A scheduled meeting with Nick Townsend, Vic Tucker and Graham Burton, one of Devon Birds’ two new Conservation Advisors, saw me taking the opportunity to arrive at dawn and get some nets up. I had a good four hours before the others turned up to start their tour of the reserve. The intervening hours weren’t the most productive I have ever spent, with just eleven new birds out of a total of seventeen, but there was enough variety to keep me on my toes and a surprise at the end.
The wintering collybita Chiffs all seem to have departed, including the obese individual I trapped last time. These have been replaced by local breeders, already with what seem to be well established territories. Three Siberian (tristis) Chiffs found themselves in the nets by the sewage works again. These were all re-trapped birds that had been present throughout the winter and, like the bird caught last week, all were having the avian equivalent of a bad hair day, moulting body, mantle, head and tail feathers. At this time of year the moulting process, with the olive edges of the retained flight feathers becoming more obvious, can make them look less like tristis but the brown head, prominent white eyestripe and lack of yellow on the breast and around the vent makes it easy to confirm their identity.
I was going to say that the fact that these birds were in the middle of their pre-breeding moult was also a pretty strong indicator that they were from the east, where the breeding season doesn’t really get going until June. Then a dead-ringer for a collybita chiff, equally tatty and in the same stage of moult as the tristis, ploughed into a net. It remains my ambition to discover where these wintering birds come from. Wherever it is, there doesn’t seem to be much ringing!
In between photographing the Sibes, to keep the Devon Birds records people happy, and removing their moulted body feathers from my sweaty hands, I processed a 1st year male Sparrowhawk, a female Cirl Bunting and, right at the end, a nice male Coal Tit. Surprisingly, this is the first Coal Tit I have ever seen at SML let alone ringed. I tried to string it into a migrating Continental bird but there was just too much olive on the mantle for that!
Final totals: 11 Chiffchaff, 1 Cirl Bunting, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 1 Sparrowhawk and 3 Wren.