This session was carried out in almost perfect weather conditions for ringing. It was overcast and windless. The only problem was that the base temperature was unseasonably cold for the time of year, which tends to suppress the insect activity, which has a knock-on effect on the activity of the birds. I was helped in the session by Jonny Cooper and Ellie Jones and we were joined by Tim Jukes. Tim is a volunteer working with Jonny on his Braydon Forest Curlew Project and expressed an interest in finding out about ringing.
This year’s CES is shaping up to reverse the declining trend of the last few years. In each session so far this year we have processed 59 birds, compared to 31 birds processed in session 1, 2018 and 26 birds processed in session 2. There were plenty of highlights in this catch: a juvenile Song Thrush, our first newly-fledged Robins of the year (five of them) plus our first newly-fledged Chiffchaff:
I know this a serious blog – but isn’t that just so cute? We also caught a Dunnock that was fresh out of the nest. Perhaps the most encouraging catch of the morning was a female Cetti’s Warbler with a well-developed brood patch.
After an excellent year in 2015, with several youngsters ringed, we have had very few Cetti’s caught – and those we have caught have been males on territory. We caught a male earlier in the year, and have heard singing at every session this Spring. however, this is the first female that we have caught since 2015. I am hopeful that we will get proof of breeding and some fledglings in the next month or so.
The list for today was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit (2); Wren (3); Dunnock 2(5); Robin 5(3); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird (3); Cetti’s Warbler 1; Blackcap 2(5); Garden Warbler (3); Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 1(5); Willow Warbler 1(3); Bullfinch 4; House Sparrow 3; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 25 birds ringed from 12 species; 34 birds recaptured from 11 species, making 59 birds processed from 17 species.
Before getting into the session at Tedworth House today I am going to say a few things about the Breeding Bird Survey I carried out yesterday. For the last six years I have been carrying out the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey at Brown’s Farm, just south of Marlborough. As readers of the blog know, I also ring at this site, and did so quite recently. The difference between ringing the site and doing a breeding bird survey is in the amount of ground you cover. For BBS I walk two 1 km transects, 1 km apart, recording the birds I see and hear in 10 x 200 metre zones and noting their distance from the track that I walk. There are 3 zones: <25m; 25m – 100m and >100m.
Whilst in our last ringing session there we caught 4 Linnet, 6 Whitethroat and 5 Yellowhammer: during my walk yesterday I noted over 40 Linnet; 20 Whitethroat and 30 Yellowhammer along the hedgerows. I was also lucky to see half-a-dozen Hares and had my closest ever encounter with this enigmatic mammal. Half way through the survey I stopped for coffee, sitting on a low bank at the edge of a field. Two Hares came running up the path towards me, they stopped and a bit of boxing ensued. They then ran on further and sat no more than 5 metres from my position. We “shared a moment” for three minutes before they moved off in different directions.
To Tedworth House. It was a quiet session, carried out to a background of the constant chatter of the Raven chicks and their parents. They have been fledged for a while now but are clearly still hanging around as a family. Although I didn’t catch huge numbers of birds, it was quite interesting nonetheless.
The highlight had to be my first Magpie since October 2016. Of the 15 Magpies caught by the Group since 1st January 2013, 6 of them have been caught at Tedworth House. The list for the day was: Magpie 1; Nuthatch (2); Blue Tit 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 5(2); Blackcap 3(1); Goldfinch 1; Bullfinch 2. Totals: 14 birds ringed from 7 species; 5 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 19 birds ringed from 8 species.
The number of Blackbirds was remarkable. One was a juvenile from this year; 4 were second year birds and the two recaptured birds were full adults. I was joined by several keen observers during the day. Two were absolutely delighted to be shown how to safely hold and release a Goldfinch and Blackbird respectively.
As the temperature rose, the bird activity fell and I closed the nets at 11:30, after a couple of empty rounds. The session finished on a bit of a high when Jack, the maintenance man for Tedworth House and expert nest finder, showed me a Goldcrest nest in a fir tree overhanging the children’s play area.
