West Wilts Group

CES2: Lower Moor Farm, Thursday, 19th May 2016

With yesterday being so wet, we had to postpone CES session 2 to today. We started out fairly early, at 4:45, and, as Jonny and I were setting up the last net ride, we had the treat of a Black Tern flying across Mallard Lake, heading north.  We heard at least one Cuckoo calling during the morning: and saw one fly across Mallard Lake, again moving south to north. I have already heard them on most of my sites but this was my first sighting for the year.

The session started off really well, but by 10:00 it died away and, despite a nice final throw of Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat and Great Spotted Woodpecker, it was a slightly disappointing end result. We had one each of recently fledged juvenile Blackbird and Robin. The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock (3); Robin 2(1); Blackbird 2; Cetti's Warbler (2); Blackcap 5(1); Garden Warbler 6(3); Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 1(4); Willow Warbler 3(1); Goldfinch 1; Bullfinch 1(2); Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 28 ringed from 14 species and 19 retrapped from 10 species. Somewhat frustratingly, we saw and heard both Sedge and Reed Warbler - but they avoided our nets this week. 

There was a massive emergence of Common Blue damselflies this morning and they were finding our nets a useful spot to hang out, rest and warm up in the sun.  The trout were leaping out of the water almost continuously: big fish leaping vertically out of the water before landing back in with a massive splash. Tom Daley they aren't: more Peter Kay / John Smith.  It was quite amusing watching one soul in a boat in the middle of the lake attempting to catch trout that were busy attempting to catch the insects that were emerging from the water and leaping out of the water all around him,  He did eventually catch one. so not a completely wasted morning for him. One gentleman photographer, who was delighted to have had the opportunity to photograph both Lesser Whitethroat and Whitethroat up close, and to get an identification lesson as well, came back to show me some of the dragons he had photographed: 4-Spotted Chaser and Downy Emerald. This was the first time I had seen anything of the latter - and I was delighted to see a couple for myself as I went into Sandpool, heading for the exit.  The final sight, before exiting Sandpool Farm, was a pair of Hobby displaying over the trees: my first for the year, so a lovely end to the session. ST / JC

Tedworth House, Tuesday, 17th May 2016

This monthly session at Tedworth House turned up a couple of highlights: my first Dunnock and Blackbird fledglings of the year, plus yet another juvenile Song Thrush.  (Yes, I know, I am easily pleased.) 2016 seems to be a good year for Song Thrushes. Whilst I caught plenty of adult and second year birds in the first five months of 2015, I didn't catch my first newly fledged bird until 21st June.  In 2014 the first fledgling was on the 30th May.  So far in 2016 I have caught six fledglings, with the first on the 29th April. 

The catch for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Wren 1(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 2(1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 5; Blackcap 1; Goldcrest 1. Totals: 13 ringed from 8 species and 2 retrapped birds from 2 species.  

The Great Spotted Woodpecker, one of the Blackbirds and the Song Thrush were the last birds of the session.  When I processed them I had an audience of gardeners and stonemasons.  These are two of the vocational training courses being run by H4H at Tedworth, expanding the skill sets of either current or former service personnel.  I taught a couple of the audience how to safely hold and then release the birds (a Blackbird and the woodpecker). One is always hopeful that close encounters like this will encourage people to become involved in ringing. 


This was a beautiful adult male. The males share incubation duties with the females and this male had a very well-defined and vascularised brood patch. So well-defined that I had to double-check that it was a male. ST

Bulford Ranges & Environs, Sunday, 15th May 2016

Today I was lucky enough to be invited out to do some owl box checking on Salisbury Plain by Robert Haydon.  There were three of us, being joined by Mick (in true British tradition, I didn't get his last name) one of the trainees from Robert's group.  The plan was to visit a number of Kestrel and Tawny Owl boxes to check on their progress.  All of the boxes were in and around the Bulford ranges and the surrounding Salisbury Plain. Virtually every box visited was occupied.  Three Kestrel boxes were in use by the intended species, with eggs in each of them. One had a particularly interesting egg set: 3 were the expected brick red shell colour but one was pale and speckled: same size as the others but very different in colour.

Three of the Tawny Owl boxes, and one of the Kestrel boxes. were occupied by Jackdaws.  All of their young were somewhat early in their development: none were feathered yet, but one group distinctly showed their feather tracts ready to erupt.  We found that, although the boxes occupied by Tawny Owls were productive, the brood sizes were small. All broods only had one or two young, rather than the three or four that might be seen on better years.  All young were healthy and of decent weight. Most had their wing feathers at the mid-range stage of development (feathers medium), but a couple were still at an earlier stage (feathers small).  Failed eggs were in place in a few of the boxes.

