The return of purple hands: Lower Moor Farm, CES 9, Wednesday, 1st August 2018

As a ringer you are one of the first to recognise the onset of autumn, if you correlate the ripening of blackberries and elderberries with that seasonal change.  This is manifested in the colour purple becoming the prevalent colour of your hands by the end of a session.  What it does show, a bit like those disclosure tablets used to show up plaque on your teeth, is just how much bird poop ends up on your hands when processing birds: a clear indication that you really should clean your hands before eating food after handling birds.  Projectile pooing is a defence mechanism, so it is not surprising they do it; what is surprising is how much accumulates on your hands and clothes.

As I was being joined by David later in the morning (as he has no transport his Dad drops him off at site on his way to work) I started at half-an-hour earlier than recent start times so I could get the nets up by the usual start time for the session.  When on my own I keep all of the nets shut until I have them all set and then open them for catching. This ensures that either no bird is in the nets for an extended period or, equally, that I am not forever stopping what I am doing to go and check nets.  With the nets open just before 6:00, I was ready for the session.

So far this year our catches at this site have been well down on 2017: with a 30% reduction in numbers.  I was hoping that there would not be too much of a shortfall on the 60 birds caught in the equivalent to this session last year. I needn’t have worried: we had a small (10%) increase but the mix of birds was really encouraging.

Blackcaps and Garden Warblers are somewhat antagonistic.  At least, if you want to catch Blackcaps and Garden Warblers in the Spring, playing Garden Warbler song does the job for both species.  They tend to inhabit slightly different habitat types as a result.  Garden Warblers are particularly keen on coppiced woodlands and woodland edges.

Blackcaps are definitely more numerous: with a summer breeding population of more than five times the size of that of the Garden Warbler.  This is usually reflected in our catches.  Yesterday, remarkably, we ringed 12 each of Blackcap and Garden Warbler.  All of these ringed birds were juveniles.  Three Blackcaps were recaptured, only one of which was an adult.  This is the largest ever catch of Garden Warblers in a single session for 7 years, and the largest catch ever away from Swindon sewage works.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 2(2); Great Tit 2; Wren 2(1); Dunnock 5; Robin 1(1); Blackbird 5(4); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 12(3); Garden Warbler 12; Whitethroat 3;  Chiffchaff 5; Greenfinch 1; Bullfinch 1(2).  Totals: 52 birds ringed from 13 species; 14 birds recaptured from 7 species, making 66 birds processed from 14 species.  Of the birds caught, 57 were juveniles, with the adult birds being Blue Tit 1; Blackbird 4; Blackcap 1; Greenfinch 1 and Bullfinch 2.

Apart from the numbers of Garden Warbler, the highlights in the catch were our first Reed Warbler of the year, a juvenile, and our first juvenile Bullfinch of the year:

Bullfinch

Non-ringing highlights were a superb Hobby that flew across Mallard Lake from south to north, my first sighting of one this year.  There were several Common Terns over the lakes as usual, but we don’t normally see them successfully catching fish, so it was nice to see one of them plunge and pull up with a fish in its beak. This prompted a couple of other terns to chase after the successful bird. I wondered if it was a family group.

At about 10:30 we were joined by a team from the Wildlife Trust running an activity for a group of children which had something to do with inflatable pink flamingos. No idea. However, as usual, we did an impromptu ringing demonstration for them, answered their questions and showed them how to safely hold and release birds. It went down as well as it always does.  One of the key activities of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, alongside their conservation activities, is involving young people, from small children to adolescents / young adults, as well as disadvantaged and vulnerable children and adults, in nature.  It is a privilege to be a small, tangential, part of what they do.