14 Aug 2017

Colour flagging Ringed Plover with SCAN

Saturday saw me having a fairly leisurely start to meet up with the rest of the SCAN team in N Wales in an attempt to catch Ringed Plover and mark them with individual colour flags. This enables birds to be individually recognised in the field without having to recapture them and provides important data as to the importance of the Lavan Sands site for either a wintering or migration stop-over site. Two distinct moult strategies are apparent in the birds using this area - those that have started their annual moult winter in the UK whereas those that winter in Africa don't moult until they reach their wintering grounds. The African wintering population generally breed further north than the UK wintering population.

Once we'd set the nets its a waiting game. Despite forecasts to the contrary the weather was wet and miserable. Luckily it improved as we headed towards high tide and we managed a respectable catch of 168 birds of which 92 were Ringed Plover and the rest were Dunlin with the exception of a single Sanderling. All birds were ringed, aged, sexed (where possible), moult recorded, wing length, bill and head measurements taken and weighed. A great effort by the team and some interesting moults recorded.

Above: Juvenile Dunlin

Above: Ringed Plover aged 5 in with suspended moult moult with primaries 2-4 being old and 10-6 being newly moulted.

Below: Ringed Plover with suspended moult having seemingly moulted two primaries in its breeding ground and the rest in its wintering quarters.

The salt marshes and shingle ridges around the area are also home to some stunning wild flowers. Both Sea Aster and Horned Poppy were present although the Sea Aster is rapidly going to seed - a fact that hadn't gone unnoticed by the large flock of Linnets present.

7 Aug 2017

August doldrums.

There hasn't been much activity on the birding front over the last week although I managed a confirmed 'tick' when the BBRC announced the Stow Blue Rock Thrush from earlier this year had been accepted as a genuine vagrant! I was a bit late to the party on that one as it turned up whilst  I was in Australia. I had a great day Saturday learning how to make and repair mist nets - I'll need a lot more practice though!

We've been looking after our son and daughter in laws 12 week old Labrador puppy over the weekend and as Jan was out Sunday it was my turn to entertain her so no ringing or birding. I did record 36 species of bird in or around the garden whilst stopping her disappearing with my tools and through gaps in the hedge! .

Insects were the main thing though and I managed to find what I think is a Field Grasshopper (its the first grasshopper I've seen in the garden) warming itself on the garage wall and a Forest (shield) Bug.

As well as planting an area of the garden with wildflower plug plants to, hopefully, attract more bees and butterflies next year I've also planted a Lavender bed which is now flowering. The bees love it and sitting on the bench alongside it you can hear their constant buzzing.

1 Aug 2017

A bit of ringing

The weekend got off to a good start when we spent a few hours ringing in Barry's garden with trainee Thomas. Work commitments and then a meeting with our builders meant I could only stay a few hours but the total for the day ended up being 109 birds of which only 8 were retraps and 8 species.
Great experience gained for Thomas.

With the weather fairish Sunday and being up early as Jan was getting picked up at 06.30 I decided to set the mist nets on our garden for a few hours and forget renovation works for awhile. Unfortunately the wind picked up a few hours later but I still ringed a respectable 51 birds of 9 species including 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers - 3 juveniles and an adult male! I also caught a Blue Tit that had been ringed as a pullus in one of our nest boxes in May.

Adult male Great Spotted Woodpecker head pattern above.

 Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker head pattern above.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers can be a pain to age as they actually start moulting in the nest before they fledge. At this time of year they're easy and eye colour can also be a good indication of age even when they've attained their adult head feathers. Juveniles, like many other species, have dull brown eyes whereas adults have red eyes.
 Adult Great Spotted Woodpecker eye colour above and juvenile below.

A few of the adult birds were in full moult including this unfortunate Blue Tit that was first ringed as a Euring 5 (2nd calendar year) earlier this year - it had almost completed its wing moult and was in full body moult.

 Another nice bird to see was a juvenile House Sparrow. We've got a few coming to the feeders now but they've resolutely refused to use the boxes I've put up especially for them.

24 Jul 2017

Swallow ringing

Its that time of year again when attention turns to ringing Swallows on local farms. Although a late start to the season it looks as if they've done fairly well with broods of 5 being common.

