The Isle of Wight Ringing Course

Haseley Manor, in Arreton on the Isle of Wight was built on the site of a Saxon Manor house which existed at the time of the Domesday Book. In its long history it has been owned by four kings, used as a Monastic Grange, accommodation for farm workers and even as a museum. Now it is a privately owned home, filled with many original features from its varied past. Today the land surrounding the house has also been transformed, from agricultural fields into a haven of pools, trees and shrubs. Walking through the reserve, watching birds flit from tree to tree, swallows swoop overhead and hawker dragonflies zip past, transparent wings glinting in the sunlight, or treading the wooden floor boards of the manor house, drinking in the history the walls, beams, fireplaces and ornaments have to offer, I wonder what the previous owners of Haseley Manor would make of the group of 20 people stringing up fine mesh nets to catch birds, only to attach a small ring and let them go!

What would King Harold make of it, or William the Conqueror? Or Henry the Eighth? What would the community living in the abbey think? How times have changed. How the use of the manor has changed with the times. Today not only is the Manor a home and a wedding venue, it is also a place for the scientific study of birds.

Along the maze of grassy paths throughout the grounds, mist nets have been strategically placed in order to catch the birds that breed amongst the trees, bushes and along the waters edges, but also to catch the birds moving through heading south for the winter.

The setup at the Manor also lends itself to teaching. Over the years the Isle of Wight Ringing Group has grown, and since 2007 so has the Ringing Course, run by the group and providing ringers from all over the UK and beyond to gain more experience and to go for assessments for permits.

Back in 2007 I gained some of my very first ringing experience on the course, getting a taste that would inspire me to continue and start my training process. In 2010 I returned the island and the course and was recommended for my C permit. Now in 2015 I have returned once more as an A permit holder and a mum!

Over the four days ringing on the course the team processed over a thousand birds, but the set up allowed plenty of time and opportunity for training, exchange of knowledge and assessment. The variety of birds provided opportunity to take a look at resident and migrant birds. While birds like Redstart, Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Firecrest may have been the highlights, the opportunity to look at plenty of Chiff Chaff, Blackcap and Robins gave the chance to get your eye in to seeing subtle old greater covets and to practice assessing fat scores.

A stunning male Redstart

The Saturday evening found the entire team basking in a glowing sunset, warm orange light from a dipping sun filtering through the trees. Overhead in a sky fading from deep blue to pale orange thousands of small, pointed wing and tailed hirundines swoop overhead. As dusk approached and the temperature cooled, fleeces replaced sunglasses, and the number of swallows in particular built up so that it seemed a swarm of them swirled over the trees and pools. One, two, three then many more began dipping down to the water’s surface, with an occasional splash a bird would touch the surface either taking a drink or attempting to knock parasites from their feathers. Each splash sent up a tiny fountain of water droplets, twinkling like little gems in the sunlight. Then with the last rays of sunlight and the shadows deepening, they began to plough into the trees and bushes to roost. And there a small proportion of them headed into the mist nets. Once darkness had fully taken hold, in the light of ringing hut 280 odd Swallows and a handful of Sand Martins were ringed, processed and returned to the quiet of roosting bags where they safely spent the night.

Sunset over the Manor

The following morning, and through a deep mist obscuring the landscape of the Manor, the birds were released from their bags, ready to return to their epic journey south. An excellent ending to an excellent course.

One of the many young Swallows

Thank you to the Anthony and Vivian Roberts for their hospitality and to the Isle of Wight Ringing Group for an excellent course.

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