West Wilts Ringing Group: October 2021 Results

Despite the dreadful weather of the last week of October, we still had a pretty decent return for our efforts this month. It is our second best October since the group came into its current form: the best having been in 2019.

Numbers of Meadow Pipit were well down compared with last year. The change was that numbers in two of our farmland sites (Blakehill and Jonny’s East Tytherton site) were at one third of the catch last year. Blakehill had the same number of sessions (i.e. one) but East Tytherton had half as many (two) as in 2020.

So, where did the improvement come from: Blackcap and Chiffchaff numbers were well up on last year. Catches were evenly spread throughout the month in both years. Similarly, the number of Blue Tit ringed one third higher than last year. What is most surprising is that the increased number is down to a significant increase in juvenile birds ringed (149 as opposed to 90). As everyone acknowledges: Blue Tit had such a poor breeding season, and yet in both October and September juvenile numbers have been on a par with previous years. One can conjecture as to why this is the case: fewer birds leading to less competition for food, lower likelihood of predation, etc, but who really knows? As you can see from the session statistics: we weren’t running a lot of extra sessions.

Other significant increases were Redwing and Lesser Redpoll arriving in reasonable numbers and being caught earlier than usual. My first Redwing, caught on the 9th of the month, equalled one ringed on Salisbury Plain in 2016 as the earliest we have ringed the species in the autumn. Lesser Redpoll are resident further south in the county, in the Warminster / Longleat area and it is possible that there is a small relict population in Somerford Common but, in the main, the Lesser Redpoll we catch in the north of the county are migrants from up north. Our catch of nine on the 13th of the month, at Somerford Common, matches a catch of two there on that day in 2015 as our earliest autumn catches and the ten in October there is the biggest for us in that month.

Amongst our resident birds, both Robin and Long-tailed Tit showed increased numbers over last year.

So what are the highlights? The standout bird is the Corn Bunting captured on Salisbury Plain. As I mentioned at the time, it is only the third location on the Plain at which the Group has caught one. Seven singles were caught near Winterbourne Stoke, with the last in March 2005, one was caught near Enford in September 2005 and so it has taken another 12 years for one to be caught by us on Salisbury Plain.

Photograph by Ian Grier

Another highlight, because we catch very few, was Jonny’s Skylark at the beginning of the month. Funnily enough, this is our best year for them so far, with four caught, three on Salisbury Plain and this month’s one at his site near Sutton Benger.

Not Jonny’s bird but any excuse for a photo of a Skylark!

Steph’s highlight was her first ever Woodpigeon caught in her garden! We think it had only just fledged as it was very juvenile: no white collar developing yet and, whilst she processed it, a pair of adults sat atop a pole and a neighbouring tree and watched the whole thing intently from capture to release.

Apart from that, we have had notification of a couple of interesting recoveries of our birds this month. A Blackcap ringed in Melksham in early September was recovered by a ringer in the Netherlands at the end of September. It had flown 480km in an ENE direction in 22 days. That is one confused migration!

The second is a Chiffchaff ringed at Langford Lakes in August and recaptured 231km away, due East, 27 days later at the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. Another odd looking migration route.

Just to end on a slightly negative note: one of my sites, Red Lodge, has suffered some vandalism. Firstly, the criminal used a power saw to chop off the gate support and then backed their wagon in and dumped a load of rubble blocking the path onto site:

I let Forestry England know and they came and cleared the rubble but didn’t mend the gateway. I went back on Friday to clear my winter net rides and everything was clear. When I went back Saturday afternoon to set up my winter feeding stations I found this:

Clearly taking advantage of the fact that the gate hasn’t been repaired or replaced. I informed Forestry England when I got back. This morning, after setting up another couple of feeding stations and doing a bit more ride clearance, I thought I would pop back to see if the gate was still in place, where I had propped it up. it was, but this has now joined the rubbish dumped on the path:

It won’t keep me out! I plan to be there Wednesday and I will be! I had problems with vandalism of my feeding stations a couple of years ago. The beat forester set up covert camera surveillance and we put up notices, which stopped the problem. Time to do it again I think.

An interesting month with a lot going on. Here’s to a busy November! The weather is looking okay for the next few days.