North Wilts Group

24th November 2013 - Kennet Valley

Today we had an absolute shocker, the woodland site that we ringed today is normally absolutely heaving with Coal Tits and a wide variety of woodland birds but the wood seems almost devoid of birds. There has been a lot of tree harvesting activity this autumn but it seems a bit extreme to think that would reduce the catch by over 50%. I was joined by Graham, Phil and Paul W to ensure that we had a team capable of handling the site but instead we had time to drink tea and eat biscuits. The good news is that we ring this wood to target Willow Tits with the aim of individually colour ringing the whole population to monitor long term survival rates and we managed to catch three with one being in its fifth year and another in its third year.
Afterwards, I filled feeders at two other woodland sites and these sites had not had much bird activity either. A theory proposed today is that the late summer season has meant that nuts and seeds have ripened later and that there is a lot of natural food around at a point in the year when natural food would normally be harder to come by. MP, PD, GD, PW
Willow Tit 0 (3), Marsh Tit 0 (2), Coal Tit 6 (27), Chaffinch 3 (1), Blue Tit 6 (1), Great Tit 2 (3), Robin 1 (2), Bullfinch 1, Goldcrest 10, Wren 3, Blackbird 4
cr Wilti 2009

23rd November 2013 - Nightingale Wood & Swindon STW


With it already being a record breaking year for Redwing's and the group totals already well over 200 we were hoping to catch more this morning before passage stops and we're just left with a general wintering population. 

A lot of thrushes were calling in the dark as we put up the nets and the first round proved to be a good one with plenty of Redwing and a few Fieldfare. While the number of Redwing caught has been high Fieldfare catches have been very low and the 3 caught this morning while welcome is sadly the biggest catch of the season so far.

Finch numbers are still increasing and we caught a few more Redpoll's to a tape lure and plenty of Greenfinch's. We also caught another new Blackcap and thankfully the almost complete lack of Tit retraps made it a rather pleasant morning with 64 new and 7 retraps. GD/PD

Blackbird 3, Fieldfare 3, Song Thrush 1, Redwing 20, Blackcap 1, Goldcrest 1, Blue Tit (3), Great Tit (1), Chaffinch 7(1), Greenfinch 18(1), Lesser Redpoll 5, Reed Bunting 5(1)



WOW! A 14 hour day in the field at Swindon STW with wader nets and passerine nets with Simon, and Paul W joined us in the morning. Today was cold but not frozen and the wind was flat calm and the sky overcast so absolutely perfect for ringing. The first net round was simply amazing with Jack Snipe, 3 Black Headed Gulls, a Teal and a Carrion Crow. Surprise of the day however was a magnificent Woodcock which is the first to ever be ringed on site and the 10th that I have caught in Wiltshire and only the third record of this species on site, these really are amongst my favourite birds. Great as that was though, probably the most significant bird of the day was the Black Headed Gull wearing a Belgian ring.
Another Jack Snipe soon followed and all of the time a steady stream of Redwing were responding strongly to the tape and we ringed 18 in the morning which is excellent considering that we didn’t feel there were that many around; whether this was the awesome new song or Simons new super ride is open to debate. A first year male Sparrowhawk made Simons day though it drew blood which just furthered Simons admiration of it. We had two feeding stations open, the best of which is a table with millet on it for Reed Buntings in a reed bed and this worked very well with 16 ringed in the morning along with a bonus Siskin which is only the fourth ringed on site. A Water Rail was darting to and fro under the net , I always love seeing these birds and with a careful, quiet approach they can afford superb views, I then saw something bouncing in the net and thought it was a rail but sadly it wasn’t but a Common Snipe was more than welcome. A White Wagtail was the first ever to be ringed on site as it somehow managed to not fly through a large mesh wader net. A few Chiffchaffs capped the morning off nicely so we closed nets with the last bird of the morning being a cracking second year male Sparrowhawk which was aged by brown edged retained juvenile feathers in the mantle and median coverts and two ages of tail feathers. Finally Paul W left for home and then Simon and I went to my house for a spot of lunch and to defrost our feet.
We returned to site to try a roost and once again Redwing responded strongly with 13 ringed in the afternoon giving a site day record total of 31 and we retrapped one that we ringed on 7th November which is interesting because we have always thought that they are just migrating through. A bit of cunning artificing later and we had a Water Rail in the bag – played for and got on this side of the ringing group! 3 Starlings were a real surprise and were a new bird for Simon and we were quite glad that we missed the 100 or so that were about 40 metres from one net as we would still be there now if they had gone in. Just after dark we rounded off the day with a female Teal and a Green Sandpiper. This has been one of the most outstanding days ever for variety and hard to catch birds, results like this can only be achieved through hard work, good fieldwork in watching how birds use the site, using the right type of net in the right location and managing the habitat to encourage such species.
The day total of 87 ringed and 32 retraps is perfectly respectable but 26 species handled in one day is remarkable, surely with the number of Redwing we are ringing we are due for our first recovery of this species? Reed Buntings fascinate me and amongst the retraps we had some interesting feedback with a female that we originally ringed in the canal at Mouldon Hill in May whilst undertaking a survey for the council, we also retrapped three site residents the oldest of which is now in its 5th year. MP/SW/PW
Woodcock 1, Jack Snipe 2, Snipe 1, Green Sandpiper 1, Teal 2, Black Headed Gull 3 (1), Water Rail 1, Sparrowhawk 2, Carrion Crow 1, Redwing 31, Song Thrush 1 (1), Blackbird 6, Starling 3, White Wagtail 1, Chiffchaff 4 (1), Goldcrest 1 (1), Chaffinch 2, Goldfinch 1, Greenfinch 2, Siskin 1, Reed Bunting 12 (6), Robin 1 (3), Dunnock 1 (2), Wren 5 (5), Blue Tit 1 (2), Great Tit 0 (10)

17th November 2013 - Thames Valley

I was joined for the first time by Anna who has just moved to a bit north of our area from Tring where she has ringed with several folk who I know. She has been ringing a couple of years and did very well today especially considering how the birds filled our nets. This site is a Tree Sparrow hotspot and has the best hedgerows, with a birch/alder woodland surrounded by arable fields. There were plenty of Tree Sparrows present but they hadn’t really switched onto the feeders yet though everything else had. We played Redwing tape just away from the feeders and they came thick and fast in a manner that I haven’t seen away from the east coast and we ringed a magnificent 27 in the morning along with a billy bonus Fieldfare. A flock of Greenfinches were caught in one round and we ringed more today than we have ringed in a day for about ten years when we actually considered them a bit of a pain because we used to catch so many; but they are very welcome now.
Taking into account the variety of species and the numbers Anna fared very well and really enjoyed the morning but sadly we watched a large female Sparrowhawk roll out of the net right in front of us which was a real shame.
We ended the morning on 143 new and 27 retraps. Most of the retraps were from last winter but we did have a four year old Great Tit and a five year old Dunnock but we also had three Blue Tits that were ringed as nestlings in June 2013.
A quick spot of lunch and I popped back out and put up a double net playing the Latvian Redwing tape again and I ringed another 15 Redwing along with a Lesser Redpoll. This new Redwing song has revolutionised our Redwing catching technique and the total of 42 in the day is unprecedented and quite amazing. Last action of the day saw me trying to tape lure Tawny Owl – a method that has never proven successful for me and one did hit the net and bounce and after that proceeded to glide over the net without troubling it again.
Day total: 159 new, 27 retraps
Redwing 42, Fieldfare 1, Song Thrush 1, Blackbird 2 (1), Goldfinch 9, Lesser Redpoll 5, Greenfinch 15 (1), Chaffinch 16 (1), Bullfinch 4 (1), Tree Sparrow 3, House Sparrow 6, Blue Tit 18 (9), Great Tit 6 (10), Long Tailed Tit 10 (1), Dunnock 7 (1), Robin 2 (1), Wren 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (1)

16th November 2013 - Nightingale Wood & Marlborough STW


With the weather turning cold and frosty with light winds we decided to hit the wood two monrings running to get more winter thrushes and finches.

Friday morning started with a rather unsual find in a mist net in the form of a Water Rail at head height well away from the reedbed in a patch of scrub. That however proved to be the highlight of the morning as the rest of the session was rather slow with only a few Redwing's a Blackcap and a handfull of Lesser Redpoll's. Despite the large number of Fieldfare's moving through none managed to find the nets.

Today was much more impressive in terms of numbers and with early Redwing success we decided to make a day of it and stay all day and finish with a roost and even though the roost proved a bit of a non-event with little caught we still managed 19 for the day along with a single Fieldfare. During the morning we caught a control Greenfinch and a suprise Collared Dove. Finch numbers are finally begining to pick up as we did rather well for Greenfinch and chaffinch today.

News from Olly's garden was that he'd caught 11 Redwing and a control Blackcap. This takes us to 116 Redwing for the autumn so far.

