It’s Not Always What You Catch: Ravensroost Wood, Friday, 8th April 2022

Miranda and I met at Ravensroost Wood at 6:30 this morning. This session was planned for Wednesday but the forecast was, for once, accurate, and Wednesday was wet and windy, so we moved it to today. My intention was to set 11 nets but, due to a problem with the 12m net I took with me, and an oak tree getting in the way of an 18m net, we ended up with just the 9 x 18m nets. After faffing around for far too long trying to get the 12m net operational, we had all of the nets open by 7:30 and started catching straight away: the obligatory Wren flying in and getting horribly entangled in an unopened net to start the ball rolling. You can almost always guarantee that the first bird caught in my woodland sites will be either a Wren or a Robin. Whilst setting up the nets, we were treated to a lot of bird song. Key amongst the choristers were the Willow Warblers: there were at least half-a-dozen singing.

Needless to say, we didn’t catch a single one.

On the west side I set 3 lures: Chiffchaff / Blackcap / Chiffchaff and on the east side I set 2 lures: Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Naturally, the first round did not produce any of those species. Instead it produced 3 Blue Tits, a Great Tit, 2 Wrens and 2 Long-tailed Tits. Unfortunately, I managed to let one of the Blue Tits escape from the bag as I was getting it out to process it. The Long-tailed Tits were caught in the same net, just a few feet apart, but on opposite sides. I guessed that they were a pair, one getting caught flying in, the other getting caught coming back to find its mate. Sure enough, when processed one was a male and the other a female with a well-developed brood patch. We released them together and they flew off in the same direction together, helping cement my opinion.

Whilst processing these I heard the unmistakeable song of a Mistle Thrush. We only got glimpses at that point and, like the Willow Warblers, it never got near our nets. The bird stayed around all morning and about 10:00 we got some excellent views as it flew around the tops of the guard trees left in the newly coppiced coupe. Mistle Thrush is a rare catch for us. In Wiltshire in 2020, the latest for which data is currently available, none were either ringed or recaptured. In the two prior years the totals were 4 in 2019 and 2 in 2018.

Soon after the Mistle Thrush moved on, I saw a Hare running across the coppiced area. Unfortunately for Miranda, he disappeared before she got to see it. I have seen them on the bridle path that splits Ravensroost, and on one of the forest tracks at Somerford Common, but it is still surprising to see them in such a habitat.

At 10:00 we had a little fall of Chiffchaff hit the net, 5 of the 6 processed this morning. We didn’t have lots of birds at a time 3 0r 4, occasionally 5, but that gave us plenty of time for me to introduce Miranda to the vagaries of sexing sexually monomorphic species. Fortunately, the Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs, Dunnock and Wrens we caught were all showing excellent signs of their sexuality: mainly males, it has to be said.

Our last proper round, at 11:15 turned up a superb pair of Nuthatch. Again, I use the word “pair” quite deliberately. They came out of the same net as the Long-tailed Tits, were actually closer together than they had been, one was male, the other female. As with the Long-tailed Tits, we processed them and released them together. They flew off in the same direction. Unfortunately, the male flew straight back into the net. The female stayed close by calling, and waited until I released the male again, whereby they then flew off in the same direction. Again, I am pretty certain they have paired for breeding this year. Actually, one of the nice points about it was that they were both unringed. I like recapturing birds, it is where the science is, but we do seem to have been catching rather few new Nuthatches, particularly at Ravensroost. In the previous 2 years we only ringed 2 in Ravensroost in each year. Let’s hope we can get back to the heady days of 2017, when we ringed 10!

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 4(2); Dunnock (1); Robin 1(2); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (2); Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 5(1). Totals: 21 birds ringed from 9 species and 9 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 30 birds processed from 11 species.

The recaptured Chiffchaff was ringed as an adult in Ravensroost Wood in July 2019, so it is at least 3 years old. That’s a year longer than the birds typical lifespan (BTO Bird Facts) but it needs another nearly 8 years to beat the longevity record. I am intrigued by Chiffchaffs: I would like to know how many have given up migration and remain in the UK overwinter. There are areas around the Cotswold Water Park where they can be found year round. It would be good to know if these birds are “our” breeding birds, or migrants talking advantage of our milder winter climate, as is the case with overwintering Blackcaps.

