Sunday, 30 November 2014

Everything must go!

This morning Andre and I headed down to Aberystwyth to try netting at a new site we had received permission for just the night before - in fact there was a big welcome waiting for us when we turned up!

A quick reccy revealed a couple of interesting net locations and the potential to catch the odd bird.

We quickly erected a net in the best looking spot but despite trying a bit of tactical 'driving' it was a while before we managed to catch our first bird, nearly 2 hours in fact, but it was worth it in the end - a nice immature male Sparrowhawk.

Having seen nothing else flying around whilst we were there we decided to call it a day and pack up. One bird seen, one bird caught, 100% success!!

Don't look back in anger!

P.S. This Sparrowhawk had chased a small bird in through the loading bay doors the previous afternoon and despite leaving the doors open it wouldn't drop low enough to fly out again. Unable to set the alarms because the bird was triggering them, would-be robbers missed an excellent opportunity to stock up on early Christmas presents when the store was left all night with all the alarms off (it was locked though and the alarms are back on again now!!). The store is pretty big and a single 40ft net looked completely lost but by carefully driving the bird towards the net with long poles we did manage to catch it eventually (although it managed to get out of the net three times!!) and safely release it outside. 

The curse has lifted...

Usually when I offer to take Marc Hughs out dazzling we end up seeing and catching very little (or get stuck in a field). This evening had the same feel about it, because as we drove up the last hill the mist set in! A trip around the first field resulted in just 1 Woodcock being caught, and very little else seen! The second field looked as if it would follow suit, as the first 2 Woodcock we saw were spooked by a Jack Snipe and a Fieldfare managed to escape as I was dropping the net! Then strangely, the mist started to clear. I said to Marc there's a (slim) chance we might see an owl now. Only minutes later a Short-eared Owl dropped out of the sky, and took an interest in the Woodcock I was trying to creep up on. It soon lost interest and sat on a post. Having had a bit of practice catching owls of posts with barbed wire recently, I was fairly confident that I could catch it if I could get close enough, BINGO! No sooner had I caught the owl, another one turned up about 20 meters away! This one unfortunately took off when I was within about 4 meters of it, but you can't have everything I suppose. Needless to say, myself and Marc were extremely pleased with the catch.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The long wait is over...

Around 3 and a half years ago (3 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 5 days to be exact but who's counting) I saw and very nearly caught my first ever Long-eared Owl. It was sat on a fence post, and I managed to get the net over the bird only for it to get snagged on some barbed wire. Needless to say, the owl got away and never came close again!! I was faced with the same challenge this evening and the same story nearly happened. Thankfully tho I was aware that the net would get snagged, so as soon as I had dropped the net on the owl I quickly grabbed it! I had local trainee ringer Elinor Parry with me at the time who couldn't quite believe what had just happened (neither could I!). Seeing a species for the first time is always a nice moment, but getting to ring it and have a real good look at it is even better.

Elinor getting to grips with the Long-eared Owl

Aged as a juvenile, so hopefully a 'local' bred bird

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Gold dust - well hardly!

This autumn  has  been an  exceptional  one for Goldcrest  ringing  in  our  area. I know that perhaps we haven't tried as hard or as regularly in the past but even so there do seem to be a hell of a lot around at the moment

First net round yesterday produced 25 in this net alone but they are 
pretty small so hard to see!

So far this autumn we have ringed over 400 and yesterday, at a new site south of Aberystwyth, Andre and I managed a catch of 60 Goldcrest in 3 nets along with 18 Long-tailed Tit, 7 Bullfinch, 5 Coal Tit, 4 Blue Tit, 2 Willow Tit,  1 Great Tit, 1 Wren and a Woodcock! 

One of the 60 Goldcrests caught yesterday. As is usually the case the vast majority were birds of the year. Not the best photo as the defining feature isn't visible!! 

One of the two Willow Tits we also caught.  These smart little birds have declined massively nationally but there still seem to be reasonable numbers in our local conifer plantations where there are lots of rotten tree stumps to nest in.

Although we obviously catch a lot of Woodcock each winter it is a long time since I saw one in a mist-net. As Andre has just qualified for his 'C' specific for winter wader dazzling he got to start his ringing notebook off with this as his first bird!

Andre kicks-off his 'dazzling' C permit in broad daylight!

This bird was aged as a juvenile based on the broad brown tips to the primary coverts and the rounded, rather than flattened, ends of the inner primaries.

And it posed briefly for a photo on release too!

As dusk was falling we noticed several hundred Redwing and Fieldfare heading into a dense bit of re-growth and quickly put up a couple of 40ft nets and played Redwing song on the tape-lures. Wasn't a massive hit but did catch 7 Redwing, a Fieldfare and a Blackbird to add to the day's catch. Six more Woodcock were seen flighting out of the cover too so seems good numbers have arrived back now.

Hoping to go back for a more dedicated effort at the thrush roost soon as there were a lot of birds present and they were definitely in a catchable site given a bit more time to set nets.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Taking stock...

While out dazzling waders at night time, you occasionally stumble across other species roosting in the fields. Species such as Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Fieldfare etc are regularly seen and trapped and expected to be encountered, but Stock Doves on the other hand are always a bit of a shock to see roosting in a field at night time especially when there are so many trees around! Maybe this is 'normal' behavior and we're only just realising? Needless to say I trapped another Stock Dove last night, along with 2 Fieldfares and 3 more Woodcock.

