Tuesday 31 January 2012

'hammering it!

Well, not exactly! The sudden onset of winter in these parts has at last concentrated some Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and finches around the sheep-feeders in the Clun Uplands, just over the border into Shropshire. This morning I thought I'd have a quick go at catching some at the same farm we caught a load at this time last year.  Freezing fog soon put pay to that idea, but not before I'd caught 4 Yellowhammers and a Chaffinch. OK, it isn't a lot but its 4 Yellowhammers more than I've seen in Wales so far this year!!

1st winter male

Adult female

Friday 27 January 2012

sweet knees

The past week of ringing woodcock has seen us all processing birds kneeling on very waterlogged fields. Youngsters won't be too bothered about getting these vital joints damp and cold but when you get over fifty like many of us it starts to hurt a little.

But all is not lost, I have discovered the sheer joys of neoprene knee warmers wear them over your trousers and they are quiet and warm.

You can get these online from any good motorcycle store. Not a fashion winner, but who's watching anyway?

Thursday 26 January 2012

Pulling the Older Birds

Having returned from a fabulous trip to New Zealand I was keen to get out on my woodcock site near Llanilar to find out how numbers had changed over the past three weeks.

On the night of Jan 24th I set out across horribly soggy fields reminding me that unlike down under we were still very much in the midst of winter. The woodcock were very jumpy but I did manage to catch 6, amazingly all were re-traps. Have I reached saturation level?

Four were retraps of birds caught earlier in the winter. However EP94241 was originally ringed by me on the site on 18/2/09 and EW93452 on 11/11/09 both were on the same fields I first caught them. As the years go by we are learning that there seems to be a high level of wintering site fidelity in woodcock.

Friday 20 January 2012

Getting Legless

Finally reached 50 last night, no not colour-ringed Golden Plovers, calendar years!! Have been dreading it so I "celebrated" by going out and getting Legless (along with 16 of his mates, 3 Woodcock and a Lapwing!).


 It was a particularly fitting way to roll-over the chronometer as, thanks to the filthy weather,  it ended up being a record catch for me as far as Golden Plover caught in a night.  It also boosted the total of colour-ringed GPs to 43!!

The one-legged bird seemed fit and healthy otherwise, with a good weight and good feather condition so yes, of course I did, after all it was the left leg that was missing! Anyway it will be particularly interesting to see how it fares.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Well Choughed and well Tachy!

OK that's it for Chough puns for a while!

Last night I headed on to Anglesey with Adrienne Stratford for one of our occasional (but regular) attempts to catch and colour-ring adult Choughs at their roost sites, joined on this occasion by a newly qualified, local, "C" ringer, Chris Bridge. Needless to say this is no easy operation and we often return empty-handed. Not so last night. with 3 first-year birds caught (1 ringed, 2 un-ringed). Amazingly, the ringed bird was one of very few Choughs that Chris had ringed with us, as a chick, on an earlier trip in May 2011!

Safely re-instated at the roost after ringing.

We know from all the years of data collected by the Cross & Stratford Welsh Chough Project that, whilst  few Choughs ringed as nestling will survive to breed (because of high natural mortality immediately post fledging), those birds ringed at the end of their first winter have a much greater chance of going on to be subsequently identified as breeding adults. These three born in 2011 should have their first crack at breeding in either 2013 or 2014 - fingers crossed!!

I'd earlier offered to give Chris a quick demonstration of how we catch birds by dazzling, so, after dropping Adrienne off, we quickly nipped down to a small tidal creek hoping for the odd wader or two. Alas not many waders present but we did catch 3 Little Grebes!!  Another convert to the power of the lamp I think!

More photos on Chris's blog http://traineebirdringing.blogspot.com/

How many more chances do I need???

Either I'm just really unlucky, or there's something that Tony and Arfon aren't telling me about catching Short-eared Owls!

While out at my site near Llanerfyl, trying to catch Woodcock and Golden Plover I stumbled across another Shortie (must have had 20+ sightings this winter while out dazzling!!) hunting along the top ridge of the field, unbelievably it flew straight down the beam! Just as I was about to 'pluck' it out of the air it veered off and never came back again, B#####KS!!

On the plus side, I did manage to catch 2 out of 2 Golden Plovers and 3 out of 7 Woodcock. Best catch up there for a long time.

Monday 16 January 2012

Back For Black

Just had a montage of photos from Janet Baxter, taken yesterday, that confirm that the ringed male Black Redstart on the Old College in Aberystwyth is the same bird that Paul and I caught there on the 5th December 2010 (the only Black Redstart ringed in Wales that year). It is very nice to be able to confirm that these infrequent winter visitors may return to the same wintering sites in subsequent years. Just need to find out where it's nesting now! Many thanks to Janet for use of the photo.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Get Shorty (II)

Blimey, I know there are Short-eared Owls everywhere at the moment but to catch a second this winter whilst lamping for Woodcock is unprecidented and maybe just a bit greedy! Earlier this evening this stunning bird came a little too close when investigating a not very realistic squeaking noise from a very large mouse (me!) and was neatly plucked from the sky with a long-handled net. It was a bit surprising to find him still at high altitude near Llanbadarn Fynydd though as it was pretty cold and frozen up there!

These still and frosty nights aren't really conducive to good wader catches and the only other bird caught was a single Fieldfare. Last night, in similar conditions, myself and Paddy Jenks managed to catch just 4 Woodcock out of the 32 seen at my site near Crychan.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Not overly choughed!

