Notable Recent Sightings

08/12 Goldeneye Llyn Coed y Dinas. Female still, plus 6 Barnacle Geese, Shelduck.
08/12 Hawfinch Powis Castle. Feeding on hawthorn by castle gardens
03/12 Blackcap Montgomery. Female visiting private garden
02/12 Goldeneye Llyn Coed y Dinas. Female present
01/12 Hawfinch Powis Castle. At least 12 this morning
30/11 Short-eared Owl Lake Vyrnwy. 2 on moors in the Gadfa area
29/11 Hawfinch Powis Castle. Present around car park
29/11 Pintail Llyn Coed y Dinas. At least 17 this morning plus Shelduck
28/11 Pintail Llyn Coed y Dinas. 23 this afternoon (8m, 15f)
26/11 Whooper Swan Llyn Coed y Dinas. Single this morning
25/11 Brent Goose Llyn Coed y Dinas. 2 from 11am. Barnacle Geese still present & the Black Swan
23/11 Pochard Llyn Coed y Dinas. Drake plus 6 Barnacle and c1000 Canada Geese
23/11 Hawfinch Powis Castle. Present around car park but elusive
21/11 Hawfinch Newtown. 6 in churchyard by Elephant & Castle 15.45-16.15.
21/11 Hawfinch Powis Castle. 8+ around car park 8.30 - 10.30. 1 nearby at LCYD briefly 11am
19/11 Mandarin Duck Meifod. 41 flying up river
16/11 Hawfinch Newtown. 1 over Elephant & Castle 12.15pm
12/11 Blackcap Welshpool. Male at the High School
12/11 Starling Dolydd Hafren. c10,000 to roost & 53+ Magpie, Brambling this evening
10/11 Great Grey Shrike Dyfnant Forest. First report of the winter at private site.
10/11 Barnacle Goose Llyn Coed y Dinas. At least 2 plus 2 Water Rail.
09/11 Barnacle Goose Llyn Coed y Dinas. 6 apparently there since 5th. Likely feral origin.
08/11 Hawfinch Powis Castle. 4 around car park trees this morning
06/11 Hawfinch Powis Castle. 9 in car park trees lunch time
06/11 Hawfinch Llanfyllin. One in trees this afternoon north of town
05/11 Dunlin Lake Vyrnwy. 1 over heading west at Gadfa, 170+ Chaffinch, Brambling, Merlin, c40 Fieldfare
03/11 Brambling Welshpool. Male on garden feeders plus Marsh Tit
02/11 Whooper Swan Lake Vyrnwy. 4 over at Gadfa
02/11 Goldeneye Llyn Grinwydden. Male + 2 Wheatear & Reed Bunting on Mynydd Waen Fawr
30/10 Red-breasted Merganser Upper Dyfi Estuary. Female this morning plus 8 Snipe, Dipper
28/10 Hawfinch Powis Castle. 4+ and 1500 Redwing, 4 Fieldfare, 1500 Woodpigeon (all heading west), 40 Greenfinch & 30 Chaffinch
28/10 Brambling Ceri Ridgeway. 10 feeding on beech mast with 30 Chaffinch
28/10 Shoveler Llyn Coed y Dinas. Drake present
27/10 Ring-necked Parakeet Wern. One still around, north of Guilsfield
26/10 Great White Egret Fan Pool. One into roost this evening.
23/10 Ring Ouzel Lyn Mawr. Plus 2 Kestrel, 10 Golden Plover, 5 Tufted Duck, 2 Great Black-backed Gull, Cormorant, Heron, Mallard, Coot
21/10 Ruff near Llanerfyl. One trapped & ringed at night at private site
20/10 Ring-necked Parakeet Wern. One north of Guilsfield and still present 23rd Oct
19/10 Brambling Lake Vyrnwy. 2 males today plus c60 Crossbill, 30+ Redwing, Peregrine
10/10 Brambling Lake Vyrnwy. Female near shop. A few Redwing.
07/10 Yellow-browed Warbler near Llanfyllin. One moving through hedgerows near Cwm Nant y Meichiad
05/10 Hobby Cors Dyfi. Good views of a hawking bird today
14/08 Ringed Plover Llyn Coed y Dinas. Juvenile still present
14/08 Water Rail Llandinam Gravels. One present today
13/08 Ringed Plover Llyn Coed y Dinas. Juvenile plus Common & Green Sandpipers
04/08 Osprey Welshpool. Juvenile over Leighton Weir this morning
29/07 Hobby Newtown. 2 birds on pylon just outside town
12/07 Cattle Egret Cors Dyfi. Single present
06/07 Hobby Llwynderw. Single hunting for 30 mins
20/06 Tree Sparrow Sarn. One on garden feeder
12/06 Gannet Llyn Coed y Dinas. Adult at 10am, mobbed by BH Gulls, then found on the bypass and taken into care
05/06 Hawfinch Dolanog. 1 in private garden feeding on Wych Elm seed
03/06 Hawfinch Dyfnant Forest. Single bird present today
31/05 Common Scoter Lake Vyrnwy. Single off Old Village CP
25/05 Crag Martin Lake Vyrnwy. Single over dam at 12.30pm but not seen since (by 13.30)
16/05 Greenshank Lake Vyrnwy. 1 passage bird on Gadfa Road
13/05 Common Gull Lake Vyrnwy. Flock of 7 over lake late morning
01/05 Black Tern Llyn Coed y Dinas. Present 7.30 until 10.30am and Dunlin
19/04 Great Grey Shrike Lake Vyrnwy. 1 still around & Cuckoos have arrived
13/04 Grasshopper Warbler Frochas Common. 1 heard
12/04 Pochard Llyn Ebyr. 3 present & c25 Sand Martins, 2 Swallow, Great-crested Grebe
11/04 Osprey Lake Vyrnwy. Sightings over dam/hotel heading up lake at c11am & c1.30pm
09/04 Great White Egret Dolydd Hafren. One plus Common & Green Sandpipers
09/04 Marsh Harrier Lake Vyrnwy. One over noon, Great Grey Shrike still on Bala Road & male Ring Ouzel at Gadfa
05/04 Osprey Lake Vyrnwy. One over 1pm & Great Grey Shrike on Bala Road in afternoon
04/04 Brent goose Llyn Coed y Dinas. Single with Canadas - probably same bird as at Dolydd Hafren 14/3
03/04 Brambling Welshpool. Single male in private garden
02/04 Redstart Welshpool. Male present pm
02/04 Swallow Forden. 3 on the Fron. Obviously a few around now.
02/04 Swallow Lake Vyrnwy. Single
02/04 Swallow Felindre. Single, a few Sand Martin & Blackcap singing Llanidloes
01/04 Ring Ouzel Lake Vyrnwy. 4 (3m, 1f) at Gadfa near first ruined building. Singing Willow Warbler, 3 Redwing, a few Fieldfare, 2 Great Black-backed Gull on lake off Tower.
31/03 Willow Warbler Llanidloes. Singing bird and 10+ Sand Martin, 90 Black-headed Gull (30th)
27/03 Ring Ouzel Lake Vyrnwy. Male at Gadfa loosely associating with Fieldfare (evening). Wheatear and Sand Martin also around.
27/03 Tree Pipit Frochas Common. 1 displaying
26/03 Great White Egret Caersws. 1 over west to east
24/03 Little Ringed Plover Caersws. 5 along the Severn plus 6 Oystercatcher, 11 Snipe, 50 Curlew, 15 Teal, 1 GBB Gull, 8 LBB Gull, 400 B-H Gull, 1 Sand Martin
24/03 Whooper Swan Caersws. 8 nearby opposite Red House
23/03 Great Grey Shrike Lake Vyrnwy. 1 hunting top end of lake on Bala Road at 7:50am
16/03 Hen Harrier Cors Dyfi. Male present
16/03 Great White Egret Machynlleth. One near station at 12.30pm
15/03 Sand Martin Machynlleth. 2 along river west of Dyfi bridge
14/03 Brent Goose Dolydd Hafren. Single bird this evening
12/03 Great Grey Shrike Machynlleth. In field between railway line and River Dyfi OS ref SH73972 01135
12/03 Merlin Lake Vyrnwy. 1 seen to predate Reed Bunting plus Goshawk, Red Kite, 17 Stock Dove
12/03 Pochard Llyn Coed y Dinas. 4 still present
25/02 Pintail Llyn Coed y Dinas. 1 pm
24/02 Tree Sparrow Guilsfield. Wern area - pair in private garden
22/02 Whooper Swan Aberhafesp. 12, at least one young bird, most easily seen from back road out of Aberhafesp to Caersws
21/02 Pochard Llyn Coed y Dinas. Still 4 present plus 7 Shoveler, 26 Tufted, 14 Wigeon, 15 Lapwing, 16 Snipe
20/02 Hen Harrier Carno. Male flew across road between Carno-Talerddig by roadworks at 2.35pm
19/02 Chiffchaff Pwll Penarth. A few overwintering birds present with at least 1 showing Siberian Tristis characteristics. Also on 18th
15/02 Bearded Tit Dolydd Hafren. Male 4:30pm, on ponds to left of pine tree hide nearest to osprey pole - on fronds of common rush near the water
15/02 Waxwing Guilsfield. Wern area - single in private garden & 200+ Lapwing between the Breiddens & Wern
08/02 Bittern Dolydd Hafren. in front of 1st hide 10.30am for 5 mins then flew towards 2nd hide. Also at dusk near 2nd hide in field near bench & dead tree
31/01 Bearded Tit Dolydd Hafren. A male mixing with Reed Bunting calling and visible on top of the small island of reeds between the first hide & the river between 2-4pm.
30/01 Waxwing Guilsfield. 9 in private garden (Wern area). 5-10 have been present for past week
30/01 Waxwing Newtown. 24 in smaller car park at 'back' of College
29/01 Waxwing Newtown. 12+ at the college
29/01 Bittern Llyn Coed y Dinas. Still present
27/01 Waxwing Newtown. c.50 today on Vaynor Estate next to the college
27/01 Bittern Llyn Coed y Dinas. Still plus 3+ Pochard, Water Rail, Kingfisher
26/01 Blackcap Welshpool. Male in private garden & pair Brambling
26/01 Bittern Llyn Coed y Dinas. Still present
26/01 Waxwing Newtown. c.40 on Vaynor Estate a couple of which ringed in Scotland
25/01 Waxwing Newtown. 20+ around Heol-y-nant and flying across railway towards college
24/01 Bittern Llyn Coed y Dinas. Still plus Pochard, Water Rail, Snipe, Kingfisher
23/01 Bittern Llyn Coed y Dinas. Present since 21st, in front of main hide plus 4 Pochard
23/01 Waxwing Newtown. 20+ in trees on Heol Vaynor today
22/01 Waxwing Newtown. 35+ on the estate behind college late morning
21/01 Waxwing Kingswood. 4 on Offa's Dyke path south of village
18/01 Waxwing Abermule. 3 at 1:30pm
18/01 Waxwing Newtown. c.8 on Vaynor estate
17/01 Waxwing Guilsfield. 20 in private garden and 4 north of this
17/01 Waxwing Churchstoke. 14 in trees, upper car park Tuffins supermarket 8:40am
16/01 Waxwing Newtown. c.8 on Vaynor estate
16/01 Marsh Harrier Dolydd Hafren. A probable male reported - quartered for 15 mins am
16/01 Whooper Swan Llyn Coed y Dinas. Single still present
15/01 Little Egret Llanidloes. Present today near main bridge
15/01 Whooper Swan Llyn Coed y Dinas. 1 on water 1pm
15/01 Waxwing Newtown. 20+ at College 1:45pm
14/01 Waxwing Montgomery. 1 in private garden plus female Blackcap
14/01 Waxwing Newtown. 12+ today
13/01 Waxwing Newtown. Some present - flighty.
12/01 Waxwing Newtown. 15+ mobile - at college and the Vaynor Estate
11/01 Waxwing Newtown. 22 at college
10/01 Waxwing Newtown. 12+ in hawthorn alongside railway at college
09/01 Waxwing Newtown. 11 today in hawthorn bordering railway line at college
08/01 Waxwing Newtown. 9 in hawthorn bordering railway line at college 1.15pm
07/01 Short-eared Owl Llyn Mawr. Hunting in field south of lake at 4.45pm
07/01 Great White Egret Machynlleth. In fields to west of town at 2pm
07/01 Waxwing Newtown. 8 in college grounds in Hawthorn bordering railway line 3pm
06/01 Waxwing Newtown. 6 in tall tree in College grounds c.9am. Flew towards Vaynor estate.
06/01 Waxwing Machynlleth. 30+ still
06/01 Blackcap Welshpool. Female in private garden plus Brambling
05/01 Waxwing Guilsfield. Wern area - 30+ in private garden (the first since those on 2nd Jan)
05/01 Waxwing Machynlleth. 16 still including a bird ringed in Aberdeen on 27th Nov that was also seen Llandudno 30th Dec
05/01 Hen Harrier Cors Dyfi. Female this afternoon
04/01 Waxwing Machynlleth. 15+ in trees around library. Also present on 3rd.
02/01 Waxwing Guilsfield. Wern area - 20+ in private garden
02/01 Waxwing Newtown. One opp. golf course in a tall tree. Flew off over golf course c.10am
   
