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I did a solo session at Webb's Wood this morning. It was remarkably cold for the time of year: with my car thermometer registering an outside temperature of zero at 4:30 - and it didn't rise above four degrees until 10:00.  Even after the sun came up, the wind, when it gusted, was bitterly cold. The session was pretty good, regardless of the weather. My personal mantra is: 20 birds is worthwhile; 30 is a good session, any more is a bonus.

There were at least six singing Willow Warbler males in the vicinity, I caught a couple:

2017 04 26wilwa

There was a similar number of singing Chiffchaffs.  One of the Chiffchaffs had a most peculiar song: instead of the usual "chiff - chaff" it was "chu - chiff - chu - chiff - chaff": a stammering warbler?  The highlight had to be my first juvenile Song Thrush of the year.  It beat my previous earliest by a whole three days (29th April 2016 in Ravensroost Woods).

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 2(1); Blue Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 2; Robin 5; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 3; Blackcap 5; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest 1(1). Totals: 28 new from 11 species, three retraps from three species, making 31 processed from 11 species.

All of the birds caught this morning were in breeding condition, except for the obvious exception of the juvenile Song Thrush. ST

Three quiet sessions this week, all negatively impacted by this unseasonable northerly wind.  Wednesday saw myself and Andrew Bray at Tedworth House. This was the least satisfying session, but a lot of that was down to the nets billowing in what was a fairly light breeze, but it was coming from the wrong direction for the usual net positions. The list was short: Blue Tit (2); Great Tit (2); Wren 1; Dunnock 2(2); Robin (1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (2); Blackcap 1; Willow Warbler 1. Totals: six birds ringed from five species, nine birds retrapped from five species, making a total of 15 birds processed from nine species.  The highlight of the session was listening to the Raven chicks clamouring to be fed every time the parents came to the nest. ST / AB

Friday saw Ellie, Jonny and David joining me at Blakehill Farm. With the plateau being out of bounds until the autumn, to ensure that we don't disturb the Curlews' nesting attempts (there are two, possibly three, pairs on the plateau), we set the nets on the west side of the reserve, either side of the Whitworth Centre.  Again, the catch was disturbed by the wind, but we did manage a few highlights. Ellie got to extract and ring her first House Sparrow. Even when there are plenty of them around, they are one of the least often caught birds. This was a handsome male:

2017 04 21housp

The last bird caught and processed was Jonny's first Sparrowhawk extraction and processing.  We were sitting processing a couple of birds when I noticed the Sparrowhawk hit the net. I said to Jonny "There's a large bird in the net, could you run over and get it" - did he run!  It was a fabulous adult male:

2017 04 21sparr

The list for the session was: Sparrowhawk 1; Great Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 2(1); Robin 3(1); Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 6; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1; House Sparrow 1. Totals: 20 birds ringed from 10 species, two birds retrapped from two species, making 22 birds processed from 10 species. ST / JC / EJ / DW

Saturday started on an excellent note: as I went out the door at 5:15 a Cuckoo was calling from the trees at the bottom of the garden: my first of the year.  Purton just seems to be a bit of a magnet for Cuckoos. We were running a ringing demonstration for the Swindon Wildlife Group at Ravensroost Meadows. I had Jonny, Charlie and Neil to help me out: they managed the nets whilst I performed for the audience.  Nets were set all round the meadow pond and along the hedgerows that line the pond. It started well enough but, once again, the wind got up and the catch was reduced. Fortunately, the guests were more than happy with the birds that we caught and a good time was had by all (I am told).  Although we didn't catch a lot of birds, what we caught was quality: our first two Whitethroat and two Lesser Whitethroat of the year.  These are our earliest records for both species (although the Lesser Whitethroats by only one day).

