Monday, 9 September 2019

The Welsh Ringing Course 2019

The 2019 Welsh Ringing Course was held on the Gower Peninsula, South Wales, between Friday 6 and Monday 9 September 2019.

The course was led by Kelvin Jones, the Welsh Development Officer for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and a ringing trainer, the independent trainer was Martin Hughes (from Northumberland), and other trainers present were Tony Cross (mid-Wales Ringing Group). Gwynedd Roberts, Justin Walker (BTO), Heather Coats (Gower Ringing Group) and Owain Gabb (GRG / ringer in charge at Oxwich). There were 9 participants whose aspirations were either to be appraised with regard to a potential permit upgrade, or to achieve further experience.

The itinerary included daytime mist netting at Oxwich Marsh and High Pennard, dazzling waders at Whiteford Burrows, and spring trapping and mist netting on the upper shore at Overton.

A total of 512 birds of 37 species were captured. The breakdown was as follows:

Species Name
Ringed
Recapt
Total
Blackbird
8
6
14
Blackcap
65
1
66
Blue Tit
32
33
65
Bullfinch
1

1
Cetti's Warbler
3
5
8
Chaffinch
3

3
Chiffchaff
29
1
30
Coal Tit
1
1
2
Dunlin
7

7
Dunnock
8
7
15
Garden Warbler
1

1
Goldcrest
6

6
Goldfinch
1

1
Grasshopper Warbler
2

2
Great Spotted Woodpecker

1
1
Great Tit
10
9
19
Greenfinch
23

23
Grey Wagtail
6

6
House Martin
3

3
Long-tailed Tit
7
5
12
Pied/White Wagtail
11

11
Reed Bunting
4

4
Reed Warbler
18
3
21
Ringed Plover
11

11
Robin
14
9
23
Rock Pipit
13
2
15
Sand Martin
1

1
Sanderling
1

1
Sedge Warbler
12
1
13
Song Thrush
1

1
Stonechat
11

11
Swallow
59

59
Tree Pipit
7

7
Turnstone
13

13
Whitethroat
6
3
9
Willow Warbler
9

9
Wren
10
8
18
Grand Total
417
95
512

The weather was generally better than previous years, with a light to moderate north-westerly wind on the Saturday that strengthened in the afternoon (limiting our evening roost catch), lights winds on the Friday evening and on Sunday, and heavy rain for most of the morning on the Monday (that effectively curtailed the course).

Both the catch and the range of species captured were slightly up on previous years. In 2018 we captured 445 birds of 33 species, in 2017 451 birds of 33 species, in 2016 411 birds of 32 species, and in 2015 409 birds of 31 species.

Daytime Mist Netting

Mist netting sessions were held at Oxwich on 7 and 8 September. The marsh was relatively quiet in bird terms, which is often the case during and immediately after north-westerly winds. The nets were set in a variety of habitats including reed bed, fen, willow scrub and secondary woodland. 

Highlights included two grasshopper warblers, a (relatively late for the site) garden warbler, six grey wagtails, 7 tree pipits, 3 house martins and 9 stonechats. The supporting cast included Cetti's warblers, a steady stream of blackcaps and chiffchaffs, and reasonable numbers of whitethroat, reed, sedge and willow warbler.

Good numbers of greenfinches were also captured; there were no signs of trichomonosis (which appears to have considerably impacted the Gower population) observed.

On the Sunday three of our number, led by Kelvin, went to another of the Gower Ringing Group sites (High Pennard) to allow more one to one time for permit upgrade assessment. Over seventy birds were processed at High Pennard over the morning, including our only goldcrests, coal tits and bullfinches of the course. 

Roost Sessions

The Saturday evening swallow and wagtail roost session was badly weather affected. While the wind dropped off towards dusk, it remained high enough to restrict us to a few of our more sheltered nets. This was frustrating, as there had been large numbers of swallows around during the day, and the evening pied / white wagtail roost in the reed bed had had well over fifty birds in attendance over the previous week.

The total of 18 swallows and 11 pied / white wagtails reflected these limitations. We did manage to capture a further 41 swallows during daytime mist netting (along with a sand martin and the house martins), which was some consolation.