See Sightings Archive for older records

Bird Group

Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust Bird Group 

If you're interested in birds then why not come along to the next Montgomeryshire Bird Group meeting? The Group meets on the third Wednesday of each month between September and March.

A wide range of speakers are invited to talk on all things ornithological, from local to global perspectives, of interest to beginners and accomplished birdwatchers.

Everyone is welcome, and the entrance fee of £2.50 includes the lecture, light home-made refreshments, and the opportunity to chat with like-minded folk and the speakers themselves. We look forward to seeing you there!

Contact : Bird Group Secretary - Sally Davies - 01938 580278

Calendar of Lectures for 2017

All Meetings 7.30pm – Welshpool Methodist Hall

15 Nov 17 Tony Cross - Choughs in Wales
17 Jan 18 AGM (short!) then Brayton Holt - title tbc
21 Feb 18 Jon Sloan - Barn Owls
21 Mar 18 Gordon Forrest - Upton Warren Bird Reserve
18 Apr 18 Emyr Evans - Latest news on the Dyfi Osprey project

2017 Montgomeryshire Bird Group Lectures & Trips ~ Reviews

15th February 2017 - Dr Anne Brenchley - "Birds of the Pantanal"

We were pleased to welcome back Anne, a popular speaker at the Bird Group, and she began by dedicating her talk to the late Derek Moore, who's idea it was to visit the Pantanal on the occasion that Anne and a very willing group accompanied him. The Pantanal encompasses the world's largest freshwater wetland area, extending to somewhere between 140,000 and 2000,000 sq km, and is located mainly within Brazil, but also partly  in Bolivia and Paraguay. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and as the Pantanal is such a vast area, there is only limited access to tourists. As roughly 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, a very biologically diverse aquatic flora has evolved, which in its turn supports a vast array of animal species. During the dry season, the flood water retreats, and so during the year a range of ecosystems can be found, the most common being wet woodland, dry seasonal grassland, and riverine habitat. As the Pantanal is home to over 700 species of birds (and is also an important migratory area for North American birds), 100 species of mammals, 260 species of fish and 80 reptile species, the trip was bound to be memorable, and Anne's pictures certainly reflected the huge biodiversity of the region.

