West Wilts Group

Lower Moor Farm: Saturday, 13th May 2017; CES2

Following on from the rather disappointing results in CES1 we were hoping for a better return in CES2.  I was joined for the session by Jonny and David.  The weather was dull and overcast, usually excellent conditions for ringing but, unfortunately, the breeze got up about 9:00 and affected the later catch. We ended up with one more bird than in the equivalent session last year and the quality of the catch was excellent.  The CES requires that we put our nets in the same positions year-on-year, but we are allowed to put up some additional nets to extend the catching area. Their catch just isn't recorded in the CES results. We set up two extra net rides and were delighted that they all caught.  The net positions are shown in the photograph below. Those in yellow are the CES rides, white are the extra rides.

 Lower Moor rides close up

CES ride 3 is our Greenfinch ride: if we catch them, this is where they are usually caught. Today we caught three, all there. There was also a female Bullfinch, which we could not ring, because it was suffering with the Fringilla Papilloma Virus.  It is over two years since I last saw this in a Bullfinch. Given that we are catching good numbers of them that are clean in all of our sites, this was a disappointment.  Extra ride 2 was empty throughout the session, apart from one retrapped Robin, and then, as we were shutting the nets at the end, prior to take down, I came across two of these beauties in that net ride, within three feet of each other:

 2017 05 13Greewo

To catch one is uncommon, to catch two in one session is remarkable. If it had been a pair that close together in the net it would have been more understandable at this time of year, but they were two adult males.  Along with these, we were delighted to catch our first two juvenile Robins of the year and this adult Cetti's Warbler:

2017 05 13cetwa

After a cracking year for them in 2015, the first time they had been caught and ringed at Lower Moor Farm, when we ringed two adults and four youngsters, 2016 was a severe disappointment, with just one adult and one juvenile ringed in the year. This bird, an adult male, was caught in a different ride (2, as opposed to 3) from the birds of 2015 and 2016.  Hopefully we will see a return to 2015 levels this year.

The list from today was: Green Woodpecker 1(1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit (4); Great Tit (3); Dunnock (4); Robin 2(1); Blackbird 2(3); Cetti's Warbler 1; Blackcap 1(4); Garden Warbler 1(1); Lesser Whitethroat 2(1); Chiffchaff 1(1); Willow Warbler 1(4); Goldcrest (1); Greenfinch 3; Bullfinch (2); Reed Bunting 2. Totals: 18 birds ringed from 12 species and 30 birds retrapped from 13 species, making 48 birds processed from 17 species.  ST/JC/DW

Somerford Common: Wednesday, 10th May 2017

Jonny and I met at the unearthly hour of 4:30 at Somerford Common on Wednesday. We had the nets up and ready for business by just after 5:30 and had a good, productive morning, with nearly 60 birds captured.  Every bird, except for a newly fledged Song Thrush, was in breeding condition.  It was an interesting catch - with Willow Warbler being the most frequently caught bird (12), followed closely by Blackcap (8) and then Bullfinch (7). 

The list for the day was: Jay 1; Great Tit 1; Coal Tit 2; Marsh Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 3(1); Wren 4; Dunnock 1(2); Robin 4(1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 8; Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 3; Willow Warbler 8(4); Goldcrest (3); Bullfinch 2(5). Totals; 41 birds ringed from 15 species and 17 birds retrapped from seven species, making a totals of 58 birds processed from 16 species.  It really is our most varied woodland site.  Note the absence of Blue Tit.

It is now approaching five years since I was let off the leash to ring independently of my trainer (and just over two years since I got my full A-permit, so he is no longer responsible for my actions Confused)  and we are catching birds that were ringed in those earlier days.  EXR389 is a Willow Warbler that was ringed as an adult of indeterminate age at Somerford Common on the 5th May 2014.  That means that this bird has made the trip from the UK to sub-Saharan Africa at least four times.  That is a round trip of some 7,500 miles each year, so this 9g bird has travelled at least 30,000 miles in its life, under its own steam.  Bullfinch D983496 was ringed as a juvenile at Webb's Wood in August 2014 and recovered as an adult male at Somerford this session. Obviously not as impressive in terms of distance as the Willow Warbler but good to see it surviving and that it has moved a few miles from its birth site to Somerford Common.

