Tuesday, 31 May 2011

“Put The Swan Down!” – Weekend ringing Shenanigans

Ringing activities over the bank holiday weekend were some what curtailed by the obnoxious weather – too windy or too wet.

We did manage a session at Cosmeston Lakes on Friday which resulted in 16 birds at the site 1 reed bed. With JOV having mentioned that we’ve caught swans in May we decided that a bit of early summer waterfowl catching was in order. So with the nets down, and not having swan rings with us, we headed to the “jetty” with plans to tag some ducks and coot.

Padwan Shewring, Jimmy Boy, and Dr O

It would have come as no surprise to the regulars of the lakes that there was bugger all about on the waterfowl front; a hand full of mallard, coot and even the usually abundant and ever present swans were thin on the ground. As we failed to attract anything quack-esque close enough to catch, we turned our attentions to reading swan rings. Even they weren’t playing ball and it became necessary to switch from the “read in the field” to the “read in the hand” technique.

No sooner had I picked up a swan than “Put The Swan Down!” was bellowed from one of the fluorescent vest clad park attendants. This was recited several times as I tried to explain that we monitoring the birds and had permission to do what we were doing – an explanation that seemed to be met with eventual approval as the attendant nodded and voiced an “OK”. That and the boys in blue didn’t turn up.

Friday evening saw Dr O and me accompanying John Hyde to gift broods of redstart, pied wagtail and swallows with uniquely numbered bracelets. While John busied himself with the latter, I decided to show Dr O a method of catching adult swallows coming out of stables that doesn’t require a 3:30am start. For twenty minutes we ran back and forth the farm yard trying to catch swallows as they exited their stables. We nearly succeeded having two swallows in the net, but sadly they didn’t stick! It usually works, honest.

Speaking of swallows; the first chicks at the stables have been ringed, with the first brood on Saturday and two more yesterday bringing the total to 14. More should follow suit this week. Since 2009 we’ve also looking at the bird’s diet by collecting poo. Last year was the year of constipation, with few broods giving in the name of science. So far this year they have been more than willing to do their bit.

Born to be Wild

There are times when you lie awake at 2am, when you consider turning off the 05:30 alarm set with good intentions at 10:30 the previous evening. A well-reasoned arguement usually develops, outlining how tired you will be the following day, particularly when you are due to undertake an all night bat survey in Swansea...
Eventually you drift away, only to be woken 3 hours later by the chaos blurting out of your now hateful radio. Bleary-eyed and grumpy you stumble out into the light breeze and attempt to start the day...

...and what better way to start a day than to wade through the dew-soaked reeds of Cosmeston Lakes in the warmth of the late May sun?

Granted, no ringer looks at a net full of spinning blue tits with glee, nevertheless, after a weekend of high winds and bone-idleness- it is never-the-less a promising sight if not a particularly welcome one.

After 125 minutes, four net rounds and two strong coffees, Padawan Shewring and I finished 23 rings lighter. In this time we gifted alloy bracelets to a number of young blue tits, blackcaps, whitethroat, reed warbers, reed buntings and robins.

Now, I'm sure there was something I was supposed to do today....(yawn)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Definitely a Day for Dippers

Yesterday saw a couple of us again attempting our monthly catch of dippers on the Taf Fechan in Merthyr. Our site is where the river runs through the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales’ (WTSWW) reserve of the same name in Merthyr. We’ve met with both success and failure (of sorts) at this site and we hoped for the former this time round. Not only to keep morale high but more importantly a number of trustees and staff of the WTSWW were out with us and we wanted to show them dippers! With nine of us out on site however, we were being rather realistic about our chances.

Minds focussed, we chose our first catching spot with care; a nice shaded stretch of river thanks to a low and connected canopy, perfect for concealing a net and deterring anything flying along the river to fly up and over the net. It also provided a nice watching point. More importantly we’d also seen signs of and the birds themselves. With the net set we sat back with tempered optimism and waited and the Gods of Ringing rewarded us!

A dipper came barrelling up stream, hit the net and… you’ve guessed, it bounced like the proverbial ball. But it didn’t go too far and remained in sight all be it at a distance. A minor adjustment of the net and we were set. We didn’t have to wait long either. First in the net was a lovely female grey wagtail – a first for the site and our second for the year.

