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2 Wheatear, 2 Redstart - Blakehill - Chris Snook

Lower Moor Farm Bio-Blitz, Saturday, 25th June 2016

Every year the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust hold a Bio-Blitz at one of their nature reserves, bringing people and their families into touch with all aspects of the wildlife (flora and fauna) on the chosen reserve. Last year it was at Blakehill Farm, this year it was at the Lower Moor Farm complex (Lower Moor, Sandpool and Clattinger Farms).  I was joined for the session by Annie Hatt.  Annie came to one of my ringing demonstrations at Ravensroost and decided that she would like to find out more about it, so today she came along for a taste of what it is all about.  Because the Bio-Blitz didn't officially start until 10:00 we didn't start too early: getting the nets open for about 8:30.  As a result, we didn't catch a large number of birds, but we managed to have enough to show to the people who came through, and it gave me an opportunity to give Annie time to get used to handling the birds and do some ringing and processing of the birds.  By far and away, my biggest challenge of the morning was extracting the numerous Black-tailed Skimmers and Emperor dragonflies that decided they would like to get tangled in my nets. Fortunately, I have developed a strategy for extracting them that helps them keep their heads: pushing them through the net rather than trying to pull them out (dragonfly heads have seriously thin necks to attach them to the thorax). It works well, except for the occasions when they have decided to try and eat the net. These were the main culprits:

Male & Female Black-tailed Skimmer:

 2016 06 25BTSM2016 06 25BTSF

Male Emperor:

2016 06 25EDM

The bird list for the day was: Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 1; Dunnock 1(1); Robin (2); Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3(1); Garden Warbler (1); Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler (2); Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 9 ringed from 7 species and 8 retrapped from 6 species, making a total of 17 birds processed from 10 species. The birding highlight of the day were the first juvenile Blackcaps of the year. Chatting to Robin Griffiths during the morning, he had noted his first family of Blackcaps during the week, so perhaps this is the start of the rush.  What was clear was the unusually high number of fault bars on the tails, indicating just how difficult the early season breeding has been.

2016 06 25BLACA

The wind got up at about noon, and dark clouds started rolling in, the nets were billowing too much for it to be safe for the birds, who had stopped finding the nets by then anyway, so we packed up and were away before the rain came in. ST/AH

Ravensroost Woods, 18th & 19th June 2016

This was session three of the Ravensroost coppice project for 2016.  I was joined for both sessions by Daniela and on Saturday by Jonny and Charlie Stockley and his dad, Neil.  Charlie came along to see whether he wants to become a trainee ringer.  The feedback has been positive and I look forward to him coming along to more sessions.  It was fairly quiet but we are getting quite astonishing numbers of juvenile robins.

The list for the session was as follows: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Treecreeper 1; Great Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit 2; Wren 1(3); Dunnock 1; Robin 14(3); Song Thrush 4(2); Blackbird 4(2); Blackcap 4(5); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff (1); Willow Warbler 1; Goldfinch 1.  Totals: 15 adults / unaged ringed from 9 species; 20 newly fledged birds ringed from 5 species and 18 retrapped from 8 species. Overall 53 birds processed from 14 species.

Of the birds caught, a total of 20 of the 53 were juvenile birds fledged this year, made up of Treecreeper 1; Great Tit 1; Marsh Tit 1; Robin 13 and Song Thrush 4.  As ever, catching a couple of new Marsh Tits was a highlight: they were caught in the same net about 2’ apart: a juvenile and an adult female. I am reasonably confident they were a part of a family group.  They were colour ringed: the juvenile has Pale Blue over Orange and the adult Pale Blue over Black on the right leg. Both are Metal over Red on the left leg. There was a lot of Marsh Tit calling all around the area between the bridle way and sections in the wood.  When I have time, I will have an out of project session in the area and see if I can lure them in to the nets (I have a licence from the BTO to use playback lures for Marsh Tit in the breeding season).

