Strange Goings On in the Firs: Wednesday, 29th January 2020

As I arrived on site at 6:50 at the Firs this morning I was greeted with the eerie screech of a Barn Owl hunting over one of the adjacent fields. That was closely followed by the vixen’s scream, always a sound to make you stop and think.

I was joined by Jonny, Alice and Tony for the session. Alice was buzzing after a weekend in north Wales with the SCAN wader group during which she ringed Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Knot, Ringed Plover and Turnstone. It is great fun working with waders: from using cannon nets to catch them, to mist netting in the dark on salt marshes. I must do it again soon.

As day broke we noticed some strange adornments to some of the trees:

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Is there a local pagan cult using it for their ceremonies?  If they are, I will lay odds that they aren’t venturing down into the central glade. It was the muddiest I can remember for a very long time. The temperature was a balmy 2°C, so underfoot did not benefit from an overnight freeze, and we all got pretty filthy quite quickly. It was also a hard slog trudging up and down the hill a dozen times over the course of the morning.

We set 7 x 18m nets down the central glade, with a single 12m net behind the feeding station.  All nets caught, but we could probably have done without the two farthest nets which caught just two birds.

Every bit as unusual as the tree decorations was the make up of the catch: Blue Tit 12(18); Great Tit 5(16); Coal Tit 2(2); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren (1); Robin (1); Blackbird 1(1); Goldcrest (2); Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 21 birds ringed from 5 species; 42 birds retrapped from 8 species, making 63 birds processed from 9 species.

I cannot remember another session where two-thirds of our catch is retrapped birds.  Some ringers would consider that the site is “ringed out”. My thought is that this is the benefit of regularly ringing a particular patch: it enables you to monitor what is happening with the bird life.  As I have now been ringing at the Firs for 8 years I have a significant amount of data. It will soon be time for me to produce my annual reports for the landowners, in which comparative data taken from recaptured birds always plays a significant part in informing them about the health of their sites and to support any management recommendations that I might make.

The catch died off at about 11:00 so we closed the nets at 11:30 and left site by midday.