It’s Not All a Bed of Roses: 14th – 17th July 2021

After last week’s CES trip at Lower Moor Farm, this week I had two sessions planned. On Wednesday I was joined by Ellie Jones and Michael New from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust at Ravensroost Meadows. We met at 5:30 and set my usual nets, hoping for a reasonable haul. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Three birds and three hours later we packed up, disappointed. To be fair, the breeze got up early on and the nets were very visible, the pockets blowing out and I thought it could possibly be dangerous for the birds, so we shut them and took them down. Our catch for the morning comprised adult Whitethroat and Blue Tit and a juvenile Blackcap. All were new birds.

My intention had been to check on the Stock Doves and Barn Owl brood in the Ravensroost / Avis Meadows complex afterwards, so I had brought my ladder with me. With Michael and Ellie on hand to help, we were able to do just that. The first Stock Dove we checked is very close to fledging. Its wings are almost completely full grown and its plumage was extremely well-developed:

The beak hasn’t developed its pink colouration yet but you can see it underlying the grey. The second bird, which had been naked, feathers short, when we ringed it, has grown significantly. When I weighed it it was actually much heavier than the older, more developed, bird but, as you can see from the photo, its crop was very full:

This bird doesn’t look like it will be ready to fledge for a couple of weeks. Its wing feathers still have some serious growing to do being currently only at the two-thirds stage.

Having checked that these two are making good progress, we went over to Avis Meadows to check on the Barn Owls. This time there were only 4 in the box. At my last visit, when I ringed the fifth chick, I knew it was very close to fledging. The simple fact that it was caught outside of the box, and fluttering around on three-quarter grown wings when I ringed it, I knew it was likely to be off by the time I came back – and it was. The other 4 were well developed and looking on course to fledge within the next couple of weeks.

So, a satisfying end to a slightly disappointing session. Then to Saturday at Lower Moor Farm for CES 8. It started badly when the night before I found out I would be working solo (again) as my help had to cry off (these things happen, not criticising). So I knew I would have to start 30 minutes earlier. Up at 4:00, ready to go, when this occurred:

Just came apart in my hands whilst cleaning the lenses. As a fan of “The Blues Brothers” I am not averse to wearing sunglasses and driving in the dark. Just as well, as that is the only option I had, not having a backup pair of varifocals and my new ones not arriving until next Thursday!

I set my nets as usual and was pleasantly surprised to get six birds in my first round. That’s a big improvement! Unfortunately, it soon reverted to type and I ended up with a catch of 21 birds. Comparing with CES 8 in 2019, that is one-third of what I caught back then. There were a few juveniles, and the highlight of the catch was my first juvenile Kingfisher of the year. I have attached a short video of weighing the bird: we just lay them down, on their back, on the scales, and they stay quiet. Last time I posted a photo of this process someone reported to the BTO that the bird looked dead. It wasn’t. They, being uber-cautious about social media, asked me to remove it, which I did. Just watch and you will see, as my two witnesses did (a couple who happened to turn up whilst I was processing the bird and took lots of photos, including one of it flying away at the end of the process – watch for the Lower Mill Estate Newsletter as they will be publishing them in that), that this bird was pretty laid back during this experience.

Furthermore, I actually had to extract it again, this time from the very last net as I was taking down at the end of the day. I couldn’t believe my luck when I thought I had a second for the session, soon turned out that I was right to be sceptical. That said, the net it was retrapped in was at the opposite end from where I caught it originally and, when I released it after processing, it flew off across the lake towards the farmhouse, directly away from where my nets were set.

The catch for the session was: Kingfisher [1]; Treecreeper [1]; Blue Tit [1]; Wren [3]; Dunnock 1[1]; Robin [1]; Song Thrush (1); Blackcap 2[2](1); Garden Warbler (2); Chiffchaff [2](1); Bullfinch 1. Totals: 4 adults ringed from 3 species; 12 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 5 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 21 birds processed from 11 species.

