Stanford Ringing Group Appeal

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.

Tree Sparrow (Mick Townsend)
Tree Sparrow (Mick Townsend)

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.

Feeding Station (Mick Townsend)
Feeding Station (Mick Townsend)

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.

Feeders (Mick Townsend)
Feeders (Mick Townsend)

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 …

Early morning netting (Mick Townsend)
Early morning netting (Mick Townsend)

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.

Thank you!

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

Spotlight on Stanford

At the moment Stanford Reservoir is looking good. Very good. I spent this morning there with the Stanford Ringing Group, during which time 104 birds were trapped – although 28 of these were local retraps. As well as local breeders, many of those caught were autumn migrants with Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats predominating, although there were reasonable numbers of Willow Warblers, a few Chiffchaffs and a couple of Lesser Whitethroats and Reed Warblers. From next week just about all of the warblers trapped will be migrants. Two Treecreepers provided a great opportunity for close, in-hand scrutiny of their intricate plumage detail, which also enabled them to be confidently aged. The best bird trapped, however, was a Northern Wheatear, which is only the second ever to be ringed at Stanford (the other was on 5th September 1982) and, as

Juvenile Northern Wheatear, Stanford Res, 27th August 2011 (Mike Alibone)

such, caused a not undue amount of excitement among the members of the SRG! This individual was a juvenile and the black lesser and median coverts – along with some grey just visibly appearing on the scapulars – sex this as a male. It’s worth mentioning that the SRG will, for a small donation, organise ‘demo days’ in order to raise funds now that their previous funding has recently been withdrawn. By the way, rings now cost 20p each and the group is responsible for its own finances. With mist-nets costing in the region of £100 each ringing is not an inexpensive activity!

The water level at the reservoir itself is very low, almost resembling a small estuary, and the habitat there is proving a massive draw for waders. Among today’s haul were Knot, Spotted Redshank – initially found by Mark Piper – 7 Greenshanks, 11 Ringed Plovers, 2 Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and, together with Dave Warner, I counted a total of 18 Ruff – a tremendous figure for Northamptonshire in recent years.

My thanks to SRG’s John Cranfield, Mike Townsend, Adam Homer, Ed Tyler and Debbie for their jovial and instructive company this morning.

From the mist nets of Stanford

Today I spent the morning at Stanford Reservoir with John Cranfield and the Stanford Ringing Group – what a great bunch! This band (if you excuse the American pun), active at Stanford since 1976, ring up to 4,000 birds annually with one of their goals being the introduction of people to bird ringing, training them and enabling them to gain a bird ringing licence. They also undertake a program of site maintenance (scrub management and clearance) during the winter months in conjunction with Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust.

The busiest months are July/August, when the area is flooded with locally-bred juvenile birds; at this time 150-180 birds trapped per day is not unusual. Today was quiet with only around 35 birds trapped, many of which were retraps of birds previously ringed at the site. Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats predominated but we also trapped this first-summer Lesser Whitethroat, aged by the absence of a white tip

Lesser Whitethroat, Stanford Res, 14th May 2011 (Mike Alibone)

to the penultimate outer tail feathers, further supported by the reduced amount of white in the outer tail feathers. A cracking little bird and a great example of putting birds under the spotlight to allow in-hand examination to reveal ID and ageing features not normally

Lesser Whitethroat – tail pattern first-summer (Mike Alibone)

visible in the field. With the increasing interest in ageing and sexing individual birds in the field, along with the tendency to ‘split’ races, feather-by-feather scrutiny of all birds is now at its highest level, with trapping and ringing playing an important role in the process of confirming and establishing ID criteria.

But let’s not forget the original purpose of ringing, which is to produce information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds, to enable an understanding of population dynamics and, ultimately, to help with conservation initiatives for species under threat. An amazing statistic involves a Common Whitethroat retrapped at Stanford on 21st April; originally ringed on 24th July 2004, it is 95 days short of the European longevity record for this species which is also held at Stanford. This also means that this individual must have crossed theSahara at least 15 times!  The Stanford Ringing Group have also trapped their fair share of County rarities, including, Hoopoe, Red-backed Shrike, Marsh Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, ‘SiberianChiffchaff and ‘NorthernWillow Warbler. So watch this space …