Wednesday 29 January 2014


Last night Paul and I headed over to Llanerfyl to meet up with North Wales ringers Rob Sandham and Rob Hughes. Both Robs have restricted C permits and are keen to gain experience in lamping so that the can add this technique to their licenses.

Paul and Rob H took one half of the site and myself and Rob S took the other. Typically, after night after night of wet, windy weather with lots of birds the evening started very still and quiet and it was pretty difficult getting near enough to any of the few birds we saw. With perseverance both Robs equipped themselves well and managed to catch their first lamped birds. Under these conditions the most important lesson to learn, namely the importance of stealth, was clearly demonstrated. In all we had a combined catch of 4 Woodcock (including a retrap), 1 Jack Snipe and a Meadow Pipit.

After the Robs had headed home Paul and I tried a few more fields on the way back and managed to ring another 4 Woodcock,  2 Golden Plovers singles of Snipe, Fieldfare and Skylark and no less than 5 more Jack Snipe!!  What an amazing winter for this species with 38 birds ringed already and still at least a month and a half left before they migrate back to Scandinavia (and elsewhere) to breed.

Rob Sandham with a Woodcock and Jack Snipe. Training is a vital part of ensuring that all our ringing activities are as safe for the birds as possible. It is also about ensuring that the techniques and skills required to do this are passed on so that future conservationist, researchers and committed individuals can then add to our growing volume of knowledge.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Gusts, Glissades and Geo-locator.

Last night was not a very easy night for Woodcock catching with strong and very gusty winds making even walking in a straight line difficult. This combined with over grazed and very soggy and slippery ground saw myself and my helper flat on our backs on a couple of occasions. However fortune favours the brave and the 3rd Woodcock of the night had a reward for our efforts with a geo-locator recovery.

This bird, EY08315, was tagged on 5/3/13 and was sitting close to where it was first caught. I wasn't too optimistic about catching it as it was sat smiling at me in the middle of a very wet and cattle poached ground. A slow and steady approach paid off and it was only as I removed it from the net that I realised that this bird was carrying a tag.

This is my 4th geo-locator recovery having fitted 34 on my main site over the past few years.  It seems that there are now more adults around since the weather got colder on the continent, and as I have a high retrap rate on my ringing site I have my fingers crossed for more before they start their spring migration in early March.

I now have the map of the migration track of an earlier recovery EX28930 which was fitted in Nov 2010 which shows that it bred in Sweden and returned to Wales the following winter.

Monday 27 January 2014

No pain no gain...

Last night myself and Tony headed out again, making the most of the moonless nights. On arrival at the Woodcock site, there were fairly strong winds and a bit of rain, almost perfect 'lamping' conditions. However the weather soon changed! The light rain turned into heavy hail, and combined with the strong winds was very painful!! Needless to say, we soldiered on catching a total of 10 birds: 6 Wookcock, 1 Jack Snipe and 3 Fieldfares, the latter being caught in just one drop of the net!

We've now ringed over 30 Jack Snipe this winter!

This catch added to a very productive week 'lamping' with 40 birds being trapped and ringed: 15 (+1 retrap) Woodcock, 1 Common Snipe, 1 Jack Snipe, 4 Golden Plover, 2 Curlew, 1 Black-headed Gull, 7 Fieldfare, 6 Skylark and 3 Meadow Pipit.

We rarely lamp gulls as they tend to roost out on the sea or in the middle of big estuaries. This first year bird was one of two roosting on a big but shallow floodwater lake

An adult female Curlew. Curlews are long-lived, regularly reaching 20 years +, 
so most birds caught are adults

Lets hope this week is as successful.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Supersize or am I missing something?

Over the last week or so the number of Lesser Redpolls in the garden have increased along with the Goldfinch and newly returned Siskins. Today there must have been a mixed flock in excess of 50 or so on the feeders. A quick netting session produced about 20 new birds and this re-trap of a bird first caught last week when i didn't have a camera handy. The wing length of this individual is 78 mm (checked 3 times!) - outside the range given for Lesser Redpoll. To be honest though it just didn't stand out as anything out of the ordinary and I can't convince myself that it is anything else! Second opinions welcome!

Surely this is just a bigger Lesser Redpoll!

I can do this one! Adult female Siskin, just in.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Olwen by eck!

Last spring I satellite tagged a Woodcock near to Aberystwyth as a part of a research project run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) see This bird was given the name Olwen, and along with another 11 Woodcock tagged in the UK and Ireland last winter set off on her spring migration to Russia in March.

Olwen prior to release near Abersytwyth 7/3/13
It has been fascinating to be able to observe the details of their migration and already this project has revealed some fascinating information on the migration strategies of Woodcock. For example all the birds made long flights of up to 1,000km before stopping to rest for up to a week before setting off on their journeys again.

Being able to observe migration with accurate definition doesn't come cheap- each tag costs  £3000, but this has been possible due to funding for 26 tags coming from the shooting community. There are plans to secure further funding from a talk and auction being given in London by our national Woodcock expert  Andrew Hoodless of GWCT and myself this spring.

