Friday 30 September 2011

Chough-ing Heaven!

Yesterday, fresh from a birding trip to Kazakhstan, Adrienne Stratford, with whom I share the Chough RAS, headed straight out to Conwy Mountain to follow-up a report of a large flock of Choughs and to check for colour-ringed birds. Sure enough she soon located a flock of at least 47 Choughs and managed eventually to read the colour-ring combinations on 29 of them!  21 were birds of the year (which hopefully signals a good all-round survival rate this year), 5 were hatched in 2010 and 3 were known breeding adults. 6 had come from the nearby Ormes (Great and Little) either side of Llandudno, 5 from the Penmaenmawr Quarries, 5 from the North Anglesey Coast, 4 from the Lleyn, 2 from Bardsey, 1 from Snowdonia and 1 from Blaenau Ffestiniog - a real mix of origins. Not satisfied with this she then visited the nearby Aber Valley and had another flock of 16 birds (9 more colour-ringed) including 1 local, 3 from the Ormes, 1 from N. Anglesey, 2 from Snowdonia, 1 from Blaenau Ffestiniog and 1 from Bardsey. All but a few were reportable controls having travelled more than 5 kms, with a couple having travelled over 80 kms - who said Choughs were sedentary?  Well done Adrienne, an amazing effort!

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Not a lot, nothing, blimey!!!

Had a quick trip to Ynyslas last night with Matt Potter and Jane.  Expectations were high, dark moon, good tides, autumn  - had everything going for it!  Disappointingly there were hardly any waders present! A great shame as the catching confirmed the ideal conditions with most of what was seen ending up in the landing-net, namely, 10 Dunlin and 4 Ringed Plovers.

An early morning Ouzel catching attempt followed for Jane and myself. Unfortunately, the Ouzels proved even more elusive than the waders. Two were seen, briefly, but neither in the right place (top, bottom or middle shelf!)

Wounded by the lack of success we headed off to a small watering-hole in a nearby bit of private forestry where I've been ringing a few Crossbills recently. On arrival the trees were absolutely buzzing with Siskins and as I rushed to put up the single 20ft NR net over the pool a juvenile crossbill flew into a tree about 5ft from my head. This looks very promising!  Just a couple of net rounds later the total catch stood at 73 Siskins, 30 Lesser Redpolls, 5 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tits and a Chiffchaff. Amazing! Who knows what the total might have been if I hadn't had to give up and go to work (yes, I do - occasionally!)

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Going with the flow

Last night myself and Vince checked the remaining 22 bridges in our main Dipper study area in South Shropshire/Powys/Hereford, this time on the River Onny. Numbers of birds found in the lower reaches were reasonably good but as we got into the upper reaches the birds tailed off considerably. One bird which had been colour-ringed as a breeding male at one of the upper-reaches bridges was re-trapped 8 km downstream. Two things were very noticeable. 1. I've never seen the rivers this low before, at any time of the year and 2. There are many fewer young birds present this autumn.

In 2010, 109 roost sites were counted and 147 Dippers found. In 2011 a total of 118 sites were checked and only 122 Dippers found including 9 birds at new bridges not counted in 2010 (a reduction of approx 25%). Hopefully some of the other missing birds have gone off downstream too, where the water flow is a bit higher (well, actually flowing!!).

Saturday 24 September 2011

Ringing Ouzels

Another quick trip up into the hills this morning with Paul to try and catch Ring Ouzels at the site near Rhayader where we caught a few last year. Unfortunately the local breeding population appears to have disappeared completely over the last 10 - 15 years but they still come through on passage in good numbers about now, feeding-up on Rowan berries.  Steve Jones had seen 7 there the other morning. It was a bit windy and there weren't many birds around (2 or 3) but whilst I was busy catching-up on a bit of much-needed sleep Paul got to take this cracker out of the net!

Photos (c) Paul Leafe

I'm off to Morocco in December, on one of three trips being organised by Mick Green and part-funded by our Ecological Consultancy,  Ecology Matters,  to count and hopefully colour-ring Ring Ouzels wintering in the Atlas Mountains. It would be absolutely amazing to catch one of the birds ringed at this site over there!

