In The Garden: Saturday, 18th September 2021

I was not planning to ring in the garden this morning: I was hoping for a session at Ravensroost Meadows luring for Swallows and House Martins, but my car had other ideas and burned the clutch out as I returned from setting up a couple of feeders at Lower Moor Farm for next week’s ringing demonstration last Thursday. Quite astonishingly, although the instantly recognisable stink of a failing clutch kicked in as I left the site, I managed to get the car home and parked up in its usual position before the clutch failed completely. Now the pedal goes to the floor and won’t return, so the gears can’t engage. My friendly local mechanic will, hopefully, have it fixed before next weekend.

As a result, I decided to set up in the garden. Just 2 x 6m nets, one either side of the feeder set up: an arch feeder support with 2 x Sunflower Hearts; 1 x Fat Balls feeders (X1 on the diagram) and 1 x Peanuts (X2 in the apple tree). This is my setup:

The nets are red 1 and 2. Interestingly, only net 1 caught any of the birds. I did notice flocks of Goldfinch flying in and out but their ascent and descent has been virtually vertical, so I have caught a few, but only a fraction of what is actually coming in to the garden.

This was my favourite catch of the morning:

Collared Dove juvenile

Since the ringing group came into its current structure, at the beginning of 2013, we have ringed only 6 Collared Doves: 2 in Andy Palmer’s garden in Warminster and 4 in my Purton garden. It isn’t that they aren’t common, they are, but they are very good at getting out of mist nets. This is a juvenile: the iris is a dark brown colour, which is a diagnostic feature.

Apart from that, a number of Woodpigeons managed to blunder into the nets. One key feature of the Merlin nets I use in my garden: they are strong enough to hold these heavy birds without ripping: they all weighed in at just under half a kilogram. All three were juveniles: but one was very young. As you can see from the photograph, it doesn’t yet have its white collar:

Woodpigeon juvenile

The rest of the catch was as expected: Blue and Great Tits and Goldfinch, as follows: Woodpigeon [3]; Collared Dove [1]; Blue Tit 2[12](4); Great Tit [2]; Goldfinch 3[8]. Totals: 5 adults ringed from 2 species, 26 juveniles ringed from 5 species and 4 birds retrapped from 1 species, making 35 birds processed from 5 species.

There were actually 27 juveniles processed. One of the Blue Tit retraps was a juvenile ringed just 6 days ago in my session at Blakehill Farm. Some post-fledging dispersal going on. It is of interest to me because of some recent discussion after the release of a paper looking at the possible impact of feeding robust resident birds on those that do not participate and are less aggressive (everything is less aggressive than Blue Tits), e.g. Blue Tits vs Marsh Tits. I intend to blog about this when I have reread the paper and done a bit more analysis from our group records.

Ravensroost Wood: Wednesday, 15th September 2021

Working in Ravensroost Wood has become a somewhat fraught business since July 2020. I had a number of reasonable sessions in there, with the over-winter feeding station set up, during the period October to December 2020 inclusive. After that I was told by the Wildlife Trust that the footfall in the wood was just too great to be sure that there would not be a repeat of the problems previously encountered. They did not want me potentially being exposed in that way again. The plan was to agree and / or create a series of rides which could be shut off from the general public. This never did happen: we discussed it, and then we were into the breeding season, which put an end to the potential for removing vegetation and creating new rides, still with a lot of discussion and feasibility studies to do. In the end, it was agreed that I could shut off some of the less travelled public rides with “No Entry” and cautioning signs to see if that worked.

On the 8th July I tried out one of the rides using the agreed signs. In four hours I caught two birds: a Blackbird and a Song Thrush! It was the breeding season, so I wasn’t using any sort of lure. Today I tried again, this time with lures for the commoner autumn migrant species: Blackcap and Chiffchaff. None of my woodland sites have been delivering large catches this breeding season, but that was a new low.

I was joined for the session by Rosie from the Wildlife Trust’s estates team and Miranda, both of whom have expressed an interest in ringing. It was an improvement on the July session – just. We had one or two birds per round, but a total of just 14 birds in 6 hours was a poor return for the effort. However, with two potential trainees who hadn’t handled birds before, it did give plenty of time for training them in some of the basics without them feeling pressured. Rosie had to leave at 8:30 to get to work, but Miranda could stay for the whole session.