She explained that despite being an area of wetland, there were very few wildfowl, but other water birds were  common - for example, there were several heron species, including striated, black-crowned night, rufescent tiger, and little blue herons, as well as birds like the limpkin (in a family of its own, it looks like a large rail but is skeletally closer to cranes), Amazon, green, American pygmy and ringed kingfishers, grey-necked wood rail and the sun bittern, to name but a few. One of the few wildfowl they spotted was the Southern screamer, a small goose.

As well as birds, the riverine habitats revealed a range of animals, including caimans which were very common and often occurred in their hundreds at one spot. Capybaras were also numerous, and giant river otter was also spotted, but possibly the highlight amongst the mammals were the jaguars on the river banks which seemed unconcerned by the presence of a group of tourists.

The drier woodland was home to a different group of birds, including great horned owl, the amazingly well-camouflaged great pottoo, and both white and lineated woodpeckers.

 An impressive number of birds of prey were seen during the trip, including several vultures (turkey, black, king and lesser yellow-headed), snail kite and roadside hawk.

But the bird which Anne wanted to see above all others was the hyacinth macaw - the largest parrot in the world at 100cm long, and now protected. Looking at her photos of this beautiful bird, with its cobalt blue feathers contrasting with the bare yellow eye ring and patch of skin next to the lower bill, it was easy to see why it was number one on her wish list, and good to know that she had such good views of it, particularly around the lodges where they stayed.

Another 'hyacinth' was less popular - the water hyacinth, which choked many of the waterways and is an alien plant of the Pantanal. As the birdwatchers enjoyed boat trips in search of elusive species, their route sometimes seemed impenetrable due to the endless patches of this very successful plant.

By the end of Anne's talk, it was easy to see why the Pantanal is so famous for its massive numbers of flora and fauna,  and the birds mentioned in this report are only a fraction of those we saw in Anne's  pictures. Several members of the bird group had their appetites whetted, and may well be making a trip over to that part of the world one of these days! Thank you Anne.

18th January 2017 - Colin McShane - "Birding northernmost Norway & establishing a bird observatory"

Colin had dreamed of visiting the far north ever since reading a book called Arctic Summer by Richard Vaughan, but a fear of flying combined with a lack of funds meant that this was just a dream...............until May 2011, when he was offered the chance of a free promotional birding trip to the Varanger area of Norway by Biotope, a unique bird-related architectural company, combining expertise on birds and birdwatching  with the design of structures such as birdhides, shelters, nature trails and outdoor amphitheatres.

Varanger is one of the few relatively easily accessible arctic destination in the world, and being the northernmost area affected by the Gulf Stream, it stays ice-free in winter, despite lying 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Consequently it attracts unique birdlife, and Stellers Eiders, King Eiders, Gyr Falcons, Brünnichs Guillemots, Pine Grosbeaks, Siberian tits and many other bird species of the north can be seen at very close range. It is where taiga, tundra and arctic oceans meet, sharing a land border with Russia. Having flown to Kirkenes, the group of guests, many of whom represented birdwatching holiday companies, spent a week birdwatching over a large area, from the taiga of Pasvik to the tundra of Varanger and the Arctic Ocean coast, staying at guesthouses chosen for their location close to or in the middle of great birding sites.

Early birdwatching highlights included close-up views of a nesting gyr falcon (the grey form), numerous white-billed divers, thousands of blue fulmars, and the world's most northerly mainland colony of  gannets. A spectacular group of 32 white-tailed sea eagles took advantage of an abundant food supply, in the form of young kittiwakes. They have apparently devised their own hunting technique - by flying very close to the kittiwake nests, they blow the young birds off the ledges with a single powerful wingbeat, catching them as they fall.

At the inner end of the Varangerfjord, close to the village of Nesseby, Steller's Eider were one of the highlights of the trip. This area proved a first-class birdwatching site, excellent for local birds, but also on a migration route, bringing in thousands of waders later on, in July. On this occasion, a flock of newly arrived Lapland Buntings landed in the grass, offering some great views, and snow buntings were also plentiful, as were Arctic redpolls and many other passerines. During a lunchtime conversation, Tormod Amundsen  of Biotope mentioned that he would really like to set up a bird ringing station here as part of the birding scene. This was just the type of challenge Colin relished, as he had set up a similar project  in the Algarve seven years previously. So tentative plans were laid, which gradually became reality in August 2012. It was decided that  experienced ringers from England would visit Varanger  for a fortnight each August, and based at Nesseby their aim would be to try to ring as many of the birds in the area as possible, in order to provide recent data on the birds of the area, lots of biometric data on local birds before they migrate, and an opportunity for members of the local community to join in and experience the thrill and privilege of seeing birds at close quarters..

By August 2012, everything was in place, and the first ringing party arrived. Since then, a total of 23,000birds comprising nearly 60 species have been ringed in the ten weeks the ringers have spent on the project. The list of birds in the hand is impressive - redwing, fieldfare, brambling, waxwing, willow warbler, bluethroat,  red-throated pipit, reed bunting, sedge warbler, merlin, red-necked phalarope, dunlin and  curlew sandpiper to name but a few. Several unlikely species have taken the ringers by surprise, including barred warbler, which has never before been seen as far North, thrush nightingale and rustic bunting.

Local schoolchildren have been very keen onlookers, and the ringing group would love to have the resources to buy trackers so that these youngsters could follow the movements of the birds in real time. But at around £2000 each, the cost is prohibitive, and as those involved in the project are already finding it hard to secure the funds to be able to purchase a minibus, warden and building,  the scheme's future viability is by no means certain.

Colin's talk was much enjoyed, and we all benefited from his obvious pleasure in sharing his adventures, knowledge and  findings with us. A Varanger ringing blog can be seen at http://varangerringing.blogspot.co.uk, and makes fascinating reading.
2016 Montgomeryshire Bird Group Lectures & Trips ~ Reviews

21st December 2016 - Jim Almond - "Close to the edge with wild peregrines"

We were delighted to welcome back Jim Almond, the 'Shropshire Birder' as he calls himself, knowing that we were in for an evening of exceptional photography and excellent birding stories. We were not disappointed, and it was a great privilege to share in the stories of several Shropshire peregrines whose lives have been studied and captured on camera by Jim.

Shropshire peregrines have nested in some unusual sites, including St Mary's Church in Shrewsbury - most people were delighted........other than the vicar it seems! More unusually, one pair attempted to nest in an old crow's nest for several years, but each year it disintegrated. There was help at hand though, when Shropshire birders erected a large hanging basket in place of the dilapidated nest - and this worked perfectly! This is the only tree-nesting pair that Jim has ever come across, but he wonders whether their offspring may follow suit elsewhere.

In order to take photos at the nest, Jim has a special license, and the nest site is kept secret. His sequence of photos of a particular nest took us from egg-laying to fledging, and we witnessed the adult eating the eggshell as each chick hatched. At 2 days, the chicks were, rather surprisingly perhaps, fed an adult blackbird. From an early age, sexual dimorphism showed the female chicks to be larger than the males, but both male and female chicks grew fast and by 3 weeks their true feathers started to appear. After 45 days, after several exploratory flaps, the youngsters were ready to leave the nest, although they didn't seem to think so, and hung on a little longer.

Examples of very caring adult behaviour included a female bird mantling an overheating chick in an effort to cool it down, and also some amazing footage of a young chick, close to fledging, being carried back to safety in the female's bill after it was inadvertently scattered whilst trying out its wings.

