West Wilts Group

Somerford Common: Wednesday, 24th August 2016

After the wild and windy weather of the last few days, I was joined by Jonny, Charlie and his dad, Neil, for a session on Somerford Common.  We set our nets along the ride just down from the small carpark, and along the north to south ride at the eastern edge of the fenced off paddock.  There is some exciting news about the paddock. After the failure of the Exmoor ponies project, to enhance the site to suit Marsh Fritillary butterflies (the reason for the paddock in the first place), the paddock has just been growing wild and is becoming severely overgrown. As of this autumn, the Forestry Commission are instituting a coppicing regime within the boundaries of the paddock.  Hopefully this will lead to there being a continual supply of habitat suitable for Garden Warblers, which seem to have disappeared from the site this year.

After the first round, which included a decent flock of Long-tailed Tits, the session was never too busy, but always interesting,  It gave me an opportunity to start Charlie on extracting birds. Nothing too difficult to start with: a number of Robin, Dunnock, Blackcap and Bullfinch; all of which he handled very well. It bodes well for his future as a ringer.

The list for the session was: Green Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1(3); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 13; Wren 3; Dunnock 2; Robin 6; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3(1); Chiffchaff 5; Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest 2; Bullfinch 11.  Totals: 55 ringed from 16 species; four retrapped from two species, making 59 birds processed from 16 species.

We seem to be in a run of good catches with interesting birds at the moment.  The two new Marsh Tits take this year's total to 13: more than last year, with the busiest time for catching them yet to come. Nine of these are juveniles fledged this year and it confirms breeding Marsh Tits in all four of the major woods of the Braydon Forest (in which I have ringing sites). It was great to finally get a good catch of Long-tailed Tits. They were all close to completing their post-breeding / post-fledging moults, so virtually impossible to positively identify the youngsters from the adults. Given that they stay in family groups it is likely that there were a number of young in the party.  Contrast that with the single Blue Tit (an adult) and the four Great Tits, of which the newly ringed bird was the only juvenile.

The last two years have been very good for Bullfinches. Today we caught 11: two adults older than last year's fledging; two from last year's fledging and seven newly fledged birds.  This brings the total to 19 new Bullfinches ringed on Somerford Common so far this year, compared to 21 in the whole of 2015 and just four in 2014. With three more sessions scheduled for the site this year, it is likely that we will surpass the 2015 total.  This improvement in fortunes is reflected throughout the Braydon Forest.

As luck would have it, our last round produced just a single bird. However, that bird was juvenile Green Woodpecker. Jonny did a brilliant job of sprinting to the net to ensure it didn't escape. It was touch-and-go for a while, as the bird flew along the net, bouncing off it several times before ending up in the shelf.  As he did the hard work, I let Jonny ring it: his first ever.

 2016 08 24grewo ST/JC/CS/NS


Red Lodge: Sunday, 21st August 2016

With yesterday's atrocious weather causing Blakehill's Festival of Flight to be cancelled, Ellie Jones and I decided we wanted to get some ringing done and, having had to postpone the last session scheduled for there, due to the deer stalking, to have a go at Red Lodge this morning. The rain stopped overnight.  It was still very windy but we were able to set out nets in sheltered rides out of the wind. It turned out to be a quality session: satisfying on many fronts.

We caught our third Spotted Flycatcher of the autumn: a first for Ellie to ring and a real highlight. As well as that, we caught a first Garden Warbler for the site; eight Treecreepers (a record for any of my sessions) and pleasing numbers of titmice, including two new and two retrapped Marsh Tits.  The full list for the day was: Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper 7(1); Blue Tit 6; Great Tit 7(2); Coal Tit 3; Marsh Tit 2(2); Long-tailed Tit 4(1); Wren 6; Spotted Flycatcher 1; Robin 8: Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3(1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 1. Totals: 53 birds ringed from 15 species; seven retrapped from five species, making 60 birds processed from 15 species.  We had a slightly higher proportion of adults compared to previous weeks: 15 (25%) of the total. The adults were one each of Wren, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff and Marsh Tit; two each of Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tit and Treecreeper plus four Great Tit.

The Blackbird was a juvenile undergoing post-fledging moult. It was in decent condition, although slightly underweight (82g). Mind, when you have the deformed bill that this bird has to work with, it is remarkable that it has even got this far:

2016 08 21blabi

The Marsh Tits were the fifth and sixth ringed in Red Lodge this year, out of a total of 11 in the Braydon Forest so far.  This returns it to just above the level seen here in 2014, after the disruption by the thinning operations in 2015, but with four-and-a-half months of the year left to go.