Using a 3 m mist net set up inside one of the outbuildings John & I managed to catch two adults - both, unbelievably, ringed! One was ringed as an adult at the same nest site last year but the star bird was ringed by me at the same site in 2013!

She's done an incredible amount of miles since then!

10 Jul 2017


A great name and the Shetland name for Arctic Terns. A very apt description of the noise they make. I was lucky enough to be able to got the Skerries, off Anglesey, again this year to ring Arctic Tern chicks as part of a long term study that has been running for 6 years now and generated a lot of interesting data. As well as the chick ringing a number of the adults are caught each year and fitted with orange leg flags.

We left Holyhead marina in beautiful sunshine and soon saw a couple of Harbour Porpoise as we headed towards the Skerries. As we got closer more and more seabirds were seen with the seas surrounding the island filled with fishing Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots and Terns.

 It was a great few hours and the noise is deafening. The adults take great delight in pecking the top of your head with needle sharp bills so as hat is essential. Whilst having lunch at the lighthouse  I took the opportunity to take a few photos before we left - including some of the colour flagged birds.

On the way back in to Holyhead we came across an exercise involving a military helicopter and the pilot boat.

4 Jul 2017

Drinker moth caterpillar

Jan found this huge caterpillar on one of our evening walks around the village recently. Modern technology meant we had an identification in seconds! I sent a photo to Barry who replied with the identification straight away.

28 Jun 2017

Owls about that then.

Looking out of our bedroom window the other evening after I disturbed the Little owl sat on the adjacent garage roof. It flew to the large black poplar at the back of the garden and balefully turned its back on me. Sneaking out I got the camera from the study and sneaked back in and very quietly opened the window. He (I know this as if you look very carefully you can see the rings on the left leg) turned round,glared at me and then carried on with his observations allowing a few photos.

Amazing pattern on back of head makes it look like its still looking at you. Wonder if this is an anti-predator device. I've found dead Little Owl predated by a Sparrowhawk locally so it may well be.

26 Jun 2017

Puffin Island - Cormorants and Guillemots

The SCAN and SEGUL groups headed to Puffin Island again yesterday with the aim of ringing Guillemot chicks and Cormorants as well as whatever other Razorbill and Shag chicks we could find. We even managed a few gulls as well!

As the weather forecast was initially poor we did the colonies in reverse order to the normal routine, starting with the Guillemots and finishing the day with the Cormorants.

There were good numbers of Guillemots and we managed to catch / retrap a few adults as well. Guillemots and Razorbills take a specially shaped 'auk' ring. Because of these species flat tarsi the ring has a flattened base and has to be closed using a special technique compared to conventional rings. Its hard, noisy and smelly work ringing in auk colonies on cliff faces!

 Guillemot chick - this one was to small to ring
Older chick showing a perfectly fitted clip auk ring expertly fitted by Ros.

We managed to ring a few gulls as well  - mainly Herring Gulls but also three bruisers on the form of Greater Black Backed Gulls

We don't catch many Puffins on Puffin Island although the numbers are slowly increasing. Catching two was a bonus and a new species for a couple of the trainee ringers present. I'm always amazed at how small these auks are compared to the Razorbills and Guillemots.

Suffering from a damaged tendon in my left thumb and being left handed meant I wasn't confident in climbing the chimney to another part of the Guillemot colony. Getting down wasn't an issue but getting up again might have been! Consequently I took a small team to a site with easier access to find a few more Razorbills (and Puffins!) before the whole team met up again for the highlight of the day.......the cormorants! Think Jurassic Park meets ringing team and you'll get the picture. Cormorant chicks look like Pterodactyls and bite like Velociraptors. With a sample of 250 to ring of which 50 were to be colour ringed, after an already gruelling day, wasn't going to be fun. The large stainless steel L rings used on Cormorants  have to be overlapped slightly and aren't easy to close - especially with tired hands so it was with some relief that Steve announced we'd finished the lot!

By now the sun had come out and we were all pretty sunburnt, sweaty and filthy dirty. With the boat arriving to collect us at 18.30 we'd spent the best part of 10 hours on the island and ringed approximately 900 birds.

I arrived home sore and stiff around 20.45, threw my dirty clothes in the garage, grabbed s welcome hot shower and then a well deserved cold beer.