This is a review of my team’s activity in the Braydon Forest in 2021. The key highlight for me in 2021, however, was not site specific but was Jonny Cooper gaining advancement to his A-permit. Jonny was my first trainee and is the first that I have managed to train up to A-permit level. I am not taking credit for it: he has proven to be an excellent ringer and, as well as working with me, has taken advantage of every opportunity afforded to him by his relationship with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, ringing Swans and other waterfowl, as well as trips to Iceland, ringing seabirds and Red-necked Phalarope, amongst others. As a C-permit holder he has been massively engaged and a highly productive ringer, taking on a number of projects, including the lowland Curlew monitoring and his Langford Lakes / Wessex Water Reed Bed projects.
For myself this year it has been difficult. The weather put paid to 25 of my planned 80 sessions. I added 5 garden sessions to the schedule, but 60 sessions out of 85 was a 30% failure rate.
After the problem at Ravensroost Wood in July of 2020, a very similar incident happened in Red Lodge back in April. This seriously knocked my confidence about working solo at the weekend, when there were so many more people about. Post-lockdown footfall in all sites has been much higher. So I asked my team if they could make sure that at least one of them could make themselves available. Everybody was as helpful as possible, with one exception, who left the group rather than help out.
Due to restrictions imposed by the Trust on where I could set my nets, following the aforementioned vandalism incident in 2020, Covid concerns and the massively increased footfall in the wood, I stayed out of the wood until July. I have only worked in the wood on 4 occasions this year. It would have been more but the wet weather put paid to several attempted sessions in December. More of my ringing sessions in the Ravensroost complex this year were around the meadow pond area, where the Trust gave me permission to make it out of bounds to the public whilst I was working there and I could block the entrance with my car, to reinforce the point. I carried out 6 sessions there but overall it was no more productive than the woodland, although there was far more variety.
The results have been both patchy and disappointing as a result. The first woodland session in July was awful: 2 birds processed in 3 hours: a Blackbird and a Song Thrush. It took me a while to regain my enthusiasm after that, so my next visit was in September, which yielded 14 birds in 4 hours (11 ringed and 3 retraps). Still, I persevered and carried out sessions in October and November, which were considerably better (46 and 58 birds processed respectively). I had hoped to get a session in this December but it has just been far too wet and windy.
The list for the woodland this year was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 2(2); Blue Tit 30(4); Great Tit 16(2); Coal Tit (2); Marsh Tit 3(5); Long-tailed Tit 4(2); Wren 2; Robin 2(1); Song Thrush 3; Redwing 2; Blackbird 3; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 2; Goldcrest 16(2); Chaffinch 3; Bullfinch 2; Lesser Redpoll 6. Totals: 95 birds ringed from 16 species and 25 birds retrapped from 9 species, making 120 birds processed from 18 species. For the second year running, since I started ringing in Ravensroost Wood, I ringed no Garden Warblers in the wood and the Blackcaps were caught on autumn migration. i.e. I have no proof of them breeding for this year. Equally, there was a dearth of both species at Lower Moor Farm. I believe that the rain and wind in May had them just keep going north until they got out of the rain.
The pond sessions were carried out in April, May, June, July and 2 in September. The July session was 50% better than the July woodland session (Whitethroat, Blackcap and Blue Tit) but the others were certainly more productive overall. The pond list for this year was: Snipe 1; Swallow 1; Blue Tit 16(1); Great Tit 3; Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 5(4); Meadow Pipit 7; Dunnock 4(2); Robin 11(3); Redwing 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2(1); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 36; Garden Warbler 1; Whitethroat 3(1); Lesser Whitethroat 3(3); Chiffchaff 11(2); Willow Warbler 4(2); Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 2(1); Goldfinch 3; Reed Bunting 2. Totals 121 birds ringed from 23 species and 20 birds recaptured from 10 species, making 141 birds processed from 23 species.
Clearly there were 2 major highlights from the meadow pond sessions: my first Snipe caught in the Ravensroost complex and, secondly, a catch of 7 Meadow Pipits in one session. Previously I have caught the odd one at the meadow pond area.
Last summer the Trust erected 3 new Barn Owl boxes in the Avis . Ravensroost Meadows complex. This year two of the three were occupied: by Stock Doves. Each successfully reared a single chick. Naturally the Barn Owls ignored the nice new boxes and nested in the dilapidated, falling apart box in the condemned barn in Avis Meadow. There they successfully reared a brood of 5 chicks.