Two Worrying Sessions: 8th & 9th July 2021

I was excited: back into Ravensroost Wood after 6 months away. Really looking forward to it. On Wednesday I went down to site and cleared the ride that I was going to use. There are some restrictions as to where I can work but we have agreed a number of the paths through the site where I can set my nets. One of the downsides of lockdown has been the massive increase in footfall through the nature reserve and, to avoid incidents, I have been working in areas on Wiltshire Wildlife Trust sites that are either not open to the public or where I can prevent access. This is as a result of the vandalism done to my nets back in July of last year. They got away lightly, paying £100 to replace my net in order to avoid going to court and getting a criminal record. However, their actions brought to a halt a project that had been running for 9 years, providing valuable information on the changes to the birdlife at the site as a result of the coppicing activities there. There is no compensation for that.

Whilst I will still be avoiding Ravensroost Wood at weekends, it has been agreed that I can return there on weekdays and that I can put up “No Entry” signs at either end of the net rides, to (hopefully) prevent unwanted, and unwarranted, interference. So on Thursday morning I arrived on site just after 6:00 and had my nets open by 6:30 and sat down to wait to see what would arrive. The first bird arrived at 7:25: it was a Song Thrush. Second in the nets was a Blackbird, which was caught at 8:35. Thereafter: nothing – not another bird so at 9:35 I decided to take down and go home. I am not sure what this says about the birds in Ravensroost Wood this year. We know it has been difficult for Blue and Great Tits but, to be honest, they are not the primary catch there at this time of year. It is usually Blackcap and Chiffchaff, with the odd Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker or Garden Warbler thrown in for good measure.

So to Lower Moor Farm this (Friday) morning for CES7. I was already concerned, as my last CES session there delivered only 38 birds compared to 96 in the equivalent session in 2019 (I was unable to carry out the CES last year due to restrictions on activity imposed by the BTO in response to Covid-19).

CES7 in 2019 delivered 86 birds, made up as follows: Treecreeper [1]; Blue Tit 1[3](1); Great Tit [2]; Long-tailed Tit (2); Wren [10](4); Robin [3](1); Song Thrush 1(1); Blackbird 1; Cetti’s Warbler [5](2); Blackcap [19](5); Garden Warbler [2]; Whitethroat 1[1]; Lesser Whitethroat [2]; Chiffchaff 1[14](2); Willow Warbler 1. Totals: 6 adults ringed from 6 species, 62 juveniles ringed from 11 species and 18 birds retrapped from 8 species, making 86 birds processed from 15 species.

So how did CES7 in 2021 compare? Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit [2]; Great Tit [1]; Dunnock [1](1); Robin [2]; Blackbird (1); Cetti’s Warbler [1]; Blackcap 1(1); Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff (2); Bullfinch [1]. Totals: 1 adult ringed, 8 juveniles ringed from 6 species and 7 birds retrapped from 6 species, making a total of 16 birds processed from 11 species. These are worrying results: where are the Blackcap and Chiffchaff young? Did the adults keep moving in May, to get away from the bad weather, or did their first broods fail? Hard to know, unless we get some retrap information on Lower Moor ringed birds being caught elsewhere. Hopefully there will be an improvement with second and possibly third broods.

I hate to be unremittingly negative so let’s finish on some high notes, my first juvenile Bullfinch of 2021:

My second juvenile Cetti’s Warbler of the year:

I don’t know where that odd feather came from!

And a lovely Marsh Orchid – the only one that I found on the site:

It was a darker purple than the photo shows – I have tried to enhance it but failed. Must dump the phone and take the proper equipment!

West Wilts Ringing Group: June 2021 results

Another interesting month. Overall it is our best catch since the group constituted in its current form but we actually ringed 153 fewer birds than last year’s previous best June, but retrapped 170 more.  The vast bulk of this month’s catch has come from Jonny’s efforts at Langford Lakes, Meadow Farm and the Western Way Balancing Ponds. Given that he spent one of his sessions helping out Graham and Phil with their CES for the North Wilts Group, and last weekend away in Bristol (okay, on the lash), that is quite some considerable effort on his part.  His Reed Warbler retrapping number is phenomenal.

