Thursday 27th August 2020

A brief lull in the recent unseasonal strong winds and torrential showers forced my hand and I made an early start. Things did not go well initially. I was late getting the nets up as I was using my brand new Ecotone net, to replace one a badger destroyed last month, only to find that one of the net loops was threaded through the net about a metre from the end. Keeping the 18m net under tension with one hand whilst trying to unravel it with the other was a pig on my own and I didn’t get all six nets open until about 7am. Dave Scott’s Landrover was parked up by the boardwalk but I couldn’t get up to speak to him before the rain set in at about 9am so I don’t have his totals yet. I managed 38 new birds in the end, half of which piled into the nets by the STW when it started to rain. I ended up sat in the car, festooned with bird bags, ringing and processing them before releasing them out of the window!

New birds: 9 Blackcap, 5 Blue Tit, 1 Cetti’s Warbler, 6 Chiffchaff, 3 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 2 Sedge Warbler, 7 Willow Warbler and 4 Wren.

Tuesday 18th August 2020 – What a shower!

The view through my windscreen during the second shower

With the weather predicted to deteriorate significantly by the end of the week, I took a chance and, despite a forecast of heavy showers, arrived on site just before 6am. I managed to erect the three nets closest to the ringing station, leaving these furled, and cleared fallen vegetation from Marsh Ride before the first shower hit. This passed after about thirty minutes and all the nets were up and open by 8am.

When the weather is unsettled like this, I rely on a rain alarm app. on my phone, which sounds when precipitation is within 20km. I could see another band of heavy showers about an hour away and was well prepared for its arrival. Unfortunately, the phone signal at SML is poor and drops out altogether during heavy rain but I managed (just!) to get all the birds out and the nets furled before it arrived. Retreating to my car and, with bird bags hanging from the rear-view mirror, I was able to process and release them via an open window.

This was a real deluge and it was after 10am before I ventured out to open (and dry) the nets again. Unsurprisingly there were few birds around and things tailed off rapidly, so I packed up early and headed for home.

Final totals were 27 birds and one UK control Reed Warbler with: 1 Blackcap, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Cetti’s Warbler, 7 Chiffchaff, 2 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin and 15 Sedge Warbler.

Tuesday 18th August 2020 – Dog owners again!

Dogs are not allowed into South Milton Ley Nature Reserve. During my research for the South Huish management plan, I collected a number of peer-reviewed articles relating to disturbance to wildlife resulting from dog walkers and their animals. Without exception, these showed an adverse effect even when dogs were on a lead.

In 2005 English Nature produced a comprehensive study of the impact of dogs on nature conservation, which found that amongst wildlife “dogs, especially those off a lead, stimulate a greater behavioural response than walkers” and also noted that “dogs flush more incubating birds than walkers without dogs, and dogs can kill well grown chicks”.

This correlates with a study produced in 2009 by the University of Hull for the Humber Nature Partnership, which revealed that dog walking caused significant disruption  with free roaming (off the lead) dogs causing more disruption than any other activity on the Humber coast except for low flying jet aircraft. In 2007 an important study of woodland trails was produced by the University of New South Wales by Dr Peter Banks and Jessica Bryant, which showed that “dog walking caused a 41% reduction in the numbers of bird individuals detected and a 35% reduction in species richness compared with untreated controls.”

It has long been understood that human activity can disrupt wildlife but the study found that while humans walking alone induced some disturbance this was typically less than half that induced by dogs. A further study conducted in New Zealand by Baudains and Lloyd also confirmed that of all recreational activities that were monitored, dog walking caused the most disturbance to wildlife. The presence of dogs creates anti-predatory responses and on small nature reserves can cause a 40% reduction in bird species across the whole reserve.

Consequently, and having lost one net already this month, I was concerned to find a member of the public from the nearby camp site trying to enter the reserve with two dogs off the lead via an adjacent field. I challenged him and pointed out that he was trespassing on land owned by South West Water and that there were livestock in the field his dogs were roaming around. I also pointed out that he was about to enter one of my net rides. The conversation was amicable and, to be fair, the dogs were not running around wildly but his explanation for his presence there staggered me. Having noticed no dog signs on all the gates leading into the reserve, he had searched the perimeter to find an alternative entrance without a sign, even if that meant unchaining a gate and trespassing on private property!

Devon Birds has a right of access to the reserve via the land it had to sell to SWW when the sewage treatment works was enlarged. Hopefully, the sign I installed on the gate will deter all but the most irresponsible dog owners in the future.

