West Wilts Ringing Group Review: 2017

It was a significant year for the West Wilts Ringing Group. The year started on a sad note, with Mike Hamzij deciding that he would bring his ringing career to a close. Mike has done sterling work over the years, both as secretary to our ringing group and as the ringing recorder for Wiltshire; both roles he has now passed on to others, with Phil Deacon taking over as Wiltshire ringing recorder and me taking on the role of WWRG secretary.  I am sure that everybody would like to thank Mike for his hard work and for leaving both roles in such good shape.

There has been a welcome expansion of activity within the group this year, as Andy Palmer, Andrew Bray and Jonny Cooper, having joined Dave Hanham as C-permit holders, started developing their own sites and independent ringing activities, alongside the existing activities of the team.

Ian and his team and me and my team carried out our CES projects at Cowleaze and Lower Moor Farm.  After over 30 years of sustained activity, this will be the last CES season at Cowleaze.  It has generated a wealth of data revealing the dramatic changes in fortune for some of our most iconic woodland birds.  There is a report on the work at Cowleaze in Hobby from last year.

The results for the year were:

   

Ringed

Retraps

Totals

Barn Owl

8

8

Black Redstart

1

1

Blackbird

154

82

236

Blackcap

284

70

354

Blue Tit

775

298

1,073

Bullfinch

79

34

113

Cetti’s Warbler

1

1

2

Chaffinch

113

7

120

Chiffchaff

316

63

379

Coal Tit

148

114

262

Collared Dove

1

1

Dunnock

171

99

270

Firecrest

1

1

Garden Warbler

36

10

46

Goldcrest

96

25

121

Goldfinch

169

2

171

Grasshopper Warbler

3

3

Great Spotted Woodpecker

25

10

35

Great Tit

457

192

649

Green Woodpecker

3

1

4

Greenfinch

30

30

Grey Wagtail

4

1

5

House Martin

3

3

House Sparrow

111

9

120

Jackdaw

5

5

Jay

6

6

Kestrel

1

1

Kingfisher

4

1

5

Lesser Redpoll

16

16

Lesser Whitethroat

23

6

29

Linnet

14

14

Long-tailed Tit

171

99

270

Magpie

2

2

Marsh Tit

29

43

72

Meadow Pipit

54

54

Mistle Thrush

1

1

Nuthatch

49

22

71

Pied/White Wagtail

2

2

Raven

4

4

Redstart

1

1

Redwing

31

31

Reed Bunting

23

4

27

Reed Warbler

9

1

10

Robin

300

149

449

Sedge Warbler

2

2

Siskin

10

10

Song Thrush

38

8

46

Sparrowhawk

2

1

3

Spotted Flycatcher

1

1

Starling

23

1

24

Stonechat

8

8

Swallow

47

47

Tree Pipit

3

3

Treecreeper

40

27

67

Whinchat

8

8

Whitethroat

47

2

49

Willow Warbler

65

13

78

Woodpigeon

6

6

Wren

205

82

287

Yellowhammer

43

1

44

Grand Total

4,282

1,478

5,760

When referring to sightings, unless otherwise stated, the statistics date from 1st January 2013, when the North Wilts Ringing Group split from the WWRG.  This is appropriate, as many of the sites managed by the NWRG were the migrant hot-spot sites, in which the majority of the high profile catches were made.  We have subsequently added Blakehill and New Zealand Farms as potential migration sites, and they are developing nicely.

Andy Palmer started the year with his first Firecrest at his Job’s Mill site at Crockerton in early March.  This was only the third Firecrest ringed by the group in recent times  This was followed a week later by my first Black Redstart, at my interesting site at Tedworth House, the first for the group since 2008.  At the end of March, with the help of Rob Hayden and his tree-climbing friend, Paul Thompson, we ringed four Raven chicks, also at Tedworth House.  Paul heroically climbed 130’ up a Cedar tree to get to the nest for us.  These are the only Ravens ever ringed by the group in Wiltshire.

For the third year running, Ian and Andy devoted much of their summer working with the RSPB on the Wessex Stone-curlew project.  Ian, having initially trained the RSPB team and volunteers on how to ring these fabulous birds, and Andy have monitored and ringed chicks every year since. I was delighted to have the opportunity, with Richard Pike, to visit one site with them and even got the chance of a lifetime to ring a Stone-curlew chick.  This was my 100th species ringed in the UK.

415A1024.JPG

My team agreed to take over the surveying of Barn Owl nest boxes in the north of the county in 2017.  We didn’t achieve as much as we would have liked, but we learned a lot from the experience and fully intend to get better coverage in 2018.  In the event, we surveyed 15 boxes, of which nine held owls with signs of breeding.  We ringed eight young from three nest boxes and couldn’t ring three broods, as they had already fledged. The others held roosting adults.