Catching up with old friends

Yesterday after a failed early morning attempt to catch Ring Ouzels (more later) I headed off to Newtown to meet Jane for all-day swan-catching. Every September for the last 20 or so years I've walked the Montgomery Canal from Newtown to Ellesmere trying to catch and colour-ring all the breeding adults and cygnets present. Many of the breeding birds are old friends and one of the downsides of the job is finding that one of them has died and been replaced.

We managed to cover the section from Newtown to Belan Locks, found six pairs, ringed 19 cygnets and 2 adults and read the ring numbers of the other 10 adults. Broods were 1 x 1, 1 x 2, 2 x 3, 1 x 4 and 7 out of a brood of 11 (unfortunately the other 4 had flown off the previous day!).  Amazingly  I managed to stay completely dry right up until the last bird when circumstances dictated that I get in the canal after it! Will be doing the rest of the canal next week if anyone fancies coming for a swim?

I originally ringed TZ7 as a cygnet in Telford in Sept 1993. She has nested on the Montgomery Canal near Newtown every year since 1997 and reared over 50 cygnets.

Not satisfied with the day's activities we later met up with Vince and went Dippering on the Onny until 4.30 am!  Another 27 dippers caught and colour-ringed though.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Ringed Chough at Mwnt

Posted on the Ceredigion Birds Blog yesterday.


In the drizzle at Mwnt 2 chough (one ringed), and a male kestrel (Photo removed) looked how I felt.

Hi Janet,

thanks for the above. As you know ALL colour-ring records are gratefully received.

Details for the ringed bird are as follows;

Ringed as a female chick (brood of 4) at Cwm Tydu on  25/05/2006 (Tony Cross)
Seen 16/05/2007 Ynys Lochtyn in group of 14  (TC)
Seen 17/04/08 at Mwnt, replacing last year's unringed female at this nest site. Male unringed. 
Failed by 31/05/2008 (TC). Bred 17 kms from natal site.
Seen 11/05/09 at Mwnt, breeding with unringed male. 2 chicks ringed. (TC)
Seen 23/05/10 at Mwnt, breeding with unringed male. 1 chick ringed. (TC)
Seen 17/05/11 at Mwnt, breeding with unringed male, 3 chicks ringed. (TC & Paddy Jenks)
Photographed 26/06/11 at Mwnt (Janet Baxter)
Photographed 16/08/11 at Mwnt (Janet Baxter)
Photographed 21/09/11 at Mwnt (Janet Baxter)

As for the unringed one,  I'm afraid we don't know where he came from or how old he is.

Missing Dippers

No, not a comment on my catching technique (although it has been known on rare occassions!). Last night whilst Paul was larking around at Llanerfyl, myself and Lloyd went dippering on the Redlake. Despite its name the Redlake is actually a small river sandwiched between the Clun and the Teme. It rises in the South Shropshire Hills just south of Newcastle-on-Clun and flows down into the Teme near Leintwardine.  It is usually crammed-full of dippers. There were at least 10 breeding pairs earlier this year and we ringed 36 chicks from 10 successful nests.

We started off checking some new boxes Lloyd had erected during the spring on the very upper reaches of the river. Nothing, but this wasn't too surprising as the river is very low at the moment, especially up that high. As we worked our way down the river, alarm bells started to ring. Bridge after bridge where I would have expected to find birds was empty. By the time we had finished we had caught just 4 out of a total of 5 seen. Two of these were at a new site Lloyd found earlier, in the roots of an overhanging tree, which I'd never checked before. A normal number for the same stretch (but at fewer sites) would have been about 12 - 15!  I will contact the Environment Agency later to see if they are aware of any pollution incidents and to alert them to a potential problem.

