It was 0500hrs as my ex-military Land Rover slowly chugged towards Stanford - I was in no hurry as I had left home in plenty of time for the 0530 am meeting at the disused railway track entrance. As always I had Skye, the SRG mascot by my side - his head hanging, in characteristic pose, out of the window. As we entered the mist pockets that had formed in the dips and hollows in the road and the headlights illuminated the autumnal colours of the roadside shrubs and hedgerows I was reminded of Keats’ acclaimed poem to autumn. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” the first stanza begins – yes September is a lovely soft focus time when the fruits and berries begin to ripen, the leaves take on their rich and colourful hues, early morning mists and spiders webs hang with glistening dew. The dew was certainly sparkling on the Landy’s bonnet-mounted spare tyre.
But I digress .........
Not a breath of wind – my thoughts turned to ringing. These were good ringing conditions and maybe, just maybe, we might trap the 49 new birds needed for a record breaking monthly total of 1,000 birds. As the Landy turned into the railtrack entrance fifteen minutes early the gate had been unlocked and was wide open. Masai Mick had arrived early too. Seconds later our Webmaster, Mike arrived - the gate was locked behind us and we made our way down the railtrack towards the reservoir gate. In the dark, nets were allocated and off we went - I was to erect the “feeder nets”, Masai Mick would set nets to the right of me and Webmaster Mike would set those to the left. Half an hour later those nets were all up, the feeders had been refilled and Mick and Mike went about erecting four nets in the adjacent field to target Meadow Pipits whilst I set up our base camp. It was now daylight and a few minutes sit down, a quick slurp of coffee was followed by the first round of the nets.......
39 new birds from the first round consisted of 26 Blackcaps and 8 Chiffchaffs.
We were going to make the magical 1,000th bird for the month with ease! The second net round gave us 51 new birds but after that the numbers dropped considerably demonstrating without doubt that (at Stanford certainly) you need to get the main nets up whilst it is still dark before the birds continue their migration south. The Meadow Pipits never showed, only four were ringed but the final tally was 134 new birds and 10 retraps which included the late Grasshopper Warbler ringed five days ago and a new Reed Warbler.
The 57 new Blackcaps is a record number caught in a single day (previous best 32) and pushed the already massively high annual total for this year to two short of 600 swamping the previous record of 266 set last year.
The 44 Chiffchaffs ringed is also a record daily total easily surpassing the 26 of just two weeks ago and giving us a record for this year so far of 327 (previous best was 248 last year).
We had trapped just over 900 of these birds migrating south through Stanford and not a single control amongst them - is anybody ringing these north of Leicester?
A record year for Dunnocks too – the 9 today gave us an annual record of 104.
The total of new birds at this one, magical site for this month is 1058 with one more session planned for Friday. A monthly total that surpasses many of the annual totals that we have had in the 35 years we have been ringing here.
Today’s birds also pushed our database through the 100,000 mark.
Truly a remarkable record-breaking day.