 

20170618 Blakehill Farm 1.JPG

Andy continued his run of good birds, with his first three Grasshopper Warblers ringed at his Battlesbury site in the autumn. Battlesbury Bowl on SPTA West was developed by Rob Turner and continues to be a productive site in late summer and autumn. This is also when the New Zealand farm site is most productive and both can be feeding and roost sites for Scandinavian thrushes in autumn.

The Marsh Tit colour ringing project in the Braydon Forest had its best ever year: with 28 birds ringed in the woodland sites: a 30% increase on last year and continuing a general trend of increase throughout each of the sites.  Hopefully this trend will continue.  Interestingly, the sites showing the greatest increase are Webb’s Wood and Red Lodge. These are both primarily beechwoods which have had significant thinning operations carried out by the Forestry Commission in the last two years.

There were a couple of interesting recoveries.  On 1st September a Reed Warbler was recovered at Lower Moor Farm exactly one year, to the day, after it was ringed at Coimbra in Portugal.  In October Rob Turner decided to combine two of his passions: golf and ringing by setting up a ringing station at Erlestoke Golf Club.  He was rewarded with a Blue Tit, ringed originally at Hannington on 25th March this year, recovered at Erlestoke on 6th November: a distance of 45km in 226 days.   We have had recoveries of Blue Tits before flying 8 to 10km. I have had Blue Tits ringed in the Cotswold Water Park recovered at Somerford Common or Ravensroost Woods but 45km is a big distance for a resident, essentially non-migratory bird.

All in all, it was a good year for the group. We had a lot going on, the teams are developing well, and the value of our projects to the conservation of vulnerable species continues to prove itself.  Here’s to more in 2018.

(Apologies for the table formatting,  I cannot find a way of reducing the line width. Once I do, I will update it to something more readable.)

Ravensroost Woods: Saturday, 6th January 2018

Because of the extremely windy weather recently, this was our first opportunity to get out to one of our sites in 2018.  The forecast was for there still to be some wind so, given the quagmire conditions on our other woodland sites, I opted to go to Ravensroost Woods.  Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper joined me for the session.  We woke up to frozen cars, no wind and excellent ringing conditions. As before, we set a minimal number of nets, being mindful that we had 101 birds in our last session there. With my two most experienced lieutenants to help, I wasn’t worried that we wouldn’t handle it but, when it is very cold, I don’t want birds sitting in nets for any length of time.

As expected, the catch was very Paridae heavy.  We only caught one finch: a male Chaffinch.  I took the decision not to ring it because, although its legs were normal, there were signs that it could be just starting to develop the warts caused by the Fringilla Papilloma Virus.  Quite sensibly, the rules do not allow for a ring to be fitted to a diseased bird: and I am not going to fit one to a bird I suspect might be developing a disease.

There were a couple of real highlights.   We set two nets along a ride edged either side by 3m high hazel coppice and put on the Latvian love song, as our favourite Redwing lure is known (to us, at least), and waited.  We had our first catch within 5 minutes of setting it going and then we had another four in the net at the next round.  One of this second group was the first recovery of one of our previously ringed Redwing.  This bird was caught and ringed at Ravensroost on the 28th December 2016.  At the very least it has flown to northern Scotland and back in the last year, more likely it has been to Scandinavia for the summer, and returned to Ravensroost for this winter.  The significance of this is that it is the first record ever of a Redwing ringed and then retrapped by the West Wilts Ringing Group in consecutive winters.  There have been two caught and then retrapped at the same site in the same winter, but those are the only other recaptures.

The second highlight was a Marsh Tit, D056635, retrapped for the fourteenth time since it was the second Marsh Tit colour ringed as an adult in Ravensroost Woods on 13th October 2012.  For anyone birding: if you see a Marsh Tit with pale blue over dark green rings on its lower right leg, it is at least six years old.  Two points: typical lifespan of a Marsh Tit is 2 years, the oldest ringed specimen was 11 years and 3 months from date of ringing, so a way to go yet for it to get the longevity record. Second point: some non-ringers are concerned about how ringing impacts on the birds.  Well, this bird has been caught and handled 15 times over five-and-a-bit years and weighed in at its best ever weight today.  It is clearly a healthy, thriving bird.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 1(2); Blue Tit 10(13); Great Tit 5(6); Coal Tit (12); Marsh Tit (5); Robin (3); Redwing 4(1).  Totals: 20 birds ringed from four species; 43 birds retrapped from eight species, making 63 birds processed from eight species.

After our last round at 11:00 we packed up and headed home to get some warmth back into cold bones.  An excellent start to the year.

