Webb’s Wood: Saturday, 15th January 2022

It is a bit weird when one of your team is welcoming starting 30 minutes earlier, because it means they might get an opportunity to ring a few birds. That is the way it was this morning when Rosie, Adam and me met at Webb’s Wood.

Rosie, bless her cottons, came to help set up once again, before heading off at 8:30 to supervise volunteers hedge laying at Blakehill Farm. At least this time she got to process a few more birds than usual: a Robin, two Great Tits and three Redwing. We changed the net setup a little from the last session, and it worked.

I changed the single 6m net to a 9m at the feeding station and reinstated the 2 x 18m net run along the trackside. I could do the latter because Forestry England have been in tidying up the trackside vegetation. We put a lure for Lesser Redpoll in the feeding station area; a lure for Redwing on the 3 x 18m run, a lure for Lesser Redpoll and Siskin on the 2 x 18m run adjacent to the feeding station and the same on the trackside nets.

Adam and I then spent a slightly chilly morning, checking the nets on a very regular basis, every 10 minutes or so, so that no birds spent any time in the nets in the cold. Frustratingly, a Great Spotted Woodpecker spent less time in the nets than any other bird because three times it got into the net, and three times extracted itself before Adam could get to it (he runs, I don’t).

With the nets opened by 7:40, the birds started to arrive pretty well straight away. Between then and 9:20 we caught 27 birds, including all seven of the Redwing that came to the lure, plus our first Lesser Redpoll of the session. The next two hours each produced another 13 birds, leading to our total catch of 53.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 11(9); Great Tit 3(6); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit (1); Robin 2(3); Redwing 7; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 2; Lesser Redpoll 7. Totals: 34 birds ringed from 8 species and 19 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 53 birds processed from 9 species.

Although we did catch and ring two Chaffinch, unfortunately the first one I extracted had to be released unringed, as it was badly affected by the Fringilla papillomavirus. Its legs were in pretty poor condition and extracting its legs without inflicting damage was a long and protracted operation. I have seen rather more of it in the last 6 months than I had in the previous 3 years. It is a worrying development.

The lures worked well, except the Siskin call. On a couple of occasions we had good sized flocks of Siskin fly into the trees around the feeding station, but we didn’t manage to attract a single bird down into the nets. However, what isn’t working for Siskin is definitely working for Lesser Redpoll. This winter so far has been the best so far for this species in the Braydon Forest, as the following table shows:

The definition of each column is October / November / December of the prior year and January / February / March of the following year. As you can see, with two and a half months to go, this winter has been the most productive we have ever had in the Braydon Forest. I probably shouldn’t include 2012/13, as I was still finding my way around most of the sites, having not long gained my C-permit so I could strike out into my own sites. Key to the increase this year is the improved catch in Webb’s Wood. Prior to this winter there had been just 15 Lesser Redpoll caught there, this winter there have been 33 processed so far. The thinning of the wood is the only difference that I can see.

About 11:00 a cold mist started to arrive. Adam and I started to shut the nets just after we had processed our 11:30 round, and were off site by 12:45 – heading home for some warmth!

Long Distance Blue Tit

Today I received a BTO Recovery Report for a Blue Tit, ring number AVF6109. “So what?” you might ask. Well, this is what: it is the second longest recorded movement of a Blue Tit within the UK!

It was ringed on the 31st December 2019 at Fort Augustus in Highland Scotland. We recaptured it in Ravensroost Wood last Sunday, 9th January, in amongst the rather large catch we had (f0r us) that morning. It is a movement of 642km in 740 days. To be honest, I hadn’t even picked up on the fact that it wasn’t one of our birds. With the online data entry system it will tell you the species but not flag up that it isn’t on your particular rings.

Approximate Route of Travel

The longest recorded movement is a juvenile ringed at Abberton Reservoir, near Colchester, in 2002 and recovered in Breakachy in Highland in 2006, a distance of 717km.

Whenever someone wants to criticise my bird ringing they almost always pick on the, to them, unnecessary practice of ringing Blue Tits! Indeed, I know of some ringers who refuse to ring them – but that’s because they object to the ~27p per ring it costs them. Apart from the fact that, having inconvenienced them by catching them, it would be rude not to put a ring on them, it is easy to see that we still have a lot to learn about Blue Tits. Why, for example, would a resident species that normally disperses over relatively short distances suddenly fly such a long distance? I don’t have an answer but one day we might if we continue to study them.

Brown’s Farm: Thursday, 13th January 2022

I don’t often kick myself out of bed early two days in a row but the forecast for this morning was perfect for a trip to Brown’s Farm. My last two planned visits were failures: firstly, David and I sat in the car for 45 minutes waiting for the cloud we were in to lift, it didn’t. Next time I was ill. Then the weather has just been too wet and windy for such an exposed site, so I jumped at the chance. Naturally, my alarm didn’t go off, so I started out later than intended, but I was determined to get there.

James, the farmer, had kindly spread some chopped maize around in his game cover to try and attract some birds in for me. As I drove up the metalled track, to turn down to the game cover area, the hedgerows were alive with birds. I should have stopped and set my nets there because, although I thoroughly enjoyed the session, the catch was quite small. It started off cold, the sky was perfectly clear and as the sun rose the air soon warmed up, but the land stayed frozen all morning: which was just as well because otherwise it would be a quagmire.

I got one of the species that I went for:

Female Yellowhammer

My first Yellowhammer of 2022. Unfortunately, the only one I caught today.

The catch was just a few birds each round but at 11:00 I was delighted, and surprised, to find this in my net:

First Winter Pied Wagtail

I catch very few of these. As a trainee, ringing at various Thames Water Sewage Treatment Works, I got to process a reasonable number of them (27 Pied Wagtails and 13 White (yes, White) Wagtails, mainly at Marlborough Sewage Works – not too far from where I was today). Since then, in 9 years, this is only the fifth that I have managed to catch. They fly slowly, have good eyesight and can generally avoid the nets.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 5; Dunnock 2(3); Pied Wagtail 1; Robin 2(2); Blackbird 2; Yellowhammer 1. Totals: 13 birds ringed from 6 species and 5 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 18 birds processed from 6 species.

So not a huge catch but, as I say, a lovely morning. I was joined by the farmer for a good long chat. He is quite keen for me to carry out some ringing on his other farm, next door to, and west of Brown’s Farm. We spent 5 minutes watching Skylarks chasing each other in the field opposite where my nets were set. I have no idea why they should be so busy at this time of year. Surely they aren’t pairing up and establishing territories already?

As usual, I had excellent sightings of the local Buzzards and Red Kites. I suppose being adjacent to Savernake Forest this farmland is a happy hunting ground. There are plenty of rabbits and hares there. One of my favourite sights is when Sparrowhawks find a thermal and start circling up, with their short and rapid “butterfly” wing beats, so when one started doing exactly that whilst I was taking down the nets I just had to stop and watch. Eventually I managed to finish taking them down and left site at just after 13:00.

Next time I will change my net positions and hope to catch the species I didn’t get today: Linnet. There are so many of them on site. On one memorable occasion in April 2015, after 3 disappointing hours, the Linnets started to arrive and I ended up ringing 44 of them.

Curlew Update

Back in April, on the 22nd, as a result of Jonny’s hard work and diligence (and with a little help from my wader nets) we staked out one of the fields at Blakehill Farm and managed to capture the first adult Curlew in Wiltshire for nigh on 40 years.

Jonny got notification yesterday that, thanks to the leg tag fitted when it was ringed, it was sighted in Cornwall on the 27th December. It had travelled 272km from where it was ringed:

It was seen on the beach at Portscatho.

The Firs: Wednesday, 12th January 2022

A very pleasant session at the Firs this morning. I was joined by Rosie, Miranda and, the first time for a long time, by Alice. Alice is going to be put forward for her A-permit shortly, after a year of very busy and varied ringing activities in 2021.

When I went to top up the feeders, in preparation for today’s session, I found that the Wildlife Trust’s Well-Being group were on site. They were the group that spent time with me, getting close to the birds, at my last appearance at the Firs. The way I was greeted by them was lovely. I had a chat and found out that a different group would be there today, so I let them know that we would be happy to show them more birds if they wished. They wished.

We arrived on site at 7:30 and erected 2 rides of 3 x 18m nets down the central glade and a single 12m net to form a sandwich either side of the feeding station. Birds started being caught straight away. Unlike Ravensroost on Sunday, it was never excessive. This time, as Rosie had some work to do for the Trust on the site, she was able to ring a decent number of birds, including a lovely female Bullfinch.

Our second round didn’t produce a lot of birds, but it did produce our first Jay of the year:

I wonder how long it took to style that quiff?

The catch was steady all morning. What was notable was the proportion of retrapped birds: of 41 birds caught, 29 were recaptures. The list was: Nuthatch (2); Jay 1; Blue Tit 2(11); Great Tit 1(10); Coal Tit (3); Wren 1(1); Robin 1(2); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch 3. Totals: 12 birds ringed from 9 species and 29 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 41 birds processed from 11 species.

Whilst the Jay was the undoubted highlight, three Bullfinches in the session was a pretty close second. Two of them were almost certainly a pair: a male and a female within a few inches of each other in the same net is a pretty decent indicator.

The Well-Being group arrived at about 11:00 and, true to form, the next round was the only empty round we had all morning. Our final round at 11:30, however, did turn up four birds: the Goldcrest, a Great Tit, a Coal Tit and a Wren. The attendees loved the birds. The Great Tit spent her entire time, whilst holding her for a few seconds so people could take photographs, was the way that she would select which finger she wanted to have a go at, rather than just attacking the nearest. However, the bird that they all agreed was their favourite was the Wren. There is just something about the way they hold themselves that appealed to everybody in the group. Anyway, I am pleased to say that the people were so happy that several of them came and helped us take down the nets, which made our life very much easier.

We were packed up and left site by 12:30.

Ravensroost Wood: Sunday, 9th January 2022

At last! I have been trying to get back to Ravensroost Wood for a while but it kept getting rained off. Originally this session was scheduled for Saturday but, yet again, it rained nearly all day. At least this time it had been forecast so I didn’t get up early for no reward.

I topped up the feeders on Tuesday, when I did the other sites, and checked on Friday. The feeders were empty, so I topped them up again. This morning the peanut feeders were empty and the big multi-seed feeder was half empty, so we topped up again and girded our loins for a busy session. I was joined for the session by Anna (with her Mum, who came along to see what it is all about), Samuel and Mum Claire plus new arrival Rob: a professional ecologist who wants to expand his skill sets. Rosie also came along and did her usual trick: helping us set up, and then helping extract the first round before disappearing off to set up her morning volunteer group activity (hedge-laying since you ask).

The session was every bit as busy as I feared. It was Blue Tit heavy, and they were doing their best to make life difficult: double-pocketing, spinning and, in a couple of cases, fighting each other. We separated those combatants first and very quickly. They are so feisty, and their beaks so sharp, it is a good job they aren’t bigger!

The first round was very busy with Anna, Rosie and me extracting 22 birds, mainly Blue Tits. Rosie then had to leave. The next round produced 13 birds, again, more Blue Tits. Our last round proper, at 11:15, produced another 30 birds and we closed the nets as we emptied them. Quite remarkably, at 12:30, after we had processed those birds and went to take down, we found another two birds had blundered into the closed nets: a Great Tit and (hallelujah) a Lesser Redpoll, our only one of the session.

The session was notable for two Dunnocks. These are the first two caught in the wood since April 2019. In addition, three Great Spotted Woodpeckers: a male ringed in December 2019 and two adult females that we ringed today were a good catch. Unfortunately, we had some diseased Chaffinches in the nets. Two females with developing Fringilla papillomavirus and a male with the same on its left leg only. i.e. the one without the ring. This bird, S055209, was ringed in April 2016, so it has already had a good long life. According to the BTO Bird Facts database, the typical life span of a Chaffinch is 3 years, but the oldest recorded is over 13 years from date of ringing. Its FPV was a newly acquired infection, just showing the start of the warty excrescences. There were, however, two perfectly healthy first winter females that we could ring.

