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.

The Name’s Bond: Goldcrest Bond

Apologies for the terrible pun but I received this recovery report about one of the Goldcrests ringed in Ravensroost Wood in November 2015 and recaptured and recorded at the beginning of March this year in the Scilly Isles.

It’s ring number is JJP007 – and it is clearly as remarkably resilient a bird as its British spy equivalent. For a 5g bird to have survived for 5.5 years, travelling goodness knows how many kilometres in that time and to be recaptured in good condition by another ringer heading out into the Atlantic Ocean is worthy of note.

According to the BTO’s Bird Facts site, the oldest known Goldcrest had survived for 5 years 1 month and 12 days from date of ringing. By my calculation this bird has survived for 5 years 3 months and 17 days from date of ringing, which makes it the oldest known Goldcrest found in the UK.

Given our recoveries of Goldcrests ringed on the Calf of Man in Ravensroost Woods and the Firs in November 2019, and the recovery of one of our group’s Goldcrests ringed in the Firs in October 2019 and then recaptured at Bardsey Bird Observatory in March of last year, this looks like evidence of a western flyway for migrating Goldcrests.

Somerford Common: Saturday, 10th April 2021

A quiet session at Somerford Common this morning. I was joined for the session by Andrew and David for a 6:00 start. The weather was really quite cold for an April day and it was breezier than was forecast – and it was a cold wind. The only good thing: the forecast for possible rain did not materialise, other than a few spots at about 9:00.

We set a lot of net, opened by 6:45, but did not get a great deal of return. These were how we set the nets:

I have numbered the net sets so I can refer to them more easily. Sets 2 and 4 delivered no birds at all. Set 5 delivered 2 birds: both at the end of the farthest net of the set. The best net was set 3, which delivered the bulk of the birds, including another new and a retrapped Marsh Tit. Net set 1, nearest our ringing station came a close second.

The site can be like this. One of my first springtime sessions at Somerford Common delivered just 2 birds in the first 3.5 hours – but by lunchtime I had processed over 90 birds, so you can never give it up as a bad job.

It was a good mix of birds: Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 3; Marsh Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren (1); Robin 3; Song Thrush 1; Blackcap 2(1); Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest 2. Totals: 19 birds ringed from 10 species and 4 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 23 birds processed from 12 species.

The new Marsh Tit was our fourth of the year, and the third at Somerford Common. With Ravensroost Wood and Webb’s Wood both being unavailable to us at the moment (Ravensroost Wood because of the hugely increased footfall since lockdown and Webb’s Wood because of the ongoing forestry operations) it looks like it is up to Red Lodge and Somerford Common to deliver the bulk of this species for us this year.

The two net rounds at 10:45 and 11:00 were empty, so when the next was also empty, we started taking down at 11:15 and left site by midday.

One slightly disturbing situation at Somerford Common: we have found three dead foxes at the site dumped by various entrances. On my way home today I noticed some large feathers sticking up from a grass verge adjacent to one of the stables between Somerford Common and the turning to Ravensroost. I hadn’t noticed them yesterday when I went to check that the rides were clear, so I stopped to see what it was. As I suspected from the colour of the feathers, it was a Buzzard carcass. It was completely disarticulated and the bones defleshed, as it had clearly been well scavenged. The head was also missing. My concern is how close it was to where the fox carcasses have been dumped. It wasn’t roadkill, unless whomsoever hit it had put it 2 metres onto the verge, but it would be sad if we were to see the same intolerance of birds of prey endemic in other parts of the country.

First Willow Warbler of the Year: The Firs, 4th April 2021

A bright and early, and cold, start to a session at the Firs this morning (I had to de-ice the car before setting off at 5:45!). Whilst the catch wasn’t huge, it turned into a lovely session: a combination of good birds, good company and lovely calm, sunny weather. Apparently the big chill hits tomorrow!

I set my usual nets down the central glade: 3 x 18m from the bottom of the slope to the ponds and then 3 x 18m and 1 x 12m on the opposite side of the glade, down to near the end. Having set the nets I thought there was still a bit of a gap that needed filling, so I put an additional 9m net at the far end of the ride. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

The Firs map from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust website, amended to show the net positions

My first round was just before 7:00 and the first two birds out of the net were a pair of Treecreepers. I say “pair” with some deliberacy on this occasion: they were extracted from the same net, the same shelf in the net, they were immediately next door to each other and one was a male and the other a female, so my determinations is that they are almost certainly a breeding pair. That I took them out of the net at a 90 degree angle to where I have put up a Treecreeper nest box gives me hope that they might consider using it. We shall see. The first round also delivered a retrapped Chiffchaff. I identified it as a female with a developing brood patch, and was delighted to find when I entered the data up this afternoon that it was ringed last year as an adult female. I might be wrong but I am consistent.

