North Wilts Group

30th April 2016 - Salisbury Plain (centre)

The forecast was for potentially quite breezy conditions by mid-morning with a cold start but the chance to catch some more quality migrants was too good to pass up.

The cold morning turned into a -2°c start with a considerable frost so that some of the first nets we put up had a bit of a frosty sheen to them but thankfully this didn't effect the catch and it soon warmed up. A few Grasshopper Warblers were reeling away early on with some putting more effort into it than others as the closest one gave a few seconds of half speed song which soon stopped once we went over to investigate and a Cuckoo was calling in the far distance. 

It soon became apparent that it was going to be a good warbler morning with lots of Blackcap and Willow Warbler around supported by a lot of Whitethroat that started moving once it had warmed up a bit. A pair of Redstart were knocking around the female of which we caught late on and we also added a Grasshopper Warbler to the totals right at the end. as well as ringing our first Garden Warblers of the year.


The most interesting bird of the morning was a very pale and grey coloured Willow Warbler which looked good for a 'Northern' acredula type.



A very productive morning with 82 new, 25 retraps. GD PD OF AB

Wren 1, Dunnock 1, Redstart 1, Grasshopper Warbler 1, Sedge Warbler 3, Lesser Whitethroat 1(1), Whitethroat 14(2), Garden Warbler 3(1), Blackcap 33(3), Chiffchaff 2(4), Willow Warbler13(8), Goldcrest (2), Long Tailed Tit 1(1), Chaffinch 2, Goldfinch 3, Linnet 2, Bullfinch 1(1), Yellowhammer (1)

19th April 2016 - Salisbury Plain (centre) - early spring migration

With spring now with us and the migration season under way we have had a few visits to our Salisbury Plain site in the last couple of weeks to catch some of the early migrants and get the site set up ready for CES.

The first couple of visits were fairly quiet but we managed to catch reasonable numbers of Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap including a good number of retraps going back as far as 2013 and even a retrap Goldcrest from 2014. We’ve also had a control Blackcap that we believe may have been ringed further west at Portishead based on the ring number from a previous control from this area.

A late Redwing was a good catch on our first visit, the first one we have caught at this site in spring and it appears that Redstart has had a good winter as we have seen them on all our visits including 4 (1 caught) today. One has been holding territory at the only large trees on the site where we always seem to get them and where we believe they have bred in the past. Hopefully they will use one of the nestboxes we now have up on the trees before the local Tit’s take advantage.


Early Lesser Whitethroat’s have also been a feature each visit this spring including 3 today but all of them have done a grand tour of the nets rides without getting caught which is a shame as we never seem to catch as many as we used to or should do at this site.

Redstart, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat all made their 2016 debut on the ringing totals today along with 2 of 4 Grasshopper Warbler  that were all singing away. All that’s missing for the full warbler set are the above mentioned Lesser Whitethroat’s and Garden Warbler that we’ve neither seen or heard so far.



So far resident birds seem to be well down in number with very few finches caught and virtually nothing from Robin, Blackbird and Song Thrush.

One very sad note this year is the total absence of Nightingale’s meaning that this small isolated population right at the edge of their current range in now gone for good. After the very wet 2012 breeding season when all breeding attempts failed was the cold spring of 2013 when no females arrived onsite as they had all stayed to breed in France in the warmer conditions. This meant that the number of returning males on 2014 was down to 3 from 10. Only one of these males attracted a female and that breeding attempt failed just after the young fledged and so were probably predated by badgers. Last year it was down to 2 males and one female and again the only breeding attempt was predated and again probably by badgers. Nightingale therefore joins Turtle Dove in the extinct from this site list. GD, PD. OF, AB

Totals so far, 158 new, 59 retraps: Wren 7(3), Dunnock 5(11), Robin 1(5), Redstart, Blackbird 1(1), SongThrush 1(2), Redwing 1, Grasshopper Warbler 2, Sedge Warbler 2, Reed Warbler 1, Whitethroat 1, Blackcap 88(5), Chiffchaff 7(17), Willow Warbler 18(5), Goldcrest 3(1), Long Tailed Tit 2(4), Blue Tit 2, Great Tit 2(2), Linnet 3, Bullfinch 7(3), Yellowhammer 3

3rd April 2016 - Pewsey Downs

Though I get a bit sad to see the wintering flocks break up I have been looking forward to April to start the Tree Sparrow 'Retrap Adults for Survival Project' (RAS) for the year. RAS  requires us to catch a certain number of adults of a certain species during the breeding season which is counted as between April to the end of August so that survival rates can be calculated. Tree Sparrows are one of the most challenging species to catch but we found that the data we collected last summer was of such high quality that the effort was well worth the while.

I have left ringing this site for a month so that it was primed for the first session in April but it can only be ringed when the weather is flat calm so there are no guarantees that we can ring it. On my way to the site it was raining but with the forecast set to improve, I carried on and as I arrived on site the rain stopped and the wind calmed down to nothing.

