Buzzing at Somerford Common: 30th November 2019

With Webb’s Wood being off-limits until the Forestry Commission finish clearing the conifers at the eastern end of the wood, the forecast being for it to be windy, we needed another woodland site to visit.  We have been to all of our woodland sites quite a lot recently and I really wanted to go somewhere different, so I went to check out the western side of Somerford Common. This is very different from where we have our feeding station set up. It is, essentially, a commercial conifer plantation interspersed with tongues of broad-leaved trees.  Some three years ago it is since I last ringed that part of the site.  My hope was that we might catch some Lesser Redpoll and Siskin plus guaranteed to get a decent number of Goldcrest.

I stopped going there because the Forestry Commission had blocked the entrance with large granite blocks, as they have done at the gateways to many of their properties, as theft of timber and vandalism of the wooden gateways they usually use are real problems in this area.  This just made the setting up and management of the ringing rides too onerous. So, when I turned up to find that they had put a new security gate in place, which uses the standard local Forestry Commission padlock to secure it, I thought we would give it a go.  I doubt anybody could predict what happened.  This is where we set our nets:


I was joined by Jonny, Andrew and Alice for the session.  The underfoot conditions were horrendous: I had suggested that everyone bring waterproof over-trousers.  It was the right thing to do: so muddy and wet that everything got filthy.

So to the session itself.  Ride 3 was a complete waste of time: not a single bird all morning. The first round was a couple of Coal Tit and Robin and a Long-tailed Tit.  The second round was even quieter: just one bird and then round three. Not lots of birds but, as I was checking ride 2, Andrew went to check ride 1.  He was taking his time and so I went to see if he needed any help, only to find him walking down the ride towards me with this in his arms:


He asked if I had a bag big enough to put it in, so we could weigh it.  I do, it is a pillow case with a pull cord sewn into the neck.  In over 10 years of ringing I have never seen a Buzzard in the hand. It was such a shock: you just don’t expect it!  It was so unexpected that I thought that Jonny was going to have a seizure and Alice just refused to believe her eyes!

So, to the next round and Alice picked up the big bag and I suggested that she really didn’t need it because there was no way we were ever going to catch another bird that would need a bag of that size.  Alice and Jonny went off to check rides 3 and 4.  What do I know? Jonny returned with this in his arms:


This is quite ridiculous: to catch one Buzzard in a mist net is a real surprise; to catch two? You must be joking, but we did!  I will stress: we did nothing to try to attract Buzzards into our nets. It was just because I was feeling a bit jaded with our other woodland sites and the Forestry Commission have re-instituted the access that we were there at all. Brilliant! Nobody currently active in our group has ever caught a Buzzard in Wiltshire – and we caught two by complete serendipity.

The catch was a good and varied one even without the Buzzards.  It was: Buzzard 2; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 2(3); Coal Tit 13; Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 10; Wren 2; Robin 2; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 8; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1.  Totals: 48 birds ringed from 12 species and 3 birds recaptured from 1 species, making 51 birds processed from 12 species.

Apart from the obvious Buzzard highlights, I was pleased to find that our largest catch was Coal Tit, followed by Long-tailed Tit then Goldcrest: exactly as I expected.  Catching our thirtieth Marsh Tit of the year was also a bonus.

After a couple of empty rounds we packed up and were away from the site by 13:00. Very happy, very satisfied.

Lacock Allotments and Bailey’s Farm: Friday, 29th November 2019

This blog uses content provided by Jonny Cooper and Andrew Bray.

Jonny Cooper: Bailey’s Farm: Redwing Round 2

Regular readers of the blog will know that my last session at Bailey’s Farm (just outside Chippenham) delivered 44 Redwing and overall was the biggest session ever for the site. It was a brilliant, if tiring, session. Having noticed that there were still good-sized flocks of Redwing, Chaffinch and Greenfinch on site and the forecast set for low winds all morning I decided I would give the site another go.

Working solo means getting on site pretty early to ensure the nets are up in plenty of time to begin catching at first light. I timed it to perfection and finished setting up just as it got light. As usual the first round was the busiest, producing 35 birds. After this each round reduced a regular 15 or so birds.

