A Tale from the Reeds…

We were up early doors once more. Outside the car window tall, narrow, straight trees of the forest whip past. The sky is a deep blue, becoming lighter all the time. The trees are black silhouettes. If I focus on the sky behind they flick past like a hand drawn cartoon on a flip-pad, lending movement to the static trees. By the time we arrive on site in the reed bed, it is light. Although cool enough to fog my outward breath there is no mist lingering over the pools this morning. The now light sky was overcast, and with very little wind, conditions were perfect for ringing. By 6 am the nets are up and open, awaiting the first catch of the day. The site is alive with bird song, much more than just a couple of weeks ago. Reed bunting, wren, blackcap, song thrush, Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff are now all in full voice. The distinctive call of my first cuckoo of the year comes drifting across the reeds and trees.

Despite the birds calling around us, it was a relatively quiet morning in terms of number caught. That said what we did catch was pretty awesome!

The retraps (bird caught with a ring on already) were pretty impressive with long-tailed tits leading the way. Of the five caught, three were already ringed, one in 2015, one in 2012 and one in 2010! That’s almost 7 years old! Not bad for a piece of ‘fluff on a stick’ and closing in on the longevity record for the species in Britain which is 8 years and 11 months.

Four reed buntings, two female blackcaps, a blue tit, robin, a delightful little treecreeper and a stunning male kingfisher all added to the mix.

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Beautiful male kingfisher

Our morning session was drawing to a close, when two birds were brought back to the ringing station and caused a ripple of excitement. The first, to many people, may simply appear be a standard sedge warbler. Nothing too exciting there one might think. Except this sedge warbler also already had a ring on it. But not one of our sequences, not even a sequence of anyone ringing in Britain or Ireland. This little bird had a ring with a sequence of numbers, no letters, with the word Paris embossed above. At some point in its past this bird had been caught either somewhere in France, or somewhere in its wintering range in Africa where French ringers had been out on an expedition. It is most likely the former. But we cannot say for sure, and can only wait for the information to come back from the French ringing scheme….

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French ringed sedge warbler

The second was a bird new to the site. The same size and shape as a reed warbler, except the feathers on the head and back had dark centres, giving it a spotty look. Its head looks smaller, and thinner with a finer bill. In the field it is hard to see, creeping low in foliage, scurrying like a mouse. Even in the hand it is very wriggly. To hear this bird sing would be an immediate giveaway; the monotonous, mechanical reeling is insect like…. Giving the bird its name. The grasshopper warbler.

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Grasshopper warbler

And so with 9am approaching, and the rest of Norfolk starting to stir from their slumber, our day was already three-quarters gone and we were heading off deeper into the forest to check nest boxes…..


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