The morning was never very busy, but I don’t expect it to be at this time of year. I removed the feeding station last week so the titmice have dispersed, the resident species are busy establishing breeding territories and the summer visitors are arriving slowly at present. Which is a roundabout way of saying that over the course of the morning I only caught one Blue Tit and three Great Tits and no other Paridae (or Aegithalidae come to that).

About 9:00 I was joined by Annie and her daughter, Elara. They stayed for a couple of hours. This was only the second time Annie had been out since Elara arrived 19 months ago, so I reintroduced her to the delights of handling and ringing birds. I eased Annie in gently by giving her a couple of male Blackcaps to process. Elara was fascinated by the birds, particularly watching them fly: an instruction she gave them each time one was released! Annie got her to say the names of the birds as they were processed. She managed Robin and Blackcap came out as “Cap”. It was a lovely interlude.

After they left I decided that I would check the nets and, if empty, close them up. One of the things you can rely on is that, if you have a long section of nets stretching down the entire length of the glade, even if there are no birds in the nets nearest to the ringing station, there will be one in the net furthest away. On this last round there was a female Blackbird in the second net and a solitary warbler in the very end net: the 9m net that I had added to the ride as an afterthought / filler. I was delighted to find that this last bird in the last net was the first Willow Warbler of the year:

A lovely specimen in good body condition and carrying a reasonable amount of weight for a newly arrived migrant. I couldn’t remember having a Willow Warbler this early before and so I looked up the records before starting this write up: this is the earliest we have ever caught a Willow Warbler since the group was constituted under its current structure, 1st January 2013. Mind you, I did find out that it is by just one day, as I caught one on the 5th April 2017 at Lower Moor Farm and another on the 6th April 2019 at Somerford Common. Still, it is the earliest by any of the current team.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch (1); Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1(2); Wren 1(1); Robin 3(1); Blackbird 3; Blackcap 5; Chiffchaff 3(1); Willow Warbler 1. Totals: 19 birds ringed from 8 species and 7 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 26 birds processed from 10 species.

The morning was full of bird song and drumming. The Great Spotted Woodpeckers were in full force all morning, with the occasional Yaffle joining the throng. First thing though, there was a tremendous row from the northern end of the wood: the Jackdaws were going ballistic, a lot of calling and a lot of mobbing. I can only think that some poor Tawny Owl hadn’t found itself a nice secluded place to roost.

After a very satisfying morning’s “work” I packed up and left site by 13:15. It is hard work setting up and taking down when going solo – especially at the Firs. It might be a small wood but don’t be fooled by the two-dimensional map, it has a very decent 100m slope down to and, therefore, up from, the central glade. By the time you have done a dozen net rounds, including two journeys carrying, as I was this morning, 20 x 1.8m aluminium net poles, it is hard work. The total distance covered is in the region of 6km, of which 1.2km is up a reasonably steep gradient. For a fat old pensioner that is the very definition of hard work!

West Wilts Ringing Group Results: March 2021

One year on from the first lockdown, we have been pretty busy. The lockdown / Covid-19 requirements have certainly changed the team dynamic, with far more solo work going on.  As we currently have 6 C-permit holders and 3 A-permit holders there is a lot of scope for ringing sessions. That said, we carried out only 5 more sessions than in March of last year.  Looking back to last year’s records, we were confined to barracks after the 23rd March, so we had most of the month to get out to our usual sites.  Last March was our best since the 2013 split, and this March was better than that.  Here are the results:

Whilst the average ringed per session was down, the number of retraps were considerably higher.  The significant numbers seem to be the increase in retrapped Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits.  Whilst I am always surprised at just how many new Blue and Great Tits we catch in the woods over winter, given how regularly those woodlands are ringed throughout the year, I noticed the change in proportion of retraps with my sessions, and particularly with Great Tits at the Firs and Red Lodge, and then Jonny’s sessions at Green Lane Wood and Meadow Farm tell the same story.