I'm doing some Chough surveys for the RSPB in south Ceredigion at the moment. Not only does this give an opportunity to collect data on Chough usage of the coastal SSSIs but its also a great opportunity to check birds for colour-rings, well it is if you can find some!  I walked a big chunk of the coast from Cardigan to Ynys Lochtyn today and only found seven. Of these one wasn't seen well enough to check for rings and five were un-ringed. The breeding female at Mwnt was the only bird positively identified. Whilst wondering where all the youngsters could be I got a call from Adrienne Stratford to say that two of the Ceredigion chicks I ringed last year had just been sighted at Pont Lyfni between Carnarfon and Nefyn on the North Wales coast, both movements of 76 and 80 kms. Well that two accounted for! Hopefully tomorrow will bring better luck.

By way of a consolation,  I did manage to catch three Woodcock, a Meadow Pipit and the first Dipper of the year on the way home.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Kites, counts and missing tags

This weekend saw the Welsh Kite Trust's second attempt at the Europe-wide co-ordinated winter census of Red Kites. Most other countries do their counts at communal roosts but since most of our kites roost in fairly small dispersed groups it is more realistic to have a co-ordinated count of all the main feeding stations. This time last winter, in a period of freezing weather, we managed a count of 1,189 - 1,326 birds. This year the mild weather meant that numbers attending the feeding stations were much lower and the total at the 6 main feeding stations was only 645 birds. The count at Nant-yr-Arian was due to thick fog rather than a near complete lack of birds! This serves to tell us only one thing, Welsh kites clearly aren't as dependent on feeding stations as some people fear!

Results as follows:

Gigrin Farm485-550250-300Tony Cross
Talsarn250-300200Liz & Brian Snell
Nant-yr-Arian1201Red Liford
Llanddeusant 5840John Roberts
Bow Street11592Mike Hayward
Crymych4542Paddy Jenks

Many thanks to all the observers who gave their time to undertake counts. The Welsh population is currently estimated at in excess of 3,000 birds so this winter's count represents only about 20% of the population. In future winters, counts will only be carried out during a period of prolonged cold weather.

Since tagging was re-started in Wales in 2002 we have wing-tagged over 2,000 young Red Kites - where the hell have they all gone?  I managed to read just 11 birds in two days at Gigrin Farm (including 1 Scottish bird), Mike Hayward did better at Bow Street with 14 tags read and John Roberts got two at Llanddeusant. Reading tags isn't easy as few birds ever land (a camera comes in dead handy if you can snap them at just the right moment). Clearly there were many more tagged birds present than we were able to read but despite the huge effort expended every summer most kites nowadays are un-tagged (I can hear the photographers rejoicing from here!)

Two of the few tagged kites identified at Gigrin today - nothing exciting, both 2011 chicks from local nests! 

Wednesday 4 January 2012

New Year, New Project

The first of many, hopefully!

After what seemed like an eternity trying to sort the necessary permission, at 4 am this morning Paul and I finally got started on a new project colour-ringing Golden Plovers in Shropshire and Mid-Wales, with the first 5 birds colour-marked. Between us, we have now ringed over 150 this winter, an amazing achievement given that the GB & Ireland ringing total for the past 10 years has averaged at less than 100!

Golden Plover is listed in the Section 42 list of “Species of Principle Importance for the Conservation of Biological Diversity in Wales” under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.  A small and declining breeding population of Golden Plover is present in the Elenydd SSSI west of Rhayader and is being gradually enclosed with windfarm development on all sides. In addition, in October each year, returning birds from more northerly populations head for the upland plateaux of the wider Cambrian Mountains. Here they spend the day-time in rough pastures, dispersing onto more improved farmland during the night-time to forage for earthworms. Many of the traditional haunts have been identified as potential wind-farm sites and indeed several already have operating wind-farms in situ. Little is known about the potential effect on Golden Plovers of direct collision with turbine blades or the effect of displacement from preferred roosting and feeding sites through avoidance. All Environmental Impact Assessments, on potential windfarm sites, require consultants to undertake surveys for a range of species, with the Golden Plover high on the list because of its Section 42 listing. The number of Golden Plovers using a site pre-construction should be available for all windfarms. The number of birds using a site post construction should also be available through post-construction monitoring agreements. These figures however will not allow any assessment of whether any measured reduction in numbers is through increased mortality through collision, or caused by site abandonment through avoidance of operational turbines.

If we can colour-ring a significant number of birds within the general area then valid statistical evaluations may be available regarding return rates pre and post construction at wind-farm sites and these could be compared to return rates at control sites. Golden Plovers are relatively approachable in a vehicle and tend to walk around in relatively short vegetation where colour-rings would be relatively readable with a telescope.

Colour-ringing may also yield data on where these birds originate from and where they go to in colder weather when they abandon the upland plateaux. If the small and declining breeding population is involved then any mortality through turbine collisions is of increased significance. To-date, two foreign ringed birds have been caught, one originally ringed in the Netherlands and the other in Belgium. These two movements suggest the majority of birds may be of continental origin, which is not surprising given the small size of the British population.

It is proposed that as many Golden Plovers as possible will be caught and colour-ringed at a series of windfarm sites, both in planning and operational, and also at a range of control sites where no development is planned. Trapping and ringing will be supported by daytime observations to count birds and read leg-rings. Hopefully this data will serve to highlight any potential problem areas or alternatively to alleviate concern.

Records of more distant movements will be heavily reliant on the reports of casual observers so please keep your eyes peeled!

Sunday 1 January 2012

Not a bad first bird to start the year....

I was up early this morning hoping to get the new years ringing off to a good start. Unfortunately I only caught one bird, but luckily for me it was a Jack Snipe. Amazingly it's my 8th of the winter and 4th at this site near Llanerfyl!!