West Wilts Group

Webb's Wood, Sunday 17th January 2016

As the forecast for today was little wind, no real rain, with the chance of a possible snow flurry I decided that we should have a go for Siskin in Webb's Wood. I was joined for the session by Andrew Bray and my friend, Fraser Bell, a C-permit holder currently on a one year contract with the prestigious Edwrd Grey Institute. 

With the onset of colder weather, I set up a feeding station on Thursday, stocked with peanuts, nyjer seed, mixed grains and other seeds.  The hoped for Siskin were heard throughout the morning but, unfortunately, have not yet found the feeding station and, although we had a couple flying around the lures, they were never interested enough to get caught.  I will give it a couple of weeks of feeding the site and try again.

We had a pleasant enough session until some unforecast rain set in, bringing it to a premature end. The list for the day was as follows, New (Retrap): Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch (1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 10(3); Great Tit 5(1); Coal Tit 1(4); Wren 3; Robin 3(1); Blackbird 2(1); Goldcrest 2; Chaffinch (1).  Totals: 28 new from 9 species and 12 retrapped birds from 7 species.

The last bird processed was a fine specimen of an adult male Great Spotted Woodpecker:

170116GRSWO ST / AB / FB

Ravensroost Woods, New Year's Day 2016

After two very frustrating months, with just 5 of 20 planned ringing sessions completed, it was pleasing to get out on New Year's Day to Ravensroost Woods.  I chose Ravensroost because wind was forecast for the morning and it is my most sheltered site.  Because the weather has been so mild, to the point that there are still midges and other insects flying around the wood, I haven't set up feeding stations this winter.  I set feeding stations to supplement the natural food. That feeding stations focus bird activity into a small area, making catching easier, is a fortunate by-product.  Not having them set up did mean that we had a small catch but, with Ellie and Jonny, who joined me for the session, having had little opportunity to practise recently, I was not unhappy with that situation.

Astonishingly, for the first time ever in a session at Ravensroost, no Great or Blue Tits were taken.  The list for the day was, New (Retraps): Treecreeper (1); Long-tailed Tit (5); Wren (1); Dunnock (1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 2(2); Bullfinch (1). Totals: 4 new birds from 3 species and 11 retraps from 6 species.

010116 Goldc ST / EJ / JC

Ravensroost Woods, Sunday, 20th December 2015

After a frustrating month of high winds and rain, which made mist netting virtually impossible, it was a real relief to get out to Ravensroost Woods and set up some nets. I was joined by Jonny Cooper for the session. We set up just two net rides of 72 metres each, in sheltered parts of the wood.  The catch was varied, with the obligatory tit flock arriving at 11:00, just after we had decided to start taking down the nets if there were no birds in them.

The catch for the morning was, New (Retraps): Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit (1); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 4(5); Wren (2); Robin 1(1); Redwing 5; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird (1); Goldcrest 6(3); Bullfinch 7. Totals: 29 new from 9 species and 14 retraps from 6 species.

As well as the catch we had some good birding: three particularly noisy Mistle Thrushes were the highlight for me. Alongside them we saw or heard: Green Woodpecker, Raven, Rook, Carrion Crow, Nuthatch and Sparrowhawk.

The new Robin was an interesting bird: the tertials were fringed with orange.  I have processed nearly 700 of them in the last six-and-a-half years and this is the first time I have seen this plumage variation.  There is usually orange on the greater coverts, in the shape of rose thorns at the tip of the feather in juvenile plumage.  Adults can also have orange tips to the greater coverts, or have none at all, so orange is a normal part of plumage but not on the tertials.  The following photo doesn't do it justice but you can see the rose thorns on five of the greater coverts and the fringing of the tertials:

 Robin wing 2 ST / JC

Somerford Common, Tuesday, 24th November 2015

This morning was spent showing Kate Wollen, assistant ecologist at the Forestry Commission, what work we have been doing on their land.  I chose Somerford Common, as it regularly delivers more diversity than Webb's Wood or Red Lodge.  It was a good choice, with 49 birds from 14 species in a little under 3 hours, before rain put an end to the session.