We managed 9 sessions in the Firs this year. For the first time the total catch exceeded that of the Ravensroost complex, with 350 birds processed as opposed to 260, although the number of species in the Firs is between that of the Ravensroost Meadow and woodland, at 21 species caught. On the whole, the sessions were productive.
The list was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1(1); Nuthatch 5(4); Treecreeper 5(2); Blue Tit 79(46); Great Tit 39(44); Coal Tit 5(7); Marsh Tit (2); Long-tailed Tit 3(1); Wren 12(8); Dunnock 2(1); Robin 15(9); Redwing 6; Song Thrush 5; Blackbird 7(3); Blackcap 11; Chiffchaff 4(2); Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 6(3); Chaffinch 7(2); Bullfinch 1. Totals: 215 birds ringed from 19 species and 135 birds retrapped from 15 species.
With 14 visits this year, Somerford was the most visited site for the team. As a result, it also delivered the highest overall catch, with 305 ringed and 177 retrapped. A month ago the area around the feeding station was cleared and mulched, with a consequent reduction in the catch. The feeding station has been moved into the uncleared area and it will be interesting to monitor the change. The list for the year there was: Sparrowhawk 1; Great Spotted Woodpecker 4(2); Nuthatch (10); Treecreeper 3(1); Blue Tit 64(60); Great Tit 39(40); Coal Tit 15(6); Marsh Tit 7(27); Long-tailed Tit 11(2); Wren 6(4); Dunnock 2(3); Robin 20(9); Redwing 45; Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 4(2); Blackcap 9(1); Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 7; Willow Warbler 6(1); Goldcrest 15(5); Chaffinch 19(1); Brambling 1(1); Bullfinch (2); Goldfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 20; Siskin 1. Totals: 350 ringed from 24 species and 177 retrapped from 18 species, making 527 birds processed from 26 species.
Highlights included the biggest female Sparrowhawk I have ever handled; the largest single catch of Redwing (at 18) caught at this site and another Brambling ringed and our first Brambling retrap: a bird ringed at Somerford last February. The solitary Siskin was a first for Ellie to ring: the number was disappointing but is probably a result of the harvesting of the conifers on the other side of the road from our site in the last two years.
Due to the thinning work in the wood over last winter and the subsequent damage to the track from the heavy machinery, I was unable to access my ringing site until July and, with only 7 birds processed in that session, it didn’t look promising. However, we managed sessions in October, November and two in December, all of which gave a decent return. The list was: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Blue Tit 45(17); Great Tit 24(15); Coal Tit 6(3); Marsh Tit 1; Long-tailed 15(1); Wren 7; Grey Wagtail 1; Dunnock 1; Robin 3(4); Redwing 8; Blackbird 1; Chiffchaff 1; Goldcrest 24(2); Lesser Redpoll 26. Totals: 163 birds ringed from 14 species and 43 birds retrapped from 7 species.
The highlights were: our first ever Grey Wagtail in any of my northern sites and the massive increase in the numbers of Lesser Redpoll, with 26 caught in the two December sessions. I don’t know if the latter is a result of the thinning operation, but it is very welcome. Prior to this year we would catch 3 per annum on average, with the largest previous catch being 4 in 2013.
We managed 8 visits to Red Lodge this year. Troubled? Definitely. As anyone who reads the blog knows, apart from the altercation in April, the site has been targetted by local vandals for fly tipping on three separate occasions. Unfortunately, scheduled sessions for the end of November and all of December have had to be cancelled because a large part of the site falls within the 10km surveillance zone for avian flu. The BTO rules, sensibly in my opinion, prohibit ringing within that zone. Although my ringing area is technically outside the zone, it would have been hair-splitting to ignore the restriction and I didn’t fancy the discussion.
The list for the year was: Sparrowhawk 1; Nuthatch 6(2); Treecreeper 1; Jay 1; Blue Tit 106(24); Great Tit 26(21); Coal Tit 6(5); Marsh Tit 3(3); Long-tailed Tit 1(1); Wren 11(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 12(4); Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 2(4); Blackcap 11(1); Chiffchaff 7; Goldcrest 8; Chaffinch 9(1); Brambling 1; Goldfinch 2(1); Lesser Redpoll 1(1). Totals: 220 birds ringed from 21 species and 69 birds retrapped from 13 species, making 289 birds processed from 21 species.
