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!


  1. Is the brightness of torch/lamp key or is a "decent" torch suffice? Myself and a couple of others had a bash last winter for Woodcock but we struggled to get the birds in the beam i.e. they were flushing within 10 metres of our approach because we weren't picking up the eye shine when scanning with the beam.

    1. Hi Richard,
      yeh, any descent torch should do but best if you give me a call I think! Number is 01597 825981.


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