Wednesday 29 October 2014

Look who's back!

iPhone record shot of the first Woodcock of the winter. 

This is the first Woodcock caught on our "dazzling" sites this winter. The first seen, just half an hour earlier, eluded capture and went off unmarked! 

So far this season we have ringed over 120 Golden Plover, 30 Jack Snipe, 60 Snipe and 1 Great Snipe which all bodes well for the main event which is going to be happening over the next four months!

Tuesday 21 October 2014

An almost appropriate Dipper!

Last night, Lloyd and I checked a load of Dipper roost sites along the whole length of the Red Lake (a river!) in Shropshire. This annual roost monitoring is currently taking place at more than 250 traditional roost sites, throughout multiple river catchments, in Shropshire and Mid-Wales and is giving us great information on adult and nestling survival rates, juvenile dispersal distances and weight data. This work compliments our summer pulli ringing and RAS project (which is completed mostly through resightings of these winter-caught colour-ringed birds). 

The roost visits are limited to once or twice a winter depending on whether birds are missed on the first visit. Currently nearly 100 of the 250 roosts have been counted and 92 birds have been handled from the 115 present. Early indications are that juvenile survival has been good and numbers present overall are a bit higher this year than for several years. As usual, many roosts were empty and most had either 1 or 2 birds but one held an exceptional 11 birds! We will obviously know more when we have completed the survey and will keep you posted.

One of the 30 Dippers handled last night and almost appropriate!

A couple of nights ago, on the way home from catching Golden Plovers, I came across a new species for the group standing in the middle of the road - after a moments hesitation I decided against ringing it!

The owners of this cracking bird were very pleased (and surprised) to get her back the following day and she is now safely re-instated with the rest of her gaggle. Although pinioned (as required by law apparently) she still managed to fly so they were keen to know how on earth I had managed to catch her!  "A trade secret I'm afraid"!

Saturday 18 October 2014

Cross-Border Snipers

Most ringers hate wet or windy conditions. It usually signals an end to any plans to go out netting or nest-finding. The great thing about dazzling is that all that wet and windy weather we get in Wales in winter is absolutely perfect!!

Last night was a classic example. With the forecast predicting rain and high winds, and with no moon to speak of, both Paul and I headed out into the foul weather. Paul did two of our regular sites near Llanbadarn Ffynydd whilst I headed just over the border into Shropshire to do one of our main sites on the Ceri Ridgeway.

Some recent uninformed discussion on Bird Forum following Paul's amazing catch last  week needs laying to rest! Dazzling is not about attracting passing migrants down out of the sky! We aren't lighthouses!! Our regular targets - Snipe, Jack Snipe, Woodcock and Golden Plover aren't all being disturbed at roost either! They are all nocturnal feeders so are all wide awake and padding round these wet pastures looking for lunch when we are out catching. Even without our attentions the birds are being constantly moved around the fields by foxes, badgers and owls. The essence of dazzling is that the ringer simply hides behind a bright light so the birds can't see them. This (sometimes!) allows the ringer to get close enough to drop a landing net on top of them. Because of the constant risk of predation these birds are finely tuned to ANY sound so if your wellies squeak, your trousers rustle, or you tread on a bit of dry thistle stalk the birds will hear you approaching and fly off quite normally! We might make it sound easy but stealth, an ability to read the bird's body language, and good hand to eye co-ordination are also essential skills for successful dazzling and not everyone is good at it. 

Many birds appear not to mind the light at all and we have frequently watched them carry on feeding right up until the time you drop the net on them!. Rain is good because it not only makes the birds hunker down but it also masks the sound of the approaching ringer so capture rates are very much improved.

Too wet for photos last night so here's one from last winter

Last night our combined catch was 15 Snipe, 9 Jack Snipe (including 2 retraps - 1 from this winter one from last), 3 Golden Plover (including a retrap of a returning 2013 bird), 4 Meadow Pipit, 2 Skylark and 1 Teal. The more ringers we can encourage to try their hands at dazzling the better the chance of getting the odd control. I did catch our first ever British-ringed Golden Plover control a few nights ago but obviously don't know where it has come from yet. 

Despite getting absolutely drenched last night If it rains tonight I dare say I'll be out there again!

Sunday 12 October 2014

A response

As ringers we have been encouraged by the BTO to move towards more project based ringing and as a group we are wholeheartedly embracing this advice. This blog aims to inform readers on the results of our projects on species like Nightjar, Chough, Dipper, Woodcock, Golden Plover, Ring Ouzel and Hawfinch - many of which are species of conservation concern.

The Great Snipe was caught incidentally whilst attempting to catch Woodcock/Golden Plover for our long-running projects on these species. So far we have ringed nearly 2,000 Woodcock with recoveries in Russia (20+), Scandinavia (4), Spain (2), France, Netherlands, Germany and Ireland and have recorded nearly 500 retraps throwing light on winter site fidelity, survival rates and cold-weather weight responses.

