Monday 29 July 2013

Little & Little!

Yesterday, returning from a BBQ on the Wirral with the family, I thought I'd have a quick look on the Severn near Caersws to see if it was as good for waders as the Wye at Glasbury was a few days ago. There weren't anywhere near as many Common Sandpipers around (and it was a bit windy for netting anyway) but I was more than satisfied at finding two broods of Little Ringed Plovers (one of four chicks and the other of three).

Effectively vanishing as soon as you start to rush over to find them, you need to be extremely careful not to tread on the well-concealed chicks

Seemingly delicate these little chicks can run like the clappers, hide pretty well and even swim when necessary. Hopefully some will make it 'til when they can fly as well.

I also managed to catch three of the adult birds (all done under the appropriate schedule 1 licence, obviously).

On the way out I checked one of our newly erected Little Owl boxes and was very pleased to find someone at home! Let's hope it stays in residence to rear a brood next year.

The new tenant with des res pictured in background

Even saw a juvenile Little Egret to complete the hat-trick but it wasn't hanging around to get darvic'd! 

Messing about on the river

On Thursday night our newest trainee, Sarah, and I headed off to South Wales to our second Nightjar study site -  Penycymoedd. Once again this is a consented wind farm and we are attempting to discover just how many Nightjars there are on site pre and post construction. Mostly this is to be achieved just by surveying churring males but when there are a few in a small area it is often useful to catch them just to be sure as they don't necessarily all churr at the same time and can move some distance between song-posts. Catching conditions were perfect, warm with no wind and three males were caught.

One of the three male Nightjars ringed that night 


The following morning, on the way home, we had a go at netting our regular Sand Martin site at Glasbury. Two years ago we ringed several hundred Sand Martins here but last year was a complete disaster as most of the nests were washed-out by the constant flooding and not a single Sand Martin was ringed. Numbers were much improved again this year and 69 birds were caught on this first netting session including the Spanish ringed bird pictured below. Interestingly not a single bird was re-rapped from previous years.

Sand Martin wearing an Icona Madrid ring

Whilst netting the Sand Martins I always put a net over the river in the hope of catching a passing Common Sandpiper or Kingfisher. The gods of ringing were  looking very favourably on us as we caught 7 Common Sandpipers, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, a Green Sandpiper and a Kingfisher!!


a young Green Sandpiper


Juvenile male Kingfisher

As if all that wasn't enough, whilst sat there ringing the Sand Martins it became obvious that there was a pair of Yellow Wagtails feeding young nearby and soon a nest with three perfect aged pulli was located.

This may not seem a big deal to those of you in England but we don't get to see breeding Yellow Wagtails in these parts very often and this is the first brood I've ever done in 34 years of ringing!!

Oh yeah, ringed mum too!

Saturday 27 July 2013

A Global Disgrace

The posts on this blog detail our own small successes with catching birds for scientific research purposes or in improving the fortunes of breeding birds through the provision of nest boxes etc. Unfortunately, most of the migrant birds that visit here in the summer or winter have to face major dangers on their migrations which make conservation efforts in this country pale into insignificance. The following link is very hard reading and could make you wonder why bother? It is more important now than ever that we all strive as hard as possible to understand as much as we can about the migration routes and population drivers of all our migrant birds because when they aren't here someone else is usually trying to kill them and they are getting much better at it!

Thursday 25 July 2013

Tystie, Tystie. Very, very tasty!

Whilst on Anglesey we had one last attempt at trying to ring Black Guillemots at a regular Chough/Shag/Manx Shearwater ringing site. We have been aware of upto four pairs present here over the past 15 years or so but have never managed to find an accessible nest and be there at the right time of year. Yesterday there were two active nests, one of which was over 3m into a narrow crack and the other (new) site was behind a large boulder wedged in the cliff face. After a bit of furtling, two point-of-fledge Black Guillemotlings were safely transferred from cliff to bag to cliff-top and back again. The landowner has kindly agreed to us provisioning the site with some purpose-built nestboxes so hopefully we can grow the colony over the next few years and get to ring a few more of these gorgeous little auks. I think these two are only the third and fourth ever ringed in Wales, the first two having been ringed just a week or so ago by Adrienne, Kelvin Jones and Rob Sandham in Holyhead Harbour.

