Quite some time ago now I posted about my experience of woodcock dazzling as part of my bird ringing training. Now as the weather has been pretty temperamental these past few weeks (or months rather) I have been doing a few more of these surveys as the heavy rain and wind actually creates the most favourable conditions for catching these birds. On my most recent venture I not only had the opportunity to ring a couple of woodcock, but we also caught a fieldfare and a snipe. Unfortunately we just missed out on catching a jack snipe!
Before this crazy weather graced the south coast, I attended a couple of mist netting sessions and am looking forward to when the conditions become more favourable so I can get back out there again. Mist netting is the most frequently used method to capture birds in flight and is an important tool for monitoring species diversity, relative abundance, population size and demography. Mist nets are typically made of nylon mesh suspended between two poles and are virtually invisible when looked at dead on. Each of these sessions requires an early start as setting these up can be quite time consuming.
Once the nets have been set up, it’s time to play the waiting game. Often in these sessions tape lures have been used, which play the pre-recorded bird call of particular species in a bid to attract them to the nets. The use of some of these lures remains debated and some often have varying levels of success.
During these sessions it is important to regularly check the nets for any caught birds, which are then very carefully removed and placed into a small cotton bag, minimizing stress. Individuals are then sexed, aged and measurements such as weight and wing length are taken. I was able to practice the ringer’s grasp in these sessions and told what to look out for when ageing and sexing a particular species. For example when ageing, most species adults undergo a full moult at the end of the summer. Consequently all of the wing feathers are of the same colour, wear and age. A young bird, which has hatched during the most recent summer, will undergo a partial moult, resulting in a wing made up of fresh adult-type feathers beside the duller and more abraded retained juvenile feathers.
During these sessions so far we have been lucky enough to catch and ring a number of different species which include the meadow pipit, blackbird, redwing, great tit, blue tit, long tailed tit, coal tit, goldcrest, firecrest, chaffinch, goldfinch, dunnock, wren, nuthatch and bullfinch. The first bird I ringed was a rather feisty blue tit!
Ringing is just not about catching the rarer species; the commoner ones can be equally exciting. In a recent session, a robin was caught, which already had a ring and there was something slightly different about its colouration. Upon investigating this further, my trainer informed me that the ringing details revealed that it was ringed on the Suffolk coast, exactly at the time of year and sort of place that a continental robin would arrive, having come in from Holland or Belgium. We are uncertain as to whether this individual was coming to England just for the winter, or if it arrived as part of natural post juvenile dispersal. There are very few examples of migrant robins in Hampshire, so this was a remarkable find, further demonstrating the importance of bird ringing!