At the last but one bridge (empty again!) as we stood on the bank peering down into the water at a large 2lb-ish trout in the torch beam, a dark shape suddenly loomed out of the depths, grabbed hold of the fish and carried it to the surface just 4 ft below us!!  "Pike!  No hang on,  Otter!!   That lifted the spirits a bit. No photos I'm afraid.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Skys the limit.......

The sky certainly was the limit this evening, sadly in the shape of one Skylark!

I took a trip up to one of my 'Woodcock sites' near Llanerfyl this evening to see if any Golden Plovers had returned (last year 60+ were present through October to early December). Sadly none have arrived as yet, but I did see 15-20 snipe (2 of which I tickled with the net arghhh!!) and 1 Skylark which I did manage to catch.

Last autumn/winter this site proved to be very productive, with catches of:

Golden Plover - 13
Lapwing - 1
Woodcock - 4 (+1)
Snipe - 4
Jack Snipe - 1
Skylark - 2
Fieldfare - 4
Redwing - 2

Lets hope for another productive season.

Black-headed Gull E6KS

The data from the Black-headed Gull with a white colour ring on that I saw at Aberaeron harbour on the 9th of this month.

It was ringed on 14th July 2010 as a 3rd calendar year male (6M) at Harlingen, Netherlands 53o 11' N 5o 25' E, then seen on 26th August 2010 at Aberaeron by Gerard van Gool and then by myself on 9th September 2011 again at Aberaeron!

It is currently 660km west of it's original place of capture!

Monday 19 September 2011

Another all-night Dipper sesh!

Last night Vince, Jane and I tackled the bridges of the River Clun for more Dippers - as per the last post.

Results in brief, as follows;

Bridges checked 41
Dippers found 44
Dippers caught 37 (28 adults and 9 juvs)
New birds 9 (4 adults and 5 juvs)
New colour-marked birds 29
Retraps from previous years 22
Retraps from earlier this year 6 (2 adults and 4 nestlings)
Groin injuries sustained 0!

 Look no hands!   Last dipper photo for a while.
This bird is an adult male, note the chestnut tinge to the eye and the lack of white tips on the primary and greater coverts.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Checking Bridges

Every September/October I try to check each of over 100 known Dipper roost sites around Shropshire and Mid Wales for roosting birds. Last night was the first checking bridges on our main study site on the catchments of the Rivers Teme, Clun and Onny, on the Shropshire/Powys/Herefordshire border. I met up with Lloyd at 8.30pm in Knighton and the aim was to check all the bridges on the River Teme above Leintwardine. We finally jacked it in at 4.00am having achieved the target, 19 bridges in all!

Each bridge is checked carefully for roosting birds, usually on ledges, but they can be hidden away in old nests, cracks or drainpipes. A record is made of the total number of birds present (normally only one or two but I have had up to 11 birds under one bridge!) I've been doing these annual roost counts at many of the sites since the mid 1980s and they're proving to be a very useful population indicator. In addition to the count, we obviously try to catch all birds for ringing. Last night a total of 26 birds were found and 24 were caught, not 100% I'll grant you but not a bad result in anyones books!  Retraps and controls usually form a high proportion of all those birds caught and last night was no exception. Of the 24 caught, 7 were new (1 adult and 6 juvs), 14 were retraps from previous years and 3 were retraps of birds ringed as nestlings earlier this year. Our colour-ringing project also  took a major leap forward. As we only started fitting colour-rings in April this year, and don't colour-ring nestlings, only 2 of the birds were already marked so 22 new colour-marked Dippers resulted from the night's activities.

All in all a brilliant start, well, up until the moment my foot slipped off a wet metal rail just as I was straddling the side of a bridge - I suddenly became half my normal height, wet around the eyes and very vocal!

Saturday 17 September 2011

Dippers, very nearly!

