Ringing in a winter wonderland

A hazy sun rose through a cold mist covering white, frozen fields surrounding the village of Feltwell, Norfolk as five intrepid ringers headed for one particular corner of the fields. Brown hare’s scarpered, racing away in the pink haze, as we approached this corner where millet has been spread throughout the winter months and where large flocks of finches come to feed on a regular basis.

With nets set, we sat back and waited, rubbing our hands together not only in anticipation as large numbers of yellowhammer, chaffinch and the target of today’s catch, tree sparrows, piled into the feeding site, but also in an attempt to warm them up!
As the sun rose and the frosty morning progressed we collected a steady stream of birds from the nets and by mid morning we had caught 45 birds including 19 yellowhammers. For these, we not only put a metal ring on but also a unique combination of colour rings enabling birds to be identified in the field without recatching them. In this area our aim is to find out where yellowhammers that flock and feed on the farmland during winter go to breed during the summer. With birds heading into the coniferous plantations of Thetford Forest we are interested in finding out how far they move from these winter sites and the type of habitat (e.g. age of plantation trees) that they breed in.
Male yellowhammer complete with added ‘bling’

And the tree sparrows…..?

Well although there seemed to be slightly fewer birds around than in previous days, we did manage to catch five! Yay! A huge increase from the one caught last year! Four were unringed, and the fifth…. the fifth already had a ring on, which you might think was last year’s bird…but no this individual was ringed  last autumn at Spurn Bird Observatory in Yorkshire, approximately 125 km away (the red pin below shows Spurn and the blue Feltwell).

Tree Sparrows are a resident species in the UK, breeding predominantly on farmland across the Midlands, eastern and southern England. The UK population has suffered a severe decline since the 1970s, although some information suggests numbers maybe starting to increase again. Studies indicate that populations further north undertake seasonal movements, with birds recorded moving south through east coast bird observatories such as Gibraltar Point and Spurn, many of which head inland on reaching the north Norfolk coast.

Me and my first Tree Sparrow ringed

With snow forecast tonight we’ll wait and see what other birds this winter wonderland will produce…

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