Wednesday 30 January 2013

Fortune favours the brave

I was out ringing on my site near Llanilar last night in a howling gale gusting well over 40 mph at times. Using a metal pole and what I now call my "storm net" I had to adopt the 'brace and lean into it' pose whilst being hit by gusts as I walked up to birds. On one occasion walking downwind onto a woodcock I found myself being pushed into an uncontrollable jog towards it.

However I had a feeling that this brief hour of ringing before the full moon rose might have a reward for me and I was right. I caught 6 woodcock, 4 of which were retraps, and the last one had a geo-locator fitted. This was a bird I caught and fitted with its tag on Feb 25th last winter. I have now re trapped 2 out of only 14 fitted with geo-locators on this site, not a bad recovery rate so far.

I have a feeling I might catch another before the ringing season ends in March. As with the previous geo-locator bird I caught a few weeks ago, it was just yards away from where I caught and fitted it with it's tag, they really are very site loyal!

Monday 28 January 2013

A few unhappy returns

Woodcock ringed at Ceri Forest last winter

It is always a bit sad to get Woodcock recoveries, no matter where they are from, because it invariably means someone has shot and eaten them!  Two such recoveries came in the recent recoveries email from BTO headquarters, both ringed by Terence Lambert at his site near Clywedog Reservoir. One was shot in Russia in September and the other in France in November. It is amazing to think that with over 1,700 Woodcock ringed and some 22 foreign recoveries received (Russia 13, Finland 2, France 2, Norway 1, Spain 1, Germany 1, The Netherlands 1 and Eire 1) none of us has yet experienced the excitement of catching one wearing a foreign ring! With several French and a Belarus bird having been shot fairly locally in the past two winters it can only be a matter of time. 

2 recent Woodcock recoveries - ringing location in green, recovery locations in red

Little Egret recoveries are a happier matter altogether as they usually result from someone seeing the colour-rings on a live bird. Three more such sightings were reported in the same batch as the above two Woodcock, one from Anglesey, one from Lancashire and one from Waterford, Eire. The map below shows all sightings of Little Egrets colour-ringed at Bangor during 2012.

2012 sightings of Little Egrets ringed in Bangor - ringing location in green, recovery locations in red

Saturday 26 January 2013

2013 Hawfinch RAS up and running - just!

Today Dave Smith and I had the first attempt of the year at catching Hawfinches at our RAS site in North Wales. The recent cold weather had bought about 30 odd Hawfinch into the food that Dave's been putting out but this morning they were just not playing ball. After about 4 hours we did managed to read a single colour-ringed bird (ringed nearby in March 2012) and then, 6 hours in, we managed to catch the first new Hawfinch of the year, an adult female. One other Hawfinch was seen with a BTO ring only and there were at least 6 different un-ringed birds present. Hopefully, over the next few weeks, they will become a bit more attached to the feeding site and give us a bit more return for all our efforts.

Record shot of the first Hawfinch caught in 2013. 
For the photographers amongst you this was taken with an Olympus Mu, hand-held, on the wrong setting with the wrong shutter speed!

Friday 25 January 2013

Desirable residences

Over the last few days Paul and I have been hard at work providing sheltered accommodation for a range of desirables around Ceredigion and Radnorshire. So far we've renewed two previously occupied Chough boxes and installed 3 new Kestrel boxes, 3 Little Owl boxes, 1 Barn Owl box and 6 Dipper boxes. Quite a few more of all still to be put up when the snow clears along with 18 Long-eared Owl baskets! The Kestrel and Owl boxes are being done in conjunction with the Welsh Kite Trust.

Let's hope someone chooses to use them! Wasn't without some immediate rewards though, at one site south of Aberystwyth we caught two adult Barn owls roosting in a new site and the male turned out to be a bird Damian Clarke,  Mike Hayward and I ringed as a chick near Clarach on 21st June 2007. By pure co-incidence at what turned out to be his natal site we caught 2 more un-ringed Barn Owls which could just possibly have been his parents!

Just to show how Barn Owl looks improve with age......

here he is as a chick getting his head measured! Same can't be said for everyone!

This is his mate making her getaway after ringing - interesting to see the contrast in the tail feathers with the male's being far whiter and less barred than the female's

We also re-trapped this adult male Little Owl, a rare bird indeed in Mid and West Wales now. He was originally caught in June 2011.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Cold-weather Golden Plover movement

Whilst Ceri continues to overwinter near the Spanish Portuguese border our second satellite tagged Golden Plover, Hawn, has fled the barren snowy wastes of the Clun Uplands and headed for the milder environs of South Carmarthenshire. A fix at 8pm on 16th Jan put it in pasturelands about mid-way between Carmarthen and Pembrey. It might not be any warmer there but there will be a lot less snow!