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The list for the session was: Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 1(1); Dunnock 2; Blackbird 1(1); Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 1(1); Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 1(1); Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 2.  Totals: 16 birds ringed from 11 species, four birds retrapped from four species, making 20 birds processed from 11 species. The retrapped Whitethroat was ringed as an adult on the site last August, whereas the retrapped Willow Warbler was ringed as an adult on Spring migration on the 12th April 2016 in the woodland.  We are pretty certain that the Reed Buntings and the Long-tailed Tits were pairs. Each couple was caught in close proximity to each other, each consisted of a male and a female and each had both birds in breeding condition. ST / JC / NS / CS

Neil, Charlie and I had a session at Ravensroost Woods on Wednesday. It is still quite quiet there, which is another way of saying we had quite a light catch. There were good numbers of Chiffchaff on site and singing. In addition we noted three Willow Warblers singing in the coppice area (and caught two of them).  Blackcaps have arrived but not yet in great numbers and no sign yet of Garden Warbler (although we did get Robin Griffith's pulse rate up by playing Garden Warbler song along one of the rides - I play Garden Warbler because Blackcaps are aggressive towards them, so I can, metaphorically, catch two birds with one stone. Robin and his team were doing one of their regular surveys of the wood.).
 We caught a new Marsh Tit, which was interesting because we caught it in ride R38 and then retrapped it an hour-and-a-half later in R35. It was a female, with its brood patch just beginning to de-feather.  I can't help thinking that it is probably prospecting for a mate.  There were already several Marsh Tits calling in the coppice, at least three territories, perhaps they already have mates, which is why she continued to move through the wood.  
The list for the session was: Blue Tit 4(3); Great Tit 1; Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Dunnock (1); Robin 1; Song Thrush 1(1); Blackcap 3(1): Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest (1); Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 19 birds ringed from 10 species; seven birds retrapped from five species, making 26 birds processed from 12 species. ST/CS/NS
Tedworth House has been home to a breeding pair of Ravens for at least seven years. Given the continuing improvement in the population of inland Ravens, I am interested to find out just where the young of this pair have been getting to. I have discussed how we might approach it with a number of people. To cut a long story short, earlier this week Rob Hayden contacted me to say that he had a tree-climber who would be available and happy to climb the tree on Good Friday, to check on the Raven chicks and, if suitable, lower them down for ringing. I cleared the operation with the management at Tedworth and we arranged to meet at 10:00.  The climber, Paul (typically British - I barely got his first name, let alone his surname) and Rob arrived bang on time and started the set up. They both brought their families with them: the children had a fantastic time playing on the Tough Mudder Trim Trail and in the woods but were there like a shot to see the Raven chicks.
It took an hour-and-a-half for Paul to reach the nest. The adults continued to feed the young right up until Paul reached the crown of the tree. There was a brood of four, all very healthy and with their primary and secondary feathers at the medium stage. Each was carefully put into a large bag and the four were lowered to the ground where we quickly ringed the birds, measured their wings, took a couple of record photographs, packaged them back into their bags and returned them to Paul.  They were out of the nest for less than 10 minutes, none the worse for their little excursion. The parents were back and feeding them again within another 10 minutes: they weren't going to starve in that short space of time: each bird was well over 1kg in weight (I need to get some bigger scales). The parents are clearly doing a great job this year, after a nest failure last year.  You can see the position of the nest circled in red at the top of the tree photograph below.  Paul's position in the photograph to the right is the extended red oval in the tree photo. That was about one-third of the way up.  The estimated height of the nest (based on Paul's climbing rope being 45m) is 38m. Rather him than me.
Tree nestPaul
As you can see from the photographs below, the youngsters were beginning to take on the character of their parents.  The sounds they made were wonderful, mini-adult calls. The noise they made when the parents came in to feed them was very loud.
2017 04 14Raven12017 04 14Raven2
2017 04 14Raven3
We finished the session by having a chat with the woodworking team and showing them the photographs.  They were really enthusiastic, as the guys always are at Tedworth.  I then went down to the House to show them "their" Ravens. They loved it. ST/RH/AH
Saturday was scheduled for Webb's Wood. Unfortunately, the deer stalker arrived 10 minutes before we did. Not being happy to share the wood with the shooters (whilst appreciating the job they have to do - until we reintroduce Wolves and Lynx) I decided to change venue just up the road to the Firs.  As I just had David Williams with me today, and he is very early in his ringing career and not yet extracting birds, I only set six nets down the central glade and we got a correspondingly small catch. This enabled me to focus on helping David to develop his skills.  Today I got him to extract his first bird: a Blackcap.  The list for the day was: Blue Tit (2); Blackcap 4(1); Song Thrush 1; Chiffchaff (1); Wren 2(1).  Totals: seven birds ringed from three species; five birds retrapped from four species, making 12 birds processed from five species.
There were a couple of interesting recaptures. We retrapped Blue Tits ringed last year S580646 and S580647, i.e. consecutive numbers, in the same net within a couple of feet of each other. The former was an adult male in breeding condition, the latter a second year female with a well-developed brood patch. I would hazard a guess that they are a breeding pair.  We also recovered ring numbers JJP142 and JJP143 but, as the first was a Wren and the second a Chiffchaff, that was a total coincidence.
Bob Markham was on site, doing the first of his Breeding Bird Survey walks for the BTO. We were helping him identify which were real birds and which were our lures.  He was pretty enthusiastic about the new paths / glades being developed at the bottom of the wood.  Next time I have a full team in the Firs, we will be putting up a lot more net, to test out how busy those glades might be.  I had a fantastic ten minutes watching a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the trees just behind our ringing station. Hehad been calling all morning but, when I managed to catch where he was, I watched his fabulous antics: as agile as a Titmouse, gleaning insects of leaves; scurrying up the trunk of a tree like a Treecreeper and just generally being extremely active and vocal, but stopping continually to give great views.  With Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming elsewhere in the wood and a Yaffle calling from both sides of the wood, it was a lovely woodpecker morning.  ST/DW