For my part, my CES has been pretty bad compared to 2019, with an absolute dearth of young Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Blue and Great Tit. In 2019 I caught and ringed 45, 26, 50 and 15 juveniles respectively.  Last year was unavailable because of Covid restrictions and this year I caught 5 Blackcap; 3 Chiffchaff, 4 Great and 0 Blue Tit juveniles during my CES sessions at Lower Moor Farm in June.  That the numbers appear similar are thanks to Jonny’s catches. Imagine what the figures would have been like otherwise!

This was the catch and comparison with last year:

Notable amongst the results are the 2 Stone-curlew.  These are the first and only records I can find for the species for our group in Demon.  I have been told that the colour-ringing project has come to an end, hence these now appear on our group rings, rather than on the project rings.   I am not sure if this means that the Wessex Stone-curlew project itself has ended or just the colour-ringing phase.

Following last year’s hiatus  I was pleased to be able to get out and monitor some Barn Owl boxes in June. Firstly, I was pleased that so many of the team were happy to volunteer to help and, secondly, that we have had such good results.  We have checked 18 boxes and have ringed 5 broods of Barn Owl, totalling 15 young; 1 box had 4 naked young Barn Owls that were too small to ring, 2 boxes had roosting adults in them and we ringed 1 adult female Barn Owl from one of those boxes and we ringed 1 brood of 2 Jackdaw nestlings.  Two of the boxes have Barn Owl eggs in them and another 2 have Stock Doves nesting, each with a clutch of 2 eggs.  So, of the 18 boxes we checked there was activity in 13 of them and breeding activity in 11 of them!  Steph and I revisited the previously unringed brood and ringed the remaining 3 youngsters this morning.  They have a well-stocked larder, which is the same thing that I am finding all over the Braydon Forest area:

Dead Rodents and Owl Pellets and poo – lovely

There were 4 dead rodents amongst that mess!  It is absolutely astonishing that the adults always look so pristine (they live in equally squalid conditions) and that every photo you always see of them, adult or young, they look so clean!

See what I mean – doesn’t it look clean?

I hope to check another dozen boxes this month and then to do the whole lot again in August and, who knows, if it stays as good as this, maybe October.

So a very interesting June. I have little hope for the Blue and Great Tits this year, but with some good weather the warblers should produce at least one additional brood of youngsters, possibly even a third brood if the weather holds.

CES 6: Lower Moor Farm, Wrens-day, 30th June 2021

Working solo at Lower Moor Farm this morning, I was on site just after 4:00 and had the main nets open by 5:00 and all open by 5:30. Typically the first birds didn’t decide to put in an appearance until 6:15.

Apologies (not really) for the punning title but Wrens made up just under 25% of the catch, which is quite unusual for this site. It wasn’t my biggest catch of Wrens here: that was on 19th July 2019, when an astonishing catch of 14 of them went into the net (10 new, 4 retraps), but they made up only 16% of the total catch. Blackcaps (24) and Chiffchaffs (17) were the largest contributors in that 2019 catch.

It was an easy morning, as the birds came in dribs and drabs, but well rounded out with a lot of public interaction. I was joined for a while by a group from the new school set up in what was the Visitor Centre, plus one highly autistic lad from the Care Farm. The two youths from the school were fascinated by what I was doing and absolutely delighted to be shown how to safely hold and then release a wild bird. It is something I try to do whenever I get the chance: for wildlife to thrive we need future generations to be involved, not just people like me who are old enough to remember the last time England beat Germany in a tournament competition! (I am 66 – how appropriate.)

