Normal Service Is Resumed: Ravensroost Woods, Saturday, 21st December 2019

After the low numbers of the last two sessions I was rather hopeful that we would have a better return at our scheduled session at Ravensroost Woods.  We have been asked not to take vehicles into the reserve as, with the continual wet weather, the main track has become severely rutted and there is no budget available for repairs at present.  Besides, there would be little point until the area dries out sufficiently for the repairs to take and remain solid.   Obviously this has an impact on the deployment of nets and the siting of our ringing station: there is a limit as to how much kit one wants to carry and how far one wants to carry it.

On Thursday morning I set up a feeding station along one of the rides. A big thank you to the Swindon Wildlife Group for a generous contribution of funds to enable me to purchase feed for Ravensroost and the Firs reserves.  This meant that we could focus on a small area of the wood, limiting how much effort was needed to get set up.  I decided on 4 x 18m nets along the ride and 2 x 9m and 1 x 6m nets in a triangle around the feeders.  Jonny and Alice joined me for the session.  The forecast was for rain until 7:00, so we arranged to meet at 7:30 and had the nets open by 8:30.  Birds started arriving before we had finished setting up.

What surprised me was that, although the station had only been up for just under two days, one of the two peanut feeders was completely empty, with no sign of squirrel activity, and the seed feeder was half empty.  This was clearly a good sign, and it proved to be a portent of the decent catch to come.  Early on, I put on the usual lure for Redwing. There were a few about, and we quickly caught 2 of them and a Song Thrush: but that was an end to our Thrush catch for the day.

The highlight of the session was a pair (I use the word advisedly) of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. They were both adults, a male and a female, within a couple of feet of each other in the same net.  I am not aware of whether they pair up seasonally or for life. Time to do some exploration.

We know that Blue Tits are going to make up the vast bulk of the catch.  Survey results always have either Wren or Chaffinch as being our commonest species but certainly in our woodlands it is the Blue Tit.  The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 2; Blue Tit 28(20); Great Tit 1(11); Coal Tit 1(3); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 1; Redwing 2; Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest 2(2); Chaffinch 3.  Totals: 41 birds ringed from 9 species; 37 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 78 birds processed from 10 species.

One of the benefits of a site like Ravensroost is that when it is windy outside the wood, and there was a strong southerly breeze today, it is sheltered in the wood itself.  Anyway, the forecast was 100% correct and we had a good, sunny morning. We packed up at 12:30 and were off site by 13:15 – an upside of setting so few nets.

What, no birds? Blakehill Farm, 4th and 18th December 2019

Our last three sessions at Blakehill Farm had been extremely productive with 13th and 30th September delivering 72 ringed each session, 1 and 3 recaptured respectively, 10 and 8 species respectively, and then on the 24th November, 62 ringed and 6 retrapped from 11 species, so we were looking forward to our next session there on the 4th December.

Our target for that session was to try and catch the Snipe and possible Jack Snipe at the pools on the west side of Blakehill.  I did a reconnaissance visit on the 3rd and saw 8 Snipe on their usual feeding site.  I had Ellie, Alice and Andrew join me for the session. The first issue: it froze overnight.  This meant that the feeding site was covered with sheet ice. We set the nets anyway: ironically a Woodcock flew through exactly where we were about to place our first wader net and disappeared onto the plateau.

Over the next two hours we watched as a thick, cold mist enveloped the nets and rimed them with frost. Eventually, the sun came out, the mist dissipated and the nets defrosted. It didn’t do much good: we caught a miserable total of 8 birds from 6 species, with no retrapped birds: Blue Tit 3;  Great Tit 1; Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Redwing 1; Blackbird 1.

Today I was working solo and so I decided to have another go at Blakehill, this time along the Chelworth side perimeter track hedgerow and the Meadow Pipit triangle, where we take our largest catches.  The weather was so much better, but I think the lousy weather of the last couple of weeks has moved the large flocks on. This catch was every bit as disappointing as the previous: Blue Tit 1(1); Wren 1; Meadow Pipit 3; Redwing 4; Chaffinch 1. 10 birds ringed from 5 species and 1 bird recaptured, making 11 birds processed from 5 species.

