Sessions Before Lockdown: 7th to 21st March 2020

As of Tuesday, 24th March 2020 the BTO has suspended all surveying activities until the government lift the lockdown status in the country. This means that all permit holders above the basic T-permit for trainees can continue to ring if their garden is suitable for such activities.  There will be no more site visits until we are advised otherwise.

Prior to this necessary precaution, we did get in a few sessions at our sites that I have not yet blogged about.  This is a brief summary of what happened where.

Webb’s Wood, Wednesday, 7th March: I was joined by Alice at Webb’s Wood. It is the one site this winter that I had not set up a feeding station.  A combination of factors but, basically, I didn’t want to buy any new ones this winter, with squirrels destroying some, humans stealing others, sometimes you just think “is it worth it?”.  If you put out expensive squirrel-proof ones some tea-leaf will help themselves to it, cheap ones: squirrels just eat them.  Even bird tables hammered into the ground aren’t immune: I have had them ripped up and thrown into ponds, or removed and used as a bivouac support by an unauthorised “forest school”. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that we did not have the biggest catch of the winter.

The list for the session was: Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 3(2); Wren (1); Robin 2; Goldcrest 1(1). Totals: 9 birds ringed from 4 species and 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 13 birds processed from 5 species.

Jonny Cooper and I followed that up with a visit to Red Lodge on Friday, 13th March: good job we aren’t superstitious.  We had a decent session: 30 birds of which 12 were Blue Tits! It is not really surprising, as they were caught at the feeding stations set up there, and Blue Tits love a free feed.

The list for the session was: Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 11(1); Great Tit 5(3); Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 2(3); Robin (1); Wren (2).  Totals: 20 birds ringed from 5 species and 10 bird retrapped from 5 species, making 30 birds processed from 7 species.

Alice joined me again for a trip to Somerford Common on Tuesday, 17th March. Although I did have feeders in place, it was a small catch: mainly because the wind got up and we had to close the nets early, after just a couple of hours. In some ways it was a remarkable catch: of 14 birds only 2 were unringed.  The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch (2); Great Tit 1(6); Coal Tit (1); Marsh Tit (1); Goldcrest 1; Siskin (1).  Totals 2 birds ringed from 2 species and 12 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 14 bird processed from 7 species.

What was notable about this session: not a single Blue Tit to be had. I cannot remember ever doing a ringing session at a winter feeding station that did not have any Blue Tits in the catch.

More excitingly, the Siskin that we caught was the female we ringed at the last session.  Although I have caught Siskin right up to the end of March in the Braydon Forest, this is the first female that I have caught here that was coming in to breeding condition.  They sued to breed at Somerford a long time ago but since I started my ringing activities there and in Webb’s back in 2012, this is the first with any sign of potentially breeding here.  I have had several of the Siskin I ring recaptured elsewhere: mainly up in Scotland, where they breed regularly. If we manage to catch a newly fledged juvenile in July or early August I will take that as a positive sign of local breeding, as we found with Lesser Redpoll at Ravensroost a couple of years ago.

My last pre-lockdown session was on Saturday, 21st March at Ravensroost Woods.  I felt comfortable that I could avoid contact with people, as the nets are set away from the main paths and the track they are on is far too muddy for most people.  It was a decent session, with our first Chiffchaff of the year arriving on site.  Two were birds returning from last year.  At this time they are predominantly males, singing their hearts out as they set up territories in the wood.  Who knows when we will be able to have another ringing session in any of our sites, so I plan to enjoy the memory of that one.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch (3); Blue Tit 7(7); Great Tit 7(2); Marsh Tit (2); Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Chiffchaff 4(2); Goldcrest 1(1).  Totals: 21 birds ringed from 6 species and 17 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 38 birds processed from 8 species.

In those last two ringing sessions virtually every male bird was showing signs of being ready to breed. That is quite early.  The Marsh Tits that I caught in Ravensroost were a definite pair. They were in the same net, at the same height, no more than 6″ apart.  One was male, showing a well-defined cloacal protuberance, and the other a female, with a very definite brood patch in development.  The females lose the feathers from their chest and belly, to provide a warm patch to incubate the eggs and nurture the nestlings. This one was still in the process of losing feathers, but it was a very definite development.

The team and I will continue to blog: as most of us can continue to ring in our gardens and, being mainly rural, there is always the chance of a good catch.

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