Thursday, 5 December 2013


I went out dazzling again tonight to a site near where I live in Carmarthenshire. I planned tonight because the wind was forecast to be strong and with chances of rain. This would put the odds in my favour, reducing the chances of the Woodcock hearing me stealthily walking around. As it happened the weather improved, it was calm with plenty of stars about.
I never spotted a Woodcock all evening but did see a Snipe which flew off before I got anywhere near it. The only bird of the evening was this Meadow Pipit.

The hind claw was 12mm aged 3 with a wing length of 83mm and a weight of 22.3 grams. A few pictures and it flew off into the night.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Dazzled by Woodcock

This is not my first Woodcock of the season but my first ever Woodcock thanks to Paddy Jenks of the Pembrokeshire Ringing Group. This time of year, being the start of the Woodcock season I was keen to understand how they are are caught. After chatting to Paddy at the Pembrokshire bird conference last week end he kindly offered to take me out dazzling one evening to one of his sites in the county, to show me how it is done and how to use the fisherman's landing net . 

The conditions were was not ideal because there was no wind, no rain, no cloud cover which all increased the risk of the Woodcock knowing we were there. Although Paddy expected us to see birds he also expected them to be be a bit jittery and the chance to actually catch one would be slim.

In the end we spotted twenty birds. Three of them we nearly caught, but they spotted the net as it got close to them and they managed to fly off. Sixteen lifted off the ground and flew away before we got close to them, but, this bird we got lucky with. So out of twenty birds we caught one. Paddy said, in ideal dazzling circumstances when the odds were stacked in our favour instead of the birds we may have caught 12 or 13 of the birds we had seen.

The bird was ringed and then we had to age and sex it. The wing feather clearly tells us this bird is a juvenile. The main characteristics are:-

  • There was abrasion to the tips of the primaries giving uneven profile. Adults have very little wear.
  • The inner 3 or 4 primaries had rounded tips. The adult bird has a more flattened tip with a step between the inner and outer webs.
  • The primary covert had rounded tips and the terminal tip colour being the same as the rest of the feather. In the adult the tip of the feather is flattened and its colour is paler going towards grey/white
  • The underwing secondary coverts have a pointed tip and there are some signs of barring. In the adult bird the feather is again flat tipped and barring is more distinct.

So this was my first bird aged 3. Sexing is more difficult, plumage is the same but there is a large overlap in measurements. The male tends to have a longer tail and shorter bill so the tail/bill length can also be used, again there can be overlap. No conclusion made to the sex yet but if analysis of the results are proven for one sex or the other I will update the blog.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Garden Ringing

Had a session in the garden this morning, put a 40ft net up by my ringing shed for 07.30am. Had a cup of tea and went to do the first round. Got to the net and thought OMG, it had to happen to me sometime, it was full of birds, a lone ringers nightmare. A quick count came to 35. I used my 20 bags I had on me but had to go back to the house to unload the birds and took another 25 bags back with me. As I was extracting the other birds new ones were coming in behind me even though I had cleared the top shelf and bottom shelf and closed them up. In the end I extracted 45 birds.

Whilst it is an experience you do not need regularly, it was an experience nevertheless that was worth having. I felt I coped well with the situation and all birds were processed without any trouble.

A lot of the birds in the net were Blue tits but there were some nice ones as well. Where I live in South West Wales there seems to be a nucleus of Marsh tits. I am currently trying to assess there numbers and have had discussions with the BTO to see if the population numbers are high enough to consider the possibility of starting a RAS. See link for further information.

RAS, Retrapping birds for Survival is a national scheme where the ringer aims annually to catch 50 adult birds of the designated species during the breeding season. This will give us an indication of the survival rates of these adults

This Marsh tit is the first I have ringed for a while which was a little worrying because for a couple of months now numbers coming to feeders had reduced. I also caught a retrap last week a bird originally ringed by me last winter

Once the net was up this morning I played the Goldcrest call on my MP3 which brought two birds to the net.

This bird is a male The crown patch is yellow which often conceals the bright orange feathers of the male as in this case and on the top picture some of the bright orange feathers can be seen. Ageing is primarily done by assessing the shape of the 4th and 6th tales feathers. In this bird the tail feathers were neither rounded or pointed so I aged it as a 2.

Another bird, the Goldfinch has started to appear again on my feeders after none during the summer months. They seem to prefer the nijer seed at the moment but can be a little fickle and change to sunflower hearts and occasionally peanuts.

Quite easy to sex, this one being a male because the red goes slightly behind the eye. The female does not. Also it has black nasal hairs whereas the female has grey ones. On some adult males, tale feathers 4, 5 and 6 each have a white spot. 5th and 6th tail feathers are useful for ageing, the adult having more rounded feathers compared with pointed ones of a juvenile bird. Comparion of the outermost three greater coverts can also indicate the age of the bird. The tips of the GC's on the adult being predominately yellow whilst juveniles the colour is a buffish white or white colour.

