West Wilts Ringing Group Results: June 2022

Another little record for us this month – improving on last year’s catch which was, at that point, our best June result since the great schism in January 2013.  It could have been a lot more but Jonny spent a week in Iceland in the middle of the month, Alice has been busy  carrying out fieldwork for her PhD and, due to my recurring crippling illness episodes, I had to cancel four sessions this month. I had an MRI scan this morning so, hopefully, after 5 months they might be able to diagnose what the problem is and come up with an appropriate therapy, rather than just bouncing me around more and more addictive / strong painkillers (the morphine is my favourite so far).  One downside of my condition is that, for the first time, I missed a CES session outside of the Covid restricted 2020.

The thing that stands out most to me is that we caught 44 different species this month.  Normally we wouldn’t get near that except during autumn migration.  Jonny got his hands on some more Canada Geese, and we had Sparrowhawk, Goldcrest, Meadow Pipit, Kingfisher and Siskin in addition to last year but were down one Water Rail, making a nett 5 species difference.

The main difference between this year and last is the improvement in the catch of our resident Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits and Robins.  Apart from Blackcaps, which showed a strong improvement on last year, all other summer visiting warbler species numbers were down on last year.

One major knockback this month was the loss of a brood of Barn Owls. Our most consistent, most dilapidated box in the condemned barn in Avis Meadows which has produced young every year. When checked at the end of May we found two naked chicks and two eggs, one of which was in the process of hatching, they were clearly not ready for ringing, so we left them alone. We went to check the box three weeks later, hoping to ring four chicks, only to find the box completely empty. I have no idea what predator would have carried that out. There were no obvious signs to indicate whether avian or mammalian. Despite that, we did manage to ring 14 Barn Owl chicks and one adult Barn Owl this month, we also ringed ten juvenile Swallows and one juvenile House Sparrow, all of which have subsequently fledged successfully.

CES6: Lower Moor Farm, Saturday, 25th June 2022

To say that this year’s CES has been a bit of a struggle would be an understatement. I had to miss CES3 due to a combination of illness and bad weather. This morning we had to curtail our session early because the wind got up and rendered it potentially dangerous for catching birds, not to ignore the fun of extracting nets from the surrounding vegetation. However, in the short time we had the nets open (5:30 until 9:45) we actually caught and processed significantly more birds than in the equivalent session last year.

I was joined for the session by Rosie and two Lucy’s (or should that be “Lucies”?). Lucy M, back from her work on Ascension Island monitoring and working on turtle conservation, stopping off for a morning’s ringing, before heading north to take up her new role as a reserve warden at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock: just a wee jaunt up to Scotland. Also Lucy O who is currently volunteering with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and has joined in with some of the Barn Owl checking (see previous post) and Swallow nest checking in the last couple of weeks.

We had the nets open nice and early, with four sets of hands to help, and started catching immediately. The first couple of rounds were light and productive. Star bird of the morning was:

Sparrowhawk: Accipiter nisus

My team’s first Sparrowhawk of the year. Although it didn’t have particularly obvious heart-shaped markings on the breast, it was very definitely a juvenile male. The biometric measurements showed it was a male and the brown colouration, particularly around the nape of the neck, was indicative of its age. There were a couple of grey feathers on the upper tail coverts but nowhere else.

Everything changed at 8:30. In our net ride that runs along the edge of Mallard Lake we had a fall of, primarily, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits plus a few Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and the odd other species representative: over 40 birds in three nets. The catch was: Sparrowhawk [1]; Treecreeper [1](1); Blue Tit [16]; Great Tit [6}; Long-tailed Tit [10](2); Wren [4]; Dunnock [1](1); Robin [2](1); Blackbird 1; Cetti’s Warbler (1); Blackcap [1](1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff [5](1); Willow Warbler [2]. Totals: 2 adults ringed from 2 species, 49 juveniles ringed from 11 species and 8 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 59 birds processed from 14 species. In fact, even the two retrapped Long-tailed Tits were juveniles, ringed at the last session there on the 15th June.

Once we had finished processing that lot, the breeze had got up and I decided we needed to shut the nets, bringing a premature end to the session. It was the right decision, the wind was just getting stronger and there were no pockets left in the nets. With three of us to take down, Rosie having left to actually go to work for the day, it didn’t take long to get everything sorted, so, we were off site by just after 10:00. At least that gave Lucy M plenty of time for her long journey north!

