Spurn Bird Observatory: Summer 2021 (so far)

The following blog piece is by Lucy Mortlock. Lucy is the latest to join the team and has been ringing with me since the beginning of October last year. She spent summer 2020 working in Northern Ireland, as part of her degree course, which included her getting an introduction to ringing. There she got to ring a pretty exotic list of species: including a couple that I haven’t had the privilege of ringing yet (Curlew, Oystercatcher). She officially became my trainee in March of this year, and has packed in an awful lot of sessions in between and since. That she was also studying for her finals at Reading University (my alma mater), made her commitment to the cause really impressive.

This summer she volunteered for a role as an assistant warden at Spurn Bird Observatory. What follows is her story so far:

What an exciting week I’ve had. I’m working at Spurn Bird Observatory in East Yorkshire, as a Little Tern Warden. I help the team to monitor and protect the Little Tern colony here. It’s the only little tern colony in Yorkshire, and has had some excellent success over the past few years. The little terns have started sitting and my favourite part of the job is counting the sitting birds each day and finding new individuals on their nests.

Anyway, I know you’re not here for the little terns…

This week has been a bit of a mega one for me. On Wednesday I joined the head ringer here to check on the little owls in the nest box, and was given the opportunity to ring two of them. They are really lovely, placid birds in the hand with extremely thick tarsi. I think this guy is just the cutest, but someone else referred to him as an ‘unfinished muppet’. Interestingly, in the little owl box we found one of the ringed plover that had been sitting in the colony with the little terns. This has provided a valuable insight into how the little owls use the surrounding area. (Editor’s note: Little Owl: 21-23 cm long, wing-length 155-175mm, weight 160-200g; Ringed Plover: 18-20cm long, wing-length 125-144mm, 50-90g. Apart from the obvious weight difference, their biometrics are reasonably similar. That’s quite a catch for what is usually an ambush predator and is mainly described as feeding on beetles and earthworms!).

On Friday I was taken out to ring a buzzard pullus. The nest was right at the top of a yew tree, and contained only one chick. I was surprised at how placid it was. I was shown how to hold the bird so that it was comfortable and I had good control over those awesome taloned feet, and found that it’s a surprisingly natural and comfortable process.

Lucy hard at work!

And finally, on Saturday, I was taken out to ring kestrel chicks! They were really loud, much more so than any of the other birds.

I’ve been really struck by how fragile these chicks seem and how much effort and energy their parents put into them to reach the point of fledging.

I’m very grateful to Paul, Jack and Simon for their help and advice, and the opportunity to ring these fantastic birds. I think I might have some new favourites…

(Biometric data from Baker, Jeff: Identification of European Non-Passerines, BTO Publications 2nd Revised Edition 2016)

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