Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Sedge Warblers - Teifi Marsh autumn migration

As we head into autumn migration we have had a look back at data for Sedge Warbler catches just in our Mallard nets on the Teifi Marsh.

Adult Sedge Warbler
In July we catch relatively small numbers of locally bred juveniles and adults then in August the main passage of migrants start, mostly juveniles.

Juvenile Sedge Warbler
This graph shows the total number of new Sedge Warblers caught with similar effort with nets around Mallard pond each year since 2010.

The main conclusion is that we need to open the nets every day that weather permits during August otherwise a peak could be missed. The peak has been different each year but the bulk of the Sedge Warblers pass through around the middle of the month. The largest and most memorable day that can be seen in blue on the graph on the 18th Aug 2010 when we caught an Aquatic Warbler along with 67 Sedge Warblers. (the 5th Aquatic for the Teifi Marshes)

Controls and recoveries of Sedge Warblers last year, shown on this map, were fairly typical of most years particularly the sites along the West coast of France.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

A week on Skokholm !

This past week, several of us visited Skokholm Island Bird Observatory. It was my first time and, waiting at the jetty for the Dale Princess, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The dramatic scenery which greeted us as we drew nearer held promise for an exciting week ahead. 

From day one, there was much to do. Skokholm is home to a voracious top predator: the Great Black-backed Gull. These have become increasingly rare nationally so it is essential to keep a pulse on their breeding and survival rates.

To this end, many of this year’s young have already been metal and colour-ringed. Our challenge was to ring those left, before they fledge. This, as with a startling number of things in life, is easier said than done! First, one must sight the chicks from a distance. Typically, they stand, quite fearlessly in the open, on rocky peaks. To get nearer, a swift approach is required followed by a thorough comb through of the surrounding bracken, into which they dive like unerring needles into expanding haystacks!
As a trainee used to ~10g Sedge Warblers on the Teifi Marshes, the whole experience, from catching to ringing, was new and exciting for me. Each day, we typically ringed at least 4 new chicks.

 As night falls, the island, never truly asleep, wakes again with the eerie calls of Manx Shearwaters dashing in off the sea. With Wendy’s night-vision camera, we could put faces to the voices of this staggering spectacle; seeing dozens and dozens swirling over our heads (see clip below). And with a torch and net, we ringed 142 in our week there. It’s an immersive experience and incredible to think that each individual will, in a matter of months, begin a journey of over 5000 miles to their wintering grounds.

A Manx Shearwater as seen in the daytime,
 with its chick, likely just a few days old.

Of course, I cannot pass mention of the island’s most well-known residents.

Skokholm has a study plot of ~200 Puffins to observe population changes essential to their protection. Each year, for one day, this population is ‘topped up’ by metal and colour ringing around 30 new individuals. Teamwork is key: three to extract, one to carry extracted birds to the ringing area, one to read out the metal and colour ring combinations, one to metal ring, one to colour ring, one to check and the visitors to release. This was like nothing I had ever done before, and it was amazing to learn so much in a matter of just hours.

Watching puffins in the sunset at the day's end.
In the midst of all this, the long-term volunteers were assessing Storm Petrel productivity using audio-playback to check whether an adult was ‘at home,’ Ian Beggs was observing the Wheatears for a highly detailed insight into their mating and territorial behaviour, and Michael was creating a soundscape of the island.

One of the male colour-ringed Wheatears hopping
around his territory.
As Richard said when we left; every year, visiting at a given time, many things stay the same. The Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins still return to their cliffs. The Gulls still hunt them from the air. But the people you meet, each passion-driven and fascinating, will change. Likewise of course, new birding ticks (of which I left with an alarming number!) can always fly in; such as the Laughing Gull pictured below. Moreover, plastic pollution and climate change is, and will even more so, threaten this unique and beautiful island, as everywhere of course.

Strong winds on Thursday swept up stronger currents and
The Laughing Gull, native to America, but likely storm-swept
over to Skokholm.
So to wrap up, a wonderful week for me and warm heartfelt thanks to all who made it possible. I will surely return!

Monday, 1 July 2019

Unexpected 3J Chaffinch moult 1/7/19

We are all used to partial post juv. moult and complete moult in adult Chaffinch but the shot below shows something that I have not experienced before although I have heard of others finding complete moult in first year birds. I always wondered how one could tell unless a re-trapped bird was referenced by ring number. Catching the bird in the process of moult makes it easier; in moult sequence, P1-5 are in various stages of growth, S1 is growing. The flight feather moult was symmetrical. In all other respects the bird was only just begining post juvenile moult with the lateral/ventral feather tracts showing through. So, A 3J, moult code M, new for me!

