The Watch House: 2021 Ringing Report

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Introduction ​

This is an account of the second year of ringing activity at Richard Dann’s garden, The Watch House, situated on Pennard Cliffs on the south coast of the Gower Peninsula.

The site is very exposed to the wind despite, perimeter hedges and walls, which means that mist netting options are limited. Potter and Larsen traps are therefore used to increase ringing opportunities and diversify the species captured.


Fewer ringing sessions were carried out in 2021 than in 2020. This was largely due to the scaling back of Covid restrictions, which enabled other Group ringing sites (such as Oxwich) to operate more regularly, and holidays. The weather during the autumn was persistently windy, and this also hindered mist netting effort. Nevertheless, a total of 2,555 ‘unique birds’ of 51 species were processed, a 41.3% increase on the 1,808 birds captured during the first year of ringing at the site. Unique birds refers to newly-ringed birds in 2021, birds ringed in 2020 that were recaptured during 2021 and birds controlled at the site having been ringed elsewhere; there is no double-counting of birds captured on more than one occasion in the totals below.

Totals are below:

Year 2020 2021 2021
Species Individuals Individuals % Change
Blackbird 105 124 18
Blackcap 65 41 -37
Black-headed Gull 0 1 0
Blue Tit 160 106 -34
Bullfinch 8 17 113
Carrion Crow 0 1 0
Chaffinch 22 18 -18
Chiffchaff 27 46 70
Coal Tit 17 6 -65
Collared Dove 20 45 125
Dunnock 143 144 1
Garden Warbler 2 2 0
Goldcrest 12 19 58
Goldfinch 134 125 -7
Grasshopper Warbler 0 1 0
Great Spotted Woodpecker 3 3 0
Great Tit 77 59 -23
Green Woodpecker 1 1 0
Greenfinch 63 41 -35
Grey Wagtail 29 17 -41
Herring Gull 2 3 50
House Sparrow 234 371 59
Jackdaw 74 78 5
Jay 0 1 0
Lesser Whitethroat 5 2 -60
Linnet 0 5 0
Little Bunting 0 1 0
Long-tailed Tit 39 24 -38
Magpie 20 21 5
Meadow Pipit 42 31 -26
Nuthatch 0 3 0
Pied/White Wagtail 7 15 114
Redwing 11 32 191
Reed Warbler 0 1 0
Robin 54 76 41
Rook 2 33 1550
Sedge Warbler 0 3 0
Siskin 1 3 200
Skylark 0 1 0
Song Thrush 13 23 77
Sparrowhawk 2 5 150
Starling 338 882 161
Stonechat 0 4 0
Swallow 8 2 -75
Tawny Owl 0 1 0
Tree Pipit 0 10 0
Treecreeper 1 0 -100
Whitethroat 11 14 27
Willow Warbler 14 49 250
Woodpigeon 23 26 13
Wren 19 17 -11
Wryneck 0 1 0
Total 1808 2555 41.32%


Starling was the most frequently captured species in 2021 (882 individuals), followed by house sparrow (371), dunnock (144), goldfinch (125) and blackbird (124).

Of the total of 882 unique starlings captured, two were controls and 32 were birds initially ringed in 2020 and recaptured in 2021. Prior to ringing commencing, starling was an infrequent visitor to the garden, but a change in feeding regime (with the addition of suet) has seen numbers dramatically increase; in 2021 they also bred in a nest box in the garden for the first time. Juveniles were captured from 14 May onwards. The two starling controls were as follows:

  • A young bird ringed in the nest at Blumenthal, Schleswig-Holstein (mainland), Germany on 19 May 2021 was controlled on 15 October. A west south-westerly movement of 987 km.
  • A bird that had been ringed as a nestling on Fair Isle on 27 May 2009 was controlled on 14 May 2021. A southerly movement of 897 km. The bird was over 12 years old when controlled; the colour rings it was given when initially ringed had long gone.

