Red Lodge: Saturday, 11th August 2018

Red Lodge, like Webb’s Wood, has always been one of those sites where the catches were large when the feeding station was operational and the winter flocks were around, but quiet during the rest of the year.   However, Red Lodge has really picked up since the thinning operations that, ironically, reduced the catch in 2015.  It is probably something to do with additional under-storey that has developed as a result of the thinning.

On Saturday I was joined by Jonny, David, Steph and Lillie and we set exactly the same amount of net as we did at Webb’s Wood last Saturday.  We didn’t quite get to the 100 birds, but 80 is a good haul for this site.  It was an interesting catch: the vast majority were juvenile birds – 66 of them, including two young Great Spotted Woodpeckers:


 You can tell this is a juvenile because of the red cap.  They lose this during post-fledging moult and the female retains an all black cap and the male develops a red patch at the back of the head / top of the neck. The Nuthatch could not be aged: both juveniles and adults undergo a full moult into adult plumage post- breeding / fledging and this one had just about completed its moult.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 2; Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 20(1); Great Tit 22(2); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit 3(2); Wren 6(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 6; Song Thrush 2; Blackcap 5; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2.  Totals: 74 birds ringed from 14 species and 6 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 80 birds processed from 14 species. The 6 recaptured birds were all adults, as was one each of the Great and Marsh Tits and Robin, plus two each of the Blackcaps and the Song Thrushes.

On top of the 6 Marsh Tits ringed at Webb’s Wood last weekend, we ringed another 3 this weekend at Red Lodge: 2 juveniles and 1 adult.  Hopefully this heralds a glut of the species this autumn and winter.

Lower Moor Farm: Thursday, 9th August 2018. CES 10

Having pushed back Wednesday’s planned CES session to Saturday, to go gallivanting off to Salisbury Plain, I decided to carry out the CES on Thursday.  Luckily both Jonny and David were available to help. It was only the second session of the year, after CES 9,  where we had a better catch than on the corresponding session last year.  Hopefully this presages a better end to the year than the first few sessions suggested.

The catch of Garden Warblers continued to match that of Blackcaps: with 6 each ringed and 2 each retrapped.  Our best year for Garden Warbler at Lower Moor Farm was 2015, with 47 ringed and 11 retrapped.  So far this year it stands at 34 ringed and 6 retrapped.  With two sessions to go it is entirely possible that we will match or pass it.  We have already ringed more than in any other year, apart from 2015.

The list for the morning was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 2(1); Great Tit 5(2); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 4(2); Dunnock (2); Robin 2(1); Song Thrush (1); Blackbird 2; Reed Warbler 1; Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 6(2); Garden Warbler 6(2); Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 4(2); Willow Warbler 3; Greenfinch 1; Bullfinch 1(1).  Totals: 41 birds ringed from 15 species; 18 birds retrapped from 12 species, making 59 birds processed from 18 species, of which 50 (85%) were juveniles.  As mentioned, this is an improvement on the same session last year (10th August 2017), which returned a total of 45 birds from 15 species, 36 (80%) of which were juveniles.  So, after a worrying start with catches well down, it looks as though the breeding season has been successful.

The highlight of the catch had to be our first Sedge Warbler of the year: 2018_08_09sedwa

We never catch many at our sites: the habitat seems right but perhaps it is something to do with the site being on the leftmost edge of the Cotswold Water Park, with other more central sites offering slightly better habitat.  Fortuitously, we caught the bird just before Amy from the Wildlife Trust arrived with a large group of children and their parents on a scavenger hunt / nature walk.  They were fascinated by seeing such a smart bird up close.  I am always impressed by the attitude of young children and the questions they ask about what we are doing. Obviously they want to know that we are not harming the bird and why we do it.  They then get fascinated by the process – and amused when we weigh the bird by putting it head first into a pot.  I no longer try to count how many impromptu ringing demonstrations we do, but it is about spreading the message of the value of the ringing scheme and we rarely get a bad reaction.

We caught our second Reed Warbler of the year for the site.  There are no reed beds at Lower Moor Farm, so we only catch them on passage, as we do at Ravensroost Meadow pond, and in similar low numbers.

The sun came out strongly about 11:30 just as we started to pack away at the end of a very satisfying session.