The catch for the day was as follows: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Magpie 1; Blue Tit 13(8); Great Tit 7(3); Long-tailed Tit (1); Dunnock 2(2); Meadow Pipit 3; Robin (3); Redwing 26; Song Thrush 3(1); Goldcrest 1; Starling 7; Chaffinch 15(3); Greenfinch 20; Yellowhammer 2; Reed Bunting 3.  Totals: 104 birds ringed from 14 species and 21 re-trapped from 7 species. A grand total of 125 birds processed from 16 species.

Another fantastic catch overall; 26 Redwing takes the total ringed on site this winter to 84. The Magpie was a good bird. Some people often unfairly and unjustly vilify them for no good reason, but they are beautiful birds close-up. Catching two Yellowhammer were also a highlight. So far, they have been missing from the catch this winter and I haven’t seen any on site; so catching these two was reassuring that they are still present in the area.

It is always amazing to see the number and variety of birds thriving on this farmland site. I have said this time and time again, but farmers like this are a shining example of how to farm effectively but in a way that in sympathetic to wildlife. It is a pleasure to be able to help monitor the birdlife on site.

Andrew Bray: Lacock Allotments

I set up a single 12m net in the dark and started my round shortly afterwards but there were no birds in the net until 07:40.  There were only 2 Robins then, but the day got better thereafter.  The sun started to shine through, but it remained very cold.  At 08:00 I ringed a new male Nuthatch and retrapped another later.  They were clealy males: the colour under the wing and on the under-tail coverts is brick red.  As usual there were a lot of Blue and Great Tits!

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 1(1); Blue Tit 9(5); Great Tit 8(4); Coal Tit 2(2); Dunnock 1(1); Robin (2); Blackbird 1.  Totals: 22 birds ringed from 6 species; 15 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 37 birds processed from 7 species.

Red Lodge: Thursday, 28th November 2019

We were scheduled to be in Webb’s Wood this week. I had to push the session back to Thursday for a number of reasons.  One of the team, Tony, was out walking in Webb’s on Wednesday and found that the Forestry Commission’s contractors have started their conifer removal at the eastern end of the wood. This is part of the new 10 year plan.  They are working immediately adjacent to our ringing site. As nets, personnel, birds, heavy machinery and noise do not make for successful ringing sessions, I decided to move the session to Red Lodge.   After a chat with Tom, the Beat Forester, we agreed that  we would hold off on any sessions there until the work is completed.  That is expected to be within two weeks.  Also, excellent news, the entrance road to the car park is going to be resurfaced as the final part of these operations.  Anyone reading this blog who knows and uses Webb’s Wood will be pleased about this: a relief to the suspension of all of the cars that are taken to site.

I was joined by Alice and Andrew for the Red Lodge session.  Although it rained overnight, the sky cleared quite quickly and the temperature dropped sharply. As a result, the number of birds moving around was very much reduced compared with recent sessions.  A couple of the rides warmed up as the sun came through but the sun never got high enough in the sky to get over the tree line and most of the site stayed cold all morning.

The first round produced a Redwing, a couple of Bullfinch and four Goldcrest, and that level of catch was how it went for most of the morning: a few birds at a time. It didn’t reach the numeric levels of recent catches, but it was a decent catch with a good spread of species.  The list for the morning was:  Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit (3); Wren 2(2); Robin (1); Redwing 4; Song Thrush 2; Goldcrest 6(4); Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 22 birds ringed from 10 species and 12 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 34 birds processed from 12 species.

You will notice that I mentioned we caught two Bullfinch but only processed one. Unfortunately the male of the pair was suffering from the Fringilla Papilloma Virus (FPV) and could not be ringed. Its legs were already warty and damaged.  It has been a while since I have seen a Bullfinch with this problem: I hope it is a long time before I see another!

Once again, Goldcrest was our main catch in the wood.  We caught a few titmice but nothing that could be considered a tit flock: which explains why the numbers were somewhat down. I suspect they were frequenting the bird feeders in the adjacent gardens.  As the numbers dwindled significantly after 10:30 we decided to pack up, go home and get warm, and left site by midday.

