Death on the Plateau: Thursday, 10th September 2020

Now I have got your attention! No birds were harmed during our session, but something was very clearly dead.

Andrew Bray and I went off to Blakehill Farm this morning. Meeting at 5:30, we started to erect our nets around the bushes on the edge of the plateau. When we got to net position three the stench of a rotting carcass assaulted our nostrils. It was rank. At 5:45 in the morning it seems even worse. Throughout the morning, it seemed, we carried that stench with us everywhere we went. We both searched to see if we could find the source but whatever it was had clearly crawled deep into the adjacent bush to die. There’s a cheery start. Later in the morning Jonathan, the farm manager, came by and we mentioned the smell. He will be investigating: rather him than me.

To be honest we did find ourselves questioning why we were there on several occasions this morning. We caught our first bird at 6:30, a Robin. Then we setup our nets along the perimeter track. Having had a bit of a brain fade, I had forgotten to pack my furling sticks so, while Andrew went off to do a net round I popped home to get them (10 minutes each way). When I got back he was waiting empty handed. So, in the first hour and a half since opening our nets we had caught precisely 1 bird. Not a great start. It was cold and there was little insect movement at that time.

At 8:00 we did another net round. The peri track nets produced a single bird: a Woodpigeon. The plateau nets 2 Reed Bunting, another Robin and an adult male Whitethroat. It was nice to catch a male with such a clear grey cap. At 8:30 we began to think the tide had turned: 5 Chiffchaff and a Great Tit from the peri track nets – but nothing from the plateau.

That was it until 9:50! Not another bird disturbed the nets until then. However, the weather was beginning to warm up, the crane flies and other insects were beginning to appear, so we stayed to see what might happen. And then at 9:50 we had a lovely catch of Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Swallow, Blue Tit and 4 Chiffchaff, 4 Reed Bunting and 3 Whinchat.

Juvenile Swallow
Juvenile Redstart
Juvenile Redstart

That was it for another hour, whereupon we had another little spurt. It was becoming very clear that we were having a pretty varied catch. This was the catch of the day:

Adult Male Kestrel

I am not sure why I am so good to my trainees. I have only ringed 2 adult and one nestling Kestrel in my ringing career but, as Andrew had never done one, I gave him the bird to process. No good deed goes unpunished! In trying to help Andrew to get the bird in the correct position to ring and measure it I got my fingers a little too close to that beak.

They use that beak to rip flesh: it did exactly that!

We didn’t get a repeat of the large round but kept catching birds from different species, with Linnet and Greenfinch making an appearance at the end of the session.

Our list for the day was: Woodpigeon 1; Kestrel 1; Swallow 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 3; Meadow Pipit 1; Whinchat 2(1); Redstart 1; Robin 4; Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 19; Greenfinch 1; Linnet 2; Reed Bunting 4(2). Totals: 45 birds ringed from 16 species, 3 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 48 birds processed from 16 species. All of the birds were juveniles except for the Kestrel and the Whitethroat, one each of the Blue Tit and Robin and two of the Reed Bunting.

We closed the nets at 12:30 and left site by 13:30 at the end of a very different sort of session, with added aroma!