Monday 23rd and Friday 27th August 2021

It’s been relatively unusual for me to manage two visits in the same week this year but a stable high pressure over the UK provided a welcome weather window. I was joined on both occasions by Paul Salaman and his wife Sara. Paul has a long history in British ornithology and rang on occasions at South Milton with Bob Burridge before transferring his interests to South America, which culminated in the creation of a national park and a network of private nature reserves in Columbia and the description of four bird species new for science. As CEO of the Rainforest Trust from 2012-2019 he raised $118 million and allocated $105 million in project funding to purchase and to protect over 40 million acres of critical wildlands to save endangered species in 60 countries across the tropics. By comparison, the 42 acres at SML and my own contribution to conservation seem like small fry but I guess it all counts.

Unfortunately, despite favourable winds from the NE, Sunday night had been cloudless with a full moon and most birds seemed to have taken advantage of the opportunity and cleared out by Monday morning, resulting in what was probably my lowest ever catch in August. Just 15 new birds and no Sedge Warblers at all: 1 Blackcap, 1 Cetti’s Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 4 Reed Warbler, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Tree Pipit, 1 Whitethroat and 1 Wren.

Sod’s law being what it is the woodpecker and Sparrowhawk both turned up in a net within 20 minutes of Paul and his wife leaving.

Friday was a little busier but certainly not up to the usual pace of a morning in August with 34 new birds including: 2 Blackbird, 1 Blackcap, 1 Blue Tit, 5 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 1 Great Tit, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 5 Reed Warbler, 2 Robin, 4 Sedge Warbler, 1 Tree Pipit, 5 Willow Warbler and 3 Wren.

Tuesday 10th August 2021

Bullfinch, 10th August 2021

Today was one of those bread-and-butter days with enough birds to keep me occupied but sufficiently spread out to avoid any unwelcome stress. A few dark clouds on the horizon briefly raised anxiety levels mid-morning, especially as there was no mobile phone signal, meaning that the rainfall radar app. I normally rely on was out of action. This gives me an audible warning when precipitation is within 20k of the site, which is just about enough time to get all the nets furled before a shower arrives. In the event, I made a judgement call and carried on.

At the end of the session, I made my way across to Horswell Ditch. The leaking sluice was repaired earlier this year and it’s now holding the intended amount of water. Unfortunately, an invasive alien aquatic plant from southern Africa, Lagarosiphon major, known as curly-leaved waterweed, has established itself and spread uncontrollably, floating just below the surface. Whether this arrived naturally or was introduced by a well meaning but ill-informed member of the public is open to question but it’s here to stay.

Curly-leaved Waterweed Lagarosiphon major

However, every cloud has a silver lining. A bit of research revealed that it is an ideal soil improver and compost accelerator. The soil on my allotment in Plymouth is heavy clay and desperately needs organic matter to improve its quality. Other plot holders use seaweed in vast quantities but I am reluctant to collect this from the natural environment so the waterweed provides a sustainable alternative. Using a grapple on the end of a length of rope, I can drag an appropriate amount onto the bank, where I leave it for a couple of hours to drain and to allow any organisms to get back into the water before bagging it and driving it back to Plymouth. A win-win situation!

Boadleaf Cattail typhus latifolia beside Horswell Ditch

On a more positive botanical note, for the first time in over a decade Broadleaf Cattail typhus latifolia has appeared in places along the northern bank of the ditch. This species had gradually disappeared from the reserve as the water table fell, a consequence of excessive ditching operations in the past. However, the open water and unshaded banks of Horsewell Ditch seem to have provided long-dormant seeds with the right conditions to re-establish. A favoured winter food source for Reed Bunting and Bearded Tit it’s a welcome return and an indication that Horswell Ditch may be achieving its objective of raising the water table in one of the drier parts of the reserve.

Garden Warbler – 10th August 2021

Back to the ringing. 64 birds were trapped with just four re-traps amongst them. This included the first two Grasshopper Warblers and the first three Garden Warblers of the year. Totals were: 3 Blackbird, 4 Blackcap, 1 Bullfinch, 3 Cetti’s Warbler, 3 Chiffchaff, 3 Garden Warbler, 2 Grasshopper Warbler, 6 Reed Warbler, 3 Robin, 21 Sedge Warbler, 14 Willow Warbler and 1 Wren.

Early Autumn update 2021

Getting to South Milton has been a bit of a struggle in the last month or so and keeping the blog up to date even more so. Suitable weather conditions for ringing always seem to clash with my shifts at Home Park mass vaccination centre. At present I feel that getting the vaccine into the arms of the hesitant has to take priority. On the few days when I have managed a ringing session the gap between visits has meant more vegetation to clear before I can get the nets up and, frustratingly, the numbers of birds have been low as well. The table below shows just how much Covid has impacted on the number of sessions in the last two years.

There have been three visits on the 8th and 22nd of July and 3rd August since my last report. The combined total is 116 birds processed of which 104 were new with 11 re-traps and one control. The controlled bird was an adult, female Sedge Warbler with a UK ring, which initially caused me some confusion. The ring string I am currently using for this species is prefixed AVJ as was the ring on the bird in question, which made me assume that it was a re-trap. However, I always ring on the right leg with the ring orientated so that it is the correct way up if a bird happens to be photographed in the field. This bird had an inverted ring on its left leg. On closer inspection, I realised that my ring numbers begin with 7 whilst the control ring started with 1. This is the first time I’ve seen the ring numbers coinciding like this and I assume it must be a pretty rare event. I routinely check for rings on the left leg after inadvertently adding a second ring to a Blue Tit in the past. Just one more thing to look out for in the future!

Totals for the last three visits are: 9 Blackbird, 16 Blackcap, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Bullfinch, 23 Chiffchaff, 5 Dunnock, 1 Greenfinch, 1 Great Tit, 1 Great spotted Woodpecker, 15 Reed Warbler, 5 Robin, 9 Sedge Warbler, 2 Song Thrush, 5 Willow Warbler and 9 Wren.