Blakehill Farm: Saturday, 12th May 2018

With another day of sunshine and low winds forecast, we decided to get out of the woods and onto the farmland.  I was joined for the session by Steph and Jonny.  Prior to going off to set up the ringing I had a quick look at the Jackdaw nests near the Whitworth Building to see how they were progressing.  The Jackdaws were all away from the nest, so none were disturbed.  One of the nests was fully developed, lined and with eggs (three, warm), the others were just jumbles of sticks with no lining.  Perhaps the successful nesters won’t tolerate having neighbours?

During the summer we stay off the central plateau of Blakehill Farm, not wanting to (potentially) disturb nesting Curlew.  However, there are plenty of alternative areas on the west of the site.  The black outline is the area within which we set our nets:

blakehill west

In the photograph below the black lines show where we actually set the nets:

bhw nets

To be honest, we were guessing about where the best place to put them was. You never know whether a new area will deliver or not. On farmland at this time of year, unless you are feeding the area to attract birds in, they are spread out and large catches are unlikely.  In the event we were happy with the catch we had.

The highlight of the session was the addition of a further five Lesser Whitethroat to this year’s total, taking it to 11 so far.  This compares with just four by this time in 2017 and 2016, two in 2015, one in 2014 and none in 2013.


The list for the day was: Wren 2; Dunnock 3; Robin 1; Blackbird 4; Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 2; Lesser Whitethroat 5; Chiffchaff 2; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 2.  Total: 23 birds ringed from 10 species.  As this was the first ringing session in this part of the site the lack of any recaptures is not that surprising.  Perhaps what was surprising was the complete absence of any titmice in the catch.  I cannot remember even hearing any today.  We did hear a solitary Cuckoo male calling from the pond area.

There was a superb display of insect life flying around: mainly bumblebees and flies, plus this rather fabulous Downlooker Snipe Fly, Rhagio scolopaceus, that spent a good half-an-hour sitting on our ringing table:


Whilst clearing away the nets Steph noticed this fat fly sitting on some wet grass:


This is the Noon Fly, Mesembrina meridiana.

(wildlife photos courtesy of Steph Buggins, thanks to Marc Taylor for identifying the insects)

At the end of the session we checked the two Barn Owl boxes in Allotment and Poucher’s fields (I have a special licence to do so for this schedule 1 species).  The Allotment Field box held a solitary adult bird but a definite nest development; the Poucher’s Field box had a pair of Barn Owls and four warm eggs in the nest.

Brown’s Farm: Wednesday, 9th May 2018

With the weather being set fair for a low wind and dry, Jonny and I headed for Brown’s Farm.  It was a question of killing two birds with one stone: I hadn’t been able to do my early breeding bird survey for the site yet this year. We set the nets and I left Jonny to manage them whilst I carried out the BBS.

Last year, when the new tenant took over, one of the first tasks he took on was to cut the hedges back quite severely.  One year later on and they seem to be really bearing fruit.  As I walked my survey route, I was astonished at how many pairs of Yellowhammers there were flying up from the hedge as I passed.  The Skylarks are as abundant as ever and, as usual, there was a Cuckoo calling from the trees around the farm.

Jonny had the benefit of the majority of the ringing catch, whilst I was surveying.  We only caught 16 birds but the winter flocks have broken up and, now we are into the breeding season, no lures were used, so we weren’t expecting huge numbers.  The list was: Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Dunnock 1; Blackbird 1; Whitethroat 3; Linnet 3; Yellowhammer 5(1). Totals: 15 birds ringed from 7 species and one retrap.

All birds were well into their breeding condition, except for the Yellowhammers.  They breed later than most of the other farmland species but usually produce two broods and, in a good year, three.


Ravensroost Coppice Project 1: Monday / Tuesday 7th & 8th May 2018

This is the sixth year of the project I have been running in Ravensroost Woods, with teh help of the team for the last three years, looking to see what impact, if any, the 8-year coppicing regime has on the birds using the area.  Exactly the same as with the BTO Constant Effort site, we set the same amount of net in the same places year on year so that the only difference is in what is happening with the coppice and the birds visiting the wood.  There are four areas within the coppice, all at different stages of the cycle, which are contrasted with another area that is managed but not coppiced.

On Monday I was joined by Jonny and Annie, and on Tuesday I worked solo (but with only 10 birds caught that day, I was hardly over-extended).  This is the downside of project work: you do it regardless of the result. The uncoppiced area has actually seen a regular decrease in birds caught over the years. I cannot be sure what the issue is but I suspect it is something as simple as the trees are six years taller and perhaps the birds are just overflying the nets. Who knows?

