Early Fledged Starlings: 5th May 2021

This morning I processed a number of birds ringed in his garden by one of our team who lives in mid-Wiltshire He is not a fan of social media so that is all of the identification you are going to get.

Amongst the birds processed were a number of Starlings. Two of those were recently fledged juveniles.

I thought that this was early, so I had a look at all of our group records, going as far back as we have them on DemOn, i.e. all computerised records.  We have ringed 1,398 Starlings of which 75 are recently-fledged Starlings caught in May between 1996 and the present day. 

These are the earliest by 15 days, with the next earliest being on the 20th May last year, which was a juvenile caught in my garden in Purton.

According to BTO Bird Facts, based on data collated from the Nest Record Scheme, the mean laying date for the first clutch of eggs for Starling is 19th April, with the earliest record being the 6th April.  Incubation is 12 to 15 days, time to fledging 19 to 22 days.  If you take the shortest intervals, and the 5th May as their fledging date, i.e. go back 31 days to find the date of laying, unless my maths is wrong, the date of laying is as early as the 4th April. 

I just thought that I would share that.

CES 1: Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 5th May 2021

Last year’s CES, like so many other activities, was unsustainable due to restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, so it is great to be able to get out and start this year’s study on time.

I was joined for the session by Alice but, as she had to come down from her university digs in Oxford, I suggested that she meet me at 6:00. For my sins, I was on site for 4:30 to set up the nets. The volume of birdsong was astonishing and I was confident that I could hear Garden Warbler in the mix. The nets were open by 5:30 and I took my first bird of the morning out of the nets as I was opening up. Sometimes birds do blunder into closed nets, usually Robins or Wrens, but this time I was delighted to extract and process my first Garden Warbler of the year:

They might look unspectacular but they are one of my favourite birds.

The weather forecast for the morning was for it to start to get wet about 10:30 but, apart from a few spots at that time we had no rain until we got hit by a short shower after we had closed the nets and were taking down. That said, it was very cold for a May morning, with 3 degrees Celsius at the outset and, despite (or, perhaps, because of) a clear sky and the sun, it did not warm up properly until 10:00. Every time the sun went behind one of the very few clouds around the temperature dropped quickly.

Alice arrived just as I finished opening the top nets and the next couple of rounds were quite busy. We were enjoying the variety of what was turning up in our nets. There was quite a lot flying around that we didn’t catch: a couple of Common Tern flying over our ringing station was an unexpected pleasure.

One of our nets is set within a small area of woodland so, naturally, that is where Alice extracted a Kingfisher! This was a male that we ringed in July of last year once we were able to get back to site. The last time I posted a photo of how we weigh Kingfishers some troublemaker in the wider ringing community complained to the BTO that the bird looked dead – despite being wide-eyed and clearly alive and, they being scared of public opinion, I was asked to take it down. So sorry folks, no can show. They are astonishing: they just lie on their backs and look at you turning their heads from side to side. Perhaps next time I will video it and post that instead.

The list for the session was: Kingfisher (1); Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 2(3); Wren 1(3); Dunnock (4); Robin 1(3); Song Thrush 3(1); Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 4(3); Garden Warbler 4(3); Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 4(4); Willow Warbler 1(1); Bullfinch 1. Total: 25 birds ringed from 13 species and 29 birds retrapped from 12 species, making 54 birds processed from 15 species.

It was a super morning. We did a couple of short ringing demonstrations, one to a family of Mum, Dad and 2 children plus a dog (on a lead: top marks to them), which delighted them and hopefully informed them. We left site just gone midday.

PS After the incident at Red Lodge blogged about recently, the police have taken a very positive interest in helping to prevent future occurrences. One of the members of the local wildlife crimes team is going to join me for a session and they are going to put up a notice on their community web-site about bird ringing, why it is carried out and why people must not interfere. That is really positive and helpful of them.

West Wilts Ringing Group: April 2021 Results

April has turned out to be an excellent month for the team.  Not too surprisingly, given that we were in lockdown last April, this was a much better month, with more than double the number of birds caught and a superb 37 species ringed, 39 processed, compared with 23 ringed / processed last year.  Our previous best April was in 2017 and I have included this for comparison with 2021 and 2020.

