Blakehill Farm: Tuesday, 25th October 2022

I had to move this session from Wednesday, because it was forecast to be windy and wet, and Tuesday was forecast to be somewhat less windy, and not wet until at least midday. I also wanted to move this session to Red Lodge, as that would offer some protection from the wind, but Forestry England’s permissions team were unable to confirm whether or not they had any work scheduled for today. Driving past, on my way home, I could not help but notice that there was no forestry work going on there. I am not a fan of bureaucracy.

Fortunately, the forecast had changed, with the wind not materialising until midday, and Blakehill Farm became a possibility again. I decided that the nets in the field behind the Whitworth building would be directly in the face of any wind that might spring up and, not fancying extracting nets from bramble and blackthorn, I decided to leave them out of the equation for this session.

Rosie was on hand to help me set up again, and we caught three birds in the first round: two Blackbirds and a Redwing, which she processed before heading off to work at 8:30. To say it was slow to start with would be a massive understatement. In fact, it was slow all morning, except for one round at 10:30, which delivered 17 birds.

I did rounds at 8:30, 8:50, 9:05, 9:20; 9:40, 10:05, 10:30, 10:50, 11:10 and 11:30. The rounds produced one bird at 8:50, one at 9:05, one at 9:20 and two at 11:10. Apart from that and the 10:30 round, nothing. The list comprised: Blue Tit 8(1); Long-tailed Tit 1(5); Robin 1(2); Redwing 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Lesser Redpoll 2 and Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 17 birds ringed from 8 species and 8 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 25 birds processed from 8 species.

The bird out of the net at 8:50 was a Lesser Redpoll: which is a nice catch for a site with minimal tree cover. That I caught another in the round at 11:10 was a very pleasant surprise. The highlight for me was a juvenile female Reed Bunting:

Juvenile female Reed Bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus

We do catch them regularly at the site, but mainly on the opposite side of the plateau. This was only the fifth for this area, and the first for 5 years, whereas our eastern site has delivered up 174 ringed in the same period.

The Long-tailed Tits were primarily recaptures of the flock caught at the last session two weeks ago, with one new bird. More surprisingly, given that they were previously caught with a flock of Blue Tits, the Blue Tits that they were caught with today were all new birds. The solitary retrapped Blue Tit was in the 11:10 round. The numbers of Blue and Long-tailed Tits are the key difference between this session and the one two weeks ago that delivered 59 birds.

All morning there were flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare flying around the site. Unfortunately, the Redwing lure (aka the Latvian love song) did not work its usual magic and the single Redwing extracted in the first round was the only one of the day.

I got to meet Nick Self, from the Wildlife Trust, and taking on the management responsibility for the northern reserves. We had a good chinwag, as I had plenty of time on my hands, and I think we are both singing from the same song sheet.

I closed the nets after the 11:30 round, and spent (a pleasant) 45 minutes removing the leaves from the nets as I was taking them down. I then packed up the ringing station and left site at 13:00.

Hen Harriers on England’s Grouse Moors 2022

This is a guest blog by Paul Irving: a naturalist and ringer based in north Wales. All views his own (but I just happen to agree with him 100%).

Some little while ago I wrote on Facebook about the success this year of Hen Harriers, that much maligned and persecuted raptor of our uplands. Since then I have requested more information from Natural England about this and got it. However, firstly let’s revisit the figures from the United Utilities estate in Bowland, which has, since 1981, had RSPB wardens monitoring these birds during the breeding season.

This year there were 13 attempts, with 11 successes rearing 39 chicks. That is a pair every 770 ha and a successful nest every 900 ha, with a mean of 3 chicks per attempt.

Now if our grouse moors had that sort of density and success rate (and in the natural world they should) that would be 387 successes out of 452 nests, rearing 1356 chicks. Rather better than what has actually happened.

Let’s look at grouse moors ( excluding United Utilities estates in Bowland):

On tenanted moors there were 7 nests, with 4 successes rearing 15 young.