It was a good morning bird-wise as well. I have been hearing Cetti’s Warblers on and off since I started this year’s CES but catching them is very uncertain at the site, so I was delighted when I caught my first for the year at 7:15. It was an adult male – almost certainly one of those that had been declaring his territory with their explosive song all morning. Straight away after I caught another adult male in an adjacent net: possibly checking out the competition. This was a Cetti’s that I had ringed 2 years ago. Nice to know it had survived. Then, at 9:35 I caught my first juvenile Cetti’s of the year:

There were two other ringing highlights this morning: only my third ever Marsh Tit for the site. My nets are not set within the woodland, bar a 12m net on the edge of the wood, which is where I caught it.

I also got my first juvenile Whitethroat of the year for any of my sites:

This ties with the earliest catch I have had of a juvenile Whitethroat at Lower Moor Farm, matching 2016.

The list for the day was: Great Tit [3]; Marsh Tit 1; Wren [6](3); Dunnock 1[1](1); Robin [2]; Blackbird (1); Cetti’s Warbler 1[1](1); Blackcap [5](2); Garden Warbler 1[1]; Whitethroat [1]; Chiffchaff 2[2]; Bullfinch 2. Totals: 8 adults ringed from 6 species, 22 juveniles ringed from 9 species and 8 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 38 birds processed from 12 species.

The point of doing a CES (Constant Effort Site) is that it shows year on year how things are changing or otherwise. last year was a washout, due to the BTO’s restrictions on our activities in the face of the pandemic, so I have done a comparison with previous years. I had been under the impression that this year had, so far, been a disaster. The truth is a little different. The number of adults ringed in the first 6 sessions is reasonably on a par with previous years:

Not the best, but certainly not the worst and not too far away from 2019’s total. However, the real difference comes when you look at the numbers of juveniles ringed. This is clearly a reflection of the impact of May’s bad weather on breeding success so far:

Our worst year for juveniles since 2016. Again, the weather in May 2016 was comparable with this year: wet, cold and miserable for a considerable part of the month. This year we have caught 4 juvenile Great Tit in our CES sessions and no Blue Tit at all. In 2019 we had 15 Great Tit juveniles and 50 Blue Tit! That was exceptional, but that is one heck of a difference. Even in the limited catch in 2018 we caught 7 juvenile Great Tit and 10 juvenile Blue Tit. Blackcap and Chiffchaff numbers were also well down on 2019, but they will have second, and possibly, third broods and have a chance to recover numbers.

I closed the nets at 12:00 and left site about 13:30. It’s hard work, but doable, working solo.

Spurn Bird Observatory: Summer 2021 (so far)

The following blog piece is by Lucy Mortlock. Lucy is the latest to join the team and has been ringing with me since the beginning of October last year. She spent summer 2020 working in Northern Ireland, as part of her degree course, which included her getting an introduction to ringing. There she got to ring a pretty exotic list of species: including a couple that I haven’t had the privilege of ringing yet (Curlew, Oystercatcher). She officially became my trainee in March of this year, and has packed in an awful lot of sessions in between and since. That she was also studying for her finals at Reading University (my alma mater), made her commitment to the cause really impressive.

This summer she volunteered for a role as an assistant warden at Spurn Bird Observatory. What follows is her story so far:

What an exciting week I’ve had. I’m working at Spurn Bird Observatory in East Yorkshire, as a Little Tern Warden. I help the team to monitor and protect the Little Tern colony here. It’s the only little tern colony in Yorkshire, and has had some excellent success over the past few years. The little terns have started sitting and my favourite part of the job is counting the sitting birds each day and finding new individuals on their nests.

Anyway, I know you’re not here for the little terns…

This week has been a bit of a mega one for me. On Wednesday I joined the head ringer here to check on the little owls in the nest box, and was given the opportunity to ring two of them. They are really lovely, placid birds in the hand with extremely thick tarsi. I think this guy is just the cutest, but someone else referred to him as an ‘unfinished muppet’. Interestingly, in the little owl box we found one of the ringed plover that had been sitting in the colony with the little terns. This has provided a valuable insight into how the little owls use the surrounding area. (Editor’s note: Little Owl: 21-23 cm long, wing-length 155-175mm, weight 160-200g; Ringed Plover: 18-20cm long, wing-length 125-144mm, 50-90g. Apart from the obvious weight difference, their biometrics are reasonably similar. That’s quite a catch for what is usually an ambush predator and is mainly described as feeding on beetles and earthworms!).

