Last Sunday afternoon, I was part of a team catching and ringing pied wagtails and reed buntings at a small roost in southwest Norfolk. The roost was in a reedbed, an ideal place to spend the night perched above open water and safe from predators, and the site has been used over a number of winters, although not always by the same species. A couple of winters ago, there were large numbers of starlings using the site. This winter there are very few starlings but fairly good numbers of wagtails and buntings. We arrived to set up our nets at two-o’clock and, once erected, all we had to do was wait for the arrival of the birds. Periodic checks of the nets during the intervening time revealed a number of wrens, all of which were local birds that had been caught at the site during previous summer sessions. Wrens often move into reedbeds during winter because this is one of the best places to find the invertebrates on which to feed.
As dusk approached, wagtails and buntings began to arrive. Parties of wagtails gathered together and wheeled about the sky calling, a spectacle that lasted for half an hour or so. The numbers of birds increased and then groups of individuals dropped down into the reeds, with some ending up in our nets. Quickly and efficiently our team removed birds from the nets and processed them, noting down details of wing length, weight and age (not an easy thing to discern in a pied wagtail) before letting them go so they could return to the roost. Other members of the team had, by this stage, packed away the nets and we were left listening to the occasional shuffles of birds moving to favoured positions in the reeds.