Tedworth House: Wednesday, 18th July 2018

In a year that has seen catches down across the board and, from anecdotal information on the UK Facebook Ringer’s Group, across the country, I was rather expecting a quiet morning at Tedworth House today.  Driving in to the site, I was delighted to see a good size flock of Swallows flying around or sitting on the wires by the stables complex for the polo ponies.  They have been very few and far between around my sites so far this year.

Meeting with Dave Turner from the Wildlife Trust, at the almost civilised time of 6:00, we set up five short net rides and thought it would be a nice, leisurely session. 43 birds in the next three hours, working solo, was a good work out and I would like to thank the Blue Tits and Wrens for being entirely civilised, with no double-pocketing or spinning to worry about, making my life a lot easier.

It was an almost entirely juvenile extravaganza: with only four adults in the catch (Dunnock, Robin, Blackcap, Goldfinch).  The catch was: Blue Tit 23; Great Tit 2; Wren 2; Dunnock 5; Robin 4; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2(1); Blackcap 2; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 42 birds ringed from 9 species and 1 bird retrapped.  The retrapped Blackbird had been ringed as a pullus in the nest by Jack Daw, who carries out maintenance at Tedworth House, and who, regular readers of this blog will know, is a preeminent nest finder and pullus ringer, who enabled me to get some considerable additional experience this summer.

The house is supporting a decent number of House Martin nests and there was a good sized flock of them, and more Swallows, flying around the house and grounds.  Unfortunately, they were all flying around roof height and well above net height, so there was no chance to catch any.  Next month, with a bit of luck, we will be able to use lures to bring them closer.

One sad piece of news: whilst the Ravens successfully fledged three youngsters this year, one of them has been found dead.  Because of the “Beast from the East” we had left them alone and not tried to ring them this year, so we know it was a fledged bird from this year.  There were no obvious signs of what caused its demise.

A couple of short reports:

Brown’s Farm: Wednesday, 11th July:

Andrew Bray and I did a session at Brown’s Farm: unfortunately, it was a very quiet session, with only 9 birds caught.  The list was: Great Tit 1; Robin 1; Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 1(1); Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 1; Linnet 1; Yellowhammer 1.  8 birds ringed from 8 species and 1 retrap.  Andrew was happy to have his first Yellowhammer and Linnets of the year.  There were birds around but not in the usual numbers.  As it was at the height of the hot weather, we wondered whether birds had gone off in search of water, which was noticeably absent from the fields where we set our nets.  Unlike our other recent catches, the number of juveniles was just a third of the total.

The Firs: Saturday, 14th July:

A good session in the Firs on Saturday where I was joined by Jonny, Steph and Lillie. It is always good to have Lillie around: she helps keep Jonny in order.  At 8 years old, she is a highly competent ringer and taker of biometrics, but not quite ready to start extracting yet.

All 23 of the birds caught and ringed were juveniles, the 4 birds retrapped were all adults.  The list for the day was: Blue Tit 9; Marsh Tit (1); Wren 8(3); Robin 3; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 1.  Totals: 23 birds ringed from 6 species and 4 birds retrapped from 2 species.  Catching 11 Wrens in one session is quite astonishing: that 8 of them were juveniles and in just two of the nets set up, suggests that we caught young from one or two broods.


Various: Saturday, 30th June to Saturday, 7th July 2018.

The last couple of weeks have been very hectic: with one CES session shunted to this week, because of work commitments (four days in a 5-star hotel in Paris: it’s a hard life) and the need to fit in two surveys for an ecological consultancy, as well as getting some bird ringing done.   I think I am getting this retirement thing a bit wrong!

Ravensroost Woods: Saturday, 30th June 2018

I was joined for the session by Annie, as we carried out the June coppice project session at Ravensroost Woods.  Like so many sessions this year, numbers overall were not great but we are getting good numbers of newly fledged birds.

Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 1; Wren (1); Dunnock 1; Robin 2; Blackbird 2(2); Blackcap 3(1); Garden Warbler 1(1).  Totals: 14 birds ringed from 7 species; 5 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 19 birds processed from 8 species.

