The Assessment

In September 2007 I took my first steps towards becoming a bird ringer. Yes I had had an interest in birds for a few years, more so once I met my husband to be. He got me interested in birds and I got him interested in whales and dolphins. While Lee had been ringing for a couple of years, I had yet to take the plunge. Then came the Isle of Wight ringing course which he was attending and on which a space had become available. Considering Lee had just driven me to Plymouth, and hung around all day while I did a dolphin survey, and with my growing interest in birds, I agreed. So began what has become another passion in my life. The thrill of holding a bird, learning so much about moult, aging, sexing and their life histories that cannot necessarily be gained from observation alone, is a real privilege. In November that year I began ringing with Merseyside Ringing Group near Chester. Developing the basics of handling, ringing and aging passerines and learning to set mist nets and safely extract birds. Despite driving an hour to get to the site, leaving in the dark and despite braving frozen conditions on many occasions, I had been caught by the ringing bug. I remember ringing my first Greenfinch, Yellowhammer, Dunnock and Firecrest, I remember ringing my first and only Willow Tit and being almost rugby tackled out of the way as I went to remove a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker from the net.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Within a year I had moved to Scotland to guide on a whale watch boat before settling in Norfolk where I was taken under the tutorship of Greg Conway. Over the next two years I ringed passerines in Thetford Forest and warblers in reed beds at the Nunnery. I ventured onto a seabird island off the top of Scotland, where I caught hundreds of Puffins and the odd Gannet or two, one of which left a mark I still bear today. I ringed hirundines at Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire and even dabbled in a bit of wader ringing with the Wash Wader Ringing Group.

My first adult Gannet

By September 2010 I was back on the Isle of Wight ringing course and was put forward for my C permit. Now I could ring independently, although I was still responsible to my trainer. And so it continued, I set nets in my garden, my parents garden and my parent in laws garden! I went out with ringers targeting specialist birds like Nightjar and Firecrest. I started helping at a reed bed site known as Cranwich, somewhere that has become central to mine and Lee’s ringing activities. I went abroad, ringing in the Gambia where Western Palaearctic migrants and colourful Afro-Tropical birds mix. I went to the famed Icklesham and delved into hundreds of warblers, hirundines and pipits. I became a nest recorder, gaining a pullus endorsement which allowed me to ring the chicks in the nests I’d found. I wandered through woodlands monitoring Pied Flycatcher and Redstart nests. I ventured onto rather smelly landfill tips and ringed Black-headed, Herring, Lesser and Great Black Backed Gulls. I spent early mornings in reed beds, in scrub land, on beaches, on farmland, on remote islands, ringing and learning more.

Ringing a Kingfisher

Finally last year my trainer said to me it’s time, I’m ready. Ready for my A permit. Unlike with the C permit, this time I needed to be assessed by an independent trainer. Someone who I had not ringed with before. Step up Steve Piotrowski. In June 2014 I joined Steve at Minsmere for a ringing small ringing session with his team. After that there was just one stage left, one final session at my site, one final assessment. Roll on Bank Holiday Monday and with grey skies and a still wind we took to the reed bed at Cranwich for that final assessment. With the threatening rain holding off the birds seemed to make a beeline for the nets. Chiffchaff in particular seemed to be moving through the site in large numbers, with 41 caught (the highest number caught in one session at Cranwich and our usual annual total!). Intermingled with the Chiffs was a good variety of birds, with Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Marsh Tit and Treecreeper also caught. With the rain closing in and the nets closed the total number of birds captured, processed and released stood at 96 and Steve’s decision was in. I had passed! Steve’s recommendation was that I should be considered for my A permit. The process is not over, it now rests in the hands of my trainer who needs to complete the paperwork and the Ringing Committee who will review the application….

Just one of the 41 Chiffchaff caught during my assessment

A huge thank you to everyone who has helped me to learn to ring over the years, and who will help me to continue learning over the years to come. Here’s hoping my application is accepted…

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