The list for the day was, New (Retraps): Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 2(1); Coal Tit (3); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 2(2); Dunnock 1; Robin 4; Redwing 4; Blackbird 3; Goldcrest 7(2); Goldfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 2; Bullfinch 6. Totals: 37 new from 11 species and 12 retraps from 7 species.

The retrapped Coal Tts were, unusually, all adult birds, ranging in age from two to four years.  At this time of the year one would expect birds fledged this year to outnumber adults by 2 or 3:1.  For example, of the Goldcrests caught 3 were adults and 6 were juveniles. The two Lesser Redpoll were a good catch, with one being a particularly striking male:


A good catch of Bullfinches just underlines how well these birds have done this year compared to the other results from ringing at Somerford (4 in 2014, 5 in 2013, 21 so far in 2015).  I don't know what the difference is this year but hopefully this trend will continue.  ST

Ravensroost Woods, Sunday, 22nd November 2015

After a frustrating fortnight of high winds and nasty bouts of wet weather it was a massive relief to be able to get out and set some nets in Ravensroost Woods today.  Jonny Cooper and I arrived on site at 6:30 and set our usual three net rides (see previous Ravensroost post).  The Latvian Redwing lure wove its magic and brought in a good number of them plus three Blackbirds, one of which was very clearly a continental male bird.

There was one standout captured bird: the first Firecrest I have seen at Ravensroost since I started birding the site in 1998 and started ringing there in 2009.

2015 11 22 FIREC2015 11 22 FIREC 2

The list for the day was as follows, New (Retraps): Blue Tit 1(2); Great Tit (3); Wren 3(3); Dunnock 1; Robin 3(2); Redwing 16; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 3; Goldcrest 5(1); Firecrest 1; Lesser Redpoll 1; Bullfinch 3(2). Totals: 38 new from 11 species and 13 retraps from 6 species. 

As I have previously disparaged the behaviour of irresponsible dog owners in the wood, it is only fair to mention that we had in the region of 20 dog walkers in the wood this morning: all of whom had their dogs on leads. What is more, they all took a keen interest in our activities and we spent a good extra hour showing people the basics of ringing and telling them about the science it underpins.  Perhaps the Wildlife Trust's new garish green and yellow signs are having the desired effect. ST / JC

The Firs, Sunday, 8th November 2015

After a busy summer and autumn with project work and autumn migration, this was the first visit to the Firs for nearly 6 months and it turned out to be a memorable session. I was joined by Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper for the morning. We had the expected catch of Blue and Great Tits but they were outnumbered by the catch of Goldcrests, which is always a nice result.  However, the prize catch of the morning was two new Marsh Tits: an adult and a juvenile.

I started my Marsh Tit colour ringing project three years ago and the first one caught and processed was in the Firs on the 5th September 2012. Since then I have seen neither hide nor feather of another Marsh Tit at the site until this session.  These were the 50th and 51st colour ringed birds of the project (I have one more that was ringed at Brown's Farm, but that is outside of the scope of the project being south of Marlborough and not in the Braydon Forest.)


The results so far, in the table below, show that the number of new birds ringed each year, since the opening burst in 2012, is largely consistent, with the number of birds retrapped increasing since the winter of 2012 / 2013 as milder winters have possibly helped more birds survive




















Hopefully this means that the Braydon Forest population is maintaining itself. With the expansion of Ravensroost Woods being undertaken by the Nationwide Building Society, in collaboration with, and for the benefit of, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the conversion of the eastern side of Somerford Common to a mixed woodland of native species, perhaps over the next decade or so there will be an opportunity for the number of territories to expand further.

The list for the day was as follows, New (Retraps): Blue Tit 9(2); Great Tit 9(1); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit 2; Wren 4(1); Robin 1; Redwing 1; Goldcrest 11. Totals: 38 new from 8 species and 4 retraps from 3 species.

