The return of purple hands: Lower Moor Farm, CES 9, Wednesday, 1st August 2018

As a ringer you are one of the first to recognise the onset of autumn, if you correlate the ripening of blackberries and elderberries with that seasonal change.  This is manifested in the colour purple becoming the prevalent colour of your hands by the end of a session.  What it does show, a bit like those disclosure tablets used to show up plaque on your teeth, is just how much bird poop ends up on your hands when processing birds: a clear indication that you really should clean your hands before eating food after handling birds.  Projectile pooing is a defence mechanism, so it is not surprising they do it; what is surprising is how much accumulates on your hands and clothes.

As I was being joined by David later in the morning (as he has no transport his Dad drops him off at site on his way to work) I started at half-an-hour earlier than recent start times so I could get the nets up by the usual start time for the session.  When on my own I keep all of the nets shut until I have them all set and then open them for catching. This ensures that either no bird is in the nets for an extended period or, equally, that I am not forever stopping what I am doing to go and check nets.  With the nets open just before 6:00, I was ready for the session.

So far this year our catches at this site have been well down on 2017: with a 30% reduction in numbers.  I was hoping that there would not be too much of a shortfall on the 60 birds caught in the equivalent to this session last year. I needn’t have worried: we had a small (10%) increase but the mix of birds was really encouraging.

Blackcaps and Garden Warblers are somewhat antagonistic.  At least, if you want to catch Blackcaps and Garden Warblers in the Spring, playing Garden Warbler song does the job for both species.  They tend to inhabit slightly different habitat types as a result.  Garden Warblers are particularly keen on coppiced woodlands and woodland edges.

Blackcaps are definitely more numerous: with a summer breeding population of more than five times the size of that of the Garden Warbler.  This is usually reflected in our catches.  Yesterday, remarkably, we ringed 12 each of Blackcap and Garden Warbler.  All of these ringed birds were juveniles.  Three Blackcaps were recaptured, only one of which was an adult.  This is the largest ever catch of Garden Warblers in a single session for 7 years, and the largest catch ever away from Swindon sewage works.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 2(2); Great Tit 2; Wren 2(1); Dunnock 5; Robin 1(1); Blackbird 5(4); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 12(3); Garden Warbler 12; Whitethroat 3;  Chiffchaff 5; Greenfinch 1; Bullfinch 1(2).  Totals: 52 birds ringed from 13 species; 14 birds recaptured from 7 species, making 66 birds processed from 14 species.  Of the birds caught, 57 were juveniles, with the adult birds being Blue Tit 1; Blackbird 4; Blackcap 1; Greenfinch 1 and Bullfinch 2.

Apart from the numbers of Garden Warbler, the highlights in the catch were our first Reed Warbler of the year, a juvenile, and our first juvenile Bullfinch of the year:


Non-ringing highlights were a superb Hobby that flew across Mallard Lake from south to north, my first sighting of one this year.  There were several Common Terns over the lakes as usual, but we don’t normally see them successfully catching fish, so it was nice to see one of them plunge and pull up with a fish in its beak. This prompted a couple of other terns to chase after the successful bird. I wondered if it was a family group.

At about 10:30 we were joined by a team from the Wildlife Trust running an activity for a group of children which had something to do with inflatable pink flamingos. No idea. However, as usual, we did an impromptu ringing demonstration for them, answered their questions and showed them how to safely hold and release birds. It went down as well as it always does.  One of the key activities of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, alongside their conservation activities, is involving young people, from small children to adolescents / young adults, as well as disadvantaged and vulnerable children and adults, in nature.  It is a privilege to be a small, tangential, part of what they do.


Meadow Farm: Tuesday, 24th July 2018

This is a blog entry by Jonny Cooper.

Unfortunately, over the past few months I have not been able to get out and do as much ringing on my sites as I would have liked. It turns out doing a master’s degree full time is quite a lot of work. However, I was able to squeeze in a session at Meadow Farm; this is still a relatively new ringing site and as such I wasn’t sure what sort of size catch to expect.

The first round delivered a mixed flock of Blue and Great Tits totalling 20 birds, the titmouse party continued into the second round with another 15 birds processed. After this the catch settled to a regular 2 or 3 birds per round. All in all, 54 birds were caught.
The catch was as follows: Blue Tit 21, Great Tit, 24, Robin 3(1), Greenfinch 3, Chiffchaff 1 and Willow Warbler 1. Giving 53 new birds and a single re-trap.  All the birds were juveniles apart from 1 Blue Tit, 2 Greenfinch and the re-trap Robin.

As this is the first summer of ringing at Meadow Farm the Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were new birds for the site. The Greenfinches seems to be a small family group, consisting of a single juvenile and an adult male and female.

The session ended at 11:00 as the day really started to warm up. Overall it was an enjoyable session, even if the majority of the catch were titmice.

