You will have to wait a wee while before we get to that particular surprise.
I arrived on site at 5:30 and set my usual nets along the back hedges, and across the narrow causeway (picking my footsteps around the huge pile of dog faeces some “responsible” owner hadn’t bothered to clear away). I also set an 18m net along the field side edge of the pond, and another along the field side raised bank behind the pond. The hope was for a catch of Swallows and / or House Martins.
It was a misty start to the morning and the birds didn’t start moving until just after 7:00. First out of the nets were a Chiffchaff, Bullfinch, Robin and Reed Warbler. This Reed Warbler is the first caught at the site in September. Last year we caught 2 in July (probable breeders) but in 8 years we have only caught 8 in total – with none between August 2015 and those last year.
The Bullfinch, clearly a juvenile, with no sign of its black cap developing, was able to be sexed. In the photo below you can see a number of feathers in pin on the breast. The colour in the photo isn’t great but the tips poking out were pink: it’s a boy!
That was a good start, but what happened next was a real surprise. At the start of the third round, as I walked away from the ringing station, a bird flew off from the edge of the pond. I didn’t see what it was and thought, knowing my luck, that it would just fly out into the meadow. Then I saw the single 12m net start bouncing and ran over to extract what turned out to be a Snipe:
Some who know me would say that the significant thing about that catch is the fact that I ran for it! True – but if you have no trainees with you, sometimes you just have to do the work yourself.
We have caught Snipe – on the ponds at Blakehill Farm, using specific wader nets and lures in January 2019 and 2020. This is the first time that I have even seen Snipe at this site. It was a cracking catch. Looking back over the Group’s historical records (those that are on-line, anyway), way back to 1986, there are only 3 other instances of Snipe being caught in September – 2001 and 2009 at Swindon Sewage Treatment Works and 2006 in Nightingale Wood. Mind, one of the 2009 catches is special to me: that’s when I ringed my first 2 Snipe. It was mid-week at 20:00. Matt Prior had done one of his ad hoc evening catching sessions and called me at home to get my backside down to the works, as he had something special for me to ring. He wasn’t wrong. On that occasion he caught 5 of them: the biggest catch for the Group to date.
The session was a nice even pace, which was great as things warmed up. It was a regular 3 or 4 birds per round for most of the morning, ending up on a total of 30. The list for the session was: Snipe ; Blue Tit ; Wren ; Dunnock 1; Robin (1); Reed Warbler ; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff ; Chaffinch ; Bullfinch (1). Totals: 2 adults ringed from 2 species, 26 juveniles ringed from 9 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 30 birds processed from 10 species.
You will have noticed there has been no mention of Swallows or House Martins since the introductory paragraph. That is because I didn’t see any whilst I was ringing. I started packing up at 11:30, taking it slow, firstly because a few more birds ended up in the nets whilst I was trying to get them shut and, having processed them, I got back to find that two more had got caught in the two nets I hadn’t got around to closing. I closed those nets and then went to process them before taking the whole lot down. The other reason: it was very hot by 11:30 and, although the nets and the ringing station were in shade, to avoid heat stress for both ringer and birds, it was hard work. In the end it was after 13:00 when I left site. As I stopped to shut the gate to the pond area a couple of dozen Hirundines decided to start buzzing around the meadow and the pond area! Such is life! Next time!