On Friday I was taken out to ring a buzzard pullus. The nest was right at the top of a yew tree, and contained only one chick. I was surprised at how placid it was. I was shown how to hold the bird so that it was comfortable and I had good control over those awesome taloned feet, and found that it’s a surprisingly natural and comfortable process.

Lucy hard at work!

And finally, on Saturday, I was taken out to ring kestrel chicks! They were really loud, much more so than any of the other birds.

I’ve been really struck by how fragile these chicks seem and how much effort and energy their parents put into them to reach the point of fledging.

I’m very grateful to Paul, Jack and Simon for their help and advice, and the opportunity to ring these fantastic birds. I think I might have some new favourites…

(Biometric data from Baker, Jeff: Identification of European Non-Passerines, BTO Publications 2nd Revised Edition 2016)

In the Garden: Saturday, 26th June 2021

Having scheduled CES 6 for Sunday, so that Annie and Steph could make it, I decided that I would open a couple of nets and Potter traps in the garden on Saturday morning. I set them up Friday night, so I didn’t have to get up too early. The nets were furled, the Potter traps were locked open, so the birds could get used to them. I also had my moth trap out overnight as well. When, due to old man’s syndrome, I woke at 5:15, I went and closed up the moth trap. At that time the bait in the Potter traps was still intact. By the time I set them to catch 4 hours later, they were empty: so I was a little disappointed to only catch a single Starling in them over the course of the morning.

Knowing that Sunday morning would be a 3:30 start, I didn’t bother to set an alarm. Not being willing to stay up from 5:15, I went back to bed for a few more hours sleep. Consequently I didn’t open the nets until 9:30. Despite that I still caught more birds from more species in three-and-a-half hours than I did in six at Red Lodge on Wednesday!

My target for the morning were the juvenile Goldfinches hitting the sunflower hearts at my feeding station and the juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker that has been regularly present on the peanut feeder for the last two weeks.

The first bird out of the nets was a female Greenfinch with a nicely ripe brood patch. Possibly first brood but, equally possible, given that I have seen juvenile Greenfinches in the garden, a second brood. This is where bad weather in May at the start of the breeding season, whilst usually disastrous for Blue and Great Tits, who rarely try for a second brood, is less of an issue for many other species.

The highlights of the morning were: my first juvenile Goldfinch of the year:

This was followed soon after by one of the rarer birds of this breeding season:

Only my third juvenile Blue Tit of the year! I also caught a juvenile Dunnock and three juvenile Starlings. There was only one disappointment really: the juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker did get caught in the net but escaped before I could get to it. As usual, I did manage to catch a Woodpigeon in my nets. It is a mark of the strength of the Merlin nets I use in the garden that they can take the weight and strength of these birds without becoming damaged, as my other, more expensive nets, would.

The list for the session was: Woodpigeon 1; Blue Tit [1](1); Dunnock [1]; Goldfinch 2[1](1); Greenfinch 1; Starling 1[3]; House Sparrow 1. Totals: 6 adults ringed from 5 species; 6 juveniles ringed from 4 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species. As much as I enjoy my birds, mothing has tremendous variety and will be my failsafe / fall back when I can no longer go ringing. Some classy moths made an appearance overnight:

Elephant Hawkmoth
Privet Hawkmoth

With my neighbours on one side having some sort of garden party from noon and the neighbour on the other side having his usual Saturday afternoon play with his chainsaw, angle grinder or whatever other noisy equipment he can find to ruin the peace and tranquility of living in the countryside, I shut the nets just after 13:00 and retreated behind the peace and quiet of ultra-thick cottage walls and damned fine double-glazing.