Tuesday 11th August 2020

The middle of August is usually the busiest time of year at SML and with an easterly element in the breeze and few thunderstorms the previous night I was expecting great things. It seems that my understanding of the impact of the weather on migration patterns still has a long way to go and the site resembled the avian equivalent of the Marie Celeste. There was a complete absence of visible passage overhead with not a single hirundine, wagtail or pipit seen flying over all day. It seems that the only migrants reaching southern England at the moment have arrived on the Channel coast in inflatable boats.

On the ground Willow Warblers and Blackcaps were missing altogether and just two Sedge Warblers were trapped all day. There were conciliations in the form of the first Tree Pipit trapped this autumn and a single Garden Warbler, both tape-lured, but the blistering heat and high humidity made everything hard work and in the end I packed up early. Final totals were 37 new birds and one control Reed Warbler with a Slapton ring: 19 Chiffchaff, 1 Dunnock, 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Great Tit, 8 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 2 Sedge Warbler, 1 Tree Pipit and 3 Wren.

Observations on Nylon versus Polyester mist nets.

Polyester (nearest net) and nylon nets of equal age showing the difference in colour after 5 years use.

During my training and later as a recently qualified C-permit holder, I asked other ringers which mist nets were best and quickly realised that there was no consensus. The answers I received seemed to relate more to personal preference, ringing site, species targeted and, in some cases, brand loyalty than anything supported by facts and figures. Over recent years, as I have gradually increased my net stock, I have purchased North Ronaldsay, Ecotone polyester and Ecotone nylon nets in that order, driven partly by price and partly through experience.

I have trawled through the information available on various net retailer’s websites but again there is little consensus and some contradictions. In contrast to other sites Avinet report that “Polyester is a little bit softer but agree that it has a little less elasticity than nylon and performs better in wet and humid climates. Nylon can be just as durable as polyester, but performs better in maintaining tension in dry, well-aerated sites.”

NHBS state that “polyester fibre is UV resistant and does not absorb moisture.  In the morning or after rain, just shake the net to remove droplets.  Polyester is also stronger and more durable than nylon. The NHBS blog states that “nylon nets are deep black, UV stable and softer than polyester.”

Robert J. Arndt and Brian A. Schaetz, writing in Bat Research News state that “Although nylon thread is slightly stronger than polyester, polyester is more resistant to shrinking and stretching.”

P. Busse and W. Meissner in the Bird Ringing Station Manual state that “The most UV sensitive are nylon nets. . . . . Nylon netting is much softer than polyester.”

So, what are the facts and do the differences matter?

Thread manufactures state that nylon is one of the strongest synthetic threads in use today. It has a higher strength-to-size ratio in comparison to polyester thread and is also known for its flexibility and stretch. . . . Nylon does not have the UV resistance of polyester thread and will not last as long outside. Polyester is known for its strength, durability, and low shrinkage and stretch. It’s the most common thread for outdoor applications. Compared to nylon thread, polyester thread has superior resistance to UV rays and moisture, but much of its strength is lost after prolonged exposure to sunlight.

In practice, I have found no significant difference in the performance, durability or catching ability of either material. All my 18m nets have been exposed to the same conditions for the same length of time and all the net rides have the same orientation in relation to the sun. I keep a log of my net repairs and the polyester nets have needed an average of 40 repairs a year compared with 32 for the nylon nets. This may sound like a lot of snapped threads but, with over 250,000 meshes in an 18m net, it’s really only a handful of small holes. The lower number of repairs to the nylon nets agrees with its higher strength-to-size ratio.

The other area where the nylon nets have significantly outperformed polyester is in colour durability. The recent demise of one of my polyester nets, after being “bombed” by a badger, has meant mixing the two materials in the same net rides until a replacement arrives. The nylon nets are significantly darker and blacker, whist the polyester ones have faded to a mid-brown. However, this does not seem to have affected the catching performance. Ultimately, with little difference in price, it’s a matter of personal preference. I’ll be sticking with nylon from now on!

Tuesday 4th August 2020

My wife and I had spent some time looking at the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn through my telescope last evening and, after a clear night with a full moon and NW winds, I didn’t expect many birds to have dropped into South Milton but still managed 53 new birds and 7 re-traps.

New birds: 4 Blackcap, 4 Blue Tit, 1 Cetti’s Warbler, 14 Chiffchaff, 1 Reed Bunting, 9 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 4 Sedge Warbler, 12 Willow Warbler and 3 Wren.