Tedworth House: Wednesday, 21st February 2018

A lovely Spring morning led to a pleasant ringing session at Tedworth House this morning.  I was joined for the morning by Andrew Bray and Dave Turner did his usual stalwart job of helping set up, and providing the bacon sandwiches – absolutely invaluable.

The catch was smallish but had a few highlights: the main one for me being my first catch of an over-wintering Blackcap. A stunning male Greenfinch was my team’s first for the year and a couple of Goldcrest, one of which has lived through at least 3 winters, were a pleasant addition.

We were unlucky in that a local Kestrel has decided to spend some considerable time staking out the most regularly topped up feeding station, just outside the Hero garden.  Their preferred prey might be small mammals but they are very adept at taking small birds.  The small birds are clearly aware of that and there were considerably fewer feeding there than there has been at recent sessions.  A pair of local Jackdaws gave her a hard time for a while, resulting in her making a high-pitched chittering cry as she manouevred away from them.

The catch for the day was: Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 8(8); Coal Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 1; Dunnock 1(2); Robin 1(2); Blackcap 1; Goldcrest (2); Greenfinch 1.  Totals: 13 birds ringed from six species and 17 birds retrapped from six species, making 30 birds processed from nine species.

As well as our catch, the Kestrel and the Jackdaws, we heard Green Woodpecker and watched a Buzzard taking advantage of an early thermal but the key sighting was seeing the pair of Raven fly in to their nesting tree.  We suspect that they haven’t laid eggs yet: their breeding was late last year and looks as though it might be again this year, but great that they are back again for another go.

Brown’s Farm: Saturday, 17th February 2018

It has been difficult getting onto Brown’s Farm over the last couple of years: the key problem has been how much windier our part of the country seems to have become. Fortunately, today’s forecast was for calm, bright weather and it played ball – at least it did until we were ready to take down, whereupon the breeze got up and put two of the rides into the blackthorn hedges. Fortunately, having learnt from past experience, we had left a big enough gap between the nets and the hedgerows to make sure it wasn’t damaging.  We were looking forward to a different catch to the woodland fare we have been working with so far this winter.

We had a big team out today: (almost certainly due to the excitement of the different location) Jonny, Ellie, Steph and Suzanne joined me on site.  Today was a big day for Suzanne: having been along for two taster sessions, and been taught how to safely handle the birds, she started her ringing career today. The first bird she ringed was one of the ten Yellowhammers we caught.

2018_02_17 Brown's Farm

(photograph courtesy of Steph)

It was also a good day for Ellie and Steph: both ringing their first Yellowhammers; Steph also extracted and ringed her first Linnet.  Ellie ringed the first Meadow Pipit caught at the site. I have seen them around the farm but great to finally catch one there.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 10(3); Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 4; Dunnock 4(2); Wren (1); Meadow Pipit 1; Robin 1; Blackbird 1; Chaffinch 3; Linnet 1; Yellowhammer 10.  Totals: 36 birds ringed from 10 species; six birds retrapped from three species, making 42 birds processed from 11 species.

Perhaps the most interesting catch of the day was a female Dunnock, which was already developing a brood patch ready for laying eggs.  Males have been singing for some time now and, in my garden at least, there has been a lot of courtship and territorial behaviour.  So, whilst this seems early for a bird of this species entering breeding condition, perhaps this is indicative of a change in breeding behaviour for this species.  BTO data shows that dates of first laying, from the nest record scheme, are towards the end of April, with the earliest proven to be 1st April.

We were joined briefly by the farmer and his two children.  They were very receptive and the children loved getting close to the birds. I think the farmer was particularly happy that we have had a decent catch and a first for the site. He took over the farm about 16 months ago and has changed some aspects of the farm. The most obvious thing he has done is to cut the hedgerows back. They certainly needed doing. It will be interesting to see what develops over the next few years.  One change that would be a concern if it was extended is the conversion of one of the fields to horse paddocks. He has converted some of the old buildings into stables, which are rented out to local horse owners. Currently, its impact on the land use is minimal, with the main focus being beef and arable. Hopefully it will remain so as, whilst carrying out our ringing activities, we were entertained by Skylarks singing all around us.  There were Buzzards, Red Kite and Kestrel hunting over the fields, plus Ravens regularly flying over and calling.  It is a super site to work at.  Hopefully the weather will allow us a few more visits this year and we will continue to be treated to the variety of farmland birds the site attracts.