Friday, 7 June 2019

A round up of May

May is always busy with migrants, nest boxes and the start of the CES season.
The Group has processed 825 birds of 41 species during the month.

We concentrate our efforts at migration monitoring in the reed bed around Mallard pond on the Teifi Marsh.

Sedge Warblers pass through in large numbers in the first week of May. Numbers were well down this year but might have been that we missed the big days when we couldn't open the nets due to the wind. 181 total, 156 new. 12 from previous years, 1 French and 2 UK controls. The same period last year was a total of 299 and 523 in 2016.

The first control is unusual having been ringed in Suffolk on its outward migration, our recoveries and controls of our Sedge Warblers are usually the M4 corridor and south coast.
Sedge Warbler S564811
Ringing date: 27-AUG-2017  near Hollesley Heath, Suffolk, UK
Finding date: 07-MAY-2019  Teifi Marshes, Ceredigion,
Duration: 618 days Distance: 414 km

The French control was from Tour Aux Moutons on the West Coast of France, a ringing station with which we have had many exchanges of birds.
Sedge Warbler 8372055
Ringing date: 09-SEP-2018  Tour aux Moutons, Donges, Loire-Atlantique, France
Finding date: 21-APR-2019  Teifi Marshes, Ceredigion
Duration: 224 days Distance: 560 km

Then a control from North Wilts Ringing Group
Sedge Warbler AEA6536
Ringing date: 27-AUG-2017  Haxton Down, Wiltshire, UK
Finding date: 02-MAY-2019 Teifi Marshes, Ceredigion
Duration: 613 days Distance: 222 km 

Reed Warbler seem to be strikingly low this year. At the same site, date range and with similar effort the total numbers of Reed warblers caught were
2016   65
2017   43
2018   45
2019   9 !!
It will be interesting to see how numbers look by the end of this breeding season.
A recovery of one of our Reed Warblers ringed last May and caught this May by Kelvin Jones
Reed Warbler ABB8775
Ringing date: 05-MAY-2018 Teifi Marshes, Ceredigion
Finding date: 25-MAY-2019  Llyn Ystumllyn, Gwynedd

Duration: 385 days Distance: 100 km Direction: 18deg (NNE)

On to Pulli ringing.

Several of the Group have their own areas for open nest and nest box studies with new sites added this year.
The productivity seems to be high this year. Species include Dippers, Pied Flycatchers, House Sparrows, Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Swallows and Chough. 4 species of Tit; Coal, Marsh, Blue and Great .
This Coal Tit nest in Ffynone wood was colourful with wool selected from the areas of a sheep marked with dye.

We are also grateful to ringers away from our area who have welcomed a couple of our trainees to experience larger nest box projects for Pied Flycatchers.
Some of the group helped with a nest count on Cardigan Island, mainly for Lesser Black-backed Gulls but many Barnacle and Canada Goose nests too.

The 2019 CES (Constant Effort Sites Scheme) season is underway. 12 visits between now and the end of August to our long running study site on old slate waste and marsh by the River Teifi.
The early visits weren't boosted by large numbers of Sedge Warblers migrating through so numbers have been low with no particularly unusual species. House Sparrows though are new to our CES. The numbers around the Visitor Centre feeders and Chicken pens have recently increased significantly. Greenfinch also seem to be breeding on the reserve this year and very unusual to hear one singing throughout a CES session

CES 1 5th May  Total 38 (19 new)
CES 2 14th May  Total 36 (12 new) including the first juvenile Robin
CES  3 23rd May  Total 54 (31 new)  This included 2 returning Reed Warblers including an old one ringed in  2014 and seen each year since and a breeding female Lesser Whitethroat.

These figures seem low compared to previous years. Full analysis will be done at the end of the season.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A look at Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler nests

The following photographs are of the very similar nests of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Both nests are located in scrubby grassland. The Chiffchaff has built next to a mature hedgerow where the bramble meets the rank grassland. The Willow Warbler has built at the base of Blackthorn that is encroaching the rank grassland.

This Chiffchaff nest is about 250mm-300mm off of the ground. The view of the six eggs is from the side entrance into the nest as it has a canopy or roof. The female was incubating after the fifth egg. All being well. the eggs should hatch in another seven days.

This Willow Warbler nest has been built directly on the ground. The nest has seven eggs at present and the camera is almost on the ground to look into the entrance of the roofed nest so sorry about the shadow over the eggs. I am not sure if this nest is going to be viable as I could see what appears to be a vole track passing directly below.

Monday, 15 April 2019

April and Spring begins on the Teifi

A Teifi Spring is always full of expectation and doesn't really deliver any numbers until early May.
We do catch a few Willow Warblers as they arrive and 5 at Mallard one morning was good.
White Wagtails appear in spectacular numbers.

