First Lesser Redpoll of the Winter: Ravensroost Woods; Tuesday, 12th November 2019

It is at least 3 years since I have run a session that took in the north end of Ravensroost Woods.  The catch in the area had reduced significantly, and it is hard work managing both ends of the wood.  However, as I had a good sized, and experienced, team out with me today: Ellie, Jonny and Alice, we decided to focus on this rather neglected part of the wood. It turned out to be a really good session and I won’t be neglecting it for that length of time again.

Obviously with the problems further north in the country, it would be churlish to complain about the weather, but the rain forecast for 14:00 arrived at 11:30, and the wind really got up from the opposite direction from which it was forecast and which influenced where we set out nets, whilst we were extracting several hundred leaves from the nets and packing away. It seems that weather forecasting is now so inaccurate that looking out of the window is the only way to tell what is going on.

We set up our nets along the main paths (nice not to have to wear wellies for once) as shown below (the red lines):


It was very quiet for the first hour and a bit but then picked up for the next 2 hours, before we packed away.  There were two significant highlights.  We caught another 4 new Marsh Tits for colour-ringing and recaptured two more ringed earlier this year. Extracting and ringing one was a first for Alice: they are red-listed but Wiltshire woodlands do seem to be strongholds for them.

The second highlight was our first Lesser Redpoll of the year:


The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 2(1); Marsh Tit 4(2); Long-tailed Tit 7(5); Robin (2); Redwing 3; Blackbird 2(1); Goldcrest 5(1); Lesser Redpoll 1.  Totals: 32 birds ringed from 11 species and 12 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 44 birds processed from 12 species.

It is a rare session where you capture more Long-tailed Tits, Marsh Tits and Goldcrests than Blue and / or Great Tits in one of the Braydon Forest woodlands.  One of the retrapped Long-tailed Tits was originally ringed on the  20th September 2014: that is a good age for a bird with an expected lifespan of 2 years!

A Lovely First for Red Lodge: Sunday, 10th November 2019

Several weeks ago I was asked to carry out an assessment of a trainee from another ringing group, to confirm that they were proficient enough to be advanced to C-permit level. Our every effort subsequently has been thwarted by the weather. Most recently, we had planned to meet up yesterday but, with rain scheduled at 9:00, and arriving soon after, it was cancelled.  I agreed with the rest of the team that yesterday’s scheduled session would be moved to Tuesday. As the forecast was considerably better for today, with rain scheduled to pour down overnight, but peter out during the morning, clearing by 9:00, I agreed with the trainee, Ian, that I would keep an eye on the weather and, if it stopped early enough, I would call him and we would carry out a session at Red Lodge.  The Firs was the next on the schedule, but that was already scheduled for Wednesday, so Red Lodge was the logical choice.

The rain actually was stopped by 6:30, so I was on site by 7:00, with the nets open by 7:40.  Birds started arriving almost immediately, and we had a steady run throughout the morning.  There was a couple of early Redwing in the catch and the usual titmice and a few Goldcrest.

After 10:00 we put on a lure for Goldcrest. I always wait until 3 hours after sunrise before luring for them. They come to the lure readily, and I want them to have had plenty of opportunity to feed before we start catching them in any number.  We had a good initial catch, and then a lull in their numbers, until I uttered the fateful words: “We’ll make this the last round, and close the nets and take down!”.

The last round yielded another group of Goldcrest, several Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tits and this beauty:


This is only the second Firecrest caught in the Braydon Forest. The first was in Ravensroost Woods in November 2015.  As Ian hadn’t seen or handled one before, I gave him the opportunity to extract and process the bird.

All in all, it was a very satisfactory session, resulting in the following catch: Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 13(6);  Great Tit 5(6); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 2(2); Wren 1(2); Robin 3; Redwing 2; Blackbird 2(1); Goldcrest 13(3); Firecrest 1; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 45 birds ringed from 12 species and 22 birds recaptured from 8 species, making a total of 67 birds processed from 13 species.

The result of the session is that Ian is a competent ringer and I have recommended his advancement to a C-permit.

