North Wilts Group

12th June 2016 - Marlborough Downs

After 15 years of monitoring Tree Sparrows by ringing them as nestlings in the summer and then trying to recapture them in the winter, I was persuaded by the BTO demography team to attempt a RAS project on them. RAS stands for Retrap Adults for Survival and requires a good sized sample of adults to be monitored each summer so that the BTO can work out adult survival rates which will complement the comprehensive dataset that exists for nest records of Tree Sparrows. This is all well and good but Tree Sparrows are renowned for being difficult to catch and even more difficult to recapture so imagination would be needed.
This expansive private garden on the downs is one of my favourite sites as I have known the owners for 15 years and we have become good friends. The site has 21 pairs of Tree Sparrows using boxes and also this year I have found and I am monitoring two natural pairs. For this short session I set my nets at strategic flyways and near a couple of feeders and I was kept very busy indeed. Flocks of juvenile Tree Sparrows swarmed around the feeders, a sight impossible to imagine many years ago.
I ringed four new adult Tree Sparrows and retrapped 11 adults and all of these if they did not already have one were fitted with a PIT tag which is a bit like a microchip. We have been putting a transmitter that reads these PIT tags as the sparrows go through the hole so that we can find out who is nesting with who and learn more about their breeding dynamics. The Tree Sparrow study area is about 200 square miles and thus we are able to monitor them across an entire ecological unit. The retraps included one from 2012, one from 2013, two from 2014 and seven from 2015 which gives an interesting insight into the age structure of the population. Capturing the juveniles means that we can add value to the nest records because we have proven successful breeding outcomes. MP
36 new and 38 retraps was a fantastic result given the session only lasted 3 hours and also the quality of the data provided by the Tree Sparrows.
Tree Sparrow 4 (25), Blackbird 9 (2), Chaffinch 7 (3), Greenfinch 1 (1), House Sparrow 3 (1), Robin 3 (1), Dunnock 3 (1), Wren 3, Song Thrush 2, Coal Tit 0 (1), Great Tit 1 (1)

8th & 10th June - Salisbury Plain

As I have gone around the downs and the Salisbury Plain recently I have heard a few Quail calling. Very few people ever get to see this stunning tiny game bird and fewer than a hundred have ever been ringed in the UK. In recent years we have managed to catch and ring five which is a very good effort but if we are to learn more about this enigmatic summer visitor we need to continue to try and catch and ring more. Quail are covered under the Schedule 1 licence that I possess and also a specific endorsement is needed to be able to try to lure them with playback.
On 8th June I was joined by Jodie who has just joined the team as a trainee and after a good evening checking Tree Sparrow boxes we ended up high on the downs at dusk waiting to hear Quail. Sure enough we heard two, either side of the track we were on. We set a net and put the music on and within two minutes we had caught two males. Jodie is an extremely lucky young lady that the first adult bird she has ringed is probably amongst the rarest that she will ever ring but that's just the luck of the draw.
Two days later and I was joined by farmer James on the Salisbury Plain and we were very excited as when setting a box-net we heard four Quail but unbelievably not a single one of them responded. We tried another location and we did catch one there. We have no idea why they sometimes behave so rapidly and others do not respond at all but still, we have now taken the county total to 8 and we hope to increase it yet further soon. MP, JH, JW


WP 20160608 21 52 00 Pro1

26th June 2016 - Recent Nest Recording & Ringing

During the summer one of our main contributions to conservation is monitoring and recording nests as part of the BTO nest records scheme. In 2015 we were the twelfth highest contributor of nest records in the country. Our team are all becoming experienced nest finders and nest recorders and it is great to see them gaining their permits and finding their own nests. Anna has found several Buzzard nests in Gloucestershire and Jack has been climbing to the nests so the young can be ringed. Paul W has found a few nests with the best being Spotted Flycatcher. Star of the show has been Noah who has found all sorts of nests and I joined him in Oxon so that he could ring two broods of Chiffchaff and a Blackcap brood. Simon is monitoring the Reed Warblers at Swindon STW as usual but his best success has been finding and ringing two broods of Reed Buntings, it is really important that we monitor all stages of the lifecycle of this declining bird which is a bit of a favourite of mine.
The main group activities in June are monitoring Tree Sparrows as usual and we have 192 pairs which is a record but the poor weather has resulted in a lot of failures but we have still ringed in excess of 600 so far. As we go around the farms we find a variety of other nests and these have included several Swallows, Lapwing, Little Owl, Kestrel, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, three broods of Spotted Flycatcher, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Whitethroat and two broods of Wren that were in nest boxes. MP, AF, NW, PW, SW
Lou with lapwing

26th May - Salisbury Plain CES session 3

I’ve managed to get behind in reporting in this year’s CES catches but basically the number of birds from the first three sessions compare favourably with last year. The main differences seem to be in the number of ‘resident’ species we are catching or rather failing to catch. Having ringed this site since 2003 the numbers of Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch are the lowest we can remember them with Tits and Robin’s particularly poorly represented.

