Saturday 30 December 2017

The Long and the Short of it.

Lamping has been a bit slow for me over the past few months and work has interfered generally with ringing hence the lack of posts. I have managed to get out a few times though and add to the number of Golden Plovers colour-ringed and have also had a good few Woodcock but there have been a few other more notable highlights. 

Having not seen one all autumn I caught two Short-eared Owls in successive visits to the fields around the Leri Boatyard whilst in search of Lapwings.

Aged and sexed this as an adult female based on central tail feather pattern and overall buff background colour but happy to be corrected by anyone with more experience.

The yellow eyes of this 'Shorty' are distinctively different from the
 orange eyes of the Long-eared shown below

Also caught this 1st winter Male Long-eared Owl off a fence post at one of our upland Woodcock sites and missed another unringed one just a few nights later at the same site.

Star bird without doubt though was the first Lapwing I managed to catch since we got approval to fit colour-rings from the IWSG. I noticed it had a ring on just as I dropped the net on it but was delighted to find it said Vogel Trekstation, Arnhem, Holland on it !

Monday 13 November 2017

A very well-travelled Sandwich

Above is a photo taken by Theuns Kruger of a flock of mixed terns and gulls in South Africa with Table Mountain pictured in the background.

Here is a photo he took at the same site on 8th November 2017 of one of our Sandwich Terns, Red KAL, ringed at Ynyslas as a juvenile on 25th August 2013. This individual has been identified on passage at Dawlish Warren by Lee Collins in four of the five years since it was ringed!

At a little over 9,900km I think this is the furthest flung recovery of a ringed bird I have ever had out of well over 150,000 birds ringed -  many thanks indeed Theuns!

Thursday 9 November 2017

Final pulli of 2017?

On Tuesday afternoon I had a phone call from one of our Barn Owl landowner's near Aberystwyth to say that althought she new it was a bit unlikely she thought she might have young owls in the nest box again (I had already ringed a brood of 5 large chicks there in July). I knew that Chris Griffiths had ringed his final two broods of the year just a few weeks earlier so informed her that it was not that unlikely and that I would try and get over to check as soon as I could. Yesterday afternoon I checked the box and there was indeed a 2nd brood of 3 chicks which were duly ringed, weighed and measured and all appeared to be a good weight and in good health. 

The smallest chick had primaries less than half emerged and it is quite likely that, barring bad weather, it might still be in the nest in December!

Whilst this might not be that unusual in the milder climate of southern England it is pretty unusual for the hill-farms of Mid Wales. I have only ever ringed a brood of Barn Owls in November once before and they were at a more advanced stage so this is the latest brood I have yet encountered.  2017 has been a quite remarkable breeding season for Barn Owl in Mid Wales though with Chris having ringed over 200 chicks himself and the group having ringing well over 300 between us.

Another one for the 'dazzling list'...

Although my main target species when dazzling are Jack Snipe, Golden Plover and now Lapwing, I still try to catch whatever else I see while I'm out walking around my dazzling sites. Sometimes even the commoner species are a nice surprise, as was the case last night. While searching around one of my sites last night I noticed a very dark bird sat on the ground. I could see straight away that it was a Blackbird, but this one was from the 'continent'. I've only seen one or two of these larger Blackbirds (this one had a wing of 137mm) in the hand, so it was nice to get another good look at one.

Despite tucking him away 'safely' behind some vegetation, he preferred to be out in the open.

This Blackbird became the latest edition to my ever growing dazzling list from the hills in Mid Wales:
Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Great Snipe, Woodcock, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared owl, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Buzzard, Kestrel, Grey Heron, Mallard, Teal, Stock Dove, Grey Partridge, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Wheatear, Starling, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush and Reed Bunting. A few that have unfortunately got away are: Snow Bunting, Wigeon and Pintail. 

Just goes to show that there's plenty out there, it's just a matter of finding it!

Sunday 22 October 2017

A Ruff night...

With strong winds and rain forecast over night, Silvia and I once again headed to a couple of our winter dazzling sites. As with Ophelia, Brian had seemingly 'forced' a lot of the birds to stay in more sheltered areas. Thankfully tho there were still a few birds to have a go at catching. The Golden Plovers were nicely spread out in the fields, and this made catching them 'easier'. I had just caught one of the Golden Plovers when I looked up and saw a different wader in the beam. I couldn't believe it, it was a Ruff (I know it's not the rarest of waders, but it's not something I've seen before while out wader dazzling in mid Wales). After giving me a little run around, I eventually managed to trap the bird. Although it appeared to be thin, it wasn't under weight so we ringed it and took some measurements before releasing it back into the sheep field.


