North Wilts Group

30th March 2014 - Savernake

We didn’t start well today as I obviously set my alarm wrong and woke up at the time that I should have picked Simon up at. A swift apologising text and a mad panic later and we arrived at Savernake a little behind time but we just about managed to get the nets up in time as this site only needs 3 nets. The forecast was for a calm start turning windy late morning and as we had to go anyway it fitted us quite well.
The first round was quite good but then it all ended quite quickly but we ringed 4 Brambling – this is a scarce species in Wilts but we have managed to ring them every year for 15 years somehow and with this winter being a low Brambling year we thought that this may be the year we missed out but not now! The retrap Lesser Redpoll was ringed a week before 4km north. The other movement was one of the Marsh Tits that was ringed as a nestling 3km north and looks like it has dispersed to this site as its new home.
Chaffinch 16 (2), Brambling 4, Lesser Redpoll 1 (1), Bullfinch 1, Chiffchaff 1, Coal Tit 3 (5), Blue Tit 2 (2), Great Tit 3 (4), Marsh Tit 0 (2), Dunnock 1, Robin 0 (2)

note the matt coloured greater coverts, identifying this bird as a first year.

Bramb wing3

After our little ringing session, we drove to Norfolk and had the pleasure of an evening with some nest finding experts. The next day Simon and I attended the BTO 75th Anniversary of the Nest Records Scheme. Talks by some truly expert nest finders were both educational and inspirational and it was good to meet up with some old friends and make some new contacts. It was really good to meet up with a lady who I sent the Redwing song to, who has set her own records for catching Redwing using it. MP/SW
5th April found me driving through rain and fog to the lovely little town of Seaton in east Devon for the South West Ringers Conference, hosted by the Axe Estuary Ringing Group. I didn’t know many folk there but it was good to catch up with Tim Frayling, a former C ringer of mine, who I passed for an A permit before he moved to Devon,  and some very good old friends from the south coast. I gave a talk about the Tree Sparrow Project in the afternoon and it must have been okay because everyone managed to stay awake. I made some great contacts on this day and I can see a couple of interesting collaborative projects coming up....

23rd March 2014 - Kennet Valley


With the forecast for a windy day we chose this secluded little copse on the banks of the Kennet as it is tucked out of the wind and our nets hung beautifully totally unaffected by the wind. This site is just about the easiest net set that we have with a dog leg of 4 sixties set around the outside of lots of bird feeders buzzing with finches and tits. This site is normally really pretty but at the moment it is ruined with mud and silt everywhere because until recently the whole area was under a metre of water. I was joined by Simon and Steve and we had a lovely morning as a steady stream of birds kept us occupied. Redpolls were singing vociferously as they do at this time of year and this is the only site where we have any, they have been hitting the niger feeders hard so we knew we were going to catch some. We also heard a few Siskins but sadly didn’t catch any, Red Kites were ever present and Mandarins provided us with several fly-overs.
With a few Chiffchffs singing we felt confident of catching a few of them and we did but we also caught a ‘brownish’ one that is of northern or eastern origin, others across the country may be calling this bird a Tristis but it definitely isn’t and so I have included below a photo of a genuine Tristis taken when I went to Kazakhstan for reference.
Anyway, back to today and in went the Redpolls and as ever the return on them was good with three birds from last year and a bird from two years ago plus a control ie ringed elsewhere. Chaffinches were the predominant bird with most of them being resident birds with weights of c20g but we did catch a couple with longer wings and weighting 25g and with fat scores that will be continental birds. We retrapped 2 Chaffinches that were one year and two years and an individual that is three years old.
We hope to be back on the downs next week so let’s hope that the weather is flat calm next saturday....
 118 new and 25 retrapped. MP/SW/SB
Chaffinch 42 (6), Lesser Redpoll 15 (6 ), Goldfinch 11, Greenfinch 7, Bullfinch 1, Reed Bunting 5, Goldcrest 1 (1), Chiffchaff 5, Wren 5, Long Tailed Tit 1, Blue Tit 18 4), Great Tit 3 (4), Marsh Tit 0 (1), Coal Tit 0 (2), Dunnock 1 (1), Robin 2, Blackbird 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
'brown' Chiffchaff
brown chiff
Siberian Chiffchaff
Tristis 3


17th March 2014 - Avebury

How to celebrate your birthday – just north of Avebury 17th March 2014 – if Carling ringed farmland birds.....