Jim explained that a juvenile peregrine can be distinguished from an adult, as it has brown 'downward' streaking on the breast, compared with the horizontal barring of the adult.

During the first half of the 20th century, the peregrine population suffered a serious decline - many birds were shot during the two world wars, as they were affecting the 'pigeon post'. From then on, a combination of egg-collecting, pesticides, persecution and falconry all contributed to a further drop in numbers. With protection, numbers are now much healthier, although there are still problems facing these striking birds of prey, including Trichomoniasis, which seems to particularly affect young birds.

Jim was pleased to report that in 2015, 20 Shropshire nest sites were occupied, 54 eggs were laid, and of the 38 chicks which hatched, 34 fledged. Although this sounds very encouraging, he also reminded us that probably only about fifty per cent of these will survive beyond 2 years.

He finished with his trade-mark musical slide-show, and we marvelled at his ability to catch the very best and most beautiful bird behaviour so perfectly on camera. Now we look forward very much to his next visit ...

19th October 2016 - Kelvin Jones - "New technology and how it's really teaching us things"

Kelvin is BTO Wales’s Development Coordinator, and his role is to develop and promote the work of BTO in Wales. As a qualified bird ringer, he introduced his talk by posing the question, "Has new technology made traditional ringing redundant?"

He first took us back to the early days of ringing, which officially started in 1909, as two schemes, one run by British Birds and the other at Aberdeen University. In the early years, these pioneers set out to answer some of the more basic biological questions of the day - where do our summer visitors spend the winter, and where do our winter visitors breed? These are still key questions for conservation, and ones for which we now know the answer for many, but not all, species. But at the time, migration routes were only known from observations of birds on spring and autumn migration, and the legend of swallows spending the winter in pond bottoms, as noted by Gilbert White in his Natural History of Selborne, was only relatively recently disproved.

By the 1930's, the Aberdeen scheme had ended, and the BTO had been founded, and today the British and Irish Ringing Scheme continues to be organised by the BTO. Over 900,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by over 2,600 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers.

These days, we are eager to learn much more about not only where migratory birds breed or spend the winter, but also how long they live, their survival and productivity rates, and what we can find out about why populations are changing. Conservation can be more effective if information relating to these questions can be generated.

Although much information has already come to light, there is still so much more to learn. The wintering areas of declining species such as Swift and Pied Flycatcher remain a mystery, and although we know much about Swallows, we know very little about where House Martins overwinter, with just two recoveries south of the Sahara (in Senegal and Nigeria).

These days, in addition to ringing, our understanding of migrants is being revolutionised by tracking technology, which the BTO is using to study a range of species, from small passerines to seabirds, that have historically been difficult to track once they leave their breeding colonies. This technology is allowing ringers to fit ever smaller and more sophisticated satellite tracking devices which are revealing exciting new details about the amazing journeys that birds undertake – the BTO Cuckoo tracking project is a prime example of this. A Welsh cuckoo, 'named' David, has been tracked since 2012, and at almost 6 years, is currently the oldest cuckoo in the satellite tracking scheme - the record age for a cuckoo is 7! Since first being monitored, he has travelled 70,000 miles. At the time of the talk, David's tracker showed him to be in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but it is likely that he will return as usual next spring to a garden in Tregaron. Many of the audience were already aware of the wealth of data received from the Dovey ospreys' trackers in recent years, and have followed their migrations with interest.

State-of-the-art solar-powered GPS tags have been successfully fitted to lesser black-backed gulls, goshawks and great skuas. Downloading remotely, they give unprecendented detail on the position, speed and flight altitude of these species. This project has already produced useful results on birds' movements and behaviour in the breeding season, over winter and on migration.

Although tags using GPS technology are still too large and power hungry to be suitable for tracking many birds, other much smaller and lighter devices, such as geolocators weighing less than 1gram, have been successfully used on swifts, nightjars, whinchats and nightingales, filling in many gaps in current knowledge.

Other monitoring techniques include dye-marking, wing-tagging (red kites), and colour rings (dunlin, twite and curlew). These have the advantage of being easily visible and photographable, without recapturing the birds, as is generally necessary with traditional rings.

In conclusion, Kelvin explained the pros and cons of the new technology compared with traditional ringing. The new technology enables individual birds to be traced, and gives highly detailed data regarding movements at any hour of the day or night, but it is expensive and training is needed in order to implement it. On the other hand, traditional ringing is cheap, easy and can provide long-term data, but it is labour intensive and may sometimes be considered intrusive.

Not surprisingly, it seems there is a place for both - and we, as the general public, can all help by reporting any ring numbers, colour ring sightings and wing-tags we might see or be able to photograph. The more detailed our knowledge of birds becomes, the better able we will be to understand the complex challenges facing wild birds at a time of great change in the environment.

Thanks to Kelvin, for a fascinating insight into today's ornithological data-gathering.

17th April - Field Trip to the Coed Llandegla

Getting up at 3 am is not everyone's choice of the best way to start a Sunday - and a cold one at that - but the lure of a live (rather than a filmed) Black Grouse Lek made the early start seem easier at the time. We were led by Ken Gascoigne, the MWT Bird Group Secretary, and joined a party of nine others at the RSPB's "Ghosts of the forest - black grouse watch".

The RSPB's guides met us in the car park at Coed Llandegla Forest Visitor Centre at 5.15 am and led a walk over forest tracks to reach the hide at 5.30. The audio feed from the lek was quickly switched on, so as well as seeing the Black Grouse at some distance, we could also hear their bubbling call. There was a clear view of only one female, which remained very still and appeared to be looking away from the posturing and fluttering of the displaying males.

We stayed for about an hour, during which time we also witnessed a magnificent sunrise, then followed up with a welcome breakfast at the Visitor Centre. Some of us made the return trip via the narrow road from New Brighton (not the one in Wirral!) over the moors to World's End. This afforded views north to Llandegla Forest and Cyrn y Brain and we saw Kestrel, Buzzard, numerous Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, as well as 3 Black Grouse in flight. A good morning!

Mark Davies

March 16th - Peter Bowyer - Whixall Moss

On 16th March the MWT Bird Group enjoyed a talk by Peter Bowyer, Reserves Manager at Whixall Moss reserve. Whixall is one of five mosses which lie near the Wales/ England border and is managed by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. It is not only a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but also a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, as well as having National Nature Reserve status. A team of 4 staff manage and warden the site, including 2 ex-peatcutters who obviously know it really well. In addition, over 100 volunteers support the staff and are a much-appreciated extra workforce.
 
Pete explained the interesting ancient origins of the moss. After the last glaciation, the retreating ice gouged out depressions, and the deeper of these became meres. But the shallower depression in the Whixall area, filled with meltwater about 9000 years ago and was gradually colonised by swamp and fen plants. With the added invasion of sphagnum moss, the groundwater was acidified and the decay of plant remains was halted. Consequently, this pickled vegetation built up to form a large dome of peat, or lowland raised bog / moss– a very special habitat indeed. The water of a moss is very acid with a typical Ph of around 3, and for life forms to thrive in such an environment they need to be specialised.

