North Wilts Group

1st March 2014 - Pewsey Downs

As ever, our ringing lives are dominated by weather and with today being forecast as zero wind this was the right time to be ringing the most amazing farmland bird site that there is. This is the site of the very first Higher Level Stewardship Scheme with specific features tailored to Tree Sparrows based on my work on the site since 1999. When feeding this site for the past two months I have seen clouds of Tree Sparrows swirling up and down the hedgerow and with the perfect weather it really did feel like this may be the only chance to ring this fabulous place this winter.

Thankfully we had a good sized team out that would be able to deal with most situations with Will making the journey across from Oxford, Simon, Paul W and Jack.
The net set was an eclectic mix of two-shelfers, and every net size of North Ron net placed at strategic points across and against hedgerows and also in a kale crop, all tailored to intercept Tree Sparrows.
We targeted Little Owl at dawn and succeeded and we also added 3 Corn Buntings in the first round but Grey Partridge again managed to elude us. Our world filled with Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows, ably supported by Linnets and Chaffinches. Rarely have I seen such numbers of Tree Sparrows and we caught a total of 69 but there were over 300 present which is a record for the site and makes it the biggest flock that we currently have. This site is our largest nest box site and days like today really make it all worthwhile as we recaptured a lot of birds originally ringed as nestlings. We had 25 from this site last summer, 2 from summer 2011 and 1 from summer 2010. We also had 2 from last winter, 3 ringed as nestlings at a site 2.5km north and 1 ringed as a nestling 11km north.
Yellowhammers continue to give us good data with 1 from last winter, 3 from 2 years ago and 2 from 4 years ago – one ringed by Nigel which is nice to see birds that he ringed in Wiltshire still going while he is doing such a great job of ringing in Norway. Retrap Linnets are uncommon so to catch a bird from last winter is good.
299 new and 51 retrapped made for another truly remarkable farmland bird ringing session and it really is a pleasure to see the team doing so well. This was the second biggest catch of Tree Sparrows that I have ever had and to see them prospering so well really makes the summer long slog worthwhile. MP, WH, JN, SW, PW
Tree Sparrow 35 (34), Yellowhammer 148 (9), Corn Bunting 3, Chaffinch 44 (3), Linnet 38 (1), Goldfinch 9, Reed Bunting 6, Dunnock 9 (1), Robin 1, Wren 1, Blackbird 3, Starling 1, Little Owl 1, Great Tit 0 (4)
l owl


22nd February 2014 - Thames Valley

With the weather still too breezy for the exposed sites on the downs we opted for a site sheltered from the west wind but until lunchtime the weather was much calmer than forecast and we enjoyed a lovely sunny morning. We had a good team out today again joined by Will from Oxford and we needed it as we had a steady procession of birds into our small and compact net set. This is one of my favourite sites and consists of a dense hedgerow adjacent to a mixed plantation. The main object of the day was to retrap Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers and we succeeded pretty well with 6 Tree Sparrows of which three were ringed as nestlings last year and two of them were from the same brood. The Yellowhammers provided a much more interesting dataset:

1 year old – 2
2 years old – 2
3 years old – 4
4 years old – 1
5 years old – 1
Unusually, we recaptured two Yellowhammers that have moved site, these were not far enough to be considered ‘controls’ but still, movements of 3km and 4km are notable and probably reflect the movement away from their preferred winter territories which are still mostly submerged.
Other interesting retraps included a 5 year old Blackbird, two 3 year old Chaffinches and four Blue Tits and a Great Tit ringed on site as nestlings last June.
The total of 204 new and 98 retraps shows just how many birds are present at this site. It is hard to pick out highlights from such a cast but the day total of 22 Bullfinches is a group record and testimony to the amazing hedgerows which are the best in Wiltshire, 31 House Sparrows is also a day record for us and this is the only site that we have where House Sparrows feed side by side with Tree Sparrows. What also makes this site interesting is how it is good for both farmland birds and woodland birds, this gives great diversity of species and we had some great discussions about ageing and sexing on what proved to be a brilliant training day for the team. MP, PA, AF, WH
Yellowhammer 73 (10), Chaffinch 29 (6), Bullfinch 8 (14), Goldfinch 7 (2), Greenfinch 3 (2), Lesser Redpoll 2 (2), House Sparrow 31 (1), Tree Sparrow 9 (6), Wren 2, Dunnock 12 (10), Robin 4 (3), Blackbird 8 (2), Redwing 1, Blue Tit 8 (25), Great Tit 2 (14), Long Tailed Tit 2 (1), Marsh Tit 1, Treecreeper 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
5 year old Yellowhammer
5 yr old Yammer


