Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 6th December 2017

Jonny Cooper and I had an interesting session at Lower Moor Farm this morning.  To be honest: Jonny was going to have a good day, come what may.  Three otters running across his path on his way to the ringing site is about the best start to a morning’s natural history I can think of. That I could hear them wickering away but was too busy putting up nets to go and find them was bad enough, but when Jonny got a second sighting whilst carrying out the first extraction round it was just rubbing salt into my wounds.

I had arranged to giving a taster session to a chap from Gloucester, Hugh, with a view to his taking up ringing as a trainee.  This was actually arranged as a birthday present by his daughter, visiting from Vancouver.  He turned up with his two daughters and a son-in-law in tow. Nice people, knowledgeable and friendly. This potential trainee really needs a Gloucester based trainer – he knows people at Slimbridge, so that seems like a better route, but he would be welcome to join us if he cannot find a more local trainer.

About 9:30 we were joined by Rachel and Dean from the Well-being team of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and approximately 20 teenagers from Swindon Academy.  Apart from some ill-conceived comments about my current resemblance to Santa Claus, led by one of their teachers, it is amazing how a bunch of loud and rowdy teens will quieten down and watch when you show them a male Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrests and Wrens.

A little later we were joined by staff from the Care Farm with two of their charges: Cameron and Thomas. Cameron has had the chance to hold and release birds before but Thomas hasn’t. He was a quiet and withdrawn boy – and a natural at handling and releasing birds. I love the engagement we get with disadvantaged / disaffected youth through the work we do with the Wiltshire Wildife Trust. It underlines to me that you can interest young people from all backgrounds and with all sorts of issues by involving them with nature.

The list for the session was:  Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Treecreeper 1(2); Blue Tit 3(3); Great Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit 4(5); Wren 3(1); Dunnock (3); Robin (2); Redwing 3; Blackbird 1(1); Goldcrest 3; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 3(2).   Totals: 24 birds ringed from 10 species; 21 birds retrapped from 10 species, making 45 birds processed from 13 species.

Farmland near Chippenham: Early Winter Ringing

The following blog post is by Jonny Cooper:

I have had my C permit for just over a year. However I have been studying for the final year of my degree in Bristol and had a summer filled with ringing as part of important conservation projects, such as the CES at Lower Moor Farm and the Ravensroost Coppice project. This meant that it was only as autumn came around that I was able to start finding ringing sites of my own.

Growing up on a farm has given me an inherent interest in farmland birds, something I always hoped to translate into my ringing. My first site is located on a mixed arable farm just outside Chippenham. The farmer is an old family friend, so after getting into contact we arranged a meet up to look around the site and soon after I set up a feeding station and started putting food down along a promising looking hedgerow.

So far I have done three sessions on the site (2nd & 15th November and 5th December). Four 18m, one 12m, one 6m and one 3m nets are set along the hedgerow and around the feeders. The catches have been of a good size and contained lots of variety. The list so far being:  Blackbird 1, Blue Tit 29(7), Chaffinch 26, Chiffchaff 1,  Coal Tit 1(1), Dunnock 11(1), Goldcrest 3(2), Great Tit 15(5) Long-tailed Tit 7, Pied Wagtail 1, Redwing 3, Reed Bunting 1, Robin 3(1), Song Thrush 2, Treecreeper 2, Wren 4 and Yellowhammer 8. 118 new and 17 retraps making a total 135 birds from 17 species.

The real standout bird here is the single Chiffchaff: this bird was caught during the first session on the 2nd November. Now catching a Chiffchaff on a farm in November is interesting in itself but, to top it off, this bird was recovered a week later 74km away in Barwick, Somerset. It seems this bird may be part of the relativity new wintering population of Chiffchaffs in the U.K. Maybe it had come from the continent and was on its way to spend the winter in the deep south west. Who knows? Anyway, this was my first control and I’m delighted.

The credit here must really go to the farmer for generously allowing me access and to ring on site, as well as managing the land fantastically. All the fields are bounded by large hedges and there is plenty of good habitat which provides a safe haven to help declining farmland birds thrive. I often fill up the feeders of an evening and I regularly flush up to 10 Snipe and see big flocks of Lapwing coming in to feed on the wet fields, so the future certainly holds plenty of opportunities…….


Somerford Common: Saturday, 2nd December 2017

Today’s visit to Somerford Common rounded off a series of visits covering all of our Braydon Forest woodland sites within the last three weeks.  It has been an interesting period, with our winter visitors arriving and the residents in their winter flocks taking advantage of the feeding stations that have now been set up.

