West Wilts Ringing Group Review 2018

2018 has proven to be the group’s busiest year since the North Wilts group split off at the end of 2012:  with over 5,000 birds ringed and over 1,300 birds recaptured from 63 species.  The increase in numbers is almost certainly down to the increased activity of our C-permit holders Andrew Bray, Andy Palmer and Jonny Cooper.  Andy has been very busy with his Salisbury Plain sites and his garden; Andrew has done as much with the North Wilts group as he has with the West Wilts group and Jonny has added a touch of the exotic to our catch in a land-locked county, through his work with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

This year’s highlights have been: the quite astonishing number of Meadow Pipits caught at Blakehill Farm in the autumn: 98 in one session and a total of 155 ringed and 2 retrapped. Of the two retrapped birds, one had been ringed on Salisbury Plain, at West Down Plantation one week before we recovered it.  One of our birds was recovered in south Oxfordshire, at Westmill Farm, near Shrivenham, 5 days after being ringed at Blakehill.  We are reasonably confident that the numbers were a result of an exceptional irruption of crane flies in September.  The increase was not restricted to Blakehill: Andy caught 12 in one session on  Salisbury Plain and I caught my first for the site at Brown’s Farm, just south of Marlborough, in February, with a further 19 in one session in September.

Another species showing a huge increase in numbers was Redwing. The year started with our first recaptured Redwing, caught in the same net that it was originally caught in when it was ringed two years previously. This was the first time a Redwing has been retrapped in Wiltshire in different winters.  Then in the autumn the numbers went through the roof: 131 on Salisbury Plain and the majority of the rest in the Braydon Forest sites, plus 36 at Meadow Farm just north of Chippenham.

Yellowhammer numbers were also in the ascendant: the Salisbury Plain delivered 84 birds, Bailey’s Farm near Chippenham 45 and Brown’s Farm 32 out of a total of 166 birds (162 ringed, 4 retraps).  Other birds showing significant increases are: Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler and Whitethroat.  Both Blue and Great Tit numbers were also significantly up on last year as they continue to recover from the disaster of 2016.

Significant reductions were seen in Blackcap (-105); Chiffchaff (-226); Robin (-181); Wren (-96) and Blackbird (-44).

Ian and Andy continued their long-term commitment to the Wessex Stone Curlew project, with them monitoring several breeding pairs and ringing 11 youngsters over the course of the summer.

Birds processed on WWRG Sessions:

Species Name Pulli Ringed Recaptured Total
Barn Owl 6 1 0 7
Blackbird 3 138 51 192
Blackcap 2 223 24 249
Blue Tit 1020 375 1395
Brambling 2 0 2
Bullfinch 27 14 41
Cetti’s Warbler 2 0 2
Chaffinch 5 116 4 125
Chiffchaff 137 16 153
Coal Tit 114 102 216
Dunnock 137 80 217
Fieldfare 6 0 6
Firecrest 1 0 1
Garden Warbler 50 10 60
Goldcrest 87 15 102
Goldfinch 202 8 210
Grasshopper Warbler 1 0 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 18 13 31
Great Tit 12 565 239 816
Green Woodpecker 3 1 4
Greenfinch 41 0 41
Grey Wagtail 2 0 2
House Martin 1 0 0 1
House Sparrow 118 20 138
Jackdaw 1 0 1
Jay 7 0 7
Kestrel 1 0 1
Kingfisher 10 2 12
Lesser Redpoll 2 0 2
Lesser Whitethroat 23 0 23
Linnet 14 27 0 41
Long-tailed Tit 169 77 246
Magpie 1 0 1
Marsh Tit 16 28 44
Meadow Pipit 191 2 193
Nuthatch 33 37 70
Redwing 302 1 303
Reed Bunting 67 6 73
Reed Warbler 55 1 56
Robin 189 79 268
Sedge Warbler 11 0 11
Siskin 12 0 12
Song Thrush 32 11 43
Sparrowhawk 2 0 2
Spotted Flycatcher 1 0 1
Starling 36 6 42
Stonechat 8 0 8
Swallow 14 0 14
Tree Pipit 3 0 3
Treecreeper 29 11 40
Whinchat 16 0 16
Whitethroat 5 94 14 113
Willow Warbler 57 8 65
Woodpigeon 4 1 5
Wren 139 52 191
Yellowhammer 162 4 166
Grand Total 48 4725 1312 6085

Birds processed by WWRG members at third party sessions:

Species Name Pulli Ringed Recaptured Total
Bewick’s Swan 1 1
Blackbird 7 7
Blackcap 133 12 145
Blue Tit 15 2 17
Bullfinch 2 2
Canada Goose 7 7
Chiffchaff 58 1 59
Dunnock 8 2 10
Garden Warbler 6 5 11
Goldcrest 2 2
Goldfinch 1 1
Great Tit 6 2 8
Greylag Goose 27 27
Kestrel 1 1
Lesser Whitethroat 2 2
Linnet 1 1
Mallard 36 36
Meadow Pipit 12 12
Pintail 14 14
Reed  Warbler 9 9
Reed Bunting 1 1
Robin 8 5 13
Sedge Warbler 17 1 18
Shelduck 11 11
Song Thrush 4 4
Stone Curlew 11 11
Stonechat 1 1
Tree Pipit 2 2
Tufted Duck 8 8
Whinchat 4 4
Whitethroat 31 3 34
Willow Warbler 9 1 10
Wren 17 2 19
Yellowhammer 1 1
Total 11 461 36 508

An excellent year for the Group with a lot to look forward to in 2019.

Blakehill Farm Ponds: Tuesday, 15th January 2019

I have been lucky enough to ring quite a few waders, mainly with the Wash Wader Group, but also a few as a trainee with Matt Prior, but haven’t really tried on my own sites in Wiltshire, mainly because they aren’t really that wader friendly.  The odd Snipe or Green Sandpiper might drop in at Lower Moor Farm, but they are not regular over-wintering birds.

However, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust extended Blakehill Farm’s habitat, by way of a land swap, to include a couple of relatively recently dug ponds, and then added a third as a wader scrape two winters ago.  There have been reasonable numbers of Snipe and the occasional Jack Snipe seen there most winters.  I have wanted to try for Snipe at the ponds since I got access to the western part of the site.  The first time we tried, Jonny Cooper and I set our nets at the new wader scrape the night before, furled them and got up bright and early to open them. Unfortunately, there was a heavy frost overnight and they were frozen shut. By the time we got them open there was no chance of catching anything but a cold!  This time we were determined to get it right.

Over the last couple of weeks I have carried out two reconnaissance sessions, to find out where the Snipe were.  There have regularly been 5 to 7 Snipe and 2 Jack Snipe at the site.  It proved that they were using the middle pond, not the wader scrape, as their feeding site. So this morning Jonny, Andrew Bray and myself met at Blakehill at 6:00 am to set up a horseshoe of nets encompassing the feeding area. We weren’t confident, but if you never try you never do anything.

Once the nets were set we waited for dawn: the Blackbirds were heard first, followed by the Jackdaws and at 7:15 we heard our first Snipe, and then another.  At 7:30 we checked the nets, and were excited to see one white belly gleaming in the net.  When we reached the net and found not 1 but 4 birds in the net we were delighted.  As one of them was proved to be a Jack Snipe we were quite dizzy with excitement. Yes, it is potentially valuable data we collect, hopefully important in conservation work, but as I have invested in £thousands worth of equipment and spend over £1,000 on rings each year, I am going to enjoy what I do: and boy did I enjoy this session!

Three Snipe:

three musketeers



Jack Snipe:


We didn’t catch anything else this morning and were packed up ready to go by 9:30.  On the way out we bumped into Buffy, from the Trust’s Well-being Team, who was just organising a work party to go and remove some of the bramble scrub that has started encroaching on the ponds. Hopefully it will make the habitat even more acceptable to more species of wader.


Webb’s Wood: Saturday, 12th January 2019

On a cool, blustery morning Jonny Cooper, Andrew Bray and I took ourselves off to Webb’s Wood. One of the benefits of woodland sites at this time of year is that they are relatively sheltered from the wind, depending upon the prevailing direction, so we can carry out ringing activities when other habitats would not be available.  The downside is that the variety will not be that great.  We were able to set up four short net rides plus nets by the feeding station.  The feeding station gave a good indication of what we were likely to catch.   I topped up the feeders on Thursday morning: the peanut feeder was half empty, the seed feeder hadn’t been touched.  True to expectation, those nets delivered just Blue, Great and Coal Tits.

However, it was a relaxed session with a reasonable catch and variety.  The list was: Nuthatch (1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 6(4); Great Tit 1(3); Coal Tit 2(3); Long-tailed Tit 3; Robin 1(1); Goldcrest 8(1).  Totals: 22 birds ringed from 7 species, 13 birds recaptured from 6 species, making 35 birds processed from 8 species.

Any session where we catch 9 Goldcrests is a good session.  They are very attracted to MP/3 lures.  Being birds that weigh in the region of 5g, I am always mindful of their welfare and so I never put a lure on for them if the temperature is very low.  As it wasn’t too cold this morning, I did put on a lure, but not until 10:30 this morning.  I didn’t want to target them until they had a good chance to feed up.  We then caught 9 in the next hour: which just underlines how attracted they are to lures.  They were all processed and released without mishap.  It is what we expect, but always good to be able to report it.