It was a good night all round for catching with 30 other birds also trapped - 18(+3) Golden Plover, 5 Snipe, 1(+1) Jack Snipe, 1 Redwing and 1 Meadow Pipit.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Peewit project...

Last night Silvia and I headed out on to the hills of mid Wales, to a couple of our regular 'winter wader dazzling' sites to see what Storm Ophelia would help us catch. As predicted, the winds were very strong. This had clearly effected the number of birds that were feeding out in the open in the fields. Thankfully there were still some birds to have a go at catching! One of our target birds for the night was Lapwing as the group had recently received permission to start colour ringing them, and the colour rings themselves had just turned up in the post! Despite seeing up to 7 Lapwings at the first site, I couldn't seem to get near enough to catch them so I was beginning to think that we would have to wait to kick start the groups new project. Thankfully at our second site there were a few more Lapwings to try and catch. I altered my approach to the birds, and bingo within the space of a few minutes I had trapped 2 Lapwings.

CA and CC became the first two Lapwing to have our colour rings put on.

All of the Lapwings we catch from now on will have a red plastic ring above the metal BTO ring on the right tarsus, and a white darvic on the right tibia with (for now) 2 letters in black writing. Since 2010 the group has ringed over 200 Lapwings without receiving a single recovery. With our coloring ringing projects on Golden Plover, Curlew, Whimbrel and Dunlin already giving us some fantastic recoveries, we're hoping that putting colour rings on Lapwings will increase our chances of recoveries, and hopefully help us identify where our birds are coming from, and why they are declining as a breeding species in this area!

Its been a very productive few days for dazzling, and in the last 8 nights Silvia and I have had some very good catches. Total birds trapped are - 54(+4) Golden Plover, 2 Lapwing, 1 Woodcock, 29(+2) Snipe, 22(+7) Jack Snipe, 1 Redwing and 10 Meadow Pipit.

Thursday 28 September 2017

Numerous Notable Numenius

Over the summer I have once again been busy working on the Curlew Country project trying to reverse population declines of this charismatic wader in the Shropshire Hills and Welsh Marches. Part of this work involves colour-ringing adult Curlews at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dolydd Hafren Reserve on the Severn between Welshpool and Newtown. To date we have colour-ringed 114 adults there along with about 40 at other sites including a coastal site at Llanrhystud, just south of Aberystwyth. Our main focus is to gather information on breeding site fidelity and adult survival rates but long-distance movements are always of great interest. In May, a mate of mine, Clive McKay, emailed to say that whilst he was out doing survey work he came across one of our colour-ringed Curlews on its nesting territory in Lanarkshire. This bird proved to be one of the ones colour-ringed at the winter roost at Llanrhystud. On 4th May 2017, another of the birds from this roost was resighted nearly 2,000km NE on its breeding grounds in Lapua, Finland. These two recoveries show clearly how birds wintering together at a single site may have very different origins. Then, on 11th July 2017 the curlew below, ringed at Dolydd Hafren, was photographed at Petit Port, Jersey, Channel Islands by Mick Dryden- was this a local breeding bird moving south having failed in its nesting attempt? 

Curlew at Petit Port, Jersey © Mick Dryden

Finally, to cap off a great set of recoveries,  a short while ago, on 24th September I was netting again at Llanrhystud and caught a German-ringed Curlew wearing colour-rings. 

                                                                    German-ringed Curlew at Llanrhystud © Tony Cross

I had hoped that this bird would have been one ringed by Natalie Meyer, with whom we have been working to promote Curlew conservation internationally and had spent some time with recently at the International Wader Study Group conference in Prague but alas it wasn't and I am still awaiting details.

Curlew Resightings Map © Mid Wales Ringing Group

The map above shows all the Curlew colour-ring sightings so far with wintering sites shown as blue markers and breeding season records as orange markers Although a fairly new project the Curlew colour-ringing has already provided a wealth of information and will continue to do so for many more years to come.

Whilst I'm blogging, here's a great shot of one of the other Numenius we colour-ring! A Whimbrel photographed on its breeding territory in Iceland for the second year running by Camilo Carneiro - ringed at Llanon on 26th April 2012.

