West Wilts Ringing Group: September 2021 Results

Last year’s September catch was excellent, this year’s is actually better:

This is the largest monthly catch we have had in any month since the departure of the North Wilts Group personnel and their sites.  Given that, some of Jonny’s sites aside, we are not particularly blessed / cursed with extremely busy sites and large catches, and I am pretty sure that is how we like it, this is an excellent result.  It’s certainly how I like it but, then, I spend most of my time training others, and that needs time.

There is quite a lot to review here.  Starting with the seemingly mundane: Blue Tits and Great Tits.  Up and down the country it has been reported as a bad breeding season for these birds, as has been documented in my last couple of reports, with numbers well down. So, explain this month, which more than matches 2020, a “normal” breeding season for these species.  With Blue Tits, last year we caught 83 juveniles and 24 adults in September: this year it was 119 juveniles and only 8 adults. Then Great Tits: in 2020, 39 juveniles and 5 adults, in 2020, 39 juveniles and 11 adults.  Any thoughts on why there is such a strong showing of juvenile birds at this time would be very welcome. It is certainly surprising.

A couple of species missing this year: House Martin and Siskin.  Siskin is not that surprising, outside of those resident in the Warminster area that end up in Andy’s garden, the only catch we have had on autumn migration were those 4 last year at Ravensroost Meadows.  Given that New Zealand Farm has been worked throughout the autumn migration period, that no House Martins were caught this September is surprising.  Mind, none had been caught there before 2020 either. It would be surprising if that were a one-off, but perhaps it was.  Equally, none were caught in the sessions at Blakehill or in Ravensroost Meadows, the only other sites they are occasionally caught at.  The nearest I got to catching any were my two Ravensroost Meadow sessions in September: on the first occasion there had been no sign of any hirundines during the entire session, it was only as I was closing the gate behind me to leave site that a flock of a hundred or so Swallows and House Martins decided to fly around the pond and the adjacent meadow.  On the second occasion, whilst a flock did fly over and respond to the lure, they didn’t get close enough for the net to catch any. I think the issue might be the way the pond has developed. Whereas the pond to the west of the causeway was clear of rushes / reeds, so the birds could fly in from the east, dip down to drink and then away, now there is a mass of vegetation, making that approach no longer available. In fact, the only hirundine I caught this autumn was in a net between the edge of the meadow and the pond, away from the lure.

Once again we had an extremely good haul of Meadow Pipits.  Unlike last year, when nearly two-thirds of the total were caught at Blakehill Farm, and nearly one-third at Jonny’s Sutton Benger farmland site and just 3 at his East Tytherton site, the reverse was the case.  Jonny had 3 catches of approximately 70 birds each at the East Tytherton farmland site and one catch of 38 at the Sutton Benger site and 38 at Blakehill. Back in 2014 I set up a Mipit triangle at Lower Moor Farm in September and caught 22 of them.  For some reason I had never done it there again. With a ringing demo scheduled for the 25th, and having seen and caught the 38 Mipits at my second visit to Blakehill, plus 7 at my second visit to Ravensroost Meadows, and just seeing there were lots around from Jonny’s data, I thought I would try it again at Lower Moor – something different for the attendees.  Although they didn’t make an appearance until after 10:00, we did end up with 9 there as well.  Unfortunately, winds gusting way beyond what is feasible for such an open site put paid to a planned third visit to Blakehill, scheduled for the 28th September.  On the equivalent session last year we caught 109 of them. Definitely a significant migration this September.  I will see what I can get in early October.

Warbler numbers were generally good, with Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler equivalent to last year, Sedge and Reed Warblers were up on last year and Lesser Whitethroat down.  The numbers of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, despite the dearth of them in my catches at my sites during the breeding season, but then we caught our fair share on migration, rather underlines my thought that the rain in May just meant they kept heading north until they escaped the rain. It will be interesting to see what next year brings.

So to my highlights.  I had three personal milestones this month.  Firstly, I have been lucky enough to catch both Snipe and Jack Snipe at Blakehill Farm’s ponds in January 2019 and January 2020.  They are the only specimens caught since the split.  As I understand that a scrape is being developed at Langford Lakes, hopefully in future years we might see more regular wader catches. Now, if I can persuade the Trust to do the same at Lower Moor Farm that would be a real result.  However, on my first visit to the Meadows this month I startled a Snipe, who had clearly flown in after I had set my nets, but who rapidly disappeared from view and I thought had escaped, until I saw one of the nets over the back bouncing, whereupon I recovered this beauty:

I don’t run often but in this case I made an exception!  Robin, the reserve warden, told me that the odd one has been seen there, but not at this time of year. 

Although I was lucky enough to ring two on Skokholm back in 2014, and despite there being loads of them moving through Blakehill Farm on both spring and autumn migration, Wheatear have eluded not just my nets, but there hasn’t been one caught by the team in over 8 years at any of our sites!  So I was absolutely delighted to catch this beauty on my second visit to Blakehill:

On top of these, we had our best ever catch of Whinchat at Blakehill Farm: 10 of them on the 1st September.  This is the best ever catch at Blakehill (9 on the 8th September 2018).  In fact, it is the best ever catch by the West Wilts Ringing Group, beating the 9 at Haxton Hill, near Everleigh, on the 27th August 2011 (and I ringed 3 of them – I remember it well because I also extracted most of them from a single 18m 2-shelf net).

I am quite astonished at the depth of interest from people looking to join or work with our merry band.  After Anna joined in last month, this month I have also been joined by Miranda, Rosie and Adam on several occasions, along with most of the rest of the team for the odd session (particularly helpful at the ringing demo were Rosie, Adam and Steph – just as David was a hero at August’s demo).  Adam is a C-ringer and has worked with others in the area before, Miranda and Anna are testing the water to see if they are going to take it on.  Rosie works with the Estates Management team at the Wildlife Trust and has, so far, been really helpful with the setting up before having to leave early, after only processing a couple of birds, to get to work.

So, an excellent month, let’s hope October follows suit.