Marsh Tits in the Braydon Forest

Although the Marsh Tit, Poecile palustris, is a common resident bird in woodlands and forests around Europe, due to the parlous state of our woodlands and lack of cohesive forest, it is a red-listed bird in the UK.  In the north of Wiltshire is the once royal hunting area of the Braydon Forest.  Nowadays it comprises a number of woodlands of various sizes interspersed mainly by farms, with grassland fields grazed by cattle, sheep and the odd horse.  There are also excellent hedgerows that are, largely, well-maintained and extensive, helping to knit the woodlands together.

Braydon Forest

Since August 2012,  working solo at first, and then, as I gained experience and permission from the BTO to work with and then train other ringers, I have been running a colour ringing project on the species.  Colour ringing enables casual birders to add their observations to our totals.  In return, I can tell them exactly when and where the bird was ringed and if and when it has been recaptured.  This photo, taken by Dave Gilbert, shows Marsh Tit number ACJ5800, ringed as a juvenile in Ravensroost Wood  on 12th November 2019 and photographed by Dave on the 23rd March this year.

  Marti

The project is focused on the Forestry Commission properties of Red Lodge, Webb’s Wood and Somerford Common and the Wiltshire Wildlife reserves at Ravensroost Wood and the Firs.  Our results since the start of the project are shown below.  The project year runs from 1st April to 31st March for all years bar the first, which ran from September to March inclusive.

Table 1: New birds caught and ringed by year by site:T1

Table 2: Other individuals retrapped by year by site:T4

Table 3: Annual totals of individuals caught by site:t2

What these tables show is that Ravensroost Wood is a stronghold for the species, closely followed by Red Lodge and Somerford Common.  Webb’s Wood, although the second largest by area, has been somewhat less productive than one would have expected. However, I believe that is because we set our nets in the same places each session and it reflects the number of territories covered, not the total number in the wood.  The Firs was the first place that I caught a Marsh Tit for the project, in September 2012, and then we did not catch another there until 11th November 2015, over 3 years later.  In the interim there was significant work thinning the wood and opening up a number of butterfly glades, plus the installation of two wildlife ponds on the site.

The longest lived Marsh Tits that we have found in our study was one ringed as an adult in Webb’s Wood on the 2nd February 2013 and then captured there for the sixth time on the 15th February 2019.  The other was ringed as an adult Ravensroost Wood on the 13th October 2012. It has been recaptured in every subsequent year until 6th January 2018.  Conservatively, they were both at least 7 years old at the last occasion (so far) that they were caught.  The longevity record for the Marsh Tit is 11 years and 3 months from date of ringing, so they could both still be about.

Our plans for this year were to map each territory in the woods, using a sound lure given to me by Richard Broughton, who is the UK’s most active and leading Marsh Tit biologist. That was planned for March and April but the combination of needing to catch up for lost time in January and February, and then the Covid-19 restrictions has put paid to that.  So, deferred for now, but planned for next spring.

As ringers, we are rather used to being challenged over the value of what we do.  Obviously, the Forestry Commission and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust see the value, as I send them (inundate them) with reports and recommendations based on our ringing results. Last year the Forestry Commission put forward their 10-year plan for the Braydon Forest and, I am pleased to say that, based on the information we have provided over the years, they have made the Marsh Tit their priority bird species within that plan.

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