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Little Egret - Lower Woodford - Bob Blamey


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Blakehill Farm, Sunday, 25th October 2015

 With the day forecast to be flat calm and overcast we went ahead with a planned session at Blakehill Farm. I was joined by my trainees Jonny Cooper and Daniela Diveney.  The central plateau is currently playing host to a large number of cattle, including a stunning Limousin bull, so we decided to set nets along the hedgerow on the perimeter road to the east of the site rather than rely on the good nature of a bull in a field full of cows.  It was a cold start to the morning, with a pretty heavy ground frost for this time of year,  We set 9 x 18m and 1 x 12m nets in 4 rides and played lures for Redwing, Reed Bunting, Linnet and Meadow Pipit.  The lures were all successful, although we only caught one Linnet. Daniela took this cracking Redwing photograph:

2015 10 25 Blakehill 2

There were many highlights of the session: a good catch of Redwing in open country and not at a roost; the best catch of Reed Bunting so far at the site; a good number of Goldcrests and a late captured Chiffchaff, neither species particularly associated with open countryside but in or adjacent to woodlands.  The real highlights from a ringing perspective were controlled Reed Bunting and Great Tit.  Controls are birds ringed elsewhere and caught on your patch and provide information on the movements of the birds.  Both were on UK rings, so interesting but not exciting (as they would be if the rings were continental). *The controls have been identified as birds ringed at Waterhay this year: the Reed Bunting on the 4th October and the Great Tit on the 11th July.  Thanks to John Wells for the information.

The list for the day was, New (Retrap): Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 2(2); Long-tailed Tit 18; Wren 3; Dunnock 4; Meadow Pipit 3; Robin 4; Redwing 12; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 4; Goldfinch 20(1); Linnet 1; Reed Bunting 8(1). Totals: 81 new from 13 species and 5 retraps from 4 species. 

As well as the birds caught we had good views of Fieldfare (at least 20 flying about), Raven, a Kestrel being harried by a Carrion Crow, plus hundreds of Goldfinch out on the central plateau. ST / JC/ DD

Ravensroost Woods, Friday 23rd October 2015

The weather this morning was just perfect for ringing: dry, overcast and virtually windless. I was joined by my trainees Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper for what turned out to be a very satisfying session in Ravensroost Woods. We set three net rides of 3 x 18m nets each.  A lure for one of Redwing, Lesser Redpoll and Goldcrest was set against each ride, as below:


Each of the lures did their jobs.  We saw no Redwing flying around at any point during the session but extracted and ringed four of them in close proximity to the lure.  There was also a first autumnal Lesser Redpoll for Ravensroost this year and a goodly number of Goldcrests mainly trapped in close proximity to their respective lures.

Any session that serves up four Nuthatches is a good session. However, the highlight of the day for me was the trapping of 5 Marsh Tits: one new and four retrapped birds. Of the retrapped birds, one was originally one of the first I colour ringed on 13th October 2012.  It was identified as an adult when ringed initially, making the bird at least 4 years old.  Typical life is 2 years but the oldest recorded was over 10 years from when first ringed - so it has a way to go yet.


The list for the session was, New (Retrap): Nuthatch 4; Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 2(2); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit 1(4); Long-tailed Tit 8; Wren 2(2); Robin 1(2); Redwing 4; Blackbird 3(1); Goldcrest 10(1); Lesser Redpoll 1; Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 43 new from 13 species and 14 retraps from 7 species. ST / EJ / JC

Garden Ringing, Christmas 2014

With a busy Christmas schedule of visits to be made and visitors to be entertained, it is difficult to tell one's better half that you are pushing off for most of the day leaving her to prepare and cook the food, entertain the guests and radiate bonhommie in your absence. So, to ensure a happy and harmonious Christmas in the Tucker household, I put up a couple of nets in my back garden, to be opened whenever I had an hour or so to spare.  They were conveniently positioned so that I could keep an eye on them whilst doing the preparation and cooking of meals that is my domestic role in our household.  Over Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the Saturday following I managed about four hours ringing on and off and caught the following in the garden, new(retrapped): Blue Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 4; Wren 2; Robin 2(1); Blackbird 1; Goldfinch 24(2).  Totals: 34 new, 4 retraps.  All retrapped birds were originally ringed in the garden.