We will be back in the woodlands over the next couple of weeks, so it will be interesting to see if they are similarly down in number.

Buzzing at Somerford Common: 30th November 2019

With Webb’s Wood being off-limits until the Forestry Commission finish clearing the conifers at the eastern end of the wood, the forecast being for it to be windy, we needed another woodland site to visit.  We have been to all of our woodland sites quite a lot recently and I really wanted to go somewhere different, so I went to check out the western side of Somerford Common. This is very different from where we have our feeding station set up. It is, essentially, a commercial conifer plantation interspersed with tongues of broad-leaved trees.  Some three years ago it is since I last ringed that part of the site.  My hope was that we might catch some Lesser Redpoll and Siskin plus guaranteed to get a decent number of Goldcrest.

I stopped going there because the Forestry Commission had blocked the entrance with large granite blocks, as they have done at the gateways to many of their properties, as theft of timber and vandalism of the wooden gateways they usually use are real problems in this area.  This just made the setting up and management of the ringing rides too onerous. So, when I turned up to find that they had put a new security gate in place, which uses the standard local Forestry Commission padlock to secure it, I thought we would give it a go.  I doubt anybody could predict what happened.  This is where we set our nets:

Somerford

I was joined by Jonny, Andrew and Alice for the session.  The underfoot conditions were horrendous: I had suggested that everyone bring waterproof over-trousers.  It was the right thing to do: so muddy and wet that everything got filthy.

So to the session itself.  Ride 3 was a complete waste of time: not a single bird all morning. The first round was a couple of Coal Tit and Robin and a Long-tailed Tit.  The second round was even quieter: just one bird and then round three. Not lots of birds but, as I was checking ride 2, Andrew went to check ride 1.  He was taking his time and so I went to see if he needed any help, only to find him walking down the ride towards me with this in his arms:

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He asked if I had a bag big enough to put it in, so we could weigh it.  I do, it is a pillow case with a pull cord sewn into the neck.  In over 10 years of ringing I have never seen a Buzzard in the hand. It was such a shock: you just don’t expect it!  It was so unexpected that I thought that Jonny was going to have a seizure and Alice just refused to believe her eyes!

So, to the next round and Alice picked up the big bag and I suggested that she really didn’t need it because there was no way we were ever going to catch another bird that would need a bag of that size.  Alice and Jonny went off to check rides 3 and 4.  What do I know? Jonny returned with this in his arms:

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This is quite ridiculous: to catch one Buzzard in a mist net is a real surprise; to catch two? You must be joking, but we did!  I will stress: we did nothing to try to attract Buzzards into our nets. It was just because I was feeling a bit jaded with our other woodland sites and the Forestry Commission have re-instituted the access that we were there at all. Brilliant! Nobody currently active in our group has ever caught a Buzzard in Wiltshire – and we caught two by complete serendipity.

The catch was a good and varied one even without the Buzzards.  It was: Buzzard 2; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 2(3); Coal Tit 13; Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 10; Wren 2; Robin 2; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 8; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1.  Totals: 48 birds ringed from 12 species and 3 birds recaptured from 1 species, making 51 birds processed from 12 species.

Apart from the obvious Buzzard highlights, I was pleased to find that our largest catch was Coal Tit, followed by Long-tailed Tit then Goldcrest: exactly as I expected.  Catching our thirtieth Marsh Tit of the year was also a bonus.

After a couple of empty rounds we packed up and were away from the site by 13:00. Very happy, very satisfied.

Lacock Allotments and Bailey’s Farm: Friday, 29th November 2019

This blog uses content provided by Jonny Cooper and Andrew Bray.

Jonny Cooper: Bailey’s Farm: Redwing Round 2

Regular readers of the blog will know that my last session at Bailey’s Farm (just outside Chippenham) delivered 44 Redwing and overall was the biggest session ever for the site. It was a brilliant, if tiring, session. Having noticed that there were still good-sized flocks of Redwing, Chaffinch and Greenfinch on site and the forecast set for low winds all morning I decided I would give the site another go.

