Green Woodpeckers & Garden Warblers plus a bit more on dragons: Lower Moor Farm; Wednesday, 20th June 2018

CES 5 returned to the disappointing levels of sessions 1 to 3, with half the number of birds caught compared to the same session last year.  The shortfall was down to a reduced number of juvenile Blackcaps, Blue and Great Tits in the catch. 2, 2 and 1 compared to 6, 12 and 12 in 2017.  There was also no catch of juvenile Lesser Whitethroat in this session, where we had 2 last year. On the plus side, we caught 4 juvenile Garden Warblers. They came from two broods in different parts of the site.  We also continued with what is proving to be a very good year for Song Thrushes: with 26 ringed so far this year.

The list for the session was: Green Woodpecker 1(1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 2(2); Great Tit 1; Wren 1(2); Dunnock 1(1); Robin 1; Song Thrush 2(1); Blackbird (2); Blackcap 2; Garden Warbler 5; Chiffchaff 5; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 23 birds ringed from 12 species; 9 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 32 birds processed from 13 species.

It was an odd session.  I was joined, initially, by Ellie.  As it was a very slow start, I suggested that her time might be more productively spent in her office, having exhausted our knowledge / interest in the World Cup.  Within half-an-hour the session got busy, and I extracted two Green Woodpeckers, one unringed. Knowing that Ellie has only ringed one previously, I tried to get her back to ring this one, but could not get through. It turns out that she, the farm manager and the local vet were busy carrying out a Caesarean delivery of a calf from one of the Belted Galloway herd. All in a day’s work for a Wildlife Trust employee.

I was then joined by a group with the Well-Being Team, just in time for them to see the most interesting part of the catch.  It is surprising how frequently I end up doing impromptu ringing demonstrations for both organised groups (like this one) and passing strangers, which I also did for two ladies who let me know that I had a Dunnock in one of my nets.  Helping people to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it is an important part of the process.

The last two rounds produced the biggest catches of the day but, being a CES, time is limited to a standard set of hours catching, but also the wind got up and I had to close the nets to protect the birds.

One footnote to the last blog entry about Lower Moor Farm: I am pleased to say that the presence of Hairy Dragonflies has been confirmed. Not just that, but they have been confirmed breeding, as several people have now seen them emerge from the ponds in the education centre.  This is a first for Wiltshire.  We were also treated to Black Tailed Skimmer and Emperor dragons buzzing around the site and goodness knows how many Damselflies from at least 5 species (Common Blue, Azure, Blue-tailed, Large Red and Red-eyed).

 

Willow Warblers & Barn Owls: Saturday, 16th June 2018

Today was the first time we have managed to ring in Red Lodge in June since 2014.  One of the problems with CES and project work is that it tends to relegate other sites to be fitted in when possible.  Jonny and I had a bit of a late start, 5:00, as the earlier weather forecast was a bit showery.  We had one shower whilst putting up the nets but, apart from that, no issues until the wind got up at 10:00 and we had to end the session.

There was a lovely catch of juvenile birds: great to see several species having a successful breeding season.  The best part of the catch was the five Willow Warblers that we caught.  This equals, in one catch, the total number caught at Red Lodge since I started ringing there in 2012.  None of the other Willow Warblers caught at the site could have definitively said to have bred at the site.  We had one adult male caught on spring passage and four fully fledged and post-moult juveniles caught on autumn passage in the past.  These five comprised one adult female with a well-developed brood patch and four youngsters who have not yet started their post-fledging moult.  This is proof positive of successful breeding by Willow Warblers in Red Lodge.  When the national picture is one of declining breeding in the south of England, as the breeding population seems to have moved further north, with breeding in Scotland much increased, this is a significant result.

That was the main highlight, but we were also delighted to ring our first Treecreeper (1), Blackcap (2), Blue (2), Great (10) and Coal Tit (1) fledglings of the year. We also had young of Robin (1) and Chiffchaff (4) in the catch.

Our list at Red Lodge was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 13; Coal Tit 1; Wren 3; Robin 1(1); Blackcap 7; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 5; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 39 birds ringed from 10 species; 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 41 birds processed from 11 species.

The only downside to the session at Red Lodge: it would seem that the bird table vandal has struck again.  This time the table-top has been smashed off and dumped and the mounting stake stolen.  One of the locals has said that there are groups coming in on quad bikes and building camps in the wood. In which case, it might be a different issue, with them stealing it for part of their encampment.