Feeding stations offer an interesting quid pro quo: the birds have a source of supplementary feeding during bad weather and we can set fewer nets for more birds caught.  This one was set up on Tuesday afternoon, and topped up on Thursday afternoon.  It needed topping up, so I was confident of a good catch at the site.  I was joined today by Jonny Cooper and Annie Hatt.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast for a dry but overcast morning proved false: we were afflicted by intermittent rain showers all session.  It made conditions a little uncomfortable but it wasn’t hard enough to compromise the nets or the welfare of the birds.  However, at 10:30 the rain became heavier and more persistent, so we shut the nets and took down.

That was a shame because the first round was excellent: five Marsh Tits extracted. Two were new birds (one adult and one juvenile) and three retrapped birds.  These two keep adding to the total ringed this year so far: we are now up to 26 ringed, plus 23 individuals retrapped over the year.  This really is turning into a very encouraging year for this species.  However, species of the day was Coal Tit. We caught 14 in total: five new birds and nine retraps.   The oldest of them, D837097, was ringed as a juvenile in November 2013.  However, the oldest bird of the day was a female Bullfinch, D056791, ringed as an adult five years and one day ago in Ravensroost Woods.  Typical lifespan is two years, so she is surviving well at six years old.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 7(1); Great Tit 7; Coal Tit 5(9); Marsh Tit 2(3); Robin 3(3); Blackbird (1); Bullfinch 1(1).  Totals: 27 birds ringed from seven species; 19 birds retrapped from seven species, making 46 birds processed from nine species.

The variety was slightly lacking, with just nine species.  For some reason the usually dependable Redwing lure did not work its magic and the regular Lesser Redpoll failed to appear. In fact, we are usually confident of getting both Goldfinch and Chaffinch in catches at Somerford and they were nowhere to be seen this time either.  Perhaps if we had managed a full session they might have arrived.

Webb’s Wood: Sunday, 26th November 2017

I had planned to run a session in Webb’s Wood on Wednesday, but the weather was awful: high winds and rain, so I rescheduled for Sunday.  The delay meant that the feeding station was set up on Monday, topped up on Thursday and Saturday, and delivered a nice catch on Sunday.  Jonny was available to join me for the session.  We were conservative with the net setting: just three nets near to the feeding station and a further five set along the main path.  The feeding station nets were busy, the path nets were notable for the number of interesting birds flying just over the top (two Buzzard; Jay; Lesser Redpoll).

The highlights of the catch were our first ever Goldfinches for Webb’s Wood.  They were a bit of a fluke: I had intended to put on a lure for Lesser Redpoll but picked up the wrong box, which was Goldfinch, so played that instead.  In the very next round Jonny extracted our first Goldfinch for Webb’s Wood.  We debated about whether or not to ring the bird: its left leg has a fully healed fracture, but we know that people opposed to ringing would claim that it was damaged as a part of the ringing process.  I took the decision that the healed fracture is not obvious and there is potentially more information to be gained from ringing it and, hopefully, recatching it in future and seeing whether or not it is thriving.  In the next round we extracted another two Goldfinch.

The first bird of the day was a new Marsh Tit.  This is turning into a significant year for this species in the Braydon Forest: our 24th bird ringed so far.  Webb’s is an example of how things seem to be picking up for this species: in 2013, the first year we ringed here, we ringed two individuals. Then, in 2014 to 2016 we ringed only one new bird each year: so far in 2017 we have ringed six new individuals in Webb’s Wood. Also, we have retrapped four individuals in the wood this year, whereas in previous years it has been just one individual in each of the previous years.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 5(8); Great Tit 4(2); Coal Tit 2(4); Marsh Tit 1(1); Wren 1; Robin 2(3); Redwing 1; Blackbird (1); Goldcrest 3; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 3.  Totals: 24 birds ringed from 11 species; 19 birds retrapped from six species, making a total of 43 birds processed from 12 species.

Ravensroost Wood: Saturday, 25th November 2017

My feeding station at Ravensroost for the last three years has been set up in compartment U1.  This area has been fully coppiced this autumn, leaving the bird table completely exposed, so I set up several feeders along ride 38, to be this year’s feeding station.

Ravensroost Wood rides and compartmentsThis proved to be a less than suitable location.  After significant rain during the week, the underfoot conditions were nothing short of quagmire and, unfortunately, the squirrels have found and destroyed the two seed feeders.  Nevertheless, we did have a reasonable catch.  I was joined by Jonny Cooper, Annie Hatt made a welcome reappearance and Steph Buggins accompanied by Lillie and Rosie (on her first visit) completed the team.

