Somerford Common: Wednesday, 27th October 2021

It was touch and go for a session this morning. Although it was forecast to be dry, there was the threat of winds at a base of 16mph, gusting to in excess of 30mph. Somerford Common is able to offer some relatively sheltered areas but 30+ mph is serious. Opening my door to leave at 6:35, I was disappointed to see that it was raining but, with four of the team turning up to help from varying distances away, I decided to carry on regardless and hope that the forecast would come good. Fortunately, although my windscreen wipers were reacting for the first couple of miles, by the time I got to Somerford the rain had stopped.

I had put up a couple of feeders on Monday morning, on the off-chance that the birds might have discovered it by today and give us a decent haul of birds. They hadn’t, but we ended up with 30 birds, so not too bad.

Arriving on site at 6:45 I was surprised to find Lucy already there and waiting: she’s never late but over 15 minutes early: unheard of for any of my team before today. We were then joined by Rosie, Miranda and Anna and we set to and had the nets open by 8:00. I used the net set that I am going to be using for the winter CES. First opened were the 18m and 12m set along the main ride and, whilst it was still dark, I set the Redwing lure working to see what might drop in whilst we opened the other nets. Twenty minutes later Lucy went to check the nets and set up the ringing station, and she extracted the first birds of the morning: two Long-tailed Tits and (no surprise) a Redwing. As Rosie was doing her usual selfless thing of helping us to set up, before heading off for a hard day’s graft with a chainsaw at Lower Moor Farm, I let her process the first three.

Thereafter, we had a couple of decent catches of Redwing coming to the lure between 9:00 and 10:00. I then changed the lure to Goldcrest, and we started to catch them as well. The other nets had lures for Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Marsh Tit running – all to no avail. Which is not to say that we didn’t catch birds in those nets: just not those species. Ironically, the penultimate bird out of the nets was this, right next to the Goldcrest lure:

juvenile Lesser Redpoll

Although the tail showed that it was definitely a bird of the year, it had a few pink feathers on the breast, identifying it as a male.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit (2); Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Robin (1); Redwing 10; Goldcrest 9(1); Lesser Redpoll 1. Totals: 25 birds ringed from 6 species and 5 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 30 birds processed from 8 species.

Throughout the morning it would spit with rain for a few minutes, then dry up for half-an-hour, then spit with rain again. For most of the morning the wind didn’t interfere with the nets, but as the morning wore on the wind did get stronger, and I decided to close the nets and pack up at 11:00. We took down the feeding station nets first, returning to the main ride to find the Lesser Redpoll and a Great Tit in that net set. We were off site by midday.

Back On The Farm: Saturday, 23rd October 2021

Back at the beginning of May regular readers might remember that we had one excellent session at Brown’s Farm (first Wiltshire Yellow Wagtail for me, first Firecrest for Lucy (and in the most improbable of habitats). That was followed by a disappointing solo session right at the end of the month – and that has been it since then. I have no idea why I haven’t been back but I decided that it was about time I put that right. I was joined for the morning by Anna.

The farmer there, James, runs a small scale pheasant and partridge shoot and by “small scale” I mean I never see pheasant, and just the occasional red-legged partridge, there outside of the shooting season. He has planted up a good number of game cover crops in the corner of many of his arable fields. I carried out a reconnaissance visit on Thursday to decide where to set the nets. The plan was to set up as shown below around the game cover adjacent to the old dismantled railway track. Two key reasons for that: 1) it was the most accessible for my car and 2) that field has been left as stubble, so there was no crop to avoid.

Immediately we opened the net set that is at 90 degrees to the track, birds started to get caught. With just the two of us, and Anna being very new in her ringing career, I decided to abandon the planned 2-shelf net set along the field side of the game cover to ensure that we weren’t overrun with birds. As a trainer, I am always conscious of not putting trainees under the pressure of numbers. There is enough pressure with safely extracting the birds, ageing, sexing and measuring.

The first bird out of the net was a Robin, followed by a Wren: that is the standard opening combination for most of my sites, occasionally augmented by an early morning Blackbird.

