Blakehill Farm: First Focus on Autumn Migration, Wednesday, 1st September 2021

The plateau at Blakehill Farm is out of bounds for ringing over the summer months, so that the ground-nesting birds, particularly Curlew, are not disturbed. Normally I would have started back mid-August, but weather and a mobility problem had put a spoke in that possibility. However, I was very keen to see what we might get, after a largely disappointing summer at my other sites.

Today I was joined by Lucy, back from a summer as a warden of the Little Tern colony at Spurn Point and before she heads of to Lundy for a month to carry out seal surveys. A little later Miranda joined us to see what is involved before deciding whether or not to take up ringing training.

After a busy morning checking Barn Owl boxes with Alice yesterday (we ringed another 4 chicks and could confirm that another 14 have fledged successfully, making a total of 34 ringed so far this year), Lucy and I went over to Blakehill to do a bit of trimming and strimming, ready for setting the nets this morning. The weather forecast was that the wind would be right on the edge of what would be acceptable for ringing on this side of Blakehill, but I had offered to host one of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Well-Being Groups and I didn’t want to let them down, so we strimmed the areas in front of the bushes that would give maximum protection from the wind. In the event, it was windy but, by setting the nets low on the leeward side of the bushes, it worked well. Naturally the forecast wasn’t completely accurate and what was supposed to be a warm, dry day turned out to be a cool day, occasionally spitting with rain throughout the morning.

This was the setup we used:

The setup was as follows: 1 = 6m 5-shelf net; 2= 3 x 12m 4-shelf nets (a Mipit triangle); 3 = 6m 5-shelf net; 4 = 18m 2-shelf net; 5 = 12m 4-shelf net; 6, 7 and 8 = 9m 5-shelf nets; 9 = 12m 5-shelf net. Unusually, every net set, bar 3, caught. Net 3 is usually reliable. Unfortunately, the Mipit triangle, whilst it caught a Chiffchaff, and despite having the usual MP3 lure playing all morning, it did not produce any Meadow Pipits.

Our first productive round, at 8:15 (so why were we there at 5:30?), produced two Goldfinch and a Whitethroat – all juveniles.

The next round produced our first juvenile Reed Bunting of the year:

Photo courtesy of Lucy Mortlock

It also caught our first two of these for the autumn:

What we didn’t know was that this would be our best ever catch of Whinchat in a single session. The previous best had been 9 on 8th September 2018. Today we ended up with 10! That is a lovely catch. It was also Lucy’s first Whinchat: and she got to ring another 4 of them. We had great fun ageing and sexing these birds: it is all down to markings on the greater coverts and the colour of the lining of the upper mandible.

The list for the day was: Dunnock 1[1]; Whinchat 2[8]; Whitethroat [2]; Chiffchaff [1]; Willow Warbler [1]; Goldfinch [2]; Reed Bunting [3]. Totals: 3 adults ringed from 2 species and 18 juveniles ringed from 7 species. It was unusual to catch absolutely no retrapped birds at this site.

Our visitors did get horribly delayed by some over-running roadworks on the main route through to site so, after some navigation advice from me over the mobile, they arrived at 11:00. Luckily we had a number of birds from different species to show them. We then took them for a walk around the setup, so they could see how it works. Whilst doing so, I extracted our last bird of the morning: a Chiffchaff from, as mentioned before, the Mipit triangle. Fortunately, the Well-Being group were very happy with what we had to show them.

Whilst Lucy, Miranda and I took down the nets, the Well-Being crew had a brew-up and a spot of lunch, and we all left site by 13:00. Not a huge catch but a very satisfying one!

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