Blakehill Farm: Monday, 31st August 2020

After yesterday’s enjoyable effort at Lower Moor Farm, I was up at 4:30 this morning and headed to the industrial estate side of Blakehill Farm. Having managed to mislay my reserve keys, Ellie Jones, the northern reserves manager for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and, along with Jonny Cooper, one of my longest serving C-permit holding trainees, provided me with a spare. This worked exactly the same as it did yesterday: let me into the site main gate but wouldn’t open the secondary gate, which meant hopping over aforesaid gate, with all of the nets and poles, for the plateau edge bushes. The padlock on the inner gate at Lower Moor gave up after a couple of hours and a liberal dosing of WD-40 (other penetrating oils are available (but not as good)), which meant only a dozen times clambering over the gate. Unfortunately, Blakehill never gave up and so this ancient, arthritic blimp that passes for my body have to lever itself over and back on every round. Fortunately, I was joined by Steph and Lillie, considerably younger and more nimble, so I could delegate from time to time.

I had the plateau nets open before sunrise and the perimeter track hedgerow nets open by 6:30. Today I had a cunning plan, and it was about as successful as Baldrick’s always were. There is a certain point where in previous years we have caught the majority of our Swallows on the site. During my last visit I noted that they were flying along the track and then up and over the nets. My lightbulb moment: make a cul-de-sac across the path, so we set the usual 2 x 18m nets, with a 6m across the path and a further 18m running back parallel on the opposite side. We had so many Swallows flying around and along the track we were really hopeful of a decent catch. We caught the phenomenal total of absolutely none of them! In fact, that whole net setup caught one bird all morning: a Blue Tit! I will try it again. It is also the place where we catch most of our wintering Redwing, so I might try it for them as well. If at first you don’t succeed! (Who said “Give up”?).

It was a quiet morning and we only caught 22 birds, the aforementioned Blue Tit, a Dunnock and two retrapped Great Tits were to be expected, but the rest of the catch was interesting. Steph’s first foray onto the plateau produced a couple of Reed Buntings, our first Whinchat of the autumn, and only the second ever Sedge Warbler ringed there:

Over the course of the morning the catching was very sketchy, with a small burst of 8 birds at 9:30. By 10:30 it had really died a death, so we started taking down at 11:00. We had the peri track nets down and went out to the plateau to take down, finding our second Whinchat of the morning and a stonkingly good male Stonechat. I love a bird where I can do moult scores on primaries, secondaries and tail.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 1; Great Tit (2); Dunnock 1; Stonechat 1; Whinchat 2; Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 6; Whitethroat 2; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler 1; Goldfinch 1; Reed Bunting 2. 20 birds ringed from 12 species, 2 birds retrapped from 1 species, making 22 birds processed from 13 species. The only adults in the catch were 2 of the Blackcaps and the male Stonechat.

Whilst whingeing about the lack of birds over coffee, I thought I would have a quick look at DemOn to check on previous records for this site for the end of August (for those not in the know, DemOn stands for Demography Online and is the BTO’s new online system for data entry beloved by forward thinking, progressive ringers and hated by the Luddites). I was astonished to find that this was the first time I had actually ringed this site at this time of year. In fact, prior to my earlier visit on the 12th August this year, the only other August visit was on the 3rd August 2019. This is one of the changes wrought by Covid-19: the restrictions of this disease having prevented me from carrying out my long-term projects at Lower Moor Farm and Ravensroost Woods this year which, in turn, restricted my activities at other sites.

Records show that the big catches here will start (hopefully) in two weeks time, when the Meadow Pipits start rolling in. The signs are good: crane flies are starting to emerge in reasonable numbers and I am pretty sure that this has prompted the bumper numbers of Meadow Pipits we have caught over the last couple of years. This is a brilliant result of the way the Wildlife Trust farming team are managing this part of the reserve: lightly grazed by small numbers of cattle outside of the Curlew breeding season.

As we were taking down the nets, we both noticed that there were a good number of crab spiders using our poles as vantage points:

I am not 100% certain but I think this is Xysticus cristatus. That just happens to be the commonest species in Europe.

Out At Last: Sunday, 30th August 2020

It seems like a long time since I have managed to get out to get some ringing in on my sites.

