Monday, 10 October 2011

An Unforgettable Homecoming!

I'm sorry for the lack of blogging but I have not been able to go out bird ringing since my last post as I have now moved back up to Scotland and am finding it very difficult to find ringing opportunities here.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be invited out ringing with the Lothian Ringing Group (LRG) at a site in West Lothian  The site is such a beautiful place, rich in wildlife - classic Scotland! The morning didn't look too promising but it turned out to be quite a day, the perfect return to Scottish ringing.

As there was quite a bit of wind yesterday we were only able to set one mist net in a sheltered area of the reserve. The aim of the day was to catch Redpolls as the site is particularly good for this species with large numbers passing through the reserve on migration.

The morning was quite slow which gave me the opportunity to get back into passerine ringing as I hadn't done any in about 2 months, I also hadn't ringed any Redpolls in over a year. Redpolls are charming little birds, always very well behaved in the hand. I love the way they cheep softy as you carry them back to the ringing base in their bird bags.

Adult Male

Unsexed Juvenile

Unsexed Juvenile. Note the contrast in the greater coverts. 

Ringing the Redpoll was a nice homecoming but I was not prepared for what happened next! At one point we heard and then observed a couple of Jays calling which turned out to be only the second record of that species for the site! On one net round as we approached the net, something 'big' could be seem caught in the net - in any ringing session seeing something big means RUN! So we ran through the boggy marsh, trying not to drop my SLR in as I went. We thought that we might have caught a Jay but what should greet us when we arrived at the net...not one but two Sparrowhawks! I have always wanted to ring a Sparrowhawk and have come so close many times with birds escaping the net just as I get to them, so frustrating! Due to the size and strength of Sparrowhawks it is very easy for them to 'bounce' back of the net and so just because one has landed in your net does not mean it is caught!

A very feisty female Sparrowhawk

This kind of catch is quite rare as not only did we catch 2 birds at the same time but neither escaped the net before we could get to them and they were actually a male and a female. It was a very different experience extracting a female Sparrowhawk from the net compared to usual passerine. The whole time I had to try and stay clear of her talons and had her bright yellow eyes starring at me the entire time. I can tell you a female Sparrowhawk is quite the handful and I felt honored to be able to get so close to such a superb hunter.

Female compared to the much smaller male.

Catching both a male and a female together was amazing because we could physically see the differences between them and although I already knew that the female was bigger than the male, I had no idea quite how big the difference was. The difference is so big that while a male takes a D sized BTO ring, the female takes an E ring. Ringing and taking biometrics was challenging as it was like holding a loaded weapon, one false move and you had a talon through your hand! The strength and grip in their talons is immense and you can understand why they are such fierce hunters.

Both birds were juveniles and the lovely heart shapes on the male's front demonstrate this.

The non-ringing highlight for me of the morning was having 46 Pink-footed Geese flying overhead - yes I counted, it's a habit from working for WWT for the past year! Probably the other highlight for the other ringers there was witnessing me fall into not one but two large holes up to my thighs!

It feels great to be back both blogging and ringing again, covered in scratches or badges of honor as I call them! I want to say a huge thanks to the LRG for inviting me out.

An unforgettable experience and the best homecoming I could of  wished for! 


  1. Good for you :) We've had several near misses with Sparrowhawks lately, very frustrating!

  2. Well caught getting 2 sparrowhawks
    Paul baker