It was a really cold morning, without being frosty. We were both getting very chilled by the time we started packing up at about 11:45. Ironically, that’s when the sun came out and warmed the place up! Such is life! We were away from site just after 12:45.

Silent Spring: Lower Moor Farm, Saturday, 2nd April 2022

It was one of those days: starting at minus 2oC when I left the house at 6:00, getting to 4oC by the time we had our nets open and positively balmy by 11:00. I was joined by Tanya for the morning and Claire and her children joined us at 7:30 until 11:00, so the children could continue to familiarise themselves with the birds prior to, perhaps, starting ringing.

We set our usual three net rides and had them open just after 7:15. All around we could hear birds singing, particularly Blackcap and Chiffchaff. I put on lures for both species and we sat back and waited – and waited, and waited. Eventually the Chiffchaff started to respond to the lures with a couple hitting the net at 8:50. The first Blackcap, and our first of the Spring, arrived at 9:20:

Female Blackcap: our first of this Spring

Unfortunately it just never got busy. However, it did enable me to work with Tanya as she started on extracting birds for the first time. As with her ringing and processing, she took to it like a duck to water (appropriate metaphor time).

We didn’t catch much: Wren (2); Dunnock 1(2); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 5. Totals: 8 birds ringed from 3 species and 5 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 13 birds processed from 5 species.

Given how much bird song there was, it was a disappointing result. There seemed to be birds singing from every corner of the site. Along with the Blackcap and Chiffchaff, there were Wren, Blackbird, Cetti’s Warbler and Green Woodpecker calling / singing. Somewhat surprisingly, as we were packing away the nets in the wildlife refuge, I could swear that I heard a Whitethroat singing away in the bushes alongside the stream. That would be astonishing: the earliest that we have caught a Whitethroat was back on the 19th April last year at Langford Lakes.

Tanya and I closed the nets at 11:30, took down and left site by 12:15.

West Wilts Ringing Group Results: March 2022

An interesting month.  The absolute highlight has to be the second ever Dipper on WWRG rings, caught and ringed by Jonny on the Bybrook:

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This is closely followed by the return from Cornwall of our leg-tagged Curlew,. which has been seen in the Cotswold Water Park and back at Blakehill Farm. I have put out a plea on Twitter for a photo: hopefully someone will be kind enough to send me one.  The results for this month were:

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So, 90 birds fewer than last March but also 6 sessions fewer. That was primarily down to Jonny being unavailable for the last two weekends of the month, and me becoming a cripple for the last week-and-a-half and cancelling a couple of sessions.  Therefore, the averages are all higher. Coincidentally, we also ringed four more species.  Clearly the Dipper is the highlight but there were certainly other interesting numbers.  I finally managed to get to Brown’s Farm and, whilst we only caught a few birds, 13 of them were Yellowhammers.  14 of the 28 Yellowhammers came from Jonny’s site at East Tytherton, with the final one from one of his Sutton Benger sites..  Other species caught this year but not last were: 2 x Woodpigeon and a Collared Dove (all in Alice’s back garden); 2 Cetti’s Warbler at Langford Lakes; a Brambling at Biss Wood (since we had the first one turn up at Sutton Benger in January 2018, we seem to be getting the odd one turn up at each of our woods in turn, a couple in total each year); Grey Wagtail, caught in the same net as the Dipper on the Bybrook; Green Woodpecker at Alice’s Hogacre Eco Park site.  

Missing from last year were Bullfinch and Linnet.  On Linnets: as I was taking down the nets at Brown’s Farm, the farmer came down the track and put up a flock of about 30 Linnets from the hedgerow just a few metres away from where my nets ended!  One more net and who knows!  Also of note, the reduced number of Blackcaps.  However, of the 12 Blackcaps caught in March last year, they were all caught in the last 2 weeks of the month and, in fact, 2 were caught on the 29th March and 9 on the 31st March, so if Jonny and I had been active in the last two weeks of the month, who knows!

For those interested in the figures: this has been our best Q1 by a long way since the North Wilts group split away at the beginning of 2013: 

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This was based on our astonishing January, and then both February and March being comparable with the previous year.