The list for the session was: Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 4(2); Great Tit 1(3); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 1(1); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 5(2); Garden Warbler 1(3); Chiffchaff 2(1); Bullfinch 2(1).  Totals: 20 birds ringed from 10 species; 15 birds retrapped from 9 species, making 35 birds processed from 11 species.  The proportion of retrapped birds in the catch was 42.9%.

The three retrapped Garden Warblers were all originally ringed in the coppiced area and retrapped there. One of them, D983204 was ringed as an adult in May 2014.  This bird has, therefore, made the trip to and from the rain-forests of the Congo six times: the 45,000 miles involved is just mind-boggling.  The newly ringed one was caught in the control area: only the second caught in that area, the first was caught there in 2014.

We also caught an already ringed Blackcap that was not on one of our rings. I submitted the records on Monday afternoon and by Tuesday afternoon I had heard back from the BTO.  It was ringed as a juvenile in Northamptonshire in September 2017 at the wonderfully named Boar’s Head Farm.  This is the beauty of the new on-line system for data entry.  In the past (and quite a few ringers are still living in the past) data was entered into an MS-Access database on your computer.  If you were a member of a ringing group, like the West Wilts Ringing group, you would save up your data until you felt there was sufficient to produce a submission file. You would then create the file and send it to the ringing group secretary.  The ringing group secretary would then wait until they decided they had enough records to warrant sending a submission to the BTO and produce a file.  There could be months between getting an exciting recapture and getting the details back, because of the built in inertia of that sort of system. Now, all ringers in the group enter their own data directly into the database assessment area. I get notification there are records waiting, check them and submit them – all without any files being transferred anywhere.  As a result, we get the results very quickly.  Ain’t technology wonderful?

Lower Moor Farm: CES1, Saturday, 5th May 2018

An excellent first Constant Effort Site session for 2018 at Lower Moor Farm (LMF). I was joined by Ellie and Jonny at 5:30, to get the nets set and ready, and we caught our first bird at 6:00. It will be interesting to see how this year’s catch compares with previous ones.  Over the winter two of the net rides have been widened, by the cutting in of “scallops” to open butterfly glades.  Whether this will have an impact on the bird catch only time will tell.  This first catch was a bit down on session 1 last year: primarily because we failed to catch any Willow Warblers or Chiffchaffs – despite there being several singing male Chiffchaffs in the immediate area.  However, last year was considerably down on the same session in 2015, although the final numbers were relatively close for both ringed and recaptured birds. We shall see how the season progresses.  That is the purpose of CES: to see how bird populations fluctuate over time within a relatively constant environment.

We had our first Whitethroat for the site for this year.  Hopefully it will be a better year for them at Lower Moor this year:  we only had one specimen there in the whole of last year.  At our session on the 21st April we did catch our first Garden Warbler of the year, a retrap ringed at LMF in 2016. This session we caught our first new Garden Warblers of the year, two of which were sporting quite obvious “pollen horns”:

2018_05_05 Garwa

The list for the session was: Blue Tit (2); Great Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 1(2); Dunnock 3(2); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3(2); Garden Warbler 4; Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch (3).  Totals: 18 ringed from 10 species; 13 retrapped from seven species, making 31 processed from 13 species.

There were plenty of butterflies around, with several specimens of Orange Tip, Brimstone, Small White and Common Blue flying about the ringing site.  We were joined for a while by Neil Pullen, the Wildlife Trust’s reserves manager, and whilst we were discussing aspects of how we work with the Trust, he pointed out a solitary Holly Blue flying around.  With the cracking weather this morning, and interactions with a range of interested people, plus some excellent birds, it really was a very pleasant way to spend a morning, whilst contributing to the national data set.

Blackmoor Copse: Friday, 4th May 2018

Blackmoor Copse was the first ever nature reserve purchased by the, then newly-formed, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust in 1962.  It is not a site I would normally go to, being south-west of Salisbury and a 90 minute drive from home.  All of my sites bar two are within a 20 minute drive from my house: which is perfectly acceptable when you are getting to site for 5:30 (or earlier) in the summer.

