Thursday, 21 November 2013

November update

It’s been a few weeks since the last posting and this has largely been due to a lack of ringing activity in October – a month that has a reputation for being an exciting one in the birding calendar but this year here in Pembs it was a month of strong winds, rain and not many birds. Several attempts at lamping produced depressing results, averaging a bird per night and the only two species ringed were meadow pipit and skylark. Mist-netting attempts for redwings and waders had to be aborted due to weather.  Only 20 birds were ringed, with the highlights being a teal and a little stint.

November has been more productive and a few days of calm weather have allowed mist nets to be used. John has ringed over 60 meadow pipits at his site at the Pembroke refinery, and one of the sessions was livened up when a woodlark appeared in one of the nets. In addition he ringed a stonechat, 7 redwings and 4 firecrests there last week.

The tail pattern of woodlark is diagnostic

The first woodcock of the winter was also ringed last week (by Paul), and over the current full moon period it is expected that they will arrive en masse, especially if temperatures drop further east. This year we are hoping to look at snipe in more detail, and so far 7 have been ringed together with the first jack snipe since 2010.

Snipe can be aged on their median coverts - this is an adult (I think!)

At Ty Rhyg, the only species present in any number is goldcrest and 2013 has been a good year for this species with 105 ringed between July and early November, compared to a previous maximum of 68 in 2011. A few reed buntings, chaffinches, redwings and a brambling formed the tail end of the autumn passage on the final visit of the season to this site. 

When ringing goldcrests, the ratio of 1st year to adults is so high that you start to doubt the ageing criteria, but the difference is obvious (1st W on left with sharply pointed tail feathers, adult right with rounded tail feathers). The reason why so few adults are caught is perhaps because adults remain in their breeding territory while 1st W tend to disperse, and perhaps because they are very short-lived, or a combination of both.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Fattening up

The recent ringing sessions at Pwllcrochan and Ty Rhyg have witnessed a change from summer to autumn. At Ty Rhyg where the bulk of the catch is usually Willow Warbler and Blackcap in July and August, numbers of these species have reduced to just a handful in September. Meanwhile at Pwllcrochan near the coast in the south of the county numbers of Blackcaps are at their peak, attracted by a crop of ripe blackberries and elderberries. Some of the those ringed were weighing in at over 25g, compared to a typical Ty Rhyg weight of 16-18g during July. Their fat stores will probably get them to southern Spain without the need to stop and refuel. A late sedge warbler at Pwllcrochan on 25th Sept was also very heavy at 16g and fat stores were visible across it entire underside. Sedge Warblers are thought to cross the Sahara in one non-stop flight from northern France/southern Britain. With migrating birds, fat is good, but not all will find enough food to fuel up before the journey - a juvenile sedge warbler at Ty Rhyg in late September only weighed 9.6g and had a fault bar across the outer tail feathers where poor nutrition has retarded the feather growth during the fledging period. The chances of this one getting to Africa and back are not that good.

A fat and healthy juvenile Sedge Warbler ready to fly south
Sedge Warbler tail showing fault bar damage from a starvation
 period in the nest

Chiffchaffs are the latest of the warblers to migrate and are still around in good numbers

Goldcrest migration is more of a random dispersal during late September and October

Firecrests are autumn and winter visitors, with this one at Ty Rhyg on 29th Sept

Maybe the last Willow Warbler of the year (29th Sept)
Paul, John and Paddy

Monday, 16 September 2013

Whimbrel migration

In May we were catching and colour-ringing Whimbrel as they headed north as part of a larger project set up by Tony Cross (see ruffledfeathers)  with the aim of trying to find out more about the migration of this transient species. So far we have only had one report of the 34 we ringed in Pembs in spring, a bird which unfortunately died after colliding with electric cables before managing to leave Pembs. Whimbrel have recently been passing through on their way back from their breeding grounds further north and during four routine ringing sessions at the Gann Estuary near Dale since early August 4 individuals have been caught. This total is surprisingly low given that 1498 were counted passing Strumble Head on 18th August (see Strumble blog).

Although the sample size is small it was noticed that the autumn birds were heavier than those in spring (average of 486g compared to 410g), presumably implying that although they pass through in good numbers in autumn, they don’t need to feed up, so many must carry straight on without stopping. Anyway, if anyone is out watching Whimbrel then it is worth looking for a numbered yellow colour-ring above the knee on the right leg and a green one below, as in the photo below.

Adult Whimbrel with colour-rings

6 Curlews have also been ringed and weighed this autumn and their weights were quite a bit lower than that expected for this time of year  with an average of 646g compared to the national average of 770g in autumn (BTO website), but  the sample size is still too small to draw any confident conclusions.

