Monday 29 January 2018

Tree Sparrow Project

This is a summary of  my new Tree Sparrow project.
I discuss the development, preparation and siting of the nest boxes followed by my monitoring effort last year 2017. Though the results were disappointing, I am looking forward to the new breeding season.

The last time Tree Sparrows were monitored in the Tywi meadows around Dryslwyn was in 2008. Lying between Llandeilo and Carmarthen this part of the Tywi valley is absolutely stunning. I was encouraged to take on this project over two years ago but it wasn't until January last year that I felt the time was right to explore what was involved and what I needed to do to get this exciting project off the ground. We held our AGM in February and all members of the Teifi Ringing Group gave me their full support. Whilst I am a Teifi Ringing Group member I actually live only 6 miles away from the Tywi meadows which is very convenient.

In any project, permission is required from the land owners if you are going to work on their land. I therefore needed to find out who these owners were. When Tree Sparrows were being monitored up to the period of 2008 Isabel Macho the Biodiversity Officer of Carmarthen Council was involved in that project, so I felt a meeting with her was the way to proceed. I already knew Isabel from a previous project and knew she is very helpful. 

I managed to get permission to work on the land of three farmers and the fourth was land belonging to a residential property. All four sites border the River Tywi which is important during the breeding season and is discussed further in the Press Release below.

The picture above shows some of the boxes I made ready to be erected with the help of Chris Jones and Wendy James from the Teifi Ringing Group. BBC Radio Wales presenter Rachael Garside who presents "Good Morning Wales" and "Country Focus" took the picture above when she came to interview me about the Tree Sparrow project which went on air on 4th April.
 From the wood donated by LBS Building Merchants in Llandeilo I manufactured  66 boxes for the 4 sites, there were a further 16 boxes that I found left over from when the project was run before. From these I was able to repair 9 of them giving me a total of 76 to erect. All boxes were up and ready for monitoring from the second week of April.

Box number 1 at Ro-Fawr on one of the weekly checks made on all 76 boxes over the 4 sites. Thanks for the photo Dawn Jay

Press release
LBS Builders Merchants are helping a local British Trust for Ornithology volunteer to provide nesting boxes for one of the country's rarest breeding birds. The Tree Sparrow may be mistaken for its more common cousin the House Sparrow (Tree Sparrows have a distinctive brown cap and black spot on their cheeks) but the Tywi Valley now appears to host the largest population in Wales of this" red-listed" species.
The Tree Sparrows do not wander far from the valley floodplain. Here around the still or slow-flowing water found on the floodplain they can find the preferred insects that adults feed to their young during the summer. Nest boxes at key sites will benefit the Tree Sparrows, helping to supplement their preferred nesting sites in tree cavities, and provide a good opportunity to ring and monitor the birds. The project is being run by Charlie Sargent, who is a member of the Teifi Ringing group and a licensed bird ringer.
Outside the breeding season, Tree Sparrows are dependant on seeds for food. Today natural sources of seed are less common and local residents in the Tywi Valley who feed the birds are helping the population survive through the winter.
The Council's Biodiversity officer Isabel Macho said "often the action required to help a species is not complicated - here the generosity of LBS, by supplying material for nest boxes, will enable new and replacement boxes to be erected which will help ensure that this key population survives in the Tywi valley."
BTO Welsh Officer Kelvin Jones said "this is an excellent example of local communities working together for the benefit of our wildlife, not only for this generation but for the next"
If you ever see a Tree Sparrow please e-mail

These three pictures above were taken in May when the river levels were perfect and Little Ringed Plovers could be seen on the shingle banks pairing up and no doubt were going to breed. Sand Martins were also in and out of the nests in the river banks.

What difference a couple of weeks can make. The beginning of June last year brought torrential rain for a few days. The result was water rising over the river banks and flooding the fields. All the Little Ringed Plover nests were washed away. Any Ground nesting birds in the river meadows had their nests destroyed and there was only one high  bank I could see where the river had not flooded into Sand Martin holes. My nest boxes were not flooded but access was very precarious.

Throughout the  nest box monitoring period it became apparent that the results for the year were going to be disappointing as the results in the table show. There were two boxes occupied by Tree Sparrows and 26 boxes occupied by Tits, 2 Great Tit and 24 Blue Tit. However the Tree Sparrow boxes failed and 16 Tit boxes failed, some nests not even being completed.

