Ringing. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea – indeed it’s regarded as a controversial practice in some quarters – but let’s be clear on the benefits: ringing generates important information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds, helping to understand why populations are changing and providing knowledge which can be used effectively in conservation initiatives. These may range from population monitoring at local constant effort sites to tracking globally endangered species, such as Spoon-billed Sandpipers after they have left their breeding grounds in order to establish secure sites for wintering and migration stop-overs.
There are a number of active ringing groups in Northants of which the Stanford Ringing Group (SRG) is one. Ringing takes place at Stanford Reservoir several days a week, weather conditions permitting, with volunteers from the group actively involved in habitat management and providing a constant supply of food for the feeding station. The feeding station has been a great success, particularly with Tree Sparrows. About 700 individuals a year are now handled from the low point of none being caught or seen at the reservoir just a few years ago. This is all down to SRG’s efforts to create the perfect habitat and to feed them with the right food.
The feeding station therefore plays an important role. Recent ringing recoveries include a Tree Sparrow initially ringed at Stanford on 10th September this year which was then retrapped at Pitsford Reservoir less than a month later, on 3rd October. This is one of a number of Tree Sparrows over the years that have moved between the dedicated feeding stations at both reservoirs.
The feeders are filled regularly throughout the year, regardless of the area which is being used for ringing. The idea of the feeders originally was to increase the numbers of both birds and species that use the reservoir throughout the year, and to increase the enjoyment for the people walking around the reservoir, especially during the winter months and early spring, when natural food supplies are at their lowest. As well as the feeders there is also a hopper there which has enough food in it to last all week if the weather prevents volunteers from visiting during the week to top up the rest of the feeders.
SRG is currently processing in excess of 10,000 birds per year, of which 7,500+ are being ringed with the remainder being retraps. This year the group managed to ring just over 4,000 warblers of which 1800 were Blackcaps and 960 Chiffchaffs. It’s almost unbelievable how these two species have flourished over the last few years and it was only in 2003 that SRG ringed, for the first time, 100 of each and now they are processing these fantastic numbers.
Stanford really has become a mecca for warblers and a very important site within the county. This is shown by the increased numbers being caught and increasing breeding populations which are believed to be as a direct result of SRG’s on site habitat management.
Over the last few years SRG have also trapped an enviable range of scarce passerines, including Icterine Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, Siberian Lesser Whitethroat and Northern Willow Warbler to name but a few. What else is likely to be a surprise find in the nets in future is anyone’s guess …
Of course, all of the above requires funding and SRG is trying to raise money in order to continue at its present level of activity and to continue to feed the birds at Stanford. Currently the feeding station is costing about £400 per year with the rings a further £2000.
Current ring costs are high with, for example, those used for Wrens and Chiffchaffs costing 20p each (£200/1000), Blue Tit, Whitethroat and Chaffinch 24p each (£240/1000), Dunnock and Greenfinch 28p each (£282/1000), Blackbird 20.5p each (205/1000) and Mute Swan £3 each. On top of this there are periodic costs for new nets, which range from £105 for a 12-metre net to £54 for one of 6 metres.
Any donations to maintain the current level of activity during 2016 would be gratefully welcomed by the group and should be sent to Mick Towsend at 87, Dunton Road, Broughton Astley, Leicestershire LE9 6NA, with cheques made payable to Stanford Ringing Group.
Note: SRG would be available to any individual or group to do a ringing demonstration, preferably any time from June onwards and if anybody is interested in helping with the habitat management then they would welcome the help; this activity takes place every Saturday morning between
08.00 and 12.00, January to March, weather permitting. In both instances please contact Mick, above at email@example.com