The first round was brilliant as I took a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler out and then I saw the bright pink legs that can only mean one warbler - Grasshopper! I knew immediately that this was a notable record because I normally hear my first ones in mid April. It turned out that is was in fact the earliest ever Grasshopper Warbler to be recorded in Wiltshire. It really was a strange place to catch such a fantastic bird. Grasshopper Warblers favour long grassy areas but this one was caught by a pile of tyres around a silage clamp but I guess that it was grounded by the rain that went through just before dawn.

There was a lovely flock of about 80 Corn Buntings and I did really well catching 5. Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows trickled in in decent numbers for the time of year and a Pied Wagtail was a nice surprise and despite the fact that they are ever present on site it was the first full grown one that I have ringed at the site since 2001!

Tree Sparrows are always interesting because the retraps tell us the story of how they move around the downs and todays retraps were all ringed as nestlings and included 4 from 3km west, 2 from 2km north and 1 from 12km away on the Marlborough Downs. Same site retraps included 2 from last year and 2 from 2014.

I was on my own today and it was quite nice to bimble around on my own but a group of birders came over to see me and we had a really nice chat and though they missed the Grasshopper Warbler they did get to see Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer close up. MP

 Tree Sparrow 9 (11), Corn Bunting 5, Yellowhammer 32 (6), Chaffinch 11, Linnet 2, Goldfinch 2, Chiffchaff 4, Willow Warbler 1, Grasshopper Warbler 1, Pied Wagtail 1, Wren 2, Blackbird 2, Robin 2


Gropper at B1

2nd April 2016 - WHOOSH!

The team have been pushing me to try different methods, particularly with the number of lost days earlier in the winter. I have been regaling them with rose-tinted stories from yesteryear about whoosh netting and they have all been badgering me to dust off my whoosh net. A whoosh net is a large net that is fired using powerful bungee elastics under tension but not a lot of ringers have whoosh nets these days.

I have found that just putting a whoosh net out and putting a pile of grain there does not work because our farmland birds are just too cautious so I have set up dummy poles and elastics and keeping the areas fed for a few weeks and with today forecast for being too windy for mist netting today was the day. We met up mid morning and after me having to go back home to get one of the elastics we had set a net where I have been watching decent numbers of Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers coming down. We sat back in the car and were treated to a lovely close quarter performance by a stoat. He disappeared and we were then able to sit back and wait for the birds. The addition of the net made the birds quite wary and the Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows thought better of it. The Linnets however were much more obliging and we took a catch, reset and then took another. 26 Linnets, 2 Chaffinches and a Corn Bunting were excellent reward for our efforts.

We then packed up and went round to Windmill Hill where I have seen over 50 birds coming down onto the seed in the dummy net area. Our net setting had already improved and we sat back to watch the birds but it soon became clear that they didn't like the net. We pulled the net on a small flock and caught 3 new and 3 retrap Yellowhammers but it was a poor effort compared with the huge number of birds present.

We ended the day on 32 new and 3 retraps which was very good for a day when we could not otherwise have ringed. We learnt some good lessons about how to improve the dummy net sets and also where to site our catch zones and the team loved the method so we will definitely be working on this method more in the future. MP, PW, SW, NW


Corn Bunt1

10th April 2016 - Group Totals

2016 groups totals so far....

  Full Grown Pulli Retrap Total     Full Grown Pulli Retrap Total
Sparrowhawk 1 0 0 1   Chiffchaff 32 0 5 37
Kestrel 2 0 0 2   Willow Warbler 11 0 2 13
Grey Partridge 6 0 0 6   Goldcrest 43 0 11 54
Water Rail 1 0 0 1   Long-tailed Tit 62 0 35 97
Moorhen 1 0 0 1   Marsh Tit 6 0 9 15
Golden Plover 2 0 0 2   Coal Tit 51 0 30 81
Jack Snipe 4 0 0 4   Blue Tit 387 0 253 640
Snipe 0 0 1 1   Great Tit 167 0 165 332
Woodcock 2 0 0 2   Nuthatch 5 0 8 13
Stock Dove 1 2 0 3   Treecreeper 6 0 4 10
Woodpigeon 4 0 2 6   Jay 7 0 0 7
Collared Dove 2 0 0 2   Magpie 1 0 0 1
Kingfisher 2 0 0 2   Rook 1 0 0 1
Green Woodpecker 1 0 0 1   Starling 4 0 0 4
Great Spotted Woodpecker 10 0 19 29   House Sparrow 36 0 2 38
Meadow Pipit 14 0 3 17   Tree Sparrow 87 0 76 163
Grey Wagtail 11 0 0 11   Chaffinch 514 0 62 576
Pied/White Wagtail 32 0 0 32   Brambling 23 0 1 24
Wren 59 0 13 72   Greenfinch 122 0 9 131
Dunnock 176 0 78 254   Goldfinch 42 0 14 56
Robin 104 0 47 151   Siskin 5 0 0 5
Redstart 1 0 0 1   Linnet 155 0 1 156
Blackbird 100 0 29 129   Common Redpoll 1 0 0 1
Fieldfare 3 0 0 3   Lesser Redpoll 118 0 199 317
Song Thrush 9 0 3 12   Bullfinch 24 0 18 42
Redwing 39 0 0 39   Yellowhammer 494 0 53 547
Cetti's Warbler 1 0 0 1   Reed Bunting 114 0 56 170
Grasshopper Warbler 1 0 0 1   Corn Bunting 8 0 1 9
Blackcap 12 0 1 13   Total: 3127 2 1210 4339

