Thursday 29 March 2012

Big Dipper, little Dippers

Last evening on my way up to Lancashire on work I met up with Lloyd on the River Teme and we had a quick few hours checking some of the Dipper nests in our RAS scheme (well I needed to make the most of the fuel I had panic bought earlier!). Fourteen chicks from three broods were ringed (1 x 4 and 2 x 5) and we also mist-netted an un-ringed female. Trying to read the rings on females still incubating eggs proved a bit tricky as they usually just disappeared off downstream and were reluctant to return whilst an observer was near. We did manage to read the rings on 3 of the adults with young though and things should get much easier as the chicks get nearer fledging and the adults become bolder in their defence. The next few weeks should see loads more broods ringed but it will be very time-consuming if I have to go around them all on a bike - where did I put those Jerry cans?

That'll be a female then! Surely that would let in water?

First brood of Dippers for the year - spot on the right age for ringing at approx 8 days old

We don't colour-ring our pulli Dippers as so few make it through to breed the following spring. Colour-rings are added to any birds subsequently caught breeding or during autumn roost visits.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Poland stop over

Both woodcock tagged by the Woodcock Network are now in Poland, Rebecca who was tagged near Llandovery, having spent a week near to a coal mine near Leipzig, has now moved on to North East Poland. Aderyn, tagged near Llanilar, is still near to the hamlet of Skulty in Northern Poland, probably resting up and feeding ready for the next phase of the journey.

Colour-ringed Hawfinch and 1st pullus of the year!

Paul and I had another go at the Hawfinch feeding site yesterday morning. Don't want to jinx it but the weather was a bit too good! Bright sun on the nets made them visible and meant the birds were a bit reluctant to come down even though there were at least 20 - 30 in the area. We did manage to catch 7 including 5 new birds, one of which was a very heavy continental bird with large amounts of fat deposited ready for the return journey. Paul spent most of the morning crammed into a makeshift hide trying to photograph colour-ringed birds and added another three "re-sightings" including these two that were caught together on several occasions last year so are obviously a local pair.

We also ringed the first pullus of the year, a single Crossbill chick! Think looks improve with age! What a load of sh...!!

Monday 26 March 2012

How long does it take to put up a couple of nest boxes?

Yesterday with the help of Adrienne Stratford and Andy Young an eight-hour operation was mounted to site two new Chough nest boxes on the cliffs south of Aberystwyth. Thanks to the generosity of Peter Davis and with the agreement of Emily Foot at the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust, the boxes were funded by profits from the sale of the late Hywel Roderick's and Peter's book "The Birds of Ceredigion".  I know Hywel would have thought this very fitting as Choughs featured very high on his list of favourite birds and these cliffs were where he first showed me of the nest-sites he knew back in the early 1990's at the start of the Cross & Stratford Welsh Chough Project's 21 year colour-ringing scheme. 

Nestboxes are a big aid to the Chough population on these cliffs as the rock is very loose and crumbly and natural sites tend not to last too long. Carefully sited boxes can last 20 years or more and be more productive than natural nest-sites. Nearly half of all the Choughs nesting in Ceredigion now nest in purpose built nest-boxes. The two we erected yesterday were made with recycled plastic "EcoSheet" from Second Life Products Wales Ltd at Birch Farm in the Swansea Valley. They have since kindly agreed to donated several more sheets to the cause so more boxes will be constructed and erected when suitable sites have been identified.

Thanks are definitely due to Mr. & Mrs. Lewis for the loan of the quad - humping all that gear up and down from the farm would have been an absolute nightmare!

First pick a suitable spot and prepare the ground

Cement box to cliff

Wait a few years for Choughs to find it! Once in regular use though nest-boxes are rarely abandoned, being utilised by successive generations.

One we prepared earlier!

Friday 23 March 2012

Chiff and Chaffs

Was a glorious sunny day today - far too nice to be pushing paper so I had a quick trip to the local watering hole at Caerhyddwen Plantation this afternoon hoping to meet-up with some thirsty Crossbills - no such luck! Did catch 45 new birds in a few hours though including my first summer migrant of the year, a Chiffchaff  not  unexpectedly. Other birds ringed were 15 Chaffinch, 14 Siskin, 7 Coal Tit, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Lesser Redpoll and singles of Willow Tit, Blue Tit and Nuthatch.  A cracking male Brambling was seen having a drink when I arrived but failed to come back for another!

Our first summer migrant of the year

Male Nuthatch, surprisingly colourful close up

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Watch migration from your armchair.

The GWCT Woodcock Watch website is now live and you can follow the journeys of all 12 Woodcock satellite tagged in the UK this winter. The Woodcock Network helped by tagging two in Wales (Rebecca from Crychan and Aderyn from Llanilar), as previously posted on the blog.

The tags are made by Microwave Telemetry Inc. and use the French Argos satellites to plot positions. Data is uploaded to the satellite every third day and so far the accuracy is proving to be very good.

The device uses a small solar array which charges batteries that power the system, however once the bird is back on its breeding grounds and summer foliage prevents charging it is possible that we will loose contact with our bird. This is not critical because the batteries will charge again and the the system will restart once there is sufficient light. The primary purpose of this exercise is to study migration and previous studies in Scotland and Spain have proved successful in yielding accurate information on routes and stop over times of individual birds.