The reason for my trip to this site was for the Well Being team.  Chelsie Phillips, who runs the Well Being scheme for the Wildlife Trust, has one group who are coming to the end of their time with the scheme, and they were keen to learn about bird ringing and see some birds close up.  As they were all based in the south of the county, Chelsie asked if I would carry out the session at Blackmoor Copse.  This site has never been ringed before: at least, the Trust have never given permission for it to be and I can find no records from there. Therefore, the first birds to be caught at Blackmoor Copse were a pair of Coal Tits, and the first ringed was the female:


There is always an issue with going to a site that you know nothing about: where to set your nets for a start.  I managed to get a brief look at the site yesterday, which gave me an idea of where to set them.  As I was working solo, I set up eight nets in four rides along the main paths, forming a cross.  Unfortunately, the catch did not match up to the effort put in, with just 11 birds hitting the nets, and only 10 of them staying put.  Collared Doves are notoriously good at getting out of nets and this one was no exception.  The catch for the day was: Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 2; Robin 1; Song Thrush 2; Blackcap 3.  As expected, there were no retrapped birds.  Despite the low catch, I think this is a gem of a wood: it is just about finding the best place to set the nets.  There are a lot of differing habitats, and should offer a good variety of birds.

Despite the low numbers, everybody had an enjoyable time.  Throughout the morning we had masses of birdsong: besides those we caught we could identify songs from Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Bullfinch and Cuckoo. There was also the call of Green Woodpecker and the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which also gave occasional, fleeting, views.  There were also views of a Nuthatch going to and from its nest hole.  Before the team arrived, I had several excellent views of a Field Vole, and it was just busy doing whatever voles do and totally ignored my presence. Unfortunately on none of those occasions did I have my camera to hand to photograph it.  We also saw a Common Lizard and, a key indicator species: an Oil Beetle.


There was another unfortunate contretemps.  It seems to be becoming a habit.  As I returned to the ringing station with one of the Blackcaps we were accosted by, what I presume were, a married couple of birders, who told me that, whilst members of the BTO, they didn’t approve of bird ringing.  I love people who ask you to justify what you are doing but then won’t actually let you answer. The simple fact is: no ringing, virtually no ornithology.  Fortunately, Chelsie put up a sterling defence, explaining how the Trust uses the data that our team provides to help them make and understand the effects of management decisions for their nature reserves. This cut no ice with them because they have been to Spurn and know that recapture rates are very low: 2%.  The fact is that any migration hotspot will have a low incidence of recapture at that site.  However, many of those birds will be recaptured elsewhere, and it helps build a picture of migration routes and changes.  Because of the project based work that my team does, my recapture rate is much higher. In 2017 my team processed 3,036 birds across all sites, of which 838 were recaptures of already ringed birds, i.e. 28%.  If I focus purely on my Ravensroost Wood project site, the situation is very different: 41% of birds processed are recaptures. The man accused me of lying or, as he put it, he didn’t accept my statistics.  They are available for anyone who wants to see them.  It is what happens with blinkered people: they will only accept data if it confirms their prejudice. When he came back some time later, without apologising for his insinuation, he offered his hand and said he didn’t want to leave things with bad blood, uttered the ubiquitous “No hard feelings” platitude: I shook it, not to appear churlish, but I am not sure why.  I just wish people who know so little about a subject, but have such strong opinions, would make an effort to open their minds and learn.

Ravensroost Meadow Pond: 25th April 2018

With the forecast for it to be windy, and with rain setting in at about 11:00, we changed venue from Brown’s Farm to the more sheltered environs of Ravensroost Meadow pond.  In the event, it was a bit too windy for this site as well.  Not dangerous for the birds, but too much billowing of the nets and too little pocket.  So, not the busiest day we have ever had, which was unfortunate given that I had both Andrew and Jonny with me.  However, we did add two more Lesser Whitethroat and two more Willow Warbler to this year’s list.  One of the Willow Warblers was a female, already with a well developed brood patch.  This is a good sign, given the recently observed change in behaviour of the females of this species to a more northerly migration.

We also caught out first Whitethroat of the year.  This bird was caught at the pond as a juvenile in August 2016.  Nice to see it back!


The total list for the day was: Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit (1); Whitethroat (1); Lesser Whitethroat 2; Willow Warbler 2.  Totals: five birds ringed from three species, three birds retrapped from three species, making eight birds processed from five species.  Despite the poor catch, we enjoyed the session, watching the Swallows, Reed Buntings and Goldfinches flying over the nets and listening to the Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing away in the bushes.  We also enjoyed the Cowslips that are out in bloom all round the area. Lovely flowers:


To finish the day, we drove up to Coped Hall roundabout to have a look at the reported three Glaucous and single Iceland Gulls on the fields there.  Needless to say, they had departed by the time we got there. Just a simple reminder of why I no longer twitch birds.

