The Firs: Wednesday, 8th September 2021

It has been a fair time since I was last in the Firs: the 19th June to be exact. At that time, in keeping with my other woodland sites, the catch was low, just 17 birds, mainly because of the lack of Blue and Great Tits. Clearly, I was hoping for a better return this time, possibly a catch augmented by some passing migrants. The work done in the Firs over the last few years has yielded some excellent blackberry bushes: always a draw to migrating Blackcaps and Garden Warblers.

I was joined by Ellie for this morning’s session. We arranged a start time of 6:30 (luxury) as I noticed, both at Red Lodge on Saturday and Ravensroost Meadows yesterday, the birds did not start moving until gone 7:00. We were joined for the morning by a Robin. It hopped around our ringing station whilst we were sat processing birds. At one point it started to warble a quiet song, almost as though it was singing to itself, rather than proclaiming a territory. It was, basically, singing with its mouth shut. I have not seen that before but, then I haven’t had a Robin quite so willing to come that close before without the inducement of food.

We set the usual nets down the central glade and set a few lures, for Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher, none of which produced spectacularly or, to put it another way, two Blackcaps and no Spotted Flycatchers! The first bird out of the nets was a Song Thrush: the first I have caught in the Braydon Forest woodlands in exactly two months (a spectacularly bad session in Ravensroost Wood on the 8th July, where I caught precisely two birds in three hours before giving up and going home). The catching was slow and steady, giving us plenty of walks down and up the Firs hill (it doesn’t look much but it gives plenty of cardiothoracic exercise).

There is a well-known superstition about ringing in the Firs: no matter how slowly the morning has gone, never say or think “if there are no birds this round we will make it the last” because when you do, that last round will produce a lot of birds! Just before we embarked on our 11:00 round, that thought came into my mind. The first net we came to was populated with a good number of Blue and Great Tits and there were several other birds in the other nets. Okay, it didn’t match the sixty-plus we have had in the past, but it more than doubled our catch for the day!

The list for the session was: Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 1[16](3); Great Tit 1[5](2); Marsh Tit (1); Wren 1[1]; Robin [2]; Song Thrush 1[1]; Blackcap [2]. Totals: 5 adults / full grown birds from 5 species, 27 juveniles ringed from 6 species and 6 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 38 birds processed from 8 species.

Nuthatch, like Long-tailed Tit and House Sparrow, are increasingly difficult to age as the year develops. This is because both adults and young undergo an extensive moult post-breeding / fledging and moult into full adult plumage – hence the description of the Nuthatch as “full grown”, as there was no clue as to whether it was a bird of this year, last year or five years ago.

There are some encouraging signs in this catch and the last at Red Lodge: principally that, despite an awful breeding season there are still a number of Blue and Great Tits around. This catch actually compares favourably with previous years, being larger than all other visits in September, except for 2019, which had a catch of 62 birds. It looks as though the titmice are already forming their foraging / feeding flocks for the winter.

So, as the session started nicely with a Song Thrush in the nets, it ended similarly, but this time with the Nuthatch in the nets. We had heard, both singing and hammering, and watched them in the trees all morning, so it was fitting to finish the day with one in the nets. After an enjoyable session we packed up and were off site just after 12:30.

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