I was joined by Jonny, David, Steph and Lillie for this, our first session after Christmas. The ride down which we set our nets is beginning to show the first signs that the incredible drying out of the substrate this summer and autumn might just be succumbing to the winter rains. i.e. it is beginning to get very mucky underfoot.
David is currently struggling to get ringing sessions under his belt. It seems there is a paucity of trainers willing to take people on and so, for each of his 10 week terms at university in Aberystwyth, he gets to do no ringing. Both the University and myself have tried to find someone in the area who he could work with in term time, but with no success. I am always delighted at how quickly he manages to pick things up again, but training the next generations of ringers is a real problem.
Speaking of which, Lillie has been coming out with us, accompanying her mum, Steph, for two years now, since the age of 7. She has been taught how to do all of the basic processing of birds in the hand once they have been extracted. Saturday was a red-letter day for her (and the team) as she carried out her first extractions. I started her off gently, with a Chaffinch, and then we moved on to Blackbird, Great Tit, Coal Tit and, finally, to test her mettle, Blue Tit. Suffice to say, she did extremely well and needed very little help after having been shown what to do. We will take it slowly but she will become an even more valuable member of the team very quickly.
The catch was a good one: with a reasonable variety for a north Wiltshire woodland in winter. We did not catch any Redwing this session. I did a quick visit to Blakehill Farm on Wednesday morning, their stronghold in this part of the county, and didn’t see any: so I was not that surprised. (I did manage to see 5 Snipe and 2 Jack Snipe, so it was good visit). Anyway, the list for the day was: Nuthatch 1(1); Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 11(4); Great Tit 4(1); Coal Tit 5(9); Robin (1); Blackbird 1(1); Goldcrest 3(1): Chaffinch 4. Totals: 31 birds ringed from 8 species; 18 birds recaptured from 7 species, making 49 birds processed from 9 species.
Unfortunately, we missed out on two good birds. A Sparrowhawk flashed down the ride and got entangled in the net, just long enough to get Jonny running full pelt to try to get to it, but unfortunately it extracted itself and got away before he could reach it. The second bird we could not process was a Jay. We don’t catch many, so to have to let one go was disappointing. The bird was badly affected with what was almost certainly a mite infection, but it looked very much like the scaly leg problems we find with some Chaffinches. The irony of being able to ring 4 Chaffinches, as they had clean legs, but not a Jay, that we have never seen this problem with before, was not lost on us. This poor bird was missing two of its claws on the left foot, as a result of the infection.
Treecreeper are always a nice catch but very difficult to photograph. BTO rules are that photographs of birds should not be shown if they could be construed to be uncomfortable or stressed. The problem with photographing Treecreepers is that they always look miserable in the hand: they have a down-curved beak and hunch their shoulders, so it is difficult to get a usable photo. Fortunately, on release both of ours flew into nearby trees and stayed still for long enough to get a photograph before flying off: