Monday, 25 August 2014

An evening ringing Swallows

As autumn started to take a grip I was beginning to think that we were not going to get to do a swallow roost this year. The weather had not been favorable at all, too windy, raining or both, however on the 20th I got the call from Ray Knock that things were looking good for that evening. I finished work at 5 so had to go home and grab a bite to eat before leaving for The Avenue.

The mist nets along the edge of reedbeds
We arrived at 18:15 and set up the nets along the far side of the reedbed where the swallows flew in to roost. It’s then a waiting game, this gives us a chance to relax and enjoy the other birds on site. A few Reed Warblers are still around but the best spot of the night was a Kingfisher perched over on the far bank. One or two swallows started to arrive around 19:00 along with 3 Swifts and around 20-30 House Martin but by 20:00 there were c500 swallows now flying around catching the last meal of the day.
A Swift overhead

What a superb event this is as the birds twitter and fly around your head, sometimes as close as a couple of feet. It was a perfect sunset too which made it all the better.
Swallows waiting to go to roost

At 20:30 we made our way round to the nets hoping for a good haul, Ray likes to call it sheet music. We weren't disappointed as the nets were full to bursting. As the light was fading we quickly got the birds processed to cause as little amount of stress as possible, we aged the birds and took wing measurements for the juveniles with additional information for the adults such as sex, weight, fat & muscle scores.
105 birds were done in total with 101 juveniles and 4 adults. One of the juveniles was a recovery that had been ringed 15km away on the 1st of July in Sheffield. We finished around 10pm and it was getting a little chilly, it has been past midnight before leaving in previous years when more birds have been caught.

A ring is put on a young bird

The large proportion of young birds is normal but remains a mystery to us, are other adults still feeding young in nests or do a few adults stay to show the juveniles the best roosting places on route? It could of course just be that not many adults are making the return journey and have perished. We have in the past done up to 3 evenings in a week and never re-trap birds from earlier, out of c500 birds we can do as many as 300 within that week. This means that the roost is made up of different birds every night, we are a short stop off on migration. The figures remain the same even to the end of the roost.  

One of the best parts of ringing swallows is the release, these birds are quite happy to sit on your finger for a while until confident enough to pop back into the reeds.
A young bird sits calmly on the hand

I have in the past gone on to site the day after doing a ringing session to see birds leave the reedbeds, as the sun came up I never saw any birds at all, they must leave while it is still dark.Your thoughts go towards the long journey that they have in front of them, up to 200 miles per day until reaching South Africa. What a bird.

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