about the provenance of this individual. In many species of bird juveniles often make exploratory movements away from their natal area before heading south on migration. This bird could have been a bird reared in Denmark that has subsequently nested in Wales or perhaps more likely it could also have been a British-bred bird that dispersed north (or even got blown north whilst on migration) before correcting itself and heading south to its winter quarters.

Normally we would be left not knowing which scenario was correct but in this instance we may have an ace in the hole that could give us more clarity. Over that past few seasons, as assistance to George Day (a PhD student at York University working on European Nightjar breeding systems) I have DNA sampled a large proportion of the birds breeding and reared on the wind farm monitoring site at Clocaenog. I also managed to collect a shed feather from the Danish-ringed bird. It may therefore be possible to compare the DNA profiles and see how likely it is that the bird was from the local Welsh population or whether it was sufficiently different to imply a more distant origin.

Male Nightjar on day roost

Saturday 2 July 2022

A nocturnal surprise!

When I was a newly qualified 'C' ringer living in Shropshire in 1980  I dreamed of catching a Nightjar. One night, at a local forestry plantation near Pontesbury I even, unexpectedly, had one flying around the nets we had set for general warbler netting. Despite placing a white birdbag in the bottom shelf of every net and even tying moths into the mesh we didn't catch it and it was clearly just passing through as it was never seen again. It was however a very notable sighting for Shropshire at the time. Fast forward 42 years and part of my work is now on Nightjar surveying for wind farm developments. Despite having personally ringed a total of 619 Nightjars (nearly all in Wales) and also retrapped at least 265 individuals I still get a massive buzz every time I catch one. That adrenalin rush was however amplified to an unbelievable level the other night when I extracted a ringed Nightjar from the net and realised immediately that the ring wasn't a BTO ring!

After an agonising search of the car for my glasses I read the word DENMARK! WHAT!!! A Danish-ringed Nightjar (or should that be Natravnen?) clearly breeding in a forestry plantation in North Wales! What on earth is going on there? I now have an equally agonising wait to hear where and when this bird was ringed. Was it ringed on autumn passage so possibly a lost UK bred bird? Was it ringed as a chick? Or was it possibly even ringed by Danish ringers on an expedition to Africa? At least things are a bit quicker these days, when I used to ring Starlings as a student in Aberystwyth we sometimes had to wait five years or more to get the original ringing details back from behind the Iron Curtain! I will of course share the results of this amazing capture as soon as I get them. This is only the fourth foreign-ringed Nightjar ever recovered in Great Britain and the first recorded movement between Denmark and GB. Who says we don't have anything left to discover through traditional ringing methods?


Monday 8 November 2021

European Curlew Connections

Well we might have ill-advisedly severed our close connections to Europe but our Curlews seem not to have done the same.

Three recent sightings have highlighted, once again, the vital need for cross-border conservation initiatives when dealing with species such as the Curlew. It is well-known that our breeding population is supplemented each winter by large numbers of birds seeking refuge from colder climes in Scandinavia, Poland, Germany, Russia and elsewhere in Northern Europe. It is less well known that, whilst most just move to southern Britain or Ireland for the winter, some of our breeding birds also move to warmer countries a bit further south. 

Yellow FW, a bird that regularly winters at Petit Port, Jersey has now returned for the 5th winter in succession.Yellow ZB a breeding male from the Shropshire part of the Curlew Country area was reported in Northern France in July (see earlier post Curlew là là) and now Yellow XC, an adult female ringed at a newly created wader scrape in the Curlew Country area, has been photographed near Santander - no not the one in Welshpool High Street, the one in Northern Spain! According to the BTOs current Online Ringing and Recovery Reports BTO online-ringing-reports this is only the fifth reported record of a British-ringed Curlew in Spain.

Curlew XC photographed by Ernesto Villodas on the Santoña marshes in Northern Spain

Thursday 30 September 2021

Pushing boundaries

Since the formation of the Mid Wales Ringing Group (and the start of the Dunlin colour-ringing project) in 2016 we have individually colour-marked over 6,000 Dunlin. The colour-marking has massively improved the recovery rate of our marked Dunlin and so far we have had over 450 sightings from a wide geographical area. Two recent sightings though have greatly extended the boundary of the area that Ynyslas Dunlin are know to either come from or go to. Olivier Gilg recently informed us of the sighting of LP0, a Dunlin ringed by Paul and Silvia on 23rd August 2020, seen on territory in NE Greenland (where it was being attacked by a breeding Sabine's Gull!).  


Ynyslas Dunlin on breeding ground in NE Greenland image © M.-A. Forin-Wiart/GREA

We also recently heard from Arnold Kristjuhan informing us of a sighting of NH5 (a bird ringed by me on 18th October 2020 in front of the Pillbox on the Dyfi salt marsh whilst trying to catch Curlews for the ECHOES project at Tareste, Hiiumaa, Estonia. These two records greatly extend the northern and eastern limits for our Dunlin recoveries so far. The furthest south an Ynyslas Dunlin has so far been recorded is at Pirang Shrimp Farm in the Gambia.

