Firsts for the Firs: Wednesday, 12th June 2019

Unfortunately, the weather seems to be dictating our schedule at the moment.  Today was scheduled to be at Blakehill Farm but, with winds forecast from the north, which would have been blowing our nets into the hedgerows, and the threat of rain, I decided to make up for the missed session at the Firs.  My team for the session comprised Ellie Jones and David Williams.  We were joined for the session by three strong supporters of the Trust: Jane, Hannah and George plus Rebecca from the Trust.  They spent the morning with us and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Thanks to Jane for the scrummy Pain-au-chocolat and Rebecca for the fabulous cookies and hot drinks,  We must do this more often!

The weather proved good for ringing: the wood blocked the breeze and the threatened rain never materialised. It stayed damp for a long time and was still unseasonably cold.  I was concerned, as I was on Sunday, as to what impact this wet and cold weather might have had on newly-fledged birds.  Early catches were all adult birds but as the morning wore on we began to catch some juvenile Chiffchaffs and, right at the end, some juvenile Blackcaps.

Back on the 8th August 2016 the first bird out of the nets was the first ever Spotted Flycatcher caught and ringed in the Braydon Forest.  That day virtually the last bird out of the nets was the second ever Spotted Flycatcher caught and ringed.  They were both juveniles, although not newly-fledged. So, although we were confident it indicated breeding in the Forest, we could not be 100% sure. This morning, the first bird out of the nets on our first round proper (a Wren and a Robin managed to blunder into our closed nets while we were setting up) was a Spotted Flycatcher. Excitingly, this was a female in full breeding condition with a well-developed brood patch.  All we needed was a male to turn up.  Not quite the last bird out of the net but, towards the end of the session, that is exactly what happened: an adult male in full breeding condition.

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When I first started ringing in the Firs, back in September 2012 it was a really poor site. My first three catches there totalled 39 birds: and that was with feeding stations set up.  It was overgrown, marshy and dark.  In the intervening years the Trust’s volunteers and staff have worked wonders improving the habitat: putting in a couple of ponds (I requested them in my first ever report, although I was told they were always planned, just they weren’t dug until I made my request), thinning the canopy, opening up the central glade and side rides. It really is a vastly improved place (it can still get very boggy though) – and it is the only Wildlife Trust site in the north of the county that has a decent, but small, fern bed.

We have always caught Blackcaps on the site but today we had a new bird for the Firs: a female Garden Warbler in full breeding condition.  It would be excellent if a population could become established in the opened areas of the reserve where the tree height now suits this species.

It wasn’t the biggest catch we have ever had there: we heard lots of Long-tailed Tits buzzing around and several Nuthatch calling in the wood but none found their way into the nets.  That is unusual: particularly with Long-tailed Tits. Their speciality is arriving en masse just when you have decided to pack up for the day. Not today.

Today’s list was (adult / not aged ringed [juvenile ringed] (recapture)): Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1; Wren (1); Spotted Flycatcher 2; Robin [1](1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird [3]; Blackcap 3[3](1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1[3](2).  Totals: 10 adults ringed from 7 species; 10 newly-fledged juveniles ringed from 4 species; 6 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 26 birds processed from 11 species.

The catch fell off very quickly after 10:00 and, after a couple of empty rounds, we closed the nets and packed away. With everybody mucking in to help, it was one of the quickest take-downs we have had. All in all, a very satisfying session.