On owned grouse moors without brood meddling and / or diversionary feeding:

Durham: 2 nests, 1 success, 1 fledged, 0.5 per attempt

Cumbria: 3 nests, 3 successes, 9 fledged, 3 per attempt

Lancashire: 3, nests 3, successes 7, fledged, 2.33 per attempt

North Yorkshire Moors: 2 nests 0 successes and 0 reared

On owned Grouse moors with brood meddling and/or diversionary feeding

Durham 1 nest, 1 success, 1 fledged, 1 per attempt

Cumbria: 1 nest, 1 success, 4 fledged, 4 per attempt

Lancashire: 1 nest, 1 success, 4 fledged, 4 per attempt

North Yorkshire Moors: 5 nests, 5 successes, 14 fledged, 2.8 per attempt

So, to me, both sets of Durham nests look highly suspicious: one might suggest illegal egg shaking as an explanation. The North Yorkshire nests without figures also look highly suspicious. Hardly 1000+ chicks from over 450 nests is it? WTF is the grouse shooting industry bragging for?

Away from grouse moors there were 9 attempts with 6 successes rearing 21 chicks 2.5 per attempt.

The moorland owners keep saying how good the figures for grouse moors are and, frankly, without United Utilities estates, with its RSPB wardening, or the awful brood meddling, or artificial diversionary feeding, they are clearly not. Remember that next time they brag about it. The other thing to note is that, of the failures on grouse moors, 8 were suspicious and reported to the police.

Also, on the Moorland Association website it puts forward the claim of 200 pairs of Merlins on grouse moors in North Yorkshire, which is about half the number found in the ’94 survey when the population was at an apparent peak. The real figure will be considerably less than 100 pairs I suggest.

*Editor’s Note: The following are my personal views, and are not necessarily shared by the other members of our ringing group.

For those not aware of the idea of brood meddling and diversionary feeding, these are the mechanisms within Natural England’s Hen Harrier Action Plan to try and stop grouse moor owners and their minions from breaking the law and illegally killing Hen Harriers. The Hen Harrier Action Plan was disowned by the RSPB, who were initially involved in the scheme, but left it once the details were announced and it became clear that its principal aim is to allow grouse moor owners to limit the number of Hen Harriers on their land to an arbitrarily determined density of one pair per 10 ha, and failed entirely to address the illegal actions associated with the industry. Brood meddling is the removal of chicks from the nest, to be reared elsewhere, and released away from the moors, in the hope that this wide-ranging species would not return to the area. Diversionary feeding is the provision of food for the adults feeding young, so that they don’t hunt for food and take the odd Red Grouse chick.

What Natural England’s plans are for stopping the illegal slaughter by these grouse moor criminals of Goshawks, Peregrines, Buzzards, Red Kites and Short-eared Owls has not yet been disclosed.

One last point: the RSPB manage their heather habitats needed by Red Grouse by mechanical means, rather than the quick and dirty, peat destroying, carbon dioxide and methane releasing, burning of the heather, as practised by most commercial grouse moors.

Paridae Ringed in the Braydon Forest Woodlands: 2013 to 2021

Since the beginning of 2013, I, and latterly, me and my team, have been ringing in the Braydon Forest woodlands, with the permission of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Forestry England. The bulk of our catches over the years in the woodlands have been Blue Tit, Cyanistes caeruleus; followed by Great Tit, Parus major; and smaller numbers of Coal Tit, Periparus ater and fewer for Marsh Tit, Poecile palustris. Of them, we have ringed the following numbers of each species:

Whilst the numbers are as I would expect for the frequency of each in our catches, I decided to do a bit more digging into the figures. I wanted to have a look at how they divided up into adults and juveniles, and also look at the numbers processed per session. To be clear, and possibly a bit contentious to any other ringers, I have defined juveniles as those fledged within the year, plus those identifiable as fledged last year, prior to the start of the breeding season. These are age codes 3J, 3 and 5 in the BTO recording scheme. I also wanted to look at the trend in numbers ringed over the period. To do that, I counted the number of ringing sessions carried out in the Braydon Forest woodlands throughout the period. I used those figures to calculate the percentage of each species caught per session. What this is not looking at is survival / mortality rates. Many of the juveniles will not have survived their first winter. It is purely about trends in the numbers ringed.

For each species I graphed the numbers ringed per annum and the average number ringed per session. These were done for the total, adults and juveniles ringed. For each graph I also chose a trend line for the average ringed per session, to identify whether there were any significant changes over the period.

These were the total number of sessions per year:

Blue Tit:

Proportion of visits at which Blue Tits were caught

The overall trend in ringing Blue Tits is stable. However, the juvenile trend is slightly on the increase and the adult trend is slightly on the decrease. Whilst I haven’t (yet) carried out any statistical testing, neither trend looks significant.

