The Pre-Lockdown Rush: 2nd to 4th November 2020

The irony: two weeks of dreadful weather finally clears and lockdown looms. At least this time the government are encouraging people to engage in outdoor recreational activities, either solo or plus one which, in theory, should allow for bird ringing to continue. That will, of course, depend upon how the BTO and the landowners interpret that information. The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Forestry Commission have already banned any volunteer activities, including ringing, on their land for the duration of lockdown. The irony being that I can go wandering around their nature reserves and sites with my telescope and binoculars, looking at wildlife for as long as I like, I just cannot put my nets up to catch any birds to ring: no matter how private the site. I am going to get very bored! My garden it will have to be.

As there were a couple of good days between the end of October and the onset of lockdown several of us managed to get out and do some ringing. Andrew Bray opened a net in his garden and got in a session at Lacock Abbey Allotments. Jonny Cooper managed to get in a session at his new site, Biss Wood WWT Nature Reserve, and at Bailey’s Farm and I managed to get in a session at Blakehill Farm. These are the reports on each of these sessions:

Andrew Bray: Garden Ringing, 3rd November 2020

Today I put out my 6m net in the garden for 51/2 hours.  It was a slow day as it was very cold first thing; there was even ice on the bottom part of the pole. My first two birds were ringed: Robin and Blue Tit so I was expecting a lot more of them to turn up but in total 15 birds were processed which were: Blue Tit 3(2); Great Tit 6(3); Robin (1).

Andrew Bray: Lacock Abbey Allotments, 4th November 2020

Even though the Lacock gardens were open I was the only one in the allotment.  It was very cold and the fog did not burn off until I had finished ringing at midday.  My feet did not defrost until I was home. My fingers were sore from being pecked. 

It was a good session but no Nuthatches.  Instead I had a Great Spotted Woodpecker which I had ringed previously and a new Goldcrest that was very small. I do not think he will survive the winter. He was a bit fluffed up so I put him down my front to warm him up. He then flew off okay once I had finished warming him. 

I had a total of 46 which were Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Blue Tit 19(5); Great Tit 4(7); Coal Tit 1(2); Dunnock 2(2); Robin (1); Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 28 birds ringed from 6 species, 18 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 46 birds processed from 8 species.

23 were fledged this year, with the others being born previously : a 50:50 split which is the first time I have had that.  As you can see there were lots of tits – hence the pecked fingers!

Jonny Cooper: Biss Wood, 3rd November 2020

Biss Wood is a 21 Ha Wiltshire Wildlife Trust Reserve located to the east of Trowbridge. The site was originally a plantation from the 1940’s and 50’s. Ringing will be used as a tool for monitoring birds using the site during the winter months. I have been providing food for the birds within the wood for a couple of weeks. With a second lockdown looming I decided to do a taster session for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

The plan was for a relatively quiet session to get a feel for whether the birds had found the feeders and what species were present. I arrived on site and set up three 18m nets by 2pm; birds started hitting the nets immediately. This pace carried on for the nest couple of hours.

The catch for the afternoon was: Treecreeper 2, Blue Tit 85, Great Tit 28, Coal Tit 6, Marsh Tit 2, Long-tailed Tit 11, Wren 1, Blackbird 1, Goldcrest 2(1), and Chaffinch 3. Giving a total of 141 birds from 10 species and 1 re-trap from 1 species. 

As was to be expected the catch was dominated by Blue and Great Tits. But it was nice to catch two Marsh tits showing that this red listed species is still present on site.

The highlight was the re-trap Goldcrest. This bird was originally ringed at Spurn Bird Observatory, Yorkshire, in October 2019. A nice movement across the U.K for a bird that almost certainly breeds in Scandinavia.

A fantastic first session for the site showing the number of birds that are present within the woodland. It will be interesting to monitor the site going forward.

Jonny Cooper: Bailey’s Farm, 4th November 2020

Following on from the successful session at Biss Wood I decided to take advantage of the break in the weather before lockdown to undertake a session at Bailey’s Farm. Unfortunately, the session corresponded with the first real frost of the Autumn and a very cold fog. The low temperature stopped a lot of the bird movement first thing, meaning the session got off to a slow start. However once things warmed up birds started moving around.

The catch for the day was: Blue Tit 11(7), Great Tit 9(1), Long-tailed Tit 1(1), Wren 1, Dunnock 3(1), Meadow Pipit 7, Chaffinch 4, Goldfinch 5 and Yellowhammer 1. Giving a total of 42 birds from 9 species and 10 re-traps from 4 species, making 51 birds processed from 9 species. 

A quieter session compared to the last few I have had at the site but nice, nonetheless. After the busyness of the day before it was nice to be able to ring at a more relaxed pace.

Simon Tucker: Blakehill Farm, 4th November 2020

I was joined for this session by Lucy, my most recent recruit. After a very disappointing session in Red Lodge on the 28th October in between rain storms, I wanted to see if the rain had had a similar impact on the more open terrain at Blakehill Farm. The Red Lodge session delivered just 10 birds in the morning, at a time where last year alone October delivered two catches in excess of 60 birds from 11 species. I can only presume that the torrential rain and high winds had driven the birds off elsewhere in search of food and more substantial shelter.

As luck would have it, and as Jonny noted above, it coincided with the first hard frost of the year. On days like that you appreciate having a heated windscreen in your car, so I wasn’t held up for long defrosting the vehicle. Arriving on site at 6:30 we set our usual nets around the bushes on the plateau edge and moved our Mipit triangle back to its normal position, as opposed to the position for the last session. The ground around that position was very uneven and risked turning an ankle if you ran at the setup. Where we usually set it is actually across the concrete track that heads out to the middle of the plateau: much easier for chasing them into the net. We also set just 2 x 18m nets on the perimeter track, by the tallest tree on there, which is always a magnet for winter thrushes, and put on the lure for Redwing. There were not hundreds about but there were some.

It was a slow start, because of the cold, and it wasn’t the biggest catch, but it was a very enjoyable session, and certainly worthwhile for Lucy who added three new species to her ringing list: Meadow Pipit, Redwing and Reed Bunting.

The catch for the day was: Blue Tit (2); Great Tit 1(2); Long-tailed Tit (2); Wren 4; Meadow Pipit 12(1); Robin (1); Redwing 7; Blackbird 1; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 26 birds ringed from 5 species and 8 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 34 birds processed from 9 species.

The only slight downside: when checking the site on Tuesday prior to our session I had seen several Stonechat about. I had hoped that we might catch one for Lucy to add to her experience, because there are lots of variables to take into account when ageing and sexing either Stonechat or Whinchat but it was not to be. Throughout the morning we had a Buzzard moving around the site, often sitting on top of the perimeter hedge 100m or so away from our ringing station, so we had really good views. Shame we couldn’t persuade it to visit our nets!