Erlestoke Golf Course: November 2017

After producing a report on the Natural History observations made whilst playing at Erlestoke Golf Course over the last three years, Paul Fox and myself were kindly granted permission to set up a feeding station in a secluded area of mixed woodland on the course.

The natural progression was to obtain ringing permission, which was kindly granted in October this year. Obviously, after only three visits, it is very early yet to produce any worthwhile analysis, so this is purely a record of numbers involved so far.

To date 110 birds of 8 species have been processed as follows: Blue Tit 64, Great Tit 26, Long-tailed Tit 7, Coal Tit 6, Robin 3, Goldcrest 2, Dunnock 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1.

Looking at the age ratio of the two common Tits, from a total of 64 Blue Tit captures, 47 have been birds of the year (code 3) as opposed to only 17 aged older (code 4). With Great Tits conversely only 9 birds of year and 17 aged older.

As an ‘old timer’ I was most interested to note the updated Greater Spotted information in the revised 2016 Non Passerines Guide stressing the unreliability of ageing on primary tip spots and unmoulted primary coverts which means some birds must be left unaged (code 2). A good lesson in keeping up with current information!

Finally we would both like to thank the owner and staff of the Course for their interest and assistance in allowing us to operate. We look forward hopefully to some Siskin and Redpoll in the coming months.

Rob Turner   Paul Fox

Tedworth House: Wednesday, 15th November 2017

Last month’s visit had to be cancelled: two dates were rained off and the third was made impossible because Countryfile decided that they would be filming where I usually set my nets. For this month, we were lucky with the weather and, with no film crews to get in the way, I got on site as scheduled.

Dave Turner, as usual, was on hand to help set up the nets and provide the essential bacon sandwich at 8:30.  He has got breakfast down to a fine art: the House stops serving at 8:15, so a trip to the kitchen at 8:20 sees the staff being extremely generous with their servings, as they want to use up any excess.  Waste not, want not (waist yes)!

The ringing was solo and pretty busy.  I only set three short net rides, adjacent to the feeding stations. As usual, the woodland feeding stations were only topped up the day before, so they caught but weren’t that busy.  However, the garden feeding station is kept topped up and is a magnet for all sorts of birds (but mainly titmice).

The catch for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Jay 1; Blue Tit 17(2); Great Tit 7(2); Coal Tit (1); Wren (1); Dunnock 5; Robin 1(1); Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 2; Chaffinch (1).  Totals: 35 birds ringed from eight species, eight birds retrapped from six species, making 43 birds processed from 11 species.

I had a regular stream of visitors to my ringing station during the morning, staff, visitors, volunteers and residents all delighted to see birds up close.  The Goldcrests, Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker were the main attractions but the feisty nature of Blue Tits, as they are busy biting me whilst I show them to people, always amuses an audience.

The Firs: Sunday, 12th November 2017

It has been quite a while since we have managed to get onto this site: and yesterday’s continuous rain and an iffy forecast for the Sunday put it in doubt again.  Fortunately, the rain relented earlier than forecast on Sunday morning and we could start setting nets at 6:30.  In preparation for the session, I had set up a feeding station on the previous Thursday, knowing that it would mean we would be rather overrun by titmice, but always hopeful of something more interesting dropping in.  In the event, it was one each of the Blue and Great Tits that provided the interest, although retrapping Marsh Tit at this site is hugely encouraging, with them having been scarce here between 2012 and the end of 2016.

I was joined for the session by Jonny and Steph; and Steph’s partner, Stuart, came along to see why she leaves him early on a weekend morning.

D056608 is a Blue Tit ringed as a juvenile at a private garden site on Wood Lane about 1km away from its recapture at the Firs.  It was first captured and ringed on my second ever solo ringing session on the 1st September 2012.  Since then, it moved from the garden to the Firs sometime between February and November 2013, where is seems to have established itself.  With this capture it is the sixth time it has been processed.  Now, at the age of 5 years it has certainly exceeded the average life expectancy of this species (3 years) but it has another 5 years to go before it beats the oldest known recorded Blue Tit.