DR O with a grey wagtail
While we demonstrated processing this bird (5 female) to the assembled a dipper flew upstream straight into the net and more importantly stuck! Extracted and processed to much acclaim and was released. We decided to not strike camp at this point as the male we had just caught was likely to have a mate. It was a wise decision as we soon were watching our male, his mate and two of their offspring feeding 20m from our net… Dipper number two was soon in the net and this time a juvenile male. We decided at this point that two was enough and we moved on.

Dr O strikes camp after a good catch. Our first was infested with biting midges
and we all dealt with it in different ways - Dr O borrowing this rather fetching hat...!

Number 2. The dipper.

 The main thrust of the visit was to show the trustees the work of the WTSWW and its partners involved in the management of the reserve, and among the party were representatives from Merthyr Tydfil County Bourough Council (who actually own the site) and CCW who’s interest in the site stem from the fact that its part of a SSSI. This involved showing the trustees around a nest box scheme established this year to attract pied flycatchers. Sadly none of these rapidly declining migrants bred at the site this year but you have to at least try - there is always next year! This gave Dr O. an opportunity to ring more pulli toward his endorsement – he is very good at ringing tit pulli! But people wanted more dippers so being the types that do our best to please we had to oblige – well try too.

Sherpa Solman helps Dr O while he demonstrates ringing pulli to the WTSWW trustees

Spot number two was not too far away from the nest boxes. Shaded but without the closed canopy of our first site it was definitely a case of suck it and see; especially as our watch point was exposed to anything flying down stream! Our watch point was strangely familiar being reminiscent of where the hobbits took shelter from the Ring Wraiths! Luckily we just had to contend with inquisitive dogs.

The wait was longer this time so there was plenty of time to discuss the reserves and matters surrounding it. Our candid chatter was abruptly curtailed when not only were two grey wags seen up stream but also two dippers. One of the latter ended up in the net but none of the latter! Buoyed by our success we waited some more but tired as we were we began to lose hope until one of trustees, standing up and looking down stream, froze saying a dipper was working its way up stream. No sooner as she had said this than the bird was in the net! A female with a whopping brood patch!

And Dipper number three!
Rich demonstrates Tired Ringer Weighs Dipper,
a lesser-known posture of Yang-style Tai Chi

All in all a result! Three dippers and two grey wagtails (plus X number of tits)! Next month is going to be either elation or disappointment!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Over the Weekend

Saturday saw another early morning to catch migrant warblers at the bay. Although the morning was fruitful for ringing, with 25 birds caught, two early mornings in a row proved too much for one of the party:

Dr Oenanthe takes a break - students eh!

We found this fella in the grass near one of our rides - as the critter was damp and in shade we moved it to base camp where it could get a bit of sun. As it has a massive blob of puss on its side we think it got to our ride by way of one of the days customers.

Edit: We've be reliably informed its a poplar or Eyed hawkmoth

Sunday's weather could be descirbed as "blowing a frickin' hooely", so mist netting was out of the question. We did manage to ring what we assumed would be the last of the tit broods at the stables, only to find a late laying female on eggs. Hey ho!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Where you from then but?

A trip to the bay this morning at ridiculous o’clock for a school morning saw two intrepid and tired ringers* bag 15 birds of various kinds. Bird of the day was this particular sedge warbler which wasn’t wearing one of our rings! Control number two!

(*at least one of which was more sleep deprived than usual thanks to some Parus driving a needlessly loud car past the house at 1am)

And so it begins,

The swallows have begun to hatch at the stables with the first of the pink blobs coming out of the eggs yesterday:

 Here is a better picture of some swallow babies taken last year

At this stage these chicks weigh less than 2g but their growth rate over the coming days will be massive; in eight to ten days time they will each way around the 17-20g mark, and within a month of hatching they will be flying nearly as competently as their parents. 

More clutches are due to hatch over the next few days which does mean the silly season of swallow ringing should start next week.

Monday, 16 May 2011

And the results were...

Today, the results of the Flat Holm gull count landed in our inboxes, and we think Dr Gull herself (formerly of Cardiff Ringers but currently on loan to the BTO) described it best:

“The 2011 gull count turned out to the lowest year for lesser black-backed gulls since 2000.Herring gulls are also down by approximately 100 pairs on last year, but similar to the figures for the few years before 2010. It will be interesting to see what happens next year!”

And this year’s figures…

Lesser black backed gulls 3,594 pairs
Herring gulls 326 pairs

And here is a graph that shows what the trend of the lesser black backed gull colony since the sixties:

Also during the sojourn on the island, eight adult lesser black backed gulls with DARVIC rings were re-sighted, mainly by Messrs Brian Bailey and David Anderson. Brain sent over the life histories of these eight and those of two of the eldest are reproduced below. Hopefully these show a number of things.