Working solo means getting on site pretty early to ensure the nets are up in plenty of time to begin catching at first light. I timed it to perfection and finished setting up just as it got light. As usual the first round was the busiest, producing 35 birds. After this each round reduced a regular 15 or so birds.

The catch for the day was as follows: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Magpie 1; Blue Tit 13(8); Great Tit 7(3); Long-tailed Tit (1); Dunnock 2(2); Meadow Pipit 3; Robin (3); Redwing 26; Song Thrush 3(1); Goldcrest 1; Starling 7; Chaffinch 15(3); Greenfinch 20; Yellowhammer 2; Reed Bunting 3.  Totals: 104 birds ringed from 14 species and 21 re-trapped from 7 species. A grand total of 125 birds processed from 16 species.

Another fantastic catch overall; 26 Redwing takes the total ringed on site this winter to 84. The Magpie was a good bird. Some people often unfairly and unjustly vilify them for no good reason, but they are beautiful birds close-up. Catching two Yellowhammer were also a highlight. So far, they have been missing from the catch this winter and I haven’t seen any on site; so catching these two was reassuring that they are still present in the area.

It is always amazing to see the number and variety of birds thriving on this farmland site. I have said this time and time again, but farmers like this are a shining example of how to farm effectively but in a way that in sympathetic to wildlife. It is a pleasure to be able to help monitor the birdlife on site.

Andrew Bray: Lacock Allotments

I set up a single 12m net in the dark and started my round shortly afterwards but there were no birds in the net until 07:40.  There were only 2 Robins then, but the day got better thereafter.  The sun started to shine through, but it remained very cold.  At 08:00 I ringed a new male Nuthatch and retrapped another later.  They were clealy males: the colour under the wing and on the under-tail coverts is brick red.  As usual there were a lot of Blue and Great Tits!

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 1(1); Blue Tit 9(5); Great Tit 8(4); Coal Tit 2(2); Dunnock 1(1); Robin (2); Blackbird 1.  Totals: 22 birds ringed from 6 species; 15 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 37 birds processed from 7 species.

Red Lodge: Thursday, 28th November 2019

We were scheduled to be in Webb’s Wood this week. I had to push the session back to Thursday for a number of reasons.  One of the team, Tony, was out walking in Webb’s on Wednesday and found that the Forestry Commission’s contractors have started their conifer removal at the eastern end of the wood. This is part of the new 10 year plan.  They are working immediately adjacent to our ringing site. As nets, personnel, birds, heavy machinery and noise do not make for successful ringing sessions, I decided to move the session to Red Lodge.   After a chat with Tom, the Beat Forester, we agreed that  we would hold off on any sessions there until the work is completed.  That is expected to be within two weeks.  Also, excellent news, the entrance road to the car park is going to be resurfaced as the final part of these operations.  Anyone reading this blog who knows and uses Webb’s Wood will be pleased about this: a relief to the suspension of all of the cars that are taken to site.

I was joined by Alice and Andrew for the Red Lodge session.  Although it rained overnight, the sky cleared quite quickly and the temperature dropped sharply. As a result, the number of birds moving around was very much reduced compared with recent sessions.  A couple of the rides warmed up as the sun came through but the sun never got high enough in the sky to get over the tree line and most of the site stayed cold all morning.

The first round produced a Redwing, a couple of Bullfinch and four Goldcrest, and that level of catch was how it went for most of the morning: a few birds at a time. It didn’t reach the numeric levels of recent catches, but it was a decent catch with a good spread of species.  The list for the morning was:  Nuthatch 1; Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit (3); Wren 2(2); Robin (1); Redwing 4; Song Thrush 2; Goldcrest 6(4); Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 22 birds ringed from 10 species and 12 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 34 birds processed from 12 species.

You will notice that I mentioned we caught two Bullfinch but only processed one. Unfortunately the male of the pair was suffering from the Fringilla Papilloma Virus (FPV) and could not be ringed. Its legs were already warty and damaged.  It has been a while since I have seen a Bullfinch with this problem: I hope it is a long time before I see another!