The stand out catch of the month was this Curlew. We have heard that two Curlew chicks were ringed by Rob Turner and Tony Rowe at Manor Farm, Coulston on the 14th June 1984 and that one was ringed in 1992 and 3 in 1997. At the moment I don’t know if these latter ones were adults or chicks. It is still an excellent catch:

Compared with 2020 it is clear that we were restricted to our gardens at this time last year. When comparing with 2017 there are still significant differences, as there were over 100 more birds processed, 5 more species ringed and 6 more processed.  The increased activity is almost all down to the increased activity from our C-permit holders working their own sites.  For example, the catch of Sedge Warbler is entirely down to Jonny’s activity, primarily the reed beds at Langford Lakes and at the Melksham site. Also, there was a significantly higher catch of Blackcap.

Back on the Farm: Saturday, 1st May 2021

Okay, I am regularly at both Lower Moor and Blakehill Farms but, as well as working farms, they are nature reserves. However, my other site, Brown’s Farm, we were only able to visit twice last year: in between lockdowns in July and September. It is a very mixed operation combining beef and arable farming, a kennels and also with stables and a couple of paddocks for horses and ponies. I know that the latter can be grass monoculture deserts for wildlife, but the paddocks take up a small proportion of the site and the farmer provides a lot of wide tracks around his fields for the owners to exercise their horses. These, in turn, have been seeded with wildflowers, and the farmer estimates that they have planted over 4 hectares of potential wild bird food plants as well as supplementary feeding over the winter. First thing this year the hedgerows were cut back, as they were two years ago, to promote fresh growth, keep them from getting long and leggy, and provide good nesting habitat for the farmland birds.

I don’t know if it is a result of the feeding regime but there were so many Skylarks singing and the hedgerows were alive with birds. This has always been a good site for Skylark but there did seem to be twice as many as usual. We also spent a lot of the morning with a Red Kite flying around and about our ringing station, with some excellent views as it sailed around the area. The Swallows have arrived, and there were good numbers hunting over the fields. As I left my house in Purton at 5:15, I heard my first Cuckoo of the year, and we were serenaded by a Cuckoo calling throughout the morning at Brown’s Farm.

This session was carried out entirely without any audio lures. Now that the breeding season is fully under way restrictions are in place and lures are only allowed under very specific conditions and for a maximum of 10 minutes in any one location. I choose not to do so. Lucy and I met there at 6:00 and set up the following nets:

We had the nets open by 7:15 and caught our first birds at 7:30. The first birds caught were in the 2-shelf nets and the first set of 18m nets. This was a bit of an excellent start for Lucy: she got to extract her first ever Whitethroat and Linnet, as we took out two Whitethroat and one Linnet. These were my first Whitethroat of the year:

We took a couple more Linnet, and our first Dunnock and Yellowhammer of the session. At 8:30 we took out another Whitethroat, Linnet and Yellowhammer and I called Lucy to the 6m net nearest the track to extract this little beauty:

Male Firecrest

So, this was Lucy’s third new species extracted and ringed for the day! That’s not a bad return for a single session. The bird was a little chilled, so I popped him back into a bag and put him down under my clothing so it could get the benefit of my body heat. This is a sure fired method of livening up a cold bird. After 15 minutes warming it was busily scrabbling against my chest and ready to go. It flew off strongly and headed off towards Savernake Forest.

Before our next round Annie turned up with daughter Elara for her third ringing trip. She is only 2, so a little early to start ringing birds yet! There were plenty of puddles for Elara to play in, and she made the most of them. By the end of the session her wellies were full of water, she had been face down in it, sat down in it – and loved every minute of it and was a fabulous diversion when the nets were empty!

Elara in her element

Soon after they arrived we went for a net round. How frustrating: a Wheatear sitting on top of the 6m net that bisected the two long net sets. It displayed beautifully before flying off into the middle of the field to join the Skylarks. I have ringed Wheatear on Skokholm but not yet in Wiltshire. One day!

Whilst the forecast was for the wind to stay low all morning by 10:00 it was getting quite blowy and, although we didn’t have the problem of the nets blowing into the hedgerows, fortunately the wind was blowing away from the Hawthorn, they did start billowing out, removing the pockets for catching the birds. We decided to take down. Usually I shut the nets prior to taking them down, to stop birds getting caught in slack netting, but this time I didn’t think it necessary. Naturally that meant that, part way through taking down the first 3 x 18m net ride, a Dunnock flew into the bottom of one of the nets.