Twyi boxes 2017 occupation













Not used




25 boxes

21 boxes

13 boxes

17 boxes

- All tits

- 16 tits,
2 Tree

Not used

76 boxes

There were probably three main reasons for this:-

1. The season got off to a late start because permission had to be sought, boxes had to be made and erected. In particular Tree Sparrows can have 3 broods a year, prospect early and probably had already found suitable nesting sites.

2. It was noticeable that both Tree Sparrows nested in old nest boxes and most of the Tits did the same. Hopefully now that the boxes have weathered for a year prospecting birds will use more boxes than last year.

3. Talking to others who run similar Tree Sparrow projects the feeling is that it is not unusual to have a poor first year and this could have been predicted. We hope to have a better nesting season this year, 2018.

Since the season ended I have talked to many people expressing the need for seed to supplement the Tree Sparrows food over the winter months. I am delighted to report that the Carmarthen Bird Club have made a generous donation of 6 large sacks of Red Millet and towards the end of the year a second donation of another 6 sacks. They also promised an annual donation of 6 sacks for the future.
Residents on 3 of my 4  nest box monitoring sites feed Tree Sparrows in their own gardens and at their own expense, this is another excellent source of food for birds during the winter months. Tree Sparrows have been seen on residents feeders by myself and other ringers when helping to check the boxes on numerous occasions.

An example of one of the old boxes on the left and a new box on the right. The old box had a nest part made but unfortunately later abandoned. The new box remained empty for the full season

Finally I tried two boxes closer together having learnt earlier in the year that sometimes a pair of Tree Sparrows will occupy both boxes over the full season. No luck other than Blue Tit in the right hand box.

If any readers have any comments to move this new project forward I would love to hear them.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Recent recoveries

Sedge Warblers make up the bulk of the latest batch of recoveries, though we do have a Redwing from Charlie's Carmarthen site being found dead after hitting a window in Devon 43 days later in December.

One of our juvenile Sedge Warblers...

The map below shows the recoveries
Sedge Warbler movements are in red, all from the Teifi Marsh except 1 from Goodwick Moor. All were juveniles of the year (2017) and encountered between 6 and 12 days from original ringing and are typical movements. The Reed Warbler movement is shown in yellow and is a movement of  752km in 25 days.

Last night we had our 2nd Woodcock re -encounter of this winter season.

A fine adult wing of  the Woodcock  EY81460 - originally ringed as an adult on 7th March 2016, quite a late bird for us and re-encountered in the adjacent field to ringing.
Another amazing example of wintering site fidelity !!

 A good garden bird for Wendy this week with this Grey Wagtail appearing in her net nearest her feeders !

Siskins are increasing at our garden sites and it will be interesting how the season develops.We have a   Siskins RAS at one of our sites and the fluctuating appearances of the species from season to season makes this perhaps the most  challenging of our 4 RAS studies.
The other RAS studies we have are Linnets at our Mwnt site and both Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings at our Teifi Marsh site, the Reed Buntings also form part of a colour-ringing project.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

2017....A year of variety

2017....A great variety of species for members of the Teifi Ringing Group now well into our 10th year.  We ringed our first birds on the 15th August 2008 on the Teifi Marshes at a site that became our CES site in 2009 and ....remains so

Our first Green Woodpecker caught by Charlie at one of his two regular sites.

A few words from Charlie a relatively new  member of the Group.
From a bird point of view I had 2 new species this year. Firecrest from Ffynnon Gro and a Green Woodpecker from Fygyn Common.
I also supervised 2 trainees Molly Heal and Andrew Hughes and laterly Katie Dix visited me for some taster sessions. Although not a trainer at the time I looked forward to the challenges ahead and seeing trainees grow in knowledge, experience and hopefully passion. The highlight was MH after attending the BTO assessment weekend on the Gower and being recommended for her C permit. I decided with the approval of TRG it was time I was assessed for my Training Endorsement and had the BTO approval in December last year.
Last year was most productive for my two sites processing 3388 over 49 species.

Trainees ringed and processed nearly 1100 of the birds captured at Charlie's two sites in 2017.