Any session where I catch a Marsh Tit is a good session: catching a new bird at this time of year is encouraging and retrapping one of last year's juveniles is doubly so.  Jonny's favourite catch of the day was the Jay, a juvenile female:

 2017 05 10Jay

Ageing Jays at this time of year is based upon two factors: width of the outermost tail feather and the number of black bands on the outermost Greater Covert (ignoring any black tip to the feather).  As you can see from the red-ringed feather in the following photograph, this bird has eight black bands, hence a juvenile:

2017 05 10 Jay 2

He was pleased to process it, and I was pleased to escape the consequent potential injuries (I have told all of my trainees and helpers that only wimps use gloves for handling Jays or Magpies. They learn very quickly how to process them with the minimum amount of pain.) ST/JC

Red Lodge Plantation: Sunday, 6th May 2017

I did a ringing session at Red Lodge Sunday morning: I was on my own so I only set a few nets but I had a decent catch.  The weather was good for ringing at the start of the morning: dull, overcast and windless. The dawn chorus is wonderful at the moment but, although it dies off, there was a continuous background of birdsong all morning. It is the best time of the year.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper 2: Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit (2); Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1(2); Wren (1); Robin 2(4); Blackbird 3(3); Blackcap 5; Chiffchaff 3(3); Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 1.  Totals: 21 birds ringed from 11 species plus 16 birds retrapped from seven species, making 37 birds processed from 13 species.

It was an interesting session: three of the five Blackcap were female.  All were showing preparation for breeding but one had only just started to develop a brood patch, another had completed the defeathering process and the third was showing the venation associated with brooding eggs and young.  There was a similar spread of stages throughout all of the female birds caught.  Perhaps the best of the catch was the pair of Treecreepers. I am saying "pair" because they were a male and a female caught in the same net, 18" apart, at the same time, both in breeding condition.  Although I didn't catch any today, there were at least four singing male Marsh Tits in the bottom end of the wood, which bodes well for later in the season.
The pond was playing host to Mallard, Canada Geese and an unexpected Grey Heron.  A Buzzard spent most of the morning flying around the tree tops calling. For quite a long part of the morning it was being bothered by a Raven - which was quite fun to watch and hear.  At one point I did think I was going to have my pond nets destroyed by the Canada Geese, as they decided to fly off to wherever they felt like going for fifteen minutes before returning. They didn't look like they were going to get up enough height fast enough to miss them on the way out and just about managed to miss them on the way back in. Nerve wracking regardless.  The Buzzard also did a quick flyover the top of one of the nets (it didn't bother the Canada Geese, interestingly): I would sacrifice a net to catch an adult Buzzard.
Although they are past their best now, there is still a lovely display of flowers in the wood. The Bluebell carpet is extensive in the thinned areas. I cannot remember seeing Cowslip in there before: but there are plenty of them this year.  There has definitely been a change for the better in this wood since the thinning operations of 2015. ST

Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 3rd May 2017; CES1

I carried out CES (Constant Effort Site) session 1 at Lower Moor Farm Wednesday morning. The nets were up and open by 6:30, and catching straightaway. One of the benefits of reining in my ethusiasm to cover the place with nets for the CES and sticking to a sensible, manageable number is that I can handle the set up when working solo.  Not that I spent much time on my own: I was joined by a retired vicar and his wife, up for a holiday from Dorset, for a couple of hours from 7:00.  They had seen my schedule and phone number in the Visitor Centre and called me on Tuesday to ask if it would be okay to join me. They had previously spent time ringing warblers on migration in Canada but had never been up close and personal to British birds.  (Interestingly, they were staying in their daughter's holiday home at Lower Mill Farm, and, apparently, many of the owners of the existing homes are concerned at the constant expansion of the site and are looking into ways to stop the further development.  No chance really.  They were particularly amused by the obvious Beaver activity at Lower Moor Farm.)
I had fantastic views of the Otters on several occasions during the morning. I was just telling my two visitors about it when one swam across in front of the ringing station - so they got some very good views on only their second visit to the site.  About two minutes later there was a massive double splash and we looked up to see two Roe Deer (a stag and a hind) swimming from the main path out across Mallard Lake: definitely surprising. They were spooked by a woman walking her dog (on a lead), she was embarrassed, I was grateful, thinking of the damage they would have done to my nets had they been spooked 10m further on.
 The Sandpool Farm Cuckoo called on and off all morning: that would be a nice catch for my 100th species.  There was a good passage of half-a-dozen Common Terns screaming around the lakes between 5:30 and 6:30 before heading off northwards.
The list for the session was: Treecreeper (2); Long-tailed Tit 1(2); Wren(2); Dunnock 1(6); Robin (2); Song Thrush 1(1); Blackcap 7; Garden Warbler 1(1); Lesser Whitethroat 1(1); Willow Warbler 4(2); Greenfinch 2; Bullfinch 5; Reed Bunting 1.  Totals: 24 birds ringed from 10 species; 19 birds retrapped from nine species, making 43 birds processed from 13 species.  This is considerably down on the same session last year (69 birds processed from 20 species).  Missing from the list are Sedge and Reed Warbler plus Chiffchaff (goodness knows why - they were all over the place singing but none ended up in the nets).  I am pretty certain, given how close together that each male and female duo was trapped in the nets, we caught two pairs of Bullfinch and two pairs of Blackcap.  ST

