Red Lodge: Saturday, 18th January 2020

After a wet and windy week it was a relief to be able to get out for a ringing session.  I had popped out on Wednesday, during a break in the rain, to set up a couple of feeding stations on site.  The lock on the gate took several squirts of WD40 before the key would turn: there was a fairly hard overnight frost that wasn’t forecast.  So everyone (apart from me)  turned up 5 minutes later than expected, after scraping the ice from their cars.   The joys of heated windscreens!  I was joined by Jonny, Ellie and Alice for the morning.

We set our usual three net rides, plus an additional 6m net to sandwich one of the feeding stations.

Red Lodge

The red circles are the feeding stations, the purple circle is the ringing station.

The nets were set and opened by 8:00, with the first round done at 8:20. It was a pretty decent haul – but almost all of the catch was at the feeding stations.  In fact, we could have saved a lot of time and effort, an awful lot of walking, and reduced our catch by only 5 birds.  This is nearly the exact opposite of the catch profile during the rest of the year.

We had decent catches every round until 10:30, when the numbers fell away.  As expected, the catch was very much titmouse heavy: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 36(22); Great Tit 4(7); Coal Tit 6(3); Marsh Tit 1(1); Wren (1); Robin 1(1); Blackbird (1); Goldcrest 1(1); Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 52 birds ringed from 9 species; 38 birds retrapped from 9 species, making 90 birds processed from 12 species.

The catch would have been 2 birds higher but, unfortunately, we caught a male Chaffinch and a female Bullfinch, both of which were showing signs of Fringilla papillomavirus.  We kept the female Bullfinch back to release with the male that we could process, as they were taken out of the same net a couple of feet apart and were quite possibly a pair.  It does seem to have become far less prevalent over the last couple of years, so it is even more disappointing when we do come across it.

We regularly bump into several locals: the couple with the black Labrador, who regularly feed the birds in their garden and let me know when they have seen Marsh Tits, and the man who always goes for his morning run through Red Lodge, always stops for a chat, and then brings his grandchildren over to see us in action.  This morning granny, mum and the children came across to see the birds.  The children (4 and 7) were shown how to safely hold and release the birds.  Both were very good at it, and the 4 year old showed rather more resilience at being bitten by Blue Tits than quite a few ringers I know!

We packed up at midday and cleared the site by one o’clock.


Curlew in the Braydon Forest: 2019 Project Summary and Next Steps

The Braydon Forest has historically been a stronghold for Curlew in Wiltshire. Throughout the 20th century the area was identified, again and again, as holding a significant proportion (potentially up to 80%) of the county’s breeding Curlew. In 1994 a full survey of the Braydon Forest was undertaken and located 23 pairs. In the intervening 25 years anecdotal evidence suggested this number had fallen, so in 2019 the Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre (WSBRC) and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) decided to undertake another survey to get an up-to-date population estimate.

With the help and co-operation of many local farmers and landowners, plus a number of volunteer observers, over 9000 Ha of land across the Braydon Forest was surveyed for breeding Curlew from late March until the end of April. Similarly to the 1994 work; surveys were targeted on areas where there were previous records of breeding Curlew and any suitable areas of habitat close by. When Curlew were observed then the location, behaviour, date and habitat were recorded. Breeding pairs were then monitored to look at nesting success.

This work revealed that there are just 5 pairs of Curlew remaining in the Braydon Forest, with no successful nesting in 2019. It is very clear that immediate action to understand and protect these birds is needed.

This is where the West Wilts Ringing Group comes in. WSBRC has secured grants totalling £5500 from Wessex Water and the British Birds Charitable Trust to undertake tagging work on the Braydon Forest Curlew. Ringers from the group will be key in helping to catch, colour ring and tag these birds. The lightweight tags will remotely send data on bird’s movements to base stations that will help us identify key sites areas of habitat for breeding Curlew in the Braydon Forest and safeguard these sites. Re-sightings of colour ringed birds will help identify wintering areas and allow us to monitor return rates of the breeding population. This will feed into work with local landowners to improve the habitat for Curlew.

The future of Curlew in the Braydon Forest looks uncertain, but by taking action now there is still time to save these birds.

West Wilts R G Annual Report 2019

This has been a phenomenal year for the group, with our most productive year since the North Wilts crew split away at the end of 2012.

However, there is only one place to start: the Eastern Olivaceous / Booted / Sykes Warbler caught and processed by Ian and Andy on 19th October on the Imber Ranges.  The bird is logged with the BBRC, and we are waiting on their decision over the species identification.

Second place in the remarkable birds of the year were the group’s second ever Merlin also caught on Salisbury Plain. The previous Merlin capture was near Beckhampton back in July 2003, over 16 years ago!  Two Buzzard caught in mist nets in the same session at Somerford Common was also quite extraordinary!  One Buzzard would be brilliant, two is definitely remarkable.

