Sunday, 30 September 2012

Scary Dipper!

Destined to spend the rest of its life making other Dippers jump!!

Last night, with Dave Smith and Jane,  I spent the first of several that I'll be spending over the next couple of weeks checking all the many Dipper roost site we know of in South Shropshire and neighbouring areas of Powys and Herefordshire. This is part of a long-running study and records the numbers present and the survival rates and movement of birds. Last year we started colour-ringing for the first time and registered the study as a RAS. The colour-rings proved very useful during the breeding season and over 65 adults were individually identified at nest sites. They also proved extremely useful last night in identifying birds at the roosts. During the night (a very bright one at that) we caught or identified 29 out of the 36 found.

With the new colour-rings it is no longer necessary to catch all the birds in order to identify them.

It's early days yet but first indications this year are that there are a good number of adults surviving from last winter but an unusually low number of juvenile birds. The poor survival may well be due to the floods this summer, just after many broods had fledged.

Will post a more detailed assessment when we've finished checking them all.

The previous night Andre Marsh, Sarah Cookson, my eldest Amy and I had spent half the night checking new sites in and around the Pontrhydfendigaid and Tregaron area, expanding the study westwards. There are not nearly so many Dippers on these more acidic waters but we still managed to catch 8 out of the 9 found thereby managing to give Sarah a good look at her first ever Dipper (I think she's hooked!)

Amy insisted that after Dippering we spend the night, Bear Grylls style, in a make-shift shelter in the woods - it was a long night,  especially as we had failed to catch our supper!! 

As we were in the area, the following morning (despite the lack of sleep) we did some essential nest-box maintenance and discovered an out-of-season lodger in one of the boxes.

Can you tell what it is yet?

This is the first Noctule (if that's what it is!!) I've ever found in a bird-box.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Quit swanning around - for a while anyway!

Yesterday was the last planned full-on swan-catching day of the season. We still had a few broods to do in Telford and a few territories to check in and around Shrewsbury. Compared to canals, catching swan broods on big rivers and large lakes is usually a lot more problematic (especially if the broods are large) and so Jane and I were joined by regular swan-catching assistant Adrienne Stratford from North Wales and Shropshire trainee Jenny Thomas (whose dad Gerry is head of the Shropshire Ringing Group).

The River Severn around Shrewsbury was a complete blank with four pairs cygnet-less (not  unexpected given the floods in the summer which were known to have washed-out most of the nests). Telford was a bit better and 14 cygnets and 3 new adults were ringed along with one control and a couple of birds which needed their colour-rings replacing. This isn't unusual as swans can be long lived. One of the pairs we visited yesterday was a male known to be at least 25 years old (on his fourth Darvic) and his 17 year-old mate (still on her first). Even given their advanced age they had nested and hatched 2 cygnets but sadly these were taken by a mink.

Mute swans generally don't travel very far, although see the most recent posting on the BTO's demog blog  As an exercise in public relations however, and for demonstrating the value of ringing to the public, there can't be much better. There are very few species where the general expectation is that the birds will be ringed rather than not and that the thing most likely to be harmed by the process is the ringer!

Me, a proud swan owner (Julia) and Patrick and Harriet with one of 
their three offspring (the other two declined to take part!). Harriet is Patrick's second mate his first, (and for many year's) was his mother! 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Knot - a lucky escape

After a fair bit of deliberation I decided to have one last trip to Ynyslas this set of tides. For one very lucky Knot the decision was life saving! Strolling along the beach at high tide, with very few birds around, I suddenly picked out a Short-eared Owl sitting at the top of the beach amid the driftwood. I started walking towards it, wondering if it was one of the two we had already caught, when, frustratingly, it flushed at close range. It was clearly carrying what looked to be a dead medium-sized wader. Following it with the beam I watched where it dropped into the dunes and headed off to have another attempt at catching it. Just as I got to where it had disappeared it lifted and flew off again this time without its catch. In a Touching the Void-esque chain of lucky events (for its victim) I thought I'd have a quick look to see what it had caught and whether it had a ring on! Lying in the grass, presumably stashed for later consumption, was a juvenile Knot, limp and seemingly gasping its last breath.

