Somerford Common and Ravensroost Woods: 27th and 29th August 2018

Having missed last Wednesday’s session at Somerford Common, due to rain and wind, Steph, Andrew and I met up there at 5:30 on Monday morning. We set a few lures away, hoping for some migrants coming through. Unfortunately, none of them managed to draw in the target species.  We had a reasonable catch of 35 birds, made up as follows: Blue Tit 6(1); Great Tit 2(1); Coal Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 1(2); Wren 2; Dunnock 1; Robin 3; Blackcap 5; Chiffchaff 8; Willow Warbler 1. Totals: 31 birds ringed from 10 species; 4 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 35 birds processed from 10 species.  Of the birds caught, 27 were juvenile birds. The adults were 1 each of Coal Tit, Great Tit and Chiffchaff, 2 Long-tailed Tits and 3 Blue Tits.

We have seen an interesting phenomenon recently: catches have been reasonably steady from when we open the nets until 10:00 in the morning, and then it drops off dramatically to virtually zero. Our last four sessions have been the same in this respect so when we arrived at Ravensroost Woods for the August project session we did wonder what would happen.  I was joined by Jonny and Andrew for the session.

We set our nets along the usual rides and started catching straight away. The catch was regular until 8:30 and then dropped off dramatically. We spent the next hour visiting empty nets – and then it got interesting. Firstly, there have been reports of Spotted Flycatcher in the wood for several years now.  We have all seen them.  A family group was seen earlier this week in the vicinity of the meadow pond. However, before today none had been caught. This now means that they have been caught in four of the five woods that we monitor in the Braydon Forest.  We are hopeful that there is a small breeding population in the Forest: a family group has also been seen in the Firs this summer.


In addition, we had a decent fall of Chiffchaff in the same net.  They have been a bit scarce over the last couple of years, compared with the previous three years, but numbers seem to be picking up again.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 3(3); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 6; Great Tit 2; Marsh Tit 1; Wren 1; Spotted Flycatcher 1; Robin 4(2); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 11; Chiffchaff 13(2).  Totals: 43 birds ringed from 10 species; 8 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 35 birds processed from 11 species.  Of the birds caught, 37 were definitely fledged this year; 8 were definitely adult and 6 (the Nuthatches) were impossible to age as either fledgling or adult as both undergo a full moult into adult plumage in the summer / early autumn.  This catch compares well with the equivalent session last year (30 birds from 10 species): adding to the trend of matching or bettering the previous year’s catch this late summer / autumn.

As well as the Spotted Flycatcher and the Chiffchaff numbers, it was a relief to catch another Marsh Tit.  Things are moving a bit slowly for this species this year, so we will be focusing our efforts on trying to improve the numbers caught between now and the end of December.

About 10:00 a volunteer team came along to work on the Shooters’ Hut in the middle of the wood. It has been vandalised frequently over the years. They have done a lovely job of repairing it: it looks smashing and it incorporates an owl box.  Let’s hope the vandals leave it alone and the owls don’t!

At 10:30 we were surprised to find a large group of people brandishing pitchforks and scythes come down the main path towards us! Fortunately, our not having recently cobbled together and reanimated a being from parts garnered from various cadavers, they were friendly.  It was a work party come to cut the verges of the path.  I love the fact that the Trust is now able to eschew the tractor and flail mower they used to contract with, to cut back the vegetation along the paths, with the messy and ragged result that used to leave, and have this skilled volunteer workforce to carry out this much better, economic and eco-friendly maintenance.  As they were carrying out their task one of the crew scythed apart a stand of vegetation to reveal what was either a Blackcap or Garden Warbler nest. The key thing about this is that the nest was less than 18″ from the path and a similar distance off the ground. This is why dogs must be kept on leads and not allowed to roam off the path during the breeding season.  These nests are so vulnerable to even the most friendly and well-meaning dog.  (Of course, the Trust rule is that should be the case all year round. Unfortunately, it is regularly ignored by those “responsible” dog owners.)

The catch fell away at 11:30 and we packed up and left site at about 12:30 – leaving the scything crew to carry on their good work.

New Zealand Farm: Saturday, 25th August 2018

Ian and Andy had a very early start, hoping to catch any migrating Nightjar that might be in the area.  They were unlucky but Steph and I were particularly lucky because by the time we arrived at 6:00 virtually all of the nets were already set up and ready to go.

We were not as lucky as on our last visit. Unfortunately, it was quite breezy, which did limit the number of nets that could be set to the more sheltered parts. Shelter and Salisbury Plain do not really go together.  The morning was quite cold and even the rising sun did not particularly warm the place up.  However, it did make some of the nets extremely visible.  We tried a simple two shelf net by the only water in the immediate area: a not too big puddle.  This usually works as a magnet for birds looking for a drink or a wash – but not on this occasion.

The catch for the day was: Blue Tit 1; Tree Pipit 1; Wren 1(1);  Dunnock 2; Robin 2; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 4; Whitethroat 8.  Totals 22 birds ringed from 9 species plus 1 recapture.  All birds were juvenile except one each of the Wren, Whitethroat and Song Thrush.

The star bird of the session was the Tree Pipit:


The number of birds fell of dramatically very quickly and by 10:00 we were just watching empty nets. At 11:00 we gave it up as a bad job and took the nets down.