Peat cutting has taken place at Whixall since at least Medieval times, and indeed continued until very recent times. In addition to this form of habitat destruction, two miles of the Llangollen Canal was constructed across the moss in 1807, and the Cambrian Railway followed some years later, built on birch bundles to float it over the bog. When drains were installed during these developments, the bog collapsed, and the now well-drained outer areas were converted into farmland, whilst the central area continued to be cut for peat. Few areas remained uncut, and dry abandoned areas were colonised by woodland, which in addition to extensive military use, moss gathering and afforestation, led to severe damage of the Moss. By the late 1980’s, almost 300 hectares of peat a year were being cut commercially, and the Moss was almost completely destroyed. Fortunately a campaign to save the site for its internationally important wildlife led to its gradual restoration. The centre of the area was acquired by Natural England and NRW, and with the help of locals, a programme of forest and woodland clearance coupled with the damming of ditches to restore bog water tables to the peat surface was undertaken. Gradually the irreplaceable record of the past stored in the peat has been restored again, and rare boggy biodiversity is thriving once more. Thankfully, the vast store of peat carbon has been re-pickled to counteract climate change.

One of the very valuable features of the site is its habitat diversity. As well as a large area of mire and bog, which was the main objective when restoration began, the site also includes both dry and wet heath, as well as fen, wet woodland, scrub, wet grassland, neutral grassland and limestone grassland.

175 bird species have been recorded here, including large numbers of waders and wildfowl, such as breeding teal, shoveler and lapwing, as well as numerous overwintering snipe, and steady numbers of curlew. Birds of prey seen regularly include short-eared owl and hen harrier, both of which occur in what seems to be suitable breeding habitat, although disturbance may be a factor in their not having bred to date. Merlin, buzzard, kestrel, red kite, marsh harrier, osprey, peregrine falcon and sparrowhawk are all to be seen, and hobbies are a ‘speciality’ – a couple of pairs have bred here, and many more individuals pass through, sometimes in surprisingly large numbers – on one occasion 36 were seen in one day! For anyone wanting to hear and see cuckoos, this is an excellent place to visit, as they arrive in good numbers each year. Nightjars have also been recorded for a number of years now, and at least two pairs arrived last year. Even common cranes have turned up fairly regularly since around 2008, and although they haven’t been seen for the last couple of years, there was a confirmed breeding attempt in 2012.

As well as birds, an impressive plant list is another of the reasons for the site’s importance nationally, and includes bog rosemary, lesser bladderwort, white beaked-sedge, cranberry, cloudberry, as well as many mosses such as waved fork-moss, golden bog-moss and 23 species of sphagnum moss!

The 2000+ invertebrate species recorded on the site also make it of particular significance, and a number of rare species occur. One such, and a key species for the site, is the white-faced darter, a rare dragonfly confined to bog pools. The white-legged damselfly is another success story here, particularly as it is normally found in southern England.

Of the 32 butterfly species recorded, the ‘star’ is the large heath butterfly, which is a very local species in peat bogs and wetlands, and confined to only a few sites nationally. Almost 800 moth species have also been recorded, including several that are nationally scarce, such as Manchester treble-bar, purple-bordered gold and argent and sable.

Adders, common lizard, slow-worm and all three British newts are here, as are fairly steady numbers of water vole, which in many areas has been in serious decline, and seven species of bat.

All in all, a real success story, told with great enthusiasm and expertise by Pete, for which we thanked him. We now look forward to visiting Whixall Moss in the not too-distant future, and to sharing in the wealth of birds and wildlife that it has to offer. It is good to know that despite this inevitably being a very long term project, tangible results can already be seen in the resurgence of so many species of fauna and flora. Many congratulations to all concerned!

Sue Southam

March 10th - Field Trip to Burton Mere and Parkgate

As a follow up to Colin Wells’ excellent talk on Burton Mere Wetlands in February, a field trip to Burton Mere and Parkgate was arranged by Ken and Jenny Gascoigne for Thursday, 10th March when the tide promised to be particularly high at Parkgate.

Nine members travelled up in a very comfortable Border Garage minibus which had the added advantage of a huge luggage space at the back where we could all leave our rucksacks, walking poles, boots etc.. Malcolm and Sue drove the 20 miles to Welshpool from their home in Clatter and met Ken and Jenny at the garage at 8.30 am. We then collected Sheila on the outskirts of Welshpool, Clive, Sandra and Pam in Guilsfield and Dennis at Four Crosses. We arrived at Parkgate at about 10.15 and parked in the free car park at the far end where about 100 birdwatchers eventually congregated next to an RSPB information stand. We were lucky as the car park became full just after our arrival. First things first so most of us walked back to town for a toilet stop and/or a coffee.

The weather was surprisingly mild with no wind which, unfortunately, meant the water was rather low as you really need more wind plus low pressure to aid the high tide. However, we had good views of various birds including Marsh Harrier, Pink-footed Geese, Great and Little Egrets, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk. Two members had brought telescopes which they very kindly made available to the rest of us. High tide was at noon so at about 12.30 we drove to the other end of Parkgate to ‘The Old Quay’ pub and enjoyed a very reasonably-priced carvery lunch, where we had plenty of time to socialize.

We then drove to Burton Mere, which was free for RSPB members, and where the glass-fronted Reception building houses toilets, tea/coffee machine and free use of various telescopes and binoculars. The building overlooks Reception Pool and the Scrapes where we saw many species including Shelduck, Teal, Avocet, Shoveller, Redshank and Lapwing. The group then split up but bumped into each other again at the various viewing places such as Reedbed Screen and Marsh Covert Hide, where we saw more Teal , Tufted Duck, Coot, Heron and the ubiquitous Canada Geese. The Burton Mere trail was closed off due to nesting herons and Egrets, which you could still see in the trees.

Inner Marsh Farm Hide which overlooks Centenary Pool seemed to offer the best views that day. There were about 16 Avocet sweeping their bills through the water plus Shoveler, Black-Tailed Godwit, Redshank, Dunlin and several Ruff. We left at 5 pm when the reserve closes and, after dropping off people, were back in Welshpool at 7 pm. Everyone agreed that the day had been a great success and thanked Ken for driving and both him and Jenny for organising the day with such attention to detail. We all look forward to future similar trips such as the Black Grouse Lek on Sunday, 17th April.

Sue Hayward

February 17th - Colin Wells - 'Burton Mere Wetlands'

Colin has worked for the RSPB for over 30 years, on several reserves including Leighton Moss and Bempton Cliffs, site of the famous Yorkshire seabird colony. He is currently the warden at Burton Mere Wetlands on the Dee Estuary,  a large and impressive reserve on the Flintshire/ Cheshire border which was once part of Gladstone's Burton Manor Estate. Together with Morecambe Bay, and the Ribble and Mersey estuaries, the Dee forms part of Europe’s most important wetlands network for migrating birds, hosting almost a million every year.

Colin's task when he was first appointed, was to 'create scrapes which will attract rare waders to the site'. This is exactly what he set about doing, and his fascinating talk demonstrated that he has most certainly more than met his brief. This has involved a great deal of planning, and it has taken  many years of hard work to restore reedbeds, fenland and farmland, and to create lagoons, hides and a visitor centre, incorporating what was Burton Mere Fisheries and land to the south-east of the original Inner Marsh Farm Reserve. The new reserve opened officially in September 2011, and now attracts some 40,000 visitors annually, testament to the very wide variety of wildlife to be found there.

Regular breeders include Lapwing, Redshank and Little Egret. Avocets first bred there in 2006 and are now very well established as are very many other species of waders. The site also attracts many rare species and the following have been noted:  Scarlet Ibis, Long-billed Dowitcher,  Great White Egret, Wood Sandpiper, Lesser Scaup,  American Wigeon,  Cattle Egret, Spotted Crake and Red -necked Phalarope, to name but a few.

Flocks of black-tailed godwits can be seen on the pools, both in spring when they rest and feed before heading north to Iceland to breed , resplendent in their breeding attire, and also on their return in autumn. Most waders are, of course, ground nesters and their predation by badgers and foxes has been a problem in recent years.  The situation has been greatly improved, however, by the installation of two and a half kilometres of electrified peripheral fencing which has proved very successful in prohibiting the offending beasts.