Ravensroost Meadow Pond: Wednesday, 25th July 2018

In this hot weather we have found, unsurprisingly, that many birds are disappearing from sites with little water.  No doubt they are in need of places that can provide a drink.  With Ravensroost Meadow pond being a popular spot for Swallows and Martins to take a drink, and the meadow being a favoured site for them to hawk for insects, we decided to take a chance on catching a few birds coming to the pond, and set up there this morning.  We only set a few nets: less than 100 metres in total. I was joined by Jonny, Andrew and David for the session.

Being mindful that being out in this weather is not particularly good for people either, we agreed that it would be a short session.  Arriving at 5:00, we had the nets open before 6:00 and the catching started straight away.  The weather stayed reasonably cloudy until 9:30, and then the sun broke through and a light breeze got up. By 10:00 we were no longer catching any birds as they had moved into cooler areas but, also, our nets were now very visible.  You can only watch Swallows flying vertically up the face of your net and perching on the top line for a short time before deciding to give up for the day.  We had the nets down by about 10:45.

Everything went almost exactly as we wanted and it was a cracking session: 43 birds caught, only one retrap (an adult Goldfinch) and just the three Blue Tits.  The list for the day was: Swallow 14; Blue Tit 3; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Blackbird 3; Whitethroat 2; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Willow Warbler 5; Goldfinch 11(1); Reed Bunting 1.  Totals: 42 ringed from 10 species, plus 1 retrap.

We caught 10 Swallows and 5 Goldfinches in our first round – which was a good start. The catch was regular and reasonable until just before 10:00.  It is nice to be catching juvenile Willow Warblers at our sites, given the recent reduction in the numbers breeding in the southern parts of England.


As expected for this time of year: the majority of the birds were juveniles.  Most of the Goldfinches, and one of the Swallows, were adults.  Many of the Swallows had completed their post-fledging moult, as had several of the others. The juvenile Lesser Whitethroat’s tail was already looking pretty ratty.


Jonny has not yet ringed Stock Dove, and I know that they regularly nest in one of the owl boxes in the barn at Avis Meadows, so we crossed over the road to see what might be there.  As we approached the barn, we couldn’t help but notice the carcasses of two juvenile Barn Owls on the field.  This was clearly worrying, so I phoned Neil Pullen, the Trust’s Reserves’ Manager.  Apparently, they were reported as being out of the box very late on Sunday night and were discovered dead on Monday.  As we walked into the barn a Stock Dove flew out, but not from the owl box.  We did find its nest but, as it was sharing the area with a busy wasps’ nest, we decided non-interference was the best strategy.

Not expecting to find anything, we thought we should check the two owl boxes in the barn, just to see if there was anything that would explain the dead chicks.  As usual, the new A-frame box is showing signs of being used as a roost by an adult (pellets and poo underneath).  When I opened the old, dilapidated, rotting box I was astonished to see that there were four young Barn Owls in the box.  They looked to be in decent condition.  Perhaps six young was two too many for the parents to raise.  Hopefully these four will survive and fledge.

Freshwater Mussels and CES 8 @ Lower Moor Farm: Saturday, 21st July 2018

Today Jonny, David and I carried out CES 8 at Lower Moor Farm.  Like every previous session this year, numbers were down on last year: 45 compared to 73.  It was an enjoyable session nonetheless.

I have been going to Lower Moor Farm for over 10 years now and goodness knows how many hours I have spent looking into the waters of the lakes in that time.  I have seen the otters, a beaver, water vole, perch, the trout species and the myriad insects. This morning I was delighted to see a freshwater mussel in Mallard Lake. It wasn’t there two weeks ago, when we did CES 7.


We then found half of one of the valves (shells) on the bank, immediately adjacent to a pile of otter scat, suggesting trout is not the only thing on their menu.

One disappointment over the last couple of years has been the disappearance of Cetti’s Warbler.  They appeared in the catch in 2015, with six individuals, both adults and juveniles but since then the numbers have been very disappointing with just 2 individuals caught in 2016 and 1 in 2017. Today we caught our first of the year: an adult male.  I would love to know why their numbers are so inconstant when the habitat is constant. Perhaps we were just lucky in 2015.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 4(1); Great Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit (2); Wren 4(1); Dunnock (1); Song Thrush 1(1); Blackbird 5(2); Cetti’s Warbler 1; Blackcap 11(2); Garden Warbler 3; Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler 1.  Totals: 35 birds ringed from 12 species; 10 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 45 bird processed from 14 species.  As is the norm for now, the vast majority were juveniles fledged this year. The adults in the catch were the retrapped Blue Tit, Wren, and Song Thrush, one of the Long-tailed Tits, the Cetti’s Warbler, the two retrapped and one of the ringed Blackcaps and the two retrapped Blackbirds.


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.