Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 12th August 2020

It was a very hot session at Blakehill this morning. I don’t think I will do any more until this weather breaks. It was a lot of hard, hot work for little return. It is particularly hard at a site that really does need at least two people, if for nothing else than the perimeter track requires a lot of hole-making to get the poles in.

I did a 4:30 start, to give me plenty of time, and in the hope that there might be some early movement before it got too hot. I set up the plateaus edge nets first before starting on the perimeter track nets. Basically, I put up one net ride, did a round of the plateau until I had set my 3 net sets along the track edge and hedgerow. I got my nets up and no birds were in the nets for an extended period.

The first round looked promising: juvenile Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Dunnock plus a moulting adult female Redstart.

Juvenile Stonechat
Tail moult in female Redstart – good job enough of the feathers had grown to show the orange / red colour

Apologies for the orange cast on these photos: the early morning sun was strong and my camera phone has lots of megapixels but very few other controls. After that start the session was really hard work, just one or two birds per round. Possibly the lack of open water anywhere nearby is a factor in this heat.

At this time of year at Blakehill I am looking for birds on passage. I set up a lure for Swallow, and it attracted in several groups throughout the morning. Unfortunately, they were all flying high, buzzing the top of the nets, and sometimes even perching on it, but they did not come down enough to be caught. Presumably because the insects were also flying high in the hot weather. There were certainly enough mozzies around at ground level between 4:30 and 6:00 but as the temperature went up so did the insects.

It would be churlish to moan too much about the small catch when that catch comprises 13 different species, many of which we don’t catch a lot of. There was also some lovely bird watching. For example, as I was walking back from one round a small group of four Lesser Whitethroat were in and out of the hedgerow close to one of the perimeter track net rides. One of them, a juvenile, ended up in my net. Also, as I was taking down the plateau edge nets, which I did at 10:00, trying to pack up before it got too hot, I extracted the obligatory Blue Tit and, in the next net, an adult Whitethroat. As regular readers know, Whitethroat have been a bit scarce at my sites this year, so it was really pleasing to add another to the list.

Back to Swallows: I didn’t catch any until, as is the rule, as I was taking down the perimeter track net rides at about 11:00. I left the middle set, where I had the lure playing, until last. Just as I was about to take that net down a Chiffchaff flew in, so I went to extract it and, as I turned to check there, in the farthest end of the last net, was a dark, vertical stripe: my Swallow. A juvenile from this year. Always good to end on a high point.

The list for the day was: Swallow 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Redstart 1; Stonechat 1; Robin 2; Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2; Reed Bunting 1. Total: 17 birds ringed from 13 species. There were no retrapped birds and they were all juveniles except the Great Tit, Wren and Whitethroat and one of the Robins.

Whilst on site I worked my way through 2 litres of fluid and drank another 3 litres when I got home – and I am still thirsty! Not to be recommended, which is why I shall curtail my activities until the temperature drops a bit.

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