I was hoping that we would get Anna her first Yellowhammer and Linnet to process. We only managed one of the two: which was a little surprising. None of my sites in the north of the county produce regular Yellowhammer catches. In my 12 years of ringing I have only caught and ringed a single Yellowhammer away from Brown’s Farm: at Blakehill Farm in October 2016. When I first moved to Purton in 1997 there was a reasonable population of Yellowhammer in the fields surrounding the village but, with everything gone to cattle, sheep and horses, they are long gone. Brown’s is now the only site I have where I can catch them regularly. Linnet is slightly different, we can still see them in the fields around the village and they are a reasonably regular catch at Blakehill Farm but not as regularly as I catch them at Brown’s Farm. There again, I have never repeated the astonishing catch of 44 of them at Brown’s on the 7th April 2015. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any at all today but we did get half-a-dozen Yellowhammer:

Juvenile Male Yellowhammer

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 3; Wren 2; Dunnock 10; Robin 4; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Chaffinch 4; Reed Bunting 5; Yellowhammer 6. Totals: 37 birds ringed from 9 species.

The birding was also good, with highlights being excellent views of a cruising Red Kite and a hunting Sparrowhawk. The catch died off quite quickly after 10:45 and we closed the nets and took down just after 11:30. It won’t be 5 months before I am back there again1

The Firs: Friday, 22nd October 2021

With Wednesday blowing at gale force for most of the day, with occasional downpours as well, I postponed that session to Friday. Also, because there was still a significant amount of wind forecast, coming from the west, and the rides there running from north to south, I moved the session to the Firs.

I was joined for the morning by Rosie, doing her usual of dropping in to help and heading off to work soon after the nets are open, Miranda and Lucy. Thanks to half-term, a little later we were joined again by Claire with her son Samuel and, this time, daughter Zara. Once again they were given the opportunity to be pecked by Blue Tits and Great Tits. Samuel has expressed a wish to take up ringing, so he is going to have to get used to getting pecked first.

The first round was good: just 4 birds but from 4 species. These were given to Rosie to process and then she headed off to her day job as an estates worker for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Our second round was satisfying as a small tit flock hit with 11 new birds and 2 retraps. The third consisted of two each new and retraps – and then we had a big tit flock of 21 new birds and 8 retraps. Miranda took over scribing duties so I could focus with Lucy on clearing the catch as quickly as possible.

The list for today was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 22(6); Great Tit 6(6); Coal Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 2; Robin (1); Redwing 1; Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest 3. Totals: 39 birds ringed from 8 species and 14 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 53 birds processed from 10 species.

Given how poorly the breeding season went for Blue and Great Tits this year, I am catching an astonishing number of juveniles this autumn: 23 of those processed were juvenile Blue Tits and 5 of the 6 Great Tits ringed were also juveniles.

Equally, since the beginning of October there has been a sudden upsurge in the numbers of birds being caught in the woodland sites, despite no change to our regime: same number of nets in the usual places. I will be setting up the feeding stations next week so it will be interesting to see what happens then.

With three of us to get it done, we packed up at about 11:15, it didn’t take long and we had all left the site by midday.

Feeding Blue Tits in Your Garden: a Good or a Bad Thing?

Like a large number of the dwellers of these isles, I feed the birds in my garden. As my entries to the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch Scheme show, the commonest birds in my garden are Goldfinch, Starling, Woodpigeon and, in fourth place, Blue Tit. I feed all year round in my garden: sunflower hearts, fat balls and peanuts, and provide water. I do exercise exemplary feeder hygiene, I hasten to add, and I ring the birds that use my garden as well as in the local woodlands, as the village of Purton falls within the historical boundaries of the Braydon Forest. My Braydon Forest woodland sites are fed with a seed mix and peanuts between the beginning of November until the end of February each year.

There was a recent paper looking at the potential impact of feeding the commoner birds that take advantage of our supplementary feeding on those rarer, less competitive species, that we don’t tend to see using those resources. The paper’s specific example was the potential impact of feeding Blue Tits. As I understand it, the range of food stuffs was identified by DNA analysis in their faecal samples, and those faecal samples were taken from birds at differing ranges from local feeding stations, to see how far their influence might extend. I don’t want to misrepresent the paper, so this is a link to it so you can read it for yourselves. It is open access:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rspb.2021.0480

One of my key projects is monitoring the Marsh Tit population within the Braydon Forest. This red-listed species is holding on well within the Forest, with its population stable. With Forestry England making this bird their priority species in their latest 10-year plan for the area, so that they will be managing the woodlands to their benefit, and the Wildlife Trust also keenly invested in the future of this species, I would hate to think that I might inadvertently contribute to a decline in its fortunes locally. They are regularly caught at the winter feeding stations, along with a wide range of other species.