 2016 06 19MARTI

On Saturday, Jonny and I are 100% sure that we saw a pair of Spotted Flycatcher hunting along the main track south of the Shooters' Hut. They have bred in the wood on occasion and to see a pair at this time bodes well for this year. Sunday was marred by a Muntjac deciding to go straight through one of my newer nets, causing considerable damage.  I am going to have to replace a 1m long panel and the bottom shelf-string.  Yippee doos!! As if ringing wasn't expensive enough, one could really do without this. A cull of Muntjac is one I would wholeheartedly support.  ST/JC /DD

CES 5: Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 15th June 2016

With CES session five the juvenile birds started arriving in earnest.  Overall numbers are still down on the equivalent session last year but, hopefully, this is just a symptom of a late running breeding season.  If I have a real concern, it is that the Cetti's Warblers seem to have disappeared.  They have been heard singing near the Visitor Centre, but have been absent from the CES site for the last fortnight. I was joined by Jonny Cooper and Andrew Bray for this session. We were very pleased to find that our rides had been recently mown: it has certainly saved us a job (and a lot of stings from the nettles that grow in abundance there). 

The list for the session was as follows, Ringed Adults / Not Aged (Retrap) [Ringed Juveniles]: Kingfisher [1]; Blue Tit 1[1]; Long-tailed Tit (1)[10]; Wren [2]; Dunnock (2)[1]; Robin 1[2]; Song Thrush [2]; Blackbird [1]; Blackcap 3(1); Garden Warbler (1); Chiffchaff (2)[9]; Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest [1]; Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1(1). Totals: 9 adults / unaged birds ringed from 5 species; 30 juvenile birds ringed from 10 species; 9 birds retrapped from 6 species; making 48 birds processed from 15 species.

Naturally, the highlight was catching the juvenile Kingfisher.  We have seen a lot of Kingfisher activity over the last few weeks, so great to see that they have bred successfully this year.

2016 06 15Kingf

The trout were, as ever, extremely acrobatic, with fish leaping out of the water constantly: but there were other things going on in Mallard Lake. Quite often the surface would roil, as the fish were busily involved in spawning. It is that time of year for all types of wildlife. ST / JC / AB

Somerford Common, Monday, 13th June 2016

The Forestry Commission requested that I meet with them at Somerford Common to discuss their work plans for the site.  They wanted to get my input on what would be beneficial for the birdlife there.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Jonny and I set up a dozen nets to see what we could catch. We didn't set up in our normal areas, as we were meeting in the small car park halfway down Somerford Road, but we had a decent catch nonetheless. 

There was an intermittent light drizzle, plus a period of an hour when we had to close the nets as it got a bit harder, but the sun came out later.  The list was: Treecreeper 2; Wren 1; Dunnock 2; Robin 8: Blackbird 2; Blackcap 3; Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler 7(3); Bullfinch 8(1). Totals: 35 ringed from 10 species; 4 retrapped from 2 species, making 39 processed from 10 species.

The two Treecreepers, and five of the Robins, were this year’s newly fledged birds.  We are getting decent numbers of adult Willow Warblers on the site this year.  Last year we caught 11 individual adults in total on Somerford, we caught 10 this morning alone. It is the only site I have where singing Willow Warblers outnumber singing Chiffchaffs.

Tom Blythe, Beat Forester for this area, arrived at 9:00 and we had a wander around the site, discussing the current state and what the FC can do in the future to help the bird population.  They have agreed to create a coppice of a couple of hectares and will coppice a quarter of a hectare each year.  They are going to thin and space the regeneration area where the conifer plantation was harvested and then repair and clean up the rides (which just happen to be where I set my nets).  I had confirmation that the coppicing will start this winter. After they made their appearance a couple of years ago, there is a fabulous showing of Great Butterfly Orchid on the site this year.