Braydon Forest: 4th to 14th February 2018

At this time of year we are grateful if the weather allows us to get out on site.  With the windy conditions so prevalent this winter, we were rather restricted to ringing in more sheltered areas: primarily woodland. This is a brief synposis of three sessions carried out in the Braydon Forest: Ravensroost Woods on the 4th; Webb’s Wood on the 11th and Red Lodge on the 14th.  (Our session at Lower Moor Farm on the 7th, with just 12 birds caught, underlines how hit and miss ringing can be at this time of year, unless you provide a feeding station to attract them in.)  One has to accept that the variety will be relatively low but hopefully there might be the odd winter visitor in the mix.  Unfortunately, no special winter visitors but good numbers of Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Steph joined me at Ravensroost for the session on the 4th. We had a small catch of 33 birds: Nuthatch (3); Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 6(6); Coal Tit (7); Marsh Tit (2); Robin (2).  Totals: 11 birds ringed from two species; 22 birds retrapped from six species, making 33 birds processed from six species.

In amongst that catch was a Marsh Tit, Z197228.  This bird was ringed as a juvenile on the 20th September 2014.  It has been caught a further 14 times, weighing in at 10g +/- 0.5g on every occasion.

Webb’s Wood is our go to site for catching Siskin.  We had a good turn out of Jonny, Steph, Lillie and Suzanne Binks, joining us for her first taster session, having approached the BTO for the opportunity to train as a ringer.  Unfortunately, no Siskin put in an appearance. However, we did process 41 birds from seven species.  The catch was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 12(2); Great Tit 8(2); Coal Tit 3(6); Robin 2; Chaffinch 4.  Totals: 29 birds ringed from five species and 12 birds ringed from five species.

So to Valentine’s Day and a trip to Red Lodge.  I went over on the Tuesday lunchtime to top up the feeders, and was encouraged to find the seed feeders nearly empty again when we arrived on site. I was joined by Suzanne and, being the only ringer on site, we only put up two nets rides.  The session was very busy but, unfortunately, the weather changed at 10:30 and we had to shut the nets.  It was a decent catch, titmouse heavy as usual, but continuing our run of Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker captures.

The list for the morning was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (2); Nuthatch 2(1); Blue Tit 20(10); Great Tit 7(9); Coal Tit 4(3); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 1; Dunnock (1); Goldcrest (1); Chaffinch 1. Totals: 35 birds ringed from six species; 28 birds retrapped from eight species, making 63 birds processed from 10 species.

We did one of our impromptu ringing sessions. Whenever we ring in Red Lodge we have a chat with one of the residents of the old Forestry Commission houses, who does his morning run through the wood.  He asked if he could bring his grandchildren over to have a look at the birds. Happy to oblige and we were able to show them two Nuthatches, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest and a Wren, as well as the Blue, Great and Coal Tits.

The best thing about ringing in Red Lodge this winter has been the absence of the vandalism of our feeding station and no repeat of the theft of bird feeders.  Support from the Forestry Commission, using remote camera monitoring, has certainly helped but I think that raising awareness of the problems with the local residents has also done its bit.

The Firs: Friday, 2nd February 2018

The Firs is developing nicely as a bird habitat.  Recently there have been reports of Willow Tit at the entrance to the reserve; Marsh Tit numbers have increased significantly over the last two years; and it is a regular site for seeing and hearing Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and, although I didn’t see it, I heard a Lesser Spot drumming whilst setting up nets this morning.  Tying this in with some excellent sightings over the last couple of years, it is entirely possible that they could breed there.

This morning’s session was nowhere near as exciting as it might have been, but it was a very busy session. With only four nets set (3 x 18m, 1 x 12m), I had expected a catch of 40 or so birds. In the event, there was more than twice that number.  Ellie Jones joined me for the first part of the session but, having a proper job with the Wildlife Trust, had to leave at 11:00.  That left me with another 20 birds to extract and 35 to process.

The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 1(2); Blue Tit 37(11); Great Tit 10(10); Coal Tit 4(3); Marsh Tit (3); Robin (2); Blackbird (1); Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 54 birds ringed from six species; 32 birds retrapped from seven species, making 86 birds processed from nine species.

Obviously, the session was very titmouse oriented, only mitigated by a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackbird, Bullfinch and three Nuthatch.  One thing that was interesting involved the commonest bird of the session. It is always nice when you can find something different about such a regular catch.

Of the 48 Blue Tits caught, 38 were birds fledged last year.  Of these, all bar nine were caught before 11:00.  No adult Blue Tits were caught before the 11:00 round, when one was caught.  The remaining nine were caught after 12:00.  When catching birds in the woods in the autumn, I have always been struck by the absence of adults until December time.  It made me wonder whether they have a different feeding strategy to the youngsters.  Is this another manifestation of the same thing?

