Hatched on 18th 19th and 22nd of May the chicks are now entering into their 5th week of life. It is a constant source of amazement how fast they grow; from fluffy ping-pong size to fully feathered rugby balls with wings.
It is at this time that we fit on their identification rings. This year, the first since 2009, we have 3 beautiful chicks. They are a credit to the care that KL and Unring have lavished on them, catching fish and feeding them throughout the hours of daylight and keeping them warm or shaded, depending on the variable Cumbrian weather.
Early this summer morning the trained and licenced ringing team walked quietly over to the site. Looking up through the green oak leaves to a pale blue sky we could see both KL and Unring flying over the nest and soon could hear their cries, warning their chicks to lie down, stay still and rely upon their camouflage for protection. Darren, veteran tree climber, ascended and peered over the nest edge. The two eldest chicks lay just as Mum could wish, flattened out and holding on with both feet. But youngest was not going to take things passively and had already reared up on its wings and legs with its neck feathers raised, like a fierce little Lygon. Gently, Darren picked it up placed it in a sports bag and lowered it to the bottom of the tree where our Ringer was waiting. Placed on the ground the young bird held its stance, looking around with orange-iris eyes at a different world of grass and buttercups. It managed a nifty peck at the Ringer’s thumb as firstly its metal ring with unique serial number was placed on its left leg and its Blue colour ring U6 was placed on the right. In future years it will be this means of identification that will tell us if it has survived the migration and returned to Cumbria.
‘ It’s so feisty, I’m guessing it’s a male, but it’s weight should confirm that.’ At 1,320 g the spring balance told us it was indeed within the male weight parameters, being lighter than females of the same age. With a flurry of quill dander and a drift of baby down it’s – no, HIS –wing measurements were taken and feet examined. Smallest and youngest but superbly healthy and bursting with attitude, U6 sat to one side watching on whilst his more docile siblings went through the same process, fitted with leg rings U7 and U8. From the weight of 1,470g the middle chick is probably another male and at a buxom 1,570 g the oldest should be female.
‘Fly well little birds’, we whispered as they were hauled up one at a time and replaced in the nest. Then we walked away to let them resume their avian lives again.