The Whimbrel study has had a very interesting ‘bycatch’ with the most recent session producing 40 waders of 10 species. Half of these were Oystercatchers which generated much discussion on how to age them correctly - in the end we think we sussed it! (see photos below). Also ringed were; 4 Curlew, 4 Dunlin, 5 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Redshank, and singles of Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper and Ruff.

Oystercatcher age code 3 - born this year

Oystercatcher age code 5 - born last year

Oystercatcher age code 7 - born two years ago
Oystercatcher age code 8 -  at least 3 years old
Male and female juvenile Bar-tailed Godwits - the female has the longer bill
Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit
male Ruff 
Juv Common Sandpiper
Paddy J and Paul W

Friday, 16 August 2013

Ty Rhyg

This upland conifer plantation is now in its sixth season as a netting site and it is great to be able to compare results between years. Last weekend over 240 birds of 24 species were ringed during the ringing course hosted by Teifi RG (for more details click here). The main species were Lesser Redpoll (37), Bullfinch (33), and Chiffchaff (28). Of these the total for Bullfinch is remarkable in that it equals the highest ever previous annual total for this site, and it brings this years total to 60. The reason for the Bullfinch invasion here is perhaps the result of a good breeding season, but may also be due to the abundance of food. Most individuals showed signs of having been feasting on bilberries, though some of the adults had bills half full of grass seeds. Whilst the numbers of Redpolls are not at record levels they are certainly the best since 2010. Other highlights were six more new Willow Tits, Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler and only the second ever Lesser Whitethroat for the site.
Juvenile Bullfinch

Lesser Whitethroat

juv Siskin

Male Redstart

Thursday, 8 August 2013

A few Swallows

Its the time of year when the swallows start to roost in reedbeds and maize fields before they head off south and at Winterton Marsh the roost has already reached between 300 and 400 birds.
Last night we caught 64 Swallows and a Sand Martin in a single net just before dusk- all except 4 were chicks from this season.  The birds did not arrive over the marsh until 2105hrs and by 2120 we had made the catch and taken down the net and the whole flock were in the roost before 2130hrs.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

June and July update

The combination of a hectic period of work and weather too nice to spend sitting at a computer has meant six weeks have suddenly flown by without an update - so here goes.

Late June

As usual, this time of year is dedicated to checking out the chicks. Here are some highlights:-

Four broods of whinchats were found all with five or six healthy young

25 kestrel chicks were colour-ringed ringed from 7 nests

four red kite chicks were tagged and ringed


Although the season got off to a very late start, some recent trips to Ty Rhyg conifer plantation to catch and ring warblers clearly show that many species have had a much better breeding season than last year. In particular, the number of willow warblers at this site is higher than ever, with up to 48 being ringed in a morning. Many are now just completing their post-juvenile moult and so will be heading south  very soon.

Juvenile willow warbler in fresh plumage ready to fly to Africa

 Willow tits are a special bird at this site with half of the Welsh ringing total coming from this site over the last few years, and after only catching a single juvenile in 2012, it is reassuring to have caught six recently fledged birds this month.

One of six juvenile willow tits this July
four juvenile redstarts have been ringed so far 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Brutes when they're cute

This time of year is dedicated to monitoring nests and in particular those of raptors. Of four goshawk nests found in April, three hatched eggs but one nest was (believe it or not) predated when the chicks were about 3 weeks old. The two nests that are still on the go have broods of 2 and 3, and with help from staff and students from a local college, all five chicks were ringed yesterday. Although the male chicks were more advanced, one only weighed 660g compared to his younger sister at 1090g, almost twice the size.
a brood of three with two females on the left and a male on the right

the eyes start off pale grey and gradually turn orange/yellow

The least well studied raptor in Pembs is also the commonest - the buzzard. Paul has been keeping an eye on   a few nests and one pair produced a brood of two, compared to the usual single chick.

Two healthy buzzards at 4 to 5 weeks old

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Red-backed Shrike

An even bigger surprise than the recent run of sunshine at the wheatear study plot on Mynydd Preseli was this red-backed shrike which found its way into one of the traps set for wheatears at the weekend.

female Red-backed Shrike

News was withheld initially as turning up inland during June meant it may have been intending to breed, and this schedule 1 species is a target for egg-collectors, but it can now be confirmed that it was just a passage bird. The shrike was not made welcome by the local resident birds with meadow pipits, stonechats and wheatears all mobbing it. After being ringed  it slowly worked its way west along the Preseli ridge. If only the wheatears were as easy to catch!