Early Nest Checking Review: May / June 2022

Last year was our best year for Barn Owls in the Braydon Forest and my part of north Wiltshire. I have a special Schedule 1 licence issued by the BTO, on behalf of Natural England, to monitor the nesting attempts of Barn Owls and to ring their offspring. We monitored 18 boxes of which 8 successfully produced 26 Barn Owl young that fledged. We also ringed one adult female in another roost box. We never found where she was nesting. One thing I learned about Barn Owls last year is that the parents occupy the nest whilst the young are small, but once they are fully downy the parents roost elsewhere. We also found two Stock Dove nests in new Barn Owl boxes, each with one chick, both of which were ringed and fledged. Two of the boxes were occupied by Jackdaws. We missed the youngsters at Blakehill Farm but ringed two youngsters that later fledged from a box near Somerford Common. We had five unoccupied boxes and one which had four cold Barn Owl eggs. We checked it again six weeks later and they were still there and cold. That was our only real failure of the year.

Over the winter I purchased a number of replacement boxes. The Wildlife Trust have done a great job of replacing worn out, falling apart boxes but these were for our private landowner sites. I did try for a grant to help finance it but, to be frank, the Community Landfill Trust really aren’t interested in dealing with an individual and, despite the BTO being extremely helpful, in the end it got so onerous that I decided to just fund them myself. At this point, a huge thank you to Vivara Pro who honoured the quotation they had given me way back in July 2021 when I started looking into this process.

We managed to replace eight of them before I was struck down with a crippling issue that has dogged my ringing activities ever since. The three boxes I have in the Wiltshire side of Waterhay, in the fields around Upper Waterhay Farm, were replaced and we added one new one. A big thank you to Andy Rumming, who not only helped me with the four boxes on their farm, but when he found out that I had paid for them myself offered to contribute towards the cost. When I demurred, he insisted on giving me a box of the grass-fed beef that he produces. What can I say? Definitely better than money – the best beef I have ever tasted: https://www.andyrummingsbeef.co.uk/

With the help of Tanya, then working for the Wildlife Trust, we managed to replace four of the boxes within the Braydon Forest before she departed for the wilds of Shropshire and a new job.

Jonny and I did a round at the end of May checking on the five boxes in the Ravensroost complex. The grotty, dilapidated box in the condemned barn did, as usual, have a brood. It comprised 2 naked young, plus one egg in the process of hatching and one egg. They were clearly in no position to be ringed so we secured the box and left. We caught an adult male in the vicinity in a hand net: unringed and therefore new to us.

Of the other boxes in the Ravensroost complex, one was empty, another had two Stock Dove eggs, but they were cold. We left them in place, just in case she hadn’t started brooding them yet, and the third had a couple of Stock Dove chicks in it. They were of a size to be ringed, so we did.

We then visited our boxes at Blakehill Farm. There had been a lot of reports that a Kestrel was using the box nearest the farmyard. Unfortunately, it was completely empty. The other box held a brood of Jackdaws, which we were able to ring. Their primary feathers were half-grown. By now they will have fledged. I will check on that quite soon. I will be hoping that the empty box is now hosting Barn Owls.

This year, as well as the Barn Owl boxes, we decided to monitor the Swallow nests in the stable block at Clattinger Farm. Rosie, Lucy and I did a check on the Swallow nests on the 10th June. There were five active nests, one of which was inaccessible. For three of them the young were all too small to be ringed yet, one nest enabled us to ring the three chicks (one for each of us). Whilst we were ringing those birds we noticed something scurrying along the floor. It turned out to be a fledgling House Sparrow who had departed the nest a bit prematurely. This drew our attention to another nest in which one remaining House Sparrow was sitting. We were able to ring it, but it then flew off quite strongly, which made me wonder how we managed to catch it in the first place.

After checking on the Swallows we headed off to check on the Waterhay owl boxes. The results were interesting. We approached the Chancel box first and two Jackdaws flew out. Checking the box it was clear that they had taken it over for the year. I didn’t know if they had already bred and their youngsters had fledged, or if they were preparing to lay, so we left it as it was. The next box, a couple of fields further over from the Chancel, was, as usual, occupied by Barn Owls. There were three small owlets in the box. Far too small for ringing. The third box, behind the paddock, had four owlets, one of which was large enough to ring:

Barn Owl nestling: photo courtesy of Lucy Ormsby

On the 14th June, Rosie and I visited the five owl boxes in the Firs / Wood Lane area. The Plain Farm box had three owlets which were ready for ringing. The Drill Farm boxes and the Echo Lodge box were all empty but the Home Farm Barn box never lets us down and we ringed four downy owlets.

