Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The last of Burgh Castle for a while...

Given that I shall be starting my summer job as a Research Assistant with the RSPB in mid March this would most likely be my last opportunity to do some ringing with my trainer Paul and his trainee Rob. First light is becoming increasingly early and this combined with the late night before after catching Dunlins with the Wash Wader Ringing Group meant that Rob struggled in about an hour after Paul and I opened the nets.

The warm temperature and gentle breeze should have made ideal catching conditions but as has often been the case this winter there were not many birds around which whilst not being great did give a good chance for Rob to practice his mist net extractions. Interestingly a few Jays and Magpies were seen flying around the garden and the trees bordering the neighbouring grazing marsh so it was not a total surprise when a Jay was caught during one net round with Paul and I watching on smiling whilst Rob found himself extracting a bird 'capable of causing pain'. 

Not an ad for expensive photography wear but 
a photo of a glove wearing wimp holding a 2CY Jay.

Greenfinches were also a feature of the day with a good of total of eighteen trapped after taking advantage of the top quality sunflower hearts that Paul dutifully provides with a good mix of 2CY (5) birds and adults (6). It was a nice steady session with a good breakfast provided as always by Paul's wife Tracey. I shall miss them during my summer in Sutherland.

Pair of adult Greenfinches

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Gedney Dunlins

On Saturday afternoon a small team from the Wash Wader Ringing Group met at the Old School House to get kit ready for an evening mist netting session at a new site near Gedney in Lincolnshire. We were soon on our way and upon arrival split the netting equipment between two teams and set out across the salt marsh to put up nets in readiness for the high tide later on in the evening. Once the nets were set we headed back to the cars to set up base camp and order a fish and chip supper before returning to the nets with the tape lure systems. At this point darkness had started to descend and one or two birds, all Dunlin, had found the nets. We set the tapes going and went back to base camp to deliver our catch and tuck into the tasty food that had arrived in our absence.

A further two net rounds produced more Dunlin bringing the total to 31 - all new birds. A small team was assembled to process the birds after they'd been ringed. For some people on the trip it was the first time they'd had the opportunity to handle a wader species so the small catch enabled them to become familiar with Dunlin ageing. Fortunately the night wasn't too cold and we were pleased with a small but successful catch at the new site.

Taking biometric measurements from a Dunlin

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Knot spectacular

Friday evening saw a very cold team return from setting cannon nets on Snettisham beach. Four small mesh nets were set with a view to catching some of the large Knot flock that had been seen there on the morning recce. Given that all the usual grot was covered with snow it was decided to use the snow itself to conceal the net set, making for very cold hands for some grotters.

Upon arriving at the beach on Saturday morning car temperature gauges were reading an unbelievable minus fifteen degrees Celsius, after a few minutes sitting at base camp behind the sea wall it definitely felt like it. I was quick to volunteer when the hide team requested a twinkler and soon warmed up a little on the 100 metre run behind the sea wall. The attempt was futile as birds just flew out and then landed back in the same spot so I endured lying prostrate in the snow while we waited for a Turnstone to climb off the net that promised the best catch. As it wouldn't move the decision was taken to fire the adjacent net over far fewer birds but mid conversation the bird took flight and the preferred net was fired over a large quantity of Knot.

Extracting Knot Photo by Alice Tribe

Small mesh nets have the advantage that should an excessively large catch be taken a corner can be lifted to allow some birds to escape. As shown in the photo birds do not become entangled. In this instance, however, it was decided to start extracting as soon as the net was lifted away from the edge of the rising tide. It quickly became evident that the catch was very large indeed and box after box was filled with Knot and taken back to the team erecting the keeping cages on the very icy beach. Once the keeping cages were starting to fill up a couple of ring and fling teams were recruited to crack on with the mammoth task of ringing several thousand Knot. Given the size of the catch only a small sample of were Knot passed to the assembled processing teams. Other species were fully processed with Bar-tailed Godwits receiving leg flags as part of the group's on going colour mark project.

 Knot Photo by Alice Tribe

Bar-tailed Godwit Photo by Alice Tribe

In debrief the team leaders remarked upon how efficiently the catch was dealt with and that all the birds seemed to be in good condition considering the recent spell of harsh weather. It should be noted that it was still minus five when we left the beach but being involved with such a spectacular catch made the frozen toes and bruised knees truly worth it. Such large catches are very rarely made and this was the largest for forty years. Controls hailed from Norway (5), Iceland (1), Holland (2), Germany (1) and Britain (13). Interestingly the oldest retrap was 19 years old and will have survived many a cold winter.

