Wags on the marsh

Yesterday was a busy day down at Farlington. Steve and the volunteers were busy in South marsh cutting awkward parts of the grassland (around anthills and ditches), while I was in the tractor topping the hayfield. Often things take advantage of the tractor cutting the grass, disturbing small mammals or insects. Yesterday was no different. A kestrel came to join me for the first part of the day, no doubt hopeful for me to disturb a field vole, which would make a fine breakfast. Her luck wasn’t in though and she went off to find a meal else where.

Female Kestrel in the Hayfield

Female Kestrel in the Hayfield

Later in the day I saw a truly remarkable thing. The monotony of driving the tractor up and down the hayfield was abruptly broken by a brief dogfight between a Meadow pipit and a Peregrine. All day I had been flushing Meadow Pipits from the long grass in front of the tractor. The Peregrine must have seen this and had similar thoughts to the Kestrel – lunch time. The Peregrine and Pipit buzzed straight passed the front of the tractor. The Meadow pipit out manoeuvred the Peregrine, making a risky dive into the long grass as the quick falcon flew on by. In the evening I was invited to join the Farlington (bird) ringing group to help ring Yellow wagtails. Earlier in the day I had seen plenty of Yellow wags in with cattle, feeding on their flies, so I hoped we would catch a few at least.

Adult Yellow Wagtail (Farlington Reed bed Sept 14)

Adult Yellow Wagtail (Farlington Reed bed Sept 14)

At dusk we erected the mist nets in the reed bed, ready for the birds to come in off the marsh to roost for the night. We didnt have to wait long. Several flocks of around 20-30 birds started to circle the reedbed before dropping in. It was a slow start, with only a handful of birds ending up in the nets at first. As the sun set around 100 Yellow wagtails had dropped into the reedbed, unfortunately just to the left of our net – or so we thought. As we got within sight of the net we soon realised we had around 40 birds, sitting happily in the net’s pockets.

Adult Yellow Wagtail, possibly male (Farlington Reed bed Sept 14)

Adult Yellow Wagtail, possibly male (Farlington Reed bed Sept 14)

We weighed them, measured wing length, took their general condition (how much fat and muscle they had stored), recorded their age and placed a small metal ID ring on their right leg. In total we caught, ringed and released 44 Yellow wagtails, 2 Reed warblers, 2 Sedge warblers and a Whitethroat – A most successful evening!

Juvenile Yellow Wagtail (Farlington Reed bed Sept 14)

Juvenile Yellow Wagtail (Farlington Reed bed Sept 14)

Soon these birds will be heading off from Farlington, after a feed of flies and beetles, continuing their migration to Africa. This vital ringing data is intrinsic to providing information on this species and its migration. Particularly if these birds we ringed last night are caught in the future.

Sunseting on Farlington Marsh

Sun setting on Farlington Marsh

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