Gower Ringing Group put on a number of ringing sessions over the (long) weekend of 10-13 September.
The overall aim was to bring people together, as the Group has grown significantly in the last five or so years. Members are dispersed over a wide area, and involved in numerous different projects, and given the additional complications caused by Covid-19, some relatively new starters didn’t know each other. To identify opportunities to help people gain the experience to progress towards permits, it is clearly key to have good lines of communication, and the social aspect of the weekend was therefore very important.
Early September is a time when we have an opportunity to capture a wide variety of bird species and apply different capture techniques. We therefore hoped that most attendees would experience approaches they were not familiar with, have the opportunity to take a variety of biometric data (and apply novel measuring techniques), and that most or all would process new species. We also used the weekend to complete a number of permit upgrade assessments.
There were four ringing trainers present for the full duration of the weekend: Martin Hughes (from Northumberland), who acted as the independent trainer (for assessment); Heather Coates, Wayne Morris and Owain Gabb. An additional trainer, Stephen Edwards, who is studying for his PhD at the University of East Anglia (and was formerly with Gower RG), joined us for a large part of the weekend, along with Ed O’Connor, now a C Permit holder with mid-Wales Ringers, to lead the catching of waders at Whiteford. Both did a large part of their initial training with Gower Ringing Group. Fifteen of our C and T permit holders also attended, along with Eddie Stubbings and Bee Buche, both of whom wanted to be assessed for their A Permits.
The itinerary included daytime mist netting at Oxwich Marsh and High Pennard, dazzling waders at Whiteford Burrows, and spring trapping and mist netting on the upper shore at Overton.
A total of 703 birds of 46 species were processed, despite losing both the Friday and Monday to poor weather. The breakdown was as follows:
Daytime Mist Netting
Mist netting sessions were held at Oxwich and High Pennard on 11 and 12 September. The nets were set in a variety of habitats including reed bed, fen, willow scrub and wet woodland at Oxwich, and in drier coastal scrub and woodland edge at High Pennard.
Highlights at Oxwich included a young water rail, spotted flycatcher, whinchat, seven grasshopper warblers, seven grey wagtails, late tree pipit and garden warbler (mainly an August bird locally), and a kingfisher. The supporting cast included a steady stream of blackcap and goldfinch, reasonable numbers of reed and sedge warbler, and seven stonechats, as well as a number of recaptured marsh tits. At High Pennard the more unusual species for most people were jay, jackdaw and collared dove, with the coastal scrub holding blackcap, chiffchaff and goldcrest.
It was interesting to note the extent of body moult in some adult grasshopper warblers captured (see photo at the bottom of this post). This included the replacement of tertials and some greater coverts on birds that were clearly adult (due to considerable wear of other feathers).
We were unable to start the weekend with a swallow and wagtail roost session on Friday 10 September, as the wind speed was too high. The Saturday evening swallow and wagtail roost session was moderately successful, with 56 swallows (another was captured during a daytime session), two sand martins and 7 pied / white wagtails captured. Hirundines were conspicuous by their absence; only a very small flock formed at dusk.
The high tides were perfectly timed for dazzling, being two to three hours after darkness. Birds are typically captured on a relatively full, rising tide at Whiteford.
Wader capture was was led by Ed O’Connor and Stephen Edwards, with Martin Hughes and Wayne Morris co-ordinating the processing of the birds on the respective nights. The results were excellent, with 73 dunlin, 7 turnstone, 7 ringed plover, an oystercatcher, 2 little stint and a curlew sandpiper captured. The latter two species were new for the group; all three individuals were juvenile birds gradually moulting into winter plumage.
The technique was new to most people, as were some of the measurements taken (bill to skull, total head and tarsus length).
An aside was that some fishermen we met gave us a ring from an oystercatcher they had found freshly dead on the beach. This has now been submitted to the BTO, and we await the results with interest.
On both the Saturday and Sunday mornings, small teams left Oxwich to join Martin Thomas on the upper shore at Overton. The target species was rock pipit, and spring traps and single panel nets were deployed. Single birds were trapped on both mornings, a success, but nevertheless a frustrating result for Martin (who had captured 15 rock pipits and a range of other passerines during the equivalent weekend a couple of years ago). However, the objective of the session was to demonstrate a different capture technique, which the sessions did very well, and all who attended enjoyed them.
Species seen over the weekend included badger, the migrant vestal moth (at Oxwich and High Pennard), yellow belle (another moth) at Whiteford, the dark giant horsefly Tabanus sudeticus at Oxwich and southern hawker dragonfly.
A peregrine was noted commuting over Oxwich on the Saturday; not a commonly-seen species at the site despite breeding locally.
Feedback on the weekend from group members was very positive. It was very nice to get together, and people clearly get on very well. A post-session picnic on the Saturday was a very enjoyable thing to do.
Particular thanks are due to Martin Hughes for coming down from Northumberland to join us and complete assessments of some of our members, to Ed O’Connor and Stephen Edwards for their very valuable help in putting on the wader dazzling sessions, and to Martin Thomas for running things at Overton. Also, a big thank you to everyone who attended for making the weekend so enjoyable: Heather Coats, Wayne Morris, Alex McCubbin, Amy Schwartz, Andrew Bevan, Bee Buche, Bethan Dalton, Kate Hammond, Colin Baker, Dionne Jenkins, Ed Stubbings, Gareth Bowen-Llewelyn, Jo Conway, Lucy Rowley, Richard Dann, Sarah Davies, Tom Wright and Val Wilson.
Thanks are also due to Nick Edwards of Natural Resources Wales for his continued support for ringing at Oxwich and Whiteford, to Mark Hipkin (National Trust) and Lynn Watts for facilitating parking at Whiteford and Overton respectively, and to the Gower Society for their grant funding of ringing on the marsh.
Photographs are below.