Saturday, 23 January 2021

Garden ringing - Danish too

During these times while travel is restricted, garden ringing has been of increased importance. All of the Group with C permits (non restricted)  ring on their own properties. We have had 2 RAS projects, a garden CES as well as sessions primarily used for training..

Alison  has written a short summary of her garden experiences since gaining her C permit.

 I achieved my C permit in late 2019, so 2020 was my first full year of ‘independent‘ ringing, and for obvious reasons, a significant amount has been garden - based.


Initially I wasn’t sure how garden- ringing would pan-out, whether it would be a relentless amount of Blue Tits and very little else. I was however, pleasantly surprised when by end of the year I had processed 730 birds of 25 species , 665 of which were new birds.

Species Name
Grand Total
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit

Marsh Tit

House Sparrow
Collared Dove

Song Thrush



Willow Warbler

Great Spotted Woodpecker

House Martin





Grand Total

I caught birds that I had never seen use my garden before, such as Treecreeper, Blackcap and Willow Warbler ( a control from Andys’ site in Carmarthenshire) , and I ringed 3 new species - House Martin, Brambling and Rook.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed garden ringing and look forward to building on the knowledge and results I’ve obtained this year. The one drawback of having mist nets so visible through the window though is that you get to see ‘the one that got away’. Twice I’ve watched a Sparrowhawk bounce out of the net now.........

See link for details and updates on Andy's results with his House Sparrow RAS involving colour-ringing.

A few Starlings have been ringed in Wendy's garden so when one was caught with a ring she was expecting it to be one she had ringed. A big surprise though, it had a ring with the words ZOOL.MUSEUM DENMARK !!

The details have been submitted to the BTO and we await confirmation of news via social media that it was ringed in Skagen on the 25th July 2020. 

 Siskins numbers are increasing in several of our garden sites. As well as new birds there have been a good number of sight faithful returning birds. This one was ringed in Wendy's garden in January 2018 and seen each January since.

A couple of movements of birds from last year that we have just received from the BTO

Goldfinch   APE4200 
Ringed    Tickenham, North Somerset         19/02/2020      Gordano Valley Ringing Group
                Bancyffordd, Carmarthenshire    21/12/2020         306 days 124km WNW 
Sedge Warbler AEK0013 
Ringed   Teifi Marshes, Ceredigion          28/07/2020    
               St Phillippe de Grand Lieu, Loire Atlantique      15/08/2020         18 days 590km SSE

Monday, 11 January 2021

House Sparrow project update

With 2020 over, I accessed my House Sparrow data on Demon and found that I ringed 475 new birds during the year. 367 of these birds were identified as birds of the year and 70 were adults/breeders from 2019 or earlier. 38 of the birds were caught post autumn moult and so ageing could not be specific. In addition, a further 14 birds ringed between 2017 and 2019 were also reencountered however this figure is considered light as annual totals for the species in this period were relatively low (2017:28, 2018:124, 2019:49). The resulting number of individuals encountered during 2020 totalled 489.

In mid-October 2020, I began to fit colour rings to all birds. By the 31st of December, 52 rings had been fitted and so the process of sighting and recording began. I contacted all the householders in the village to inform them of the ringing and was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by three interested parties. While looking for colour rings on days when I chose not to ring, I was quite surprised to see numerous individuals that did not have a metal ring fitted and so with a little more effort I might have got to the 500 figure!

The 52 birds colour ringed comprised of 30 new birds and 22 reencounters with 8 of these being individuals from previous years which is probably sufficient to show how difficult it can be to recatch the savvy House Sparrow.

I built several ‘potter’ type traps to avoid mist netting regularly, but these traps have proved completely unsuccessful in respect of House Sparrows. The garden is large enough to allow some randomly positioned nets now and again. As my hens are inside due to avian flu precautions, the robbing Sparrows are not lurking around the chicken hut at feeding time so no point in mist netting the bushes in that area now. Little depressions in the ground in my poly tunnel path tell me that birds are dust bathing so I will have a net up in there one day and possibly catch the culprits. It will not be long before amorous birds are hammering around the garden and catches will increase if I keep plenty of bag in the net.

I use modified circlip pliers to fit the mini darvic rings. Ideally, I would have fitted the rings so that they can be read from the bottom upwards when viewed from the outside. Immediately I found that the direction of coiling meant that I would have to fit the rings to read top downwards to minimise the opening of the ring while maintaining good visual aspect during fitting. This may be partly down to my technique, but you need to work in a safe and comfortable way. To date, I have broken one ring, the first ring, by trying to open it too far. I have found that dropping the rings into warm (not hot) water is enough to relieve the stress in the ring especially when the ambient temperature is low.

