Busy, busy, busy: Thursday, 24th October 2019

It is not often that the West Wilts Ringing Group is quite so busy mid-week.  I suspect that, having seen the weather forecast for the next few days, everybody thought it might be a bit difficult to get out, so we ended up with four teams working at their various sites.

Andy Palmer and Ian Grier were ringing at their site on the Imber Ranges, Salisbury Plain; Andrew Bray was at Lacock Abbey allotments; Jonny Cooper was at his farmland site near Chippenham and I joined Steph at her home in Down Ampney, just over the border in Gloucestershire.

Andrew had his first autumnal session at the Lacock Abbey allotments.  The weather was (as it was for all of us) misty and damp to start with, with rain arriving later in the morning, forcing an end to the session.  As always at this time of year, especially when you re working solo, it seems that a good sized tit flock will descend upon your nets, putting you under pressure to get them extracted in a timely manner.  Andrew cleared his nets, and shut them whilst the birds were processed, so that no birds were left in the nets for any excessive length of time.  Once the nets were re-opened, the birds kept coming in.  The mist became drizzle and Andrew packed up at 11:30.  His list for the session was: Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 24; Great Tit 9(2); Coal Tit 6; Wren 2; Dunnock 2; Robin 3.  Totals: 47 birds ringed from 7 species and 2 birds recaptured from 1 species, making 49 birds processed from 7 species.

Jonny’s session at his Bailey’s Farm site near Chippenham was his first of the autumn.    Being an arable farm it is difficult to get out during summer months, as many of the fields where nets are set contain crops but, now that the crops have all been harvested, he is able to ring the site as often as he wants to.

The weather forecast was looking a bit hit and miss. With no wind being forecast but a risk of showers throughout the morning. So it was with some trepidation that he headed out, fully expecting to have the session cut short by rain. Thankfully the weather was kind and taking a chance really paid off.

The morning started foggy and the first round produced 10 birds, a solid start if a little slow for the site. The fog then cleared and the numbers of birds just kept increasing. The windless, overcast conditions making perfect ringing weather.

The list for the day was as follows: Blackbird 1(1), Blue Tit 20(7), Chaffinch 12, Dunnock (1), Goldcrest 3, Goldfinch 4, Great Tit 10(9), Greenfinch 28, Long-tailed Tit 2, Redwing 14, Robin (5), Starling 1 and Wren (2). Totals: 95 birds ringed from 10 species and 25 birds re-trapped from 6 species giving a grand total of 120 birds processed.

This is the largest catch ever for the site and its great to see so many birds thriving in this well manged farmland. The main highlights of the catch is the 28 Greenfinch, which were part of a flock of around 80 that were flying around all morning. Greenfinches have had a hard time in recent years due to the Trichomonosis virus, but hopefully this is a good sign they are making a comeback.

The nests were closed and final birds processed and 12:30 and he was packed up and gone by 13:45, “ready to have a nap” he tells me.  These youngsters: no stamina!

Andy and Ian aren’t into blogging, so I don’t have any detail of their activity, just the list of the birds caught: Green Woodpecker (1); Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 1; Meadow Pipit 3; Robin 3; Redwing 3; Song thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Chiffchaff 1; Yellowhammer 12.  Totals: 30 birds ringed from 9 species, 1 bird recaptured, making 31 birds processed from 10 species.  To only recapture one bird in a place that is ringed so regularly is unusual. For that bird to be a Green Woodpecker is most unusual!

Steph has a permit that allows her to ring in her garden unsupervised. However, as Thursday was only going to be her second session in her garden and, as it backs onto fields in a very arable area on the Gloucestershire / Wiltshire border, there are huge flocks of Starling and House Sparrow, as well as a fair few Yellowhammers around. As both the Starlings and House Sparrows have been coming into her garden in large numbers, attracted by the feeders and the mealworms on her bird table, I went along just in case she became inundated with birds.  The weather was definitely dreich and dreary as they say in Scotland: damp and misty.  However, it was not raining or windy and we were ready to start catching from about 9:30 (after the school run).   There is something very civilised about back garden ringing: but when that garden has an outbuilding which was, once upon a time, the village bar (there is no pub in the village), so it has an excellent counter for putting all your equipment out and an open front for the easy release of the birds, it takes it to another level.

Because it is on the edge of farmland, and I am keen to find out what we might attract in, I put on lures for Yellowhammer and Linnet.  We had no luck with the Linnets, but Steph got to ring the first Yellowhammers caught in her garden. I am sure they will be the first of many.  The list from the day was:  Blue Tit 22; Great Tit 6; Dunnock 2; Robin 1; Blackbird 1; House Sparrow 9; Yellowhammer 3.  Total: 44 birds processed from 7 species.

Unfortunately, the Starlings chose not to visit the garden today.  We could see the huge flocks of them flying around the fields, roosting on the telephone wires and chattering away in the trees and hedges behind the house.  I am sure it is only a matter of time!  The rain came on at 11:30 and so we furled and tied the nets and closed the session. In the afternoon the rain relented and Steph got the nets open for another short burst of  ringing.

A word on Yellowhammers.  On the 1st January 2013 the North Wilts Ringing Group was formed by three of the senior ringers from the West Wilts group.  They wanted their own particular identity, being more active, and focused very much more in the north of the county than most of the rest of the group.  That meant that all of the then active farmland sites on the to the north and east of Swindon, the Marlborough Downs and Salisbury Plain were lost to the group.  As a result, our catches of Yellowhammer and other farmland birds dropped dramatically: just 2 ringed in 2013 from 670 in 2012.

In 2014 we ringed 19, in 2015: 17, in 2016: 22.  2014 was the year in which I was given ringing access to Brown’s Farm for the first time (having earned that by carrying out the Breeding Bird Survey there for the previous three years and, importantly, sharing the information with the farmer, who was hugely interested in what was happening on his land) and in 2015 14 of the 17 were ringed there, and in 2016 17 of the 22.  In 2016 Andy Palmer reactivated an older site at Battlesbury Bowl on the Imber Ranges, Jonny Cooper got access to Bailey’s Farm, and the following year we processed 44, mainly at Battlesbury.  In 2018 the catch improved massively and we processed 166: 50% of them at Battlesbury and the other 50% split evenly between Brown’s and Bailey’s Farms.  This year started quietly, until this month.  So far, in October alone, we have processed 106 Yellowhammer: 91 on Battlesbury (a phenomenal result), 12 on Brown’s and 3 at Down Ampney.  The total for the year is currently standing at 167 birds, being our best year for a long, long time.

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