Brown’s Farm: Saturday, 13th July 2019

Brown’s Farm sits at the top of Postern Hill, south of Marlborough.  It is the least sheltered of my sites and can only be ringed when the weather is expected to be more or less flat calm. The forecast was for it to become breezy as the morning wore on but I decided to take a risk on a session, as the results from my two Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) visits have been very encouraging,   The wind was forecast to come from the north, with nothing to block or mitigate its passage over the Marlborough Downs, so net positioning was important.  One of the key things about Brown’s Farm is the fantastic hedgerows they have surrounding the fields.  These hedgerows are primarily hawthorn and blackthorn kept trimmed to just above head height  and threaded throughout with dog rose, bramble and many other species of wild plant. As well as that, there are plenty of weedy, seedy edges to the fields, as you can see from the photograph below.


This enabled us to set some nets which were a little sheltered from the breeze.  I was joined by Jonny Cooper and Henny Lowth (my latest volunteer and, yes, that is spelt as she spells it). The wind did get up earlier than I was expecting and we did have to pack up early, as the wind became untenable at about 9:30.  By then we had already caught over 50 birds from a decent selection of species.

It was a good diverse catch: Blue Tit 1[8]; Dunnock 2[3]; Blackbird [1]; Blackcap [1]; Garden Warbler [1]; Whitethroat [1]; Chiffchaff [3]; Chaffinch 2; Linnet 4; House Sparrow 6[12](1); Yellowhammer 3[3](1).  18 adults ringed from 6 species, 33 juveniles ringed from 9 species and 2 retraps from 2 species, making 53 birds processed from 11 species.  The only disappointments were that we didn’t catch any juvenile Linnet or Chaffinch, and that there was no sign of the Yellow Wagtail seen on my last BBS visit.]

However, it was lovely to get our first juvenile Yellowhammers of the year:


The surprise catch of the morning was a juvenile Garden Warbler.  We catch them regularly at Lower Moor Farm and the Ravensroost complex but this is miles away from what I think of as their normal habitat: scrub and woodland edges.  Instead it was on an arable farm with fields full of wheat, barley, oats, oil-seed rape and maize, a couple of horse paddocks and the aforementioned fabulous treeless blackthorn / hawthorn hedgerows with weedy seedy edges to the fields.  It was a juvenile so I expect that it was dispersing from more suitable habitat: perhaps the water meadows along the river Kennet running through Marlborough.

All in all a very satisfying session. Henny, on only her second outing with us, has already shown that she can extract birds with enough care to bode well for her future as a bird ringer.


Cetti’s Bonanza: Lower Moor Farm; Wednesday, 10th July 2019

This was session 7 of our Constant Effort Site activity for 2019.  We had a good sized team out this morning: Jonny Cooper and Andrew Bray, with David Williams joining us at 8:00. Also, we were joined by Henrietta Lowth (Henny) for the first time.  She has some limited ringing experience, working with Blue Tits and Flycatchers.  The former and their aggressive behaviour in the hand clearly hasn’t put her off.   To date Henny hadn’t done any work with mist nets so, after a couple of hours watching the extraction techniques, she got to extract her first bird.  I was kind, it was a Blackcap: one of the nicest birds to handle, and certainly one of the best to start someone’s training on extracting birds from mist nets.  That she is prepared to drive from near Bath to work with us is very flattering: especially as we are starting at 4:30 in the morning at the moment.

Last year in the equivalent session (7th July 2018) we caught 36 birds from 16 species (26 ringed, 10 recaptures).  After the first two rounds I was convinced that we would be exceeding that total.  The catch was pretty solid between 5:00 and 8:00, and then tailed off, until we had an unexpected highlight at 9:15.  It tailed off again subsequently.  The hotter it gets the less the birds move around.

Since I started the CES at Lower Moor Farm in 2015, and prior to the start of this year’s CES sessions, we had ringed a total of 11 Cetti’s Warblers (including one in March of this year). Before today’s session we had ringed another 3, 2 of which were juveniles fledged this year.  Our first round delivered up another Cetti’s juvenile, which was pleasing. However, our 9:15 round provided another 4 youngsters. They were all in the same net, at the same height, three were evenly dispersed and one was a little further away.  They were so young that we thought that they might have been flushed from the nest by a potential predator.  For the absence of doubt: nothing to do with us.  The net they were caught in was at least 10m from the nearest potential nest site, and we do not flush birds from nests: it is illegal to do so.  We processed them and returned them to the place from which they were extracted and where we could hear, what we presume was, an adult Cetti’s contact calling. They all flew off strongly and safely in that direction.  So this year has definitely been our best ever for Cetti’s at the site: a total of 9 ringed, all bar two are juvenile birds fledged this summer and we have had 3 other birds recaptured several times.