Absolutely gorgeous, and very fat - the Guillemots that is!

A "trophy photo"? Well ornithologists can be human too - deal with it! 
Spot the dog (actually it's Dylan the dog!) in the background slaughtering butterflies, a current favourite pass-time.

Chough home improvements - a ledgedly!

Yesterday Adrienne Stratford and I engaged in a spot of essential Chough home improvement on Anglesey. One of the nests I ring there is in a bit of a precarious location on a narrow ledge in a dripping sea cave and in wet springs (most!) the back wall of the cave sheds water straight into the nest cup. The chicks, if they survive that long, invariably end up sitting in a shitty wet nest with no lining (as the adults remove it when its wet) causing them to develop large callouses on their legs.. This year the pair failed to rear anything so we decided we'd try to improve their situation/chances by erecting a Barrett/Wimpey style alternative residence. Closely watched by a Sea King helicopter, possibly piloted by Will-1-is  (although I believe he had better things to do this week), we lowered a three stage ladder, a large ecosheet nest-ledge and various bits of ironmongery down the cliff and into the cave. It will be a long and anxious wait to see if they take to it but fingers crossed for a dry and bouncy brood of four next year!

Woman's work!

Hopefully, a highly desirable and dry new Chough nest site

.....with fitted furnishing!

Friday 19 July 2013

Shear delight

With an uncountable number of Manx Shearwaters currently indulging in diurnal feeding frenzies in Cardigan Bay I thought last night was probably a good time to take a break from Nightjars and head to the coast for a bit of shearwater tape-luring. Having checked with the owners at Wallog that they didn't mind us turning up in the middle of the night Sarah and I arrived, quickly erected a couple of 60ft wader nets on the cliff top and turned on the digital cacophony. My 6-month old pup, Dylan, wasn't at all sure what to make of the weird and wonderfall calls and tore off along the cliff path with his tail firmly between his legs. Response from the shearwaters was instant and thankfully in the opposite direction, but it wasn't until just turned 1am that birds started flying in over the land with the first bird caught at 1.15am . A further nine Manx Shearwaters were caught and ringed between then and dawn, a mere drop in the Irish Sea but nice anyway!

Shearwater have been heard overland at Wallog during the summer for as long as I can remember but no-one has ever proved them breeding. A mainland colony would be very unusual and almost certainly couldn't withstand the depredations of rats, weasels and foxes so these birds are probably just prospecting non-breeders.

Shearwaters take an Foe (F overlapped, elliptical). Just about the trickiest ring to fit but as it has to potentially stay on the bird for over 50 years it's important to get it right!

Go on, get your own back, you know you want to.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Rewarding Hobbies

It isn't often you get notified about a Hobby recovery. Few are ringed and not many get re-caught or are found dead so imagine my utter surprise when the last batch of recoveries received from BTO headquarters contained no less than three!

One of these three chicks was later recovered in the French Pyrennes, in October, on its first migration south

Firstly a chick ringed near New Radnor on 27th July 2010 was identified by its colour rings at a breeding site in Wareham Forest, Dorset on 2nd June 2013 183 kms SSE of where it was ringed.

Secondly a chick ringed at the same territory but in the following year on 29th July 2011 was found dead near Yeovil in Somerset on 25th May 2013 144 kms South 

Finally a chick ringed near Bucknell in Shropshire on 1st August 2011 was found with a severe wing fracture (it was later euthanised) on 17th May 2013 at Cannock, Staffordshire 71 kms ENE. No wonder we can't find any nests this year!  It's early days yet though and Hobby nest searches will be the order of the day over the next couple of weeks. 

