Overview of Ringing in 2021
2021 was the second consecutive year in which Gower Ringing Group’s activities were affected by Covid restrictions. Following the partial relaxation of these restrictions in the Spring, and some adaptations to how we worked, we restarted ringing as a group in May. Prior to this, group members ringed on their own where they had sites (typically their gardens) that allowed them to do so.
Various projects that had necessarily been put on hold in 2020, such as the Recapture of Adults for Survival (RAS) project on dipper in the Valleys, our pied flycatcher RAS projects, and the Constant Effort Site (CES) at WWT Llanelli restarted in 2021. Ringing at Oxwich Marsh, where we capture most of our birds and do the majority of our training, also resumed a semblance of normality; we ran swallow and wagtail roost sessions and put on a four day ringing training event (centred on Oxwich) in the early autumn (this broadly followed the format of the Welsh Ringing Course but was largely for the benefit of the group). This ringing weekend allowed us to get some external feedback on the progress of some of our trainees and C Permit holders towards permit upgrades. By the end of the year we also felt able to take on new trainees again, which felt like a very positive step.
This article provides a summary of our activities in 2021. Further site-specific reports and updates on key projects will follow in separate articles.
Species Totals and Notable Captures
Despite the restrictions, 2021 was a record year in terms of numbers of novel birds processed (birds ringed and previously ringed birds recaptured) by the Gower Ringing Group. Overall numbers were up by 66.4% on our last non-Covid year (2019). A full breakdown is provided in the table below:
Table 1. Unique Birds Processed by Gower Ringing Group in 2021
|Year||2019||2020||2021||% change from
2019 to 2021
|Great Black-backed Gull||1||1||0||-100|
|Great Spotted Woodpecker||53||43||59||11|
|Lesser Black-backed Gull||4||0||1||-75|
During 2021 9,455 birds of 91 species were captured. The largest numbers were from Oxwich Marsh (3,689) and Richard Dann’s coastal garden in Southgate (2,555), with eight other sites producing between 100-1000 birds. The total also includes 42 rehabilitated birds ringed and released by Gower Bird Hospital.
A brief summary of flagship projects is as follows:
- We completed all 12 sessions at our Constant Effort Site (CES) at WWT Llanelli between April and August. 294 birds were captured including a willow tit, 28 bullfinches, 48 blackcaps and 34 chiffchaff.
- The Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project on dippers along several watercourses in the South Wales valleys saw 59 nestlings and 33 adults ringed, and 23 adult birds re-sighted. Our birds carry orange rings with black letters.
- The RAS project on pied flycatchers at RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas saw 584 pulli and 114 new adults ringed and another 81 adults recaptured that had been ringed in previous years.
- The Cwm Clydach pied flycatcher RAS project showed a continued decline in numbers to 16 nests, considerably down from the 28 in 2019. We will continue to monitor the site until the species becomes locally extinct; it is one of the long term projects that has resulted in an understanding of the factors driving population and distributional change (an upland fringe woodland in the northern part of the City and County of Swansea).
The more novel species captured in Ringing Group terms during 2021 were:
- A black-headed gull that flew into a mist net at Southgate on 7 January. Despite its abundance, this is not a species the Group has previously captured.
- The first ever curlew sandpiper (1) and little stint (2) for the Group. The birds were captured at Whiteford Burrows in September.
- A coot. The bird was captured on Newton Beach by Wayne Morris and Andrew Bevan in October 2021.
- Eleven brambling, nine of which were captured at Oxwich and two in Jo Conway’s garden in Quakers Yard in November and December.
- A second calendar year male hawfinch at Oxwich on 26 June. Not a regularly occurring species in the recording area, although well-established populations are present in East Glamorgan.
- Our second little bunting; a bird captured at Southgate on 8 November (our first was at Oxwich on 20 October 2016).
- Thirteen water pipits captured by Ed O’Connor at WWT Llanelli. The grand total of water pipits previously ringed in Wales (all time) was eight. The majority of the birds were colour-ringed, in accordance with a co-ordinated nation-wide programme.
- A wryneck at Southgate on 14 September 2021. The second of the species for the Group, following one at Oxwich on 06 September 2020.
Notable year totals were for the following:
- Collared dove, rook, magpie and jackdaw. These birds were nearly all captured in Richard Dann’s coastal garden at Southgate. The number of all of these species are significant in terms of typical Welsh ringing totals, indicating they are a logical focus for a colour-ringing study, as this will give more insight into local populations.
- Dunlin. The birds were all captured using torches (dazzling) and hand nets at Whiteford Burrows during the autumn passage period.
- Goldfinch and siskin. It was a record year for both species, which were captured at a range of sites across the recording area. Oxwich was the main contributor.
- House sparrow and starling. It was also a record year for the Group for these species. They were captured at various sites, with the vast majority from Southgate. The large numbers provide an indication of the very large breeding population of house sparrows in Southgate. Starlings were captured throughout the year, and are likely to be drawn from both locally-breeding and immigrant populations. The largest numbers were captured in May, with most of these birds comprising recently-fledged juveniles.
- Reed warbler. A good year for the species, with almost all records coming from Oxwich. Sedge warbler numbers were well down on 2020, largely due to less autumn ringing taking place at WWT Llanelli.