Of the 450+ sightings submitted so far, foreign movements of Dunlin to or from Ynyslas have included Greenland (3), Iceland (4), Faero Islands (1), Norway (3), Sweden (5), Finland (2), Estonia (1), Denmark (4), Germany (4), Poland (2), Republic of Ireland (23), The Netherlands (5), France (30), Switzerland (1), Spain (62), Portugal (15), Canary Islands (2), Morocco (2), Mauritania (124), Senegal (1) and The Gambia (1)

 (NB these totals may contain more than one sighting of the same individual)

So next time you see a flock of Dunlin, and rapidly ignore them in search of something more exciting, take a moment to think that in the summer some of those birds may have spent their time dodging Sabine's Gulls, Arctic foxes and even Polar Bears and may be heading off to spend the winter dodging Black Kites, Jackals and Crocodiles, it's amazing really that there are still so many of them!

Friday 24 September 2021

New Colour-ring Reporter App


Thanks to the IT skills of Stephen Vickers we now have an automated colour-ring reporter app. If you click the link on the top right of the website you will see the above screen and there you can input your sightings of any of our colour-ringed birds. The app will then generate an immediate output detailing the ringing information and any subsequent re-sightings. I hope you like this exciting new development and that this may encourage a few more birders to submit their colour-ring sightings directly (in return for instant gratification!).

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Where do you think you're going?

Photo by Alex Jamieson

An email popped into my inbox today with details of a sighting of a young Kestrel, ringed earlier this year in one of Red Liford's nest boxes near Lledrod in Ceredigion. Given the location and the distance of the sighting I was a bit sceptical that the report was correct but, if it was, wanted to post something on the blog. I sent the finder an email to see if they had any photos of the bird and thankfully, not only did they have photos but several (not posted here) confirmed, without any doubt, that the bird in question was one that we had ringed and was not one from another scheme with similar rings. It was photographed (looking very sorry for itself) in heavy rain on Rattray Lighthouse in Aberdeenshire, just over 600km NNE of where it had hatched!

We get disappointingly few records of our ringed Kestrels but since colour-ringing started we have had recoveries from West Yorkshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Gloucester, Wiltshire, Suffolk and even Spain. This current movement to North Scotland is totally unexpected and unprecedented. 

I really hope the bird in question survives and in a way I hope it doesn't attempt the return journey, at least not until we get some better weather next year.

Monday 30 August 2021

Curlew chick releases

For the past few years I have been working for Curlew Country on the Shropshire/Powys border trying to help maintain the small, remnant, lowland Curlew population there. In the initial years our attention was spent trying to collect information on what exactly were the problems and how we might alleviate them. Quite rapidly it became apparent that the problems were major and that drastic action was needed. In 2017 we pioneered Curlew headstarting, taking eggs from nests with low probability of success, and rearing chicks in captivity to the point of fledge and then releasing into suitable natural habitat. This year, after an enforced break in 2020 due to Covid, we released another 33 young Curlews, making a total of nearly 100 since we began. The link below shows some moving images of the release of the second batch of chicks in 2021 

Hopefully some of these birds will return to breed and help keep the iconic bubbling song of the curlew a feature of the Welsh Marches. Please keep yours eyes peeled for colour-rings on any Curlew you may see anywhere and report, it may even be one of those shown in this video!

Friday 13 August 2021

First and Fortunate 2

Over the last 20 odd years records of Hobby in summer have increased in Ceredigion. Tregaron Bog and Borth Bog have been favoured sites as the birds hunt the plentiful supplies of dragonflies. More random sightings in farmland have hinted at breeding birds becoming established and breeding was confirmed for the first time in the county just a few years ago. 

A couple of days back, I was contacted by a friend and ex 'C' ringer of mine to say he had a pair of Hobby nesting not far from his house and did I have a schedule 1 licence to ring them? Well, fortunately, I do, so yesterday, having obtained the landowner's permission Silvia and I went over to check the nest and see if it was safely accessible. 

The birds were breeding about 30ft up in an old Carrion Crow's nest in a hedgerow oak, still well within my rapidly diminishing capabilities!  A few throws of the rope and 10 minutes later the chicks were safely on the ground but for one of them the visit was quite literally life-saving. The younger male chick had managed to get his leg badly entangled in the veritable spider's web of baler twine that the crow's had brought in as nest lining. 

His foot was quite swollen and the leg itself a bit 'pinched' but once the twine had been cut away it rapidly improved with the swelling disappearing almost instantly and the foot becoming a bit more normal in colour. 

Without our intervention this chick would have died a slow and miserable death as the adults would eventually have been forced to abandon it and it would have starved, unable to leave the nest. As it is it appears that being restricted in movement has led to him developing less quickly than his female brood-mate.

As far as I am aware these are the first two Hobby pulli ever ringed in Ceredigion and they may be only the second and third Hobby ever ringed in the county. We were fortunate enough to catch one "accidentally" on Both Bog a few years ago as it pursued a Cuckoo across the reedbed.

Both chicks were colour-ringed so we look forward to receiving sightings of them in the future, hopefully settling locally and expanding our breeding population of this stunning little falcon.