West Wilts Group

Newport Wetlands, Friday, 19th February 2016

Jonny and I have been helping with a project being carried out by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, in conjunction with the BTO, to monitor the movements of certain species of wader and wildfowl visiting the Newport Wetlands area.  Newport Wetlands was created as a reserve to make up for the loss of the mudflats and feeding grounds resulting from the Cardiff Bay barrage and associated works.  Birds have been caught using cannon nets and 15 specimens from each target species have been fitted with UHF transmitters. These are being used to map the movements of the birds around the area: some Shelduck have already been found to have moved across the Severn Estuary to the north Gloucestershire side and back again. It looks like some interesting information is already coming out of the project.

Yesterday I was part of a group setting out for a cannon netting session focusing on Teal and Wigeon.  We didn’t get to fire, as the duck never settled in sufficient numbers to warrant the firing, so we arranged to meet again this morning.  Yesterday wasn't a write off: there were half-a-dozen Cetti's Warbler singing in and around the hedgerows and reed bed.  There was a particularly fine Little Egret wading along the edge of the water. It was sporting a lovely set of head plumes.  As the area we were working in is not open to the public the kit could be left in place overnight. As luck would have it, we got a firing off an hour after we arrived.

We caught 4 x Canada Goose; 1 x Coot; 17 x Wigeon and 19 x Teal. 15 of the Teal and 16 of the Wigeon were fitted with UHF transmitters.  You can see the antenna from one of the transmitters on the back of the bird below.

 190216 Teal

I got to ring one of the Canada Geese, the Coot, 2 of the Teal and 4 of the Wigeon.  In so doing, I added 3 new species to my ringing list (I have done Teal before) and am now on 96 species ringed.

There could be a few confused birders over the next few weeks.  As you might notice, this bird has a yellow front.  All of the tagged birds were painted with Picric Acid, which dries bright yellow.  There has already been some feedback about Shelduck with yellow-necks on the WWT blog (Jonny ringed 18 of them on a previous cannon netting session), which were given the same treatment.

The Coot was given to me to do because I had expressed the opinion that they could not be worse to handle than Moorhens .  Well, I was right. The Coot, despite its intensely aggressive nature, was actually very easy to work with and a couple of the older, more experienced hands were clearly disappointed that I got away without damage to my person and without being covered in copious amounts of Coot poo.

The Canada Goose was very strong, and  needed controlling whilst being processed.  I used the Mute Swan method of controlling a large bird – and, essentially, sat on it.  Whilst I was a little concerned about exactly where the head and bill were positioned, no damage ensued to either party, we both retained our dignity, and it was successfully processed.  They are large birds, with a lot of guano storage capability. As with the the Coot, I was able to avoid the inevitable spray of Canada Goose guano as I released it: the only one who ringed a Canada Goose who managed to avoid that fate. I guess I must be lucky. ST

Lower Moor Farm, Tuesday, 16th February 2016

With the rest of the week set for high winds and rain, Andrew Bray and myself took advantage of the one decent day forecast for this week to run a session at Lower Moor Farm. We had a very small catch: just 20 birds before the wind got up and we had to take down, but when the second bird you extract is a cracking adult male Kingfisher, it has to be a good session. A couple of male Bullfinches are always a nice catch as well.

We had quite a few people stop by to see what we were doing: all were delighted to get a close look at some common birds.  This included a work party of teachers, spending some of their half-term working with the Wildlife Trust. Surprisingly, the Kingfisher ringed first thing made another appearance, much to the delighjt of the assembled educators.  Hopefully they will go back and enthuse their pupils with their experiences. Too much serious natural history is populated by old fogeys like me and new blood is needed.

The list for the morning was, New (Retraps): Kingfisher 1; Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 3(1); Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren (1); Dunnock (3); Robin (4); Song Thrush 1; Bullfinch 1(1). Totals: 9 new from 7 species and 11 retraps from 6 species.

When weighing birds, small birds are generally popped head first into a pot (something like a 35mm film canister), whilst larger birds are weighed in bags suspended from a spring balance. Kingfishers are rather different, as you can see from the photograph below:


They seem quite happy to just lie there whilst you weigh them. Also, you can see from the photograph above that the feet and legs are orange, with no brown skin on the front surface. This identifies it as being an adult bird. In the photograph below you can see that both mandibles are entirely black. This is a characteristic of it being a male bird. Females have two-thirds of the lower mandible orange. 