The list for the session was: Great Tit 2(1); Marsh Tit [1](1); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 1; Robin 1; Blackcap [3]; Chiffchaff [1]; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 1 bird ringed unaged, 5 adult birds ringed from 4 species, 5 juvenile birds ringed from 3 species and 3 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 14 birds processed from 8 species.

My highlight was a new, juvenile, Marsh Tit: hopefully I will find quite a few more in the next few months, particularly after I set up the feeding station in November or when the weather turns, whichever is the earlier.

I don’t normally ring at Ravensroost Wood on a Wednesday but I had forgotten that it is the day that the Ravensroost volunteers carry out their maintenance works. Sure enough, the volunteer team turned up at about 9:00. They are always interested in the ringing activities and, helpfully, some of them help ensure the winter feeding station is topped up if I cannot make it there for any reason. They are currently scything down the trackside vegetation, as a preparation for winter and next spring, to allow the spring flowers to come through.

Miranda and I packed up at 12:30 and were off site by 13:00.

A Wiltshire First For Me! Blakehill Farm: Sunday, 12th September 2021

With a 5:00 start, to get the nets open on the plateau before it was light, I was joined for the first time by Adam Cross, a C-permit holder recently moved to Chippenham. The team also included David and Anna, Anna’s first visit to Blakehill Farm. We set the same nets as last time plus 5 x 18m nets on the perimeter track. The catching was the reverse of last time: the Mipit triangle delivered the majority of the birds and the other plateau nets very few..

I had noticed, when I went to do a bit of ride maintenance yesterday, that the electric fence had been reinstalled and there was a fresh cowpat near one of the bushes. Sure enough, whilst putting the nets up over a dozen large, beefy lumps wandered out of the mist. Fortunately, they soon realised that we weren’t very interesting and wandered off from the rank, tussocky grass, and the prickly bushes where we were setting our nets to find some sweeter grass elsewhere. It is great that the cattle that the Trust farm (I think these were either Dexter or Aberdeen Angus) are generally placid and disinterested in our activities.

So, what is the title about? The last net to be set up was the Mipit triangle. Whilst working on it I had left the car with the tailgate up. Adam pointed out that there was a bird on the car, he took a quick photo from distance, in the mist:

Photo by Adam Cross, edited by me

The mist prevented getting a really good sight of the bird but, as it flew off, we agreed it was almost certainly a Wheatear. Whilst Wheatear are common enough on passage at Blakehill Farm, they tend to be along the perimeter track on the opposite side of the site, where I am reluctant to set nets: too open and easily seen, not by the birds, but by walkers and birders, and I have experienced complaint from that quarter when ringing on the plateau in the past.

Our first round was very quiet: probably because of the mist. It was nice to get my team’s first Sedge Warbler of the autumn migration, the first bird out of the nets, followed by an early morning Wren.

Sedge Warbler

For the second round, I checked the perimeter track hedgerow nets (empty), whilst the others checked the plateau nets. They came back with a good haul of birds, and I thought that this could be a really good session. When Adam handed me a bag with a Wheatear in it, I knew that, for me, it was a red-letter day. I have ringed Wheatear before: having been lucky enough to process two on Skokholm back in September 2014, but that is it and I have never done one on my home patch. Checking the group records that are available online, the group has only ringed 13 of them in Wiltshire. The online records show data since 1989 – but it is probably only complete from 2000 onwards, as not all paper records have been digitised. The previous most recent Wheatear was processed back in September 2012 on Salisbury Plain. All of the sites that had previously caught Wheatear were transferred to the North Wilts Ringing Group when it split from the West Wilts Ringing Group at the beginning of 2013.

Wheatear

I am not sure why it looks quite so fat: it was a decent weight but not huge. It probably had fluffed itself up but it wasn’t cold. Suffice to say, it flew off strongly when released.

The bulk of the catch brought back was Meadow Pipit. They have definitely arrived now, certainly earlier than last year. In the equivalent session last year (11th September 2020) we caught just the one. The catch was good and regular throughout the morning. As the sun broke through the mist, and the air warmed up, the Crane-flies became more apparent and started settling on the nets. Perhaps that is what draws in the insectivorous birds to this part of the plateau? That said, the blackberry bushes are absolutely laden this year and will, hopefully, be bringing in plenty of birds themselves over the next month or so.

