Overview of Ringing in 2020
As a result of Covid-19 our activity at Oxwich was much reduced in 2020. We had long periods in which we didn’t ring on the marsh, and even when we were able to do so we restricted ourselves to daytime sessions and small groups. Evening roost visits for wagtails and swallows were too challenging in terms of effectively managing Covid risk, while cattle and ponies in parts of the marsh further restricted net placement in the late summer and autumn.
We were also unable to complete two long-running projects (led by Heather Coats); our Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project on pied flycatcher for the first time in over 25 years, and our Constant Effort Site (CES) at Penclacwydd (WWT Llanelli), which was reduced to four visits initially due to Welsh Government and subsequently WWT policy (this is a publicly accessible site so WWT were understandably cautious about ringing recommencing). Our recently-commenced RAS project on dipper in the Welsh Valleys (led by Wayne Morris with support from Colin Baker and others) also went on hold, as did barn owl ringing, wader ringing at Whiteford Burrows, our High Pennard site and various other projects. Sadly, the Welsh Ringing Course, normally held on Gower, was also cancelled.
This reduced activity on established Group sites and projects was offset by two of the Group (Heather Coats and Cedwyn Davies) signing up for the BTO’s new ‘Garden CES’ scheme, and the activities of various others in their gardens / on their own land. As a result, our overall numbers of birds ringed were higher than in a typical year.
Separate articles summarising the results of these projects / activities will follow.
Oxwich Species Totals 2020
In 2020, 1,240 birds of 43 species were ringed at Oxwich (as compared with 2,825 birds of 47 species in 2019 and 3,428 of 53 species in 2018).
The low numbers reflect the fact that we were only able to complete a limited number of sessions in January and February (due to weather) before resuming on site in August 2020. We then ran relatively frequent sessions until the end of November, after which a combination of poor weather then new Covid restrictions curtailed the ringing year at the site.
A breakdown of species and numbers is as follows:
The highlights, in terms of species captured were:
- A site record 17 grey wagtails. These birds were caught over the course of only two visits; on 31 August and 6 September 2020. Low overhead movement of the species was evident at the time, and the wagtails responded to playback of wagtail song / calls from tapes set along a line of nets in a shallowly-inundated ride. Adoption of the same technique at other sites resulted in over 80 grey wagtails being caught by the Group in 2020; a second record for the species.
- The modest total of eight skylarks was also an annual record – albeit this isn’t a species we really target. The birds were captured on (rare) still days in late autumn through setting nets in the open field. Woodlark were seen twice with the skylark flocks, and one woodlark even sat on a shelf string (!). It would have been a very welcome addition to the site tally, being a scarce autumn passage migrant and winter visitor to west Gower.
- A whinchat. A young male was trapped on 30 August 2020. We average less than one per year, with the previous bird captured on 25 August 2018.
- Three firecrests. Male birds were captured on 16 and 17 October and on 29 November. A total of twenty firecrests have been captured at the marsh since our first in November 2013.
- Five yellow-browed warblers. Birds were captured on 26 September, 11 October (3) and 16 October. 2020 was the second best year for the species to date at Oxwich. In our best year, 2016, an exceptional 16 birds were captured, and the overall total now stands at 26.
- Two ‘tristis’ type chiffchaffs in late autumn. These birds showed typical colour tones / characters, with one calling distinctively on departure. Interestingly, one of the two birds had a pollen horn – normally a feature of spring birds.
- A wryneck. A first winter bird captured on 6 September. The first capture of the species for the Group. It was the last bird mist netted on an otherwise unexceptional morning – proving the old adage that it only takes one bird to make a session. A real highlight for the Group and the year and, happily, on a day when we had three discrete small teams on site who were all able to see it.
- Our first kingfisher since 2017. Captured in a relatively dry bracken and bramble-dominated area on the edge of the reed bed where we normally catch stonechats!
We also had some incidental avian and not-avian highlights in the form of numerous grass snakes under our reptile mats, some cracking invertebrates and an autumn hobby (a scarce bird in Gower) in a dead tree on the edge of the ringing field.
Recaptures and Controls
We had some excellent data back on some of our Oxwich birds in 2020. These included:
- A white wagtail ringed at Oxwich in September 2017 and found dead (having collided with a window) at Kópavogur, Kjósarsýsla, Iceland in May 2020. The bird was 1,738 km to the north-west of the ringing location when found. Our first group-ringed bird to / from Iceland.
- A dunnock ringed on the marsh in August 2017 was recaptured at Lux Hill, Rutland in August 2020. This is a movement of 266 km to the east north-east. We seem to specialise in long distance dunnocks – this is likely to be one of the longest movements of the species in the UK in 2020!
- A blue tit ringed on 11 October and recaptured at Kilpaison Marsh, Rhoscrowther, Pembrokeshire ten days later. An exceptional movement for a relatively sedentary species of 64 km to the west north-west.
- A swallow ringed in September 2019 (as a first year) and recaptured on return passage / breeding in May 2020 in Gautegiz-Arteaga, Vizcaya, Spain, by which time it could be sexed as a female.
- A goldfinch ringed in July 2015 (as an adult male) and recaptured at South Perrott, near Crewkerne, Dorset in February 2020. Times appear to have been good for the bird, and it weighed 16.7 g at recapture (almost 2 g more than when ringed).
- Sedge warblers ringed in summer and autumn 2019 and recaptured at Marais-Moisan-Central, Messanges, Landes, France and Tour aux Moutons, Donges, Loire-Atlantique, France in the same year (data not received until early 2020).
There were two permit upgrades during the year: Alex McCubbin and Sarah Davies both achieved C Permits. Congratulations to both for their dedication and hard work.
We were unable to take on any new trainees in 2020 due to Covid, and the group down-sized a little as a result of several trainees relocating. Once we are able to start again we have a fairly extensive waiting list.
We are extremely grateful to the Gower Society for providing a sixth year of grant funding for ringing at Oxwich in 2020.
Nick Edwards (of Natural Resources Wales), who manages the marsh, has been consistently supportive of our efforts since we began ringing in 2013, and we are continually grateful for his continued backing. Thanks are also due to other NRW staff who helped us get the rides back in shape after the first lock down period.
Further thanks to members of the Gower Ringing Group who have attended as regularly as has been possible over the course of the year and provided the impetus and commitment to maintain our efforts. In particular: Heather Coats, Keith Vaughton, Wayne Morris, Val Wilson, Sarah Davies, Martin Thomas, Joanne Conway, Richard Dann, Bethan Dalton, Alex McCubbin, Amy Schwartz, Dionne Jenkins, Lucy Rowley and Miguel Lurgi.