Returning birds are difficult to catch in Spring,
We do try and sample a few of the 200+  roosting most nights in mid April. We have ringed 16 this year
Wendy brought her thermal imaging camera one night...fascinating and an alternative method of counting. For those not used to the image each white spot below is a roosting bird.

A female Mallard in a mist net proved an interesting experience, and the undertail coverts of the first Grasshopper Warbler of the season a delight...

Although 150 + Sand Martins each night are feeding over the marsh, we don't target the hirundines in Spring, though we did catch one early one morning.

Small numbers of Reed Buntings are still coming to the Millet feeder on the reserve including some old birds not seen yet this year. This male Reed Bunting was ringed as a juvenile in 2011 so is coming up to 8 years old.

The improvement in the weather should provide us with some early returning acros.
Back in 2016 the first 9  returning Reed Warblers captured were all our ringed adults from previous years....amazing site fidelity.

A round up of other Group site activities at the end of the month.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The year so far....

As the Group keeps expanding we think that short summaries with species totals and relevant notes will help keep Group members up to speed with all activities.
The totals in the table below are for the period    Jan 1st - March 31st  2019
If you have anything to add to any species notes - please add directly or email Wendy.

No surprise that during this late winter period those species attracted to feeders make up the numbers caught, though a variety of catching methods used.

Mist nets in gardens for Siskins, Tits and Lesser Redpolls etc

Interesting that on the same day that we caught our first Lesser Redpoll at  Mallard in the reeds, Redpolls were also caught in three garden sites.

Whoosh nets for Linnets at Mwnt and in Wendy's garden resulted in this Collared Dove and 3 Yellowhammers as discussed in a  previous post.

Our RAS season for Reed Buntings has now started - April 1st !
Hopefully some re-sightings of these colour-ringed birds will add greatly to the picture, a very impressive total of new birds and re-encounters this winter. On one of these visits to Mallard we caught a Water Rail in a new triple cage Potter Trap, again posted about at the time.

The good Starling total is from Andy mainly using a drop trap in his garden.
One of the 194 Blue Tits ringed has been subsequently encountered in Shropshire. Quite a movement for a Blue Tit ..

Blue Tit  ACF8355
Ringing date: 11-FEB-2019 Bancyffordd Carmarthenshire, Wales
Finding date: 08-MAR-2019 Big Pool, Shavington Park, Calverhall, Shropshire, UK
Duration: 25 days Distance: 159 km

Finder Shropshire Ringing Group

Charlie's Llanfynydd site continues to be invaluable for training over the winter with a variety of species and good numbers of birds coming to the feeders.

A trainer's permit assessment was carried out here for an A ringer, Paul from Mid Wales. Also a Trainee, Marina with her Trainer, Stuart from Worcester visited to gain experience with Finches.

We hope to form more links with other groups to give trainees opportunities to ring birds that their own group don't catch.

Seven species appear on the list due to Lamping, not massive numbers or particularly productive, but we have manged to do a complete list in BTO Birdtrack for every night out of all birds recorded, seen and heard on the Pembs/Cere sites.

Early Spring ringing has resulted in a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap ringed.
Now to see what April brings. The week has started well with the first Dipper pulli of the year at one of Karen's boxes. Today we heard the first Sedge Warbler near Mallard, if weather permits we will expand the Mallard site with 2 more nets this weekend. This week Charlie opened nets at his Common site too.

(Wendy and Rich D)

Saturday, 30 March 2019

South Africa 2019 Part 2

This second post includes non-raptors and other trip highlights.
During the heat of the day we undertook various drives not only for raptors but to bird or enjoy the country.
Whilst staying at our Ndabushi site this drive took us into the Blyde River Canyon at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains. This a site for Verraux's Eagle one of the few raptor species which we didn't see but from the bridge we saw an African Finfoot and the sky was full of locally breeding Little Swifts.
An incredible scenic setting...

Wildlife appears everywhere on a trip like this....

We left the airport for our first site Intulo, catching some raptors on the way.

Nets placed in scrub at the site for the morning but the initial target was Little Swifts nesting in the buildings.

Seven Little Swifts were ringed and a Pearl Spotted Owlet obligingly appeared.

Next morning the nets were opened, a couple of spring traps set and a variety of birds were ringed. The following Palearctic migrants were the highlights. Common Whitethroat (a notable species for here) Willow Warbler and Red-backed Shrikes.

On to Speculatie, a farm near the Botswana border where birding rather than morning ringing produced the best results. With species including Little Bee-eater and Double-banded Sandgouse at the watering hole.

Scaly-feathered Finch

We did have interesting results in the evening though with two European Nightjars caught, both appearing to have suspended moult. A third European Nightjar was ringed the following morning, this bird still moulting flight feathers.

