Tuesday 19 November 2019

The long and the short of it...

Last night Tony and I headed out to try to mist net some owls that he had seen a week or so ago near one of his ringing sites. We would have gone sooner to try for them, but as is normally the case in mid Wales, we had to wait for a calm night! We got to the site, set up a couple of nets with lures placed underneath them and waited! With not much happening we were thinking of packing up, but gave it 10 more minutes, then all of a sudden an 'eared' Owl was flying around the net! Bingo, in it went. I 'ran' over to the net, and could see that it was a Long-eared Owl (which was odd because we were using a Short-eared Owl lure). This however, turned out to be the one that Tony had caught a few nights ago. Nevertheless, it was still great to see in the hand!

We decided to leave the nets for a bit longer, but, after nothing was seen for quite a while we decided to call it a day and take the nets down. On his way to the net, Tony could see another owl in there, so (like a cheetah in peak condition) he sprinted over and managed to get to it before it escaped. This time we had caught what we were trying for - a cracking Short-eared Owl.

As if that wasn't enough, while I was out ringing Woodcock on Sunday night a Short-eared Owl decided it was going to chase one of the Woodcock that I was trying to catch. It disappeared out of site so I quickly put the call of Meadow Pipit on my speaker, and sure enough it came back to investigate!

Hopefully we will get some more calm nights, as there seems to have been a small influx of Short-eared Owls (at least in our area).

Monday 4 November 2019

Ynyslas NNR exporting plastic to Africa!

Two recent examples as to why Wales exporting plastic to Africa may not be the terrible act it sounds!

A couple of emails today showed the huge value to be gained from adding just a very small amount of plastic to migratory birds caught for ringing. The first, from Marcelo Cabrera, contained details (and a couple of confirmatory photos) of a juvenile Dunlin ringed at Ynyslas on 17th August 2019 and found on 2nd and 3rd of November on the North coast of Fuerteventura, Canary Islands (OK, so its Spain officially but its Africa geographically). As far as I can see this is perhaps only the 2nd recorded movement of a BTO-ringed Dunlin to the Canary Islands. We have also recently received sightings in Morocco of two other Dunlin ringed at Ynyslas this autumn.

Then, this evening, I had an email from Theuns Kruger who had just photographed Sandwich Tern Red KAL for the third successive winter at The Strand, Western Cape, South Africa. This bird was ringed at Ynyslas as a juvenile, on passage, in August 2013 and has been a regular at Dawlish warren in Devon but we are still yet to discover where it is breeding.

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Some tidy tides

The last set of high tides at Ynyslas at the end of August/start of September proved pretty amazing as would be expected at this time of the year. Visiting ringers Stephen Harris-Vickers and Kirsty Franklin helped out on all nights along with Paul Roughley on the Saturday and Lee Barber on the Sunday. Sunday night's activities were initially focussed on trying to mist-net and colour-ring a few more Sandwich Terns with a wildlife film-maker filming the procedure for an upcoming documentary on the Dyfi Estuary. However, low numbers of terns present and the slightly stronger than forecast winds meant that this was soon abandoned and catching was once again focussed on dazzling some of the large numbers of small waders passing through the site.

In total, over the complete set of high tides, 412 new birds and 21 retraps/controls were caught and ringed/processed comprising:-

Dunlin 279 (+12)
Ringed Plover 51 (+1)
Knot 42 (+4)
Turnstone 16 (+2)
Sanderling 14 (+2)
Curlew Sandpiper 4
Redshank 3
Bar-tailed Godwit 2 
and Little Stint 1

One of the ringed Dunlin was a Norwegian control and another had been ringed on the Tees Estuary in August this year. One of the unringed Dunlin was a leucistic individual, the first we have ever seen at the site.

 Leucistic Dunlin

We have already been notified that one of the Dunlin has been re-sighted in Spain and one of the Curlew Sandpipers (pictured below) ringed on 30th August had its metal ring read through a telescope at Tacumshin Lake in Co. Wexford, Ireland on 5th September

The same Curlew Sandpiper photographed on 30th August at Ynyslas and on 5th September in Co. Wexford (in company with a Semi-palmated Sandpiper!!)

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Knot a bad catch...

