West Wilts Group

Lower Moor Farm: Thursday, 10th July 2017: CES10

With Wednesday being rained off, we took advantage of a cracking day's weather forecast to run CES 10 on Thursday.  Fortunately, both Jonny and David were available to help out.  You cannot start a session better than to catch a Sparrowhawk before you have even finished opening the net ride in which you caught it (okay, catching a Yellow-browed Warbler in that particular net ride last autumn is a bit better). Jonny identified it straightaway: Woodpigeon he shouted, as he ran to extract it. Unfortunately for him, he went to the wrong side of the net and I actually extracted the bird. That is our second of the year, after a barren year in 2016.

We had a smaller catch than for the same session last year but it was a decent haul, with a good variety. The catch was; Sparrowhawk 1; Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit 3(2); Great Tit 1; Wren 3(1); Dunnock 5(1); Robin 1(1); Song Thrush (1); Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 4(3); Garden Warbler 3; Chiffchaff 4(1); Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest (1); Bullfinch 1(2).  Totals: 29 birds ringed from 12 species; 16 birds retrapped from 11 species, making 45 birds processed from 15 species.

As is par for the course, the majority of the catch were juveniles: 36 of them.  The Sparrowhawk was a juvenile male bird.  We certainly catch males rather than females (4 to 1, currently).  This could have something to do with the difference in size: the smaller males getting caught in the pockets of the nets, the females being that much larger they tend to bounce off.  We were slightly disappointed not to catch any Sedge Warblers: it has been a blank year so far, but there was plenty of their chattering going on in the bushes alongside the boundary stream, but they never got close to our nets.

We had a lot of interaction with interested members of the public: particularly, we did a brief ringing demonstration to the children of the Wildlife Splash group, led by Dean and Rachel from the Wildlife Trust.  It is always great fun to see how children relate to close encounters with our birds.  There was also one slightly worrying interaction: we exchanged pleasantries with a couple walking their dog.  About 30 minutes later Neil, the Reserves Manager, arrived to ask us how many dead Wrens we had in the nets that session. The answer was none. Apparently, these two had gone to the visitor centre and complained that there was a dead Wren in our nets and they have been unable to find us to tell us. How do you explain that?  We checked with the staff members involved so we are confident that it was the couple we had a friendly exchange with.  You know how, in the social media age, that sort of misinformation spreads in attempts to bring activities like ours into disrepute, so why do people do it? For the record, natural mortality of juvenile birds is 70% to 80% by the end of their first winter and 40% to 50% per annum for those that survive beyond that.  Less than one bird in one thousand dies as a result of our ringing activities and, as a result of the information our ringing provides, many more birds survive that might otherwise not.  ST/JC/DW

Webb's Wood: Sunday, 6th August 2017

Opinions expressed in this post are my own and are not endorsed by or representative of WOS.

With rain, thunder and lightning forecast for Saturday, I moved the weekend's ringing session at Webb's Wood to the Sunday. This meant that I lost my scheduled help for the day and did this session solo.  At the start, it was one of those days when you thought: "Did I really get up at 4:00 am for this?" as I extracted and processed a mere 12 birds between 5:00 and 10:00.  One of those birds was a controlled Willow Warbler, in the most beautiful and pristine condition.  Assigning an age to it was very difficult, as there was no sign of any moult or feather wear anywhere.  Although it wasn't one of my rings, I was using rings of that vintage back in 2014 / 2015 but fresh wings and tail made it very difficult. Logging it with the BTO's on-line recording system revealed it to be a three year old bird.  So, it has completed its breeding and post-breeding moult close to the end of July.  Failed breeder?  One of the good things about the slow start to the morning was having the time to expand the biometric measurements that we normally take: adding in fat and pectoral muscle scores.  This was, no doubt, the impact of working alongside the BTO's Lee Barber, who was carrying out ringing demonstrations at the Countryfile event.

From 10:00 onwards things improved rapidly, with another 29 birds processed in the next two hours.  The list for the morning was: Jay 1; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 11(1); Coal Tit 3; Marsh Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 3; Wren 1; Robin 9; Blackbird (1); Willow Warbler (1); Goldcrest 2; Bullfinch 5.  Totals: 37 birds ringed from 10 species, four birds retrapped from four species, making 41 birds processed from 12 species.  As usual, youngsters were in the majority, with 27 of them being birds fledged this year. The two Goldcrests and Wren were both very newly fledged, with no sign of post-fledging moult.