Another thing that struck us as wrong: at about 8:00 this morning we heard a Roe Deer start barking. At the same time there was a cacophony of dog barking: clearly more than one dog.  It went on for about 20 minutes.  We didn’t have time to investigate but it did not sound good for the deer. I am not a sentimentalist: I just like my venison shot by professionals, not ripped apart by dogs.

As our session finished early we took the opportunity to visit a couple of Barn Owl boxes and the Jackdaw nests at Blakehill Farm.  We were fortunate enough to catch and ring one adult Barn Owl and two chicks in the nest (I have the appropriate schedule 1 licence for that) but both Jackdaw nests were empty.  Jonny had ringed a few Barn Owl chicks previously but no adults and so, despite it being the first caught on my rings, I gave him the opportunity.  As neither Jackdaw nest showed signs of damage I would like to think that the young fledged successfully.

 

 

Birds and Orchids at Ravensroost Woods: 2nd June 2018

Luke and I carried out project session 3 in Ravensroost Woods on Saturday.  With Luke only on his third session and nobody else available, we only set nets in rides 1 & 2: I will attempt to get the rest done this week.  It did mean that I could spend time with Luke and start him on extracting birds.  Quiet mornings do allow for training to take place and this was the case on Saturday.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 6(2); Great Tit 1; Wren (2); Robin 1(1); Blackcap 5(1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 16 birds ringed from 7 species; 7 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 23 birds processed from 9 species and a recapture rate of 30.4%.

Interestingly, there were no juvenile birds caught, which was a bit surprising given that on the Thursday I carried out a breeding bird survey on a site just outside Basingstoke, where the hedgerows and tree were full of juvenile Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits.

The highlight for the session though was not a bird but an orchid: a Bird’s Nest Orchid.  I have seen them when past their best, but not in this part of Ravensroost and not in this condition. Luke took this photo and has allowed me to reproduce it:

Bir‏ds Nest Orchid

Juveniles, Ticks, Jumping Trout and Dragons: Saturday, 9th June 2018 @ Lower Moor Farm

Saturday’s session was session 4 on our CES schedule.  Jonny, Steph and Luke joined me for the morning.  It was the first session this year that delivered a better return than in the equivalent session last year.  Not a major change: 40 birds from 15 species, compared with 37 from 14 species in 2017 but any potential improvement is welcome.  The number of newly fledged juveniles was identical (18) but only 6 species so far this year, compared with 10 in 2017.  We had our first juvenile Chiffchaff for the year:

2018_06_09chiff

Swiftly followed by a couple of Long-tailed Tits:

2018_06_09LOTTI

At the risk of sounding soppy: they are so cute!

We had a good catch of juvenile Blue Tits.  Two of them were very small, and clearly fresh out of the nest.  The two smallest birds were also carrying a number of ticks: the larger had just the one and the smaller had six.  I managed to remove all of them using a pair of needle forceps. You know you have done it correctly when there is no bleeding from the birds: even more so when the ticks themselves continue to walk around looking for another host to attach to.  They were dropped into a container for delivery to the Trust, as there is a project looking into the different tick species parasitising birds.

Tick

The list for the day was:  Blue Tit 7(1); Great Tit 3; Long-tailed Tit 2; Dunnock 1(1); Robin 7; Song Thrush 1(3); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 1(2); Garden Warbler (1); Whitethroat (2); Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 1(1); Chaffinch (1); Bullfinch (2); Reed Bunting 1.  Totals: 25 birds ringed from 10 species, 15 birds recaptured from 10 species, making 40 birds processed from 15 species and a recapture rate of 37.5%.

One of the pleasures of working at Lower Moor Farm is that every day is different.  Today, for example, the trout in Mallard Lake were clearly in the mood for feasting on flying insects.  We are used to seeing the odd leaping trout, but this was incessant, from when we arrived at 4:30 until we left at 12:00 there was a constant splashing of these large fish slapping back into the water as they leapt clear to catch an insect. I have no idea what their success rate is but the simple fact that they manage it at all, as water distorts sight-lines, makes you wonder about the eye structure and vision of these fish.

There was an impressive display of Odonata.  Common Blue, Azure Blue, Red-eyed and Large Red Damselflies were everywhere but it was the dragons that really caught the eye.My first Emperor of the year, plus Four-Spot Chasers and a couple of what I can only hope are Hairy Dragon flies. The maps show them being around the general area but, having never seen them before, I am hoping that someone else will be able to confirm the identification.