Great Tit:

Proportion of visits at which Great Tits were caught

Although there was a short spike in 2021, the overall trend for Great Tit ringing is downward. It would seem to be mainly a reduction in the ringing of adult birds, with a reduction from 1.4 to 0.4 over the period. That certainly looks like a significant reduction. Compare that with the juveniles, where the trend is much shallower: from 2.8 to 2.2. Overall, the reduction is from 4.3 to 3.7. Interestingly, I have looked at the catch for 2022 to date and they are quite interesting: 110 have been ringed so far this year, 98 juveniles and 12 adults. It looks like it will be very similar to 2021.

Coal Tit:

Proportion of visits at which Coal Tits were caught

Again, the overall trend is a reducing one. However, in this case the key reduction is in the number of juvenile birds being ringed, from 1.30 to o.9. The adult trend is slightly positive, but at less than 0.02% per session, definitely unlikely to be significant. Overall, this gives a downward trend of 1.5 to 1.2.

Marsh Tit:

Proportion of visits at which Marsh Tits were caught

So to Marsh Tits, the least common titmouse in our catch. They are the only one of the four species that has shown a positive increase in frequency – albeit starting at a very low base. It has increased from 0.36 to 0.47. However, what is really weird about this is that the result for adults being ringed has shown a significant decrease, from 0.14 to 0.03, with juveniles showing an increase from 0.17 to 0.47. Obviously that is counter-intuitive, and could just be an anomaly based on the comparatively low catch of this species.

Conclusions: Obviously, the Blue Tit data is the most reliable simply because of the volume of data. That their figures seem to be stable across both juveniles and adults does rather fly in the face of the idea that their numbers are increasing significantly. This also ties in with the data from the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey which shows zero change in results between 1995 and 2018.

Looking at the results for Great Tit, although the BBS doesn’t split between ages as I have, they show two distinct trends: overall from 1995 to 2018 their population has increased by 36% in England but the recent trend, from 2008 to 2018, there has been a reduction of 5%. This rather reflects what is being illustrated by our data.

The downward trend in Coal Tits is not reflected in the national figures, with the BTO Bird Trends showing an increase of 9% to 10% in England, as opposed to our decrease of approximately 16% over the same period in the Braydon Forest. This is possibly down to changes in habitat: with Forestry England replacing much of the non-indigenous conifers in the Forest with native broadleaved trees as part of their management plan for the Forest.

Marsh Tits are well known as a species in trouble, with huge population decreases since 1995 of over 37%. Many theories have been put forward as to why. For a species that is largely sedentary, habitat loss and fragmentation is bound to have had a major impact. We have only ever had one Marsh Tit recovered more than 1km away from where it was ringed: one ringed in Webb’s Wood and recovered in Red Lodge about 5 years ago. The upturn in numbers does correspond with a recently noted upsurge in both England and the UK since 2016.

Ravensroost Newt Pond: Saturday, 22nd October 2022

With Covid forcing an end to my project covering the 8-year coppice regime in the south end of the wood, I am looking at covering the different parts of the entire wood, to identify whether there is any difference in the distribution of birds around the different areas. On Tuesday I did cover the 8-year coppice area but, for today, decided to have a session by the Newt Pond. It is called the Newt Pond for a very good reason: it is the best place I have found for watching the mating habits of Great Crested Newts. All three newt species can be found in the ponds around the wood, but this is the best. On Monday I went for a walk down to check on the site. It was exactly as I wanted it: space for the net rides but plenty of variable height vegetation, just what you need for a decent session. The red circle is the area around the Newt Pond:

When I arrived Monday, Rosie and another member of the estates team were busy clearing up the latest fly-tipping incident: a load of soil, some paving bricks and a fibre palette. They were also chatting to Jacqui, one of the key Ravensroost volunteers (plants and fungi her speciality). So I told them that I planned to ring at the pond this Saturday. Rosie told me that the Trust planned to clean out the pond over the winter. Guess what? It seems that on Wednesday the Ravensroost volunteers decided to clean it out then. Not only that, but they decided to clear the entire scrub area around the pond. When I turned up this morning, this is what I found:

I was gutted, but set the nets where I had always planned to. The clearance had removed all of the cover, which also made it more exposed to the breeze. I was joined by David for the session.