The list for today was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 2(1); Blue Tit 18(21); Great Tit 5(6); Coal Tit 2(1); Marsh Tit (2); Dunnock 2; Robin 2(1); Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 2(1); Lesser Redpoll 1. Totals: 36 birds ringed from 10 species and 33 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 69 birds processed from 11 species.

After processing the last few birds, we took down and got away from site by 13:00.

West Wilts Ringing Group: December 2021 Results

Not our best month by any stretch – I blame the weather. For example, I scheduled 11 sessions for December and managed to carry out just 6.  The numbers were good and who knows what would have happened if we had managed to fulfil them all. On top of that, three of my main winter sites were out of bounds due to the outbreak of avian flu at Castle Eaton, as they fell within the 10km surveillance zone.  Anyway, the results were:

Not many highlights but Jonny’s Cetti’s Warbler at Langford Lakes was certainly one: the only December capture of this species since 2007.  Alongside that, the 10 Chiffchaffs is notable. The catch was split between Jonny’s sites at Sutton Benger (7) and Langford Lakes (3).

My highlight was the 26 Lesser Redpoll caught in Webb’s Wood. The catch of 20 on the 5th December is our largest capture since the great schism (1st January 2013 when the North Wilts Group was formed and split the West Wilts Group into its current structure).  Prior to this December most catches in Webb’s Wood were of single birds, with a couple of threes and a four.  I wonder if it is the impact of the thinning operations last winter? 

Mind, it is still not a patch on the extraordinary catch we had in Ravensroost Wood on the 4th December 2011 (a date etched in my mind for many reasons) when we caught and ringed 43 of the blighters.

Redwing numbers were well down and that seems to have been a general reduction across all sites, even allowing for the fewer sessions.  One thing, January is likely to be a big improvement on last year, as a full lockdown does not look likely.

Blues? What Blues? Somerford Common: Wednesday, 5th January 2022

Obviously a reference back to my last visit to Somerford Common where I found that Forestry England had mulched the entire area around my feeding station, with a subsequent drop off in the catch that day. As a result, I moved the feeders into an area closer to the remaining tree line. It is still in the mulched area, but has a tree-lined berm, a number of guard trees and some of the Blackthorn retained, because they are bearing the eggs of Brown Hairstreak butterflies. That, along with Marsh Fritillary, are key butterfly species for Forestry England in the Braydon Forest.

To be honest, I was just delighted to get out, having tried unsuccessfully on four occasions since the 22nd December. I was joined for the morning by Rosie and Jonny. Rosie did her usual: helped us set up and then had to head off for work at the Wildlife Trust having ringed a solitary Blue Tit. Jonny was also off to work but for 11:00, so he got to ring a few more birds. The set up was as follows:

The only net set that was retained is the one on the main path. The two white dots represent the feeding station. We put a lure for Redwing on the main path, and lures for Lesser Redpoll either side of the feeding station.

The first round proper, after Rosie had departed, gave us hope for rest of the session: as well as the expected Blue and Great Tits we had three each of Chaffinch and Goldfinch. We also caught our only two Redwing of the session, adjacent to the lure. There were quite a few Redwing flying around but, for once, they ignored the lure.

The next round delivered a couple of Lesser Redpoll. Jonny, despite being the busiest of our group, with some excellent sites, does not have one that consistently produces Lesser Redpoll, so he was really pleased with the catch. When the next round produced another bunch of Lesser Redpoll, he was very happy. This one was a retrap from my last ringing session, in Webb’s Wood on 22nd December:

Adult female Lesser Redpoll

The next round was much quieter. In fact, it stayed quiet until after Jonny left just after 10:30. Thereafter it got quite busy again and the list grew to a decent number. In fact, it was our fifth largest catch at the site. The list was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 16(9); Great Tit 2(3); Coal Tit 1(2); Marsh Tit (3); Wren (1); Robin 2(1); Redwing 2; Goldcrest (1); Chaffinch 6; Goldfinch 9; Lesser Redpoll 10(2). Totals: 48 birds ringed from 8 species and 24 birds retrapped from 10 species, making 72 birds processed from 13 species.

