The Welsh Ringing Course was held over the long weekend of 8-11 September 2023.
The 2023 course (again) focussed on permit assessments, with half of the attendees looking to be assessed for upgrades and the remainder attending for more experience towards mist netting endorsements. We were delighted to welcome ringers from groups all across south and west Wales, as well as visiting participants from Northumberland and Scotland.
There were seven ringing trainers present for the duration of the weekend: Martin Hughes (from Northumberland), Heather Coats, Wayne Morris and Owain Gabb (Gower Ringing Group), Chris Jones (Teifi Ringing Group) Mark Grantham (West Cornwall Ringing Group and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)) and Justin Walker (BTO). Ed O’Connor led our wader-catching effort, while further assistance during the course was provided by Gower RG members Jo Conway, Dionne Jenkins, Kayleigh Bargus and Megan Nicklin, and by Colin Baker during set up.
The itinerary included daytime mist netting and whoosh netting at Oxwich Marsh, spring trapping in the intertidal at Overton and dazzling of waders at Whiteford Burrows. Talks on moult were given by Mark Grantham in the afternoons of the Saturday and Sunday. The weather was hot and humid for much of the weekend, with rain showers on Sunday and a moderate south-westerly wind on the Monday. Settled weather prior to the course is likely to have led to relatively low numbers of long distance migrants in the marsh (with many having moved through); the conditions were generally favourable for mist netting however.
Due to ongoing issues with HPAI, very high standards of hygiene were maintained throughout the course, and BTO avian influenza protocols strictly implemented.
A total of 853 birds of 34 species were processed. This was ten species fewer than in 2022. The difference was largely due to catching of waders at Whiteford being significantly affected by unfavourable tides (the site has a huge intertidal area and low tide was mid evening making catching birds there extremely difficult).
The breakdown was as follows:
|Great Spotted Woodpecker||2||1||3|
Daytime Mist Netting
Mist netting sessions were held at Oxwich on all days. Mist nets were set in habitats including reed bed, fen and damp scrub habitats.
Blackcap was the most frequently captured warbler, while good numbers of chiffchaff and a small influx of goldcrests gave the totals a bit of a late autumn feel. Long distance migrants lingering and passing through the area included several grasshopper warbler, and small numbers of whitethroat, sedge, reed and willow warblers.
Grey wagtails had been noted moving overhead for the previous few weeks, and a tape lure next to a net in an area of muddy ground resulted in a total of seven birds being captured. Small numbers of stonechat had also moved into the marsh, and were novel birds for some participants to age and sex.
The most unusual bird captured was a first winter wryneck on 8 September, the second of this species to be ringed at the site following one on 6 September 2020, and the third for the group (as a bird was also captured by Richard Dann in his coastal garden on 14 September 2021). Unfortunately the wryneck was caught during site set up, meaning most participants didn’t see it. Other highlights were an adult female kingfisher (in main moult) and a woodpigeon, which was only the fourth captured in ten years of running the site.
Of note were a willow warbler undertaking an eccentric moult, and a young goldfinch that was completing moult of its flight feathers, resulting in the application of the F code.
Swallow and wagtail roost sessions were run on three nights at Oxwich. These accounted for almost all the 292 swallows captured. Within this total there were three between year recaptures and one control; a bird ringed by the Pembrokeshire Ringing Group at a coastal farm in west Wales earlier in the year. Sand martins were captured in very small numbers in with the swallows. Roosting wagtails were generally not evident, albeit we caught one very attractive male white wagtail and one pied / white wagtail during the sessions.
We had prepared and baited an area for whoosh netting over the month leading up to the course. Unfortunately the reed buntings and linnets we hoped would use the area did not materialise. Efforts were therefore made to target meadow pipits, which were successfully tape lured into the area and trapped.
On the Sunday a master class on the set up and use of whoosh nets was provided by Chris Jones and Mark Grantham.
As previously noted, the time of low tide in relation to dusk made wader capture extremely challenging, as Whiteford has huge areas of inaccessible intertidal mud when the tide is out. We therefore only managed to capture two dunlin, and only attempted a catch on the Friday night.
In 2022 (and in previous years) results had been excellent, with 76 dunlin, 3 curlew sandpiper, and singles of turnstone, ringed plover, sanderling, grey plover and bar-tailed godwit captured.
Despite the limited catch, the value of the exercise is demonstrating the technique to participants, many of whom were not familiar with it.
Spring trapping was undertaken on the storm beach at Overton on the Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Both sessions were led by Wayne Morris. Although single panel nets were also used, it was the traps that proved successful in capturing rock pipits and stonechats.
The second session was attended by Dr Miguel Lurgi of Swansea University who has run a colour-ringing project on rock pipit in South Wales for the past two years, and was a participant on the course.
Non avian species seen over the weekend included grass snakes, toad and hornet robberfly, while common snipe, goshawk and yellow wagtail were among the bird species seen but not captured.
Feedback on the weekend from attendees was very positive, and it was a very nice group to work with. Several attendees were able to work with species and methods that were not familiar to them.
Particular thanks are due to the visiting trainers, Martin, Chris, Justin and Mark for giving their time and expertise so freely, to Ed for his wader-catching efforts, and to the group helpers, all of whom helped ensure the course ran very smoothly. The addition of an afternoon talk to the itinerary was hugely beneficial, and was very well delivered by Mark.
Thanks are also due to Nick Edwards of Natural Resources Wales for his continued support for ringing at Oxwich and Whiteford, to Ed Tucker (also of NRW) for helping cut some of the rides, and to Lynn Watts for facilitating parking at Overton.
Grant funding from the Gower Society is critical to supporting our training efforts at Oxwich throughout the year, and we are also hugely grateful to the Society for their continued support.
Photographs are below.