Sunday 29 September 2013

Two massive milestones

Whilst out ringing Dippers recently, as a (very) temporary addition to BTO staff, I ringed our 500th Dipper of the year! This is something we have never achieved before and shows the increase in the scale of our Dipper project. Congratulations to Paul, Lloyd, Vince and Bryan who all played a part in this mighty achievement. This bird, or one very close to it, was also the 100,000 bird to be entered onto my IPMR database.

The database details birds ringed, retrapped or controlled on my permit since I became a 'C' ringer back in August 1980 (but is not yet complete as I still have to enter historical data for all birds ringed in 1981 - 1986!)

Notable new bird species totals (reflecting our specific projects) include:

(figures in brackets are % of British and Irish all-time total 1902-2012)

Little Egret 337  (38.6%)
Chough 2,955  (37.9%)
Red Kite 2,621  (32.9%)
Raven 2,821  (20.2%)
Woodcock 1,803  (12.5%)
Hawfinch 277 (11.5%)
Golden Plover 608 (8.0%)
Whimbrel 204  (7.1%)
Dipper 3,892  (5.1%)
Little Grebe 65  (3.9%)
Nightjar 223 (3.6%)
Pied Flycatcher 7,612 (1.2%)

Doesn't bear thinking what I might have achieved with all that time and money if I hadn't been introduced to bird-ringing at school!

Thursday 19 September 2013

Getting it large

On Monday, with Kelvin Jones, and on Wednesday, with Paul Ashworth and Martin Grant, I headed out to various regularly visited Mute Swan breeding sites in order to round-up and colour-ring this year’s crop of cygnets. Many people believe that all swans in Britain belong to the Queen and that this is why they are ringed. In reality, although all swans are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Queen only officially owns those swans on the Thames between Sunbury and Abingdon Bridge that aren’t owned by either the Vintners or the Dyers, the last remaining companies with swan-upping rights on the Thames. Swans elsewhere in Britain may or may not be ringed as part of a nationally co-ordinated research programme run by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Much of this, as with us in Mid-Wales and Shropshire, is done by licensed amateurs who not only give of their own time and petrol but also pay for their own rings and equipment. To fit a Swan with a British Trust for Ornithology metal ring and a plastic “Darvic” costs just over £2.00. Currently we ring about 100 swans annually which represents a substantial investment.

Ringing not only allows detailed life histories to be collected on individual birds, it also allows for the subsequent monitoring of the large number of swans treated at Wildlife Hospitals and Rescue Centres. Getting records of swans living normal lives and breeding happily after intensive treatment for powerline injuries or oil pollution is not only incredibly rewarding for the rescuer but also shows that wildlife rescue is more than just about satisfying a human need to care for sick animals, it also shows that full rehabilitation back into the wild is possible, even after severe injury. Being able to recognise individuals also means that you can return them to where they belong and even reintroduce them to their long-term partners. As such I have been ringing rehabilitated swans at Cuan House Wildlife Rescue for many years and Megan Morris Jones has been helping with the cost of all our swan ringing for some time. Her support and assistance is very much appreciated. 

Over the two days, 48 cygnets and 1 adult were ringed and it was nice to meet up with some old friends. Blue TZ7 originally ringed as a cygnet in Telford in Sept 1993 is still nesting on the canal near Newtown and had two cygnets, “Captain Bligh” (Yellow BLY) originally ringed as a cygnet in Tamworth in August 1991 is still nesting at Ellerton Mill near Newport (four cygnets) having bred there every year since 1994 and the oldest of all is “Fred”, hatched at an unknown location in 1989, ringed at Ellesmere in August 1990 and currently on his fourth “Darvic”. He is still nesting at Weeping Cross, Shrewsbury and at  24 years old may not be able to run too fast anymore but can certainly still father a cygnet (or two as is the case this year!)

Having caught your cygnets you need to detain them until they can be ringed and weighed. This is where Kelvin's former occupation comes in handy!

The other alternative is to put them behind bars!

Mum squares up to Paul as he tries to release her offspring.

Dignity restored, heading down to the canal for a wash.

Saturday 14 September 2013

From the very little to the very large...

At both ends of a busy day surveying, Tony and I found a bit of spare time to do a spot of mist netting. Our first stop was a tiny spruce plantation, which appeared to have several Goldcrests. Not all of them were interested in being caught, but after only a while we'd managed to catch a total of 4 Goldcrests, 2 Wrens, 1 Treecreeper, 3 Chaffinches and a Blackbird.

On the way home, we stopped off to try and catch some Dippers on a stretch of river where Tony had caught several before. Sure enough there were still plenty of Dippers, and we manged to catch 3 of them, along with 1 Kingfisher, 2 Grey Wagtails and this Grey Heron!!

I can't imagine I'll extract many more of these from a mist net!!

Friday 6 September 2013

Shore shank redemption!

Thanks Jane!

After nearly half a dozen abortive attempts over the past 12 months or so to catch more Greenshank this morning's efforts came good and, like London buses, two came along at the same time.

There has been much earnest discussion on the ringers' forum recently about the appropriate use of digital media. So as not to offend the sensitive all reference to my grinning face has been withheld!! 

Greenshank pass through the Dyfi every spring and autumn on their way to more northern breeding grounds and about 20 have been ringed by us over the years. No recoveries have yet resulted but, as with all ringing, its a numbers game and (without the use of expensive satellite telemetry) the more you can do the more likely you are to gather useful data.

A truly elegant and beautiful wader outclassed in my view only by a Marsh Sandpiper I once ringed in Kuwait

Also caught another one of these (a juvenile female this time - note the orange at the base of the lower mandible and the overall greeny-blue rather than bluey-green colour of the head and back). 

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Swallowing hard

Last night was perfect - for midges. On an evening swallow roost netting at Borth, Jane, Andre, Sarah and I got absolutely eaten alive by the little biters! Still, loads of midges should mean loads of food for hirundines and so it was! In typical fashion the first birds started swooping in on the sound lure about an hour before dusk. Every now and then they would disappear for a while and come back with a few followers. By the time they were actually ready to enter the roost there must have been well over 500 swirling and chattering over the three 60 ft nets set in the reed bed. In a very short space of time the nests were full of swallows, nearly 200 of them!

Andre extracting some of the nearly 200 swallows caught last night

Swallow has always been a bit of a bogey bird for me with regard to recoveries. Since I started ringing I have caught nearly 10,000 of them and I cannot remember ever having one recovered abroad!! That's nearly £2,000 worth at today's prices and I joke (well you have to really) that I might just as well have thrown the money, 20p at a time, into the bottom of the reed bed!! The thing is, you just never know what amazing journey the next bird ringed might reveal and clearly many other ringers' swallows have been recovered as can be seen from the maps in the brilliant Migration Atlas produced by the BTO.  Ringing isn't just about foreign recoveries though. We did control one ringed bird last night and this will, in a small way, add to the data on movements within Britain. On a national scale too, age ratios of catches can be used to gather important information on productivity and identify good years from bad. Still I'm hoping that the £37 I invested in the national ringing scheme last night earns a bit more interest than that invested on swallows so far!