It’s surprising how many of the occasional (and exclusively elderly) birders I meet at SML claim to have been ringers previously and how keen they are to advise me on how they used to do things, presumably around the middle of the last century! In reality, many of them probably held a trainee permit for a few years or possibly even a C permit in the days when they gave them away in packets of Cornflakes! I’ve certainly been unable to find any of them mentioned in the Devon Birds ringing reports and suspect that the 3,500 birds I ringed before getting my C permit in 2014 is more than they processed in their lifetime. Nevertheless, I’ve had to endure frequent lectures on how many nets to put up, where to place them and how often to do net rounds etc. Many of these well-meaning commentators have been oblivious to the fact that listening to their monologues actually prevents me from getting on with net rounds and ringing.
Once qualified, ringers in the UK can pretty well ring where and what they like, (within the limitations of their permits), and activities range from those who only participate in scientific studies through to what I call “hobby ringers” who randomly ring at different sites or in their back garden when the mood takes them. South Milton Ley has had a spectrum of ringers over the years, ranging from those obsessed with migrants and rarer species who wouldn’t consider ringing resident birds, through those who cherry pick, turning up only during peak migration periods, to others whose goal was to trap as many birds of as many species as possible. I suspect that I fall closer to the latter category but my scientific background keeps this in check as I recognise the value of systematic and reproduceable sampling.
After all, as an example, what is the value of targeting Aquatic Warblers? We know where they breed and where they winter and, as far as I am aware, there have never been any recoveries of a British ringed bird. There is far more to be gained from the systematic ringing of the commoner breeding and wintering species both in terms of population monitoring and effective habitat management. For the first time, systematic ringing throughout the year is now revealing quantitative information about populations, distribution, survival and productivity of the birds at SML, something which is sadly lacking from almost all of Devon Birds’ other reserves.
To that end, I am currently working on the second draft of a paper about Chiffchaffs wintering at SML. The first draft was sent to five referees by the journal and returned covered in electronic red ink. Almost all of these comments were constructive but they need to be addressed and the statistical analysis has to be beefed up before I can re-submit. I’ll keep you posted on progress!