Mixed Fortunes: 16th & 17th November 2019

I had scheduled to visit Blakehill Farm on Saturday but, due to an adverse weather forecast for that day all week leading up to it, and an excellent forecast for Sunday morning, I agreed with the Wildlife Trust to move the session to Sunday.  Waking up Saturday morning to rain, I felt justified, but it cleared by 9:00 and the rest of the day was perfect ringing weather.  I opened the nets in the garden and had a relaxing few hours ringing the following: Blue Tit 8(1); Great Tit 1(3); Starling 2; Goldfinch 7.  Totals: 18 birds ringed from 4 species and 4 birds retrapped from 2 species.

I love Starlings! They are one of my favourite birds. Their plumage is spectacular and the fact that their throat, breast and flank feathers enable you to age and sex the birds is an added bonus.

So, to Sunday morning: the perfect weather for ringing at Blakehill. Only it was damp. Never mind I thought, it will clear. So I drove over, the rain stopped, I started erecting nets.  The first one up, about to start the second: the rain started again. I took down, sat in the car for 20 minutes until the rain stopped. This time it let me set up two nets before the rain started again.  That was enough, I packed up and went home.  The rain stopped so I opened the nets in the garden for an hour: 3 more Blue Tit and 5 more Goldfinch.

Fortunately for other group members, the forecast held true for them and Jonny got out to one of his farmland sites and Ian and Andy to SPTA West. Could they repeat their mind blowing catch of last time?  Watch this space.

This is Jonny’s account of his session:

It is just over 2 years since I started ringing at Bailey’s farm. Although not that long compared to some sites it is long enough for me to get a good idea of the sort of birds and numbers to expect when I do a session there. But of course one of the great things about ringing is that you never quite know what you are going to catch.

The forecast was for calm weather all morning, there was a brief shower for about 5 minutes when I got on site but other than that it was dry.

The session kicked off nicely at 7:30 with a first round of 36 birds and stayed busy all morning. Each round providing good numbers of birds from a variety of species; never so many that I was overwhelmed but enough to keep me busy (I didn’t eat my breakfast until 10:00).

The catch for the day was as follows: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, Blue Tit 13(12), Great Tit 5(2), Long-tailed Tit 7(2), Goldcrest 3, Wren 1(1), House Sparrow 1, Dunnock 2(3), Grey Wagtail 1, Meadow Pipit 5, Robin 2(1), Redwing 44, Song Thrush 1, Blackbird 1, Chaffinch 12, Greenfinch 7 and Goldfinch 2.  Totals:  108 birds ringed from 17 species and 21 retraps from 6 species, giving 129 birds processed from 17 species.

There are a couple of highlights, both Meadow Pipit and Grey Wagtail are new birds for the site. I had seen both species a few times on previous visits but up until now they had evaded my nets, and two new species or a site in one session is always nice.

The second highlight is the sheer number of Redwing. Being November I had dutifully put on the Redwing lure we like to call Latvian love song. A catch of 44 Redwing would suggest that it worked. Oddly enough, I didn’t actually see any Redwing fly over all morning, but they must have been coming from somewhere.

Overall this was another incredibly pleasing morning, beating the site record by 9 birds (which was set last session). I’m not really sure why there are so many birds on site this winter, clearly the farmer is doing something right. Regardless, it could certainly be a busy winter is these size catches keep happening.

Ian and Andy went out onto their Salisbury Plain site and managed a decent haul of 33 birds.  They didn’t manage another first for Wiltshire (currently with the BBRC for adjudication) but they did catch this beauty:


This is only the second Merlin caught by our group.  The first was in July 2003.  Both were retrapped birds and we are looking forward to finding out where this beauty was ringed. (Photos courtesy of Ian.)

Their list for the session was: Merlin (1); Blue Tit 3; Wren 1; Robin (2); Redwing 8; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 2; Linnet 1; Bullfinch 3; Yellowhammer 9; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 30 birds ringed from 10 species; 3 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 33 birds processed from 12 species.

So, as I said in the title to this blog: very much mixed fortunes: from thee cracking Merlin to Jonny’s huge solo catch, where the number of Redwing outnumbered the total catch of titmice! Oh well! I will get back there one day!