There was a significant difference in the numbers of Chiffchaff and Blackcap arriving on site between last year and this.  In March 2020 we had just the two Blackcaps, in March 2019 we had one and in March 2018 none at all.  What was particularly pleasing was catching a female at Lower Moor Farm yesterday. That is the earliest I have caught one at any of my sites.  Jonny also caught one at his Meadow Farm site the same day, and one at Green Lane Wood on the 29th.  I think we can be confident that these last two birds were birds arriving (comparatively low body weights) as opposed to over-wintering birds about to leave. Andrew caught a female in his garden on 7th of this month but she weighed in at 21.2g, which suggests she was fattened up ready to leave. Similarly Jonny had one in his parent’s garden on the 24/03/2020 and that also weighed in at over 20g (20.1g). in fact, his one in Green Lane Wood weighed in at 19.8g: incoming or outgoing?  His Meadow Farm bird weighed in at 15.4g and my Lower Moor Farm bird at 17.7g, which suggests arrivals for this breeding season.
As far as the Chiffchaffs go, this is also our best March catch:

Let’s hope for a decent breeding season for both of these species.  Their numbers have definitely been down at Lower Moor Farm and in the Forest over recent years.  

There was a nice increase in the numbers of Treecreeper and Song Thrush. On a bit of a trend: our best March for Treecreeper. 

This is quite surprising given that two sites where Treecreeper is a regular catch are currently off limits:  I am not working in Ravensroost Wood, because of the huge increase in footfall in the wood since people started using it for their lockdown walks, nor Webb’s Wood, because they are carrying out a massive thinning exercise and the track is only passable with a high clearance off-road vehicle. 

Spring has arrived – hopefully next month will see an expansion in the number and variety of species in our sites.

Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 31st March 2021

Taking advantage of the lovely weather forecast for today I headed for Lower Moor Farm. It was surprisingly balmy at 5:45 when I left the house. Since the onset of lockdown last year my activity at Lower Moor Farm has been restricted to the wildlife refuge area. However, having discussed it with Ellie Jones, the Reserves Manager, I have been given access to the old Heronry ride, not that the heronry exists any more by the looks of it, as that is currently designated out of bounds to the public. That is going to become a permanent exclusion as the Trust want to help the wet woodland to become wetter and see how it develops as a second potential wildlife refuge.

So today I set my primary nets in the wildlife refuge (R1 and R2 on the previous Lower Moor Farm’s post diagram) and 3 x 18m nets along the Heronry ride area outside of the woodland itself. I had the nets open and catching by 6:45. The first two birds out of the net were, entirely predictably, a Wren and a Robin. It was a long, slow morning, livened up by the arrival of Steph and toddler Beatrice at about 9:30. They stayed for a couple of hours, so Steph could ring some birds. Anyway, Steph spent most of the time chasing after Beatrice and playing catch with her. Beatrice is very good at understanding that she is not to touch the nets. I am sure we will have Beatrice ringing some birds as soon as she is old enough to understand the care that needs to be taken. Her big sister started at age 7: that seems about right.

I was hoping that we would have a few more Chiffchaff than we had last time and that we might be lucky enough to catch an early Blackcap. The only Blackcap we had caught previously in March at Lower Moor Farm was on the 23rd March 2019. The earliest date for catching a female Blackcap was on the 5th April in both 2017 and 2018. In fact, I haven’t ever caught a female Blackcap at any of my sites in March. So I was delighted to have a male Blackcap in the nets in my second round of the morning. Over the rest of the morning I caught another 4 males and the last one I took out of the net was a female:

The first Blackcap of the year and the second earliest at Lower Moor Farm
The earliest catch of a female Blackcap at Lower Moor Farm or any of my other sites

Great though it was to catch them, neither was my bird of the morning, this was:

I love Jays, and this is the first that I have caught since one at Ravensroost Meadows in July of last year. Yes, they have sharp claws on their feet (I gave it a pen to hold, seems to occupy them) and if that beak gets you they draw blood (I bled) but they are beautiful. The Care Farm staff were out and about with their charges this morning and whilst chatting to one of the staff he said that he always thinks of Jays as the UK’s equivalent of parrots: that raucous voice and stunning plumage. He has a point. This was a second year female bird.

The list for the morning was: Jay 1; Treecreeper 1; Great Tit (1); Wren 2(4); Dunnock 1(2); Robin (2); Song Thrush 1(2); Blackbird 2; Blackcap 5(1); Chiffchaff 5(1); Bullfinch 1. 19 birds ringed from 9 species and 13 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 32 birds processed from 11 species.

I decided to pack up at 11:30 so, naturally, a couple of Chiffchaff flew into the nets whilst I was closing them up and, eventually, I got away from site at 12:45.