Rosie and I returned to check on the Swallows again on the 20th June. They were much more developed. The birds from the inaccessible nest had fledged, as had the young from one of the other nests. They were either sitting on the rafters still waiting for their parents to feed them or out foraging but frequently returning to the stable block for a rest. We were able to ring the young from the other two nests, a total of eight ringed. They were at the stage known as “feathers medium”, i.e. the primary feathers were two-thirds grown, but they will be fledging within the next few days.

Having dealt with the Swallows, we then went back to the Ravensroost complex to check on the boxes to see how they had progressed. We first went to the box we knew had owls in it, and were devastated to find it completely empty: no sign of the chicks or the eggs, except for half an eggshell in the box. Clearly the entire brood had been predated. What by, I have no idea. The Stock Dove box with the two cold eggs still had those eggs but in another corner of the box was a warm egg. We removed the infertile eggs, leaving the other to, hopefully, produce a youngster.

On the 22nd June I met up with the owners of Gospel Oak Farm to check on his two boxes. One of those produced three young last year with the second box being used as a roost by the parents. This year is very different: the box with owlets had a Stock Dove fly out as we approached it and when I checked there were two warm eggs in the box. The box used as a roost last year was occupied by a female adult. There wasn’t much sign of multiple occupancy, but the owners did say that they had seen both adults roosting in the trees around the edge of the field, and that they had both been observed hunting across the fields.

Finally, for this post, Rosie and I revisited the Waterhay boxes. The new box is empty and clearly hasn’t been found yet. The Chancel box is deserted but was one-third full of Jackdaw nesting material, so I cleaned it out. Hopefully the Barn Owls might use it for a second brood. The next box still had three owlets, and some cached voles in the box. However, one of them was still very small and we decided it was likely to end up as food for its siblings so didn’t ring it. We did ring the three remaining owlets in the box behind the paddock.

It looks as though we might well be on the way to matching last year for Barn Owls, Stock Doves and Jackdaws. Regardless, there will be a lot to do between now and the end of the year.

CES5: Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 15th June 2022

As of this morning, I have been ringing at Lower Moor Farm for 6 days over 9 years. I have run it as a Constant Effort Site since 2015. That means 12 sessions over the months May to August each year (except 2020, because of Covid), to cover the breeding season and early autumn passage, plus various additional sessions. What I am saying is that I have done a lot of sessions at this site. This area, closed off to the general public, has been a mainstay of all of my ringing activities throughout this time. That is over 75 visits, with approximately 10 visits to that area in each session. This morning, whilst checking three empty nets, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks:

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

I have no idea how common they are, or whether they have been found in this area before, but it is a first for me. This is the second time I have found a decent orchid on one of my sites. Eight years ago I found Greater Butterfly Orchid on Somerford Common:

Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha

Forestry England and the Wildlife Trust were both rather excited by it, as was I.

So, to the birding: I was joined by Rosie, doing her usual of helping me out, ringing a few birds before heading off to her work with the Trust, and Miranda, who was able to stay for the whole session. We didn’t have a massively busy session, with just 21 birds caught and processed. The list from the morning was: Treecreeper 1[2]; Blue Tit [2]; Long-tailed Tit [1]; Wren [1](1); Dunnock [2]; Robin [3]; Blackbird 1(1); Cetti’s Warbler (1); Blackcap (2); Garden Warbler (1); Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff [1]. Totals: 3 adults ringed from 3 species, 12 juveniles ringed from 7 species and 6 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 21 birds processed from 12 species.

It was somewhat frustrating as the vegetation was full of birdsong. They just weren’t moving and, therefore, not getting caught in the nets. I suspect that a lot of them are working on second broods, defending their territory with song, and that is the reason that the bulk of what we caught were juveniles. Mind, despite the capture of two adult Blackcap, for the second session running, there were no juvenile Blackcap caught. There were at least half-a-dozen Whitethroat singing around the area and we caught one, but no sign of any juveniles. Ditto for Cetti’s Warbler.

