Ringing Demonstration 2: Lower Moor Farm, Saturday, 25th September 2021

Back on the 14th August, CES 11, we hosted a ringing demonstration on behalf of the Swindon Wildlife Group. The Trust limit the number of people who can attend to 20 adults, but the SWG had twice that many wanting to attend. Because we aim to please, I agreed to host another ringing demonstration for the Group today. This time we had 18 adults and a number of children attend.

To ensure that we would have a few birds to show them, I set up a couple of peanut and a couple of seed feeders in the Wildlife Refuge area 10 days before. I checked them again on Thursday and noted that the seed feeders had hardly been touched, but the peanut feeders had definitely attracted the attention of the local birds, almost certainly Blue and Great Tits. At least that meant we would have some birds to show the attendees. I removed them at the end of the session: the Trust have been having problems at the site, near the hides, where photographers have been baiting the area to attract wildlife in so they can get better photographs. This has led to increased numbers of rats and we don’t want to attract rats into the Wildlife Refuge.

This morning I was joined by Rosie, Steph and Adam at 6:30, and we set up most of the CES nets plus, having confirmed with Jonathan, the farm manager, that he had moved his Belted Galloway bull out of the field, we set a Mipit triangle in the field behind where we usually set our nets:

Lures were set for Blackcap along the three usual rides and Meadow Pipit in the middle of the 3 x 12m open triangle. It was misty, and a little damp, early on and the mist didn’t actually start to rise until about 8:30.

Our first round, at 7:30, was quite productive and, in fact, all of our early rounds had reasonable returns. My only concern was that we would exhaust the birds coming in before the paying public arrived. In the event, I need not have worried. The birds came through in a steady, if not heavy, stream throughout the morning.

The public arrived at 9:00, just as we returned with a good haul of Blackcaps and Blue Tits (the benefits of the lures and the peanut feeders) and we started our presentation. I always give an overview of the genesis of the ringing scheme, and its contribution to the science of ornithology, as my preamble. One of the attendees asked the inevitable “aren’t the birds stressed / terrified by being captured”: to which my answer was to demonstrate a Blue Tit attacking my finger whilst I processed it. We discussed mortality statistics and how peer-reviewed studies in both the US and the UK have shown how negligible they are (both studies showed just 1 in 1,000 as a result of ringing, and the vast majority of them were to predation by other wildlife). I did my usual thing of getting the children, first, followed by the adults, once all of the children had their fill, to safely hold and release the birds. Engagement and understanding is the whole point of these sessions. That the person who asked “the inevitable question” joined the cohort who actually wanted to hold and release the birds, I suspect that I handled her question satisfactorily.

We had a few Chiffchaff and Wren enter the mix but the Meadow Pipit triangle was sadly empty from when I put the lure on at 7:30 until 10:00. Then we saw a few Meadow Pipits flying around, and the next round produced three caught in the nets. Thereafter, we had one or two in nearly every round.

Everybody had an enjoyable time but, as things were meandering to a close, one of the families and several of the individuals were taking their leave when I was asked to go and give Steph a hand with a Sparrowhawk. I was delighted to go and help: they can be a swine to extract, and drawing blood is a regular result. This also resulted in an about turn by all of those who had started to leave. Only it wasn’t a Sparrowhawk:

Juvenile Female Kestrel – photo by Steph

She was an absolutely gorgeous bird and posed beautifully for the attendees. This is the first Kestrel that I have caught at Lower Moor Farm, and only the fifth that has been caught at any of my sites in 9.5 years, and of those I had only processed one of them myself, having given the others to members of my team, so I decided to do this one myself.

Having processed this final catch of birds, it was approaching midday and I decided to bring the session to a halt. The attendees left and we did a final sweep of the nets, closing them as we went. Only, as Steph and I were closing out the last net ride, she noticed a bird in the furthest net away and it turned out to be this:

Juvenile Male Kingfisher – photo by Steph

Unfortunately, by this time all of the attendees, apart from the dad and his daughter, who is a friend of Lillie, Steph’s daughter, had left so they did not get the chance to see it. However, we were able to delight an elderly passing couple who, by coincidence, turned out to be the grandparents of another friend of Lillie and her attending friend.

The list for the day was: Kestrel [1]; Kingfisher [1]; Blue Tit 2[25](3); Great Tit [3](3); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren [1](2); Meadow Pipit [9]; Robin (1); Blackcap 5[17](2); Chiffchaff [4]. Totals: 7 adults ringed from 2 species; 1 full-grown but unaged bird ringed; 61 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 11 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 80 birds processed from 10 species. This just happens to be my biggest catch of the year so far.

Many hands make light work, and we were off site a little after 13:00. It was, without doubt, the best ringing demonstration I have carried out – and big thanks are due to my team for their help, support and their skills.