Somerford Common: Saturday, 29th December 2018

I was joined by Jonny, David, Steph and Lillie for this, our first session after Christmas.  The ride down which we set our nets is beginning to show the first signs that the incredible drying out of the substrate this summer and autumn might just be succumbing to the winter rains. i.e. it is beginning to get very mucky underfoot.

David is currently struggling to get ringing sessions under his belt. It seems there is a paucity of trainers willing to take people on and so, for each of his 10 week terms at university in Aberystwyth, he gets to do no ringing.  Both the University and myself have tried to find someone in the area who he could work with in term time, but with no success. I am always delighted at how quickly he manages to pick things up again, but training the next generations of ringers is a real problem.

Speaking of which, Lillie has been coming out with us, accompanying her mum, Steph, for two years now, since the age of 7.  She has been taught how to do all of the basic processing of birds in the hand once they have been extracted.  Saturday was a red-letter day for her (and the team) as she carried out her first extractions.  I started her off gently, with a Chaffinch, and then we moved on to Blackbird, Great Tit, Coal Tit and, finally, to test her mettle, Blue Tit.  Suffice to say, she did extremely well and needed very little help after having been shown what to do.  We will take it slowly but she will become an even more valuable member of the team very quickly.

The catch was a good one: with a reasonable variety for a north Wiltshire woodland in winter.  We did not catch any Redwing this session. I did a quick visit to Blakehill Farm on Wednesday morning, their stronghold in this part of the county, and didn’t see any: so I was not that surprised.  (I did manage to see 5 Snipe and 2 Jack Snipe, so it was good visit).  Anyway, the list for the day was: Nuthatch 1(1); Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 11(4); Great Tit 4(1); Coal Tit 5(9); Robin (1); Blackbird 1(1); Goldcrest 3(1): Chaffinch 4.  Totals: 31 birds ringed from 8 species; 18 birds recaptured from 7 species, making 49 birds processed from 9 species.

Unfortunately, we missed out on two good birds.  A Sparrowhawk flashed down the ride and got entangled in the net, just long enough to get Jonny running full pelt to try to get to it, but unfortunately it extracted itself and got away before he could reach it.  The second bird we could not process was a Jay.  We don’t catch many, so to have to let one go was disappointing.  The bird was badly affected with what was almost certainly a mite infection, but it looked very much like the scaly leg problems we find with some Chaffinches.  The irony of being able to ring 4 Chaffinches, as they had clean legs, but not a Jay, that we have never seen this problem with before, was not lost on us.  This poor bird was missing two of its claws on the left foot, as a result of the infection.

Treecreeper are always a nice catch but very difficult to photograph.  BTO rules are that photographs of birds should not be shown if they could be construed to be uncomfortable or stressed.   The problem with photographing Treecreepers is that they always look miserable in the hand: they have a down-curved beak and hunch their shoulders, so it is difficult to get a usable photo.  Fortunately, on release both of ours flew into nearby trees and stayed still for long enough to get a photograph before flying off:




The Firs: Saturday, 22nd December 2018

We were lucky to get a session in on Saturday, with the weather having been awfully wet for the previous few days.  We set nets down the main path, either side of the feeding station.  I was joined for the session by Jonny, Ellie and Steph.  It was a fairly routine woodland session: primarily Blue Tits in the catch, no doubt attracted in numbers to the free feed.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 28(13); Great Tit 2(4); Coal Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 1(1); Robin 1(2); Redwing 2; Goldcrest 1.  Totals: 36 birds ringed from 7 species; 22 birds recaptured from 6 species, making 58 birds processed from 8 species.

The catch was fairly disappointing in its lack of variety.  The huge flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare have definitely moved on from the area, so it was nice to catch a couple of Redwing but, unusually, to catch no Nuthatch or Great Spotted Woodpecker was definitely unusual.  Also, no sign of any finch species at all.  Hopefully some Lesser Redpoll and Siskin will turn up later in the winter.

Three Sessions 12th, 13th and 16th December

Given the weather forecast for last week, it was quite remarkable that I managed to fit in all three scheduled sessions, the last by moving Saturday’s session to Sunday, the others simply because the weather was better than originally forecast.

Wednesday, 12th December saw my monthly Help4Heroes session at Tedworth House go ahead.  There were two issues that restricted the catch: none of the feeding stations had been stocked up in advance and a couple of workmen were doing ground works in front of two of my net rides. The latter were not expected to have been there, as they were expected to have completed their tasks by the Tuesday.  The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 5(4); Great Tit 4(1); Wren 1; Dunnock (1); Robin (1); Blackbird 1; Chaffinch 2; Goldfinch 3. Totals: 16 birds ringed from 6 species; 7 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 23 birds processed from 8 species.

The catch could have been better: a Redwing managed to extract itself from the net before I could get to it and a large flock of Lesser Redpoll flew through the area but, unfortunately, they were too busy foraging in the canopy to come down to the nets. Later in the winter, as the canopy feed becomes depleted, I am sure that they will drop down and we will catch a few.

