Wednesday 17th April 2019

Another cold and blustery morning with a brisk NE breeze. Not many obvious migrants about apart from a group of Swallows and a few House Martins hawking for insects around the STW. 45 birds were trapped: 3 Blackbird, 12 Blackcap, 9 Blue Tit, 4 Chiffchaff, 1 Dunnock, 1 Jay, 1 Sedge Warbler (the first for the year), 3 Willow Warbler and 1 Wren.


Bad weather stopped play

Dec 2018

There has been no ringing for the last two weeks due to the continued wet and windy weather. Given the amount of rain recently I suspect that most of the rides will be inaccessible next time I visit. In the meantime, I’ve received two new recovery reports: One of a 1st year Sedge warbler ringed at SML on 31st August 2017 and controlled as an adult a year later at Noyant, Soulaire-et-Bourg, Maine-et-Loire, France on 14th August 2018 and a second of a 1st year Chiffchaff ringed at Lodge Hill, Chattenden, Medway on 27th September 2018 and controlled at SML on 2nd November 2018.

In the absence of anything more interesting to report, I would like to take this opportunity to wish my handful of regular readers a Merry Christmas and  Happy New Year!

Tuesday 4th December 2018 – Cutting edge ringing


Former site of the boardwalk at South Milton Aquapark! © Nick Townsend

Earlier in the week I had been sent photos of unusually high water levels at SML, with the boardwalk and Marsh ride both underwater and inaccessible. An exceptionally high and robust sand bar at the seaward end of the reserve, combined with recent heavy rainfall has impounded a lot of freshwater, causing levels to rise and I wasn’t sure which net rides would be useable. The jet stream has been dragging a succession of depressions across the Atlantic towards the UK but today saw a welcome drop in the wind speed enabling me to visit and get a few nets up. In the event, levels had fallen sufficiently for things to operate normally, although the water in Marsh Ride was halfway up my wellies.

It was one of those days though. Temperatures were low with a frost so the priority was to get birds out of the nets quickly to avoid the risk of hypothermia. Typically, a succession of Wrens and Blue Tits, most of which were re-traps, found their way into the nets before spinning around to make sure they were thoroughly entangled. These all took time to extract allowing numbers of trapped birds to build in the other nets, meaning that net rounds ended up being pretty well continuous.

Over recent years I have mastered the art of repairing holes in mist nets and, during the winter months, check and fix each of the nets in turn. A small hole can be mended in minutes once the mesh is pinned-out, so I operate on the principal that, if there are time pressures and a bird is badly tangled and going to take longer to extract than it would take to repair a hole, I get the scissors out. Often cutting a single strand is sufficient to release the tension and free a trapped carpal for example. I have always questioned the wisdom of ringers who are proud that they have never needed to cut a net. Perhaps they only ring placid birds like swallows. For me the welfare of the bird comes first, so the scissors were used three times today, on a Wren and on a Song Thrush and Water Rail, both well caught by their carpals.

Final total for the day was 51 birds, 14 of which were re-traps plus 1 control Chiffchaff: 8 Blue Tit, 2 Cetti’s Warbler, 23 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Great Tit, 2 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Water Rail and 10 Wren.

Monday 3rd September 2018

Quiet again today. Didn’t even see a single hirundine! 41 new birds ringed: 18 Blackcap, 1 Blue Tit, 3 Chiffchaff, 1 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 8 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 3 Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler and 2 Wren. Also 2 Spotted Flycatchers on site and 120 Linnet, 6 Grey Wagtail and 1 Tree Pipit over.

9th August 2018

With an ever changing weather forecast and the certainty of rain on Friday, I squeezed in another ringing session in anticipation of a few days off. There was a steady flow of birds into the nets for the first few hours dominated by Sedge and Willow Warblers. As the ringing began to tail off I noticed a large bird of prey flying low over the reeds further down the reserve. Initially, I assumed it was just another Buzzard but something didn’t quite fit. Naturally the bird then disappeared behind the only tree between me and it. Once it popped out the other side it was clear it was a young Marsh Harrier quartering the reedbed. The first I have seen here for a couple of years.

69 new birds were ringed: 3 Blackbird, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Dunnock, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 11 Reed Warbler, 2 Robin, 21 Sedge Warbler, 1 Whitethroat and 24 Willow Warbler and 3 Wren.

7th August 2018

The last hot, windless day before the weather was forecast to break found Dave Scott and I ringing by the sewage works and at the boardwalk. In the event it was surprisingly quiet compared to recent visits and I only processed 26 new birds before cutting my losses and heading for home.

6 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 4 Reed Warbler, 4 Sedge Warbler, 7 Willow Warbler and 3 Wren.

Visiting birders (from up North) also reported a Treecreeper and two Spotted Flycatchers at the eastern end of the reserve.

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.

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.