Wader Ringing in mid-Wales

A lull in the weather last week provided the opportunity for myself and my sister to make a break for it from Ynys Enlli – with exams and uni to get back to, it’s best not to chance it considering some winters can see unfavourable conditions leading to three week gaps between boat crossing to the island!

After staying with some good friends in the Lake District, and trying to cram in revision wherever possible, I travelled down to Llandrindod Wells in mid-Wales to meet up with Paul Leafe and his partner Silvia Cojucaru. Paul has been ringing as part of the mid Wales ringing group for ten years or so now, and specialises in catching waders at night-time on the rolling pastureland characterising Powys.

The species targeted by this form of ringing are Woodcocks, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Golden Plovers and Lapwings. Golden Plovers are fitted with colour rings as part of an on-going study, whilst the fantastic number of waders that Paul and others manage to ring each year has provided some really cool recoveries (albeit largely from Woodcocks that have been shot along their migration route!)

The rolling hillsides of Powys – whilst they do provide multitudes of earthworms for waders and thrushes, the landscape appears rather barren and lacking in trees

I have been meaning to meet up with Paul to help out with some wader ringing here for a number of years, but have never quite managed to. So it was brilliant to get to spend a couple of nights in the area and head out into the fields in search of these superb birds…

Woodcock are perhaps the commonest species Paul traps and rings – he’s ringed over 80 so far this winter

It’s not your average student’s evening experience: squelching through mud as you wander the bleak hillsides in the pitch dark, scanning the fields with a bright torch whilst a hand net is poised in one hand. Thus is the nature of being a keen ringer!

The method we utilise to catch these species, as eluded to just now, is called ‘lamping’ or ‘dazzling’. Essentially it involves using a bright torch (although not too bright) to temporarily dazzle a bird under the cover of darkness, allowing you to creep quietly up and carefully place a net over it. Once captured, the bird is placed in a small cotton bag and taken back to the ringing station (aka, the veritable warmth of a car nearby) to fit the wings, take measurements and carry out the rest of the ringing protocol. The bird is then released, and usually flies off into the darkness, hopefully to be caught many hundreds of miles away by some other ringer to add to our knowledge of what these birds do!

Jack Snipe – one of the other target species for wader ringing here

Over the two nights Paul and I headed out ‘dazzling’, I was delighted that we managed to catch four Woodcocks and a Jack Snipe, along with the bonus of a Fieldfare and Skylark too! It was brilliant to get close-up views of such brilliant birds, and check out the ageing features…

Ageing Woodcock is pretty straight forward: the most obvious feature is the patterning of the primary coverts: in juveniles (right), the chestnut triangular markings are large and the tips with a thick band; adults (left) have far less chestnut and only a thin white tip

Woodcocks are truly awesome birds: their intricately patterned plumage and subtle hues of browns combined with black barring results in the ultimate camouflage – the definition of crypsis. This allows them to spend the daytime hiding in relative peace amongst the leaf litter in woodland valleys. I say ‘relative peace’, because woodcocks are unfortunately frequently at the wrong end of game keepers and hunter’s shotguns. This may be a contribution to the specie’s decline as a UK breeding species over the last decade
a Fieldfare was a lovely addition to our dazzling catch

So all-in-all a brilliant few nights, combined with checking some Dipper boxes and re-trapping two colour-ringed individuals. Many thanks to Paul for allowing me to tag along!

I am now back in Falmouth, where I’ll be in relative incarceration to study ahead of a couple of exams next week. Otherwise, I’ll hopefully be posting a bit more often!


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