"Lucky Canutus" one very jammy Knot!

Amazingly after 30 minutes or so hung in a bird bag it was looking a lot more spritely and was duly ringed and flew off strongly on release. Just how nice would it be to get this bird recovered in Canada in 10 years time? If it happens I'll let you know.  The owl no doubt went off and ate two Little Stints instead!

It is very sobering to think that if this pair of Shorties have caught just one wader a night each, every night since they turned up last autumn, they will have eaten their way through over 700 waders (twice as many as we have caught there in the same time!) If we could find where they were roosting I guess there would be a few interesting recoveries to be uncovered in their pellets.

Our night's catch was one other Knot, 6 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover and a Greenland Wheatear

Adult female Greenland Wheatear

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Brenda misses a duck!

Last night Jane, Dave Reed and I were joined by Brenda Cook for another quick exploitation of the perfect lamping conditions at present. Brenda, who visits Ceredigion regularly, was keen to get some more demonstration on lamping technique so that she can try her hand at catching Woodcock and Snipe later this winter. There wasn't a lot around last night as the tide was so high there was nowhere for the birds to sit! It also hammered it down just as the tide turned so we all got absolutely soaked.

In a rare move I briefly relinquished charge of the net and in a new pairing, Dave and Brenda (with Brenda on the net) bagged a Ringed Plover (Brenda's first dazzled bird) quickly followed by another Ringed Plover and a Dunlin. With three birds caught on her first attempt I suspect dazzling may have a new disciple! Total catch was 8 Dunlin, 5 Ringed Plover (including one re-trap from 15th), 1 Sanderling and an Oystercatcher.

A smelly young Oyk (.......and Brenda!)

Monday, 17 September 2012

Not a bad stint at Ynyslas!

Although the tides are perfect at the moment the wind is just a bit too strong for mist-netting (and most of the terns have gone through now anyway) so it's back to dazzling. No owls seen last night so wader numbers were up a bit and the birds were a bit less flighty. As a result I managed to catch 37 Dunlin, 1 Sanderling and this cracking juv Little Stint. Still can't get over just how small they are in the hand!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Shorties keep on coming

Last autumn saw an unprecedented (well in my time at least) influx of Short-eared Owls into Wales. In over 20 years of lamping I have rarely seen and never caught Shorties before, although Dave Reed did lamp one at Ynyslas back in the late 1980's. Last night I caught the second at Ynyslas in a fortnight and our 5th since November!

An adult female in moult, surely one of the birds present in the dunes all summer and almost certainly the "cover girl" of the Ceredigion Bird Report

It is clear from sightings by local birdwatchers that many of the birds that arrived last autumn stayed on to breed, or at least attempt to! What a crying shame we had such a crap summer - we could have been knee deep in young SEOs by now! It will be very interesting to see just how many we encounter this winter when out lamping for Golden Plover and Woodcock.

Not much small stuff present, not surprising given the presence of at least two marauding owls, but 13 Dunlin and a single Ringed Plover were also caught.

One of two SEOs present at the point last night. At one point one was watched
powering out to sea in pursuit of, as it turned out, a very fortunate Dunlin. During the winter, at Llanerfyl, Paul watched one killing and carrying off a Lapwing!

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Yesterday Jane and I were joined by Shropshire ringer Paul Ashworth for another day of swan-upping in and around the canals, lakes and pools of Shropshire and Mid-Wales.

The day started slowly as the last three pairs on the Welsh stretch of the Montgomery Canal were all cygnet-less. A regular pair on the English side did better with 3 large cygnets but things didn't go quite to plan when the end of the swan hook came off in the middle of the canal on attempting to catch the first one! As it was perhaps the most important bit of kit we had, and we weren't going to catch many others without it, someone had to go in and fetch it!  In my day that's exactly what trainees were for but things have obviously moved on!!

Swan family waiting patiently whilst the implement needed to catch them is 
retrieved from the bottom of the canal!

The day continued at a fairly slow but steady rate, with a couple of coots and a Canada Goose thrown in for variety, but ended in a flurry when we caught all 13 cygnets in two broods on the Newport Canal just outside Telford.

