Yet More Meadow Pipits: Blakehill Farm, Sunday, 7th October 2018

One of the benefits of scheduling ringing sessions for the Saturday is that, when it rains all day, you can move the session to Sunday.  As it was just myself and Jonny, I gave Jonny the choice of venue and he chose Blakehill: clearly he hasn’t had enough of Meadow Pipits yet.  We arrived on site for 6:00, in an effort to get the plateau edge nets open before it was light, and also to give ourselves enough time, given that there was just the two of us, to set the perimeter track nets. I wanted to have a shot at catching some Linnets – and they are most likely to be found in the perimeter hedgerow.

The weather was  excellent all morning.  However, the first couple of hours were very cold, with an extensive ground frost.  This almost certainly held back the birds from an early start, which was helpful in getting all of the nets open, unlike the last session.  Once it warmed up, at about 9:00, they started moving and we started catching.

Before we started our catching for the day, we were diverted by a Wheatear that landed on the gate to the central plateau, then hopped onto the gatepost of the gate in the electric fence before flying off across the field.  We had excellent views but didn’t have cameras to hand before it flew off.  Needless to say, we didn’t catch it.

The first full round of the day delivered a bumper catch of Reed Bunting. We went on to have a total of 19 in the session. We have only ever caught that many on one other occasion, on the 9th September 2016. Apart from that the largest Reed Bunting catch at Blakehill was 12.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 3; Meadow Pipit 34(1); Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Stonechat 1; Whinchat 3; Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 3; Starling 2; Linnet 9; Reed Bunting 18(1). Totals: 82 birds ringed from 12 species, plus 2 recaptured from 2 species, making 84 birds processed from 12 species.

This really is turning into a bumper autumn migration for Whinchat, with 15 caught at Blakehill Farm since 5th September.  We also caught our second Stonechat of the autumn. As for Meadow Pipits, well it is just remarkable: 148 birds caught in the same period, compared with a next best maximum of 47 in the whole of 2017. Prior to that we had never caught more than 20 Meadow Pipits in an entire calendar year at Blakehill.  What is interesting is that last Saturday, at Brown’s Farm, I caught 19 Meadow Pipits, where in the previous 3 years and some 15 sessions, I had only caught one.  Perhaps they have just had a really good year.  We have had one of our Blakehill birds recaptured just over the border into Oxfordshire, and on Saturday we caught a bird that was ringed some 43km south at Westdown Plantation on Salisbury Plain, so they are certainly moving around the county.

The plan for Linnets worked, with a nice catch of 9 during the session, all in the hedgerow adjacent to the lure we used.  Just before noon, I looked up from where I was sitting at the ringing station to see Jonny run from one side of the ringing site to the other.  This was the reason why:


We don’t catch many Starlings: they are clever birds and seem adept at avoiding capture.  Jonny was running because three of them were in the net only, by the time he got there, two of them had escaped.  That we caught another one later was pure serendipity.  The nets were kept open until 12:30, by which time the birds had become accustomed to the nets and we had a couple of empty rounds. It was a super session, just like the last two!


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