Once again, Goldcrest was our main catch in the wood.  We caught a few titmice but nothing that could be considered a tit flock: which explains why the numbers were somewhat down. I suspect they were frequenting the bird feeders in the adjacent gardens.  As the numbers dwindled significantly after 10:30 we decided to pack up, go home and get warm, and left site by midday.

Blakehill Farm – At Last: Sunday, 24th November 2019

We last managed to get a session at Blakehill Farm on the 30th September.  Since then I have made half-a-dozen abortive attempts to run sessions there. On three occasions I have actually got to site before having to concede defeat.  With the weather forecast being for this morning to be flat calm and misty for most of the morning,  I was confident we would get there. And so it proved.

I was joined for the day by Alice, Steph, Lillie and Andrew. We set our usual nets along the hedgerow, with Redwing lure playing; a Mipit triangle, with Meadow Pipit lure playing, and the nets around the bushes on the edge of the plateau.  We might just as well have not bothered with the plateau nets.  They are normally very good for Dunnock, Reed Bunting, Linnet and the occasional Stonechat but, bar a Dunnock and  Wren or two, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and effort. However, the other nets were a different proposition.

As we finished putting up the hedgerow nets I drove along the perimeter track to the turning area and was encouraged to see good flocks of Redwing around.  I set the Redwing lure playing and within 10 minutes we started catching them.  The Meadow Pipit lure took somewhat longer to start its work: perhaps the mist was keeping them from being too active, but eventually they started to arrive and, although we didn’t catch as many as the numbers around would suggest we should, there was still a reasonable catch.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 6(3); Great Tit 4(1); Wren 2(1); Dunnock (1); Meadow Pipit 13; Robin 1; Redwing 30; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 2; Starling 1; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 62 birds ringed from 9 species; 6 bird retrapped from 4 species, making 68 birds processed from 11 species.

As well as the high numbers of Redwing around there were several large flocks of Fieldfare flying around. Unfortunately, and entirely predictably, they never came anywhere close to being caught in any of the nets.

On another note, Ellie had her first solo session this morning (having had an effort on Thursday spoiled by the weather).  She was as sensible as I knew she would be: opening just a single net in the garden of the farm house at Lower Moor Farm. Remarkably, the first bird she extracted and processed was a Magpie.  Apart from the scarcity of catching them (just 10 by the whole team in the last 5 years), this was her first experience of extracting and processing this species.

Her catch for the day was: Magpie 1; Blue Tit 2; Wren 1; Blackbird 3(1); Goldcrest 1(1); Bullfinch 3(1). Totals: 11 birds ringed from 6 species; 3 birds retrapped from 3 species making 14 birds processed from 6 species.

As a trainer it is always extremely gratifying when one of your trainees steps out on their own: fledging I suppose.  Ellie is the third of my trainees to take that step.

Meadow Farm: Tuesday, 19th November 2019

This is a post by Jonny Cooper:

With the forecast suggesting that the weather is going to take a turn for the worse until the weekend I decided to take the opportunity to put in a session at Meadow Farm.  I was greeted by the first frost of the winter when I left the house and the car told me it was a balmy -2oC; and setting up the nets it certainly felt it.

I put on the Latvian love song and it dutifully produced 8 Redwing in the first round: it is certainly the most reliable lure we use. The morning carried on at a steady pace, somewhat slower than some of my sessions of late, but with it being so cold it was good to not have large numbers of birds sat in bags.

The catch for the day was as follows: Kingfisher (1), Blue Tit 5(18), Great Tit 3(3), Dunnock (2), Redwing 11, Blackbird 1, Chaffinch 2, Greenfinch 5, Goldfinch 8 and Reed Bunting 1. Giving 36 new birds from 8 species and 24 re-traps from, 5 species. A total of 60 birds from 10 species.

A pretty standard session for the site. Catching a Kingfisher is always a highlight, this site is very reliable for them. The Reed Bunting was only the third ever for the site which is odd as the site contains lots of suitable breeding habitat and is adjacent to arable fields where they flock during the winter.

Overall a good session, I was packed up and off site by 12:30 ready to warm up.