Red Lodge: Wednesday, 23rd June 2021

This was my first visit back to Red Lodge since the problems encountered with a pair of vandals on the 24th April. I have not been back until one of my team was available to join me, as I feel I need to have support and witnesses when in public areas now. Fortunately, Alice was able to join me for the morning. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch many birds.

The list for the morning was: Treecreeper [1]; Great Tit [2]; Wren 1; Robin [3](1); Song Thrush [1]; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 2[2]; Chiffchaff 1. Totals: 5 adult birds ringed from 4 species; 9 juveniles ringed from 5 species and 1 retrap, making 15 birds processed from 8 species.

So, a small catch. Good to get a couple more juvenile Great Tits, tragic that this means that they have overtaken Blue Tits in the juvenile stakes: 3 to 2. Pathetically small numbers when compared with previous years. My catch between the 1st and 23rd June inclusive in 2018 was 13 Blue Tit, 22 Great Tit; in 2019 it was 44 Blue Tit, 17 Great Tit and in 2020, despite the restrictions imposed because of Covid, it was 11 Blue Tit and 19 Great Tit. However, compared to the disastrous year of 2016, it isn’t quite as bad: 1 Blue Tit and 2 Great Tit in that awful year for the young of these species.

It was a little frustrating as we could hear birds calling everywhere: Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Marsh, Blue and Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrest, all species we catch regularly at the site, were seen and heard but not caught.

We had chats with some of the regulars, all keen to ensure that we weren’t having any issues with “incomers”. Ian, walking Denver, the biggest, most muscular and friendly Black Labrador you are ever going to meet, and the man who found the dead Buzzard previously blogged about, told me about another Buzzard found badly injured in Red Lodge. This time it was the result of a collision with the overhead power lines. He took it to Oak & Furrows but I suspect it has been euthanised.

After a quick lunch, Alice and I headed off to Waterhay to check on the Barn Owl boxes there. Suffice to say, it was about as productive as our morning session. Box one (which we hadn’t managed to get to last autumn to clean out, as the fields were in use) was full of nesting material: both Barn Owl and Jackdaw. I cleared it out and, hopefully, it will attract in a Barn Owl pair for a later brood. The second box was as completely empty as it had been after cleaning it out last autumn, except for a couple of Jackdaw nest twigs. Although this box is seriously dilapidated, it is the most regularly used for nesting, and we ringed four nestlings there last year. The third box did deliver hope: as we approached an adult flew off from the box. When Alice climbed up to check she found 5 warm eggs in the nest. This looks like a complete clutch, so we will be back to check it again in a month. Hopefully they will be old enough to ring by then.

On the verge where we parked the car to visit box three, I found this on the ground directly under the tree it, presumably, was built in:

It looks like a Goldfinch nest to me. If anybody has a better idea I would love to hear your opinion – I am no expert on nests. I have no idea why it was on the ground. It didn’t look damaged by a predator. We have had young Goldfinch in our Purton garden for over a week now, so hopefully they fledged before it fell out of the tree.

It was a quiet day all round, but Alice is good company, and we have the information for some more productive sessions in a few weeks.

The Firs: Saturday, 19th June 2021

After yesterday’s torrential rain, which put an end to my plans to check even more Barn Owl boxes, I was rather worried as to what we would find at the Firs this morning. It was justified. I was joined by Ellie for the session, and we had far too much time to sit and chat, as there were few birds hitting the nets.

We set 7 x 18m nets down the central glade and all nets did catch but only 17 birds. The catch for the day was: Treecreeper [1](1); Blue Tit (1); Great Tit (1); Coal Tit (1); Wren 2(1); Dunnock 1; Robin [3](1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (1); Blackcap 1; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 6 adults ringed from 5 species, 4 juveniles ringed from 2 species and 7 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 17 birds processed from 11 species.

