I had to scrape frost off the car this morning before heading up to Billinge for a dawn start. I was hoping a few migrants had dropped in overnight and that there would be some visible migration but I soon realised there was very little of either. I didn't hear or see a single Chiffchaff and the gin clear skies were largely devoid of passage migrants. I took the nets down that that I had put up in the scrub and turned my attention to the many Skylarks that were chasing each other around in the adjacent grassland.
The Skylarks haven't started nesting yet but are in the process of pairing up and sorting out territories. There is quite a dense population at this site and there is clearly a lot of competition for the prime areas. I watched them for a while and decided to try a single panel net where several had been repeatedly chasing each other low over the ground. Skylarks are not easy to catch in mist-nets but a scattering of low willow saplings in this area helped give some background to the net.
I sat back at a discrete distance to watch and while I was waiting I noticed a male Wheatear, my first of the year, perched in the top of a willow beyond the net. It didn't hang around though and quickly moved on. There wasn't much moving overhead apart from large gulls (mainly Lesser Black-backs) with some moving north towards breeding sites and others moving in the opposite direction towards the nearest landfill sites. I did have 76 Starlings go south-east, 5 Redwings north and a single stratospheric Siskin was heard but that was about it otherwise. My attention quickly turned back to the net when one of the Skylarks headed straight for it and went in, much to my delight.
Only 147 full grown Skylarks were ringed in the UK in 2013 and in some other years it has been less than that so ringing one counts as a success for me. To give it some context I would have to catch about 485 Blue Tits to ring an equivalent proportion of the national total of that species.
There was so much Skylark activity I thought I would try another spot and I quickly caught a second bird. Third time I was not so lucky and I decided to call it a day at that but I think there is scope to improve my technique and try again before they finally settle down to nest. It is a shame they are not easier to catch as they are a species that would benefit from further study.
It is not often that ringing two birds counts as a good morning's effort but this was one of those occasions.