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Wicken Fen (Bird Ringing) Group: Report of 2006 activities

C.J.R. Thorne, 12 February 2006

The Wicken Fen (Bird Ringing) Group has been in continuous operation for 39 years, having been established in 1968. Since that year over 76000 birds of 97 different species have been ringed at Wicken Fen; 375 of these have subsequently been reported away from the Fen (61 of them abroad).

The Group, at 31 December 2006, numbered 43 members and 17 registered "friends"; this total of 60 is the highest ever . The record membership is reflected in another increase in activity at the Fen during the year. Ringing operations were conducted on 158 days, involving 4111 member- (man- & woman-) hours. Ringing sessions were held in every month, with the majority of sessions (98 out of 174) being carried out on St. Edmund's Fen (Compartments 30-34). 65 sessions were at the Reedbed (Compartments 51-53), while 9 were at North Field (Compartment 21). This last area was where the Ringing Group first operated (in 1968); with the generous donation of a hut by the National Trust, it has recently become a regular and valued "third base" for our activities.

The 2006 ringing total was 3566 birds, of 48 different species. These totals were an increase on the previous year, and in fact represented the highest total since 1973 . In addition to the 3566 "new" birds in 2006, there were 3947 handlings of "retraps" (birds already bearing rings), 826 of them originally ringed in years earlier than 2006. Several species topped the 100 mark, the highest scores being Greenfinch 783, Blue Tit 340, Chaffinch 253, Great Tit 251, Swallow 239, Reed Warbler 212, Reed Bunting 196, Blackcap 156, Blackbird 134, Robin 113 and Wren 112; the next most numerous being Bullfinch 89, Chiffchaff 88, Long-tailed Tit 83 and Goldfinch 68. The several unusual or noteworthy species ringed during the year were 6 Sparrowhawks, 4 Kestrels, 1 Woodcock, 1 Redshank, 4 Collared Doves, 1 Cuckoo, 1 Tawny Owl, 4 Kingfishers, 3 Green Woodpeckers, 12 Great spotted Woodpeckers, 6 Cetti's Warblers, 8 Grasshopper Warblers, 1 Coal Tit, 12 Tree Creepers, 8 Jays, 1 Magpie, 16 Tree Sparrows, 6 Bramblings and 3 Lesser Redpolls. These totals represent record numbers for several species - Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Great Tit; while the Blackcap total of 156 is the second highest ever. The large figures for Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Tits were significantly boosted by the nut and seed bait suspended in suitable areas during the Winter.

The recent change in the relative abundance of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs was slightly reversed in 2006, the ratio rising to 0.5 ; but this is still well short of the situation in the years up till 2001 when the former outnumbered the latter. The six Cetti's Warblers ringed in 2006 equalled the number ringed in 2005, and two of the 2005 birds were recaught in 2006, so there were at least 8 birds of this newly recolonised species at the Fen. Song Thrushes are only very slowly regaining ground at the Fen. Thirty years ago they equalled Blackbirds in our catch; since 1994 they have been steadily outnumbered by Blackbirds 3:1.

The Group's nest-boxes were not very successful in 2006, predation (probably by weasels) was very worrisome. Only 13 of the year's Blue Tits and 39 of the year's Great Tits were ringed as nestlings in the boxes.

The Group received notification of 13 Wicken-ringed birds being recovered away from the Fen during 2006; Swallows went to Cambridge city, Royston, Glasgow and Sussex; Reed Warblers to Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Spain; a Goldfinch to Brandon; a Garden Warbler to Wendy; a Bullfinch to Norfolk and a Starling to March. But during the year, Wicken Fen also welcomed several birds that had been ringed elsewhere - Reed Warblers from Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and Norfolk; a Whitethroat from Lincolnshire; Chiffchaffs from Kent and Sussex; Greenfinches from Essex, Cheshire and Humberside, and a Great Tit from the Botanic Garden in Cambridge city. Full details were received of the two foreigners caught in 2005 (and mentioned in last year's report) - the Sedge Warbler had been ringed in Loire Atlantique, France and the Blackbird as a nestling in Arnhem, Holland.

Some elderly birds were retrapped at the Fen during 2006 - a Long-tailed Tit at 7 years and 9 months after ringing, a Dunnock at 7 years 8 months, a Blue Tit at 7 years and 7 months, a Great Tit at 7 years and 0 months; these are all Wicken Fen longevity records. Other elderly birds were a Bullfinch (6y 10m), Blackbird (6y 6m), Robin (5y 6m), Reed Warbler (5y 0m), Garden Warbler (5y 0m), Chaffinch (4y 5m), Reed Bunting (4y 1m), Sparrowhawk (3y 11m), Greenfinch (3y 10m), Wren (3y 9m), Goldfinch (3y 1m), Blackcap (3y 0m) and Willow Warbler (3y 0m). The Starling that went to March, mentioned in the paragraph above, had been ringed in 1981; but it was found as a rather mummified corpse in 2006, so we cannot claim a 25 year age record for it!

In summer 2006 we continued (for the 37th successive year) our "standard sites sessions". These enable us to monitor the breeding population of birds at the Fen. The Group also put on two "bird-ringing demonstrations" for the public, on 30 July and 26 November.

Several of the Group's active members are undergraduate or graduate students at Cambridge University or Anglia Ruskin University, and some of these students are using Ringing Group activities as either part of their academic project work, or as training for using ringing to further their studies at sites elsewhere in Britain or abroad. Senior members of both Universities are also using Group data or facilities to further their own research. Some scientific papers have been published, using Ringing Group data (Reed Warbler population variation).

The Secretary has maintained his production of regular Bulletins (7 in year 2006), keeping Members and Friends informed, not only of ringing activities, but also of general bird observations at Wicken Fen. He also produced monthly summaries of the Group's activities, which are displayed in the Thorpe Building. Anyone interested in joining the Group is welcome to contact him, Dr. Chris Thorne, at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, CB2 1RL (phone 01954-210566, email

C.J.R. Thorne, 20 February 2007

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Wicken Fen, Lode Lane, Wicken, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 5XP, UK
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