Session 3 started by getting out of bed at 0250 in order to race the approach of daylight. We arrived on sight at 0410 having driven through patches of dense low mist to be greeted by 1°c temperatures and as we are pretty efficient at getting the nets up these days we had all 14 CES and 4 bonus 60’s up in 45 minutes.

Catching was relatively slow after the first net round but we still managed to finish with 90 captures for the morning. A Grasshopper Warbler was singing from the other side of the fence line we aren’t allowed to cross as it’s on the artillery impact range which the Dutch army were using with some gusto all morning, so we able to try for it.

On the safe side of the fence oddities for this time of the year included a singing Sedge Warbler which evaded the nets and a silent Reed Warbler that did not. Best bird of the morning was a control Garden Warbler with an Icona Madrid ring. Worryingly, no juvenile birds of any species have been caught yet. All the Tit boxes we have up in this area are all still at the egg stage with nothing hatched at all as are all the Swallow nests we've checked so maybe everthing here is just 2 weeks behind average like many other areas of the country. GD/PD/OF/AB


CES session 1

Wren 1(2), Dunnock 1(2), Robin (2), Nightingale (1), Blackbird 1(1), Lesser Whitethroat (1), Whitethroat 11(4), Garden Warbler 1(3), Blackcap 35(3), Chiffchaff (6), Willow Warbler 1(5), Long-tailed Tit (1), Chaffinch (2), Linnet 2, Bullfinch 2(2)

CES Session 2

Wren (1), Dunnock (5), Robin (2), Blackbird (1), Song Thrush 3(3), Lesser Whitethroat 4(2), Whitethroat 5(2), Garden Warbler 5(3), Blackcap 7(9), Chiffchaff 1(2), Willow Warbler (1), Long-tailed Tit 2(3), Chaffinch (1), Linnet 3, Bullfinch (3)

CES session 3

Wren 2(3), Dunnock (9), Robin (4), Blackbird 3(4), Reed Warbler 1, Lesser Whitethroat (3), Whitethroat 5(12), Garden Warbler 3(5), Blackcap 6(3), Chiffchaff 1(5), Willow Warbler 1(3), Goldcrest (1), Long-tailed Tit (5), Linnet 6(1), Bullfinch 1(3)

15th May - Moulden Hill

I was joined by Paul W at the canal at Moulden Hill in Swindon. We were supposed to be joined by Noah and his dad but unfortunately they couldn't find us and without a phone they couldn't contact us which is a real shame because this is a nice site and it is not very nice to wake up at 3am and then not actually get to join us.
We set the nets in scrub adjacent to the canal, we were not in the real Reed Warbler hotspot but that will come in a few weeks. It was again a very sedate session but it ended up as a constant ringing demo as walkers and dog walkers found our work fascinating. Top surprise of the day was seeing my parents coming to join us. They have not come to see me ringing since I first started 17 years ago and I was delighted to be able to show them what I do. I then had another great surprise as my old Venture Scout Leader and his wife came along and we had a big catch-up.
My mum and dad were obviously inspired by their morning and they came out in the afternoon, along with my wife to see me do a nest box inspection round. I tend to charge around quite quick on these rounds so I had to slow down a bit but mum and dad kept up quite well and they got to see Tree Sparrow nestlings, along with a Kestrel nest and all of the usual farmland sights. The last check of the day was a Little Owl box and I was really proud of my mum and dad who both climbed the ladder to look inside and as ever the adult Little Owl just turned away to pretend that we weren't there. It was really fantastic to show them the conservation work that I have been up to all these years and I don't think that they had previously realised the scale of the Tree Sparrow Project. MP, PW
Mum up a ladder1
Blackcap 3, Whitethroat 5 (1), Lesser Whitethroat 2, Reed Warbler 1, Chiffchaff 4, Willow Warbler 5, Goldcrest 1, Bullfinch 3, Greenfinch 1, Blackbird 2, Song Thrush 1, Dunnock 5, Wren 3, Robin 2 (1), Long Tailed Tit 4, Blue Tit 2, Great Tit 4 (1)

14th May - Swindon STW CES session 2

It was fantastic to have Anna back out with us today after having a baby a couple of months ago and we were joined by Paul W and Simon to do CES number 2. The forecast had looked quite iffy but it turned out to be a really nice day, though with a team like this, processing 63 birds is very sedate.
Reed Warbler is a major species in our CES and today we ringed 10 and processed 5 that were originally ringed in 2014 and 3 from 2015. Undoubted highlight of the day was the 'control' Reed Warbler that was ringed by the Basque ringing scheme in northern Spain, this is the first bird that we have controlled from that scheme which is exciting. We only processed a few Blackcaps but we retrapped a male that was originally ringed in April 2011 making it one of our oldest ever Blackcaps, we have retrapped this old chap 12 times over the years though strangely we didn't retrap him in 2014.
Basque Reewa1
Talking with the team it was fantastic to listen to all the plans that they have and what nests they have found and are monitoring, thus contributing to the BTO nest records scheme.
This will be one of the quietest ringing sessions that we will have because the males are tight on territory, a lot of the females are sitting on eggs and of course there are no juveniles out yet. It was however great to complete another CES session, see Anna again and that Reed Warbler sticks in my mind. MP, SW, PW, AF
Reed Warbler 10 (8), Sedge Warbler 5 (3), Blackcap 3 (2), Garden Warbler 2, Lesser Whitethroat 1, Whitethroat 3 (1), Cettis Warbler 0 (2), Chiffchaff 1, Goldfinch 3, Bullfinch 1, Greenfinch 0 (1), Blackbird 0 (3), Song Thrush 0 (1), Dunnock 0 (3), Robin 0 (2), Wren 2 (2), Long Tailed Tit 0 (1), Great Tit 0 (3)