This augurs well for our scheduled ringing demonstration at Somerford Common on the 19th February!

I closed the nets at 12:30, and processed the last birds of the session, an hour later than I had planned, because the birds just kept coming, and then took down and was away from site by 13:45.

Braydon Forest Review 2021

This is a review of my team’s activity in the Braydon Forest in 2021.  The key highlight for me in 2021, however, was not site specific but was Jonny Cooper gaining advancement to his A-permit.  Jonny was my first trainee and is the first that I have managed to train up to A-permit level.  I am not taking credit for it: he has proven to be an excellent ringer and, as well as working with me, has taken advantage of every opportunity afforded to him by his relationship with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, ringing Swans and other waterfowl, as well as trips to Iceland, ringing seabirds and Red-necked Phalarope, amongst others.  As a C-permit holder he has been massively engaged and a highly productive ringer, taking on a number of projects, including the lowland Curlew monitoring and his Langford Lakes / Wessex Water Reed Bed projects. 

For myself this year it has been difficult. The weather put paid to 25 of my planned 80 sessions.  I added 5 garden sessions to the schedule, but 60 sessions out of 85 was a 30% failure rate.

After the problem at Ravensroost Wood in July of 2020, a very similar incident happened in Red Lodge back in April.  This seriously knocked my confidence about working solo at the weekend, when there were so many more people about.  Post-lockdown footfall in all sites has been much higher.  So I asked my team if they could make sure that at least one of them could make themselves available. Everybody was as helpful as possible, with one exception, who left the group rather than help out.

Ravensroost Complex:

Due to restrictions imposed by the Trust on where I could set my nets, following the aforementioned vandalism incident in 2020, Covid concerns and the massively increased footfall in the wood, I stayed out of the wood until July.  I have only worked in the wood on 4 occasions this year.  It would have been more but the wet weather put paid to several attempted sessions in December. More of my ringing sessions in the Ravensroost complex this year were around the meadow pond area, where the Trust gave me permission to make it out of bounds to the public whilst I was working there and I could block the entrance with my car, to reinforce the point.  I carried out 6 sessions there but overall it was no more productive than the woodland, although there was far more variety.

The results have been both patchy and disappointing as a result.  The first woodland session in July was awful: 2 birds processed in 3 hours: a Blackbird and a Song Thrush.  It took me a while to regain my enthusiasm after that, so my next visit was in September, which yielded 14 birds in 4 hours (11 ringed and 3 retraps). Still, I persevered and carried out sessions in October and November, which were considerably better (46 and 58 birds processed respectively).  I had hoped to get a session in this December but it has just been far too wet and windy.

The list for the woodland this year was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 2(2); Blue Tit 30(4); Great Tit 16(2); Coal Tit (2); Marsh Tit 3(5); Long-tailed Tit 4(2); Wren 2; Robin 2(1); Song Thrush 3; Redwing 2; Blackbird 3; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 2; Goldcrest 16(2); Chaffinch 3; Bullfinch 2; Lesser Redpoll 6.  Totals: 95 birds ringed from 16 species and 25 birds retrapped from 9 species, making 120 birds processed from 18 species.  For the second year running, since I started ringing in Ravensroost Wood, I ringed no Garden Warblers in the wood and the Blackcaps were caught on autumn migration. i.e. I have no proof of them breeding for this year. Equally, there was a dearth of both species at Lower Moor Farm. I believe that the rain and wind in May had them just keep going north until they got out of the rain.

