25th May 2019 – Odds and Sods


It’s not all about ringing at SML. Behind the scenes Vic Tucker, Reserve Manager, and Nick Townsend, Conservation Officer organise and manage the ongoing maintenance of the reserve and one-off projects. Principal amongst these tasks is the mowing of the perimeter paths and maintenance of the boundaries and fences. Whilst I was in Bulgaria, the latch on one of the gates was adjusted to make it easier to open and one of the contractors excavated the south bank of South Milton stream where livestock from a neighbouring farm had managed to gain entry to the reserve. Although strictly the responsibility of the farmer, Devon Birds has acted to prevent further incursions. The contractor has also reinforced the sluice on Horswell Ditch and plugged a couple of leaks. The difference in water levels above and below the sluice is clear in the photo above despite the recent lack of rain. Nick designed in a spillway at the upstream end of the ditch to divert water directly into the adjacent reedbed during periods of higher rainfall.Ruptella

Finally, when it comes to insects, they need to be big and/or bright for me to notice them at all, unless they’re biting or stinging me! Yesterdays fell into the bright category. A longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata. Widespread and common, it had been on the Reserve’s insect list, which now stands at an impressive 838 species, for a while.

18th and 25th May 2019

Garwa 1
Garden Warbler, 25th May  2019

It’s difficult to generate much enthusiasm for keeping the blog up to date at this time of year. Spring migration is all but over and the hope of an exotic, off-course migrant has passed. Being located in a bay, the Ley will never attract the numbers and variety of migrants drawn to a coastal headland so it’s bread and butter ringing for the next couple of months. By that I mean concentrating on the breeding birds and their offspring and dealing with a high proportion of re-traps compared to new birds.

Dawn is currently around 05:30 and the early starts and long hot days don’t improve my creative writing skills either! There are advantages though as the ringing tails off by midday, giving me the opportunity to maintain the net rides at my leisure. I currently use 210m of net ride and the damp conditions in the reserve lead to prolific plant growth, despite the surrounding countryside starting to wither as we experience a prolonged dry period. I have ringed 17 Blackbirds this month – all adults – presumably seeking softer ground at the Ley due to the lack of rain elsewhere. Back to the point. All this plant growth needs to be kept under control or the reedbed rides can disappear entirely within a month or so and I’m feeling quite self-satisfied that they are all fully operational. Marsh ride requires a bit more work to clear the grass that springs up between and ultimately obscures the boards but, that apart, the rest of the rides are looking pretty good.

Crake Crest

Crest Ride (left) and Crake Ride (right)

I have lumped together the totals for the last two visits. There’s nothing out of the ordinary but I have been able to confirm that there are at least two pairs of Cetti’s Warblers present in the ringing area and that a pair of Garden Warblers appear to be breeding for the second successive year. 88  birds of 15 species were trapped: 12 Blackbird, 5 Blackcap, 4 Blue Tit, 2 Cetti’s Warbler, 4 Chiffchaff, 6 Dunnock, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Goldfinch, 2 Great Tit, 3 Long-tailed Tit, 31 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 9 Sedge Warbler, 2 Song Thrush and 5 Wren.


Friday 10th May 2019

South Milton Ley seemed a little tame today as I made my first visit after returning from a 10-day birding tour of Bulgaria. The trip had been organised by BirdID Norway (see links) and subsidised by the Norwegian government. Costing just £260, 215 species were recorded in total with 120 on the last day alone and 20 species of raptor. Migration was in full flow with many flocks of pelicans, storks and various raptor species passing overhead. We also managed to get to grips with a few species, which had eluded us on our previous visit, including Black Woodpecker, Nutcracker, Thrush Nightingale and Collared Flycatcher.

Migration was certainly not in full flow at the Ley today and re-traps dominated the birds caught. Many of these were warblers returning to breed at the site. The net rides required a fair bit of work before I could open the nets as the Hemlock Water Dropwort, which is prolific around the margins of the reedbed, had grown considerably in my absence and the first new growth of the phragmites was also beginning to appear. Fortunately, the contractor who maintains the paths around the drier, eastern end of the reserve, also mows my two net rides there, which saves me a lot of effort. At the end of the session I cleared the net rides at the wetter, western end of the reserve. These are easier to maintain as the higher salinity prevents anything but phragmites from growing and the young shoots are easily dealt with using my trusty, rechargeable hedge-trimmer.

LMR 2019

Lower Marsh Ride, May 2019

There were 13 new birds and 23 re-traps: 4 Blackbird, 3 Blackcap, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Cetti’s Warbler, 3 Chiffchaff, 4 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 1 Great spotted Woodpecker, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 3 Reed Warbler, 4 Robin, 7 Sedge Warbler.