Perseverance and luck, may get me at least another 50 birds colour ringed prior to the appearance of any offspring in 2021. With the cold start to 2021, I have not done much ringing and only have two birds to report. Female NF10558 (not colour ringed) was found fresh dead next to my car on the 4th of Jan with a mass of only 22.5g. The bird was ringed on the 23rd of Feb. 2019 and never reencountered. The first colour ring of the year (N53) was fitted to a female first ringed on the 17th of November 2018 and reencountered on the 14th of July 2020. These low encounter rates already contrast to N41, colour ringed on the 6th of December 2020. Originally ringed on the 28th of September 2018, it was reencountered on the 9th of July 2020 and has been sighted five times at two locations since being colour ringed.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Some thoughts for 2021

Plenty to look forward to in this coming year...

Although last year provided various challenges - as a group we ringed 72 species, only a few down on the very good total of 78 in the previous year.

72 species in 2020  .....78 species in 2019

The difference in the variety of species had no impact on numbers ringed as you can see from the species ringed in 2019 but not in 2020

....Yellowhammer, Yellow Wagtail, Yellow-browed Warbler, Leach's Petrel, Chough, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Water Rail and Wheatear.

The number of new birds ringed was very similar with....

 7342 new birds ringed in 2020  .. 7493 new birds ringed in 2019

The numbers of certain species reflect the effort at ringing sites due to movement restrictions as we focused more on "home locations"

Obvious examples ...Blackcaps down from 406 to 147,  Chiffchaff down from 426 to 169

Species ringed at  " home locations" show many increases, some of these increases are due to  special effort eg  House Sparrows up from 120 to 736 - helped by Andy's new colour-ring project (see below)

Moorhen - only 1 each in each year, an amazingly low number as they wander the rides on the Marsh  past our potter traps. 


Wagtails  - we caught Pied but we missed out totally on White Wagtails in 2020 - and Yellow Wagtail.

 Redwing with  213 in 2020, 85 in 2019 -  we can easily catch these migrant Thrushes at our home locations

Our lamping activities were affected, with only 56 Woodcock ringed  - 94 in 2019 and consequently less Golden Plover and Fieldfare.


 Movements of  birds reported to us in 2020

Details have been noted in blogs during the year and are listed on the Controls and Recoveries page

Highlights include....

A Blackbird to Sweden

The same Storm Petrel to Bardsey, Wooltack Point and Porth Iago

Goldfinch to N Ireland

Great Tit to Warrington

Woodcock to Russia and one of our own Woodcock ringed in 2017 caught in the adjacent field in Boncath.


House Sparrow colour ringing and RAS project

See Andy's previous post House Sparrows- colour ringing commences

Reed Bunting colour ringing and RAS project

This RAS project is now entering it's 8th year. During last year we only colour-ringed 45 birds (in 2019 146 birds, in 2018 110 birds)

A Reed Bunting ringed in 2012 as an adult was resighted in 2020, so now 8+ years old.

Arfon has just set up a Willow Tit RAS based around Tregaron - more from Arfon during the season.


New sites

An interesting new site in an upland plantation in the Preseli hills where we plan a migration monitoring study with particular emphasis on Warblers.

 Alison is setting up a site in a small woodland near Mynachlogddu managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales which will complement our other sites adding different habitat.

Garden CES 

A chance to take part in a new BTO garden ringing project was welcomed enthusiastically. Starting at a time when we were all having to stay at home, two sites were set up that individuals could run alone on their own land. Both were successful with a good number of birds caught. The site at Llechryd in South Ceredigion will be continued next year.


415 birds of 20 species in the 12 standard sessions.

Some final notes as we enter the 14th year of the Teifi RG

The Group AGM will be via ZOOM in late January / early February...agenda items to Wendy asap.

The WhatsApp messaging seems to be working well....?

If other Group members could write posts and updates on their ringing activities, it would be helpful to everyone. 

Wendy J and Rich D

Saturday, 12 December 2020

The early winter

For 12 years we have been studying Woodcock, mainly on sheep pasture. These birds are always caught at night by lamping and a hand net, often other species are caught too like Fieldfare, Skylark and Golden Plover.

 On our second visit to a new site, an upland plantation near Crymych we caught a Woodcock at dawn in a mist net - our first Woodcock in a mist net!  This site is situated in the hilltop between and above two of our main study farms.

 An opportunity to look at the ageing features that we use at night - in daylight. This is an adult showing pale tips to the primary coverts and the more flat end to the primaries.

The plantation on Frenni Fawr is at a height of 274 metres. We will mainly be ringing here to study migrating species such as Willow Warblers. A few visits over winter will give us an idea of birds that use the area throughout the year or as winter visitors, maybe Thrushes and Owls.  As well as ringing, all birds recorded on visits are entered into Birdtrack.

Although the plantation is surrounded by sheep fields there is a small patch of interesting dwarf Oak woodland, nearly at the summit of Frenni Fawr. It is the highest semi-natural woodland in Pembrokeshire. This article describes the woodland and it seems little is known about it's history and why the trees are dwarf.