I managed a short session at the Ravensroost Meadow complex on the 20th August, but the wind put a stop to that quite quickly, with just 15 birds caught: Blue Tit 1; Wren 2; Dunnock 1; Robin 2(1); Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 1; Goldfinch 2. Totals: 14 birds ringed from 10 species and one retrap. Of these all bar the Goldcrest and Willow Warbler and one each of the Robin and Goldfinch were juveniles.

I did manage to get the nets open in my garden for two hours on the 27th August and caught 22 birds from just 4 species, before the rain started: Blue Tit 9(1); Long-tailed Tit 7; Starling 1; Goldfinch 3(1). Totals: 20 birds ringed from 4 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species. It is now difficult to correctly age the Long-tailed Tits, as they breed early and both the young and the adults undergo a full moult over the summer into the full adult plumage. Of the other 15 birds all bar the retrapped Blue Tit and Goldfinch were juveniles.

The adult Goldfinch was a nice catch. It was ringed as a juvenile in my garden in December 2014. This makes Z197498 at least 6 years old: a good age for a bird that lives for only 2 and a bit years on average. Another interesting point about the Goldfinches: the others were recently fledged juveniles. This means that, since lockdown, I have caught recently fledged juveniles in every month, including August: that is a full 6 months It is known that in good years Goldfinches can produce 3 broods: I wonder if they can actually produce 4 in exceptional circumstances? If I catch some in September I might be persuaded.

So to today: I was on site for 5:45. It was very cold, which means no mosquitos to annoy me whilst setting up. Despite a few net problems, I had all nets open by 7:00. I did catch a Robin as soon as the nets were open but things did not start to get active until the day started warming up. It never got hectic: 6 or 7 birds per round. What was surprising was that almost all of them were Blackcaps. The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 4; Dunnock (1); Robin 2; Blackbird (1); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 35(1); Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler 1. Totals: 46 birds ringed from 8 species and 4 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 50 birds processed from 10 species.

The Blackbird, Dunnock and Reed Warbler, plus one of the Blue Tits, were adults, the remainder were juveniles.

Webb’s Wood: Tuesday, 18th August 2020

Although the weather forecast was not that promising, with rain forecast from mid-morning and a fairly strong gust to the wind, Andrew Bray and I headed for Webb’s Wood this morning. Blakehill and Ravensroost Meadows were out of the question, because of the forecast wind. Ravensroost Wood is still out of bounds for the time being, Somerford is scheduled for Saturday and both the Firs and Red Lodge have been done recently, so Webb’s was the right place to go. It is only our fourth visit of the year and previous catches have not been huge. I wanted to see which summer visitors were still to be found in the wood.

Apart from a solitary Wren, the first 6 birds out of the nets were Robins. It is clearly a bumper year for them in the Braydon Forest in 2020. We have ringed 106 Robins, of which 85 are juvenile birds. Compare with last year, to the end of August 2019, 58 ringed of which 42 were juveniles and 2018 with 43 ringed, of which 24 were juveniles.

Eventually the Robins allowed some other species to take a turn and we started to catch some good birds. It started with a couple of juvenile Song Thrushes and was promptly followed by two Nuthatches: a male and a female. For those who don’t know, it is easy to sex Nuthatches if you can get a glimpse of the underwing or the under-tail coverts:

The bird on the left is the female, with a pale buff hue to the under-tail coverts. By contrast, the male on the right has a more brick-red hue to the under-tail coverts. These colours are replicated on the underwing areas.

The catch improved in variety as we caught a couple of Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff and, yes, a couple of Blue Tits. However, Andrew got to extract and process our bird of the day:

This is a second year male Sparrowhawk. The pronounced markings on the breast and the deep yellow iris plus, not visible on this photograph, the brown fringing to the grey feathers on the back, the wing coverts, etc help age it. The biometrics help confirm the sex of male, as the female is significantly bigger than the male, with virtually zero overlap. However, as is the way of these things, this particular bird had a tarsus measurement that was 2mm greater than the maximum expected for a male Sparrowhawk and equal to the shortest expected measurement for a female. The vagaries of statistics!

The list for the morning was: Sparrowhawk 1; Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 3; Robin 9(1); Song Thrush 2; Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 5. Totals: 27 birds ringed from 10 species; 5 birds retrapped from 4 species making 32 birds processed from 11 species.

Both Blue Tits and one each of the Blackcap, Marsh Tit, Robin and Wren were adults. One of the Long-tailed Tits had completed its moult, so could not be identified as either a juvenile or an adult and the Sparrowhawk was a second year bird. The remaining birds were all juveniles from this year.

