Monday, 27 June 2011

66 and all that

Why spend Sunday mornings lying in bed when you can get up at 3.30am and catch some swallows amidst the aroma of horse piss?

Yes, Rich and I beat the dawn chorus and headed down the stables for a bash at mist netting some swallows, so that they could receive the bling they so badly needed. And indeed, we caught some swallows and duly ringed them. One female was crawling with lice. Not something one enjoys seeing at silly o'clock in the morning, but I am sure somewhat more unpleasant for the unfortunate hirundine.

We then joined up with more of the ringing group at Cardiff Bay. I obviously hadn't read the dress code, as I hadn't brought a hat. Rosie's won the vote for hat of the day.

It was a good bird day. We closed nets at the grand total of 66 birds, including lots of new warblers and thrushes. Plenty of fledglings about, including reed and sedge warblers, blackcaps and whitethroats. We even got a couple of reed buntings, which have been avoiding the nets of late.

A rather scruffy adult whitethroat

Friday, 24 June 2011


Today was very much about swallows with the first catch at the Bute Park Nursery. With the able assistance of Rachel Smith two more female swallows have been blinged up for science. The first was an easy catch. Number two and her mate gave us the run a round. Perching on top of the green house opposite the shed that contained their nest, they watched us intently as we got the net up. Although they did fly near the net, this morning's glorious sun lit it up like the City Centre at Christmas. We moved the net inside of the open fronted shed (yes I am aware this would have been the most sensible option to start with), resisted the urge to hot wire the forklift truck and sat back. 50 minutes later lady was in a bird bag. With mister refusing to go in we called it a day to enjoy coffee and muffins.

After doing the nest checks on the swallows at the stables this evening, I decided a quick check on the house sparrow terraces (never been used by the species) would be a good idea. The wasps gave out three reminders that the polite thing to do is to check the notebook to see which compartment they were using

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Ring Reading at Roath Park

Armed with corn, cameras, binoculars, notebook and a Feast each, James and I headed off to Roath Park Lake yesterday evening for some ring reading. We’ve had a few of our swans recovered there but this time we were looking for individuals with a little more life in them.

We didn’t have to wait long before we notched up two of our swans with a few other ringed birds playing hard to get. The proverbial flake and chocolate sauce on the Mr Whippy was, however, the other birds.

We’ll of course put these through the official channels but if you know of, or can lay claim to any of these then please let us know here or email us on

Greylag Goose – 5231223

Greylag Goose – 523112 with White DARVIC on right; KK6 (in black)

Mute Swan – W20092 with Orange DARVIC on left; S92 (in black)

We also spotted lesser black backed gull Blue DARVIC F1L (white) which we've asked the Gull Guru Brian Bailey about. Also known as BTO metal ring FH09207 he/she was ringed as an adult on Flat Holm and has been seen once or twice since then:

13/05/08 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff
14/05/09 CARDIFF (14 km, NNW, 1 yr 1day)
03/04/10 CARDIFF (14 km, NNW, 1 yr 325days)
25/07/10 Roath, Cardiff (16 km, NNW, 2 yrs 73days)
04/04/11 CARDIFF (16 km, NNW, 2 yrs 326days)
21/06/11 Roath, Cardiff (16 km, NNW, 3 yrs 39days)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Sunday Martins

We convened early Sunday morning for the first sand martin ringing session of 2011 on the River Ely. We don’t get massive numbers at this site but the river probably contains a significant number of Glamorgan’s sand martins. Last year we managed 65 birds at one colony, including a control, in two visits. It was out first attempt at the species after all and the third had to be cancelled so this year we are hoping for better numbers.

Stock image of a sand martin
This session was somewhat hampered by the wind. Sand martins don’t “stick” to nets like other species, and with a wind just strong enough to open the pockets sufficient to allow some of the birds to get out our catch was some what diminished. Our finishing total of 27 could have been at least a third higher again. Catching more are what repeat visits are for!

