Alan the Robin unmasked

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Alan the Robin unmasked

Maria Mak reveals his identity

'Alan the Robin' has been delighting visitors to the Draper Hide at Rye Meads Nature Reserve for some time. His popularity is such that he even has a following on Twitter on the RSPB Rye Meads page. Alan got his name from the volunteers at the RSPB centre: they saw the Robin had a ring on, so connected the bird to the ringing group and the ringer they know best, Alan Harris.

Alan Harris with Alan the Robin at the Draper Hide

Alan Harris with Alan the Robin at the Draper Hide. According to Twitter: "Alan is a little chunky but not too aggressive"...

Up till now, despite our best effort to read Alan’s ring number through our binoculars, we have only managed to read the number 1 on the end of it. So one evening a couple of Saturdays ago whilst the rest of the group were on a mission to spring trap a Stonechat in the meadows, I borrowed one of the spring traps to see if I could catch Alan (the Robin) with it.

For those of you unfamiliar with spring trapping, essentially it involves a bait trap device with string mesh, designed to humanely catch small birds with a simple spring close mechanism.

Spring trap set

Typical setup of a spring trap with a mealworm as bait

Spring trap triggered

Spring trap set off by a falling leaf

As I approached the hide and went about setting the trap, Alan flew up to a branch by my right shoulder. I could sense him watching me intently as I brought out the juiciest and most wriggly mealworm going. Once the trap was set, I swiftly retreated to the path to give Alan some space to take the bait. Yet Alan looked at the trap from his branch then towards me tilting his head with the most disappointed of looks. So I inspected the trap with my binoculars and to my dismay the mealworm had been dismembered by the wire clip in the device! After a little adjustment of the clip and a replacement mealworm, the trap was good to go once more... Well, this time, the determined Alan was not going to let his meal vanish; as soon as I moved my hand away from the trap, he dove straight in without even an ounce of hesitation, thus setting off the trap and narrowly missing my fingers, making him the fastest spring trapped bird in my books!

After carefully extracting Alan from the trap and checking that he was OK, I proceeded to take down his ring number which turned out to be L511 181. I then looked at the shape of his tail feathers to help identify his age, but by now the light was fading fast so I quickly took a couple of pictures before letting him go. Alan took off to the nearest branch to recover his dignity before disappearing further up the bank 'ticking' me off along the way.

Alan the Robin in the hand

Alan the Robin in the hand on 8th Oct. I can confirm he is very gentle and not a bit aggressive...

After checking the ring number against our records, Alan turned out to be a Robin caught in the centre channel of the Rye Meads South Lagoons on 11 August 2012. He was ringed by ex-Rye Meads trainee Paul Joyce and was given age code 3, i.e. a bird hatched in that calendar year. This was the first time the bird had been retrapped.

So there you go, Alan should really have been called Paul after his ringer (sorry, Alan Harris!). However, we still do not know whether Alan is actually a 'Paul' or a 'Paula' unless we come across it again in one of our nets during the breeding season, when we could check for cloacal shape and brood patch. Though one thing we know for sure now is that Alan, like his namesake, is not a spring chicken(!). You would also be pleased to know that Alan has since put his little moment of indiscretion behind him and is continuing to wow his followers with his antics by the Draper Hide - see pictures on Twitter @RSPBRyeMeads.

Pictures by Maria Mak

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