 GBO ST / JC

CES 4, Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday 8th June 2016

We carried out CES session 4 on Wednesday, 8th June. I was joined by Andrew Bray, Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper. Unfortunately we had rather a quiet session and they got to process just 10 birds each, whilst I just scribed.  The list for the day was: Kingfisher (1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit (1); Wren 1; Dunnock 2(3); Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Blackcap 1(3); Garden Warbler 1(3); Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff 1(2); Willow Warbler (1); Greenfinch 1(1); Bullfinch (1). Totals: 13 ringed from 11 species; 17 retrapped birds from 10 species, making 30 processed from 16 species.

The retrapped Kingfisher was the first ringed on the site by me on the 20th August 2014.  We had a controlled Greenfinch: it will probably have been ringed within the Water Park, but it will be interesting to get confirmation of where it was originally ringed.  There were juvenile birds in the catch, one each of Robin, Song Thrush and Treecreeper.  When you compare the catch this year with the equivalent session last year (funnily enough, on the 8th June 2015), there were 63 birds processed in that session. However, 32 of those were Long-tailed Tits, which were noticeable by their absence in this year's session. It will be interesting to see if it is just a case of them having bred later, or if there has been a significant drop-off due to adverse weather conditions. ST / EJ / JC / AB

Webb's Wood, Saturday, 4th June 2016

I was joined by Daniela and Jonny for today's session in Webb's Wood. It was an odd start to the morning: it wasn't raining and it wasn't misty, but the air was full of moisture, which made every surface damp.  We set the nets and, after about an hour, it dried up and, eventually, the sun came through and we had a good catch of birds: Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 1(2); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 9(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 5(1); Song Thrush 3; Blackbird (2); Blackcap 8(3); Chiffchaff 1(2); Willow Warbler 2(2). Totals: 37 ringed from 10 species, 16 retrapped from 9 species making 53 processed from 12 species.

The highlight of the catch was a Spanish ringed Blackcap, 3L74140.  This is my first foreign recovery and we were all rather excited by the find: particularly Jonny, who initially processed the bird.

2016 06 04Blaca

We caught two families of Long-tailed Tit, each comprising one adult: the first group with four young, the second with three.  One of the Song Thrushes was a juvenile that had already completed its post-fledging moult: it must have been from a very early brood.  About 7:00 we had a Curlew fly overhead, calling as he went. There are always Curlew around the fields of the Braydon Forest: not just on Blakehill Farm but in all of the fields to the south and west of that site, as far south as the B4042 and as far west as Braydon Pond.  A little later in the morning we heard a Raven calling and a Red Kite flew slowly over the treetops.  They are still quite an unusual sight over these woods, so always good to see. On my way home, back to Purton, the Red Kite was still around, gliding over the fields to the east of the Firs, and a Raven was being mobbed by a couple of Carrion Crows: I even saw some claw to claw action as the Raven responded to one particular attack.

Where we set up our ringing station was a carpet of Wild Strawberry and flying around the area was a lovely Yellow-shell moth:

Yellow Shell (Apologies for the slightly unsharp photo but the moth was under my car and I had to lie down on the ground to get it, manual focus and try to prevent camera shake, whilst my trainees were amused by my activity)  ST / JC / DD

Ravensroost Woods, 28th and 31st May 2016

This week was session 2 of year 4 of the Ravensroost coppice project. The sessions were on Saturday and Tuesday.  Ellie Jones joined me for the Saturday session. Although today was a bit windy, one of the benefits of ringing in Ravensroost is that it can be blowing at 19mph, gusting to 30+mph, as it was today; the tops of the trees can be whipping around like crazy and the nets have barely a billow. The results for the two sessions were, as follows:

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 3(2); Wren 2; Dunnock (3); Robin 2(5); Song Thrush 2(4); Blackbird 1(5); Blackcap 11(4); Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 4(2); Goldcrest (1).  Overall totals: 31 birds ringed from 12 species; 29 retrapped from 11 species, making 60 birds processed from 15 species.