For Billy Whizz, this was his first outing to a sand martin colony; which we think he enjoyed judging by his “Oh Heck!” (or similar words involving H’s and F’s) as the birds emerged from their burrows. This was also BW’s and Padwan’s first experience of a net properly full of birds and they handled it well, although one may have to check in his wing rule for calibration…!

We were graced with the presence of the Cardiff Bird Ringers’ youngest and most energetic members. Ti has many uses in the field – entertainer, cook, and most recently bird bag holder:

Ti in his new role. It should be noted it was a lot
lighter than it looks in the picutre - flash eh!

p.s. Forgot to mention - some of the birds, far more than last year, were carrying huge ticks.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Damp, Damage and Dippers

With the latter half of this week off, the plan had been for some serious ringing. Unfortunately, the weather has been somewhat… what’s the technical term? Shit? Thursday did see the nets deployed at Taf Fechan in the hope of more dippers. This outing was just The Solman and myself with the rest of the regulars crying off with various excuses that involved “I am on Fair Isle!” (Yawn), something unimportant involving lapwing and “I have a meeting!” (Priorities all wrong there). It proved to be a mixed session.

In the negative column was watching a female mallard pelting up river toward the net. Solman was very excited by this, while I just sighed the sigh of a man accepting the inevitable, which, in this case, was the mallard carrying on up river unimpeded while the net’s mesh was enlarged somewhat. Next up was the best display of bungling idiocy I’ve done in a while as I simultaneously put another hole in the net and my waders while going to extract the last dipper of the day (oh yes more than one). Oh and it hammered down at one stage.

In the positive column, and lets remain positive (waders and nets can be mended. Right?), were of course the birds, the site and the company. Four dippers, a retrap grey wag and two new chaffinches (new for the site) were our reward for a silly o’clock start. We’ve now ringed nine dippers, from at least four pairs, in the reserve with more still to qualify for rings! Quality.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A note from up North

The remote island of Fair Isle has played host to one member of the Cardiff Bird Ringers over the last couple of weeks. Many returning northern wheatears have been successfully counted in that time. 48 new Wheatear pulli have also been ringed thus far, with many more plucky volunteers waiting for their bling. Most spring migration has already come to a close, but the odd thing still arrives, such as this Blyth's Reed Warbler:

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Where's Jose?

Authorities are expressing concern over the whereabouts of Jose, a Spanish ringed swallow who made his residence at the Cardiff Riding School in 2009 and 2010.

This morning witnesses frequenting his usual haunt, and who may hold the key to Jose’s whereabouts, were questioned by authorities, however they refused to sing. Their details, including important biometric information and id number were taken to aid further enquires.

Jose, aka HE1142, was last seen heading south from the Cardiff area in September of last year. Described as “The site’s first foreign control and a very fine specimen of swallowhood”, Jose has been officially declared AOM – Absent On Migration. If you have any information relating to Jose’s whereabouts then please contact the Cardiff Ringers.
A poster produced to tell the ridings schools punters about our boy.

Friday, 10 June 2011

A miserable morning?

I’d like to think that over the years I have developed swallow catching at the stables into a well oiled, efficient machine. If that is actually the case, rather than self delusion, then this morning the machine was misfiring on all cylinders.

Having high hopes was my first mistake, so was having that “wake up” coffee before I left. The result was arriving at the stables too close to sunrise when the swallows were in full song and ready to leave their stables. Mistake three was not fully deciding the night before which pairs I was going to target and therefore I wasted precious time dithering.

The three pairs in the stalls were a priority so that net went up first. As I put up the next net I saw a swallow bounce form the stall net; far too much tension in the net! Attempts at slacking it off resulted in the net practically furling itself. Eventually, as the third net was being erected, as the sky filled with swallows, the heavens opened. The nets were largely sheltered but I was not and was rather dam by the time I had checked the nets; which were all empty.