Sunday 13 January 2013

A successful introduction to Mid-Wales lamping

Last night, following a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) meeting in the nearby Elan Valley Hotel, BTO Staff Kelvin Jones, Kate Risely and James Bray joined me for a few hours lamping. Kate had never seen Dipper in the hand before so we visited a couple of roost sites and caught 5, 2 of which were new. Following success with the Dippers we headed off to Bwlch-y-Sarnau hoping to catch a few Woodcock at one of my regular sites. A small amount of snow had fallen on the higher ground during the day and this had frozen making it very crunchy underfoot. Not ideal conditions but the cold wind helped and we managed to catch 4 out of the 8 Woodcock seen (all unringed).  The real highlight of the night though was an unexpected and very close encounter with this absolutely stunning Long-eared Owl which conveniently sat on a tussock just long enough for me to stalk up and drop a net on it. 

The 3rd new species of the night for Kate, and not a bad introduction to ringing for James!

Thursday 10 January 2013

Walking on egg shells.......

Last night on my way home from Manchester I decided to check a few winter Woodcock sites. Conditions were far from perfect, with it being very calm and very frozen underfoot! Despite this I still managed to catch 1 out of 6 Woodcock and my 1st Jack Snipe of the year.

I also continued my good run of dipper catching, with another 4 being trapped including this one which I originally ringed back in 2011.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Geo-locator comes home!

I was out ringing tonight on my regular woodcock ringing site near Llanilar and the 6th bird I caught had a very pleasant surprise for me.... a geo-locator I fitted to EX28930 over two years ago on 10/11/10.

If all is well this should yield information about 4 migration journeys of this bird. Although there have been a number of recoveries of woodcock geo-locators in the past two years from birds shot both in the UK and Russia, this is the first live recovery in the UK.

Sorry about the poor quality of the picture, its hard to hold steady when you're that excited!

Monday 7 January 2013

First Hat-trick of 2013

Last night I ventured up into the hills around Clun Forest again hoping to colour-ring a few more Golden Plovers. I managed to catch five but could only colour-ring four of them as the other had its tarsal bone protruding from its right leg! No gory photos I'm afraid. Amazingly it was an old injury and the bird appeared to walk normally but just shows how resilient they can be. As it was an old injury and the bird was otherwise in good condition I did put a BTO ring on its left leg!

I also managed the first "hat-trick" of the year - this is our term for a night when you manage to catch at least one each of Snipe, Jack Snipe and Woodcock (as it turns out it was just one of each but hey, who's complaining!).

Winter Dippers

After having a very busy few months, I've finally had time to start checking my winter dipper roosting sites around Montgomeryshire. Despite only a few bridges being checked so far, I've already managed to catch 7, with 3 more to go back for at one of the sites! Out of the 7 birds caught, 6 of them were new birds and one was a re trapped bird. The re trap was originally ringed in New Mills on 16/04/12 as a chick, which is 9km away from where I caught it again in Abermule. Nice to know some of last years birds have survived considering the awful wet summer we had!!

There can't be many people with a 100% catch rate of Dippers, but Sam is one of them!!!!!

Sunday 6 January 2013

New Goldie

After nearly a month of trying, last night, on my way back from survey work in Lancashire, I finally managed to catch and satellite-tag our second Golden Plover "Hawn" up on the Ceri Ridgeway.

"Hawn" immediately after having the sat-tag fitted.

There have been very few about since the cold spell in early December but last night there were at least 25 present of which I managed to catch three and a Woodcock. I was hoping to do the second bird at a different site to the first but as Ceri is still in Spain I guess that is less important. Below is the most recent location for Ceri on the Spanish/Portuguese border near Valencia del Alcantara. I guess we won't be meeting up in Madrid in a fortnight then!

Hopefully Hawn will hang around in Wales and give us some of the data we wanted on more local cold-weather movements.

Friday 4 January 2013

They're off!

First honours this year went to Paul again with a catch of 3 Woodcock, a "double" Snipe (2 birds in the same landing net at the same time!) and a Fieldfare.

My first venture out for a while was at Nant-yr-Arian last night with Andre where we managed to catch two Woodcock and two Whooper Swans - a cracking way to start the year!

As can be seen from the previous post Owen managed a very respectable 12 Woodcock so 2013 is now well and truly under way!

Andre Marsh with one of the two juv Whoopers ringed last night

Golden oldie

After several months of water buffalo like activity walking waterlogged fields, last night saw the return of more normal conditions on my woodcock ringing site. The ground is still very wet, but with a soft drizzle and a gentle breeze conditions were far more pleasant for catching than the howling gales and heavy rain of the past few months

I counted an amazing 42 woodcock on the site, this is far higher than previous year, it was also fascinating that all but one of these were juveniles. Out of the 100 I've caught so far this winter 75% are juveniles. The one adult caught last night was a bird I ringed on 30/1/09, I also retraped it on 24/1/11. A real 'Golden Oldie'.

I often wonder why I spend so much time in the winter wet and cold walking dark fields, Tony Cross is partly to blame, but last night reminded me what a fascinating obsession woodcock ringing is.