19th February 2014 - Nightingale Wood

With the wind and rain finally letting up enough to get a mornings rining in we ventured out to a relatively new site in the woodland at the farm this morning which was away from our normal ringing area around two small lakes and a reed bed. As this usual site is right next to a river it floods the lakes and all the net rides whenever there is heavy rain. With the amount that's been coming down recently you would have needed a submarine to get nets into the reed bed. Even though the water had dropped down considerably over the last few days the trackways are now extremely muddy and fallen trees and dead wood are now throughout the net rides. Because of this we set up the new feeding station on dry land about a 1/4 mile away. 

As we're nearer to the main woodland we caught a lot of new tits but still managed enough finches to make it worthwhile even if nothing particularly interesting was caught.

We noticed more than Chaffinch's than usual with their papillomatosis/cnemidocoptosis leg problems and at one point had to discard 5 birds from just one net round. We usually see just one bird like it every other session so either these birds may not be local to us or there has been something of an outbreak around us. A reasonable if not spectacular morning with 45 new, 22 retrap PD/GD

Robin 2(3), Dunncok 3(1), Wren 1, Blackbird 2(1), Long Tailed Tit 5(2), Coal Tit (1), Blue 6(6), Great Tit 6(6), Treecreeper (1), Goldfinch 1, Chaffinch 9, Greenfinch 9(1)

Last weeks water level, 3ft above the bank of the river

flood 2

16th February 2014 - Marlborough Downs

At last we had a break in the rain and wind and we woke to a clear, cold calm morning. It was a very early start as we set a row of nets across a conservation crop with Skylark being the target bird. We also set a net for Linnets where I have been feeding rape seed and a set of 6 nets near a hedgerow where I have been feeding millet and barley. A walk through the cover crop just before dawn rewarded us with 4 Skylarks – we don’t manage to ring this species every year but we have done okay in recent years as we make more effort. A pair of Grey Partridge narrowly avoided the nets, it is about time that we ringed one of these again as we have had a few near misses in recent years.

The Linnet net inexplicably was a complete failure. The other net set was reasonable but we didn’t get a big enough sample considering the number of birds present. One of the main reasons that we ring these sites in the winter is to retrap the Tree Sparrows that we ring in the summer and on this day we retrapped two that were ringed as nestlings 3 miles south in July 2013. We ringed a Corn Bunting which is the first ringed with an individually numbered darvic that we will be using from now on, we just need to work out how to catch more to increase our resighting rate.

Once we had finished I then went up and reccied the other conservation cover about 300 metres away and watched a lovely flock of over 200 Corn Buntings plus about 30 Skylarks. I have put a battery of baited walk in traps in this crop in readiness for another day. I then spent the rest of the day putting up more nest boxes for Tree Sparrows and feeding three other farmland sites. I finished twelve hours after the day started, absolutely exhausted from carrying so many sacks of grain. MP, PA

Skylark 4, Yellowhammer 36, Corn Bunting 1, Reed Bunting 2, Tree Sparrow 7 (2), Blackbird 1 (2), Dunnock 1, Linnet 1, Chaffinch 1 (1)