Thursday, 13th December was a very different session to most. It took place at Lower Moor Farm and I was helped for the session by Ellie Jones, one of my senior trainees and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s northern reserves manager, which includes this site.  We were joined for the morning by a team from BBC’s Countryfile programme, which included presenter Matt Baker.  They were making a film about the Wildlife Trust’s Care Farm on the site. This is a local authority funded scheme to enable vulnerable, disadvantaged and disabled young people to explore nature in a safe and relaxed educational environment.  The youngsters and staff are regular visitors to my ringing sessions, and I like to get them to get close to the birds and try to teach them some simple identification tips for ageing and sexing species.  For this session we were joined by just one of them, who was the focus of the session.

To ensure we had some birds for filming I had set up a couple of peanut and seed feeders two weeks ago and kept them topped up on a weekly basis.  However, to make sure we weren’t inundated with birds, Ellie and I only set two nets.  Prior to Dan’s arrival (the youngster to be filmed), the camera and sound crew filmed me extracting some birds from the net.  You don’t realise your particular foibles until a disinterested third party is with you. They asked me to stop talking to the birds whilst I was extracting them, as it would not transfer well to the television.  They filmed our activity for over 2 hours.  Ellie kept the nets clear whilst I carried out the ringing activities.  Dan was taught how to safely hold and release a number of birds from half-a-dozen species. He was also shown how to age and sex Great Tits and age Blue Tits and was quizzed by Matt Baker on what he had learned.  He thoroughly enjoyed the session. With that much filmed there might be a few minutes of bird ringing on the show to be aired on the 20th January 2019. We shut the nets once the filming stopped.

The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 2(4); Great Tit 4(4); Wren (1); Dunnock 1(4); Robin (2); Blackbird (1); Chaffinch 2. Totals: 9 birds ringed from 4 species; 16 birds recaptured from 6 species, making 25 birds processed from 7 species.

Sunday, 16th December was at Ravensroost Woods. I was joined by Jonny Cooper and also by Emmeline Williams from the Wildlife Trust’s well-being team.  We set up a single net ride of 5 nets, with 84 metres of net.  As expected at this time of year, the catch was dominated by titmice: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 1(2); Blue Tit 27(19); Great Tit 7(3); Coal Tit 8(3); Marsh Tit 1(3); Wren 1; Dunnock (3); Robin 1(1); Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 2(1).  Totals: 49 birds ringed from 9 species; 36 birds recaptured from 9 species, making 85 birds processed from 11 species.

The highlight of the catch was our seventeenth Marsh Tit of the year: we still have a way to go to catch up with the 29 captured last year but it is still a strong showing and better than most years for the species in the Braydon Forest.  I manage a licensed colour ringing scheme for Marsh Tits caught in the Forest in the hope that I will get reported sightings back. If you do see any please leave a comment on the blog page with date, place and colours.  I will send a response with details of when and where the bird was ringed and any subsequent sightings.


Webb’s Wood: Saturday, 8th December 2018

The weather forecast wasn’t particularly encouraging for today, with the potential for rain being estimated in the high teens percentages and strong winds forecast.  However, as the wind was forecast to come from the west and we ring right in the heart of Webb’s Wood, we thought we should be able to get a bit of a session in, provided the rain held off.  I was joined for the session by Jonny, Steph and Lillie.

On Thursday I had set up a couple of bird feeders and, although I didn’t expect them to play much of a part on Saturday, whilst setting them up I had noticed a flock of 40 or so Redwing in the vicinity, which would make a good target for our session.

We had the nets open for 8:00 and started catching straight away.  I was right about the feeders: we only caught 6 of the birds in the nets set close by. At the next session I have no doubt the vast majority of the catch will come from there.  The net setup is shown on the photo below. The circle shows the position of the feeding station:

Webbs 2

This photo shows the position of the ringing area within the wood:


I was right about the Redwing: we caught 22 of them: exactly half of the catch. So far this winter it looks like being our best ever for Redwing, with 130 to date in our sites in the north of the county, and we haven’t had any hard weather yet.  The total catch was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 8(1); Great Tit 1(2); Coal Tit 2; Wren 1; Robin 1; Redwing 22; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 2(1).  Totals: 40 birds ringed from 10 species; 4 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 44 birds processed from 10 species.

At about 10:15 the wind began to get up and, as the nets were getting blown out by the wind, we shut them and took down.  It was a good decision: just as we finished packing the equipment away in the car, the rain came.  We left site at 11:00.

Blakehill Farm: Tuesday, 4th December 2018

With foul weather to end November, unfortunately the start of December is not looking too clever either.  Having been unable to get out since a week ago Sunday, and with rain forecast for the rest of the week, and today being scheduled to be flat calm and dry, I took advantage of being my own boss to have a ringing session this morning.  Unfortunately, the rest of the crew having jobs and other responsibilities, it was going to be me on my own.  I decided on Blakehill Farm, as an opportunity to catch a few Redwing. They roost in the trees on edge of the Chelworth Industrial Estate and feed in the hedgerows on the perimeter track and out on the central plateau.