So, having been hugely disappointed by the change in habitat, I then found that I had forgotten my guy ropes. How stupid was that? Fortunately, I live only 6 minutes from the site, so it only held us back about 30 minutes in total. We set 3 x 18m nets in a horseshoe around the woodland side of the pond, a 12m and a 9m net on the path side of the pond and another 18m net along the other side of the main path:

Map / Diagram from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust web page

We didn’t catch a bird until 8:30: a Robin, Great Tit and Goldcrest were the first birds out of the nets. Thereafter, though, it was a slow session with very few birds.

I had agreed that Adam and his Dad, who had joined us last weekend at Somerford Common, could come along if they wished. They arrived, together with his Mum, Laura, brother Daniel and family friend Susan. So it was a little unfortunate that we had such a low catch. They still enjoyed the session, because we did catch more birds: not many, but they enjoyed what they saw and were able to hold and release.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 5; Coal Tit 1; Robin 1; Goldcrest 4: 14 birds ringed from 5 species. That all were new birds that needed ringing is not surprising, given how long it is since I ringed in the area. It does raise the question of how much movement there is around the site. Hopefully future sessions will shed more light on this.

We were briefly entertained by three Lesser Redpoll feeding at the very tops of the trees adjacent to the pond. they didn’t respond to the lure that I rapidly deployed to try to entice them down.

There was a highlight to my morning:

Bird’s Nest Orchid, Neottia nidus-avis

Not a great photo, my camera was refusing to focus down for some reason, but this is only the second time I have seen this orchid. As you can no doubt guess from its brown residual flower spike, it is parasitic. The species is classified as Near Threatened on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain. Whilst they are woodland flowers, they are usually associated with Beech trees and there is little, if any, Beech in this wood, so it is a little unusual to find them here.

The family left at 11:00 and David and I packed up at 11:30, having taken our last five birds out of the nets: the three Blue Tits and two Goldcrests. We were off site just after midday.

A Short Spell in the Garden: Thursday, 10th October 2022

I had planned to open the nets first thing this morning but it was chucking it down at 7:00. It’s what I expected given that, as of Wednesday evening, both the Met Office and Meteo had forecast it would be dry. It was still raining at 9:30 when I headed off to Swindon to get my Covid booster jab, and down to a light drizzle by the time we got back at midday. It finally stopped at 13:30, so I opened the nets. At 14:00 I took a Blue Tit and a Goldfinch out of the net, just as it started to rain again. I shut the nets.

At 15:30 the rain had stopped, the sky had cleared and I opened the nets yet again. The first birds came out of the net at 16:00 but the best birds came out at 17:30:

Juvenile male Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major
Adult male Starling, Sturnus vulgaris

I was particularly pleased with catching the Great Spotted Woodpecker: it is only the second I have caught in the garden. I closed the nets at 18:00, in time for Richard Osman’s House of Games, having caught 13 birds: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 1(4); Coal Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Starling 1; Goldfinch 2(1). Totals: 8 birds ringed from 7 species and 5 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 13 birds processed from 7 species.

Ravensroost Wood: Tuesday, 18th October 2022

Astonishingly, this was my first session in Ravensroost Wood since the 3rd August. That the last session only delivered three birds in no way explains my absence from the wood. Having looked at the weather for this week, today looked like the only one that could support a ringing session, with the Ravensroost volunteers being on site tomorrow putting that out of contention (it’s going to rain anyway).

The weather was, as forecast, calm and misty, getting foggier mid-morning, with the sun breaking through by midday – just as we were packing away. It was cold in the mist, and the movement of birds around the site was limited, which reduced the size of the catch. I was joined by Rosie, helping to set up before going off to work at 8:30, and Miranda for the morning. We set the nets along rides R28 and R38:

Immediately the nets were opened the two 18m net set to the right of the path caught two Goldcrests. The first full round delivered seven birds: five of which were in the net sets to the right of the path – but that was all we caught in those nets until the last round at 11:40 when we caught a Blue Tit.

We were joined by Zara and her parents at just after 8:00. She got to handle and release a good number of birds but didn’t ring any today. Although it wasn’t too cold for ringing, and none of the birds showed any sign of stress from the cold, I felt it best to ensure that we stuck with experience this morning.

The first two rounds were somewhat encouraging, with nine birds in each round, but at 9:00 the temperature dropped significantly, and so did the catch. Miranda and I continued for another two hours but, with only another seven birds caught in those two hours, I decided to close the nets and take down at 11:00 (by which time Zara and Co had gone home to warm up). Despite the use of lures, we didn’t catch any Redwing or Lesser Redpoll, which was disappointing.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 3(2); Coal Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 2; Robin 1(1); Goldcrest 6. Totals: 22 birds ringed from 8 species and 5 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 27 birds processed from 8 species.