Whilst we were there, the local fishing syndicate that leases Mallard Lake had a delivery of trout to restock the lake. The fish were much larger than I thought they would be: clearly they are not being delivered to grow in the lake but purely as stock ready for fishing. I am sure the Otters and Cormorants will appreciate them.

With the last two rounds being empty, we closed the nets at 11:45 and took down, getting away from site by just past 12:30.

The Firs: Monday, 13th June 2022

I had intended to carry out this session on Saturday but, as seems to be the way with me at present, illness intervened. Having got over it, I decided to carry out the session this morning.

I arrived on site at 5:45 and set up two sets of nets down the central glade: 2x18m + 1x12m and 3x18m + 1x12m. The whole central glade is getting quite enclosed, with the undergrowth spreading across the path. A strimming session might be needed pretty soon.

It was never particularly busy, just 3 or 4 birds per round. What was surprising was the complete absence of Blue Tits or Long-tailed Tits. Although I caught two adult Blackcaps, unlike the other sites I have been to recently, no juveniles.

There was a decent haul of Robins, five juveniles ringed, plus two adults retrapped. Chiffchaffs were also much in evidence, with seven of them ringed. Of those seven six were juveniles. The only Paridae in evidence were a juvenile Great Tit and my first juvenile Coal Tit of the year:

Juvenile Coal Tit, Periparus ater

The list for the day was: Great Tit [1]; Coal Tit [1]; Wren 2; Robin [5](2); Song Thrush [1](1); Blackbird [3](1); Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 1[6]. Totals: 5 adults ringed from 3 species, 17 juveniles ringed from 6 species and 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 26 birds processed from 8 species.

One of the highlights of the morning was an explosion of Wrens as they fledged the nest. I didn’t look for the nest, but it had to be adjacent to the path, because all of a sudden these little chestnut bundles were buzzing around in the understorey right in front of me (and nowhere near my nets!). They were still there when I came back from doing my net round, and again when I went for the next round. There is something almost Bumblebee-like about the way they fly when they leave the nest or, at least, that’s how it seems to me.

With the catch having fallen right away by 10:30, I closed the nets at 11:00, as they were empty, took down and was off site by midday. It was a little disappointing that the catch wasn’t larger and more diverse. There was plenty of noise from Nuthatch, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers. With Ravensroost having produced a good haul of Long-tailed Tits last week I fully expected to get a few in the Firs and I had hoped for another juvenile Marsh Tit or two. Not to be, alas.

The Kindness Of Strangers: Ravensroost Wood, Thursday, 9th June 2022

It has been a long while since I have been back into Ravensroost Wood. In fact, the last date I was there was St George’s Day, when we had a fairly disappointing catch of just nine birds ringed and five recaptured. Six of those were new adult Blackcaps, so not totally disappointing. I had planned to go Wednesday but the winds were just too fierce for setting nets. Today was scheduled to be dry until the afternoon, and with little wind. They nearly got it right: the first drops of rain proper hit my head just as I was closing up the car, having packed away. There was the odd spit of rain during the morning, but it never developed into anything that could be called a shower.

Rosie joined me at 6:00 and we set up three rides: 3 x 18m and 1 x 18m + 1 x 12m to the east of the main path and 3 x 18m to the west of the main path. Given the way the catch went, the western side will have a lot more net than the east next time. Those three nets caught 75% of the catch. As Rosie didn’t have to leave until 8:40 to get to work this morning, I let her ring almost all of the birds we caught between opening and when she had to leave. Today she got to ring a dozen birds before heading off: including the opportunity to colour ring her first Marsh Tit. It also happened to be the first juvenile Marsh Tit that we have caught this year:

Juvenile Marsh Tit, Poecile palustris

As I said, I didn’t let Rosie do quite all of the birds: when we caught a second juvenile Marsh Tit I did that myself. What was nice about both catches is that they came from opposite ends of our net setup. The likelihood that there are two Marsh territories in that area is nicely underpinned by where we caught these two recently-fledged youngsters.