We have also colour-ringed over 600 Golden Plover with movements to or from Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Finland.

Much data from our work, such as that on Chough, Nightjar and Dipper, is used by conservation agencies to inform direct species conservation such as species action plans, site management and development mitigation.

For more information on bird ringing go to:

N. B. Dazzling is a legal term written into wildlife legislation and not one of our own making!

Thursday 9 October 2014


With heavy showers forecast overnight I headed out to one of our local winter 'dazzling' sites. The weather once again wasn't as predicted, so catching was extremely difficult. Before too long I was ready to settle for the Skylark and Meadow Pipit that I had caught, when a large long-billed bird got up and landed again. Woodcock I thought, so I quickly went over to try and catch it. When I got to the place it landed, all I could see was an enormous Snipe staring at me. I soon realised it was a Great Snipe and carefully crept through the reeds until I was within 'striking' distance. I couldn't believe it when I took it out of the net, it was an absolute monster.

The monster!!

A fully barred belly.

The distinctive tail pattern.

With only 3 other Great Snipe ever being trapped and ringed in the UK, several measurement and photos were taken of the key features that distinguish it from Common Snipe:

Wing length - 155mm (Common Snipe 127-142)
Tarsus - 39.4mm (Common Snipe 29-36)
Weight - 205.5g (Common Snipe 100g average)

Over the past 5 years, collectively as a group, we've managed to trap a good number of wintering waders on the hills around mid Wales:

Woodcock - 1,698
Common Snipe - 195
Jack Snipe - 99
Lapwing- 100
Golden Plover - 624
and now a Great Snipe.  Who knows what else could be lurking around in these parts!!

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Morning Wood....

Popped down early this morning to see if any more Ring Ouzels had shown up on the berries I'd put out. No joy unfortunately, and the Starlings have found them now so that's probably it for another year,. Whilst I was there though I notice 3 Green Woodpeckers feeding nearby. Green Woodpeckers are a scarce bird locally and seemingly getting scarcer. I quickly put a net up and played their yaffling calls on the speaker. Within a few minutes there was not only a Green but also a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the net! Unfortunately Lesser Spotted lives up to its name around here now so there wasn't much chance of the hat-trick!! This is the first Green Woodpecker we've caught for about 4 years but we are having a good year for Great Spotted Woodpeckers with 18 ringed so far.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Jacking off...

Despite the full moon and the cloudless nights, I've ventured out up on to the hills the last 3 nights to see what's about. Several Common and Jack Snipe seem to have arrived already, with a handful of Golden Plover and Lapwing also present.

Not expecting to catch anything, I'm extremely pleased to have trapped 2 Jack and 2 Common Snipe already! With Tony catching a few waders already as well, it could get busy over the new moon period!!

Thursday 2 October 2014

Two out of three ain't bad!

This morning I went to a regular local passage stop-off for Ring Ouzels where we have managed to catch a small number of birds in previous autumns. The local Rowans haven't been as productive at this site as they usually are so I've spent the last few morning augmenting the crop with berries collected elsewhere. This morning I discovered two things. Firstly, sheep love eating Rowan berries if you put them out on the ground! Secondly that you CAN get Ring Ouzels to come to where you want them to by putting food out!! I saw just three this morning but managed to catch two of them which ain't bad at all! A couple of winters ago Mick Green, Paddy Jenks and I spent a whole week in the Ring Ouzel's main wintering range in the Atlas Mountains and only managed to catch nine!

1st year Male Ring Ouzel caught near Rhayader

Ring Ouzels aren't that common in Mid-Wales anymore but they are a species we have been specifically targeting to try and discover why they are declining. All the adult birds caught in the past few years have been colour-ringed with a white Darvic engraved with two letters to make them individually recognisable in the field.  Also, in conjunction with the Ecology Matters Trust, we have also been attempting to fit four geolocators to breeding adults. This summer we caught two breeding males but unfortunately one was before we had received the geolocators so just the one bird got tagged!

Adult male Ring Ouzel caught earlier this year near Dolgellau showing fitted geolocator

The two birds this morning were both fitted with colour-rings but since the birds need to be retrapped in a subsequent summer in order to get the geolocators back, and we have no idea where these birds were reared/bred, the chances of doing so are too small to make it worth tagging these ones. Hopefully we will get chance to fit the three tags we still have to breeding birds next year. This is easily said though as they tend to nest in some fairly remote spots!

The only nest of pulli we managed to ring this year was at a nest that Dave Smith found smack in the middle of the cliff shown above. Luckily, having flogged in, the chicks were just big enough to ring although unfortunately they were just  too small to colour-ring.

This is the first Ring Ouzel brood I have ringed since I had a colour-ringing project running on the small and declining breeding population on the Long Mynd in Shropshire that was being monitored by Leo Smith over 10 years ago now!

Think, in the circumstances, a little bit of gurning is acceptable!