Because of this paper and its conclusions, I have been prompted to have a look at the Blue Tits I have ringed in my garden and the rest of my sites in the Braydon Forest and to see how they have moved around the area. I also had a look at those Blue Tits recovered within the Braydon Forest but ringed elsewhere. Since August 2012, when I started ringing in my garden, Ravensroost Wood, the Firs and Webb’s Wood, through until the end of September 2021, 3,688 Blue Tits have been ringed in the Braydon Forest. Of those ringed, there have been 1,523 subsequent encounters, representing 1,027 individual birds. In my garden, I have ringed 238 of the total caught and have retrapped ringed birds there on exactly 60 occasions, representing 40 individual birds.

In order to test the likelihood of my feeding Blue Tits impacting on other species in my local area, I have done an analysis of those birds ringed in my garden, to identify how many were recaptured away from my garden. I have also done an analysis of the birds ringed elsewhere in the Forest that have been recaptured in my garden and, for comparison, movements within and without the Forest as a whole. The spatial distribution between my Braydon Forest sites is shown on the diagram below:

The unnumbered pink dot is the location of my garden. The numbered red dots are my Braydon Forest ringing sites and are as follows:

Table 1: Braydon Forest Sites: Ringed / Retraps / Individuals Retrapped

Of those 1,523 recaptures only 4 of them were ringed in my garden and recovered elsewhere, and only 2 of the 3,430 birds ringed elsewhere have been recaptured in my garden.

Table 2: Movements In / Out of My Garden

The other movements around the Braydon Forest sites are also quite interesting. I haven’t done individual records, just a summary:

Table 3: Other Blue Tit Movements Around the Braydon Forest

As expected, the highest volume of traffic is between the sites nearest each other. Other than that, movement between sites is minimal. To put it into perspective: of 3,688 birds ringed only 71 have been shown to have moved away from the site at which they were ringed, i.e. 1.93%. Of those using the feeders in my garden, the percentage movement is 0.15%. The overall number of individual Blue Tits recaptured within the Braydon Forest (as opposed to the total number of recapture events, represented by the figure of 1,523) is 1,027, or 27.85% of those ringed.

For the sake of completeness, I have had a look at those Blue Tits ringed elsewhere and recovered in the Braydon Forest. There are very few: only five of those retrapped came in from outside of the Forest. These are their details:

Table 4: Blue Tits Ringed Elsewhere Recovered in the Braydon Forest

I could find no records of Blue Tits that have moved from within the Braydon Forest to sites outside of the area within the studied timeframe (or outside of it for that matter).

I decided to have a look at my average catches of Blue Tit by year to see if there was any indication of population growth:

Table 5: Average Numbers Ringed & Retrapped by Session by Year

Putting that into graphical form shows the trend even more clearly:

Fig 1: Average Numbers Ringed & Retrapped by Session by Year

Apart from the spike in 2013, there is no indication of significant growth or decline in the catch of Blue Tits in the Braydon Forest sites. The current slight decline showing for 2021 is because I catch significantly more Blue Tits in the last 3 months of the year than at any other time, as they form winter feeding flocks which, when caught, can number in tens of birds.

On reading the paper, one of the key pieces that I did not immediately grasp, is that they also provided nest boxes. The reason that they did that was so that they knew where to collect their faecal samples. What I didn’t see was any allowance for the potential impact of providing those additional nest boxes on their results, but they do refer to increased use of nest boxes, along with earlier laying dates, as one of their considerations in the likely impact on more vulnerable species. We don’t provide titmouse nest boxes in any of the Forestry England sites and, although there are a few extremely dilapidated boxes in Ravensroost Wood, as far as I am aware, no new titmouse boxes have been installed in any of my ringing sites since before 2009. It was discussed in the past, but the considered opinion was that these would only benefit Blue and Great Tits, which definitely would help increase their populations and, therefore, the possibility of competition for vulnerable species would be intensified.