We were joined for an hour or so by Neil Pullen from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. He took a few photos of us processing birds and we had a bit of discussion about the plateau management at Blakehill and the potential for ringing in the other parts of the site that we don’t currently cover.

Adam had to leave at 11:00 and the rest of us decided that we would start packing up at just gone 11:30, and started shutting the nets after we had emptied them. I did the perimeter track nets and David and Anna did the plateau. The perimeter track nets never did anything that warranted having erected them (one Robin and one Great Tit being the sum total), which is unusual. However, the plateau nets delivered an excellent coup de grace: a couple of Whinchat. That gave both David and Anna a first each for their records.

Whinchat – photo by Anna Cooper

The list for the day was a very satisfying: Blue Tit [3]; Great Tit [1](1); Wren [1]; Meadow Pipit 1[38]; Dunnock (1); Wheatear [1]; Whinchat [2]; Robin 1; Sedge Warbler [1]; Blackcap [1]; Chiffchaff [3]; Willow Warbler [1]; Reed Bunting 1[1]. Totals: 1 bird ringed unaged; 2 adults ringed from 2 species; 53 juveniles ringed from 11 species, making 58 birds processed from 13 species.

The one that got away: in last year’s session we caught a Kestrel. This year we had a Kestrel chase a Meadow Pipit into the nets. Unfortunately, it managed to extricate itself before we could get to it! Mind, in trying to correct the fumbling of a now departed trainee, last year’s Kestrel lacerated my thumb, so perhaps that was a good thing!

We were all packed up and ready to go by 13:00.

The Firs: Wednesday, 8th September 2021

It has been a fair time since I was last in the Firs: the 19th June to be exact. At that time, in keeping with my other woodland sites, the catch was low, just 17 birds, mainly because of the lack of Blue and Great Tits. Clearly, I was hoping for a better return this time, possibly a catch augmented by some passing migrants. The work done in the Firs over the last few years has yielded some excellent blackberry bushes: always a draw to migrating Blackcaps and Garden Warblers.

I was joined by Ellie for this morning’s session. We arranged a start time of 6:30 (luxury) as I noticed, both at Red Lodge on Saturday and Ravensroost Meadows yesterday, the birds did not start moving until gone 7:00. We were joined for the morning by a Robin. It hopped around our ringing station whilst we were sat processing birds. At one point it started to warble a quiet song, almost as though it was singing to itself, rather than proclaiming a territory. It was, basically, singing with its mouth shut. I have not seen that before but, then I haven’t had a Robin quite so willing to come that close before without the inducement of food.

We set the usual nets down the central glade and set a few lures, for Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher, none of which produced spectacularly or, to put it another way, two Blackcaps and no Spotted Flycatchers! The first bird out of the nets was a Song Thrush: the first I have caught in the Braydon Forest woodlands in exactly two months (a spectacularly bad session in Ravensroost Wood on the 8th July, where I caught precisely two birds in three hours before giving up and going home). The catching was slow and steady, giving us plenty of walks down and up the Firs hill (it doesn’t look much but it gives plenty of cardiothoracic exercise).

There is a well-known superstition about ringing in the Firs: no matter how slowly the morning has gone, never say or think “if there are no birds this round we will make it the last” because when you do, that last round will produce a lot of birds! Just before we embarked on our 11:00 round, that thought came into my mind. The first net we came to was populated with a good number of Blue and Great Tits and there were several other birds in the other nets. Okay, it didn’t match the sixty-plus we have had in the past, but it more than doubled our catch for the day!

The list for the session was: Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 1[16](3); Great Tit 1[5](2); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 1[1]; Robin [2]; Song Thrush 1[1]; Blackcap [2]. Totals: 5 adults / full grown birds from 5 species, 27 juveniles ringed from 6 species and 6 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 38 birds processed from 8 species.

Nuthatch, like Long-tailed Tit and House Sparrow, are increasingly difficult to age as the year develops. This is because both adults and young undergo an extensive moult post-breeding / fledging and moult into full adult plumage – hence the description of the Nuthatch as “full grown”, as there was no clue as to whether it was a bird of this year, last year or five years ago.