With the forecast rain failing to appear, we packed up at 11:30 and left site at about 12:15. It was a pleasant and rewarding session.

Guest Blog: Flamingo Recoveries by Geoff Carss

By way of introduction, I am a lapsed trainee bird ringer who was a part of the West Wilts Ringing Group and who still has a fascination for all things ringing!!

I had an urgent need to visit South East Spain for business between lockdowns and managed to arrange a quick visit to some salt pans – Parque Regional de las Salinas y Arenales de San Pedro – between Alicante and Cartagena. It’s a Ramsar and Nautura 2000 Site and I had expert guidance from a local English birder who is about to publish a guidebook for the area

There were hundreds of Greater Flamingos feeding in the various lagoons as well as Black Winged Stilts, Avocets, Little Terns, Hoopoe, Shelduck, Cattle and Little Egrets, Crested Lark, Sanderlings and Black-necked Grebe amongst others.

I managed to photograph 4 Flamingo’s with rings – 3 of which could be identified, the 4th one was badly worn and couldn’t be identified:

Two of the birds were relatively young, but one was 13 years old with a fascinating life history – rung as a pullus in 2007 in Malaga and 3 months later seen in Algeria! Seen in Toledo in Spain in 2011 before moving to Italy from 2011 to 2019 and then I spotted it in Murcia in July 2020. If all recoveries could be so easy. The details are as follows:

Being able to contribute a bit more to our understanding of Flamingo movements was both an unexpected delight and a real pleasure – must go on holiday more often – one day.

Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 12th August 2020

It was a very hot session at Blakehill this morning. I don’t think I will do any more until this weather breaks. It was a lot of hard, hot work for little return. It is particularly hard at a site that really does need at least two people, if for nothing else than the perimeter track requires a lot of hole-making to get the poles in.

I did a 4:30 start, to give me plenty of time, and in the hope that there might be some early movement before it got too hot. I set up the plateaus edge nets first before starting on the perimeter track nets. Basically, I put up one net ride, did a round of the plateau until I had set my 3 net sets along the track edge and hedgerow. I got my nets up and no birds were in the nets for an extended period.

The first round looked promising: juvenile Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Dunnock plus a moulting adult female Redstart.

Juvenile Stonechat
Tail moult in female Redstart – good job enough of the feathers had grown to show the orange / red colour

Apologies for the orange cast on these photos: the early morning sun was strong and my camera phone has lots of megapixels but very few other controls. After that start the session was really hard work, just one or two birds per round. Possibly the lack of open water anywhere nearby is a factor in this heat.

At this time of year at Blakehill I am looking for birds on passage. I set up a lure for Swallow, and it attracted in several groups throughout the morning. Unfortunately, they were all flying high, buzzing the top of the nets, and sometimes even perching on it, but they did not come down enough to be caught. Presumably because the insects were also flying high in the hot weather. There were certainly enough mozzies around at ground level between 4:30 and 6:00 but as the temperature went up so did the insects.

It would be churlish to moan too much about the small catch when that catch comprises 13 different species, many of which we don’t catch a lot of. There was also some lovely bird watching. For example, as I was walking back from one round a small group of four Lesser Whitethroat were in and out of the hedgerow close to one of the perimeter track net rides. One of them, a juvenile, ended up in my net. Also, as I was taking down the plateau edge nets, which I did at 10:00, trying to pack up before it got too hot, I extracted the obligatory Blue Tit and, in the next net, an adult Whitethroat. As regular readers know, Whitethroat have been a bit scarce at my sites this year, so it was really pleasing to add another to the list.

Back to Swallows: I didn’t catch any until, as is the rule, as I was taking down the perimeter track net rides at about 11:00. I left the middle set, where I had the lure playing, until last. Just as I was about to take that net down a Chiffchaff flew in, so I went to extract it and, as I turned to check there, in the farthest end of the last net, was a dark, vertical stripe: my Swallow. A juvenile from this year. Always good to end on a high point.

The list for the day was: Swallow 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Redstart 1; Stonechat 1; Robin 2; Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2; Reed Bunting 1. Total: 17 birds ringed from 13 species. There were no retrapped birds and they were all juveniles except the Great Tit, Wren and Whitethroat and one of the Robins.

