Blakehill Farm: Sunday, 18th October 2020

With the weather forecast showing it would be a virtually windless day I decided to head for Blakehill Farm. I was joined for the day by Ellie, who just happens to be the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s manager for the site, as well as being one of my C-permit holders.

We were on-site for 6:30 and as dawn began to break it revealed that we were sharing the plateau with 30+ cows with their calves. It is often the case that they are on the plateau when we are, but they have never shown any sort of interest in the past. I spent the next hour and a half trying to divert them away from where we were setting the nets. There was a group of nine of them that just kept coming back, no matter how far I moved them away. After an hour, out of the gloom, another cow came wandering down the path from the centre. It seems that these nine were looking to join up with their friend and, once they had done so, they wandered off and left us in peace. Unfortunately, this meant that we were very much behind in setting up, and so we decided to forget about setting nets along the perimeter track and just focus on the plateau nets. We also set up a bit differently to recent times, moving the Mipit Triangle alongside the other nets on the plateau bushes. We also set a dog-leg around a very square, solid bush on the other side of the path from our normal layout:

We didn’t get to do our first round until 9:00 and in all only had 3 productive rounds, between 9:00 and 10:30. Thereafter the catch died right away and we started to pack up at 11:30.

It was a frustrating start but we had a very pleasant morning with a decent haul of birds: not many species and mainly Meadow Pipits, but a good looking juvenile male Stonechat and a lovely haul of Reed Bunting:

The list for the day was: Wren 1(1); Meadow Pipit 36; Stonechat 1; Reed Bunting 14(1). Totals: 52 birds ringed from 4 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species.

In amongst the Meadow Pipits there were a couple showing abnormal swellings around where the claw joins the foot. They didn’t look like pox pustules but it would be interesting to find out what causes it. One of them had an outer primary feather that looked in poor condition and it, too, had a growth where the feather erupts from the limb:

This was my fourth outing of the week: Friday was spent cleaning out Barn Owl boxes with Lucy & Steph. It is astonishing just how deep the layers of pellets and muck can get very quickly. Clearly, from the number of skulls we found, the last couple of years have been good vole years in our area. We collected a good number of pellets for the children of the Wildlife Trust’s Watch group to dissect.