Another juvenile Marsh Tit keeps adding to the good total building up for 2017 and a retrapped bird from October 2015 was a nice catch. This bird has been recorded on a total of five occasions since it was ringed.  My favourite bird of the day was an adult Jay.  Beautiful plumage, and this one was extremely docile: happy to hold a pencil in its claws rather than spearing my fingers. ST

Ravensroost Woods: Saturday, 29th July & Monday, 31st July 2017

With most of my team away, or whatever other excuse they had for not turning up, I had to split this project session into two parts so I could manage the nets effectively. I was joined by Steph and Lillie to help on Saturday.  We weren't swamped with birds, so I could spend some time helping Lillie to ring and measure her first birds, at age seven.  Catch them young (birds and potential ringers).  On Monday, I worked solo, but spent a very pleasant hour with the Well Being team that were on site to continue repairs to the shooting hut and to build some Tawny Owl boxes for the wood.

Funnily enough, on the equivalent project session last year we caught 39 birds: this session we caught 39 birds.  The list for the session was: Treecreeper 2; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit 2(2); Wren 3(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 7(2); Song Thrush 1; Blackcap 1; Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 7(2); Bullfinch 2(1). Totals: 30 ringed from 12 species, nine retrapped from six species, making 39 birds processed from 12 species.

The majority of birds were juveniles but both Garden Warblers, the Bullfinches, two of the Chiffchaffs, the Dunnock, one each of the Robins and Treecreepers and the retrapped Wren, Great Tit and Marsh Tits, were adults. 10 adults and 29 juveniles.  Garden Warblers are doing better in Ravensroost this year than last: in 2016 we ringed a total of five, all adults, all caught before the end of June.  So far this year, we have ringed eight, two of which are juveniles.  We have also retrapped two individual adults in Ravensroost this year, against none last year. 

It continues to be a good year for Marsh Tits: another two new, juvenile birds ringed on Saturday brings the total to six ringed in Ravensroost this year, compared to five in the whole of last year; 13 ringed in the Braydon Forest, against eight by the end of July in 2016.  We have also retrapped six individual birds in the wood so far this year: the same number as in the whole of last year.  Across the entire forest we have retrapped 16 individual birds so far this year, compared with 18 last year.  

The Well Being team were very interested in what I was doing. Whilst I have met all of the staff before, I had met only one of the volunteer group before, and none of them had seen the process. They took lots of photographs and asked plenty of intelligent questions and offered me a cup of coffee: so we all had a good time. ST/SB/LB

Lower Moor Farm: Thursday, 27th July 2017 CES9

I was joined for the session by Ellie and Jonny.  We had to move Wednesday's session to Thursday because of the persistent rain but, fortunately, both were able to reschedule to Thursday. The forecast wasn't much better for today, but it was scheduled for light rain showers between 8:00 and 9:00, with heavy showers moving in from 11:00. In the event, there was a bit of very light drizzle at 8:00, which stopped at 8:30, and then we had a short, sharp shower at about 9:00, which lasted just long enough for Ellie to close half the nets before reopening them.  Fortunately, the rain did not arrive again at 11:00 and we managed a full session.  

Our catch was: Green Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 1(1); Wren 1(3); Dunnock 1; Robin 2(1); Blackbird 1(2); Reed Warbler 3; Blackcap 15(2); Garden Warbler 5(2); Lesser Whitethroat 3; Chiffchaff 9; Willow Warbler 3; Bullfinch 3(1).  Totals: 48 ringed from 13 species, 12 retrapped from seven species, making 60 birds processed from 13 species.

The catch compared favourably numerically with the equivalent catch last year: 60 birds processed (48 ringed, 50 juveniles) compared to 63 birds processed in 2016 (49 ringed, 49 juveniles).  However, this catch had only two juvenile Blue Tits (6), no juvenile Great Tits (4), Blackbirds (5), Treecreepers (3) or Willow Warblers (6). (2016 values in parentheses.)  Our catch today was much more warbler oriented, with the following juveniles: Blackcap 16; Chiffchaff 9; Garden Warbler 7; Lesser Whitethroat and Reed Warbler 3 each.  

We were joined, briefly, by the Lower Moor Farm Watch Group: about 20 children, who arrived just as I was taking three juvenile Bullfinch from one of the net rides. They were delighted to get close to the birds and interested in the whole ringing process.  We also spent a little time with a couple of photographers from Wootton Bassett, who we managed to help identify a couple of birds they had photographed but were unfamiliar with.