Somerford Common: Wednesday, 24th March 2021

One unfortunate result of lockdown has been the reduction in the number of sites currently available to me and my team. Ravensroost Wood has just become far too busy with visitors and, since the incident last July, plus the increased footfall, we need to rethink the activity there (plans have been discussed with the Wildlife Trust, so hopefully we can get back on site in the near future). Tedworth House has pretty much closed its doors, and is too far to travel under current conditions. Consequently, I have handed that site over to Jack Daw, who actually works there and lives in the town. Brown’s Farm is the other side of Marlborough and, I feel, too far to travel in the current circumstances, much as it pains me to not have access to the only site I have where Yellowhammer is a regular catch. Webb’s Wood is currently undergoing a major harvesting / thinning operation, with far too much activity and heavy machinery for me to run sessions there. Besides, the impact of the machinery on the main path has made it impassable for anything that doesn’t have high ground clearance (hopefully they will flatten / restore the path as part of the clean up operation). This leaves me with Lower Moor Farm, Somerford Common, Red Lodge, the Firs and, coming into the equation as the summer migrants arrive, Ravensroost Meadows. This is why my recent reports have been an almost continuous cycling around these first four sites.

Over the last four months I have been providing supplementary feed at these sites. February and March are the lean times for wild birds. It enables some to survive that might not otherwise have done so and, to the benefit of my team, we have to set fewer nets, as the activity is more localised. However, as the weather warms up and territorial behaviour and pairing up for breeding starts to pick up, the activity at the feeders drops away and I will remove them this week. This was our last session at Somerford Common before I remove that feeding station and we relocate where we set the nets. I was joined for the session by Ellie and Lucy. Lucy has received her T-permit this week, so is now a fully licensed trainee bird ringer.

The weather forecast was a bit iffy, and constantly changing. We had expected rain to arrive late morning but, having arrived on site at 5:45 and got the nets erected, we had to briefly close them again between 7:30 and 8:00, as it chose to rain then instead.

It wasn’t the busiest of sessions but enjoyable, nonetheless. We caught a total of 20 birds from 6 species: Blue Tit 1(4); Great Tit 1(3); Marsh Tit 1(3); Long-tailed Tit 1; Dunnock (1); Chaffinch 5. So, 9 birds ringed from 5 species and 11 birds retrapped from 4 species. Another session where the number of retrapped birds outnumbered those ringed. That balance will change with the arrival of the summer visitors. Unfortunately, a Great Spotted Woodpecker managed to extricate itself from the net before we could get to it.

It was good to catch 5 Chaffinch, all of which had clean legs and could be ringed – unlike at Red Lodge on Monday when 2 of the 8 Chaffinches caught had to be released unringed due to Fringilla papillomavirus.

Another new Marsh Tit is always a bonus, but so is the continuing recapture of previously ringed birds of the species, proving that they have survived, hopefully to breed this year.

There was a westward flight of about 20 Fieldfare at 9:00, so some winter visitors are still hanging around (also as evidenced by the pair of Siskin in my garden on Monday).

Unfortunately, the wind got up at 10:30 and the nets were becoming entangled in the trees and vegetation, so we called a halt, took down the nets and got away from site just after 11:00.

Jonny Cooper joined us briefly at about 9:30 to discuss tactics for the tagging of Curlew in the Braydon Forest. Jonny is running the project and he will be carrying out most of the the work, with a little help from me and, as Ellie is the northern Reserves Manager for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, on whose land a key part of the project will be carried out, we needed to have a discussion on how best to test the strategy and evaluate the results before rolling it out to other parts of the Forest where Curlew are to be found. We should be starting Easter weekend.

Red Lodge: Monday, 22nd March 2021

I had planned to get out to Red Lodge on Friday, and have a quieter week this, after a fairly full on couple of weeks, with just Somerford Common this Wednesday, but it rained on Friday, so I postponed until this morning.

I was working solo, so set my usual 4 nets around the feeding station. However, as we are in the quiet time for bird ringing, I also set a couple more nets between the ringing station and the pond:

The first bird out of the nets this morning was a female Nuthatch:

Always good to have a lull before the pecking onslaught of Blue and Great Tits. It was a cold morning, despite a forecast saying it would be mild, and the bird movement was lower than I was expecting. I put on lures for Lesser Redpoll and Siskin, having had them in my garden in the last couple of days, especially a lovely pair of Siskin yesterday:

Not too bad for a shot taken through the kitchen window

Unfortunately, I drew a blank, despite luring for them for the early part of the morning. Once I decided that they would be a no show, I decided to change the lure to Chiffchaff, as there were several males calling close to the site. Needless to say, nothing, not a one for 2 hours, so I decided to switch the lures off. Immediately afterwards I caught a male Chiffchaff, my last bird of the morning!

