New Zealand Farm: Monday, 14th September 2020

With migration in full swing I suggested to Andrew Bray that a team session at New Zealand Farm would be worthwhile. Because of its location, in the middle of the Salisbury Plain training area, he is only allowed access once per month. There are also army manoeuvres scheduled for the week, so we were rather pleased that Range Control allowed us access. We planned to be on site from 6:00 until midday and, with four of us available for the session (myself, Andrew, Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper), we set rather more net than Andrew usually does:

Rides 1 to 3 comprised 2 x 18 m nets, rides 4 to 8 comprised single 18m nets, ride 9 comprised 1 x 12m net. Andrew would normally just set rides 1 to 3 for his solo sessions. He did a sterling job of strimming the rides yesterday to allow us to set all of these extra nets today.

Nets 7 and 8 were experimental – and the experiment did not work. I was playing a lure for Yellow Wagtail on ride 8 and House Martin on ride 7. Neither worked until we moved the House Martin lure to ride 6. Initially we put a Blackcap lure on ride 6 and another on ride 3, and they were extremely productive for the first two hours of the session. I had Whinchat on ride 2 and we had Meadow Pipit on ride 5. The Whinchat didn’t work but the Meadow Pipit pulled in a few.

We had an initial rush of birds between 7:30 and 9:00, heavily dominated by Blackcaps, and then everything went quiet. About 10:00 we noticed a build up of Swallows over the site and at 10:30 we caught a Swallow in ride 4 and a House Martin in ride 6. As a result we switched the lure on ride 3 to Swallow and, at Jonny Cooper’s suggestion, on ride 6 to House Martin. That proved to be inspired. We later moved the Swallow lure to net 8 and that also pulled in another couple of Swallows in. Next round we had 4 House Martin in ride 6, in the following round we had 5, and the following round 9 in ride 6 and 3 in ride 2. We had to pack up about midday, because of our agreement with Range Control, and the last round produced another 8. Had we carried on longer I am sure the catch would have been huge, because I have never seen so many House Martins in one place, spiralling around where we had our nets set. They only have short legs, so are not easily held for a full body shot – so you will have to make do with the head shot.

Photo courtesy of Jonny Cooper

The list for the day was: Swallow 3; House Martin 30; Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 2; Meadow Pipit 3; Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackcap 42 (1); Whitethroat 6; Chiffchaff 8(1). Totals: 101 birds ringed from 12 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 103 birds processed from 12 species. The retrapped birds and 2 of the Blue Tits were adults, the remainder were juveniles.

Both Ellie and Andrew ringed their first ever House Martins, which is always good for them. Andrew is having a bit of a good week: House Martin and Kestrel added to his experience in the last 4 days!

We cleared the site by about 12:45 but cannot wait for the opportunity to get back there. It is also looking good for some late autumn / winter sessions: the tree scrub is almost all Hawthorn and the trees were weighed down with berries: I see a Redwing / Fieldfare roost session or two might be required.