Wednesday 3rd January 2018

SML Lower Marsh Ride 01-03-2018 Alan Pomroy 2

Lower Marsh Ride on 3rd January 2018 – submerged under 1m of water

A series of deep depressions with associated high winds and rain, interspersed with brief quiet periods and heavy frosts have prevented any ringing at South Milton since the middle of December. However there have been benefits.

Storm Eleanor piled up an exceptionally high sandbar at the seaward end of the reserve and this barrier, coupled with high spring tides and a lot of water flowing from the catchment, has raised the water level in the reedbed and ditches. Nick Townsend and I visited today, to determine which areas of reedbed would be accessible for cutting next weekend, and we were able to make measurements of water depths and flows along the length of the reserve. The weight of entrained water subsequently breached the sandbar and it partially reformed over the next two days. Nick managed to make additional measurements over this period and we now have a series of observations relating the depth of water at the coastal footbridge to the extent and depth of water in the reedbed and ditches.

We have been working together with Natural England to produce a proposal to install control structures along the main drainage ditch in order to rectify the impacts of previous, over-enthusiastic ditching operations. A historical concern about a risk of flooding at Mill Lane, the eastern boundary of the reserve, has driven past management and we now have conclusive evidence that it is a lack of capacity in the culvert under Mill Lane, rather than the water level in our ditches, which has caused surface water flooding there in the past. The installation of up to three sluices would give us control over water levels in the eastern half of the reserve for the first time and should restore both the water table and gradients along and across the whole reserve with no effect on the flood risk at Mill Lane.

SML S Milton Stream pre 1991 Daphne Julian 3 (2)

South Milton Stream pre 1991

SML S Milton Stream 1994 1 Daphne Julian (3)

The widened, deepened and straightened stream in 1994

SML S Milton Stream 18-12-2017 1 Alan Pomroy (3)

The same view in December 2017 showing how far the water table has been lowered

SML ML view W from Boardwalk 03-01-2018 2 Alan Pomroy 2

Our intention is to raise the water level in the main ditch to something like this (taken on 3rd January 2018)







Monday 18th December 2017


JPA 955 2017 SML tristis Chiffchaff 18-12-17 1

Siberian Chiffchaff, South Milton Ley, 18th December 2017

A glorious, sunny day at South Milton Ley. Just a little frost on the ground first thing and some ice on the mist net poles but very little breeze and almost perfect conditions for mist-netting. The numbers of wintering Chiffchaffs are beginning to build up around the Sewage Treatment Works with over thirty present, including at least one new Siberian Chiffchaff.
32 new birds were trapped including: 15 Chiffchaff, 1 Siberian Chiffchaff (the third tristis of the winter), 3 Goldcrest and 3 Reed Bunting. Also 1 UK control Blue Tit, 1 re-trap Cetti’s Warbler and 2 Firecrests present.


Tuesday 5th December 2017

Tristis 05-12-2017

Siberian Chiffchaff, South Milton Ley, 5th December 2017

A forecast of low winds from the south, rather than the cold northerlies of the previous few days, tempted me out today. Winter looks to have arrived in earnest at South Milton Ley with the phragmites all turned brown, most trees without any leaves and, for the first time since the spring, not a sign of a dragonfly or butterfly. The hedgerows around the reserve have all been stripped of their berries and the thrushes have moved on.


Cetwa 05-12-2017

Adult female Cetti’s Warbler, South Milton Ley, 5th December 2017

Ringing was slow but steady enough to stave off the cold. 29 new birds were trapped including: 13 Chiffchaff, (including the second tristis of the winter), 1 Firecrest, 5 Goldcrest, 1 Meadow Pipit, 1 Song Thrush. Also 1 UK control Goldcrest, 2 returning wintering Chiffchaffs and 2 re-trap Cetti’s Warblers.


Cetwa 05-12-2017 2

Cetti’s Warbler – the only passerine in the UK with ten tail feathers rather than the usual twelve.



Merlin mist nets

As I said in my last post, I have recently purchased some mist nets from Merlin Ringing Supplies. These are a lower-cost alternative to those available from other suppliers in the UK and, although I was primarily attracted by the price, I have used them regularly elsewhere without any issues and know them to be of reasonable quality. Rather than clog up these pages, I have prepared a more detailed Merlin Mist Net Review which might be of help to other ringers.

Monday 13th November 2017

Frost 13 November

Another clear night with light winds and a heavy frost gave migrants little reason to drop into South Milton but at least the sight of Jupiter and Venus side by side on the eastern horizon brightened up my journey to the reserve. I have been gradually increasing the number of nets in use as the bird population is quite low at the moment and the bulk of the wintering Chiffchaffs have yet to arrive. This was the first outing for two new 18m nets, purchased from Merlin Ringing Supplies. More about them later.

36 new birds were ringed including 6 Goldcrest, 2 Firecrest, 2 Cetti’s Warblers (both females), 12 Chiffchaff, including the first Siberian Chiff of the winter and 1 Redwing. A Blue Tit with a UK ring was controlled. I’m sure it won’t have come far but it’s the first one I have trapped at SML with a ring I didn’t recognise.