Blakehill Farm – At Last: Sunday, 24th November 2019

We last managed to get a session at Blakehill Farm on the 30th September.  Since then I have made half-a-dozen abortive attempts to run sessions there. On three occasions I have actually got to site before having to concede defeat.  With the weather forecast being for this morning to be flat calm and misty for most of the morning,  I was confident we would get there. And so it proved.

I was joined for the day by Alice, Steph, Lillie and Andrew. We set our usual nets along the hedgerow, with Redwing lure playing; a Mipit triangle, with Meadow Pipit lure playing, and the nets around the bushes on the edge of the plateau.  We might just as well have not bothered with the plateau nets.  They are normally very good for Dunnock, Reed Bunting, Linnet and the occasional Stonechat but, bar a Dunnock and  Wren or two, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and effort. However, the other nets were a different proposition.

As we finished putting up the hedgerow nets I drove along the perimeter track to the turning area and was encouraged to see good flocks of Redwing around.  I set the Redwing lure playing and within 10 minutes we started catching them.  The Meadow Pipit lure took somewhat longer to start its work: perhaps the mist was keeping them from being too active, but eventually they started to arrive and, although we didn’t catch as many as the numbers around would suggest we should, there was still a reasonable catch.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 6(3); Great Tit 4(1); Wren 2(1); Dunnock (1); Meadow Pipit 13; Robin 1; Redwing 30; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 2; Starling 1; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 62 birds ringed from 9 species; 6 bird retrapped from 4 species, making 68 birds processed from 11 species.

As well as the high numbers of Redwing around there were several large flocks of Fieldfare flying around. Unfortunately, and entirely predictably, they never came anywhere close to being caught in any of the nets.

On another note, Ellie had her first solo session this morning (having had an effort on Thursday spoiled by the weather).  She was as sensible as I knew she would be: opening just a single net in the garden of the farm house at Lower Moor Farm. Remarkably, the first bird she extracted and processed was a Magpie.  Apart from the scarcity of catching them (just 10 by the whole team in the last 5 years), this was her first experience of extracting and processing this species.

Her catch for the day was: Magpie 1; Blue Tit 2; Wren 1; Blackbird 3(1); Goldcrest 1(1); Bullfinch 3(1). Totals: 11 birds ringed from 6 species; 3 birds retrapped from 3 species making 14 birds processed from 6 species.

As a trainer it is always extremely gratifying when one of your trainees steps out on their own: fledging I suppose.  Ellie is the third of my trainees to take that step.

Meadow Farm: Tuesday, 19th November 2019

This is a post by Jonny Cooper:

With the forecast suggesting that the weather is going to take a turn for the worse until the weekend I decided to take the opportunity to put in a session at Meadow Farm.  I was greeted by the first frost of the winter when I left the house and the car told me it was a balmy -2oC; and setting up the nets it certainly felt it.

I put on the Latvian love song and it dutifully produced 8 Redwing in the first round: it is certainly the most reliable lure we use. The morning carried on at a steady pace, somewhat slower than some of my sessions of late, but with it being so cold it was good to not have large numbers of birds sat in bags.

The catch for the day was as follows: Kingfisher (1), Blue Tit 5(18), Great Tit 3(3), Dunnock (2), Redwing 11, Blackbird 1, Chaffinch 2, Greenfinch 5, Goldfinch 8 and Reed Bunting 1. Giving 36 new birds from 8 species and 24 re-traps from, 5 species. A total of 60 birds from 10 species.

A pretty standard session for the site. Catching a Kingfisher is always a highlight, this site is very reliable for them. The Reed Bunting was only the third ever for the site which is odd as the site contains lots of suitable breeding habitat and is adjacent to arable fields where they flock during the winter.

Overall a good session, I was packed up and off site by 12:30 ready to warm up.

Tedworth House: Tuesday, 19th November 2019

With tomorrow looking to be very windy I moved this month’s Tedworth House session forward by a day.  Andrew came along to help out, and Dave Turner provided the essentials (sausage sandwich for me, bacon for Andrew).  The day started with the first hard frost of the year: thank goodness for heated windscreens and a decent air-con system.  It took a fair while for the frost to lift but the day stayed clear and virtually windless (until we decided to take down, when the wind got up and the trees started shedding their leaves and our nets did a great job of catching them!).

