The Watch House, Southgate: 2020 Ringing Summary

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Introduction

Richard Dann achieved his C Permit in autumn 2019. In 2020 he intended to do some ringing in his garden to build up some data on bird populations in Southgate (on the south Gower coast), and to gain some experience catching birds under remote supervision.

As a result of Covid-19, and the necessary restrictions on Group ringing, he was able to spend more time in the garden than envisaged. This short account summarises his results from 2020.

The Watch House

Richard’s site, ‘The Watch House,’ comprises a moderate-sized garden on the cliff top overlooking the Bristol Channel. Despite perimeter hedges and walls, the garden is very exposed, which significantly reduces mist-netting opportunities; its shape dictates that the maximum amount of net possible is approximately 80 feet. During 2020 Richard therefore used several Potter traps and a Larsen trap alongside the mist nets in order to increase and diversify catches. The garden also has a feeding station, and in 2020 Richard dug a large pond in the centre of the garden to provide a further incentive for birds to visit.

Results

Efforts in the first couple of months of the year were limited (largely due to weather), but from the spring Richard ringed on most suitable days. Peak catches were 51 birds on 19 January, and 39 birds on dates in late June and early July. Results are shown in the table below (new birds only):

The highlights included:

  • Seventy-four jackdaws. The Welsh total for the species is typically dominated by pulli, with only 38 free-flying birds trapped in 2019. This is therefore particularly significant in Welsh terms.
  • An excellent starling total of 338 birds ringed. Prior to commencing ringing Richard noted starling to be a relatively infrequent visitor, but the addition of suet balls to the garden feeding station changed that in 2020.
  • A total of 143 dunnocks, a staggering number for a single garden. The birds were captured steadily through the year, with the peak day count (11 birds) in April.
  • Good numbers of house sparrows. Richard has nest boxes built in to the walls and to the eaves of the house and garage, and there is a thriving colony. These birds had two broods in 2020 (three broods in 2019).
  • A total of five lesser whitethroats, a sparsely distributed species on Gower, along with 11 common whitethroats. At the local level, these species appear to have increased due to relaxation in scrub management on the adjacent cliff. This may also, in part, account for the high number of dunnocks and blackbird and regular sightings of adder and common lizard (which were more frequent than at any time in the past 13 years).
  • An excellent grey wagtail total. These birds were captured during autumn migration.
  • Numbers of magpie and collared dove that exceed the typical annual ringing totals for these seldom-targeted species in Wales.
  • An adult male green woodpecker captured in July; family parties forage on the lawn of the house in late summer.
  • First records for the (well-watched) garden, in the form of a siskin captured in June, and a garden warbler in August (a second garden warbler was captured in September).

The Potter and Larsen traps proved most effective in capturing magpies, jackdaws, collared doves, woodpigeons, rooks and starlings.

While the site is in its early days, the following birds ringed at The Watch House were controlled / recovered elsewhere:

  • A  young coal tit initially ringed by Keith Vaughton in Newton, recaptured by Owain Gabb in nearby Langland, and finally at The Watch House (approximately 5 km from the initial ringing site), all in November 2020.
  • A young great spotted woodpecker ringed in late July and recaptured at Marloes, Pembrokeshire in October 2020. An excellent west north-westerly movement of 77 km of this species (for which dispersal beyond 10 km from place of ringing is notable and movements of over 100 km exceptional).
  • A blackbird and a jackdaw found dead at Parkmill and Port Eynon respectively (both are Gower villages), and the recapture of a number of finches initially ringed at Oxwich Marsh, approximately 5 km to the west.

Targets for 2021

The target for 2021 will be to build on the data set. This will be achieved as a result of continued effort and through:

  • A potential Retrapping Adults for Survival project on jackdaw (involving colour ringing to increase re-sighting rates) that is under discussion with the British Trust for Ornithology.
  • Increasing captures of some species through concerted effort – grey wagtail is a good candidate given the level of success experienced in 2020.
  • Capture of some new species. A turtle dove in May (assumedly the bird that had been seen in the previous two springs), a stock dove (seen in July), and locally-breeding carrion crows all evaded capture in 2020.

Photographs from the site are below

Richard Dann & Owain Gabb

03/01/2021

 

The Watch House in Summer 2020
Treecreeper
The first garden warbler for the site
Grey wagtail
Great spotted woodpecker: there was a notable movement of one of the three birds captured in 2020.
A young herring gull
An adult herring gull showing typical aggression
Jackdaw
One of the five lesser whitethroats captured
Magpie
Redwing
A young rook
Song thrush
Sparrowhawk (1st year)
One of the many starlings
Willow warbler
Wren

 

Collared dove

 

Adder
Bee orchid on the lawn
Common lizard
Small blue

 

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Wayne Morris

A terrific account showing what a concerted effort can do, especially for species typically caught in low numbers locally and nationally. And we all knew that Dunnocks were interesting too, didn’t we?