West Wilts Ringing Group Annual Review 2021

Another excellent year in 2021: in terms of quality if not necessarily quantity.  Actually, my little team and I had our worst year since 2013, my first full year as a C-permit holder, with just 2,588 birds processed, 700 fewer than last year.  The key problem for me was the weather: of 85 planned sessions, I carried out only 60.  Six of those cancelled were at the busy times for juvenile birds: last week of July, first week of August.  Four of my planned sessions over the Christmas period were also cancelled: one of them when David and I sat in the middle of a cloud at Brown’s Farm hoping it would lift. It didn’t.  The other nail in my coffin was, unfortunately, the outbreak of Avian Flu at Castle Eaton, which put Blakehill Farm and Red Lodge out of bounds from the 10th December (ongoing unfortunately). However, like several others this year, I also had firsts for the group since we came into the current structure, more of which later.  Fortunately, elsewhere in the county others were not so badly afflicted by the weather.

One of the key developments this year was Jonny Cooper getting his A-permit.  He is the driving force behind the increase in our catch numbers, this year being responsible for some 55% of our total.
These are the comparative results:

So to our group firsts. The Curlew is clearly a stand-out bird. The first adult ringed in Wiltshire since 1992, and only the second adult ringed in Wiltshire (as far as we are aware).  Without embarrassing him, it shows what a stellar individual Jonny is that, because it was at Blakehill, he offered it to me to ring. Being an equally stellar individual, I refused and insisted he ring it, much as I would have loved to add it to my list.


It has been re-sighted on several occasions at Blakehill (naturally) but also in one of the meadows at Red Lodge Farm and, most recently, as blogged, at a site in Cornwall, near to St Mawes.  Alongside that, Ian and Andy, after years of ringing Stone Curlew on the RSPB’s / Wessex Stone Curlew project rings, have started ringing them on West Wilts Group rings. The first two on our rings were, unsurprisingly, ringed as youngsters on sites on Salisbury Plain. Both were ringed on the 17th June.


Photo courtesy of Ian Grier
I am not sure why but Jonny decided it was a good idea to ring a trio of juvenile Canada Geese, at his Melksham site on the 2nd August.  Apparently others have been ringed by the group, but not since 2005!  Here’s looking forward to the next ones in 2037!.  
I had two little contributions to the year’s new variety.  First was a fabulous Yellow Wagtail caught at Brown’s Farm.  Almost the last bird out of the nets, and only the second time I have had an opportunity to ring them: the first being a few I did at Icklesham back in 2011. 


Astonishingly, in the same session we caught a Firecrest: a first for the site, our only one of the year and in a completely wrong habitat for them. Presumably a dispersing youngster.   
My other first for the group was a Wheatear at Blakehill Farm:  This was on the 12th September on the Chelworth side of the site. Prior to this, the last group Wheatear were back in 2008 near Beckhampton: an astonishing catch of seven of them!Not firsts for the group but there were two other significant catches.  Johnny had his first Carrion Crow at Biss Wood: the first since I caught one at Lower Moor Farm in May 2014.  


Photo courtesy of Jonny Cooper

I then had my first Brambling for Red Lodge on the 24th November.  Another first for site was a Snipe that I managed to flush into a net at Ravensroost Meadows on the 7th September:


As a result of these additions, we ended up with 68 species processed during the course of the year, compared with 63 species last year, despite the reduced numbers.  I am not going to go into details on the species reductions: they are there for all to see. Evidence of a poor breeding season for Paridae was there from the start. The absence of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers at my sites in the north of the county, was bemoaned by me in my blog posts throughout the summer. Despite that, their numbers were significantly better than last year’s catch thanks to stronger performances elsewhere in the county and good catches of them on autumn migration.

Here’s hoping that the weather is better in 2022 and that Avian Flu disappears as rapidly as it appeared.

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