Frenni Fawr woodland

Being so close to our ringing site we hope to learn a bit more about it and what species of birds feed or breed there, if any.

Further up the Teifi valley Arfon Williams with the assistance of locals is starting a new RAS for the Willow Tit. This will also become our third colour-ringing project, the others being Reed Buntings and Starlings.

 More on this new Willow Tit RAS from Arfon as the project develops.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Recent ringing and recoveries

During the last couple of weeks we have managed a few early morning sessions on our Teifi Marsh site near the river view point.

Early starts for Redwing proved successful with 50 captured here along with 20 at other sites. After the Thrushes, no surprises but a good variety of Teifi Marsh species. No Phylloscs but several Blackcaps amongst the Goldcrests and good to capture a late Garden Warbler and the 5th Cettis Warbler of the Autumn.


Many Goldfinches are visiting garden feeders at the moment. Using a thermal image camera a max of 54 were counted in a tree at one time. This image shows how the technology can be used to assist counting, particlularly birds in roosts.

Goldfinches waiting their turn on the feeders

Several of the Goldfinches caught in Wendy's garden this month were ringed in previous years, one in 2017. Of those caught this week many were carrying fat. One weighed far more than average at 20.3g. 


Movements of some of our birds

Blackbird  LK06138

Ringed Llechryd, Ceredigion 02/12/2019

Hit a window in Uddevalla, Sweden but survived 26/09/2020 299 days 1240 km ENE

Reed Warbler ADH8638

Ringed Teifi Marshes, Ceredigion 25/08/2019

Messanges, Landes, France 20/08/2020 361 days, 951 km SSE

Blue Tit APJ1733

Ringed Clarbeston Road, Pembs  09/06/2020

Keeston, Pembs 18/10/2020 131 days 12km W Pembs RG

Siskin ABE1192

Ringed Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire 06/02/2019

Groeslon, Caernarfon, Gwynedd 27/09/2020 599 days 127km 

Sedge Warbler ABB8795

Ringed Teifi Marshes, Ceredigion 06/05/2018

Noyant, Maine-et-Loire, France 17/08/2018 103 days 583km SSE Late report from CRBPO France

Monday, 19 October 2020

House Sparrows - colour ringing commences

Since writing the last item, I have pursued my interest in House Sparrows that come into the garden.

The BTO approved my application to fit colour rings associated with the creation of a RAS (re-trap adult for survival). In addition to a standard BTO metal ring, an engraved orange darvic ring is now being fitted to the left tarsus of each bird. Three characters appear on each ring and the format is letter/number/number. The purpose behind the colour ringing is to assist the RAS and allow behavioural studies of individuals. 

The total number of individuals handled during the year has now gone beyond 460. Winter survival will dictate how many birds survive until the next breeding season; if survival is good then the village breeding sites may well be at a premium in 2021 unless birds decide to disperse.

It is very possible that dispersal will lead to sightings of colour ringed birds. My last RAS for this species in rural north Oxfordshire showed that individuals would not infrequently travel 2km. A distance of over 5km was recorded for a single bird and, rather strangely, a leg with the colour ring ring still attached was found over 25km away!

Coming back to my rural Welsh birds, the last week of September started to see encounters with birds that I could not give a specific age to. This year some of the sparrows produced three broods. Yesterday (the 18th of October) saw some individuals that were fully moulted and others that were still to drop the outermost primaries meaning that several un-moulted secondaries were also available for scrutiny. I didn't get as much sparrow colour ringing done as I would have liked due mainly to the number of blue tits.

Male house sparrows are generally not too difficult to age using un-moulted secondaries however the females can be a little more ambiguous.  

The two shots below (from late September) hopefully show the differences between adult female and first year female un-moulted secondaries.

This shot is of an adult female. The secondaries are fretted along the leading edge.

This photo below is of an age 3. The leading edge of the secondaries show little wear. Only when looking at the photographs between the two birds have I noticed that the end shape of the un-moulted juvenile feathers seems to be more rounded compared to the blunt edged adult type feather.,,something for me to look at in more detail next year.     

Just before leaving the subject of moult, I had a quick look at the moult score data that I have recorded for all of the birds during the summer and was quite surprised to see such a variation in the rate at which the moult progresses. By looking at the change in moult score over time I could see that some birds were slower at moulting than others. Unfortunately, for all of the birds I looked at, I only had two reference points of moult score data so I looked at some older data that I collected while living in Oxfordshire. I looked at 11 different individuals for which I had three moult scores and found that in all cases the moult score changed at a higher rate during the early stages of primary moult with the rate decreasing over time. This raised a number of questions in my head to which answers remain outside the scope of mark/recapture projects.

