I have been lucky enough to ring quite a few waders, mainly with the Wash Wader Group, but also a few as a trainee with Matt Prior, but haven’t really tried on my own sites in Wiltshire, mainly because they aren’t really that wader friendly. The odd Snipe or Green Sandpiper might drop in at Lower Moor Farm, but they are not regular over-wintering birds.
However, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust extended Blakehill Farm’s habitat, by way of a land swap, to include a couple of relatively recently dug ponds, and then added a third as a wader scrape two winters ago. There have been reasonable numbers of Snipe and the occasional Jack Snipe seen there most winters. I have wanted to try for Snipe at the ponds since I got access to the western part of the site. The first time we tried, Jonny Cooper and I set our nets at the new wader scrape the night before, furled them and got up bright and early to open them. Unfortunately, there was a heavy frost overnight and they were frozen shut. By the time we got them open there was no chance of catching anything but a cold! This time we were determined to get it right.
Over the last couple of weeks I have carried out two reconnaissance sessions, to find out where the Snipe were. There have regularly been 5 to 7 Snipe and 2 Jack Snipe at the site. It proved that they were using the middle pond, not the wader scrape, as their feeding site. So this morning Jonny, Andrew Bray and myself met at Blakehill at 6:00 am to set up a horseshoe of nets encompassing the feeding area. We weren’t confident, but if you never try you never do anything.
Once the nets were set we waited for dawn: the Blackbirds were heard first, followed by the Jackdaws and at 7:15 we heard our first Snipe, and then another. At 7:30 we checked the nets, and were excited to see one white belly gleaming in the net. When we reached the net and found not 1 but 4 birds in the net we were delighted. As one of them was proved to be a Jack Snipe we were quite dizzy with excitement. Yes, it is potentially valuable data we collect, hopefully important in conservation work, but as I have invested in £thousands worth of equipment and spend over £1,000 on rings each year, I am going to enjoy what I do: and boy did I enjoy this session!
We didn’t catch anything else this morning and were packed up ready to go by 9:30. On the way out we bumped into Buffy, from the Trust’s Well-being Team, who was just organising a work party to go and remove some of the bramble scrub that has started encroaching on the ponds. Hopefully it will make the habitat even more acceptable to more species of wader.