James Chubb: ‘The new fellowship of the ring’.
From the very first moment I wandered down the Weston Valley, from The Donkey Sanctuary towards the coast path, I knew that this was a place filled with magical potential.
The mist rolled up from the sea in the early morning, raven croaked through the grey dawn light and a little owl bobbled along the fenceline, I was enjoying this sublime moment.
However, the magic which I was anticipating in this secluded little valley had nothing to do with hobbits and Tolkein, but rather the magical indulgence of bird ringing.
It was not until four months later that I was able to put that presumption to the test, but boy did it ever live up to expectations!
Last week I set out with Steve, the Devon county bird recorder, early in the morning to set mist nests in the valley to survey and record what bird species we could find. The highlight for me on a purely aesthetic level was finding a beautiful slate blue and orange nuthatch, low down in the net, but there were plenty of other treasures to be found too. I will no doubt write more about bird ringing sessions and their insight into the private world of birds, but for this column I would like to tell you about a very significant discovery.
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Steve and I caught five blackcap warblers, all of which to my eye would have been recorded as adults through a pair of binoculars. By close examination however, Steve could tell that far from being adults, these birds were in fact very plump, very healthy fledgelings from this year.
Counting back, this would mean the parent birds would have been sitting on eggs in early April and could mean that the assumed migration of blackcaps to and from the UK could be entirely wrong!
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I was expecting to find some wonderful things in this most perfect valley, but a potential find of this significance took me by surprise! It will require further study over the years to investigate whether our birds are in fact resident breeders all year round, but rest assured I will keep you posted of our progress.