 

 

Nest Finding and Pullus Ringing: Tuesday, 29th May 2018

One thing I firmly believe is that life is a continuous learning experience and today was a superb lesson for me.  I have a pullus ringing endorsement for birds that nest in holes and boxes, plus Swallows, but I don’t have an endorsement for ringing open nest birds. I have done some under supervision but few warbler or finch species. The BTO have given me a target to attain for them to give me the open nest endorsement.

My friend Jack Daw is one of the most experienced nest finders and pullus ringers in the world, having focused entirely on them for most of his independent ringing activities.  His entire summer is focused on nest surveying.  We know each other through my ringing sessions at Tedworth House, where he is on the staff and helps out with my setting up of a morning.  He kindly offered to take me with him on some of his survey sessions, to give me the relevant experience. The first of these sessions was this morning.

We met in Tidworth and the first stop was to a small wood at the south east corner of the town, where Jack has been monitoring a Blackcap nest. On checking the nest there were two pulli (a small clutch) ready to be ringed: which I duly did.

Our next stop was on SPTA, where we went to have a look at a number of nests: Blackbird (predated); Bullfinch (too young to ring); Blackcap (too old, couldn’t safely be handled without them deserting the nest); Whitethroat (eggs) and then to a Chaffinch nest where we ringed 5 healthy youngsters.  This was followed by another Whitethroat nest, where there was another good crop of 5 youngsters able to be ringed.

After a brief detour to have a look at a superb piece of vetch-covered land, where we were treated to good numbers of Adonis Blue and one lonely Grizzled Skipper, we crossed to the other side of the A338, to an extensive piece of Hawthorn scrub on the side of a chalk bank.  This habitat is becoming scarcer on Salisbury Plain, as the Chalk Grasslands Restoration project is implemented without consideration for the many species that need areas of scrub to nest in.  There is no point in developing a fantastic foraging habitat for Linnets, Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings, etc. if you don’t leave them anywhere to nest.  Some people think that conservation is an apolitical end in itself: it is not, conservation is entirely political and, unless we win the political battle, so much of our wildlife and countryside will continue to decline.

Within the Hawthorn scrub we visited over a dozen nests: many Linnets had already fledged their first broods.  One had five eggs in it, but they were cold and the nest had clearly been deserted.  Perhaps recent bad weather or predation had removed one or both of the parent birds.  Several of the nests had young ready for ringing, and I ringed four broods of Linnet: one brood of 3 and three broods of 4. One of the youngsters in one of the 4-strong broods was too small to ring, so it was put back without.

During this part of our walk, Jack found two Yellowhammer nests, each with eggs, within 5 feet of each other and a Dunnock nest, also with eggs.

So, what did I learn today? What a privilege it is to be a ringer.  Practically, I learnt where to look for nests; how to approach a nest safely, without making obvious tracks, and without leading predators to the nest; how to find a nest; how to examine it without damaging the nest or its contents; how to cover your tracks on leaving, so the nest is left safe; and, importantly, what stage it is safe to ring the pulli at, and when they have gone past that point (i.e. so they don’t flee the nest before they are ready).  Jack is a great example and, although he won’t admit it, an excellent teacher.

 

Lower Moor Farm, CES3: Monday, 28th May 2018

With the weekend being a washout, and all of this week being predicted to be wet, we took advantage of the good forecast for Monday to get out and do CES 3.  I was joined for the session by Jonny and our latest recruit, Luke Osman.  As the three of us, and my nets, had got soaked in a truncated session at the Firs on Friday, Luke’s first session, I was impressed that he came back for more.

We were eaten alive by mosquitoes whilst putting up the nets along the heronry ride, and so doused ourselves in citronella, which helped make the rest of the session bearable.  As has been the case reported from all around the country, our CES numbers are well down on last year.  This is almost certainly down to the late arrival of summer migrants, as mentioned on Springwatch on Monday evening’s screening.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Great Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren (1); Dunnock 1(2); Robin 1; Song Thrush 2(1); Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 1; Garden Warbler 2;  Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff (2); Bullfinch (1); House Sparrow 2; Reed Bunting (1).  Totals: 13 birds ringed from 10 species and 12 birds recaptured from 9 species, making 25 birds processed from 16 species. The proportion of retrapped birds is 48%.