Yesterday I had a call from a visiting C-ringer, Brenda Cook, who wanted to come along and see some dazzling in action (double took to start with as I didn't hear the "in"!).  Always happy for an excuse to try catching more waders, and going on the weather forecast predicting heavy rain, I agreed to meet Brenda and Jane at 9.15pm. After several hours spent walking the wind swept, seaweed strewn and largely birdless beaches of Ynyslas, Llanon and Aberaeron we had caught a total of just 3 Ringed Plover, 2 Turnstone and 1 Dunlin. From the very small number of birds we saw you would be hard-pushed to imagine that it was just past the peak autumn migration period! Must be sheltering up the estuary somewhere.

Brenda with a juvenile Ringed Plover

As we were there, I also took the opportunity to check a couple of roost bridges in Llanrhystud for Dippers. Dippers are one of our RAS species and, at the request of the BTO,  I have recently started individually colour-ringing them. Caught 2 out of 4 and one of the others was identified from its colour-ring before it flew.  Click the link to the Teme Catchment Dipper Report for more info on our Dipper studies.

1st year female Dipper, note the white tips to greater coverts and the dull brown eye

Friday 16 September 2011

Egrets, I've had a few...

Two of this year's Little Egret chicks, from the colony near Bangor in North Wales, have just been reported as seen at RSPB's Leighton Moss Reserve in Lancashire on 21st July. Both were ringed as nestlings on 5th June so didn't waste much time leaving home. Last year chicks from the colony were resighted in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and all around North England. One even made it as far as Tenerife, the longest recorded movement by a British-ringed Little Egret so far.
Thanks to Cliff of for the above photo and Jane for the title!

Thursday 15 September 2011

Out of Petrel

After a quick visit to Ynyslas last night where we caught 7 dunlin and 2 ringed plover (including a re-trap from a fortnight ago) myself and Jane thought we'd have a quick try at tape-luring petrels from the cliffs south of Aberystwyth - not the ideal location as it is about as far into Cardigan Bay as it is possible to get but hey, nothing ventured and the winds have been blowing lots of seabirds close inshore recently. Paul had optimistically produced us a major petrel mix, bit of stormy, bit of Leach's, even the odd Wilson's call thrown in (as I said, ever optimistic!). Conditions were not ideal, bright and with an onshore breeze. Optimism dwindled after a remarkably short period of no response - well it had been a long day! Might try again this weekend if the wind continues to ease.

The target bird on a more productive night in June!

Rather than return empty-handed we had a quick go at tape-luring the resident Little Owls (an increasingly uncommon bird in this part of the world). Soon after setting the net and starting the tape a response was clearly heard coming from the ruined farmhouse and within minutes a male Little Owl was perched on the top of the wall staring down at the net, trying to locate the intruder. After a short while, the need to get a closer look at the very noisy incomer, saw the owl drop straight into the net. It must have read the manual!

Jane getting to grips with a Little Owl

- that had a very laid-back approach to being handled.

Back the right way up for release, although now a little blurred!!

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Better late than never

Last Friday (9th September) I met up with Gareth Owen at a new (to me) Barn Owl site near Aberystwyth where he was convinced there were still young in the nest. Sure enough on entering the barn the tell-tale hissing could be clearly heard. A landing net over the hole duly caught one of the previously unringed adults whilst the other made its escape very soon after. The box contained four chicks about 4 weeks old.
Later in the afternoon I met up with Paul and we checked another five sites in Ceredigion which I thought may still have nesting activity (either known to be late or had already had an early first brood away). Two sites, both near Tregaron, had four chicks each and we managed to catch an adult roosting in the fireplace at another. These late nests have helped to boost the unusually low productivity from these long-established sites many of which, thanks to the unusually hard winter, were empty for the first time in a long while.

Quick shot taken inside box with mobile phone on 8th July. Four large young were ringed at this nest on 9th September.

Friday 9 September 2011

Colour ringing makes it easy(er)...

Thankfully to colour-ring ringers (whether it be a numbered colour ring, a colour ring combination or wing tags) you don't have to be a ringer to do your bit for the BTO with regards to bird recoveries.

This Black-headed Gull was seen in the harbour at Aberaeron today, happily taking fish and chips from the floor infront of me.

I have submitted the ring details to and will post an update when I receive any information on the bird.