The forecast was for a band of rain coming through overnight and clearing early morning. I have been let down by forecasts on many an occasion so I wasn’t overly optimistic. I got up at 6am and it was raining quite hard. A check of the rainfall radar via the internet showed a band of rain straddling the area with a clearance coming in from the northwest. I set off for Haigh at 6:40am while it was still raining. The rain stopped as I arrived but there were some ominous clouds about as the sky brightened. I put up 2 nets by 7:30 by which time there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The sky remained crystal clear as forecast for the remainder of the day so the forecast was spot on after all.
I was keen to fit in a ringing session at Haigh because Brambling invasions don’t come around that often and the cost of baiting sites is not insignificant. When I started ringing many years ago my trainer used all manner of waste grain and some of it was very rough by today’s standards to say the least; black sunflower was not in our vocabulary back then. These days you seem to have to use high quality feed to get any results. This seems to be a bit of a contradiction with a more sterile agriculture and declining bird populations but is certainly my experience. Even peanuts are not the Greenfinch magnet they once were.
What does this tell us; well bird populations have certainly declined but the remainder will always aggregate around the best food available so it is easy to be deluded to thinking everything is ok. If you are feeding the best, and that is what we tend to do these days, you may not notice fewer birds at your feeders even though many populations are declining. We use constant effort sites to help monitor bird population trends in summer but I am not aware of anyone who has done any constant feeding experiments to measure change in feeding habits and preferences. Sales of niger seed, sunflower hearts, and black sunflower seed have never been higher and were unheard of not that many years ago or am I that old.
At the end of the day a sack of waste grain will not produce the same results as it did as little as 30 years ago and mainly because bird populations have declined that much. Peanuts are not the Greenfinch magnet they once were because Greenfinches have declined significantly whilst artificial food availability has increased so the remainder can afford to be more choosey or that is my theory.
Today’s ringing totals at Haigh were (retraps in brackets):
Blue 6 (2)
Brambling 15 (3)
Chaffinch 10 (2)
Coal Tit 0 (2)
Greenfinch 14 (3)
Great Tit 5 (2)
Great-spotted Woodpecker 1
Robin 2 (1)
Totals 58 (+15)
Bramblings topped the totals again which indicates there are a lot in the country along with a shortage of natural food sources such as beech mast. We ringed none with a similar feeding regime in the previous winter period which says a lot.