8th May - Purton Wood

My wife and I went for a walk around Moulden Hill Lake last week and we took a slight deviation and ended up walking round Purton Wood that is adjacent to the lake. Purton Wood is comprised of a network of ancient hedgerows and what was once fields has been planted with a mixture of trees but  unfortunately they have been planted a bit too formally and it is taking a while for an undergrowth to develop. However, during our walk we were struck by the number of birds present and so I got in touch with the Woodland Trust who owned the wood and they were extremely helpful in providing us with access. This is really exciting because we also ring at Swindon STW that is 2km south and the disused canal that is 700 metres south west so we are monitoring the three main wildlife areas within the River Ray Parkway and the data we collect will enable us to show how important the area is as a wildlife corridor through Swindon.

I set three long lines of nets to enable monitoring of a cross section of woodland habitats. I was joined by Noah and his parents, so as ringers we had a scribe each! Two male Cuckoos were both vocal and visible on and off all morning and we also saw a Barn Owl fly over which was highly unexpected. Fairly soon after, we were joined by my brother and his wife and my 6 year old niece.

As expected, most birds were caught at the cross sections of the ancient hedgerows and though the catch was excellent, as is common in the spring we heard a lot more warblers than we caught. The site has a very healthy population of Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and we retrapped two Blackcaps that were originally ringed at CES sessions at Swindon STW.

Blackap from sstw1

4 Bullfinches provided further evidence of the quality of the ancient hedgerows and a couple of Reed Warblers were quite a surprise, especially the one that was singing in the middle of a dense hedgerow.

It was great to show my little niece the birds and she really enjoyed it. This site is very public and we met quite a few people out walking their dogs and we were able to provide them with a wildlife education lesson as they enjoyed their morning, and what a morning, flat calm and sunny. In fact it was so sunny that we saw our first odonata of the year in the form of Banded Demoiselle along with 5 species of butterfly.

We finished up with 75 new and 2 retraps which is very good for the time of year and I am sure that we are going to be back here quite a few times. MP, NW

Blackcap 12 (2), Whitethroat 3, Lesser Whitethroat 2, Willow Warbler 5, Chiffchaff 5, Reed Warbler 2, Bullfinch 4, Blue Tit 8, Great Tit 8, Long Tailed Tit 3, Song Thrush 1, Blackbird 4, Dunnock 6, Robin 7, Wren 5

5th May 2016 - Swindon STW CES session 1

We had to abort CES session 1 last weekend because the nets froze! It was probably just as well because the low temperature would have affected the catch and thus the session would not have been comparable with last year.

Luckily with me working in Swindon I have a greater flexibility to be able to get out and so we managed to get out on a Thursday. Simon and I set the nets and we were joined by Phil just after the first round.

It was a beautiful calm, warm morning and it was fantastic to retrap Reed Warblers from previous years. We did very well for Sedge Warblers and 9 new was a very good but we also processed a UK control. We also caught a Long Tailed Tit that has been ringed elsewhere, this is very unusual and it will be interesting to see if it is a genuine control or just a short distance movement from elsewhere in Wiltshire.

We don't catch a lot of finches on CES but today we caught a Linnet, a Chaffinch and 2 Bullfinches. We heard and then saw a Cuckoo, such a fantastic sound and a joy to hear once more. The male Cettis Warbler was calling incessantly again but the first bird out of the net was an unringed Cettis Warbler that not only is a long overdue first for Simon but was a female with a early stage brood patch so this constitutes the first breeding attempt of this species for the site. Let's hope this is the start of the colonisation of the site and also the River Ray Parkway for this lovely little bird.

Cettis female1

I left Simon and Phil to finish the session off and they were joined by Jack who ringed a few and helped take the nets down. 39 new and 38 retraps totalled 77 birds of 15 species processed that is higher than the comparable session last year. MP, SW, PD, JN

Reed Warbler 5 (8), Sedge Warbler 9 (1), Blackcap 8 (4), Cettis Warbler 1 (1), Whitethroat 3, Lesser Whitethroat 1, Linnet 1, Chaffinch 1, Bullfinch 2, Blackbird 3 (4), Dunnock 0 (5), Robin 0 (2), Wren 2 (2), Long Tailed Tit 1 (6), Great Tit 1 (5)