The Firs: Wednesday, 13th November 2019

This morning’s scheduled session at the Firs coincided with a visit from Devizes School pupils, as part of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Well-Being programme.  Jonny, Tony and I arrived on site for 7:00 and set up the nets, with the school party arriving shortly after 9:15.  These sessions are always a pleasure: getting a small group of teenagers, who are taken out of school for some reason or other, and getting them involved in the great outdoors, always generates a positive response. It doesn’t matter how “too cool for school” they might start out, it is very rare that we cannot get them to join in with our activities.  Today was no exception: every single one of them was persuaded to help out and release our birds.  The challenge “Who’s brave enough to be bitten by a Blue Tit?” usually appeals to the more extrovert teen, which sparks the others to get involved.  It worked for the umpteenth time this morning.  Mind, the lad did keep saying that he wanted to be bitten by birds, which is a little concerning!

Our first round, at 8:00, yielded a good sized flock of 12 Long-tailed Tits, 9 Blue Tits and a couple each of Great and Coal Tits and Goldcrests and a Treecreeper.  The next few rounds were not as busy, and a couple were actually empty, but we had a good number of birds overall to show to the visitors.  Not that they were sitting around doing nothing whilst we were working: they were setting up a camp site, with hammocks and canopies in amongst the trees, and boiling up their billy for tea, coffee and soup: it was very cold first thing and hot beverages were definitely necessary.

We worked through until 11:00 whereupon I uttered the fateful words “We’ll make this the last round and close the nets as we go.”  This guaranteed another dozen birds to the total – mainly Blue Tits, but also our only Robin of the morning.  The list for the session was: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 10(9); Great Tit 1(4); Coal Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 11(1); Wren 2; Robin (1); Redwing 1; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 8(1).  Totals: 38 birds ringed from 9 species and 16 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 54 birds processed from 10 species.

This catch has taken the number of Long-tailed Tits ringed this year to 111: it will be our best year for the species since 2016, with just 77 and 79 in the last two years.   As for the continuing regularity of Goldcrest catches, at 145 so far, this is our best year since I started ringing independently in 2103.

The only downside to the morning: we drew a blank on Marsh Tit during the session, despite running lures for them. Naturally, whilst we were taking down the last two nets a couple of them started calling at each other from either side of the central glade.



First Lesser Redpoll of the Winter: Ravensroost Woods; Tuesday, 12th November 2019

It is at least 3 years since I have run a session that took in the north end of Ravensroost Woods.  The catch in the area had reduced significantly, and it is hard work managing both ends of the wood.  However, as I had a good sized, and experienced, team out with me today: Ellie, Jonny and Alice, we decided to focus on this rather neglected part of the wood. It turned out to be a really good session and I won’t be neglecting it for that length of time again.

Obviously with the problems further north in the country, it would be churlish to complain about the weather, but the rain forecast for 14:00 arrived at 11:30, and the wind really got up from the opposite direction from which it was forecast and which influenced where we set out nets, whilst we were extracting several hundred leaves from the nets and packing away. It seems that weather forecasting is now so inaccurate that looking out of the window is the only way to tell what is going on.

We set up our nets along the main paths (nice not to have to wear wellies for once) as shown below (the red lines):


It was very quiet for the first hour and a bit but then picked up for the next 2 hours, before we packed away.  There were two significant highlights.  We caught another 4 new Marsh Tits for colour-ringing and recaptured two more ringed earlier this year. Extracting and ringing one was a first for Alice: they are red-listed but Wiltshire woodlands do seem to be strongholds for them.

The second highlight was our first Lesser Redpoll of the year:


The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 2(1); Marsh Tit 4(2); Long-tailed Tit 7(5); Robin (2); Redwing 3; Blackbird 2(1); Goldcrest 5(1); Lesser Redpoll 1.  Totals: 32 birds ringed from 11 species and 12 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 44 birds processed from 12 species.

It is a rare session where you capture more Long-tailed Tits, Marsh Tits and Goldcrests than Blue and / or Great Tits in one of the Braydon Forest woodlands.  One of the retrapped Long-tailed Tits was originally ringed on the  20th September 2014: that is a good age for a bird with an expected lifespan of 2 years!

A Lovely First for Red Lodge: Sunday, 10th November 2019

Several weeks ago I was asked to carry out an assessment of a trainee from another ringing group, to confirm that they were proficient enough to be advanced to C-permit level. Our every effort subsequently has been thwarted by the weather. Most recently, we had planned to meet up yesterday but, with rain scheduled at 9:00, and arriving soon after, it was cancelled.  I agreed with the rest of the team that yesterday’s scheduled session would be moved to Tuesday. As the forecast was considerably better for today, with rain scheduled to pour down overnight, but peter out during the morning, clearing by 9:00, I agreed with the trainee, Ian, that I would keep an eye on the weather and, if it stopped early enough, I would call him and we would carry out a session at Red Lodge.  The Firs was the next on the schedule, but that was already scheduled for Wednesday, so Red Lodge was the logical choice.

The rain actually was stopped by 6:30, so I was on site by 7:00, with the nets open by 7:40.  Birds started arriving almost immediately, and we had a steady run throughout the morning.  There was a couple of early Redwing in the catch and the usual titmice and a few Goldcrest.

After 10:00 we put on a lure for Goldcrest. I always wait until 3 hours after sunrise before luring for them. They come to the lure readily, and I want them to have had plenty of opportunity to feed before we start catching them in any number.  We had a good initial catch, and then a lull in their numbers, until I uttered the fateful words: “We’ll make this the last round, and close the nets and take down!”.

The last round yielded another group of Goldcrest, several Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tits and this beauty:


This is only the second Firecrest caught in the Braydon Forest. The first was in Ravensroost Woods in November 2015.  As Ian hadn’t seen or handled one before, I gave him the opportunity to extract and process the bird.

All in all, it was a very satisfactory session, resulting in the following catch: Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 13(6);  Great Tit 5(6); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 2(2); Wren 1(2); Robin 3; Redwing 2; Blackbird 2(1); Goldcrest 13(3); Firecrest 1; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 45 birds ringed from 12 species and 22 birds recaptured from 8 species, making a total of 67 birds processed from 13 species.

The result of the session is that Ian is a competent ringer and I have recommended his advancement to a C-permit.

Somerford Common: Wednesday, 6th November 2019

Given the weather recently it has been quite some achievement to get out to all five of our Braydon Forest woodland sites in the last three weeks.  Somerford Common is, perhaps, our most varied woodland site. It is certainly the only one that is home to a wallaby!  On Monday I optimistically set up a feeding station in the paddock area, hoping that some of the Lesser Redpoll might find it before Wednesday. Forlorn hope! A couple of Blue and Great Tits did but nothing else. Next time!

I was joined for the session by Andrew and Alice, and Steph joined us after the school run.  Our first bird of the day, not caught unfortunately, was a Woodcock which was put up from its roost as we went to set up the first couple of nets.  They usually roost inside the paddock, not adjacent to the path.

Despite the lack of Lesser Redpoll, it was good morning session.  Once again, Goldcrests were present in good numbers.  This is looking like being our best ever year for them in the Braydon Forest, already matching the previous best with two months to go.

Although we caught two of them, they were not the Marsh Tits that were conspicuously calling adjacent to our ringing station!  Hopefully next time.

The list for the session was: Blue Tit 4(3); Great Tit 3; Coal Tit (1); Marsh Tit (2); Wren 1(3); Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest 12(2).  Totals: 21 birds ringed from 5 species; 11 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 32 birds processed from 7 species.


Calf-of-Man to the Braydon Forest, Twice in Two Weeks. Ravensroost Woods: Sunday, 3rd November 2019

As readers of this blog will know, on the 19th October we recaptured a Goldcrest that had been ringed as an adult on the Calf-of-Man on the 7th April.  Today at Ravensroost Woods we recaptured another Goldcrest the alpha part of the ring, KNH, was the same.  When I got home I messaged Aron Sapsford, the warden at the Calf-of-Man observatory, and got confirmation that this bird was ringed there on the 5th September this year.  If we get a third I might seriously have to look into some sort of monitoring project to see whether this is a new migration route!  This was the bird that made the journey, a juvenile male:


It has a wing length of 54mm and weighed in at just 5.3g: astonishing.

This was the first time we have managed to make one of our scheduled sessions in Ravensroost Woods for 2.5 months, due to bad weather on the chosen dates.  The weather forecast was for it to rain overnight, with the rain stopping at about 7:00.  I was joined for the second time by Alice. Not wanting her to make the long journey from Cheltenham to Braydon Forest, only to have the session cancelled at the last minute, we arranged to meet at 7:30, to be sure that the weather was following the forecast. It nearly did!  The rain wasn’t hard: there was a mist of very fine rain whilst we were setting the nets, which cleared eventually at about 9:00.  After that it stayed dry, and occasionally sunny, until we started to pack away at 11:50, whereupon it started with the very fine rain again.  We managed to get 2.5 hours of ringing activity in, in relatively good weather. The wind was non-existent.

As usual at this time of year, the catch was basically Blue and Great Tits but Goldcrests again made a significant contribution.  the list was: Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 8(4); Great Tit 8(5); Coal Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 3; Robin 3(1); Goldcrest 7(1); Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 34 birds ringed from 9 species and 13 birds recaptured from 6 species, making 47 birds processed from 10 species.