The Firs is a small reserve and, at this time of the year, fully deserves its local epithet: the Braydon Bog.  There is plenty of boardwalk around the worst parts and whilst we were there the Conservation Volunteers turned up and set to maintaining and clearing the pathways.  There has been a lot of work opening up the central glade for butterflies and other insects and it is well worth a visit on warm sunny days in the summer. ST / EJ / JC


Webb's Wood, Saturday, 31st October 2015

Jonny Cooper and I had a quiet session at Webb's Wood today.  I chose Webb's because it has extensive tracts of beech trees which, according to BWP, is a favourite of Brambling.  Having seen that there are Brambling around, from the Sightings section of the web-site, it seemed like a good idea to see if there were any at Webb's. There weren't.

Early on there was considerable vocalisation from both male and female Tawny Owls establishing their territorial credentials. There was also considerable noise from Jays as they chased around the wood. The birds came in one main tranche at 7:30, and then smaller catches at 8:30 and 9:30 with the odd bird in between. Redwing maintained their now regular appearances: of about 20 flying around we managed to catch 4.   The list for the day was as follows, New (Retraps): Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 1(2); Coal Tit 2(2); Long-tailed Tit (8); Wren 2; Robin 2(1); Redwing 4; Goldcrest 3; Lesser Redpoll 1. Totals: 20 new from 8 species and 13 retraps from 4 species.

There was still no sign of Siskin but another Lesser Redpoll and three Goldcrest were nice catches.

311015ST / JC

Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 28th October 2015

A misty start to the morning at Lower Moor meant that there was little bird movement early on but a couple of Redwing flew out of the murk and into our net whilst visibility was poor.  As the weather cleared more birds dropped in and we ended up with a reasonable catch.  I was joined for the day by my trainee, and the reserve manager, Ellie Jones. She brought along her trainee Amy Millard and we were joined by Andrew Bray, who fitted this session in, in a gap between his jaunts around the world.

 The highlight of the catch was the fattest Blackcap I have ever seen.  It weighed in at 26.9g - we double-checked the weight as it was so extraordinary. As Blackcaps prepare for migration, 20g birds are not unexceptional but not this heavy.  After discussion with others on the Ringers' forum on Facebook, it is most likely a bird that fledged in the UK but has been held back by adverse winds and, as there are still plentiful supplies of berries available, it has taken advantage of the abundance and just laid down massive amounts of fat.  It was queried when I entered the data into the recording software as it is outside of the expected parameters.  I think the photo shows just how dumpy the bird is (does it actually have a double chin?):


The list for the session was, New (Retrap): Blue Tit 4(2); Great Tit 2(3); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 1(1); Dunnock (2); Robin (4); Redwing 7; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 4; Blackcap 1; Goldcrest 1(2); Goldfinch 7; Chaffinch 2; Bullfinch 3. Totals: 34 new from 12 species and 15 retraps from 7 species.

Several of my nets have been sharing a field in the wildlife refuge area with a small flock of sheep.  The sheep have done a great job of grazing the field, to the point that they have taken to walking into Mallard Lake and out into other areas of the reserve looking for better feed.  To ensure their safety, we played sheep drover and between the four of us moved them into the field adjacent to the cattle round house.  The first ten were beautifully behaved and made the journey quickly and easily. It took two goes to get the larger group of 20 round - they didn't want to walk past the nets, so we had to wait until after take down before we could move them.  They did their best to walk to the field through every hedge lining the way but got there eventually.  The only down-side: I won't be setting my Meadow Pipit net triangle there any time soon.

Andrew's highlight was his first sighting of the local Otters.  Rumour has it that some anglers (not the decent people that manage the fishery and run the angling club but some unsavoury characters with no sense of proportion) have been heard threatening to "deal" with them.  Having watched so many huge trout leaping from the water at every ringing session and the abundance of Herons, Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes, which feed on the different sizes of fish available, suggest that the Otters are not having a massively deleterious effect on the fish stocks - there are only a maximum of four of them after all. Perhaps the Otters are just first on their hit list. ST / EJ / AB / AM