Monday 29 October 2012

Just too bright!

Last night the forecast was for rain throughout the night and for once this could have been a good thing! The week or so around full moon is usually hopeless for lamping and gives a welcome break to re-charge the batteries. Given the cloud and rain though I reckoned it was worth giving it a try so Vince, Jane and I headed up to the Ceri Ridgeway in search of more Golden Plovers.

A total of about 60 Golden Plovers and 4 Woodcock were seen but, Sod's Law, even in 2012 when you actually want rain your can't get any! Without the rain it was just too bright and all we managed to catch was a couple more Golden Plovers,  a Woodcock, a Redwing and 2 Fieldfares. Surprisingly perhaps Fieldfares (and Redwings less frequently) are often encountered and caught whilst roosting on the ground (over 50 ringed last winter). These were the first this autumn though and are quite a bit later than the first ones last year.

Winter fare! An adult male at the top and a 1st winter female below
 (pale tipped greater coverts just visible in the photo)

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Ceredigion Cuckoo update

Indy getting his biometrics checked

In May this year Kelvin Jones and I assisted BTO scientist Chris Hewson and Phil Atkinson in catching and satellite-tagging four male Cuckoos from on and around Tregaron Bog and a female Cuckoo from Brechfa Forest near Llanybydder. The BTO's Cuckoo tracking website gives updates on all 5 Welsh birds and the news isn't too good. The female, Idemili, was found injured in Sussex on the first stage of her journey and was subsequently cared for and flown to Italy to be released (without her satellite tag) by Wildlife Aid Foundation - hopefully she survived and completed the remaining leg of her journey. Two of the male cuckoos, Iolo and Indy (sponsored by The Independent) have succumbed on their travels having both made it to Africa, Iolo in Libya and Indy in Cameroon.  This leaves David and Lloyd, currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic respectively, to face the perils of their northward journey this spring, hopefully to return safely and harass another generation of Meadow Pipits in the hills and valleys around Tregaron. We wish them all the best.

The rarely photographed act of comparing cuckoos!! Three Cuckoos in one net! Is this a first?

Mike McCarthy of the Independent has written an article on Indy's epic journey which is well worth a read

It is quite likely that the record-breaking wet summer here and the drought conditions in the Mediterranean conspired to make this autumns migration back to Africa even more hazardous than normal. This seasons 50% survival certainly compares badly with the 2011 migrations when all 5 satellite-tagged Cuckoos made it safely to Central Africa. Could refuelling prior to and during migration be the reason for the population declines observed in recent years? It is interesting that all of the Welsh and Scottish Cuckoos that migrated on an a Easterly route made it to Africa whilst three of the English Cuckoos that took the westerly route through Spain all died. Chris, the sole surviving English Cuckoo, also took the easterly route through Italy. Is this the reason for the differing fortunes of English and Scottish Cuckoos?

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Where have you been?

Just had an email from local bird photographer Kev Joynes with these two cracking photographs of Choughs taken near Llanrhystud recently.

The two birds are brother (C7) and sister (C4) from a brood of 4 ringed near Cwmtydu on 17th May 2011. Both have only one previous record each. C4 was photographed by Janet Baxter at Pantyralled on 1st April 2012 and the other was seen by Dave Lamacraft at Ynys Lochtyn on 27th May 2012. Most records of Chough flocks are followed up very quickly to check for ringed birds and most known nests and roost sites are monitored regularly so where have these two been hanging out the rest of the time I wonder? They should enter the breeding population this coming spring so we look forward to seeing where they will settle.

Many thanks to Kev for reporting and allowing me to reproduce them here and sincere apologies, I know you'd much rather they weren't ringed! They might have been better photos but they wouldn't have been half as interesting!

Sunday 21 October 2012

Going grey

A couple of nights ago, during a ringing trip to Ynyslas, I quite literally stumbled into a (not very big) flooded stubble field with over 500 Teal and 100 Snipe in it! I have never seen Teal or Snipe in that number and density before. Unfortunately the ground was so sodden that it was near impossible to sneak up on anything to lamp it and despite my best efforts 1 immature male Teal was all I managed to catch. Given the conditions, lamping probably wasn't the best option.  Last night, having cleared it with the landowner and with some perfect calm conditions to hand, Jane, Brendan and I tried plan B and strung a few mist-nets across the field in hope of much greater things. Having put up 400ft of net we sat back to wait for the big, 500 Teal, 100 Snipe flight-in at dusk, bird bags a plenty at the ready! An early narrow miss of a Short-eared Owl got the heart pumping and built expectation even higher but the flight-in, when it eventually happened, just wasn't that great. I guess the super high tide a few nights earlier and the extremely wet conditions at the time had pushed birds off the estuary and made the field the place to be. In the few days since things had obviously changed! The catch, 1 Teal, 1 Snipe and 2 Jack Snipe certainly wasn't unwelcome but it wasn't up to expectation either!

Female Teal (don't handle enough to be sure what age!).

A good year for Jack Snipe? This is the 6th of the autumn

A consolation lamping session afterwards on nearby fields and on the beach added 3 more Snipe, 1 more Jack Snipe and, by way of a colour-change from recent successes, this stunning immature Grey Plover.

Who says Grey is drab! An absolute stunner!

The pits!

Wednesday 17 October 2012

They're back!

Had a quick spin out for more Goldies last night and came across this.

First winter Woodcock and a first-winter at that!