Fortunately, I didn’t learn from this incident and we moved on to take down the second long ride and exactly the same thing happened again. Only this time I thought it was a Yellowhammer. I called Annie to come and hold the pole and put tension on the net so I could extract it. As I walked forwards I thought “that beaks too long and pointy for a Yellowhammer”. It was. This is what I extracted:

Yellow Wagtail Male

This is another bird that I had ringed elsewhere but had never extracted and not ringed in Wiltshire. In fact, because we do not have any sites within our group where they over-summer, this is the first Yellow Wagtail ringed by the West Wilts Ringing Group since it adopted its current structure at the beginning of 2013. We have seen them at Brown’s before, but never caught one. This was the last bird of the day. We finished taking down and left site at midday.

The list for the day was: Great Tit 1; Dunnock 1(1); Yellow Wagtail 1; Whitethroat 5; Firecrest 1; Linnet 6; Yellowhammer 3. Totals: 18 birds ringed from 7 species and 1 bird recaptured, making 19 birds processed from 7 species.

It was a super session, even though we didn’t catch that many birds what we caught was high quality and the birding was fantastic.

Curlew Confidential: April 2021

After two years of observation by a small army of volunteers, ranging from local farmers to birders and casual observers, a picture is beginning to emerge of the status of the Curlew, Numenius arquata, in the land that once comprised the hunting forest of Braydon.  Sightings have been made from Blakehill Farm in the north to south of Brinkworth and from Purton in the east to Braydon Pond in the west.

Under the project management, enthusiasm and knowledge of Jonny Cooper, and his co-operation with other bodies involved in similar projects, like the Wildlife & Wetlands Trust, a body of information is building up, detailing where the Curlew are to be found and giving an opportunity to devise strategies to protect nesting sites and encourage the expansion of this long-lived, site faithful and sadly declining species.  That Jonny has persuaded local farmers to sign up to the scheme is probably the most important step in this process.

One of the issues of monitoring birds is that they fly. If you see six Curlew separately on your walk, apart from being very lucky at seeing such a number, it is impossible to tell exactly how many you actually saw.  It could be the same bird seen 6 times or 6 individuals.  The standard way of identifying an individual bird is to put a ring on it.  However, with standard BTO metal rings they are difficult to read in the field, even using good quality binoculars or telescopes or, as happens more and more these days, a dirty great telephoto lens on an ultra-high-definition camera.  This means that, apart from catching the bird once to fit the ring, it has to be caught again to read the number and identify it.  This obviously restricts the ability to make casual observations of the size of the local population and causes more disturbance to the birds.

To overcome this, the plan going forward, is to put field readable tags on the birds.  These are solid plastic yellow flags, with two bold black capital letters on them, which can be easily read using any of the optics mentioned previously.  Jonny successfully found a source of funding for the tags, for a walk-in trap and a Curlew decoy.

Prior to the commencement of this year’s breeding season Jonny got permission from a local landowner to pilot this process.  Their permission was granted on the condition that the site remains confidential, so there will be no hints or hidden indicators as to where the site is.  Having got agreement to proceed, we set up our first trial on the site where we knew at least one Curlew was present.  The trap was set, the decoy put in place and a lure of the call of the male Curlew set away.  We were surprised to find that a couple of local birds responded to it straight away.  However, they did not get close enough to be trapped.  A week later we tried again, with the same result.  So, on the basis that if you keep doing the same thing and getting the same result, you need to change something, we changed. 

The next time we started later, as dusk was approaching, and actually set three large mesh nets around the trap, on the basis that if one method isn’t successful the other might be. This was the set up:

The decoy was placed in the middle of the trap, together with a lure, and a second lure was placed at the junction of the two 12 metre nets.  We sat down about 250 metres from the net and waited. It wasn’t long until we had some Curlew activity: a couple of birds flitting and walking around the set up.  After 30 minutes we were successful in trapping a bird in the 18-metre net. Jonny sprinted to extract the bird and got to within two paces when it managed to extricate itself and get away. Frustrating!   After he crawled back to his seat and recovered his breath, we sat and waited some more.  As it was getting dark another (or the same) bird hit the net. This time the bird had got into the middle of the net set. It managed to extract itself, as the first had, but because it was inside the open triangle, it immediately flew into one of the other nets, giving Jonny the opportunity to grab it..  This time he could walk back carrying the Curlew in his arms. It was fitted with a dark hood to keep it calm.  We did not want to put it into a sack as Curlew are prone to getting leg cramps if their legs are kept constrained so, throughout the processing of the bird, its legs were left free except, for the few seconds it took to fit the various rings.

