Saturday, July 16, 2005

Ringing: Ferry Meadows CP

I haven't been deliberately avoiding ringing but, until today, I'd somehow managed not to do any since mid May. That's not very good for a trainee who really needs lots more experience...

So it felt good to be at Ferry Meadows at 3.45am, on a warm, dark morning with little wind, putting on wellies, waterproof trousers and waxed jacket (yes, even in July), insect repellent and head torch.

The site often reminds me of Henri Rousseau's painting Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) - not because of the weather (we pack up when it rains) or the big cat population, but because of the luxuriant foliage. Just thought I'd mention that...

The nets were up by 5am as planned and weather conditions looked good. Chris has had some good catches this year already and one of the most interesting factors in ringing is that you never know for sure what's going to turn up...

It turned out to be another record-breaking morning. The ringing at Ferry Meadows is part of the BTO-organised Constant Effort Site scheme which enables numbers of birds caught to be compared year-on-year, as visits are made in the same time periods and with the same numbers of nets up in the same places etc. as far as possible.

Ringing - fitting an uniquely-numbered ring around a bird's leg - means that individuals can be identified on subsequent occasions and information can be built up. Biometrics - weight, wing length - and details of moult and brood patches etc. are recorded. As well as learning more about what individual birds do, it also provides information about what's happening to populations more broadly (for a proper explanation, please visit the BTO website).

By lunchtime we'd processed a grand total of 145 birds of 18 species:
Wren; Dunnock; Robin; Blackbird; Sedge Warbler; Reed Warbler; Lesser Whitethroat; Whitethroat; Garden Warbler; Blackcap; Chiffchaff; Willow Warbler; Goldcrest; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Treecreeper; Bullfinch; Reed Bunting.

The two Goldcrests were very unusual for CES here and we don't get too many Lesser Whitethroats, either. Long-tailed Tits were absent from the scoresheet (though we heard them calling) and juvenile Reed Warblers kept a low profile, as did Bullfinches (only one juvenile caught). Many of the warblers had been munching on berries (but which ones?), as evidenced by their purple chins.

There were some amazingly tatty birds around, most notably Blue and Great Tits, which seem to be prone to losing the majority of their head feathering during the breeding season. There were also a few Chiffchaffs which were in serious need of new wing feathers.

Then there was The One That Got Away. We were at one of the nets when a male Sparrowhawk shot in at the other end. Bad words were uttered as we ran towards it. Unfortunately, the bird decided that that would be a good time to wriggle out of the net and make good its escape. More curses.

As well as birds, the site is also rich in insect life. I helped three species of dragonfly out of the nets this morning - Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker and Four-spotted Chaser - and we saw Emperor, Banded Demoiselle and assorted damselflies. We've seen Musk Beetle (below) there before, too - a Nationally Notable species.

In short, Ferry Meadows is a good place to be on a summer's morning. It's a privilege to be off the beaten track and surrounded by nature. Ringing gives us a special view of what's really going on with bird populations and a sample of what's around on the site.

I could live without the mosquitos and the stinging nettles, though.

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