Whilst on site I worked my way through 2 litres of fluid and drank another 3 litres when I got home – and I am still thirsty! Not to be recommended, which is why I shall curtail my activities until the temperature drops a bit.

Family Fun: Red Lodge, Saturday, 8th August 2020

This is the ninth year that I have been running ringing sessions in Red Lodge. The people I meet there are always very interested in what we are up to and I frequently have an audience for an impromptu ringing demonstration.

For most of that time I have had a cheery good morning and a chat with a runner who lives in the cottages adjacent to the wood. Being typically British, I only found out that his name is Tim recently. Over the last couple of years I have done several demonstrations to his grandchildren. It turns out that this was set one of his grandchildren and set two had never been around when we were in Red Lodge, so I agreed to arrange a session for the next time he had them to stay: which happened to be this week and so we went to Red Lodge (I’m all heart really, whatever anyone else might say!) so they could see some birds up close and personal.

I was joined for the morning by Ellie Jones. I find ringing is so much more enjoyable when there is a group working. We are still operating under social distancing rules, so it is still not possible to have all of my team out, particularly not the new trainees who need the most help and supervision, but Ellie has been working with me for 6.5 years and has a C-permit that allows her to work independently.

As I had ringed in the pond area within the last two weeks, I decided to set up at the crossroads that leads southwards to the farm. We didn’t set too many nets: just 6 x 18m in sets of 3, 2 and 1:

The first bird out of the net was a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker. This was followed up by a small group of Robins, Great Tits, a Blue Tit and two Marsh Tits. These two Marsh Tits take our total to 11 for the year so far. Given the unavailability of one of our key Marsh Tit sites, Ravensroost Wood, this year is shaping up nicely for the species.

As luck would have it, we had just finished processing these birds, at about 8:15, when we saw the approaching family group: 5 children and 4 adults. Fortunately, we did catch several other birds to show them and get the children involved. Once the birds had been processed, Ellie managed to divert them with some little tasks (who can find the longest piece of grass was a firm favourite throughout the morning) before we let them run off to check the nets. They were extremely well-behaved, knew not to touch the nets, and called us to a couple of birds in the net.

At 8:45 they went off for breakfast, whereupon we were joined by Tim’s neighbour and his daughter. At that point we didn’t have any birds, so they went off to do some pond dipping, leaving a mobile number for when we next caught: which we did. They got to see a couple of birds, and then we were re-joined by the first group as well.

The numbers dropped off and we ended up with a small haul from a reasonable number of species. This particular net setup can be hit and miss: I have caught 80 and 95 birds on this net setup at this time of year in Red Lodge, this was not one of those sessions. The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 4; Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 2; Robin 4; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 4. Total: 21 birds ringed from 10 species. There were no retrapped birds and, with the exception of the Long-tailed Tit which, having completed its body moult, juveniles cannot be separated from adult birds, no definitely adult birds in the catch.

Apart from a thoroughly enjoyable time spent with the children (and their parents / grandparent) and the two new juvenile Marsh Tits, my highlight of the morning were at least 2, and possibly 3, Spotted Flycatchers that came and hunted from the oak trees at the corners of the crossroads. They were there for a good 30 minutes. Unfortunately, they stayed up there, despite my putting on a lure to try and tempt them down. We have caught one in Red Lodge, in exactly this net setup, back in 2016. Here’s hoping I manage a repeat at the next session!

The Red Lodge Spotted Flycatcher from 2016

As the heat started to build at 11:30, the families departed and we took down and left site by just gone midday.

A Glut of Robins: Thursday, 6th August 2020

A quite remarkable session at the Firs this morning. The forecast when I went to bed last night was for it to be dry, warm and sunny. By the time I got to site, it was dull, miserable and damp: incredibly humid. Although, apart from two brief showers, it never properly rained, it was like working within a light mist all morning. Everything got damp and by the time I had erected my nets ( 3 x 18m in one run and 4 x 18m in the other) down the central glade I was soaking wet, mainly from the humidity.

My first round was a good catch of 14 birds: 7 of them were Robins. That is how it continued throughout the morning: with Robin appearing in virtually every catch. I finished the day with 20 Robins out of a catch of 52 birds. The previous largest haul of this species at any of my sites was 12 at Somerford Common and also in the Firs, both in July 2018. It has definitely been a good year for them: we caught 10 at Somerford Common on Saturday.