There are some encouraging signs in this catch and the last at Red Lodge: principally that, despite an awful breeding season there are still a number of Blue and Great Tits around. This catch actually compares favourably with previous years, being larger than all other visits in September, except for 2019, which had a catch of 62 birds. It looks as though the titmice are already forming their foraging / feeding flocks for the winter.

So, as the session started nicely with a Song Thrush in the nets, it ended similarly, but this time with the Nuthatch in the nets. We had heard, both singing and hammering, and watched them in the trees all morning, so it was fitting to finish the day with one in the nets. After an enjoyable session we packed up and were off site just after 12:30.

What a surprise! Ravensroost Meadows: Tuesday, 7th September 2021

You will have to wait a wee while before we get to that particular surprise.

I arrived on site at 5:30 and set my usual nets along the back hedges, and across the narrow causeway (picking my footsteps around the huge pile of dog faeces some “responsible” owner hadn’t bothered to clear away). I also set an 18m net along the field side edge of the pond, and another along the field side raised bank behind the pond. The hope was for a catch of Swallows and / or House Martins.

It was a misty start to the morning and the birds didn’t start moving until just after 7:00. First out of the nets were a Chiffchaff, Bullfinch, Robin and Reed Warbler. This Reed Warbler is the first caught at the site in September. Last year we caught 2 in July (probable breeders) but in 8 years we have only caught 8 in total – with none between August 2015 and those last year.

The Bullfinch, clearly a juvenile, with no sign of its black cap developing, was able to be sexed. In the photo below you can see a number of feathers in pin on the breast. The colour in the photo isn’t great but the tips poking out were pink: it’s a boy!

Juvenile Bullfinch

That was a good start, but what happened next was a real surprise. At the start of the third round, as I walked away from the ringing station, a bird flew off from the edge of the pond. I didn’t see what it was and thought, knowing my luck, that it would just fly out into the meadow. Then I saw the single 12m net start bouncing and ran over to extract what turned out to be a Snipe:

Juvenile Snipe

Some who know me would say that the significant thing about that catch is the fact that I ran for it! True – but if you have no trainees with you, sometimes you just have to do the work yourself.

We have caught Snipe – on the ponds at Blakehill Farm, using specific wader nets and lures in January 2019 and 2020. This is the first time that I have even seen Snipe at this site. It was a cracking catch. Looking back over the Group’s historical records (those that are on-line, anyway), way back to 1986, there are only 3 other instances of Snipe being caught in September – 2001 and 2009 at Swindon Sewage Treatment Works and 2006 in Nightingale Wood. Mind, one of the 2009 catches is special to me: that’s when I ringed my first 2 Snipe. It was mid-week at 20:00. Matt Prior had done one of his ad hoc evening catching sessions and called me at home to get my backside down to the works, as he had something special for me to ring. He wasn’t wrong. On that occasion he caught 5 of them: the biggest catch for the Group to date.

The session was a nice even pace, which was great as things warmed up. It was a regular 3 or 4 birds per round for most of the morning, ending up on a total of 30. The list for the session was: Snipe [1]; Blue Tit [3]; Wren [3]; Dunnock 1; Robin [2](1); Reed Warbler [1]; Blackcap 1[10]; Chiffchaff [4]; Chaffinch [1]; Bullfinch [1](1). Totals: 2 adults ringed from 2 species, 26 juveniles ringed from 9 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 30 birds processed from 10 species.

You will have noticed there has been no mention of Swallows or House Martins since the introductory paragraph. That is because I didn’t see any whilst I was ringing. I started packing up at 11:30, taking it slow, firstly because a few more birds ended up in the nets whilst I was trying to get them shut and, having processed them, I got back to find that two more had got caught in the two nets I hadn’t got around to closing. I closed those nets and then went to process them before taking the whole lot down. The other reason: it was very hot by 11:30 and, although the nets and the ringing station were in shade, to avoid heat stress for both ringer and birds, it was hard work. In the end it was after 13:00 when I left site. As I stopped to shut the gate to the pond area a couple of dozen Hirundines decided to start buzzing around the meadow and the pond area! Such is life! Next time!

Red Lodge: Saturday, 4th September 2021

I was surprised to find that this is the first time I have visited Red Lodge in a September since 17th September 2016. In number terms, the results were rather similar, with 37 processed this morning and 39 processed back then. The species make up was quite different, and we only had one retrapped bird this morning, compared to 10 back then.

