West Wilts Group

Lower Moor Farm: Saturday, 29th June 2017, CES 6

Jonny Cooper, Andrew Bray and myself carried out CES 6 on Saturday.  We had planned to do it on Wednesday but the rain put paid to that. I would complain, but my pond and garden needs the rain badly.  When I first put the ringing schedule together, I scheduled several sessions at Lower Moor Farm on a Saturday, so that all of my trainees could become involved in the CES.  However, at our first Saturday session we had a particularly unpleasant interaction with a couple walking their dog.  The female of the pair has regularly made her disdain for bird ringing obvious, very loudly and unpleasantly and with no interest in understanding why we do it.  This last time she was with her husband, which resulted in me being threatened with violence (twice) by him so, as the BTO frowns upon ringers responding in kind, and insists we remain polite, we reluctantly rescheduled all of the sessions back to midweek, to minimise the risk of a repeat.  I didn't blog about it at the time but, as it has negatively impacted upon the opportunities for my trainees, and it highlights that there is still a lot of ignorance about ringing in the wider world, it shouldn't be ignored.

It was a smaller catch than in the equivalent session last year. The difference in number was almost entirely down to our catching a big brood of Blackbirds in that session and not doing so this year.  However, the make up of the catch this year was very different from last year with Chiffchaff being the dominant species this year, compared with Blackcap, Willow Warbler and the aforementioned Blackbirds last year.  

The list for the session was: Great Tit 3; Wren 5; Dunnock 2(1); Robin 5(1); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 3(2); Garden Warbler 2; Whitethroat (1); Lesser Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff 17(1); Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 40 ringed from 10 species, eight retrapped from seven species, making 48 ringed from 13 species.

Again, there was a good number of juvenile birds, primarily the Chiffchaffs, with 15 juveniles, Robin (6); Wren (4); Great Tit (3); Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Dunnock with two each and Willow Warbler with one.  Whilst it is definitely a better year already for juvenile birds, it has clearly not all been plain sailing. One of the juvenile Great Tits had a huge fault bar:

2017 07 01GRETI

It won't be long before those feathers break away.  Funnily enough, the highlight of the session was mammalian.  I had just closed up the nets in the Heronry ride and as I was returning to the ringing station saw Jonny fixated on the stream that divides Wiltshire from Gloucestershire. He pointed out that there was a Water Shrew busily foraging on the stream edge.  We had excellent views through binoculars for a few minutes. Unfortunately, I tried to get a photograph and, on the first click of the camera, it made a run up the bank and out of sight. It was a very satisfying few minutes but I had to apologise to Jonny for ruining the occasion. ST/JC/AB

