Monday, 26 November 2018

A Dazzling Performance: 23-24 November

After a few weeks of enforced inactivity at Oxwich, due to long periods of bad weather, we mixed things up a bit this weekend. 

On Friday night Tony Cross was kind enough to join us for a dazzling session at Whiteford Burrows, at the north-western tip of Gower, after which we went to some damp pasture farmland near Upper Killay (east Gower). The Saturday morning was spent catching blue tits at Oxwich to provide data for a project looking at the extent of post juvenile moult in different areas of the UK.

The results were as follows:

Species Name
New
Recaptured
Total
Dunlin
22

22
Turnstone
2

2
Woodcock
4

4
Blackbird

1
1
Blackcap
1

1
Blue Tit
36
29
65
Chaffinch
7

7
Chiffchaff
3

3
Coal Tit

1
1
Dunnock

3
3
Firecrest
1

1
Goldfinch
4

4
Great Spotted Woodpecker
2
1
3
Great Tit
4
5
9
Robin

5
5
Grand Total
86
45
131

The highlight for most was learning the technique for dazzling waders; most people captured at least one bird following some instruction.

The dunlin tend to gather on a sandy bank to the rear of Whiteford dunes and on the edge of the Burry Inlet at high tide. A flock of approximately 200 were present. They were a little flighty, which Tony attributed to the gusty wind, but we managed to capture 22, with adults slightly outnumbering juveniles. As opposed to the autumn, when ringed plover were common and we also captured a sanderling, the flock was largely dunlin with a few turnstone. We captured two of the latter, an adult and a first winter bird.

The fields on the farm at Upper Killay were fairly hard going in places due to poaching by cattle. The sward in some of the fields was unsuitably long, but approximately ten woodcock were present in the remaining four or five. By this time earlier cloud cover had lifted, the moon was nearly full, and the conditions were hardly ideal for dazzling. Despite this, however, we were given a masterclass in catching woodcock, with Tony returning with four birds in approximately fifteen minutes. We subsequently found dazzling more challenging, albeit it is likely we were pursuing some of the same birds. All four woodcock were first winters, based on a combination of the characteristics of the outer primary (worn), the tips of the primary coverts and the shape of the underwing coverts.

A slightly later start at Oxwich than usual, as the forecast suggested only a few of the nets would be sufficiently out of the wind to be usable. We captured 65 blue tits, the vast majority of which were first winters, and therefore added to the data set on moult currently being collected on the species. Other highlights were our second firecrest of the autumn / winter, a young male, three chiffchaff and a female blackcap. We also captured two new great spotted woodpeckers; we have captured 47 unique birds visiting the Oxwich feeders to date this year. The winter often sees us ring a few more birds (after recaptures dominating the catch for several months), assumedly as birds range further to find food.

Thanks to Heather Coats, Keith Vaughton, Wayne Morris, Val Wilson, Jo Conway, Sophie de Grissac, Richard Dann, Amy Schwartz, Martin Georgiev, Dionne Jenkins, Martin Thomas, Kathryn Dunnett and Trevor Fletcher for coming along to the various sessions, and particularly to Tony Cross for running the dazzling sessions.

Thanks also to Nick Edwards of NRW and Mark Hipkin of the National Trust for facilitating the trip to Whiteford, and to Dai Llewelyn for allowing us access to the farm at Upper Killay.

Owain Gabb
26/11/2018

A trio of woodcock from farmland at Upper Killay (Martin Thomas)
Dunlin (Amy Schwartz)
Turnstone (Amy Schwartz)
Tony advising on ageing dunlin in the winter (less straightforward than in autumn) (Richard Dann)
Firecrest (our second of the year) (Joanne Conway)
The rare southern strandline beetle, Eurynebria complanata. The species is more commonly seen at Whiteford in the summer and autumn, but this one had assumedly emerged to hunt due to recent mild weather. (Amy Schwartz)

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