To quote from the discussion section of the paper: “We infer from this that any impacts from supplementary feeding will be felt far wider than solely in urban environments as has hitherto been considered [1,33].
As we find that supplementary food usage is strongly associated with a dramatic increase in nest-box occupation (a proxy of breeding density) and an advance in lay date, it is perhaps unsurprising then that we find the national population trends of supplementary feeder-using woodland bird species are
increasing on average while the populations of competitor species not benefitting from supplementary feeders are decreasing.”

My key question is: is the potential negative effect just from supplementary feeding or does it need the combination of supplementary feeding and nest box provision to have a negative impact? The authors are using locally gathered data and matching that to national trend data, whereas I have focused solely on my local area. Their data is unarguable, but I would like to see some follow up to test their hypothesis.

Whilst making no great claims about the scientific rigour of my analysis (to me R is just the eighteenth letter of the alphabet), the dispersal of Blue Tits into other areas just doesn’t seem to be replicated within my ringing sites. Nor is there any obvious population trend amongst their numbers when averaged out by session by year. Clearly, I am not analysing what the paper is, I am analysing the movements of ringed birds in a relatively small area. Also, I am not looking at a few hundred specimens here: my analysis, such as it is, is based on over 3,500 individual birds ringed and over 1,500 recapture events over 9 full years.

So, how are the Braydon Forest Marsh Tits doing?

Table 6: Marsh Tit Average Numbers Ringed & Retrapped by Session by Year

The number of sessions differs from Table 5 because it is recording those occasions on which Marsh Tits were caught, in the same way that I have only recorded the sessions in which Blue Tits were caught. Three of the Braydon Forest sites, the two at Blakehill and my garden in Purton, are entirely the wrong habitat for Marsh Tit and will never produce a catch. This year’s decline in actual numbers to date is entirely down to my being unable to access three of the most productive sites for the species for a significant part of the year. Ravensroost and Webb’s were out of bounds until September and July respectively, and Red Lodge has been out of bounds for the last two months, due to vandalism / fly-tipping and the access road being blocked as a result. However, there is no obvious trend either up or down. To put that into perspective, in two sessions in Ravensroost Wood in October I have ringed a further 3 Marsh Tits.

References:

Shutt JD, Trivedi UH, Nicholls JA.

2021 Faecal metabarcoding reveals pervasive long-distance impacts of garden bird feeding.

Proc. R. Soc. B 288: 20210480.
https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0480

That’s Better: Ravensroost Wood, Saturday, 16th October 2021

Due to restrictions imposed by the Wildlife Trust on my ringing activities at this site, as a result of both Covid and the unpleasant incident in Ravensroost Wood in July 2020, my work within Ravensroost Wood has been severely limited so far this year. When I finally got back into the Wood, on the 8th July, it was not an auspicious start: just two birds, a Blackbird and a Song Thrush, in three hours before I gave up and went home. The next attempt was a month ago, on the 15th September. That was slightly better with eleven birds ringed and three retrapped from a total of eight species. The only real highlight of that session was a new Marsh Tit. So it was with some trepidation that I approached today’s session. To be completely honest, I had hoped to go to Brown’s Farm this morning but, unfortunately, due to them hosting their first pheasant shoot of the year today (they used to run them on a Friday) I was asked to put it off until next Saturday. With all of my other sites either already visited recently or too exposed for today’s breeze, that left Ravensroost Wood.

Part of my trepidation was because I was being joined by Rosie and Anna for the session. Rosie has been a star: selflessly turning up to help me set up, and then having to leave to go to work before being able to process many birds. Anna has turned up regularly but it seems every session she was available for had a small catch. One other pressure: after my last Lower Moor Farm ringing demonstration I was contacted by one of the Mum’s (Claire) whose young son (Samuel) is very keen to become involved in bird ringing and asked if they could come to another session and we arranged for the session this weekend.

I set just 6 x 18m nets in the top rides either side of the main path:

I started with a lure for Redwing on the left-hand double and Siskin and Marsh Tit on the right-hand quadruple. After two hours with no sign of any Redwing I changed that lure to Lesser Redpoll. Then, an hour later after no sign of any Lesser Redpoll, I changed it to Goldcrest: that was a good move.