Friday 1 September 2017

There is a roving Spanish Dunlin.....

Just received another postcard, this time of YELLOW T67 1,142kms SSW in NW Spain (1,142kms). It was originally ringed just a week earlier at Ynyslas on 24th August. 

If your Spanish is up to it you can read more on Antonio Gutierrez's excellent blog here

P.S., for the younger readers out there, a postcard was how we older folk used to piss people off with our holiday adventures before the invention of Facebook!

Friday 25 August 2017

Done-in by Dunlin!

Last night was pretty amazing! I have been ringing waders at Ynyslas National Nature Reserve for 35 years now and last night Paul Ashworth, Mike Shewring and I had by far the biggest catch I have ever witnessed - by almost 100%!! Conditions were nearly perfect with a high tide, new moon and a slight breeze. Autumn migration is in full swing at the moment and there were literally 1,000's of Dunlin littering the strand line.  By the early hours of the morning we had dazzled, ringed and processed some 220 Dunlin (and 1 Sanderling for a bit of variety!). 84 of the Dunlin were also individually colour-ringed as part of our monitoring project on this species. 

The previous night myself and Jane had caught and colour-ringed an additional 95 Dunlin and only one or two of these were re-sighted showing the massive numbers and turn-over of birds experienced at Ynyslas. Birds varied in condition with many carrying large amounts of fat. Some looked like tennis-balls and weighed in at over 60g. Others were clearly newly arrived from more northerly breeding grounds and were almost half that weight. Ynyslas is clearly a brilliant feeding-up location on their migrations further south. Last night's catch was predominantly juvenile birds whereas a few weeks ago it was mainly adults. This is usual with adults moving through early and rapidly. Many of the birds we caught last night could be in Spain, Portugal or even North Africa within a week or two perhaps joining the adults that are probably already there.

The colour-ringing only commenced last autumn but has already considerably boosted the number of recoveries from all the years of BTO metal ringing only. So far sightings have come from birdwatchers in Iceland (3), Sweden, Eire, Denmark, The Netherlands, France and Spain (2) as well as numerous records of birds scattered around the estuaries of Britain. All birds have an engraved yellow ring on the right tibia and a plain orange one on the left. Please keep your eyes peeled and report ANY sightings - even local records help us gather a picture about how long birds stay on average.

Below are a few of the holiday snaps so far received of colour-ringed Ynyslas Dunlin!!

21/04/2017 Tacumshin Lake, Wexford - Killian Mullarney

23/05/2017 Höskuldarnes, NE Iceland - Guğmundur Örn Benediktsson

26/05/2017  Rödkallen, Luleå, Botnic Bay, N. Sweden - Lars Sandberg

28/07/2017 Fanoe Beach, Denmark  - Kim Fischer

20/08/2017  National Park of Doñana, (Salinas de Bonanza) Cadiz, Spain 
David Fernández and Lidia Arroyo. 

Sunday 4 June 2017

Russian roulette...

We've recently received another exciting Jack Snipe recovery, this time from RUSSIA!! Unfortunately this one was also found dead, most likely shot but it was found in 'poor condition' so weather could have played a factor?! It certainly seems that Russia is a popular breeding ground for the like of our over wintering Woodcock and Jack Snipe, but getting back and forth to there definitely throws up many obstacles as all of our Russian woodcock recoveries and now this Jack Snipe have all been dead!

With very little known about Jack Snipe migration movement and migrations routes/patterns, this little bit of information could prove to be very valuable as only 1 of 19 British ringed Jack Snipe have been recovered abroad and only the 2nd in Russia.

Hopefully this recovery and the French one earlier in the year as the start of things to come, as we've gone from catching 30 new Jack Snipe back in 2013 to a massive 104 new birds in 2016. This increase has come around from spending a lot more time in the field and finely tweaking our catching skills. As well as all of the news birds, we also re trap 20-30 individuals each year (a mixture of birds from the current years, plus re traps from previous winters) so we may look at starting to fit the with data loggers, but before that we need to find a pot of money. Given some of the stuff we do find in sheep fields at night time, you never know!!

(map showing distance between the ringing and recovery locations)

Saturday 1 April 2017

Cracking Finnish!