The catch for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1(1); Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 6; Wren 4(1); Robin 17(3); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Blackcap 3(3); Chiffchaff 1; Bullfinch 2. Totals: 42 birds ringed from 10 species, 10 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 52 birds processed from 10 species.

43 of the 52 birds were juveniles: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 5; Wren 5; Robin 20; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 1; Bullfinch 1. There was at least 1 juvenile from each of the species in the catch.

The 20 Robins were all juvenile birds, representing the three post-fledging stages: still in full juvenile plumage; undergoing post-fledging moult and completed post-fledging moult. I think this indicates that some Robin pairs might have managed to produce 3 broods this year.

What I thought was an oddity amongst the juveniles happened with a group of 4 Great Tits, one was an adult female undergoing post-breeding moult, as one would expect, but the other three were juveniles undergoing their post-fledging moult and all three were moulting their tail feathers. I cannot say that I have ever noticed this before in juvenile Great Tits. However, according to the two moult Bibles (Jenni & Winckler and Ginn & Melville) a full moult of the retrices is part of the Great Tit’s post-juvenile moult strategy. What can I say? I have processed over 2,000 Great Tits, including 830 juveniles, and this is the first time that I can definitely recall seeing juveniles moulting their tails.

The highlights, apart from the glut of Robins, were my second juvenile Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year:

With heavy rain forecast from 11:00 I closed and took down the 3 net run at 10:30. Processed the birds that remained and then took down the 4 net run at 11:00. The forecast rain never arrived! Still, a very satisfying woodland session. My only disappointments: despite hearing them around the reserve all morning, I didn’t manage to catch any Nuthatch or Marsh Tit. Never mind, lures will be available soon.

Lower Moor Farm: Tuesday, 4th August 2020

As regular readers will know, I have been bemoaning the complete lack of Whitethroats at Lower Moor Farm so far this year. I am delighted to say that it was rectified a little this morning:

Poseur? Moi?

In fact, this morning’s session was the best I have had at the site so far this year. The first bird out of the net this morning was my first Sedge Warbler of the year:

It was a really good run of warblers throughout the session. The only one that I expected to catch but didn’t was a Cetti’s. So I had Reed, Sedge, Blackcap, Garden, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow. Very happy with that. Small numbers of each, but the best single catch of Sedge Warbler at the site.

The list for the day was: Kingfisher (1); Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 4(1); Wren 1; Dunnock 1(1); Robin 4; Blackbird 2(1); Sedge Warbler 4; Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 6(1); Garden Warbler 2(1); Whitethroat 3; Lesser Whitethroat 1(2); Chiffchaff 5(1); Willow Warbler 3. Totals: 38 birds ringed from 14 species and 10 birds retrapped from 8 species, making 48 birds processed from 15 species.

The majority were juvenile birds from this year’s breeding season: Kingfisher 1; Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 5; Wren 1; Dunnock 2; Robin 4; Blackbird 1; Sedge Warbler 2; Blackcap 5; Garden Warbler 2; Whitethroat 3; Lesser Whitethroat 3; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 2: a total of 37 birds from 14 species.

With the weather we have had this year, one would have expected most species to have had a pretty good breeding season and the results I am getting so far would seem to back that up, but it clearly hasn’t been plain sailing for all:

This juvenile Whitethroat was showing a very distinct fault bar on the tail, indicating a disruption to its parent’s ability to provision it with enough food.

The retrapped juvenile Treecreeper is not one of my birds. It will be interesting to find out where it was ringed and how far it has travelled.

A special mention for a photographer who was absolutely fascinated with what was going on. He spent the entire morning with me, chatting and totally absorbed in what I was doing: so absorbed that he didn’t take a single photo! In true British fashion, I didn’t get his name until he was leaving, John.

West Wilts Ringing Group: July 2020 Results

This month has been our best July since the group split at the beginning of 2013.  The previous highest capture was in July 2015, with 688 ringed against 993 this year and 127 retrapped against 190 this year.  As you can see from figure 1, it is a significant increase on last year. 

Fig. 1 Year on Year Comparison: July 2020 vs July 2019

However, as a result of coronavirus and restrictions imposed by some landowners, forcing C-permit holders to carry out individual sessions on their sites and far fewer collaborative efforts, we also carried out a lot more sessions this year (27 versus 18). The result of that is that, on average, it is just 2.6 extra birds per session.