Another recent improvement was the installation of 4300 metres of rotary ditching together with the construction of a reservoir to ensure the ditches remain damp for the birds during dry periods.
Recent bird sightings have included Ruff,  Marsh harrier, Hen Harrier and Merlin, as well as Short-eared Owl,  Water Rail and a  much sought-after Long-eared Owl.  4000+ Pink-footed Geese have also been seen on the marsh from Burton Point - quite a spectacle!

It's not just birds either - animal life on the reserve includes Water Shrew, Water Vole and Common lizard, as well as 25 species of butterfly and 300 species of moths.

As Iolo Williams said at the opening of Burton Mere Wetlands “This nature reserve is a brilliant example of a place which is not only fantastic for wildlife but is now a great place for people to come and visit and get excited about nature”. We very much look forward to visiting as a group later this year.  Thank you, Colin, for whetting our appetites and introducing many of us to this amazing reserve - and many congratulations on all that you have achieved.

January 20th - Brayton Holt - 'Coast'

The highly respected local bird expert Brayton Holt started his talk by informing his audience that he was introduced to birds when he was evacuated from Merseyside to Towyn during the Second World War. Here, in Towyn School, his teacher set up a Nature table, and his lifelong interest began. After the war he moved back to Wales and began to explore in greater detail. The coastline of the British Isles is apparently  11072 miles long (O.S. have worked it out!) and offers a wide range of habitats which attract many bird species.

Brayton then took us on a visual journey around this diverse landscape starting in North Wales with the terns and puffins of Anglesey, the oyster catchers and ringed plovers of the Little Orme and the various waders which frequent the big salt marsh near Rhyl. We saw various species of gulls in some detail, from the little gull to the great black backed gull - as big as a goose. "Honorary" seabirds were also discussed, the cliff dwelling choughs and peregrine falcon. We were taken around the Point of Ayr and up to Burton Marsh to see black tailed godwit, greenshank and snipe.

On then to Lancashire and the famous reserve of Martinmere, a great place to see ruff amongst a throng of mixed waders. North then to Barrow, Mull and the Inner Hebrides to see the magnificent white tailed sea eagle.  North West Scotland gave us the arctic skua and the great skua or "bonxie".

Coming down the East coast we saw the throng of gannets on the Bass Rock and Bempton Cliffs, where razorbills and guillemots were their neighbours. An aerial photo of Spurn Head illustrated its ideal positioning  as the first 'landfall' area for Scandinavian migrants, such as red-backed shrike.

Down the coast we arrived in  Norfolk with its wide open salt marshes, estuaries and big skies which attract vast numbers of seabirds, waders and geese during the Autumn and Winter. Moving southwards  along the coast we saw Minsmere reserve and the London Wetland Centre, a great place for birds directly under the flight path of Heathrow Airport. The cliffs of Devon and Cornwall, the Bristol Channel and back home to Wales for Red Kites and Osprey.

"Whew!"

Steve Southam

2015 Montgomeryshire Bird Group Lectures ~ Reviews by Sue Southam & others...

December 16th - Alan Heath - 'Whistle Stop- Western Australia'

When he received an invitation to a friend's wedding in Australia, Alan decided this would be an ideal opportunity to combine socialising with birdwatching, and so it was that in March 2014 he headed for Perth, Western Australia.

Early morning proved the best time to be out and about, as not only was it a good time to see birds, but it didn't interfere with the activities and celebrations associated with the wedding. Unexpectedly, the suburbs of the city proved very productive for both habitats and birds, although surprisingly Alan met few other birdwatchers. Lake Monger, on the edge of Perth, provided a lush, green oasis, and plenty of waterfowl. Many ducks are closely related to ours, such as the Australian Shoveler, but others are quite different. The Musk Duck, for example, is quite bizarre-looking, the male sporting a large, pendulous lobe of skin beneath its bill, which it inflates during courtship. The unmistakeable Pink-eared Duck also has a strange bill, which is huge and square-tipped. Other waterbirds included the Australian Darter, looking something like a cross between a cormorant and a heron, Purple Swamphen (surprisingly confiding compared to the European version apparently), and waders such as Black-winged Stilt and Black-fronted Dotterel.

Alan explained that large areas of green space and parkland are used extensively for recreation, and attract plenty of tourists and locals, and birds, but again few birdwatchers. Little Corellas, a small species of cockatoo native to Australia, are common, as are honeyeaters. The latter belong to a large group, and one of their characteristics is a 'brush-tipped' tongue, with which they extract nectar from flowers, as their name suggests. Wandering across a playing field, Alan spotted Straw-necked Ibis ,their glossy blue-black backs with metallic purple, green and bronze sheen, gleaming in the sunshine, and their yellow throat plumes very much in evidence. Their preference for grassland insects such as grasshoppers and locusts, have earned them the name of Farmers' Friend.

A local harbour revealed numerous Silver Gulls, Crested Terns, Little Black and Pied Cormorants, and more Australian Darters, which as Alan pointed out, seem to have fur on their back rather than feathers! A highlight was the Superb Fairy Wren, and we could see why! The brilliant colours of the male are dazzling, and the breeding behaviour is interesting, as several members of a group of Fairy Wrens will help in the rearing of a particular pair's young.

It was interesting to hear of some of the policies adopted in this part of the world. A notice near Lake Monger read "Let the birds feed themselves". We agreed that this was quite a contrast when compared with, say, Ellesmere or other similar British spots, but it does seem to make good sense.

Equally, sometimes it is deemed necessary to take more control over birds rather than less , as has been the case with the Rainbow Lorikeet. This colourful bird tends to move around in flocks, and was introduced from Eastern Australia. However, its population soon expanded hugely, and because of its aggressive behaviour around nest holes, it is preventing native birds from nesting. There are now attempts to eradicate the bird from the Perth area.

Conversely, a breeding programme for koalas has been set up. as although these are not normally found in Western Australia, a virus is wiping them out in their native areas. A recovery programme has also been set up for Carnaby's Black-cockatoo - a bird which is now endangered and which Alan very much wanted to see. But perhaps the bird with the most boring name, which no doubt we will all remember, is the 28 Parrot, so-called, apparently, because of its call!!

These are only a few from the lengthy species list which Alan compiled whilst there, but they serve as a reminder of the great birding which can be had by everyone, wherever they may live, in town or country, Britain or Australia, provided they are happy to get out there, preferably early in the morning, and watch and wait - the birds are there!

November 18th - Leo Smith, 'Red Kites in Shropshire'

Leo began his talk with a rather depressing account of the decline of the red kite in Britain, followed by the more uplifting story of its recovery. The red kite was once numerous throughout Britain, but continued persecution by man during the 19th century took its toll. The last kite recorded in Shropshire (and England) was shot at the nest in 1876. Persecution of the declining Welsh population, particularly by egg collectors, continued into the 20th century, until by the 1930's only 11 pairs remained in Wales, just two of which were breeding. In some years only one chick was raised, and despite attempts at protection, for decades the population teetered on the brink of extinction.

When recovery did begin in the 1970's it was very slow, partly due to the poor habitat that the birds were occupying, leading to low productivity. In 1986 there were still only 50 pairs, but this had increased to 100 pairs by 1993. By 2004 there were more than 400 pairs in Wales, the breeding range was expanding and one pair had crossed the border to breed in Herefordshire. From 1989 to 2004 a number of successful re-introductions of kites were made into England and Scotland and by 2011 there were 2500 pairs in Britain, over a thousand of which were in Wales.