Somerford Common: Wednesday, 6th November 2019

Given the weather recently it has been quite some achievement to get out to all five of our Braydon Forest woodland sites in the last three weeks.  Somerford Common is, perhaps, our most varied woodland site. It is certainly the only one that is home to a wallaby!  On Monday I optimistically set up a feeding station in the paddock area, hoping that some of the Lesser Redpoll might find it before Wednesday. Forlorn hope! A couple of Blue and Great Tits did but nothing else. Next time!

I was joined for the session by Andrew and Alice, and Steph joined us after the school run.  Our first bird of the day, not caught unfortunately, was a Woodcock which was put up from its roost as we went to set up the first couple of nets.  They usually roost inside the paddock, not adjacent to the path.

Despite the lack of Lesser Redpoll, it was good morning session.  Once again, Goldcrests were present in good numbers.  This is looking like being our best ever year for them in the Braydon Forest, already matching the previous best with two months to go.

Although we caught two of them, they were not the Marsh Tits that were conspicuously calling adjacent to our ringing station!  Hopefully next time.

The list for the session was: Blue Tit 4(3); Great Tit 3; Coal Tit (1); Marsh Tit (2); Wren 1(3); Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest 12(2).  Totals: 21 birds ringed from 5 species; 11 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 32 birds processed from 7 species.


Calf-of-Man to the Braydon Forest, Twice in Two Weeks. Ravensroost Woods: Sunday, 3rd November 2019

As readers of this blog will know, on the 19th October we recaptured a Goldcrest that had been ringed as an adult on the Calf-of-Man on the 7th April.  Today at Ravensroost Woods we recaptured another Goldcrest the alpha part of the ring, KNH, was the same.  When I got home I messaged Aron Sapsford, the warden at the Calf-of-Man observatory, and got confirmation that this bird was ringed there on the 5th September this year.  If we get a third I might seriously have to look into some sort of monitoring project to see whether this is a new migration route!  This was the bird that made the journey, a juvenile male:


It has a wing length of 54mm and weighed in at just 5.3g: astonishing.

This was the first time we have managed to make one of our scheduled sessions in Ravensroost Woods for 2.5 months, due to bad weather on the chosen dates.  The weather forecast was for it to rain overnight, with the rain stopping at about 7:00.  I was joined for the second time by Alice. Not wanting her to make the long journey from Cheltenham to Braydon Forest, only to have the session cancelled at the last minute, we arranged to meet at 7:30, to be sure that the weather was following the forecast. It nearly did!  The rain wasn’t hard: there was a mist of very fine rain whilst we were setting the nets, which cleared eventually at about 9:00.  After that it stayed dry, and occasionally sunny, until we started to pack away at 11:50, whereupon it started with the very fine rain again.  We managed to get 2.5 hours of ringing activity in, in relatively good weather. The wind was non-existent.

As usual at this time of year, the catch was basically Blue and Great Tits but Goldcrests again made a significant contribution.  the list was: Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 8(4); Great Tit 8(5); Coal Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 3; Robin 3(1); Goldcrest 7(1); Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 34 birds ringed from 9 species and 13 birds recaptured from 6 species, making 47 birds processed from 10 species.

The Goldcrest was the clear highlight of the session: ironically, one of the last birds extracted.  However, it is always pleasing to catch and ring a couple of Nuthatch.  They are always heard but we don’t catch large numbers. These were number 13 & 14 for the year, but only 2 & 3 for Ravensroost, with the other being back in June.

Outside of the ringing activity, we were treated to a pair of Ravens making their presence known for several minutes as they flew around overhead. It took 7 years since I started birding Ravensroost in 1998 to see my first there. They are still only an occasional sighting. I look forward to the day they choose to nest there!

The wood was also full of Long-tailed Tits but we didn’t catch one, unlike our recent forays to the Firs, Red Lodge and Webb’s Wood.  Perhaps the ones in Ravensroost are cannier!