Blakehill Farm: the Curlew are back. Wednesday, 23rd March 2022

I decided that I would have a lie-in this morning, so I arranged for us to meet at 6:30, rather than earlier. Rosie and Tanya joined me to help set up the nets, and do a bit of ringing before heading off to work. The weather was surprisingly cold at first but it soon warmed up, and the weather was perfect for the whole session: clear skies and virtually no wind.

It was Rosie who was the first to notice the bubbling call of the Curlew, but it then continued for a couple of hours as they flew around the plateau advertising their presence. We know that the Curlew leg tagged at Blakehill last year has been seen at the Water Park over the last couple of weeks and hope to see it back on the plateau pretty soon. Chiffchaffs were calling all around the site, so we were hopeful of catching a few.

We only set six nets:

To be honest, the bulk of the catch came in the three-way net setup. I set lures for Linnet on the single 18m net; Linnet and Blackcap on the double 18m net and Chiffchaff on the 3-way net. Just behind the Whitworth Building (the building to the right of the single 18m net) is a couple of concrete slabs and some additional rubble: the remains of an old out-building. As someone had seen a Wheatear on the site in the last week, I decided to have a go to see if we could add to the Wheatear we caught last autumn. I set two walk-in Potter traps, liberally baited with mealworms and with a Wheatear call lure playing. Unfortunately, there were no takers. Equally, the 18m net produced no Linnets but two Chiffchaffs and the double 18m net produced no Linnet or Blackcap but one Chiffchaff and a Song Thrush.

Anna joined us at about 8:00: after having provided the taxi service for her sister, and stayed with me for the rest of the morning. So I have help setting up and help taking down: spoilt? Moi?

The first round produced a Dunnock, a House Sparrow and a Wren. The Dunnock and the House Sparrow used up the last of my string of size B rings. In between rounds we were treated to a few early insects: a Small Tortoiseshell and a couple of Brimstone, plus a couple of Buff-tailed Bumblebees and a Common Carder Bee:

The next round produced another four House Sparrows. I went to my ring supply box to get the next string of 100 rings: nowhere to be found! I knew there were none at home. Panic stations. I phoned Johnny, but he was miles away and busy at his East Tytherton site. Then I phoned Steph, fortunately she had enough for me to steal some from her, so I raced off to her place, just over the border in Gloucestershire, and took 20 from her stock, so we could process these birds.

Rosie and Tanya had to leave just as I got back with the rings, so they missed out on ringing their first House Sparrows. Anna and I continued until 11:30. We were joined for a while by Wayne Clinch and his wife, which reminded me that I haven’t submitted my 2021 moth records yet (Wayne is the Wiltshire macro-moth recorder), so I had better pull my finger out and get them to him.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit (1); Wren 1; Dunnock 1(1); Robin 2; Song Thrush 1; Chiffchaff 4(1); House Sparrow 9. Totals: 18 birds ringed from 6 species and 3 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 21 birds processed from 7 species.

It is our equal best catch of House Sparrow at this site and our best March Chiffchaff catch at Blakehill.

The Firs: Saturday, 19th March 2022

With the wind changing to an easterly and forecast to be quite strong, I changed venue from Blakehill Farm (one day!) to the Firs, because of its north-south ride axis, and the woodland to offer protection from the breeze. I was originally expecting to have quite a big team out, so packed plenty of kit in the car, only to have all bar Rosie drop out for one reason or another. Rosie joined me to help set up before heading off to work at 8:30. It was quite cold initially, but pretty quickly the sky cleared and the sun came out and began the warming process.

The feeding station hadn’t been topped up for a while, so I wasn’t expecting a huge catch. We did fill it, but it was a bit of a token gesture. I will be removing it next week, until next winter. We put on lures for Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin: hedging our bets on which migrants might be around.

The first round produced three unringed second year Wrens. It never got busy but there were usually two or three birds per round. We had listened to several Chiffchaff singing away around the wood and the second round served up our first of the morning. Next round we caught LXL932, ringed in the Firs as an adult in April 2021. The following round we caught, in the same net, LXL931. We often catch sequential numbers of resident birds, but catching sequential numbers for a summer visitor is really encouraging.