One that these birds are pretty long lived – 15 years is typical for this species (the record stands at 34 years 10 months 27 days).

Two, that they actually are interesting – they just don’t frequent your roof or local rubbish tip but do move around a fair bit. Granted some of the eight had been seen regularly on the Gloustershire landfill sites but they had also gone to Morocco like FA76671, as well as Spain and Portugal.

And thirdly, how some individually marked birds can be recorded many times where as others, despite their age, can disappear off the radar for more than a decade.

Lesser Black-backed Gull FA76671
First ringed 08/07/95 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff
Sighted (NR) 10/01/03 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 7 yrs 186days)
Sighted (NR) 16/05/03 FLAT HOLM, Cardiff (2 km, N, 7 yrs 312days)
Sighted (R) 02/07/05 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff (9 yrs 359days)
Sighted (R) 05/05/06 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff (10 yrs 301days)
Sighted (R) 17/01/07 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 11 yrs 193days)
Sighted (R) 21/01/07 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 11 yrs 197days)
Sighted (NR) 18/05/07 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff (11 yrs 314days)
Sighted (NR) 31/12/07 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 12 yrs 176days)
Sighted (NR) 04/01/08 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 12 yrs 180days)
Sighted (NR) 06/01/08 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 12 yrs 182days)
Sighted (R) 24/01/09 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 13 yrs 200days)
Sighted (R) 27/01/09 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 13 yrs 203days)
Sighted (R) 28/01/09 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 13 yrs 204days)
Sighted (R) 22/05/09 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff (13 yrs 318days)
Sighted (NR) 18/12/10 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 15 yrs 163days)
Sighted (NR) 21/12/10 AGADIR, Morocco, Morocco (2386 km, SSW, 15 yrs 166days)
Sighted (NR) 14/05/11 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff (15 yrs 310days)

Lesser Black-backed Gull FP04734
First ringed 3/07/97 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff
Sighted (NR) 14/05/11 FLAT HOLM ISLAND, Cardiff (13 yrs 315days)

Box Clever

Chicks and eggs have been the theme of this weekend and Sunday afternoon was no different. We headed out with John Hyde for a spot of pulli ringing.

John monitors over 100 nest boxes, with a few dozen open cup nesters thrown in for good measure, and is working toward a restricted permit to ring pulli. Although the site we visited today has had nesting pied flycatchers and redstarts in years gone by, this year the boxes are full of great and blue tits. Still we did have a nice treat in store in the form of these two bad boys.

An island adventure

With clouds threatening rain, and about 100 swifts flying over the waters of the bay a soon to bedraggle crew headed to Flat Holm Island on Friday for the annual gull count, an activity not for the faint of heart, that was to take place the next morning.

Flat Holm Island

Cardiff Ringers; helping through documenting

Depsite the ominous looking clouds the rain stayed away and with Friday afternoon to do with want we wanted our thoughts of course turned to ringing. Sadly the wind was out in force so mist netting was largely out of the question. The only ride that would have been usable, being sheltered by the old cholera hospital, had been incoviently occupied by three pairs of gulls so was largely unuseable by those that did not wish to have gull shaped holes in their nets. In the end we settled for using traps which was good experience for the trainees present; the experience being sitting and waiting while, for the most part, the traps remained empty! With several thousand gulls knocking about, Flat Holm is not exactly hospitable for the resident passerines which tend to lay low. We managed to get ourselves a robin in the end. While a rock pipit completely ignored our traps, some of us took to looking for some of the island's other inhabitants:

The Cardiff Ringers favorite Spanish Portugese Ringer holding a slowworm

A close up of the slowworm

After a good feed and a few bevies the night before, we were up early for the main event on Saturday. Armed with cans of biodegradable spray paint we headed out into our respective areas to mark and count the nests of lesser black-backed gulls. The gulls, of course, did not appreciate our attentions and showed as much enthusiasim for showering us in shit and stinking vomit as we did for nest finding and marking. We could say that you have not lived until you've had gull crap in your ear, and gull vomit down your neck. We could say that but we won't.

Our quarry for the morning - gulls nests.

But to be honest, the worst part was not the vomit or the crap - that is just what you expect, and probably deserve, when wondering in to a gull colony. Nor was the occassional smack to the head, cushioned by a hard hat. No, the worst part was the fly by assult on the audial sense of a gull screaming "WHAORAH!" very loudly and unexpectedly behind you. The result on several occassions, apart from potential heart failure, was the near evacutation of our own bowls from the fright. Luckily this did not happen.