Somerford Common is, without doubt, the most varied woodland that I ring. If I lost all of my other woodland sites, I could replace them with the different habitats available at Somerford. For today’s session I set up along the rides in the south-east corner of the wood. The ride running west to east was cleared and widened on the south side considerably three years ago, the paddock area to its north became subject to a coppicing regime two years ago. Both are growing back and offering a good range of different heights of vegetation. This is usually a good recipe for getting a decent variety of birds.
I was working solo for the session, so I didn’t overdo the number of nets. You can never tell how big the catch will be at Somerford. The usual catch at this time of the year is 25 to 30 birds, totally manageable for an experienced ringer.
The list for the day was: Blue Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 2(5); Dunnock 1; Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 3; Blackcap 4; Garden Warbler 1(1); Chiffchaff 2(1); Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 1. Totals: 17 birds ringed from 10 species; 9 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 26 birds processed from 11 species.
The recaptured Garden Warbler, D977367, is not one of our birds. It looks like it is an old ring number and I shall look forward to getting the details, which will indicate how many times this bird has flown from the UK to over-winter in the Congo rain forest. There were no Garden Warblers caught at the site last year, so this is a welcome return. When I surveyed the site for the BTO’s Bird Atlas back in 2008, Somerford Common was the best site for Garden Warblers. The vegetation is now in a similar state to where it was then, so I am hoping that we will have a good catch of the species this summer (and for the next few years).
It was our best catch of Long-tailed Tits for a while and our best catch of them ever at Somerford at this time of year (i.e. with no feeding station and before this year’s youngsters have fledged). One of them was ringed as a juvenile back in June 2015: a pretty good age for such a small bird.
Update: Garden Warbler D977367 was ringed at Waterhay in the Cotswold Water Park as a juvenile in August 2014. A well-travelled bird!
CES stands for Constant Effort Site and is one of the BTO’s most important project schemes. The idea is simple: the same nets are placed in the same positions for the same period of time year after year, roughly 10 days apart throughout the breeding season (the first week of May to the first week of September). I set my nets and leave them open for 6 hours. When I first looked into setting up a CES I planned to set a lot of nets, as Lower Moor Farm has a variety of habitats that would bear monitoring. However, I realised that there would be occasions when I would be working solo, and so I scaled back the plans. I have 4 rides, comprising 201 metres of net, in 5 habitat variations. As it happens, today I was working solo, so I am quite pleased that I didn’t go for a large setup.
It was a 4:00 start: as I was setting the nets alone, I thought I had better give myself an earlier start. It did mean that I got to hear the dawn chorus from beginning to end, which isn’t a bad start to anyone’s day. Unfortunately, the start time was mirrored by the temperature in degrees Celsius: a bit chilly!
I also had another close encounter of the Cuckoo kind. It started with a male calling from the trees adjacent to where I had just opened my last nets, and I then had super views as it flew around the site, before heading off in a north-westerly direction. One day I will catch one!
The catch for the day was a big improvement on the equivalent session in the previous two years: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 1(2); Wren 1(1); Dunnock 5(4); Robin (1); Song Thrush (1); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 6(7); Garden Warbler 6(3); Whitethroat 4; Chiffchaff 4(1); Willow Warbler 3(1); Bullfinch (4). Totals: 32 birds ringed from 10 species; 27 birds recaptured from 12 species, making 59 birds processed from 14 species.
One of the recaptured Garden Warblers is not a bird that our group has ringed. I shall look forward to finding out its history.
The most striking catch of the morning was a Black-headed Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochroa coccinea, which I carefully extracted from one of my nets:
Not a great photo – but I didn’t have my macro lens with me. There is already a superb variety of insects flying around the lake sides: one day I will have to eschew the birds for a while and focus on the insects.
We had a super session at Brown’s Farm on Wednesday. It wasn’t a huge catch: there are never lots of birds around in April or May, as the summer migrants are still arriving and the resident birds are being territorial and spread out from their winter foraging flocks.