On Thursday night Jane and I popped down to Ynyslas on the high tides for a session dazzling waders. There wasn't a lot there other than several 100's Oystercatchers (which we don't generally catch by dazzling), a good few Redshank and a handful of Dunlin and Knot. Right at the end of the night I noticed that one of the few Dunlin running around was wearing a metal ring - that doesn't look like a BTO ring I thought! Thankfully, shortly afterwards, the bird gave itself up and sure enough the ring was one from the Finnish ringing scheme. I think that in over 35 years of ringing this is the first Finnish-ringed bird I have ever seen.

Finnish-ringed Dunlin with one of our colour-rings added

The total catch was 19 Redshank (including one control), 3 Knot, 2 Dunlin (including the Finnish one) and 1 Grey Plover. Will post details of the Dunlin when I get them.

Monday 27 March 2017


Silvia and I headed out this afternoon, to a site where a flock of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches and Tree Sparrow were feeding on spilt sheep feed. We only had a couple of hours spare to try and catch them today, but it was heading down to see where best to set the nets, and if they would play ball. When we got there, we were a bit baffled as the field we had planned to go in had no sheep in it any more, and more importantly no birds. Luckily the sheep had only been moved a few fields down the road, and sure enough the birds were there too. We set up a line of three nets between the hedge, and the sheep feeders. Within minutes of getting back in the car we had already caught our first birds, things were looking promising. After only an hour and half we had to pack up because of other commitments, but in that time we managed to catch a respectful - 4 Tree Sparrows, 18 Yellowhammers, 13 Chaffinches, 3 Meadow Pipits and a House Sparrow!

Sadly a rare sight in Wales now!!

Always nice to see these birds, whether in the hand or in the field.

It's a bit of a long shot, but I'm hoping that one of the Tree Sparrow chicks that we've ringed in previous years about 2 km away might be in the flock! But as we haven't managed to ring many in recent years I won't hold my breath!!

Friday 24 March 2017

Going Hungary isn't good for you...!

Well not if you're a Woodcock anyway. Relative newbie, Chris Griffiths, has just had his first Woodcock recovery and it's a really interesting one. The bird, ringed near Carno in Mid-Wales on the night of the 3rd February 2017 was shot in Nagygyanté, MezőgyánBékés, Hungary (1,886 km ESE) just 44 days later on 19th March 2017. 

This bird is the first Hungarian recovery of a British-ringed Woodcock and was presumably en-route to its breeding site. This recovery highlights the sad fact that many of our Woodcock, having survived the rigours of winter in Wales (not that they had many of those this year!), are killed on their way back east to breed.

Sunday 12 March 2017

I don't want your help thanks!

As part of our ongoing Curlew research I paid a visit to Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dolydd Hafren reserve last night in an attempt to catch and colour-ring more of the local breeding population. The high water levels and strong winds of late have seriously curtailed any attempts previously but last night shaped up pretty well. Four nets were set over small floodwater pools on the main river island and 19 Curlews out of the 50-odd present were caught. All proved to be new birds which is interesting as 9 out of 30 odd present there a few weeks ago were birds colour-ringed in previous years. I guess these birds have already dispersed to their breeding territories and the ones we caught last night were either newly returned from their winter haunts or were passage migrants. Many thanks to Michelle Frater for much needed assistance.

One of last night's Curlews expressing exactly what it thinks of us disturbing it's nightly rest!

Saturday 25 February 2017

Au revoir Jack...

We've just received one of those bittersweet recoveries - the group's first foreign Jack Snipe recovery (from France), unfortunately though the bird had been shot!! Nevertheless it may still shed some light into the migration patterns of the Jack Snipe, which we really seem to know very little about because of it's very secretive and elusive nature. The bird was originally trapped in Mid Wales on 23rd October 2016, and then shot in January 2017. So probably just using 'our field' as a place to refuel rather than a permanent winter site as many of the Jack Snipe do.

With over 200 Jack Snipe trapped and ringed (95% of them by dazzling) over the past 3 winters it's hoped that this won't be our only foreign recovery. Our only other Jack Snipe recovery, was of a bird controlled the following winter in Scotland (presumably back en route to Mid Wales?).

Map showing the two recoveries.

Even though it is sad news, it's certainly made all those nights going out looking for birds (often in foul weather) a lot more worth while. Who knows, maybe our next recovery will be of one at its breeding grounds?!!

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Black suns, big bills and bitten fingers - let the hawing begin!

Today marked the first day of catching Hawfinches at Dolgellau in the excellent company of Hawfinch maestro Dave Smith and garden-feeding Hawfinch champions Trevor and Chris Bashford. There were plenty of birds present today but catching was modest with just 7 birds caught including 4 new and 3 retraps.

Dave also had news of one of our birds that had been found dead in a Churchyard in Denbighshire yesterday. It had originally been ringed Yellow C68 as a 2 year+ male at our main woodland study site on 7th April 2012 (on a visit with Lee and Rachael Barber). When next caught on 5th May 2012 (at the same site) it had already managed to crack off its colour-ring so was re-ringed Yellow E10. On 15th June 2013 it was recorded at a nest-site several kilometres from the ringing site by Dave Smith. Amazingly the next sighting was in Trevor and Chris's garden feeding recently fledged (ringed) young over 6km from that known nest on 2nd July 2013. Following 25 more positive sightings and 1 retrap it was last recorded in the Dolgellau area on 27th June 2015. On 5th February 2017 its two bloodied rings and a pile of freshly plucked feathers were found by John Harrop in Ruthin, 50 kms from where it was ringed!! There is clearly much still to be learnt about this stealth finch with nomadic tendencies.

Dave has recently written an article on Hawfinches in Meirionydd for Natur Cymru, I will attempt to get a pdf copy and post a link

Thursday 26 January 2017

A Norwegian visitor

On Monday Silvia and I were trying (unsuccessfully) to ring Waxwings at a site just down the road where there has been a flock building for the past few weeks. During one of the many times I scanned the flock for colour-rings I suddenly caught sight of a bird with an engraved Yellow Darvic! Annoyingly, despite three pretty good scope views over the next few hours, all I could make out was something that looked like U*U. A quick message to Ewan Weston of Grampian Ringing Group confirmed the bird had been ringed in Norway. The following day saw Paul, Silvia and I attempting to see/photograph/catch the bird in question to clinch its identity. Eventually Paul managed to grab a few photos that confirmed the ring code as Yellow ULU.

On Wednesday, with the Norwegian birds identity confirmed, I returned to try and colour-ring a few more to add to the 33 that we have already caught this year. Once again the flock was very mobile with the birds feeding at any one of a vast number of berry trees available. Eventually the flock settled by a net and a passing car flushed them towards it. They all appeared to have flown over the top but on closer look with the binoculars I could see a Waxwing hanging there with its yellow-ringed leg stuck out! What are the chances of that? (well about 1 in 60 actually!).

Email confirmation has been received that the bird, a first-winter male, had originally been ringed by Kjell Mork Soot on 15th October 2016 at Grimstadvatnet, Hareid, Møre & Romsdal, Norway 1,264 km NNE of where it was re-trapped.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Hawfinch and Dipper RAS submissions for 2016 finished!

Inputting all the ringing and re-sighting records for our two RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) projects is always a bit of a chore but thankfully it is all over and done for another year! The results make interesting reading and show clearly the huge effort that the members of the Mid Wales Ringing Group (and our helpers - particularly Trevor and Chris Bashford) go to to help assess the population health of these two key local species. Our Dipper RAS is one of eight operating nationally on this popular species whereas our Hawfinch RAS is one of just two and the only one currently being used to generate the national trend for this species. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the modelling programme failed to produce estimates using the 2015 data. Hopefully this can be investigated and rectified at some point in the future.

Tuesday 3 January 2017

First recovery of the year is a cracker!

Photo (C) Venke Ivarrud

The photograph above shows one of our colour-ringed Hawfinches on a bird-table in Oddatunet, Trondheim, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway taken by Venke Ivarrud. The bird was ringed as a first-winter female at our feeding site near Dolgellau on 14th March 2015 1452 kms to the SW of where it was photographed. 

As can be seen from the map above this is our 4th movement of a Hawfinch between Dolgellau and Norway, the furthest north to date, and also the first to be reported there in the winter. Thinking this might be unusual I enquired as to how common Hawfinches were in Norway in the winter and Håvard Husebø of the Norwegian Ringing Scheme replied as follows: -

"The Hawfinch is a relatively common species in Norway, also in the winter. It is a partial migrant and might, as other finches, show irruptive tendencies in their occurence, so the wintering population probably varies between years. But it is a commonplace wintering species especially along our southern and eastern coast, but also in the area where this bird was seen, in the county of Trøndelag."

Many thanks indeed to Venke for reporting her sighting - a brilliant way to kick-start 2017!