I was joined by Anna for the morning, and she got her first real experience of just how much fun Blue Tits can be! Because the key catch this morning was an encouraging number of Blue Tits. Every one caught was a juvenile completing its post-fledging moult. That does seem to have been an extended process this year, given that most will have fledged during June. However, given how few we have processed this summer, to catch 16 in a single flock was surprising and very welcome.

Not only have Blue Tits been in short supply in our catches in the Braydon Forest this summer but Coal Tits have been virtually non-existent! Before today, only three were caught since the beginning of May, and only one juvenile. Today we managed to add just one more juvenile and no adults. Similarly, we have only caught seven Great Tits in the woodlands in that period, and two of those were actually in the Ravensroost Meadow area, not inside the wood. Of those, only two were juveniles and they were both caught in Red Lodge. Today we added another three juveniles and an adult to that total, but the numbers are still way down on normal. As for Marsh Tits, what Marsh Tits? Just two juveniles on Somerford Common in June: no other adults or juveniles. Not Paridae but Long-tailed Tits have also been missing: before today just 1 caught, at Ravensroost Meadows in the period. Today we added 1 new bird and recaptured another that was ringed in Red Lodge on 2nd January 2019.

My highlight of the morning was to catch three of these:

This Nuthatch was the second bird out of the nets, a male, with two others, both females, arriving in our large catch in the round at 10:00. What is particularly nice about this catch of three was that, whilst we can catch them in those sorts of numbers, it is usually when they have been attracted to a feeding station, which means that they are often recaptures. Indeed, the only other Nuthatch caught in this summer period was a retrap at the Firs. These three were all new birds. Only one could clearly be aged as a juvenile: the other two having fully completed their moult, which renders the adults and juveniles indistinguishable from each other (as is also the case with Long-tailed Tit and House Sparrow amongst the species I am likely to encounter).

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 1[2]; Blue Tit [16]; Great Tit 1[3]; Coal Tit [1]; Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren [4]; Robin [2]; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff [4]. Totals: 4 adults / full-grown ringed from 4 species, 32 juveniles ringed from 7 species and 1 retrapped bird, making 37 birds processed from 9 species.

One of the nice things about Red Lodge are the people who live locally. They have always been friendly, interested and helpful (the vandals from a previous session were not locals, they were post-lockdown joggers (for want of a better word that won’t contravene the BTO’s social media guidelines)), with colour ring sightings of the Marsh Tits and offers to top up the feeders when the feeding station is up in the winter. In return, I play host to them and their children when they want to see the birds. Today we were joined by Esme (and her Dad) who was delighted to have the chance to be pecked by Blue Tits! Perhaps she is a ringer in waiting!

The breeze got up a bit and the birds had stopped coming in, so we closed the nets at about a quarter to midday, took down and left site about 13:00. It was great to have a normal session once again!

West Wilts Ringing Group August 2021 Results

This August was a bad one for me, just able to get out for 5 ringing sessions, as I spent much of the month crippled with arthritis, and then fed up with small catches when I could get out. I don’t go for huge catches: 20 to 30 birds per person in a 6 hour session is always my aim. That gives plenty of time for appreciation of the bird in the hand, ensuring we get the details right without stressing either bird or ringer, and for training the team. At the moment it is more like 10 to 12 per person per 6 hour session. Therefore, I am astonished to report that this is our second best August for the group in its current form!  Most of that is down to Jonny and his work around the reed beds and waterways at three of his sites.

We didn’t have either of the spectacular catches from last year: Long-eared Owl and Nightjar; nor did we have some of the early migrants / scarcer residents: Whinchat and Meadow Pipit, and several of our regular woodland / garden species, namely Marsh and Coal Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw and Woodpigeon. We ended up with birds from 40 species, compared to 45 in August last year.

We did add a new species to our list: Canada Goose! Why, or how, Jonny managed to catch them I have no idea.  I have ringed one with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust a few years ago but don’t fancy doing any more.