After Rosie left the birds kept coming and this is where the post title comes from. I was joined by a photographer, Paul, who was very interested in what I was doing. We chatted whilst I processed some birds, I told him about the ringing scheme, how it works, and the costs associated with carrying out this work. He accompanied me on a net round, so he could see how birds are caught and watched me extract a Great Tit and a Chiffchaff, which I then processed. He went on his way but, before leaving, slipped a £10 note under my weigh scales to put towards my next ring purchases. I was taken aback, and very grateful. Totally unexpected generosity from someone I didn’t know. Anyway, he will be joining me on occasion again in the future.

It was a really decent catch, as well as the first juvenile Marsh Tits of the year I also caught my first juvenile Willow Warblers of the year:

juvenile Willow Warbler, Phylloscopus trochilus

In total there were four juvenile Willow Warblers processed. Two of them had me worried, nothing to do with their health, but they had 60mm wings. Those are the shortest wing lengths that I have personally recorded on a Willow Warbler. For a short while I was wondering if they could by a Willow – Chiffchaff hybrid. However, as you can see from the photo below, the 6th primary was not emarginated, so definitely Willow Warbler. The BTO Ringers Info app came in very handy for a quick reference, backed up by both Svensson & Demongin, in which the bottom end of the wing length range for a Willow Warbler is 58mm.

Willow Warbler wing showing lack of emargination at P6

The list for today was: Treecreeper [1]; Blue Tit [2]; Great Tit [1]; Marsh Tit [2]; Long-tailed Tit [7]; Wren 1(1); Robin [10](2); Blackbird 2; Blackcap 3[3]; Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 2[1](1); Willow Warbler 1[4]; Chaffinch 2; Bullfinch 2. Totals: 14 adults ringed from 8 species; 31 juveniles ringed from 9 species and 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 49 birds processed from 14 species.

I closed the nets at 11:20 and left site an hour later, just as the rain started properly, after a thoroughly satisfying session: even the three dog walkers had their dogs on their leads!

Change Isn’t Always For The Better: Friday, 3rd June 2022

Somerford Common has always been my favourite woodland site. It has such a variety of habitats that we get a wide range of species over the course of the year. Being a Forestry England site it is obviously subject to change. I have previously mentioned the changes to my winter feeding area which, whilst severe, the new site of the feeding station turned out to be on a par with the previous site. Hard on the heels of that, as previously blogged, my summer ringing rides have been made unusable so, not wanting to miss out on the site totally this summer, I decided to try one of the other available rides. This area was where I first started ringing at Somerford Common. It is at the far end of the east most ride I use when working in the western section of Somerford Common. It had always caught quite well. However, that was 10 years ago. It has definitely changed!

Rosie did her usual: turned up and helped to set up, ringed a few birds, and then went on to other duties. Anna and Steph also joined us for the morning. We set nine 18m nets along the ride and sat back and waited. Unfortunately, the catch was very poor: just 15 birds in 5 hours is a very poor return for our efforts. The problem is a very simple one: the canopy is 10 years higher than it was when I first worked the site. There is also much less under-storey.

There were plenty of birds around but they were in the canopy. We had some excellent views of a large flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees above our ringing station. They stayed up there for a while and then moved along. Similarly, we had excellent views of a Jay, that flew all along the net line without ever getting close to dropping in. All morning we were serenaded (or is that irritated?) by the repetitive, competitive singing of at least three male Song Thrushes. My bird of the morning was a female Cuckoo that flew east -west across the road, about 20′ in front of me. Lovely sighting.

The catch itself was: Blue Tit 1; Wren 3; Robin 3[2]; Blackbird 1[1]; Blackcap 2; Willow Warbler 2. Totals: 12 adult birds ringed from 6 species and 3 juveniles ringed from 2 species, making 15 birds processed from 6 species.

With the weather turning cloudy and windier, we gave it up as a bad job at 11:00 and took down and were away from site by 11:45. I will have to see where else I can find within the complex that might give a better return.

Lower Moor Farm, CES 4: Thursday, 2nd June 2022

Unfortunately, due to bad weather on the Wednesday before yesterday and illness on Saturday, Covid apart, for the first time since I started carrying out my CES at Lower Moor Farm, I missed out on one of the twelve sessions: session 3. Determined not to miss another (they are within 10 day periods), I decided to get this one in early. It was originally scheduled for yesterday but when we arrived on site it was raining. It wasn’t heavy, but the forecast, which had been for a clear day at 10:00pm the night before, was now saying showers on and off all morning. So we abandoned the idea and rearranged for today. I was joined by Miranda, who would have to leave at 10:30, but was there to help me get set up.

