Health & Well-being at The Firs: Wednesday, 27th February 2019

A large part of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s work is through their Education and Well-Being programme.  Christine Crookall-Fallon, the Trust’s Education and Well-being Officer, asked me if she could bring along a group of 13 and 14 year-old youths from Devizes School to our session at the Firs today.  We know the value of our ringing work to conservation but, increasingly, are made aware of the contribution it can make to the education and well-being of young people.  Given how much we get out of it,  I suppose it should be obvious.

Jonny and I arrived at 6:30 and had the nets set up by 7:30.  As we were walking down the central glade to our ringing area I looked up and was surprised, and rather delighted, to see a Brown Hare run through the clearing at the bottom of the glade. The weather was glorious, if a fair bit colder than it has been recently, but bright and, eventually, warm. Whilst processing our first round we heard a shrill triple call.  At first we persuaded ourselves it was a Song Thrush mimicking another species: Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  After processing our second round we heard the unmistakable drumming of the real McCoy.  Cue a quick scramble for our binoculars and some good views of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  It flew around the tree-tops adjacent to our ringing station before disappearing.  Unfortunately, it was immune to the lure we played for the rest of the morning.

A bit later, and before the Devizes crew arrived, a Sparrowhawk paid a brief visit to the wood, flying through at tree-top height. It landed briefly in one tree before disappearing into the distance.

Christine had a put a full programme together for her charges, so that they were on hand for any birds we caught, but were active on other things in between rounds and after we packed up for the day.  They arrived on site at 9:30, just as we were returning from a round with a good number of birds.  We processed the birds, pointing out ageing characteristics and how to sex those species (where possible).  Those that wanted to were given instruction on how to hold a bird in the ringer’s grip and then to release it safely.  By the end of the session all bar one youngster had held and released at least one bird.  One of the girls was extremely reluctant to get involved but was eventually persuaded.  After her first experience there was no further reluctance, and she coped excellently with being pecked by Blue and Great Tits thereafter and handled a good number of birds.  The highlight of the first round the students saw was a recaptured female Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The list for the morning was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 1(2); Treecreeper 1(1): Blue Tit 10(7); Great Tit 10(10); Coal Tit (2); Wren (2); Robin 1(1); Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 2.  Totals: 26 birds ringed from 7 species; 26 birds recaptured from 8 species, making a total of 52 birds processed from 10 species.

The last round yielded the new Treecreeper, the Goldcrest and one of the Wrens: much to the delight of the students.  People’s first experience of Goldcrest is always framed by how small they are.  When you tell them that birds of this species, weighing all of 5 grams, fly across the North Sea from Scandinavia to winter in the UK, and return across the sea in the spring to breed they find it hard to believe.

We closed the nets and took down at 11:30.