I have just finished preparing a ringing report for SML for 2017, partly because Natural England have sent me a copy of their rules relating to bird ringing on SSSI’s, which says a report should be submitted to them annually, but principally because I think that data is of no value unless it is in the public domain. Copies have been sent to Natural England and to Devon Birds for the Harrier.
Chris Townend’s assessment of the bird reserves owned or managed by Devon Birds in 2015 recommended that: “All reserves should have realistic, species specific targets for birds breeding, wintering or on passage. Measuring the success of such targets can only be carried out through regular and accurate monitoring.” The current SML management plan also highlights areas where contemporary data on the flora and fauna of the reserve are inadequate or lacking and the need to address this shortcoming before future changes and the impact of habitat improvements can be assessed. With this lack of data in mind, ringing continued throughout the breeding season in 2017.
Historically the principal focus at SML has been on ringing migrant birds during spring and autumn passage but, as the migratory routes of most of the species there are already well understood, the focus has now shifted to more demographic based studies. For the first time, in recent years, ringing took place in every month and continued throughout the summer. This will enable changes in population, survival and productivity rates between years to be monitored in the future at SML.
Overall it was a productive year with significant improvements to the ringing infrastructure leading to a total of 2,137 birds processed, including nearly 1,200 warblers, and the data collected will form the baseline for future comparisons. You can read the full report here: Annual Ringing Reports
A windless morning with a thin layer of high cloud saw me back at SML just after dawn. It was a little bit warmer and a little bit busier today, although still best described as slow and steady. 32 birds were trapped of which 21 were new including 14 Chiffchaff, 5 Blackcap and 3 Willow Warbler. The Spotted Crake remained on site, calling just twice at 07:30 and 09:15. It has been completely elusive, despite the best efforts of numbers of hopeful observers, and isn’t responding to tape lures any more. I did get good views of a Water Rail in the same area of reedbed though as a consolation. The whole reserve remains exceptionally wet and the fact there are still rails present and they have ceased calling and gone into stealth mode reinforces my belief that there may be several pairs attempting to breed this year.
On a non-bird note, I was tipped off by a visitor last Sunday that there was an unusual flower growing in the upper Ley. Risking life and limb and nearly parting company with my wellies in the process, I managed wade through a particularly wet and overgrown swamp to secure the photo above, which I think is Arum italicum, based on the colour of the spadix and the lack of purple around the margin of the cowl. Separation from the native Lords-and-ladies or Cuckoo Pint, Arum maculatum is not easy for a non-botanist with limited reference books but, either way, it will be a new species for the reserve’s plant list!
After another unproductive session on the 26th March, which certainly wasn’t worth blogging about, with just three new Chiffchaffs ringed, and with a forecast of a clear skies and no wind I was anticipating a decent day at SML and it started well. Arriving at 07:00, there was still a thin layer of frost on the ground and on the mist net poles, and I made my way to Marsh Ride to erect the nets when I was amazed to hear the unmistakeable whiplash call of a Spotted Crake just a few metres away from me. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t see the bird although it responded well to my attempts to imitate its call. It called again briefly a couple of hours later and that was it. I am reliably informed that this is the first spring record for the area.
On the ringing side, things weren’t exactly hectic with 19 birds trapped of which 12 were new including 4 Chiffchaff, 3 Willow Warbler and 1 Goldcrest. Re-traps included a male Cetti’s Warbler of unknown origin and female ringed as a 1st year bird at SML in 2016. This is good news as Cetti’s have been very quiet here for the last couple of years and it’s nice to know that a pair is present at the start of the breeding season.