The pond sessions were carried out in April, May, June, July and 2 in September.  The July session was 50% better than the July woodland session (Whitethroat, Blackcap and Blue Tit) but the others were certainly more productive overall.  The pond list for this year was: Snipe 1; Swallow 1; Blue Tit 16(1); Great Tit 3; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 5(4); Meadow Pipit 7; Dunnock 4(2); Robin 11(3); Redwing 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2(1); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 36; Garden Warbler 1; Whitethroat 3(1);  Lesser Whitethroat 3(3); Chiffchaff 11(2); Willow Warbler 4(2); Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 2(1); Goldfinch 3; Reed Bunting 2.  Totals 121 birds ringed from 23 species and 20 birds recaptured from 10 species, making 141 birds processed from 23 species.

Clearly there were 2 major highlights from the meadow pond sessions: my first Snipe caught in the Ravensroost complex and, secondly, a catch of 7 Meadow Pipits in one session. Previously I have caught the odd one at the meadow pond area.

Last summer the Trust erected 3 new Barn Owl boxes in the Avis . Ravensroost Meadows complex.  This year two of the three were occupied: by Stock Doves.  Each successfully reared a single chick.  Naturally the Barn Owls ignored the nice new boxes and nested in the dilapidated, falling apart box in the condemned barn in Avis Meadow.  There they successfully reared a brood of 5 chicks.

The Firs:

We managed 9 sessions in the Firs this year.  For the first time the total catch exceeded that of the Ravensroost complex, with 350 birds processed as opposed to 260, although the number of species in the Firs is between that of the Ravensroost Meadow and woodland, at 21 species caught.  On the whole, the sessions were productive.

The list was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1(1); Nuthatch 5(4); Treecreeper 5(2); Blue Tit 79(46); Great Tit 39(44); Coal Tit 5(7); Marsh Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 3(1); Wren 12(8); Dunnock 2(1); Robin 15(9); Redwing 6; Song Thrush 5; Blackbird 7(3); Blackcap 11; Chiffchaff 4(2); Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 6(3); Chaffinch 7(2); Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 215 birds ringed from 19 species and 135 birds retrapped from 15 species.

Somerford Common:

With 14 visits this year, Somerford was the most visited site for the team.  As a result, it also delivered the highest overall catch, with 305 ringed and 177 retrapped.  A month ago the area around the feeding station was cleared and mulched, with a consequent reduction in the catch. The feeding station has been moved into the uncleared area and it will be interesting to monitor the change.  The list for the year there was: Sparrowhawk 1; Great Spotted Woodpecker 4(2); Nuthatch (10); Treecreeper 3(1); Blue Tit 64(60); Great Tit 39(40); Coal Tit 15(6); Marsh Tit 7(27); Long-tailed Tit 11(2); Wren 6(4); Dunnock 2(3); Robin 20(9); Redwing 45; Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 4(2); Blackcap 9(1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 7; Willow Warbler 6(1); Goldcrest 15(5); Chaffinch 19(1); Brambling 1(1); Bullfinch (2); Goldfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 20; Siskin 1.  Totals: 350 ringed from 24 species and 177 retrapped from 18 species, making 527 birds processed from 26 species.

Highlights included the biggest female Sparrowhawk I have ever handled; the largest single catch of Redwing (at 18) caught at this site and another Brambling ringed and our first Brambling retrap: a bird ringed at Somerford last February.  The solitary Siskin was a first for Ellie to ring: the number was disappointing but is probably a result of the harvesting of the conifers on the other side of the road from our site in the last two years.

Webb’s Wood:

Due to the thinning work in the wood over last winter and the subsequent damage to the track from the heavy machinery, I was unable to access my ringing site until July and, with only 7 birds processed in that session, it didn’t look promising. However, we managed sessions in October, November and two in December, all of which gave a decent return.  The list was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Blue Tit 45(17); Great Tit 24(15); Coal Tit 6(3); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed 15(1); Wren 7; Grey Wagtail 1; Dunnock 1; Robin 3(4); Redwing 8; Blackbird 1; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 24(2); Lesser Redpoll 26.  Totals: 163 birds ringed from 14 species and 43 birds retrapped from 7 species.

