An Epic Easter Adventure

Good Friday. Just.

Only a few hours into the Easter weekend and we were rising from our bed before the sun and heading to our reed bed site to undertake another ringing session. The clear sky overhead was already getting lighter, no longer the deep black midnight sky, hinting at the sunny day to come. Arriving on site and a hint of low-lying mist could just be made out in the early dawn light. The trees, bushes and reeds were alive with bird song, from the harsh raucous call of rooks, the cackle of waking jackdaws, the melody of robins and blackcaps, the onomatopoeic chiffchaff, to the almost startling wren and Cetti’s warbler. As we set up the distinct song of more recently returned migrants called out across the site. The first cuckoo, reed and sedge warblers had returned.

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Sedge warbler

The morning progressed with the usual moderate number of birds caught, including one of those reed and sedge warblers. By mid-morning, it was warm and sunny, with brilliant blue skies. The session was over but with the day stretching ahead of us, we headed deep into Thetford Forest in search of firecrest. Here the tall pines cast soft green glows under the canopy, while brown leaves crunched under foot. Along the margins of the open rides butterflies flitted from plant to plant. Brimstones, peacocks, orange-tips and speckled woods, adding small splashes of colour in the sunlight.

The afternoon was productive with another two firecrest caught and colour ringed. Not only that but I found my first active robin nest of the year!

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Firecrest

The encounters with recently return migrants continued the next day when we were back out in the forest doing the first check on our tawny owl boxes. The lilting song of willow warbler rang out across the rows of pines.

The day was however focused on those boxes. Last year the tawny’s had a pretty poor year. Of our (at the time) 32 boxes, only three had owls nesting and only two of those reached the chick stage, both of which had a single chick. Now, having added a couple more boxes over the winter, we had 36 boxes to check and we were hoping for a better breeding season. It started off positively, although not from an owl point of view, once again we have three mandarin nesting in boxes, this time with a new female in one.

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Female mandarin

By the time the sun was on its way down behind the tall pines and the first BBQ of the year was beckoning we had checked just about half the boxes and we had five tawny owls nesting. All five had chicks, ranging from one to four in brood size! Three of the broods were ready for ringing, while the other two would be ready in a couple of weeks. Importantly for our project we also managed to catch the female from each of the boxes and of these three were already ringed, meaning we know much more about these individual birds. The other two were not ringed (although they are now!) and even more interestingly one was last year’s chick.

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Tawny owl chicks

We returned to the forest Tuesday evening to check more of the boxes, and were rewarded with another tawny owl nesting, this time with eggs almost ready for hatching. With only 5 boxes left to check, already this year has been much more productive that the last!

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Female tawny owl

As dusk fell on the surrounding forest another first of the year caught my eye, foraging bats perfectly silhouetted against the blue.


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