Thursday, 4 April 2013

Easter Weekend...Part 3 - Who Needs Sleep?

So, the ‘somewhere else I needed to be’ that prevented me from staying in Norfolk on Sunday evening was Brackenhurst on Monday morning. At 6am, I joined Jim, Gary, Duncan and Emma for a morning’s ringing at one of our winter feeding sites. It was a bitterly cold morning that should have yielded good numbers of birds in the nets. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be.

The morning started auspiciously enough when a woodcock flushed from one of the rides that we were setting nets in. Despite Jim and Gary’s best efforts during the morning, it didn’t want to play and refused to be flushed into the nets. The net rounds started slowly with just a few birds each time and to be honest, they didn’t get much better. There just didn’t seem to be many birds around.

The highlight of the day for me was a goldcrest. They are stunningly beautiful little birds and I haven’t seen one in the hand for a while, so it was a treat to get to ring that. A re-trap tree sparrow was also nice to see. The first of this year’s migrants paid us a visit – one chiffchaff who responded remarkably quickly to the sound lure. Interestingly, most of the re-traps that we caught were adults, heightening our suspicions that last year was a disastrous breeding season. A lot of the chaffinches we caught also had high fat scores indicating that they may be continental birds that haven’t yet set off on the return journey to their breeding grounds.
Gorgeous little goldcrest
First spring migrant of the year
We gave up late in the morning when the winds became too strong and we could no longer feel our fingers! Twas a nice morning, despite the cold and the low avian turnout!  

Oh and in answer to the question in the title, by the end of the weekend, I did!!!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Easter Weekend...Part 2 - Ringing on the Wash

With my WeBS counts done, it was now time to head over to Norfolk to join the Wash Wader Ringing Group for a weekend’s ringing. Arriving on Friday evening, it soon became clear that it was going to be a long night! With the equipment sorted, introductions done, a lovely tea eaten and the tide receding, we headed out at 9pm to set nets for an attempted cannon net catch on Saturday morning. The Friday morning recces had found approximately 20 000 knot on Snettisham Beach so hopes were high for a good catch. 

As the team started to set the nets under a cold, starry sky, the moon rose big and beautiful over Ken Hill behind us. The tide was still receding and as the cannon net holes were dug, they soon began to fill with water, preventing us from filling them in. Still, there are plenty of other things to do when setting cannon nets so by the time we had finished, the water was low enough to fill the holes without the risk of the cartridges getting soggy!

By the time we got to bed it was half past midnight, which in and of itself, isn’t too bad. However, when you factor in the fact that the alarms were set for a quarter to four the following morning, it was a tad evil!!! So, a very small amount of sleep later saw us heading back to Snettisham and by just after 5am we were shivering at base camp. The briefing had suggested that if we hadn’t caught by 6am, we would be rushing to lift the nets out of the way of the rising tide. We therefore did what we always do…we waited.
Nigel kept base camp informed over the radio and soon reported that we had 100+ knot in the catching area. With plenty more on the mudflats, hopes were high. Not long after, all the knot headed to the Pits! Luckily, a flock of oystercatcher turned up and Nigel gave the order to arm the box. Cue the adrenalin. It’s a strange thing how the adrenalin starts pumping and at the same time, the nerves start to kick in when you hear the words ‘arm the box’, even though there is still a chance that the words three, two, one, fire won’t follow!

Thankfully, those words were uttered on Saturday morning and we were able to make a nice catch of 50+ oystercatcher, 3 bar-tailed godwits and 4 common gull. When the question ‘who hasn’t ringed a common gull?’ was asked, my hand went sky high and I was lucky enough to get to ring a new species (and without getting bitten which was a bonus). The rest of the catch was spent scribing for the processing team.

The bonus of an early catch is an early breakfast. After that, it was time to do a few jobs back at base before most of the team headed out to set mist nets on Terrington Marsh for the evening tide. The tide was due to be pretty high that evening so we were all prepared to be wading quite deeply during the catch. I have never been on the marsh after dark when it has covered completely so it was an interesting experience…particularly when the high water level means you cannot see the creeks that you usually use to navigate your way off said marsh! We did eventually make it back to base, but not without a little help from our friends on dry land and some bright torches!