Our highlight was the fourth Green Woodpecker of the year caught at Lower Moor Farm: three ringed and one retrapped from August 2016.  This was a juvenile male: fresh from the nest hole by the looks of its plumage. ST/JC/EJ

Somerford Common: Saturday, 22nd July 2017

It seems recently that every time we arranged a session at Somerford Common the weather would get in the way.  The weather, having turned particularly capricious this week, saw Jonny and myself finally managing the session this morning. With rain forecast for early afternoon, and the possibility of showers in between, we took the risk and started setting up at 5:00.  We were joined by Heather Woodhams.  We bumped into Heather at the end of a session in Ravensroost, where she was looking to photograph butterflies and, when she saw what we were about, asked if she could join us for a session.  This was the session.  It did not start too auspiciously for her: the front off-side tyre of her car deflated as she pulled into the car park. Things got better (worse): having phoned the RAC to get someone out to change the wheel, they kept Heather on hold for so long that her phone ran out of credit.  I suspect that they didn't have many staff on the help desk at 6:00.  To be helpful, I loaned Heather my mobile: which ran out of battery whilst she was trying to get the man from the RAC to understand exactly where Somerford Common is.  Thank goodness that Jonny is efficient: a fully charged and fully funded phone finally enabled proper contact to be made and all explanations given on how to find the car, and an hour later the RAC arrived.

To the birds: our foray to Somerford Common in July last year yielded just 21 birds, so this year's expedition was much more successful, with 43 birds caught: 34 ringed and 9 retrapped.  As well as the increased number, the catch was decidedly more exciting this year.  Delighted to say that we caught a juvenile Spotted Flycatcher.  Following on from the juveniles caught in the Firs and Red Lodge last year, and the sightings in Ravensroost Woods over the last couple of years, this gives some hope for a possible breeding population in the Braydon Forest area.  With the coppicing of the enclosure area, hopefully this will make the habitat even more attractive to these declining birds.

2017 07 22spofl

The list for the day was: Blue Tit (2); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren 5; Dunnock 1(1); Robin 11(1); Spotted Flycatcher 1; Blackbird 2(1); Blackcap 4; Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 5; Willow Warbler 1; Bullfinch 1(3). Totals: 34 birds ringed from 11 species, nine birds retrapped from six species, making 43 birds processed from 13 species.

Whilst there weren't as many juveniles as a proportion of the catch as we have been getting elsewhere, all of the Wrens were juveniles, ten of the Robins; the two Garden Warblers and two of the Blackbirds, plus one each of Marsh Tit, Dunnock, Blackcap and the aforementioned Spotted Flycatcher were juveniles. Another juvenile Marsh Tit is always welcome, bringing us to 7 juveniles out of 11 ringed for the year.  This is looking better then last year when, by the end of July, we had ringed eight, of which four were juveniles.

A few words on Robins: their population seems to have been on a continuous upward trend for the last four years.  Our team has ringed a regularly increasing number of them, as follows: 116 in 2013; 170 in 2014; 187 in 2015 and 204 in 2016 - with 101 already this year boding well for another excellent breeding season.  Why this should be, I have no idea: perhaps they have started breeding earlier, with the mild winters and springs, and are getting more broods in the year; maybe the mild winters since 2012 are enabling more to survive and, therefore, increasing the potential breeding pool.  Population trends are always interesting and the factors many and complex.

At about 11:00 a short, sharp shower, presaging worse to come, made it an easy decision to take down the nets.  As the shower came out of nowhere, we had left the ringing table ready for operation. Thankfully, Heather, who was waiting for the RAC, had her brolly handy and managed to cover the record sheets and prevent them getting too wet, whilst we were closing the nets. I know Heather enjoyed her morning: getting the chance to get close to the birds and get some good photographs. She was taught how to handle and release the birds safely and was shown how to put a ring on a bird, how to measure a wing-length and to weigh it (not as simple as you might think).  We are always heppy to welcome interested people.

We managed to get the nets down and everything packed away before the rains came. ST/JC

Lower Moor Farm: Friday 14th July 2017, CES 8

Jonny and I carried out CES 8 on Friday. It was a bit breezy but otherwise the weather was fine: with initial cloud cover, breaking up as the morning wore on with the sun breaking through at about 10:30.  The catch was an improvement on last year with 73 birds caught compared with 47 in 2016's equivalent session but well down on the session in 2015 (103 birds caught).  

The list for the morning was: Green Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper 1(2); Blue Tit 11(2); Great Tit 3(2); Wren 2(1); Dunnock 2(1); Robin 2; Song Thrush (1); Blackbird 2; Blackcap 7(2); Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 18(1); Willow Warbler 4; Goldcrest 1; Greenfinch 2; Bullfinch (2); Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 59 ringed from 15 species, 14 retrapped from nine species, making 73 birds processed from 17 species.

The star bird of the session was the Green Woodpecker.  It was a female, fledged last year, still with a red, veined brood patch: evidence that it was still brooding young.  This is our third of the year (one was a retrap), which is already the best total we have had as a team.