Compared to last year, it really is a concern: we then had a catch of 77 birds.  Robin (10), Chiffchaff (12) and Blackcap (18) numbers are significantly lower and, as well as Chiffchaff, we were missing Nuthatch, Song Thrush and Marsh Tit from the catch.  Definitely worrying.  The only good thing you can say about it is that 12 of the 19 birds were birds fledged this year.  The four Blue Tits were interesting: they were all newly-fledged juveniles, with no signs yet of post-fledging moult, which suggests that they have not been out of the nest for long.  They were caught one at a time, at the same height and in the same position in the same net on separate rounds. I rather suspect that the net was set along the line from which they were leaving the nest.  As there was no box nearby, it would suggest a natural hole nest.

Lower Moor Farm: CES 6 Monday, 2nd July 2018

This session, postponed from the previous Wednesday, was also down on the equivalent session last year, but not so catastrophically as above.  I was helped by Jonny for the morning. We had a reasonable catch: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 3(1); Great Tit 4(1); Wren 2(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 4; Song Thrush (1); Blackbird 2; Blackcap 8(1); Chiffchaff 2(1); Willow Warbler (1); House Sparrow 1; Bullfinch 1(1); Reed Bunting 1.  Totals: 31 birds ringed from 12 species, 8 birds recaptured from 8 species, making 39 birds processed from 14 species.  This compares with 48 birds processed from 13 species last year. 27 of the birds processed were birds fledged this year.

As I was about to process our last bird, we were joined by a large group from Cirencester Community College, part of their support and continuing education programme that the Wildlife Trust is so active with throughout the county, with Dean from the Well-being Team as their guide.  It was a shame there was only the one bird, a Blue Tit, to show them, but everyone was very interested in the process and asked lots of questions.  They were particularly happy as the Blue Tit showed off its customary feistiness and pecked away at my fingers before flying off.

We also shared the area with a two-man team from the BBC’s Natural History Unit, who were filming the emergence of dragonflies.  Hopefully we will get to see that on our television screens sometime soon.

There is one small oddity: we are catching the occasional House Sparrow, three so far this year, a reasonable distance away from the human habitation.  There was one caught near the visitor centre in 2016 but our CES site is well away from the centre and the farm buildings.  Perhaps they are nesting in a natural hole?

Lower Moor Farm: CES 7 Saturday, 7th July 2018

You are never too old to learn, they say. Well, you are never too old to do something really stupid either.  As number one son was on a flying visit from China and I hadn’t seen him for a year, we arranged to meet in London on the Friday. The plan was to get an early train home, as he was horribly jet-lagged and I had a 4:00 start on Saturday morning.  Unfortunately, I managed to get my bag stolen – wallet, phone, train tickets, the lot.  By the time we got that sorted, revisited haunts to try and find it etc., it was midnight before I got home.  I really do need more than four hours sleep to be a fully functioning human being.  Fortunately, I had Ellie, Annie and Jonny with me for the session, so I could be totally useless whilst they got on and did the work (mind, I still made it to site before any of them).

Numbers were still down on last year but it was a thoroughly enjoyable session.  We don’t catch many Jays and we don’t catch many Green Woodpeckers. To be fair, nobody does.  On Saturday we caught three jays and our fourth Green Woodpecker of the year.  All have been caught at Lower Moor Farm so far this year but we have other sites which also occasionally yield a Green Woodpecker, and Jays come to that, so the possibility of it being our best ever year for them is high.

The first two Jays were caught together in the same net.  They were both juveniles and, potentially, were nest mates.

Jay j

The adult Jay was a female bird in post-breeding moult.  They always look quite scabby, after the hard work of rearing their young, until their moult is completed.  As you can see below, she is part way through moulting her primaries:

Jay moult

The Green Woodpecker was our first juvenile of the species for the year. You can see from the spotty nature of its plumage that it is a young bird.  It is just developing the red malar stripe below the beak, so is a male bird.  I am not sure how long it had been out of the nest, but it was a couple of grams underweight, which was queried by the BTO’s recording system.  However, after processing it flew off strongly.


There are some people out there who think it is wrong for ringers to enjoy the work they do, and that we should not be happy when we get to process new species because, somehow, enjoying it devalues the contribution.  To be fair, they are usually the anti-science lot who just dislike ringing because it is beyond their understanding or spoils their photographs.  Well, Steph got to ring two new and exciting species yesterday, and that will encourage her to keep coming along at stupid o’clock in the morning, to help add to the sum of knowledge of Wiltshire’s and the UK’s bird populations.

The list for the day was: Green Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper 1;  Jay 3; Blue Tit 3(2); Great Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 2(2); Dunnock (1); Robin 2; Blackbird 1(1); Blackcap 5; Garden Warbler 1(1); Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 4(1); Willow Warbler 1; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 26 birds ringed from 13 species; 10 birds recaptured from 8 species, making 36 birds processed from 16 species.  This compares with 47 birds processed from 12 species last year.  21 of the birds caught were birds of this year.

As the temperature was really mounting and the birds, not being mad dogs or Englishmen, had disappeared into the shade, we packed up a little earlier than usual and got home in time to watch Lewis qualify on pole and England beat Sweden. Lovely day!

Photos are all courtesy / copyright of Steph Buggins.

Somerford Common: Saturday, 23rd June 2018

Somerford Common is close to being my favourite woodland: there is so much variety of habitat within its confines, and it almost always turns up a decent catch of birds. Not only that, you never know when you might catch a glimpse of the Somerford Wallaby.  I saw it for the second time this morning as it moved away from me off a main path into the woodland.

Sometimes Somerford can keep you guessing as to the sort of catch you might get: back in 2013, on my own, I had caught two birds by 10:30 in the morning, having had the nets open since 7:30, but had added another 90 or so by the time I shut my nets at 13:00.  With a large team out, comprising myself, Jonny, Steph and David, we put up, what is for us, a lot of net: 13 x 18 metre full height nets.  Unfortunately, we only caught an average of two birds per net.  This is not to say that it wasn’t an interesting morning: the missing birds seem to be primarily from the resident / more common species: just one Blue Tit and two Great Tit and no Long-tailed Tits at all.  Robins bucked the trend, with 9 processed but our usual strong showing of Bullfinch was completely missing.

It is our best site for Willow Warbler and yesterday was no exception: we processed 6 of them.  More importantly, 2 of them were newly-fledged juveniles, 3 were adult females in breeding condition and just one was a male, also still in breeding condition. Almost certainly there will be second broods from them.  Over the course of the next few months I expect we will catch quite a few more.  One of the recaptured birds, EXR439, was first ringed as an adult in June 2014. This means that this 9 gram bird, if it makes it back there this autumn, will have flown to and from sub-Saharan Africa at least 6 times: astonishing.

Other juveniles caught and ringed were from Blackcap (2); Chiffchaff (2); Great Tit (1) and Robin (3).  The total list from the day was: Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 2; Robin 8(1); Blackbird 2; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 3; Willow Warbler 4(2).  Totals: 23 birds ringed from 7 species; 3 birds recaptured from 2 species, making 26 birds processed from 7 species.

As well as the birds caught and processed, we could hear plenty of activity, including the elusive Long-tailed Tits. There were several family groups moving through the area but they were foraging in the canopy and away from our nets.  Without doubt the most exciting bird views of the morning were a pair of Sparrowhawks, spiralling up above our heads, riding a thermal.  Always a superb sight.

There were plenty of orchids lining the paths: unfortunately the Great Butterfly Orchids are way past their best now, so this is an old photo of one of them in its prime:


There was a lot of insect activity: plenty of dragons flying around: almost certainly Black-tailed Skimmers, plenty of butterflies, notably Small Skipper, and several moths.  One, the Lackey, was perfectly content to sit on Jonny’s hand and pose – shame we were taking down the nets and didn’t have our cameras with us. There was also what looked like an Orange Moth, the shape and colour were right but we didn’t manage to get definitive views, as it flew off before we could.


Green Woodpeckers & Garden Warblers plus a bit more on dragons: Lower Moor Farm; Wednesday, 20th June 2018

CES 5 returned to the disappointing levels of sessions 1 to 3, with half the number of birds caught compared to the same session last year.  The shortfall was down to a reduced number of juvenile Blackcaps, Blue and Great Tits in the catch. 2, 2 and 1 compared to 6, 12 and 12 in 2017.  There was also no catch of juvenile Lesser Whitethroat in this session, where we had 2 last year. On the plus side, we caught 4 juvenile Garden Warblers. They came from two broods in different parts of the site.  We also continued with what is proving to be a very good year for Song Thrushes: with 26 ringed so far this year.

The list for the session was: Green Woodpecker 1(1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 2(2); Great Tit 1; Wren 1(2); Dunnock 1(1); Robin 1; Song Thrush 2(1); Blackbird (2); Blackcap 2; Garden Warbler 5; Chiffchaff 5; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 23 birds ringed from 12 species; 9 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 32 birds processed from 13 species.

It was an odd session.  I was joined, initially, by Ellie.  As it was a very slow start, I suggested that her time might be more productively spent in her office, having exhausted our knowledge / interest in the World Cup.  Within half-an-hour the session got busy, and I extracted two Green Woodpeckers, one unringed. Knowing that Ellie has only ringed one previously, I tried to get her back to ring this one, but could not get through. It turns out that she, the farm manager and the local vet were busy carrying out a Caesarean delivery of a calf from one of the Belted Galloway herd. All in a day’s work for a Wildlife Trust employee.

I was then joined by a group with the Well-Being Team, just in time for them to see the most interesting part of the catch.  It is surprising how frequently I end up doing impromptu ringing demonstrations for both organised groups (like this one) and passing strangers, which I also did for two ladies who let me know that I had a Dunnock in one of my nets.  Helping people to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it is an important part of the process.

The last two rounds produced the biggest catches of the day but, being a CES, time is limited to a standard set of hours catching, but also the wind got up and I had to close the nets to protect the birds.

One footnote to the last blog entry about Lower Moor Farm: I am pleased to say that the presence of Hairy Dragonflies has been confirmed. Not just that, but they have been confirmed breeding, as several people have now seen them emerge from the ponds in the education centre.  This is a first for Wiltshire.  We were also treated to Black Tailed Skimmer and Emperor dragons buzzing around the site and goodness knows how many Damselflies from at least 5 species (Common Blue, Azure, Blue-tailed, Large Red and Red-eyed).


Willow Warblers & Barn Owls: Saturday, 16th June 2018

Today was the first time we have managed to ring in Red Lodge in June since 2014.  One of the problems with CES and project work is that it tends to relegate other sites to be fitted in when possible.  Jonny and I had a bit of a late start, 5:00, as the earlier weather forecast was a bit showery.  We had one shower whilst putting up the nets but, apart from that, no issues until the wind got up at 10:00 and we had to end the session.

There was a lovely catch of juvenile birds: great to see several species having a successful breeding season.  The best part of the catch was the five Willow Warblers that we caught.  This equals, in one catch, the total number caught at Red Lodge since I started ringing there in 2012.  None of the other Willow Warblers caught at the site could have definitively said to have bred at the site.  We had one adult male caught on spring passage and four fully fledged and post-moult juveniles caught on autumn passage in the past.  These five comprised one adult female with a well-developed brood patch and four youngsters who have not yet started their post-fledging moult.  This is proof positive of successful breeding by Willow Warblers in Red Lodge.  When the national picture is one of declining breeding in the south of England, as the breeding population seems to have moved further north, with breeding in Scotland much increased, this is a significant result.

That was the main highlight, but we were also delighted to ring our first Treecreeper (1), Blackcap (2), Blue (2), Great (10) and Coal Tit (1) fledglings of the year. We also had young of Robin (1) and Chiffchaff (4) in the catch.

Our list at Red Lodge was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 13; Coal Tit 1; Wren 3; Robin 1(1); Blackcap 7; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 5; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 39 birds ringed from 10 species; 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 41 birds processed from 11 species.

The only downside to the session at Red Lodge: it would seem that the bird table vandal has struck again.  This time the table-top has been smashed off and dumped and the mounting stake stolen.  One of the locals has said that there are groups coming in on quad bikes and building camps in the wood. In which case, it might be a different issue, with them stealing it for part of their encampment.

Another thing that struck us as wrong: at about 8:00 this morning we heard a Roe Deer start barking. At the same time there was a cacophony of dog barking: clearly more than one dog.  It went on for about 20 minutes.  We didn’t have time to investigate but it did not sound good for the deer. I am not a sentimentalist: I just like my venison shot by professionals, not ripped apart by dogs.

