Lower Moor Farm: Thursday, 21st May 2020

Lower Moor Farm is my Constant Effort Site (CES) that I have run for the last five years. We have never missed a session. Unfortunately, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, this year’s CES is not going to be comparable with previous years: we have already missed session 1 and, due to the need to isolate from the general public, my activities are restricted to the nets in the Wildlife Refuge area, which is not open to the general public. This has reduced the number of nets I use to less than half (5 as opposed to 12). They were set up in 2 rides: one of 2 x 18 metre nets running along the boundary brook side and the other of 3 x 18 metre nets running along the edge of Mallard Lake.

I had forgotten what it was like to get up quite so early (3:45, since you ask) and how much work is involved in setting up nets when working solo (social distancing has made group ringing a thing of the past for now). When you add in that my key and the padlock on the gate decided not to talk to each other, so I had to heave my equipment over the 5-bar gate and, even worse, heave my ancient, overweight carcass and arthritic right ankle over that same gate half-a-dozen times, it wasn’t the most auspicious start. To cap it all: the entire front bumper assembly of my car decided to deposit itself on the grass. It turns out that when, after an accident a couple of years ago, the front end was replaced the repairers omitted to put in the retaining screws. Two full services by a Ford main dealer also failed to pick that up so I am very lucky it dropped off when it did and not when I was speeding down the M4 to Bristol or similar! Words will be exchanged!

Despite all of that, I had a pretty decent session. Both nets caught well and I had a good variety of birds. I did a walk around the outside of the ringing area on Tuesday, just to see what was going on, and mapped four Cetti’s Warbler territories, so I was hoping to find a couple more within the refuge area. My first round delivered a male in net 4, my second round a female in net 5, my fourth round a recaptured bird, ringed as an adult last year. So three Cetti’s was a good start. From the results today and the walk on Tuesday, I am pretty confident that there are seven Cetti’s territories in that part of the reserve. That is significantly higher than in previous years.

There was a steady trickle of birds throughout the morning but by 8:30 it had quietened down a lot so I decided, rashly, to set up three more nets (one each of 9 metres, 12 metres and 18 metres) further along the boundary brook side. It always looks as if it should catch really well, it rarely does. In fact, all I got for me efforts were the exercise in putting them up, walking over to check them half-a-dozen times or so, and then taking them down again! It is amazing I manage to remain so cheerful. Fortunately, there was a late surge of catches in the other nets, with a pair of Garden Warblers (I say “pair” knowing that the connotation is not proven, but two birds of different sexes of the same species in the same net, less than 12″ apart, is pretty good circumstantial evidence) and a male Reed Bunting as my last catch of the morning.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit (1); Dunnock 2(2); Robin 3(1); Blackbird (1); Cetti’s Warbler 2(1); Blackcap 6(1); Garden Warbler 2(1); Lesser Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff 1(2); Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 21 birds ringed from 10 species; 12 birds retrapped from 10 species, making 33 birds processed from 14 species.

There was no sign of young warblers yet but one of the Dunnocks and two of the Robins ringed were fresh out of the nest. Next session there should be a generous sprinkling of young Titmice as well as, potentially, some early Blackcap and Chiffchaff young.

Both the Bullfinch and the Reed Bunting were handsome, striking males and were almost the highlight of the session. The real highlight was something I didn’t manage to catch. At about 7:30 I started to hear this call that I couldn’t place. It sounded a bit like an animal being predated and calling out in pain. After a couple of text messages with Jonny Cooper, who was out doing his own catching, it came to me: Water Rail. This is exciting. We know that they over-winter but in the 15 years since I first visited, and the 7 years since I started ringing at, Lower Moor Farm I have never had any evidence of them being around in the summer and potentially breeding on site.

It got very hot about 10:30 so I started to pack away and cleared the site by 11:30. One of the benefits of setting only a few nets: packing up is pretty quick. So, an eventful and interesting session.