Thursday, 28 March 2013

Delayed woodcock migration

By the third week in March I would expect to have seen the woodcock leave on their spring migration. On March 21st last spring only one bird remained on my ringing site, the average winter count is around 25 -30.

Wondering if this cold weather might have delayed migration I went out on Tuesday night to have a look. With clear skies and full moon this was just a counting excercise because catching with such high levels of light is almost impossible.

The temperature was well below freezing and there was a fresh N E wind blowing. Over the 150 acres of the site I counted 30 woodcock, so it looks like they have delayed migration due to the cold weather.

 Each March I notice that average weights rise as birds put on bulk before migration. Although woodcock seem to hold their weight well through periods of moderate frost, as they appear to adapt their feeding regime to daytime finding soft patches under leaves and near springs in warmer woodland, I wonder if the reduced possibility of feeding on fields at night has prevented them reaching their optimal migration weight.

Even if the cold was not a problem, the strong easterly headwinds coming across the North Sea may well have halted their migration anyway.

With moonrise becoming later, there will be a chance to get out and catch woodcock again by next weekend. It will be interesting to see how many birds stay on site and what their weights are. The possibility of ringing woodcock in April is amazing.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Counting Kites

With the cold weather putting stop to most activities, a trip to Gigrin seemed to be in order to check on the number of Kites visiting, and to try and read as many wing-tags as possible. The most effective way of getting the tag numbers seems to be, by taking photographs. After a very cold hour in the hide, we managed to come away with 19 different tagged birds.

****UPDATE ****

We went to Gigrin again today (27th March) and read 34 tagged birds making a total of 44 individual kites over the two days. The oldest bird was 17 years old and the breakdown of the ages of the others were as follows;

1996 - 1
2003 - 2
2004 - 4
2005 - 1
2006 - 3
2007 - 2
2008 - 5
2009 - 7
2010 - 4
2011 - 13
2012 - 2

Monday, 25 March 2013

First Whimbrel Recovery - a first for North Africa

In a recent text I joked to Mark Grantham at the BTO about how Waxwings were far more rewarding to colour-ring than Whimbrel as we had now done well over 100 birds and were yet to get our first sighting/recovery away from the ringing site. Today he partly resolved the problem by informing me of a recent recovery of one of our birds in Morocco! This is only the 10th BTO recovery of this species in Africa and amazingly the first north of the Sahara! The bird was picked up alive on a beach near Agadir on 20th March but died soon after. It was passed to an avian vet who conducted a post mortem but found nothing other than slight haemorrhaging around the head and neck. Most of the Whimbrel we ring are caught on spring migration in April and May but oddly this bird was one of very few ringed on autumn passage - on 11th August 2010. The recovery location is very close to Sous-Massa National Park so odd to think it had probably been consorting with Northern Bald Ibis just before it died!

L7 found dead on a beach near Agadir, Morocco 2 and a half years after ringing

Another bird ringed on the same day 

The ringing (green) and recovery (red) locations

Above map from Robinson, R.A. & Clark, J.A.(2012) The Online Ringing Report: 
Bird ringing in Britain & Ireland in 2011 BTO, Thetford (, 
created on 7-September-2012, shows all foreign recoveries to date (ours added)

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A bit nippy!

Last night was the first chance I've had for a while to get out lamping. Despite strong and bitterley cold winds and a bright moon reflected off snow I thought it might be worth a go at Ynyslas in an attempt to get a few more Golden Plovers colour-ringed before they head off to breeding areas further north. Numbers have been pitifully low at our inland sites since December so I thought the coast might be a better bet. As it turns out it was a bit too cold and bright at about 11pm so I decided to leave it until first thing, after the moon had set. At 4 am myself and Jane headed out into the frozen wastes at Ynyslas with much more hope than sense! Catching proved difficult in the very strong wind and the day dawned surprisingly early at just gone 5 but I did manage to net 1 Woodcock and 1 Golden Plover.

Last Woodcock of the season?

Having grabbed a quick breakfast we then headed off to meet Dave and Andre at our Hawfinch RAS feeding site in North Wales. This was the sixth trip of the spring and todate we had only managed to catch one bird! For the first few hours things looked set to remain the same but then, as we waited patiently, a few birds started to gather and finally drop onto the seed. Soon after we had 6 Hawfinches in bags (5 new birds and a retrap from 2011 & 2012). With two more caught a bit later on, the Hawfinch project 2013 was properly underway!

'Nip' really doesn't do it justice! These things can crack open cherry stones so the end of a finger proves no problem as I (above) and Andre (below) discovered to our cost!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Yodel-oh-ee-dee, sirrrrr !

