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These were the first two sessions of the fourth year of the ongoing Ravensroost coppice project. The aim of the project is to follow the changes in the 8 year coppice cycle area in the southern section of Ravensroost Woods. The areas studied comprise 4 coupes at different stages of the coppice cycle, each approximately 2 years apart and a fifth, control, area in the northern part of the wood (the north side of the bridle path). On Friday I was joined by Jonny and we did areas 1,2 and 3. Area 1 was largely coppiced last year and the vegetation height (excluding the guard oaks) is 1m or so, on average.  The area with the tallest average height is area 2, with a mean height of over 3m. Then area 3 is in between, with a mean height of about 3m.

Saturday morning I was on my own, managing areas 4 and 5. Area 4 was coppiced the year that I started the project and has a mean height of 2m. The control area comprises areas coppiced on a 25 year cycle (it hasn't been done since I first started going to Ravensroost in 1998) or else not coppiced at all.

The list for the sessions was as follows:

Area 1: Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren (1); Dunnock 1(2); Robin (1); Song Thrush 1; Blackcap 2

Area 2: Great Tit (1); Wren 1(1); Dunnock (2); Robin 1; Blackcap 5(1); Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 1(2); Bullfinch (2)

Area 3: Great Tit 1(3); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Robin 1(1); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 2(1); Chiffchaff (1); Willow Warbler 1

Area 4: Treecreeper 1(1); Robin 1(1); Song Thrush 1(1); Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff (1); Willow Warbler 1

Area 5: Blue Tit 4(1); Great Tit (1); Marsh Tit (2); Wren 1; Robin 1; Blackbird (1); Blackcap (1); Chiffchaff 1(2)

Totals: 34 ringed from 12 species and 35 retrapped from 13 species.

The highlights for me were the first Garden Warblers of the year and three fledgling Song Thrushes.  One of the youngsters, when the wing was spread to look at the telltale signs of a juvenile bird, showed that early breeding has its pitfalls. Three of the secondary feathers had broken off along a clear fault line, which will correspond to a problem in the food supply at a critical time in its development:


It was also gratifying to retrap three of my colour ringed Marsh Tits. The two caught in the control area were almost certainly a pair: a male and female, about 1m apart, in the net, at the same time. The female was ringed as a juvenile last October. She had a well-developed brood patch, at a stage that would almost certainly mean she is already laying eggs. The male was also one of last year's fledglings. Great to see that two of last year's birds have established a territory and are breeding in the wood.  I am extremely hopeful that the Ravens Retreat extension to the wood will help expand the Marsh Tit population, in due course. ST / JC

I carried out a ringing session in Webb’s Wood this morning.  It wasn’t a busy session, only 16 birds processed, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.  The list for the session was: Blue Tit 1(2); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Robin (1); Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 4.  Totals: 12 ringed from 6 species and 3 retraps from 3 species.  All bar one of the male Blackcaps was in breeding condition.

There were a lot of other birds around but it seems they were all up in the trees singing and proclaiming their territories. In addition to those caught and processed heard and / or saw Buzzard, Raven, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Song Thrush.

The highlight of the morning was a singing Wood Warbler. I would expect it is passing through, heading to the Forest of Dean or further north, but for it to be showing territorial behaviour in Webb’s Wood is pretty exciting.

One additional footnote: I was chatting with a woman who was walking her dog, and she told me that she had seen a wild boar on Somerford Common last week. Interesting sighting: hopefully I won't be getting pig-sized holes in my nets.

With the central plateau at Blakehill being out of bounds now, until after the hay is cut in July and the breeding season is over, Fraser and I decided to have an experimental session in the fields beyond the new ponds.  With the wind forecast to come from the north, we set the nets on the south side of a couple of hedgerows. The downside was that we could not set them close to the hedge, because it was fenced off a good metre away from the edge of the blackthorn.  It certainly had a bit of an impact, with plenty of bird movement along the hedge, particularly Linnets, that missed the nets. That is not to say that it put any sort of damper on the session: we caught some nice birds and had an excellent spell of birding in the intervals and after we had packed away the nets.

The catch comprised: Blue Tit 3(1); Wren 2; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 3, Willow Warbler 1. Totals: 14 ringed from 7 species and 1 retrap.

