West Wilts Ringing Group Results: May 2021

A very interesting May for the group this year. Last May was our best since the group took on its current structure in January 2013. This May actually bettered it but in a slightly strange way. Given the atrocious weather throughout much of the month, it was quite surprising that we managed only two fewer sessions than last year. We processed 662 birds in those sessions, compared to 659 last May. However, the breakdown was very different. Last May saw us coming out of lockdown after the middle of the month, so all of our ringing before the 16th of the month was focused on personal back gardens and, once we could get to our main sites, we were cramming in as much as we could to make up for lost time. This year we had access to all of our sites from the off, but were hampered by the weather.

So, whilst we processed a few more birds, we actually ringed 108 fewer birds but recaptured 112 more birds than last year. The difference is almost all down to Jonny Cooper’s work at Langford Lakes catching Reed Warblers and, to a lesser degree, the same species at the Western Way Balancing Ponds at Melksham. Retrapping so many of these long-distance migrants in the same place they were ringed, plus a French ringed bird that was recaptured at Langford last year and again this May is encouraging and Jonny is now trying out the site for a potential RAS scheme. RAS is a scheme based on retrapping adult birds at the same place year after year to gain a picture of the survival of individuals within the species. The breakdown this year represents 58 individual birds at Langford Lakes before the breeding season has resulted in any fledglings being produced. In addition to the Reed Warblers, 10 individual Sedge Warblers have also been ringed / recaptured at Langford.

On the subject of retrapped birds, last December had our highest ever total of retraps, at 327, but that figure is helped by the fact that we are catching at feeding stations then. This is the highest total recaptured without the concentrating effect of a feeding station, and the second highest that we have had.

There aren’t too many people who are lucky enough to have Siskin breeding locally and to be regularly catching them in their garden. To be catching juvenile Siskin in your garden at this time of year must be a real treat: something that Andy Palmer has had the luck to do in the last two years. It is such an interesting phenomenon: Warminster is 40 miles south of the Braydon Forest. They have a breeding population of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll whereas those two species are winter visitors from Scotland / Scandinavia to the Braydon Forest, as evidenced by recoveries of birds of these species ringed in the Braydon Forest and retrapped in Argyle and Bute.

Photo copyright Andy Palmer

My primary highlight of the month has been being able to start my CES at Lower Moor Farm again this year, after having to miss out last year because of lockdown. It is looking promising after 3 sessions.  The birding highlights of the month both happened at our first visit to Brown’s Farm since last September. We have caught few Firecrest over the years: just 6: 2 at Tedworth, 2 near Warminster and one each in Ravensroost Wood and Red Lodge. What all of these sites have in common is that they are woodland sites. However, the Firecrest we caught at Brown’s Farm was caught in a net set across the end of a hedgerow, in the middle of open farmland. No doubt it was on its way to Savernake Forest area, where I ringed my first two Firecrest as a trainee. This was Lucy’s first, on a morning where she got to ring 3 new species (Whitethroat and Linnet as well as the Firecrest).

The second highlight of that session was the group’s first Yellow Wagtail since reorganisation. They have been seen at Brown’s Farm before, most memorably back in September 2016 when Jonny and I set nets and a lure for Yellow Wagtail and saw none at all until we switched the lure off and were taking the nets down when a small flock flew past and into the hedgerow where we had just removed the net. I had previously processed them, at Rye Bay Ringing Group site at Icklesham, but I had never caught and extracted one myself before this one.

This bird was aged as a bird that fledged last year, as it had a diagnostic break in its greater coverts (i.e. two generations of feather):

(Not my nails)

The catch details are shown below:

Looking at the figures, apart from Blackcap, most of our improvement is across all summer visitor species and most of the reduction is in garden birds, particularly the House Sparrow.

Given how bad the weather has been, it was great that we did find a significant number of juvenile birds ringed within our catch. As well as the aforementioned Siskin, we had juveniles of Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Song Thrush, Stonechat and Woodpigeon: all, bar Starling, being open cup nesters. With the weather set to improve significantly for June we will hopefully see a continued improvement in numbers and more juveniles in June’s catch. What will be interesting will be the numbers of juvenile titmice. Reports across the country are very mixed but generally pretty dire for them.

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