Whilst extracting the birds for this round we were distracted by what was clearly the distress call of a Corvid. The next thing, a huge influx of Jackdaws were heading towards the source of the call. We didn’t have time to go and investigate what was going on but the distress call went on for several minutes and was quite disturbing.

There was a lot of birdsong all around the woodland, and we were also treated to a drumming display from two Great Spotted and one Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The Firs is the one place that I regularly see and hear Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but I have not yet found evidence of breeding, unlike in Ravensroost Wood where I have found both nest holes and seen newly fledged young in the past.

The list for the day was Blue Tit 2(3); Great Tit (3); Coal Tit 1; Wren 3(1); Chiffchaff 1(2); Goldcrest 2(1). Totals: 9 birds ringed from 5 species and 10 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 19 birds processed from 6 species.

Early signs of Spring: there were several Brimstone butterflies flying around the central glade.

The wind really started to pick up at just after 10:30, the net pockets were blowing out and the possibility of catching anything else was remote, so I decided to shut the nets and take down. I left site at just after 11:30.

Brown’s Farm: Thursday, 17th March 2022

It is so difficult to get sessions in at Brown’s Farm. Being at the top of Postern Hill, just south of Marlborough, it is totally exposed to the elements. The only time that I can get there is when the weather forecast is for it to be more or less flat calm, with gusts remaining as far under 10mph as is possible. With Wednesday’s session being rained off (f0r 0nce they got the forecast right: it started raining at just after 9:30 am and didn’t let up until 9:30pm), and the forecast set fair for a dry day with minimal wind, I headed for Brown’s Farm.

As ever, Rosie joined me to help set up before heading off to do her day job with the Wildlife Trust. Knowing that I was going to be working solo for much of the session, we only set four rides: three of 2 x 18m nets (1,2,3) and one single 18m net (4). The multiples were set along the leeward side of the main path hedgerow and the singleton adjacent to the pond:

James, the farmer, has done his biennial hedgerow maintenance, so the hedges were a bit lower than I had anticipated. It wasn’t particularly busy. There were several reasons. For one thing, it was much windier than forecast. With the positioning of the nets, the lower shelves were protected from the breeze, but the two upper shelves were blowing out and, subsequently caught nothing and probably put off a few other potential captives. Had I known about the wind and the reduced hedgerow height I would probably have gone with 2-shelf, as opposed to 5-shelf, nets. Equally, if I had had a team out with me all morning, I would have set more nets along the hedgerow.

Whilst we were setting the nets we had fantastic views of a Hare. It just ignored us whilst we were working: we were moving towards it and it was coming towards us. Eventually it came within 50m before deciding to skedaddle. We then had great views as it disappeared across the field at a rate. Later we had another couple of Hares appear further up the field. We watched them chasing around the field and were hoping for a boxing match but no such luck.

Although it wasn’t our biggest catch, we did have a very respectable 13 Yellowhammers. This is actually our second largest single session catch of Yellowhammer at this site: the largest being 16 in September 2018. The first of this morning’s catch was Rosie’s first ever extraction and opportunity to ring the species.

Second Year Male Yellowhammer

The only other species caught were Dunnock and an extremely haughty looking Goldfinch:

Second Year Male Goldfinch

This is only the second Goldfinch that we have caught at the site in the last 6 years, with the other one in September 2018. Over the entire time that I have worked this site, since February 2014, we have only caught 17 Goldfinch in total, so they are not a common catch here.

It took a while for the birds to start moving around and, once they did, each round did produce two or three birds. Six productive rounds produced 15 birds: Dunnock 1; Goldfinch 1; Yellowhammer 12(1).

Before we started catching, we did have some lovely views of various species: many of which were happy to come within a few feet of us, several of which were singing / advertising territory and for a mate. Among the species observed but not caught were Blackbird, Brambling, Chaffinch, House Sparrow, Moorhen, Pied Wagtail, Starling, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Wren, plus a crowd of Jackdaw, a single Carrion Crow and a wonderfully noisy foursome of Magpie.

As usual, we were also treated to some great bird of prey displays: a pair of Red Kite, two pairs of Buzzard and, best of all, a Sparrowhawk doing that fluttering, spiralling flight that they do in the Springtime.