Not the greatest session but so much better than last time.

The First Winter Visitors: Somerford Common, Sunday, 16th October 2022

Not our biggest catch but an interesting one. The key reason it wasn’t a big catch was the complete absence of Blue Tits this morning. They can usually be relied upon to bulk out the catch. That is very unusual for this site: prior to today, out of 83 visits to the site Blue Tits have been caught on 78 occasions.

I was joined for the session by David, Rosie and Anna. Unusually, Rosie was able to stay for the whole session and Anna had to leave at 9:30 to carry out a Dormouse survey with the Wiltshire Mammal Group. Actually, that survey was also at Somerford Common, led by Claire Neal from the group, and also joined by my midweek helper, Miranda. Later in the morning, about 8:00, we were joined by Zara and Samuel, plus Mum and Dad, and Samuel’s friend, Adam, and his Dad. That is three children who know how to safely handle wild birds and Zara continued her ringing career, ringing a couple of Robins. It would have been three but in taking one out of the bird bag, I managed to let it escape! We took over the main car park, and set up the ringing station amongst the cars as well.

We set up along the ride from the main car park (for the first time in) ages:

On the way back from having set the nets, we took the first bird out of a net: a Robin, from the net nearest the ringing station. The first bird is usually one of Robin, Wren or Blackbird. Given the potentially fluid situation, with birds migrating in and out, I put on a fairly eclectic mix of lures: Redwing, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin for species coming in, Blackcap for species currently going out. Two of the four worked.

The second round produced eight birds from seven species: the double being a couple of Long-tailed Tits. Our third round produced another eight birds, this time from four species: three of which were Bullfinches, making four for the morning. But then came the third round: only five birds, but three Lesser Redpoll in the first net set (it should have been four, but one took advantage of a slight stretch of the net, as it was pulled down, to enable the top two to be extracted, to extract itself):

We then caught a Song Thrush in the single 18m net and a Redwing alongside the lure in the final net set:

After that the catch pretty well died off, with singles in three of the next four rounds so, at 11:00, we decided to shut the nets and take down. By then, Rosie had needed to leave, and the two families had also taken off, so it was down to David and me to clear up the site.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper [1]; Great Tit [2](2); Coal Tit [1]; Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren [1]; Robin 1[4](1); Song Thrush [1]; Redwing 1; Blackbird [1]; Goldcrest [4]; Lesser Redpoll [3]; Bullfinch 2[2]. Totals: 6 adults / full-grown ringed from 4 species, 20 juveniles ringed from 10 species and 3 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 29 birds processed from 12 species.

So, not huge numbers but good variety, considering we were missing four of the usual woodland species for this site: Blue Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. I will be using this location for the test winter constant effort site being pushed by the BTO: but it will be back in the paddock area where I set the feeding station last year.

Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 12th October 2022

With a lot going on at some of my Wildlife Trust sites: the Firs is closed whilst contractors are removing diseased Ash trees (good job I got in there on Sunday as I was unaware of the closure); the coppicing of Ravensroost Wood’s 25-year coppice stand has started today, and the local volunteer group is also active there on Wednesdays, now that the breeding season is over and Lower Moor Farm is closed until the current avian flu epidemic has settled down, it leaves me with Blakehill Farm. With the forecast for the day to be rain free, with the wind picking up after noon, but virtually wind free for the morning, I decided to see what might be about on the western side of Blakehill Farm, in the fields either side of the Whitworth Building. We didn’t set too many nets – but it still seemed to take an age.

It was one of those mornings when twists, snags and general stupidity (on my part exclusively) conspired to make the whole thing tedious. Fortunately, I had Rosie and Miranda to help me and keep me stable! I had planned to set a Mipit triangle but, given how well the setup had gone, I decided to hold off and see how things developed over the next hour or so.

The first round produced three birds: a Blue Tit, Great Tit and a retrapped House Sparrow, all in the 9m net that sits in the gateway gap in the hedgerow from the farm buildings. That is the usual spot for catching House Sparrow but, today, that was the only one we caught. Instead, we caught five of the seven Robins in that net. Rosie processed the first three birds before heading off to Ravensroost Wood, to manage the aforementioned coppice work there.