 2017 07 14GREWO

Once again the catch was primarily youngsters, including a number of the retrapped birds, with 59 of the 74 being birds fledged this year.  All of the Blue and Great Tits, all bar two of the Chiffchaffs and one of the Blackcaps were juveniles, as were three Treecreepers and Willow Warblers,  two Wrens, Dunnocks, Robins, Garden Warblers, the Goldcrest and one of the Bullfinches.  The continued presence of breeding Willow Warblers is particularly pleasing, as the evidenced northerly move of the UK population is likely to make this a rarer event. ST / JC

The Firs: Saturday, 8th July 2017

On Saturday we had our scheduled session at the Firs​. There was rather a large team out: Ellie, Jonny, David Williams and Steph (and LIllie) Buggins  It started brightly enough, with 20 birds caught in the first 75 minutes, and then died off very quickly.  Ellie volunteered to do a Captain Oates, and leave so there was more to go round, which was typically kind of her.  The initial catch was very exciting: we ringed three juvenile Marsh Tits in our first round.  This takes the number of Marsh Tits ringed in the Braydon Forest in 2017 so far to 10, which looks promising for a repeat of last year's total of 19.  We have caught a total of 24 individual Marsh Tits so far this year, compared with the 37 individuals in the whole of last year.  It is encouraging that we are catching them regularly in the Firs now.  It is where I caught my first colour-ringed one back in late 2012: but I didn't catch any again until two were ringed in 2015. Last year we ringed three and retrapped another (who had moved from Webb's Wood - and has subsequently returned there: not bad for a sedentary animal).  This year, so far, we have ringed three and retrapped a further two individuals.
The catch was very quiet and, with 32 birds processed between 6:15 and 11:00.  Unfortunately, that coincided exactly with the period that we were joined by Tony Marsh. Tony regularly sends me sightings of my colour-ringed Marsh Tits and is a great help in that respect. If you don't know the e-mail address for Marsh Tit sightings it is: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  
 We decided to do a final round, close the nets as we went, and take down if there were no birds in the nets. As we got down the hill to the main net rides I could see that the ride set on the right hand side of the central glade, was rather full: we took another 30 birds out of the net, the majority of them being Blue Tits, with a couple of Great Tits for good measure.   This is the best haul we have had of Blue Tits in the Braydon Forest for a couple of years.  That includes catches at winter feeding stations. They were all young birds, fledged this year, in their post-fledging moult.
The list for the session was: Blue Tit 24; Great Tit 4; Marsh Tit 3(1); Wren 4; Dunnock 3; Robin 10(2); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Blackcap 1(3); Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1. Totals: 56 birds ringed from 13 species; six birds recaptured from three species, making 62 birds processed from 13 species.  Of the 62 birds caught, 49 were juveniles fledged this year.  Clearly this is a better breeding season than that of 2016. The catch is encouraging for the Blue and Marsh Tits but what has happened to the Long-tailed Tits? Their numbers have just dropped off a cliff.  
The non-birding highlight of the day was several Silver-washed Fritillaries: they were seen right up at the top of the hill near the entrance gate, as well as along the main glade below the ponds (or where the ponds would be if they hadn't evaporated away).  It is great to see that the planned improvements to the site are bearing fruit. ST/JC/EJ/DW/SB/LB

Lower Moor Farm: Wednesday, 5th July 2017, CES7

Because we had to shunt last Wednesday's CES session to the Saturday, we were back on site for the next CES session much quicker than I had intended. Session 7 was on Wednesday, 5th July, with Jonny Cooper and myself on site. It was a quieter session than the equivalent session last year, with 47 birds caught, compared with 75.  It was an interesting session nonetheless, with fewer Blue Tits and a lack of Treecreepers and Willow Warblers being the main differences between the sessions.
The catch was: Kingfisher 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1(1); Wren 7(2); Robin 1(1); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 6(2); Garden Warbler 5(1); Lesser Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff 8(2); Greenfinch 1; Bullfinch 3(1).  Totals: 35 birds ringed from nine species and 12 birds retrapped from nine species, making 47 birds processed from 12 species.
The feature of the session was the proportion of juvenile birds caught: 35 of the 47 were youngsters. Amongst them were our first juvenile Kingfisher and Bullfinches of the year (3 of them):
 2017 07 05Bullf
The real highlight for me was being able to show my grandson, visiting from Sumatra, what I do to spend my days.  He was shown how to safely handle and release a few birds as well.  I quite fancy a ringing trip to Aceh province.  I would post a photograph but it would fall foul of the BTO's guidelines on social media.  ST/JC