Molly was a trainee who regularly ringed with Charlie when in the UK !!
....Highlight for me was Charlie being assessed to be a trainer, and aceing it! We caught a lot of lovely meadow pipits that morning too, so I got to do a lot of hind claw measuring, which was fun.

See Fygyn - developing a new ringing site  for a summary of  the development of  Charlie's ringing sites this year.

Bluethroats !! ....not one but two 

This 1st summer female was caught on the Teifi Marshes in late August...
A species that we had predicted, and along with a Spotted Crake seen in the same area a couple of months later added to the attractions of our Teifi reedbeds away from our CES site.

This smarter looking boy.....

.....Wendy and I caught on a visit in late May to Skokholm Bird Observatory where we were opening nets in the morning before catching breeding Oystercatchers in the afternoon.
See the Skokholm Blog  for details of all activities at our closest bird observatory.

In June, Chris and Jenny went to Ramsey (RSPB) and colour-ringed a nest of Chough pulli as part of the long term study of the species in Wales.

We ring at several sites around the Teifi, visiting our more estuarine sites from late Summer into the Winter mainly targeting waders, but sometimes other species. We moved our historical Rock Pipit monitoring site due to tidal erosion, but retrapped a Rock Pipit that we ringed 7 years ago and another new species for the Group - a Water Pipit

We highlight our controls and recoveries on the blog and via Twitter as we receive details but for the full years history including our ringing totals by species see the Ringing Totals links on the side bar

2017 Ringing Totals
2017 Recoveries and Controls

If you are interested in any further details or wish to join our activities when in the area please use the contact form at the end of the blog.

We have a few projects managed by various group members, as well as CES and RAS projects.
Here is Charlie erected nest boxes for Tree Sparrows in the Valleys of west Carms, a 100 box project he has taken over from John Lloyd.

At Mwnt, the second year of Chris's Linnet RAS project has continued to amaze us with the number of birds using the site. This year we ringed 563 new birds, and re-trapped 241, 110 of these being birds ringed in 2016.

Of the new birds ringed, 251 were juveniles and post-juveniles that had fledged this year.

Looking at the RAS season itself, running from April 1st to July 31st, the numbers were 125 juveniles, 101 new adults, and 66 re-captures from 2016. In the 2016 RAS period we ringed 52 juveniles and 171 adults, so 2017 appears to have been a much better year for productivity.

As we saw in 2016, it appears that the nearly all the area's breeding birds and their offspring leave us during the late summer, to be replaced by a different wintering population from elsewhere. It was noticeable that many of the adults that returned in the spring displayed the bleached primary feather tips that we normally see on migrant warblers that have wintered somewhere sunny. We are still waiting to catch a single bird ringed elsewhere, and none of ours have been controlled.

All the birds trapped at Mwnt were caught using a single whoosh net, which also accounted for a range of other species, most notably a Chough. The latest edition of the BTO publication Lifecycle, their magazine for ringers and nest recorders, includes an excellent article describing this trapping method - co-authored by Chris.

Group members are also active ringers abroad, with members ringing at Long Point Bird Observatory in Canada, ringing with Costa Rica Bird Observatories, in Cyprus, and a Group trip to Gibraltar.

The experience gained at Jew's Gate Bird Observatory in Gibraltar was the highlight of Andrew's year.

He found the whole experience of ringing in a small group at a Bird Observatory, helping to make decisions, responsibility and a new range of birds a great asset to his development as a trainee. He has also very much appreciated the time that Charlie has spent training him.

Alison has joined us recently as a trainee with a passion for our activities...
I think the highlights for me this year have been, as a complete novice the friendly welcome from the group and the patience and help given.
Ringing - wise, it’s hard to pick a favourite as they’re all new to me, but perhaps ringing a Kingfisher and a Firecrest, just because of their beauty. I’m also really enjoying generally improving my knowledge, understanding and identification skills.

We would like to thank all of the landowners who give us permission to ring especially the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (Teifi Marshes, Pengelli Wood, Goodwick Moor) and National Trust (Mwnt).
We also ring and monitor on several areas of private farmland, to which we thank all the landowners.

Finally, a reminder to all TRG members that the AGM is on Wednesday 10th January at Wendy's house

Thanks to all contributors for photos, words, and thoughts.....