Red Lodge: Thursday, 8th November 2018

This session was moved from a wet and windy Wednesday to a less wet and less windy Thursday.  Red Lodge is one of those places where, in my mind, we get small catches and, in reality, we get excellent catches.  Thursday was no exception.  Unfortunately, our bird feeding station at Red Lodge has frequently been vandalised over the last couple of year, culminating with the complete disappearance of the bird table over the summer.  It is hard to credit the mentality of someone doing this.  I can (just about) understand someone stealing the bird feeders but the consistent and persistent efforts to prevent the supplementary feeding of the local bird population during the winter months just beggars belief. Rant over!

On Tuesday afternoon I set up some small seed and peanut feeders in out of the way locations, in the hope that they will survive the winter. Wednesday was as wet as forecast.  At 6:00 Thursday morning the rain had just stopped, the cloud cover was reasonably broken and it looked positive.   Jonny and I set up just four nets (2 x 18m; 1 x 12m and 1 x 9m) and put on lures for Marsh Tit and Redwing.  The former worked.   We took 18 birds out of the net on the first round and, as we were processing them, had to move the ringing station into the back of the car, as a fairly heavy shower passed over.  Next round delivered another 22 birds, mainly Long-tailed Tits, and another brief shower whilst we were processing them.  Fortunately, the showers passed over while the nets were empty, so we had no wet birds to handle.  It was also the end of the rain for the morning.

As usual during these sessions, we caught mainly Blue Tits but, I am pleased to say, the second largest number ringed was 17 Long-tailed Tits.  This is the largest number ringed in a session since we did 18 at Blakehill Farm on the 25th October 2015.  Numbers have definitely slumped since then, not getting into double figures ringed and recaptured in the Braydon Forest since a catch in Ravensroost on 27th October 2017 but, generally, for three years we have caught just twos and threes if any at all.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 3; Blue Tit 22 (12); Great Tit 3(7); Coal Tit 3(1); Marsh Tit (3); Long-tailed Tit 17; Wren (1); Dunnock 1; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 2.  Totals: 52 ringed from 8 species; 24 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 76 birds processed from 10 species.

Of the three Marsh Tits recaptured one, D983472,  was originally ringed in August 2014, so it is double the typical lifespan of this species, but way off the 11 years and 3 months of the oldest known individual.

Soon after the second rain shower, a flock of some 50 or so Lesser Redpoll flew in, settled in the tops of the trees around our feeding station, before flying on further into the wood.  We didn’t catch any but this was an exciting sighting.  Until the wood was thinned in 2015 / 2016 we rarely saw or caught finches in this wood.  Even the commonest of finches, Chaffinch, was only caught on two separate occasions prior to 2016, once each in 2013 and 2014, but are now caught regularly.  Lesser Redpoll have been even more scarce, with 7 caught in one memorable session in December 2016 and just one caught in November 2017.  Hopefully we will be able to catch a few this winter.

The catch had died down by 10:30, and the wind was getting stronger and blowing the nets, so we had an early end to, what was a very satisfactory, session.

Somerford Common: Saturday, 3rd November 2018

With winds forecast to be gusting to over 30 mph in Wiltshire today, I had to abandon the planned visit to Brown’s Farm.  It is far too exposed, sitting atop the hills south of Marlborough. Instead, Annie Hatt and I headed to one of the more thickly wooded parts of Somerford Common.  I put up a couple of peanut feeders and put seed onto the bird table on Friday morning, to ensure that we would have a reasonable catch.

It is Annie’s first trip out for quite a while, due to pressure of work, so I decided to keep the number of nets low and easily manageable.  We had 3 x 18m nets down the main path and 1 x 12m parallel to the path and behind the feeders.  The aim being to catch birds coming in and out of the feeding station.  The strategy worked: the nets were untroubled by the wind, we had a good catch of birds and they came in a constant and manageable flow.