Wader Dazzling

The tides were particularly challenging for dazzling, as low tide coincided with dusk, meaning that high tide (when birds are typically most easily captured) was between 00:30 and 02:30 during the course. As it also takes well over an hour to get to the better catching areas (a 45 minute walk preceded by a 25 minute drive) at Whiteford, we took a view that trying to catch waders on the rising tide (as opposed to at high tide) was the best option (as there was also an early start needed for mist netting). We ran one session (as opposed to the two in recent years), on Friday 6 September.

The dazzling session was led by Tony Cross, with an experienced support team of Gwynedd Roberts, Justin Walker and Wayne Morris (A Permit, Gower Ringing Group). The results were excellent, with seven dunlin, 13 turnstone, 11 ringed plover and a sanderling captured.

The technique was new to most people, as were some of the measurements taken (bill to skull, total head and tarsus length).

Spring Trapping

During the late morning of both the Saturday and the Sunday of the course, Wayne Morris and Martin Thomas (both Gower RG) set up spring traps and two shelf nets on the beach at Overton. 

Martin rings large numbers of pipits, chats and other passerines using spring traps, and demonstrated his expertise to the participants (we took a sub group to site on both days) by catching two stonechats, a robin and nine rock pipits on the beach. The remainder of the thirteen new and two recaptured pipits were caught in the nets.

Logistics

For practical purposes the participants were split into two groups, with two separate canvas gazebos erected at Oxwich (allowing a degree of shelter from the wind and discrete areas in which to process the birds). The teams worked closely enough to each other to allow communication with regard to net rounds and ensure new species for participants could be shared out.

Accommodation was in the Guide Centre at Parkmill, approximately 4 miles from Oxwich. Excellent evening meals were provided at the centre by Phyllis Jamieson. Some of the team went to the Gower Inn (next door) following packing up in the evenings, and the bakery at the nearby Gower Heritage Centre for organic bread and cake.

Feedback and Thanks
Feedback on the course from participants was very positive. On attendee, Brian Milligan, wrote a very nice piece for the BTO Cymru blog (see LINK), and comments from other participants are below (appended to this post).

Thanks are due to all involved in the setting up and delivery of the course, but particularly to the helpers (Wayne Morris, Keith Vaughton, Paul Aubrey, Richard Dann, Martin Thomas, Joanne Conway, Alex McCubbin, Dionne Jenkins, Miguel Lurgi, Emma Cole and Kirsty Franklin) whose hard work, friendliness, and willingness to do anything needed contributed to a very good atmosphere and hopefully helped participants to relax. Thanks also to Val Wilson, who was unable to attend due to illness, but washed all of the Group's bird bags during the week leading up to the course.

Thanks are also due to Nick Edwards of Natural Resources Wales for his continued support for ringing at Oxwich and Whiteford, to Mark Hipkin (National Trust) and Lynn Watts for facilitating parking at Whiteford and Overton respectively, and to the Gower Society for their grant funding of ringing on the marsh.

Photographs are below.

Owain Gabb
09/09/2019

A rock pipit at Overton, Gower (Richard Dann)
One of the thirteen turnstone at Whiteford Burrows
A sanderling. The only one of the course
Grey wagtails were a feature of the 2019 ringing course
A scruffy whitethroat (in main moult)
L-R: Alex McCubbin, Kirsty Franklin, Amy Sherwin, Amy Offland, Tony Cross, Naomi Davies, Lloyd Richards, Wayne Morris, Martin Thomas, Kelvin Jones, Heather Coats, Justin Walker, Stephen Vickers, Gwynedd Roberts, Andrew Smethurst, Sarxa Marcias Rodriguez, Brian Milligan, Martin Hughes, Jean Anderson, Dionne Jenkins, Owain Gabb.
Not present: Miguel Lurgi (taking photo), Keith Vaughton, Emma Cole, Paul Aubrey, Jo Conway, Richard Dann

Martin Thomas demonstrating spring trapping at the Girl Guides centre in Parkmill (photo: Wayne Morris).

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Oxwich Marsh 1 September: a first for the year

The forecast was for a moderate to strong north-westerly wind to rapidly pick up over the morning. Due to a run of poor weather over the previous weeks, we decided to give it a go - a good idea as it turned out. 