Well well, grinning from ear to ear at the moment. I have just been notified by Raymond Duncan of a sighting by Bastien Guibert of one of the Newtown Waxwings in Petit-Saconnex, Geneva!! It is the first record of a BTO ringed Waxwing to Switzerland and possibly the furthest south ever. As if that wasn't good enough it was the same bird that was seen and photographed by a number of birdwatchers in Lewes, East Sussex. Hi tech tracking equipment might be a great (but expensive) aid in plotting the detailed movements of our bird populations but these sightings demonstrate that a great deal can still be learnt by more traditional methods too, well within the pocket of ordinary ringers.

                Brown/Blue right leg in Lewes, East Sussex 30 Dec 2012.  Photo by Ron Bewley

Brown/Blue right leg in Geneva 9th Mar 2013.  Photo by Bastien Guibert 

Also had notification of another bird ringed on the same day at the same site controlled in Nottingham.

Many thanks to all the photographers who have sent in their photographs of ringed Waxwings. The results would have been far less interesting without them!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Dipper Report Updated

Have just posted an updated version of the Teme Dipper Report covering 2011 and 2012, just click the Dipper photo on the right to download the pdf. Many thanks are due to Leo Smith for all his hard work sourcing the funding for the project and for writing the reports.

Woodcock Journeys.

It's that time of year again. Only a few more days of ringing left before our wintering woodcock head back east to their breeding grounds in Russia and Scandinavia. With the task of fitting 20 geo-locators and 2 satellite tags to birds I've not seen much evening telly for the past week...... or my wife Sally.

The Woodcock Network has been working with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust on this joint project for the past 2 years. It was decided that we would fit our geo-locators to retrapped woodcock as these birds show a high level of site fidelity which means there is a greater chance of these birds returning to the site next winter. This maximises the chance of us recovering the devices and download their data.

We have recovered 2 geo-locators from 14 that were fitted over the past 2 years and I am expecting to receive the maps from these any day now, so look out for further posts on Ruffled Feathers.

Satellite Tags.
Last year The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust funded 12 tags which were fitted to woodcock across the UK. I fitted two of these, with the help of Tony Cross and Terence Lambert, to birds on ringing sites in Wales.
The migrations of 11 of these birds (one tag failed) can be seen on

This year a further 12 are being used and last week one was fitted to a bird on a site near Llanilar. We have taken care that these go on strong birds and have set the criteria of wings longer than 200mm and a body weight of over 320gms. Having fitted one to a juvenile the task was on to find an adult of the right size. We had planned that the second would be fitted to bird on one of Tony Cross's ringing sites near Llandrindod Wells. After a long night searching two sites in thick fog we caught 6 woodcock but failed to find an adult big enough. Frustratingly we caught 2 juveniles that were very large and robust.

The following night Terence Lambert and I caught a good sized adult on one of my sites near Lledrod and the tag was fitted.

You can follow the progress of these bird over the next month on the link above which will go live once the migration starts in a few weeks. although there have been issues with low light conditions causing the batteries running flat on over the winter months we derived some fascinating details of last years spring migration and hope to reveal more about woodcock migration this spring.

This map show the track of 'Rebecca' a woodcock tagged by Tony Cross and myself near Llandovery last spring. Having spent the summer in Belarus she returned to the same wintering location. Within the next few weeks she will be leaving for another long journey east.

Take a look at our facebook page for regular posts on all matter to do with woodcock at The Woodcock Network

Saturday, 9 March 2013

and they're off!

Went around a few more of the Dipper nests in our RAS study area today, 33 to be precise, and found my first eggs of the year. Always a great feeling when the nesting season finally gets underway again. Two partial clutches of 3 eggs and a lot of nests nearing completion. Read a couple of colour-ringed adults too.

Dipper nest containing partial clutch

What the iPhone saw!! 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Mixed results

Yesterday Paul and I headed up to the Hawfinch feeding site in North Wales for the fourth attempted trapping session of the year. As with the last three we spent a good few hours watching the odd Hawfinch in the tree-tops and waiting for the mass arrival - it never came. Four hours in we gave up and headed off empty-handed.....again.

On the return trip south we installed a new Chough nestbox at a site where an existing box has been used both by Choughs (2010 & 2011) and by Kestrels (2012). Pleased with the siting and general look of the box we returned to the car just in time to see a pair of Choughs come roller-coastering out of nowhere and land on top! Within 5 minutes of walking away from the base of the cliff there was actually a Chough inside the box checking it out - now that has to be some sort of record! Lets hope they liked what they found.

Put up a new Kestrel box (after I'd managed to convince the owners that they wouldn't eat their lambs!) and checked a few Dipper sites on the way home, no eggs yet but plenty of lined nests. Won't be long now til the nesting season is in full swing.

Apologies for the lack of pics.