Saturday, 29 March 2014

Oxwich Marsh 29 March 2014

Variable weather in the first few hours of the morning probably resulted in a far more limited catch than might have been.  We put up the usual (winter) 160 feet of net, but had to furl for some time while an irritating band of light rain dragged its feet through the area.  One of the benefits of ringing at Oxwich is that the site is sheltered from the north-west, to an extent from the south-west and also from the east.  Therefore, while the easterly wind was nothing near what was forecasted for the higher ground, there was no avoiding the rain, which came through later and lasted longer than predicted.
A total of 66 birds were caught.  The catch was made up of: chiffchaff 3 (0); goldcrest 1 (0); blue tit 12 (10); great tit 9 (7); chaffinch 3 (1); greenfinch 12 (0); goldfinch 16 (2); siskin 7 (1); and, reed bunting 3 (2).  The proportion of the total of each species that comprised re-trapped birds is indicated in brackets.  In summary, a good variety.
Female siskin
The highlight of the day was probably the siskins.  Very few have been caught at the marsh in recent years, and one of the birds caught today (a female) appears to be a control.  No redpolls were heard amongst the siskin flocks.  It was also good to capture some chiffchaffs, as none were trapped during spring passage in 2013, and it will be nice to see if these early birds stay local.
Goldfinches were present in flocks of 60+ in the trees, but numbers trapped were more modest.  A female goldcrest was only the second of the year.  Reed bunting numbers appear to be on the wane, although it was also clear that there were many birds that were far too savvy to go in the net.
The table below provides a breakdown of numbers to date at Oxwich in 2014.  It is clear from the results that we have ringed a significant proportion of the local tits, but that other species visit the site in large numbers during winter and / or there is rapid turnover in birds.  Breaking the century on greenfinches is a minor achievement, but gratifying all the same.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Cetti's Warbler
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Reed Bunting
Many thanks to Cedwyn Davies, Keith 'Michael Gove' Vaughton, Emma Cole and Jessica Whitehead for their assistance and company this morning.
Owain Gabb

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Off Track at Margam

Chris Newberry and I spent some time this morning judiciously pruning back the brambles alongside the railway track at our ringing site in Margam Park. This will allow us to leave the nets in place rather than remove them before the first train of the morning during the main Summer visiting season. 
We could hear the newly arrived Chiffchaff calling from the woodland and two duly obliged us by stumbling into our nets with one sporting a 'pollen horn' suggesting it had spent the winter months in warmer climes.

Chiffchaff with 'pollen horn'

One of the Robins we ringed displayed a pronounced 'brood patch' which meant she was probably incubating a clutch of eggs somewhere in the area.

Female Robin with 'Brood Patch'

Our total for the short morning session was thirteen birds of seven species - Blue Tit (2) Chiffchaff (2) Goldcrest (2) Greenfinch (2) Robin (3) Treecreeper (1) Wren (1).

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Finches, Buntings and Chats ..... Oxwich Marsh 15 March 2014

A light to moderate north-westerly wind and broken cloud at Oxwich this morning.  After some early trouble with an inexplicably tangled net, a relatively relaxing session with a fairly steady rate of capture until we took the nets down just after 11:00.
Fifty-seven birds were captured.  These were: dunnock 2 (1); robin 2 (1); stonechat 2 (0); blue tit 5 (3); great tit 4 (4); chaffinch 1 (0); greenfinch 14 (4); goldfinch 18 (7); siskin 2 (0); and, reed bunting 7 (0).  Retraps are indicated by the brackets.
The most obvious highlight was the stonechats.  As the usual male had returned to territory last week on the edge of the marsh, Cedwyn brought along spring traps, mealworms and a tape.  Initially this didn't appear to be working, as the chats disappeared.  However, after about half an hour first the male and then the female reappeared and were captured.  These were only the second and third stonechats trapped at the marsh since 2000.  The male was clearly a second calendar year bird, as it showed a moult limit in the greater coverts.  We did not conclusively determine the age of the female.
Male stonechat - a lovely bird
The number of finches around the feeding station remains high, with large flocks of goldfinch and greenfinch in particular.  The total number of new goldfinch ringed at the site in 2014 is now up to 106, and greenfinch to 92.  The number of new reed buntings in 2014 (56), which included another 7 birds today, indicates that this species passes through the marsh in some numbers, despite being relatively unobtrusive to the field birder.  In terms of totals, we also passed the 500 mark for the site for the year today - with the total now standing on 522 birds (362 new birds, 160 re-trapped birds) of 15 species.
Thanks to Cedwyn Davies, Heather Coates, Charlie Sargent and Emma Cole (the BTO Rep for Swansea University) for their help this morning.  Particular thanks to Heather for her persistence in sorting out the tangled net first thing.
More gratuitous stonechat shots are below ..........
Owain Gabb
Another view of the male stonechat - showing the developing breeding plumage around the head and the colour of the breast.