The local house sparrows successfully produced three broods in 2021 as opposed to only two in 2020. The higher total of ringed sparrows in 2021 than in the previous year reflected the increased number of fledglings. While blackbird numbers were relatively consistent with 2020, there was a very noticeable influx in October and November that corresponded with reported influxes in other areas of south-western Britain. Forty blackbirds were ringed over the two months (when 17 of the 23 song thrush and all of the 32 redwing captured during the year were also ringed).

There was an excellent recovery of a goldfinch ringed on 19 April 2021 and controlled in Olonne sur mer les Biltieres, Vendée, France on 22 December 2021. A south south-easterly movement of 585 km, and an interesting one, demonstrating how widely they range. A domestic control of a Watch House bird involved a chiffchaff ringed on 28 September 2020 and controlled at Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire on 24 September 2021. Local movements and recaptures included the first reed warbler for the site, ringed on 7 May and recaptured at Oxwich Marsh on 29 May (and again on 6 June), and a between year capture of a chiffchaff ringed on 6 May 2020 and recaptured on 17 March 2021.

Additions to the site ringing tally in 2021 were: tawny owl, black-headed gull, stonechat, skylark, sedge warbler, carrion crow, reed warbler, linnet, nuthatch, tree pipit, grasshopper warbler, jay, and both a local scarcity and a Welsh rarity, wryneck (14 September) and little bunting (8 November). The creation of a pond in the garden during the summer of 2020 appears to have been instrumental in drawing some of these species in, particularly the linnets, stonechats, some of the warblers and the grey wagtails.

  • The wryneck was aged as a first year bird based on the pattern of the primary coverts and eye colour.
  • The little bunting was also considered to be a first winter, and showed a pointed and worn tail and worn primaries (young birds of various species show more pointed tails than adults, while juvenile feathers are of poorer quality than adult feathers and typically wear more quickly)
  • Other highlights included:
    • A notable day catch of 23 willow warblers on 9th August.
    • A second calendar year female tawny owl caught in early January.
    • Forty-three collared doves. Only eleven collared doves were ringed in Wales during the last non-Covid year (2019), so this is a notable total, and a project to look at survival might be merited.
    • Thirty-three rooks. Adults from the nearby village rookery visit the garden in spring to feed their young. These are joined by youngsters as they fledge. They were mostly caught using the various traps.
    • A carrion crow. A single bird that has observed all my ringing activities from a neighbouring electricity pole over the last year was finally caught in a mist net in May.
    • Five linnets, all caught in the same pondside net. The species is commonly seen flying overhead and on the neighbouring cliff slopes but these were the first to actually visit the garden, presumably to drink.
    • Ten tree pipits, all caught during autumn migration in August.
    • A grasshopper warbler. One was heard ‘reeling’ in the neighbouring field and hedges in April but it evaded capture. A second bird was successfully caught near the pond on 27 August.
    • A jay caught in a Potter trap on 9 October. The species is normally extremely scarce on the cliffs, but 2021 saw an irruption due to acorn crop failure.

Plans for 2022 include a colour-ringing project to look at survival in the local jackdaw population. This could not be started in 2021 due to the inability to secure appropriate colour rings, which was very frustrating.

Photos follow.

Richard Dann


Black-headed gull ringed in January 2021
One of the 43 collared doves processed during the year
The one and only carrion crow captured to date
Garden warbler: a relatively uncommon species in Gower that is typically captured in August and early September
Grasshopper warbler
One of the 78 jackdaws captured in 2021. We are hoping 2022 sees a colour-ringing project on the species
The cliffs are good for lesser whitethroat, albeit 2021 saw a drop in the numbers captured in comparison with 2020
Little bunting. The bird was submitted to and approved by the Welsh Rarities Committee the same day.
A rook. One of over 30 to be captured during the year. The species breeds in plantation woodland around the village, favouring pines.
One of the 882 starlings captured in 2021. Beautiful birds.
Second calendar year female tawny owl
Willow warbler: plumage is pristine during autumn migration in both adults and juveniles
A wryneck was one of the star birds of 2021
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