- Swallow. Most birds were captured during evening roost sessions at Oxwich Marsh. Despite the numbers of swallows, however, it was not a notable year for sand martin (which we typically capture in with the swallows).
In addition to the above, one of the nightjars was captured on peninsula Gower, where the species is rumoured to have returned as a breeder in recent years. This could have been a dispersing bird from populations in plantation habitats in the Valleys, Carmarthenshire or further afield, of course (the marsh provides excellent foraging habitat for dispersing birds), but it was nevertheless an interesting record. The other birds were all captured in upland plantation.
The lack of firecrest in the annual totals (for the first time since 2013), and yellow-browed warbler, which occurs in very variable numbers in Gower in late autumn was disappointing. However, early winter captures at Oxwich included two ‘tristis’ (Siberian) chiffchaffs, which was nice.
Recaptures and Controls
Recaptures refer to birds the Group has ringed and subsequently recaptured. Controls are birds ringed elsewhere and recovered by the Group (or refer to birds we have ringed that are subsequently caught elsewhere). In 2021 the more notable were:
- A starling ringed in Germany in May (as a young bird) and controlled at Southgate in October. Other notable controls were of a Fair Isle ringed starling controlled at Southgate 11 years after initial ringing, and a starling ringed in Leicestershire in February that had made it’s way to Crynant (Dulais Valley) by May.
- A French-ringed reed warbler controlled at Oxwich in July 2021, and a sedge warbler ringed at WWT Llanelli in July 2021 and controlled in Seine-Maritime, France in August. Exchanges of reed and sedge warblers with site in France and Spain are not unusual, as these lie on the migratory routes of the species. Slightly more unusual for the Group was a sedge warbler ringed at Penclacwydd in July that was controlled in Belgium six days later (this record was from 2020 but was not received until 2021).
- A Dutch-ringed blackcap controlled at Margam Moors in April 2021. The bird had been ringed at Texel in October 2020.
- A nightjar ringed at Bryn, near Maesteg (by Mike Shewring) as a (presumed) second-brood pullus in August 2019 and controlled near Crynant by Gower Ringing Group in August 2021.
- A female pied flycatcher ringed in the nest (as a pullus) in Devon in 2020 controlled at Cwm Llechart, Swansea, and a record of a Cwm Clydach-ringed pullus (from 2020) breeding in Lancashire in May 2021.
- A reed bunting ringed in Devon in November 2017 and controlled at Margam Moors in both April and May 2021. It presumably bred on Margam Moors.
- A nuthatch recaptured at Parc Penallta almost 6 years after it was ringed (nearby).
- A siskin ringed at Penlocks in December 2020 that had made its way to Highland, Scotland, some 570 km north, by May 2021.
- A white wagtail ringed in September 2018 at Oxwich (on autumn passage) and recovered (road casualty) in Iceland in summer 2021.
As always, however, while these movements are of interest, much of the most valuable data the Group records and submits to the BTO is less ‘sexy’ and concerns timing of breeding, extent of moult and various biometric information.
Amy Schwartz and Dionne Jenkins received their C Permits in 2021. Both have now started their own projects. Congratulations to both for their commitment and hard work.
Miguel Lurgi has been upgraded to a restricted C Permit, allowing him to target rock pipits in coastal habitats using traps. His proposed project was awarded a British Ecological Society grant in autumn 2021, indicating its strong scientific credentials. A colour ringing study will be implemented in 2022 following all access permissions being received.
The construction of a robust wooden shelter at Oxwich during 2021 has provided us with a new ‘ringing station’ that is both sheltered from most wind directions and from rain, which is excellent news.
There were two ringing demonstrations held for Gower Ornithological Society members at Oxwich in 2021. The first of these coincided with the capture of a hawfinch, which was excellent. Both were well attended, with up to 30 people present.
Group members also became involved in an existing willow tit monitoring scheme in Glamorgan in 2021, extending the nest recording scheme to a registered colour ringing project. Willow tit is second only to turtle dove in terms of scale of decline across the UK.
Finally, members of the group, particularly Colin Baker, have been reinvigorating ringing at Kenfig this year (under the aegis of Kenfig Ringing Group). The net result is that it is likely that in the region of 12,000 birds will have been ringed in Glamorgan in 2021; an excellent total.
We are extremely grateful to the Gower Society for providing a seventh year of grant funding for ringing at Oxwich in 2021.
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. The construction of the new shelter at Oxwich (this was for both the Ringing Group and NRW volunteers to use) is particularly welcome.
Thanks are also due to Martin Hughes for his help as an independent trainer and assessor during the intensive ringing weekend in September 2021.
Finally, thanks to members of the Gower Ringing Group who have contributed to the totals, managed data, attended sessions regularly over the course of the year or who contributed to the course we ran in the autumn, in particular: Heather Coats, Cedwyn Davies, Keith Vaughton, Wayne Morris, John Lloyd, Val Wilson, Stephen Edwards, Sarah Davies, Martin Thomas, Ed O’Connor, Joanne Conway, Richard Dann, Bethan Dalton, Alex McCubbin, Amy Schwartz, Dionne Jenkins, Colin Baker, Lucy Rowley, Miguel Lurgi, Tom Wright, Kate Hammond, Gareth Bowen-Llewelyn, Andrew Bevan, Dan Jenkins-Jones, Ezra Sherwell, Becky Gibbs, and Jasmine Davies.
Photos are below.