Somerford Common: Friday, 3rd July 2020

After a frustrating week of high winds and / or rain, I finally managed to get out yesterday. My original plan was to go to the Firs. Some wind was predicted but not too bad and to be coming from the south-west. Of the sites currently available to me, the rides at the Firs run north to south, so it seemed like the best bet. Unfortunately, the Wildlife Trust’s Estates team had earmarked it for some major management work, making safe trees felled by the winds and working on a new minimal intervention area (sic) that has been created. So I decided to have a go at Somerford Common. The area I chose I have not worked in for some considerable time and, after yesterday’s results, it will probably be a longish time before I do so again.

The red line represents 12 x 18m nets going up and down a slope over pretty chewed up terrain. It is a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees of varying heights and with a reasonable amount of thinned woodland either side of the path.

The first two rounds were actually quite encouraging but then the wind actually started to blow a bit harder and the nets started to billow and the birds stopped moving. As a round consisted of walking approximately 250 metres there and 250 metres back, each net check was a good half a kilometre, with erecting the nets, checking and taking down, I estimate I walked a good 7 kilometres for 18 birds over 4 hours before I had to shut the nets, because it was just blowing too hard and I didn’t want to endanger anything that might have wandered into them.

The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 2; Wren 1; Robin 5; Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 2; Chiffchaff 2; Goldcrest 1. Total: 18 birds ringed from 8 species. Of the 18 birds caught the Great Tits, two of the Robins, one of the Blue Tits and Chiffchaffs were juveniles, the rest were adults.

There were some interesting birds in amongst the adults. One of the Blackbirds was an adult female who had clearly finished breeding for the year in that her brood patch was nearly covered with newly-grown feathers. It was definitely an adult: wings tips were either very ragged and some primaries broken and the tail was broad. Perhaps she lost her mate and has not managed to find another or it could simply be that she was not in fit condition to breed, although her weight was fairly standard for an adult Blackbird at 89g.

One benefit of not having too many birds to process is that I could spend a fair amount of time looking at the moult in those adults that were undergoing their post-breeding replacement of wing and tail feathers. The Goldcrest, an adult male, had dropped the right side of its tail and those feathers were beginning to grow back, whilst those on the left of the tail were complete and all old. Whether it had lost the part of its tail due to mechanical accident or avoiding a predator, who knows, but it looked unusual. Also one of the Robins was having an odd tail moult: the innermost right tail feather was a nearly full-grown replacement, whereas the nest right was a retained old feather and the remaining four were new feathers at the expected stage of development (i.e. going larger to smaller from the inside out to the edge). All curious, all worthwhile seeing how, whilst you can generalise about overall strategies, individuals can always vary.

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