The Firs: Saturday, 9th December 2017

The Firs is known locally as the Braydon Bog: apart from a brief time in mid-summer it is a very wet wood.  Today, with the arrival of sub-zero temperatures, it was actually solid underfoot for once.

Jonny Cooper and I set up a few nets around the feeding station and one at the bottom of the wood.  All nets caught, those by the feeding station being busiest.  The first couple of hours were busy, but it tailed off quite quickly and, coupled with recatching several birds already processed this morning, we packed up at 11:00.  As usual, the catch was titmouse heavy.

However, we had an excellent catch of five new Nuthatch, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker and, on our last round, a Jay.  The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 5; Jay 1; Blue Tit 10(7); Great Tit 3(10); Coal Tit 3(5); Marsh Tit (2); Wren 1(1); Robin (2); Blackbird 2; Goldcrest (1). Totals: 26 birds ringed from eight species; 28 birds retrapped from seven species, making 54 birds processed from 11 species.

It was a good session but there were a few diseased birds in the catch: two Great Tits were suffering quite badly with avian pox.  The lesions were large and unsightly but not life-threatening.  In addition a third Great Tit had the worst tick infestation I have seen for a long time.  I removed over 20 of them from its head.  The worst though was a male Bullfinch, with horrendous warty excrescences on both of its legs, caused by Fringilla Papillomavirus. It was the worst case I have seen for a very long time.  Obviously, we just released the bird without ringing it.

Erlestoke Golf Course: 29th November and 4th December 2017 (Visits 4 and 5).

The feeders continue to be productive and we have now processed a further 61 birds. The first Goldfinches are showing interest in the niger seed, but only a single bird was netted. Two more Great Spotted Woodpeckers joined the total and on the fifth visit a tape lure for Goldcrests proved its worth with five birds appearing seemingly from nowhere in the first ten minutes!

Finally details of our first control have arrived. A Blue Tit, ringed at Hannington, Swindon in March 2017, recovered at Erlestoke on the 4th November.  Out of the 36 Blue Tit recoveries for Wiltshire since 2006, at 45 Km, this is the shared longest movement equalling one from Hens Wood to Wytham Great Wood in May this year.

The combined list for the two sessions was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 2; Blue Tit 18(17); Great Tit 3(4); Coal Tit (3); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 1; Blackbird 4; Goldcrest 5; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 36 birds ringed from nine species; 25 retrapped from four species, making 61 birds processed from 10 species.

Rob Turner   Paul Fox

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.