As our session finished early we took the opportunity to visit a couple of Barn Owl boxes and the Jackdaw nests at Blakehill Farm.  We were fortunate enough to catch and ring one adult Barn Owl and two chicks in the nest (I have the appropriate schedule 1 licence for that) but both Jackdaw nests were empty.  Jonny had ringed a few Barn Owl chicks previously but no adults and so, despite it being the first caught on my rings, I gave him the opportunity.  As neither Jackdaw nest showed signs of damage I would like to think that the young fledged successfully.



Birds and Orchids at Ravensroost Woods: 2nd June 2018

Luke and I carried out project session 3 in Ravensroost Woods on Saturday.  With Luke only on his third session and nobody else available, we only set nets in rides 1 & 2: I will attempt to get the rest done this week.  It did mean that I could spend time with Luke and start him on extracting birds.  Quiet mornings do allow for training to take place and this was the case on Saturday.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 6(2); Great Tit 1; Wren (2); Robin 1(1); Blackcap 5(1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 16 birds ringed from 7 species; 7 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 23 birds processed from 9 species and a recapture rate of 30.4%.

Interestingly, there were no juvenile birds caught, which was a bit surprising given that on the Thursday I carried out a breeding bird survey on a site just outside Basingstoke, where the hedgerows and tree were full of juvenile Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits.

The highlight for the session though was not a bird but an orchid: a Bird’s Nest Orchid.  I have seen them when past their best, but not in this part of Ravensroost and not in this condition. Luke took this photo and has allowed me to reproduce it:

Bir‏ds Nest Orchid

Juveniles, Ticks, Jumping Trout and Dragons: Saturday, 9th June 2018 @ Lower Moor Farm

Saturday’s session was session 4 on our CES schedule.  Jonny, Steph and Luke joined me for the morning.  It was the first session this year that delivered a better return than in the equivalent session last year.  Not a major change: 40 birds from 15 species, compared with 37 from 14 species in 2017 but any potential improvement is welcome.  The number of newly fledged juveniles was identical (18) but only 6 species so far this year, compared with 10 in 2017.  We had our first juvenile Chiffchaff for the year:


Swiftly followed by a couple of Long-tailed Tits:


At the risk of sounding soppy: they are so cute!

We had a good catch of juvenile Blue Tits.  Two of them were very small, and clearly fresh out of the nest.  The two smallest birds were also carrying a number of ticks: the larger had just the one and the smaller had six.  I managed to remove all of them using a pair of needle forceps. You know you have done it correctly when there is no bleeding from the birds: even more so when the ticks themselves continue to walk around looking for another host to attach to.  They were dropped into a container for delivery to the Trust, as there is a project looking into the different tick species parasitising birds.


The list for the day was:  Blue Tit 7(1); Great Tit 3; Long-tailed Tit 2; Dunnock 1(1); Robin 7; Song Thrush 1(3); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 1(2); Garden Warbler (1); Whitethroat (2); Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 1(1); Chaffinch (1); Bullfinch (2); Reed Bunting 1.  Totals: 25 birds ringed from 10 species, 15 birds recaptured from 10 species, making 40 birds processed from 15 species and a recapture rate of 37.5%.

One of the pleasures of working at Lower Moor Farm is that every day is different.  Today, for example, the trout in Mallard Lake were clearly in the mood for feasting on flying insects.  We are used to seeing the odd leaping trout, but this was incessant, from when we arrived at 4:30 until we left at 12:00 there was a constant splashing of these large fish slapping back into the water as they leapt clear to catch an insect. I have no idea what their success rate is but the simple fact that they manage it at all, as water distorts sight-lines, makes you wonder about the eye structure and vision of these fish.

There was an impressive display of Odonata.  Common Blue, Azure Blue, Red-eyed and Large Red Damselflies were everywhere but it was the dragons that really caught the eye.My first Emperor of the year, plus Four-Spot Chasers and a couple of what I can only hope are Hairy Dragon flies. The maps show them being around the general area but, having never seen them before, I am hoping that someone else will be able to confirm the identification.