There were several small flocks of Redpoll around, but they weren’t stopping, just flying through. Hopefully we will catch a few in the next couple of months.

We closed the nets at 11:30 and were away from site by just gone midday: with Andrew heading off purposefully to find the Smew at the Cotswold Water Park.


Lacock Abbey Allotments: Thursday, 10th January 2019

A post by Andrew Bray:

The first session of the year at Lacock Abbey Allotments started on a bright and sunny morning, which gradually clouded over as it progressed.  It started out very cold and seemed to get colder as the morning wore on.  My toes are gradually defrosting at home!

I filled up the on-site seed feeders and set one net nearby.   The catch was consistent and I was kept busy during the session.  All of the the recaptured birds were ringed by me at the site.

I was lucky enough to catch a Woodpigeon.  It was feeding on the ground and flew into the bottom shelf of the net when I approached.  They are large birds, and can get themselves out of the net more often than not.  However, I got to it before it could escape, and I was glad that it was the only bird I had to run for!

The list for the day was: Woodpigeon 1; Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 10(3); Great Tit 3; Coal Tit (1); Wren 1; Robin 2(3).  Totals: 18 birds ringed from 6 species; 8 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 26 birds processed from 8 species.

Brown’s Farm: Saturday, 5th January 2019

My last visit to Brown’s Farm, back in late September last year, was a busy session with 69 birds caught.  In anticipation of a similar catch, for this session I was joined by Jonny, Ellie and Emmeline (our latest recruit). Unfortunately, we did not have quite such a productive session, despite putting the nets in the same place as last time.  The hedgerow food must have become severely depleted.  Next time we will set along by the game cover.

That is not to say that, despite a lack of birds, it wasn’t an interesting session.  We only caught 13 birds but the list was Blue Tit 2(1); Robin 2(1); Blackbird 2; Linnet 3; Starling 1; Yellowhammer 1.  Totals: 11 birds ringed from 6 species; 2 birds recaptured from 2 species, making 13 birds processed from 6 species.

Two of the three Linnets were male.


There are two ways of identifying male birds. The first, and most obvious, is the presence of pink on the breast, which becomes more obvious as they come into breeding condition.  The other criterion you can use is demonstrated on the second photo.  When you look at the primary wing feathers the innermost feathers have a white leading edge. If that white edge reaches close to the black feather shaft it is a male, if there is a gap of 1mm or more it is a female.

2019_01_05linne 2

The Starling was an adult male.  You can tell this because of the shape of the feathers on the side of the breast:


As you can see, they are thin and pointed with a central black shaft. That is diagnostic of an adult male.  Finally, the Yellowhammer was also a male. This one was a bird that fledged last year:


Over the next few months those brown tips to the head feathers will wear away revealing the familiar yellow head of the bird.

Red Lodge: Wednesday, 2nd January 2019

For our first session of the New Year we headed for Red Lodge.  I was delighted to be joined for the session by Fraser Bell.  Fraser and I have ringed together off and on for some 9 years, and he has progressed to his A-permit this year.  We were also joined by Jonny, Andrew and David for the morning.  It was a good experienced team and, despite only setting 11 nets, totalling 195 metres, we caught a creditable 100 birds from 13 species. We had an indication that we would have a decent haul: I had filled the feeders up yesterday lunchtime and the two seed-feeders were emptied and the peanut feeders had been reduced by a quarter.

What we hadn’t expected was the return of the Redwing.  Over the last couple of weeks they had definitely dispersed: one cold morning and there were flocks around again.  We saw plenty and managed to catch 16 during the morning.

My favourite catch of the morning was a Coal Tit (photograph below) which I ringed as an adult in February 2013, making it at least 7 years old and probably over 8 years.  The record is 9 years and 2 months, but the typical lifespan is just 2 years.


We also recovered a Blue Tit that was ringed as a juvenile in the Firs in November 2018.  We are used to recovering Blue and Great Tits that have moved around the Braydon Forest, but this is the first movement from the Firs to Red Lodge that we have established.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch (3); Blue Tit 25(23); Great Tit 4(5); Coal Tit 6(2); Marsh Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 5; Wren 2; Dunnock (1); Robin (1); Redwing 16; Goldcrest 2; Chaffinch 1(1); Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 63 birds ringed from 10 species; 37 birds recaptured from 8 species, making 100 birds processed from 13 species.

*Update: In this catch was a recaptured Blue Tit, ring number S589485. It was ringed at Stansore Point, near Lepe Country Park in Hampshire on the 7th November 2016. It has travelled 99km NNW in just over 2 years.  Not the longest movement recorded but pretty impressive for a non-migratory species.

Somerford Common: Saturday, 29th December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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