Who Needs Early Starts? Monday, 17th April 2023

The last couple of months bird ringing have been rather frustrating for me. With an almost complete absence of the usual February / March winter visitors: no Siskin or Brambling to be found anywhere, and very few Lesser Redpoll at the usual sites, the unremitting diet of Blue and Great Tits does become a bit wearing. Coupled with the awful weather, particularly the wind, that has made my farmland sites unworkable, it has been a limited “same old, same old” for the last 6 months. Okay, the recent arrival of some of our summer visitors has helped lift my mood but, with yesterday being forecast to be wind free, I had hoped to get out to Brown’s Farm for some Yellowhammers and Linnets. Unfortunately, the forecast changed to rain between 6:30 and 8:30 and overnight I became unwell: so that was another session down the pan (literally)!

As the forecast for today was for low wind and no rain, I thought I might open my garden nets this morning. So, naturally, I woke up this morning to find it was raining. It was showery but the skies began to clear at 10:30, so I kicked myself up the backside and opened the two 6m nets at 11:30. I am so pleased that I did!

There are lots of benefits to garden ringing: one of the key ones today was carrying out my ringing to the background music of the frogs in my pond singing away for the whole time I was out there. Of course, tea / coffee on tap, food when wanted, other facilities available when needed (and in comfort) are major benefits. Being garden based in a rural village, I check the nets twice as often as I do in the woods, the neighbours have been advised about keeping their cat in when the nets are open, and I do have two effective electronic cat scarers as well, but I don’t take any risks.

I caught my first bird at 11:40: a female Greenfinch. As part of our BTO Garden Birdwatch Scheme observations, we have recorded pairs of Greenfinch coming to our feeding station (okay, for GBW notation, four Greenfinch maximum in the garden at any one time). Today’s results showed how different casual observation is from physically catching and noting what you find. By the end of the session I had caught and processed seven Greenfinch: four females and three males. Interestingly, of the four females, three were second year birds and the fourth was a fourth year bird. The three second year birds had extremely well-developed brood patches, ready to brood eggs, but the older bird was still defeathering her brood patch and looked as though she would need another couple of weeks before she would be ready to start laying. This is her:

One of the things I love about Greenfinches is the way they look at you with such a haughty expression on their faces. Without being too anthropomorphic, a sort of “Who do you think you’re looking at?” expression:

It reminds me of Sam the Eagle from the Muppets:

As usual, the major part of the catch was made up of Goldfinches: mainly males. All of them were second year birds, including the two retrapped birds that were ringed as juveniles last autumn.

Whilst loath to get carried away with pairing them all up, I did catch a male and female Robin in the same net. He had a well-developed cloacal protuberance (willy equivalent for the lay-people) and she had a well-developed brood patch and I suspect they were foraging to feed their young (it is okay – they were in the net and inconvenienced for just a couple of minutes). I also caught a beautifully plumaged male Chaffinch, alongside a female, both endowed with exactly the same descriptions as the Robins and both, thankfully, with good clean legs available for ringing. I also caught a male and a female Starling: both beautifully marked, striking birds. Astonishingly, neither of them made any fuss as I extracted and processed them.

Despite my best intentions, I did catch three Blue Tits: all retrapped birds originally ringed in my garden: one in the second round and two in the final round (I shut the nets at 16:45, so I could get on with cooking tea).

The list for the session was: Blue Tit (3); Robin 1(2); Chaffinch 2; Greenfinch 6(1); Goldfinch 7(2); Starling 2. Totals: 18 birds ringed from 5 species and 8 bird retrapped from 4 species, making 26 birds processed from 6 species.

During the session Woodpigeon did get into the nets on three occasions only, unfortunately, they all managed to get out before I could get to them. The local Jackdaws realised that something was amiss so, instead of coming down to the fat balls and peanuts as usual, they just sat in the Aspen and sulked. It was great to see a Rook back in the garden for the first time for quite a while. Again, it stayed out of the nets, despite their favourite half coconut shell filled with fat and minced peanuts having been filled for the occasion.

It was a really enjoyable session, with a reasonable selection of birds, and I actually caught more than in my most recent sessions in the woodlands, and the same number as at last weekend at Lower Moor Farm, but without the six o’clock starts and loads of nets!

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