Siberian Chiffchaff 13-11-2017

Siberian Chiffchaff – South Milton Ley – 13th November 2017 (photographed in shade)


Siberian Chiffchaff 13-11-2017 2

The same bird (photographed in sunlight)




Thursday 2nd November 2017

A calm evening with only partial cloud cover saw to it that there was little reason for migrants to drop into South Milton overnight and, after the first frost of the autumn had thawed, net rounds were slow and steady today. The first two birds trapped were Firecrests and these turned out to be the highlight.

49 new birds were ringed including 4 Blackbird, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Firecrest, 7 Goldcrest, 19 Chiffchaff, 2 Bullfinch and 1 Reed Bunting. Retraps included two Chiffchaffs, both returning for their second winter in the reserve, a female Cetti’s warbler and a Chiffchaff control with a UK ring.

Thursday 26th October 2017

I managed to get to SML today on an overcast, murky, warm and humid morning, with light winds and wet roads, indicating that there had been showers overnight. Luckily I had been warned that the access path is now impassable to all but the most determined 4×4 and the deeply-rutted and water-filled track was certainly beyond the ground clearance of my little Daihatsu.  So a season of lugging my ringing kit onto the site begins! Although it requires two trips to get everything there, it’s only about 100 metres and downhill. The return journey at the end of a session is much less inviting!

The paths around the perimeter of the reserve have had their final cut for the year making walking the net rounds easier and very few reeds required clearing from marsh ride despite the gales while I was at Portland. The contractor who mows the eastern part of the reserve had also cut Crest ride for me. Although it was clear before, it’s now a touch wider than I would like and I also need to educate him that net rides need to be straight! Nothing my trusty rechargeable hedge trimmer can’t rectify though!

This is the time of year when, weather forecast permitting, I start to increase the number of nets. The reedbed rides become less productive, with primarily Chiffchaffs and Reed Buntings caught and the nets by the sewage treatment works are quiet until leaf fall and cold weather draws in wintering chiffs. The presence of a few Redwings feeding on berries in the hedgerows around the reserve convinced me to put up a 60’ net in Crest ride and the dulcet tones of the “Latvian love song” mp3 soon lured two into the nets. One was the first adult bird I have handled and it was nice to be able to compare it directly with the other, a first year bird.



Redwing tertials, adult left, 1st year right.


I also learnt that North Ronaldsay superfine nets are too stretchy for thrushes, making it hard work to extract their carpals. I’ve never been happy with the way North Ron nets are tethered only on the top shelf as all the mesh ends up at one end on windy days so I’m going to invest in a few nets from Merlin Ringing Supplies. I’ve seen these in use at Portland and, although the build quality is not quite as good as an Ecotone net, they do offer a much less expensive alternative. I will post some photos and a review once I’ve had some experience with them.

In total 50 new birds of 12 species were ringed including,  1 Cetti’s Warbler, 9 Chiffchaff, 9 Goldcrest, 6 Firecrest, 1 Song Thrush, 2 Redwing and 3 Reed Bunting. The six Firecrest are a record daily catch for the reserve.

Also on site, 4 Water Rail, 5 Mistle Thrush, 15 Redwing, 1 Cirl Bunting, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Passage, 750 Wood Pigeon, 20 Skylark, 50 Linnet, 12 Siskin, 30 Chaffinch.

A week at Portland Bird Observatory, 15th – 22nd October 2017

Our last week at Portland was in September this year and ended with a Greenish Warbler in the hand on the final day. This latest visit started with a Radde’s Warbler within an hour of our arrival. Result! Only the second one we have seen in the UK

In general the weather and the birds were typical for October, with the expected passage larks, thrushes, and finches etc. moving through in reasonable numbers whilst a handful of Hawfinches put in brief appearances around the Observatory and a pair of Bearded Tits passed through quickly. Despite the wind and lashing rain, a Red-breasted Flycatcher provided a pleasant, if brief and damp, diversion on 19th October.

The crop fields adjacent to the Observatory, now part of a stewardship scheme and planted specifically to provide cover and winter food for birds, held a spectacular whirling flock of up to 2,500 linnets, numbers which reminded me of days gone by when agriculture was less intense. It will be a brave birder who tries to find a Rosefinch or Twite in amongst that lot!


P1030240 (2)

I’ll never tire of ringing these beauties!


The star bird of the week had to be Firecrest, with a major fall on the 15th October. They seemed to be present in every patch of suitable cover and 68 were ringed on that first day, more than the highest annual total for the Observatory. The fall was not confined to Portland and large numbers were reported from south Devon to Nanjizal and also along the Dutch coast. During our week at the Observatory 146 were ringed and numbers would have been higher had it not been for the intervention of storms Ophelia and Brian which curtailed operations for three days. We returned home on the 22nd, after Brian had blown itself out, and hoping that there would still be a few lingering at South Milton when I next get the nets up.

Thursday 12th October 2017

31 new birds today including 2 Blackcap, 1 Bullfinch, 6 Chiffchaff, 7 Goldcrest and 7 Meadow Pipit. Also the first two returning wintering chiffchaffs were re-trapped. On site 2 Water Rail, 2 Tawny Owl, 1 Cirl Bunting, 1 Stonechat and about 30 Skylark, 50 Meadow Pipit and 5 Siskin over.