The rest of the catch was also extremely satisfying.  It was: Treecreeper [1]; Blue Tit 1[3](1); Great Tit [2]; Long-tailed Tit (2); Wren [10](4); Robin [3](1); Song Thrush 1(1); Blackbird 1; Cetti’s Warbler [5](2); Blackcap [19](5); Garden Warbler [2]; Whitethroat 1[1]; Lesser Whitethroat [2]; Chiffchaff 1[14](2); Willow Warbler 1. Totals: 6 adults ringed from 6 species; 62 juveniles ringed from 11 species and 18 birds recaptured from 8 species, making 86 birds processed from 15 species.

Wrens are having the most astonishing breeding season: in the last month we have caught 37 newly-fledged juveniles, with 10 in this session being the icing on the cake.

All of the summer visitor warblers are showing signs of a successful breeding season, with a fine catch of juveniles from both Blackcap (78) and Chiffchaff (53), and smaller but significant catches of Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler, all caught in the last month.  As this is just the start of the fledging period, and many of these will already have gone on to have a second brood, and might even stretch to a third, this could be a bumper year for them.

Over the course of the morning we had quite a few visitors: a member of teh Care Farm staff taking one of her young charges for a walk; a grandma taking her grandson out to enjoy the sunshine; a photographer looking out for dragonflies, who was lucky enough to be with us when we made the catch of the Cetti’s family, and a large group of infants and their parents doing forest school with staff from the Trust, who turned up when we didn’t have any birds to show: but I took them around the nets and did manage to show them a superb Brown Hawker dragonfly (Google it) that had become trapped in the net. I successfully extracted it without damage, and was able to show him off to the children before releasing him to hunt for smaller insects for food.

We closed the nets at about 11:20 and took down and were away from site by 12:15. A cracking, good session.

Garden Ringing: Monday, 8th July 2019

I haven’t done a garden session for nearly a year but sitting in on Steph’s first session prompted me to set up the nets and have a go.  I had my moth trap out in the garden last night, and thought it would be good to do a bit of ringing whilst checking what I had managed to attract to the light.  What I didn’t expect was that in a three-hour stint with 4 short nets set up I would trap more birds from more species than I did in Red Lodge on Saturday, from 4 times as much net and over a period of 6 hours.

Red Lodge is usually a very reliable site but, for whatever reason, Saturday was a very disappointing session.  There were lots of birds around but, unfortunately, they were around the tree-tops. I heard plenty of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Long-tailed Tit, but caught none of them.  The list for the session was: Blue Tit 1[4]; Great Tit [3]; Coal Tit [1]; Wren [5]; Robin [3]; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2[1]; Blackcap [1]; Chiffchaff 1[2].  Totals: 5 adults ringed from 4 species and 20 juveniles ringed from 8 species, making 25 birds processed from 9 species.

The only species that the garden catch had in common with Red Lodge were Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Blackbird.  Of course, catching a Coal Tit in my garden is rather more unusual than it is catching them in Red Lodge.  However, the absolute highlight of my catch was a true first for my garden: a Whitethroat.  I have been studying the birds that come into my garden for nearly 11 years now and I have never seen a Whitethroat in the garden, let alone catch and ring one:

2019_07_08 Pavenhill

In addition, a newly fledged Goldcrest was good catch. I have seen and caught Goldcrest in the garden before, but this was the first juvenile.  The list for the session was: Blue Tit 2[8]; Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit [2]; Dunnock 1[3]; Robin 1[2]; Blackbird [1]; Whitethroat [1]; Goldcrest [1]; Goldfinch 1[2]; Greenfinch 1[5].  Totals: 7 adults ringed from 6 species and 25 juveniles from 9 species, making 32 birds processed from 10 species.  It would have been 11 species but a Woodpigeon managed to extricate itself just before I got to it.