It is my birthday today and I always take this day off to do the things that I want to do and not let anyone ruin it, so just for a change I went ringing on the downs! I woke at 02:50, before the alarm and raring to go for a real raffle of setting nets for Grey Partridge across a conservation crop, then try for the Little Owl that I saw yesterday and then ring some farmland birds. I set wader nets across the conservation crop and could hear two male Grey Partridges calling to each other which sounded promising. I then crossed the field and set a net for the Little Owl I saw yesterday which worked successfully in about five minutes, I then put up a small but complex set for the ‘normal’ farmland birds. One pair of partridges narrowly missed the nets but one male got it wrong and whizzed straight in, soon followed by a Skylark. There were about 50 Skylarks present but within the last week they have changed from being in the cover crop to the rapidly growing rape crop.
Bonus birds processed, the farmland birds proceeded to test my mettle as they came in in waves. You don’t often see farmland bird flocks like this and though I could have put more nets up I couldn’t have coped with many more than the six net set that I had; I estimate that there were 240 Tree Sparrows, 500 Yellowhammers, 40 Corn Buntings, 10 Reed Buntings.
Three of the retrap Tree Sparrows were of interest, all ringed as nestlings last summer; one 6km north east, one 5km south and the other 3km east. After last weeks interesting movement within a winter, I have just had another one do it by moving 4km from last week! I cannot explain these movements (yet).
This is the site that we ringed on 16th February when we felt we didn’t catch enough of a proportion of the birds present and following that day I rethought my tactics and fed the site differently and completely changed the net set and the results are remarkably different. Even after all these years there is still scope to learn and improve and today was immensely satisfying to have changed things and ringed an appropriate percentage of the birds present. There were two points of particular note relating to Tree Sparrows today..1) quite a few sparrows were quite light and I think that they may have moved site probably from a nearby game shoot that has stopped feeding their pheasants 2) this site is on the western edge of my operating range and it would appear that there is a reasonable breeding population of Tree Sparrows just west of my area now – is this an expansion of the range? MP
Yellowhammer 84 (8), Tree Sparrow 34 (7) ,Chaffinch 22 ,Reed Bunting 7, Dunnock 2, Grey Partridge 1, Little Owl 1, Skylark 1


Grey Partridge1


16th March 2014 - Marlborough Downs

Today dawned clear and sunny and with the spring approaching the starts are getting ever earlier. We were expecting quite a large catch today but it transpired that the winter flock had already dispersed. 3 Corn Buntings takes them to 9 for the year which is poor by our standards. We haven’t ringed Collared Dove for a few years but we caught 3 today in a new net set. Apart from that it was pretty quiet and we limped to 50 new and only 5 retraps.
Corn Bunting 3, Chaffinch 25, Yellowhammer 13 (4), Tree Sparrow 2, House Sparrow 2, Greenfinch 1, Collared Dove 3, Great Tit 1
 collared dove
On the way home we reccied a site and saw a pair of Little Owls, we may just see this one a little closer tomorrow.... MP, SW

15th March 2014 - Thames Valley

 I was joined by Rob Turner and Mike Hamzij, the two chaps who trained me many years ago, it is always great to get them out as it reminds me of my appreciation for them training me in the first place. We were at a site in the Thames Valley where we had a good catch three weeks ago but it was clear that today would be quieter as birds start dispersing to breed. It was a morning of slight mishaps as the chaps got delayed on the way with their satnav trying to send them across fields, then they were assisted by the local constabulary back the right way up a one way road, Rob stepped on a peanut feeder and then I capped it all with my chair collapsing under me.

Yellowhammers again dominated the catch with a very decent 42 ringed but it was evident that the sparrows had cottoned onto our net sets and they chipped and chirped away but largely kept their distance and avoided our nets. This is the last time that we will ring this site this Spring so our next visits will be to check for eggs in six weeks time. The total of 89 ringed and 49 retrapped is okay but not spectacular but the Yellowhammer retraps once again were impressive with one at two years old, one at three years old but the undoubted star of the show was a male that is just over a magnificent 7 years old. This site does seem to be suited to longevity for birds because we also had a four year old Great Tit and a 5 year old Dunnock. MP, RT, MH
Yellowhammer 42 (9), Chaffinch 18, Bullfinch 5 (8 ), Tree Sparrow 0 (2), House Sparrow 5 (4), Greenfinch 1 (2), Reed Bunting 4, Chiffchaff 1, Blue Tit 5 (8), Great Tit 5 (7), Marsh Tit 0 (1), Dunnock 1 (5), Robin 0 (1), Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (2), Blackbird 1
IMG 7511

13th March 2014 - Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area

I put up four nets in Britain’s number one Tree Sparrow garden for a very short early morning session. This site is quite condensed and it means that I can catch quite a large proportion of the birds present. This means that we get great feedback as you can see....

