Yesterday I had the pleasure of getting up at 04:15 to join David at a site near Leek (on the edge of the Peak Park) to try to mist net some meadow pipits. The site was ‘untested’ so neither of us was getting our hopes up too much before we arrived. However, as we set a couple of mist net triangles around hawthorn bushes, we could see and hear lots of birds. Nets set and sound lures on, we retreated to prepare a base and ringing station. Pretty soon, the birds started to show an interest and we took a walk to the nets. As we walked across the field, the birds on the ground flushed and a few flew in to join those already in the nets.
The first round returned a relatively small number of birds (all meadow pipits) which was good as it gave us time to study each bird closely and try to get to grips with ageing them. Having never handled a meadow pipit before (except for one straight out of the nest that was still growing its feathers) I found ageing them to be a little confusing! Their plumage seemed to be incredibly variable. Many were obviously young birds with clear moult limits but some, which looked uniform throughout the wing and which on first inspection looked as though they must be adults, turned out to be juveniles too.
The more we handled, the more variation we noted in size, plumage and fat scores. Interestingly, many of the birds had moulted the second greater covert in from the body, but no others. Many of the birds that had done that had also moulted the lower two tertials (secondary feathers seven and eight) but not the top one (secondary feather nine). Colour was extremely variable with some being quite bright whilst others were a far duller, more olive colour. The colour of the feet also varied between bright orange and dull pink.
|Meadow pipit (with quite dull feet)|
|Note single greater covert has been moulted (second in from body). |
In this bird, all of the tertials have also been moulted.
|Moulting around the eye|
|One of the brighter birds we handled|
The catching rate increased throughout the morning as the number of birds grew steadily (presumably as more migratory parties moved through). Part way through the morning, we took down one triangle and instead put up a couple of single 30’ nets between bushes. These started to catch with us still standing beside them! I was supposed to be leaving at 11:30 but at 11:15, having just extracted 30+ birds, I realised that this was not going to happen. At this point, we furled the remaining triangle, leaving just the two single nets for David to work with after I had gone.
When I eventually left (at nearer 12:30), we had handled 83 birds (82 meadow pipits and one reed bunting) which was far more than either of us expected. David stayed on until late afternoon and finished on 151 birds! Seeing 80+ individuals of one species in the hand in one morning is a fantastic way to learn about a species and I am very grateful to David for giving me this opportunity.