Tedworth House: Friday, 26th January 2018

The weather has been playing havoc with our scheduled visits. I had to miss last week’s visit to Tedworth House, hoped to visit this Wednesday but finally got there this morning.  I was joined by Andrew Bray, whose help made the session very easy to manage and must make an honourable mention for Jack Daw for providing the bacon sandwiches in the absence of Dave Turner.  Jack also mentioned that there had been a Firecrest hanging around the edge of the woodland.  Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to catch it but it does rather reinforce the idea that there is a small population in the area of Tidworth, with them being seen (and caught) occasionally throughout the last few years.

We had a decent catch: Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 13(7); Great Tit 2(2); Coal Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 5; Robin 3; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 1(1); Goldcrest 3(1); Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 31 birds ringed from nine species; 13 birds retrapped from six species, making 44 birds processed from 11 species.

The retrapped Treecreeper was an adult bird ringed in mid-2016.  It has been caught twice in each of 2016 and 2017 and clearly survived another winter.  Our retrapped Goldcrest was ringed as an adult one year ago, so has survived at least two winters.  Weighing in at just 4.6g, that is quite a feat.

 

Somerford Common: Friday, 19th January 2018

Having postponed Wednesday’s session, due to a bad (and erroneous) weather forecast, and having missed last week, due to work in Geneva (it’s a hard life, but rewarding – helps pay for my ringing activities, and the sight of over 20 Goosander on the river Arve is something that I will remember for a very long time), and suffering from withdrawal symptoms, I decided to have a short ringing session at Somerford Common on Friday. Andrew Bray joined me for the morning. We only set a few nets either side of the feeding station but had a very busy time of it.

As expected, our catch was almost entirely titmice. Unexpectedly, the majority of the catch was Coal Tit.  With nine ringed and seventeen retrapped, they made up 40% of the catch.  The oldest, D664806, was ringed in October 2013 and has been recaught on three separate occasions: previously in February 2017, all at Somerford Common.

We retrapped another three Marsh Tits, making this an excellent start to the year for our key Braydon Forest study species. At Ravensroost on 6th January we retrapped 5.  On Wednesday, 17th Robin Griffiths identified a colour-ringed bird, which was almost certainly Z197241, bringing our January total to nine individual birds identified at just two sites.

The catch for the day was: Nuthatch 1(1); Blue Tit 8(6); Great Tit 6(5); Coal Tit 9(17); Marsh Tit (3); Long-tailed Tit (1); Dunnock (1); Robin (1); Goldcrest 2; Chaffinch 3.  Totals: 29 birds ringed from six species; 35 birds retrapped from eight species, making 64 birds processed from 10 species.

Given how the weather forecast changed from Friday morning to Friday afternoon (from dry and sunny to wet and cold), and the wet weather that did set in for Saturday, preventing our getting out today,  and expected to last throughout Sunday, getting out Friday was a good move.

 

 

West Wilts Ringing Group Review: 2017

It was a significant year for the West Wilts Ringing Group. The year started on a sad note, with Mike Hamzij deciding that he would bring his ringing career to a close. Mike has done sterling work over the years, both as secretary to our ringing group and as the ringing recorder for Wiltshire; both roles he has now passed on to others, with Phil Deacon taking over as Wiltshire ringing recorder and me taking on the role of WWRG secretary.  I am sure that everybody would like to thank Mike for his hard work and for leaving both roles in such good shape.

There has been a welcome expansion of activity within the group this year, as Andy Palmer, Andrew Bray and Jonny Cooper, having joined Dave Hanham as C-permit holders, started developing their own sites and independent ringing activities, alongside the existing activities of the team.

Ian and his team and me and my team carried out our CES projects at Cowleaze and Lower Moor Farm.  After over 30 years of sustained activity, this will be the last CES season at Cowleaze.  It has generated a wealth of data revealing the dramatic changes in fortune for some of our most iconic woodland birds.  There is a report on the work at Cowleaze in Hobby from last year.

The results for the year were:

   

