Having cleared the net rides at the seaward end of the reserve during my last visit, I decided to use them today. What a difference an intact sand bar and a couple of weeks of rain makes! Water levels had risen way too close to the top of my wellies for comfort and, with the Ringing Hut Ride not safely accessible, and it only being possible to erect one net in Lower Marsh Ride out of the usual two I quickly decamped back to the dryer, eastern end after a brief attempt to clear some of the cobwebs out of the ringing hut,
Things here were best described as slow and steady. Juvenile Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have started to appear in increasing numbers but young Reed and Sedge Warblers have yet to put in an appearance – a little later than usual. The day was brightened by the recapture of an adult male Cirl Bunting but the final total was only 27 birds, 19 of which were new: 1 Blackbird, 3 Blackcap, 1 Blue Tit, 4 Chiffchaff, 1 Cirl Bunting, 1 Dunnock, 1 Goldfinch, 2 Great Tit, 1 Reed Bunting, 5 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 4 Sedge Warbler and 2 Wren.
I’ve just received two ringing recovery reports from the BTO. Both for Reed Warblers trapped at South Milton Ley on 2nd June this year. Not very exciting though – they were originally ringed in the autumn of 2019, one from Slapton Ley, 15 km away and the other from Budleigh Salterton, 56 km distant. A table containing all known ringing recoveries involving SML can be viewed here:
A relatively quiet morning with just eleven new birds trapped out of a total of 27. However, the relaxed pace gave me the opportunity to make some progress with the restoration of Marsh Ride. The vegetation either side of the ride is under control now but the boards remain hidden under a thatch of grass, making them invisible, slippery and all too easy to step off the edge into the mire, which can reach above the knee in the wettest areas. Using lawn edging shears and raking the cut material to one end of the ride, I have now exposed about a quarter of the boards – enough to operate safely. Just another 150 metres to go!
It was so hot during my last visit that I cleared some vegetation and moved the ringing table a few metres so that it is now under the shade of an overhanging willow tree. This makes all the difference to the temperature and prevents me from slowly cooking. It also keeps the bird bags and my digital scales out of the sun. Although today was cooler than of late, it was still too warm for any major work on the remaining, overgrown net rides at the eastern end of the reserve but, having just purchased a second lithium battery for my cordless hedge trimmer, giving me an extra 40 minutes of power, I felt up to making a start at the seaward end. The net rides here are exclusively reed, making them relatively easy to clear. The main issue is the depth of water, which is determined by the height of the sandbar on South Milton Beach. Although a little higher than usual at this time of year, it only reached mid-wellington and my feet remained dry. Forty minutes and one flat battery later all sixty metres were clear and ready for action, although I suspect that a quick trim will be necessary next time I visit.
Final totals: 3 Blackbird, 2 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 4 Dunnock, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Great Tit, 1 Greenfinch, 6 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 3 Sedge Warbler, 1 Song Thrush and 1 Wren.
A 4am alarm saw me fed and watered and out of the house 30 minutes later. Stopping on the way for fueI for the first time since the beginning of March, I arrived at SML just as the sun was beginning to clear the horizon. The net rides are still far from perfect but Nikki and I had cleared the 90 metres closest to the ringing station and, although the boards in marsh ride are invisible, covered with a thatch of new turf, it was too hot for any major physical work and improvements will have to wait, as will the more distant 120 metres of net ride that have still to be cleared.
There was a steady flow of birds throughout the morning but some, such as the numerous breeding Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, proved elusive. These are all in established territories by now and probably won’t find their way into nets until they and their young disperse at the end of the breeding season. Ordinarily, most of the adults, particularly the males, can be tape-lured towards a net when they first arrive in spring but the breeding season is too advanced now and the use of tapes is unethical. Fortunately, Reed and Sedge Warblers seem to be more mobile and twenty were caught along with a male and two female Cetti’s Warblers together in the same net.
In established breeding areas, many Cetti’s males are polygamous, holding large territories with up to three females. Males spend most of their time singing and defending the territory but take no part in nest-building or incubation, and only some feed their young. Females paired with polygamous males lay larger clutches and successfully raise more young than those in monogamous pairings, suggesting that the polygamous males select the best-quality territories. After several years with low numbers at South Milton the species seems to have bounced back, with catches increasing from just 6 birds in 2017 up to 16 last year.
56 birds of 12 species were trapped in total, made up of roughly equal numbers of resident species, mostly juveniles, and warblers. Highlights were two UK control Reed Warblers and a French-ringed Sedge Warbler. I also had a new species in the net just before I packed up – a grey squirrel! Luckily, I had gardening gloves in my pocket but I approached the creature with some trepidation. This wasn’t covered in the training! In the event it wasn’t tangled and I was able to encourage it along the shelf whereupon it climbed the mist net pole and disappeared back into the trees. Something of a relief!