The highlights of the morning were:
  • A young lesser whitethroat (only our seventh)
  • 3 tree pipits
  • 3 stonechats
  • a grey wagtail
For many ringers living in England, lesser whitethroat is a fairly common migrant sometimes captured in good numbers (it would seem). For us, this is not the case; we capture 0-3 individuals a year. It seemed our chance was likely to have gone in 2019, until the species was the first bird out of the net on 1 September. 

It has been a quiet year for stonechats to date, with five captured before the morning haul. Two of the birds were new, the third a recapture from two months previous which had now almost completed its post juvenile moult and could be confidently sexed as a female.

The pipits are always nice, and take our annual total to 10 - which is below par. We may well get one more go at them this week, but it is getting late. 

Overhead movement of grey wagtails suggested we might be able to tape a bird into a net, and so it proved. If only they came more predictably - lovely birds.

The table below shows the species we have captured since we began ringing on the marsh in earnest in 2014. We are now up to 65 species, which is reasonably notable. While we might have predicted most of the top ten species, and had a good go at the top twenty, we would have struggled with a lot of the rest. Oxwich has proven a diverse and productive site. 

No.
Species Name
Ringed
Recapt
Total
1
Swallow
2813
15
2828
2
Blue Tit
2021
2170
4191
3
Goldfinch
1937
754
2691
4
Greenfinch
1355
326
1681
5
Reed Warbler
1188
290
1478
6
Chaffinch
1080
367
1447
7
Blackcap
954
61
1015
8
Sedge Warbler
907
215
1122
9
Siskin
775
836
1611
10
Great Tit
733
1414
2147
11
Chiffchaff
706
42
748
12
Reed Bunting
610
384
994
13
Willow Warbler
563
40
603
14
Goldcrest
476
25
501
15
Wren
388
285
673
16
Robin
381
451
832
17
Dunnock
281
697
978
18
Redwing
250

250
19
Blackbird
231
172
403
20
Meadow Pipit
213
1
214
21
Pied/White Wagtail
198

198
22
Whitethroat
196
38
234
23
Snipe
177
11
188
24
Long-tailed Tit
164
70
234
25
Cetti's Warbler
143
145
288
26
Sand Martin
121

121
27
Great Spotted Woodpecker
118
375
493
28
House Martin
110

110
29
Tree Pipit
91

91
30
Bullfinch
78
40
118
31
Song Thrush
73
42
115
32
Garden Warbler
69
1
70
33
Stonechat
63
4
67
34
Grasshopper Warbler
62
15
77
35
Jack Snipe
38
3
41
36
Coal Tit
36
25
61
37
Treecreeper
34
2
36
38
Brambling
31
5
36
39
Yellow-browed Warbler
21

21
40
Firecrest
15

15
41
Kingfisher
14
2
16
42
Starling
14

14
43
Grey Wagtail
12

12
44
Lesser Redpoll
12

12
45
Lesser Whitethroat
7

7
46
Sparrowhawk
7
4
11
47
Mute Swan
6
3
9
48
Nuthatch
6
10
16
49
Marsh Tit
5
5
10
50
Skylark
4

4
51
Yellow Wagtail
4

4
52
Green Woodpecker
3
1
4
53
Magpie
3
2
5
54
Water Rail
3

3
55
Whinchat
3

3
56
Jay
2

2
57
Mistle Thrush
2

2
58
Redstart
2

2
59
Willow Tit
2

2
60
Yellowhammer
2

2
61
Little Bunting
1

1
62
Pied Flycatcher
1

1
63
Wheatear
1

1
64
Wood Warbler
1

1
65
Woodpigeon
1

1
Grand Total
19818
9348
29166

Thanks to all who came along on Sunday to what was a short but enjoyable session: Heather Coats, Emma Cole, Val Wilson, Martin Thomas, Dionne Jenkins, Colin Baker, Jo Conway, Bethan Dalton, Alex McCubbin, Richard Dann and Claudia Allen.

Photographs are below.

Owain Gabb
03/09/2019

Grey wagtail (Bethan Dalton)

Stonechat (Richard Dann)
Lesser Whitethroat (Richard Dann)