Thursday, 26 May 2011

Definitely a Day for Dippers

Yesterday saw a couple of us again attempting our monthly catch of dippers on the Taf Fechan in Merthyr. Our site is where the river runs through the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales’ (WTSWW) reserve of the same name in Merthyr. We’ve met with both success and failure (of sorts) at this site and we hoped for the former this time round. Not only to keep morale high but more importantly a number of trustees and staff of the WTSWW were out with us and we wanted to show them dippers! With nine of us out on site however, we were being rather realistic about our chances.

Minds focussed, we chose our first catching spot with care; a nice shaded stretch of river thanks to a low and connected canopy, perfect for concealing a net and deterring anything flying along the river to fly up and over the net. It also provided a nice watching point. More importantly we’d also seen signs of and the birds themselves. With the net set we sat back with tempered optimism and waited and the Gods of Ringing rewarded us!

A dipper came barrelling up stream, hit the net and… you’ve guessed, it bounced like the proverbial ball. But it didn’t go too far and remained in sight all be it at a distance. A minor adjustment of the net and we were set. We didn’t have to wait long either. First in the net was a lovely female grey wagtail – a first for the site and our second for the year.

DR O with a grey wagtail
While we demonstrated processing this bird (5 female) to the assembled a dipper flew upstream straight into the net and more importantly stuck! Extracted and processed to much acclaim and was released. We decided to not strike camp at this point as the male we had just caught was likely to have a mate. It was a wise decision as we soon were watching our male, his mate and two of their offspring feeding 20m from our net… Dipper number two was soon in the net and this time a juvenile male. We decided at this point that two was enough and we moved on.

Dr O strikes camp after a good catch. Our first was infested with biting midges
and we all dealt with it in different ways - Dr O borrowing this rather fetching hat...!

Number 2. The dipper.

 The main thrust of the visit was to show the trustees the work of the WTSWW and its partners involved in the management of the reserve, and among the party were representatives from Merthyr Tydfil County Bourough Council (who actually own the site) and CCW who’s interest in the site stem from the fact that its part of a SSSI. This involved showing the trustees around a nest box scheme established this year to attract pied flycatchers. Sadly none of these rapidly declining migrants bred at the site this year but you have to at least try - there is always next year! This gave Dr O. an opportunity to ring more pulli toward his endorsement – he is very good at ringing tit pulli! But people wanted more dippers so being the types that do our best to please we had to oblige – well try too.

Sherpa Solman helps Dr O while he demonstrates ringing pulli to the WTSWW trustees

Spot number two was not too far away from the nest boxes. Shaded but without the closed canopy of our first site it was definitely a case of suck it and see; especially as our watch point was exposed to anything flying down stream! Our watch point was strangely familiar being reminiscent of where the hobbits took shelter from the Ring Wraiths! Luckily we just had to contend with inquisitive dogs.

The wait was longer this time so there was plenty of time to discuss the reserves and matters surrounding it. Our candid chatter was abruptly curtailed when not only were two grey wags seen up stream but also two dippers. One of the latter ended up in the net but none of the latter! Buoyed by our success we waited some more but tired as we were we began to lose hope until one of trustees, standing up and looking down stream, froze saying a dipper was working its way up stream. No sooner as she had said this than the bird was in the net! A female with a whopping brood patch!

And Dipper number three!
Rich demonstrates Tired Ringer Weighs Dipper,
a lesser-known posture of Yang-style Tai Chi

All in all a result! Three dippers and two grey wagtails (plus X number of tits)! Next month is going to be either elation or disappointment!

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