The Goldcrest was the clear highlight of the session: ironically, one of the last birds extracted.  However, it is always pleasing to catch and ring a couple of Nuthatch.  They are always heard but we don’t catch large numbers. These were number 13 & 14 for the year, but only 2 & 3 for Ravensroost, with the other being back in June.

Outside of the ringing activity, we were treated to a pair of Ravens making their presence known for several minutes as they flew around overhead. It took 7 years since I started birding Ravensroost in 1998 to see my first there. They are still only an occasional sighting. I look forward to the day they choose to nest there!

The wood was also full of Long-tailed Tits but we didn’t catch one, unlike our recent forays to the Firs, Red Lodge and Webb’s Wood.  Perhaps the ones in Ravensroost are cannier!

One annoying footnote: once again a “responsible dog owner” has stolen the please keep dogs on a short lead sign from the main gate. They came prepared, as after the previous five times, it had been fixed with security screws!  The arrogance and entitlement of these people beggars belief.  Somerford Common, with no restrictions, is less than three minutes away but they insist on vandalising a nature reserve!

October Review

Wow! is all I can say about this month. What an absolute corker!  Obviously, the Booted / Sykes’ Warbler is head-and-shoulders the stand-out bird. Whichever species it turns out to be, if it can be positively determined, it will be a first ringed in Wiltshire: and the biological records centre have no records of either (or Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, for that matter) being reported in the county.  Social media opinions are almost unanimous that it is Booted Warbler, Iduna calligata.

However, our “mundane, day-to-day” ringing activities have also been a record breaker.  Since the split into the North and the West Wilts Ringing Groups at the end of 2012, the Great Schism as I like to call it, this is far and away our biggest ever month.  We have had the expected large numbers of Blue and Great Tit, but some of the other species have just exploded in number.

October 19

The excellent number of Yellowhammer is a testament to Andy Palmers’ SPTA West site, where the bulk were caught.  Brown’s Farm weighed in with a creditable catch of 12 in just a couple of nets, and Steph caught 3 in her back garden just across the border in Gloucestershire!

It is certainly gratifying to see such good numbers of Long-tailed Tit.  Their numbers dropped dramatically in the Braydon Forest after the wet and cold Spring and early Summer of 2016, we are now catching good numbers there, as is Johnny Cooper in his sites near Chippenham.

The Goldcrest catch has been mainly produced by the Forestry Commission sites in the Braydon Forest, with 23 in Red Lodge, 30 in Webb’s Wood and 10 on Somerford Common.  However, the star Goldcrest was our intrepid bird ringed on the Calf-of-Man and recaptured in the Firs.

Although Redwing are reportedly scarce on the ground at present, we have had a pretty decent increase on last year.  Just under 50% have been caught at Jonny’s sites, with Lower Moor Farm at 25% and Battlesbury at 20%.

It is good to see a return to good numbers of Robin: they have been a bit hit-and-miss lately, and it compares very well with last year’s number.

Apart from that, notable catches for my crew in the north have been: our best month for new Marsh Tits for a long time.  Astonishingly, this has happened without our being able to access Ravensroost Woods, the traditional stronghold for the species in the Braydon Forest.  Apart from 1 retrap in the Firs, the catch has all been in the Forestry Commission sites, mainly Red Lodge.

I took a chance on a trip to Lower Moor Farm on 21st of the month (something to do with having caught my Yellow-browed Warbler there on the 26th October 2017 – just an eternal optimist) and was really surprised to catch our first two Siskin ever at the site.  What’s more, bar one bird on Somerford Common on 30th November 2013, we have never caught an Autumn Siskin before.  All of our other catches have been in Q1 of the calendar year.  So well pleased with them.

Finally, catching my first Sparrowhawk in my Purton garden was an absolute stunner!  I have processed a reasonable number (approximately 1 per year since I started ringing) but this was special: in my own back garden. My fingers are still recovering from safely extracting (safely for him, that is) a very feisty male who was incredibly tangled in the net, because he hit it so hard!

Just  a final note: as well as this being the biggest single monthly catch, we have already exceeded the total catch for any other year since the end of 2012, with 2 months to go.  This is almost all due to the activity levels of Andy Palmer, Andrew Bray, Jonny Cooper and now, Steph Buggins in addition to us old ‘uns.  With Ellie Jones starting out to do her own thing in the near future, things could get even busier.  Funnily enough though: there is not a huge increase in the number of sessions, but it seems Jonny cannot go to one of his sites without breaking the 100 bird barrier, and, as the averages show, the overall catch size has increased significantly.