The catch included our first newly-fledged Dunnock and Robin of the year.  It also included a Whitethroat, carrying an unwelcome visitor:

Whitethroat and tick

Not my best photograph but the large grey blob is a tick.  Most ringers carry a pair of needle forceps or a tick removing tool in their kit for just such an eventuality.  I removed it, made sure the wound was clean and released the bird unburdened by a blood-sucking parasite.

Various: Wednesday, 16th to Saturday, 19th May 2018

I would not have expected to be out for three sessions, get fewer than 60 birds, but have a thoroughly enjoyable time.  On Wednesday I did my monthly session at Tedworth House.  Andrew Bray joined me for the morning: I am sure it is the lure of bacon sandwiches, supplied by the estimable Dave Turner of the Wildlife Trust, that is the principal reason, but all help is welcome, whatever the motivation.  The catch was not large but there was some interest as well.  One thing we noticed straight away was that there were still quite large groups of Goldfinch flying around – and we caught our fair share.  It is really surprising that they haven’t split up by now. It is a funny year.

The list for the day was: Great Tit (1); Wren 1; Robin 1; Song Thrush (1); Blackbird 2(2); Blackcap 2; Goldfinch 3. Totals: 9 birds ringed from 5 species; 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 13 birds processed from 7 species.

One of the retrapped Blackbirds was a juvenile ringed in the nest by Jack Daw.  It is the first juvenile Blackbird I have seen so far this year.  Throughout the morning,  we could hear the Raven chick calling, the noise getting louder and more raucous as one of the parents arrived with food for it.  The consensus is that there is a single chick this year, with the cold spell arriving at just the wrong time for the breeding pair.

On Friday I decided to have a go at the eastern perimeter track at Blakehill Farm. We don’t work out on the plateau during the breeding season, particularly so we don’t disturb any Curlew attempting to breed there, but the hedgerow along the perimeter track is fair game.  It had been a bit like a bird desert over the winter, after it was severely cut back in the late autumn, but it has now come into leaf and looks fantastic.  Robin Griffiths told me that he had seen Linnets and Reed Buntings in good numbers along the track, so I thought I would give it a go.  As I didn’t want to bring anyone along to sit and look at empty nets, I decided to go solo.  I set up six net sets of 2 x 18 metre nets each, covering about 250 metres of the hedgerow. It is not often you can get a pretty accurate picture of how far you walk while ringing, but having done the walk there and back 15 times over just under five hours, that’s a good 7.5 km covered.  Every net caught, which is a bonus, but they didn’t catch a lot.  However, it was an interesting catch as I, finally, caught a few Whitethroat.  Four were ringed but one managed to escape the net just as I got to it.  I caught some Reed Buntings but no Linnets.

The list for the session was: Dunnock 1; Robin 2; Blackbird 1(2); Whitethroat 4; Chaffinch 2; House Sparrow 1; Reed Bunting 2(1).  Totals: 13 birds ringed from 7 species; 3 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 16 birds processed from 7 species.

So to Saturday and CES session 2 at Lower Moor Farm. Unfortunately, none of my crew could make it so this was a second solo expedition in two days.  As a trainer, I ring very few birds when the team is around, as I am scribing, checking and helping the trainees, so it is quite different having time on my own. It was a super morning, with lots of people dropping by to see what I was doing: all good and supportive.  There was a group of four birders up from Norfolk who were delighted to see Blackcap and Dunnock up close.  As one of them said, you see it occasionally on the television but seeing it up close and personal brings a whole different dimension.

The list for the morning was: Green Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren (1); Dunnock (2); Song Thrush 2(1); Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 2(1); Garden Warbler 1(1); Whitethroat 1(1); Chiffchaff 1(1); Bullfinch 3; Reed Bunting 2.  Totals: 15 birds ringed from 10 species; 11 birds retrapped from 9 species, making 26 birds processed from 13 species.

We are beginning to see juvenile birds in the catch. Song Thrush do start breeding early and the two birds ringed today were both fresh out of the nest.  I would not be surprised if they had fledged this morning.

sonth

More surprising though was a juvenile Treecreeper.  They take 30 days or so from the egg being laid until the young fledge, which means that these eggs were laid mid-April.  The earliest lay date (according to the BTO Bird Facts) is 5th April, but the average first lay date is the 27th April. It has been a funny year so far.

My favourite catch of the day was the Green Woodpecker.  It is astonishing how many of them we have caught at Lower Moor Farm. Over the last three years my team has caught 9 of them, 7 of which have been at Lower Moor Farm.  This was an adult male:

grewo

So, three sessions, no Blue Tits: I cannot remember the last time that happened.