Conspicuous by their absence were any juvenile Blue or Great Tits. The highlight of the catch was our first juvenile Treecreeper of the year:

Not only the highlight but it was very obliging in posing for a photo. I so rarely take a decent photograph of this species: they tend to hunch in the hand and that, coupled with its seriously decurved beak, always makes them look so miserable, so I am pleased with this photo.

On one of our early rounds Ellie noticed this handsome creature straddling two plants:

Photo by Ellie Jones

Neither of us are experts but, after reviewing our field guides and then checking photos on the internet, I agree with Ellie’s diagnosis of Oak Beauty, Biston strataria. Although most pictures show the caterpillar as grey, there are different colour morphs, and this fits one of those. Particularly diagnostic are the muted orange face and rear end and the various small protuberances along the body. Also, the habitat and timings are all fitting for this species. It should develop into one of these if it gets to pupate:

Caught at light in my Purton back garden

With the catch having dwindled away to nothing we took down at 11:30 and left site just after midday. Lovely chatting to Ellie, just need a few more birds next time!

More Barn Owl Checking: Thursday, 17th June 2021

Cracking session this morning checking owl boxes with Annie. We started out at 9:30 (my laziness after being up at 3:00 yesterday morning) and we only managed 4 boxes in 2.5 hours. What with travel, loading and unloading the ladder, and some emergency box maintenance, it was actually good going. Our actual time handling the birds was less than 5 minutes per box. They were all (bar one) very sleepy – probably because they have been up all night being extremely well-fed.

The breakdown of what we found was as follows:

Box 1: a roosting adult

Box 2: 4 extremely well-fed juveniles, downy, some tail feather development. So well fed that they could afford to leave a dead short-tailed vole in the larder and 3 of the four could all expel some extremely messy projectile poo in my direction. Only one hit. We had to reaffix the back of the box, as it had come adrift. The landowner was extremely helpful: providing me with some fine wire and a pair of wire cutters to enable me to effect the repair. This was one of the four owlets in his box:

Photo by Annie Hatt

These landowners are so enthusiastic about the Barn Owls on their land. I know when I speak with them that they will be able to tell me chapter and verse on how the parents have been acting.

Strike One – photo by Annie

Box 3: 4 naked, very newly-hatched young and an adult. We didn’t think there would be anything in there, as the back of the box was missing. We looked all around for it and couldn’t see it. When I climbed up to have a look, the back was lying flat at the back of the box, absolutely covered in poo. I gave it as much of a clean as I could and managed to reaffix it so that, hopefully, it will last until we can make a permanent repair when we go back to ring them in a couple of weeks.

Box 4: 3 nicely developed young. Feathers medium, and they should fledge within the next two weeks. One, which I have called Hissing Sid appearing on Britain’s Got Talons, was a remarkably sparky bird. Had we left this another week I would not have been able to ring him, for fear of it fledging prematurely. He was hissing at me all the time until he was in the bag and did so again after I put him back and until I closed the box again. I say “he” because he had enough developed plumage to establish sex.

I suffer for my schedule 1 licence! My left hand has a number of new holes in it. This box too had issues with the back panel. It looked as if someone had taken a hammer to it and smashed it inwards. Again, I did a running repair to keep them safe until fledging. Outside box 4, as well as the pellets in the box, Annie found these masses of bones clumped in the bushes underneath.

Food mass – photo by Annie

This morning’s session just shows how variable Barn Owl nesting / breeding can be: 3 different broods at very different stages of development, never mind the intra-brood variation, all within the vicinity of Webb’s Wood in the Braydon Forest area.

CES 5: Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 16th June 2021

When I set up my CES site back in 2015 I initially thought that I would put up lots of net, but then I thought about whether that would be the sensible thing to do: I am not getting any younger and, whilst I have been spoilt by the degree of support I have had from my team, they are all getting jobs or continuing in education towards Masters, PhD’s etc, which takes them away from midweek sessions. Or else some fool (this fool) advances them to C-permit, so they have their own sites and projects that they want to work on. Today was one of those days when I was working the CES solo. Even with just 5 rides of 12 nets in total, that meant a 3:30 start, so I could get the first nets open by 4:30.

