Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Elevators, Cannons, Mists and Ringing by Zach Haynes

I’m Zach and I’ve always loved nature but only got really serious about it when I started a blog just over a year ago. Through doing that I got to meet loads of great nature groups and people and especially birders. Everyone has been really friendly, helpful and encouraging and it’s given me the chance to do a lot of things I hadn’t done before including bird ringing which has to be one of my favourite activities. I love it as you can get so close to the birds and see little features you don’t usually see. Birds are even more beautiful close up! Another thing I didn’t know is that there are many different ways to actually catch the different types of birds. I thought I would take you through some of the catching methods that I have experience with.

Mist Netting:
This is a technique that I first saw at High Batts nature reserve. It was kind of simple setting them up, just putting two poles into the ground, fixing them in place with strings and pegs and stretching the net between the poles. It involved us walking around every 20 minutes to check them and retrieve any birds that we caught. There were some really interesting and lovely birds, for example, a Great-Spotted Woodpecker and a Tree Creeper! This was a very good way of ringing a lot of different birds that hadn’t been ringed before, we didn’t actually get any re-captures! It only works for smaller birds though, apparently geese aren’t very good for the nets!

Elevator Netting:
We did this near Ripon on some ground owned by a military base. It was pretty extreme bird ringing as there were signs warning us to not touch any military debris as ‘it may explode and kill you’. The elevator nets were actually huge! They reached the top of the trees in the little clearing it was in! The net was split into four parts, one net going in each direction, like the points of a compass. The nets on each of the four arms were about 3 mist nets high and you used a pulley to haul them up into place, and lower them again when you checked them to get the birds out.
There were also some mist nets set up in a different area but we didn’t get as much as we did from the elevator nets, but there was a lovely Long Tailed Tit that I did get to see up close. The site was in a good place for Redpolls, Redwings and Fieldfare and to help catch these birds their song was being played through a big speaker. We did well that day and did manage to catch some Redpolls, Redwings and Fieldfare, all of which I’d only ever seen once! There were 429 Redwings ringed at this site this Autumn. I got to release a Redwing too.

Cannon Netting
This was the one that I did most recently at my nearest reserve, Nosterfield. It’s a great place to be. I got there just in time to hear the sound of a cannon firing. It was hard to see what was happening from a distance, though you could see the cannon smoke, but as I got closer I could see the net and the birds.  We caught 70 Coots with only one recapture!
It’s exactly as it’s named, there is a net in a small cannon and it is fired it over a load of target birds, in this case Coots which were feeding on bait. We transferred them all into bags in fours and then again two to a bag. I was lucky enough to be able to hold seven of the seventy to get ringed and weighed, they’re feisty little things though, they have very sharp bills and claws and do their best to wriggle free.

I do all of my ringing adventures with the East Dales ringing group. They’re a really friendly group of people and congratulated me for getting into the BTO Bird camp which I am really looking forward to. I’m looking forward to working with the experts and finding out more about ringing as I hope to be able to train as a bird ringer.

Hope you enjoyed.
Zach Haynes, @nerdboy386

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Developing your birdwatching skills by Thomas Banks

Birdwatching is very enjoyable, but it can be even more enjoyable if you have the right set of skills. Here are five skills which I believe have helped me love birding even more:

1. Attention to detail – many beginners will look at a bird and determine its species just by the colour and pattern of its plumage. An example where this does not usually work is the Dunnock (though it does have a unique plumage). Some people will identify it as a sparrow because it’s a "LBJ" (little brown job). But if you take note of other details, you should be able to identify it.
Shape and size is important. Dunnocks have a thin, pointy beak, whilst House Sparrows have a conical beak.

A good way to get to grips with different bird species is to watch videos of them. This will help you understand their behaviour and help you group them into different families. Dunnocks usually feed on the ground, whilst House Sparrows are likely to be in flocks and eat from a bird feeder.
Another way to identify birds (which I have not perfected yet) is by sound. This is very useful if you do not have good views of the bird or the bird looks similar to another species e.g. Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Practice by listening to recordings, which you can buy on a CD or on an app or you could go online.

When you are learning all these features about a bird, don’t just look up the more attractive adult males – females and juveniles count too!

Pintail by Thomas Banks
Pintail by Thomas Banks
2. Practice using equipment – You might have a pair of binoculars or a scope, both very useful in birding, but you might not be using them to their full potential. Begin in the garden. Make sure you can quickly change the focus and be able to see a bird with your peripheral vision and then get your binoculars onto it. With a scope, practice scanning every bird in a flock, identifying each one. This worked for me. I got a scope for Christmas and practiced using it at Staines Reservoir, Surrey on Boxing Day. I was scanning a flock of ducks, which seemed to just be Pochards. But because I did not just assume that they were all Pochards, I managed to pick out a drake Pintail. So if you stumble across a flock of Chaffinches in the winter, check each individual as there might be a Brambling!

Great Grey Shrike by Thomas Banks
Great Grey Shrike by Thomas Banks
3. Planning ahead – Before you visit a new site, do a search on the internet. Find out what star species you can find there (are they the ones you hope to see?), what habitats are there (e.g. if it’s a heathland, then you could see a Dartford warbler) and if the cafĂ© serves cake! Plan what time you make the visit – the time of day (most birds are active early morning) and the time of year (some birds are only summer/winter visitors to the UK). Back in November, I saw a Great Grey Shrike at Frensham Common, Surrey. This was partly because I had read about recent sightings online, I was in the right habitat and it was the right time of year.

4. Patience – You can’t just expect a bird to appear straight away, or see the species you wanted to see in one trip. Sometimes luck is on your side and your target species is right in front of you, but you sometimes have to wait to see something special. In September, there was a Barred Warbler at Staines Moor, Surrey. A rare bird that had been there for some days and so I made the visit. There were other birders there and we had to wait for about hour until it appeared. Now that it is a long time standing around, but I know some birders have waited way longer for a bird than I have.

5. Get in the field – The more you birdwatch, the better you get at it. Reading is helpful in identifying birds, but putting your skills into practice is the best way of developing them.
There are many other skills used in birdwatching, but they are few that have helped me. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

Thomas Banks, @MrTomBanks