Tuesday 7th July 2020

With an ever-changing weather forecast, opportunities to ring must be grabbed. Originally, two consecutive dry days had been predicted with suitably low winds. However, as things evolved, this reduced to one. At least this eliminated the need to make a decision! In the event it was windless and calm at dawn, if a little unseasonably cold. The nets by the sewage works were opened before 6am and the remaining three across the reed bed about 30 minutes later.

The first few net rounds were brisk, with sufficient birds to prompt me to get out extra bird bags as a precaution but, by mid-morning, the numbers had reduced to a steady and more manageable trickle. The westerly wind increased as the morning progressed and by midday had reached force 4-5, which is about the limit at South Milton. With nothing in the valley between the ringing area and the coast to interrupt the airflow, I often have to pack up at lower wind speeds than others with more sheltered sites.

However, the billowing nets at the close of play made it clear that more gardening was required, particularly in Marsh Ride, to avoid snagging on adjacent vegetation. I had come equipped for this, starting with a hedge trimmer to remove the less robust stuff. Extendable anvil loppers made short work of the thicker willow branches, which were encroaching on the ride from the south, and finally, a pair of freshly sharpened shears dealt with the mass of hemlock water dropwort to either side of the ride.

This plant species is a nightmare. All parts are poisonous. The sap is caustic to susceptible individuals and it has spread uncontrollably in the eastern half of the reserve where inappropriate drainage operations at the end of the last century have lowered the water table and allowed it to outcompete the reeds. Easily reaching 2.5m high, it is an umbellifer and the dried seed heads catch on the nets and are a real pain to remove.

Ordinarily, I cut back this invasive monster with the hedge trimmer in the spring when the shoots are thin and soft, but lockdown put paid to that this year. Now woody and up to 5cm across, the stems were beyond the capabilities of my trusty hedge trimmer and there was no option but to get physical. Doing this in the middle of the day was probably not the smartest idea I have ever had but it didn’t take long, and the result was quite satisfying. All that remains is to clear the thatch of grass from the last 50m of boards and the ride will be back in pristine condition.

In terms of birds, 61 were trapped of which 51 were new: 3 Blackbird, 5 Blackcap, 2 Blue Tit, 4 Cetti’s Warbler (all juvs), 12 Chiffchaff, 1 Great Tit, 20 Reed Warbler, 4 Robin, 3 Sedge Warbler and 7 Wren.

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