The ringing highlight of the day were the two Lesser Whitethroat caught and ringed: my first of 2016. 



Ironically, one of the main birding highlights was a Curlew.  It flew into the field where we had set up and landed about 40m away from one of our net sets. They are, of course, a key breeding species for Blakehill and a major reason for us not ringing out on the central plateau for the next 3 months. Our next highlight was a stunning male Whinchat.  This was seen in the first bushes west of the perimeter track from the Chelworth side of the reserve.  I had taken Fraser round to show him where else we ring on the site. Walking up to the gate we saw an upright chat-like bird on the top of the bush. It kept flying out from its perch and returning to the same spot. When I got the binoculars on it, it was a stunning male Whinchat.  About 2m to its left, in the same bush, was a male Stonechat. Nice to see them both together, to get a clear perspective on the differences.

We had several Swallow flying around the fields and, although we didn't see them, both Whitethroat and Redstart were heard singing in the bushes. ST / FB

In February I took advantage of a break in the awful weather to visit the Firs for a ringing session. Over the course of 2.5 hours, and using 6 x 18m nets, I managed the massive total of two retrapped Blue Tits before giving it up as a bad job.  The only bright spot in the morning was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling in the wood.  So it was with a degree of trepidation that I organised a session there this morning. Even more concerning was that I was being joined by Fraser and my trainee, Daniela. I was hopeful we might get more than one bird to process each. In the event it was a decent session with 30 new and 3 retrapped birds.

The highlights were the two Marsh Tits: one a new male bird and the other a retrapped female bird, originally ringed in Webb's Wood in February 2013. Although they are highly sedentary, generally moving only a 100m or so from the natal area, this bird has moved just over 1km from where it was first ringed - putting it in the 10% of this species that do move further away - but it has had three years in which to do so.  This bird was in advanced breeding condition: her brood patch was fully developed and blood vessels were visible through the body wall.  Most of the birds, including the migrant warblers, were showing clear signs of coming into breeding condition.

The list for the day was as follows: Blue Tit 2(1); Great Tit 4; Coal Tit 4; Marsh Tit 1(1); Wren 4; Robin 3(1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 5; Goldcrest 1. Totals: 30 new from 11 species and 3 retrapped from 3 species. ST / DD/ FB

Just what you don't want, when you have the spring ringing demonstration at Ravensroost Woods, is unforecast rain. That is what we woke up to. With the public due to arrive for 9:00 we arrived on site at 7:30 and set up the nets. Whilst setting up the rain continued to fall, light but almost continuous. At one point we had a short shower of sleet.  We kept the nets furled until 15 minutes before the start which, fortunately, coincided with the rain stopping. Unfortunately, the unseasonably cold north wind did make life less than pleasant. My team for the morning were my trainees Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper and, adding a bit of gravitas to the proceedings, Fraser Bell from the Edward Grey Institute.  The organisation of the public side of the event was all down to the Swindon Wildlife Group: Kathleen Wyatt, Jane Baldwin and the volunteer warden for the site, Robin Griffiths. Despite the weather, we had an excellent turn out of 26 adults and 2 children.

To ensure that we would at least have a couple of Blue and Great Tits to show people, I cheated a bit and set up a couple of feeders on Tuesday. I needn't have worried, we had a good spread of species to show.  The team were brilliant: there was a steady stream of birds delivered for me to process, which meant that there were no gaps in the presentation.  Everybody in the audience got a good look at some stunning birds, some explanations on identifying, ageing and sexing them and a chance to get close and get some excellent photographs.

Robin was totally surprised to see us catch four Dunnocks (3 new and 1 retrap) inside the wood.  We have caught the odd one in the wood before but this is the largest catch of them inside Ravensroost Woods.  This is likely to be a result of the continued coppicing of the southern end of the wood, opening up a much larger portion than has been the case for many years.  The coppiced areas are looking really warbler friendly this year and I look forward to seeing what else drops in. We have caught the odd Whitethroat inside the wood, perhaps more will turn up this year (there are usually plenty in the hedgerows of the meadows). Also, the coppice looks perfect for Garden Warblers.  I am really looking forward to this year's breeding season.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 2(1); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 2; Dunnock 3(1); Robin 1; Blackcap 2(2); Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2; Chaffinch 1. Totals: 20 new from 9 species and 7 retraps from 5 species.