Such activities may not endear gulls to people, and you could understand why they have such a bad reputation. But if the masses of gull haters laid eyes on a nest of fluffy gull chicks they would understand why these birds defend thier nests so aggressively. As we didn't dare take our cameras out on the acutal count, you'll just have to take our word for it that gull chicks are well cute.

Even two days on the island can affect the
mental state of some people....

We are hoping to become more aquainted with the island over the coming months and years as the Cardiff Ringers are helping with ringing on the island. Not only with the shithawks gulls but also with our more usual fare in the form of migratory passerines.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Swallow Success

A quick visit to the Bute Park Nursery, one of our new swallow sites for 2011, on Friday revealed at least three more pairs of swallows for our study, including this little fella:

In keeping with the general theme of swallow behaviour this year he wasn't exactly co-operative and we almost didn't get his year ring colour. However we just about manged it and we are 99.9% sure that this is OGLM who hatched out at the stables in 2009 and has not been seen since he was ringed. Although he hasn't travelled too far from the Stables (propably less than 1km) he is our first off site record of a live bird ringed at the stables.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Bonjour Cardiff Bay

Yesterday saw us at Cardiff Bay with a session that turned out no only to be productive but also well timed; we packed up with plenty of time to spare before the rain came.

We ended the day with the details of twenty birds safely in the note book, including several white throats. Bird of the day went to this little chap:

Yes, we catch a lot of sedge warblers but not many with a French ringing scheme ring! Our first international control of 2011! Speculation is already rife within the group as to where the bird was ringed – outside money is for a reed bed in Senegal.

If the SEDWA took first place then second has to go to a female mute swan, which while being fed the remnant of sandwiches proudly displayed her pale green DARVIC ring at us. The last time we encountered a mute swan with a pale green DARVIC was at Cosmeston lakes and was on a bird released by the RSPCA – so bets are that it is a similar situation here.

The lady with the darvic is on the left

We’ll keep you posted on the details of these birds and remember you heard them here first. Well possibly from someone else in the case of the swan if someone has already reported it…

Picking up Chicks

(News from Monday 2 May)

While the swallows at the stables are just getting under way with egg laying, the breeding season is well underway for site’s blue and great tit populations. At the moment we have 13 boxes dotted around the riding school’s paddocks and this year 10 are in use; six by great tits and four by the blue bitey ones. Several are still on eggs or have very young chicks but we managed to ring a brood of great tits as well as several adults.

The Swallow Season So Far

Swallows have arrived thick and fast at the stables, with at least 17 individuals from previous years being so far re-sighted and a few unringed birds and those we are yet to find out about thrown in for good measure.

Among those that have so far returned are WYPM and SRPM. Both hatched at the stables in 2009 and are son and daughter respectively of of LVOM who we told you about previously (although you never can tell who daddy is with swallows) . Its also good to see OBPM. She hatched in the same year as WYPM and SRPM. Don’t worry we won’t go through the life history and relatives of all 17 birds…

WYPM -White over Yellow, Pale blue over Metal

Nest checks have commenced in something like earnest. Eggs are being laid left right and centre but mainly in nests. The date of the first egg, April 30, was two days later than last year. The first check of the year was something of a reminder of the perils that lay ahead for some of this year’s offspring. While moving a box we came across the desiccated remains of LYLM, a bird we thought had made it off the nest, wedged behind it.

A near complete clutch of swallow eggs viewed through
the hight of technological developement - a mirror on a stick

This year our swallow project stretched its wings a little farther and we have added a couple of other sites to the mix. We’ve only visited one of these so far, the Ambulance Station at Blackweir, where the birds have been largely uncooperative on the whole; only one of the two pairs have posed for their picture – they were unringed.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Back to the cold

One of the wheatears myself and Ruth colour ringed in Greenland last year was spotted and photographed this morning by Mads at the Arctic Station. Outi has put an entry on the Arctic Station blog. Unfortunately it isn't one that we put a geolocator on, but I wouldn't expect those back yet as they were all younger birds.

The bird seen this morning is male 9Z35822, now in his third year (aged last year as fledged in 2009). He was greeted by, well, Arctic conditions - snow and ice. Just illustrates the difficulties that long-distance migrants have in timing their migration so that they arrive early enough to get good territories and rear chicks when food is abundant, but not so early that they can't find enough for themselves.