2016 08 21marti

It was a bit of a relief that we caught reasonable numbers of juvenile Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. There are certainly more of them around in Red Lodge than we have been catching in the other parts of the Braydon Forest. Once the flocks form for winter, it will be interesting to see how they compare with previous years. ST/EJ

CES 11: Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 17th August 2016

CES11 showed a return to the expected numbers of birds on the site for this time of year, with 106 birds processed.  As luck would have it, I had none of my experienced team with me. Charlie Stockley and his dad, Neil, came along but, as it is only his second session as a trainee, I haven’t started him on extracting birds yet. Still, we coped and had a very interesting and exciting session.

It started auspiciously: as I was putting up nets in the wildlife area next to the picnic site, on the edge of Mallard Lake, I spooked a large creature which entered the water with all the grace of a television being thrown into a swimming pool by a 1970’s “rock star”.  My first sighting of a Eurasian Beaver.  Even if it is only an escape from the Lower Mill Estate, I don’t really care: it was a stunner.  On my first net round I extracted a Blackbird and, to my surprise, a Brown Long-eared Bat. This is the second bat I have had to extract from my nets: the first was a Pipistrelle, the very first creature I ever extracted from one of my nets, on my first session as a C-permit holder.

When one of the Otters put in an appearance, swimming across Mallard Lake to the pipe leading to the other lakes, it was hard to know how the morning could get any better.  Certainly it was a red-letter moment for Neil and Charlie: this was their first sighting of an Otter (Neil was the first to spot it).

On my second net round I extracted a lovely Kingfisher: it was a juvenile female. It was already ringed, but not on one of my rings. I look forward to finding out where it came from: probably somewhere within the Water Park, but nice to find.  A little later we came across a beautiful male Greenfinch, with a twist. As you can see from the photograph below, he was sporting a great lump of orange: possibly solidified pollen.  When processing the bird I noticed that the ring was upside down and on the left leg: another controlled bird, presumably from somewhere in Gloucestershire (where they do put rings on in counter-intuitive ways).

2016 08 17Grefi

So, we were extremely pleased with how things were going.  We had been extracting decent numbers of Garden Warbler and at about 10:30 I extracted one already sporting a ring.  When I had a quick glance at it I noticed it had no initial letter and comprised seven digits: 7748583 and above the number the words “Museum Paris”. Fantastic: my first foreign recovery.  I can’t wait to find out its story.  I think Charlie and Neil thought I had gone a bit loopy, as I reacted to the discovery.  When processing it, I was surprised to find that it was carrying a large amount of fat, weighing in at 20.1g. I expect to see Blackcaps and Garden Warblers broaching the 20g mark, but in a month's time when the blackberries and elderberries are ripe and my hands are purple.

The list for the session was: Woodpigeon 1; Kingfisher (1); Treecreeper 2(4); Blue Tit 5(1); Great Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 6(3); Dunnock (2); Robin 1(2); Blackbird 8(1); Reed Warbler 1; Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 7(4); Garden Warbler 6(1); Whitethroat (1); Lesser Whitethroat 4; Chiffchaff 15(3); Willow Warbler 16; Goldcrest 2; Chaffinch 1; Greenfinch 1(1); Bullfinch 2(1). Totals: 80 ringed from 18 species; 26 retrapped from 14 species, making 106 processed from 21 species.  As ever, the birds were predominantly juveniles. The adults were the Woodpigeon, and one each of Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff plus two each of the Blackbirds, the Great Tits and the Greenfinches: 11 out of 106 captured.

The numbers are similar to the same session last year but the numbers of Willow Warbler and Blackcap have swapped.  It was encouraging to finally get some juvenile Blue and Long-tailed Tits and the continuing capture of Reed and Sedge Warbler this year at Lower Moor Farm continues to be encouraging for their future on the site. ST/CS/NS

Kingfisher update: I heard from John Wells of the Cotswold Water Park Ringing Group. This bird was ringed at Waterhay on June 19th. Thanks for the information, John.

Webb's Wood, Saturday, 13th August 2016

On Saturday I went to Webb's Wood to see what juvenile birds were around the site. I was joined by Annie Hatt, one of my new trainees, so I decided to restrict the number of nets set up, so that I could work with her and get her started on extracting birds without too much pressure.  It proved to be a good decision. We had a reasonable number of birds coming thorugh and Annie got the opportunity to extract her first half-dozen birds.  She is already comfortable with handling wildlife, as part of her work as an ecology consultant, but every new animal type has its idiosyncrasies. For example, sometimes it seems that the sole purpose of Wrens is to provide difficult extractions for ringing trainees: they have a wonderful ability to spin within the net, thread their way through several layers of net and combinations thereof.  Once you have mastered Wrens, you can manage virtually anything: none were caught in this session, so Annie still has this pleasure to come. 

The highlights of the session were: catching another juvenile Marsh Tit and catching our first juvenile Coal Tits of the year.  Marsh Tit juveniles are turning up in all of the main woodland sites this year: not huge numbers but holding their own compared to previous years: which is brilliant given how badly Blue and Long-tailed Tits are doing this year.  This was highlighted again in this wood: no Blue Tits in the catch and no new Long-tailed Tits. The catch for the day was: Great Tit 1(2); Coal Tit 3; Marsh Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit (5); Robin 5; Blackbird 2(1); Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 5(1); Willow Warbler 3; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 24 ringed from 10 species; 10 retrapped from 5 species, making 34 birds processed from 11 species.  The proportion of adults to young was somewhat less pronounced than in other recent catches.  The Long-tailed Tits were all adult birds, the two retrapped Great Tits, two of the Blackbirds and the Chiffchaffs, plus the Bullfinch and the retrapped Marsh Tit, were adult birds.  So 21 of the 34 birds were juveniles. ST / AH

CES 10: Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 10th August 2016

Jonny and I carried out CES 10 on Wednesday.  It was an interesting, but concerning, session. Interesting, because we caught a good range of different species; concerning, because the numbers are at roughly 50% of where they were last year.  My hope is that this is merely a delay, as the blackberries are only just beginning to ripen.  As I am running session 11 next Wednesday, hopefully more ripe blackberries might lead to an influx of young birds feeding up for either the winter or fuelling up for migration.  To highlight the contrast in numbers, I have included last year's figures, in red, after the figures for this session.

Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 3(1) 8(4); Great Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit (2) 1; Wren 1(2) 3(2); Dunnock 1 3(2); Robin 2(5) 2; Song Thrush (1); Blackbird 1 4(1); Reed Warbler 2 1; Blackcap 6(2) 29(2); Garden Warbler 5 6; Whitethroat 1 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1 2; Chiffchaff 14(1) 17(3); Willow Warbler 4 7; Goldcrest 1 2; Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 44 birds ringed from 15 species (89 from 15 species); 15 retrapped birds from 8 species (15 from 7 species), making 59 birds processed from 18 species (104 from 15 species).  As usual for this period, the vast majority of birds were juveniles: the only adults being 2 of Blackcap, one of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Song Thrush and Wren.

The obvious reduction is in the number of Blackcaps: 23 fewer than the corresponding session last year.  However, there has been a small increase in the variety caught. Juvenile Reed Warblers continue to be part of the catch. We caught our second juvenile Bullfinch of the year: late arrivals as usual.  One of the local residents (what a great place to live), who regularly comes along for a chat during our sessions, did report that she had what she thought was a window casualty. Seeing the photos confirmed that, unfortunately, it was a juvenile Bullfinch.

2016 08 10Bullf

We thoroughly enjoyed the morning: there was plenty of time to sit and watch the Rainbow Trout that decided to swim around at the edge of Mallard Lake, alongside the picnic area where we have our ringing station.  My personal favourite fish sighting though was a Perch, Perca fluviatilis, which stayed around for most of the morning very close to the bank. Throughout the morning we were entertained by Common Terns fishing over the lakes and good numbers of Swallow, and the odd House Martin, hunting over the lake. As we were packing away, Jonny heard a swish of wings as a fast moving bird flew past just overhead: the Hirundines were suddenly diving for cover as a Hobby flew through the reserve.  One Swallow came down into a blackberry bush, next to where we were dismantling the nets, and stayed there for a full five minutes (in fact, it was still there when we moved on to take down the next net ride. ST/JC 

Ravensroost Meadows - Saturday, 6th August 2016

After Wednesday’s session at the Firs, I was rather keen to see if there were Spotted Flycatchers in other parts of the Braydon Forest.  The plan was to try at Red Lodge, as it has a similar structure to the Firs. Jonny and I rolled up at 4:45, ready to set up only to find the deer stalker on site.  This is the first time for a couple of years that we have stumbled across each other.  Anyway, with mist nets being no match for high-powered rifles, we decided to withdraw.

