Webb’s Wonder: Sunday, 5th December 2021

After a week where sessions had to be cancelled at the last minute, because of unforecast changes in the weather, I was determined to get out if at all possible. I woke to find that the overnight rain had cleared, as forecast, and the wind was breezy but not overly strong. By the time I got to Webb’s Wood there was still no sign of rain, but the wind had really picked up. The tops of the trees were whipping around and groaning like crazy. I knew I could set nets in relatively sheltered areas but the feeding station area was in the teeth of the wind.

The feeding station had been topped up on Tuesday but, as my car decided to shred a wheel bearing whilst I was doing the feeding station run and, as my mobile mechanic advised, I was lucky that the wheel did not come off before I got it home, I didn’t get out again to top up at Webb’s before this morning, whilst he got the parts and rebuilt the wheel and axle. The feeders were all empty and I was hopeful of a similar result to our last visit when the team processed 65 birds, including our first Grey Wagtail for the Braydon Forest. With a 7:00 start, I was joined by Adam and Anna, with Jonny popping in to help set up, and for a chat about the planned Dipper project, and Claire brought Samuel along for another taster session a little later on.

This is where our ringing site is within Webb’s Wood:

As you can see, it is a fair way into the wood. We set up as follows within that area:

Ordnance Survey have not yet updated their aerial photograph since last winter’s thinning operations, so there is somewhat more space between the trees than this diagram shows. Our ringing station was set up on the turning area at the end of the clear path. We put a lure for Redwing on the easternmost 3 x 18m net ride and for Lesser Redpoll on the other 3 x 18m ride and on the single 18m net. I assumed that the feeding station would be a big enough draw in itself.

We set up the two 3 x 18m net rides first. By the time we had set up the second net ride, two Wrens had flown into the first. As soon as we had set the other three nets we had a Great Tit fly into the 18m single. We waited until 8:30 until we caught another Great Tit and a Blue Tit. Everybody was getting cold, the weather was dull and miserable, and we were sitting there discussing how bad it had to get before we would pack up, go home and get warm, when a small flock of Lesser Redpoll flew into the small clump of willow adjacent to the ringing station. We all held our breath waiting to see what might happen and then watched as they piled into the net. Eleven Lesser Redpoll later we were happy to stay a bit longer! Even Jonny decided that he would actually ring a couple, and I broke my rule and ringed one of them. To put that catch into perspective, the largest catch of Lesser Redpoll in Webb’s Wood was four on the 30th October 2013. Apart from that, we rarely catch them there. I wonder if that is as a result of the thinning of the wood?

Male Lesser Redpoll

Jonny had to leave after that little influx and soon afterwards Claire took Samuel home, as he was getting chilled and a little bored at the lack of activity because. between then and 10:15. we caught only another two birds: a Blackbird and another Lesser Redpoll. Thereafter, between 10:15 and 11:00 we had a good catch of birds: my fault for suggesting that we would start taking down the nets at 10:30, because it wasn’t getting any warmer and we were getting chilled. I have to stress: whilst I am moaning about being cold, it was not too cold for ringing. The temperature never dropped below 4 degrees Celsius, and we did not have a single bird showing signs of cold stress.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 4(2); Great Tit (5); Coal Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 5; Wren 2; Dunnock 1; Robin (1); Blackbird 1; Lesser Redpoll 20. Totals: 33 birds ringed from 6 species and 9 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 42 birds processed from 9 species. Of the 43 birds processed, 30 were caught in the single 18m net and 10 were caught in the feeding station nets, 3 in the ride nearest the ringing station and just one same day retrap in the furthest net ride, which we just released. I will bear that in mind for future sessions and might save the effort of putting it up.

To underline the importance of this catch of Lesser Redpoll for my team: it is our biggest to date in the Braydon Forest since I took over managing the ringing in the sites. Last year we caught an excellent total of 17 in Ravensroost Wood’s 8-year coppice area on the 12th November. Somerford Common, where we catch them most regularly, we have had a 14 and a 12, but until now Webb’s has been the second least productive of the Braydon Forest sites (ahead of the Firs, which has only given up two of them on one occasion in November 2016).

Another pleasing aspect of the catch was, following on from ten at our last visit, a small flock of five Long-tailed Tits. On both occasions they were all unringed. The norm in my catches is for 60% to be retraps and 40% unringed.

We finished taking down just after 11:45 and headed home to warm up. As I was driving up the road from the Braydon Crossroads to Purton, I had to slam on my brakes as a Buzzard flew across the road, crossing right in front of my windscreen! A cold but satisfying session.

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