One of the things I am proudest of about the West Wilts Ringing Group is our working relationships with a wide range of scientific and conservation organisations, both national and local. One of our key partnerships is with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. They know that they can rely on us to support their events throughout the year and, in return, we are privileged to have access to their nature reserves. This Saturday was an excellent example of how it works, with their Winter Bird Fair at Langford Lakes.
Rob Turner took on the burden of organising our team effort, recruiting his friend and golfing buddy, Paul, to be our scribe for the day. He made a fine job of it: recording all of the information thrown at him, by up to three ringers processing, and amongst the press of the public watching and asking questions. The extracting and processing team comprised Rob, me, Andy Palmer, Jonny Cooper and, joining us for the first time, Aurora Goncalo. Aurora is a Bristol based trainee, whose trainer is currently very busy with his job (part of which is supervising Jonny in his Master’s project), so she is looking for other groups to work with. I know both parties were very pleased with the link up.
With the public arriving at 10:00, we opened the nets at 09:30. This is a late start for a bird ringing session but we were happy about it, as it gave the temperature time to warm up, and the birds time to feed up after a cold night, before we started catching them. By the time we had opened the nets we had our first birds: a Goldcrest and a Great Tit.
Things took off with our very first full net round. Having extracted the usual Blue and Great Tits, we were walking back along the net ride when Jonny took off at a sprint. He got there in time to extract a male Sparrowhawk. It had been chasing a Long-tailed Tit, that was in the net below. We decided that the potential prey didn’t need any additional stress, so we released it unharmed and it flew off strongly. With Amy from the Trust having had the foresight to bring a set of walkie-talkies, the news travelled quickly and most of the 80 attendees congregated at the Visitor Centre to see this cracking male bird.
We were lucky enough to catch a good variety of birds during the day, coming in regular small numbers, which enabled us to show a variety of different birds to a large and appreciative audience throughout the day. But the session, having started so well, finished with a magnificent flourish: a pair of Kingfishers. I say “pair” knowing the connotations of the term. These two birds were caught close together in the same net. They were a male and a female. Once they had been processed, and the crowd had their opportunity to see these spectacular birds close up, we released them and they flew off together, calling. I am pretty confident that they are a pair.
The list for the day was: Sparrowhawk 1; Kingfisher 2; Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 14(1); Great Tit 10; Long-tailed Tit 5; Wren 1; Robin 1(1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 2. Totals: 43 birds ringed from 13 species, two birds retrapped from two species, making 45 birds processed from 13 species.
Having had a lovely day, with good weather, a great catch and a large, appreciative audience, we had one unpleasant moment. In an effort (forlorn as it turned out) to possibly catch a Water Rail or a duck, we set a few Potter traps. These are walk-in traps, baited up with food, with a trip that closes a gate, capturing any bird (or other animal) that is attracted in. These are humane, entirely non-lethal traps. Somebody clearly took exception to finding one of these traps and stomped on it, severely damaging the trap. Whilst some of us are lucky enough to get some external funding, most don’t. Ringing is an expensive business: a net and two poles costs over £100. Every ring used costs at least 26p (approximately 1 million birds are ringed every year in the UK) and these Potter traps cost in the region of £40 a time. We all invest significant time and money in carrying out our citizen science. Unfortunately, on occasion we are abused, insulted, threatened, assaulted and have our equipment damaged by ignorant people – but we carry on regardless, because the work is important and the results are their own reward.
All photos courtesy of Ralph Harvey, WWT Photographer.