Monday 15 July 2013

Night creatures

Over the past few weeks Paddy Jenks and I have been spending far too many nights crawling through dense, midge infested, conifers in a desperate search for Nightjar nests. The purpose of all this night-crawling is to investigate the size and productivity of a population of Nightjars at a consented wind-farm site in southwest Wales both pre-construction and during operation. Nightjar nests is this habitat are nigh-on impossible to find by cold-searching as many of them are located in small clearings in near impenetrable thicket stage sitka spruce. Hence we have been using small tail-mounted radio-transmitters to help us locate sitting adults. Males are fairly easy to catch using mist-nets and tape-lures of the male's song but are not that easy to track to nests as they only spend brief periods incubating whilst the female is off feeding. In addition, up to about one quarter of all males may be un-paired. Females are dead easy to track to nests but in typical sod's law fashion they generally do not respond to tape lures and so are much harder to catch. So far we have managed to catch 5 males (three of which are re-traps from 2012) and 3 females (all new birds) from an estimated population of approx. 12 churring males.

Measuring the wing on a female Nightjar. The similarity to Swift is striking and a clear example of convergent evolution

Females lack the white wing and tail spots of the adult male

"What big eyes you have" A female Nightjar takes a breather on my wing mirror whilst adjusting it's eyes to the outside light levels.

 Yesterday was a real red-letter day as we located 3 more nests doubling the total so far this year to six.

This nest was in a small clearing in 30ft high thicket stage spruce!

This one wasn't!!

One nest has already been predated on eggs but three birds are now sitting on two eggs each and the two others have produced 3 chicks between them which have already been ringed and are now near fledging.

Two is the normal brood size for Nightjars with one chick hatching about 36 hours after the other. The eldest of these two is about 5 days old

Perfect age for ringing and not far off fledging! Nightjar chicks, like ground-nesting game birds, can fly at a very early stage. Fortunately, addled eggs aren't that common

Friday 12 July 2013

Tracking E numbers

During the spring Dave Smith and I collaborated with RSPB scientist Will Kirby to install nest cameras on Hawfinch nests in the Dolgellau area to study predation rates and the perpetrators of such predation. One of the side benefits was that it allowed us to id several of the adults from colour-rings fitted at our RAS feeding sites. An unexpected outcome is that a couple of the 29 pulli Hawfinch we ringed have already been resighted at a garden bird feeder, some 4 km from where they were reared and were still being looked after and fed by at least one parent!

Female Hawfinch E72 with her 4 chicks on 8th June

and back in Trevor and Chris's garden, 4 kms away from her nest wood, yesterday morning with at least one of her ringed juveniles!

More amazing by far though was that last week, Trevor and Chris had seen and photographed a Hawfinch wearing a white Darvic that was originally  ringed on 8th April 2012 near Tintern. This is the first exchange between the two population studies and amazing considering the paucity of any Hawfinch records at points in-between!

Monday 1 July 2013

Falcon Fantastic!

At the moment I'm madly dashing around trying to ring various raptor pulli as part of our Welsh Kite Trust wider raptor studies. Yesterday, Jane and I scored a Falcon hat-trick. First was a brood of six Kestrels in one of my Chough nestboxes on the coast near Aberystwyth.

Next we ringed a brood of two Merlins in the hills above Tregaron.

Photo taken last week when I originally found the nest but the chicks were too small to ring.

Finally, after checking a couple of failed Merlin and Kestrel nests,  we finished by ringing two out of a brood of three Peregrines near Plynlimon, the first brood to be raised here for many years (the eldest chick was out of the nest already)  - no pics available though I'm afraid.

A rare sight indeed

Whilst out checking Kestrel nestboxes with my eldest, Amy, on Saturday we managed to track down the reason for the great agitation of a pair of the increasingly uncommon local Curlews.

Back in the nest complete with rings (yes, amazingly, the legs are big enough to hold the rings even immediately after hatching!).