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.

Tuesday 4 August 2020

Summer news

At this time of year a lot of attention is given to the three main reed bed species breeding on the Teifi Marshes; Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings.

Looking at data so far this breeding season (from 1st April) it appears that generally numbers are looking good despite the late start due to Covid 19 restrictions.

Reed Warblers --   31 RAS adult re-encounters. This compares well with RAS birds last year which were 35 by this date. Oldest was ringed in July 2014.  38 new adults ringed. Juvs increasing with 62 so far. This is slightly up on the same dates last year when 40 new adults and 41 juveniles had been ringed.

Reed Buntings --   22 RAS adult re-encounters , compared to 28 last year. 38 new adults and 23 juveniles compare with 12 new adults and 44 juveniles last year.

Sedge Warblers -- Though not one of our  RAS study species but 14 birds have been re-encountered that were ringed in previous years. Oldest was ringed in August 2015

As mentioned in the last blog it been a good month for Kingfishers being easy to see on the Teifi Marsh with a maximum of 6 at one time on Kingfisher pond. 10 have been ringed.
Many excellent photos have been shared on the Welsh Wildlife Centres Facebook page. Worth a look at this selection by Tommy Evans
Teifi Marsh Kingfishers 
And this by one of our trainees Toni Henwood, whose photography skills are already being put to good use with colour ring sightings!

A quick look at Willow Warblers recorded this season so far -  Teifi Marsh and Blaenduad 36 new.  Not a direct comparison but last year by this time 299 had been ringed. The biggest change is due to the loss of habitat in good net locations following the widespread fire at Blaenduad. One Willow Warbler caught at Mallard pond in June had been ringed there the previous May.

Our House Sparrow total has shown a big increase in previous years due mainly to increased garden ringing during lockdown and the start of a possible RAS study which may use colour rings. Last year 87 new, 25 adults and 31 juveniles. This year 513 new, 155 adults, 334 juveniles and the rest pulli in nest boxes.

We were unable to ring  Storm Petrels at Mwnt in June this year as it was closed but we managed a couple of very quiet visits in July. A Stormie night is always special even if not many Petrels especially with the added interest of Comet Neowise this year and Manx Shearwaters calling overhead.

Comet Neowise over Mwnt  (Dyfed James)

A recovery recently received from the BTO involved the same bird which shows typical movements of a non breeding bird around the Irish Sea.

Storm Petrel  2674680
Ringed by us at Mwnt, Ceredigion 17/07/2017
Subsequently encountered on the Llyn Peninsula, Wooltack Point by Pembs Ringing Group then just 11 days later on Bardsey Island

Porth Iago, Gwynedd     06/08/2018 385 days, 78km N
Wooltack Point, Pembs 11/07/2020 1090 days, 62km SW
Bardsey Island                19/07/2020 1098 days 72km N

Another recovery received this week was a Goldfinch ABE2665
Ringed Boncath, Pembrokeshire 10/07/2019
Found dead after hitting a window 13/03/2020 in Saubusse,Landes, France
247 days 165 deg SSE

Goldfinch movements are very variable but this one could be an example of the population that breed here and spend winter in the warm further south.

As usual for late July and into August, Hirundine numbers are increasing coming to roost in the Teifi Marsh at dusk. We have had a few sessions ringing mainly Swallows but also some Sand Martins, Pied Wagtails and a House Martin, only the 8th ringed by the group.

Juvenile Pied Wagtail

More sunset evenings like this to enjoy at Mallard Pond over the coming weeks of migration monitoring.

(Wendy J and Rich D)

Sunday 19 July 2020

July - migration has started

July 2020 will be known by regular visitors to the Teifi Marshes for the abundance of Kingfishers being seen and photographed.

Kingfisher by Andrew Hughes

More about our Kingfishers in the next blog but first some monitoring and migration from the Teifi and other Group sites..

Willow Warbler

A Willow Warbler ringed at Andy's forestry site, Blaenduad in Carmarthenshire in its 1st year on 02/09/2019 was subsequently encountered by Alison in mid-Pembrokeshire on 27/05/2020,  40km SW.

Alison's latest migrant in the garden.....

Sedge Warbler

This Sedge Warbler viewed through the window in the rain....