Ringed

Retraps

Totals

Barn Owl

8

8

Black Redstart

1

1

Blackbird

154

82

236

Blackcap

284

70

354

Blue Tit

775

298

1,073

Bullfinch

79

34

113

Cetti’s Warbler

1

1

2

Chaffinch

113

7

120

Chiffchaff

316

63

379

Coal Tit

148

114

262

Collared Dove

1

1

Dunnock

171

99

270

Firecrest

1

1

Garden Warbler

36

10

46

Goldcrest

96

25

121

Goldfinch

169

2

171

Grasshopper Warbler

3

3

Great Spotted Woodpecker

25

10

35

Great Tit

457

192

649

Green Woodpecker

3

1

4

Greenfinch

30

30

Grey Wagtail

4

1

5

House Martin

3

3

House Sparrow

111

9

120

Jackdaw

5

5

Jay

6

6

Kestrel

1

1

Kingfisher

4

1

5

Lesser Redpoll

16

16

Lesser Whitethroat

23

6

29

Linnet

14

14

Long-tailed Tit

171

99

270

Magpie

2

2

Marsh Tit

29

43

72

Meadow Pipit

54

54

Mistle Thrush

1

1

Nuthatch

49

22

71

Pied/White Wagtail

2

2

Raven

4

4

Redstart

1

1

Redwing

31

31

Reed Bunting

23

4

27

Reed Warbler

9

1

10

Robin

300

149

449

Sedge Warbler

2

2

Siskin

10

10

Song Thrush

38

8

46

Sparrowhawk

2

1

3

Spotted Flycatcher

1

1

Starling

23

1

24

Stonechat

8

8

Swallow

47

47

Tree Pipit

3

3

Treecreeper

40

27

67

Whinchat

8

8

Whitethroat

47

2

49

Willow Warbler

65

13

78

Woodpigeon

6

6

Wren

205

82

287

Yellowhammer

43

1

44

Grand Total

4,282

1,478

5,760

When referring to sightings, unless otherwise stated, the statistics date from 1st January 2013, when the North Wilts Ringing Group split from the WWRG.  This is appropriate, as many of the sites managed by the NWRG were the migrant hot-spot sites, in which the majority of the high profile catches were made.  We have subsequently added Blakehill and New Zealand Farms as potential migration sites, and they are developing nicely.

Andy Palmer started the year with his first Firecrest at his Job’s Mill site at Crockerton in early March.  This was only the third Firecrest ringed by the group in recent times  This was followed a week later by my first Black Redstart, at my interesting site at Tedworth House, the first for the group since 2008.  At the end of March, with the help of Rob Hayden and his tree-climbing friend, Paul Thompson, we ringed four Raven chicks, also at Tedworth House.  Paul heroically climbed 130’ up a Cedar tree to get to the nest for us.  These are the only Ravens ever ringed by the group in Wiltshire.

For the third year running, Ian and Andy devoted much of their summer working with the RSPB on the Wessex Stone-curlew project.  Ian, having initially trained the RSPB team and volunteers on how to ring these fabulous birds, and Andy have monitored and ringed chicks every year since. I was delighted to have the opportunity, with Richard Pike, to visit one site with them and even got the chance of a lifetime to ring a Stone-curlew chick.  This was my 100th species ringed in the UK.

415A1024.JPG

My team agreed to take over the surveying of Barn Owl nest boxes in the north of the county in 2017.  We didn’t achieve as much as we would have liked, but we learned a lot from the experience and fully intend to get better coverage in 2018.  In the event, we surveyed 15 boxes, of which nine held owls with signs of breeding.  We ringed eight young from three nest boxes and couldn’t ring three broods, as they had already fledged. The others held roosting adults.

 

20170618 Blakehill Farm 1.JPG

Andy continued his run of good birds, with his first three Grasshopper Warblers ringed at his Battlesbury site in the autumn. Battlesbury Bowl on SPTA West was developed by Rob Turner and continues to be a productive site in late summer and autumn. This is also when the New Zealand farm site is most productive and both can be feeding and roost sites for Scandinavian thrushes in autumn.

The Marsh Tit colour ringing project in the Braydon Forest had its best ever year: with 28 birds ringed in the woodland sites: a 30% increase on last year and continuing a general trend of increase throughout each of the sites.  Hopefully this trend will continue.  Interestingly, the sites showing the greatest increase are Webb’s Wood and Red Lodge. These are both primarily beechwoods which have had significant thinning operations carried out by the Forestry Commission in the last two years.

There were a couple of interesting recoveries.  On 1st September a Reed Warbler was recovered at Lower Moor Farm exactly one year, to the day, after it was ringed at Coimbra in Portugal.  In October Rob Turner decided to combine two of his passions: golf and ringing by setting up a ringing station at Erlestoke Golf Club.  He was rewarded with a Blue Tit, ringed originally at Hannington on 25th March this year, recovered at Erlestoke on 6th November: a distance of 45km in 226 days.   We have had recoveries of Blue Tits before flying 8 to 10km. I have had Blue Tits ringed in the Cotswold Water Park recovered at Somerford Common or Ravensroost Woods but 45km is a big distance for a resident, essentially non-migratory bird.

All in all, it was a good year for the group. We had a lot going on, the teams are developing well, and the value of our projects to the conservation of vulnerable species continues to prove itself.  Here’s to more in 2018.

(Apologies for the table formatting,  I cannot find a way of reducing the line width. Once I do, I will update it to something more readable.)