We had the nets open just after 7:00 and started catching almost immediately. We were joined by Martin Easton, out trying for photographs of the Otters, but he took a lot of photos of the birds whilst we were processing, some of which will adorn this piece.

My most delicate extraction came quite early on:

Brown Hawker

Extracting dragonflies from mist nets is an art in itself. If you try and pull them out, they are likely to lose their heads, particularly if they have bitten the net. My technique is simple: let them bite my finger on one hand, as that means they let go of the net, and then push them through the net from behind. I took three out today, and all three came out intact and were able to fly off.

It was pretty clear from the off that the local Robins have fledged their first broods, as they made up the largest cohort of the catch. We also caught the group’s first juvenile Blackcaps of the year.

Juvenile Blackcap – photo by Martin Eacott

Interestingly, two of the three were already undergoing their post-fledging moult. This is established by blowing on the flanks and belly, to show whether there are new feathers growing, as evidenced by them still being in pin:

Flank feathers in pin on a juvenile Blackcap – photo by Martin Eacott, blowing by yours truly

This means that they left the nest probably more than two weeks ago. If only I had managed to do CES 3.

We also caught the Group’s first juvenile Treecreeper of the year. It is difficult to get a nice photo of a Treecreeper: they are lovely birds but have a sort of humped appearance which, when coupled with their decurved beak, makes them always look miserable:

Juvenile Treecreeper – photo by Martin Eacott

The key method for ageing is looking at the tips of the primary coverts. In adults the yellow tips are reduced to pinpoints, or even disappear altogether. Juveniles have much larger tips to their primary coverts and can sometimes be identified through bins or a scope:

Juvenile Treecreeper Primary Covert Tips – photo by Martin Eacott

The star bird of the morning was this, caught on our third round:

Female Green Woodpecker – photo by Martin Eacott

You can tell it is a female because the malar stripe is black. The male has a red centre to that stripe. This female is a bird that fledged last year. For some reason, Lower Moor Farm is our best site for catching Green Woodpeckers. Of the 14 that my team have caught and ringed, 13 of them have been at Lower Moor Farm with one at Somerford Common. Of the 3 recaptured, they have all been at Lower Moor Farm.

I had two major disappointments with the same species. The round after we caught the woodpecker, a Jay hit the net, squawked a bit and managed to extricate itself before I could even think about running to get it. My last full round, in a different net, exactly the same thing happened! Frustrating, but my fingers escaped injury.

After Miranda left at 10:30, Martin came over and offered to help to take down the nets when I was ready to pack up. We were then joined by a local birder, Simon Gathercole, who was interested to see what I was doing. I carried on extracting and processing until 11:30 and the list ended as follows: Green Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper [1](1); Blue Tit 1(1); Wren 2(1); Robin 1[6](2); Song Thrush 1; Cetti’s Warbler (2); Blackcap [3](2); Garden Warbler (1); Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff (2). Totals: 7 adults ringed from 6 species, 10 juveniles ringed from 3 species and 12 birds retrapped from 8 species, making 29 birds processed from 11 species.

I closed the nets after the 11:30 round and then took down. A huge thank you to Martin and Simon, who stepped in to help me pack everything away, making the whole process a lot quicker and easier than it would have been. I was off site by 12:45.

West Wilts Ringing Group Results: May 2022

A poor month on the face of it.  Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of my control, I only managed to complete three out of eight scheduled sessions this May. I missed a session at Brown’s Farm, where last May we caught two of our star birds, the Yellow Wagtail and Firecrest, and the missing Yellowhammers.  Also, for the first time since I started it, I was unable to carry out CES3 at Lower Moor Farm.  That was my biggest disappointment.  

With migrants continuing to arrive, particularly the summer warblers I would expect to catch in the woods, at the farms and around the lakes at Lower Moor Farm, we missed out on a significant number of birds. Despite that, the average numbers are comparable with last year:

This year there have been a lot of reports of early breeding.  The highlight for the Group this month has to be Andy’s Stone Curlew chicks.  Last year’s chicks were ringed 5 weeks later than these.  Perhaps they could be on for a second brood this year?