Ravensroost Woods: Saturday, 24th June & Monday, 26th June 2017

Saturday, Jonny and I carried out a session at Ravensroost. We had the nets all set and open by 6:00: just in time for the rain to threaten. After an hour of very light drizzle the sky cleared and the weather conditions were pretty well perfect for ringing: dull light, low wind and dry.  The wind got up a bit at about 10:30 and we packed up at the planned finish time of 11:00.  As we were only two-handed, I decided not to cover the entire project area and did my survey of the uncoppiced area to the north of the bridle path on Monday.  This just entailed setting four nets to the north of the bridle path.  I also tried one additional area, to see whether it might prove fruitful in the future. The omens are not good.
The list from Saturday was: Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 2(1); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 5; Dunnock 3(1); Robin 6(2); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1(4); Blackcap 10(2); Garden Warbler 3(1); Chiffchaff 4(5).  Totals: 40 ringed from 12 species; 18 retrapped from nine species, making 58 processed from 14 species.  I have to say that it is highly unusual for Ravensroost Woods to produce a greater variety of species than Lower Moor Farm, as it did this week, compared to Wednesday's session (see previous blog article).  Unusually, only one of the Chiffchaffs caught was a juvenile.  We did have juveniles of Nuthatch (2); Treecreeper (1); Blackcap (7); Garden Warbler (2); Dunnock (3); Wren (3); Robin (6) and Song Thrush (2).  Comparing it to last year, the catch is slightly higher, even without the control nets, at 58 compared to 53, also from 14 species.  The number of young birds was, again, higher: with 27 from eight species, compared to 20 from four species: with the majority being Robins. There were no Blackcap or Garden Warbler youngsters at this time last year (even our solitary juvenile Chiffchaff is better than we got last year).
The list on Monday was: Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper 1; Marsh Tit 1; Wren 2; Dunnock 1; Robin 1(1); Blackbird 1; Blackcap 6; Chiffchaff 2(1). Totals: 17 ringed from nine species; two retrapped from two species, making 19 birds processed from nine species.  Ten of these birds were juveniles, One each of Blackcap, Dunnock, Nuthatch and Robin, the three Chiffchaffs and two Wrens were adults.  The Marsh Tit was our second juvenile of the year in Ravensroost and has been colour ringed with orange over yellow on its right leg..
 2017 06 26Marti
As well as the Marsh Tits, always a highlight, the other highlight to me was the three juvenile Nuthatches. They were a long way through their post-fledging moult already but their colours were dull and their primary feathers still had a very obvious juvenile hue.  Monday's adult male, by contrast, had very tatty and worn edges to its primary feathers but the overall colour saturation on the head and body was much richer.
2017 06 24nutha
The new Marsh Tit was a welcome addition: the third adult for Ravensroost already this year.  In addition, we have retrapped 14 individual birds from previous years on site already in 2017, including one which is at least six years old now.  We are also having a good year for Garden Warblers: it is well known that there is a canopy height dichotomy between Blackcaps and Garden Warblers.  Garden Warblers preferring a lower canopy height than Blackcaps.  Blackcaps also show territorial aggression towards Garden Warblers, driving them out of areas which might still be suitable.  When luring for Blackcaps outside of the breeding season you can catch two birds with one lure by playing Garden Warbler song and calls.  The focus of the Garden Warbler distribution is the area either side of rides R28 and R38.  The coppicing of those areas has clearly benefitted them over the last two years.  Over all of the years that I have been ringing in Ravensroost (since 2009), all bar one of them has been caught along that line, with the majority being along R38.  None have been found in the uncoppiced areas north of the bridle path, with its significantly higher canopy, whereas we have caught numerous Blackcaps there.  
We did have one amusing interlude, when we were approached by quite a chatty photographer on a (reasonably fruitless) search for butterflies to photograph. He told us, in a slightly jocular way, that photographers are not happy at the activities of ringers.  Having had first hand experience of the hostility from some photographers, not all, I must stress, it was quite the nicest chat we have had about it.  "Could we please leave a few Bullfinches without rings at Lower Moor Farm so they can photograph them?" was the request.  As we had spent the entire morning listening to Bullfinches contact calling all around us and failing to catch even one, we suggested he invest in Adobe Photoshop so he could remove the evidence.  Nobody has yet explained to me what the issue is over ringed birds in photographs: they cannot all be selling them to agencies,  Also, nobody has explained why photographers think their hobby trumps our hobby. Theirs provides personal gratification, as does ours, but ours also provides important data for the scientific analysis of what is happening to our bird life and mine, at least, is used by the Wildlife Trust and the Forestry Commission to better manage their sites for bird life.  Interestingly, our chatty photographer told us he was previously a ringer and had once ringed a Montagu's Harrier (the first for Wiltshire, he said) on Salisbury Plain and a Peregrine Falcon. We had quite liked him up until that point.
On Monday the weather was much more conducive to butterfly activity and the area of the main track north of the bridle way, on the stretch where it bears ninety degrees to the east before bending back 90 degrees to continue north, was alive with butterflies from 9:00 onwardstme.  There were at least a dozen each of Silver Washed Fritillary and White Admiral plus hundreds of Meadow Brown, a few Speckled Wood, two Large Skipper and a solitary Comma.  In amongst all that activity, there was a single Banded Demoiselle damselfly.  Absolutely stunning.  On leaving the site, I was also lucky enough to see two Brown Hairstreak flying around the car park area.  ST/JC

Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 21st June 2017, CES5

On Wednesday Jonny and Ellie joined me for CES session 5.  We started at 4:30 and packed up at 11:00, as it was getting hot by then and we were mindful of not heat stressing the birds.  The weather was pretty well perfect, starting with dull, but not particularly overcast, dry weather with no wind. Gradually the sun started to peek through and burn off the overcast, but then a few clouds rolled in to provide shade.
The list for the session was: Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 12; Great Tit 12; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 3(2); Dunnock (4); Robin 3; Song Thrush (1); Blackcap 8(2); Garden Warbler 2(2); Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 8. Totals: 52 ringed from nine species and 12 retrapped from six species, making 64 birds processed from 12 species. 
What is particularly pleasing about this list is how many were juvenile birds: 48 of them.  We had a good catch of both Blue and Great Tits. In the comparable session last year we caught one juvenile of each species: this year it was 12 of each. Also, we had six juvenile Blackcaps, compared with none in last year's session. On the down-side: we had no juvenile Long-tailed Tits, whereas last year we had 10.  Chiffchaff juvenile numbers remained at a similar, but slightly lower, level than last year, but we also had youngsters of the following species: Treecreeper, Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler (two each), which were all missing this time last year, plus Robin and Wren (three each) which is one more of each than caught last year. Missing were single youngsters of Willow Warbler and Goldcrest.
All-in-all, a significant improvement over last year (64 birds caught to 48; 48 juveniles caught to 31). ST/EJ/JC

Blakehill Farm: Sunday, 18th June 2017

After a bit of an hiatus with ringing so far this month, with just a session at Tedworth House on the 7th June, notable for ringing my first Blackbird pulli (thanks to the finding and handling skills of the estimable Jack Daw) and then eight days away walking in Scotland, I was delighted to find the weather was fine for ringing at Blakehill.  I went for a bit of a recce on Saturday afternoon, only to find the place crawling with birders; including Mike Hamzij, Rob Turner and Jonny Cooper, all looking for the male Red-backed Shrike seen on Friday (and mis-reported as still being present on Saturday).  Fortunately, the search had been called off before Sunday dawned.  I had a team of three with me for the session, with nets set in the Whitworth and Butterfly fields, either side of the Whitworth Centre. The team was Jonny, Annie and Steph - with her daughter Lily (to supervise us).  The early catch was quite slow, with only seven birds caught between 5:30 and 8:00. Between then and shutting the nets at 11:00, we caught another 40 individuals. We shut the nets at 11:00, because the nets were in full sun and it was so hot we didn't want the birds getting heat stressed whilst awaiting extraction.  The team spent rather more time out in the sun, but with good reason, as outlined later.  
The catch was a good one. Our first indication that it would be special was when a young Jackdaw blundered into a net. I don't know what was funnier / sadder, me trying to run to get there, with a crocked ankle, before it escaped, or Jonny, who was doing the other set of nets, quite unnecessarily sprinting across the field to find out what it was that we had caught. He got to ring it, for his efforts and enthusiasm.
2018 06 18JACKD
Thereafter we had a really decent catch, with lots of juvenile birds, primarily from Whitethroat, Robin and Dunnock (3 each), Chiffchaff (5), Blue Tit (9) and Great Tit (7).  The Great Tit youngsters were almost certainly from a single brood that had fledged that morning: they were caught in a single catch, in the same two metre stretch of net. The total list for the day was: Jackdaw 1; Blue Tit 9(1); Great Tit 7; Long-tailed Tit 2; Dunnock 4; Robin 3; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3; Whitethroat 5; Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 5; Willow Warbler 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 1; Bullfinch 1; House Sparrow 1.  47 birds ringed and one retrapped from 16 species.  It seems that every session at the western side of Blakehill throws up one House Sparrow to be ringed.
Once we had closed the nets the five of us went over to the A-shaped owl box to see what might be in residence:
 2018 06 18BAROW
I am delighted to say that we found, and ringed, three Barn Owl chicks.  This bird was very well developed. Its siblings were not that far behind, but this one had nearly full grown primary feathers.  All three were safely ringed and returned to the box.  The team learned a lot from that little excursion: that owlets can projectile poo for several feet (most of it going down Jonny's arm and leg and into his Wellie boot) and that even the smallest have talons that can make a painful hole in a finger or thumb.  Despite their injuries, the comments whilst we walked back to the Whitworth Centre seemed to comprise mainly of the word "amazing". Jonny and I then checked the other, old style, box between Pool Ground and Cricklade field.  That one was empty, except for signs of a Jackdaw nest. 
Jackdaws will nest in the most unlikely of places. In the educational play area of the Whitworth Centre is a bug hotel.  It stands just about 5 feet tall and has half-a-dozen compartments.  A pair of Jackdaws decided that the top left compartment would be a good place for a nest.  They were correct: on a previous recce mission to the Centre, the Trust's well-being team were on-site and they mentioned that the Jackdaw young were still in the nest. As, on subsequent investigation, they were at the perfect age for ringing (flight feathers short to medium) I gave the team an impromptu ringing demonstration and added four Jackdaw pulli to my list.  They have subsequently successfully fledged from the bug hotel.  It will be interesting to see if they use it again next year.
During the course of the session we were treated to the sound of Curlew calling on a few occasions and then watched them flying around the fields. One seemed to be heading off, strongly, in a Purtonward direction.  I know they are attempting to breed in the fields nearby to Purton but do they really travel that far to feed?  Red Kite circling over the fields was also a nice sight to see. ST/JC/AH/SB/LB