The undoubted highlight of the year was our first Brambling for the site. This now means that we have caught Brambling at Somerford Common, Ravensroost Wood and Red Lodge in the last three years after nine years without a sighting, let alone a capture.
Like Red Lodge, Blakehill Farm was put out of bounds by the outbreak of avian flu at Castle Eaton. We managed to get in 8 full and 2 truncated sessions, including our autumn migration sessions, in before this however, with the following results: Curlew 1; Magpie 1; Blue Tit 18(4); Great Tit 8(3); Long-tailed Tit 18(6); Wren 10(5); Meadow Pipit 55; Dunnock 8(3); Stonechat 5; Whinchat 12; Robin 6(2); Wheatear 1; Redwing 39; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 5(2); Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 2; Whitethroat 2; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 6; Willow Warbler 2; Chaffinch 5; Goldfinch 2; Linnet 2; Starling 1; House Sparrow 6; Reed Bunting 8(1). Totals: 226 birds ringed from 27 species and 26 birds retrapped from 8 species.
The highlight has to be the Curlew, ringed by Jonny as a part of the monitoring project. The first adult Curlew to be ringed in the Braydon Forest, and the first in Wiltshire by our group (and, I suspect, any other) for over 30 years. That said, I was delighted to catch the first Wheatear by anyone in the group since 2012. The Whinchat numbers were the second best for the site maintaining the solid autumn passage numbers of this species passing through Blakehill.
Numbers of Redwing and Meadow Pipit have been curtailed by our not being able to access the site due to the avian flu outbreak.
For the sake of completeness, as Purton lies within the Braydon Forest, this is a summary of the ad hoc ringing I did in my garden this year. It is a lower total than usual, but I think that reflects my activity rather than a change in the numbers of birds. The list for the year was: Woodpigeon 4; Collared Dove 1; Blue Tit 26(14); Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 2; Pied Wagtail 1; Dunnock 4(1); Robin 3(1); Blackbird 2(3); Goldcrest 1; Goldfinch 18(1); Greenfinch 2; House Sparrow 1; Starling 19.
My garden highlight was the first Pied Wagtail for the garden and only the third caught at any of my sites (Brown’s Farm in 2019 and Blakehill Farm in 2015 being the other two).
Barn Owls etc:
There are a number of Barn Owl boxes within the confines of the Braydon Forest, and they have been productive in 2021. We monitored a total of 17 boxes this year, from which we ringed 19 Barn Owls (1 adult + 18 chicks); 2 Stock Dove pulli and 2 Jackdaw pulli. This is our best return in the Forest since I started monitoring them 4 years ago.
Braydon Forest 2021 Totals:
Snipe 1; Curlew 1; Barn Owl 19; Sparrowhawk 2; Woodpigeon 4; Stock Dove 2; Collared Dove 1; Swallow 1; Magpie 1; Jay 1; Jackdaw 2; Great Spotted Woodpecker 5(5); Nuthatch 13(18); Treecreeper 9(3); Blue Tit 384(170); Great Tit 154(129); Coal Tit 33(24); Marsh Tit 14(37); Long-tailed Tit 55(13); Wren 53(22); Meadow Pipit 62; Pied Wagtail 1; Grey Wagtail 1; Dunnock 23(10); Stonechat 5; Whinchat 12; Wheatear 1; Robin 72(33); Redwing 102; Song Thrush 16; Blackbird 26(15); Reed Warbler 1; Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 72(2); Garden Warbler 2; Whitethroat 5(1); Lesser Whitethroat 4(3); Chiffchaff 38(4); Willow Warbler 13(3); Goldcrest 71(12); Chaffinch 44(4); Brambling 2(1); Goldfinch 26(2); Lesser Redpoll 54(1); Siskin 1; Linnet 2; Greenfinch 2; Bullfinch 5(3); House Sparrow 7; Reed Bunting 10(1). Totals: 1,456 ringed from 51 species and 516 birds retrapped from 24 species, making 1,972 birds processed from 51 species.
In pure numbers, this is the worst year I have had in the Braydon Forest. Even with the Covid disruptions and associated issues, last year produced 2,704 birds processed from 50 species. However, the key reason for the difference is the number of sessions: 73 carried out in 2020 and only 60 full sessions managed in 2021, out of 85 scheduled. The weather was the key problem.