Monday, 17 February 2014

Oldcrest and carr

Back out to do some ringing - it seems like forever since the last session, though in fact it's only (only!) a month. My glamorous assistant cried off late on Saturday evening, so I had the site to myself - and as wife and child are living it up in Germany for a couple of days, I had the luxury of no guilty conscience at work by the end of the session...

Having only filled feeders the morning before, I had little expectation of being overrun by birds and this proved to be the case. Sure, Blue Tit and Coal Tit made up the bulk of the catch, but there was plenty to appreciate. For instance: a Song Thrush. We only catch one or two each year on site, and have as yet had no recaptures or recoveries. The site is very edge-of-range - on the fringe of the high moors - but there are always a few pairs breeding in the adjacent conifers. What will happen when the conifers are felled and replaced by (presumably) native broadleaves? That will be interesting!
Old Coal Tit. Given the text in the Helm family guide (Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers), this ought to be a male, with such an extensive bib. We just don't catch them in the breeding season to be able to confirm!

For the first time, a Sparrowhawk managed to stay in the net. We've had a couple of near-misses with this species in the past: a male low in the net last autumn managed to extricate himself before we could reach the net, and the year before that one left its dinner in the bottom of a net, in the shape of a freshly-plucked and trimmed Woodpigeon pullus. Yesterday, however, I turned the corner to a net and there was a male Sparrowhawk, neatly cushioned in the bottom shelf and glaring balefully up at me. I carefully disentangled him and took him back to the car to be ringed, measured and weighed - I wonder if he's the same bird as previously escaped?
Sparrowhawk. Talons safely the other side of my mitt.

The Willow Tits at the southern end of the site appear to have paired up. Both were in the net together and flew off together when weighed and released. It would be nice if they managed to breed successfully this year - last year's nest failed. The male was originally caught in October 2010, so is now a very experienced bird within his territory.

Yesterday produced a handful of experienced individuals: two Coal Tits which were originally caught in January 2011 and a Goldcrest first caught in September 2011. The latter is always somewhat impressive: that a bird which weighs in the same as a sheet of A4 paper, or a 2p piece should survive year-round on Dartmoor is somewhat admirable. The longevity record for Goldcrest in the UK is a whole 4 years, 2 months 24 days, so this one's got a while to go before he reaches the record, but he's doing well nonetheless!

With it being a quiet day, there was also opportunity to admire the lichens and mosses on the trees around the car, to seek out the tiny red stars of Hazel flowers and to relish the willow carr - such an under-appreciated habitat. There are patches of carr woodland on site which are breathtakingly rainforest-like. Walk into them and the air is redolent with the fresh damp greenness of the carr. Old fallen willow stems snake across the ground, starring out from the original tree's base with linear thickets of young poles growing vertically from them. The old stems are felted with a luxuriance of mosses and lichens, whilst the young stems remain grey and smooth. The boggy ground between the wood is a verdant carpet of plants bewildering in its complexity of form and colour so that the eye just sees green at first, but has to then pull back, refocus and concentrate to appreciate the subtle beauty. Drips and drops fall all around and everything seems to pulse with moistness: whatever you touch, wherever you step, wherever your hand lands...
Hazel flower.

Masses of elf-cups, Cladonia pyxidata (I think) reach up from old willow stems in the carr

Another Cladonia lichen, this time coniocraea amidst a mat of Hypnum mosses

Drips and drops - decomposition is rife within the carr. This seemed a better picture than the remains of the frog.

Peltigera lichens and the moss Kindbergia praelonga grow over one another on the ground.

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