There was an excellent supporting cast, and I suspect that others will have their favourites. For me, to get 3 ringing ticks on my local patch after 10 years ringing there, the first being a Jack Snipe in January, followed by a Skylark in August and then the Buzzard in November, made it an excellent year.  Catching the first Skylark (1); Snipe (3) and Jack Snipe (1) in the Braydon Forest is a bonus. For Andy, catching his first Swift, and the first for the group since 2006, must have been right up there.

We also caught our second Firecrest in the Braydon Forest: the only one caught by the group this year. It was a first for Red Lodge and caught in the last round of the day.  I was assessing Ian Sheriffs, of the North Wilts group, for his C-permit: he wasn’t expecting to get an extraction and ringing tick, as well as approval for his advancement.

The year has shown some remarkable surges in numbers, but none more so than Greenfinch and Chaffinch.   Most of the species had a poor year in 2016, just as the group was becoming more active, with the new C-permit holders: Andy, Andrew and Jonny getting and working their own sites, but the weather wrecked the breeding season and the subsequent knock on effect has shown a slow recovery.





The list for the year was:

list 1list 2

As well as our in-group activities, several of the group are involved in other projects in other locations. The results of these activities are summarised below:

list 3list 4


Our best year since 2012 by some degree.  The catch on West Wilts Ringing Group rings was our best yet:

list 5

We had our highest ringing totals in 6 of the 12 months and, as our efforts on our established sites continues, our highest recapture rates in 8 of the 12 months.

When you add in the extra-curricular catches we end up with 6,791 ringed from 81 species; 2,094 retrapped from 55 species, making 8,885 birds processed from 83 species.

Not “Men Who Stare At”, but “Women Who Walk With” Goats: Lower Moor Farm, Friday, 10th January 2020

This is not something that you see every day; in fact, this is something I have never seen before and didn’t expect to.  At about 10:00 this morning, just after we had finished processing some birds, we were more than a little surprised to find three goats come wandering into the ringing station area. They were followed by two adults and two girls.  Apart from a joking “Oi! Put them goats on a lead!”, we had a chat about what they were doing. During the winter, when the goats cannot be put out to pasture, the staff and some of the children from the Care Farm take the goats for a walk around the nature reserve, to ensure that they get some exercise and to help keep their feet in good order.   They were quite stubborn in the face of good grazing, but seemed far more willing to respond to commands than the average dog we find off the lead at Lower Moor.

So to the ringing session.  I was joined by Alice and Tony for the morning.  We set up our nets in the Wildlife Refuge.  The layout was the two CES net rides in that area, plus two extra net sets placed along the hedge lining the stream and along the edge of Mallard Lake.  The extra nets were not very productive: but 3 Goldcrests in the stream edge net was a bonus.

The first bird I extracted was my first Kingfisher of the year, whilst Alice was busy extracting half-a-dozen Long-tailed Tits from the entrance nets.  Apart from that the catch was pretty well standard fare: Blue and Great Tits, but at 10:30 Alice was delighted to extract, and then ring,  her first Siskin. This is only our third caught and ringed at Lower Moor Farm: following the two caught back in October of last year.


The list for the day was: Kingfisher 1; Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 6(4); Great 2(3); Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1(6); Wren (1); Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 2(1); Siskin 1.  Totals: 15 ringed from 8 species, 16 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 31 birds processed from 10 species.

As this was Alice’s first visit to Lower Moor Farm, she stayed behind after we had cleared away, to have a look around the site, and was rewarded with a sighting of an Otter swimming across the lake.

On Saturday we spent a few hours in Webb’s Wood, after the forestry clearing operations.  Just like at Red Lodge a few years ago, the immediate impact after the operations seems to be that the birds have become somewhat dispersed.  Also, we had no feeding station set up, because of the lack of access, and the catch was correspondingly small: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 2(4); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 2(5). Totals: 11 birds ringed from 5 species and 11 species retrapped from 4 species, making 22 birds processed from 7 species.



Happy New Year: Blakehill Farm, Wednesday, 1st January 2020

With the forecast being for light winds, a reasonable temperature and no rain, Jonny Cooper and I decided to go for quality over quantity this morning.  Although it was a disaster last time we ran a session, with only 8 birds caught and none out of the ordinary, we decided to have another go at the pond area at Blakehill Farm. It is the only site we have where there is a realistic chance of catching the odd wader.

Actually, I had a bad night last night and still felt nauseous this morning and, if I hadn’t arranged to meet up with Jonny, would have crawled back into my pit. Unbeknown to me, Jonny was sat in his car in Chippenham feeling pretty similar: wondering whether to call me and cry off as well. However, neither of us wanted to let the other down, so we soldiered on and both turned up on site at the agreed time.  It didn’t help that our agreed start time was 6:30! Just to be clear: none of this was alcohol related. Hard to believe, given the dates, but true!

Given the state we were in we only set a few nets: 3 wader nets in a horseshoe in pond 2; a Mipit triangle in the rank grass outside of the pond area and 4 x 18m nets along the hedgerow at the back of Rook Tree Ground field.  We set a lure for Meadow Pipit in the Mipit triangle (it didn’t work – we caught none).  In Rook Tree Ground we set a lure for Redwing: that did work a bit.