Webb’s Wood: Wednesday, 20th December & Red Lodge: Thursday, 28th December, 2017

Jonny Cooper, David Williams and I had a session at Webb’s Wood on the Wednesday before Christmas. It wasn’t as large a catch as we had hoped for, which was bit strange, given that the feeding station had been set up for a couple of weeks, and was being emptied regularly by the local birdlife. They certainly didn’t turn up in the expected numbers that morning.  Unfortunately, it was dank and misty with no wind – so the mist never dissipated and the birds just didn’t start moving around.

This wasn’t a particularly bad situation: David is a fairly new trainee and has just spent 12 weeks away on his first term at university.  Unfortunately, we have so far failed to find a trainer near to his university who he can work with during term time.  With a small catch it meant that there was plenty of time for David to re-establish his skills at extracting and processing the birds, which he did very impressively.

The catch was: Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 6(7); Great Tit (4); Marsh Tit (1); Coal Tit 5(3); Robin (2);  Goldcrest 1(1); Chaffinch 4; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 19 birds ringed from six species, 18 birds retrapped from six species, making 37 birds processed from nine species.  This really doesn’t reflect the diversity of this wood.  It usually improves afer the New Year with the arrival of Redpoll and Siskin during January and February.

Because of the high winds and snow on Wednesday, I had to put the session at Red Lodge back to Thursday.  Thursday was a super day for ringing: no wind, dry and not a lot of sunshine.  David and Jonny joined me for this session also.  With the weather being cold, hovering around zero, we didn’t want birds in the net for any length of time, and so I chose to set just two net rides: 2 x 18m, in a straight line between the seed and peanut feeders and 1x 18m and 1 x 12m in a dog-leg around the bird table. We certainly weren’t short of birds.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 2(1); Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 18(14); Great Tit 4(14); Coal Tit 4(6); Marsh Tit 1(2); Wren 1(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 1(3); Blackbird (1); Chaffinch 5; Bullfinch 2.  Totals: 42 birds ringed from 11 species, 42 birds retrapped from eight species, making 84 birds processed from 12 species.

This is turning into a record year for Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Marsh Tit in the Braydon Forest, and I am looking forward to doing a comprehensive analysis of what has happened in the Forest this year.

One of the benefits of ringing consistently at the same places is that, over time, it builds a picture of how changes affect the woodland.  As you might have noticed from these reports: we are getting between 40% to 60% of our catch as retrapped individuals.  This is where the science comes from and helps inform the conservation strategies of the landowners.

Regarding changes to habitat and its impact on particular species, Red Lodge has been very poor for Chaffinch since I started ringing there.  In 2013 we ringed just one, in 2014 two, in 2015 the Forestry Commission started a thinning of the beechwood. That year we caught no Chaffinch at all in the wood.  We didn’t get to do a lot of ringing there during 2015, because of the disturbance from the thinning.  In 2016 we ringed four and this year we have ringed eight.  Hopefully this growth trend will continue in coming years.  We will be there to monitor it.

Another benefit is that you build up a picture of how individual birds fare and population changes overall.  By concentrating on local areas, like the Braydon Forest, ringing and retrapping builds up a picture of what is happening, which birds move around the local area and which are increasing or decreasing, enabling the landowners to make decisions about how they manage their holdings.

 

 

Ravensroost Woods: Saturday, 16th December 2017

After trudging through the mud in late November, I moved the Ravensroost feeding station to a drier part of the wood, and cut a few short net rides to allow access to the station when we wanted to carry out a ringing session.  To say it worked out well would be an understatement.

Jonny Cooper and I were the only team members out this morning, and we had a very busy session. We had hoped that the Hawfinch that was reported at our feeding station might put in an appearance but it seems to have moved on.
The session was very busy, with good numbers of birds extracted at every round.  It was busy enough that we didn’t use any lures until 11:00 – when we put on Redwing, Marsh Tit and Hawfinch. The Redwing lure worked, the others didn’t. However, we had already caught three Marsh Tits (one ringed, two retrapped).  This takes us to 27 ringed in the Braydon Forest this year (nine in Ravensroost, three in the Firs, five in Red Lodge, four in Somerford Common and six in Webb’s Wood): far and away the best return since I started ringing in the Forest.
2017_12_16 Marti
We caught a Great Tit with an interesting leucistic crown:
2017_12_16 Greti
We ringed another Great Spotted Woodpecker, adding to this year’s total, as well as retrapping another two.  This takes us to 15 ringed in the Forest this year: again, an annual record for this species in the Braydon Forest.
The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1(2); Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 23(25); Great Tit 7(6); Coal Tit 3(7); Marsh Tit 1(2); Robin 1(4); Redwing 1; Blackbird (1); Chaffinch 10(1); Goldfinch 2(1); Bullfinch 1(1).  Totals: 50 birds ringed from 10 species; 51 birds retrapped from 11 species, making 101 birds processed from 12 species.
With the number of birds to manage, I had no time to spend on taking photographs. Fortunately on Friday, when topping up the feeders, I met someone who was on his first ever visit to Ravensroost, looking to photograph birds.  I told him that if he wanted to get some close up photographs of birds in the hand he would be welcome to join us this morning. James Douglas arrived at 8:00 with his partner Rachel, and all photographs provided here are courtesy of, and copyright, James Douglas.  They were excellent company, very interested in what we were doing, and knowledgeable: and are welcome to join us again whenever they wish.

