Let’s Chat About Early Redwing: Blakehill Farm, Saturday, 9th October 2021

David and Lucy arranged to be with me from 7:00, with Steph joining us when she could get there, as she was bringing the family along. I had mentioned the possibility of Stonechat at Blakehill to Lucy whilst we were working at Webb’s Wood on Wednesday. She was excited at the prospect, having not processed one before. When I checked the records I noted that David hadn’t processed Stonechat either, so I was hoping to attract a couple in for them this session, and prepared two lures for the plateau bushes.

Having woken early, I was on site by 6:30. This suited me, because I had seen a tweet from Nigel Pleass reporting hearing Redwing flying over on migration at night near Swindon, and I wanted to get nets open and the lure on for them before it was light. I set my “Redwing nets” along the perimeter track on the Chelworth Industrial Estate side of the reserve and put on a lure. It was very misty first thing with not a lot of movement so, as David and Lucy had arrived we went out onto the plateau to set up a few nets out there. I decided to only set 4 nets: 3 x 9m and 1 x 12 in the clump of bushes and ignore the extremities. Two reasons: 1) they haven’t been catching during the height of migration and 2) I needed to ensure I was away from site by 13:00, so I could get to the doctor’s surgery for 13:25 for my flu jab, so didn’t want to have too much work to do to get packed away.

Once those nets were up, I sent David and Lucy to check the Redwing nets, whilst I started setting up the Meadow Pipit triangle. They came back with a Chaffinch.

For the first full round, at 8:00 I checked the Redwing nets, whilst the others went to check the plateau nets. At this point we didn’t have the Meadow Pipit lure switched on (mainly because that was on the same machine as the Redwing lure) so, unsurprisingly, there weren’t any in the first catch. It is unlikely that they would have been moving much anyway in the mist. However, something definitely was, as Lucy returned with this beauty:

I don’t understand why this species is vilified and killed indiscriminately by some “country folk”.

Next round I, again, did the Redwing net, on the basis that I would swap out the Redwing lure for Blackcap and Linnet, just in case. This time I removed a Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Starling and two Redwing from the nets. The lure had worked. This is the earliest that I have ever caught autumn Redwing – by one day! The same round produced a couple of Reed Bunting.

I set up the Meadow Pipit lure in the middle of the Mipit triangle and they immediately appeared, seemingly from nowhere and started sitting on the nets and then onto the floor. The next round delivered a couple of them, but the key round was at 10:20. As hoped for, it turned up half-a-dozen Meadow Pipits. In the end we had 12 of them. Next time I will bait the area with mealworms, as they weren’t as invested in the triangle as I would have liked, with plenty getting away each round.

However, in that round the Redwing nets had caught 13 Long-tailed Tits. This was not our single biggest catch of Long-tailed Tits in one net round, that was an astonishing 21 in my garden, but that one was the result of fat balls, peanuts and sunflower hearts. In the past, we have had one 14 bird catch in a single net round, and two 13 bird single net round catches: all at Somerford Common, in a mixed woodland setting. However, the last big single round catch we had of them there was in September 2016, with 13. Since then there have been no single net round catches in double figures. In fact, their numbers overall had fallen right away in my “wild” sites. So this morning we had 13 of them in that round, in 2 x 18m nets, along the perimeter track. It is a record for this site.

Unfortunately, although we had a lovely morning, by the time of the last round we hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Stonechat. David and I did the plateau nets, whilst Lucy and Steph did the Redwing nets. We had one last Meadow Pipit in the triangle and then, as we approached the second 9m net, I noticed a dark bird in it. I called to David, who was nearest “Stonechat, go for it”. He ran to the net but, just as he reached it, the bird got out of the net and flew off, only to hit the next net. David ran after it again and, as before, just as he got to it, it got out of the net, bounced off another part of that net and flew on – into the last of our nets. This time it didn’t get away. As I walked up to the third net, I noticed another bird in it: Stonechat number 2. As David came back excited with his first Stonechat extraction and looking forward to ringing it, I asked if he had actually checked the rest of the net for other birds. He hadn’t, so I went for a look: Stonechat number 3! Good things come to those who wait. David, Lucy and Lillie got to ring them: all adults, all male.

Male Stonechat

The list for the day was: Magpie [1]; Blue Tit [4](1); Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit {13}; Wren (1); Meadow Pipit 1[11]; Stonechat 3; Robin [1]; Redwing 2; Blackcap [1]; Chiffchaff [2]; Starling [1]; Chaffinch 1; Reed Bunting [2]. Totals: 13 unaged from 1 species; 8 adults ringed from 4 species; 23 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 46 birds processed from 14 species.

We had a brilliant morning: good birds in the nets, good birding, and the children were just great: filling in the gaps between rounds with fun and laughter. Not only that but I was 20 minutes early for my jab and they saw me straight away. Result!