I had my most experienced lieutenant, Jonny Cooper, with me, so we set a lot of nets. We set them along the whole of the hawthorn hedge that runs across the fields adjacent to the old pheasant pen. They were placed on the eastern side of the hedgerow, away from the prevailing breeze, on the hedgerow side of the track left between the hedge and the oil-seed rape planted there.
The catch for the morning was: Long-tailed Tit 1; Dunnock 6; Robin 3; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 6; Willow Warbler 1; Linnet 4; Yellowhammer 4(1). 27 birds ringed from 9 species and one recapture. The recaptured Yellowhammer was ringed on the farm in February of last year. Interestingly, the male Linnets and Yellowhammers were coming into breeding condition but the females weren’t. Both species breed somewhat later than birds like Blue and Great Tits: I think it is basically because the titmice feed on insects and their larvae, which are available earlier than the seeds that the Linnets and Yellowhammers feed on.
That said, the Whitethroats, which are also insect feeders, showed the same difference. However, the reasons are different: the males arriving first to set up territories: lots of testosterone involved. Then the females arrive and look for a mate, and they don’t come into breeding condition until somewhat later.
We set up our ringing station close to the entrance to the ride from the main track. Sitting down to process our first few birds, we were suddenly surprised by the loud calling of a Cuckoo. He was sat in the tree immediately above our heads. We then watched as he flew off across the fields. They are regular on the site. I always hear them when I am doing the BTO’s breeding bird survey; which I plan to do the first of next week.
The fields were alive with insects. When you hear all of the stories of the dearth of insects on farms, it is actually very pleasant to be surrounded by the continuous buzzing whilst working. We saw Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Orange Tip, Small White and Holly Blue butterflies along the ride.
The wind picked up at about 11:30, just as we started taking down. Once again, the rain started soon after we left site.
Yesterday’s session at Blakehill Farm was hastily scheduled because the forecast for today and the rest of the week was quite a lot of rain. However, as I got home to an email from Rachel at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust asking if she could bring her group along to my planned ringing session, I thought I had better think again. This also reminded me that another group had also asked if they could drop in on our activity. I checked the forecast, found it had improved, and contacted Ellie to see if she was available to help. Fortunately, she was. I cannot do two very early mornings in a row, so we started at 6:30. However, we were very aware that the rain was scheduled to arrive at 11:00.
Lower Moor Farm is a very public site, but it does have a wildlife refuge area to which the general public do not have access. It was in this area that we set up our nets: far from the madding crowd.
The catch was not busy, but a significant improvement on yesterday. Our highlight of the morning was our first catch of Garden Warbler this year. One was a recapture of an adult ringed at Lower Moor Farm in May of last year, plus two new individuals. These are the earliest Garden Warblers caught here, or at any of my sites, by a couple of weeks.
The catch for the day was: Long-tailed Tit 1; Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (1); Blackcap 5(1); Garden Warbler 2(1); Chiffchaff 3(1); Willow Warbler 1; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 15 birds ringed from 8 species; 3 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 18 birds processed from 9 species.
At 9:00 we were joined by Ian, one of the Trust’s army of volunteers, and then at 9:15 we Rachel and her group from the Royal Wootton Bassett Academy arrived. About 20 minutes after they left, we were joined by Christine and her group from the Devizes School. Each group stayed with us for about half-an-hour, during which time I explained the ringing scheme to them. They were shown how we ring the birds, the biometrics that we take, and ageing and sexing of species. As ever, you can guarantee that explaining about “cloacal protuberances” will guarantee sniggers from a group of young teenagers. One point, I might have made it before, the children involved all have either challenging behaviour issues or learning difficulties. It would be really nice if, just occasionally, the “run-of-the-mill” pupils could get the opportunity to become involved. I will always be happy to explain what we do to these groups, it would just be good to expand the audience.
At about 10:15, after the second group had left, we decided to take down. The birds had stopped moving, and we were mindful of the weather forecast. For once, the forecast was spot on and our timing was perfect: we had finished packing away, and I had just driven away from the ringing site, when the heavens opened.