What no Titmice? Somerford Common: Wednesday, 3rd July 2019

Okay, a sightly misleading title, but only just.  To run a session in the Braydon Forest at any time of year and not catch a single Blue or Great Tit is remarkable.  Given that we have been catching extremely good numbers all over the Forest and at Lower Moor Farm, particularly juvenile birds, this was really surprising.  We did ring our sixth Marsh Tit of the year, a juvenile, which bodes well for this species this year.  Our catch tends to be one third in the first six months of the year, two thirds in the remaining six months, so hopefully we will get close to the 19 we ringed in 2017, our best year to date.  There was also a Long-tailed Tit, but they are not really titmice, being a completely different bird family. (Titmice belong to the family Paridae; Long-tailed Tits belong to the family Aegithalidae or Bushtits.)

I was joined by Jonny Cooper for the session.  It wasn’t the busiest we have ever been but the weather was fine and the birds came in quite regularly.  We were surprised to catch a flock of 6 adult Goldfinches.  They were all together in one net: 4 males and 2 females.  Two of them (one each of the males and females) were already ringed.  One of them, the female, had a ring number that I didn’t recognise but which sparked off something in Jonny’s consciousness: that it might have been one of the birds he had ringed at one of his sites near Chippenham.  The data recording system now in use at the BTO is a browser-based on-line system and so, if you can get a signal on a smart phone, you can check the database.  The signal for both of us (two different providers) was awful but eventually I managed to get a signal and check the number. The bird had been ringed by Jonny in February if this year at a site near Sutton Benger, about 11 miles south west of where we caught it today.  We know that Goldfinches, for a resident species, are wide ranging: the furthest journey we have trapped through ringing was a bird ringed near Hungerford in Berkshire, recaptured in Webb’s Wood, a distance of 25 miles or so.  What surprised me, though, was why there was a flock of Goldfinch together at this time of the year.  We expect them in the winter, when foraging for food, but fully expected them to be paired up and breeding at this time of year.  All of them were in breeding condition: perhaps they were between broods, as Goldfinches will have 2, sometimes 3, broods in a year.  Mind, according to BTO Bird Facts the latest a first brood has been started is the 19th July, so perhaps they are still just working out who is going to pair with whom.

The catch for the morning was: Marsh Tit [1]; Long-tailed Tit [1]; Wren 1[1]; Dunnock 1[1](2); Robin [4](1); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 3; Blackcap 1[2]; Garden Warbler [1]; Chiffchaff 1[5](3); Willow Warbler 1(1); Goldfinch 4(2); Bullfinch 2.  Totals: 16 adults ringed from 9 species; 16 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 9 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 41 birds processed from 13 species.

As you can see, when comparing this to recent catches, the proportion of juveniles is much lower: which comes back to the original title of this blog post.  We could hear them in the woodlands around us but they just did not come into the nets.

There was some pretty spectacular other wildlife around: fabulous butterflies, from the commonplace Meadow Brown, to large numbers of Ringlet, a couple of Comma and Small Tortoiseshell and two stunning White Admiral and a Silver-washed Fritillary. However, the absolutely stunning invertebrate was a dragonfly: a Brown Hawker. It was sunning itself against one of our net poles. Needless to say, it posed for as long as it took me to get my phone out and enable camera mode before flying off. Always the way!

We had a nice chat with a couple of dog walkers who were interested in what we were doing but, unfortunately for them, they arrived during our quietest round of the morning, when we had no birds and, therefore, nothing to show them. As the birds had stopped moving around by 11:00 we took down and headed home.