Anyway, a small catch of dunlin, a few redshank and a solitary knot were caught mist netting. Sometimes it is nice to get relatively small catches, particularly when the team includes a lot of people new to wader ringing, as this weekend’s team did. A small catch allows the ringers chance to get to grips with the ageing criteria of the species in the hand without the pressure of having to get through hundreds of birds quickly.
This weekend’s team also included Rick and Ellis from an organisation called Wader Quest. They were there to document the work of the group for their project. The small, more relaxed catches also allowed them to get involved and to get some great photos. More information on Wader Quest and some of their photos from the weekend can be found on their website

So, the day finished at about 12:30am again and we all went to bed in the hope of getting a good six hours sleep before heading out to do some colour ring re-sighting on Sunday morning. Whenever a Wash weekend falls on the same weekend that the clocks change, it is traditional not to alter the time zone until the end of the weekend, so as not to confuse things. Unfortunately, nobody told that to our smart phones, all of which kindly changed the time automatically and woke us up an hour earlier than necessary…thanks for that!

I, along with three other members of the team, headed out to Holme to attempt to find some birds willing to show us their bling. It soon turned out to be a stunning morning with wall to wall sunshine. There were quite a few birds on the spits that don't cover at high tide (many of which were hiding on the far side, out of sight) but as the tide rose, more and more became visible. The rising tide also flushed out a water rail which we watched swimming between dry islands of vegetation! We eventually found a flock of sanderling that were close enough to scope up for rings and found three colour ringed birds. Unfortunately, none of the godwits or grey plovers in the same area was flagged.
Holme Beach on a gorgeous, sunny morning
Ringed plover - it just wouldn't play the game and face the
Some of the team stayed on in Norfolk on Sunday evening for another mist netting setting at Gedney, but I had somewhere else to be, so I headed home, tired but happy after another great weekend with my friends at the Wash.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Easter Weekend…Part 1 - WeBS

This weekend started with a trip over to Nottingham to do my WeBS counts (yes I know, slightly belatedly). It was that nice a morning, I didn’t even need to wear a woolly hat! I arrived at Martin’s Pond in Wollaton slightly ahead of my friend and fellow WeBS counter, Mike, so I headed onto the site to wait for him and to play with my camera. I was duly greeted by a pair of swans who waddled over and proceeded to try to eat my jacket! They soon realised it wasn’t very tasty and went in search of something a little more nutritious.

Tufted duck at Martin's Pond

Pochard at Martin's Pond
As Mike and I wandered round counting the water birds, the birds in the trees above us were singing their little hearts out. Here’s hoping they know something the weather forecasters don’t and that spring really is on the way. The walk through Harrison’s Plantation to Raleigh Pond took slightly longer than usual as we were distracted by siskin, nuthatch and coal tit (amongst others). It was nice to see a few shoveler on Raleigh Pond too – not a usual suspect there!

Siskin in Harrison's Plantation
Fluffed up siskin - maybe the birds still
think it is pretty cold!
On to Wollaton Park… Now, I know that Attenborough likes to play host to all sorts of not exactly native species, but Wollaton Park was joining in the fun on Friday with a pair of Egyptian geese to go with the red-crested pochards and the ubiquitous Canada geese. They really are funny looking things! The lake had an unusually high number of swans on there too, but sadly, none of them were anything other than mutes. The recently formed heronry is up and running again this year with four birds sitting on nests (and a number of other seemingly empty nests in close proximity). One of the many Canada geese kindly showed off its colour ring to me, which was nice of it, and it appeared to be a bird I had not seen there before (at least I didn’t recognise the ring number, although I may yet be reminded that I have indeed seen it previously!).

On the way back around the lake we were treated to a very close view of a treecreeper, one of my favourite little birds! All in all, a very nice morning. Good to catch up with Mike, see some sunshine and have decent numbers of birds to count.