Over the last 4 nights, Tony and myself (with help from Silvia, Ben, Paul Roughley and Paul Ashworth) have gone to one of our regular wader ringing sites on the west coast to trap and colour-ring, migrating Dunlin as they are pushed up the beach during the high tides. Although the tides weren't as high as we'd have like, and the added disturbance from the full moon, we actually managed to trap a good number of birds. A total of 302 new Dunlin were ringed. We also added colour-rings to a Portuguese and a Norwegian ringed bird, plus a bird that we caught back in 2015 (this was before we started colour-ringing them). We also caught a Spanish-ringed Dunlin that already had it's own set of colour-rings.

(the Portuguese-ringed Dunlin with it's new colour rings)
Given the current number of re-sightings of our colour-ringed Dunlin, I'm hopeful that we will soon have some reports of these birds as they continue to head south for the winter.

As well as the Dunlin, there were a few other species using the area as a migration stop-off point. Other birds trapped and ringed were 1 Skylark, 1 Common Sandpiper, 8 Sanderling, 26 Turnstone, 17 Ringed Plover and 14 Knot.


(One of the Knots that was trapped and ringed - all were Juveniles)

Thursday 1 August 2019

Nobody expects the Spanish in Clocaenog!

Occasionally, after trying for Nightjars in the morning we leave the nets up a while to catch a few passerines just to keep our hands in on the smaller stuff. A few days ago in North Wales we did just that and caught a few Phylloscs and Silvia warblers. The last bird out of the net though was a bit special. In nearly 40 years of ringing I've never handled a foreign-ringed Willow Warbler (out of over 2,000 handled) so it was more than a bit unexpected to catch a Spanish-ringed one in such a random way!

A great pair of waders

Travelling over to Nightjars the other evening we decided to call in on one of our river shingle ringing sites just to see if there were any Little Ringed Plover chicks or Common Sandpipers to ring. After checking a few blank shingle banks we arrived at one where an adult Little Ringed Plover was alarm-calling loudly. Jumping out of the car to see exactly where the noise was coming from I flushed a large brown bird which Ed immediately id'd as a Stone Curlew. Pretty off the usual range and turns out this is the first record for the vice-county. 

Didn't ring the Stone Curlew (there was little point trying as its movements were a bit random to say the least) but we did eventually locate and ring the two LRP chicks that were the reason for the alarm-calling.

Sunday 21 July 2019

Night-owling - something to grouse about!

Been a while since anything got posted so I thought last night's exploits may warrant a resurgence of the blog.

This time of the year I am usually pretty much nocturnal doing various Nightjar surveys in  Mid, North and South Wales. This year is no exception and along with Ed O'Connor I was out at Clocaenog last night trapping and tracking Nightjars to assess the potential impacts of recent wind-farm development. At one nest, found right in the middle of a horribly dense Sitka Spruce plantation by radio-tracking the female, we managed to catch the male and he turned out to be one of the six birds we had fitted GPS trackers to last autumn to discover more about the migration routes of British Nightjars. Annoyingly, two of the trackers we  recovered earlier in the year proved to have failed to record any locations - truly gutting given the time, effort and expense lavished on them. Fingers crossed it is 3rd time lucky with this one.

Whilst thrashing through the near impenetrable spruce trees last week searching for this nest I inadvertently flushed a roosting Long-eared Owl. Well last night, armed with a tape-lure forwarded to me by Ewan Weston, I thought we might fill the quiet mid-night period in Nightjar activity not by sleeping, which would have been the sensible thing to do, but by trying to tape-lure the owl. On walking up to the area I had flushed it from we suddenly heard the unmistakable call of a recently-fledged Long-eared Owlet out in some open ground just adjacent to the plantation and soon managed to catch it with a torch and a landing-net.

Making itself look as big and frightening as possible is a good defence for this young Long-eared Owl. Was pretty feisty to handle too!

As if all this wasn't exciting enough out from the heather burst a couple of large game birds and quite instinctively I managed to catch one by hand as it flew past. The bird, which turned out to be a half-grown grouse chick caused us some serious soul-searching, mainly because at that time of night, with no internet access and little previous experience neither of us was sure exactly what it was!! I had originally assumed Red Grouse but then realised that Black Grouse was not out of the question either!! If it was a Red Grouse chick it was large enough to take the recommended F size ring - if it was a Black Grouse chick it wasn't big enough to take the larger G size ring recommended for that species. Two of the primary rules of the ringing scheme are that:-

You should only ring a bird if you know what species it is.