We checked out a couple of natural nest holes as well.  Both had occupants: one contained a solitary Tawny Owl, the other contained three Stock Dove young at feathers medium. The tree containing the Stock Doves is quite remarkable: over previous years Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Jackdaw and Mandarin Duck have all been found nesting within it. All birds large enough to be so were fitted with a ring.  In total we ringed 10 Tawny Owl pulli, 3 Jackdaw pulli and 5 Stock Dove pulli.  A brood of Pied Wagtail pulli, found in a nest inside one of the army's pill-boxes, were too small to be ringed. One thing I was appalled by: the dirty habits of the human animals who use the Plain but don't appreciate what they have access to. These Pied Wagtail pulli were sharing their home with a number of empty beer cans and sundry other items of rubbish that should not be there.


Whilst we were moving between sites, we had some excellent views of birds that are a speciality of the Plain: Stone Curlew, Lapwing with chick and two Corn Bunting were highlights.  Perhaps the most surprising sight was a family of Stonechats: male, female and at least three newly fledged young. The young were sitting either in a bush or on the wires of one of the fences and begging for food from their parents.  Whilst that does seem to be an early brood, according to the BTO's Bird Facts site, although the average date of first laying for Stonechat is 25th April, the earliest date from the nest record scheme is the 25th March.  The incubation period is 15 days and the time to fledging is a further 15 days, so a laying date of the 15th April is not unreasonable.

For me, whilst I am incredibly grateful to Robert for the opportunity and the chance to ring so many pulli, my favourite sight of the day was my first ever Grizzled Skipper butterfly. It flew in and settled, briefly, on a plant immediately adjacent to my right leg whilst I was sitting eating my lunch. A brief view but a wonderful one. ST

Wood Lane, Saturday, 14th May 2016

After the torrential rain midweek, it was good to get out and get some nets up. I was joined by Daniela and Jonny for the session at our Wood Lane site.  Jonny is becoming adept at putting up and breaking down the nets, and today I started Daniela on taking in nets. It makes a huge difference to the only onerous chore associated with ringing with three of us setting up and taking down.  There was a lot of birdsong, notably Willow Warbler and Cuckoo, but neither of those and not too many others found their way into the nets.  From the postings on the UK ringers Facebook page, it would seem that a lot of other ringing teams had the same experience today.

The list for today comprised: Blue Tit 1(2); Great Tit 2(3); Wren 1(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 2; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 2; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 4; Bullfinch 1.  Totals: 18 ringed from 11 species and 6 retraps from 3 species.

The highlight of the day was our first juvenile Robin of the year:

 20140514 Robin

We also retrapped a 4 year old Great Tit: one of the first Great Tits I ringed after gaining my C-permit. Every bird we caught, with the obvious exception of the juvenile Robin, was in full breeding condition.  Every female caught was either brooding eggs or young. ST / JC / DD

Brown's Farm, Saturday, 7th May 2016

With the morning set for fair weather and light winds, Fraser and I took the opportunity to ring at Brown's Farm.  The winter flocks have long since broken up, so the catch was never going to be huge, but the summer visitors have arrived. We caught a nice spread of resident farmland and summer visiting species. The catch was as follows, Ringed (Retrapped): Blue Tit 6(3); Great Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 2; Robin 2; Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 3; Whitethroat 4(1); Goldfinch 4; Linnet 2; Bullfinch 1; Yellowhammer 2. Totals: 29 ringed from 12 species and 6 retrapped from 3 species. 

All of the resident species were in full breeding condition, both males and females; as were the males amongst the summer visitors. A few of the summer females had started to defeather and develop their brood patches - but they were at early stages. The hedgerows and fields were full of birdsong.  Alongside the birds that we processed, we heard Cuckoo, Lesser Whitethroat, Song Thrush, Chaffinch and the ever present Skylarks.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the catch was the relatively high number of Blue Tits.  Most of these birds were caught in the hawthorn hedgerow, along a field boundary, a reasonable distance from the nearest copse.  One of my queries about these birds in the Braydon Forest is the way that they seem to disappear from the wood during the breeding season, with the young coming into the wood after fledging, but the adults staying out until winter. Are they breeding in the hedgerows? I doubt it: where are the trees with suitable holes for nesting? I suspect that the hedgerows are their larder.  ST/FB

Lower Moor Farm, Wednesday, 4th May 2016

Last year I enrolled Lower Moor Farm in the BTO's constant effort site (CES) scheme. The principles behind the scheme are: that it runs over a number of years (minimum 4); nets are set in the same places each year in an environment that is largely unchanging; 12 sessions run between May and September, at approximately 10 day intervals; catching is done for the same length of time for each session. Those are the "constant" elements of the scheme.  The idea is that any changes in the catch reflects changes in the bird population rather than changes in the local environment or the catching methodology.  Today's session was the first of the 2016 CES. I was joined for the session by Jonny Cooper, celebrating his birthday by getting up at 4:00, and ringing his first Sedge Warbler.