Whilst it is a privilege to be licensed to handle the birds and to take photographs close up; there is still something more special about taking a close up photograph of an unrestrained wild bird. One of the male Bullfinches, once processed, decided to spend a few minutes in our company, giving a lovely opportunity to photograph it:


Soon after setting up, we were treated to a spectacle I certainly haven't seen before. Ravens are nesting now, their young will fledge sometime later in March, and the parents are maintaining their territories. We heard some Raven vocalisations and watched as one Raven very obviously harried another, chasing it out of its territory, before returning back the way it came.  It was a fascinating interaction.  We also had lovely views of a flock of some 25 Lapwing wheeling around Mallard Lake and then heading off towards Clattinger Farm. ST / AB

Webb's Wood, Saturday, 13th February 2016

With the forecast for this morning being for the weather to be drying between 6:00 and 8:00 and then staying dry until lunchtime, with reasonable wind speeds, I decided on a woodland session. As I was being joined by Jonny alone, I gave him the choice of where to go. As he hadn't done Siskin, he chose Webb's Wood.  The forecast did not play out as expected: the wind spent most of the session coming from the west, but it was cold enough that it had to be easterly in origin. Perhaps the wind was being funnelled along and around the tracks of the wood.  Equally, the showers remained intermittent all morning and we ended the session early as rain started to become more persistent at about 9:45 and continued throughout most of the day.  Despite the weather, we had a reasonable session and Jonny got to process his first Siskin.

Of interest, we retrapped a Great Tit, ring number VZ86483, which is not one of my rings. With the retrapping of the bird from Lower Moor Farm on Saturday, and now this bird which has moved a significant distance (the nearest sites to mine are either Waterhay (~14km, John Wells) or Swindon Sewage Works (~12km, Matt Prior)) the Handbook of the Birds of the Western Palearctic might have to rewrite the piece that says "P. m. newtoni of Britain and Ireland seldom moves far. Post-fledging dispersal in Oxford area (Southern England) is generally measured in hundreds of metres". As well as the controlled Great Tit, we retrapped a 3 year old Coal Tit from my second ever session on the site.

The list for the morning was, New (Retrap): Blue Tit 2(7); Great Tit (5); Coal Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 1; Chaffinch 2; Siskin 4(1). Totals: 9 new from 4 species and 15 retraps from 4 species. ST / JC

Somerford Common, Thursday 11th February 2016

Yesterday I tried for a session at the Firs but, after over 2 hours, infrequent showers and only 2 birds (retrapped Blue Tits, if you are interested), I packed up and went home.  Thankfully none of my trainees had been available to get a harsh lesson in the variability of ringing sessions.  It was with some trepidation, knowing that I had Ellie and Jonny with me for the session, that I headed for Somerford Common at 6:20 this morning. I needn't have worried: the site delivered, as it always does.

The weather was perfect: flat calm, crisp and dry, with the sun gradually warming the site up.  It was clear, from the extensive damage to the main ride at the southern end of the site, that the local hunt has been through the wood recently. The ride is now pocked with deep holes, where the weight of many horses and riders have sunk into the rain sodden substrate.  These were frozen when we arrived, making walking more difficult than it need be and, as the ground thawed in the warming sunshine, more mucky than necessary.

The list for the day was as follows, New (Retrap): Blue Tit 12(4); Great Tit 8(9); Marsh Tit (3); Coal Tit 1(3); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren (2); Robin 1(1); Redwing 1; Blackbird 1; Lesser Redpoll 10(2).  Totals:  34 new from 7 species and 26 retraps from 8 species.

As well as the list above, we caught 4 Chaffinch. Unfortunately, all four were showing signs of Fringilla Papiloma Virus. One of them was particularly badly affected. It is a shame: I don't remember seeing any examples of it last year and was hoping that the levels were dropping away. 