There are two reasons for doing the Tedworth House sessions: firstly, to evaluate how the Wildlife Trust’s management of the wood is impacting on the bird population and, secondly, to involve the beneficiaries, staff and volunteers with the birds and bird ringing.  Today we were joined by one of those beneficiaries and his carer.  Without divulging his personal details, this person suffered a traumatic brain injury whilst on active service. He has gone from being an active, intelligent, highly skilled engineer to a slow-moving, slow-responding individual in need of the support of a permanent carer. We spent about an hour and a half with him, before he became tired and his carer took him home. He was given the chance to see a decent number of species close up, and we taught him how to handle and release birds safely.

The first birds extracted were: a recaptured Wren, which flew in as we were finishing our set up and a Song Thrush.  This Song Thrush was more of a rescue than a capture.  We went to set up our nets by the Hero Garden feeding station and as we reached it we could hear a Song Thrush making a lot of noise, rather like they can do when you are extracting them from a mist net.  The garden is surrounded by a miniature, close-cropped box hedge which is bounded on the outside by a chicken wire fence. The Thrush had evidently gone under the hedge looking for insects and could not understand why it could not get out the other side. It was continuously trying to force its way through the chicken wire instead of turning round and going back whence it came.  I walked around behind it and picked it up: the easiest catch of the day.

Our first round proper was quite surprising: 10 birds in one net ride.  They were all Great Tits.  Usually Tit flocks are quite mixed, with a combination of at least Blue and Great Tits. I cannot remember catching a single species flock like this before.  We then had a steady catch for the rest of the session, ending up with 50 birds from 14 species. It is our second largest catch at Tedworth House, the largest being 51 in February of this year, but from only 10 species.  The catch was: Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 7(3); Great Tit 8(6); Coal Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit 4; Wren (1); Dunnock (4); Robin 2; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (1); Goldcrest 5; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 2.  Totals: 33 birds ringed from 10 species and 17 birds retrapped from 7 species.

We started packing up at midday, taking our 50th bird out of the last net left open toward the end of the take down. I do like a nice round number!


Somerford Common: Monday, 18th November 2019

On my quest to catch a few Lesser Redpoll this autumn, as opposed to their normal arrival in the later winter, I arranged another session at Somerford Common this morning.  I was joined by Andrew and Tony for the session.  We got there whilst still dark and set a couple of 12 metre wader nets across the main path with a lure for Woodcock.  Last time we visited the site, we flushed one in the area where we set the net this time.  We did see a Woodcock – as it flew over the nets heading for its daytime roost. Once the light came up we changed the lure to the Latvian love-song for Redwing: it worked its magic straight away.  We ended up with 12 of them.

The first round was very busy: mainly Blue Tit, but we caught two new and two recaptured Marsh Tit.  Later in the morning we recaptured another 2 Marsh Tits.  This is, so far, our second best year for the species in the Braydon Forest with 26 of them ringed. Another 4 in the next 6 weeks and it will be the best to date!

We didn’t manage to catch any Lesser Redpoll but we had a good catch of 10 Goldfinch. The total catch for the session was: Blue Tit 14(12); Great Tit 7(4); Marsh Tit 2(4); Robin 1; Redwing 12; Chaffinch 4; Goldfinch 10.  Totals 50 birds ringed from 7 species; 20 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 70 birds processed from 7 species.

Not the most exciting catch, no Lesser Redpoll, but buried in the recaptures were two long-lived birds. Z446672 is a Marsh Tit, ringed 27th January 2015 as first year bird, recaptured  on three further occasions before today.  Mind, it needs to survive another 5 years before coming close to the current longevity record. The other was a Great Tit, TT86480, which was ringed as a first year bird in February 2013.  Venerable, but needs another 8 years to get close to the current longevity record.  However, it was ringed on just my third visit to the site.  It has only been retrapped once before today: 4 years ago.

The catch died off at 11:00, so we were packed and away from site before noon. Next time!