Blackmoor Copse: Friday, 4th May 2018

Blackmoor Copse was the first ever nature reserve purchased by the, then newly-formed, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust in 1962.  It is not a site I would normally go to, being south-west of Salisbury and a 90 minute drive from home.  All of my sites bar two are within a 20 minute drive from my house: which is perfectly acceptable when you are getting to site for 5:30 (or earlier) in the summer.

The reason for my trip to this site was for the Well Being team.  Chelsie Phillips, who runs the Well Being scheme for the Wildlife Trust, has one group who are coming to the end of their time with the scheme, and they were keen to learn about bird ringing and see some birds close up.  As they were all based in the south of the county, Chelsie asked if I would carry out the session at Blackmoor Copse.  This site has never been ringed before: at least, the Trust have never given permission for it to be and I can find no records from there. Therefore, the first birds to be caught at Blackmoor Copse were a pair of Coal Tits, and the first ringed was the female:


There is always an issue with going to a site that you know nothing about: where to set your nets for a start.  I managed to get a brief look at the site yesterday, which gave me an idea of where to set them.  As I was working solo, I set up eight nets in four rides along the main paths, forming a cross.  Unfortunately, the catch did not match up to the effort put in, with just 11 birds hitting the nets, and only 10 of them staying put.  Collared Doves are notoriously good at getting out of nets and this one was no exception.  The catch for the day was: Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 2; Robin 1; Song Thrush 2; Blackcap 3.  As expected, there were no retrapped birds.  Despite the low catch, I think this is a gem of a wood: it is just about finding the best place to set the nets.  There are a lot of differing habitats, and should offer a good variety of birds.

Despite the low numbers, everybody had an enjoyable time.  Throughout the morning we had masses of birdsong: besides those we caught we could identify songs from Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Bullfinch and Cuckoo. There was also the call of Green Woodpecker and the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which also gave occasional, fleeting, views.  There were also views of a Nuthatch going to and from its nest hole.  Before the team arrived, I had several excellent views of a Field Vole, and it was just busy doing whatever voles do and totally ignored my presence. Unfortunately on none of those occasions did I have my camera to hand to photograph it.  We also saw a Common Lizard and, a key indicator species: an Oil Beetle.


There was another unfortunate contretemps.  It seems to be becoming a habit.  As I returned to the ringing station with one of the Blackcaps we were accosted by, what I presume were, a married couple of birders, who told me that, whilst members of the BTO, they didn’t approve of bird ringing.  I love people who ask you to justify what you are doing but then won’t actually let you answer. The simple fact is: no ringing, virtually no ornithology.  Fortunately, Chelsie put up a sterling defence, explaining how the Trust uses the data that our team provides to help them make and understand the effects of management decisions for their nature reserves. This cut no ice with them because they have been to Spurn and know that recapture rates are very low: 2%.  The fact is that any migration hotspot will have a low incidence of recapture at that site.  However, many of those birds will be recaptured elsewhere, and it helps build a picture of migration routes and changes.  Because of the project based work that my team does, my recapture rate is much higher. In 2017 my team processed 3,036 birds across all sites, of which 838 were recaptures of already ringed birds, i.e. 28%.  If I focus purely on my Ravensroost Wood project site, the situation is very different: 41% of birds processed are recaptures. The man accused me of lying or, as he put it, he didn’t accept my statistics.  They are available for anyone who wants to see them.  It is what happens with blinkered people: they will only accept data if it confirms their prejudice. When he came back some time later, without apologising for his insinuation, he offered his hand and said he didn’t want to leave things with bad blood, uttered the ubiquitous “No hard feelings” platitude: I shook it, not to appear churlish, but I am not sure why.  I just wish people who know so little about a subject, but have such strong opinions, would make an effort to open their minds and learn.

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