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!
After some time settling into my new somewhat flatter home in Denmark I have managed to find my feet. I decided to try something a bit different. I set up a company to try and make nature my business – more specifically bringing people closer to nature. JL Nature began at the end of last year, and now finally has a website to show and tell what it is I do, have done, and want to do in the future. The adventure continues!
This week, my last out in the field has come to a dramatic halt On Tuesday morning I started as usual, but this time decided to bring some music along to keep me company out in the woods. As I began my rounds, everything was normal. It was a pleasant morning and I knew less than 2 hours would have be finished and back in the warmth of the office enjoying a coffee. That was not how things would go unfortunately. After about 5 minutes out in the field I bent down to pick up one of the mouse traps and suddenly felt a severe pain in my lower back. Oh dear. I tried to stand up straight, but my back was having none of it. My next thought was, walk it off. Hoping it wasn’t too serious I slowly walked like a hunchback to the next trap. Things weren’t getting any easier. I attempted to bend again, this time being more careful, exercising proper lifting techniques, but no, it was no use.
I carefully hobbled back to the jeep and drove myself slowly back to the office. I informed by boss I was off to lie down in the hope that rest would provide a miracle. I fell into bed in my temporary lodgings, only managing to take my shoes off. From that position I was pretty much motionless, any movements in any direction brought pain and severe discomfort. This was NOT part of this weeks plan.
After a long week last week, this was supposed to be the short, relatively easy week, where I could be out in the field in the morning and back into the office for some warm paper work in the afternoon. I had actually looked forward to checking emails regularly and writing reports. Alas that wasn’t going to happen. With a lot of help I made it to the doctor withing a few hours where I was given some painkillers. After that I retired to my bed, as sitting, standing and walking only caused pain. Lying down provided at least some rest.
Soon I began thinking the usual, how, why, what did I do wrong? In all honestly, over the past 18 months I have had some smaller problems with my back. Things I shrugged off and figured weren’t important. Now I realize I can’t be flippant about my body, not any more. The wear and tear my body has been exposed to over the last twenty odd years is starting to catch up. Contact sports, cold water, hiking, climbing, biking, field work, winter work, everything has softened the tougher exterior and exposed the softer parts underneath. Age is catching up and I can choose to ignore it or combat it. I am not ready to have constant aches and pains, and my field working days are not over, by a long way!
I have spent may days working and volunteering with men and women double my age (and more!), who have never shown any signs of “wear and tear”.
So for the next few weeks I will take it easy. Hold on to the memories of small mammals in the field and work towards repairing my body for the spring when hopefully field work opportunities will present themselves again! A sad end to this episode, but a necessary one.