2 ringed as nestlings at this site in summer 2013 and 3 from summer 2012
2 ringed as nestlings 2km south in summer 2012
1 ringed last week 2km south ..... very interesting, is this a bird prospecting breeding sites or moving to breed or is the winter range much bigger than previously thought???
1 ringed as a nestling 1.5km west in summer 2011, and another from summer 2012 and another from summer 2013.
2 ringed as nestlings 1km south in summer 2011
We also retrapped 4 birds that were ringed as adults at the same site. Great Tits are not a study species for me but it was good to retrap one that was four year old.
With such high value conservation ringing, the other birds are by-catch but the pair of Coal Tits were notably brave to be amongst so many sparrows, last year I caught two here that tried to breed and the female was killed on the nest by Tree Sparrows who then built a nest on top of hers. This week I am putting up a few nest boxes with 25mm holes to give the Blue Tits and Coal Tits a chance of avoiding the sparrows. MP
Tree Sparrow 7 (17), House Sparrow 8, Dunnock 3, Chaffinch 3, Robin 2, Great Tit 3 (2), Coal Tit 2, Blue Tit 1
I then went and met a group of students from Cirencester Agricultural College with the gamekeepers from the estate and we planted 1200 trees and put up 20 nest boxes to create two more Tree Sparrow villages. I also gave a feeder and millet to the keepers who will be feeding the Tree Sparrows for us.

9th March 2014 - Marlborough Downs

Sunday dawned cold and quite breezy and we were concerned if it would affect our ability to operate but as often happens on the downs it was a pre dawn breeze that calmed significantly just after dawn. I was joined by Phil and Anna and I was very pleased to welcome Steve back out as super scribe. The first few rounds were surprisingly quiet and our combination of nets set across hedgerows were very disappointing, however the four two-shelfers set in the conservation cover where we have been feeding millet and barley were pretty decent. The sun came out and it became really quite warm and we saw Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies.
Highlights of the day were the two male Corn Buntings that were fitted with individually coded darvic rings. We ringed 12 Tree Sparrows and retrapped 6 that though were all local further help us understand how they move around but also show the importance of our long term conservation work on this species, they were as follows:
2 ringed on the same site in summer 2013
1 ringed 2km south in summer 2013
1 ringed 2km north in summer 2013
1 ringed 1.5km north in summer 2013
1 ringed 2.5km north in summer 2013
1 ringed 2km north in summer 2010
Tree Sparrow 12 (6 ), Corn Bunting 2, Yellowhammer 21, Chaffinch 18, Dunnock 12, Wren 1, Blackbird 1
cr corbu1

8th March 2014 - Thames Valley

We ringed an interesting little site today, specially chosen because it was completely sheltered from the southerly wind. The game cover at this site has been flattened by the wind and rain so we just set a few nets under some trees amongst some emergent blackthorn scrub. We played the Redwing tape and ringed two but there were plenty more present and we think that the tape may be more of an autumn lure.  A singing Chiffchaff was our first summer migrant of the year but teased us by evading our nets. The usual farmland finches and buntings kept us pleasantly occupied and it was good to check the ageing features of known age Yellowhammers with two retrapped from last winter and two from two years ago. We caught the Chiffchaff on the last round of the day to cap a good morning off nicely.
115 new and 26 retraps made for a reasonable morning and gave us time to look around the site to see how we could improve it as we think that this could be a nice little summer site as well. MP, PA, OF
Yellowhammer 49 (7), Greenfinch 12 (4), Chaffinch 25, Goldfinch 7, Tree Sparrow 4, House Sparrow 3, Reed Bunting 2 (1), Dunnock 2 (3), Robin 2, Blackbird 1, Redwing 2, Great Tit 4  (4), Blue Tit 1 (6), Chiffchaff 1, Bullfinch 0 (1), Lesser Redpoll 0 (1)