West Wilts Ringing Group: 2020 Annual Summary


The activity levels within the group and, consequently, the number of birds processed, continue to increase. The reasons for this are twofold: the imposition of restrictions to deal with Covid-19 forcing individual sessions for those licensed to carry them out, and the fact that we now have six active C-permit holders in the group.  Jonny is particularly active and, as much as I hate to say it, it is primarily his contribution that has driven the increase this year. He has managed to get some very productive sites to add to his already strong portfolio of East Tytherton and Meadow Farm, processing over 43% of our catch, whilst holding down a job as well!

On a per session basis the numbers are lower: but that is because so many sessions this year were carried out in our gardens or, failing that, single-handed exercises under restrictions placed by the landowners, where either numbers are not so good, or caution was needed because the catch could potentially be very large.

The Catch:

So, a significant increase in both birds ringed and recaptured during the year, but not a significant change in the number of species caught. However, the total number of species caught over the two years is 70: so, clearly, there is a decent variety in the catch.  Since 1st January 2013 the group has actually processed 79 species.

What is rather surprising, given that we have carried out approximately 30 more sessions than we did in 2019, and so many were garden sessions, the numbers of Blue and Great Tits processed are pretty similar year on year.

Not represented in the catch last year but present this were: Collared Dove, House Martin, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Long-eared Owl and Nightjar.  Present in 2019 and missing in 2020 were: Brambling, Buzzard, Firecrest, Merlin, Swift, Tree Pipit and, unsurprisingly, Sykes’ / Booted Warbler.

One thing that has been quite remarkable is the astonishing number of Meadow Pipits.  In 2018 Jonny and I had an excellent couple of catches at Blakehill Farm.  This tied in with the plateau area where we ring in the autumn not being cropped for hay, left for grazing, and the most amazing irruption of crane flies.  2019 was similar – but we were away at the end of August / beginning of September and missed part of the influx.  This year Blakehill was back to producing a very similar number to 2018 but this time Jonny set up Mipit triangles at East Tytherton and Meadow Farm and caught 164 and 197 respectively.

There are clearly some remarkable birds again this year: Nightjar and Long-eared Owl are firsts for the group.  Our catch of 30 House Martins at New Zealand Farm was just astonishing and Dave had a superb catch of 6 Jackdaw in a single session.

Photos courtesy of Dr Ian Grier

New Sites / New Projects:

Thanks to interest and permission from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, Jonny Cooper has taken on a couple of new projects. The first is a breeding season reed bed project at Langford Lakes, and it looks like a very promising development, as evidenced by the increased numbers of Reed and Sedge Warbler in the catch.  Although that increase in those two species is also in part due to his continued activity at the Western Way Balancing Ponds in Melksham.

More recently, he has taken on a winter monitoring project at Biss Wood, which has been modified to incorporate Green Lane Wood as well, being one extended nature reserve complex to the east of Trowbridge. The catches there have been remarkable in size if not variety.

At the start of the first lockdown, with the support of Richard Brown, the warden on Skokholm, I advanced Alice to a C-permit so that she could continue to develop her skills in her parents’ back garden.  She has continued to prove her competence and now she has started a new project at the Hogacre Common Eco-Park in Oxford, where she is working on her PhD.  This is a little oasis of habitat in the middle of a number of college playing fields and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

Non-Group Ringing Activities:

Andrew Bray continued his work with the North Wilts and those sessions with Graham and Phil Deacon in 2020 has produced the following:

Table 2: Andrew with the North Wilts Ringing Group:

Alice joined the SCAN ringing group (North Wales) for two weekends at the start of 2020 (24/01/20 – 26/01/20 and 7/03/20 – 8/03/20).  In January cannon netting and mist netting for waders, and in March cannon netting for Shelduck.

Table 3: Alice with SCAN:

Azores: From 13/08/20 – 12/09/20 Alice was a field assistant for a PhD student at the University of Cardiff, monitoring Storm Petrels on a tiny islet off Graciosa, Azores (see blog post of the 24th September for further details).

Table 4: Alice mist netting on the Azores:
Table 5: Retrapped pulli: nest checks were conducted every day and chick ring number and biometrics were recorded (wing length, tarsus, weight)

Alice also joined the Edward Grey Institute (EGI) at the University of Oxford in Wytham Woods for two ringing sessions in November. 

Table 6: Alice with the EGI:

New Recruits:

This blog has become a source of recruitment for the group.  Notably, Alice joining us in 2019.  This year I was contacted by Lucy Mortlock.  Lucy was working on field studies in Northern Ireland during the Spring and Summer and was looking for a ringing group to join, having returned home to Wiltshire to continue her degree (at Reading University – an excellent choice if I might say so myself).  She contacted me through the blog and is now, when lockdown allows, a regular member of my ringing crew. 

%d bloggers like this: