North Wilts Group

15th September 2013 - Salisbury Plain (centre)

With calm conditions forecast before the autumn storm was due to hit later in the morning we ventured out to the Plain again hoping that clear night would mean that all the migrants held up by the recent nights of rain would finally be able to move.

We arrived onsite to some low level mist and a temperature of just 2°c which by first light caused a ground frost. With tape lures playing Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the nets it wasn't long before the scrub was alive with the calls of Blackcap's and it soon became obvious that it was going to be a busy morning. We ended up with a massive 147 new Blackcap's and 88 Chiffchaff's, a total that has taken me to over 1000 Blackcap for the year. As well as the expected warblers we also caught Lesser Whitethroat, Graden Warbler's and Willow Warbler's all of which have usually long gone in 'normal' years when breeding starts when it should.

There was also a good passage of Meadow Pipit's for the first time this autumn and we caught 38 in our usual pipit nets. With one large bush in the catch zone this net is also good for catching warblers moving between areas of scrub and always seems to attrach Redstart's, of which we caught 2 here with another elsewhere.

We had to start taking the nets down at 10.00 as the wind had pick up and a quick tally of the days catch resulted in 299 new birds. Not happy with being one short of 300 a quick check on the artillery bunkers on the offchance that there might be some Stock Dove pulli resulted in. 2 chicks being ringed. We therefore ended up with 301 new and 4 retraps. No Great Reed Warbler's today, but you can't have everything. GD/PD

Stock Dove 2, Swallow 1, Meadow Pipit 38, Robin 3, Redstart 3, Sedge Warbler 4, Lesser Whitethroat 1, Whitethroat 10, Garden Warbler 2, Blackcap 147(1), Chiffchaff 88(2), Willow Warbler 2, Chaffinch (1)

13th September 2013 - Salisbury Plain (centre), a Great Reed Warbler day

With a brief break in the wind and rain forecast we decided to give it a go this morning though with fewer nets in case the rain started up early.

We arrived onsite to some low mist and light drizzle but put some of the nets anyway. While driving between net sets we flushed an interesting bird off of the track that we were unable to identify. My Dad thought it might have been a Song Thrush or Wryneck, I thought it could have been a Wheatear as it looked as if it had an eye-stripe. However, other than sitting with a rather upright stance nothing we saw really seemed to fit. The bird quickly flew into the scrub and out of site never to be seen again, except........

The overnight rain meant that there wasn’t any real migration going on but we managed a few good Blackcap’s and Chiffchaff’s the first two net rounds. A single Willow Warbler and a handful of Whitethroat’s were still hanging in there but species variety was limited. Some of the warbler retraps were on the weighty side since the birds are feeding up but stuck here until the weather improves. One of Blackcap’s was 26.1g and one of the Whitethroat’s was 18.3g.

But then it got interesting. My Dad came back from checking a few nets saying he had something good but that it was better than a Wryneck and he hadn’t seen one in this country before. The mystery bird turned out to be an adult Great Reed Warbler, an amazing catch for a patch of scrub in the middle of chalk downland. Fortunately, Matt was ringing near by on the east side of The Plain and was able to get to us quickly as did Mike from the West Wilts group who lives close by. With 4 Wryneck’s caught on Salisbury Plain in the last two years, a Thrush Nightingale in 2008 and this bird it shows that some birds can turn up just about anywhere even if the area is exceptional for migrants and probably the best inland ringing area in the country.

Quite a morning, although we didn’t get any Redstarts so the run ended 12 visits and out. 70 new, 5 retraps. GD/PD

Meadow Pipit 1, Great Reed Warbler 1, Whitethroat 4(3), Blackcap 37(2), Chiffchaff 26, Willow Warbler 1




8th September 2013 - Salisbury Plain (east)

Today was flat calm with a clear sky but before dawn it was very cold, in fact there was a slight frost in places and a heavy dew. Despite this, the site was alive with birds and by 9 o clock we had ringed 160 birds but as the sun came out the birds disappeared and the whole area seemed virtually birdless. Best surprise of the first round was a fabulous adult female Tawny Owl which is only the second I have ever mist netted. The day was dominated by Blackcaps and Chiffs though once again the Sedge Warblers showed surprisingly well, it never fails to surprise me what goes through the plain on passage. We only ringed 3 Whinchats today but there were still 10 present along with the ever elusive Wheatears. Last bird of the morning was a juvenile House Martin, a species we rarely catch in standard ringing activities. This was a super mornings ringing and Paul did brilliantly well keeping up with the pace and our organised approach even meant that my car went home as tidy as it arrived which is very rare indeed. The farmer popped in to see us and it was excellent to meet a farmer who knows quite so much about birds, this area of land is in good hands with such good awareness and knowledge of the landowner.
I popped into a Tree Sparrow site to check the last two occupied boxes of the year but sadly the chicks had died, this is only to be expected because they would have been 19 days later than any other year (except this one). MP/PA
Blackcap 101 (3), Chiffchaff 20, Whitethroat 15 (3), Sedge Warbler 10, Garden Warbler 2, Lesser Whitethroat 1, Willow Warbler 2, Grasshopper Warbler 3, Goldcrest 1, Meadow Pipit 4, Tree Pipit 1, House Martin 1, Whinchat 3, Linnet 2, Bullfinch 2, Goldfinch 0 (1), Reed Bunting 1, Yellowhammer 1 (1), Blackbird 1, Dunnock 2, Tawny Owl 1, Blue Tit 3

7th September 2013 - Salisbury Plain (centre)

What could have been a really productive morning was rather spoilt by the weather. Any time there is fog at this site, or in the case of today low level mist, the expected catch gets cut in half. As it turned out the final total was down 51% on last weeks visit.

We had our usual nets set as well as the Meadow Pipit nets up for the first time this Autumn so it was a shame that all they caught all morning was a single Grasshopper Warbler. The morning did however start promisingly with 4 Grasshopper Warblers in the the first round and good numbers of Blackcaps but dropped off rather dramatically after that. Species variety was much reduced with some warbler seemingly moved on. We did get some more Sedge and one more Reed but Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats were notably misisng. 

One positive from the last nets we took down before leaving was our standard Redstart of the morning.

118 new and 14 retraps may sound a like a good days catch but is well under par for this time of year at this site. GD/PD

Dunnock 1, Redstart 1, Blackbird 1, Song Thrush (1), Grasshopper Warbler 4, Sedge Warbler 4, Reed Warbler 1, Whitethroat 16(3), Garden Warbler 2(2), Blackcap 69(8), Chiffchaff 18, Blue Tit 1

7th September 2013 - Swindon STW

A very early start to attempt a wader catch wasn’t quite as successful as hoped but we did manage to catch 3 Snipe, of which 2 were new and the other was originally ringed on 24th February 2012 so is this a site faithful wintering bird or a passage migrant that has passed through the same site??? The day was dominated by Blackcaps supported by Chiffchaffs with all of the other warblers declining in number. Retraps are always interesting and in addition to the Snipe we had a control Blackcap and the high number of retraps shows how good the site is for warblers fattening up for migration.
There was an early morning trickle of visible migration including 3 Sand Martins, a Tree Pipit, a Mistle Thrush and about 40 Swallows.
Blackcap 51 (11), Chiffchaff 12 (1), Whitethroat 9, Reed Warbler 5 (1) Dunnock 5 (1), Sedge Warbler 2, Lesser Whitethroat 1 (1), Wren 1, Garden Warbler (1), Snipe 2 (1), Cettis Warbler (1)

5th September - Group Totals

Group totals up to the end of August except for the large number of Tree Sparrow pulli yet to be inputted. Warbler numbers have increased dramatically with the start of the autumn migration and our group's success at catching Whinchat's has meant that we have moved onto 41 for the year which will be a substantial amount of the national total for the year.


  Full grown Pulli Retraps Total     Full grown Pulli Retraps Total
Sparrowhawk 3 0 1 4   Grasshopper Warbler 44 0 7 51
Water Rail 1 0 0 1   Sedge Warbler 178 0 28 206
Lapwing 0 3 0 3   Marsh Warbler 1 0 0 1
Jack Snipe 5 0 0 5   Reed Warbler 191 20 75 286
Snipe 17 0 0 17   Lesser Whitethroat 37 0 6 43
Green Sandpiper 1 0 1 2   Whitethroat 531 0 96 627
Black-headed Gull 18 0 1 19   Garden Warbler 101 0 27 128
Stock Dove 3 17 0 20   Blackcap 832 4 90 926
Woodpigeon 27 6 6 39   Chiffchaff 304 0 46 350
Collared Dove 3 2 0 5   Willow Warbler 291 0 41 332
Cuckoo 2 0 0 2   Goldcrest 33 0 4 37
Little Owl 3 8 0 11   Firecrest 2 0 0 2
Tawny Owl 2 0 1 3   Spotted Flycatcher 5 5 0 10
Nightjar 3 0 0 3   Long-tailed Tit 102 0 48 150
Kingfisher 6 0 2 8   Marsh Tit 2 19 11 32
Wryneck 1 0 0 1   Willow Tit 2 8 8 18
Green Woodpecker 8 0 0 8   Coal Tit 98 0 127 225
Great Spotted Woodpecker 19 0 34 53   Blue Tit 392 203 284 879
Skylark 8 0 0 8   Great Tit 249 93 236 578
Sand Martin 1 0 0 1   Nuthatch 3 0 21 24
Swallow 176 94 0 270   Treecreeper 11 0 8 19
House Martin 21 0 0 21   Jay 8 0 1 9
Tree Pipit 19 0 0 19   Magpie 2 0 0 2
Meadow Pipit 18 0 6 24   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 170 0 45 215   House Sparrow 124 1 13 138
Dunnock 206 0 148 354   Tree Sparrow 79 178 33 290
Robin 207 5 86 298   Chaffinch 388 0 79 467
Nightingale 1 0 7 8   Brambling 11 0 2 13
Redstart 28 0 1 29   Greenfinch 135 0 42 177
Whinchat 41 0 1 42   Goldfinch 208 0 60 268
Stonechat 6 0 0 6   Siskin 31 0 7 38
Wheatear 1 0 0 1   Linnet 259 8 2 269
Blackbird 143 5 98 246   Lesser Redpoll 131 0 40 171
Fieldfare 7 0 0 7   Bullfinch 94 0 38 132
Song Thrush 43 0 20 63   Yellowhammer 324 0 42 366
Redwing 16 0 0 16   Reed Bunting 102 0 53 155
Mistle Thrush 1 0 0 1   Corn Bunting 16 0 1 17
Cetti's Warbler 1 0 0 1   Total: 6599 707 2039 9345

2nd September 2013 - Swindon STW

Once again I couldn’t access my ringing area on the Salisbury Plain so I had to settle for Swindon STW which is not a bad back up site. Weather conditions were fantastic but the ringing was just quite steady with a decent number of Blackcaps and the usual supporting cast. A Tree Pipit flew over calling but failed to grace the nets but then surprise of the day turned up in the form of a juvenile male Cettis Warbler. Cettis Warblers can be sexed on biometrics with males being longer winged and heavier than females with no overlap zone. Cettis Warblers have been really scarce since the cold winters of 2-3 years ago so I hope this one sticks around and starts calling to attract females in.
There was a steady passage of Swallows late in the morning so I went back to site in the evening and played a tape for a Swallow roost and a spectacular flock of 800-1000 Swallows built up. A quick call to Paul and we had a team. We wisely decided against putting up a wader net for the 5 Snipe and 7 Green Sandpipers that were present so we could concentrate on the Swallows. We ended up with 105 new and a control so it will be interesting to learn where that one has come from.
Swallow 105 (1), Blackcap 41 (6 ), Sedge Warbler 12, Reed Warbler 3 (2), Willow Warbler 3, Chiffchaff 5, Garden Warbler 4, Lesser Whitethroat 3, Whitethroat 7 (1)
Cettis Warbler 1, Goldcrest 1, Blackbird 3, Song Thrush 1, Great Tit 3 (1), Blue Tit 2, Robin 2 (1), Dunnock 9 (1), Greenfinch 2, Wren 3
The day total of 210 is pretty impressive and shows just how many birds pass through at this time of year.

1st September 2013 - Salisbury Plain (centre)

With a massive military exercise involving some 8000 troops and several hundred tanks and armoured vehicles training for deployment in Afghanistan we were lucky to be allowed on the ranges today. As it turned out all we saw of the army were two Chinook helicopters practicing landing over a mile away from our site.

After ringing over 1100 birds in August we were hoping to get September off to a good start. The morning was all about numbers, large numbers of birds, and some special totals being passed. Twelve birds into the first net round we reached 40,000 birds ringed on my rings. The lucky bird turned out to be a Garden Warbler. We also reached 100 for Grasshopper Warbler and Tree Pipit, the pipit being the last bird caught. We even managed yet another Redstart making it  onto the list for 11 consecutive trips.

Rather suprisingly, we managed to catch good numbers of warbler species that have usually migrated by now as plenty of Willow, Sedge and Garden Warblers and Whitethroats were still knocking about, some still as 3J's. The most obvious change in species and numbers was seen in the 109 new Blackcaps caught. This species is a dead sucker for a tape lure at this time of year. This day total is nothing new to us and when compared to some counties totals for a whole year that are less than 50 birds I can't understand why more ringers don't take advantage of the bonanza this time of year.

A massive 240 new and 8 retraps made for a great but busy morning. GD/PD/OF

Tree Pipit 1, Robin 7, Redstart 1, Whinchat 2, Blackbird 2, Grasshopper Warbler 4, Sedge Warbler 14, Reed Warbler 3, Lesser Whitethroat 2, Whitethroat 36(2), Garden Warbler 10(1), Blackcap 109(4), Chiffchaff 32, Willow Warbler 12, Great Tit 1, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer 2

Lucky number 40,000


A busy second net round. No time for coffee and biscuits.


Grasshopper Warblers showing differences in plumage colouration