After the change of ownership last September, it has taken a while to get a session organised for Brown's Farm.  The new tenant is keen for us to continue to work there but the site runs a shoot between September and the end of January and it is very exposed, being at the top of the hill south of Marlborough, with little cover.  This has limited the opportunities to get there.  Today genuinely was the only occasion when the weather, particularly the wind speed and direction, was favourable to a ringing session.  I was joined by Charlie, Neil and Annie for the morning.  This was the first visit to the farm for all three of them.  We didn't have a large catch but all three of them got to ring their first Yellowhammers and Linnets.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 1; Wren (2); Dunnock 4(1); Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Linnet 7; Yellowhammer 4(1). Totals: 25 birds ringed from eight species; four birds retrapped from three species, making 29 birds processed from nine species.

Virtually every species was showing signs of preparation for breeding, particularly a number of female Linnets with brood patches already developing.  We did catch two birds that we could not ring: Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge. Pheasant are strictly not to be ringed: there are so many released every year, to be shot, that the remnants are not classified as true wild birds.  Red-legged Partridge can be ringed with the specific permission of the BTO but, as this site rears them for the winter shoots, I am confident there are no circumstances under which the BTO would allow it.  Still, we got a nice photograph of a smart bird:

2017 04 08relpa

2017 04 08yelha2017 04 08linneST/CS/NS/AH

With lots of reports of Spring migrant arrivals all over the internet, we ran a session at Lower Moor Farm this morning to see what has arrived there so far.  I was joined for the day by Neil and Ellie.  Neil's morning started off brilliantly, with great views of an Otter swimming across Mallard Lake (some of us were too busy putting nets up to watch Otters Smile).  The morning started off clear and cold at 6:00, but warmed up quite quickly and, by 9:00 it was a very pleasant morning.

The catch delivered our first Willow Warblers of the year:

 2017 04 05WILWA

We caught four of them: including one that had a wing length of 72mm.  According to Svensson (our Bible for Passerines), this is the absolute maximum length recorded for a Willow Warbler wing and is only to be found in specimens recorded in Sweden.  Still, Svensson is in need of an update. The more recent translation from the French, of the book by the author Laurent Demongin, "Identification Guide to Birds In The Hand", has an absolute extreme of 76mm for Willow Warbler.