Anyway, as a different footnote, here are a few of the moths I caught last night:

Poplar Hawk Moth

Poplar HM

Privet Hawk Moth:

Privet HM

Yes – it is that big. Finally: a Sharp-angled Peacock:

Sharp-angled Peacock


Meadow Farm: Friday, 5th July 2019

This is a post by Jonny Cooper:

It generally takes a year or two after you start ringing at a site to understand how the site works and the best places to put nets to catch the birds using the site. Over the past few months I have been ringing regularly at Meadow Farm, near Sutton Benger, to monitor the bird species using the site and to locate and develop new net rides. So far the catches have reflected this effort with good numbers of birds being caught; for this session the extra effort put in to develop the site really paid off.

The forecast for the day was to be almost flat calm with temperatures rising to the low 20’s by lunchtime; good weather for ringing. Nets were set the night before and I arrived on site to start the session at 5:00 am. Whilst opening the nets 12 birds were caught, this was very much a sign of things to come. The first round proper delivered 58 birds, after extracting the birds I closed the nets to allow me to focus on processing them safely and to ensure that no birds were caught during this time. Once they had been processed I reopened the nets and caught a pretty regular 20 birds per round over the next few hours. The catch was as follows:

Blackbird 1[1]; Blackcap 8[6]; Blue Tit [19](1); Bullfinch 1; Chaffinch 1[2]; Chiffchaff [5]; Dunnock [2]; Goldfinch 3[1](1); Great Spotted Woodpecker [1](2); Great Tit [40](9); Greenfinch 1[2](1); Kingfisher [2]; Reed Warbler 5[3](3); Robin 1[1](1); Sedge Warbler [3](1); Song Thrush (1); Whitethroat 1(1); Wren [3](2). Totals: 22 adults and 91 juveniles ringed from 17 species with 23 birds retrapped from 11 species; making 136 birds from 18 species.

Catching 2 Kingfishers is the obvious highlight, but catching juveniles of both Reed & Sedge Warblers was fantastic; I have caught adults of both species on site previously but to get proof of breeding was excellent. Other highlights were the number of Blackcaps and the Whitethroats. Most of these birds were caught in the new nets rides.

Overall it was a great, but busy session, the temperature started to rise late morning and the birds stopped moving. I closed the nets at 11, took down and went home for a well-earned rest.

Going Solo: Down Ampney, Thursday & Friday, 4th & 5th July 2019

When people start bird ringing the first thing they have to do is to find a trainer.  Anybody who wants to become a qualified ringer must have a permit issued by the British Trust for Ornithology who administer the scheme on behalf of (eventually) DEFRA.  Trainees start on a T-permit.  They are only allowed to ring if accompanied by their trainer, or another ringer with a permit endorsement allowing them to train.  The next step is called a C-permit. This allows trainee ringers to work unsupervised, but they are still responsible to their trainer for their activities, who are, in turn, responsible to the BTO.  This is an important step for any trainee, as they start to work solo.

My trainee, Steph, has been working with me for 2.5 years and is a truly competent ringer. When she became pregnant she was concerned that she would not be able to get out ringing for a long time. However, I knew she was skilled and reliable enough for me to recommend her for her C-permit, which was duly granted by the BTO.  This enables her to ring in her garden.

The garden backs onto fields along the long edge, with scrub running along between the field and the garden. There are a few small trees along either side of the garden and plentiful bird feeders.

Garden 2

If you have a good garden then garden ringing is the best of all worlds: all the amenities on tap, birds to ring and you can keep an eye on baby.  Thursday was Steph’s first go in her garden.  I popped over to support for the first couple of hours, but she had already caught her first birds, and processed them, by the time I arrived.

Over the course of the morning she caught Dunnock 2; Robin 1; Blackbird 1; Chaffinch 1; House Sparrow 12.  All were new birds, as you would expect, the Robin, one of the Dunnocks and two of the House Sparrows were juveniles.  This morning she caught two Blue Tits: one a juvenile.

So a nice, quiet start to Steph’s solo ringing career: here’s to many more!