VZ11939 is a Great Tit, ringed as a second year bird in Ravensroost Woods on the 16th February this month, and recovered in the Firs yesterday.  I don’t get many movements between Ravensroost and the Firs.  Both Blue and Great Tits have been recovered within the Braydon Forest that have moved between sites, but they are usually between the Firs, Webb’s Wood and the Wood Lane garden site, or between Ravensroost and Somerford Common.

The list for the session was: Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 11(12); Great Tit 3(7); Coal Tit 4(4); Marsh Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 2; Robin 2(2); Goldcrest 3.  Totals: 29 birds ringed from eight species; 27 birds recaptured from five species, making 56 birds processed from nine species.  With nearly a 50:50 split between new and retrapped birds, this underlines the value of consistent ringing practices within an area, giving solid information for management of the site and valuable conservation data for the national database.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Geoff Sample (great name for a sound recordist – nominative determinism at its finest); Jean C La Roche and the Latvian love song, no Lesser Redpoll, Goldfinch or Redwing troubled our nets.  The site lived up to its local nickname of the “Braydon Bog” – with some of the muddiest conditions we have seen for a long time.  Despite the lack of variety, we had a good morning and the opportunity for comparing juvenile and adult birds for tricky species, like Coal and Marsh Tit.

Simon Tucker

Brown’s Farm: Wednesday, 8th November 2017

Brown’s Farm is our only downland site, just south of Marlborough on the Salisbury Road.  It is bordered on the east by Savernake Forest.  The farm has magnificent hedgerows, plenty of game cover and a typical farmland avifauna: Dunnock, Chaffinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Skylark have always been plentiful here.  Until this time last year, the then tenants ran it as a beef and arable farm.  The new tenant has continued with the same profile, plus he has expanded the site to include two stable yards, with the horses also being put out to graze.
Normally we don’t have access to the site during the shooting season, as both the former and current tenants run pheasant and red-legged partridge shoots.  Having been frustrated by unsuitable weather on every planned session since the one in April, with the forecast being for light winds and no rain, I contacted the farmer on the off-chance that he might give me permission to run a ringing session, which he granted.  There was one small glitch: with the new enterprises on site he has reinstituted security – and forgot to give me the appropriate access codes.  This meant that we set up within easy walking distance of the farm entrance, rather than our usual place one kilometre up the track.  I was joined by Jonny and Ellie for the session.
As a result of the nets being positioned close to the farmyard, the catch was quite different from normal.  Usually we would have had a more representative catch of farmland birds.  Whilst we were setting up there were big groups of House Sparrow and Chaffinch all around the area where we set the nets.  They disappeared almost immediately we had finished setting up and did not reappear, unfortunately.
We caught 30 birds in the session: Blue Tit 13; Wren 5; Dunnock 5; Robin 2(1); Blackbird 1; Bullfinch 1; House Sparrow 2.  29 birds ringed from seven species and a solitary retrapped Robin.  This bird was ringed as a juvenile on the farm in September 2015.
Not our most spectacular catch but, hopefully, now that the farmer has seen that our activities have no adverse effects on his game birds, we will be able to carry out a few more sessions during the winter season when the flocks of birds are at their highest and we can get back to ringing Linnet and Yellowhammer there.  I now have the codes to the gates.
Simon Tucker

Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 1st November 2017

On Wednesday, Ellie Jones, Jonny Cooper and I did a session at Lower Moor Farm. We were joined for the session by Dr Ian Grier.  Ian was my trainer and helped me to achieve my C- and then my A-permits.   He came along to assess Ellie for her advancement to a C-permit.
Once the autumn migration is over Lower Moor Farm tends to become quite quiet: we have had fewer than 50 birds per session in previous October / November sessions.  It was a pleasant surprise to end up with a catch of 71 birds.
The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 5(5); Great Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit 6(6); Wren 8(1); Dunnock (2); Robin 4(3); Redwing 3; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 1; Goldfinch 3; Lesser Redpoll 6; Bullfinch 5(3); Reed Bunting 4.  Totals: 49 birds ringed from 12 species; 22 birds retrapped from eight species, making 71 birds processed from 14 species.  It was a good catch of Lesser Redpoll and a few Redwing, but the catch of Wrens was quite unusual for the site: three adults and six juveniles.
At about 10:30 we were joined by a couple of staff and one of the attendees from Lakeside House.  Lakeside House works in association with the adjacent Care Farm and sensory garden to offer young people with special needs the opportunity for education and work experience in nature conservation, farming and horticulture. The students and users of the Care Farm take a lead in developing the farm and have opportunities to grow confidence and develop their independence. This lad was delighted to get close to a few birds and was good at identifying them.  He was shown how to safely hold and release birds.  Particularly, he was delighted when a Bullfinch sat on his hand for a few seconds, after he had released it, and before it flew off.  Birds sometimes do this when they don’t realise that you have actually let them go.
I am delighted to say that Ian agreed with my assessment, that Ellie is at a stage where she is skilled enough to work with a greater degree of independence, and to advance her to her C-permit.  There are four levels of working within ringing: helper; T-permit holder; C-permit holder and A-permit holder.  Helpers are allowed to work with permit holders with a suitable endorsement, usually those who hold an A-permit with a trainer endorsement. T-permit holders are official trainees, who are registered with and licensed by the BTO.   They are registered to a named trainer and can only work with their trainer, or other ringer with a training endorsement (I had a helpers and trainees endorsement as a C-permit holder).  C-permit holders are able to work independently, within limits set by their trainer, and their trainer remains responsible for their actions. Finally, A-permit holders are fully independent ringers, limited by a range of specific endorsements to their licence decided by the BTO.  There is no set time for advancement from one stage to another: it is all about how much time people can devote to learning the skills required and how quickly they can master them.
Simon Tucker

Ravensroost Woods: Friday, 27th October 2017

Steph, Lillie and I were joined by Andrew Bray for a session at Ravensroost Woods this morning.  With no feeding station in place, and only three rides set up (2 x 54m, 1 x 72m), I wasn’t looking for a large catch.  In the event, we did better than expected.

Initially I put on lures for Redwing, Lesser Redpoll and Marsh Tit and, at 10:30, Goldcrest.  The Redwing and Lesser Redpoll, to see if they have arrived for the winter (Redwing yes, Lesser Redpoll no).  I don’t lure for Goldcrest first thing in the morning and not at all when the weather turns cold.  They weigh only 5 to 6g and I am always mindful of the bird’s well-being and need to feed.  As they can turn up to a lure in very large numbers, I will only do it on a warm day.  One other interesting point about Goldcrests: very often their wing length in millimetres is the same as 10 times their weight in grams. We caught seven today, three of those conformed to this little peculiarity: 50mm wing x 5.0g weight; 52 x 5.2 and 54 x 5.4.

We caught our first Blackcap of the winter:


The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 9(1); Great Tit 3(3); Coal Tit 4(1); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 12(2); Wren 2; Dunnock (1); Robin 1(1); Redwing 3; Blackbird 2; Blackcap 1; Goldcrest 6(1); Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 2.  Totals: 46 birds ringed from 12 species, 12 birds retrapped from nine species, making 58 birds processed from 15 species.

Once we had packed up and were leaving site, I found that another “responsible” dog owner has, most likely, been responsible for stealing my notices asking them to keep their dogs on a short lead.  What do these people not understand about Ravensroost Woods?  It is a nature reserve not a park, there are no public footpaths but permissive paths, which the landowner, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, requires that people using them should keep dogs on a short lead.  Their self-righteous, misplaced, anger has turned them into common thieves.

Simon Tucker

Blakehill Farm: Thursday, 26th October 2017

After what seems like an age (twelve whole days), I finally got out to do a session this morning. The weather forecast was for it to be overcast but dry and virtually windless.  Unfortunately, the overcast was at ground level and the nets and everything were pretty damp very quickly.  I spent a lot of time shaking nets to remove drops of moisture.  There are two problems with mist like that: the nets accumulate droplets of water, which makes them more visible, and damp nets are more clinging to the birds, making extractions more difficult.