We know that our catches are going to be dominated by Blue Tits under these circumstances but, with a new BTO-backed study being run on this species, there is plenty of data available.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 10(6); Great Tit 4(1); Coal Tit 7 (4); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 1; Robin 1; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 10; Chaffinch 1.  Totals:  40 birds ringed from 11 species; 12 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 52 birds processed from 12 species.

Amongst the decent haul of Coal Tits was D664806, which was a juvenile ringed in October 2013. It has been caught on four other occasions, including this.  According to BTO Bird Facts, the typical lifespan is 2 years, the oldest is 9 years and just under 3 months, so it is doing well, but has a few years to go before threatening the record.   We ringed our thirteenth Marsh Tit of 2018: we need another 11 in two months to match the excellent total of last year.

Soon after we had emptied the nets from the first round and were sat processing the catch, we had a female Sparrowhawk fly along the length of the net ride. It is a wonderful sight, watching this magnificent bird of prey flying directly towards you.  Better than that, no more than 10m away from us, it veered up and into a tree adjacent to the ringing station and sat there, had a good look at us, before flying off.

We closed the nets at 12:00 and spent the next hour removing leaves from the nets as we packed away: it is an occupational hazard of ringing att his time of year.



The Firs: Thursday, 1st November 2018

We were asked to do a session for the Wildlife Trust’s Wellbeing team, so we moved our scheduled session from Wednesday to Thursday: something we are always happy to do.  I had set up a feeding station on Tuesday, hoping that it would ensure we had a few birds for the session.   The birds had clearly found the feeders, as the peanuts and seed mix had been reduced by one third.

As luck would have it, Wednesday was dry and sunny, Thursday was overcast and showery.  Andrew Bray and I arrived at 6:30 and set the nets.  We only set nets down the central glade, as there was just the two of us.  Immediately, we had opened them we had to shut them, as it started to rain.  We were able to open them just after 8:00 and got a good first round of 18 birds in.  The rain started again at 8:30, so we closed the nets again, able to open them at 9:15.  It seemed that as soon as we opened them birds started flying in.  The rest of the morning remained dry – apart from the water continually dripping off the trees every time there was a breath of wind.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 1(3); Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 14(19); Great Tit 2(7); Coal Tit 4(2); Marsh Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 2(2); Wren 1(2); Goldcrest (2).  Totals: 26 ringed from 7 species; 40 birds recaptured from 9 species, making 66 birds processed from 10 species.

We caught a Great Tit, which was one of the first I ringed after getting my C-permit, D056678. This was ringed as an adult, just up the road in a private site on Wood Lane, in October 2012, so it is at least 7 years old. Typical lifespan of Great Tits is 3 years, but the oldest known, from ringing, is a massive 13 years 11 months and 5 days.

Any session where we catch four Nuthatches is a good session: three recaptures and one new bird.  Add in a couple of recaptured Marsh Tits and Goldcrests plus two new Treecreepers and it becomes a very good session.

The Wellbeing group arrived at just before 10:00, and we were able to show them a wide range of different birds.  Jo Woodhams and Chelsie Phillips, valuable members of the Wellbeing Team, had organised the group and persuaded them to get to site an hour earlier than they would normally start.  It was a diverse group of varying ages.  One thing they all had in common was a real interest in the birds we showed them.  Several were knowledgeable, but this was the first time they had been able to see them up close, and they were delighted.

Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 24th October 2018

With lots of reports of Redwing arriving, and the team catching several on Friday and Saturday at Battlesbury Bowl on Salisbury Plain, we headed for Blakehill Farm to see whether they had arrived for us yet.  They are a little later than last year: our group’s first last year was on the 11th October at Somerford Common.  Last year was a quiet one for Redwing at Blakehill: the perimeter fence had a severe pruning in the early autumn which reduced its value as a food source.  As a result, we caught none there between October and Christmas 2017, compared with 79 in the same period in 2016.  This year, the hedgerow is looking so much better, as a result of the pruning, and full of haws and sloes, so we are hopeful of a restoration of the catch this year.