This is the first record that we can find of a Curlew being ringed in Wiltshire.  Jonny did some digging through the records and found one record of a retrapped bird back in 1962, but ringed elsewhere.

We are happy that we have found a technique that will work in the future. It will not be used again now until next Spring, when the Curlew first arrive, and before they have started nesting. We will not do anything to disturb their nesting efforts, so we will be monitoring, but not approaching nests and do not intend to ring the chicks. I say “we” but I really mean “Jonny” as he will be doing the bulk of that work.

*UPDATE* It transpires that the first Curlew ringed in Wiltshire were two chicks ringed by Rob Turner and Tony Rowe at Manor Farm, Coulston on 14th June 1984 (thanks Rob). Equally, the first adult was ringed in 1992 and three chicks ringed in 1997. So this is the second adult ringed in Wiltshire.

Red Lodge Ructions: Saturday, 24th April 2021

I have spent some time considering whether or not to post this blog piece but I have decided to do so. Too often problems are swept under the carpet, false narratives are promoted and criminals, no matter how petty some might consider it, get away with their crimes.

I have been ringing in Red Lodge since December 2012. In that time I have carried out 50 ringing sessions and never had a problem with the public there. In fact, of all of my sites I would say that the local people and the other visiting users of it are the most friendly and interested of any at my ringing sites. We always chat and I have entertained their extended families with ringing demonstrations, training on handling, explanations on ageing and sexing birds and, apart from someone who took exception to my bird table and feeders in 2016 / 17, there has never been a problem at this site. That was the case until Saturday morning.

I was working solo, which I prefer not to do any more since the problems in Ravensroost Wood last July, but none of my team were available, and I had missed enough sessions recently through illness not to want to miss any more.

I was on site for 6:00 and set up three net rides quite quickly, with the nets open just after 6:30. My information signs were, as ever, placed at the end of each net ride. They are bright, colourful and unmissable. As there was some bird activity along the main path, I thought I would set another ride along it. I had been gone from the farm-side ride for a couple of minutes, whilst setting the first net for my putative next ride. While I was busy, I heard some voices coming from the farm-side ride. When the people didn’t appear straight away I went to investigate.

I found a middle-aged man and a younger woman stood next to the net and the woman was fiddling with something in it. The male was aggressive from the outset. I politely asked them to move away from the net, to which the male replied “No”. I asked again and got the same reply. I asked if they had seen my signs, which they had but said they weren’t interested because they wanted to free the bird. So I pointed out that they were breaking the law (at the least, criminal damage) and went to the net. The woman moved away mouthing all of the usual platitudes about the bird being trapped and struggling! Why do they think the net is there? Why do I bother with signs?

When I got to the bird I found she had dislocated its leg and also torn a hole in the net. I pointed this out and he got even more aggressive and subjected me to a torrent of abuse: every swear word you can think of was thrown in my direction. Looking at the age discrepancy, I suspect that the woman was his daughter and he was reacting to distract from her actions. I have reported the incident to the police, but I don’t have their details and don’t expect anything to come of it, unless they make themselves known. They might, because he said he was going to report my “attitude” to the police and I suspect he is dumb enough to do so. I released the bird from the net and let it fly off. There was nothing I could do about the damaged leg, and I don’t ring birds with illness or injury. You never know who might blame it on the ringing process. I followed them up the path to ensure no further damage to my nets or any birds (fortunately there were no other birds in those nets). Damaged nets can be repaired or replaced, damaged birds have to struggle for what remains of their lives. Ringing training is primarily about safely extracting birds from nets: why do these people think they can do it with no training at all?

I have also reported the incident to Forestry England and the BTO. I think this has to be the end of solo ringing for me. It is too dangerous, both the threat of assault and not having witnesses when these self-righteous, unthinking vandals decide they have the right to interfere, regardless of the consequences for the poor bird.

