19 Aug 2022

Dungeness Ringing Pliers

My first set of ringing pliers were made by Lambourne in the 1970's - I still have them today and occasionally use them. I remember my trainers buying them for me at the annual BTO meeting as some pairs were better than others and they picked me out a good pair!   Their jaws are narrower than newer pliers and I find them easier to use on birds with short tarsi such as Swallows. I recently had the chance to examine an even older pair of bird ringing pliers. A pair of Dungeness ring ing pliers developed by the legendary Bert Axel who later moved from Dungeness to manage the RSPB reserve at Minsmere. I met hime there in 1974 just before he retired.

He became warden of Dungeness RSPB in 1952 and developed these pliers to assist with the fitting of bird rings. In those days the rings were stamped on flat sheets and had to be shaped using the specially designed tip of the pliers.  Dungeness Bird observatory still have the original pair he developed in 1954 along with Harry Cawkell. 

It was nice to see a piece of bird ringing history that I hadn't seen since the 1970's! Thanks to Kieran for letting me photograph them.

12 Aug 2022

Reedbed CES

Constant Effort Sites (CES) have been around for awhile. I don't run one myself as most of my passerine ringing is done on Hilbre or in my garden. The BTO have recently introduced garden CES's so its something I'm considering in the future. The idea is you ring at the same site for a number of consecutive weeks using the same nets and ringing for the same length of time. The data collected allows for a year on year comparison of breeding success, populations and survival. I've helped out at several CES sits including the one at Catterick army garrison - see herehere and here for blog posts on some of my previous trips.

I'd recently been asked to help with a CES site on Anglesey whilst Steve & Rachel were away. Its a reed bed site with good numbers of breeding Sedge & Reed Warblers. Between four of us we got an agreed date when we could all attend so with my alarm set for stupid o'clock I headed off in the dark for the 70 mile drive to our meeting point where I met up with fellow insomniacs Rosie, Tom & Sam. We had a map showing net locations and Rosie had collected all the ringing gear the previous evening. After a bit of fumbling around in the dark on uneven ground we managed to get the ten mist nets set and started catching birds almost immediately. 

Tom extracting from a reedbed mistnet

I haven't ringed many Reed or Sedge Warblers since I started out as a trainee in the 70's at Wicken Fen so it took a bit of time to get my eye and brain working. Sedge Warblers undergo their post juvenile moult after migrating so any young bird we caught would be designated a 3J denoting a bird of the year  that still hadn't grown its belly feathers or a 3 if it had! Sedge Warblers tend to grow all their feathers fairly quickly. At 05.00 in the morning, after being up since 01.00 there's already a certain amount of brain fatigue to contend with whilst trying to remember the intricacies of Sedge Warbler moult! 

We had a great morning though with 98 birds of 7 species being caught and processed. Highlights were a French controlled (already ringed by a French ringer either in France or somewhere in Africa!) Sedge Warbler, the first Kingfisher I'd seen in the hand since catching two in an industrial unit in 2014 - see here for that story - several Cetti's Warblers and several Grasshopper Warblers. 

French controlled Sedge Warbler.

Kingfishers are one of my favourite birds. I wrote an article about a nest I'd found and watched whilst a 12 year old kid in Suffolk for the RSPB's YOC (young ornithologists club) magazine. This one was aged as a juvenile female by the slight orange tinge to the lower mandible. It was a ringing tick for Tom   and a lovely one at that. The old English name for Kingfisher is Halcyon and it was certainly a halcyon day as the weather started warming up considerably! Running around in Wellington boots with waterproof trousers over the top certainly got a sweat on.

Cettis Warblers are unique among British passerines as they only have 10 tail feathers compared to the usual12. Something this Cetti's showed brilliantly in the hand.

By 10 am we'd finished the CES and with the sun now getting hotter we packed everything away and headed home. 

2 Aug 2022

Lunar Hornet Moth

This is a truly special moth. One of the clearwing moths and one that s rarely seen unless you use a pheromone lure. These have only recently been developed so much is still being learned about the distribution of this species. The larvae feed below the bark of crack willows, sallows and poplars - all three species of which we have in in our garden!

I'd only seen the species once before when our late great friend Barry Barnacal phoned me to come and see one he'd attracted to a lure in his garden last year. Despite trying for several years to find one myself and seeing photos of ones attracted to lures further north on the Wirral I decided to persevere and ordered some more pheromone lures to use this year! 

Success at last. Hanging the trap containing the lure in our garden I checked it awhile later to find this truly stunning hornet mimic had been attracted in.

It even sat on my hand for awhile and allowed me to take this video:

What a treat!