Eventually I caught a male and while extracting him, his mate; both from a pair I wasn’t after this morning! But new birds none the less. While processing these, the camera decided to play silly buggers. It was needed for tail shots for a project we are working and so I spent a frustrating minute getting it to work. Secondly I could see a blatant case of net avoidance happening at the stalls.

Just to break up the text, up close and personal with a swallows tail.
Guess which sex; answers on a postcard. 

After 20 minutes I realised that the pair in the school had started to use a different exit to the one I was covering and nothing was coming out of or into the stalls. I decided to call it a morning and packing up kept an eye on the stall net which remained empty. All that was left was the ringing gear itself, so deciding the Gods of Ringing had forsaken me I packed that away too and stomped my way in a strop to the stall net. Only to find two swallows; both retraps. One of which was new for the year (originally ringed last year) and one which was confirmation of suspected colour combination (2009 provenance)! Not quiet the five new birds I was after but none the less data.

After the swallows I had planned to join other Cardiff Ringers who were out, or try out my work site but decided it was best to go back to bed.

Lessons learnt:
1) Get up
2) Plan
3) Check equipment
4) Don’t be a cocky git.

The Importance of Corn

With around 100 swans currently undergoing moult in Cardiff Bay, how could we turn our noses up at the opportunity to combine ringing with spot of paddling? Not literally ringing and paddling; that would be somewhat silly (note to self, work out way to paddle and ring birds). So after much discussion this week and one member trying to fobb us off with the old "bad foot" excuse, the Taff Swan Ring Reading Expeditionary Party met at the last minute on the banks of the Taff yesterday evening. The plan was simple paddle out in the kayaks, feed bird corn, birds come close, ringer reads ring. Easy!

Sadly the major flaw in this otherwise obviously flawless plan was that one member of the party, whose initials may be RJF, forgot to bring the corn. Nether the less we paddled optimistically out on to the Taff with hopes of ring numbers galore. Needless to say the minute we touched water, the swans put two primaries up at us and effortlessly evaded out effort-ful, and at times slightly wheezy, approaches. We got fairly close to one, and by close I mean nowhere near close enough to read a ring. Next time corn or bread will be brought – mistakes are just an opportunity to try again!

With the swans giving us the swin-around we decided to call it quits and just enjoy a paddle. We couldn’t fail to do so. It was a gloriously sunny evening and we were surrounded by dozens of swifts, house and sand martins and the odd swallow. Flying low, they were coming within a metre or so of our kayaks. Pure magic!

The biggest bonus of all was that I didn’t drown!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Swan Roll Call

In the interests of keeping track of the 'Cosmeston Cygnus Community' we try to record the rings of swans at the lake edge whenever we are around. Although I am very proud to claim that I've been present for every swan ringing session at Cosmeston, this does come at a cost. The cost is that most of the old birds know my face- and will shift out of my reach when ever I emerge from the car park (I also get a chorus of dissaproving quacks from the ducks). This also means that only the unringed birds are left standing on the lake edge pecking at the corn I have just thrown- probably wondering why everyone else isnt cashing in on the free food from the nice bearded man. Luckily this was the case today.

Needless to say, there are a few more swans that wont be tempted by my handfull of corn again (at least for a while). Todays' grab included the Alpha Cob of the lake- who wasnt particularly pleased about being shown up infront of his peers.

We also got a few ring numbers from some older friends.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Local Woman Caught Hugging a Swan

The Cosmeston Lakes Wardens' Office is asking for help in identifying a woman who was seen hugging one of the Cosmeston Lakes Swans on 08 June 2011.

Local bird ringer and Swan handler James Vafidis stated ‘ She was just sat there hugging it, like an old friend, I couldn’t believe it’.

Investigators said the Swan was one of the more aggressive cobs of the notorious ‘Bread-Eater’ Gang and since the incident has been observed arranging flowers and behaving calmly.