The wader nets were the first ones we set up: well before dawn, and they were the first nets to catch birds,  Our first bird extracted in 2020 was a Snipe.


 This was followed by two Jack Snipe.  Our first bird ringed of 2020 was a Jack Snipe.


Jack Snipe 1Jack Snipe 2

The list for the morning was: Snipe 1; Jack Snipe 3; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 2; Redwing 5.  Total: 12 birds ringed from 5 species. Not a large catch but excellent quality!  Given that my team has only ever previously caught a single Jack Snipe to catch three was a phenomenal result.  The third Jack Snipe was fortuitously caught.  For each net round each of us approached the pond from different directions: from the west or the east. As I was walking towards the pond for the third round, I accidentally flushed the Jack Snipe from where it was feeding and it flew off but straight into the net!

There were relatively few birds flying around and, after a couple of empty rounds, we took down at 11:00 and left site at midday. An auspicious start to 2020!


Somerford Common: Monday, 30th December 2019

As we missed a few sessions due to adverse weather (and a week away) in December, I decided to throw in a last ringing session for 2019 at Somerford Common on Monday.  I had my newest and oldest trainee with me, Tony Marsh, (the only one of my trainees who is actually older than me, and I am ancient, and the most recent to join the team).  As he is not yet extracting birds, I only set a few nets adjacent to the feeding station.  Tony has been a big help in reporting resighting of colour ringed Marsh Tits in Webb’s Wood over the years, and the least I can do by way of thanking him, is help him achieve his wish to become involved in ringing.

There is still no sign of any numbers of Redpoll, Siskin or Brambling turning up at Somerford yet: with just one caught at our last trip to Somerford, over the other side of the wood (and completely overshadowed by the two Buzzards).  They will come in the next two months (I hope).

As usual, Blue Tits dominated the catch, but there was also a good number of Chaffinch. In fact, we ringed as many Chaffinch as we did Blue Tit, and four times the number of Great Tits ringed.  However, both of those Tit species had good numbers of retrapped birds.

The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 8(6); Great Tit 2(6); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit (2); Redwing 2; Blackbird 1; Chaffinch 8.  Totals: 23 birds ringed from 7 species; 14 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 37 birds processed from 8 species.  Not the most striking of catches – although the Redwing were an unexpected bonus, as they have rather disappeared from the area after the recent wet weather.

At about 10:00 we were joined by Tom Blythe.  Tom is the Beat Forester for Forestry England and covers a ridiculous amount of territory: all of the FE estate in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.  He is very helpful, keeping me informed of what FE are doing in our local woods and on how they might impact on our activities. As an example, on the western side of the wood, alongside the Stopper’s Hill road, they have been harvesting the conifers that have come to maturity, ready for market.  He let me know that the plan is to let that harvested area regrow naturally, with native tree species, rather than re-use it for another conifer crop.  That should provide us with an excellent opportunity for a project to monitor how the birdlife recolonises the area.  Another good thing about Tom (and Kate Wollen, the assistant ecologist for the area) is that they are vocal in their appreciation of the reporting they get from us – both our session reports and the annual Braydon Forest report.

Mud and Blue Tits: the Firs, Saturday, 28th December 2019

The Firs Wiltshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve is known locally as “the Braydon Bog”, and it is certainly living up to its name at the moment.  One of the locals who came over to walk her dog said that it was in the worst state that she had seen it in the 17 years she has lived opposite and used it to walk her dogs.  I had a team of four with me today: Ellie, Jonny, Andrew and David – and we all ended up absolutely filthy and mud-spattered.

I set up a feeding station down the main central glade on Christmas Day: a bit of postprandial exercise. A work party has recently strimmed back the bramble and dog rose and extended the wildlife ponds. It will be good to see what impact the larger ponds have next year.  On checking the feeding station yesterday, I was encouraged to see good numbers of birds on and around the feeders. This did bode well for the session this morning – and it proved to be a busy session.

It is not surprising that the major part of the catch was Blue Tit. The only disappointment is that there is still no sign of Lesser Redpoll or Siskin around yet.  The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Blue Tit 24(30); Great Tit 9(5); Coal Tit 7(2); Wren (1); Dunnock 1; Robin 1(1); Goldcrest 2(2).  Totals: 44 birds ringed from 6 species and 42 birds recaptured from 7 species, making 86 birds processed from 8 species.

So, not the most exciting catch we have ever had, but it does give the lie to the anti-ringing propaganda that claims that so few birds are retrapped that ringing delivers very little science.

One oddity in the catch: a one-legged Blue Tit:

Blue Tit

We checked it thoroughly: there was no stump, no sign of any damage to the area where the leg should be, so it rather looks as though it is a birth defect.  I have not seen that before (and I have handled over 20,000 birds in the last 10 years).  It was perfectly healthy and weighed in at a respectable 10.5g, so it is clearly not being negatively impacted by it.

At 11:30 we decided that we had trudged up and down the hill through enough mud for one day and so closed the nets and packed away.