The list for the session was: Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1(4); Wren 3(2); Dunnock 1(1); Robin 2(3); Song Thrush 2(4); Blackbird (1); Cetti’s Warbler 1(1); Sedge Warbler 2; Blackcap 11(2); Garden Warbler 4(3); Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 1(1); Willow Warbler 2; Bullfinch 8(3); Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 43 ringed from 16 species; 26 retrapped from 12 species, making a grand total of 69 processed from 18 species.

The highlights were: the strong catch of Bullfinches, all in breeding condition; another two juvenile Song Thrushes; two each of Sedge Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat, plus a Whitethroat and the new male Cetti’s.  The retrapped Cetti's was a female. It had a very well developed brood patch, suggesting that it is brooding eggs already.  As far as we can tell, all of the expected warblers are back on site now, except the Reed Warblers.  Something to look forward to.

There was a volunteer work party on-site from one of the local schools after about 10:15. When the organiser saw that we were ringing she asked if she could bring the crew over and so, as usual, I did a short, impromptu ringing demonstration. It went well, with a lot of interest from the teenagers, once they got over the idea that birds are somehow "yucky".  Afterwards, one of the work party helpers came over and told me that, following a previous impromptu ringing demonstration, he had been inspired to buy a bird guide, which he had on him, and start birding. Makes you feel all warm inside (and a nice boost to the ego). ST / JC

Ravensroost Woods, Friday & Saturday, 29th & 30th April 2016

These were the first two sessions of the fourth year of the ongoing Ravensroost coppice project. The aim of the project is to follow the changes in the 8 year coppice cycle area in the southern section of Ravensroost Woods. The areas studied comprise 4 coupes at different stages of the coppice cycle, each approximately 2 years apart and a fifth, control, area in the northern part of the wood (the north side of the bridle path). On Friday I was joined by Jonny and we did areas 1,2 and 3. Area 1 was largely coppiced last year and the vegetation height (excluding the guard oaks) is 1m or so, on average.  The area with the tallest average height is area 2, with a mean height of over 3m. Then area 3 is in between, with a mean height of about 3m.

Saturday morning I was on my own, managing areas 4 and 5. Area 4 was coppiced the year that I started the project and has a mean height of 2m. The control area comprises areas coppiced on a 25 year cycle (it hasn't been done since I first started going to Ravensroost in 1998) or else not coppiced at all.

The list for the sessions was as follows:

Area 1: Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren (1); Dunnock 1(2); Robin (1); Song Thrush 1; Blackcap 2

Area 2: Great Tit (1); Wren 1(1); Dunnock (2); Robin 1; Blackcap 5(1); Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 1(2); Bullfinch (2)

Area 3: Great Tit 1(3); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Robin 1(1); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 2(1); Chiffchaff (1); Willow Warbler 1

Area 4: Treecreeper 1(1); Robin 1(1); Song Thrush 1(1); Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff (1); Willow Warbler 1

Area 5: Blue Tit 4(1); Great Tit (1); Marsh Tit (2); Wren 1; Robin 1; Blackbird (1); Blackcap (1); Chiffchaff 1(2)

Totals: 34 ringed from 12 species and 35 retrapped from 13 species.

The highlights for me were the first Garden Warblers of the year and three fledgling Song Thrushes.  One of the youngsters, when the wing was spread to look at the telltale signs of a juvenile bird, showed that early breeding has its pitfalls. Three of the secondary feathers had broken off along a clear fault line, which will correspond to a problem in the food supply at a critical time in its development:


It was also gratifying to retrap three of my colour ringed Marsh Tits. The two caught in the control area were almost certainly a pair: a male and female, about 1m apart, in the net, at the same time. The female was ringed as a juvenile last October. She had a well-developed brood patch, at a stage that would almost certainly mean she is already laying eggs. The male was also one of last year's fledglings. Great to see that two of last year's birds have established a territory and are breeding in the wood.  I am extremely hopeful that the Ravens Retreat extension to the wood will help expand the Marsh Tit population, in due course. ST / JC

Webb's Wood, Wednesday, 27th April 2016

I carried out a ringing session in Webb’s Wood this morning.  It wasn’t a busy session, only 16 birds processed, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.  The list for the session was: Blue Tit 1(2); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Robin (1); Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 4.  Totals: 12 ringed from 6 species and 3 retraps from 3 species.  All bar one of the male Blackcaps was in breeding condition.

There were a lot of other birds around but it seems they were all up in the trees singing and proclaiming their territories. In addition to those caught and processed heard and / or saw Buzzard, Raven, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Song Thrush.

The highlight of the morning was a singing Wood Warbler. I would expect it is passing through, heading to the Forest of Dean or further north, but for it to be showing territorial behaviour in Webb’s Wood is pretty exciting.

One additional footnote: I was chatting with a woman who was walking her dog, and she told me that she had seen a wild boar on Somerford Common last week. Interesting sighting: hopefully I won't be getting pig-sized holes in my nets.