Gower Ringing Group late October / early November: new permits, group firsts and seconds, and the one that got away

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Despite some very unsettled weather since our last blog post on 16 October, we have processed a total of 750 birds in the intervening period. Ringing has been undertaken at six locations during this time, with the majority of birds captured being from West Cliff, Southgate (Richard Dann) and Oxwich Marsh, with smaller numbers from the Dulais Valley, High Pennard and a few other sites.

The total has included some notable species for the group. A full breakdown is provided in the table below:

Among these the more notable have been:

  • Three water pipits captured on three different dates by Ed O’Connor at Penclacwydd, Llanelli. These represent the first of this species to be captured by the Group. They were caught going in to roost; initial attempts to catch them on the open saltmarsh using mist nets proved unsuccessful. Having established that it is possible to capture water pipits at the site, Ed is now planning to colour ring any further birds captured in the hope that re-sighting data provides further insight into their numbers, short-term movements and potential return to the Burry Inlet in subsequent years. Water pipit numbers tend to build on the Burry in the late winter period and early spring, and an initial target is to match the eight birds previously ringed in Wales.
  • A first winter little bunting, captured by Richard Dann in his coastal garden on 8 November 2021. A fantastic bird, and one that was accepted by the Welsh Rarities Panel later the same day based on the excellent photos submitted. This is the second little bunting to be captured by the Group, following one at Oxwich Marsh on 20 October 2016. Richard’s bird had a longer wing than the Oxwich bird (at 74 mm as opposed to 72 mm) and was heavier (weight of 15.7 g as opposed to 13.8 g). Neither bird was carrying significant fat.
  • The first fieldfare to be ringed by the group since November 2015. The bird was a first winter female and was captured at Oxwich Marsh on 14 November in some nets that had been set to catch returning day-roosting snipe. It was sexed based on the pattern of the crown feathers, and showed a clear moult limit in the greater coverts indicating a partial post-juvenile moult had been completed.
  • Seven common snipe and three jack snipe at Oxwich. A reasonable return for a couple of unreasonably early mornings! The birds are captured coming back to the marsh to day roost, with flight calls indicating that they move from farmland back into the reed bed between half and hour and forty-five minutes before dawn. We have now ringed 234 common snipe and 50 jack snipe since late 2014, recapturing 12 of the former and 3 of the latter at Oxwich, and demonstrating between winter use of the site in both species. Over time our confidence in ageing them accurately has been moderated by experience, and most now go down as age not determined (BTO Code 2) at this time of year; the listed ageing features are often slightly too subjective to apply with confidence.

The total of 40 species, and the number of birds captured is even more impressive given that many of the group have also been running (Colin Baker) and attending regular sessions under the aegis of the Kenfig Ringing Group over the period; the ringing totals for the county of Glamorgan (which contains both Gower and Kenfig) are likely to look very healthy this year.

The totals could have been better in species terms, however, as another first for the Group evaded capture. A ringtail hen harrier caught in one of the nets at Penclacwydd escaped as Ed O’Connor, moving like Usain Bolt after twelve cans of red bull, strained to reach it. A small mushroom cloud detected by the Met Office over the northern shore of the Burry Inlet is likely to have formed due to all the profanities that resulted.

One other record of note concerned a German-ringed starling. As of 15/11/2021, Richard Dann has ringed 733 starlings in his garden during the calendar year. A phenomenal number considering the total for the whole of Wales in the year before he started ringing there (2019) was 581 birds. His efforts have paid off in 2021 with a bird initially ringed on Fair Isle some 12 years ago captured, and the recovery of the aforementioned German bird which had been ringed as a nestling in Schleswig-Holstein on 19 May before being recovered at Southgate on 15 October. A great insight into starling dispersal.

Good news also came in the form of permits. Dionne Jenkins and Amy Schwartz were awarded their full C Permits, and Miguel Lurgi a restricted C Permit allowing him to target rock pipit using traps. Miguel has also received a small grant from the British Ecological Society that will allow him to develop a colour-ringing project in the species across South Wales; a great achievement. Congratulations to all, but particularly to Amy and Dionne for their perseverance and commitment in achieving their full Cs given they have trained through the restrictions placed on us all by Covid-19.

Thanks to all who made it out over the period and contributed to the totals: Heather Coats. Keith Vaughton, Wayne Morris, Colin Baker, Alex McCubbin, Amy Schwartz, Andrew Bevan, Becky Gibbs, Bethan Dalton, Dionne Jenkins, Ed O’Connor, Jasmine Davies, Jo Conway, Miguel Lurgi, Richard Dann, Sarah Davies, Tom Wright and Val Wilson. Photos, mainly from Tom, Richard, Sarah and Ed follow.
Owain Gabb (15/11/2021)
The German starling
The movement of the starling
Water pipit number 3
Head and throat pattern of water pipit
One of our 234 snipe
One of the ringed marsh tits currently hanging around the feeders at Oxwich
Richard Dann’s fantastic little bunting
A jack snipe: a species you never tire of seeing
Our first group fieldfare since 2015
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