And the female stonechat

Monday, 10 March 2014

The session after 168 ..... Oxwich Marsh 10 March 2014

The session after the biggest single-day catch for the Gower Ringing Group (168 birds from 3 nets), was always likely to be a slight anti-climax.  However, it didn't feel that way, as the number of birds per round gradually picked up (following a slow start), and we finished the day with 87 birds (of which 67 were newly ringed).  Almost forty of these birds were extracted during the final net round.
The following were caught (retraps are indicated by brackets): dunnock 2 (1); Cetti's warbler 1 (1); blue tit 12 (7); great tit 6 (3); chaffinch 5 (0); greenfinch 21 (0); goldfinch 26 (3); and, reed bunting 14 (5).  The overall total for reed bunting in 2014 is 49 birds ringed and 20 ringed birds re-trapped, which already exceeds the combined total of 41 birds in 2013.  One of the re-trapped birds (pictured below) was a male that was approaching 6 years of age (based on the original ringing data).
Head of a male reed bunting. 
This was the bird approaching 6 years of age.
And the tail of the same bird, providing
a good indication of why wear of the tail
 should not be used to age reed buntings
 in late autumn and early spring.
A male greenfinch from this morning
When ageing reed buntings, much depends on the shape of the tail, particularly the 5th tail feather.  However, as can be seen from the photo above right, you should not put too much emphasis on tail wear at this time of year (on the premise that young birds will appear more worn).  Known adults were showing very heavy wear, as the central tail feathers of this six year old bird show.
It was very nice to continue to capture finches in good numbers.  They are very attractive birds, but pose challenges in terms of ageing in particular.  Capturing large numbers, and seeing lots of birds in the hand really helps to improve confidence and accuracy in ageing terms.  We have now almost reached 100 new goldfinch (95) and greenfinch (82) for the year at Oxwich.  This is a far cry from 2013, when only 3 birds of the respective species were trapped.  The difference is entirely due to regular supplementary winter feeding, as large flocks were present from mid-morning onward.  It is just unfortunate that the siskin and redpoll appear to have left the area already, possibly in response to the very mild late winter,

Many thanks to Cedwyn Davies and Heather Coats for their help and company this morning.

Owain Gabb

Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Day for Finches

With our noble leader taking 'Paternity Leave' from ringing at Oxwich (congratulations to Owain and Rhian on the birth of their daughter) it was left to the 'Grey Brigade' of Heather, Keith and myself to tend the nets aided by the scribing skills of Emma Cole (the BTO Ambassador at Swansea University).
Following a frosty 06:30 start we erected a twelve metre and two eighteen metre nets in the scrub, topped up the feeding table with sunflowers seeds and wheat, set up the sound system and waited.  
The birds were very accommodating and last week's total was more than doubled with Goldfinch numbers exceeding a half century.
Male Goldfinch

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker

Male Siskin

The final total of 168 birds was made up of the following: Wren  (1), Dunnock (2), Robin  (1), Blue Tit 14 (19), Great Tit  (3), Chaffinch 9 (0), Greenfinch 39 (5), Goldfinch 52 (2), Reed Bunting 13 (3), Bullfinch 2 (1), Siskin 1 (0) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (1).  The proportion of re-traps in the total for each species are indicated by the brackets.

Thanks to Heather Coats, Keith Vaughton and Emma Cole.