The return to of kites to Shropshire was also slow initially, with the Red Kite Trust only receiving 11 sightings between 1985 and 1990. Gradually the number of sightings increased, and in 2005 two nesting attempts were made, both of which failed. However, in 2006, one of the pairs nested again, and successfully fledged 2 young, the first in Shropshire for 130 years. Since then, despite some poor years as a result of bad weather, over 200 kites have successfully fledged from Shropshire nests. Productivity of the Shropshire birds is good, and they are continuing to expand their range north and eastwards.

Leo also showed us some of his photos of nest sites and nesting behaviour. In Wales and Shropshire the nest sites are exclusively in trees, usually oak or beech. Sometimes the previous years nests are re-used, but not always, and pairs can nest surprisingly close to each other, which adds to the difficulties of monitoring the numbers of pairs. We also learned that for most of the year the kites feed on carrion, but in the breeding season they feed their young on corvids.

As a result of what must be one of the most successful conservation efforts in Britain there are now too many kites in Wales to closely monitor in their core area. Monitoring is, however, continuing on the edge of their expansion areas. Each year Leo attempts to find every nest in Shropshire, and if possible the young are ringed and tagged, and Leo would be grateful to receive any sightings of tagged birds or birds which appear to be on breeding territories.

Paul Roughley

October 21st - Dr Anne Brenchley, "The Birds of Costa Rica"

On the evening of 21st October the Bird Group gathered in the Methodist Church and was treated to a talk by Dr. Ann Brenchley. She described in vivid detail a trip she had undertaken to Costa Rica in 2008, when as one of a group of thirteen, she was guided around this small and diverse country by Eric Castro and the late lamented Derek Moore, who organised the visit.

Situated in Central America, Costa Rica is around two and a half times the size of Wales and has a population of some four million people. It has a higher percentage of its land mass devoted to national parks than any other country in the world. Very rich in wildlife, it boasts a range of habitats including cloud forest, lowland tropical forest, dry savannah, mangroves and freshwater marshes. It has both Atlantic and Pacific coasts.   The country lists 900 varieties of birds and the party saw more than four hundred species during their two week stay.

They started the trip at San Jose where the hotel gardens provided a wide and varied number of birds which kept the photographers busy. Moving on to La Paz they were able to watch several species of humming birds. There are fifty species of these tiny gems in Costa Rica and the party were able to see thirty during their stay! Parrots, parakeets, toucans and howler monkeys all added to the abundant variety. Various kingfisher species were also to be found and the wonderful sun bittern put on its eye-catching display. Many species of tanagers were to be found widely in a variety of exotic colours, and an emerald toucanette was a ‘tick’ for Derek, as he had never seen one before.

Quetzal
During their stay at Savegre Mountain Lodge group members were delighted to get good views of the iconic resplendent quetzal. A visit to La Selva Biological Station was a highlight of the trip and the party was escorted around the fascinating site to explore the important work carried out there. Ants are obviously a very important component of the eco system of Costa Rica.  They are so formidable, they scatter the other invertebrate in all directions, making them more available for the birds to feed on. Every tree and every bush was teeming with life, and the group  were able to get close-up views of sloths.

Various other locations were visited, including, at 2400 feet, Arenal Lodge, where the famous live volcano provided the pyrotechnics as a grand finale to what had obviously proved a quite spectacular excursion.

Steve Southam

September 16th - Graham Wren, "Britain's Breeding Seabirds"

It was good to welcome wildlife photographer and lecturer on ornithology, Graham Wren, back to the Bird Group again. Graham has spoken to the group several times in the past, and is always a popular speaker, combining his gentle sense of humour with a knowledge of ‘all-things-birds’ based on a lifetime of first-hand experience.

He has a comprehensive slide collection of all the regular British breeding birds, but has a special interest in the Farne Islands, where he worked as a warden for two and a half years in the seventies. His ability to quote statistics and numerical information from memory is one of his trademarks, but this is always of interest and never dull. Typically, one of his first points was to explain the length of the British coastline – some 11.073 miles! His first-rate photos and accompanying talk suggested that he had personally visited quite a proportion of this vast length.

He is currently re-photographing habitats that he first photographed 40 years ago, and hopes to put another talk together entitled ‘40 years on the Farne Islands’. We had a taste of some of what is to come, as he compared the bird populations then and now. Much of the news was good – guillemots for example number more than 8000 pairs now on the Farnes – whereas there were 41 pairs when he first studied them. Similarly, on Bass Rock numbers of gannets have risen from 6000 to 75000 pairs over the same period, and this is now the largest gannetry in the world. 

It was pretty astonishing to see the lengths that Graham went to (in his younger days, as he put it) to photograph breeding seabirds. The birds looked pretty astonished too, as they surely felt they were in an exposed enough position to avoid any human company! For those of us who would never scale the cliffs or sea-stacks, looking at his photos was the next best thing, and we learnt much about the different species. For example, fulmars lay only one egg a year, even if they lose it, and for this reason the St Kildans never took fulmar eggs. However, they would take guillemot eggs, as this bird will re-lay up to 3 eggs if it loses any, although interestingly they get progressively smaller each time.

The eggs of the great skua apparently never touch because these birds have broad breasts with a brood patch on each side, whereas Arctic skua eggs touch each other in the nest. The average age of an Arctic tern is 15 years, which is the same as an apple tree in a commercial orchard! The only place the roseate tern nests in the UK is Coquet Island in Northumberland – all these facts and more were appreciated by the audience, and the lengthy question and answer session after the talk was a testament to the interest Graham had engendered.

As he has grown older, he has decided to donate many of his slides to the BTO – so far they have received 905, but we hope he has kept enough back for us to enjoy when his ‘40 years on the Farne Islands’ talk is complete. We look forward to it.

March 18th - Kim Williams, “The Dyfi Ospreys” & Brayton Holt, “Taymyr~The Endless Day”

Our March meeting featured a ‘double bill’, which started with an excellent talk by Kim Williams, Learning Officer at  Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve, home to the Dyfi Osprey Project and the 360 Observatory, near Machynlleth. In fact, she decided to focus on the other wildlife stories associated with the reserve, as she felt this is an area less well appreciated by most people, and there were certainly a few surprises.

Once estuary, reclaimed grazing, then Sitka spruce plantation and finally wildlife-rich wetland, the land at Cors Dyfi has seen many changes over the last few hundred years. The conifers were felled in the 1990’s, and the main drainage ditch is still in evidence, as well as the ridges on which the trees were planted. Today the reserve is a healthy mixture of bog, swamp, wet woodland and scrub supporting a plethora of animals and plants, including the magnificent Osprey, which bred on the reserve for the first time in 2011.

Mammals on the reserve include otters, which may number up to at least five fairly resident individuals, and have been captured on camera traps.  Surprisingly, considering the apparently less than ideal habitat, dormice also breed here, and there are now 22 boxes to attract these rarely seen but delightful animals. These are monitored monthly, and ‘wild nests’ have also been found.
Other rodents include bank and field voles, shrews, and a water shrew which eats peanuts!

The cameras which provide the live streaming of the ospreys also pick up other animals of interest, including  foxes which scavenge fish beneath the osprey perch. There have been sightings of weasel and stoat too, as well as signs of polecats. Pipistrelle bats roost in the cafe umbrellas, and noctules have also been seen.

Of course there are plenty of birds in evidence, and a 3pm appearance of a bittern was a particular highlight recently. A barn owl uses the observatory as a ‘barn’, as its pellets have revealed! Great close-up views of smaller birds on the feeders can be had from the hide, and redpolls, reed buntings and yellowhammers are easy to spot.