Another recent subsequent encounter ringed elsewhere is also shown on the map
Reed Warbler   S932923
Ringed Llangorse Lake 31/07/2018 by Llangorse Ringing Group
Subsequent encounter Teifi Marshes 30/06/2020
700 days 97km West

During July we have been able to visit most of our sites, this Redstart re encountered on the Teifi Marshes on Tuesday proved interesting - have a  read of  Terns and Redstarts on the Teifi for more..

Common Redstart in wing moult

We caught  2 Storm Petrels at our Mwnt "Limekiln" site on Wednesday and we are planning at least 3 night sessions during the week ahead.
Our efforts will be stepped up at other sites too now passerines are beginning to move after breeding.

                Some notes about our  BTO RAS projects  (Retrapping Adults for Survival)

Andy has now ringed over 220 House Sparrows at his local site - this may become a RAS study soon.

One of our current RAS studies is going well so far this season, with the following Reed Warblers encountered 1st April to 18th July
23 retrapped from previous years and 53 new birds.

Our Reed Warbler RAS is one of 10 active projects in the UK.

Juvenile Reed Warbler (TRG library photo)

The Reed Warbler RAS national trend shows a slight but gradual decline in the survival rate from the start of the trend in 1981 but more stable in recent years.
Our Teifi Marsh Reed Warbler trend shows more of a decline in survival than the national trend since 2015 but on average our adult survival rate is slightly higher than the national average.  
The results contribute to the analysis of populations in BTO Bird Trends See the details on the BTO website
Reed Warbler trend

We have also had analysis of our Teifi Marsh Reed Bunting RAS from the BTO.

Adult Reed Bunting

Ours is the only active Reed Bunting RAS project in the UK.
The quality of the national trend is considered to be ‘Uncertain’due to the sample size and only one project in operation. Interestingly the recapture probability for females is lower than that of males. This could be due to males being more prominent while nesting and thus more catchable/viewable.
The National trend can be seen here which is calculated from other projects.
Reed Bunting trend

Hopefully some other ringing groups will consider a Reed Bunting RAS in the future to improve the quality of data. 

Reed Buntings 1st April  to 18th July
22 re - encountered from previous years and 16 new birds.
We rely heavily on colour - ring sightings with 19 of the 22 re - encounters being field sightings.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

A Woodcock to Lambeth South London

Interesting  !!
... One leg of a ringed Woodcock was found in Lambeth, South London on 25th May 2020

Luckily the leg was carrying the ring of a bird we ringed on our Frenni study site in February 2015. If this bird was killed locally to London then presumably it was on the usual migration for our Woodcock back to the breeding grounds of Russia...
Wondering... was this was the result of London Peregrines, or of the game meat trade ?

The table below show our captured species totals by location during May 1st - June 14th,
(a period with movement restrictions)

Due to the travel restriction being lifted slightly some non garden pulli were ringed, of interest Dippers and Pied Flycatchers by Karen and Great Tits by Andrew.

Dipper pulli (TRG library photo)

165 House Sparrows captured - a greater total than the 145 Blue Tits, with both Alison and Andy recording more than 50 captures.

Charlie ringed many House Sparrows. This is one of his photos from 2018

183 Siskin captures during the 6 week period, mainly from Arfon's local sites. Since the data was compiled Arfon has captured a female Siskin ringed in Boncath on 19th March 2020, a distance of 51km.
The following recovery external to the Group.
Siskin AYH3324 ringed at Bidston, Wirral by Merseyside RG on 26/03/2020
Subsequent encounter at Ffarmers, Carmarthenshire 18/04/2020 and 16/05/2020
157km SSW  23 days  SSW

Arfon and Wendy have now carried out "Garden CES" 3 with encouraging results in terms of variety of species and numbers. Enough data to be able to help decide the feasibility of  long term  garden CES studies.

This net across the lawn has caught a wide variety including Treecreeper, juvenile Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.

Those local to Cardigan could enter the Teifi  Marsh sites from the 7th June.

Our first juvenile Kingfisher, Chiffchaff and Blackcaps have now been ringed and both RAS projects on the reserve now have a good start.
21 Reed Warblers have surprisingly included 11 new birds all of which were showing signs of breeding.
17 Reed Buntings, the oldest ringed in Aug 2011 and we ringed the 1st juvenile yesterday.
A Wren caught yesterday was ringed in 2015 and is worth a mention being 5 years old.

