For over two years now I’ve held a trainee bird ringing license, and attend sessions with the Reading and Basingstoke Ringing group under the patient supervision of my trainer, Tim Ball. I make slow progress, hence still being at trainee level, although that also has something to do with a lack of time to commit to what is quite an intense activity. Like any practical skill it takes regular repetition for your hands and brain to learn to act as one and perform intricate little tasks without thinking about them.
This is always a special time of year for birders, as we anticipate the arrival of spring migrants. From the point of view of a ringer it’s even more special, bringing as it does the possibility that birds we have personally handled and tagged are on their way back to these shores, possibly to the very same spot where we last saw them fly away from our open hands. There is also the prospect of nests to find and monitor and chicks to ring, such as the oystercatcher pictured below (on a Berkshire gravel pit in 2013). All of this helps to build a good picture of the health of local breeding bird populations.
This morning’s session at Padworth Common in Berkshire was markedly unproductive, and we didn’t catch any newly arrived migrants – not a single chiffchaff despite the many that were singing – though a female reed bunting was a late record for this site and may have been on the move somewhere. A couple of lesser redpolls (pictured above – the various redpolls are apparently soon to be ‘lumped’ back into one species, so all of them will once more simply be known as redpolls) were a nice treat. But even on a slow morning, as with birding, the ringer never loses hope. Not when there’s the memory of past triumphs to keep us going. A nightjar in broad daylight? It can happen!
For more information on the BTO ringing scheme, including how to get involved, see http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/ringing-scheme