The highlights were: our first ever Grey Wagtail in any of my northern sites and the massive increase in the numbers of Lesser Redpoll, with 26 caught in the two December sessions. I don’t know if the latter is a result of the thinning operation, but it is very welcome. Prior to this year we would catch 3 per annum on average, with the largest previous catch being 4 in 2013.

Red Lodge:

We managed 8 visits to Red Lodge this year. Troubled? Definitely. As anyone who reads the blog knows, apart from the altercation in April, the site has been targetted by local vandals for fly tipping on three separate occasions.  Unfortunately, scheduled sessions for the end of November and all of December have had to be cancelled because a large part of the site falls within the 10km surveillance zone for avian flu.  The BTO rules, sensibly in my opinion, prohibit ringing within that zone.  Although my ringing area is technically outside the zone, it would have been hair-splitting to ignore the restriction and I didn’t fancy the discussion.

The list for the year was: Sparrowhawk 1; Nuthatch 6(2); Treecreeper 1; Jay 1; Blue Tit 106(24); Great Tit 26(21); Coal Tit 6(5); Marsh Tit 3(3); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 11(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 12(4); Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 2(4); Blackcap 11(1); Chiffchaff 7; Goldcrest 8; Chaffinch 9(1); Brambling 1; Goldfinch 2(1); Lesser Redpoll 1(1). Totals: 220 birds ringed from 21 species and 69 birds retrapped from 13 species, making 289 birds processed from 21 species.

The undoubted highlight of the year was our first Brambling for the site.  This now means that we have caught Brambling at Somerford Common, Ravensroost Wood and Red Lodge in the last three years after nine years without a sighting, let alone a capture.

Blakehill Farm:

Like Red Lodge, Blakehill Farm was put out of bounds by the outbreak of avian flu at Castle Eaton. We managed to get in 8 full and 2 truncated sessions, including our autumn migration sessions, in before this however, with the following results: Curlew 1; Magpie 1; Blue Tit 18(4); Great Tit 8(3); Long-tailed Tit 18(6); Wren 10(5); Meadow Pipit 55; Dunnock 8(3); Stonechat 5; Whinchat 12; Robin 6(2); Wheatear 1; Redwing 39; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 5(2); Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 2; Whitethroat 2; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 6; Willow Warbler 2; Chaffinch 5; Goldfinch 2; Linnet 2; Starling 1; House Sparrow 6; Reed Bunting 8(1). Totals: 226 birds ringed from 27 species and 26 birds retrapped from 8 species.

The highlight has to be the Curlew, ringed by Jonny as a part of the monitoring project. The first adult Curlew to be ringed in the Braydon Forest, and the first in Wiltshire by our group (and, I suspect, any other) for over 30 years.  That said, I was delighted to catch the first Wheatear by anyone in the group since 2012.  The Whinchat numbers were the second best for the site maintaining the solid autumn passage numbers of this species passing through Blakehill.

Numbers of Redwing and Meadow Pipit have been curtailed by our not being able to access the site due to the avian flu outbreak. 

Purton:

For the sake of completeness, as Purton lies within the Braydon Forest, this is a summary of the ad hoc ringing I did in my garden this year.  It is a lower total than usual, but I think that reflects my activity rather than a change in the numbers of birds. The list for the year was: Woodpigeon 4; Collared Dove 1; Blue Tit 26(14); Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 2; Pied Wagtail 1; Dunnock 4(1); Robin 3(1); Blackbird 2(3); Goldcrest 1; Goldfinch 18(1); Greenfinch 2; House Sparrow 1; Starling 19.

My garden highlight was the first Pied Wagtail for the garden and only the third caught at any of my sites (Brown’s Farm in 2019 and Blakehill Farm in 2015 being the other two).

Barn Owls etc:

There are a number of Barn Owl boxes within the confines of the Braydon Forest, and they have been productive in 2021. We monitored a total of 17 boxes this year, from which we ringed 19 Barn Owls (1 adult + 18 chicks); 2 Stock Dove pulli and 2 Jackdaw pulli.  This is our best return in the Forest since I started monitoring them 4 years ago.