As it was virtually flat calm, we decided to give Ravensroost Meadows and the pond area a go. This was the first real opportunity to get in there this year, and it proved to be a good session.  The main highlight was the first two summer Lesser Redpoll caught in the meadows at Ravensroost.  These were both newly fledged juveniles, and were two caught out of a flock of about eight that flew around the pond area before heading out north eastwards. They most likely will have bred either in Ravensroost or Somerford Common.

2016 08 06Linne2016 08 06Linneh

The list for the session was:  Swallow 3; Wren 4; Dunnock 1; Robin 4; Blackbird 7; Blackcap 3; Whitethroat 6; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 3; Willow Warbler 5; Goldfinch 6(1); Lesser Redpoll 2; Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 2.  Totals: 47 ringed from 14 species and one retrap.  As is par for the course at the moment, only seven of the birds caught were adults: two each of the Swallows,  Whitethroat and Goldfinch, one each of the Wren and Lesser Whitethroat.  

There were several highlights. Goldfinch D056844 was ringed as an adult in 2012, therefore this bird is at least five years old, when the average lifespan of these birds is two years.  The oldest was eight years from date of ringing – so a few years yet for a record.  We caught two adult Swallows as the causeway net did its usual job. Normally the Swallow catch is entirely of juveniles.

Perhaps the most remarkable catch of the last fortnight has been the number of Blackbirds: with seven caught at Ravensroost and seven at Lower Moor Farm. Both were almost certainly the result of having our nets set, fortuitously, close to where a brood had newly fledged.

One troubling statistic: in June and July of 2015 in my sites I ringed a total of 132 Blue Tits, almost all of which were juveniles. This year, over the same period, the same number of sessions at the same sites, the total is exactly 100 fewer, at 32, with 25% of the new birds being adults, compared with only 9.8% being adults in 2015.  It just goes to show what a terrible breeding season Blue Tits have had this year.  ST / JC

The Firs: Wednesday, 3rd August 2016

With the forecast for Wednesday being for dry but windy weather, I decided to cancel the trip to Brown's Farm, as the farmland is too exposed, and head for the Firs. With the wind coming from the WSW, the trees at the Firs are ideally aligned to act as a wind break for the central glade.  The problem with the Firs is that it is very hit and miss on numbers. I was joined for the day by Jonny Cooper and Andrew Bray: who had both been warned that the site might deliver 6 or 60 birds and any number in between. Well, the site delivered only 24 birds: but the first bird out of the nets was a Spotted Flycatcher and the penultimate bird out of the nets (and the last ringed for the session) was another.  To put that into perspective: a total of 9 fledged birds were ringed in Wiltshire in 2015; 10 in 2014 and 5 in 2013. More excitingly for me: these were the first ringed by my team in Wiltshire; only the second I have ringed and the first that Jonny has ringed.  We know that they nest in Ravensroost, and several have been seen there this year.  As well as catching the two we ringed, we saw there were at least three in the wood and had excellent views, as they were hawking from insects in the oak trees adjacent to our ringing station for a good ten minutes..

2016 08 03Spofl

The list for the session was as follows: Treecreeper 2; Great Tit (1); Wren 4; Robin 9(1); Spotted Flycatcher 2; Blackcap 3; Goldcrest 2.   All of the birds, except the Great Tit, the retrapped Robin and one of the Treecreepers, were juveniles.  Totals caught were: 22 ringed from 6 species and 2 retrapped from 2 species.  Not the busiest session, but one of the more satisfying given the quality of the catch. ST/JC/AB

Ravensroost Wood: project session 4: 23rd & 31st July 2016

I try to do my Ravensroost project sessions on consecutive days but, unfortunately, it wasn't possible this month.  Equally unfortunately, I did both sessions solo. It was hard work and a lot of ground covered as a result (but I need the exercise). 

The list for the sessions was: Great Tit (1); Marsh Tit 1(1); Wren 1; Dunnock 2(2); Robin 12(5); Song Thrush (1); Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 2(1); Chiffchaff 4(2); Bullfinch 1(1).  Totals: 24 ringed from 8 species; 16 retrapped from 9 species, making a total of 40 birds processed from 10 species.  This is actually a higher figure than for the corresponding session in 2015. 

Any session that delivers a new Marsh Tit and the retrapping of another is a good session. ST