Today (the 19th) was a leisurely start for me. I fed the birds and for 30 minutes I sat with my telescope and a mug of tea. N02 (f) and N07 (m) put in numerous appearances. N05 (f) turned up at least twice. The colour rings are relatively easy to read. I am also wondering how so many house sparrows have avoided my efforts over the summer to fit at least a metal ring!!  

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

House Sparrows

Having your local ringing site go up in flames while 'locked down' means that you either stop ringing or look elsewhere for a potential project or area of study. A garden CES was out of the question as we are still quite busy restructuring the lower part of our garden. Over the last couple of years it hasn't been unusual to see a flock of up to 60 House Sparrows hanging around the house from July to September waiting for some seed to be put out. Rather casually I had estimated that there were perhaps 15-20 pairs of House Sparrows in the village and had considered this too few for a RAS study. This year during the spell of fine settled weather, I watched the House Sparrows using my nest boxes and was quite surprised at how good the adult birds were at catching insects and how persistent they would be if the initial surprise attack failed; often sitting on a gutter or similar raised perch and then descending to the ground in a direct dive to catch prey. I also watched activity at the nest boxes and observed on several occasions the aggression of a male towards his mate if she returned to the nest with food but didn't enter the box immediately. On the days when the weather was not so good, the birds would focus more on my feeding areas. Having made my early observations, I removed one aerial feeder, introduced a second table to where the birds seemed to prefer to congregate, carried out a little pruning and set positions for several nets. It is now mid August and the season appears to have been a productive one with third brood juveniles on the wing the first of which are starting to moult. One of my net positions was a waste of time for House Sparrows but caught lots of Dunnocks. Another has produced an ear shattering 24 different Great Spotted Woodpeckers but I have stuck with it because it has also been the most productive net for House Sparrows.

From the 1st of April until the 17th of August, at least 355 different House Sparrows have been in and out of my nets and boxes. 40 of these have been adult males and 32 adult females. As I fed the birds this morning, I could see several adults along with many first year birds that have avoided capture during the last four and a half months. So, my initial estimate of the number of pairs was obviously far too casual. I know for certain that not all of the male birds were paired during the window of the first two broods with some males not attracting females to their nests. I also know that at least one of these unpaired males mated with a female on several occasions; he remined at his 'post' while she went elsewhere but was not traced. 

If I assume that a more realistic number of pairs is 40; 2 chicks per nesting attempt would give rise to 240 young and 3 chicks per attempt 360 young. I think that it would be safe to assume that the village/surrounding area is probably supporting closer to 40-50 pairs as some birds are known to have failed on third broods. 

I am currently on the look out for signs of these 355 birds. I know mortality rates are high for young; several cats will have removed some and I have seen at least two Sparrowhawks recently. I have the notional 60 House Sparrows coming in for food as in previous years and so perhaps there are 6 other flocks of similar size distributed amongst the 29 houses in the village but I haven't come across this number of birds while walking the dog. I saw one small flock on a 'fly out' from the village only for them to turn around at a distance of some 150m. I am suspecting that I may need to go and visit a couple of isolated properties away from the village to find a few more answers.

No good blowing the upper breast feathers on a House Sparrow to see the start of moult. This bird has dropped the innermost primary (P1) so is a 3JM. I have not found any sign of the ventral tracks on the body until P3 is starting to appear. Note the paleness on the inner section of the primaries (see end of article).

Sexing of juvenile birds is possible at quite an early age. As the primary moult is progressing the marginal coverts are moulted. This female bird had dropped P4.


5 old primaries and this male bird with a moult score of 22 or 23 has replaced GCs, but has yet to complete the lesser coverts and tertials.

Adult females and juvs. can sometimes be a little awkward to determine. Reddish brown tones in the head and a signs of a gape are always useful pointers for juveniles.

This adult female shows some warmer chocolate brown markings in the head and no gape.

In marginal birds, under tail coverts are always worth looking at but House Sparrows will readily mess these feathers. Compare these loose juv. feathers with the bird below. 

The adult female under tail covers have more structure and as in this bird end abrasion can be seen clearly. Some adult female birds will have little of these feather remaining. 

If the under tail coverts cant be used, the upper tail covers will usually show fretted ends to a structured feather as in this adult female.

This juv. female has a moult score of 23, P6 has dropped and the secondary moult has begun. Towards the end of moult, many House Sparrows can still be aged by looking at the weak structure and colour of any remaining inner most secondaries.

This juvenile was quite different from other birds. It is quite usual to see poorly pigmented wing feathers in juveniles but this is quite extreme and also appears in the tail. My observations suggested that this bird was not part of any flock and was often feeding and flying around by itself. 3JM, moult score 1.

The moult detail recorded in the juveniel birds handled in 'my little part of' Carmarthenshire followed that detailed in Ginn and Melville - Moult in Birds ISBN 0903793024.