In addition, we had our first two female Blackcaps of the year: one of them was already sporting a well-defined brood patch.  The overall list for the day was: Blue Tit (2); Great Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 2(1); Dunnock 1(1); Robin 1(3); Song Thrush (1); Blackcap 5; Chiffchaff 3(3); Willow Warbler 4; Goldcrest (1); Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 18 birds ringed from eight species; 14 birds retrapped from nine species, making 32 birds processed from 13 species.

In addition to our catch, we were treated to sightings of Kingfisher, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Ravens.  We had our first Orange Tip, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies but the one that surprised us most, seen along the Heron ride, was a very early Speckled Wood. ST/EJ/NS

Jonny and I ran a session at Somerford Common on Wednesday morning, prior to Jonny's expedition to Madagascar with his UWE colleagues. I know he is really looking forward to getting to ring some exotic species out there but wasn't disappointed in the small catch we had on Wednesday either.

The list for the morning was; Nuthatch 1; Great Tit (2); Coal Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 4(3); Wren 1; Dunnock 3(1); Robin 2(1); Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 8; Goldcrest 2; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 25 birds ringed from 11 species; eight birds retrapped from four species, making 33 birds processed from 12 species.  The undoubted highlight was our first Blackcap of this Spring, plus another eight Chiffchaffs.  

Saturday morning saw me with Steph, Charlie and Neil at Red Lodge. The first thing to say is that, since my note to the residents about the vandalism to my feeding station and the installation of covert surveillance by the Forestry Commission, the bird table has remained unmolested for a full month now. Hopefully that is an end to that nonsense.  We only had a small catch of 20 birds this morning but, with Steph and Neil only just starting their extracting, and none of them having been available for the last couple of weeks, it was a good session to ease them back in gently to working with the birds.  The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1(2); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1(2); Robin (1); Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 5(1); Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 1. Totals: 14 ringed from nine species; six retrapped from four species, making 20 birds processed from 10 species.  There were highlights: the Goldfinch is the first ever caught in Red Lodge. Since the thinning operation in 2015, this wood has begun to turn up a greater variety of birds, the star was obviously the Spotted Flycatcher last Autumn, but, as well, we have been able to add both Lesser Redpoll last December and, now, Goldfinch to the list.

Although we did not catch any in these sessions, we could map three separate Marsh Tit territorities with calling males in each of the sites.  This is pretty encouraging and, if we have a decent Spring and Summer, we might see a further welcome increase in the number of Marsh Tits in the Braydon Forest. ST/JC/SB/CS/NS

It is that time of the year where the winter feeding flocks of resident birds have broken up, some of the winter flocks are still around and summer migrants are on their way in. To put it another way: it can be pretty quiet.  The Firs this morning lived up to that expectation.  We had a team of four: Jonny, Ellie and Annie joined me.

There has been a lot of work done in the Firs, continuing on from the opening up of the central glade and the digging of the wildlife ponds three years ago, opening up new rides and glades, and the plan for ringing there over the summer is to start testing to see if these changes have had any impact on what is using the wood.  As (previously blogged) we caught two juvenile Spotted Flycatchers there in August last year, I will be interested to see if that was just an on passage drop in, or if there is something more exciting going on.

The list for today was; Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 2(2); Great Tit 5(3); Marsh Tit (2); Wren 1(2); Robin (1); Chiffchaff 8; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 19 birds ringed from seven species; 11 retrapped from six species, making a total of 30 birds processed from nine species.  Highlights from the catch were: the recapture of two Marsh Tits ringed last autumn; a nice early group of Chiffchaffs and an aged Treecreeper.