Lower Moor Farm: Thursday, 1st June 2017, CES4

Andrew Bray and I carried out CES4 at Lower Moor Farm on Thursday.   We had a small catch: 37 birds, but compared with 30 for the equivalent session last year.  However, both are significantly down on CES4 in 2015, with 63 birds caught. The difference is almost entirely made up of juvenile Long-tailed and Blue Tits (20 v 1 and 3 v 0 respectively).
There wasn't the special catch of a Kingfisher (as we had last year) but we did have a significant catch: a newly-fledged Marsh Tit.  Where it came from, I do not know. Certainly Lower Moor Farm is not the sort of habitat one would normally associate with Marsh Tit and, as has been well documented (particularly by Richard Broughton), very few move more than 1km from their place of birth.  There is a patch of woodland, but it is a wet wood, which is more usually associated with Willow Tit.  Discussing this with the Wildlife Trust, Ellie Jones told me that there have been no records of Marsh Tit on the site, going back to well before the Trust took it over in 2007 (although there was a record of two Willow Tits, but that was back in 1997).
It is certainly my first record for the site, with no previous sightings or even sound of the males in spring. On top of that, we had juveniles of Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Robin in our catch.  Hopefully this presages a better year than last, where juvenile birds (apart from Blackbirds) were conspicuous by their absence.
 2017 06 01marti2017 06 01blaca
(Apologies for the poor quality of the photographs: my camera seems to be on its last legs.) The list for the session was: Treecreeper 1(1); Great Tit 4; Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 1(5); Robin 5; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1(1); Blackcap 4(3); Lesser Whitethroat 1(2); Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 1; Reed Bunting (1).  Totals 24 birds ringed from 13 species, 13 birds recaptured from six species, making 37 birds processed from 14 species. ST/AB
As a postscript, I contacted John Callinan, who ringed at Sandpool until 2012, and he actually had small numbers of Marsh Tit caught regularly at the site during the 2,000's up until he gave up the site.  We do set our nets in different areas (mine are primarily in Wiltshire, his were primarily in Gloucestershire) but it does seem to underline just how sedentary the species is.

Ravensroost Woods: Sunday, 28th May 2017

Ellie and I did the May coppice project session at Ravensroost this morning.  It was an interesting catch: highlights had to be newly-fledged Coal and Marsh Tits:
 2017 05 28coati2017 05 28marti1
Also, a retrapped female Willow Warbler with a fully functioning brood patch, indicating breeding on the site, was a good find.  We caught two additional Garden Warblers: a male and a female with a brood patch.  The male's wings and tail were so pristine that I wondered whether it was a juvenile - but it would have had to have broken all early breeding records to be so.  Perhaps it has had an abnormal post-migration moult.
As well as these, we had an enormously long-winged male Blackbird, with a wing length of 143mm: 2mm longer than the recording software was happy with. We recognied it was very long, so the measurement was checked three times.  One of the other Blackbirds, LC08587, was ringed as a juvenile on the 27th December 2010, making it a seven year old bird, which is over twice the typical lifespan of a Blackbird (3 years) but less than half the age of the oldest recorded (14 years 9 months and 15 days). Talking of old birds, we also retrapped a Marsh Tit, D056635, only the second Marsh Tit colour-ringed at Ravensroost (by 2 minutes) on the 13th October 2012, making it a minimum of 5 years old, against a typical lifespan of 2 years but, again, half that of the oldest on record (11 years and 3 months). 
The list for the day was: Coal Tit 5; Marsh Tit 1(2); Long-tailed Tit (2); Wren 2(1); Dunnock (1); Robin 5(5); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 4(3); Blackcap 2(5); Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff (2); Willow Warbler (1); Bullfinch 3.  Totals: 25 birds ringed from nine species, 22 birds retrapped from nine species, making 47 birds processed from 13 species. 
The Bullfinches ringed were all males: one female caught had to be released without ringing, as she was showing signs of Fringilla Papilloma Virus. Hopefully all of the other females are on the nest, brooding eggs or nestlings.  One of the Blackbirds was showing extreme damage to some of its primary feathers: a bad case of feather mite:
2017 05 28blabi
All in all, it was a good session and an interesting catch. 
There were several dog walkers on the reserve, all of whom had their dogs on leads. However. one of them clearly took exception to my sign explaining why their dog should be on a lead and what we are doing on the site, as they stole it. Perhaps they loved my purple prose. ST/EJ

Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 24th May 2017, CES3

Ellie and I carried out CES 3 at Lower Moor Farm this morning.  The weather was initially misty, moist and windless: perfect midge weather, and for the first time this year I had to break out the citrinella.  The sun broke through at about 10:00, and rapidly burnt off the mist, and then it became very hot and sunny: at which point the birds decided to take cover in the shade, unlike the mad humans.

It was a nicely rewarding session, with our first juvenile Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch catches of the year.  The Chiffchaff is the earliest youngster of that species caught at the site by my team by just under three weeks and the Chaffinch the earliest by five weeks. Long-tailed Tits are early breeders so catching them at this time is expected (earliest catch by a single day - but that is almost certainly just an accident of the timing of the session).

2017 05 24lotti2017 05 24chiff

2017 05 24chaff

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 15(2); Wren (1); Dunnock (4); Robin 2; Song Thrush (1); Cetti's Warbler (1); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 6(5); Garden Warbler 1(1); Chiffchaff 3(1); Goldcrest (1); Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch (2). Totals: 30 birds ringed from eight species; 21 birds retrapped 12 species, making 51 birds processed from 15 species.  This is a massive improvement on last year's catch of seven birds ringed from five species; 20 birds retrapped from 11 species, 27 birds processed from 13 species.  Even allowing for the welcome increase in Long-tailed Tit youngsters, this is a significantly larger catch.

Lovely though it was to catch these juvenile birds, particularly after the poor breeding season last year, my highlight of the morning came when I went to photograph the magnificent stand of Yellow Flag Irises in the corner of Mallard Lake. As I approached the lakeside, to get the angle for the best photo, I heard the characteristic "plop" as a Water Vole swam away and made its escape. It is great to know that they are there, as well as along the stream that provides the border between civilisation and barbarism (Wiltshire and Gloucestershire).  ST/EJ

Tedworth House: Thursday, 18th May 2017

Given the torrential rain on Wednesday, I postponed my monthly session at Tedworth to the Thursday. It was the usual smallish catch but we caught our first Starling for the site:

Starling Tedworth

This is the 35th species that we have caught and ringed at the site: putting it level in diversity with the number of species caught at the entire Ravensroost complex; one less than at Lower Moor Farm and two less than at Blakehill.  As Tedworth House is very much a work in progress, with a large wildlife pond scheduled for development this autumn and further thinning of the wood to open it up for more productive undergrowth, it will be interesting to see how this continues to develop.

The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Jay 1; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1(1); Coal Tit (1); Wren 1(1); Dunnock 1(4); Robin 1; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 2; Starling 1.  Totals: 10 birds ringed from nine species; eight birds retrapped from five species, making 18 birds processed from 11 species.

I was helped with the set up by Dave Turner and Gemma Clinch from the Wildlife Trust and joined later by Rob Hayden, with whom I ringed the Raven chicks on Good Friday.  Talking of which, the chicks are now enormous but still in and around the nest, constantly calling to their parents to feed them.  They cannot be long off fledging now: they certainly warrant the use of wide brimmed hats or an umbrella if you are walking anywhere near their cedar tree.

The session started off nicely, with a retrapped Great Spotted Woodpecker, ringed as an adult last year. This was followed by the Starling. Perhaps the best catch of the day was my first juvenile Dunnock of this year: freshly out of the nest.  Soon after we caught a female whose brood patch was showing the oedematous folds left after the blood vessels retreat to normal once the young fledge.  Finally, we caught a beautifully marked adult male Jay. As ever, we had an audience for the processing of the most attractive bird of the day.

Rob and Gemma helped me take down at the end of the session, for which I am grateful. ST/DT/GC/RH