Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Weekend in hand

My weekend was perhaps less poetic than Dunc's, but no less bird-filled. As the weak calls of Siskin and Meadow Pipit punctuated the warm sky, I joined Gary, Lou and Rich for some up-close ornithology, ringing birds at a couple of local sites. 
On Saturday morning we had nets up in Queen Adelaide, and caught a good haul of warblers- Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Whitethroats, and one Goldcrest. The site is a small area of scrub, and it's obviously a great place for birds to stock up on food as they make their way southward. It is easy to become so engrossed with what's in your hands that you miss what's happening further afield, but luckily I looked up in time to spot a Bittern flying across to Roswell Pits in the distance. I nearly didn't give the sight of a largish bird beyond the trees a second look, but somehow, my subconscious told me to raise my binoculars. The reward was a rare glimpse of the brown heron in unusual circumstance- fairly high up, it was moving between feeding sites, from the Beet factory across to Turbotsey pond, where it wiffled slightly as it dropped in.

In the afternoon we stopped in at Welney, and first off another unusual sight, three downy Barn owl chicks. It won't be long before they're quartering the drain banks, but even so, September is pretty late considering this is a first brood. Barn owls can be on eggs at the end of February, so why the delay for this family is a mystery.

After ringing the owls, we slipped onto the reserve itself for the main event, Swallow ringing. The nets were put up and before long they were full of hirundines. Fortunately there were enough hands on deck to process them quickly, and about eighty Swallows and one House Martin had their weights and measurements taken, and will hopefully one day be back at Welney, or turn up in a net in some exotic African location.
As if to extend the wandering theme, one bycatch of the Swallow nets was a Migrant Hawker. It became briefly tangled as it, and many others of its species zipped along the bank.

 Sunday morning, and another early start, and quick rewards. Siskins again passed overhead in ones and twos, but at ground level the nets revealed the "Shouter Invisible" - Cetti's Warbler. Three in total, plus more Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, proof that they do sometimes leave cover and fly across the open. They are usually as skulky as the average Bittern, so it was very nice to see them up close for once in all their glory.
As the morning wore on, the temperature rose and more Migrant Hawkers flurried along the rides.
The weather didn't last of course, and Monday was dull and wet. Siskins were still moving however, and a couple landed in the birch tree in the corner of the garden. As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, there is still the odd "sweeoo" as the movement of these forest finches continues. How many have flown across the country over the past few days will never be known- not everything can be answered with a net and a set of scales.

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