Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Belvide 2nd July 2011

On Saturday I was up at 4am eagerly anticipating my first ever bird ringing session. Nothing much else could have gotten me up at that time in the morning and I was very tired, but excited nonetheless.

I have been trying to attend one of these ringing sessions for some time but work and a bout of flu put paid to my plans of attending in the spring.

Before I get into details though, I guess I should give a little background information for those interested.

Belvide Reservoir is one of five bird reserves run by the West Midlands Bird Club (WMBC). To get access to the reserve you must be a WMBC member. Inclusive membership with a permit for the reserves currently costs £30 per calender year. See their website WMBC for more details.

Cumulonimbus cloud passing over Belvide

There is a brilliant blog for bird sightings at Belvide that gets updated daily by Steve Nuttall. This can be found at Belvide Birding. I really appreciate Steve's efforts in keeping the blog up to date each day, especially now I know the work involved in keeping a blog running myself. 

For those that don't know what bird ringing is there is an FAQ on the BTO website here

There is also a link on the website above for you to locate and contact your nearest trainer. Ringing birds requires a detailed knowledge of birds, a skilled hand for handling them and as birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, you also need a licence to trap and ring them.

In order to obtain a license which allows you to ring unsupervised you must first be trained by such an experienced person. It can take up to a couple of years for you to obtain a C licence depending on how much free time you and the trainer have for training sessions. The C licence enables you to ring birds by yourself, but under the remote supervision of your trainer.

In my case my nearest trainer is part of the Brewood Ringers Group and they do regular ringing sessions over at Belvide. Their website and blog is located at http://brewoodringers.com/

I arrived at Belvide Reservoir at bang on 5am to meet up with the ringing group in the car park. Including myself there were only the 3 of us initially, although they often get more people in attendance.

It started off rather cold as there had been a clear sky and light wind all night. It did get sunny and warm later on in the morning though. Peter Bache and Collin McShane went about setting up the nets for the days ringing session. The nets look like big badminton nets, but they have a much finer mesh that the birds find difficult to see and they also have pockets in them made out of the net material for the birds to fall in.

It is very tricky getting the birds out of the nets and it takes a very skilled hand to retrieve the birds from the nets without injuring them. Once a bird was removed from the net it was then placed into a soft, dark bag so that it could be taken back to the ringing station. We visited each net approximately every 20-30min to check for new birds. Once we had checked all of the nets we would then take the birds back to the ringing station (patio furniture). If a bird already had a ring on it, the ring would be checked to see if it was recent. If the ring was recent then it would get released straight away without being placed in a bag.

If a bird didn't have a ring on it, then one would be assigned to that bird and then attached to it's right leg. A record of the ring number, the species of bird, the approximate age of the bird (immature/adult) and if known, the sex of the bird was all made in a log book.

If a bird was a re-trapped bird, then again the same records were made, but without the addition of another ring.

The main benefit from ringing birds comes from re-trapping birds that have already been ringed. Things like time since last capture and distance travelled from the site of last capture can then be worked out. By having a network of constant effort ringing sites and bird observatories across the world, Ornithologists were able to determine approximate migration routes for migratory birds long before the days of GPS.

As this was my first session I wasn't able to remove any of the birds from the nets, but I was allowed to handle and ring the birds under supervision once we got back to the ringing station.

We had a lot of Sedge and Reed Warblers but not much else. There was the occasional Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chiffchaff etc. but numbers were quite low. This didn't really trouble me though as I didn't want to be swamped by lots of birds on my first day.

Reed Warbler
Acrocephalus scirpaceus

For a list of the birds we caught see here

Most of the birds were fine to handle but the Blue Tits and Great Tits were a bit of hand full and not in a nice  way ;) They were quite aggressive and kept pecking at my fingers!

Overall though it was a very enjoyable experience and one I look forward to repeating in the near future as I attempt to gain my ringing licence.


  1. What a great experience! I walked near that reservoir a few weeks ago and noticed it was private and a conservation area with member only access.

  2. Well hopefully now you know a little more about it :)


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