Because other ringers have been reporting Barn Owl chicks at a wide variety of development stages, including some which have already developed their full facial disk, I have started my Barn Owl monitoring work earlier than usual.  On Monday evening, Jonny and I did a survey of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust boxes in the Ravensroost complex and at Blakehill Farm.  This led to hand netting a male Barn Owl and we found 2 eggs, 1 in the process of hatching, plus 2 naked pulli. Somewhat surprisingly, the male was unringed.  It would be interesting to know where he came from. Due to the constraint of available bodies to help, I have rather focused on a subset boxes within the Braydon Forest, Waterhay and Lower Moor Farm. Given that we ringed 27 Barn Owls last season, in the area of Waterhay and the Braydon Forest, and this was a male bird from last year, I think that shows I need to start monitoring the other boxes in the area.  The plan is to check the rest of my usual boxes in the course of the next week.

We also found a Stock Dove nest with 2 pulli, feathers short and a Jackdaw nest with 3 pulli, feathers medium. Compared to last year, we ringed 2 Stock Dove pulli in mid-July, one at feathers short and the other at feathers medium but, as they can have up to 4 broods per year, last year’s were probably second brood birds..  

The Jackdaw chicks were at a comparable development stage to previous years at the same reserve, although the old nesting site, the bug hotels at the Whitworth building, were destroyed by the weather and fell apart in winter 2020/21.

Blakehill Farm: Saturday, 21st May 2022

Rosie had a volunteer group turning up at Blakehill Farm, to work at nearby Purton Stoke Common this morning. They were scheduled to arrive at 10:00, so I changed today’s venue from Red Lodge to Blakehill, so she could get a good few hours of ringing in before having to go to work. David also joined us for the session. We met at 5:30 and set our main nets in the field in front the Whitworth building.

Over the winter a lot of work has been done replacing the fencing behind the bramble at the western edge of the field. This has left an alleyway between the tree line and the brambles that is just right for a good long net ride: which is where we set the 3 x 18m nets. I also thought that it might make a great hunting ride for a Sparrowhawk – not today though!

The only net retained from our last session was the 9m net set at the gate from the farm, with a 12m dog-legged to the left of it. If we are going to catch House Sparrows, that 9m net is the most likely place. In fact, the first bird in that net was our second juvenile Dunnock of the year.

The first round got us a bit over-excited: with an eleven bird catch. It included the aforementioned juvenile Dunnock, plus two Lesser Whitethroat and a Whitethroat. After that, it fell away, as usual, with just two or three birds per round, except for a wee spike at 9:45 when we caught six. I know for some that would not be enough but, as we are entering the first breeding season that many of my trainees have been involved with, it gives me the time needed to go through the intricacies of brood patch stages, and spend time on some of the more difficult species to sex. Taking yesterday as an example: we caught a total of five Lesser Whitethroat: three males and two females. All three males had a brood patch, as well as a pronounced cloacal protuberance. Sexing them is just not that easy, even for someone like me, who has been doing it for thirteen years. If they are difficult, so are Garden Warblers, and we had another of those as well. The fact is, though, that we had the time to be able to make considered judgements.

When Rosie’s volunteer group turned up it was at the same time as we had our little spike in the catch, so I was able give those volunteers a short ringing demonstration before they went off to start their work. They were very appreciative. One of the birds that I was able to show them was our first juvenile Robin of the year:

You can see why they are nicknamed “Bobbles”.

Our list for the day was: Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 2(1); Dunnock 3; Robin 2; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (1); Blackcap 1; Garden Warbler 1; Whitethroat 3; Lesser Whitethroat 5; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2; House Sparrow 1. Totals: 25 adult birds ringed from 12 species; 2 juveniles ringed from 2 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 29 birds processed from 13 species.

We started to close the nets at 11:15, as the breeze had started to get up and, particularly, the long ride could have been a disaster. As it was, we had a short length of extraction from bramble and tree debris, but it wasn’t too bad. Trevor came along and helped us pack up again, meaning that we were able to get everything down and packed away just before 13:00. We spent the entire morning listening to a male Cuckoo calling for a mate. At one point a second joined in the calling. What we didn’t hear or see at all this morning was any sign of the Curlew.

One interesting creature that we came across as I was packing away was this beautiful green spider:

Arianella opisthographa

Apparently it is a very common species. This is a female just over 6mm long. I was surprised that my phone camera enabled me to get a decent shot, that I could actually enlarge.