Braydon Forest 2021 Totals:

Snipe 1; Curlew 1; Barn Owl 19; Sparrowhawk 2; Woodpigeon 4; Stock Dove 2; Collared Dove 1; Swallow 1; Magpie 1; Jay 1; Jackdaw 2; Great Spotted Woodpecker 5(5); Nuthatch 13(18); Treecreeper 9(3); Blue Tit 384(170); Great Tit 154(129); Coal Tit 33(24); Marsh Tit 14(37); Long-tailed Tit 55(13); Wren 53(22); Meadow Pipit 62; Pied Wagtail 1; Grey Wagtail 1; Dunnock 23(10); Stonechat 5; Whinchat 12; Wheatear 1; Robin 72(33); Redwing 102; Song Thrush 16; Blackbird 26(15); Reed Warbler 1; Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 72(2); Garden Warbler 2; Whitethroat 5(1);  Lesser Whitethroat 4(3); Chiffchaff 38(4); Willow Warbler 13(3); Goldcrest 71(12); Chaffinch 44(4); Brambling 2(1); Goldfinch 26(2); Lesser Redpoll 54(1); Siskin 1; Linnet 2; Greenfinch 2; Bullfinch 5(3); House Sparrow 7; Reed Bunting 10(1). Totals: 1,456 ringed from 51 species and 516 birds retrapped from 24 species, making 1,972 birds processed from 51 species.

In pure numbers, this is the worst year I have had in the Braydon Forest. Even with the Covid disruptions and associated issues, last year produced 2,704 birds processed from 50 species. However, the key reason for the difference is the number of sessions: 73 carried out in 2020 and only 60 full sessions managed in 2021, out of 85 scheduled. The weather was the key problem.

Webb’s Wood: Wednesday, 22nd December 2021

After the miserable failure to get to Ravensroost Wood at the weekend and Monday, naturally, Tuesday would have been fine for a session. However, knowing I was going to be at Webb’s on Wednesday with Ellie joining me, and Matt, who contacted me through the blog, coming along for his first taster session, I decided that 5 days of early starts is far too reminiscent of being back at work, so stayed in bed. I did pop over to Webb’s Wood later that morning to fill up the feeding station.

Wednesday arrived dry, cold and windless: perfect winter ringing conditions. Matt was in the car park when I arrived for 7:30 at Webb’s, and Ellie joined us soon after. We started setting the nets and had them open by 8:30. Because it was a cold start, all nets were closed once erected, until the final nets were in place, when they were all opened together, to ensure that no birds were in the nets for any length of time. As the site we ring is very compact, and all nets are in nearly full view from the ringing station, we ensured that all birds were extracted within a couple of minutes of being caught in the nets.

I put on lures for Redwing and Lesser Redpoll. The former was a complete failure last time in Webb’s but, pleased to say that, this time the Latvian love song (as it is known) worked its magic and we had a small catch of Redwing in the first round. Thereafter they just flew over and ignored it but we got some.

The birds didn’t really start moving until 9:00. Our first bird, at 8:50, was a solitary Blue Tit. The second round, at 9:25, was the busiest, with 17 birds, including our four Redwing and six Lesser Redpoll. Thereafter they came in threes and fours until we closed the nets at 11:30.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 6(7); Great Tit 3(4); Robin 2(2); Redwing 4; Goldcrest (1); Lesser Redpoll 6. Totals: 21 birds ringed from 5 species and 14 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 35 birds processed from 6 species.

Not a huge catch but it is noticeable that we are catching far more Lesser Redpoll in the wood than we ever have before. Prior to this year, from when I started working in Webb’s Wood in 2013, we had caught a total of 18 of them. So far, in just two sessions in December, we have caught 26 of them (after last time’s stupendous catch of 20 of them). I wonder if that has anything to do with the thinning of the wood over the last winter?

It was a nice, easy session. Matt enjoyed the experience and will be joining me again over the holiday period. We were packed up and leaving site by 12:30 – cold but happy.