The session started quietly with three birds in the first round: Blackbird, Bullfinch and retrapped Marsh Tit. Between 9:00 and 10:00 we processed just ten birds, including one Goldcrest – and then, as previously mentioned, I changed that lure to Goldcrest. It made all the difference. In the next couple of rounds we took out 12 Goldcrests.

It is not to say that the morning had not been satisfying up to that point: any session with two new Marsh Tits and two new Nuthatch is a good morning in my book.

Nuthatch

I made the mistake of saying to everyone at 11:45 that we would shut the nets as we emptied the nets on the next round: cue our biggest round of the day, another 14 birds! We shut the nets as we emptied them.

The final catch was: Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 9; Great Tit 3(2); Marsh Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit 3(1); Wren 1; Robin 1(1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 16; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 41 birds ringed from 11 species and 5 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 46 birds processed from 11 species.

It was a lovely relaxed session and gave Samuel a lot of opportunity to find out a lot more about bird ringing. He was given a lot of opportunity to handle the birds, and to get used to being pecked by both Blue and Great Tits which, if he wants to become a ringer, is essential. I am sure he will be back as I have promised that he can start ringing birds next time! It also gave Rosie a chance to start her extracting career with me, which both she and Anna did extremely competently.

After we finished processing our last round of birds, we took down, and left site by 13:00.

Corn Bunting: Plain Speaking, 11th October 2021

Corn Bunting are a red-listed bird in the UK, with its population having plummeted as a result of modern farming practices. Given that it is a bird of least concern in the rest of Europe and in its south-west Asian territories, the problem clearly lies within the UK and, therefore, so does the solution.

Since the West Wilts Ringing Group came into its current form, at the beginning of 2013, we have not had any sites at which Corn Bunting are resident. In the years leading up to the North Wilts group splitting off to create their own identity, a total of 429 Corn Buntings had been ringed since our earliest computerised record in the national database at the BTO, starting in the year 2000. Of those, the vast majority had been ringed by Matt Prior and his teams on the Marlborough Downs, near Ogbourne St Andrew, and on the Pewsey Downs, near Stanton St Bernard.

(Before moving on, a little personal anecdote: the first bird I ever ringed was a Corn Bunting. It was on the 10th January 2009 at Ogbourne St Andrew, the second ringing session I had ever attended. Hooked for life.)

In all of the time between 2000 and 2013, only eight of them have been ringed on Salisbury Plain; seven of those at a site near Winterbourne Stoke. Since the split, nobody from the West Wilts Ringing Group has ringed a Corn Bunting at any of our sites. That was until one of the team was lucky enough to catch and ring one at their site on Salisbury Plain on Monday of this week:

Photos courtesy and copyright of Ian Grier

What a cracking bird! I would love to have the opportunity to get close to this species again.

No Siskin, No Worries: Somerford Common, Wednesday, 13th October 2021

As the Ravensroost Wood Volunteers are going to be active in the wood every Wednesday from now until March, I decided that a change of venue was needed for today’s session. It’s not that I have a problem with the volunteers, or vice versa, it is just that the parking becomes an issue. Because they were joining me for the session, I gave Lucy and Miranda the choice of going for Meadow Pipit in Ravensroost Meadows or, having been told by Robin Griffiths, the Ravensroost Reserve volunteer warden, that there were flocks of Siskin at Somerford Common, trying for them. Lucy responded instantly, with a request for Siskin. So this morning we decamped to Somerford Common.

Although we agreed to meet at 7:00, I actually arrived on site at just after 6:30 and set the usual 18m + 12m line along the main path (net 3 below). My intention was to put on a lure for Redwing from daylight, for a couple of hours. Having caught a couple at Blakehill on Saturday, I was pretty certain there would be one or two at Somerford Common – the previous holder of my record for my earliest Autumn Redwing. I must have been still asleep: I put the lure on – only it wasn’t for Redwing! It took me over an hour to realise my mistake and change the record!