I didn’t plan to set too many nets, and in the event I didn’t set as many as I intended because, having set up the second net set, the Redwing started arriving regularly and in number.  Redwing continued to be caught throughout the morning, with the last being extracted at 11:30.  Prior to today, the largest catch of Redwing the West Wilts Ringing Group has had was 39 at Blakehill in November 2016. Today eclipsed that, with a total haul of 70.

Whilst the session was dominated by the Redwing, I caught a number of other species typical of Blakehill’s hedgerows and plateau.  Linnet numbers seem to have fallen away recently, so to catch a pair this morning was a pleasant bonus:


As well as the Redwing, I caught the following: Great Tit 1; Dunnock 1; Meadow Pipit 1; Robin 2; Blackbird 6; Goldfinch 1; Linnet 2; Reed Bunting 1.   A total of 85 birds ringed from 9 species.


Lower Moor Farm Visitor Centre: Sunday, 25th November 2018

With Saturday being a miserable, drizzly day Jonny and I pushed back the session to Sunday.  The forecast was for it to be a drier day but windy.   My usual ringing site at Lower Moor farm would have been too exposed to a north-easterly wind, so we moved to the area by the Visitor Centre and the Children’s Education Area.


When we set the nets I thought that the three net sets in the Children’s Education Area would provide the major part of the catch.  In fact, the single net set adjacent to the road way produced 70 of the 79 birds caught.

The first round was the largest, with a good number of Redwing and a sizeable tit flock caught in the road nets.  Thereafter, it was steady influx of birds leading to a catch comprising: Blue Tit 14(5); Great Tit 7(3); Long-tailed Tit (4); Wren 7(1); Dunnock 5; Robin 4(1); Redwing 16; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 5; Bullfinch 3. Totals: 65 birds ringed from 12 species, 14 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 79 birds processed from 13 species.

As is usual for this time of year, we set several lures. two for Redwing, and one each for Lesser Redpoll and Chaffinch. The Redwing lure worked beautifully in the road net, where all 16 were caught, the others failed miserably.  What they did do was create work for me: as I spent the entire session accosting birders as they arrived in the car park, to warn them not to be fooled by the lures.  As a result, I also spent quite a lot of time doing impromptu ringing demonstrations to interested parties.  This is something I enjoy doing, but I also think it is important to engage people in the process, so they understand why we do it and that the birds are not compromised by it.   Jonny having left early, due to a prior commitment, coupled with ensuring the nets were cleared regularly, kept me pretty busy for the rest of the session.

My session highlight was catching the Song Thrush: my record sheets for the ring size CC prior to this catch showed nothing but Redwing for the last 50 captures. I expect to see a couple of hundred more Redwing over the course of the winter but will hopefully be interspersed with a good number of Song Thrush.  We have a good sized population of these declining birds in north Wiltshire, and I regularly ring 30 to 40 per year, since an all time low of just 4 in 2013.

Meadow Farm: Friday, 16th November 2018

Authored by Jonny Cooper.

Meadow Farm is a site incorporating hedgerows, woodland, grassland and the river Avon near to Sutton Benger in Wiltshire.  When starting to ring at a site one of the main things that takes time is getting an idea of the best places to put nets and what works for the site.  Over the summer and autumn I have been getting out to Meadow Farm as often as I can, to try out new ideas for net rides etc. This has led to catches settling at a pretty regular 50 birds per session, with interesting birds, like Kingfisher and Jackdaw being caught, as well as good numbers of migrant birds on autumn passage.

Moving into winter I have stared to regularly fill up a few feeders on the site, to try and attract in some of the wintering flocks of birds that frequent the wet woodland and fields adjacent to the ringing area. So, when I turned up to do a session on Friday I was reasonably confident of a good catch.

I set most of the nets the evening before and was on site before sunrise to try to catch a few Redwing coming out of roost. The first round at 7:00 provided 8 of these lovely thrushes. Dawn broke to a still and overcast day, perfect ringing conditions. Things really started to kick off for the next round with 37 birds extracted and processed, this busy theme continued for the rest of the morning. It seemed every round was producing nets full of birds.

The list for the morning was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, Blue Tit 26(11), Great Tit 9(13), Long-tailed Tit 6(1), Wren 4(2), Dunnock (1), Robin (1), Redwing 9, Blackbird 2, Chaffinch 2, Goldfinch 45, Greenfinch 6, Yellowhammer 1. A total of 111 birds ringed from 11 species and 29 re-traps from 6 species, making 140 birds processed from 13 species.

45 Goldfinches is a particularly good catch, being the most abundant species for the session. It seems Blue Tits can be outdone, even at feeders. The Yellowhammer was the second for the site, the first being a female back in June. The Redwing were good to catch and observing birds moving around the site has given me some more ideas for places to try and set nets to catch more of these winter visitors. Altogether an incredible session that exceeded any expectations I had.