Wednesday 29 May 2024

Mist netting 2/4/24

On 2nd April, the group were hosts to a visiting group of students from University Centre Reaseheath College, Cheshire. The group has a long-running association with the centre, and has delivered demonstrations for them on multiple occasions. It was therefore a privilege to have them back on site in East Devon.

It was a grey start to the day as the team assembled at Seaton, before collecting kit and heading to base at the cropfield. The usual nets were set across the area, hoping to catch a range of species between them. The site boasts thick hedgerow, scrub, green pasture and thickets, so when nets are spread across the whole area, some variety of catch is near-guaranteed.

The morning got off to a good start with 4 warblers – 3 Cettis, a Chiffchaff and a nice, seasonally fitting, Willow. This proved a good chance for the team to examine the various identifying features of these three related species.

Cettis Warblers – a relatively new resident to Britain, following widespread breeding in 2012 – are unlike most of our other warbler species in the fact that they are largely resident all year. They also have 10 tail feathers, unlike all other passerines, which have 12.

The university group arrived around 9:30am, just as we were processing a net round’s worth of catch. Half of the group stayed to watch this process, while the rest were guided round the site by Mike. Once the birds had been processed, the rest of the team answered questions on catching and measuring techniques, as well as discussing the importance of ringing from a conservational standpoint. Meanwhile, some of the local birds showed nicely around the viewing point, including a handsome male Stonechat.

The university group surveying the site. 
(Robin Pearson)

‘Chiffs’ and Willow Warblers are a familiar duo of similar species that ringers of all guises will be well used to distinguishing in the hand. Nonetheless, it’s always worth 
taking the time at the beginning of the season to re-aquaint ones’-self with the bird’s differences. This bird was first thought to be a Willow based on its overall colour – while not a steadfast diagnostic by itself, most Willows are altogether yellower than Chiffs. A further check of the emargination score (E=5) confirmed that we had caught the former

Willow Warbler (Fiona Coope)

There was, as is so often the case when ringing, a morning lull that lasted for some time – this proved an opportune moment to explain the way in which no two days are the same for ringing, and that, regrettably, sometimes birds don’t read the script! Being ecologically minded students and staff, they were very understanding (a quality which we were very grateful for).
However, after a couple of dud net checks, a single Chiffchaff took pity on us and neatly pocketed itself in the net. This allowed students to view the extraction, as well as the full task of processing, back at base. Finally, the bird was released – perfectly – by a member of the visiting troupe. All just in time for them to head back to their coach. A very good morning

Counting the emarginations of a chiffchaff 
(Robin Pearson) 

Following the visitors’ departure and our dismantling of the nets, we had a final couple of good birds – an (obligatory) Blue Tit, a stonking male House Sparrow (quite seasonal here) and a lovely female Goldfinch – identified by the presence of lighter nasal ‘whiskers’ around its upper mandible. This bird proves the way in which the extent of red on the bird’s head is not always a reliable characteristic to sex this species on – with this individual, the red front does indeed extend just behind this bird’s eye, which, if looked at alone, could be interpreted as an indicator of a male bird. But, the colour of the whiskers suggested otherwise.

Female Goldfinch. (Fiona Coope)

Visiting students & staff (Robin Pearson) 

The ringing team (Fiona Coope) 

Toby Moran Mylett