What no Titmice? Somerford Common: Wednesday, 3rd July 2019

Okay, a sightly misleading title, but only just.  To run a session in the Braydon Forest at any time of year and not catch a single Blue or Great Tit is remarkable.  Given that we have been catching extremely good numbers all over the Forest and at Lower Moor Farm, particularly juvenile birds, this was really surprising.  We did ring our sixth Marsh Tit of the year, a juvenile, which bodes well for this species this year.  Our catch tends to be one third in the first six months of the year, two thirds in the remaining six months, so hopefully we will get close to the 19 we ringed in 2017, our best year to date.  There was also a Long-tailed Tit, but they are not really titmice, being a completely different bird family. (Titmice belong to the family Paridae; Long-tailed Tits belong to the family Aegithalidae or Bushtits.)

I was joined by Jonny Cooper for the session.  It wasn’t the busiest we have ever been but the weather was fine and the birds came in quite regularly.  We were surprised to catch a flock of 6 adult Goldfinches.  They were all together in one net: 4 males and 2 females.  Two of them (one each of the males and females) were already ringed.  One of them, the female, had a ring number that I didn’t recognise but which sparked off something in Jonny’s consciousness: that it might have been one of the birds he had ringed at one of his sites near Chippenham.  The data recording system now in use at the BTO is a browser-based on-line system and so, if you can get a signal on a smart phone, you can check the database.  The signal for both of us (two different providers) was awful but eventually I managed to get a signal and check the number. The bird had been ringed by Jonny in February if this year at a site near Sutton Benger, about 11 miles south west of where we caught it today.  We know that Goldfinches, for a resident species, are wide ranging: the furthest journey we have trapped through ringing was a bird ringed near Hungerford in Berkshire, recaptured in Webb’s Wood, a distance of 25 miles or so.  What surprised me, though, was why there was a flock of Goldfinch together at this time of the year.  We expect them in the winter, when foraging for food, but fully expected them to be paired up and breeding at this time of year.  All of them were in breeding condition: perhaps they were between broods, as Goldfinches will have 2, sometimes 3, broods in a year.  Mind, according to BTO Bird Facts the latest a first brood has been started is the 19th July, so perhaps they are still just working out who is going to pair with whom.

The catch for the morning was: Marsh Tit [1]; Long-tailed Tit [1]; Wren 1[1]; Dunnock 1[1](2); Robin [4](1); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 3; Blackcap 1[2]; Garden Warbler [1]; Chiffchaff 1[5](3); Willow Warbler 1(1); Goldfinch 4(2); Bullfinch 2.  Totals: 16 adults ringed from 9 species; 16 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 9 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 41 birds processed from 13 species.

As you can see, when comparing this to recent catches, the proportion of juveniles is much lower: which comes back to the original title of this blog post.  We could hear them in the woodlands around us but they just did not come into the nets.

There was some pretty spectacular other wildlife around: fabulous butterflies, from the commonplace Meadow Brown, to large numbers of Ringlet, a couple of Comma and Small Tortoiseshell and two stunning White Admiral and a Silver-washed Fritillary. However, the absolutely stunning invertebrate was a dragonfly: a Brown Hawker. It was sunning itself against one of our net poles. Needless to say, it posed for as long as it took me to get my phone out and enable camera mode before flying off. Always the way!

We had a nice chat with a couple of dog walkers who were interested in what we were doing but, unfortunately for them, they arrived during our quietest round of the morning, when we had no birds and, therefore, nothing to show them. As the birds had stopped moving around by 11:00 we took down and headed home.


Potterne Wick: Tuesday, 2nd July 2019

Andrew Bray, after a couple of months of leading wildlife tours around Europe, set up for a ringing session in his garden in the hamlet of Potterne Wick in middle Wiltshire.  The day started bright and sunny, with the nets open at 6:00.  By 10:00 the wind had got up and so Andrew closed the nets.

The list was fairly predictable for a garden session: Blue Tit 1[17]; Great Tit [11]; Dunnock [6](1); Goldfinch 1. Totals: 2 adults from 2 species; 28 juveniles from 3 species and 1 retrap, making 37 birds processed from 4 species.

There is no doubt that Blue and Great Tits have had an excellent breeding season.  Perhaps the most surprising catch though were the 6 juvenile Dunnocks.   That is an excellent number for a garden session.  The recaptured Dunnock was ringed in the garden almost exactly 1 year ago and is Andrew’s first garden retrap.