Tuesday 17th December 2019 – Building Bridges!

The completed bridge structure

A forecast for a brief period of benign weather and a much-improved back injury encouraged me to visit SML today.  I had gone principally to work on the bridge to Marsh Ride as the water levels in South Milton Stream have overtopped the bridge a couple of times this winter, flipping it and moving it a few metres downstream. The resistance to the flow, caused by the boards, had also forced water up onto the banks at either end, softening them and causing the bridge to slowly sink. If left unresolved the whole lot could have been washed away or fallen into the stream during the next heavy downpour.

The first support in position

I had been racking my brain for an easy solution and came up with the idea of cutting and reconfiguring the steel bases from an old sofa and armchair we have just replaced to make support structures for both banks. These were hammered into a depth of c.50cm leaving the boards 20cm clear of the surface and any future overtopping of the stream. All at no cost as the metal was destined for the recycling centre!

The boards are like a skating rink as the chicken wire had collected a load of floating vegetation and eventually partially ripped off leaving a slippery wooden surface. Replacement wire mesh is on order! Despite not being finished, it already feels more stable and secure than I can remember. As a bonus, I have used the two, heavy, original boards together with two beams salvaged from the boardwalk bridge to extend the walking boards along the whole length of the net ride for the first time.

In between periods of construction, I had six nets (90 metres) up. Those beside the sewage works were particularly productive. These can only be erected on its SW perimeter and, in winter, the prevailing wind frequently concentrates insects and birds on the opposite, leeward side of the site, often resulting in frustratingly low rates of capture and recapture. The numbers trapped increase on calm days or when the wind has a northerly or easterly direction. Today, both of these criteria were met resulting in 58 birds being processed: 1 Blackbird, 8 Blue Tit, 28 Chiffchaff, 3 Dunnock, 4 Firecrest, 4 Goldcrest, 1 Great Tit, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Robin and 6 Wren.

Saturday 7th December 2019 – Back again!

1st year, male Firecrest

A second back injury in 10 months has kept me virtually confined to the house for the last couple of weeks. All very frustrating as a couple of perfect ringing days passed by and other birders phoned up to tell me the Ley was “awash with Chiffchaffs” with possible sightings of Yellow-browed Warbler and Siberian Chiffchaff as well. With today looking like the only opportunity to ring for the next week, I bit the bullet and made my way to South Milton. In the event, I only erected the three nets closest to the ringing station as every step to the reed bed rides sent a jolt up my spine and the recent high water levels have stripped away some of the chicken wire on the bridge rendering the boards extremely slippery.

Adult, female Bullfinch

Consequently, numbers ringed were lower than usual with 30 birds processed: 1 Blackbird, 5 Blue Tit, 1 Bullfinch, 14 Chiffchaff, 4 Firecrest, 3 Goldcrest, 1 Redwing and 1 Wren. The Redwing was the first of the winter and was lured into a net using a tape known in ringing circles as “The Latvian love song”, which seems to have some sort of fatal attraction for the species.