Martin Grant assists as we indulge in a bit of nocturnal swan ringing on the Newport Canal!
 It's alright it wasn't quite as dark as it appears!

All-in-all not a bad day with 21 cygnets and 2 adults ringed plus 18 adults identified from their colour rings. Finished just in time to catch the local chippy for some much needed refuelling.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Monty Barn Owls Bounce Back

Photo by Gerald Wales

Posted on behalf of Chris Griffiths, Montgomeryshire Barn Owl Group (MBOG)

Barn Owls seem to have bounced back in Montgomeryshire after the recent 2 hard winters. MBOG recorded 40 breeding pairs this year, up 74% on 2011. However, the wet spell around jubilee weekend greatly reduced the survival of chicks, knocking the fledging rate right down. 111 chicks were recorded fledging of which 29 were ringed along with 9 new and 7 retrap/control adults.

Many thanks to the Montgomeryshire public who emailed or phoned to report sightings of birds or possible breeding sites in the county during the past 12 months. Special thanks to Tammy Stretton at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust (MWT) for forwarding information
reported to her at the trust and to Charlotte Owen of Environment Agency (Wales) for yet again supplying MBOG with nest boxes.

Let's hope for another mild winter and please keep all those sightings and enquiries coming in to WWW.MBOG.CO.UK

Not this year and not in Montgomeryshire but they are Barn Owls!

Friday, 7 September 2012

All Quiet on the Western Front

Finally drummed up the enthusiasm (and, more importantly, had the right weather) to put some mist nets up for a Swallow roost and some warbler ringing on Borth Bog. Needn't have bothered! The evening's Swallow total was 8 and this was followed by a dawn catch comprising 4 Sedge Warblers, 4 Reed Warblers, 3 Reed Bunting, 1 Dunlin and a re-trap Cetti's (of the only one available). I know it's already getting on a bit but this time last year we were still catching loads.

Dave Reed staggering back to base under the sheer weight of warblers!!

One of the few, a juv Sedge Warbler 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Montgomery Canal Swans - Get in!!

You're gonna need a bigger car! Tern catching requires lots of non-standard ringing kit.

On Tuesday night Jane, Andre Marsh  Kelvin Jones and I had another attempt at tern catching and, despite being overly cautious and falling just short of the high tide line, managed to catch 17 birds including 2 Sandwich Terns, 10 Dunlin, 4 Redshank and a Knot). Then yesterday, after far too little sleep, Jane, Kelvin and I headed over to the Montgomery Canal for the start of the annual swan-upping. Every year for quite some, I've tried to catch and colour-ring all the cygnets produced on the canal between Newtown and Oswestry. Yesterday we managed to cover the section from Newtown to Arddleen, locating 6 broods and three pairs without young. One other pair known to have cygnets couldn't be found (they'd probably moved them onto the river).

Kelvin lying down on the job again!

 A sharp whack in the kidneys reminds you that it's always worth keeping an eye on what's behind you!

Of the 33 cygnets found we managed to catch and colour-ring 32 of them (one was too small). Having stayed nice and dry for most of the day (well apart from Jane who at one point thought she was Tom Daley) the last brood, 7 cygnets all capable of flying, necessitated extreme measures in order to maintain our 100% record and so it all finished very wet and duckweedy! No action photos available I'm afraid - I will try harder next week when we go back for the remaining broods, hopefully I can convince Tom to do a slow motion replay!

Peace and tranquility restored 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Taking terns

With the tides high and the winds low we have managed to have a couple more goes at catching terns  and waders at Ynyslas over the past two nights. The number of terns present has dropped as they make their way south to find some warm weather but we still managed to catch another 21 Sandwich Terns (including 3 more controls), 1 Common Tern, 41 Dunlin, 6 Knot, 5 Oystercatcher, 2 Sanderling and a Redshank. In a clear demonstration of how birds of different ages can move at different times all the Dunlin caught this weekend were juveniles compared to mainly adults a couple of weeks ago.

Hooked by Hawfinch ringing, Dave Smith terns
 his hand to other species and becomes a new trainee.

Jerry Lewis, the Hawfinch maestro himself, lent a hand last night and 
got to grips with a species he hasn't handled before (and there aren't many of them left!)