For the last fortnight we have been conducting a series of bird ringing sessions with Steve Waite a local ringer, licensed by the British Trust for Ornithology. The purpose of these is to increase our knowledge of our woodland birds here at The Donkey Sanctuary, feed vital information into the national conservation picture of bird ecology and to assess how practical it could be to host bird ringing events here at our Sidmouth site as a fundraiser for the charity.
There is great news to report on all these fronts!
Firstly the site; I created a small feeding station outside our Nature Centre and this has turned out to be one of the most incredibly well-used woodland bird feeding sites either Steve or I have ever experienced. Easily rivalling the productivity of well established locations such as Yarner Wood National Nature Reserve; the number of birds here has been quite staggering. Within a short time, Steve and I have ringed 100 birds, all valuable data for ornithologists.
Secondly the winter birds here tend to feed mostly in the late morning, so an event which started at a very sociable time of 9am with a cooked breakfast in the Hayloft Restaurant and then adjourned to the woods to help with the bird processing, would miss none of the action. Perfect, and a nice change from the 5am starts I got used to at a previous ringing site I helped with!
Thirdly, the information we are gleaning from the 100 birds we have met nose-to-beak is already of great interest and illustrates how important our farms and woodland are for songbirds.
This morning’s session was heralded by the familiar springtime calls of chiffchaffs; a warbler which migrates from the UK to Africa every year. A huge undertaking for a bird that weighs a fraction more than a 2p coin! We set two nets and the very first bird to fly-in for inspection was… a chiffchaff!
Not only did this tiny bird turn out to already have a ring on its right leg, but it was a bird ringed here by Steve and me on 11th May 2012! In the intervening 25 months this bird, which was calculated to be have been 8 months old when we first met, has travelled in excess of 20,000 miles and returns each Spring to this valley, alongside our donkeys, to stake a territory and raise a clutch of chicks.
It was a touching reunion and stunned me to think of the scale of its avian undertaking.
Public bird ringing breakfasts will soon be a regular feature of our events calendar, so anyone can accompany us and meet similarly heroic wildlife that also calls our Sanctuary home.