Looking ahead - Arfon has secured permission from NRW to untertake a RAS project on the Willow Tits there. Andy has visited Blaenduad a couple of times since a recent extensive forest fire.
Fire at Blaenduad pictures from a local farmer which shows the habitat at this site.
Although much of the burnt area was good habitat the Land Managers are keen for Andy to continue to ring and help monitor the regeneration.

Thursday 30 April 2020

The Spring of 2020

With the current situation we are following guidelines and not travelling to ringing sites. Some of the group have been able to continue long running ringing in their gardens, one of which is a RAS study site for Siskins.

The BTO staff are working from their homes and continuing to process recoveries and we were pleased to receive the following interesting movements..

Woodcock  EZ52428
Ringed near Ffarmers,, Carmarthenshire  03/01/2020
Shot  Kursk, Russian Federation  28/03/2020 85 days 2750 km E

We have had several reports of Woodcock ringed on their wintering sites shot in Russia when they returned to breed. The locations of some of the finding reports are shown on the map

Goldfinch APJ0130
Ringed Bancyffordd, Carmarthenshire 04/11/2019
Re-encountered Poyntzpass, Armagh, Northern Ireland  10/04/2020 158 days 287 km NNW
by Belfast & Down Ringing Group

This is the first recorded movement of a Teifi Ringing Group to Northern Ireland.

As well as resident birds some migrants appeared in gardens. The first to return were Chiffchaffs, some with pollen horns picked up in warmer countries as they migrated back north. Research has shown that the pollen is mostly from Eucalyptus or Citrus trees.

This is a Blackcap, also with a pollen horn.

Willow Warblers and most recently a Garden Warbler added to the migrants.

Breeding of our resident birds is well under way and this week saw the first juvenile Siskins being brought to the feeders by the adults.

Adults from previous years are being re-encountered providing good data for our Siskin RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) project.

We will continue with our garden ringing and at least two of the Group may try the newly announced "Garden CES"  project ringing.
We are prepared and ready to start ringing at our established sites once the current situation allows.

Thursday 27 February 2020

Late winter.....

January and February have delivered difficult conditons for ringing, though most members of the Group have managed some ringing - more later !
A couple of summer migrant movements have been reported.
Only our second foreign Blackcap movement this to Belgium, the previous to Donges, Loire-Atlantique, France.

Blackcap  ACF8747
Ringed  Blaenduad, Carmarthenshire 01/08/2019
Lebbeke, Oost-Vlananderen, Belgium 05/10/2019 65 days   596 km ESE
A typical annual recovery of a Sedge Warbler moving south in late summer

Sedge Warbler  ADH8591
Teifi Marshes 08/08/2019
Saint Vigour D'Ymonville, Saine Maritime 25/08/2019 17 days  456 km SE

Both the Warbler movements above shown on the above map.
The fields below are part of the Boncath Woodcock study site showing the original ringing and re encounter of Woodcock EY81489. Typical of all our re encounters, very close to the original ringing site. Amazing wintering site fidelity for these long distance migrants.
This recapture 3 years after ringing.

We have tried to involve as many of the Group in night time activites as possible, primarily catching Woodcock and Skylarks, other species too. A new experience in the field at night for all is the use of Wendy's Thermal Imager.  Not only an aid to catch birds, but a great tool to improve the survey - all the activities are entered as complete lists into BTO Birdtrack.

Out on the Frenni site - I am clearly helping Molly process a Snipe caught in a wet field edge rut.

We have been unable to ring either with nets or potter traps due to the weather on the Teifi Marsh sites, but Andy has been catching Starlings, Wendy has been catching various garden and woodland birds including this Greenfinch with a nice moult limit - one of several Greenfinches caught.

A small window in the weather this morning allowed for some training, this Great Tit one of the highlights, ringed in 2014 and not re encountered since.

Arfon has been ringing at new sites with Naomi and is doing well with Siskins, including 90 Siskins one afternoon, a couple of controls too including the one below.

Siskin   S00366
Ringed Nantmel, Rhayader, Powys 09/02.2017
             Ffarmers, Carmarthenshire 23/02/2020 1109 days  44 km WSW

We may get onto the Teifi Marshes this coming week, a likely activity will be with potter traps at Mallard Pond as part of  the Reed Bunting colour-ringing project. Then on the 16th March four of the Group are off to Uganda ringing.