One annoying footnote: once again a “responsible dog owner” has stolen the please keep dogs on a short lead sign from the main gate. They came prepared, as after the previous five times, it had been fixed with security screws!  The arrogance and entitlement of these people beggars belief.  Somerford Common, with no restrictions, is less than three minutes away but they insist on vandalising a nature reserve!

October Review

Wow! is all I can say about this month. What an absolute corker!  Obviously, the Booted / Sykes’ Warbler is head-and-shoulders the stand-out bird. Whichever species it turns out to be, if it can be positively determined, it will be a first ringed in Wiltshire: and the biological records centre have no records of either (or Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, for that matter) being reported in the county.  Social media opinions are almost unanimous that it is Booted Warbler, Iduna calligata.

However, our “mundane, day-to-day” ringing activities have also been a record breaker.  Since the split into the North and the West Wilts Ringing Groups at the end of 2012, the Great Schism as I like to call it, this is far and away our biggest ever month.  We have had the expected large numbers of Blue and Great Tit, but some of the other species have just exploded in number.

October 19

The excellent number of Yellowhammer is a testament to Andy Palmers’ SPTA West site, where the bulk were caught.  Brown’s Farm weighed in with a creditable catch of 12 in just a couple of nets, and Steph caught 3 in her back garden just across the border in Gloucestershire!

It is certainly gratifying to see such good numbers of Long-tailed Tit.  Their numbers dropped dramatically in the Braydon Forest after the wet and cold Spring and early Summer of 2016, we are now catching good numbers there, as is Johnny Cooper in his sites near Chippenham.

The Goldcrest catch has been mainly produced by the Forestry Commission sites in the Braydon Forest, with 23 in Red Lodge, 30 in Webb’s Wood and 10 on Somerford Common.  However, the star Goldcrest was our intrepid bird ringed on the Calf-of-Man and recaptured in the Firs.

Although Redwing are reportedly scarce on the ground at present, we have had a pretty decent increase on last year.  Just under 50% have been caught at Jonny’s sites, with Lower Moor Farm at 25% and Battlesbury at 20%.

It is good to see a return to good numbers of Robin: they have been a bit hit-and-miss lately, and it compares very well with last year’s number.

Apart from that, notable catches for my crew in the north have been: our best month for new Marsh Tits for a long time.  Astonishingly, this has happened without our being able to access Ravensroost Woods, the traditional stronghold for the species in the Braydon Forest.  Apart from 1 retrap in the Firs, the catch has all been in the Forestry Commission sites, mainly Red Lodge.

I took a chance on a trip to Lower Moor Farm on 21st of the month (something to do with having caught my Yellow-browed Warbler there on the 26th October 2017 – just an eternal optimist) and was really surprised to catch our first two Siskin ever at the site.  What’s more, bar one bird on Somerford Common on 30th November 2013, we have never caught an Autumn Siskin before.  All of our other catches have been in Q1 of the calendar year.  So well pleased with them.

Finally, catching my first Sparrowhawk in my Purton garden was an absolute stunner!  I have processed a reasonable number (approximately 1 per year since I started ringing) but this was special: in my own back garden. My fingers are still recovering from safely extracting (safely for him, that is) a very feisty male who was incredibly tangled in the net, because he hit it so hard!

Just  a final note: as well as this being the biggest single monthly catch, we have already exceeded the total catch for any other year since the end of 2012, with 2 months to go.  This is almost all due to the activity levels of Andy Palmer, Andrew Bray, Jonny Cooper and now, Steph Buggins in addition to us old ‘uns.  With Ellie Jones starting out to do her own thing in the near future, things could get even busier.  Funnily enough though: there is not a huge increase in the number of sessions, but it seems Jonny cannot go to one of his sites without breaking the 100 bird barrier, and, as the averages show, the overall catch size has increased significantly.