Ringing Knot on Snettisham beach Photo by Rob Robinson

Totals - 2831 new, (95) retrap
Oystercatcher - 11, (3)
Knot - 2680, (77)
Sanderling - 1
Dunlin - 35, (2)
Bar-tailed Godwit - 104, (13)

Needless to say the mist netting planned for Saturday evening was cancelled due to the large cannon net catch but also the freezing fog that had kept temperatures low in the morning was still lingering over the salt marshes and would render the nets highly visible.

Sunday morning saw a number of teams depart to various locations around the Norfolk side of the Wash to do some colour ring resighting and general birdwatching. My team headed to RSPB Snettisham Pits and were rewarded with extremely close views of Goldeneye and a beautiful drake Red-breated Merganser. A flock of Snow Buntings were flying up and down the beach and both Short-eared and Barn Owls were seen. The only birds lacking were those wearing colour rings but a good morning and weekend were had by all.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Snowy Blackcap

Whilst the Sunday in Hampshire was spent with Pete Potts and his team from Farlington Ringing Group Saturday and Monday mornings were spent watching a 30' mist net erected in my parents' Clanfield garden. Despite the cold and snowy weather the feeders were relatively quiet leading to a very small catch. One highlight however, was a male Blackcap being caught on Monday morning. The over wintering warbler had been seen periodically throughout the winter so it was interesting to be ringing a summer migrant in early February.

 2 CY (5) male Blackcap

Totals - 5 new
Robin - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Blackcap - 1
Coal Tit - 1
Starling - 1

Hampshire Waders

Despite the snow that fell overnight in the South Downs it was snow free when I arrived on Sunday morning at Weston Shore near Southampton to meet Pete Potts and his team from Farlington Ringing Group. I had reported a colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit seen at Titchfield Haven last summer and Pete invited me to join his group for a cannon net catch in the Solent so as I was in Hampshire visiting my folks I arranged to meet him to try for some Dunlin that were coming to a patch of mud on Weston Shore in Southampton Water.

Meeting at 09:00 meant more sleep than usual before a cannon net catch and the site is very different from those operated on the Wash. The beach is a thin strip of stony shoreline in view of several high rise apartment blocks and next to a well used path popular with what seemed like every dog walker within a ten mile radius. With a single net set we retreated to a bench (luxury!), and waited for the tide to rise and the birds to arrive. a few Brent Geese were swimming tantalisingly just out of reach and still we waited. Ruth who was on the firing box had to answer a call of nature and retreated to the toilet block (more luxury!), leaving me to take the catch as directed by Pete. Eventually a small flock of Dunlin arrived and the order to fire came quickly. Upon running to the net it was immediately apparent that one of the middle cannons hadn't fired with the result that most of the flock had escaped capture leaving just four birds to be extracted one of which found freedom and with only two Ringed Plovers and a single Turnstone remaining it was clear that we wouldn't be short of ringing pliers.

With the kit packed up we headed back to the car park and set up a small processing area to deal with the birds. Pete's trainees Dan and Pete did the ringing with Ruth Crogan and I fitting the colour rings. Pete scribed and Tim Walker checked the biometrics. Ruth checked the unfired cartridge only to find the powder damp; it was presumed this had occurred on the group's previous trip where the net hadn't been fired.

 Pete and his team processing the 'catch'.

 Dan and I proudly holding our CRinged Ringed Plover before release.
Photo - Ruth Crogan

Ruth holding the CRinged Turnstone.
Photo - Ruth Crogan

Despite the the technical failure resulting in a very small catch it was a nice morning and it was really good to meet Pete and his team for some Hampshire ringing. I was made to feel really welcome and will certainly try to attend another catch. After returning to Pete's and unloading and cleaning the kit a warming lunch was served followed by some Brent Goose colour ring resighting. This is much easier said than done as c2000 geese were stood grazing amongst the winter grain crop making the colour rings very difficult to spot particularly for those with no previous experience with the colours and engravings. After an hour or so and with failing light we had racked up a respectable 30 individuals.

Flock size?