Bird Ringing CAN course

Back to Norton Priory, this time for the CAN (Cheshire Active Naturalists) bird ringing course with bird-ringing legend David Norman.

Norton Priory in Runcorn is becoming quite familiar to me now. I was there not long ago for the CAN Diptera course which if you’ve read my blog on you’ll know I loved. And I’ve been there one other time too…

Fleur and I were out checking small-mammal traps with Tony of the mammal group, accompanied by Paul who works at Norton Priory. On that day along with a successful haul of field mice, I met an enigmatic character emerging from some trees in the Priory grounds as Paul was giving us a tour. This chap produced a long-tailed tit from the bag he was carrying. I was captivated. I’d never seen a wild bird that close up before. I then had my mind blown when he reached into the bag and gently produced several more long-tailed tits which flew off as he opened his hand. Quite the spectacle to someone like me who has very little birding experience.

As you’ve probably guessed that was David. I didn’t know it at the time but he’s a very well know member of the birding community in various forms from author to ringer. On Friday I was getting a coffee in the staff room and mentioned to Chloe what I was doing on the weekend. That’ll probably be David Norman, she said. And it was.

When Tom and I arrived on Sunday, slightly late, we joined the group of twenty or so other attendees plus Andy, CAN Chairman, in more or less the same spot that I had met David coming out of the trees that time.

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The course wasn’t teaching us to bird ring as that’s a very long process of apprenticeship. It was a demonstration of the process and a chance to hold and release a bird which had been ringed and an introduction by David to the process, history and conservation benefits of studying wild birds in this country. David has ringed over 100,000 birds.

We were treated to close up views of an array of birds. Goldcrests, long-tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, chaffinches, robins, redwings and jays all made an appearance. As someone who hasn’t done any work to do with birds and has limited, garden bird knowledge the thing that struck and enthused me was the nature of a bird in the hand. When you’re used to seeing birds sat in trees or flying you see only a limited aspect of their personalities and that can lead you to view them as rather simple characters.

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(Goldcrest)

With the sight of a small bird held safely in the ringer’s grip, boldly pecking and biting at a finger before apparently deciding to wait and see what happens next, you realise that these are robust creatures that experience trials and adventures every day of their lives. They are primed to face adversity and they fly off in a flurry of what seems more like victory than panic. I’m  anthropomorphising I know. I’ll stop now.

I was first to hold a bird. There’s that moment when the question is asked, would someone like to release this one? You all want to. You wait and see if anyone else volunteers. They don’t. You pluck up to courage and say out loud “me” but everyone else has been running through the same process in their heads and three of you say it within a second of one another. 

I was carefully handed a male redwing. Instinct tells you to place a hand underneath to support the bird but David instructed not to do that so as to avoid crushing the bird’s tail. Its head goes between your index and middle finger with your remaining fingers wrapping around the body. It feels secure this way and it’s reassuringly easy to judge the pressure you need to apply. When handling mammals I’m forever applying too little pressure through over caution, resulting in wriggle-based control problems. Thankfully not so with the redwing in my hand. I held it for a just moment before opening my hand enjoying the split second of action before it was off and away.

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(Redwing in David’s hand)

It was an excellent course and we were also treated to tour of the grounds with Paul and a visit to the bone collection from the sites archaeological dig.

Something that really struck me from the day was David’s answer to a question about how long birds like these were likely to live. He pointed out that the longer they live, the longer they are likely to live with the first year being perilous as young, inexperienced birds face life’s trails for the first time. So some birds may live years but with so many dying in the first few months, an average life expectancy could be described in weeks rather than years.

If I were to anthropomorphise once more I’d say it looks exciting to be a bird. They’re ready and equipped to face whatever weird thing happens to them next, and when Tom dropped me off later I viewed the sparrows in the tree of a neighbour’s garden with an enhanced curiosity.

[Thanks to CAN for the use of their photos for this blog]

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Aquatic Macrophytes course with CAN (Cheshire Active Naturalists)

My second course with CAN since joining (the first being Great Crested Newt training) began with a walk to Fleur’s house. Fleur is my ecology friend who like me is attempting to change career into the field of ecology and so attends courses and volunteers in her spare time. We met volunteering at Summerseat Nature Reserve and have since (along with our little group’s third member, Tom, who is doing the same degree as me but today was off in Preston doing the FSC course ‘Using a Flora’) attended many conservationy type things across the north west.

I arrived at Fleur’s to find her looking terrible. Up all night puking apparently but luckily (for me) still prepared to give the day a try.

The course was held at Rocksavage Power Station in Runcorn. I’d been there before for GCN training with CAN but that was on a cold April day. Today was hot.

Rocksavage Power Station

We signed in at the gate and joined the others in the meeting room. We were late and samples of rushes were already being handed out by Jack and Andy, the course leaders today.

They made a good team. Jack is your classic old school botanist with pockets in his jacket big enough to fit Stace in, he describes purely in Latin names and talks in an engaging absent minded fashion. Andy comes equipped with memorable anecdotes to commit Latin and common names to memory, sometime obscure but they do work!

Cheshire Active Naturalists (CAN)

The day was split between the meeting room and the ponds outside. There were around 20 people on the course including Becky from work and a man who told me that in 1976 someone accidentally threw a petrol bomb at him.

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Reed Canary Grass & Reed Sweet Grass

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Celery leaves speedwell

Brooklime speedwell

Marsh Horsetail. "The skirt is longer than the knickers".

Common starwort

New Zealand pygmy weed

It was really hot. Apparently my head went red where my hair is thinning at the back. I managed not to let on that I hadn’t realised my hair was thinning at the back. I’d better not be getting Dad’s bald patch.

Natins, floats, angle on stem
Polygonus
Marsh spearwort
Marsh bedstraw
Cyprus sedge
Bee Orchid
Floating Club Rush
Purple Loose Strife
Common Centaury
Yellow Wort
Greater duck weed
Minuta
Lemna minor
Marsh cinquefoile
Saint John's Wort