As Woodcock are a semi-nocturnal species this has meant that there have been a few issues with tags batteries running flat due to the lack of solar charging as daylight length shortens in the winter. However there is sufficeint data for some interesting research to be conducted on such fascinating topics as the corellation between weather and migration routes.

Migration tracks of tagged Woodcock

Data comes via the Argos satellite every three days and it has become a fascinating obsession to look at what our Woodcock have been up to. Google Earth has enabled us to zoom in and look at habitat on stopover points and in most of Europe, where street view has been available it has been amazing to be able to drop in and look at views from the nearest road to where our Woodcock are resting up.

In mid December we suddenly started receiving fresh data from Olwen. This indicated that she was on the move as often a migration stage will give enough sunlight on the birds back to bring the batteries back to life. Another indication that Woodcock will migrate during daylight hours as well as night.
Olwen had spent her summer months in north west Russia a few hundred km south of Arkhangelsk but on Dec 19th she turned up in Beswick, a small village north of Beverley in Yorkshire.

Olwen's migration route

A picture of habitat near to Olwen's summer location in Russia
On learning this I did my usual 'street view' trick to have a look the habitat of her new location. It emeregd that Olwen had found a hedge rather than the customary deep woodland for her daytime resting location. On closer investigation I was able to establish the name of the farm as the owner had kindly placed a sign near the entrance which gave their name along with that of the farm. After a short session on Google I was able to get a phone number of the landowner and gave them a call.

Olwen's hedge near to Beswick

They were delighted to learn that Olwen had made their farm her home and although they were shooting folk assured me that they did not shoot Woodcock so Olwen would remain safe on their land for as long as she stayed there.

So far Olwen has been happy to remain in Yorkshire, the mild winter may mean that she does not feel the need to push further west. Interestingly she has given good data for the time she has been in Beswick, which is probably because resting under her hedge has allowed sufficient light to ensure that the batteries on her tags have stayed charged. This has enabled us to observe her movements over the past couple of months, which shows a pattern of exploring different nightime fields, but returning to a position along the length of her hedge during daylight hours.

Despite being able to spy on Woodcock in such detail there still remain many questions about the mysterious ways of the Woodcock. Could it be that Olwen is a Yorkshire lass after all, and only turned up on my ringing site in Wales after being pushed there by the very cold weather of late Feb last spring?

You can see more about our woodcock work on our Face Book page under The Woodcock Network.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Losing Control!

After a few days of heightened expectation Andre and I returned to the finch field first thing this morning armed with loads of clean bird bags. As it turns out there are actually two finch fields, the one we put the nets in and the ones the finches were using!! After a couple of attempts at persuading them to join us in the original turnip field we gave up with just 1 Blackbird, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Dunnock and 3 Chaffinches for all our efforts. Still at least Andre was pleased - he'd never ringed a Dunnock before and we got to try out the new ring size too - every cloud!

Sunday 12 January 2014

Taking Control

Yesterday afternoon Sarah, Andre and I had a go at mist-netting a large finch flock (ca. 400 mixed Chaffinch and Brambling - that's big for these parts!) in a small turnip field near Devil's Bridge. In the first round after the three 60ft nets had been put up we extracted 49 finches including the 200th Brambling of the winter and the second control Brambling of the winter too. Unfortunately the next hour or so added just two more before they all headed off to roost!! If we get a spell of settled weather we'll certainly be trying there again only a bit earlier in the day this time.

Can't wait to discover where this first-winter female Brambling was ringed originally.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Old Black is Back

Kev Joynes got a few very nice photos of the male Black Redstart on the Old College in Aberystwyth and they clearly show the bird is ringed. Obviously we can't be 100% sure without catching him or getting a much closer shot of the ring but it is almost certainly the same one Paul and I ringed there as an adult two winters ago. 

Sunday 5 January 2014

A touch of gardening!

In the brief respite from gale-force winds and driving rain I managed to get a net up in the garden for a few hours this morning. Result was 38 new birds ringed including 22 Lesser Redpolls and 6 Goldfinch  - should stay at home more often!

The Redpolls have only just returned to the feeders and if this year follows the same pattern as last year there will be a lot more to follow shortly.

Friday 3 January 2014

Day 2 and a hat-trick already!

Last night Carlton Parry, his daughter Elinor, and I headed up to the Ceri Ridgeway again in search of more Golden Plovers to colour-ring. The wind was a bit strong and blustery making the birds rather jumpy but there were a reasonable number of Golden Plover present and we eventually managed to catch 3 new birds along with a Lapwing, 2 Jack Snipe, 1 Snipe and 1 Woodcock.

 'Snipe' family photo - the always welcome and strangely satisfying lamper's 'hat-trick'

Thursday 2 January 2014


Last night, Amy, Hannah and I had a quick spin round the fields at Ceri Ridgeway on our way back from New Year in Lancashire. Although the weather was perfect for lamping there wasn't that much to be seen (probably due to a fox seen patrolling the fields) but we did manage to catch the first few birds of 2014 - 2 Fieldfares a Skylark and a Golden Plover.

Here's hoping that the coming year proves to be one full of successful catches, interesting recoveries but most of all great times and happy memories. Have a good one!