Madagascar: 30th March to 15th April 2017

Jonathan Cooper was lucky enough to take part in an expedition to tropical Madagascar as part of his degree course this Spring. This is his account of the trip:

As if it wasn’t enough going to Madagascar, I also had the opportunity to carry out some bird ringing whilst I was there.  We weren’t just looking at birds, with everything from Fungi to Chameleons being surveyed. The overall purpose of the trip was to compare the species distribution and abundance across three habitat types present in the area we were staying in. The habitats were: natural forest, regenerating forest and agricultural land. A local Conservation organisation called Sadabe has been working in the area for around 15 years and the area is now in the process of becoming a national park. This adds importance to the work we were carrying out documenting the species found in the area.

Anyway, onto the ringing. We ringed every morning dividing our effort across each habitat type. A good variety of species were caught and processed including: Long-billed Tetraka, Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher, and Red Fody. The catches were slightly smaller than expected but that didn’t put a damper on the experience.

                     Long-billed Tetraka:                                                        Malachite Kingfisher:        

Long billed TerakaMalachite Kingfisher

In addition to my project, we were joined by Solohery Rasamison, a PHD student studying how the habitat fragmentation that has occurred on Madagascar has impacted on the genetic diversity of the birds found there. To measure this, blood samples were taken from target species and the genetic diversity of the samples will be compared to samples taken from museum skins and other sources 30 to 40 years ago. This is vital conservation work that will inform us of the true impacts of the deforestation.

Overall the trip was an amazing experience that I was very fortunate to be able to be a part of. The variety of species in a place such as Madagascar is astonishing, especially the fact that Madagascar contains over 100 endemic bird species.

As a final note, I must mention one species in particular that we ringed. This was the Madagascar Nightjar. We set nets at dusk and used the whirring call of the male bird in an attempt to lure one in. It worked a treat, almost instantly we caught a bird. It was amazing to see a bird like this up close and it’s an experience I will always remember (apologies for the poor quality of the photograph but it was taken without flash, so as not to affect the bird's vision):

Madagascar Nightjar2JC

Ravensroost Woods: Saturday, 29th April 2017

It was session one of the fifth year of the Ravensroost coppice project on Saturday. I was joined for the day by Jonny, Steph and David.  This year I am planning to get each session done on the one day, as I now have a team large enough and experienced enough to manage the 20 x 18 metre nets. As we arrived on site, there was a Cuckoo calling and it continued on and off for the rest of the morning.  
There were plenty of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers singing on site. Nearly every bird caught was in breeding condition - except for one Willow Warbler and a juvenile Song Thrush caught during the session.
The list for the day was: Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit (3); Great Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 2(3); Wren 3(3); Dunnock 1(1); Robin 3(3); Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 1(4); Blackcap 8(2); Garden Warbler 1(1); Chiffchaff 4(1); Willow Warbler 4; Goldcrest 1.  Totals: 33 birds ringed from 12 species; 22 birds retrapped from 10 species; making a total of 55 birds processed from 14 species.  The numbers are slightly down on last year: but the persistent northerly wind has held up migration of a number of sub-Saharan migrants. 
The highlights were:
  • our first Garden Warblers of the year in the Forest
  • one of those Garden Warblers was a bird returning to the site where it was ringed - on the 29th April 2016, a nice coincidence
  • the first juvenile Song Thrush of the year in Ravensroost, following on from the first in Webb's Wood on Wednesday
  • the display of Early Purple Orchid just off the main path north of R27

Webb's Wood: Wednesday, 26th April 2017

I did a solo session at Webb's Wood this morning. It was remarkably cold for the time of year: with my car thermometer registering an outside temperature of zero at 4:30 - and it didn't rise above four degrees until 10:00.  Even after the sun came up, the wind, when it gusted, was bitterly cold. The session was pretty good, regardless of the weather. My personal mantra is: 20 birds is worthwhile; 30 is a good session, any more is a bonus.