Paul and Paddy

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The RAS is on

A new long term study measuring adult survival in a population of wheatears on Mynydd Preseli has just started. It is hoped to catch and colour-ring all the breeding adults in a defined area on the north slopes of Mynydd Preseli as part of the BTO's "Ringing Adults for Survival" scheme (RAS). Every year all the resighted individuals will be recorded to measure survival between breeding seasons, and any new recruits will also be colour-ringed to top up the sample. It hoped to catch all 60 adults in the study plot over the next month - so far five have been caught during the initial visit.

A smart adult male wheatear with newly fitted colour rings

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Des res for dippers and more migrant waders

Last week we checked the nine dipper boxes put up during March and early April under various bridges in the Preseli area, thinking that they were probably put up too late to be used this season. We were very pleased to find that three were already occupied including a dipper nest containing a brood of five that will be fledging any day now from a box that didn't go up until 4th April. They must have started to move in as we walked away from the bridge. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the pics taken whilst ringing the brood before I could get them off the camera. The other two occupied boxes had a dipper on eggs and a newly lined grey wagtail nest.

The wader passage is still in full swing with whimbrel and dunlin dominating the scene. So far, 34 whimbrel and 9 dunlin have been ringed, all of which are stunning in their summer plumage.

summer plumage dunlin

two whimbrel (one with a bill as long as male curlew)

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Tawny Boxes

Over the last two or three years about 35 Tawny Owl boxes have been put up, some in the south of the county in broadleaf woodland and some in the conifer plantations in the Preseli area. Most of these have now been checked, and almost all have shown signs of being used by Tawny Owls, but only four were used for breeding, including this brood of two ringed by John and Paul at Kilpaison.

It seems that the local Tawny Owl population includes many non-breeders, which is perhaps a sign that in terms of numbers we have a very healthy population within the county. More monitoring over the long term is the only way to tell.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Whimbrels worth waiting for

After two or three seasons trying to find a site to catch whimbrels with a lamp and landing net, and failing abysmally, it was a relief to finally catch some using the tried and tested method of a mist net. We have been keen to try and research some of the commonest birds that visit the county and whimbrel pass through every spring in their hundreds or perhaps thousands, though none are ringed to see where they are going or coming from. Tony Cross initiated a colour-ringing scheme which has had some amazing results (see ruffled feathers) but the ten rings he sent me  have just been rattling around somewhere in the back of the car, until last night when Paul brought his lucky mist net and we caught five new birds.


 Also new in recently are most of the summer migrants including  the whitethroat and gropper  below

adult male whitethroat


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Spring at last!

The woods nearby seemed devoid of birds less than a week ago and I was getting a bit worried that spring was not going to arrive. As it happened the first chiffchaff started singing on 13th with a willow warbler the next day. By yesterday many of the residents were busy singing and defending territories rather than silently feeding and skulking. It's always a surprise when ringing the first warblers of the season following a winter of handling much more robust species, and it still amazes how something that only weighs 7-8 grams can cross the Sahara and battle its way back only to be confronted with our lousy weather! Lets hope these migrants have more luck rearing young than they did last year.


willow warbler


Paul with an immature male Sparrowhawk
caught this week

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Winter goes on

With the extended winter season comes more wader ringing and like other ringers in Wales we have ringed our first ever April Woodcock and Golden Plover. Paul has also caught a couple of new birds for the year;

A Drake Teal

and a smart summer plumage redshank

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Looking forward to Spring

Despite the chilly conditions and last year's depressing summer weather, we are still inexplicably optimistic  about spring's imminent arrival and John, Paul and PJ have made an assortment of nest boxes over the last month or so using workshop facilities at Valero refinery, Pembroke. Target species this year have been Tawny Owl, Redstart and Dipper. The redstart boxes were trialed last year in open conifer plantations and were a success in that three out of six boxes were used by redstarts rather than taken up by by blue tits and great tits, which seem to have the ability to spontaneously form no matter where the box is placed. With the permission and help from local forest manager, Huw Denman, we now have 30 redstart boxes in conifer woods in addition to another 15 sited in other suitable open habitat.

A box designed for redstarts in open conifers, Preseli

One of last year's redstart chicks from a nest box at  Ty Rhyg

Whilst there is never a bad time of year to put up a nest box, the newly sited dipper and tawny owl boxes are up too late for this breeding season; these are early breeders and many have already laid a clutch of eggs.
However they will become useful as roost sites straight away and especially once this years young become independent.

One of the dipper boxes put up yesterday