Back On The Farm: Saturday, 23rd October 2021

Back at the beginning of May regular readers might remember that we had one excellent session at Brown’s Farm (first Wiltshire Yellow Wagtail for me, first Firecrest for Lucy (and in the most improbable of habitats). That was followed by a disappointing solo session right at the end of the month – and that has been it since then. I have no idea why I haven’t been back but I decided that it was about time I put that right. I was joined for the morning by Anna.

The farmer there, James, runs a small scale pheasant and partridge shoot and by “small scale” I mean I never see pheasant, and just the occasional red-legged partridge, there outside of the shooting season. He has planted up a good number of game cover crops in the corner of many of his arable fields. I carried out a reconnaissance visit on Thursday to decide where to set the nets. The plan was to set up as shown below around the game cover adjacent to the old dismantled railway track. Two key reasons for that: 1) it was the most accessible for my car and 2) that field has been left as stubble, so there was no crop to avoid.

Immediately we opened the net set that is at 90 degrees to the track, birds started to get caught. With just the two of us, and Anna being very new in her ringing career, I decided to abandon the planned 2-shelf net set along the field side of the game cover to ensure that we weren’t overrun with birds. As a trainer, I am always conscious of not putting trainees under the pressure of numbers. There is enough pressure with safely extracting the birds, ageing, sexing and measuring.

The first bird out of the net was a Robin, followed by a Wren: that is the standard opening combination for most of my sites, occasionally augmented by an early morning Blackbird.

I was hoping that we would get Anna her first Yellowhammer and Linnet to process. We only managed one of the two: which was a little surprising. None of my sites in the north of the county produce regular Yellowhammer catches. In my 12 years of ringing I have only caught and ringed a single Yellowhammer away from Brown’s Farm: at Blakehill Farm in October 2016. When I first moved to Purton in 1997 there was a reasonable population of Yellowhammer in the fields surrounding the village but, with everything gone to cattle, sheep and horses, they are long gone. Brown’s is now the only site I have where I can catch them regularly. Linnet is slightly different, we can still see them in the fields around the village and they are a reasonably regular catch at Blakehill Farm but not as regularly as I catch them at Brown’s Farm. There again, I have never repeated the astonishing catch of 44 of them at Brown’s on the 7th April 2015. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any at all today but we did get half-a-dozen Yellowhammer:

Juvenile Male Yellowhammer

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 3; Wren 2; Dunnock 10; Robin 4; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Chaffinch 4; Reed Bunting 5; Yellowhammer 6. Totals: 37 birds ringed from 9 species.

The birding was also good, with highlights being excellent views of a cruising Red Kite and a hunting Sparrowhawk. The catch died off quite quickly after 10:45 and we closed the nets and took down just after 11:30. It won’t be 5 months before I am back there again1

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