There were at least six singing Willow Warbler males in the vicinity, I caught a couple:

2017 04 26wilwa

There was a similar number of singing Chiffchaffs.  One of the Chiffchaffs had a most peculiar song: instead of the usual "chiff - chaff" it was "chu - chiff - chu - chiff - chaff": a stammering warbler?  The highlight had to be my first juvenile Song Thrush of the year.  It beat my previous earliest by a whole three days (29th April 2016 in Ravensroost Woods).

The list for the day was: Treecreeper 2(1); Blue Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 2; Robin 5; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 3; Blackcap 5; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest 1(1). Totals: 28 new from 11 species, three retraps from three species, making 31 processed from 11 species.

All of the birds caught this morning were in breeding condition, except for the obvious exception of the juvenile Song Thrush. ST

Various: 19th to 22nd April 2017. Tedworth House, Blakehill Farm & Ravensroost Meadows

Three quiet sessions this week, all negatively impacted by this unseasonable northerly wind.  Wednesday saw myself and Andrew Bray at Tedworth House. This was the least satisfying session, but a lot of that was down to the nets billowing in what was a fairly light breeze, but it was coming from the wrong direction for the usual net positions. The list was short: Blue Tit (2); Great Tit (2); Wren 1; Dunnock 2(2); Robin (1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (2); Blackcap 1; Willow Warbler 1. Totals: six birds ringed from five species, nine birds retrapped from five species, making a total of 15 birds processed from nine species.  The highlight of the session was listening to the Raven chicks clamouring to be fed every time the parents came to the nest. ST / AB

Friday saw Ellie, Jonny and David joining me at Blakehill Farm. With the plateau being out of bounds until the autumn, to ensure that we don't disturb the Curlews' nesting attempts (there are two, possibly three, pairs on the plateau), we set the nets on the west side of the reserve, either side of the Whitworth Centre.  Again, the catch was disturbed by the wind, but we did manage a few highlights. Ellie got to extract and ring her first House Sparrow. Even when there are plenty of them around, they are one of the least often caught birds. This was a handsome male:

2017 04 21housp

The last bird caught and processed was Jonny's first Sparrowhawk extraction and processing.  We were sitting processing a couple of birds when I noticed the Sparrowhawk hit the net. I said to Jonny "There's a large bird in the net, could you run over and get it" - did he run!  It was a fabulous adult male:

2017 04 21sparr

The list for the session was: Sparrowhawk 1; Great Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 2(1); Robin 3(1); Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 6; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1; House Sparrow 1. Totals: 20 birds ringed from 10 species, two birds retrapped from two species, making 22 birds processed from 10 species. ST / JC / EJ / DW

Saturday started on an excellent note: as I went out the door at 5:15 a Cuckoo was calling from the trees at the bottom of the garden: my first of the year.  Purton just seems to be a bit of a magnet for Cuckoos. We were running a ringing demonstration for the Swindon Wildlife Group at Ravensroost Meadows. I had Jonny, Charlie and Neil to help me out: they managed the nets whilst I performed for the audience.  Nets were set all round the meadow pond and along the hedgerows that line the pond. It started well enough but, once again, the wind got up and the catch was reduced. Fortunately, the guests were more than happy with the birds that we caught and a good time was had by all (I am told).  Although we didn't catch a lot of birds, what we caught was quality: our first two Whitethroat and two Lesser Whitethroat of the year.  These are our earliest records for both species (although the Lesser Whitethroats by only one day).

2017 04 22leswh

The list for the session was: Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 1(1); Dunnock 2; Blackbird 1(1); Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 1(1); Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 1(1); Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 2.  Totals: 16 birds ringed from 11 species, four birds retrapped from four species, making 20 birds processed from 11 species. The retrapped Whitethroat was ringed as an adult on the site last August, whereas the retrapped Willow Warbler was ringed as an adult on Spring migration on the 12th April 2016 in the woodland.  We are pretty certain that the Reed Buntings and the Long-tailed Tits were pairs. Each couple was caught in close proximity to each other, each consisted of a male and a female and each had both birds in breeding condition. ST / JC / NS / CS