That was just as well, as it gave us a chance to set the other nets, because immediately I changed the lure to the “Latvian love song” we just had to sit back and watch as Redwing flocked into the trees around that part of the site. There was well over 100 of them, but they weren’t coming down, which we put down to them being able to see our ringing station. So, we moved the ringing table and the equipment under cover and waited. We didn’t have to wait long.

The net setup we used today, and the lures associated, was:

Nets 1, 4 and 5 had Siskin playing; net 2 had Lesser Redpoll playing and net 3 had Redwing (eventually). Throughout the morning we had small flocks of birds flying around, whether or not they were Siskin is anybody’s guess. All I know is that, despite overkill on the lure front, we didn’t catch a single one.

Round one delivered a single bird: our first bird out of the nets was actually a Coal Tit from net 2. This was followed in round 2 by a Goldcrest in the same net. Then I changed the lure to what it should have been and in round 3 we extracted our first Redwing of the session plus six Blue Tits and (and much to my surprise) seven Lesser Redpoll. I had hoped for one or two over the course of the morning, so this was delightful.

This matches the earliest catch date for Lesser Redpoll in the Braydon Forest, back in 2015, but is far and away the largest catch we have had there in October. The previous largest was just 4 on 30th October 2013.

Having resolved the lure issue, we then caught several Redwing in each round, until we closed up at 11:45, ending up with a decent haul of 18. Like the Lesser Redpoll, this is a significantly larger catch of this species than in any previous October. Other October catches of 12 (2015) and 13 (2016) birds came at the end of the month, not the middle.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit [9]; Great Tit 1[2](1); Coal Tit [1](1); Robin [2](1); Redwing 5[13]; Goldcrest [2]; Lesser Redpoll 1[8]. Totals: 8 adults ringed from 4 species, 37 juveniles ringed from 7 species and 3 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 48 birds processed from 8 species.

After a thoroughly enjoyable session, we were off site by 12:45.

Let’s Chat About Early Redwing: Blakehill Farm, Saturday, 9th October 2021

David and Lucy arranged to be with me from 7:00, with Steph joining us when she could get there, as she was bringing the family along. I had mentioned the possibility of Stonechat at Blakehill to Lucy whilst we were working at Webb’s Wood on Wednesday. She was excited at the prospect, having not processed one before. When I checked the records I noted that David hadn’t processed Stonechat either, so I was hoping to attract a couple in for them this session, and prepared two lures for the plateau bushes.

Having woken early, I was on site by 6:30. This suited me, because I had seen a tweet from Nigel Pleass reporting hearing Redwing flying over on migration at night near Swindon, and I wanted to get nets open and the lure on for them before it was light. I set my “Redwing nets” along the perimeter track on the Chelworth Industrial Estate side of the reserve and put on a lure. It was very misty first thing with not a lot of movement so, as David and Lucy had arrived we went out onto the plateau to set up a few nets out there. I decided to only set 4 nets: 3 x 9m and 1 x 12 in the clump of bushes and ignore the extremities. Two reasons: 1) they haven’t been catching during the height of migration and 2) I needed to ensure I was away from site by 13:00, so I could get to the doctor’s surgery for 13:25 for my flu jab, so didn’t want to have too much work to do to get packed away.

Once those nets were up, I sent David and Lucy to check the Redwing nets, whilst I started setting up the Meadow Pipit triangle. They came back with a Chaffinch.

For the first full round, at 8:00 I checked the Redwing nets, whilst the others went to check the plateau nets. At this point we didn’t have the Meadow Pipit lure switched on (mainly because that was on the same machine as the Redwing lure) so, unsurprisingly, there weren’t any in the first catch. It is unlikely that they would have been moving much anyway in the mist. However, something definitely was, as Lucy returned with this beauty:

I don’t understand why this species is vilified and killed indiscriminately by some “country folk”.

Next round I, again, did the Redwing net, on the basis that I would swap out the Redwing lure for Blackcap and Linnet, just in case. This time I removed a Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Starling and two Redwing from the nets. The lure had worked. This is the earliest that I have ever caught autumn Redwing – by one day! The same round produced a couple of Reed Bunting.