I had Steph and her daughter Lillie to help this morning, but the birds were very few and far between.  Not all bad though: we caught our first Lesser Redpoll for the site, a hedgerow lining a perimeter track around a disused airfield.


At just after 10:00 Steph took Lillie off to an arranged play date, so I suggested that she stay out of the damp and cold and not bother returning, as I was happy to take down on my own.

The next round after they left there were no birds in the nets.  In the following round I extracted and processed two birds, so I decided to take down next round.  However, I decided to have a coffee first, to give one last chance for some birds to get in the nets.  Subsequently, viewing the nets through my binoculars I noticed there were a few birds in them: 25 extractions later, including our sixth Stonechat for the autumn on the site, I finally got to take down. As I processed the last bird, the Stonechat, another, much larger, flock of titmice came through but I had closed the nets so they flew on through and I managed to get everything packed away.


The list for the day was: Blue Tit 5(1); Great Tit (3); Long-tailed Tit (11); Wren 2; Stonechat 1; Robin 2(1); Song Thrush 1; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 6; Lesser Redpoll 1. Totals: 21 birds ringed from 10 species; 16 birds retrapped from four species, making 37 birds processed from 12 species.

As I left the site a flock of twenty or so Linnets and a few Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Bullfinches flew up from the path in front of me. One of those days when you think “if only”. What started poorly (damp and miserable) ended with a decent catch but could have been so much bigger and better. Next time!!!

Simon Tucker

Webb’s Wood: Saturday, 14th October 2017

Saturday was a perfect day for ringing: dull, overcast and virtually windless.  Jonny Cooper and I had a very good catch at Webb’s Wood.  This included our second earliest ever capture of a Lesser Redpoll:


The earliest was at Somerford Common on the 13th October 2015.

However, the highlight of the session was a catch of three Marsh Tits.  Webb’s has always been a bit behind the other sites when it comes to these birds but three in a session is a real red letter day: it was one adult and two juvenile birds.  They have been colour ringed and, hopefully, a number of other birders will see them and give us reports back on where and when.


This brings to five the number of Marsh Tits ringed in Webb’s this year, compared to one in each of the previous three years and two in 2013 when I started ringing there.

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 8(1); Great Tit 5(2); Coal Tit 8(1); Marsh Tit 3; Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 4; Dunnock 1; Robin 4(1); Goldcrest 16(2); Lesser Redpoll 1. Totals: 53 birds ringed from 11 species; seven birds retrapped from five species, making 60 birds processed from 11 species.

Amongst the birds retrapped was a Goldcrest, EXR483, that was ringed in July 2014.  What is remarkable about this bird is that juvenile mortality, whilst currently unknown, is likely to be similar to that of other small birds (70 – 80%) and adult survival is less than 15% (Blue Tit adults, for example, have a 40 – 50% survival rate).  Average lifespan is estimated at 2 years and the oldest known specimen is only 4 years 2 months and 24 days.  This bird, at 3 years 2 months and 26 days since ringing, is certainly a venerable example.

Simon Tucker

Somerford Common: Wednesday, 11th October 2017

Wednesday was a bit hit and miss as the forecast was for it to be very windy.  I was grateful that both Andrew Bray and Jonny Cooper turned out to help.  We had hoped that the projected wind direction would enable the wood to provide enough cover for us to set our nets in the usual places.  Unfortunately, the forecast direction turned out to be incorrect and we had to set most of the nets in less than optimal places.
However, we did manage to catch some birds:
Blue Tit 6; Great Tit 2(3); Coal Tit 3; Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 1; Robin 2; Redwing 1; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch (2).  Totals: 18 birds ringed from nine species; six birds retrapped from three species, making 24 birds processed from 10 species.
The birding highlight was our first Redwing of the winter.  It is our earliest capture of a Redwing to date, by two days.  However, my highlight of the session was a beetle:
I haven’t seen a Devil’s Coach Horse for years, and this beastie stayed around for quite a while and posed beautifully.
Simon Tucker