The breakdown of birds caught today are:-
Blue tit 28 new, 1 retrap
Great tit 6 new, 1 retrap
Chaffinch 2 new
House Sparrow 1 new
Goldcrest 2 new
Goldfinch 2 new
Marsh tit 1 new
Dunnock 1 new
Robin 1 new

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Portuguese Ringing

I have just returned from a two week ringing session in Portugal with my wife Helen and Heather Coats. We stayed at A Rocha near Alvor in the Algarve. A Rocha Portugal is involved in the study, monitoring and conservation of the Ria de Alvor which started back in the 1980's. They are devoted to scientific research and to conservation and environmental education.
The plan was to be there for the Autumn migration, ring from daybreak and finish at lunch time when the ringing slackens off. Heather has been to A Rocha annually for many years and knew the layout very well. We had eleven 60ft nets set up which were left set up but furled at the end of ringing each day. Winds from a northerly direction were needed but unfortunately they came from the south and were holding migration back. It was nice and warm though.

As expected because of the wind direction ringing was slow and remained like this throughout the first week and for most of the second week.

The birds we did catch were good quality birds and during the week I got to ring and process three new species. The bird above is a Sardinian Warbler. We processed six of these.

This bird is a Short Toed Treecreeper, my first new ringing tick. It is so similar to the Eurasian Treecreeper but has a longer bill and distinct whitish diamond shaped tips on the primaries.

The Kingfisher is one of those birds that always lifts the spirits. This female was the first of three we processed.

My second ringing tick. In fact this was the first time I had ever seen a Nightingale. It is a bird that is more often heard than seen and when in the hand is surprisingly plain looking. To the inexperienced, care has to be taken to ensure it is not a female Redstart. The obvious difference is the Redstart tail feathers are a red rusty colour with centre feathers dark and the Nightingale like the picture above.

The Waxbill a member of the finch family is a native of sub Saharan Africa but now resides in many other parts of the world with a warmer climate like Portugal. It is a bird that has been kept in captivity and its spread is partly due to birds escaping or being deliberately released.

Kingfisher number 2 a male.

This is not my first aquantence with this bird a Melodious Warbler which was quite unexpected. My first was when I was ringing on Skokholm Island off the SW coast of Wales.

The Melodious Warbler held by Guy who is a bird guide at A Rocha.

Not all birds but thought I would include this picture of this Preying Mantis. There are approximately 2000 species in the world. They feed on other insects and the female will often eat her mate.

I have photographed many Little Owls over the years but this is my third new birding tick and to photograph it at close range and to hold it in the hand was absolutely wonderful.

Every morning Little Owls were screeching before daylight, so we put the MP3 Little Owl call on, and placed it on nets 6 and 7. We were hopeful but not confident and eventually one morning on the first net round we extracted it from net 7. Those eyes!!!!!!!!

On the last week end of our stay was the IV Sagres Birding Festival. Sagres peninsula is the only place in Portugal where soaring birds can be observed It was organised by SPEA (Portugese Society for the Study of Birds) catering for the young and old alike. Of particular interest to me was the soaring birds and bird ringing. The male Redstart above was caught and ringed at Sagres by the A Rocha Bird Ringing Group who spent everyday of the festival doing Ringing Demonstrations which was well attended..

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Birds of the Night

Last night we decided to spend a few hours in pursuit of Nightjars on "Sarn Helen" a former Roman road connecting Nidum (Neath) with Segontium (Caernarfon). These nocturnal or crepuscular birds with bristles around their mouths (to perhaps assist them in the capture of insects whilst in flight) are an endangered species and the conservation status has been given a Red Alert. The Nightjar season is from May to September spending the rest of the year in Africa so we really had left our visit very late in the season to try and catch these elusive birds

Anyway we had two 60ft nets set up and ready to go for about 8.30pm. The nets were about 150 metres apart and as it got dark it wasn't long before the trill of the male bird could be heard as he flew around our heads. Not long later it flew into the net. Just as the male ws being processed the female also flew into the net. Since in a square kilometre is probably only one mating pair we decided it was probably wise to pack up rather than run the risk of catching the same birds a second time.

The bird above is the female. The male bird has white tips to its outer tail feathers

Head shot of the male.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

CES10 WWT Llanelli

Cedwyn Aaron, Ben and I completed CES 10 at WWT Lanelli today. It felt very Autumnal first thing with temperatures around 11 degrees C at 05.30am. Last year CES 10 produced 10 birds and today we caught 15. We had Wren x 3, Blackcap x 5, Robin x 3, Chiffchaff x 2, Dunnock x 1 and a Blackbird. 12 of the birds were juveniles, which was encouraging but the total birds caught is still very worrying. One of the Blackcaps an adult male was part way through its complete summer moult in preparation for its migration albeit a lot do over winter in the UK. It was a good opportunity to examine and record the wing moult of the primaries, which were 5554210000, a total score of 22. Both wings were checked and they mirrored each other. The head and body were also in heavy moult and 8 tail feathers were missing.