I set up the Meadow Pipit lure in the middle of the Mipit triangle and they immediately appeared, seemingly from nowhere and started sitting on the nets and then onto the floor. The next round delivered a couple of them, but the key round was at 10:20. As hoped for, it turned up half-a-dozen Meadow Pipits. In the end we had 12 of them. Next time I will bait the area with mealworms, as they weren’t as invested in the triangle as I would have liked, with plenty getting away each round.

However, in that round the Redwing nets had caught 13 Long-tailed Tits. This was not our single biggest catch of Long-tailed Tits in one net round, that was an astonishing 21 in my garden, but that one was the result of fat balls, peanuts and sunflower hearts. In the past, we have had one 14 bird catch in a single net round, and two 13 bird single net round catches: all at Somerford Common, in a mixed woodland setting. However, the last big single round catch we had of them there was in September 2016, with 13. Since then there have been no single net round catches in double figures. In fact, their numbers overall had fallen right away in my “wild” sites. So this morning we had 13 of them in that round, in 2 x 18m nets, along the perimeter track. It is a record for this site.

Unfortunately, although we had a lovely morning, by the time of the last round we hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Stonechat. David and I did the plateau nets, whilst Lucy and Steph did the Redwing nets. We had one last Meadow Pipit in the triangle and then, as we approached the second 9m net, I noticed a dark bird in it. I called to David, who was nearest “Stonechat, go for it”. He ran to the net but, just as he reached it, the bird got out of the net and flew off, only to hit the next net. David ran after it again and, as before, just as he got to it, it got out of the net, bounced off another part of that net and flew on – into the last of our nets. This time it didn’t get away. As I walked up to the third net, I noticed another bird in it: Stonechat number 2. As David came back excited with his first Stonechat extraction and looking forward to ringing it, I asked if he had actually checked the rest of the net for other birds. He hadn’t, so I went for a look: Stonechat number 3! Good things come to those who wait. David, Lucy and Lillie got to ring them: all adults, all male.

Male Stonechat

The list for the day was: Magpie [1]; Blue Tit [4](1); Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit {13}; Wren (1); Meadow Pipit 1[11]; Stonechat 3; Robin [1]; Redwing 2; Blackcap [1]; Chiffchaff [2]; Starling [1]; Chaffinch 1; Reed Bunting [2]. Totals: 13 unaged from 1 species; 8 adults ringed from 4 species; 23 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 46 birds processed from 14 species.

We had a brilliant morning: good birds in the nets, good birding, and the children were just great: filling in the gaps between rounds with fun and laughter. Not only that but I was 20 minutes early for my jab and they saw me straight away. Result!

Death Notices: Buzzard & Raven

This is an entirely personal, and emotive, post based on two recent recoveries of special birds that my team ringed, that have been found dead in what I consider suspicious circumstances. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of all members of the group.

One of the worst aspects of ringing is getting the report that one of the birds you have ringed has been found dead. Regular readers of the blog will know that I did an analysis of the various death reports (yes – of those where cause of death was identified, cats were the main killers). Unfortunately, a lot of them do not have cause of death identified: sometimes it just isn’t possible when bits are found, but I am sure that, quite often, it is because the finder has some responsibility for the death. This is particularly the case when dealing with Corvids and birds of prey.

On the 14th April 2017, at Tedworth House, we ringed four Raven chicks. As far as I am aware, and have been able to find out, these are the only Ravens ever ringed in Wiltshire. If you look at the Wiltshire Bird Atlas, they are an extremely scarce breeding bird in the County.

This did not stop Michael Gove, when he was in charge of DEFRA, allowing licences to be issued to cull Ravens in Wiltshire, on the made-up charge that they “damage livestock”. Nobody has ever proven that Ravens kill healthy lambs. The best you ever get is a farmer or shepherd holding a dead lamb, that has clearly been scavenged post-mortem, claiming it was killed by whichever species they want to vilify that day (Carrion Crow, Raven, Buzzard, Red Kite, Fox, Badger).

At the beginning of July I was sent a recovery report from the BTO specifying that one of the Ravens had been found dead. There were no details on the cause of death, just that the ring had been handed to another ringer to report back to the BTO. That in itself I find suspicious. All I know is that it was found on farmland near Combe in West Berkshire: 633 days after it was ringed and 19km north-east from where it was ringed.

