Forestry England lifted the ban on volunteer activities from today and I took advantage to go over to Somerford Common. They have restricted it to groups of two, provided social distancing is able to be observed. I was joined for the session by Andrew Bray. As a C-permit holder he has his own personal equipment and, by sensibly managing how we erected the nets and organised the rounds, we managed to keep our distances.
Unfortunately, the weather was not as forecast, with a cold, gusty breeze affecting several of the nets and keeping the ambient temperature down. This had a knock-on effect on the activity levels of the birds, as there were far fewer insects on the wing than we expected. We didn’t have as large a catch as we were hoping for, but it was very different from my garden catches.
Having not been into the woods since the 21st March, I have missed the arrival of the summer breeding migrants, so to catch 9 Willow Warblers this morning, and for them to be the largest portion of the catch, was very satisfying. Of those caught, 5 of them were this year’s juveniles. It shows how long we have been out of the wood: 3 of them were well into their post-fledging moult. Similarly, the 3 juvenile Chiffchaffs caught this morning were also in their post-fledging moult, so they have almost certainly been out of the nest for over a week. The Chiffchaff situation is not quite so spectacular as the Willow Warbler one: Chiffchaffs either over-winter here (there are always a number around on the Cotswold Water Park in the winter) and those that migrate come up from north Africa / southern Spain but our Willow Warblers spend the winter in southern Africa: a somewhat longer trek to get to the breeding grounds.
The list for the day was: Great Tit (1); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Robin 6; Blackbird (2); Chiffchaff 4(1); Willow Warbler 9; Goldcrest 1. Totals: 24 birds ringed from 8 species and 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 28 birds processed from 10 species. As well as the juvenile Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs there was a juvenile Dunnock and 5 juvenile Robins. It was also good to catch another Marsh Tit on our first trip back to the woods. That is 6 for the year so far. This was an adult female who has finished breeding for the year: her brood patch was already beginning to feather over.
My most delicate extraction of the session was a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly. It was stuck in the top of a net. Fortunately, it had not got netting wrapped around the neck between the head and the thorax, so I was able to push it through the net. It did involve getting him to stop chewing on a strand of the net, but it gave that up without a struggle and I managed to get him out without him losing his head: the usual cause of their demise when caught in nets.