We are living in challenging and unusual times, and in the space of a few weeks life has changed in so many ways. For over 6 weeks we have been in lockdown, only leaving the house for essential reasons, daily exercise or food shopping. We are now homeschooling a 4 and half year old, looking after a newborn and for Lee working from home. In line with government advice the BTO suspended all surveys. As volunteer ringers has meant no ringing or nesting activity outside of the home and garden. For us this has meant an unprecedented slow down in our activity, and rightly so.
By now we would have completed at least three ringing sessions in the reed beds at Cranwich, welcoming returning migrants such as Sedge and Reed Warblers, and seeing locals such as Reed Bunting set up territories and begin to nest.
We would have completed at least one round of the Tawny Owl boxes, establishing how many nesting pairs we have and seeing how many Mandarins have taken up boxes too.
This is not too mention our general ringing and nest finding, searching for nests of Blackbirds, Robins, Song Thrush and many more around Thetford, and ringing finches, thrushes and tits at sites both here and at family homes in Wales and Salisbury.
But this year it has not happened, and we find ourselves only allowed to ring in our garden. Of course, we are thankful that we have a garden even if it is a relatively small one. Not to be deterred we have set up a net and caught a few small birds, Goldfinches, Blackbirds and House Sparrows. We then also have the drop traps and have been providing a variety of food to tempt birds in. And its worked. The lure of fat balls, seed and mealworms has brought jackdaws and starlings along with the usual Woodpigeons and Collared Doves. Starlings in particular appear to be enjoying the bounty provided, especially now they are feeding chicks. We have now caught more Starlings in our garden then ever before. Many are already ringed and already sport a yellow colour ring having been caught as part of a project run by a local Thetford ringer.
They really are beautiful birds, with their dark iridescent purple and green feathers and delicate white speckles. Males have a pale wash of blue at the base of a bright yellow bill, the females a pale pinkish yellow. The brood patch on the females bellies is shrinking down creating wrinkled bare skin. Very soon we may well start to see this years fledglings in the garden, with their plain brown plumage.
Of course among the Jackdaws, Starlings and Blackbirds we have continued to catch and see Woodpigeons and Collared Doves, two species for which we have run a Retrapping Adults for Survival project for the last few years. It is not unusual to see Lee dashing past us in the living room to catch yet another bird.
Now, as the Swifts have returned to the skies above the garden, completing their 14,000 mile journeys, we have registered the garden as a Constant Effort Site, a new habitat location for the CES scheme recently introduced by the BTO. While definitely slow going, with the first session catching just 10 birds in the net, it feels good to be taking part in this project again.
There are uncertain times ahead and it is unclear when ringing outside of our own gardens will resume and how it will work with social distancing, as with all aspects of our lives. Till then we will continue looking for those pigeons, Starlings and any other feathered visitors to our little green haven.