The Firs: Saturday, 9th December 2017

The Firs is known locally as the Braydon Bog: apart from a brief time in mid-summer it is a very wet wood.  Today, with the arrival of sub-zero temperatures, it was actually solid underfoot for once.

Jonny Cooper and I set up a few nets around the feeding station and one at the bottom of the wood.  All nets caught, those by the feeding station being busiest.  The first couple of hours were busy, but it tailed off quite quickly and, coupled with recatching several birds already processed this morning, we packed up at 11:00.  As usual, the catch was titmouse heavy.

However, we had an excellent catch of five new Nuthatch, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker and, on our last round, a Jay.  The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 5; Jay 1; Blue Tit 10(7); Great Tit 3(10); Coal Tit 3(5); Marsh Tit (2); Wren 1(1); Robin (2); Blackbird 2; Goldcrest (1). Totals: 26 birds ringed from eight species; 28 birds retrapped from seven species, making 54 birds processed from 11 species.

It was a good session but there were a few diseased birds in the catch: two Great Tits were suffering quite badly with avian pox.  The lesions were large and unsightly but not life-threatening.  In addition a third Great Tit had the worst tick infestation I have seen for a long time.  I removed over 20 of them from its head.  The worst though was a male Bullfinch, with horrendous warty excrescences on both of its legs, caused by Fringilla Papillomavirus. It was the worst case I have seen for a very long time.  Obviously, we just released the bird without ringing it.

Erlestoke Golf Course: 29th November and 4th December 2017 (Visits 4 and 5).

The feeders continue to be productive and we have now processed a further 61 birds. The first Goldfinches are showing interest in the niger seed, but only a single bird was netted. Two more Great Spotted Woodpeckers joined the total and on the fifth visit a tape lure for Goldcrests proved its worth with five birds appearing seemingly from nowhere in the first ten minutes!

Finally details of our first control have arrived. A Blue Tit, ringed at Hannington, Swindon in March 2017, recovered at Erlestoke on the 4th November.  Out of the 36 Blue Tit recoveries for Wiltshire since 2006, at 45 Km, this is the shared longest movement equalling one from Hens Wood to Wytham Great Wood in May this year.

The combined list for the two sessions was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 2; Blue Tit 18(17); Great Tit 3(4); Coal Tit (3); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 1; Blackbird 4; Goldcrest 5; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 36 birds ringed from nine species; 25 retrapped from four species, making 61 birds processed from 10 species.

Rob Turner   Paul Fox

Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 6th December 2017

Jonny Cooper and I had an interesting session at Lower Moor Farm this morning.  To be honest: Jonny was going to have a good day, come what may.  Three otters running across his path on his way to the ringing site is about the best start to a morning’s natural history I can think of. That I could hear them wickering away but was too busy putting up nets to go and find them was bad enough, but when Jonny got a second sighting whilst carrying out the first extraction round it was just rubbing salt into my wounds.

I had arranged to giving a taster session to a chap from Gloucester, Hugh, with a view to his taking up ringing as a trainee.  This was actually arranged as a birthday present by his daughter, visiting from Vancouver.  He turned up with his two daughters and a son-in-law in tow. Nice people, knowledgeable and friendly. This potential trainee really needs a Gloucester based trainer – he knows people at Slimbridge, so that seems like a better route, but he would be welcome to join us if he cannot find a more local trainer.

About 9:30 we were joined by Rachel and Dean from the Well-being team of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and approximately 20 teenagers from Swindon Academy.  Apart from some ill-conceived comments about my current resemblance to Santa Claus, led by one of their teachers, it is amazing how a bunch of loud and rowdy teens will quieten down and watch when you show them a male Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrests and Wrens.

A little later we were joined by staff from the Care Farm with two of their charges: Cameron and Thomas. Cameron has had the chance to hold and release birds before but Thomas hasn’t. He was a quiet and withdrawn boy – and a natural at handling and releasing birds. I love the engagement we get with disadvantaged / disaffected youth through the work we do with the Wiltshire Wildife Trust. It underlines to me that you can interest young people from all backgrounds and with all sorts of issues by involving them with nature.

The list for the session was:  Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Treecreeper 1(2); Blue Tit 3(3); Great Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit 4(5); Wren 3(1); Dunnock (3); Robin (2); Redwing 3; Blackbird 1(1); Goldcrest 3; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 3(2).   Totals: 24 birds ringed from 10 species; 21 birds retrapped from 10 species, making 45 birds processed from 13 species.