Because of the conditions and the weather (it was very cold), we only set 5 nets, along the length of R38.  The catch for the day was: Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 8(9); Great Tit 1(2); Coal Tit 2(6); Wren 1(1); Robin 3(3); Redwing 2; Goldcrest 3(2); Bullfinch 1. Totals: 23 birds ringed from nine species; 23 birds retrapped from six species.

The only remarkable thing about the catch is that it was split equally between ringed and retrapped birds.  There was a degree of frustration though: at one point we had four Redwing in the net, but three of them managed to extricate themselves before we could secure them.

Before the next session I will  be finding an alternative, dry, position for the feeding station: preferably one where I can effectively squirrel-proof the feeders.

Red Lodge: Saturday, 18th November 2017

Getting to Red Lodge is a bit of a pallaver at the moment.  With the B4696 closed for ten weeks whilst they change the road layout to try to reduce the mortality rate at the Braydon crossroads, what is normally a five minute journey for me is now a fifteen minute trek.  Wanting to maximise the return from the site, on Thursday I set up a feeding station and, once again, had to re-erect the bird table that the local vandal has, for the umpteenth time, pulled out and dumped. At least they didn’t chuck it in the pond this time.  It is hard to fathom the mindset.  I decided to dig it in out in the open on the corner of the pond, so that when the Forestry Commission put in the covert surveillance, we can get some nice pictures of the perpetrator.  Given that it escalated to theft of the hanging feeders last year, I set them up in a location a decent distance away from the table, and away from the path to and from the dwellings and the farm; on the basis that the vandal is almost certainly a local from the Red Lodge complex.

Arriving on site just before 7:00 I was a little surprised to find that the seed feeders were completely empty: the birds must have found them very quickly.  I refilled them and  decided to set just four nets: two making a dogleg along two sides of the bird table and then two running between the hanging feeders.


I was joined for the session by Jonny and Ellie: and it was good to have my two most experienced lieutenants with me, as we had a busy morning.  We only managed two-and- a-half hours of ringing before the rain arrived, three hours early, but we processed 101 birds in that time. The list for the day was: Nuthatch 2(1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 29(14); Great Tit 19(12); Coal Tit 3(6); Marsh Tit 1(3); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1(1); Robin 1(1); Goldcrest 3; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1.  Totals: 63 birds ringed from 12 species; 38 birds retrapped from seven species, making 101 birds processed from 12 species.

As normal, the majority of the birds caught were Blue and Great Tits.  Blue Tits, in particular, seem to have made a good recovery from two poor years in the Braydon Forest.  30 of the 43 caught were birds fledged this year.  Last year adults were outnumbering juveniles.

Whilst processing birds from the second round, we were approached by a couple who had been jogging through the wood, to find out what we were doing. They asked if they could bring their children over to see the birds, so we did another of our impromptu ringing demonstrations to an appreciative and young audience.

Our highlights of the day were: our second catch of Lesser Redpoll on the site, the first being November last year.  This was a lovely adult male:

2017_11_18 Lesre

We caught another Marsh Tit: our fifth of the year at this site, twenty-fourth of the year in the Braydon Forest; and retrapped three of them, our twenty-first recaptured individuals (32 retrap events) in the Forest this year.


Erlestoke Golf Course: November 2017

After producing a report on the Natural History observations made whilst playing at Erlestoke Golf Course over the last three years, Paul Fox and myself were kindly granted permission to set up a feeding station in a secluded area of mixed woodland on the course.

The natural progression was to obtain ringing permission, which was kindly granted in October this year. Obviously, after only three visits, it is very early yet to produce any worthwhile analysis, so this is purely a record of numbers involved so far.

To date 110 birds of 8 species have been processed as follows: Blue Tit 64, Great Tit 26, Long-tailed Tit 7, Coal Tit 6, Robin 3, Goldcrest 2, Dunnock 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1.

Looking at the age ratio of the two common Tits, from a total of 64 Blue Tit captures, 47 have been birds of the year (code 3) as opposed to only 17 aged older (code 4). With Great Tits conversely only 9 birds of year and 17 aged older.

As an ‘old timer’ I was most interested to note the updated Greater Spotted information in the revised 2016 Non Passerines Guide stressing the unreliability of ageing on primary tip spots and unmoulted primary coverts which means some birds must be left unaged (code 2). A good lesson in keeping up with current information!

Finally we would both like to thank the owner and staff of the Course for their interest and assistance in allowing us to operate. We look forward hopefully to some Siskin and Redpoll in the coming months.

Rob Turner   Paul Fox