Friday 27 November 2015


In the 35 years I've been a licensed bird-ringer I've caught birds using a great variety of methods, lures and baits but this was a new one on me!

Caroline's works car was proving extremely interesting to one of our 'garden' birds

I've had birds flying at their reflections in car mirrors before but have never managed to put it to good use and certainly not with such a smart bird!

Not sure the technique has wider application though!

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Purple patch...

My good run of catching continued last night. Despite a near full moon, light drizzle tempted me out to see if anything new had come in during the last few bright nights. Birds seemed to be everywhere, and although I wasn't really expecting to catch much I still managed to catch a 'dazzler's hat trick' (Woodcock, Snipe and Jack Snipe) so a good choice to venture out.

While checking the fields I did notice a very small wader tucked away. I could see it wasn't one of the local species and when I got a little closer I could see that it was a Purple Sandpiper!! There was some very nervous steps that followed, but amazingly it stayed put and I managed to drop the net on it.

Although the number of these birds getting ringed in the UK is increasing, I would be very surprised if one has been dazzled in a sheep field before, especially in Mid Wales!!

Just goes to show, anything can be out there!!

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Shropshire Curlew Curtain Call?

During spring and summer 2015 I had the great pleasure of working on a research project organised by the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme to try to establish why the local Curlew population, in common with those in many other areas, is in steady decline.

The aim of the project was to locate a minimum of 12 Curlew nests, install remote cameras to try to discover the causes of nest failure, monitor hatching success and hopefully radio-tag any resulting chicks to assess chick survival to fledging.

Curlew nest with 4 eggs in a silage field

Adult Curlew on a nest on common land

Click here to see a Curlew returning to its nest.

A couple of nights ago we held the second of two farmer and land-manager feedback evenings in one of the local village halls so I can now share the results with you too.

In total 13 nests were located but one of these was never seen to contain eggs. Of the 12 nest that had eggs only 3 managed to produce chicks, 1 x 4, 1 x 3 and 1 x 2. 

Hatching Curlew egg - one of the few to survive long enough to do so

The causes of failure of the nine nests that failed at the egg stage are shown in the pie-chart below. The main predator was, unsurprisingly perhaps, the fox. 

Caught in the act - a fox takes a selfie just before tucking into the 3 Curlew eggs

The cause of desertion at the one nest was not established but it was NOT the camera as the birds had been reacting normally for a number of days after it was installed. 

The nine hatched chicks were all fitted with miniature radio-tags whilst still in the nest. Two complete broods (totalling 7 chicks) failed to last longer than 4 days before they were all predated! 

Radio-tagged Curlew chick, about a week after tagging.
 Nearly 75% had already been predated by this stage.

The remaining two chicks lasted about 10 days and 28 days respectively before they too were both predated by mammalian predators. Not a single Curlew chick survived to fledging!

Tagged Curlew chick at nearly 1 month old. Unfortunately this last surviving youngster was predated by a fox a few days later

Several other pairs, where no nest could be located, were also kept under observation and these too appeared to have failed completely. Despite a plea for records from volunteers in the three local Community Wildlife Groups there was not a single instance or report of any of the local Curlews alarm calling late on in the season. 

Curlews are long-lived birds with the BTO longevity record standing at over 31 years and 10 months. Evenso they clearly need to get some young off to sustain the population. The project is aiming to run for another two breeding seasons, increasing the sample size of nests monitored and thereby more accurately determining the causes of nest failure on a local level. There are plans, working alongside the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, to instigate increased levels of predator control locally and maybe trial electric fencing around some nests but all this will depend on the project sourcing sufficient funding. If something is not done soon I fear that the iconic bubbling of the Curlew may be lost from the hills and valleys of South Shropshire in our lifetime and that would be an absolute tragedy.

Whilst carrying out this work I managed to locate and identify two nesting birds out of the 20 Curlews we had colour-ringed at the communal roost on the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dolydd Hafren reserve on the Severn between Welshpool and Newtown. Another of these birds has since been recorded wintering at Devoran in Cornwall. I am hoping to colour-ring more adults there this winter, if the river levels allow.

Saturday 14 November 2015

Wet, windy and lots of birds...

With strong winds and lots of rain forecast for this week, most ringers would think twice about trying to catch birds. But for us the conditions were ideal for catching. With lots of rain falling the fields where we dazzle waders are a lot wetter resulting in the birds being much more spread out and therefore less 'jumpy', and the strong wind usually means that the birds will stay more 'hunkered' down to the ground and are less likely to want to fly. So with all this in mind Silvia and I have been out catching every night this week at various sites with great success. A total of 70 new birds and 10 re traps! Although Woodcock number still seem very low, all other species of birds that we expect to encounter whilst out dazzling seem to be at their usual numbers.

Total captures for the past 5 nights are: Woodcock 5(+1), Golden Plover 15 (+2), Lapwing 1, Snipe 23 (+1), Jack Snipe 6 (+5), Tawny Owl 1, Meadow Pipit 1, Fieldfare 18 (+1).

With much of Silvia's and my focus being on Jack Snipe again this winter, it's encouraging to have already trapped 27 new birds and re trapped 8 from last winter. Some of these re traps were trapped in the same square metre of field that they were trapped in last winter!

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Irish AA in red!

Two year's ago I headed out to Co. Wicklow to help my mate Damian Clarke set up a Dipper ringing study. During the 4 nights I was there we caught and BTO ringed a total of 56 Dippers. I returned in 2014 with the hope of helping him start a colour-ringing project but the delivery of the colour-rings was delayed and they arrived the day after I left! Last Friday we finally got to officially launch Damian's Wicklow Dipper colour-ringing project with the capture of the first bird this autumn which, as it happens, was a retrap of a bird originally ringed in 2013. Over the course of three nights we caught and colour-ringed 40 Dippers of which nine were retraps from autumn 2013.  Given that we didn't visit all the sites we did in 2013, and that other birds wearing BTO rings were missed that is a very encouraging survival rate, which, at first glance, seems a bit better than we get over here in Wales. Hopefully the colour-ringing will progress apace now and we can make some direct comparisons between Wales and Wicklow. It could be interesting as there are obviously no Tawny Owls in Ireland and they are known to be a predator of roosting Dippers over here.

A Wicklow colour-ring Dipper, the first of many hopefully

On the subject of owls, whilst over there we also had a go at netting a small wetland area owned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I wasn't expecting to be doing wader netting so I only had one 60ft net with me. None the less we managed to catch 12 Redshanks on a small pool in a flooded field. Whilst ringing the birds we heard a loud commotion from near the net and rushed over to see a Short-eared Owl sitting on a Redshank it had caught and didn't want to let go of - so much so in fact that I walked over and picked it off the bird by hand! The Redshank was a little the worse for wear but still alive and managed to fly off. No wonder the owl looks p****ed off in the photo!

Hand-caught Short-eared Owl. Sexed as a female on background colour
 and strength of markings and as a juvenile on tail pattern.

There can't have been that many Short-eared Owls ringed in Wicklow before?