It was a fairly quiet morning on the bird front. I am pretty sure that the terrible weather in May has driven a lot of our migrants further east and away from the site. In 2019, the last time I could run the CES (i.e. pre-Covid) in the equivalent session I ringed 74 birds from 16 species and retrapped 21 birds from 10 species: making 95 birds from 17 species. Today was nothing like that.

This is not to say that it wasn’t an enjoyable session: it certainly had its highlights. Key amongst them was my first juvenile Garden Warbler of the year:

It looks very fluffy, very scruffy, just out of the nest, and its tail and wing feathers were still growing. You can see the a couple of the under-tail coverts in pin. All consistent with a bird that has just left the nest, but under those wings and along the flanks there was significant levels of body moult, which suggests it left the nest over a week ago.

The second highlight was a Green Woodpecker:

This is a female. You can sex it on the malar stripe, which is all black. The male has a red flash through the middle of it. Underlining her sex: she had a well-developed brood patch. Given where she was caught (twice), I suspect that her nest is on the island on Mallard Lake, adjacent to the Wildlife Refuge. Lower Moor Farm is the place that I catch this species most often: 4 per year in 2018 and 2019 respectively: 30% of the county total for that species for those years.

At CES 3 on the 26th May we ringed a female Blackcap, AHR8454. In CES 4, on the 5th June, we caught her again and she had just started replacing its tail. All of the new feathers were there, but all fully in pin. I caught her again today and, perhaps this helps explain why there are fewer birds around:

The feathers are about two-thirds grown now but look at the clear fault bars on the feathers. Those highlighted areas are so thin that those feathers will almost certainly break along those lines. Fault lines usually reflect issues with the weather and / or lack of food. Obviously the weather has been getting hotter since it was first retrapped this year, and the place was alive with insects this morning, from midges and mosquitoes, through horse flies (the only thing that didn’t care that I was liberally doused with Jungle Formula and got through my defences (it didn’t get away again though)) to Damselflies and Dragonflies. There does seem to be a lot of potential food around for insectivorous birds. My trickiest extraction of the day was a female Emperor Dragonfly. Fortunately she came out in one piece. In fact, they all kept their heads today: which is quite a feat when I had to extract a dozen or so, mainly Black-tailed Skimmers.

The list for the day was: Green Woodpecker 1; Wren 1(3); Dunnock [1](2); Robin 1[1]; Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 2(1); Garden Warbler [1](3); Chiffchaff 1(2). Totals: 7 adult birds ringed from 6 species; 3 juvenile birds ringed from 3 species and 13 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 23 birds processed from 8 species.

The key differences between this session and the 2019 equivalent session is in Blackcaps: 2 adults and 13 juveniles ringed and 6 retraps; Chiffchaffs: 19 juveniles ringed and 4 retraps and, significantly given results everywhere else in my sites, Blue Tit: 1 adult and 12 juveniles ringed.

I had a very sociable morning: Colin, out photographing Dragonflies and Damselflies, was extremely chatty and we had a good long talk about a wide range of topics but, particularly, Scottish Wildcats and rare orchids in the UK. Later in the morning, I was able to do a brief ad hoc ringing demonstration to one of the slightly older Well-Being groups (usually it is to school age children, these were college age and a bit more). They were a really pleasant bunch and completely absorbed in what I was doing. Particularly, they were impressed with the story of the migratory habits of the Garden Warbler retrap that I processed whilst they were with me. They then went off to get on with what they had been brought to Lower Moor Farm for, whilst I took down and packed away. As I was leaving site they were all walking up the path ahead of me: all dressed up in their bee-keeping outfits: it looked like something out of Doctor Who!

Taking down was hard graft in the heat, which was where I missed not having any help the most. However, instead of getting away at 12:30, I got away at 13:00, so perhaps I am just making a fuss about nothing.