The Treecreeper was one of the first ringed by me at the Firs, on the 10th March 2013. It was ringed as an adult, which means that it has survived for four years since ringing (it has not been retrapped in between times) but was at least eighteen months old at the time of ringing. Not bad for a bird with a normal lifespan of two years, but a way to go before it reaches the record of eight years and eighteen days. It still looks pretty smart to me:

2017 03 25TREEC

Of the eight Chiffchaffs caught, four of them had what we call pollen horns:

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Jonny has a hankering to collect these and try to identify which plants the pollen comes from. If anybody happens to catch any Chiffchaffs with the aforesaid pollen horns and can separate the pollen from the bird without damaging it, Jonny would be very grateful. ST/JC/EJ/AH

It has been a bit of a busy week with three sessions. Monday's session was to replace the scheduled meeting at Ravensroost Woods on Sunday. Fortunately Ellie could join me for this session and we had a reasonable catch of 37 birds.  The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1(1); Nuthatch 1(1); Blue Tit 3(4); Great Tit 11(2); Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1(1); Dunnock (2); Robin (1); Goldcrest (1); Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 4. Totals: 24 ringed from 9 species; 13 retrapped from 8 species, making 37 birds processed from 12 species. 

Wednesday was my monthly Help4Heroes session at Tedworth House. I started late, arriving at 7:00, to find that none of the feeders had been topped up, so I was expecting one of the lighter sessions. Fortunately, I had some feed in the car and topping up the feeders helped improve the catch somewhat.  The day turned into a bit of a stunner. Many thanks to Jack Daw for all his help setting up the nets.  Okay, I only caught 28 birds but it was an excellent session for three very good reasons: I had a lovely little ringing session with a group of recovering soldiers. It is fascinating to see how they respond to being in close proximity to a tiny bird. Two of them got to hold and release the last two birds of the session. It is interesting to see how they respond when asked if they would like to hold and release a bird. It is like the old jokes on volunteering: watching the majority step back to leave those who are slower to react.  The two other reasons were both to be had on my second round of the day. First, I caught my fourth Mistle Thrush on the site, the third to be ringed there. Given how few are caught and ringed each year, this is a remarkably productive site for them.  As you may remember from last month's report, there has been an over-wintering Black Redstart at Tedworth House. It has been feeding up on hibernating ladybirds.  Approaching the net by the vegetable / herb garden I saw what I initially took to be a Robin in the net but, as I got closer, I saw a distinctive red tail. There is only one over-wintering red-tailed bird in the UK: the Black Redstart.  Apologies for the terrible photographs but my camera decided to throw a wobbler and I had to take them on my mobile, which was just about out of charge and couldn't fire the flash. News of the Black Redstart drew quite a crowd coming to see this uncommon bird.

2017 03 15 BLARE2017 03 15 BLARE T

As far as I have managed to find out, this is the fifth one of the species ringed in Wiltshire and the first since 2008.  The list for the day was: Nuthatch 1(1); Blue Tit 6(4); Great Tit 2(2); Coal Tit 1(2); Wren 1; Dunnock 1(2); Robin 1; Black Redstart 1; Mistle Thrush 1; Blackbird (1); Chaffinch 1. Totals: 16 ringed from 10 species; 12 retrapped from 6 species, making 28 birds processed from 11 species.

Thursday was a special session, arranged with Rachel Bush from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, to work with the Youth Well-Being group.  It was a late start with the net set for a 9:30 start. We only caught ten birds but the youngsters had a cracking time with what we caught, From initial consternation and some disgust, they soon got into the session, with lots of sensible questions and enthusiasm for being taught the ageing and sexing of the birds caught.  All of the birds were, unusually, new catches.  They were: Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 3; Dunnock 1; Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1.  Total 10 birds processed from eight species.  To top it all off, I had a gang of willing helpers for the take down, which meant we were done in half the time.  After the last time I did one of these sessions I got a new trainee out of it - and I have had an enquiry this time as well.  ST/EJ/JD

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Wiltshire Ornithological Society was formed on November 30th, 1974, and has grown in recent years to more than 500 members.

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