Saturday, 16 September 2017

Oxwich Marsh 16 September 2017: the changing of the guard

A light northerly breeze and open skies was a welcome change to the unsettled, and often very wet weather that had dogged us during the ringing course (see previous post) and in the preceding week.

The day had an autumnal feeling, both in terms of the cool weather and in terms of the birds captured. The breakdown was as follows:

Species
Ringed
Recaptured
Total
Meadow Pipit
29
0
29
Grey Wagtail
4
0
4
Pied/White Wagtail
1
0
1
Wren
2
1
3
Dunnock
0
1
1
Robin
3
0
3
Stonechat
3
0
3
Cetti's Warbler
4
1
5
Sedge Warbler
1
0
1
Reed Warbler
2
1
3
Whitethroat
1
0
1
Garden Warbler
1
0
1
Blackcap
9
0
9
Chiffchaff
11
0
11
Willow Warbler
1
0
1
Goldcrest
2
0
2
Blue Tit
2
1
3
Great Tit
3
0
3
Treecreeper
1
0
1
Reed Bunting
5
1
6
Total:
85
6
91

The highlights of the catch were:

  • Four grey wagtails. The birds responded to a tape. All were first winters, as was clear from the large number of unmoulted greater coverts and tertials they had each retained. We had only captured a single grey wagtail on the marsh previously, but had not tried tape luring overflying birds before.
  • A reasonable day total of 29 meadow pipits. These were almost exclusively first winter birds. Clear moult limits in the median and greater coverts were noted, with some moulting one or more tertials and others very few wing feathers at all. The only adult bird captured showed uniform olive-tinged wings and buff edges to all coverts.
  • Three stonechats. The hay in the ringing field has been cut very late this year. Until last week the chats were scattered around the field, foraging from stems of bracken and fringing vegetation. They now have fewer options, and are more frequently using ruderal vegetation on the edge of the marsh, allowing us to capture them more easily.
  • A few long distance migrants. A slightly sandy-coloured whitethroat and a reed warbler, both of which were carrying a good amount of fat, reasonably late willow and garden warblers, and a couple of lingering young reed and sedge warblers with very limited fat deposits.
  • A good catch of Cetti's warblers. This species very rarely carries fat, but in the mid to late Autumn we tend to see some birds with reasonable deposits. This probably indicates dispersal into the marsh. The recaptured bird was an adult coming towards the end of main moult. All of the other birds that could be aged (fault bars on the tails were useful), were first winters.

The clear out of long distance migrants, overhead movements of meadow pipits, steady catches of chiffchaff and blackcap, and the arrival of the first crests and treecreepers into the marsh signal the changing of the seasonal guard from early to mid autumn. We will soon be thinking about migrant thrushes and yellow-browed warblers.

A first in the nets today was a hornet. Only slightly more welcome than a bat!

Thanks to Heather Coats, Wayne Morris, Valerie Wilson, Stephen Vickers, Kirsty Franklin and Jo Conway for company and assistance this morning.

Owain Gabb
16/09/2017

Grey wagtails (Wayne Morris)

Hornet (extracted with care!)

Meadow pipit

Stonechat (male) (Stephen Vickers / Kirsty Franklin)

Treecreeper (Stephen Vickers / Kirsty Franklin)

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Welsh Ringing Course 2017

The 2017 Welsh Ringing Course was held on the Gower Peninsula, South Wales, between Friday 8 and Monday 11 September 2017.

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 and Owain Gabb (Gower Ringing Group). There were 10 participants whose aspirations were either to be appraised with regard to a potential permit upgrade or to achieve further experience.

The itinerary included evening swallow and wagtail roost sessions and morning mist netting at Oxwich Marsh, dazzling waders at Whiteford Burrows and a session targeting rock pipits at Overton. Between these sessions training was provided in the use of Demon, the new online ringing database, there were quizzes, and people took some downtime.  

A total of 451 birds of 33 species were captured. The breakdown was as follows:

Species
Ringed
Recaptured
Total
Mute Swan
6
1
7
Ringed Plover
4
1
5
Dunlin
51
0
51
Turnstone
1
0
1
Great Spotted Woodpecker
0
1
1
Sand Martin
4
0
4
Swallow
116
0
116
Tree Pipit
1
0
1
Rock Pipit
3
0
3
Yellow Wagtail
2
0
2
Pied/White Wagtail
53
0
53
Wren
2
1
3
Dunnock
3
9
12
Robin
7
5
12
Stonechat
9
0
9
Blackbird
5
0
5
Cetti's Warbler
0
3
3
Sedge Warbler
7
1
8
Reed Warbler
5
0
5
Whitethroat
1
0
1
Blackcap
12
0
12
Chiffchaff
10
2
12
Willow Warbler
1
0
1
Goldcrest
2
0
2
Blue Tit
19
20
39
Great Tit
10
10
20
Chaffinch
4
1
5
Greenfinch
20
11
31
Goldfinch
7
5
12
Siskin
1
7
8
Bullfinch
2
0
2
Reed Bunting
2
3
5
Total:
370
81
451


Roost Sessions

Roost sessions at Oxwich involved the deployment of three eighteen metre nets in an area of fen near the South Pond, and a line of nets across a bund through the marsh. Audio was used to lure pied / white wagtails and swallows into the respective netting areas (both roost in these parts of the reed bed). 

