Tuesday 23 August 2016

One good tern......

deserves another....

Last night David Tompkins and I had a netting session at Ynyslas to try and colour-ring a few more Sandwich Terns. This set of high tides has been a bit frustrating so far as the wind has ruled out the use of mist-nets and so we have been relying on dazzling, and terns don't dazzle!  Although there have been a few Sandwich Terns around they don't seem to be using the point as a roost and we failed to catch any on this set of tides. We did however catch two Common Terns and two Roseate Terns. These are only the fourth and fifth Roseates to be caught at Ynyslas. The previous three birds had all been ringed in the Republic of Ireland and it is almost certain that the juvenile we caught wearing a ring last night has been too. The adult it was with was unringed, and given the intensive ringing projects in operation in Ireland for this species I bet there aren't that many of them around.

A first for me was the capture of an adult Knot. It is not unusual to catch Knot in small numbers at Ynyslas at this time of year but they are invariably juvenile birds freshly arrived from their breeding grounds.

Over the set of tides we managed to ring a total of 247 Dunlin, 9 Ringed Plover, 6 Knot, 4 Oystercatcher, 2 Turnstone, 1 Greenshank, 1 Redshank, 1 Sanderling, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 2 Common Terns and 1 Roseate Tern (plus the control juvenile). Many thanks to David, Mark Cutts and Jane for their invaluable assistance.

Saturday 20 August 2016

The nights are drawing out

For the past two and a half months I have been pretty much nocturnal, or crepuscular at least. I am extremely fortunate that much of my paid fieldwork these days is directed towards one of my favourite birds, the Nightjar. These are truly fascinating birds. A friend once called them a bird designed by the Japanese because of all the special features! Massive mirror lens eyes (the Tapetum lucidum), a set of well-developed rictal bristle to direct moths into the extremely large gape, and even a comb on their toe to comb these bristles. Their main feature however is their amazing camouflage and an ability to nest almost completely undetected!! Despite lots of fieldwork, radio-tags, GPS geolocators and thermal imaging cameras I have managed to find a grand total of just 6 nests this year. The poor weather has been a major hinderance with activity levels well below normal but amazingly all 6 nests produced 2 chicks each. So far this year we have ringed a total of 49 Nightjars, including 12 chicks and retrapped at least a dozen birds ringed in previous years.

A Nightjar chick, capable of flight but still being fed by the adults.

At several of the breeding territories the first real proof that the birds were even attempting to nest was the appearance of fledged young, although, to be fair, these could have moved in from outside the study area. GPS tags have been fitted to 6 males this year and three of these have already been recovered. Each tag has shown a great amount of movement around the forest with the birds visiting a great range of clear-fells over the course of a few nights. One tag recorded over 1,200 GPS quality locations showing that the bird was covering most of the forest, far from the rigid territoriality that would be expected and helpful! A great example of the fact that the more information we gather the more questions it poses.

A juvenile Nightjar

Along with the tagging and nest recording, this year we have been collaborating in a large study looking at the genetics of Nightjars being conducted by a Hasselt University in Belgium. Birds caught for ringing and chicks in the nest have been buccal swabbed under licence from the BTO and these will be compared with birds caught elsewhere in this country and in Europe.

Buccal swabs air-drying before being sent off for DNA analysis at Hasselt University, Belgium

Much of the monitoring work being undertaken aims to investigate any possible effects of onshore wind farm development on Nightjar populations including the avoidance of active nests during the construction phase

The past fortnight or so has seen some lovely warm nights, great weather for Nightjarring, and it has allowed us to trap and ring a few juveniles and target a few of the birds still wearing GPS tags in the hope that we may still get the odd one back. Thankfully though, the Nightjar season (and the massive amount of driving it entails) is drawing to an end and there is a brief chance to get some quality sleep before the Golden Plovers and Woodcock return.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Messing about on the river

This time of year is always full of different ringing opportunities with so little time to do everything you'd like (sleep!) and even less time therefore to blog. As a result, and because I couldn't do a better job myself anyway, please find a link to one prepared earlier by my old mate Steve Parr following a recent weekend visit.

Goosander and Common Sandpiper ringing

Saturday 6 August 2016

A Chicken Sandwich?

Last night saw the first successful Sandwich Tern catch of the year with 4 new birds colour-ringed - 2 adults and 2 juveniles. The second bird of the night was a great sponsorship opportunity missed, especially given the trade myself, Jacques and David Tompkins have given the Oswestry branch on our way to and from Nightjarring this summer!!

Also caught were 20 Dunlin, 3 Sanderling and 2 Ringed Plover. Bigger things to come on the next few sets of high tides hopefully but a great start to the autumn. On the previous set of tides  Jane and I had an unsuccessful attempt to catch Sandwich Terns but did manage a modest catch of 10 Dunlin, greatly improved by the fact that the first one out of the net was wearing a San Sebastian ring!! Had me going for a while as I thought that might have been in South America!!

Reports have been trickling in recently of colour-ringed Sandwich Terns caught at Ynyslas in previous seasons including KDB back from Namibia (seen and photographed at Dawlish Warren along with 3 other Ynyslas-ringed birds KAL, KAH and a BTO only by Lee Collins), KBB at Rhos Point, Caernarfon (seen and photographed by Rob Sandham) and KBC at Ainsdale on the Mersey (seen and photographed by Peter Kinsella). Many thanks to all for taking the time to report their sightings. All good evidence, if any should be needed, of the benefits of colour-rings over ordinary metal ones.