For a small catch there was a reasonable variety: Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 4(2); Great Tit (6); Coal Tit 1; Wren 1; Robin 1; Blackbird 1(1); Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 3(1); Goldfinch 1(1). Totals: 14 birds ringed from 9 species and 11 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 25 birds processed from 10 species.

Not having caught any Goldfinch in the wood since a solitary one in 2017, I was pleased to have caught another in the last session, and two more today makes me hopeful that they might become more regular. There were actually four in the vicinity: two on the feeder and two in the net. Possibly, if I hadn’t blundered in when I did, I might have caught them all. One of those caught was a bird that I ringed in my Purton garden in March of last year – then my first lockdown session. Hopefully they will become a regular feature of the catch.

Having got rather chilled, I packed up at 11:00 and headed for the warmth of home at 11:30: the benefit of only setting half-a-dozen nets is it takes very little time to take them down.

Blakehill Farm: Saturday, 20th March 2021

For the second session in a row: no Blue or Great Tits. To be fair, both sessions had small catches but it is still noteworthy. I was joined for the session this morning by Ellie: getting an opportunity to ring at one of the nature reserves that she manages. Ellie had an early appointment, so I was setting up on my own (I love those 5:30 starts – looking forward to them getting earlier (he lied))

It is hard work at this site when solo or duo, so I only set five nets around the plateau bushes (2 x 6m; 2 x 12m and 1 x 9m) and a single set of 3 x 18m nets along the perimeter track. Whilst I was there in the pre-dawn dark the Skylarks started singing and, as the sky lightened, they took to the skies. They were ever present from then on and there had to be at least 20 singing males in the area within which we were working.

I put lures for Wheatear, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit out on the plateau and Redwing on the perimeter track. Clearly, I was hoping we might get some of the winter visitor Redwing that are still hanging around the area. The latest Redwing the group has ever caught was one on the 28th March 2019 at Tedworth House by yours truly, so late Redwing are possible.

I was also hoping for an early Wheatear, as we know they are currently arriving in the country. However, we have never caught one in the Braydon Forest and the earliest any have been caught was one in mid-April back in 2004.

Initially, the only lure that worked was the Meadow Pipit. Later on I changed the Redwing lure to Linnet and, I am pleased to say, it worked almost immediately.

It was a nice catch: Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren (1); Meadow Pipit 2; Dunnock 1; Robin 1; Chiffchaff 1; Linnet 1; Reed Bunting 1(1). Totals: 8 birds ringed from 7 species and 3 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 11 birds processed from 8 species.

The highlight of the catch was a Reed Bunting, Z936307, which was ringed as a juvenile back in October 2015. It had not been seen again until today, five-and-a-half years later.

Alongside the ringing, we were delighted to see the return of Curlew for another breeding season. It is known that two pairs nested at Blakehill last year, with one pair thought to have successfully raised their brood and the other, sadly, being predated by the local foxes (the key predator of Curlew eggs and chicks). Jonny Cooper is running the lowland Curlew monitoring project in north Wiltshire, and we are hopeful that the nests can be identified and protected this year. The use of thermal imaging technology should help in that.

It was quite funny how the Curlew manifested themselves this morning. In the paddock behind the perimeter track is a small group of Herdwick sheep. I walked along the track to the nets to extract a Robin that had been caught. The sheep followed me along and, as I turned away from the net ride I heard a sort high-pitched mewing coming from, what seemed to be, the group of Herdwicks. I spent quite a few seconds looking to see which of the sheep was making the noise when a Curlew flew off from behind them. It flew up, flew around and started the much more familiar bubbling call. This was answered by another bird and, all of a sudden there was two of them. We saw and heard them regularly throughout the morning.

One of the reasons for the small catch was the weather. It stayed particularly cold all session, which was exacerbated by an unforecast breeze coming from the north-east, so, Skylarks apart, there was not a lot of movement around the site. I had to close the plateau nets early, as they were billowing and catching in the bramble and blackthorn. Blackthorn is a particularly bad net killer – and I have enough mending to do from normal wear and tear without the added issue of blackthorn damage. We packed the plateau nets away by 11:00, when Ellie had to leave.

I went to take down the perimeter track net ride and found the Linnet sitting almost on top of the lure. I love it when a plan comes together. Returning to the ringing station I was pleased to find Jonny had turned up to check out the Curlew. He very kindly lent a hand with the packing away of the ringing station and I was away before midday.