Wader ringing

This week has been lovely. I’ve been able to see my lovely auntie Kathy and saw my cousin Megan and my cheeky nephew Max. It’s always so nice getting to see people when you don’t get to see them a lot!

I also got some really good and exciting news this week. The research I did in Kenya for my masters has been accepted for publication. Soon it will be out for all the world to see. I’m really proud of this. This project made me realise how much I wanted to pursue a career in research and I guess it led me down the path I’m on today. When I get the final web address I’ll be posting it up here so if anyone is interested they can have a read.

The best part of my week was today. Me, Jake and Ingrid, who I usually do bird ringing with, went to North Wales to do some wader ringing with the scan ringing group. It’s really exciting because the method for catching the birds is so different to the normal mist nets we use for the song birds. This method is canon netting and involved a net being catapulted above the birds and catching them underneath. This was done on the shore line today, the target catch was oystercatcher. We waited quietly in the cars until all the birds were in the safe zone for the net to be fired. After the huge bang, we drove down the beach, got out and ran to the net. We then methodically extract all of the birds that have been caught. I had a lovely lady called Rachel helping me with the technique for extracting in this way. It’s very different from what I am used to and so I was very happy to be shown what to do. In total we caught 17 dunlin, 15 redshank and 34 oystercatcher. This was really nice because they are all different sizes and completely different to look at. When the birds are waiting to be processed they are kept in a type of holding pen where it is dark and quiet to keep them relaxed. When you put your hand inside it like a bird version of lucky dip! I’d say it was hard to choose my favourite species from today. The oystercatchers are amazing to look at up close, especially the adults. They have bright red eyes, pink feet and their bills are yellow and orange. They kind of reminded me of a calipo ice lolly! One downside though, they poo a lot and I’m afraid to say, my right leg was covered! Dunlin on the other hand don’t. These are tiny, brownish grey and white birds with dainty, slender bills. They look so beautiful up close and when they all fly together in a flock over the sea it almost reminds me of glitter. They seem to shimmer. Redshank are bigger than dunlin. Gorgeous reddish orange legs that stand tall below them, and a similar coloured beak. They look very elegant and have a gorgeous call when they are in flight. Anyway…. we enjoyed the sunshine on our faces and the nice sea air and headed back once everything was finished.

I’m now a tired little Amie. The sea air does you wonders of good but it makes me feel shattered. In a good way though.

It was such a lovely way to end the week, I’m feeling very positive about the one ahead.


Bird ringing

I’m sat at the airport, waiting to get my flight to Exeter to visit my wonderful cousin Megan, her husband Tom and the beautiful baby Max!

I haven’t written a blog post in ages. I have been so busy with PhD work and I’ve been doing loads of bird ringing.

So, it dawned on me. I can write on the go! I don’t have to be sat at my desk with my laptop. I can do this anywhere. On my travels, constant. Even if it is just a small post.

The past few weeks I have been out in the field doing a lot of bird ringing. For those of you who don’t know, this is where we catch birds in a huge, standing net (called a mist net) and give them individual metal rings on their legs for later individual identification. From this we can get all sorts of informations. Longevity of different species, migration movements, health, breeding season changes…. loads. It is my favourite hobby. I have the privilege of holding numerous lovely bird species, I get to learn lots of new bits of information and I get to see some beautiful field sights. It’s not all good though, sometimes we ring them at a sewage works….

A usual day of bird ringing consists of getting up before the crack of dawn, getting to the field site, putting up the nets and waiting. We check the nets every 30 minutes and take out any birds we have caught; place them in small holding bags to take back to the ringing station.

At the ringing station:

The ringing station can be anything from a foldaway table, car boot parcel shelf or a boulder in a forest. Either way, you need a secure place to hang bird bags, a flat surface to place the equipment and preferably a way of brewing up! Lately we’ve become pretty high-tech and take a camping stove to make toast or a bacon sandwich! We think we deserve it when we’re out for at least 7 hours in the -1 degrees of winter!

So, what do we actually do with the birds. Well, when a bird is caught and without a ring, we use small ringing pliers to safely secure the unique ID tag. This consists of a unique number and letter code and the address of the Natural History Museum in London (to let others know it was ringed in Britain). Of course we have to ID the species first to make sure we fit the right size ring. We then look at different cues of the birds appearance in order to age and sex it. The can be at very fine detail such as the edging to the greater coverts. Once that’s done, we blow on the throat/ chest of the bird to assess their fat and muscle score. This helps indicate the health of the bird! After this we measure the wing length and we weigh them. All this is written down and later added to a huge database with the BTO (British Trust of Ornithology).

Of course, some birds are caught that already have a ring, their information still gets taken and this way we can see where they were previously caught, how long ago this was etc… amazing!

My trainer was telling me recently about a Puffin that was recaught on the Shiants after 37 years!!!

The best bit about this whole process for me is letting them go. I always feel a bit like a Disney princess!

I have done ringing in all weathers. Sometimes I lose all feeling in my fingers and toes it’s so cold! I have ringed tiny wrens up to a magnificent Sparrow Hawk. I can tell you, quite confidently, that the blue tit gives the nastiest peck. I like this though, feisty and small. A bit like me! I have had the opportunity of ringing in the UK, Cyprus and Cameroon. I’m so lucky!

I think my favourite bird I have ringed so far is probably a Kingfisher. The colours up close are hypnotising.

I could go on and on. I love it. But I think you’ve probably read enough for now!

Have a fab week!