As I was taking down, James came along in one of his tractors and, as he drove along the main path towards the farmyard, a flock of about 20 Linnets was put up from the hedgerow, just a few metres from where I had closed my last net! If only! We had a good chat, I gave him an update on what we had caught and seen, and then finished clearing away. I left site at just after 12:30 after a quiet, but thoroughly enjoyable, session.

Spring is in the air: Red Lodge, Saturday, 12th March 2022

So Spring is in the air: well, we did have a couple of very sharp showers, the second containing a surprising mini-hailstorm, interspersed by a couple of bright sunny spells, that brought an early end to our activities. Once again, we were failed by inaccurate weather forecasting. At 10:00 last night, on Meteo, the Met Office and xcweather, the forecast for today was for it to rain until 7:00, to be dry and breezy until midday, with a yellow warning for wind and rain this afternoon. I put the start time back to 7:00, from 6:00, to avoid the rain, only to wake to a clear morning and a dry car: clearly the overnight rain had cleared much earlier than forecast.

I was joined by David, Tanya and Rob. Tanya works with Rosie at the Wildlife Trust and, just like Rosie, arrived to help set up, ring a couple of birds and then went off to work. I had filled up the seed and peanut feeders on Thursday afternoon, so I was pleased to see that considerable inroads have been made into the seeds and the peanuts. Unfortunately, that optimism didn’t last long as the numbers coming into the nets were very low.

The only finch that we caught this morning was a juvenile male Chaffinch. We heard Brambling and saw a reasonable sized flock of Siskin, but they weren’t interested in the seed or the lure. Interestingly, one of the local residents, David, was walking his lovely black lab, Denver, and stopped to chat as usual. He described how, middle of last week, they had been walking along the north edge of the wood when they disturbed a flock of some 50+ finches foraging on the ground at that edge: sounded awfully like a flock of Brambling.

So, why “Spring is in the air”? There was a lot of bird song and, as we were putting up the feeding station nets, we heard our first Chiffchaff of the year singing. An hour-and-a-half later we caught out first of the Spring:

Chiffchaff: note the tiny pollen horn at the base of the bill

An hour later we caught our second of the year. As we were processing the catch from that round we felt the first few drops of rain, and then it started. At first I thought it might pass, so we went and shut the nets until it stopped, then the sun came out again. Just when I was thinking that we might reopen the nets, the rain started again, but harder, and it was obvious that there was more to come, so we took down and went home.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 4(2); Great Tit 4(2); Coal Tit 2(2); Chiffchaff 2; Goldcrest 2; Chaffinch 1. Totals: 16 birds ringed from 7 species and 6 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 22 birds processed from 7 species.

Quality Over Quantity: Somerford Common West. Wednesday, 9th March 2022

I had planned to try for a session at Blakehill Farm this morning but the weather forecast was for it to be too windy, so I decided to take a chance on the opposite side of Somerford Common from where we were on Saturday. The key difference is that this wood, whilst still mixed to a degree, is largely a mature conifer plantation. Previous catches there have been very variable, both in number and species. From Buzzards to Goldcrests and quite a lot in between.

Having stood and looked at Siskin and Lesser Redpoll in the trees above our feeding station on Saturday, with none ending up in the nets, and Crossbill calling in the conifers, I wondered whether there would be more opportunity to catch them if we went along to that site. We are also much more likely to catch Coal Tits and Goldcrests on that side of the wood, both usually outnumbering even Blue Tits.

I was joined for the morning by Miranda, Anna and Rosie – doing her usual stint if helping set up and hoping to ring a few birds before heading off to work. We met at 6:30 and had the nets set by 7:30.

We set two rides of 3 x 18m nets and one ride of 2 x 18m nets, along two of the major paths through the wood. Lures were set for Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Brambling and Goldcrest.

To say that we weren’t busy is an understatement: the first birds weren’t caught until 8:45, an hour and fifteen minutes after we had opened the nets. The first birds came out of the nets furthest west of the ringing station. They were two retrapped Goldcrests originally ringed as youngsters in December 2020. Interestingly, they were a female and a male, and they had consecutive ring numbers: LXL 880 and LXL 881, i.e. they were almost certainly caught together when ringed. To confirm that, I checked the records and found that they were processed at the same time.