Soon after the altercation I was met by some of my usual contacts who exercise themselves and their dogs at Red Lodge. They were suitably horrified at what had occurred. Unfortunately, they were unable to identify who the vandals might be. One of them, who lives in the cottages adjacent to the site, has kindly given me his mobile number, so I can call for backup if there are any issues in the future.

So to the actual ringing: I lost all enthusiasm for setting any more nets, so left things as they were and put away the ride I was working on when the altercation occurred. Naturally I spent the rest of the morning watching birds fly across where I would have set those nets.

The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 1; Coal Tit 2; Wren 1(1); Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackcap 6(1); Chiffchaff 1. Totals: 17 birds ringed from 8 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 19 birds processed from 8 species.

There was an interesting element to the catch. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers are antagonistic: primarily coming from Blackcaps. Having played a lure for Blackcap, which brought in the 2 males processed, I put on a lure for Garden Warbler on the off chance there might be some about. It attracted in 4 of the 5 female Blackcaps that I processed. Perhaps the aggression comes from the females!

The Coal Tits were definitely a pair: a male and female within 12″ of each other in the same net. When I released the male he stayed close, calling, until I released the female, whereupon they both flew off in the same direction.

One of my other regulars was out walking his lovely Black Labrador and stopped for the usual chat. He mentioned that he had found a dead Buzzard along the main track and could see no signs of damage. However, he thought he would save it for me to get it investigated, so he put it in his freezer. It is now in my freezer, as this is the second dead Buzzard found in the area in the last couple of weeks, plus 3 dead foxes dumped at Somerford Common. I discussed it with the police when I made my initial complaint and they have pointed me in the direction of the RSPCA. I have contacted the RSPCA by email and am waiting to hear what to do next.

Long Distance Meadow Pipit

Back in October last year Andy Palmer retrapped a Meadow Pipit with a ring number that was clearly not British: 9A78917. Unfortunately he didn’t get a photograph of the ring and, when trying to enter it into the online recording system, he couldn’t get the record accepted. He contacted me and I contacted Bridget Griffin at the BTO. Bridget is not just a database management guru but also one of the most helpful people you could hope to meet. She managed to identify the scheme as being Icelandic.

Andy entered the record up and we waited to hear back as to where and when it was ringed. The details arrived today. The bird was ringed in Iceland as a juvenile bird in August 2020, and recovered almost exactly 2 months later on Salisbury Plain: a distance of 1,640km in 60 days.

This is the second furthest movement of a Meadow Pipit ringed overseas and then recovered in the UK. The furthest movement was a bird ringed in southern Portugal and recovered in Derbyshire. The absolute furthest recorded movements of birds of this species ringed in the UK were two that were ringed at Spurn and made the mistake of flying 1,900km to Algeria where they were shot. Clearly, there is just so much meat on a Meadow Pipit!

Thanks to the BTO Online Ringing and Nest Recording Report for the additional information.

Lower Moor Farm: Saturday, 17th April 2021

Working solo at Lower Moor Farm this morning, I set up just my three main net rides: a total of 8 x 18m nets. It was a pre-CES warm up as, because of other peoples’ commitments, I expect to do quite a number of those sessions working solo. The first session will be in two weeks time. Hopefully we will have a few more birds from more species around by then. There are a few of our summer visitors on site, but no Garden Warbler, Whitethroat or Lesser Whitethroat to be seen yet.

It was an interesting morning, if for no other reason than the temperature. When I arrived on site at 5:45 it was at a bracing minus 3 degrees Celsius and by 10:00 I was slapping on the factor 30. By the time I was packing up the temperature had reached over 20 degrees Celsius in the sun. I had by then gone from four upper layers of clothing to a tee-shirt!

The first round was annoyingly of a pattern: it seems that in the first round of every solo session recently there is a badly tangled, multiply pocketed Wren. This is totally unfair: difficult Wrens are for trainees, not A-permit holders with over 25,000 extractions in their portfolio! I extracted him perfectly well but it just isn’t the way to start the day!