It is definitely a pleasant way to ring birds: all the comforts of home and late starts (the nets were never opened before 10:00, to give the birds a chance for an early morning feed before interrupting their schedule).  It also gave me an opportunity to show my family why I choose to get up at stupid o'clock to go and set nets on a regular basis.  Catching 24 new Goldfinches brought the total number ringed in the garden this year to 108, with 7 retrapped birds.  Using the standard catch, mark and retrap technique for estimating population size gives a Goldfinch population of 1,666 birds in the Pavenhill region of Purton.  I can believe it. 

The Long-tailed Tits were an absolute bonus: we have them visit our garden only occasionally but this is the first time I have managed to catch them at home. ST


Wood Lane, 29th December 2015

Today’s session at Wood Lane was pretty busy.  As I was working solo I only had 3 short net rides set up: one by a feeding station, one along a trackway between an established boundary hedge and a recently planted copse and the third through the middle of the copse.

As usual with the site, there was a preponderance of Blue and Great Tits from the feeding station but some really good birds from the other net rides.  The list was as follows, new (retrap): Nuthatch 3; Blue Tit 23(10); Great Tit 12(2); Coal Tit 1(2);  Wren 1(1); Robin 2(1); Blackbird 2(1); Redwing 17; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 3(2); Lesser Redpoll 4.  Totals: 69 new and 19 retraps.

The Redwing caught this morning were the first I have caught in 3 winters at this site.  It is now the only one of my sites where I have caught all British thrushes except Ring Ouzel.  Given how most Redwing seemed to have moved on from this area, it was a pleasant surprise to catch so many. There were four Lesser Redpoll, two of which were very striking adult males. The three Nuthatches (2 females and a male) were the first caught on the site since a retrap in February and the first new Nuthatch there since April 2013. ST


Ravensroost Woods, Christmas Eve 2014

 I did a short trip to Ravensroost on Christmas Eve (the only one of my sites properly protected from westerly winds), helped by Andy Palmer, and had a very pleasant ringing session.  We only put up two net rides as we wanted a leisurely morning. The list was, New (Retraps): Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 1(3); Coal Tit (1); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 2(8); Wren (1); Blackbird 1; Redwing 2; Goldcrest 2(3); Bullfinch 1(1).  Totals: 12 new, 19 retrapped. Any session where you catch as many Treecreepers as Blue Tits is okay by me.  The Redwings seem to have moved on for now - a spell of hard, cold weather should see a return.

There were a couple of interesting birds. The Blackbird was a juvenile male – but it was really hard to work out both the age and the sex.  The tail was the giveaway.: I have attached the photos used for the diagnostic features. The head shows brown scalloped edges to the head feathers, and a speckled throat: juvenile characteristics.  The tail was black and broad – very much an adult male characteristic – but I decided it was probably a traumatic replacement, as they will drop the tail as an anti-predator mechanism and juveniles will then grow an adult tail as a replacement.  What was interesting about this bird though was the weight: 118.6g.  That is fully 20g heavier than any other Blackbird I have trapped and ringed, although I do have records of two heavier specimens trapped in December 2010 (one weighing in at an astonishing 130g).



Two of the three Great Tits were ringed as adults in April 2011 in Ravensroost, which means that they are at least 5 years old, against a typical life span of 3 years (although the oldest recorded Great Tit from ringing data was 13 years, 11 months and 5 days old).  ST


Tedworth House, 17th December 2014

It is not often that catching 5 birds in a session would qualify for an entry on the blog but this was an exception.

The weather forecast for this morning was for the rain to clear Tedworth House by 6:30 am - unfortunately nobody remembered to tell the weather.  We had a good group around: Fraser Bell (C-permit holder and friend from Purton); Dave Turner, special projects officer for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust; Georgina Baker, Wildlife Trust trainee and ex-service personnel Elaine and Steve.  As the rain continued, we had a pleasant chat, passing the time under the large tented workshop until the rain finally relented at about 8:30.  I was unwilling then to put up a lot of nets, just to take them down again 2.5 hours later.  We put up 4 net rides in different places from which we caught 5 birds from 4 species: 2 Magpies, 1 Robin, 1 retrapped Goldcrest and this little beauty below:


This is the second Firecrest caught at Tedworth House in each of the last 2 years.  To put that into perspective, the numbers caught and ringed in Wiltshire from 2010 to 2013 inclusive were 1, 1, 0 and 4. To catch them in the same net, in the same spot, two years running is incredibly lucky.