Almost immediately afterwards, in the net furthest to the east of the ringing station, we watched as a small flock of five birds flew in. They proved to be two Siskin, two Treecreeper and a Blue Tit. Unfortunately, one of the Siskin managed to escape before we could extract it, but we managed to get the others without mishap. This Siskin, it turned out, is actually our first from this part of the wood. Rosie kindly forewent the offered opportunity to ring it, and gave it to Anna to ring her first ever, before heading off to work.

We then didn’t catch another bird for over an hour. By 9:45 I decided that we would give it another 30 minutes and then pack up. At 9:55 Miranda and Anna both reacted to something that was going on behind me in the western nets. When I turned to have a look there was a small flock of birds hitting the nearer set of nets. A quick look through the binoculars confirmed that they were Siskin: another six of them. They were extracted and processed.

Male Siskin, photo courtesy Miranda Shirnia

Whilst we were doing this another bird flew in: a Robin. It turned out to be our last bird of the morning. The total catch was: Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 1; Robin 1; Goldcrest 1(2); Siskin 7. Totals: 12 birds ringed from 5 species and 2 birds retrapped from 1 species, making 14 birds processed from 5 species.

As I said, not a big catch but to get our first Siskin for the site was extremely satisfying. Equally, the two Treecreeper were only the second and third for this part of the site. No Crossbill (in fact, we didn’t even hear them today) or Lesser Redpoll but still a nice quality catch.

Unfortunately, the wind began to get seriously strong after 10:30 and many of the nets started to blow out, losing their pockets for holding the birds, so we closed the nets, took down and were off site by 11:15.

Webb’s Wood: Monday, 7th March 2022

We had to cancel last Wednesday’s session at Webb’s, due to the wet weather, so I rescheduled it for this morning. I was joined by Rosie and Tanya. The net setup was as follows:

Fortunately, Rosie was working at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Echo Lodge reserve first thing this morning, right next door to Webb’s Wood, so she was able to stay with us until five minutes before going off to meet her team. Tanya was on her second session with me today. Last session she got comfortable handling birds and today I started her on her ringing career. Delighted to say that she seems to be a natural: she had no problem holding the birds and fitting the rings. Her measurements were almost all spot on with a couple just 1mm out. I know people who have been doing it far longer who aren’t that accurate. Next session I will start her on extracting the birds.

It wasn’t the busiest session, which actually helped. Because we weren’t under the pressure of numbers, I could let Tanya take the time she needed to be comfortable and confident in handling the birds. I was a little surprised that it was as quiet as it was: I filled up the feeders yesterday at about 14:00. I have two peanut and two finch seed mix feeders at the site, which were fully filled yesterday and they had all been reduced by about one-fifth in that relatively short time.

We started off with a few retrap Coal Tits, a couple of new Great Tits and a retrap Marsh Tit at the feeding station on our first round. That was actually our biggest catch of the morning. Thereafter it dropped off to just 2 or 3 birds per round until Rosie went off to work. It was good to get a couple of Goldcrest, so Rosie got to ring one before she had to go. They have been remarkable by their absence this winter.

Tanya and I then had a lull of an hour with no birds but, just as I was deciding that I was getting too cold, this dropped into the 18m net in the 18m + 12m dog-leg setup:

Lesser Redpoll

This is our 38th of the winter in Webb’s Wood: adding to what is already our best winter for them there. Funnily enough, we had been joined by a representative of the contractors who did the thinning at Webb’s in winter 2020/21. They have started removing the timber stacks from that operation and he was collecting up redundant signs from where the stacks have been cleared. Apparently they will all be gone by the end of March. He was interested to know if we had found any difference since the thinning and was genuinely pleased when I told him about the massive increase in Lesser Redpoll activity in the wood this winter.