The day was set to be fair and virtually windless, so just right to have a session at Blakehill.  I was joined by Ellie, Jonny, Steph and Lillie.  We arrived to a clear morning and set nets along the perimeter track first: to target Redwing coming out of roost, before heading onto the plateau to set the Meadow Pipit and bush nets.  As we were setting these nets the temperature dropped and a ground mist formed: which also stopped the birds moving for a while.  I had good views of a fox moving across the plateau in one direction and, a little later, a hare running off in the opposite direction.

We set a couple of lures running, for Meadow Pipit and Redwing.  Both worked.  The list for the session was: Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 3; Wren 1(2); Meadow Pipit 8; Redwing 8; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 2; Linnet 3; Reed Bunting 7(1).  Totals: 35 birds ringed from 10 species; 3 birds recaptured from 2 species, making 38 birds processed from 10 species.




Ravensroost Wood: Saturday, 20th October 2018

It seems like an age since we were last in Ravensroost Woods.  Most of our sessions are carried out in the coppiced area at the south of the wood.  Today, for a change, we decided to ring in the area to the north of the bridle path to see whether it would be any different.  I was joined by my two C-permit holders: Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper.

The session started in fairly thick mist, which lifted only slowly, keeping the temperature cold and the birds in bed.  We caught small numbers regularly throughout the morning and ended up with a total of 40 birds.  Given how little ringing we have done in that part of the wood recently, it was good that one-fifth of the catch were recaptures.

One Blue Tit in particular was a nice recovery: ALC4992 was ringed in Red Lodge on the 10th October this year.  It is only 3km, but still a surprise when this sort of thing occurs.

The list from today: Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 4(3); Great Tit 6(3); Coal Tit 5; Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 4; Wren 2; Blackbird 1(1); Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 6; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 33 birds ringed from 12 species; 7 birds recaptured from 3 species, making 40 birds processed from 12 species.

My highlight of the session was our twelfth new Marsh Tit of the year, but 5 Coal Tits and 6 Goldcrests at this time of the year, with no feeding stations set up, is always a pleasure.

Red Lodge: Wednesday, 10th October 2018

This Wednesday I was joined by Jonny Cooper and Andrew Bray for a session in Red Lodge Plantation.  Jonny and I having temporarily weaned ourselves off Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings to have a look at some woodland species.  The site is a fairly contradictory place and you can never be sure of what you will catch.  In 2015 / 16 there was some fairly extensive thinning of the Beech wood, allowing the undergrowth to thicken somewhat, but it still seems relatively clear of what I consider sustenance trees and shrubs: Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Bramble, etc. However, since the thinning, the catches have improved in both number and diversity.  We now catch the odd finch species in there and, a couple of years ago, a juvenile Spotted Flycatcher.  So it is certainly a site well worth the visit: even if it is always titmouse heavy.

In the winter the main track becomes impassable for all but high clearance vehicles but, at the present, I can get my vehicle past the deepest ruts and excavations and further into the wood.  This enabled us yesterday to set our nets in the three best catching spots: two of which happen to be adjacent to small ponds and one by the large pond near the entrance:


We caught 80 birds at our last session in August, and we always prefer to catch a number that gives us enough time to process all of the birds and do all of the bio-metric assessments without stress to (most importantly) the birds or the team, so we restricted ourselves to just these net positions.

It was just as well: we caught 94 birds today.  Both catches are quite surprising as I haven’t set up any feeding stations yet.  However, there does seem to be a definite trend of improving catches at the site, since the thinning operations.  The list for today was: Nuthatch (1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 25(4); Great Tit 13(6); Coal Tit 3(1); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 6(1); Wren 7(2); Robin 3(1); Blackbird 3(1); Blackcap 2; Goldcrest 12; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 76 birds ringed from 11 species, 18 birds recaptured from 9 species, making 94 birds processed from 13 species.

