Sunday 9th June 2019


The view eastwards from the ringing hut.

Lower winds and a break in the recent period of unsettled weather saw me return to South Milton again this morning. The day started with a sighting of an animal running ahead of the car down the access road to the reserve. From a distance I had thought to myself “that cat has a very fat backside” but as I got closer realised that it was actually a young badger.

I had decided to start by the ringing hut at the seaward end of the reserve as the net rides there are easier to maintain with increased salinity stopping anything but phragmites from growing. Previously, soft mud had prevented safe access but the ground had firmed up and the rides were quickly cleared of sprouting reeds. It was just as I finished this work that I heard a strange rushing noise in the reeds. Increasing in volume and apparently heading straight towards me, it was unlike anything I have heard there before. As it reached a crescendo two adult Roe Deer dashed across the net ride and they and the sound faded away into the distance as quickly as they had arrived.

The ringing was not particularly productive so, after two hours, I packed up and transferred to the eastern end of the reserve. It wasn’t much better here. The colder weather during the latter half of May seems to have impacted on the timing of the breeding season and fledglings have yet to appear. There were plenty of adult birds carrying food though so hopefully breeding has been delayed rather than disastrous. Highlight of the day was two new Reed Buntings. Final total: 18 birds – 1 Blackbird, 1 Blackcap, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Great Tit, 2 Reed Bunting, 7 Reed Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler and 3 Wren.

Monday 3rd June 2019, Camera-shy wildlife

Simon Vacher

The BBC descended on South Milton Ley and South Huish reserves for a couple of days this week to film sequences for a forthcoming “Inside Out” program. In reality, it was lone, specialist wildlife cameraman Simon Vacher who Nick Townsend and I met at 10am. Escorted by Nick, he had a list of shots to complete in advance of the show’s presenter, Nick Baker, filming on site later in the month. My role was to enable him to film a short sequence about bird ringing at South Milton. Easier said than done it transpired as the wind strength was borderline for the nets and almost all the birds caught were adults and already ringed. No great surprise in early June as this year’s youngsters have yet to fledge. I did trap an un-ringed Blackbird but, as their natural response to a predator (or ringer) is to squawk their heads off, we decided not to film that one!

20190603_091733 2

Luckily and unexpectedly, the penultimate net round revealed an adult male Cirl Bunting in Marsh Ride net. A highly photogenic bird and fortunately very relaxed in the hand, I was able to ring the bird on camera whilst being interviewed by Nick. Naturally, after the event, I thought “Oh I could have answered that better” but the show’s producer has emailed to say he’s more than happy with the soundtrack. Apparently, they would like to repeat the interview with Nick Baker and a BBC film crew next week but as ringing is so weather dependent, may have to resort to splicing together my answers this week with questions recorded by the presenter. The wonders of technology!

The show’s producer had visited both reserves last month to identify the shots he required. Foremost amongst these was to be a sequence of a singing male Sedge Warbler. By June most of the warblers confine their singing to brief snatches as they are well into their breeding cycle by then but there was a lone, presumably unmated, Sedge, which sat in clear view in an Alder beside the ringing station and performed beautifully. Other shots were harder to get but Devon Birds member Alan Doidge had staked out a couple of Yellow Wagtails at South Huish on the Monday evening, a very unusual record for June, which was a big bonus and another member Mike Passman provided an extra pair of eyes later in the week and the highlight was a perfect view of a displaying Chiffchaff.