My highlight for the month has been Barn Owls: another 7 ringed and 3 recaptured, taking the total ringed this year to 34, the best so far.  We also know that all of our broods that advanced beyond the egg stage have fledged some young. The three recaptures were all this year’s birds. There has only been one nest failure: 6 eggs checked back in June and found to be cold then were still there when we checked the box again on the 31st August. An adult has been seen in the area but perhaps it lost its mate and abandoned the brood before it hatched. I still have some boxes to check and, given that second broods are definitely on the agenda this year, with reports from across the country of adults still on eggs and / or naked young, it certainly has been a good year for them and we might be able to add a few more to the list.  A word about the landowners: it has been extremely gratifying at how much interest and support they have shown towards our activities monitoring the Barn Owls this year. We have had no problems with access, several have built and erected new boxes themselves. It is hugely encouraging.

Cute photo by Alice Edney

This is the list for the month:

Now that September has arrived and the autumn migration is picking up, here’s looking forward to a really interesting and exciting month ahead.

Blakehill Farm: First Focus on Autumn Migration, Wednesday, 1st September 2021

The plateau at Blakehill Farm is out of bounds for ringing over the summer months, so that the ground-nesting birds, particularly Curlew, are not disturbed. Normally I would have started back mid-August, but weather and a mobility problem had put a spoke in that possibility. However, I was very keen to see what we might get, after a largely disappointing summer at my other sites.

Today I was joined by Lucy, back from a summer as a warden of the Little Tern colony at Spurn Point and before she heads of to Lundy for a month to carry out seal surveys. A little later Miranda joined us to see what is involved before deciding whether or not to take up ringing training.

After a busy morning checking Barn Owl boxes with Alice yesterday (we ringed another 4 chicks and could confirm that another 14 have fledged successfully, making a total of 34 ringed so far this year), Lucy and I went over to Blakehill to do a bit of trimming and strimming, ready for setting the nets this morning. The weather forecast was that the wind would be right on the edge of what would be acceptable for ringing on this side of Blakehill, but I had offered to host one of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Well-Being Groups and I didn’t want to let them down, so we strimmed the areas in front of the bushes that would give maximum protection from the wind. In the event, it was windy but, by setting the nets low on the leeward side of the bushes, it worked well. Naturally the forecast wasn’t completely accurate and what was supposed to be a warm, dry day turned out to be a cool day, occasionally spitting with rain throughout the morning.

This was the setup we used:

The setup was as follows: 1 = 6m 5-shelf net; 2= 3 x 12m 4-shelf nets (a Mipit triangle); 3 = 6m 5-shelf net; 4 = 18m 2-shelf net; 5 = 12m 4-shelf net; 6, 7 and 8 = 9m 5-shelf nets; 9 = 12m 5-shelf net. Unusually, every net set, bar 3, caught. Net 3 is usually reliable. Unfortunately, the Mipit triangle, whilst it caught a Chiffchaff, and despite having the usual MP3 lure playing all morning, it did not produce any Meadow Pipits.

Our first productive round, at 8:15 (so why were we there at 5:30?), produced two Goldfinch and a Whitethroat – all juveniles.

The next round produced our first juvenile Reed Bunting of the year:

Photo courtesy of Lucy Mortlock

It also caught our first two of these for the autumn:

What we didn’t know was that this would be our best ever catch of Whinchat in a single session. The previous best had been 9 on 8th September 2018. Today we ended up with 10! That is a lovely catch. It was also Lucy’s first Whinchat: and she got to ring another 4 of them. We had great fun ageing and sexing these birds: it is all down to markings on the greater coverts and the colour of the lining of the upper mandible.

The list for the day was: Dunnock 1[1]; Whinchat 2[8]; Whitethroat [2]; Chiffchaff [1]; Willow Warbler [1]; Goldfinch [2]; Reed Bunting [3]. Totals: 3 adults ringed from 2 species and 18 juveniles ringed from 7 species. It was unusual to catch absolutely no retrapped birds at this site.

Our visitors did get horribly delayed by some over-running roadworks on the main route through to site so, after some navigation advice from me over the mobile, they arrived at 11:00. Luckily we had a number of birds from different species to show them. We then took them for a walk around the setup, so they could see how it works. Whilst doing so, I extracted our last bird of the morning: a Chiffchaff from, as mentioned before, the Mipit triangle. Fortunately, the Well-Being group were very happy with what we had to show them.

Whilst Lucy, Miranda and I took down the nets, the Well-Being crew had a brew-up and a spot of lunch, and we all left site by 13:00. Not a huge catch but a very satisfying one!