I have to confess, I have a huge fondness for Magpies.  I do not subscribe to them being the root of all problems for song birds in our gardens and the countryside, especially as my resident pair breed successfully every year in or close to my garden: as do Wrens, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Dunnocks and Robins.  Today we caught a pair in the same net, within a foot of each other.  A big thank you to Fraser for, being young and athletic, running the length of the ride to make sure they did not escape.  The benefit for Fraser was that he had never ringed a Magpie - he now has.  So far this year we have caught and ringed 5 Magpies at Tedworth, only 4 were caught and ringed in Wiltshire last year.  ST


The Firs, 13th December 2014

I have been aiming to get into the Firs for a few weeks now, but a combination of bad weather and illness has prevented me.  So yesterday, ignoring an instruction from my doctor to rest an inflamed hip joint, I decided to carry out a session in the wood but restrict the number of nets to just 3 x 60m.  The weather was fabulous: cold, crisp and windless and the catch was well worth it.  The list was as follows, New (Retrapped):  Blue Tit 1(2); Great Tit 4(2); Long-tailed Tit 7(7); Wren (2); Robin 1; Blackbird 1; Song Thrush 1; Redwing 24; Chaffinch 1.  Totals: 40 new, 13 retrapped.

Amongst the retraps were 2 Long-tailed Tit ringed as juveniles in Webb’s Wood in July 2013. The other retrapped birds were all originally ringed in the Firs.  Noticeable was the good catch of Redwing. Prior to yesterday I had caught just one Redwing in the Firs (March of this year) and catching 24 in one session is excellent.  I am licensed to use sound lures outside of the breeding season to attract birds to the catching site.  Yesterday I used a lure that originated in Latvia and has gone viral around the ringing community in the UK.  However, the birds have to be around to be lured and I am convinced that the sterling work done to open up the central section, the new ponds and the thinning at the top end are helping to make the reserve more attractive to a wider range of birds.

The Song Thrush caught was the 30th of the year in the Braydon Forest – compared to 4 in the whole of last year.  When you add in the Song Thrushes caught on Lower Moor Farm, the total for the area is 42 ringed in 2014, against 5 in 2013. It is an astonishing turn around for an amber listed species. I am looking to build a picture over the next few years correlating Song Thrush numbers with winter weather conditions. The Braydon Forest and its surrounding meadows and hedgerows do not suffer from the intensive herbicide / pesticide treatments afflicting Song Thrushes throughout most of their UK range, yet it is still a relatively scarce species, hence I shall be looking at the impact of the weather on food availability.

I did catch a second Chaffinch but could not ring it as it was sufferinhg from the Fringilla Papiloma Virus, which causes the legs to develop growths that distort and eventually destroy the leg.  This is the first I have seen in the north of the county for a good few months and it does seem somewhat less prevalent than it was when I started ringing in 2009. ST

Lower Moor Farm, 4th December 2014

With the weather being a bit unpredictable at present it was good to get out to Lower Moor Farm for a session.  I was joined by Naomi Perry and Jonathan Cooper: two of the young and keen helpers currently gearing up for careers in conservation management who will, hopefully, be making the transition to ringing trainees in the very near future (I am currently waiting on the upgrade of my permit from C to A and for my trainer's endorsement to be ratified by the BTO Ringing Committee).

The continuing glut of Redwing ringing continued apace.  This gave Naomi and Jonathan ample opportunity to get a close look at ageing of these wonderful thrushes.

The total list for the morning was as follows, New (Retrapped): Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 10(2); Great Tit 3(2); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 2; Robin (1); Blackbird 1(2); Song Thrush 2; Redwing 28; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff (1); Goldcrest 1; Goldfinch 1; Bullfinch (1).  Totals: 51 new, 11 retraps.

The Chiffchaff and one of the Blackbirds were controls, i.e. birds recaptured that were not originally ringed on the site.  The Blackcap is almost certainly one of the birds that migrates westwards from central Europe to overwinter in the UK.  The weather was virtually windless but a brisk morning got ever colder and by 11:00 we decided to take the nets down.  ST

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