West Wilts Group

Wood Lane, Wednesday, 23rd March 2016

The landowner of my Wood Lane site contacted me to let me know that there were still good numbers of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll coming to the feeders in her garden. With a good weather forecast for the day, Jonny Cooper and I set up to test the situation. The site is fed all year round with peanuts and nyjer seed and, as a result, it has a large resident population of titmice. To avoid being inundated with titmice, we initially set our nets close to the nyjer seed feeders and between two newish copses (trees about 3m tall) 150m from the feeding station.

About 10:00, as the numbers of other birds decreased at the other nets, we set a couple of nets close to the peanut feeders: instantly we had our hands full with Blue, Great and Coal Tits. We emptied the nets and closed them again - we weren't looking for that much hard work!

The list for the session was as follows: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 22(5); Great Tit 4(1); Coal Tit 5; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 1(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 3; Blackbird (1); Goldcrest 4(1); Chaffinch 4; Goldfinch 11(1); Lesser Redpoll 3(1); Siskin 9(1); Greenfinch 1. Totals: 69 new from 13 species and 13 retrapped birds from 9 species.

As the list shows, we had both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll in the catch: particularly good numbers of Siskin. The retrapped bird was one we ringed in Webb's Wood in February: not a long distance and, with the site backing onto the wood, not really surprising. However, we also retrapped a Goldfinch that is not fitted with one of my rings. Z731223 - I shall look forward to finding out where it has come from.

A fair proportion of the birds are showing signs of coming into breeding condition: particularly the males. No doubt the need to establish territories and increasing day length has boosted their testosterone levels, prompting the early development of the cloacal protuberance.  However, a couple of the female Siskin were starting to defeather their bellies: a necessary precursor for brooding eggs and young.

Male & Female Siskin:


Male Lesser Redpoll:

230316LESRE ST / JC

Lower Moor Farm, Monday, 21st March 2016

With a fine forecast for this morning, and with Jonny being on holiday from UWE (the joys of being a student: like being retired but with more energy and less money), we went for a session at Lower Moor Farm. It was a good session: we had our first Chiffchaffs of the year, two Kingfishers: one new plus a retrapped adult male ringed last year and a pair of Nuthatch.


The list for the day was as follows: Kingfisher 1(1); Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit (2); Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 2(2); Wren 1(2); Dunnock 1(2); Robin 1(2); Song Thrush 1(1); Blackbird 2; Chiffchaff 6; Goldcrest 1. Totals: 19 ringed from 11 species and 13 retrapped from 8 species.  The retrapped Kingfisher was a first for me: we have ringed 7 at Lower Moor Farm since August 2014: 2 adult males and 5 juveniles but this is the first one to be recovered.

The only slight disappointment was that we set a triangular net set with a lure to target Meadow Pipits. It worked, inasmuch as two of them turned up. One sat on the string at the top of one of the nets, another sat atop one of the poles: neither dropped in to visit. You can't win them all! ST / JC 

Red Lodge, Saturday, 19th March 2016

It has been a long time since I have been ringing at the Forestry Commisssion's Red Lodge Plantation.  Throughout 2015 contractors were on site thinning / harvesting the Beech woods and they were out of bounds whilst the work was ongoing.  On my last visit the birds had clearly been disturbed by the activity and were giving the area a wide berth. This time round it was a good catch - even if it was almost exclusively birds with the last name Tit.

Whilst setting up the ringing station I was delighted to hear the call of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I saw it in the top of one of the trees that surround the pond. When I heard one again from a different part of the wood a little later, I just assumed that it was the same individual. However, when the bird started drumming and got an answer from a different section of the wood I recognised that there must have been two birds. When a third started up I couldn't quite believe it.  Last year they were heard and seen all over the Braydon Forest - and a family party was seen by Andrew Denley on the edge of Ravensroost Woods.  Hopefully, with these mild winters, we might be gaining a decent sized Braydon Forest population.

Later in the morning, at about 10:00, a flock of 50 or more Redwing flew through the wood from the fields between Red Lodge and White Lodge. Unfortunately, I had thought they had started their migration north, so did not have the appropriate lure to attract them down.

The list for the day was fairly limited in species but worthwhile all the same: Blue Tit 15(4); Great Tit 10(1); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit 2(2); Long-tailed Tit 3(3); Wren 1; Robin (1); Blackbird 4; Goldcrest 2. Totals: 38 new from 8 species and 11 retraps from 5 species.

The key value of the catch were the 4 Marsh Tits: 2 new birds, and a retrapped fledgling and adult ringed last year. As often happens, I spent a considerable amount of time chatting, and explaining / showing what I do when ringing, with various people who passed by. One of the passers-by lived in one of the houses on the edge of the wood and was happy to share that he had seen one of my colour-ringed Marsh Tits on the feeders in his garden this winter. The bird in question was originally ringed as an adult in late December 2012, making it likely more than 4 years old - a reasonable age for a Marsh Tit which, according to the BTO's Bird facts, lives for only 2 years on average (although the oldest recorded lived over 10 years). ST

Tedworth House, Wednesday, 16th March 2016

Another cracking session at Tedworth House today. As usual, not many birds caught but a star species not often caught: Mistle Thrush. At first I was little disappointed to find that the bird I extracted was the Mistle Thrush caught and ringed in our session last May. However, that changed when about 30 minutes later I extracted another from the same net, in virtually the same position as the first. This bird was a bird that fledged last year which, on closer inspection, was showing a clear cloacal protuberance, i.e. it was a male. The exciting thing (apart from the novelty of ringing my second Mistle Thrush, the third on my rings (I gave the aforementioned retrapped bird to Andrew Bray to ring when we first trapped it last May, as he had never previously processed one)) is that we have a male and a female Mistle Thrush inhabiting the same patch of woodland. The female from last year already had a developing brood patch. Hopefully they will nest and successfully raise a brood. It is a declining species, being red listed because of its reducing numbers and contracting range in the UK, so any potential breeding is very welcome. Very few have been ringed in Wiltshire over the years: only 5 adults and 2 juveniles between 2007 and 2014 (on-line records from the BTO web-site) and no retrapped individuals.  Had I known that retrapped Mistle Thrushes are non-existent over those years (I don't have access to the 2015 data yet), I would have been even more excited by the catches made.


Dave Turner was leading a work party from the Amey Pathfinder group and they were delighted to make the close acquaintance of a Mistle Thrush and, contrastingly, a Goldcrest.  The list for the day was: Blue Tit 2; Coal Tit (3); Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 1; Robin 1; Blackbird 1(1); Mistle Thrush 1(1); Goldcrest 1(1). Totals: 9 new from 7 species and 6 retraps from 4 species.

Jack Daw is a stalwart of the BTO's nest record scheme, spending hours every year monitoring breeding birds on Salisbury Plain and ringing nestlings.  He is working at Tedworth House these days, and is going to take on the task of finding and monitoring the nests at this site. There is a large number of bird boxes that have been put up around the wood but, of course, many species of bird do not use boxes, and Jack has the skills to find and monitor these other nests. This will add tremendous value to the information about the birdlife at Tedworth.  

Thanks to Dave and Jack for helping me set up the nets this morning - and an extra thank you to Dave for the very welcome bacon sandwich at 9:15 this morning. ST

Brown's Farm, Saturday, 12th March 2016

For a number of reasons, beyond the control of all parties, this was our first session on Brown's Farm since September of last year.  I was joined by Jonny Cooper and we had a quiet, but enjoyable, session.  It looks like a lot of the finch flocks have broken up to pair for breeding already. We do not feed the site during the winter, as it is out of bounds due to the pheasant / partridge shoot business the farmer runs, so we are dependent on the birds taking advantage of the game cover and feed - most of which has already been removed, with the new borders starting to grow but not yet productive.   

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 4(1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 3; Linnet 1; Yellowhammer 5. Totals: 19 new birds from 9 species and 1 retrap.

The most surprising bird of the morning was the Treecreeper.  We caught it in a net set along the hedgerow bordering the track (the red one on the photograph below) a long way from any woodland.  It was a juvenile, presumably looking for a territory of its own.

Browns 120316

 The Linnet was an adult female:


One of the Blackbirds was developing an overgrown bill tip:


Bill problems are quite common in Blackbirds. This is a very mild one but, if we retrap the bird later, it will be interesting to see whether it has overgrown further. ST / JC

Nationwide Building Society Family Day, Saturday, 5th March 2016

The Nationwide Building Society are generously funding an expansion of Ravensroost Wood: not only providing the trees but seconding their staff to work under the direction of the Wildlife Trust to plant them. The yellow shading on the photograph below shows the planting areas. It covers about 20 acres of wet, and relatively unproductive, meadow. The planting is a mix of native deciduous trees, with an emphasis on blackthorn, which will benefit the Brown Hairstreak butterflies special to the site.  There are also two willow beds that have been fenced off to protect them from being nibbled by deer.  There will be a number of open glades, to encourage the butterflies, and a couple of rides through the area, where I will be able to set nets. The new planting has been named Ravens' Retreat and new signage has been provided.  I am looking forward to seeing the impact of the new planting on the birdlife as it matures.