This week I received another report. Back on 30th November 2019 we mist-netted and ringed two juvenile Buzzards. An astonishing catch. This one:

GV62815

was the subject of the report. Ringed as a juvenile, female Buzzard, she was found dead on playing fields adjacent to a nature reserve in Netherton, West Midlands: 101km and 674 days after she was ringed. Just 2 years into a life that could have lasted over a decade. The oldest recorded from ringing recoveries lived for over 30 years from the date on which it was ringed.

The person who found the bird had provided their email address so I was able to contact them for further details. Firstly, I was sent two photographs of the carcass:

There has clearly been a lot of bad weather recently, and you can see that the carcass is soaking wet. The reporter said that the carcass was not there the day before on their walk through the area, and that there had been rain overnight and before their walk when they found the bird. They reported that there was blood around the neck and the wing joint – but this carcass does not look scavenged at all.

I wondered if it might have died as a result of the bad weather and starvation, so asked the finder to weigh the bird. They did so, and she weighed in at 1kg: bang on for a healthy adult female Buzzard.

I gave the finder the contact details for the Predatory Bird Monitoring Service who were excellent and responded immediately. The bird is now on its way for a post-mortem examination and we are both waiting to hear the outcome. We will see if my scepticism is warranted. If you do come across a bird of prey carcass you can contact the PBMS at:

email: PBMS@ceh.ac.uk

FB: www.facebook.com/COLLECTRAPTORS

Tel: 01524 595830

Webb’s Wood: Wednesday, 6th October 2021

My last trip to Webb’s Wood was at the end of July and to say it was disappointing would be an understatement: 7 birds from 4 species in 4 hours is a poor return for our efforts. Whether this was a hangover from the extensive thinning operations in the wood over the winter or not I don’t know. Red Lodge had a similar, though not so drastic, fall off after its extensive thinning operation. However, as Red Lodge this time was put out of commission by the fly-tippers, as reported yesterday, and it has been a long while since I have been to Webb’s Wood, I decided to give it another go.

I was joined once again by Rosie, turning up to help setup, and then leaving to go to work before getting a chance to ring a single bird. Lucy is back from her travels for a month, before heading off to the Ascension Islands for the next year. I am not sure that my sites can compete with Spurn, Lundy and the Ascensions but we do our best!

Our ringing station is a long way away from the public car park, a distance of about 1.3km away, so we see few people during a session. The nets were pretty much set as we did during the July session, except for the net line shown in yellow. The tree line has expanded out to the point that I would have had to drill holes in the hardcore track to insert my poles.

The difference this time was, being outside of the breeding season, I could use lures. I hedged my bets: Blackcap, in case there were any stragglers hanging about; Lesser Redpoll and Siskin, just in case any of them have arrived yet; Goldcrest, because they always respond if they are about (plus a cheeky Firecrest, just in case) and finally, Marsh Tit. Goldcrest worked well and Marsh Tit worked once and I caught only my eighth ringed so far this year:

We had a 7:00 start and the nets were all open just after 8:00 and we were soon busy. The first round delivered 13 birds, mainly Blue Tits. A round at 9:45 produced 10 birds, mainly Goldcrest, and things were small but regular until we got to 11:15, when we had a catch of 20 birds, primarily Great Tits.

Given how few we have caught this year, it is pleasing to see both Blue and Great Tits in the catch in decent numbers. However, one of the Great Tits we caught is suffering from avian pox:

This is the first time for several years that I have had a poxed bird in my catch. I ringed it regardless. Previously I have ringed a Great Tit which, upon recapture, had developed avian but, when recaptured a year or so later, showed a few scars from the poxes but was otherwise fit and healthy. Hopefully we will recapture this bird in the future, and see it without the swelling.

The catch today was: Blue Tit 3[16](1); Great Tit 2[11](1); Coal Tit [5](1); Marsh Tit [1]; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 1; Robin [1](1); Goldcrest [11](1). Totals: 6 adults ringed from 3 species, 45 juveniles ringed from 6 species and 6 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 57 birds processed from 8 species.

The breeze got up at just before midday, so we shut the nets, extracting a few additional birds as we went, and took down and were off site by 13:00. Lucy has developed a new skill since she has been working at Spurn and on Lundy: taking in nets. It really does speed up the process when there are two of you doing it.