The Firs: Sunday, 9th October 2022

As of Monday, 10th October, the Firs will be out of bounds for a time while the Wildlife Trust remove the dead and dying ash trees suffering from the Chalara Ash Dieback, unnecessarily imported into this country from the European mainland.

This was our sixth visit to the Firs this year, but the first since June and the other four were in the January – March period. Essentially, the whole of the breeding season was missed. Most of that was down to my spinal operation and recovery, and the necessary focus on the Lower Moor Farm CES, and that was followed by autumn migration. Hopefully we will be able to get in a couple of additional visits before the end of the year.

The Firs can be very hit and miss at this time of year, depending upon whether I have set up the feeding station or not. This year it is very definitely “not”. The sessions in January and February were fuelled by supplementary feeding but they still didn’t match the numbers that we caught today, much to my surprise. Once the feeding station is set up the numbers do become more regular and higher, but this year that will not be happening. As part of their precautions to limit the spread of avian flu this winter, the Wildlife Trust have decided that there will be no supplementary feeding at their nature reserves, and no ringing activity at their Lower Moor Farm and Langford Lakes reserves at all, as they are the two sites that attract in over-wintering waterfowl.

I was joined for the session by David and Anna and later on by Claire and her children, Zara and Samuel. Zara is eight years old, and last time out I started training her on holding and measuring birds before release, prior to training her on ringing birds. One of the things that is quite remarkable about her is the number of birds content to sit in the palm of her hand after release. All ringers know that Bullfinch will do that, but Great Tits?

I haven’t seen anything like it before: so many birds of multiple species are happy to sit there. Today she started her ringing career , ringing five Robins and two Great Tits.

I have thought for a while about extending the net ride we use to include the slope down to the central glade. It was thinned out extensively a few years ago, but has now grown back to a reasonable height and thickness, so we set an extra set of 3 x 18m nets down the slope (No. 3 on the photo):

We had a decent first round with eight birds including singles of Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit and Marsh Tit. I was surprised that we only caught one Long-tailed Tit at this time of year, they are always in flocks, and I was delighted to catch a new Marsh Tit for the site. To put it into perspective: we didn’t catch any in the Firs last year. It has always been hit and miss for the species:

Marsh Tits, Poecile palustris, caught by year in the Firs

As you can see from the graphic: we ended up catching four this morning. So, in this one session we have exceeded our previous best annual total for them in the Firs. As for the Long-tailed Tit, I needn’t have worried: next round we caught the rest of the flock: another nine individuals ringed.

Between 10:00 and 11:00 the catch fell right away and we decided the 11:15 check would be the last. Our minds were made up by the wind that had started to build up, and the nets at 2 and 3 had started to billow significantly. The new nets at 1 were well protected from the wind and caught very well. Net 3 delivered a small flock of Goldcrests in response to the lure that I put on at 10:30.

On our last round we got excited when we caught another flock in ride 1 – only to be deflated by finding it was eight of the previous group. Mind, as is often the case with the Firs, it was our largest catch of the day. As well as the 8 we extracted and released, we extracted another 19 to process after closing the nets.

The catch for the morning was: Treecreeper [2](1); Blue Tit 1[13](4); Great Tit [7](6); Marsh Tit [4](1); Long-tailed Tit {10}(1); Wren 2(1); Robin [6](1); Chiffchaff [1]; Goldcrest [5]. Totals: 10 full grown birds ringed from 1 species, 3 adults ringed from 2 species, 38 juveniles ringed from 7 species and 15 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 66 birds processed from 9 species.

We had the nets down and everything packed away and off site by 12:30.

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