The main influx will start any time soon so keep up to date with progress on a national level by visiting

Sunday 14 October 2012

Choughs mixing it up

Heard from an excited Adrienne Stratford last night that on a routine roost monitoring visit she had had a count of at least 40 Choughs at one of the mid-Wales roosts and she'd managed to identify 30 of them from their colour rings!  The survival rate of this year's chicks hasn't been brilliant overall in Wales so it was particularly good news that, of the ringed birds, there were at least 12 of this year's cohort along with 5 from 2011, 2 from 2010, 2 from 2009, 2 from 2007, 2 from 2006, 2 from 2005, 1 from 2004, 1 from 2002 and the oldest of the bunch was a male ringed in 1998. The young birds included a brood of three all still together 51 kms from where they were reared and another 3 from a brood of 4 that were 26 kms from their nest site, which as it turns out, is the mean distance travelled from natal site of this whole bunch. Eleven of them were ringed in Ceredigion and one in Meirionydd.

At least one of these was still alive and kicking as of yesterday, well two actually, including me!

Pleasingly, no fewer than 15 of the 30 birds had been reared in our specially designed nest-boxes.
Most amazing of all though, was the fact that, although 6 birds had originated from a single site near Aberystwyth (from 5 different years) the 24 other colour-ringed birds had originated from 17 different nest sites, some inland, some coastal - a great big Chough melting pot! That's what we need!

Friday 12 October 2012

From here to there and back again!

But where exactly?

Another night out in the South Shropshire hills last night, this time with Jane and new Aberystwyth University student (and trainee) Brendan Sheils. Also along for the ride was my brand new Cluson 18.4 amp Li-ion battery pack (a snip at just under £200!!). Seriously though, with its light weight and extended duration its a serious consideration for all hard-core lamping addicts and much cheaper than a physiotherapist! Weather was a bit wild - warm, wet and breezy at the start (which is ideal for catching) then cold, dry and windy (which isn't!). We caught 21 birds in total - 15 Golden Plover, 2 Snipe, 1 Jack Snipe, 2 Meadow Pipits and a Skylark.

Getting Less Common Snipe

Not Common Enough Snipe (aka Jack),  first of the winter.  Could never catch too many of these!

Interestingly one of the Golden Plovers was a returning bird from last winter.

Originally ringed as an adult at the same location on 18th February 2012

Would be brilliant to know where it has been in the meantime? Since last winter we have had just two of 150 colour-ringed birds reported, one breeding on a North Wales moor and the other on passage in the Netherlands. Unfortunately in neither case was the code on the ring read so we don't know which birds exactly were involved (one of them might have been this one!). In conjunction with Ecology Matters and with the aid of a Grant from Countryside Council for Wales we are hoping, very shortly, to satellite track two Golden Plovers from Mid-Wales to chart their  winter wanderings and map their return to unknown nesting locations further north - watch this space!

Records of feeding flocks in Shropshire and mid-Wales and reports of colour-ringed birds anywhere would be much appreciated.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Dipper Roost round-up

Last night Vince and I checked the last 18 Dipper roosts in our Shropshire/Mid Wales Dipper RAS study area and caught/identified another 24 birds including 8 more new ones.  Since mid September we have checked over 150 past or present roost sites and caught/identified a total of 152 Dippers comprising 61 new birds and 91 retraps/controls (plus we missed about 25!). The age/sex breakdown of the 152 was 93 adult (49 males, 44 females) and 59 first winter (33 males, 26 females).

 A brown-bellied Dipper if ever I saw one!

During the summer we ringed a total of 330 pulli and just 17 (9 males, 8 females) of these were re-trapped. This is a bit lower than would be expected and almost certainly results from the exceptional summer floods that occurred just after many of the birds had fledged. Adult survival seems to have been fairly good though and of 166 adult/juvs colour-ringed at these same sites between April 2011 and May 2012 a minimum of 60 were still present and 54 were retrapped. There are bound to be a fair few others too using unknown natural roosts or that have moved out of the area checked. Apart from revisiting a few of the sites where we've missed birds the next time most of them will be checked is when they start nesting in February. With such a high number now colour-ringed it will be very interesting to see who turns up to breed and where!

The longest movement of a 2012 pulli so far is 32km.

Just how many ringers does it take to ring a Dipper anyway? One to hold the bird, one to apply the colour-rings, one to take the photos and one to take the p***! 

Next year's Dipper monitoring is being sponsored by Petzl and BirdWatch Ireland 
(oh yes and Spec-Savers!!)

Many thanks to Vince, Lloyd, Jane, Andre, Dave Smith, Gareth Richardson, Brendan Sheils, Simon Holloway, Sarah Cookson, Amy and Hannah for your assistance and company on some late and very wet nights.

Caught 7 more Golden Plovers on the way home too!

Wednesday 10 October 2012

A return to the Golden era!

With several reports recently of flocks of Golden Plovers back in the hills I made my first visit of the season to see what I could find. Last winter Paul and I caught over 300 Golden Plovers between us and colour-ringed over 150 of them. It will be very interesting to see what sort of return rate we get on these birds. The Countryside Council for Wales has supplied a grant to search for colour-ringed birds during the day and to map habitat usage by flocks.

Last night I managed to find a small flock of about 20 birds and caught and colour-ringed the first three Golden Plovers of the winter, 2 juveniles and an adult.

 Adult Golden Plover, this bird was still moulting its outermost primary feathers

Also caught a Snipe and another 5 new and 1 retrap Dippers. Should be finishing the bridge checking tonight,  hopefully!