The pale golden light of dawn was stealing across the sky from the eastern horizon, the trees below still dark from the night. In the west clouds were building, bluish grey in the morning light, while the leading edge of the front gleamed golden. The wind rustled the leaves of the trees and the hedgerows they enclosed, and the small shrubby trees clustered in the middle of the field. Across the field there are a series of small rectangular pools where small water plants in varying shades of green are growing. The open water between ripples in the breeze.
Across the sky, which is now rapidly filling with clouds, autumn flocks of Pied Wagtail, Goldfinch and Linnet sweep from hedgerow, to tree top, to telegraph wires to the patches of sandy soil on the grassy banks of the little pools.
We had set a couple of nets near to where we had seen birds congregating of late, enticing them to return by spreading a little millet in the area. The flocks of birds wheeled overhead, descending into the bushes near our nets, as we had hoped. We approach slowly but still the majority of the birds lift off and whirl away. It’s a little hit and miss as to whether we catch anything, but over the course of the morning we are in luck. The attraction of the food and the positioning of the nets have both worked. A couple of Meadow Pipits, a Pied Wagtail, a Reed Bunting, a Chiffchaff and six of the species we were really hoping to catch, Linnet.
A species equally at home in arable farmland, coastal scrub, heathland or rough common ground. Overhead their distinctive undulating flight and nasal, bouncy ‘tigg-itt’ call is easily picked out. During the summer the males are stunning with a brilliant red breast and grey head with bright red forehead. With breeding over and adult birds having completed a full moult the red of the males is concealed behind pale fringed feathers, but there is still the hint of the dusky grey head, deep brown back and white edges to the primary feathers. The females and juveniles are more streaked in the breast and are slightly duller brown.
Some may say it is ‘just a Linnet’ but to me they are a funky little finch that I rarely get the chance to see this close. They are a species that as free flying birds are rarely caught and ringed in Thetford Forest.Each year many are ringed as pulli in nests found in the gorse bushes of the clear fells, but in the last few years only a couple have been caught and ringed having left the nest. Given the declines in the population it seems increasingly important to learn as much as we can about this species, and ringing is just one part of that.