'3rd Stock Dove to be dazzled this winter'

'Fieldfares have finally started to arrive, but only in small numbers'

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Owls that........

After Tony's success we decided to head out to some of our 'dazzling' sites in north Radnorshire to see what new birds had arrived on the recent full moon. After the first 3 sites we had managed to catch 3 Snipe, 4 Woodcock, 3 Golden Plovers and 2 Fieldfares which was what we would normally expect to catch, give or take a few birds. Despite it being very late we still had some battery power left, so I suggested we tried one more site! It was definitely worth the effort as this site seemed to be alive with Owls! On the section I was checking, I soon noticed an 'eared owl' in the distance perched on the ground. It was in the middle of a boggy area so I wasn't expecting to get anywhere near it. But with some very delicate foot work I managed to get close enough to catch the bird, it was indeed a Shortie!! Not long after I notice another 'eared owl' hunting in the distance, this one wasn't having any of it and kept its distance, I think it was a Long-eared. On the way back to the car a female Barn Owl dropped to the ground about 3 meters in front of me only to be put up by a Snipe!! Tony also saw a different Long-eared Owl on his patch, but this one also kept his distance. While driving back Tony spotted a different Barn Owl sat on a fence post, so we stopped and I had a go at catching one on a post, bingo!! As if this wasn't enough, we then saw Tony's Long-eared Owl again, and then nearer to home we managed to catch a Tawny Owl that was perched on the roadside!!

'juvenile female Short-eared Owl'

'juvenile male Barn Owl'

'adult female Tawny Owl'

In all of the 'owl excitement' we managed to catch another 3 new (+ 2 re-trap) Woodcock and 1 more Fieldfare! A night that's going to be very hard to beat!!

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Long and the Short of it!

With the weatherman giving warnings of high winds and heavy rain it was time to set off ringing again! These are just the conditions in which you can get a very good catch. Last night produced a couple of unexpected surprises though.

Firstly this Short-billed Woodcock. We have shown pictures of "shorties" on this blog before but this is the first one I've encountered and had a bill just over half the normal length. Like Paddy's recent "Snowcock   " this bird was also an adult so has managed to cope with its impediment for some time.

Secondly, whilst walking one rushy field I noticed what I initially thought was another "Shortie" hunting in the beam of the torch. I tried "squeaking" it in but it took no notice and eventually flew off. Later, on my way back, it was hunting the same patch of ground but this time it eventually perched on a fence post and I was able to walk up quietly and net it off the top! With the weather so mild on the continent at the moment it is likely this bird is probably one of our small local breeding population but there is also the chance that it has come in from Scandinavia to winter in our milder winter climate.

Long-eared Owl - absolutely stunning! A juv I think but the diagrams in Baker are a bit confusing to say the least!!

As our Barn and Little Owl man, Chris Griffiths, lives just a few miles down the road I gave him a call to see if he wanted to broaden his ringing experience, don't think he could have made it any faster if he had flown! 

4 more Woodcock, 2 Golden Plover and a Fieldfare made it well worth going out for and the weather wasn't half as bad as it was forecast anyway!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

One by One

Building up a picture of where our birds come from, or go to, and how long they live through ordinary ringing studies is all a numbers game. Recovery rates for many species are pretty low so unless you can afford to use some of the expensive new technologies you usually need to ring a lot of birds to get a small amount of information back. Glass half-empty people take this as a reason not to ring at all whilst the more enthusiastic and optimist of us see it as a reason to do as much as possible. Whatever the species, whatever the study, data can only be accumulated by increasing the sample size but you do have to start somewhere! Every project, even those that have been running for years and years started with the first bird. Although I have now ringed well-over 3,000, I can still remember vividly being lowered down a mine-shaft in 1986 to ring my first ever Chough and I even remember catching my first ever Dipper back in 1980! (I have now ringed over 5,000). The point of this? No, not trumpet blowing, just pointing out that every single bird ringed has the potential to add something to the sum of all human knowledge be it a common bird or a less common one. A couple of recent recoveries highlight this fact.

I have just been informed by HQ of a retrap of the only Cetti's Warbler we have ever ringed on Borth Bog (well actually the only one we have ever ringed outside of the Teifi Marshes). This bird, ringed as a 3J back in August 2012, was controlled 105km away at Shotton Steel Works, Flintshire in April and May 2014 by Merseyside Ringing Group. It may have been the only one ringed (and it may not have been part of a specific project) but it is now a line in the 2nd Edition of the Migration Atlas! 

Juvenile Cetti's Warbler on Borth Bog

Similarly bird-watchers in Aberystwyth have reported the return of a ringed male Black Redstart to the Old College. It can't be absolutely confirmed yet (until someone gets a nice clear close-up photo of the ring) but my money is on it being the male Paul ringed back in December 2010 returning for his fourth consecutive winter.  If so this adds just a bit more to our knowledge on site fidelity and life expectancy for this uncommon species in Wales and it is interesting to see how many local birders are now eager to know if it is the same bird rather than bemoaning the fact it has a ring on!

Male Black Redstart on the Old College in Aberystwyth  (Photo by Janet Baxter)

I look forward to posting the recovery details of the Great Snipe in due course because that would add a whole new page to the Migration Atlas 2nd Edition!!