Maybe not the highlight, but the most exciting moment of the day was a buzzard that had been calling for most of the morning and then landed a few metres from the ringing station. It flew off low in the direction of nets 1,2 and 3 and I have never seen Cedwyn move so fast in anticipation of it being caught in one of them, only to be disappointed.

Downloading the pictures this evening to produce this blog I was very surprised to see someone had been busy using my camera. As you can see the early start had got the better of me.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Whooshed Jay

I am starting to feel more confident in the use of the Whoosh net now I am catching a few birds. It is a good method for larger birds which there is little chance of catching in a Mist Net. I had several Blackbirds coming to the feed but decided not to catch them and wait to see what would happen if I left the net undisturbed for a longer period and was rewarded with a lovely Jay. Unlike a Mist Net you have to sit and watch the Whoosh Net waiting for a bird to come onto the feed and then trigger the net. The waiting can be long so patience is required.

The bird had very long primaries at 194 mm and the 5th Tail feather 40mm down from the tip was 29mm wide and the bright blue GC suggested it was an adult male.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Ffynnon Gro Whoosh Netting

Yesterday I mentioned that a couple of Crows had shown interest in the feed I had put out but would not go into the trapping area of the net. Well at 7.30pm this evening two Crows wandered in and I managed to trap them both. One was a 5M and the other a 6F. Crow is a new ringing tick for me so I was very pleased.

In addition to the Crows I also caught another 2 Blackbirds

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ffynnon Gro - Whoooooooosh

I had a play around with my new Whoosh Net this morning as well as a 20ft mist net. A successful result for the Whoosh Net after tweaking the poles and release pins, catching 4 x Blackbird and 1 x Song Thrush. A Jay and 2 crows had a look but never entered the catching area. I have left the net in position and I am feeding it everyday to see if this will improve their confidence.

Total birds caught

Whoosh Net.
4 x Blackbird and 1 x Songthrush

Mist Net.
1 x Siskin, 2 x Great Tit, 2 x Robin and 4 x House Sparrow.The Siskin was this years bird in Juvenile moult

Monday, 15 July 2013

CES 8 - WWT Llanelli

Cedwyn ands I went to do CES 8 today helped by Ben and Hugh.
CES 8 on the 20th July last year produced 8 Birds of which 6 were juveniles. Today we caught 15 birds of which 13 were juveniles. It was nice to see more juveniles coming to the nets but the higher numbers compared with last year are still a cause for concern.

Total birds caught were:
Dunnock x 2, Blackcap x 1, Robin x 3, Wren x 4, Blue Tit x 1, Great Tit x 3 and Bullfinch x1.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Eilean Nan Ron

I have just returned from ringing with four friends after spending 3 nights camping on the uninhabited island of Eilean Nan Ron. The last people to live on the island were evacuated in December 1938 because life for the inhabitants of the Gaelic speaking community on the one mile long island had become just to difficult. All that is left now are the stone built houses and cottages that have fallen into decay and ruin. Nan Ron is just to the east of the mouth of Tongue bay on the very north coast of Scotland. We stayed the first night in a Tongue hotel before getting on the small boat to take us over to the island the next morning. Nan Ron is famous for its population of Storm Petrels which were of course our primary target. Great Skua pulli was another possibility as well.

The timing plan for our visit coincided with no moon, so, night time mist netting for Stormies would be at its darkest. Also at this time of year the nights are very short and there is only a short window of darkness to catch them. We had 3hrs and the sun was starting to rise again.

We had three nights ringing and by far the first night produced the most birds with a total of 337. Out of these I was lucky enough to process 169 of these 95 new birds and 74 retraps.

The total for night two and three were about 200 birds so I was extracting from the nets whilst other people were ringing. All good experience.

During the day we looked for Bonxie pulli, there were none anywhere to be seen after walking miles around the island after them. All we did find was one Bonxie nest which is a scrape or hollow in the ground lined with plant material. If the nest is in heather they will bring grass into the nest to line it from elsewhere.
I did find a Greater Black Backed Gull pulli whilst setting up for night two Stormies but Dave only took the A2 rings with us. I went back the next morning but could not find it again.

During the days we ringed 2 adult Shags, 2 Shag pulli, and caught 2 Fulmar retraps. Finally the above starling from one of the derelict buildings which was a 4M.

Total confirmed birds for our visit were:

New birds Rock Pipit 1, Shag 4, Stormie 323

Retraps Fulmar 2, Stormie 135

Controls Stormie 22

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Ffynnon Gro

I was awake quite early this morning, so I decided to put up my 20ft net. The Sparrows have had a good breeding season this year and the net was placed directly in their flight path to the garden feeders. Watching them over the last few weeks I established there must have been in the region of 50 birds, many of them being this years juveniles and I was hopeful I would catch a few.

After 2.5hrs I had processed 40 birds - 29 House Sparrow, 1 Robin, 4 Dunnock, 4 Chaffinch and 2 Great Tit. The nice part about this was 33 birds were in fact juveniles, 25 of them being House Sparrow.

After last years poor breeding season because of the awful weather conditions it was nice to see at least one species in my area doing reasonably well.