The safety of the bird comes first. 

A 'grouse' chick

Fitting the wrong size ring to a half-grown chick would be a serious welfare issue so it was released unringed. 

I have sent some photos to a Grouse expert for confirmation but think we are coming down on the side of Black Grouse at the moment!

Saturday 11 May 2019

Live-streamed Curlew Nest

Today, Tim Lewis and I, installed this year's Curlew Country 'Curlew Cam' on a nest in the Corndon Hill area of Shropshire. The bird has been sitting for about a fortnight - protected by an electric fence (which you may hear clicking) since it was found on 28th April. Hopefully, the nest should hatch at the end of May.

Click the link below to take you to the live-feed


Thursday 10 January 2019

A tale of two finches

2018 has been an interesting year for finch ringing here in Mid Wales in very different ways. Our Hawfinch RAS project got off to a brilliant start both in terms of new captures and re-sightings of colour-ringed birds with 125 new birds ringed (bringing the grand total to over 1,000 individuals in just 8 years) and there were also 1,342 recaptures or resightings.

Adult male Hawfinch, a feisty fella in fine fettle (© Trevor Bashford)

In late April however the wheels came off when we started to notice an increasing number of birds showing signs of trichomoniasis, a condition cause by the protozoan Trichomonas gallinae. This disease has been well-known to affect Greenfinches but has previously been little reported in Hawfinches, although we have seen the odd sick bird in previous years. In April 2018 Trevor and Chris Bashford, owners of Britain's best Hawfinch garden (over 240 different identifiable individuals in 2018 alone!!), were reporting regular sightings of sick birds despite diligently cleaning and disinfecting their feeders. Numbers were so worryingly high that I asked everyone to stop feeding immediately at all our feed sites and effectively brought our year's ringing activities to an abrupt end. A local press-release by BTO Cymru's Kelvin Jones requesting other local bird-watchers to do the same was well-heeded and many brought their feeders in for a while. Sick birds were continuing to be reported well into June however. It was heart-breaking to see familiar faces (well, familiar legs!) fluffed-up and struggling to swallow. Whilst their is a treatment that can be used, once the condition becomes noticeable in an individual it is too late, the infected bird rarely lasts more than a few days. Early diagnosis would involve opening the birds beak and looking down its throat but that is pretty much impossible, and potentially very painful!!  Some of these birds have been regular attendees over several years with many tens of re-sightings each and then nothing!

Entering all the data for the year from Trevor and Chris's log-book just recently has brought the scale of the problem back into focus and it was devastating to note the inevitable disappearance of old regulars following a few days of them being noted as "sickly".  The potential scale of this problem is demonstrated in the staggering fact that during the whole year, targeting finches in several locations the Group never caught a single Greenfinch!! For the first year ever I cannot remember seeing one in my garden either.

In late June, as is usual, the surviving Hawfinch dispersed into the countryside to take advantage of the rapidly ripening natural bounty of seeds and berries and feeding at garden feeders became a rare event until late December. Hopefully the decreased potential for disease transmission in these feeding conditions and the exceptionally dry summer has reduced the protozoan numbers. This year's Hawfinch RAS project is up and running and, fingers crossed, there have been few signs of a repeat of last year's tragedy and it is heartening to see some very familiar old stagers have made it through. Clearly some birds must be immune, or at least more immune, than others but, none-the-less, if we have a repeat incident this year we will not hesitate to bring proceedings to a halt again. I am not sure how effective our stopping feeding can be with so many others now feeding too but the health and safety of the birds must always come first.

On a much brighter note, this winter's Brambling catching has been record-breaking with Paul and I ringing nearly 1,500 Bramblings between us so far at 3 main catching locations. It is a bit early to expect any recoveries but we have controlled 6 foreign-ringed birds (2 from Sweden, 2 from Norway, 1 from Belgium and 1 from the Netherlands and have had 5 British controls too. An additional Norwegian-ringed bird was id'ed by Kev Joynes, a local bird-photographer. I will post a map showing all the locations of origin as soon as we get them all back.

A rare 'pea-throat' male Brambling, one of only two such individuals caught