25th March 2016 - Thames Valley

Today we ringed at the third of our Thames Valley sites for the second time in three weeks because there have been such large numbers of birds on site. I set up a good team with Paul W, Noah and his dad and I lured Graham out just in case we had large numbers of birds. We were also joined by Michelle for her first time out ringing in the UK.
The day dawned flat calm and beautifully sunny and the air was alive with bird song. It soon became clear that within the last few days the birds attention had been drawn towards the breeding season rather than feeding. The one thing with this site is that for some reason we continue to catch birds until after midday so we weren't too worried about the slow start. With a team of this size and experience a catch of 107 birds seemed slow but it did give us time to take Michelle through plenty of birds and on her first days ringing she ringed eleven birds including Reed Bunting as her first bird and Tree Sparrow as her second, this is how to properly start your Wiltshire bird ringing career.
It was brilliant watching both Noah and Paul training Michelle as it shows them just how much they know and teaching others is a great way to learn more yourself. MP, GD, PW, NW, MC
Noah training Michelle
Yellowhammer 33 (4), Reed Bunting 9 (6), Tree Sparrow 1, Chaffinch 4 (1), Greenfinch 1, Bullfinch 0 (1), Linnet 1, Blackbird 2 (2), Song Thrush 0 (1), Robin 2 (1), Dunnock 11 (9), Wren 2 (1), Long Tailed Tit 1 (2), Blue Tit 1 (4), Great Tit 0 (4), Chiffchaff 1, Goldcrest 1, Woodpigeon 1

24th March 2016 - Swindon STW

Earlier in the week when Simon and I were at Swindon STW I inadvertently flushed five Jack Snipe and one Common Snipe and I wanted the chance to have a go for them. Today I wasn't sleeping very well and eventually I thought that I might as well just get up and have a dawn bash at Jack Snipe. I set a U-shaped net around the area where I thought I saw them come from and then got out of the way to see what would be.
The walk in at dawn revealed that I had done pretty well with four Jack Snipe and one Common Snipe and only one other Jack Snipe evaded the nets. The Jack Snipe were all new birds and I was quite surprised to see that they were the first Jack Snipe that we have ringed since January 2015 but then I thought back to what a shocking autumn we endured with limited opportunities to get out ringing. The Common Snipe was a fantastic bird because it was a retrap from December 2014 and so is a returning winter visitor, fully justifying the habitat management that we do on site. MP
Jack Snipe 4, Common Snipe (1)
Jack Snipe
Snipe 2 yrs old

19th March 2016 - Kennet Valley

The forecast was a bit iffy today so we chose to ring this very sheltered site in the beautiful Kennet Valley. It tends to be a bit of a tit-fest but can also turn up good numbers of Redpolls though today they were completely absent.
This site is a very easy net set with 5 nets in a long dog-leg. I was joined by Noah and Simon for what proved to be a really enjoyable little session. This site is a tiny willow plantation by the river Kennet but it is about 1.5km north of our long-standing Willow Tit study site and it is interesting to record the interchange of birds between the two sites. We normally try to avoid tits because most of the tits are of low conservation concern but this site gives us a pleasant change away from the farmland bird ringing and you never know what could turn up here, several year ago we ringed a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and one day it may happen again.
The first bird processed was a Chaffinch that was originally ringed at a site 2km south of here in April 2009 and at over seven years old it is one of the oldest Chaffinches that we have had. The next oldest bird was a four year old Great Tit but the list of tit retraps is too long to go through here. The morning total of 32 more Chaffinches ringed was again excellent and we caught several of the heavy, long winged winter visitors and we were pleased to ring another three Siskins.
122 ringed and 46 retraps of 15 species made for another very interesting mornings ringing. MP, NW, SW
Chaffinch 32 (6), Siskin 3, Greenfinch 0 (1), Reed Bunting 5 (1), Yellowhammer 1, Coal Tit 10 (2), Blue Tit 33 (10), Great Tit 15 (18), Marsh Tit 1 (2), Long Tailed Tit 2 (3), Nuthatch 1, Treecreeper 2, Dunnock 6, Robin 4 (2), Blackbird 7 (1)