Webb’s Wood: Wednesday, 30th October 2019

After Monday’s busy session at Red Lodge Plantation, today was scheduled for another Forestry Commission woodland at Webb’s Wood.  I had a big team for the session: Andrew, Ellie, Steph and Lillie all came along to help.  We set up 5 nets rides, all comprising 2 x 18m nets, and I tried out a new net position with a single 18m net (it didn’t work – not a single bird caught by it).  The net positions are marked in red:


We opened the nets by 7:30 and closed them just after 11:00.  In between we had a very satisfactory catch of 65 birds from 12 species.  The breakdown was: Treecreeper 2(2); Blue Tit 8(1); Great Tit 6(1); Coal Tit (1); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 10(5); Wren 3(1); Robin 2; Redwing 3; Blackbird (1); Goldcrest 14(3); Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 50 birds ringed from 10 species and 15 birds recaptured from 8 species.

Another session with good numbers of Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit, again outnumbering the usually most common species Blue and Great Tit.  Our twentieth new Marsh Tit of the season gives us hopes of matching our previous best total of 29 in 2017. As we have not yet set up any feeding stations these catch sizes are quite surprising.

One highlight was a positively venerable Long-tailed Tit.  It was ringed as a newly-fledged juvenile on the 20th July 2013, making it 6 years and 3 months since ringing, over 6.5 years old.  As the expected lifespan of the species is 2 years. Juvenile mortality is 75% in the first six months, and 50% thereafter, so to reach this sort of age is worth remarking upon. It was recaptured just once before: in September 2013.  You often wonder where it has been in between captures.  It has 2.5 years to go to beat the longevity record for the species but it is certainly the oldest bird on my rings.

Another highlight was the catch of 4 Treecreeper: 2 new and 2 recaptured.  Our team caught that many Treecreeper in a single session for the first time in Red Lodge (Forestry Commission) in September 2017 and the not again until the 10th of this month, at another Forestry Commission site: Somerford Common.  To have another catch of 4 is very pleasing.

Booted / Sykes’ Warbler: SPTA West, 19th October 2019

During their Salisbury Plain ringing session on 19th October, Andy Palmer extracted what looked like a washed out Reed Warbler.  When Ian Grier saw it, he immediately identified it as an Iduna species warbler.  The most reasonable assumption was that it was an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Iduna pallida.

Ian ringed the bird and they took a wide range of biometrics, in order to try to clearly identify the species.

Wing Length: 63mm,  Tail Length: 52mm, Tarsus Length: Max: 24.5mm, Min: 21.5mm

Length from tip of bill to nostril 8.2mm, to feathers 9.5mm, to skull 14.0mm

Bill width at nostrils: 4.2mm

Weight: 10.4g

Wing point (i.e. the feathers that make the longest part of the wing): P3 and P4; P2 = P6

Emargination (this is a narrowing of the top part towards the tip of the  feather) P4 = 15mm; P5=12mm

Difference in feather length: P1-P2 = 26mm; P2-P3 = 5mm; P2-P4 = 5mm; P2-P5 = 4mm; P2-P6 = 0mm; P2-P10 = -8mm

Ian also took a number of photographs of the bird to aid with the confirmation of species.  I have been asked to remove the lateral photograph of the bird because it does not conform to the BTO’s social media guidelines. Whilst the ringers in question know that the bird was perfectly well and flew off strongly after processing, it looks a little fluffed up in the photograph.  It is thought that this could be misused by anti-ringing  groups to spread their message: so I have removed it. Apologies to all who have missed it (although a couple of thousand of you have been fortunate enough to see it).


Unfortunately, some of the biometrics did not comfortably fit Eastern Olivaceous Warbler.  As neither Ian nor Andy were overly familiar with this species or the other possible Iduna species, Ian used his contacts within the birding world to get an assessment of the data.  The other two possibilities are Booted Warbler, Iduna caligata, and Sykes’ Warbler, Iduna rama.  At present three experts are split 2:1 Sykes’ to Booted.  The record is being submitted to the British birds Raritis Committee to make their determination, which might well end up as an “either / or” identification.

For any birders / twitchers upset that this was not immediately notified to the wider world, it was not possible to do so. Apart from not having fully identified the species, the site is very close to a live firing range, less than 300m away, and neither the Army nor the Defence Infrastructure Organisation would countenance a large twitch onto the area.