It was a slow morning, with three or four birds in those rounds where there were birds to be extracted. After 9:25 it went down to just one bird every other round. Fortunately, the weather was fabulous and I spent a lot of time watching reasonably good numbers of Peacock, Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies and listening to the male Cetti’s Warblers with their song bursting out from the bushes along the side of the lake and the streams. I counted 5 territories – and then I caught one:

This bird is a male that was ringed as an adult in July of last year. They really do have the sharpest claws of any small Passerine that I have handled.

I decided to pack up at 11:30, as the numbers had died off badly and I started to close the nets, only to find in the last net ride a Jay. So I have now caught them in consecutive Lower Moor Farm sessions for the first time. I did an impromptu demonstration for a young family (Mum, Dad, babe-in-arms and toddler) to show them the noisy bird they had heard squawking the place down whilst I extracted it. They were interested in what I was doing and I am always happy to show and explain.

The list for the day was: Jay 1; Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren (2); Dunnock (2); Robin (1); Cetti’s Warbler (1); Blackcap 9(1); Chiffchaff 2(2); Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch (1). Totals: 15 birds ringed from 6 species and 11 birds retrapped from 8 species, making 26 birds processed from 12 species.

One of the interesting finds in today’s catch were a couple of Blackcaps that could be aged as last year’s birds. With partial moults over winter for both adults and juveniles it is often difficult to age birds of last year, and one usually uses the code 4, which means older than current year but unable to determine which year. This male bird in particular, as well as having retained two greater coverts from last year (a juvenile characteristic), had a lot of brown in its black cap:

One of the things to look out for on newly arrived birds are “pollen horns”. These occur where the feathers at the top of the beak become stuck together when feeding. This is an example with two small horns just behind the base of the beak:

I was away from site by 12:30. It was slightly disappointing in size but, if I had had a team with me, it would have been worse. However, if everyone in the team got to process 26 birds in a session they would all be very satisfied. It is all a matter of perspective.

Ravensroost Meadows: Wednesday, 14th April 2021

A nice early start at 5:45 this morning led to a pleasant session at the Meadow Pond area at Ravensroost. I was joined for the morning by Andrew and Lucy. We set up my normal nets for this site, plus I tried a new net position, since the volunteers kindly cleared the bank at the back of the pond:

Their work has also meant that I can have a straight run of 3 x 18m nets along the field boundary hedgerow. I am sure they haven’t done it specifically for our benefit, but I am still very grateful.

Every net, except the 9m on the spit of land into the smaller pond, caught something. The most productive nets were the 6m and the 12m net at the side of the pond. The causeway 12m net will come into its own as and when the Swallows and House Martins turn up.

The morning started with a Wren, a Robin and a Chiffchaff. It continued with small numbers of birds being caught in each round until we drew a blank at 11:15. We agreed that we would take the net bags with us for the next round, at 11:30, so that, it it was also empty, we could take down and head home. That was the case.

It wasn’t a huge catch, but it was reasonably varied: Blue Tit 1(1); Wren (2); Dunnock 1(1); Robin 2(1); Blackcap 4; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 2(1); Goldfinch 3; Reed Bunting 2. Totals: 19 birds ringed from 8 species and 6 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 25 birds processed from 9 species.

Lucy’s highlight of the morning was to ring her first Reed Bunting:

This rather magnificent male. The two we caught were a male and a female. Both were in breeding condition and we thought that they were almost certainly a pair, if you can ever be that certain. They were in the same net, less than a couple of feet apart, so we released them together and they flew off together.

Apart from the ringing we had a couple of Mallard flying around the area and, somewhat more intriguingly, a couple of Moorhen chasing after each other. When I first started birding in the Ravensroost complex, back in 1998, they were a common sight, along with Sedge and Reed Warbler in the breeding season. They were to be found in the larger pond. Unfortunately, as you can see from the aerial shot, this is no longer a pond. It is a dried out marsh, overgrown with Typha, and now with Willow carr encroaching. It is in the condition that Red Lodge Pond was in when I first started ringing at that site. Forestry England, in response to my raising concerns about it, put in a digger to re-establish the pond. Unfortunately, I have never been able to persuade the Wildlife Trust to do the same thing. (To be honest, they are probably sick of me going on about it, but I am sure it would massively increase the wildlife value of the site.)

Odd statistic for the day: my last 4 sessions have each resulted in exactly 19 birds being ringed! (From 9, 8, 10 and 8 species respectively.)