CES 12: Lower Moor Farm, Sunday, 29th August 2021

This was a similar result to CES 11 back on the 14th August: 35 birds – about one third of what we caught in CES 12 in 2019. However, being as unpressured as it was, it enabled me to work with Anna, the newest recruit to the team. After a couple of taster sessions, and the opportunity to ring a couple of Barn Owl chicks, she is now my newest trainee.

In the last taster session Anna ringed her first bird. That bird was handed to her. Today she had to get to grips with safely removing birds from the storage bags, settling it into the ringer’s grip and then setting the ring correctly in the pliers, applying the ring whilst holding the bird, and then taking the wing length measurement, weighing the bird and releasing it. We also touched on ageing, sexing and moult.

Although I now set my nets in areas that are not open to the public, following the well-documented problems with interference, leading to a damaged bird and vandalised nets, at Lower Moor Farm I set up my ringing station in the picnic area on the edge of Mallard Lake. We had a lovely chatty morning, with lots of people stopping to see what was going on, and giving me the chance to explain the rationale and benefits of the ringing scheme. This was finished by a visit from a small group of three families, with 6 children, who were delighted to see Blue Tits and Blackcaps up close. The children were particularly pleased with the amount of aggression the Blue Tit I processed showed: pecking me at every opportunity, including hanging on to my finger with its beak after I had released it.

The catch for the day was: Treecreeper [2]; Blue Tit [2]; Dunnock [1]; Robin [1](3); Blackcap [20] (2); Garden Warbler [1]; Chiffchaff [2]; Willow Warbler [1]. Totals: 30 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 5 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 35 birds processed from 8 species. Interestingly, the only adult caught was one of the retrapped Blackcaps, so 34 of the 35 birds processed were juveniles. Given how few adults we have caught at Lower Moor Farm (or at any of my sites this year), I strongly suspect that we were lucky to be on the flightpath of a bunch of juveniles starting their autumn migration.

The adult Blackcap was ringed by Steph as a juvenile almost exactly 4 years ago. This was the first time it has been recaptured, and it was retrapped in exactly the same net ride as it was originally. The second retrapped Blackcap was ringed as a nestling in May of this year. It is not one of our rings, so I look forward to finding out where it fledged. The other retrapped birds were all Robins originally ringed at Lower Moor Farm.

One unusual occurrence: throughout the morning, I don’t know if it was just one or a number of, Common Darter dragonflies decided that my head was a good resting place. I was happy to be of service but I would have been happier if I had been able to see it! It was a long session and we finally left site at 13:30.

Somerford Common: Sunday, 22nd August 2021

It has been a while since I have been to this site. Every time I planned to go, something got in the way, so I was pleased to be able to get there this morning. Unfortunately, it is suffering from the same malaise as all of my other woodland sites! I was joined by David for the morning.

The weather was spot on for the session: after torrential rain last night the morning arrived dry and virtually windless. We met at 6:00 and set up three net rides in our usually most productive areas. It really wasn’t the result we wanted: Great Tit (1); Wren 1[1]; Robin [2]; Blackcap 1[2]; Chiffchaff [1]; Bullfinch (1). Totals: 2 adults ringed from 2 species; 6 juveniles ringed from 4 species and 2 birds recaptured from 2 species, making a total of 10 birds processed from 6 species.

As you can see, not a lot to write home, or a blog about. There were two highlights however. Neither was bird related. David noticed some movement on his rucksack and was surprised, and delighted, to find this running around his bag:

Common Lizard: Zootoca vivipara

It was only about 10cm long. This is the first lizard that I have seen in 9 years of working the site. Apparently, it is also known as the Viviparous Lizard, because it gives birth to live young. This was definitely a young beast. I loved the bluish tone to the tail area.

Later on I found this on my rucksack (why were these things attracted to rucksacks?):

Dark Bush Cricket: Pholidoptera griseoaptera

This is the second Orthopteran that I have had the pleasure to encounter close up in the last couple of days. On Friday of last week I photographed this on the windscreen of my car:

Common Green Grasshopper: Omocestus viridulus (Male)

With the birds just not appearing we packed up early and left site by 11:30. I know from others’ posts that the autumn migration has started. Here is hoping that a few of them start dropping in at my sites! I will be trying out the meadows at Ravensroost and Blakehill Farm when the weather allows hoping for better things.