Blakehill Farm: Sunday, 8th October 2017

With yesterday’s scheduled session being rained off, Jonny and I met up at Blakehill Farm this morning for a shortish session. I think Jonny was pleased to have an extra day to recover from his trip to the Shetlands, from which he returned on Friday.  All he managed to see there were a few common birds: Red-throated Pipit, Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting, Red-Breasted Flycatcher and Buff-bellied Pipit, his second Parrot Crossbill didn’t merit a mention. (Yes – I am joking; Yes – I am jealous).

As the central plateau is currently being grazed and there was cattle everywhere else on the site, we kept our session to the area in front of the Whitworth Centre and along the footpath to the pond area.  The session started well, with a nice flock of Long-tailed Tits in the net directly opposite the Centre. We processed them, and then set a couple of two shelf nets on the opposite side of the hedge lining the perimeter track and put on a lure for Linnet.  For the rest of the morning we watched Linnets flying up and down the hedgerow looking for this noisy con-specific. Unfortunately, only two of them managed to blunder into our nets.  Given how few have been seen at Blakehill this year, we were pleased to see quite so many this session.  This one was a little camera shy.


Soon after we had set the Linnet net, I heard the pounding of footsteps and watched Jonny haring across the field to the net on the far side of the field.  He came back with this beauty:


This is a juvenile female Kestrel.  She was extremely feisty and we both have a few wounds as a memento of the occasion.  Jonny won’t mind: it was the first Kestrel that he has processed.

As we both wanted to be away before 13:00 we did our last round at 11:15 and I was delighted to take two of these lovely birds out of the same net that previously caught the Kestrel:


Following on from the five that I took out of the plateau nets on my last session, it has been a real privilege to handle some of my absolute favourite birds.  These birds were juveniles, in the last stages of moulting out their juvenile plumage, with just a few buffy feathers on the head and neck area.

The list for the session was: Kestrel 1; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 6; Wren 4(1); Robin 5; Goldcrest 3; Starling 2; Goldfinch 1; Linnet 2.  Totals: 27 ringed from 10 species and one retrapped bird.  Unusual for Blakehill Farm, we caught no Dunnocks or Reed Buntings.  These are generally the most regularly caught birds on the site.

Whilst I was looking at the figures for this blog, I had a particular look at retrapped birds, as catching just one at a regular site is unusual.  Since I started ringing independently, me and my team have ringed 13,283 birds and retrapped 3,899. So our retrap rate is running at a pretty good 22.7%.  Resident species are, obviously, the most likely to be retrapped and that proves to be the case:

retrap ringed total % retrap
Marsh Tit 125 91 216 137.4%
Coal Tit 239 336 575 71.1%
Long-tailed Tit 338 650 988 52.0%
Dunnock 171 349 520 49.0%
Great Tit 589 1261 1850 46.7%
Robin 346 849 1195 40.8%
Wren 190 506 696 37.5%
Blue Tit 850 2372 3222 35.8%
Blackbird 151 467 618 32.3%
Bullfinch 59 230 289 25.7%
Song Thrush 37 153 190 24.2%
Reed Bunting 22 118 140 18.6%
Chiffchaff 165 933 1098 17.7%
Blackcap 166 965 1131 17.2%
Willow Warbler 35 253 288 13.8%

Obviously a bird is ringed only once, but a ringed bird can be retrapped on multiple occasions.  The Marsh Tits are so sedentary, and as we tend to set our nets in the same places in our sites, there is a much higher incidence of repeat captures of the same individuals in the same place on different occasions, hence the slightly odd statistic. What surprised me most was that Blue Tits are only eighth in the list.  Being the most commonly caught bird, and we always seem to be picking up retrapped Blue Tits, I assumed that they would have the highest proportion of recaptures.  Evidently not.

Migrant warblers, quite naturally, are the least frequently retrapped but two out of every eleven is not a bad return.

Simon  Tucker