Dippers in Golden Valley: Tuesday, 13th April 2021

I was invited to help my friend, Aurora Goncalo, to look for a Dipper nest at Wick Golden Valley Nature Reserve, just north of Bath. It is a lovely spot, with the clear, fast flowing river Boyd wending its way through the aforementioned valley. The approach to the reserve is a bit of an obstacle course, thanks to the welcoming (sic) nature of the local residents. The entrance is at the end of a private road: I had to move three sets of traffic cones and ignore three “No Entry” signs to actually reach the entrance to the reserve. I also suspect it has the highest density of “No Parking” signs anywhere in the UK.

As seems to be my habit, I managed to arrive 30 minutes early, whilst Aurora advised that, due to the traffic in Bristol, she would be 10 minutes late, so I had a nice stroll around the site before they arrived. It was interesting to see that the dog walkers of south Gloucestershire / north Somerset are every bit as ignorant of “In the interests of wildlife please keep your dog on a lead” as the dog walkers of Wiltshire.

Once I had sprayed the recalcitrant padlock with liberal amounts of WD40 (other penetrating lubricants are available), and we could get in, our convoy made its way to the bridge over the river. Immediately we exited the vehicles we saw a pair of Dipper fly out from under it and away up the river.

Aurora is carrying out her PhD at Bristol and is collaborating with, and working on data from, the group Fauna Forever in Peru. She is working with the bird coordinator of that group, Chris, a really friendly Canadian ringer / bander (ringers in the UK, banders in the rest of the world, pretty much), who is currently in the UK and, with his partner Hazel, was a part of the team today. We were also joined by Jess, a member of the “Friends of Golden Valley” group and her children.

Our first action was to set a 6m net across the river just to the north of the bridge. We then made our way down to the bridge to check for the nest. After my obligatory stumble on the uneven and very rocky substrate and equally obligatory dunking, I realised that I should have remembered to take a couple of walking poles with me. Fortunately, Jess found me a couple of sturdy sticks, which enabled me to remain upright for the rest of the session. To be honest, everybody managed to get wet, even if not quite as flamboyantly as myself. When we reached the bridge there were three nests on an exposed horizontal RSJ support. The nest on the left had disintegrated, the one on the right was probably from last year and right in the middle was a freshly built and lined nest in which we could see some movement. Clearly this is a favoured Dipper nesting location.

We needed the help of a ladder to access the nest. Aurora did the climbing, I made sure everything stayed above water. There were two nestlings, with their feathers at the medium stage.

Nestling Dipper Photo and nails by Aurora

I would suggest that they have another 7 days or so to spend in the nest. Given that incubation is 17 days and time to fledging is 22 days, this means that the eggs were laid around about the 12th to 14th March. Records from the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme give the mean laying date of first clutch as the 6th April, with extremes of 12th March to 15th May, so it is definitely an early brood. It is highly likely that this pair will have a second brood this season.

Subsequent to ringing the chicks, we set a second net on the other side of the bridge, as we had noticed a pair of Dipper being active on that side. We were trying to work out whether this was the same pair that we had seen leave the vicinity of the nest as we drew up. It didn’t seem to be the case because had they returned back down the river, at least one would have likely been caught in the first net and we were monitoring pretty closely when we weren’t actually in the river. However, a few minutes after we set the second net, that second net caught. Not only did it catch a Dipper, but it also caught a Kingfisher, much to the delight of the various folk wandering through the reserve, who got really good close up views.

Kingfisher male Photo by Aurora

The Dipper was also an adult male. I was given the task of explaining to the group of observers, including a few children, what is meant by a cloacal protuberance! Funny how difficult it can become to phrase something like that so it is understandable to all ages without being either trite or yucky.

Satisfied with our morning’s work by 11:00, we decided to take the nets down and leave site. When we reached the first net we had set, just 5 minutes since I had last checked it, there was a second Dipper in it. So both nets caught. This one was a second year female. When checked, her brood patch was crinkling, with little sign of surface blood vessels, which would tie in nicely with the development stage of the nestlings.

Female Dipper Photo by Aurora

We left site just after midday, again moving the traffic cones out of the way that the friendly residents had put back to block the access. A lovely session with some really nice people and my 106th UK species ringed.