Two firsts at Blakehill Farm: Saturday, 3rd August 2019

This was our first session on the Chelworth side of Blakehill Farm since the 8th March this year. Our agreement with the Wildlife Trust is to stop activities on the plateau area when the Curlew arrive to breed and recommence once any potential young have fledged.  They arrived early this year.  I was joined by David for this session.  With just the two of us we didn’t set too many nets: 5 short nets on the plateau and 6 x 18m nets along the hedgerow.  Having seen Wheatear and Redstart on the site yesterday we were hopeful of catching a few passage migrants.

At first it looked as if we were going to have an awful session: with the nets open at 6:30 we caught only 3 birds in the first 90 minutes of the session. Fortunately, as the morning warmed up the birds started to move and we started to catch more regularly.  We ended up on 31 birds but with a couple of stand out catches, of which more later.  One of the reasons was very simple: our nets are set at a height where the top shelf is at about 7′, the hedgerow has now reached a height of 10′ and the birds were simply flying over the top of the nets. We watched several flocks of 30+ Goldfinch flying just over the net from the top of the hedge and head off elsewhere. I had hoped that they might come back and and end up in the nets, as happened before on a day when Jonny and I took 69 of them out of the nets over the course of the morning session – but they didn’t.  About 8:00 Neil Pullen, the Trust’s Reserves Manager, arrived for a chat. Tongue-in-cheek, I asked whether there was any plan to trim the hedge. Delighted to say, there are plans to do so this winter.  I requested a height of 6′ or less.

So, to the birds we did catch.  The first “first” was a Sedge Warbler.  Although there are three medium sized ponds on the western side of the site, they don’t really have traditional Sedge Warbler habitat and we have never previously caught one here.  With plenty breeding in the nearby Cotswold Water Park, and with us catching plenty of birds that have been ringed in the Park, it is a little surprising that this was the first we have caught. It was a juvenile on dispersal / migration and a cracking looking bird for David to ring:


He looks a bit big-headed but that’s my awful technique with my camera phone.

The second “first” was a first for me and a bird I have been very keen to see up close for a long time: a Skylark.  There are so many on site it is somewhat surprising that it has taken this long for one to blunder into our nets, but I am delighted one did today.  They are not a usual catch: in fact, nobody in the group has caught one since West Wilts Ringing Group became constituted in its current form on the 1st January 2013 and Jonny caught two, using a technique called drag netting (rather self-explanatory), in February.  This bird was the first to be caught in a standard mist-net.  This is not too surprising, they do tend to be VTOL birds, not conducive to flying into mist nets.  This was a juvenile, which might explain it.


In a session with only 31 birds, to catch 14 species is pretty good.  The list for the day was: Skylark [1]; Blue Tit [2]; Great Tit 1; Robin [2]; Sedge Warbler [1]; Blackcap [3]; Whitethroat [6]; Lesser Whitethroat [1]; Chiffchaff [2]; Willow Warbler [2]; Chaffinch [1]; Goldfinch 1[1]; Linnet 3[2]; Reed Bunting [2].  Totals: 5 adults ringed from 3 species; 26 juveniles ringed from 13 species, making 31 birds processed from 14 species. No recaptures at all but, as the majority were juveniles, it is what one might expect.

We started packing away at 11:30 after what turned out to be a very nice and rewarding session for both of us.

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