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!
Final totals: 5 Blackbird, 2 Blackcap, 3 Cetti’s Warbler, 3 Chiffchaff, 9 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 4 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Reed Bunting, 13 Reed Warbler, 4 Robin, 7 Sedge Warbler and 4 Wren.