Eleven chicks per hour

Wow, what a week.

Monday. After a bit of admin, I drove to Whipsnade Zoo and back to collect fifteen corncrake chicks. I purposely arrived there an hour early so that I could see a few more of the collection. I went to see the elephants and tigers.
It kept showering, and I was dressed for hot sunny weather. No waterproofs.
On my return, I popped the new chicks in to their aviaries. One seemed terrified of the nettle jungle. This minute fuzzy black dot just stood in the corner squeaking and trembling all over. I attempted to gently nudge him towards his new (overgrown) home, but he/she just ran back to the corner. I left the chick there, hoping not to find him in the same spot the following morning. He wasn’t.
I then did my rounds, replenishing food and water for all 105 chicks.

Tuesday. I had an enormous amount of preparation to do. Firstly for the 21 chicks arriving at 6.30am the next morning, and secondly for the big release due to begin at 7am the next morning also. Arranging pens, improvising to cover bare areas in the pens, scrubbing bird poo from pen tables, washing corncrake dishes, preparing food and tubs for a delivery of mealworms, data updates, paperwork, emails, and equipment prep for the release. All this along with the usual feeds.

Wednesday. Up at 5am. I visit each aviary that houses todays chick releases, removing all tables and dishes, anything that would impede our catching of the crakes.
I then prepare food dishes for the five pens where the new arrivals will go..
At 6.30am, the chicks arrive and we pop them in their aviaries.
7am, and the release team arrive. Two vets from Whipsnade and one vet student, Rhys, Hannah, Charlie and myself make the RSPB team, and Kat from Pensthorpe Conservation Trust.
It took us four hours to process and release all 44 birds. Two were put to sleep as they were quite ill. One was held back for a week as he injured himself during capture evasion and gained a few stitches in his throat. And three lovely feisty little ladies were taken to Pensthorpe to be incorporated into the breeding programme, as they have such good genes.
I then carried out my feeds, in the rain, with now only 61 birds. I then helped Hannah and Rhys lay out and stake the drive traps for tomorrow.

Thursday. Up at 6am. Today is the first of our Corncrake drives. This is a catching method involving teams of people moving across a field in a line, making lots of noise, and (hopefully) driving corncrakes in to traps at the end of the field.
I ferried some of our volunteers down to today’s field. I hung around to hear Rhys’ brief and then snook off to do my chores.
I had to wash a backlog of chick feed dishes, trays and containers. Then I had to feed all the chicks. It was 12.30 by the time all of this was accomplished. So I headed down to field 49, to ferry volunteers to the toilet at the office/house.
They had finished the drive, catching two wild born chicks. This proves that our release birds of last year are now breeding.
Although I had a million and one things to do, I seemed to spend most of the day ferrying people and drive equipment about. I managed to drive 24 mikes just around the reserve.
When everyone had gone, I then returned to our yard and spent the evening scrubbing bird poo from aviary tables. Again.
When my friend Tom arrived at 10pm, I was still working. Updating chick data on the computer.

Friday. Another corncrake catching day. The team of vols is smaller than yesterday so I do have to help this time. We are eight. Seven ladies + Tom. Today we are driving a bank rich in tall vegetation. Mostly nettles and thistles.
Its hard slog getting through the vegetation, all the while hollering and generally being as noisy as possible. Being mostly girls, there was a lot of woop wooping and screaming.
En route to the end of the drive, I did worry that our traps would be disappointingly empty. The team worked so hard I desperately wanted them to be rewarded.
One ran in to a trap. Then another. And then another. And then we lost count as all these chicks were running around confused but all heading for the traps. We caught: three adults, one of which was not ringed, which means it was wild born last year; two juveniles, from first clutches this year; and ten chicks.
Hannah weighed, measured and ringed them all, whilst I sat beside her and scribed.
We then dismantled everything, loaded up the truck, and finally had a very late lunch.
On returning to the office, I then had to deal with another large delivery of mealworms and crickets.

Saturday. 10am sees a delivery of three more chicks. I deal with them. Then do my feeding rounds.
After lunch I actually take the afternoon off (hooray!) And visit King’s Dyke Wildlife Reserve with Tom. It was delightful. Lots of wildflowers, bees, dragonflies, and butterflies. We also see marsh harrier and green woodpecker.

Sunday. Feeding rounds in the morning. Water replacement in the afternoon, and admin in the bit in between.

I am exhausted. But it has been a fabulous week.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


About Olivia N Masi

From art college drop-out, to office space-planner, to back-packer, to air stewardess, to brolly babe, to model agent, to wildlife conservationist. How? I've always believed in jumping at every opportunity that comes my way. This has taken me along some bizarre career paths. None of which I regret. I have been to amazing places and met fascinating people. And having worked in the motor sport industry I've sadly experienced too many beloved friends take one adrenalin step too many. I think of them always. I've hung out with pop-stars, sports personalities, and millionaires. I reached a point when nothing but VIP would do. And then something happened. My pops passed away and I felt the need to reconnect with my Italian side. Whilst in Italy, I learnt to be resourceful, to recycle everything, to listen to the valley, to grow my own veg, to catch and tame feral cats, and to follow my heart. My heart led me to a desire to save this beautiful Earth, and all the wonderful life upon it. And so I read, and then I studied with the Open University. I suddenly found myself accepted on a BSc in Wildlife Conservation, having left school with pitiful qualifications. So here I am. A qualified Wildlife Conservationist. A scientist I suppose. I love nothing more than to listen to birdsong, and watch, learn and photograph wildlife. So here is to me getting the perfect job where I can contribute to saving one of Earth's beautiful species. Do I miss the glamour of the old life? The VIP lifestyle? The petrol-head adrenalin? The buzz of being a successful business owner? Only occasionally. Though it seems more like the distant dreams of a previous life.
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