The three 18m nets set today used to be set along the outside of the hedgerow. However, over the last winter the Trust replaced the fencing behind the hedgerow and, in doing so, created a decent straight ride for the nets. It also left a gap into which we could set a 9m net across the hedgerow.

It was a quiet start, but at 9:30 this new net position paid dividends: a large tit flock plus a few Wrens, a couple of Robins and a Blackcap hit the net: 35 birds in total. Miranda and I got busy extracting them. Fortunately, the Wrens were well behaved for once, and only one of the Blue Tits double-pocketed and spun. As a result of this catch, I decided to forgo setting up the Mipit triangle.

We got them out in pretty good time: a little over 30 minutes, ran another check of the other nets in the fields, and got on with processing them. The next couple of rounds were quiet, just a couple of birds in each. At about 11:00 the wind arrived, at least two hours earlier than forecast. Typically, the three nets by the farmyard produced another good haul, this time 12 birds: a Blackcap, Chiffchaff and half-a-dozen Long-tailed Tits.

We decided that would be the last round, only when we went to shut the nets, they were full of Field Maple and birch leaves. After half-an-hour trying to get them out, we gave it up as a bad job, shut them and took them down. I will look forward to a couple of hours cleaning them out of my nets over the next couple of days.

Prior to listing, just a reminder: both Long-tailed Tit and House Sparrow adults and juvenile go through the same moult strategy, at the same time and, by this time of the year, are inseparable on age. Hence, they are referred to as “full grown”. Most are probably juvenile, simply on the law of averages, but there is no consistent way of telling them apart. The list for the day was: 17 full grown birds ringed from 1 species, 8 adults ringed from 3 species, 33 juveniles ringed from 7 species and 1 full grown bird retrapped, making 59 birds processed from 9 species.

Although we regularly get large catches on the other side of Blakehill, this is the second largest catch on this side of the site. The biggest was 61 birds, but that was in August 2017 during autumn migration (that it happened to be the “Festival of Flight” public event run by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust was a bonus (for them – I was working solo)).

We had the nets down and packed away by 13:00. I told Miranda to toddle off whilst I finished packing the car. In truth, I was knackered and needed a rest before I finished packing. I got away from site by 13:30 after a successful session.

One final note: I extracted a Great Tit with a severe left leg injury. It was very obviously an old injury: there was no blood, and everything was clean and dry. The foot was only connected to the rest of the leg via its tendons. By careful use of my extracting skills, and a pair of needle forceps, I managed to free it without new damage to that leg. I chose not to ring it: even though the right leg was perfectly healthy, but I am well aware that some people will dishonestly use any injury on a ringed bird as “evidence” of the damaging effect of the ringing process. A shame: otherwise we would have ended up on a nice round 60!

The Firs: Sunday, 9th October 2022

As of Monday, 10th October, the Firs will be out of bounds for a time while the Wildlife Trust remove the dead and dying ash trees suffering from the Chalara Ash Dieback, unnecessarily imported into this country from the European mainland.

This was our sixth visit to the Firs this year, but the first since June and the other four were in the January – March period. Essentially, the whole of the breeding season was missed. Most of that was down to my spinal operation and recovery, and the necessary focus on the Lower Moor Farm CES, and that was followed by autumn migration. Hopefully we will be able to get in a couple of additional visits before the end of the year.

The Firs can be very hit and miss at this time of year, depending upon whether I have set up the feeding station or not. This year it is very definitely “not”. The sessions in January and February were fuelled by supplementary feeding but they still didn’t match the numbers that we caught today, much to my surprise. Once the feeding station is set up the numbers do become more regular and higher, but this year that will not be happening. As part of their precautions to limit the spread of avian flu this winter, the Wildlife Trust have decided that there will be no supplementary feeding at their nature reserves, and no ringing activity at their Lower Moor Farm and Langford Lakes reserves at all, as they are the two sites that attract in over-wintering waterfowl.

I was joined for the session by David and Anna and later on by Claire and her children, Zara and Samuel. Zara is eight years old, and last time out I started training her on holding and measuring birds before release, prior to training her on ringing birds. One of the things that is quite remarkable about her is the number of birds content to sit in the palm of her hand after release. All ringers know that Bullfinch will do that, but Great Tits?

I haven’t seen anything like it before: so many birds of multiple species are happy to sit there. Today she started her ringing career , ringing five Robins and two Great Tits.