Tanya and I decided to take down the line of 3 x 18m nets, because it caught absolutely nothing all morning, at 11:00. That was despite my best Brambling lure playing the whole time. We did another round and processed a couple more birds and decided to take down the 2 x 18m net ride only I noticed that a bird had just flown in. It turned out to be this:

Female Siskin

This is the first Siskin that we have caught in Webb’s Wood since March 2017. They have always been a bit hit and miss on the site: back in 2013 my feeding station used to be set up in the a stand of trees adjacent to a large crop of conifers and we caught 15 in a single catch, in 2016 it was 16, in 2017 it was 5, and then the conifers were removed and my feeding station area cleared and we didn’t see another one in the nets until this one arrived this morning.

It seemed that each net set we went to take down decided to have a final bird in it. We eventually got the nets down and left site at just after 12:30. Our total catch for the morning was: Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 4(1); Great Tit 2(2); Coal Tit (4); Marsh Tit (1); Goldcrest 3(1); Lesser Redpoll 1; Siskin 1. Totals: 11 birds ringed from 5 species and 10 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 21 birds processed from 8 species.

Ringing Demonstration @ Somerford Common: Saturday, 5th March 2022

Originally scheduled for the 19th February, and postponed for obvious stormy reasons, this morning we ran the Spring ringing demonstration for the Swindon Wildlife Group. This is the first time that we have done this at a Forestry England site. Usually we hold them on Wildlife Trust premises. When I went to fill up the feeding station on Monday, I was treated to a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the trees alongside the road through the wood. On Thursday, when I went to top up the feeders, the large 8 litre feed dispenser was half empty and the trees were full of birds: Chaffinch, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were all noticeable. So I was hopeful that we would have a wide range of species to show. We set lures for Siskin and Lesser Redpoll at the feeding station nets, and one for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming in a net ride we set behind the tree line parallel to the road:

Somerford Common Ringing Setup

The set up was as follows: FS = Feeding Station; RS = Ringing Station; 1 = 18m net; 2 = 12m net; 3 = 18m net; 4 = 18m net; 5 = 1 x 18m net + 1 x 9m net; 6 = 1 x 18m + 1 x 12m net. Nets 1, 3 and 4 all had lures for Siskin and Lesser Redpoll playing; net 6 had the lure for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

I was joined by Ellie, Anna and David for the morning. We met at 6:30 and had all nets open by 7:30, with the birds starting to arrive immediately. The public arrived at 9:00, and we did have birds to show them. Unfortunately, the hoped for finch flocks just did not hit the nets. We were lucky enough to see both Lesser Redpoll and Siskin on site. Indeed, the Siskin were sat in the tree above the feeding station for quite a while. Unfortunately, that was a bit later in the morning, by which time the wind was getting up and the nets were just too obvious, moving in the breeze, and the Siskin were reluctant to come close until we closed the nets. Alongside these species, we could also hear Common Crossbill calling in the conifer stands that have been left within the paddock.

Obviously, as ringers working regularly in woodlands in winter, we do get to handle loads of Blue and Great Tits. When doing a ringing demonstration, we tend to forget that the general public do not have that exposure and they were actually delighted to have the chance to see both species up close.

Our bird of the morning was our third Marsh Tit of the year: one in each month so far. Ironically, the scheduled colour combination for this bird was as follows:

Marsh Tit, AEX0972, showing support for Ukraine?

Unfortunately, both this bird and the retrapped Marsh Tit were caught before the public arrived. Still, we caught birds regularly all morning. I was able to show lots of variety in terms of ageing Blue Tits and Coal Tits, ageing and sexing Great Tits and sexing Nuthatch, as we caught a stunning male, and also why we can’t age them.

Nuthatch photo courtesy Robin Griffiths

When asked if anyone would like to be shown how to safely handle and release a bird, the response was extremely enthusiastic. When that was translated into how many people want to be pecked by a Blue Tit, the enthusiasm was undimmed. That is how it went all morning. From about 11:00 people started to leave, primarily because the temperature had dropped significantly, as the northerly wind started to become a factor, and they were getting cold. However, every single one of them thanked us for a really interesting and enjoyable session so, in that respect, job done. We had, by then, closed the feeding station nets, because they were the most affected by the breeze. Once everyone had left we finished taking down and actually were away from site just before midday.

The list for the morning was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 16(11); Great Tit 9(3), Coal Tit 2(1); Marsh Tit 1(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 1. Totals: 31 birds ringed from 7 species and 17 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 48 birds processed from 8 species.