Somerford Common: Wednesday, 24th March 2021

One unfortunate result of lockdown has been the reduction in the number of sites currently available to me and my team. Ravensroost Wood has just become far too busy with visitors and, since the incident last July, plus the increased footfall, we need to rethink the activity there (plans have been discussed with the Wildlife Trust, so hopefully we can get back on site in the near future). Tedworth House has pretty much closed its doors, and is too far to travel under current conditions. Consequently, I have handed that site over to Jack Daw, who actually works there and lives in the town. Brown’s Farm is the other side of Marlborough and, I feel, too far to travel in the current circumstances, much as it pains me to not have access to the only site I have where Yellowhammer is a regular catch. Webb’s Wood is currently undergoing a major harvesting / thinning operation, with far too much activity and heavy machinery for me to run sessions there. Besides, the impact of the machinery on the main path has made it impassable for anything that doesn’t have high ground clearance (hopefully they will flatten / restore the path as part of the clean up operation). This leaves me with Lower Moor Farm, Somerford Common, Red Lodge, the Firs and, coming into the equation as the summer migrants arrive, Ravensroost Meadows. This is why my recent reports have been an almost continuous cycling around these first four sites.

Over the last four months I have been providing supplementary feed at these sites. February and March are the lean times for wild birds. It enables some to survive that might not otherwise have done so and, to the benefit of my team, we have to set fewer nets, as the activity is more localised. However, as the weather warms up and territorial behaviour and pairing up for breeding starts to pick up, the activity at the feeders drops away and I will remove them this week. This was our last session at Somerford Common before I remove that feeding station and we relocate where we set the nets. I was joined for the session by Ellie and Lucy. Lucy has received her T-permit this week, so is now a fully licensed trainee bird ringer.

The weather forecast was a bit iffy, and constantly changing. We had expected rain to arrive late morning but, having arrived on site at 5:45 and got the nets erected, we had to briefly close them again between 7:30 and 8:00, as it chose to rain then instead.

It wasn’t the busiest of sessions but enjoyable, nonetheless. We caught a total of 20 birds from 6 species: Blue Tit 1(4); Great Tit 1(3); Marsh Tit 1(3); Long-tailed Tit 1; Dunnock (1); Chaffinch 5. So, 9 birds ringed from 5 species and 11 birds retrapped from 4 species. Another session where the number of retrapped birds outnumbered those ringed. That balance will change with the arrival of the summer visitors. Unfortunately, a Great Spotted Woodpecker managed to extricate itself from the net before we could get to it.

It was good to catch 5 Chaffinch, all of which had clean legs and could be ringed – unlike at Red Lodge on Monday when 2 of the 8 Chaffinches caught had to be released unringed due to Fringilla papillomavirus.

Another new Marsh Tit is always a bonus, but so is the continuing recapture of previously ringed birds of the species, proving that they have survived, hopefully to breed this year.

There was a westward flight of about 20 Fieldfare at 9:00, so some winter visitors are still hanging around (also as evidenced by the pair of Siskin in my garden on Monday).

Unfortunately, the wind got up at 10:30 and the nets were becoming entangled in the trees and vegetation, so we called a halt, took down the nets and got away from site just after 11:00.

Jonny Cooper joined us briefly at about 9:30 to discuss tactics for the tagging of Curlew in the Braydon Forest. Jonny is running the project and he will be carrying out most of the the work, with a little help from me and, as Ellie is the northern Reserves Manager for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, on whose land a key part of the project will be carried out, we needed to have a discussion on how best to test the strategy and evaluate the results before rolling it out to other parts of the Forest where Curlew are to be found. We should be starting Easter weekend.

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