Brief Encounter: Thursday, 15th December 2022

With this extended cold spell preventing any early morning ringing sessions, I have to admit to getting withdrawal symptoms. With it forecast to continue until Monday, when it is going to get wet and windy, it really doesn’t look as though we will get many opportunities for at least another week. So, when at 11:30 this morning the sun had melted the ice from the windscreen of my car, and unfrozen my nets, I decided to open them, on the off chance that some of the birds that have been gorging themselves on the sunflower hearts, peanuts and fat balls that they are clearing each day might just end up in the nets.

It was an interesting session, with the nets open for a few hours, until the sun disappeared behind the houses and things cooled down again. I started shutting the nets at 14:00 but two Blue Tits decided to fly in whilst I was doing so. I took the first one out at 14:10, processed it, released it, went back to the net to find another! This time I closed everything before processing it.

It was a reasonable catch given the situation, with just 2 x 3m nets and 1 x 6m. The nets are positioned around an apple tree, which sits atop a rockery, in which I hang the peanut feeder. Alongside it is a three pronged arch with two sunflower heart feeders and a fat ball feeder attached.

They are about 20m from the house, the other side of my pond. One thing that I have found is that many of the birds have got clever: the number of birds that went around the edges of the nets, or went through the gap in the join between the two three metre nets, would have doubled the size of the catch. I have taken down the nets to sanitise them, and will be changing the layout when they go back up! I will not be outsmarted by the birds! Firstly, I will replace the two 3m nets set at 45o with a single 6m, and take out the gap, and I plan to move the existing 6m net 1.5m to the west.

Everything has got far more complicated, and time consuming, with the latest BTO guidelines for avoiding the spread of avian flu. This is the requirement of the statutory authorities (DEFRA, Natural England etc) to allow bird ringing to continue whilst this pandemic is ongoing. This means sanitising nets and equipment in a way that we have never had to before: both in frequency and with anti-viral cleaning materials. Bird bags to be used just once per session and then put aside for cleaning. To be fair, the BTO have said that they will help with the purchase of additional equipment, like bird bags, whilst this is in force.

I understand that APHA have, finally, and about time, started logging incidences of H5N1 infections in wild bird populations. Currently there are no notified cases within 50 miles of my garden, but we still need to take all of the same precautions and restrictions just in case.

The list for today was: Blue Tit 3; Wren 1; Robin (2); Blackbird 2; Starling 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 10(1). Totals: 18 birds ringed from 6 species and 3 birds recaptured from 2 species, making 21 birds processed from 7 species.

What was frustrating about the session were the birds that got away: in particular was a Pied Wagtail. It spent the whole time I had the nets open flitting around the edges, under the bottom shelf and through the gap between the 3m nets. I have only caught one in my garden before, in January 2021.

Others to evade the nets were a Fieldfare, several Redwing, loads of Woodpigeon and plenty more Starlings. However, the most surprising thing to be seen today was a Snipe that flew past the nets and briefly landed by my neighbour’s pond.

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