It had been a while. Home schooling a five year old with a 1 year old running around and into everything, resuming work and settling into doing that from home, all meant lockdown 3 has been a completely different kettle of fish to last year. Except from some limited ringing in the garden we had not done nearly as much bird ringing as we would usually do over the winter period. In particular we had not visited the reed bed site at Cranwich in months. Aside from the restrictions associated with the pandemic, the site had seen its worst flooding this winter. Even before lockdown, getting to majority of the site had proved impossible with the flood waters rising, submerging the tracks and making net lines impassable.
Now over 3 months since last visiting the site, we were back. The overcast sky and grey clouds could not dampen our delight and enthusiasm at being back. While the water levels had dropped considerably, and we were now able to walk down the track to the far end of the site, it was rather squelchy, slippery, and squidgy under foot. A delight for the little ones. On all sides the trees and old reed growth showed the signs of flood water, with a band of whitish grey mud reaching up their stems and lower limbs. In places the track was still covered in water, murky brown with debris floating and swirling beneath its surface. Despite the debris and mess left by the flooding, there was signs of spring and new life, with fresh green reed growth poking up through the swampy ground. Migrant birds had started to return, with my first singing Blackcap of the year joining the onomatopoeic Chiffchaff.
Much of the ringing part of the site was still under water, requiring waders and not just wellies to navigate. It took an afternoon to sort out the net lines and set the nets, all the while keeping a watchful eye on a certain 1 year old with a penchant for water and mud! Not so bad on the muddy tracks but a definite concern with the deeper water. How to manage in the morning when we would be ringing? The answer came in the shape of the cut tree branches from the habitat maintenance we had done before the site flooded and the lockdown imposed. Dragging these out from the net rides, we created a kind of corral around the ringing base, blocking off access to the deep water and creating a safe place for Toby to roam and explore.
And so, with the 4am wake up still a shock to the system we were back the following day in the darkness before dawn, trudging through the mud to the ringing base. In the darkness the site began to waken. Tawny owls called while the cawing of Rooks and Carrion Crows filled the dark sky that was turning gradually lighter. As more light filled the sky the site came into focus, the trees, reeds, and pools became defined and not just inky silhouettes. More birds began to stir, call and sing. Robin, Wren, Blackcap, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Siskin, and Reed Bunting.
The day revealed itself as grey and cloudy once again, but that suited us. All morning the chatter of birds and people was intermingled with the slosh of walking through water, the squelch of mud under boot, the babble of a little one, the questions of the older one, and yes, the occasional tearfulness that accompanies young ones.
The corral worked a treat and while Robyn, Toby and I could not get round the nets as much, from our position at base we were able to see all the birds that came back for processing and watch those flying around us. Its that marvellous time of year where summer migrants are returning and yet still some of our winter visitors remain. I scanned overhead watching a flock of Fieldfare only to see a Sand Martin fly through my binoculars view finder.
It was a successful morning ringing, with the expected Blue and Great Tits making up the bulk of the catch, but a female Blackcap and male Reed Bunting making welcome additions. The season has well and truly kicked off now… and we relish it.