The catches of swallows were not exceptional (32 and 82 birds). Sand martins were only captured on the second night (4). The wagtail sessions were very good, with 20 and 33 pied / white wagtails and one yellow wagtail captured on both evenings. These yellow wagtail captures were of particular note: none were captured in Wales in 2016.

Wader Dazzling

Dazzling sessions (led by Tony Cross) were held at Whiteford Burrows at the mouth of the Burry Inlet. We parked at Cwm Ivy Tor and made a forty-minute walk across the edge of the dunes to Berges Island, before heading back across the beach. High tide was just after dusk on both evenings.

Mixed roosts of various small waders are generally present on the upper shore of Berges Island. We were most successful in capturing dunlin, with 51 birds ringed, but also captured small numbers of ringed plover and a turnstone.

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

During the sessions the southern strandline beetle Eurynebria complanata was regularly recorded. The beetle has a restricted range in the UK, and has disappeared from many sites at which it formerly occurred. It is active at night and feeds on sand hoppers. A photo (taken by Justin Walker) of the species is included at the end of this blog post.

Daytime Mist Netting

Daytime mist netting was, unfortunately, weather affected. Strengthening westerly winds during the Saturday and Sunday mornings affected catches and, in the case of the latter, led to a premature finish. Monday mist netting was cancelled due to gale force winds.

Despite these constraints to our activities, we put up nets in fen, rush pasture and scrub habitats on both weekend days. Approximately 300 m of net was used and 21 species were captured.

The highlights for participants included stonechats, a  tree pipit, and a mid-morning break during which two adult mute swans and their five young were captured and processed. The adult female was ringed at Torbay, Devon in 2007, and also bred on the marsh in 2016.

Rock Pipits at Overton

Gower Ringing Group have permission from the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales to ring at Overton Mere, an area of rocky shore and storm beach a few miles west of Oxwich Marsh.

On the Saturday morning, a session was led by Cedwyn Davies (A Ringer, Gower RG), using spring traps, two-panel nets and audio, aimed at capturing pipits around high tide. We shuttled small groups between Oxwich and the site so that they could see how the session was set up.

After a slow start, potentially due to the noise of the crashing waves preventing pipits hearing the tape, three rock pipits and seven stonechats were captured. We found the nets and audio are particularly effective for capturing pipits, with the traps working better on the chats.

Logistics

For practical purposes the participants were split into two groups, with two separate canvas gazebos erected (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 the ringing site. Excellent food was provided at the centre by Phyllis Jamieson. On Sunday evening the team got together for a group meal, which provided an opportunity for everyone to relax, chat and wind down after a busy couple of days.

Feedback on the course from participants was very positive. Thanks are due to all involved in the setting up and delivery of the course, but particularly to the helpers (Wayne Morris, Keith Vaughton, Val Wilson, Kirsty Franklin, Joanne Conway, Lynn Watts and Jez Smith) whose hard work, friendliness and willingness to do anything needed ensured a very good atmosphere and allowed participants to relax.

Thanks are also due to Nick Edwards of Natural Resources Wales for continued permission to ring at Oxwich and at Whiteford, and to the Gower Society for their grant funding of ringing on the marsh.

Photographs are below.

Owain Gabb
12/09/2017


Mark Whiffin (L) and Gwynedd Roberts

L-R Jenny Spencer-Jones, Molly Heal, Caroline Brighton, Heather Coats, Keith Vaughton, Claire McSweeney and Anthony Caravaggi.

L-R Anthony Caravaggi, Jenny Higgins, Molly Heal, Claire McSweeney, Susan Jones, Val Wilson, Caroline Brighton, Chantal McLeod-Nolan, Jenny Spencer-Jones, Martin Hughes, Ashley Sendell-Price, Mark Whiffin, Heather Coats, Jez Smith, Keith Vaughton, Wayne Morris, Owain Gabb, Kirsty Franklin, Justin Walker, Gwynedd Roberts and Tony Cross.

Ringing a dunlin

Weighing a dunlin

Turnstone

First winter ringed plover

Adult ringed plover

L-R Claire McSweeney, Caroline Brighton and Jenny Higgins processing a rock pipit at Overton

Rock pipit
Yellow wagtail

Adult male stonechat
Mute swans waiting to be ringed
Southern strandline beetle Eurynebria complanata