On a much brighter note, one of the Great Tits that we caught was originally ringed at Lower Moor Farm on the 10th September 2015.  What drew my attention to it was that the database into which I enter my records automatically flagged it as a Control (i.e. a bird that has moved a significant distance from where it was first ringed).  This bird has moved about 20km to get to Somerford Common.  According to the half dozen sources I have looked at, this is a most unusual movement for a Great Tit.  I regularly have them moving between sites in the Braydon Forest but this is quite a journey.

We had a good catch of Lesser Redpoll; 10 new and 2 retraps that were ringed as juveniles on the site: one on the 13th October and the other on the 24th November last year. One of the new birds was a particularly fine adult male:


We caught 3 retrapped Marsh Tits: 2 from last year's broods and one that was originally ringed in autumn 2013 as an adult.  A final postscript: about noon we started to take down.  As usual, we closed the nets before starting the clear away  As we approached the final (closed) net ride, by the feeding station, there was a lovely male Siskin feeding on the nyjer seed.  Neither Ellie nor Jonny have yet ringed Siskin and had the net been open one of them would have had their first.  Mind, both were disappointed, as opposed to one being disappointed and the other being resentful (I jest, my crew are good people - they would have been fighting to give the opportunity each to the other). ST / EJ / JC

Webb's Wood, Wednesday, 3rd February 2016

With the weather set to become wet and windy again (until next Wednesday), and was forecast to be dry but breezy today, I decided to have a go in one of the woodland sites this morning. Whilst topping up the feeding stations yesterday Somerford Common was hosting good numbers of Lesser Redpoll, and Webb's Wood had lots of Siskin. Having missed out on Siskin completely in 2015 Webb's was the obvious choice. I set 3 x 12m nets, one through the middle of the feeding station and the other two guarding the approaches. To improve the odds of catching Siskin, I set an MP3 of Siskin song playing next to the nyjer seed feeder and, because it seems to bring them in from miles away, I put an MP3 of Redwing on one of the approach nets.  To be honest, a couple of Siskin were in the trees near the feeder before I put the lure on, but it did the job - as did the Redwing lure.

The list for the day was as follows, New (Retrap): Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 13(5); Great Tit 4(6); Coal Tit 1(4); Robin 2(2); Redwing 6; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1; Siskin 11; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 41 new from 10 species and 17 retraps from 4 species.

The Siskin were predominantly male, with a single female in the catch. I don't know if the males were responding to the lure as some sort of territorial response but, given the time of the year and the location, I doubt it. I frequently find Goldcrest in largely single-sex flocks, and perhaps this is the same with Siskin, or perhaps it is just totally coincidental. 


With the wind getting stronger by 11:30 I closed the nets and packed up for the day.

A footnote to the session: whilst I was in the woods, Jonny Cooper was out with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust team cannon-netting for Shelduck.  After a considerable wait they had a successful fire, catching some 35 Shelduck. Jonny was lucky enough to ring 18 of them.  They have been fitted with satellite tags, to enable their movement to be tracked - of course, I am not at all envious.

Shelduck HeadShelduck Transmitter ST

Lower Moor Farm, Saturday, 23rd January 2016

The first visit of 2016 to Lower Moor Farm proved nicely productive. I was joined by Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper for the morning.  The highlight was the first four Lesser Redpoll ringed by my crew on the site. Hard on its heels was the catch of four Song Thrush, taking our year's total to seven already. Hopefully this will presage another strong showing for this declining species this year.

The list was as follows, New (Retraps): Blue Tit 3(4); Great Tit 3(3); Long-tailed Tit (7); Wren 1(3); Dunnock (1); Robin (3); Redwing 1; Song Thrush 3(1); Blackbird 4; Goldcrest 1; Lesser Redpoll 4; Bullfinch 4; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 25 new birds from 10 species and 22 retraps from 7 species.

The Long-tailed Tits were all retraps: with three of them, taken from the same net ride, sporting sequential ring numbers. All three were ringed as juveniles last June, suggesting that this a family group that has stuck together to forage for food over the winter.