Wild Camping, “Instagrammers” and Bird Ringing

This weekend saw the penultimate CES session for the year.  One of the more sensible things I decided upon when I set up my CES was to limit the number of nets to what I thought I would be able to manage alone when I am older and even more decrepit, and cannot necessarily rely on my team to turn up to the session for whatever reason. Yesterday, nearly all of those things came to pass, with one crying off on the morning with a cold and Steph turning up after I had set the nets (okay, that was by arrangement, maternal duties take precedence).

The weather was actually (relatively) cold, with very light occasional showers for the first two hours.  This meant there was very little insect activity, and the initial rounds only produced a couple of birds at a time.  As the weather warmed up, so the catches improved.

We knew that the Wildlife Trust were trialling a “wild camping” weekend at Lower Moor Farm and that we would have some visitors. Having woken a few of them between 4:30 and 5:30 when banging in pegs and making holes for the poles, there were visitors from minute one.  These were mainly Trust employees, and it was really good to give them the chance to get close to some of the birds that frequent their northern flagship reserve.

What we didn’t expect was 20+ photographers to turn up at 10:30.  Possibly worse: they were a self-styled group of “Instagrammers”.  There are clear rules laid down by the BTO for using social media as, great tool though it is, it is probably better at spreading negative messages than positive ones.  As there was no point in trying to stop them taking photographs, and even less chance of stopping them from posting them on Instagram, I asked them to avoid posting shots that included Steph’s or my face (no hardship in cropping out my ugly mug).  Also, I asked them not to publish any photos of the birds in positions that might look as though they were uncomfortable, as those present would be aware that the birds were fine, whereas others looking at the photos might not.  It is also true that there is a significant clique on the internet who use poor ringing photographs to spread disinformation about the practice (or even just photos of ringers smiling whilst holding birds, as though enjoyment somehow invalidates the value of ringing. Something has to compensate for the early starts and the ever increasing cost.).

The group all agreed and, to be fair, were very interested in what was going on and delighted to see some species that they had not seen up close before. You know a session has gone reasonably well when people make a point of coming up to you some time afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it and how much they had learnt.

Steph and I also enjoyed it, we caught three Sedge Warblers in the session.  We have never previously caught more than two in one session.


(Photo courtesy of Steph.)

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 7(3); Long-tailed Tit 3(1); Wren (1); Dunnock 1; Robin 3; Blackbird 1; Reed Warbler 1; Sedge Warbler 3; Blackcap 15(1); Garden Warbler 9; Whitethroat 2; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 6(2); Willow Warbler 3; Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 56 birds ringed from 14 species; 8 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 64 birds processed from 15 species.  58 of the birds caught were definitely fledged this year, 2 of the Long-tailed Tits probably were, but it is difficult to be certain about that at this time of year.  Both adults and fledglings moult into full adult plumage by the autumn.  I made the assessment on the colouration of the eye-ring (generally, red in juveniles, orange in adults) but have been circumspect in entering the details into the national database.

Garden Warbler numbers continue to surprise, with our best ever Quarter 3 so far, with a total of 31 ringed and 3 recaptured.  The overall catch was slightly down on the equivalent session last year, which had a total of 72 birds from the same number of species: the difference being fewer recaptured birds (16 from 8 species, opposed to this year’s 8 from 5) but we ringed 2 more birds this year.  There were key differences in the composition of the catch: Blue Tit and Chiffchaff numbers were less than half of last year’s session; whereas, unsurprisingly given what I stated above, Garden Warbler numbers are significantly improved (9 to 1) and we had no Sedge Warblers at this time in 2017.

Steph and I closed the nets and packed up at 11:30 after a thoroughly satisfying session.




Tedworth House: Wednesday, 15th August 2018

Today was probably the smallest catch that I have blogged about, with only 9 birds caught, but it was a good session for all that.  Dave Turner turned up to help as usual, only I was also joined today by Gemma Louise, Sarah, Ellie and Rowan from Sparsholt College’s animal handling team.  Many thanks to them for their help and enthusiasm – despite the small catch.  From the first bird: a retrapped Wren, to the last: a Woodpigeon, they were good company, interested and keen to take part.  They are now looking to arrange a ringing demonstration at the college.

We caught another juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker, our third in a week, in the second net round but the star bird arrived in the third round: the first Whitethroat caught at Tedworth House. It was a juvenile bird, no doubt making its way south from having fledged on Salisbury Plain:

2018_08_15 White

The last bird caught today was a Woodpigeon.  I am always a bit ambivalent about ringing Woodpigeons, given their propensity to end up as a starter in restaurants / gastro-pubs but, as with any other bird, I think that if I have inconvenienced it, no matter how trivially, by catching it, the least I can do is process the bird.  So I ringed it.  I ring few birds that take an F-size ring, so it is good practice for ringing other birds that take larger rings.

2018_08_15 Woodp

The list for the session was: Woodpigeon 1; Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 1; Wren (1); Robin 3; Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 1.  Totals: 8 birds ringed from 6 species; 1 bird recaptured, making 9 birds processed from 7 species.  All birds, except the Woodpigeon, were juveniles.

This funny little site, gradually being opened up and improved for wildlife, has now delivered 36 species, including some real stunners (Firecrest, Black Redstart) and birds you don’t find being caught in mist nets and ringed very often (Mallard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Mistle Thrush).  If the promised delivery of a wildlife pond, and the opening up of a new ride in the wood, happen this winter we can look forward to, hopefully, broaching the 40 species mark next year.

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.