I have thought for a while about extending the net ride we use to include the slope down to the central glade. It was thinned out extensively a few years ago, but has now grown back to a reasonable height and thickness, so we set an extra set of 3 x 18m nets down the slope (No. 3 on the photo):

We had a decent first round with eight birds including singles of Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit and Marsh Tit. I was surprised that we only caught one Long-tailed Tit at this time of year, they are always in flocks, and I was delighted to catch a new Marsh Tit for the site. To put it into perspective: we didn’t catch any in the Firs last year. It has always been hit and miss for the species:

Marsh Tits, Poecile palustris, caught by year in the Firs

As you can see from the graphic: we ended up catching four this morning. So, in this one session we have exceeded our previous best annual total for them in the Firs. As for the Long-tailed Tit, I needn’t have worried: next round we caught the rest of the flock: another nine individuals ringed.

Between 10:00 and 11:00 the catch fell right away and we decided the 11:15 check would be the last. Our minds were made up by the wind that had started to build up, and the nets at 2 and 3 had started to billow significantly. The new nets at 1 were well protected from the wind and caught very well. Net 3 delivered a small flock of Goldcrests in response to the lure that I put on at 10:30.

On our last round we got excited when we caught another flock in ride 1 – only to be deflated by finding it was eight of the previous group. Mind, as is often the case with the Firs, it was our largest catch of the day. As well as the 8 we extracted and released, we extracted another 19 to process after closing the nets.

The catch for the morning was: Treecreeper [2](1); Blue Tit 1[13](4); Great Tit [7](6); Marsh Tit [4](1); Long-tailed Tit {10}(1); Wren 2(1); Robin [6](1); Chiffchaff [1]; Goldcrest [5]. Totals: 10 full grown birds ringed from 1 species, 3 adults ringed from 2 species, 38 juveniles ringed from 7 species and 15 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 66 birds processed from 9 species.

We had the nets down and everything packed away and off site by 12:30.

Red Lodge: Thursday, 6th October 2022

With Wednesday’s weather turning out to be as dire as forecast, I was relieved to find out that they had got it right two days in a row and we could get a session in this morning. It was forecast to be breezy so I decided it had to be a woodland and Red Lodge has not been visited for a considerable time. That it is within 5 minutes from my house is an added bonus:

I had Rosie joining to help set up and Miranda joining for the whole session, with a 6:30 start time. Unfortunately, waking at 5:15 did not warrant trying to get back to sleep, so I was on site for soon after 6:00. We had the nets open by 7:30. As there would only be two of us for the majority of the session, I only set 4 net rides:

The first two birds out of the net were Great Tits, which Rosie got to ring before heading to work at 8:30. The next round produced two each of Great Tit and Blue Tit and Miranda and I were beginning to wonder whether we were going to get any sort of decent size of catch and / or variety of species.

Fortunately, the next round, at 9:10 produced 13 birds from six species – but six of them were Great Tits and three were Blue Tits. However, the addition of a Blackcap, Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Robin did help raise our spirits somewhat: only to be dampened again by catches of one, two and three birds respectively in the next three rounds.

The last of those, the three bird catch, consisted exclusively of Goldcrests, having switched the lure from Marsh Tit to Goldcrest at the end of the previous round. The next round, at 10:50, produced 15 birds from five species, including another seven Goldcrests and adding two Chiffchaffs and three Long-tailed Tits.

The list for the day ended with 47 birds processed from 11 species and comprised: Blue Tit 1[5](2); Great Tit 1[11](1); Coal Tit [1]; Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit {2}(1); Wren [1]; Robin [2]; Blackbird (1); Blackcap [1]; Chiffchaff [3]; Goldcrest 2[11]. Totals: 2 full-grown birds ringed from 1 species, 4 adult birds ringed from 3 species, 35 juveniles ringed from 8 species and 6 birds retrapped from 5 species.

What started out looking as though it would be a disappointing session ended up being very satisfying. It is astonishing how quickly Goldcrest will respond to the lure: which is one reason why I don’t put it on until after 10:00 during a session: to give them plenty of time to feed up before we focus on them. At less than 6g I like to ensure they have the chance of a hearty breakfast before trying to catch them. In cold weather I don’t lure for them at all.

Miranda and I shut the nets at 11:50. As so often happens, as we shut the nets the light breeze that had been there all morning suddenly picked up into a strong wind. We were packed up and away by 12:30.