One of the retrapped Blackcaps was a control. It was a British ring but not one of mine. It will be interesting to find out where he was ringed. Our next Ravensroost ringing demonstration will almost certainly be on the 3rd September and will focus on the meadows and the ponds.  This was the seventh formal ringing demonstration I have done in the Ravensroost complex since I started them in March 2013.  When you add in the 30 sessions I have done at Tedworth House, and the other ad hoc events at Langford Lakes, Lower Moor Farm and Blakehill Farm since 2013, that is a serious commitment to helping the public get close to, and educating them on, our birdlife.  ST/EJ/JC/FB

Today was my monthly session at Tedworth House. The weather was perfect and the catch was reasonable for the site. As Dave Turner, of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, organises works with volunteers, to open up the canopy and encourage undergrowth, so the catch is slowly improving in number. Nobody can doubt the quality of some of the birds caught at the site on other occasions: notably Firecrest and Mistle Thrush. Today did not deliver that sort of highlight, but it was a very enjoyable session nonetheless. I had a wonderful audience of staff members, residents and visitors over the course of the morning.  They were treated to a good variety of birds - although they missed the Jay we caught first thing. Unfortunately, it didn't miss me and I have the scars to show for it.

The list for the session was: Jay 1; Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 2; Coal Tit (3); Wren 1(1); Robin 1(1); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1. Totals 12 new from 9 species and 7 retrapped from 5 species.

This was the second catch of Blackcaps for the year: the first was a female, then a male and then another female. So, unusually, the score for the year so far is three females to one male. I would expect the reverse. ST

Jonny and I took advantage of the predicted calm weather to get a session on the eastern side of Blakehill Farm. In the hope that there might be a few migrants popping in to the site, we set nets alongside the isolated bushes on the edge of the central plateau and along the perimeter track. We were lucky enough to catch our first Willow Warbler of the year. It was so drab that we had to really check to ensure it wasn't a Chiffchaff with long wings.

Willow Warbler:


The day turned into a bit of a Linnet fest, with some 24 out of the 35 birds ringed this morning being of that species. We also had six Reed Buntings, two Chiffchaffs, a Chaffinch, a Great Tit and the aforementioned Willow Warbler.  Unusually for this site, we had no retrapped birds.

When we arrived on site it was very misty. The surreal sound of Skylarks singing from the ground, all over the plain, was wonderful. As the light improved, a solitary Curlew took off from the hedge by the perimeter road, about 300m away from our net sites, calling as it flew east to west across the reserve. I visited Blakehill virtually every day last week and it seems that the number of Curlew on the site is currently one.  At about 8:00 a couple of Swallows flew over. Then, as the sun came out, the Skylarks took off and the display was spectacular.  ST/JC

With the weather forecast for the day being a bit hit and miss, we went for a session at Somerford Common. I was joined by Ellie and Jonny.  We kept it simple, in case we needed to take down quickly, with a run of nets either side of the path, up the hill. There were quite a few birds around but we didn't manage to lure too many of them in. However, there were a couple of highlights: our first Blackcap of the year and a returning Chiffchaff ringed as a juvenile in August 2014.

The list for the day was: Great Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Robin 3; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 2(2); Goldcrest 3(1). Totals: 12 new from 7 species and 5 retraps from 3 species.

We decided to start packing up at about 11:30 and, just as we finished, a few drops of rain started to fall.  Unfortunately, some idiot had indulged in a bit of pointless vandalism, smashing the pole gate to the site.  Pointless because the entrance is already blocked with large granite rocks preventing access (and making my life considerably harder as I now have to lug my gear to the top of the hill for my normal summer / autumn catching area).  The Forestry Commission really had no choice, as vandals were continually breaking the gates and thieves were then using the easy access to steal timber. Possibly they were the same people.  Coincidentally, Somerford Common is also the only site I winter feed where I have had bird feeders stolen.  What is it about some of the people that go there? ST/EJ/JC

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