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:

IMG_5179

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:

2018_06_09chiff

Swiftly followed by a couple of Long-tailed Tits:

2018_06_09LOTTI

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.

Tick

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.

 

 

Nest Finding and Pullus Ringing: Tuesday, 29th May 2018

One thing I firmly believe is that life is a continuous learning experience and today was a superb lesson for me.  I have a pullus ringing endorsement for birds that nest in holes and boxes, plus Swallows, but I don’t have an endorsement for ringing open nest birds. I have done some under supervision but few warbler or finch species. The BTO have given me a target to attain for them to give me the open nest endorsement.

My friend Jack Daw is one of the most experienced nest finders and pullus ringers in the world, having focused entirely on them for most of his independent ringing activities.  His entire summer is focused on nest surveying.  We know each other through my ringing sessions at Tedworth House, where he is on the staff and helps out with my setting up of a morning.  He kindly offered to take me with him on some of his survey sessions, to give me the relevant experience. The first of these sessions was this morning.

We met in Tidworth and the first stop was to a small wood at the south east corner of the town, where Jack has been monitoring a Blackcap nest. On checking the nest there were two pulli (a small clutch) ready to be ringed: which I duly did.

Our next stop was on SPTA, where we went to have a look at a number of nests: Blackbird (predated); Bullfinch (too young to ring); Blackcap (too old, couldn’t safely be handled without them deserting the nest); Whitethroat (eggs) and then to a Chaffinch nest where we ringed 5 healthy youngsters.  This was followed by another Whitethroat nest, where there was another good crop of 5 youngsters able to be ringed.

After a brief detour to have a look at a superb piece of vetch-covered land, where we were treated to good numbers of Adonis Blue and one lonely Grizzled Skipper, we crossed to the other side of the A338, to an extensive piece of Hawthorn scrub on the side of a chalk bank.  This habitat is becoming scarcer on Salisbury Plain, as the Chalk Grasslands Restoration project is implemented without consideration for the many species that need areas of scrub to nest in.  There is no point in developing a fantastic foraging habitat for Linnets, Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings, etc. if you don’t leave them anywhere to nest.  Some people think that conservation is an apolitical end in itself: it is not, conservation is entirely political and, unless we win the political battle, so much of our wildlife and countryside will continue to decline.

Within the Hawthorn scrub we visited over a dozen nests: many Linnets had already fledged their first broods.  One had five eggs in it, but they were cold and the nest had clearly been deserted.  Perhaps recent bad weather or predation had removed one or both of the parent birds.  Several of the nests had young ready for ringing, and I ringed four broods of Linnet: one brood of 3 and three broods of 4. One of the youngsters in one of the 4-strong broods was too small to ring, so it was put back without.

During this part of our walk, Jack found two Yellowhammer nests, each with eggs, within 5 feet of each other and a Dunnock nest, also with eggs.

So, what did I learn today? What a privilege it is to be a ringer.  Practically, I learnt where to look for nests; how to approach a nest safely, without making obvious tracks, and without leading predators to the nest; how to find a nest; how to examine it without damaging the nest or its contents; how to cover your tracks on leaving, so the nest is left safe; and, importantly, what stage it is safe to ring the pulli at, and when they have gone past that point (i.e. so they don’t flee the nest before they are ready).  Jack is a great example and, although he won’t admit it, an excellent teacher.

 

Lower Moor Farm, CES3: Monday, 28th May 2018

With the weekend being a washout, and all of this week being predicted to be wet, we took advantage of the good forecast for Monday to get out and do CES 3.  I was joined for the session by Jonny and our latest recruit, Luke Osman.  As the three of us, and my nets, had got soaked in a truncated session at the Firs on Friday, Luke’s first session, I was impressed that he came back for more.

We were eaten alive by mosquitoes whilst putting up the nets along the heronry ride, and so doused ourselves in citronella, which helped make the rest of the session bearable.  As has been the case reported from all around the country, our CES numbers are well down on last year.  This is almost certainly down to the late arrival of summer migrants, as mentioned on Springwatch on Monday evening’s screening.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Great Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren (1); Dunnock 1(2); Robin 1; Song Thrush 2(1); Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 1; Garden Warbler 2;  Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff (2); Bullfinch (1); House Sparrow 2; Reed Bunting (1).  Totals: 13 birds ringed from 10 species and 12 birds recaptured from 9 species, making 25 birds processed from 16 species. The proportion of retrapped birds is 48%.

The catch included our first newly-fledged Dunnock and Robin of the year.  It also included a Whitethroat, carrying an unwelcome visitor:

Whitethroat and tick

Not my best photograph but the large grey blob is a tick.  Most ringers carry a pair of needle forceps or a tick removing tool in their kit for just such an eventuality.  I removed it, made sure the wound was clean and released the bird unburdened by a blood-sucking parasite.