It is a good catch: we also heard, but did not catch, Lesser Redpoll during the session. We did have one Chaffinch that was suffering with the Fringilla Papilloma Virus, so it was released from the net without ringing it.   Also, as we were packing away the nets at 12:30, several flocks of birds flew through where we had just removed the nets, so it could have been a much larger catch.  I will set up the feeding stations once the temperature drops – which doesn’t look as though it is going to happen for a few weeks and one would expect some fairly heavy catches over the winter.  However, that will depend very much on what other food is available in the wood to keep the birds local.

There are several highlights in the catch: good numbers of Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tits, after small numbers for the last couple of years.  However, the absolute stand out was the recaptured Nuthatch: it did not have one of my rings on it.  Therefore, it has come in from outside the Braydon Forest area. Now, I ring all of the adjacent woodlands.  The nearest potential sources for this bird are the Cotswold Water Park, possibly Swindon Sewage Works or the woodlands to the east of Swindon, as those are the only places in the local area that are ringed regularly.  As soon as I know where it came from I will update the blog.  The furthest recorded movement of a Nuthatch in the UK is 260km: I doubt this is in that league.


Yet More Meadow Pipits: Blakehill Farm, Sunday, 7th October 2018

One of the benefits of scheduling ringing sessions for the Saturday is that, when it rains all day, you can move the session to Sunday.  As it was just myself and Jonny, I gave Jonny the choice of venue and he chose Blakehill: clearly he hasn’t had enough of Meadow Pipits yet.  We arrived on site for 6:00, in an effort to get the plateau edge nets open before it was light, and also to give ourselves enough time, given that there was just the two of us, to set the perimeter track nets. I wanted to have a shot at catching some Linnets – and they are most likely to be found in the perimeter hedgerow.

The weather was  excellent all morning.  However, the first couple of hours were very cold, with an extensive ground frost.  This almost certainly held back the birds from an early start, which was helpful in getting all of the nets open, unlike the last session.  Once it warmed up, at about 9:00, they started moving and we started catching.

Before we started our catching for the day, we were diverted by a Wheatear that landed on the gate to the central plateau, then hopped onto the gatepost of the gate in the electric fence before flying off across the field.  We had excellent views but didn’t have cameras to hand before it flew off.  Needless to say, we didn’t catch it.

The first full round of the day delivered a bumper catch of Reed Bunting. We went on to have a total of 19 in the session. We have only ever caught that many on one other occasion, on the 9th September 2016. Apart from that the largest Reed Bunting catch at Blakehill was 12.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 3; Meadow Pipit 34(1); Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Stonechat 1; Whinchat 3; Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 3; Starling 2; Linnet 9; Reed Bunting 18(1). Totals: 82 birds ringed from 12 species, plus 2 recaptured from 2 species, making 84 birds processed from 12 species.

This really is turning into a bumper autumn migration for Whinchat, with 15 caught at Blakehill Farm since 5th September.  We also caught our second Stonechat of the autumn. As for Meadow Pipits, well it is just remarkable: 148 birds caught in the same period, compared with a next best maximum of 47 in the whole of 2017. Prior to that we had never caught more than 20 Meadow Pipits in an entire calendar year at Blakehill.  What is interesting is that last Saturday, at Brown’s Farm, I caught 19 Meadow Pipits, where in the previous 3 years and some 15 sessions, I had only caught one.  Perhaps they have just had a really good year.  We have had one of our Blakehill birds recaptured just over the border into Oxfordshire, and on Saturday we caught a bird that was ringed some 43km south at Westdown Plantation on Salisbury Plain, so they are certainly moving around the county.

The plan for Linnets worked, with a nice catch of 9 during the session, all in the hedgerow adjacent to the lure we used.  Just before noon, I looked up from where I was sitting at the ringing station to see Jonny run from one side of the ringing site to the other.  This was the reason why:


We don’t catch many Starlings: they are clever birds and seem adept at avoiding capture.  Jonny was running because three of them were in the net only, by the time he got there, two of them had escaped.  That we caught another one later was pure serendipity.  The nets were kept open until 12:30, by which time the birds had become accustomed to the nets and we had a couple of empty rounds. It was a super session, just like the last two!