Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 6th September 2017

The weather forecast for Wednesday was for it to be a dry day with light westerly winds initially, strengthening throughout the morning, and changing direction from WSW to WNW by 11:00.  We decided that the session at Blakehill could go ahead, on the basis that the nets on the edge of the plateau could work until 10:00 and the hedgerow nets on the perimeter track would be okay until much later.  In the end, we had to take down the perimeter track nets at 11:00 and were packed up and gone by 11:40.  By 11:00 the birds had stopped moving around and the catch had died away to virtually zero.  However, up until then we had an excellent session.  The team for the day was Ellie Jones, Jonny Cooper, Andrew Bray, David Williams and myself.

Jonathan, the farms manager, and his team have done a great job of trimming the edge bushes of the central plateau.  They are compact and far less straggly, laden with blackberries – and just the right size for 9m and 12m nets: now, if the wind will stop blowing for a day or so!

Our first two rounds were quiet: a Wren and a Dunnock at 7:30, followed by two Goldfinch, a Blackcap and a Robin at 7:45. Then the Goldfinches arrived and we were very busy for the next two-and-a-half hours.  The highlights of the day were: our first Whinchat of the autumn and, at last, a reasonable catch of Long-tailed Tits: five ringed and five retrapped is our best return on this species in the Braydon Forest this year.​

The list for the day was: Swallow 4; Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 7; Long-tailed Tit 5(5); Wren 1; Dunnock 2; Whinchat 1; Robin 1; Blackcap 3; Whitethroat 3; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 35; Reed Bunting 2.  Totals: 74 birds ringed from 15 species, five birds processed from one species, making 79 birds processed from 15 species.  Only seven of those birds could be reliably aged as adults. Long-tailed Tit adults and juveniles have both generally finished moulting and their plumages as indistinguishable. We know the five retrapped birds are adults but, whilst we suspect the five we ringed were juveniles, it cannot be proven beyond doubt.  The mantra is to be “accurately imprecise, rather than imprecisely accurate” (credit to Richard du Feu for coining the phrase) so we code them as “age unknown”.

In amongst our Goldfinch catch was one with a single aberrant primary feather:


It was just that one feather, and the aberration was not present on the other wing.

All in all, another very satisfying session: handled really well by the team.  With five competent extractors working together, we cleared the nets quickly and efficiently in every round. Had the wind not got up and changed direction we would probably have had another 100+ bird session.

Simon Tucker

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