Bird Ringing at Blåvand (Denmark)
This week I am staying at a Blåvand bird station (which is nothing like a train or bus station, I have already explained to my mum!). The station is located at Blåvand Huk, Denmarks most western point and gathers information on migrating birds through bird watching and ringing. With it’s location on an important migration route thousands of birds are spotted every day by eager ornithologists, and smaller numbers are ringed by both local and visiting ringers from abroad. In the autumn and spring, when birds are moving between their summer breeding areas and winter homes, it’s all hands on deck and eyes to the sky to record the passing migrants.
The bird station also has a blog (in Danish) which is updated daily, where you can read more about the observations and ringing activities and see some photos! My focus for the week is not looking up to the skies, with high powered binoculars or scopes, but focusing on the nets. Around the station there are 21 mist nets of varying length, made of very fine nylon string, which are difficult for the birds (and some people!) to see. With a total of 241 meters of nets, in the right weather conditions (low wind, no rain) during the migration season, a lot of birds can be caught, ringed and released to continue on their journey. The record number of birds ringed in one day at the station is 700 and I’m told they were mostly blue tits (Parus caeruleus) – which means it was a long day, as these small birds, are difficult to handle and ill tempered!
Ringing takes places at the station during the spring, from March 1st – June 15th and continues again in the autumn from July 20th – November 15th. Each morning the 21 nets are opened a half an hour before sunrise (that’s early!) and are kept open for at least 5 hours. Records are kept about the weather conditions, including cloud coverage, temperature, wind speed and direction. When a bird is unlucky enough to fly into a net, it is carefully removed by the ringer and processed. Firstly the species is determined, then a ring is placed on (usually) the right leg and the feathers are examined closely to determine age and gender, if possible.
At this time of the year, many of the species have not began their long journey south, so there are few birds in the nets. This is ideal for me, as it allows me to take extra time with each bird to study it’s feathers, beak, eyes and legs and hopefully remember the key points when I meet a similar bird again. There are many species, some of which are almost identical, and it takes a lot of practice and repetition to become adept at identification and age determination. Thankfully there are both experienced ringers and a number of resources (books and websites) on hand to assist beginners like me!