Friday 24th November 2017

49 new birds ringed today including: 16 Chiffchaff, 3 Firecrest, 5 Goldcrest, 2 Reed Bunting, 5 Blackbird, 1 Sparrowhawk (1st year male), 4 Blue Tit, 10 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Robin and 1 Chaffinch. Not much else to report but at least 5 Water Rail around the ringing area and 30 Redwing out of a roost in the upper Ley first thing.


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.

Open water!

Rapid progress has been made towards the creation of an area of open fresh water in the south-eastern part of the reserve. The sluice was installed before excavations commenced on the ditch itself to minimise the amount of sediment travelling down the watercourse. The ditch has been widened to four metres and is c. 2m deep in the centre. This should be sufficient to prevent Phragmites from growing. All that remains is for the bank, created from the spoil to be levelled and profiled.


The original bridge crossing the narrow and shallow southern ditch.

Bridge 2

The bridge today with the new sluice installed to its right.

Ditch 1

What a result! Completely full in under a week, creating a reservoir of open, fresh water with just a bit of levelling and profiling left to do on the banks.