cr corbu3

25th January 2014 - Swindon STW

After another hard expedition ringing birds in Gambia in 42 degrees it has been somewhat of a shock this week in the wind and the rain. I also remembered how we had lost lots of ringing days over Christmas and upon checking the weekend weather it became obvious that we would only get this Saturday in this weekend. The forecast was for flat calm until 9am and then building to near gale force by lunchtime. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for Swindon STW where we can set wader and gull nets before dawn, take a catch and then catch a few Reed Buntings because there are not many other passerines on the site at this time of year.
Over the years some people have commented on how lucky I am to catch some of the birds that I do but we don’t talk about the failures. Hard work accounts for a lot of the success; I was joined today by Simon and Anna and a new guest – C ringer Will from Oxford, all at the early time of 0445, so well done to Anna and Will for making the effort including a 45 minute drive. Today, we set 5 nets for gulls and caught none (realised later that they are out on the flooded fields feeding on worms), we set 4 wader nets and ringed 2 Teal, a Jack Snipe and a Snipe. We set a spring trap for crows and caught none, we had two duck traps and a small heligoland all set and they all caught none as well.
The regular wintering Reed Bunting flock has built up nicely and we ringed 37 new and processed 11 retraps. The retraps included a bird that was ringed at Shorncote in the Cotswold Water Park in June (good man David Anderson), 2 were ringed as juveniles in Aug and Sep, 3 were from early Jan and 5 were from Nov so a good deal of site fidelity. We would normally expect a couple of birds ringed in the Midlands the preceding summer but not this time.
All in all this was a fantastic little training session, it is really good to see the team improving their skills and expanding their experiences.
Later in the day I was joined by my wife and son to go and fill some sacks of tailings and we fed three sites that between them support over 2000 finches and buntings. The wind got up so strong late afternoon that it was hard to open the car door and trees were losing branches. At Ogbourne Maisey we came across a tree that had just fallen over and completely blocked the road so we felt we had had a lucky escape. MP, SW, AF, WH
Teal 2, Jack Snipe 1, Snipe 1, Reed Bunting 37 (11), Great Tit 5 (2), Blue Tit 2 (4), Long Tailed Tit 0 (1), Robin 2 (1), Dunnock 1 (2), Blackbird 1 (1), Redwing 1, Song Thrush 1, Goldcrest 1, Wren 1, Bullfinch 0 (1)
IMG 6975-001

Gambia Ringing Expedition - January 2014

With Matt, Olly and myself all in The Gambia there hasn't been much home ringing going on during the last two weeks.

The group managed to catch over 2500 birds including over 300 Western Palearctic's which was good going considering the 42°c temperatures. Some of the highlights are on the photos below.

Blue Cheeked Bee-eater, Shikra, Grey Headed Kingfisher, Klass's Cuckoo, Senegal Batis


Sulphur-breated Bush Shrike, Little Crake, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird


5th January 2014 - Savernake

Well today was a complete failure, we targeted a site to catch the Willow Tit that has been present but we didn’t even see or hear it let alone catch it, I hope it hasn’t succumbed to the weather. Despite this obvious failure we did okay for other species at our site in Savernake Forest. I met Adam who is down from Uni in Scotland and Paul at the pleasantly late time of 06:30. It was a beautiful calm day and the first birds we observed were 12 Ravens flying over just after dawn. A small group of Brambings flew very low over our net and we thought we may get involved with them but they sadly cleared off. We ringed an unusual bird for us in the form of a Nuthatch, we only catch a few of these each year and Adam struck gold because they are rare in Scotland and so to see one, let alone ring one is a treat for him. The Nuthatch also made the day of an elderly lady who was taking her dog for a walk; it is always nice to brighten up peoples day with such a privileged view of a lovely bird. 130 new and 12 retraps made for a busy morning, all of the retraps were from last winter when we started ringing this site.
The weather forecast was spot on and at noon the wind increased and the rain started but by then we had taken down nets and we got away just as the rain really started hammering down. Paul went home and Adam and I went on to feed farmland birds. The weather got steadily worse until by dusk it was blowing a gale with horizontal rain but by then we had fed two sites with about 50kg of feed each and at one of the sites we saw a lovely flock of c500 Linnets. MP, PA, AC
Coal Tit 40 (5), Blue Tit 24 (4), Great Tit 15 (2), Marsh Tit 1(1), Goldcrest 10, Nuthatch 1, Robin 5, Chaffinch 29, Lesser Redpoll 1, Blackbird 4

4th January 2014 - Swindon STW

The overnight monsoon continued through until it petered out at 2pm. I met Anna and Simon at Swindon STW for a roost session and thought we didn’t catch much it was just nice to be out. The River Ray is close to breaking its banks and I have only seen higher water levels on site once before (in 2007). A Redwing roost caught 4 which considering that we only ringed 1 in the first quarter last year isn’t too bad at all. The Reed Bunting roost effort gave us 4 which is low but better than nothing. We also set three wader nets before dusk and managed 2 Snipe. It is clear that the behaviours of the water birds has been really affected by the rising water levels with both duck and waders choosing different places to roost and feed. We did see a Jack Snipe but it eluded our nets. At the turn of the year the age codes of birds change and I lecture the team to ensure they don’t make mistakes and it is always me that gets it wrong and I did so again today just to give everyone a laugh again. MP/SW/AF
Common Snipe 2, Redwing 4, Song Thrush 1, Starling 1, Blackbird 4, Reed Bunting 4