A good couple of days produced 136 new, 46 retraps. GD/PD

Water Rail 1, Collared Dove 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 2(3), Blackbird 6(5), Fieldfare 3, Song Thrush 1, Redwing 32, Dunnock 1, Robin 2(2), Chiffchaff 1, Blackcap 2, Goldcrest 2(1), Blue Tit 11(13), Great Tit 2(11), Long Tailed Tit 5, Treecreeper (1), Lesser Redpoll 10, Chaffinch 15(4), Goldfinch 5, Greenfinch 26(2), Reed Bunting 3(1)



With the forecast set for virtually zero wind and overcast with the temperature dropping to zero I have been looking forward all week to ringing at Marlborough STW. I was joined by Rob and Mike who wanted to brush up on their winter white wagtail id. We have a number of superb ringing sites so it is difficult to say which is my favourite but at this time of year this site is very hard to beat as we ring in the site office so it is nice and warm, we have access to a kitchen, we catch interesting species, the ground is just grass with nothing to get tangled in the nets and nearly all the nets are two shelfers which are easy to set.
So, with all nets up before dawn we were able to have a cup of fresh made tea and coffee with the first round and also enjoy the chocolate brioche that Mr T had brought along; at this point it is worth mentioning to those who join us from time to time that all are welcome (in no particular order) jaffa cakes, chocolate hobnobs, double choc chip cookies and of course fig rolls.
Moorhens provided some early action with two rolling out of nets but we did manage to get to a third one and ring our first of the species this year. Meadow Pipits were soon popping into the nets along with wagtails and we had some top fun working our way through some of the finer points of Meadow Pipit ageing. This site is virtually unique in that some birds show winter to winter site fidelity and we caught 2 birds back for their second winter, 1 bird back for its third winter and an amazing 3 birds back for their fourth winter (two of these had consecutive ring numbers!). It would be so interesting to learn where these birds breed.
Being on the banks of the beautiful River Kennet the site is also food for insectivorous birds and we ringed 14 Goldcrests and 5 Chiffchaffs and we also controlled a Chiffchaff so it will be interesting to know where and when that was originally ringed.
Some years ago a paper was circulated that showed how to identify White Wagtails from Pied Wagtails in the winter and since then we have learnt that about 30% of our wintering wagtails are ‘Whites’; Rob is a fantastic id sceptic but gradually Mike and I convinced him of how to separate the two. I think after this that Rob with his new found knowledge will now be scrutinising all winter wagtails.
Another Moorhen rolled out of a net so I decided to change that net to a super large mesh net (45mm mesh) and we marvelled how the change of net seemed to be a sure fire way to keep Moorhens away, until the last round when three hit the net, one stayed long enough for Mike to get to it, I caught the other just as it was about to get out and another quite amazingly actually went right through a single square of mesh which we couldn’t believe possible. Still, three Moorhens ringed in one day is a first for us.
We finished just before 2pm and I stayed on to look through a sample of the birds afterwards to see what proportion are ringed and 10 out of 40 Pied/White Wagtails were ringed and 10 out of 20 Meadow Pipits were ringed.
161 new and 11 retraps made for an all round top day. MP/RT/MH
Meadow Pipit 74 (6), Pied Wagtail 17, White Wagtail 11, Grey Wagtail 3, Goldcrest 14, Chiffchaff 5 (1), Blue Tit 13, Great Tit 2, Long Tailed Tit 3 (3), Marsh Tit 1, Dunnock 5, Chaffinch 3, Wren 2, Robin 2 (1), Redwing 3, Moorhen 3
W Wag

10th November 2013 - Savernake area & Nightingale Wood

I met Phil and Paul at the relatively late time of 0545 and we set a mixture of nets at three feeding stations with a few nets at selected locations to try to catch Goldcrests. This wood is a strange site that one day can be heaving with birds and the next appear devoid of birds. This autumn it seems to be the latter, though it has been heavily disturbed due to tree felling operations. The birds have not really switched onto the feeding stations probably because of the large amount of natural food. The target bird of the site is Willow Tit and we did catch one to add to the colour ringing project but we heard at least another 2 away from the feeding stations. This is one of those special few sites that has both Marsh and Willow Tits affording opportunities to compare the two together.
Goldcrests seem to have had an awful breeding season because we only ringed 20 which is the lowest ever catch of them in November at this site.
The total of 53 ringed and 19 retrapped for this site is truly awful compared with any other year.
The photo shows the colour ringed Willow Tit on the left and the Marsh Tit on the right. MP/PD/PA
Goldcrest 20 (1), Coal Tit 8 (13), Chaffinch 9, Marsh Tit 3 (1), Willow Tit 1, Great Tit 3 (1), Blue Tit 2 (1), Robin 2 (1), Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, Blackbird 1, Wren 3
Willow Marsh
With decent numbers of thrushes begining to move through and with the early morning sucesses in catching them recently I decided to do a spot of afternoon ringing and stay on for a roost. As well as thrushes coming to roost I was hoping to get a few Reed Bunting's in the reedbed along with the usual feeding station birds and happily did well in all areas. Bird of the day however was a Chiffchaff which took me to 700 ringed for the year. 51 new, 9 retrap GD/PD
Wren (1), Dunnock 1, Robin 1, Blackbird 1, Fieldfare 2, Song Thrush 1, Redwing 12, Chiffchaff 1, Long Tailed Tit 2, Blue Tit 8(5), Great Tit 4(2), Chaffinch 6, Greenfinch 4, Goldfinch 2, Bullfinch 1, Reed Bunting 5(1)

9th November 2013 - Kennet Valley

Regular readers will see that our lives as bird ringers are dominated by weather and today once again proved the case. The forecast was for a calm overcast morning with rain coming in at lunchtime and this was accurate until 0945 when the sky darkened and drizzle set in and we had to take the nets down. By that time we had ringed 69 and processed 13 retraps in only 6 nets. We tried the new Redwing lure and once again it brought a lot of Redwings in of which we caught 5 which is good considering that we caught none here at the same time as last year. This a fairly low catch for this site but the finch numbers will start to build; it was nice to catch some Lesser Redpoll including one returning from last year and another from 2 years ago. MP/OF
Robin 2 (3), Dunnock 2, Marsh Tit 1, Coal Tit 4, Blue Tit 15 (4), Great Tit 7 (2), Long Tailed Tit 5, Goldcrest 6, Lesser Redpoll 9 (2), Goldfinch 3 (1), Chaffinch 9, Greenfinch 1, Redwing 5, Wren 0 (2)

8th November - Group Totals

Group totals up to the end of October are listed below.

Species Full Grown Pulli Retraps Total   Species Full Grown Pulli Retraps Total
Manx Shearwater 1 0 0 1   Cetti's Warbler 1 0 0 1
Eurasian Teal 3 0 0 3   Grasshopper Warbler 54 0 7 61
Sparrowhawk 5 0 2 7   Sedge Warbler 209 0 29 238
Water Rail 1 0 0 1   Marsh Warbler 1 0 0 1
Lapwing 0 3 0 3   Reed Warbler 213 20 96 329
Jack Snipe 6 0 0 6   Great Reed Warbler 1 0 0 1
Snipe 27 0 1 28   Lesser Whitethroat 43 0 8 51
Green Sandpiper 1 0 1 2   Whitethroat 606 0 112 718
Black-headed Gull 18 0 1 19   Garden Warbler 108 0 34 142
Stock Dove 3 19 0 22   Blackcap 2130 4 154 2288
Woodpigeon 27 6 6 39   Chiffchaff 1124 0 64 1188
Collared Dove 3 2 0 5   Willow Warbler 303 0 41 344
Cuckoo 2 0 0 2   Goldcrest 100 0 8 108
Little Owl 3 8 0 11   Firecrest 3 0 0 3
Tawny Owl 3 0 1 4   Spotted Flycatcher 5 5 0 10
Nightjar 3 0 0 3   Long-tailed Tit 140 0 65 205
Kingfisher 6 0 4 10   Marsh Tit 3 19 11 33
Wryneck 1 0 0 1   Willow Tit 3 8 8 19
Green Woodpecker 9 0 2 11   Coal Tit 124 0 131 255
Great Spotted Woodpecker 19 0 35 54   Blue Tit 534 203 362 1099
Skylark 8 0 0 8   Great Tit 324 93 266 683
Sand Martin 1 0 0 1   Nuthatch 4 0 21 25
Swallow 189 94 1 284   Treecreeper 19 0 9 28
House Martin 23 0 0 23   Jay 9 0 1 10
Tree Pipit 20 0 0 20   Magpie 2 0 0 2
Meadow Pipit 251 0 6 257   Jackdaw 5 8 0 13
Yellow Wagtail 3 0 0 3   Rook 0 16 0 16
Grey Wagtail 1 0 1 2   Carrion Crow 1 4 0 5
Pied/White Wagtail 13 0 1 14   Starling 19 0 3 22
Wren 222 0 51 273   House Sparrow 129 1 13 143
Dunnock 285 0 163 448   Tree Sparrow 79 276 53 408
Robin 251 5 105 361   Chaffinch 427 0 82 509
Nightingale 1 0 7 8   Brambling 11 0 2 13
Redstart 35 0 2 37   Greenfinch 157 0 45 202
Whinchat 48 0 1 49   Goldfinch 230 0 70 300
Stonechat 6 0 0 6   Siskin 31 0 7 38
Wheatear 1 0 0 1   Linnet 261 8 2 271
Blackbird 164 5 102 271   Lesser Redpoll 131 0 40 171
Fieldfare 8 0 0 8   Bullfinch 113 0 42 155
Song Thrush 76 0 23 99   Yellowhammer 329 0 44 373
Redwing 60 0 0 60   Reed Bunting 123 0 56 179
Mistle Thrush 1 0 0 1   Corn Bunting 16 0 1 17
            Total: 9933 807 2403 13143

7th November 2013 - Nightingale Wood & Swindon STW


I’ve been a bit slack recently on reporting activities from this site mostly because it was rather eclipsed by events at my Salisbury Plain site earlier in the autumn. Now that things on The Plain are done until the spring there will be more incentive to keep things going.

As the weather for the last month since getting back from Norway has been so awful we made the best of things and went out to see what we could get. The early few net rounds produced a couple of  Fieldfare’s and some Redwing’s which occur in good numbers here on passage but finch numbers and in particular Redpoll’s are virtually non-existent at the moment.

Just before I had to slope off to work leaving my dad on his own we caught a Blackcap which could either have been a late migrant or a newly arrived winter visitor and also a Sparrowhawk right at the death.

Later in the morning I had a text message from Olly saying he’d caught a Garden Warbler in his garden which has to be the latest one I’ve ever heard off. GD/PD

An average 45 new, 13 retrap

Sparrowhawk 1, Wren 2, Dunnock 2, Robin (1), Blackbird 2(2), Fieldfare 2, Redwing 11, Blackcap 1, Blue Tit 5(4), Great Tit 4(5), Chaffinch 7, Greenfinch 6, Reed Bunting 2(1) 


After a frustrating few days of wind and rain we finally got a break in the weather and so we arrived at Swindon STW early to set a few nets for Snipe. The site becomes quite desolate at this time of year and we now only get passerines in the feeding station apart from the odd Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. The wader nets produced our first Teal of the year, a Snipe and a Jack Snipe that we originally ringed on 19th October. In the past when using a tape lure for Redwings we do attract the birds but they tend to get caught at the ends of the net away from the player but today we experimented with a recording of ‘song on migration’ from Latvia given to us by John Wells from deepest darkest Glarstershire. This produced an amazing effect where Redwings came out of nowhere and we caught them right by the tape, thus we ringed 8 in the morning.

There is still a bit of late passage of Chiffchaffs and at this time of year we get a mix of our birds still departing and wintering birds arriving and amongst the usual colybita we also ringed our first Scandinavian race abietinus of the winter, it is fairly green and flew off calling with a ‘hweet’ so it is fair to assume that this was a western abietinus but really in my opinion the chiff racial complex is the result of a clinal change anyway.

The wildlife trust volunteers arrived and set to work by strimming an area that will be perfect for Snipe and Jack Snipe and also doing some maintenance work on the fast growing sallows. We closed nets and did some site tasks and then reopened nets late afternoon for some roost work. We set two lines of nets about 300 metres apart and played our old Redwing song on one line and the new Redwing song on the other and we had a perfect split of 6 Redwing caught in each net so not very conclusive really though the day total of 20 is a record for us. A huge female Sparrowhawk was smashing around the site chasing thrushes and she hit the net twice without being caught until she made one error too many and we finally got her. Last action of the day was two Teal in a wader net just after dark.

There aren’t many sites where one can mist net Teal, let alone have chances of Snipe and Jack Snipe as well which is why the sewage works is such a special place. MP/SW

Redwing 20, Song Thrush 2 (1), Chiffchaff 6, Snipe 1, Jack Snipe 0 (1), Teal 3, Sparrowhawk 1, Blackbird 4 (1), Robin 1, Dunnock 0 (6), Wren 5, Long Tailed Tit 2 (7), Great Tit 3 (7), Blue Tit 1 (6), Goldcrest 2, Chaffinch 2, Bullfinch 6, Reed Bunting 2 (1), Great Spotted Woodpecker 0 (1)