The Firs: Wednesday, 24th July 2019

Tuesday night was quite astonishing in this part of north Wiltshire.  The lightning show started before midnight and continued at least until 2:00 a.m., which was when the thunder started rolling in and when I last saw the sky for the night.  When I left the house at 4:45 a.m. I couldn’t believe just how much rain must have fallen in the 2 and a bit hours that had subsequently elapsed.  It had stopped but there was debris, tree branches and leaves, mud and stones, all over the roads between Purton and my destination, the Firs.  I mention this because we had our worst ringing session for some considerable time Wednesday morning, and I am wondering just what impact the previous night’s weather had on the local birds.

We caught a measly 15 birds: 13 ringed from 5 species and 2 recaptures from 2 species.  All of the newly ringed birds were juveniles, and both of the recaptures were adults.  The list was: Great Tit [2]; Marsh Tit [1](1); Wren [4]; Robin [4](1); Blackcap [2].  Naturally, I had a big team out with me: Andrew, Ellie and David.

This is not to say the catch was without interest: a new, juvenile Marsh Tit, our focused project species, is always a highlight.  An adult Marsh Tit of at least 4 years of age is also rewarding.  One of the two juvenile Blackcaps was identifiable as a male: it had virtually completed its post-fledging moult.

Whilst the ringing was not the best we have had recently, it gave us a significant opportunity to have a good look at the insect life in the wood, which was plentiful.  When I first started ringing in the Firs, back in 2012, it was a dark, wet wood with a close canopy and very little light. Since then the Trust and their volunteers have opened up the central glade, dug a couple of ponds and thinned the woodland. The result has been spectacular, not just for birds.  Most striking of the insect life around were the butterflies.  There were dozens of them: excellent numbers of Silver-washed Fritillary, several Small White, Peacock, Comma and Gatekeeper and the obligatory horde of Meadow Brown.  However, my insect highlight, and my most difficult extraction of the day, was a superb (what I think is a) Southern Hawker dragonfly:

Southern Hawker 240719

Having extracted it, instead of just flying off it flew down and landed on my leg, where it sat for a few minutes whilst it revved up its flight muscles, before flying off strongly.

At 7:00 we were joined by a reporter for BBC Radio Wiltshire. She arrived to interview Ellie, as the Wildlife Trust’s Northern Reserves Manager, about Ash die-back.  This is one of the latest diseases to attack our native flora due to the incredibly lax laws we have about importing foreign plants and timber. With the diseases imported that are killing Oak, Larch and Horse Chestnut trees, following in the footsteps of Dutch Elm disease, and now Ash trees (the disease imported in from the continent because garden centres and arboriculturalists couldn’t source just about the commonest and most readily available, and disease-free, tree species in the country) you would think that a government might do something to prevent future occurrences cf New Zealand and Australia.  Anyway, having done three interviews with Ellie, she then asked if she could interview me about bird ringing whilst I processed the juvenile male Blackcap. I have no idea when (or if) it will go out on the radio – apparently there is a wildlife spot on the weekend breakfast show.

We strung it out for as long as possible and packed up at 11:30.