What a way to spend the Easter Weekend – normally we’d be camping in Wales at this time, and the glorious weather made it particularly galling to be stuck at home, but nonetheless it was an enjoyable day and I didn’t miss the five hour drive.

During the morning, we checked up on the garden blackbird nest, the chicks have been fed regularly, in fact sometimes the parents have almost crashed into each other as one flies out after delivering a beakful of worms, the next one is going in with more, and they use the same flight path! We take part in the BTO Nest Recording Scheme, and also their Bird Ringing Scheme, this is only open to trained ringers, operating under the BTO Ringing Permit scheme – once a trainee has demonstrated sufficient ability they are allowed to purchase the special individually numbered rings to fit to the birds legs.

The bird ringing scheme means that if someone else finds one of these birds in the future, we will have added a little bit of knowledge about the species life history – how far they travel, how long they live, what causes of death they experience and so on. While only trained people can fit rings, everyone is encouraged to keep a look out for ringed birds, particularly if you find a dead bird it is worth checking the legs for rings. Details of how to report them are stamped on each ring.

The blackbird chicks were now big enough to take rings – they must not be attached while the feet are too small, as the ring can slip over the toes and prevent the foot from working, but it is also important not to leave ringing nestlings too late, as they will erupt from the nest and risk being found by a predator if disturbed when close to fledging. Following the nest closely and knowing the typical growth rates of the chicks helps to get the optimal ringing time. We’d looked a couple of days earlier and knew that today would be a good day to do it. The wing feathers are a useful guide – when the chicks start to grow these, they are known as ‘in pin’ as the feather sheath that grows through the skin is like a pin. When the feathers start to erupt from the tip of this sheath is a good time to ring.

In the afternoon, I did the butterfly count at Westfield where the number and variety of butterflies continued to grow – normally, you get a  few weeks looking at the same three or four early species, but it has gone from cold, wet and windy to hot and sunny so suddenly that everything is emerging en masse. Today I added orange tip, holly blue and small white to the growing list of species logged on the transect!

In honour of the camping meal that we should have had we ended the day with a back garden barbecue, grilling some nice fresh asparagus and broccoli from the allotment plus a couple of venison stakes, served up with a crisp salad, a few chips and some nice Spanish red. It was still warm enough to be out in the garden as the sun went down. Happy Easter everyone!

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

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