One non-ringing highlight was a stunning male Goodander on Mallard Lake. We had great views as it dived time and again. Unfortunately, the wind got up at about 10:30 and showed no sign of abating, and with mist coming off the lake the temperature dropped and the birds stopped moving, so we closed the session early.  ST / EJ / JC

Steeple Langford Lakes, Thursday, 21st January 2016

For the second year running the West Wilts group were asked to run a small ringing demonstration for the new trainees working for a number of local Wildlife Trusts (Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Dorset), as part of their education programme. Mike Hamzij, Rob Turner and Andrew Bray ran the session, which was much appreciated by the trainees.

With just two nets set around a feedind station the catch was not extensive, but provided plenty of interest for the trainees.  The list for the session was, New (Retrapped): Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 12(3); Great Tit 4(2); Wren 1; Robin 1(1); Blackbird 1; Chaffinch 1(1). Totals:  21 new from 7 species and 7 retraps from 4 species. MH / RT / AB

West Wilts Ringing Group Totals 2015

2015 was an interesting year: spoilt only by the windy washout that was November and December.  It started on a personal milestone when, in March, I was awarded my A-permit and endorsement to become a trainer.  In short order I also found myself with three trainees: Ellie Jones; Jonny Cooper and Daniela Diveney.  My trainer, Dr Ian Grier, having helped me get to my A-permit, took on Andy Palmer as a trainee. So the group grew by four new and willing sets of hands.

From a ringing perspective there were a few highlights: my top one being the first ever Grasshopper Warbler seen at Blakehill Farm, which was caught on the morning of the 26th September.  It was, of course, in no way eclipsed by the first Woodchat Shrike to be found on the site about 2 hours after we had packed up for the day.  Other notable days at Blakehill were: the catch of 7 Whinchat that Andrew Bray and I took on the 28th August, three more of the species than had previously been seen at the site and a catch of 69 Goldfinches taken on the 20th September with Jonny Cooper.  With that catch we just stood and watched as bird after bird burrowed straight into the net. When you add in the 22 Swallows and Jonny's first Stonechat, that was a stellar session.

Tedworth House turned up trumps yet again: not many birds but some goodies. Andrew Bray joined me again, for a session on the 13th May, and got to ring both a Sparrowhawk and a Mistle Thrush.  Other highlights were: a male Mallard surprisingly caught in one of my passerine nets;  a lovely Kestrel and, perhaps the most significant catch, a retrapped Firecrest, originally ringed there in December 2014 and recaught on the 14th October. I know that another Firecrest was trapped nearby by Jack Daw. Perhaps there is a small population resident in the area, further catches in the next year or two will help establish whether this is the nucleus or a lucky happenstance?

Full Grown Pulli Retraps Total
Mallard 1 1
Sparrowhawk 2 2
Kestrel 1 1
Lapwing 8 8
Woodpigeon 4 4
Collared Dove 1 1
Kingfisher 6 6
Green Woodpecker 1 1
Great Spotted
6 8 14
Swallow  52  52
House Martin   6  6
Meadow Pipit  18  1  19
Pied/White Wagtail  1  1
Wren  214  91  305
Dunnock  133  75  208
Robin  241  104  345
Redstart  5 5
Whinchat  7 7
Stonechat  1  1
Blackbird   176  70  246
Fieldfare  1  1
Song Thrush  43  11  54
Redwing   69  69
Mistle Thrush 1  1
Cetti's Warbler 6 6
Grasshopper Warbler  1  1
Sedge Warbler  3  1  4
Reed Warbler   15  3  18
Lesser Whitethroat  24  4  28
Whitethroat   41  3 44
Garden Warbler   60  14 74
Blackcap  464  74 538
Chiffchaff   371  83  454
Willow Warbler   71  6  77
Goldcrest  142  20  162
Firecrest  1  1  2
Long-tailed Tit  214  105  319
Marsh Tit   12  23  35
Coal Tit   59  40  99
Blue Tit   557  183  740
Great Tit   278 102  380
Nuthatch  15  5  20
Treecreeper   34  21 55
Jay   10  1 11
Magpie   3  3
Rook   1 1
Starling   60  8 68
House Sparrow   32  32
Chaffinch  79  8  87
Greenfinch 66 2 68
Goldfinch   303  20  323
Linnet 108 108
Lesser Redpoll 11 11
Bullfinch 80 9 89
Yellowhammer 17 17
Reed Bunting 33 17 50
Totals: 4161 8 1109 5278