Interestingly, frogs and toads are often seen in winter in the osprey nest, having been cached by crows! Smooth and palmate newts, grass snakes and common lizards are all seen quite regularly, and the 9-spined stickleback discovered after floods proved to be a county record.

There is no shortage of invertebrates to be found here, such as 18 species of damselfly and dragonfly, as well as an incredible 512 moth species to date, including the Ni Moth and Silver Hook, neither of which have been found anywhere else in Montgomeryshire. Another rarity, only found in one other place in the county, is the water stick insect, and Roesel’s bush cricket, also a very uncommon species, is found on the reserve.

Given longer, Kim could have mentioned the plethora of plant life which is also of interest to naturalists, but suffice it to say, that by the end of her talk, we realised that there is much more to Cors Dyfi than ospreys, although they, of course, are the star turns!

After refreshments and a chance to socialise, we were treated to the second talk of the evening –
Brayton’s 52nd delivery of his talk on a holiday he and Wanda enjoyed on the Taymyr peninsular! Apparently he has spoken to groups as far apart as Inverness and Cornwall, and never tires of reminiscing about the memorable time they spent on Taymyr, the most northerly piece of land in the world that is still attached to a continent - only a few Arctic islands and parts of Greenland are further north. It divides the Russian section of the Arctic Ocean. In the centre of the peninsula are the Byranga mountains and the huge Lake Taymyr, but much of it is made up of low-lying Arctic tundra, with permafrost just beneath the surface.

The Taymyr is a breeding ground for huge numbers of geese and waders, which fly thousands of kilometres north to feed in its beautiful isolation every summer.  It was particularly of interest to Brayton, as it is an extraordinary meeting ground for waders, which migrate here from both Europe and Asia, and even from Africa and Australia. Waders are a particular favourite of Brayton’s, and a mosaic of pools gives the perfect environment for a wide range of these birds, such as the  Red-necked phalaropes featuring early on in his excellent set of slides.

He considered it a perfect holiday in birdwatching terms, as the timing was such that on their arrival they found the eggs of many waders, which hatched just before they were due to return home, enabling them to record the whole thing on film! Coupled with the confiding nature of the birds which gave wonderful photo opportunites, and the 24 hour daylight, not to mention a seemingly endless supply of vodka, the trip could only be a huge success!

Although they were camping, and conditions were fairly basic, this was more than made up for by the chance to see many waders nesting very close to the tents. These included Pectoral and Broad-billed Sandpiper, Dunlin, Asiatic golden plover, and Temminck’s stint. The chance to watch lekking Ruff at close range was obviously a highlight of the trip, and Brayton’s photos enabled us all to imagine the spectacle.

Many other birds were species Brayton and Wanda had expected to see – Long-tailed and Pomarine skua, White-fronted and Red-breasted goose, Snowy owl, Shore lark, Arctic redpoll, red-spotted bluethroat, Lapland Gunting, Red and Willow Grouse, Ptarmigan, Black-throated Diver and Long-tailed Duck amongst them. But a great surprise was two Tree Sparrow, which turned out to be the most northerly record ever.

By the end of the talks, many of us were adding the Taymyr peninsula to our wish-list of places to visit, and all agreed that we’d been treated to an entertaining, informative and very enjoyable evening.

February 18th - Claire Backshall, "Why Garden Birdwatchers Matter"

Claire is the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden Birdwatch Ambassador for North Shropshire and the Welsh borders. We were delighted to welcome her as our speaker for February.

Her excellent presentation explained the value of ‘citizen scientists’ working in partnership with BTO researchers to answer important questions about how, why and when birds use gardens and the resources they contain. Many birdwatchers and householders already keep simple records of the birds that they see using their gardens throughout the year, and Claire encouraged us to join the BTO scheme, and make and record systematic weekly observations. This information, which can be submitted either on paper or online, is then analysed by researchers at the BTO, who provide interpretation of the observed patterns and publish the results.

Launched in 1995, this approach has revealed a great deal about the way in which birds use our gardens. In many cases, birds may use other habitats at other seasons and it is important to establish when gardens are used and why. For example, blackbirds are seen in almost all gardens all year round, except in the autumn when hedgerow fruits tempt some into the countryside and moulting birds keep a low profile. On the other hand, nuthatches tend to peak in the autumn. It has also been discovered that although blackcaps migrate to Britain in the summer, the peak garden reporting rate is in winter, illustrating that birds from Central Europe are now choosing to winter here, whilst our summer visiting blackcaps have headed for Africa.

Claire used graphs and data effectively to illustrate these and other trends, explaining that BTO Garden BirdWatchers have also charted the decline of the House Sparrow (interestingly 60% decline in urban but 40% in rural areas since  1960’s), the rise of the Woodpigeon, and the fact that urban birds get up later than their rural counterparts! They have also alerted conservationists to the impact of an emerging disease in Greenfinches, trichomonosis, which has reduced the population by about a fifth since 2006.

As a result of the information submitted by ‘citizen scientists’, other GBW projects have evolved, including the Abnormal Plumage Survey, the Big Garden Beak Watch (looking at beak deformities), and the Garden Wildlife Health survey, all of which are currently ongoing.

As Claire pointed out, contributing to Garden BirdWatch is a fascinating way of becoming involved in the research and conservation associated with our wildlife today. It was good to see several of our audience showing an interest in participating in this worthy scheme.

January 21st - Simon Boyes, "Birds of Mongolia"

Many readers of this blog will know Simon Boyes, who is a contributor himself. Simon is a well known local ornithologist and a popular bird tour leader, with an extensive knowledge of birds around the world. In fact, a mutual friend suggested to us, that if Simon were 'dropped' blindfold into any area of the world, he would know where he was by the birds around him! We were delighted that he agreed to speak at our January meeting, talking about 'Birds of Mongolia', including the Eastern Steppe and Gobi Desert.

Simon captivated us all with his wonderful photos, and excellent descriptions of the holiday he led in June 2014, for Ornitholidays clients. This was the first time Ornitholidays had ventured into Mongolia, and Simon described the overwhelming impression of open space, abundant wildlife and the scent of Artemisia in the steppe. The group found the Mongolians extremely friendly, and although the living accommodation was in ger (yurt) camps rather than hotels, this proved perfectly acceptable, and certainly different! The food was apparently delicious, and exceeded all expectations.

The top wildlife experiences included a wealth of bird species ( over 170 in all) of which the Saker and Amur falcons, Steppe Eagle, Azure Tit, Demoiselle and White-naped Cranes, Oriental Plover, Altai Snowcock, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Mongolian Lark and Saxaul Sparrow were considered particularly special, as were the Henderson’s Ground Jays which ran across the steppe-desert burying almonds! Mammals included several fascinating rodents, which keep the raptor population healthy, and two ancestral relatives of our domestic animals – Argali Sheep and Przewalski’s horse. A colourful flora further enhanced the natural history experience.

Habitats ranged from craggy mountains, to beautiful forests, lakes and the huge sand dunes of the Gobi Desert – unique habitats, each supporting its own associated wildlife. Surprisingly, the mammals on the sand slopes were not Bactrian Camels but horses.

On one occasion, the group were intrigued to watch a shaman in consultation with a woman, presumably about a departed relative. His head was totally covered in a mask of Black Vulture feathers, as he beat a drum and communicated with the spirit world. Such occultism is apparently an important part of Mongolian society.

Simon’s talk was a great opportunity to learn about a country about which most of us knew very little. Local guides had taken Simon’s group to all the best birding sites, and were enthusiastic and determined to find as many Mongolian species as possible. We, in turn, benefitted from Simon’s enthusiasm and ability to paint a picture in words as well as photos, of this fascinating country and its wealth of bird and wildlife.

Thank you Simon.