Blakehill Farm: Sunday, 17th September 2017

We don’t usually do sessions on both days of the weekend but, with another calm day forecast, Jonny, Steph and I decided to have another go at Blakehill Farm.  The hope was to catch some migrants moving southwards on the northerly winds that featured at the end of the week.  In the event, it became an excellent catch of one particular resident species: Meadow Pipit.  In the last two years we have caught 14 of them at the site in the month of September: today we caught twice that.

We hadn’t planned for this: the plan had been to target any Wheatear that might be about and we had set a lure to attract them in to a number of Potter traps baited with some nice, juicy maggots.  There was no sign of any Wheatear, but all of a sudden a flock of Meadow Pipits appeared.  I changed the call to Meadow Pipit, and they found it irresistible.  The Potter traps failed miserably, not catching a single bird, but we strung a net behind the traps and it caught 26 of the 28 Meadow Pipits processed.  One of the things about Meadow Pipits and nets is their habit of sitting on the top strand of the net or on the supporting poles.  Today, a couple of them actually perched on one of the lower strings, the ones that create the pockets with which we catch the birds. Usually birds are caught by hitting the taught net at speed and dropping into the pockets made by the horizontal shelf strings.  What we didn’t expect was these two who sat there and simply toppled forward into the pockets.

The morning started brilliantly for me.  As I arrived on site and parked up, my headlights picked up a Little Owl sitting on a fence post at the entrance to the central plateau.  It flew off when I opened the car door, but circled round to land on another fence post 50m away and stayed long enough for the others to see it.  This is the first I have seen at the site: it is certainly not a regular at Blakehill Farm.

The list for the morning was: Swallow 11; Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 4; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Meadow Pipit 28; Stonechat 1; Robin 1; Blackcap 4; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 9; Reed Bunting 3.  Total: 67 birds ringed from 12 species.  As is par for the course, the bulk of the birds were juveniles: the Dunnock, two of the Reed Buntings and six of the Meadow Pipits were the adults.

It was a pretty good session for Steph as well: she got to ring her first Meadow Pipits and  this lovely juvenile, female Stonechat:

Photo courtesy of Steph.

We were happy to catch another 11 Swallows, but it was a tiny fraction of them on the site. At one point there were several hundred sitting on the fences lining the fields to the east of the central plateau.  They flew around and over the nets but just a few managed to misjudge the distances and drop into the nets.

The wind started to get up about 11:00, somewhat later than forecast, and to avoid the problems of extracting nets from hedges, we started to take down soon after.  All in all, it was an excellent session.  There was so much activity on the central plateau that I cannot wait to arrange another session on the site: the next calm day will see me back there.

Simon Tucker


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