The sample of 12 Woodcock has 6 adults and 6 juveniles, which might show differences in migration strategies. Five of the tags have been placed on birds from one location in Cornwall to see if there is a link between wintering sites and breeding sites.

All the data gathered by these tags and the 40+ geo-locators that have also been fitted to birds this winter will be used by Dr Andrew Hoodless of GWCT for furthering our understanding of this fascinating species.

You can follow all 12 woodcock at

Monday 19 March 2012

Gone - well one at least!

An email from Andrew Hoodless at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) tells us that the Woodcock we satellite tagged at Crychan on 26th February (Rebecca) was last night near Leipzig in Germany, presumably on her way to somewhere near Moscow. Technical glitches are preventing the GWCT from putting the website live but hopefully these will be resolved soon - watch this space!

Saturday 17 March 2012

Nearly gone

Had a couple more quick goes at lamping at Ceri on my way to and from work in Lancashire. Wasn't expecting too much as it is getting a bit late now (most of the Woodcock will have left for foreign parts by the end of March) but pleasantly surprised with a combined tally of 8 more Golden Plovers (one almost in full summer plumage) and 3 more Woodcock. Even managed a couple of half-decent photos into the bargain!

Friday 16 March 2012

The things you see when you don't have your camera!

The Woodcock Network fitted the last of our 10 geo-locators to a woodcock last night. I had set myself the target of fitting them to re-traps as this shows a level of site fidelity which should increase the chances of catching them next winter and accessing the data. However the past week has been frustrating with almost constant foggy conditions making catching very difficult. Last night I caught a good sized un-ringed adult and fitted the final tag, amazingly this bird was a 'short bill' only 50mm but its weight showed that this was no impediment.

One thing I have noticed venturing out on foggy nights is that there are far fewer birds out on the fields in fog.... no I did check the fields thoroughly so they weren't hiding. On one night I saw only 3 woodcock and then on the same fields early the following night there were 16.

The GWCT website showing the movements of all 12 UK sat tagged woodcock (including the 2 we fitted in Wales) will be going live anytime day now. Check it out on

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Don't bite the hand that feeds you!

Had a morning catching at our Hawfinch feeding site again this morning with Jane and Dave Smith. The number of birds present is building nicely now and 10 birds were caught, comprising 9 new and one re-trap from 2010. It was great to see that the re-trap was still wearing its colour-ring as a number of birds last year managed to remove theirs (one after only 2 hours!),  after all if you've got a beak that can crack cherry stones a little bit of plastic shouldn't prove too difficult! The proportion of new birds caught was a real surprise, especially as two of them were adults.

1st winter male Hawfinch above and 1st winter female below

Hawfinch whisperer, Dave Smith, proving the truth behind the old saying!
 It didn't have second thoughts about biting me though!!

Sunday 11 March 2012

Here we go again!

Dipper at nest (taken some years ago!)

Yesterday was the first proper day of fieldwork for this year's nesting season. I checked 16 active Dipper nests on the River Teme and River Ithon. Six of them contained at least one egg and 2 birds were already incubating full clutches. It was also the first chance to read a few colour-rings on breeding birds as part of our new RAS (Re-trapping Adults for Survival) scheme.

Thursday 8 March 2012


Had forgotten just how much that hurts!  Had the first trip of the year to our Hawfinch feeding site with Jane and Dave Smith this morning. Sadly there wasn't that much Hawfinch activity yet but we did catch this un-ringed, adult, male along with 4 Nuthatch, 23 Coal Tit, 11 Great Tit, 5 Chaffinch and 3 Blue Tit.

We also met-up with the local Forest Manager on site to obtain a key and for him to see what we were doing. This was a great opportunity to discuss the long-term management of the wood for the benefit of what is clearly a nationally important population of Hawfinch. Apparently the directive from above is now for general reversion of broadleaf woods to native Oak woodland, which would effectively remove most of the food supply (hornbeam & beech) and undoubtably lead to a reduction in numbers, if not the total abandonment of the wood! Hopefully, now that the importance of the site has been clearly demonstrated, this can be reviewed.  As BT would say, "It's good to talk"!

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Siskins back in numbers

In the past few months there have been very few Siskins around in Mid-Wales but during the past few weeks they have returned in number from wherever they've spent the winter.  Earlier today I had a couple of hours netting at the "watering hole" in Caerhyddwen Plantation and caught 81 new birds -  47 Siskins, 11 Lesser Redpoll, 10 Coal Tit, 5 Chaffinch, 2 Willow Tit and singles of Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Robin, Dunnock, Great Tit and Bullfinch. There were loads of Crossbills flying over too but they obviously weren't thirsty!

Adult male Siskin

Sunday 4 March 2012

A great start and a Mealy frustrating finish!!!

Myself and Tony met at one of our ringing sites in Caersws early (05:30) this morning, in an attempt to catch the Snipe coming in to roost from their night time feeding grounds. Despite there being several birds coming to roost, we only managed to catch 2, but as one of them was a Jack, we couldn't really complain!

We then headed off to the Flash in Welshpool, to try and catch some more of the ever increasing flock of Redpolls. We managed to catch another 20 (+ 1 control) Lesser Redpolls, but this catch was overshadowed when we watched a very pale Mealy Redpoll bounce out of the net, ARGHHH!! Maybe next time?!?

(1 of the many Lessers at the site)

Other birds caught included 1 Dunnock, 1 Goldfinch and these 2 little beauties.