That is not to say that we have not had some excellent catches in July. The number of Whitethroat that has been caught is nearly double what was caught last year, and that is despite the fact that two of my regular Whitethroat sites in the north of the county (Lower Moor and Blakehill Farms) have delivered none so far this year, although the meadow pond at Ravensroost has been better than usual, with 10 Whitethroat this month.  Without doubt, the key site for them is that on the Imber Ranges on Salisbury Plain, with over 90 of them processed.

On the warbler front, there have also been significant increases in the number of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, but the really startling increases are in the number of both Sedge and Reed Warblers.  This is almost entirely down to Jonny Cooper starting work at two new sites: the Western Way Balancing Ponds in Melksham and the Wessex Water Reed Beds at Langford Lakes.   The Western Way Balancing Ponds are a flood prevention measure, designed to prevent run-off from the A350 causing problems. Who would have thought that they would provide such a productive mini nature reserve?  Langford Lakes is a well-established Wiltshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve. Permission to start a monitoring project of the reed bed area was granted last year and Jonny has started the project this year.

Of our resident species, Blue Tit numbers are well up on last year.  There has been more than twice as many adults but, more encouragingly, nearly twice as many youngsters.  Long-tailed Tit numbers are also much higher. I have to claim some responsibility for that, with 21 birds processed in my garden, not just on the same day, but at the same time! As I was extracting them from the nets, others were flying into other parts of the nets. Fortunately, none of them had time to get tangled, so the extraction was quick and efficient – but I did close the nets as I went, to ensure I could maintain control. To catch 21 out of a flock of about 25 was astonishing (and quite a fluke).

What can you say, though, about the catch of Kingfisher this year?  Again, this is almost entirely down to Jonny’s efforts.  Of eleven ringed, ten were at Jonny’s sites: 6 at Meadow Farm and 2 each at the Melksham and Langford Lakes sites.  The other one was at my Lower Moor Farm site.

There are plenty of other highlights and interesting changes to be seen in the catch but those are my highlights. One extra piece of analysis I have done is to work out the numbers of adults and juveniles as a proportion of the overall catch.

Fig 2: Adults and juveniles as a proportion of the total catch

(I must be doing something right: all of the numbers actually add up.)

Somerford Common: Saturday, 1st August 2020

Delighted to have Steph and Lillie join me for a session at Somerford Common this morning for the first time since lockdown. This is how we set up today:

It was rather pleasing that the first birds into the nets this morning were in the nets nearest the ringing station and were a couple of Bullfinch: a female and our first juvenile of the year:

This was followed by a bit of a deluge of Robins, providing exactly one-third of our total catch, with 11 (10 ringed and one retrapped). The session was never busy, a few birds in every round, but it built up into a reasonable total in the end.

The catch was: Blue Tit 2(2); Great Tit 1; Wren 3; Dunnock 1; Robin 10(1); Blackbird 3(1); Blackcap 4; Garden Warbler 1; Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch 2. Totals: 29 birds ringed from 11 species, 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 33 birds processed from 11 species.

Again, there was a significant proportion of juvenile birds in the catch: Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1; Wren 3; Dunnock 1; Robin 11; Blackcap 3; Garden Warbler 1; Goldcrest 1; Willow Warbler 1; Bullfinch 1. 25 of the birds processed from 10 species were juveniles. Surprisingly, given how many of them have been turning up in my catches this year, the only species for which we didn’t catch a juvenile in this session was the Blackbird.

The two juvenile Blue Tits were in the middle of moulting out their greater coverts. All of the covert feathers had been dropped and had the replacement feathers in the early stages of regrowth. Both had wings of 65mm, which probably means that they are males. One thing I have noticed is that the bulk of the juvenile birds that retain any greater coverts into their second summer have wing lengths of 63mm or less, suggesting that retention is a female trait.

As at Red Lodge recently, my most difficult extraction of the day was an Emperor Dragonfly:

There is something very satisfying about successfully extracting these beauties from your nets. They do have a pretty good bite on them.

We had a very pleasant discussion with an elderly lady and her photographer grandson (We are British, we don’t bother with names!). It turned out that the lady and her late husband had both been bird ringers themselves. Small world.

With the BBC, Met Office, Meteo and xcweather all giving different weather forecasts (the first two saying it was going to be raining from 10:00; the last two saying there was unlikely to be rain before midday) we did keep a close eye on the weather. In the event, there was a brief shower as we were completing our take down at 11:30, so we didn’t get too wet, and were away from site by noon.