If anyone has information concerning the identity of the suspect in this photographs, they are asked to contact the Cardiff Bird Ringers.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Reed Warbler Nest

Soon my pretties...

Dippers and Spoggies

Bird ringing is one of those activities that encourages and rewards both exploration and experimentation. With this in our minds and hearts we got our jabs, packed our rucksacks and set off for the wildlands of the Rhondda Valley. On arrival we managed to commision the services of four native sherpas, heralding a warm welcome to 'Gods' Country'.

With the sun in our eyes and the breeze at our backs, we set off to investigate the rivers and streams of Cwmparc in search of the 'White Breast of the Water' bird known locally as 'Bronwen y Dwr'.

Luckily, two of our sherpas were also trainee bird ringers, so Rich and I could 'supervise' their efforts of an ad-hoc net erection safely from the bank. A short 40 minutes and a bacon sandwich later, we decided to let the trainees pack up and try further down-stream.

How many trainees does it take to put up a net?

We decided to demonstrate to our admiring students how a net should be put up in such a situation, stressing the importance of both swiftness and style. Needless to say, shortly afterwards a pair of dippers were caught and ringed.

Shortly after our success, our team fell victim to the social obligations of the in-laws and we lost two of our native tour guides. We decided it would be best to explore the local area in search of the local habitats that served to house the local sand martin population so visible across the valley skies.

On failing to find such habitats, we decided to punish the youngest of our sherpas with a well established procedure known as the 'outdoor head swirly'. This made us all feel much better about the day and restored honour among the ranks

Dunking the doughnut

The local custom of the area involves feeding all travellers and ringing birds in ther gardens. Our sherpas were traditional in such matters and insisted on taking us to their home. We obliged them and hungrily gobbled down the local delicacies of ham and cheese sandwiches, pasties and chocolate chip muffins.

We were told that mist netting was more successfull if accompanied by an episode of Star Trek. This turned out to be true, a short 10' net in the garden caught 3 juvenile house sparrows (spoggies).

On our journey back to the coastal plains of Cardiff, we reflected on our day and agreed that exploration and experimentaion make for a great mornings ringing. Thanks Martin and Teifion (sorry about dunking your head in the stream).

Friday, 3 June 2011

Gwennol Bach

Hot on the heels of the last night’s late finish was a wonderfully and potentially needless early morning to visit the best swallow site in town. A quick visit last night before the ‘jars showed up one brood ready for ringing and this morning they became fully paid up members of the swallow project. They could have probably waited until tomorrow but eager is as eager does, and these five birds bring our total to 18 with plenty more on the way!

Yesterday evening was also the first opportunity in several weeks to check on the birds breeding in the stalls. Up in the roof, one nest contained young roughly eight days old, while the other contained at least three young who will be ready to take to the wing proper in a week or so! The first egg date will have to be revised!

Crouching Ringer, Hidden Nightjar

Let us first review the positives:
  1. A stunning sunset (from argueably the best viewpoint in south Wales) was enjoyed by a group of friends (accompanied by gourmet chillie pasties)
  2. We got some (more) practice putting up nets.
  3. A new willow warbler and blackbird have been added to the national ringing database
  4. We got the opportunity to observe the ringing skills of the most illustrious curator of vertebrate zoology currently active in Wales
  5. We confirmed that Nightjars are still breeding in Ruperra
Now for the negatives:
  1. We didnt catch a nightjar
  2. I lay in a dogs poo

Within minutes, the blackbird was sexed, winged, weighed and

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Born to be Tired

This morning saw a lone ringer at work at Cardiff Bay, finishing with the details of 31 birds in his notebook. Despite the abnormal solitude of the morning’s activities he did enjoy the sight and sounds of several dozen swifts, martins and a few swallows, as well as looking fondly on a family of swans. He now sits at his desk, fighting heavy eyelids, and drinking enough coffee to stimulate the whole of Belgium.