Blakehill Farm: Tuesday, 2nd November 2021

The morning was cold at the start: bang on freezing point, with a ground frost and a layer of mist covering the plateau. I was joined by Lucy for the session: cramming in as much cold weather ringing as she can before facing the rigours of Ascension Island in a week’s time. I cannot say how much I pity the hardships he is about to face!

We set nets for Redwing along the perimeter track and four plateau nets, hoping for Stonechat. There was also a plan to set up a Meadow Pipit net but the deer had made a mess of the electric fence across the centre of the plateau and so we held off from setting that until after Jonathan, the farm manager, had repaired his fence. Fortunately the cattle that were in the compartment next to our plateau area did not realise that the fence wasn’t working and avoided it anyway, so the nets were safe. In the end we managed to get the Mipit triangle open at 10:30 but there weren’t many around.

The first round was decent: 16 birds, including four each of Chaffinch and Blue Tit plus five Redwing. It was nice to have four Chaffinch that we could actually ring. They all had nice clean legs: no signs of Fringilla papillomavirus, in contrast to a couple of other occasions at my woodland sites recently.

The next round produced our first three Wren of the morning and two Stonechat. They were a male and a female in the same net about 50cm apart. I will have to look into their pairing and mating habits: do they pair up annually or do they maintain the pair-bond beyond? Anyway, they were fine adult specimens, and he was particularly haughty:

The next couple of rounds produced another eleven birds, including our second Blakehill Linnet of the year:

For some reason our catches of Linnet at Blakehill are very variable. Between 2014 and now, we had excellent catches of 42 and 25 respectively in 2015 & 2016 and then 15 in 2018 but every other year has only produced single digit catches. The most productive months for the good years are April, August and September.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 4(2); Great Tit 3(1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 6(2); Meadow Pipit 2; Stonechat 2; Robin 1(1); Redwing 7; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Chaffinch 4; Linnet 1. Totals: 33 birds ringed from 11 species and 7 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 40 birds processed from 12 species.

What was surprising was that 20% of the catch comprised Wrens. Six of the eight were caught in the scattered nets out on the plateau, with just two in the hedgerow of the perimeter track. They were caught in just three rounds between 9:00 and 10:00 and then no more. One of the two retrapped birds, JTY709, was ringed as a juvenile in December 2016, which is a good age for a Wren. The BTO’s Bird Facts data gives a typical lifespan of two years and the maximum age from ringing is 7 years 3 months and 6 days, so logging in at 4 years and 11 months is a venerable age for a Wren.

As you can see from the two photographs, once the sun came out and the mist lifted, the sky was crystal clear. Unfortunately, soon after we had the Meadow Pipit triangle open the breeze got up, the nets became too visible and the catches went right down, and we only caught the two Meadow Pipits, despite a decent number of them flying around the plateau. As a result, as for the next three rounds we were not catching more than one bird per round, we started packing away soon after 11:00 and left site just after 12:30.