Back on the Farm: Saturday, 1st May 2021

Okay, I am regularly at both Lower Moor and Blakehill Farms but, as well as working farms, they are nature reserves. However, my other site, Brown’s Farm, we were only able to visit twice last year: in between lockdowns in July and September. It is a very mixed operation combining beef and arable farming, a kennels and also with stables and a couple of paddocks for horses and ponies. I know that the latter can be grass monoculture deserts for wildlife, but the paddocks take up a small proportion of the site and the farmer provides a lot of wide tracks around his fields for the owners to exercise their horses. These, in turn, have been seeded with wildflowers, and the farmer estimates that they have planted over 4 hectares of potential wild bird food plants as well as supplementary feeding over the winter. First thing this year the hedgerows were cut back, as they were two years ago, to promote fresh growth, keep them from getting long and leggy, and provide good nesting habitat for the farmland birds.

I don’t know if it is a result of the feeding regime but there were so many Skylarks singing and the hedgerows were alive with birds. This has always been a good site for Skylark but there did seem to be twice as many as usual. We also spent a lot of the morning with a Red Kite flying around and about our ringing station, with some excellent views as it sailed around the area. The Swallows have arrived, and there were good numbers hunting over the fields. As I left my house in Purton at 5:15, I heard my first Cuckoo of the year, and we were serenaded by a Cuckoo calling throughout the morning at Brown’s Farm.

This session was carried out entirely without any audio lures. Now that the breeding season is fully under way restrictions are in place and lures are only allowed under very specific conditions and for a maximum of 10 minutes in any one location. I choose not to do so. Lucy and I met there at 6:00 and set up the following nets:

We had the nets open by 7:15 and caught our first birds at 7:30. The first birds caught were in the 2-shelf nets and the first set of 18m nets. This was a bit of an excellent start for Lucy: she got to extract her first ever Whitethroat and Linnet, as we took out two Whitethroat and one Linnet. These were my first Whitethroat of the year:

We took a couple more Linnet, and our first Dunnock and Yellowhammer of the session. At 8:30 we took out another Whitethroat, Linnet and Yellowhammer and I called Lucy to the 6m net nearest the track to extract this little beauty:

Male Firecrest

So, this was Lucy’s third new species extracted and ringed for the day! That’s not a bad return for a single session. The bird was a little chilled, so I popped him back into a bag and put him down under my clothing so it could get the benefit of my body heat. This is a sure fired method of livening up a cold bird. After 15 minutes warming it was busily scrabbling against my chest and ready to go. It flew off strongly and headed off towards Savernake Forest.

Before our next round Annie turned up with daughter Elara for her third ringing trip. She is only 2, so a little early to start ringing birds yet! There were plenty of puddles for Elara to play in, and she made the most of them. By the end of the session her wellies were full of water, she had been face down in it, sat down in it – and loved every minute of it and was a fabulous diversion when the nets were empty!

Elara in her element

Soon after they arrived we went for a net round. How frustrating: a Wheatear sitting on top of the 6m net that bisected the two long net sets. It displayed beautifully before flying off into the middle of the field to join the Skylarks. I have ringed Wheatear on Skokholm but not yet in Wiltshire. One day!

Whilst the forecast was for the wind to stay low all morning by 10:00 it was getting quite blowy and, although we didn’t have the problem of the nets blowing into the hedgerows, fortunately the wind was blowing away from the Hawthorn, they did start billowing out, removing the pockets for catching the birds. We decided to take down. Usually I shut the nets prior to taking them down, to stop birds getting caught in slack netting, but this time I didn’t think it necessary. Naturally that meant that, part way through taking down the first 3 x 18m net ride, a Dunnock flew into the bottom of one of the nets.

Fortunately, I didn’t learn from this incident and we moved on to take down the second long ride and exactly the same thing happened again. Only this time I thought it was a Yellowhammer. I called Annie to come and hold the pole and put tension on the net so I could extract it. As I walked forwards I thought “that beaks too long and pointy for a Yellowhammer”. It was. This is what I extracted:

Yellow Wagtail Male

This is another bird that I had ringed elsewhere but had never extracted and not ringed in Wiltshire. In fact, because we do not have any sites within our group where they over-summer, this is the first Yellow Wagtail ringed by the West Wilts Ringing Group since it adopted its current structure at the beginning of 2013. We have seen them at Brown’s before, but never caught one. This was the last bird of the day. We finished taking down and left site at midday.

The list for the day was: Great Tit 1; Dunnock 1(1); Yellow Wagtail 1; Whitethroat 5; Firecrest 1; Linnet 6; Yellowhammer 3. Totals: 18 birds ringed from 7 species and 1 bird recaptured, making 19 birds processed from 7 species.

It was a super session, even though we didn’t catch that many birds what we caught was high quality and the birding was fantastic.

%d bloggers like this: