Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sex. Lies and Videotape!

 If you've just Googled the title of this blog post then you may be disappointed as this is a story about a new project following the lives and exploits of the Eurasian Reed Warbler…sorry!
Pink Red Light Green
Colour ringed Reed Warbler: Pink Red Light Green

Back in 2012 Kane and I decided to start a new project, using colour rings to find out more about the secret lives of Reed Warblers for my dissertation at uni as part of my Ecology degree.

This project aims to investigate the Reed Warbler’s behaviour and breeding biology. By using the combination of colour ringing, nest recording and camera trapping we are studying; annual pairings, polygamy within the breeding colony, nest sittings within the reedbed and whether they change year by year, annual nest locations of individuals/pairs and the breeding success of young in comparison to older birds.

Snapshot 10 (27-08-2012 18-14)
Pink Orange Black - filmed at nest 62 (2012)

The study site (a reedbed in Cheshire) was chosen because Kane had been nest recording there for the previous few years. For the past two nesting seasons I have ‘migrated’ down to Cheshire to spend the summer in the reedbeds to monitor the Reed Warblers, as well as other nesting species.

Small REEWA chicks

To create our colour ring population we have been mist netting the reedbeds to capture adults. These adults are then sexed and aged and the full biometrics taken.

Mist Netting Kane

Individual colour marks along with standard BTO metal rings are added to the birds to allow them to be identified in the field without the need to recapture them.

Colour rings ready for next season

Through mist netting the reedbeds we have had quite a few interesting recoveries and controlled from ringed birds. Highlights include: a French ringed Sedge Warbler and a Reed Warbler chick (ringed in the nest) to Kensington, London!

"Feed us" - hungry chicks in the nest waiting to be fed

As well as colour ringing we have been filming the adults back at the nest. This allows us to view the adults, in their pairs, without causing too much disturbance to the breeding birds. The camera used is well camouflaged within the reeds and films for a 30 minute slot only before being removed.

Video of Nest 42 - Pink Pink Black & Pink Orange Light Green (2013)

Throughout the breeding season (April-September) I walk the reedbeds to nest record. Every Reed Warbler nest found is labelled, position marked on a map and measurements taken. All chicks are also ringed. In 2012 I recorded 77 nesting attempts (nesting attempts recorded from when eggs are laid) and in 2013 I recorded 53 attempts.

REEWA nest
Fresh clutch of Reed Warbler eggs

Before 2012 I had only ringed a handful of Reed Warblers before and only ever seen one nest (shown to be by Kane the previous year). To date I have now ringed over 300 of them! Most of the birds I have ringed have been chicks, ringed in the nest during weekly reedbed walks. In 2012 I ringed 159 chicks and in 2013 110 were ringed, who knows what 2014 will bring!

REEWA chicks by nest
Just ringed and ready to be carefully placed back in the nest

Whilst out nest recording in the reedbeds I have fallen in love with the humble Reed Warbler. I have to admit that before I started this project I used to think that they were just dull little brown birds (for shame) but now I see them in a whole new light. They make amazing migrations to Africa, build exquisite nests, lay beautiful eggs and have such a happy song – yes you will have guessed that I’ve become a little obsessed!

Ringed REEWA chick
   A recently fledged chick caught amongst the reeds

I have really enjoyed spending my last two summers in the Cheshire reedbeds studying this species and am very much looking forward to the next two. I’m excited to start answering so many questions that I have and to learn more about one of my favourite species. Bring on April, the sunny weather and the return of these reedbed wonders.

A Cheshire sunset over the reedbeds.

I would like to say a special thanks to The South Manchester Ringing Group of whom we have collaborated with at the site, my trainer Steve for his advice and encouragement on this project, the BTO for their permission to conduct this project and continued support and most of all to Kane my fellow nest recorder, Reed Warbler enthusiast and partner in this project without whom this would not be possible.

Pink Orange Mauve after being ringed (above) and filmed back at the nest (below)