A brief ridge of high pressure gave me a weather window to get some nets up after what seems like an endless procession of wind, rain and snow so far this year. In the event, it was hardly worth the effort with just six new birds and three recaptures. All of the wintering Chiffchaffs and Crests have either departed or perished during the snow and sub-zero temperatures at the beginning of month. I have already received details of a Goldcrest found dead at the neighbouring Mill Farm on 27th February, when overnight temperatures fell to -4oC and I’m sure many others will have succumbed in the days that followed when the South Hams was covered in snow.
On the brighter side, one of the recaptures was a Chiffchaff returning for the breeding season. Originally ringed in April 2016, this is the first returning Chiff to be caught this year. At least three other males were singing strongly in the hedgerows around the ringing area. Unusually, at least four Water Rails were calling between the sewage treatment plant and Marsh Ride. Wintering birds have normally departed by now and I am speculating whether this year’s unusually high water table has encouraged some birds to stay to breed. Water Rails have only been proven to breed at SML on one occasion (1989) but the species is occasionally heard during the spring and summer months. Whether these are breeding birds or summering non-breeders is unknown. Water Rails normally start incubating during the last week of March in the south of England so I’ll be keeping a lookout for any sign of breeding activity.