Nighttime escapades

Pitch black. Jacket zipped up. Torch at the ready.

It is night and a group of us are standing in a field at Powhillon, one of the northern holdings of WWT Caerlaverock. We get the go ahead and switch our bright torches on. We are looking for eye shine. This technique is called lamping or dazzling and is designed for surveying birds at nighttime.

Once you get a bird in your sights, you lock the torch on them and approach carefully. The light stuns the birds so they are safe and unharmed but not moving. Then comes the tricky bit – with your little handheld net (similar to a landing net used when fishing), you have to catch the bird. Nine times out of ten, they are quicker than you and fly away but sometimes you catch them.

Once in the net, you go through the process of ringing them.

We didn’t want to get our hopes up so had accepted that we might only see single digits of snipe but within a couple of minutes being out there we saw a woodcock. It flew off pretty quickly though. We kept going and saw a total of 7 woodcock, 15 common snipe and at least 2 jack snipe!

woodcock in jake's hand by david pickett.jpg

Woodcock in Jake's hand

This is pretty amazing knowledge to have gleaned because up until this one singular night of ringing, we had assumed woodcock don’t come onto the reserve that regularly as we have only occasionally seen more than one at a time. There are wooded areas north of Powhillon that are likely sites for woodcock to spend their days hiding out and although our fields are exactly the kind of wet habitat they like to occupy at nighttime, we never knew how much they use them. As for the snipe and jack snipe, we have never seen them in such quantities before and jack snipe have only been seen way out on the merse when they are flushed accidentally.

We hope to continue doing this every month or so to build our knowledge of the reserve. Hopefully we will get some recaptures which will tell us if the same birds are returning to this area.

This ringing was done under licence.

Words by Jake Goodwin and Marianne Nicholson

Pictures by David Pickett

Feature image is of a group of people kneeling down in the dark ringing a bird

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