Peregrine's Birding facts A Treecreeper can lose up to two centimetres of its tail length between moulting due to scraping on tree trunks.
Early last December I was in the RSPB Hide in the Belfast Harbour Estate where I was introduced to Shane Wolsey The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Liason Officer in Ireland. I mentioned to him that I was interested in ringing and he said he would be in touch.
On January 2nd he sent me details about a weekend of training from the 2nd-4th March. I sent of my cheque for £75. At this time it hadn't occurred to me that I would be missing my wife Penny's birthday and most of our 18th wedding anniversary!!! On the 2nd and 4th respectively.
I arrived on friday night at The Kilbroney Environmental Education Centre I was late and the last to arrive which is most unlike me but the signposting from Newry were really bad. (My excuse anyway)
First of all we all introduced ourselves. There were a number from Queens University, a lady from WWT Castle Espie and another from the Environment and Heritage Service.
Our first talk was by Chris Acheson, a principal of a special needs school in Hillsborough who had forty years ringing experience.
Titled "Mist Nets, Bird handling and Safety"
Basically it boiled down to the fact that the "Welfare of the Bird is Paramount".
From thinking about catching a bird to releasing a bird there are 6 stages.
1. Erecting Net
3. Transporting to Ringing Site
5. Release Bird
6. Closing Up
Mist Nets were introduced from Japan in the early fifties. Their advantages are that they are portable, efficient and quick and easy to use. Their disadvantages are that they are non selective, weather dependent ( as we were to find out) and very fragile.When netting there are a few points to consider. Basically you have to consider the bird as from the moment it hits the net it is VULNERABLE whether from rain, temperature, windchill , direct sunshine and predators. You also have to consider the length of net you are going to use, the height you are going to set it the depth of pocket and how vulnerable the net is to damage ie catching on twigs etc.
Extracting is the riskiest part of the operation and one needs to check the net carefully so as not to miss any. Which side has the bird gone into. Some species are easier to extract than others ranging from siskins which are quite easy to Starlings and Wrens which are quite difficult.
Once you have released the bird from the net you put it into a linen bag and tie up the top and transport it to the place that you are doing the ringing. Again being careful not to trip or knock the bag or bags.
Then you consult the ringers manual to see what size ring you are going to put on the bird. These range from AA for a Goldcrest to M for a Mute swan. There are a number of reasons that you might let the bird go without ringing.
1. You cannot identify the bird.
2.There are signs of a breeding bird.
3. If the bird is in poor condition , suffering from stress or even injured.
4. You may not have the right ring size available
5. It may already be ringed in which case you would note the number, age, sex, wing length and weight before you released it.
Our next talk was by Shane Wolsey about The Copeland Bird Observatory off the coast of Northern Ireland. After whetting our appetite it was time for bed.
We started the morning with breakfast and then we were put into teams. There were four A licence ringers and each one had three trainees. I was with Kerry Leonard. Kerry's speciality is ringing Manx Shearwaters of which the Copeland Islands are an important breeding site. He is in his early thirties and has been visiting the copelands since he was twelve.
We were very lucky as it was a beautiful morning and no sooner had the traps been set birds were flying into them. We had the nets in three different sites on the property. Here are some photos of trapped birds.
Bluetit being delicately extracted from the net
These birds along with a number of others were taken to the processing room where the birds were taken out of the bags and then ringed. But first we were shown how to handle the birds. Basically you hold the birds neck between your first and second fingers At first it is quite nerve racking but after the first few you get your confidence. I ringed seven birds in all. Once you have ringed the bird you write down the ring number, the species of bird, age, sex, date, time, wing length and weight.
T664908 Chaffinch 6 Male 3.3.07 09.35
T664914 Great Tit 5 Female 3.3.07 10.15
Now the age is decided on whether it is last years juvenile or whether it is older than that. This is done by examining the feathers in its wings and its tail.
One of the fascinating things was that you had no idea what was going to come into the net. Fortunately for us a Sparrowhawk was caught. These have to be dealt with extreme care as the last thing you want is its claws clamping onto your hand. It was processed and then Staffan Roos, a Swedish guy, studying at Queen's University released it.
The other bird that I have never seen really close up was a Treecreeper. They are beautiful. Its claws were enormous for the size of body.
The morning came to an end and we had lunch in the centre. After which we had a Mist Net workshop. This was basically how to set them up which we then did a number of times. By now it was getting dark so we headed in to the centre. George Henderson (Below) from The Environmental and Heritage Service Northern Ireland then gave a talk and demonstration about Integrated Population Monitoring Recorder (IPMR) Ringing and Nest Recording Software. It is a great way for collating the data which can be easily cut and pasted into Excel and then sorted in what ever way you can devise. For example if you have a sample of a hundred birds of one species you can find average weight or even average wing length. You can divide up into female and male populations and see if there is a marked difference between the two. You might find that the males weigh on average 6 gramms more than the females and if it was a species where male and female are hard to distinguish it could be a pointer to determining sex at the ringing station.
When this was over we had our dinner. And afterwards more lectures!!!
Neville Mckee, The Copeland Bird Observatory's Secretary,
with over fifty years experience of ringing gave an illustrated talk on "Ageing, Sexing and Moult" which was fascinating. It certainly inspired me to learn more. We only got half way through the talk as it is such a large subject so the remainder of the talk was scheduled for Sunday.
For the final half hour Kerry Leonard , my trainer, gave a talk on seabird ringing. We finished at about ten o'clock just in time to go outside and see the eclipse of the moon. We were very lucky as it was a perfectly clear evening and below is a photograph of the full eclipse when the moon turns pink.
I then headed down for a couple of whiskeys in the town of Rostrevor, before heading back to my top bunk and sleeping really well. I cant remember the last time I slept in a bunkbed.
On sunday the weather was really windy and after a few birds had been caught and ringed it was decided to take down the nets and head inside for the remainder of Neville's talk.
I would like to thank Shane, Neville, Kerry, Chris and George for the way the weekend was run. It was also nice to meet all the trainees Wesley, Oisin, Staffan, Askia, Alyn, the two Peters, Ron, Donna and Emma.
See you on the Copeland Islands this summer. My application for a trainee license is on its way to the Nunnery in Thetford!!