New Zealand Farm: Wednesday, 8th August 2018

This was our first visit to New Zealand Farm this year. It is an area of scrub trees and bramble in the north eastern corner of Salisbury Plain.  We didn’t set too many nets (the yellow lines on the photograph below), as you can never be confident about the size of catch you might encounter and we are always circumspect.


The site is registered to Dr Ian Grier, one of our two founding members, and the rest of the team was Andy Palmer, Jonny Cooper and myself.  Ian and Andy now spend most of their summers working on the Wessex Stone Curlew project with the RSPB and we were joined for the day by Rob Blackler, the project coordinator.  He has ringed plenty of birds, but those have been birds the size of Lapwing and Stone Curlew, so this would be a new experience for him.

The weather was pretty decent, until the breeze got stronger at about 11:00 when we packed up. It was a Whitethroat dominated session in which we caught 45 birds, as follows: Great Tit 2; Wren 6(1); Dunnock 4(1); Robin 2; Blackbird 1; Reed Warbler 2; Whitethroat 22; Lesser Whitethroat 2; Willow Warbler 1; Yellowhammer 1. Totals: 43 birds ringed from 10 species, 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 45 birds processed from 10 species.  The two retrapped birds were residents of the site and were both adults.  36 of the catch were young birds: including 20 of the Whitethroat.  However, although birds on passage that breed in the UK and migrate at the end of the breeding season should not surprise you when they turn up on a site like this, the arrival of two Reed Warbler in the catch was really pleasant for those of us ringing in the north of the county without a reed bed to monitor:


After we had packed up the ringing site we took a trip across the Plain to one of the locations where Ian and Andy have been monitoring Stone Curlew. We parked a couple of hundred yards away from the plot and settled down to watch. Two Stone Curlew flew off the plot to an area of mud and water, showing well. Watching them we noticed a badger was digging into the soil, presumably searching for earthworms. Life must be hard for them at the moment: to see one foraging for food in the middle of the day is very unusual.  Careful watching of the plot and the surrounding vegetation revealed a total of six Stone Curlew.  That they are aggregating strongly suggests that breeding has finished for this year.  After we had all had our fill of watching these fascinating birds we finished our session for the day.  Very satisfying.

Webb’s Wonder: Saturday, 4th August 2018

Webb’s Wood can be a bit of  struggle at times. Whilst each year has delivered one session with 80 to 90 birds caught, these are usually in the winter, when the feeding stations are operating.  Other than that, the catches in spring, summer and autumn have been generally small, 20 to 30 birds in a session but often far fewer.   Today we had our best ever session in the wood: in just 3 net rides, with a total of 10 x 18 metre nets we caught 109 birds: 104 new and 5 retraps.

I was joined for the session by David and Jonny.  We had the nets open by about 6:30 and the birds started arriving soon after.  The first round produced an encouraging 30 birds: and the next few rounds were each 10 to 20 birds. A good, steady procession of birds throughout the morning until 10:00, when it started to drop off.

The Braydon Forest is a stronghold for the Marsh Tit.  Webb’s has generally been the second least productive for the species, with one or two ringed per annum (the least productive being the Firs: just over the road from it).  Last year we had an encouraging catch of new Marsh Tit: a total of 6, with 3 caught in one session.   Today we caught 6 in the one session: 5 juveniles and 1 adult.  This is the largest catch of unringed Marsh Tits in the Braydon Forest since ringing started in Ravensroost in 2009 (which held the previous highest catch, 5, in 2009 and 2011). Hopefully this bodes well for another excellent year for this species in the Forest.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 1; Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 23(1); Great Tit 21(1); Coal Tit 4; Marsh Tit 6; Long-tailed Tit 7(3); Wren 9; Robin 3; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 4; Chiffchaff 14; Willow Warbler 5; Goldcrest 4. Totals: 104 birds ringed from 14 species; 5 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 109 birds processed from 14 species.  86 of the birds caught were definitely juveniles fledged this year.  None of the Long-tailed Tits, nor either of the Nuthatch, were reliably identifiable as birds of this year or earlier.

14 Chiffchaffs was our best catch of the year to date for this species, and the largest at this site ever. 5 juvenile Willow Warblers was also a decent catch.

All in all, this was an excellent session, our best at Webb’s, and hopefully presages a better autumn than the spring and summer we have had so far.


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.