A Busy Week: 16th to 21st April 2018

With the weather finally improving, I wanted to catch up on some of the missed sessions during the course of this week.   This led to four sessions in six days.  On Monday it was Ravensroost Woods, Wednesday at Tedworth House, Thursday on Somerford Common and today (Saturday) at Lower Moor Farm.

This time of the year is usually the quietest, making it the best time of year to start new trainees to the world of bird ringing.  Monday’s session was the first for Hayley, the latest recruit to our team.  She was referred to me by the BTO, has done a little bit of ringing during the course of her degree, and lives and works close by to my Braydon Forest sites.  Fortunately, she also has the temperament to fit right in.  As I wanted to be able to give her the chance to start working with the birds without pressure, we set up just two net rides of four 18 metre nets each, and the catch was correspondingly small.  We caught Blue Tit 4(1); Robin (1); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 3(1); Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 2.  Totals: 10 birds ringed from four species; four birds retrapped from four species, making 14 birds processed from six species.

On Wednesday I did my usual monthly session at Tedworth House. It actually wasn’t that usual, as I was asked if I would allow a family, whose dad is undergoing rehabilitation at Tedworth, to join me for the morning. As that is one of my main motivations for doing it, I was very happy to have them along: Mum, Dad and their three boys were good company and we all enjoyed the morning.  With the improved weather other members of the staff and attendees also came to see the birds.  We were lucky enough to get a good variety of birds throughout the morning.  The list from the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch (2); Blue Tit 3(4); Great Tit (2); Coal Tit 1(1); Blackbird 1(1); Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 1; Greenfinch 1.  Totals: nine birds ringed from seven species; 10 birds retrapped from five species, making 19 birds processed from nine species.  Any session that starts with a Great Spotted Woodpecker as the first bird is a good session.

Thursday saw Jonny and I head to Somerford Common.   There is a lot going on at this site, with a lot of scrub clearance in the fenced off enclosure, leaving the mature trees and hazel stands for coppicing over the years ahead.  It looks rather like a wasteland at the moment.  We set four net rides, totalling 10 x 18 metre nets, and had a reasonable catch for this time of year.  It will be interesting to see how the management regime affects the catch.  The session was notable for a catch of four Willow Warblers, two retrapped from last year (one ringed in the Spring, the second at the end of the breeding season) and two new individuals, but no Chiffchaffs and then, right at the end of the session, we caught two female Jays – and narrowly missed out on a third, that managed to extricate itself from the net before Jonny could get to it.

The list for the session was: Jay 2; Blue Tit 2(2); Coal Tit 1(2); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 2; Blackcap 3; Willow Warbler 2(2); Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 16 birds ringed from nine species; seven birds retrapped from four species, making 23 birds processed from nine species.

Jonny, sharp-eyed and alert, heard a bit of a rustle in the foliage on the floor and spotted a Common Lizard in amongst the grasses.  It is the first I have seen on the site.

Today was a special session run for the Oaksey Wildlife Watch Group.  There are over 300 Wildlife Watch Groups in the UK.  They are volunteer run bodies, usually within the umbrella of the local Wildlife Trust organisation, with the aim of involving young children with all aspects of wildlife.  When I was asked if I would run (another) session for a Watch Group there was never any doubt that we would do it.  Jonny volunteered and Ellie, who had a lot to do today, as she is running guided walks to see the Snake’s-Head Fritillaries in Clattinger Meadows tomorrow, kindly turned up to help during the 9:00 to 11:00 period the children were with us.  Again, the catch wasn’t huge but we had enough birds and a good enough variety to keep the children (and their parents and the volunteers) interested and happy for the session.

We had our first Lesser Whitethroats of the year and the retrapped Garden Warbler was first ringed as an adult in May 2016, was retrapped in May 2017 and has now arrived for the third year (that we know of) as an adult.  These birds over-winter in sub-equatorial and southern Africa: that is a lot of miles this bird has covered in its life.

The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 2(3); Great Tit 1(2); Dunnock 1(2); Blackbird 2; Blackcap 2(1); Garden Warbler (1); Lesser Whitethroat 3; Chiffchaff 3(2); Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 16 birds ringed from nine species; 11 birds retrapped from six species, making 27 birds processed from 10 species.

The session closed at 11:00 and, as the families were leaving, one of the children noticed a newly built Long-tailed Tit nest in one of the bramble bushes lining the main path.  It was clearly occupied, as they saw a bird fly out whilst they were looking at the nest.

LTT Nest