Our third location was Kaoxa in the Mpungubwe National Park. Wonderful views from the ringing table out to the Botswana and Zimbabwe borders. Elephants in the distance and Rock Hyraxes on the close rocks. Lions, Hyenas and Jackals calling at night...

The birds caught here were mainly around the swimming pool....

Species here included several Green-winged Ptylia

Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Golden-breasted Bunting, and Greater Blue-eared Starlings.

During the heat of the days two great drives through the bush, several Kori Bustards amongst the Zebras, Wildebeest, Giraffes, Jackals...etc..

Kori Bustard - one of 6 seen on the plain there

Red-billed Oxpeckers

 On our first night here, no Nightjars came to the nets, but I managed to pick up this Freckled Nightjar.

Out on a night drive whilst based at Koaxa we had an amazing experience....
We came across a roadside Spotted Eagle Owl and we dropped a trap. Whilst waiting for a response, a Red-crested Korhaan flew and landed on the road. Amazing viewing for the team as I managed to catch the Korhaan, on a noisy underfoot gravel road, whilst keeping their eyes on the Eagle Owl as it arrived on the trap.

A majestic Spotted Eagle Owl,.

On the journey back to the site we did pick up a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting  which we roosted overnight before release in the morning.

 Kaoxa is also an historical site for cave paintings

After a visit to view the artwork here we are looking at the nesting Rock Martins, Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and the Mocking Cliff Chats.

Our next site was at Zulani, where recent rains had made the surrounding land fertile and full of seeding grasses. A mighty Red-billed Quelea colony was present, at least 10km long along the one side we travelled. This colony was the cause of our next spectacle ! The colony was a feeding ground for a combination of raptors and storks, the main species being Lesser Spotted Eagles, White, Abdim's and Maribou Storks. Birds arriving in the thermal above forming a spectacular kettle.

Every night we cooked on a Brai, fresh steak daily...

.....complemented with Malcolm's famous Veg packs

Last year on a similar timed visit we ringed 16 European Rollers, this visit we only managed two.
How each year and visit differ ! Whilst searching roadside wires for the often 3 species of  Roller that are present in the area, we encounter far more Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes.

Zwakala Brewery was our next ringing base and lodge, a craft brewery overlooking the Wolkberg mountains.

Our first visit to higher altitude....a drop in temperature and forest, riverine and cultivation more akin to home in Wales.

Spring traps were valuable here for catching birds like this Cape Robin-Chat

This delightful Swee Waxbill, one of the endemic species of the higher altitude area as were the Forest Canaries and the 2 Barratt's Warblers we captured. The first Barratt's Warbler was a valuable recapture.

After Zwakala we headed down to the Lowveld and heat again staying at Ndabushi Lodge bordering the Kruger

Here around our accommodation Wire-tailed Swallow were always present, nesting nearby.

Nyala around the nets....

Here we were able to set some nets in the riverside vegetation. We were hoping for Olive-tree Warbler and Marsh Warbler here. No luck with the Olive-tree Warblers on this visit but we did catch 8 Marsh Warblers. As part of processing we do moult score the primaries of every bird. For both Marsh and Willow Warblers we had birds in active wing moult and birds that had finished their moult.

Interesting race Willow Warblers - both ‘acredula/yukutensis and trochilus sub-species.

A few common residents,  Black-backed Puffback

African Pygmy Kingfisher

Our final site was Moorfield Farm near Muller's Pass at 1750m. Surrounded by superb Highveld grassland, the land of Cranes, Black Harrier and Secretary Bird.

Cape Batis recapture.

All the sites that where we use mist nets are regular ringing sites for Malcolm, therefore we do recapture a proportion of resident birds. None on this visit but we do recapture site faithful Palearctic wintering birds too eg a Red-backed Shrike on a visit in Feb 2018.

African Thrush

A Highveld speciality - Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler

Many Cape White-eye,  the " Blue Tits" of our higher altitude sites

This waterfall was at end of our net rides at this location.

We used Moorfield Farm not only as a ringing site but for accommodation that best suits visits to the Amur Falcon roost in Newcastle, as described in the previous post.

We encountered a great variety of insects on the trip, this Katydid was our favourite and one of the more colourful.

A final mist net session on the way to the airport, the low bridges across the streams often have breeding endemic South African Cliff Swallows.

We caught 28 SA Cliff Swallows and a Malachite Kingfisher here.

Finally the Team photo at 2000m in the Normandien Pass, not far from where we caught the Secretary Bird.

 This and the previous post about our experience with Raptors give an insight into our 2 weeks in South Africa. Many thanks to Malcolm Wilson  (African Affinity)

(Photos - contributions from all, especially Andrew)