The birding highlights were: the Long-tailed Tits processed today and the Treecreeper.  The Long-Tailed Tits were a family group comprising an adult bird with three of the smallest youngsters I have ever seen.  I am pretty certain that these youngsters fledged this morning.  As I processed the youngsters, I put them together in a large bag so that the whole family group could be released together. I released them back near the nets that they were caught in, so they could join up with other family members in the area.

2016 05 31Lotti               

The Treecreeper was my first juvenile of the species for 2016. It seems very early but they can lay as early as the 5th April and, with 30 to 35 days incubation to fledging, well within the boundaries.

2016 05 31Treec

The Marsh Tit was quite unusual: it was a male who had clearly finished breeding (no cloacal protuberance) and had started its post-breeding moult already. Unfortunately, I have to conclude that it is a failed breeder.  You would normally expect moult to take place in August / September.

2016 05 31Marti

As it did on Saturday, a male Cuckoo called continuously from all parts of the wood, including right over my head up at the Shooters’ Hut.  However, my highlight of Tuesday's session wasn’t a bird at all: I was chatting with a couple of dog-walkers (the kind that can read, so had their dogs on leads) when a Weasel ran across the path about 20’ away from me.  I haven't seen one for quite a while, so it was great to see. ST / EJ

CES 3: Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 25th May 2016

I ran CES session 3 at Lower Moor this morning. It was a quiet session, as far as catching birds goes, which suited me as I was flying this one solo.  There was masses of birdsong from all of the species caught, plus plenty of Willow Warbler and some Sedge Warbler singing.   The 27 caught this morning compares with 29 caught in the corresponding session last year.  The list for the session was: Long-tailed Tit 3(2); Wren 1; Dunnock 1(2); Robin (1); Song Thrush (1); Reed Warbler 1; Cetti’s Warbler (1); Blackcap 1(2); Garden Warbler (2); Lesser Whitethroat (2); Chiffchaff (4); Goldcrest (1); Bullfinch (2).  Totals: 7 ringed from 5 species; 20 retrapped from 11 species; 27 processed from 13 species.

One of the new Long-tailed Tits was the first juvenile of this species that I have caught this year.  The Reed Warbler was a male: small numbers, but they are increasing in the catch on the site.

2016 05 25 REEWA

There were a few other points of interest:

  1. At about 6:00 I saw an Otter porpoise three times as it made its way across Mallard Lake towards the drain between the lakes; I have never seen that behaviour by Otters before.
  2. The male Mute Swan spent the morning acting aggressively towards all of the Canada Geese. There is a family of 5 goslings and I watched a particularly enthralling interaction.  The parents saw the swan approaching and ushered the goslings under overhanging vegetation at the side of the lake (alongside the path). The swan did its best to get at them but failed. One of the parent Canada Geese swam out in front of the swan and was attacked, it swam away and then waited for the swan to attack again. It did this repeatedly and led the swan away to the far side of Mallard Lake before flying back to re-join its family. It was brave and clever. without anthropomorphizing too much, the Mute Swan is clearly psychotic towards Canada Geese.  They are known to regularly kill Canada Goose goslings, usually by drowning them.  Canada Geese being no threat to them and not really competing for food sources, Canadas tending to graze on land, Mute Swans on aquatic plants, one can only put it down to Mute Swan nature. There was a family of Mallard ducklings, totally ignored by the swans, who have four cygnets themselves. 
  3. A pair of Egyptian Geese settled in to the site. It is the first time I have noticed them there. They were behaving as aggressively as their reputation suggests.  Over the course of the morning I saw the male attempt to attack a Raven, a Carrion Crow, a Jackdaw and severely disturb the Herons.
  4. Common Terns were regularly flying over the lakes. It would be interesting to float a couple of tern rafts out on Mallard Lake, but being a SSSI and the fishing club lake, I am not sure if it is possible.  ST
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