Ravens Retreat

The latest tranche of planting took place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week. Saturday was designated as a family day for all of those who had worked on the project.  In essence, their spouses and children had an opportunity to come along and plant some trees alongside their partner / parent. In order to make it fun and not just work, free food and drinks were available for breakfast (great sausage, bacon and egg bap - thanks Ellie) and a barbecue style lunch. A band played throughout the lunch period and well into the afternoon.  The Trust provided a wide range of activities for the children, including willow weaving, a scavenger hunt and making items like pagan head-dresses and Mother's Day cards. Robin Griffiths, the volunteer Reserve Warden, took groups on nature walks through the woods and around the ponds, and these were very well received.  

So what has this got to do with bird ringing? Well, I was asked to run a ringing demonstration throughout the day.  On Thursday morning I set up a couple of feeding stations in the northern corners of the field and we set our nets close to them. I knew that meant that we would catch mainly titmice but, whilst I might have processed over 5,000 titmice, the people coming along on Saturday will never have seen them up so close and personal.  I was joined by Jonny Cooper for the morning.

As the event wasn't scheduled to start until 10:30, we had a bit of a lie-in, meeting up at 8:00 to set the nets, and opening them at 9:30. We processed 42 birds, 29 new and 13 retraps: Blue Tit 21(7); Great Tit 6(4); Coal Tit 1(1); Wren 1(1). 

While setting up we were treated to a couple of Lesser Redpoll, a Reed Bunting and half a dozen Dunnocks in the hedgerows close to our nets: it is a shame we didn't catch any.  We had a steady stream of people coming along to see the birds and, over the course of the day, there must have been nigh on one hundred people, including 40 or more children, who got closer to these birds they see in their garden than they have ever done before. Jonny did most of the work and I did most of the talking: playing to our strengths as usual. It worked.

I have always been pleasantly surprised at how well received these demonstrations are but, throughout the entire day, we had positive comments and tremendous enthusiasm from the attendees.  Both Robin and I had fantastic feedback from the Trust staff at the end, as they relayed what they had heard from the attendees.

A big thank you to Robin, Ellie and Pete for helping me to pack away at the end. It was much appreciated, Jonny having had to leave early afternoon.  For more information on the Ravensroost complex follow the link below:


ST / JC.

Firecrest in Ravensroost Woods

For anybody who has seen the recumbent Firecrest in the latest edition of WOS News, this is the proper orientation of the bird:

2015 11 22 FIREC

Tedworth House, Wednesday, 24th February 2016

Having had to cancel last week's session at Tedworth House because of strong winds and light rain, I rescheduled for this morning at 6:30. With Dave Turner, Jack Daw and Andrew Bray along to help set up, we had the nets up and open within the hour.  With some new, squirrel-proof feeders in place and seed on the open tables, we managed a good catch for the site.

The undoubted highlight was catching HLV277, a Firecrest, for the third time at Tedworth. It is so used to being photographed, I am sure it is posing for the camera now:


Dave and Jack had to go and do the work they are paid to do, leaving Andrew and myself to manage the nets for the rest of the morning.  The list for the session was, as follows, New (Retraps): Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 3; Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 1(1); Robin 1(1); Blackbird 1(1); Goldcrest (2); Firecrest (1). Totals: 14 new from 7 species and 8 retraps from 6 species.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the day revolved around breeding behaviour and condition.  The Ravens were very vocal all morning, with the female on the nest for most of the session, constantly calling, and the male making regular flights around the grounds, with the odd bark thrown in for good measure. At one point both male and female did a circuit of the grounds but, with her spending so much time on the nest, we thought she was probably already on eggs. This is as expected for this species at this time of year. We hope to ring the pulli in a few weeks. We were treated to a duet from two male Mistle Thrush at either side of the wood, with one of them flying around the car park area where our ringing station was set up.  Having ringed an adult female there last Spring, hopefully this increasingly uncommon thrush will be breeding at Tedworth this year. 

However, what was really noteworthy were a pair (and I use the word deliberately) of Blue Tits. We saw three of them flitting around one of the nest boxes and some aggressive interaction before two flew off and got caught in the net. When processed, both were found to be coming into breeding condition: the male had a developing cloacal protuberance and the female had just started to defeather her brood patch.  This is surprising given that Blue Tits generally lay their clutches during April and May. Both were birds that fledged last year: perhaps the mild winter weather has disrupted their hormones and put them out of sequence.

We caught some good birds for showing to the lads who were attending Tedworth today.  They fitted a trip to our ringing station in between their yoga class and their horticulture class. Luckily we had Goldcrest and Nuthatch to hand to show them.  They did miss our rather stunning adult male Great Spotted Woodpecker, as they were still in the lotus position when we were processing it:

 20160224GRSWO ST / AB/ DT / JD