Midge swarm 26th November 2018
After another 10-day gap due to indifferent weather, today was almost perfect, with low winds and no rain forecast. Looking at the Atlantic pressure charts for the next week or so, it was clear this was going to be a brief weather window that had to be taken advantage of. The benign conditions coincided with an emergence of Chironomid midges from the sewage works. These short-lived insects form the major part of wintering Chiffchaffs’ diets and about thirty birds were taking advantage of the glut.
The sand bar at South Milton Sands, which controls the water levels at SML is unusually high at the moment and the two seaward net rides have been inaccessible since the late summer. The level of impounded fresh water behind the sand bar has risen significantly and is now just a few cm below the bridge to Marsh Ride. With over 2m of flowing water in the ditch, crossing the bridge requires care!
51 birds of 12 species were trapped but only 35 were new birds: 2 Blackbird, 4 Blue Tit, 4 Bullfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 15 Chiffchaff, 1 Dunnock, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Robin, 6 Wren.
My first visit to SML for a fortnight due to unsuitable weather. In reality, the wind strength was borderline at times and I packed up at 1pm as it became increasingly murky and damp. If every leaf I extracted from the nets today had been a bird I would have run out of rings! The highlight of the day was a Yellow-browed W calling by Marsh Ride, which I failed to trap or even relocate later. There was no real sign of any passage but there were 18 Redwing, 3 Grey heron and 2 water Rail on site. 37 birds of 12 species were trapped: 11 Chiffchaff, 2 Cetti’s Warbler, 2 Blackbird, 7 Blue Tit, 4 Goldcrest, 2 Great Tit, 3 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Meadow Pipit, 1 Redwing, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Robin, 1 Wren.
For the last two autumns, I have been targeting southward bound Tree Pipits as they pass over SML. The realisation that they are suckers for tape lures playing their song, even in what seems like the most unsuitable habitat, tempted me into trying and, although catching them in a reed bed sounds unlikely, they could be tempted to settle in the tops of willows and eventually their curiosity would draw them down to the tape player in the grassy strip at the bottom of the net ride. Result – some ending up in the net. This year however, Tree Pipits were thin on the ground so, in mid-September, I switched my attention to Meadow Pipits, who suffer from the same fatal attraction.
The recommended method for trapping Meadow Pipits is to set three nets in a triangle around a bush and tape lure the birds in. There isn’t a suitable open space at South Milton so I tried the Tree Pipit method. So far this year it’s yielded 37 birds. Most pipits are trapped in targeted operations and few are caught by chance so, with such low numbers involved, I had no expectation of any recoveries. I was, therefore, pretty surprised (and excited) to receive a ringing recovery report last evening. My excitement was tempered by the realisation that the bird had only travelled 18km and that the recovery wasn’t going to add a great deal to our knowledge of the species. Still it’s the first ever Meadow Pipit control for SML and having a bird ringed and controlled the next day must also be a pretty rare event for the species. End result – a brief period of smug self-satisfaction!
After another cold, clear night I was greeted by a heavy frost this morning and, once I had scraped the ice off the mist net poles – the only real disadvantage of metal versus bamboo poles – things started quietly. Because of the cold I decided to use my minimum suite of six nets, all within 200m of the ringing station, which enables more frequent net rounds. Flocks of 500 Woodpigeon and 50 Jackdaws heading south overhead and groups of blackbird, redwing and fieldfare feeding on hawthorn berries around the reserve, gave some indication that there were migrants about and I might be able to lure a few into a net. However, despite my best efforts, the thrushes were elusive and soon departed.
The final total for the day was 36 birds of 10 species, including 9 re-traps and a UK ringed Chiffchaff. The highlight was 4 Cetti’s warblers, which brings the total for the species to 10 individuals in the last 5 weeks. New birds were: 1 Blackcap, 5 Blue tit, 3 Cetti’s Warbler, 9 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldcrest, 2 Great Tit, 3 Meadow Pipit, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Wren. Also around the reserve: 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Bullfinch, 3 Water Rail, 1 Green Woodpecker and, despite the frost, Red Admiral and Common Darter still about.