It has been a long wait: Siskin @ Ravensroost Wood, Friday, 25th February 2022

We have seen Siskin in and around our woodland ringing sites since October but, unlike the Lesser Redpoll, they have remained stubbornly in the treetops all winter. They must have been finding enough food to sustain them – until today, that is.

I was joined by Rosie and Tanya at 7:00 and by Claire with her children Samuel and Zara at 8:00. It has been a couple of months since Claire et al have been able to join us, so we had to reintroduce Samuel to the delights of handling Blue Tits, before letting him take on ringing duties again. We started with him just getting comfortable handling the birds and, once he had got his ringer’s grip re-established to my satisfaction, he then shadowed the ringing process, checking wing lengths and weights, before getting to ring his first bird of the morning. I was kind, it was a Robin, not a Blue Tit (he is only young – I don’t want to put him off).

Recently I have just been taking just exactly the number of nets I want for the session, to save on packing too much stuff. That came back to bite me on the posterior this morning when my two 6m nets decided to fail. One broke a shelf-string, which meant I couldn’t use it. The second broke the link to the loop that goes around the pole. Fortunately I managed a running repair on that net so, by a slight reorganisation, we could still surround the entire feeding station area.

As expected, the first round was busy and very Blue Tit heavy, plus the odd Great and Coal Tit. What I am finding somewhat surprising is just how many second year Blue Tits we are catching and ringing. There is no doubt that breeding season 2021 was dreadful for Blue Tits. Everyone who was monitoring Blue Tit nest boxes confirmed full failures or low fledging rates, yet this winter, since the 1st November, we have caught and ringed 234 juvenile Blue Tits in the Braydon Forest, out of a total of 285 ringed in total, i.e. 82.1%. I have done a comparison with previous years to see if this is reflected in our ringing totals. Because of the Covid restrictions in place throughout 2020 and 2021, it has severely distorted the data for that period, so I have excluded it from this analysis:

Table 1: analysis of juveniles ringed overwinter and in the prior breeding season / autumn

What does this table show? Essentially, whatever happened in the breeding season is not reflected in what we have seen over this winter. Either the breeding season wasn’t as bad as first thought or, radical suggestion, perhaps with less intraspecific and intragenerational competition for food more young Blue Tits have survived than would otherwise be the case. Who knows?

Amongst all of these youngsters, today we recaptured Blue Tit S859712. This bird was originally caught and ringed as a juvenile on the 2nd September 2017. This was the eleventh time it has been recaptured, always in the same general area (the 8-year hazel coppice) so twelve times in all it has been handled – and it still pecks like a good ‘un every time! I love Blue Tits: birds with attitude!

The third round produced the bird of the day:

Fig 1: Male Siskin

This is my first Siskin since one at Somerford Common almost exactly one year ago (27th February 2021) and it was the first that Rosie has ever got to ring. Rosie and Tanya were actually scheduled to be working at Ravensroost this morning, so they had to go to work when the rest of their work party turned up at 9:30. On the penultimate round I found another Siskin, this time a female, in the nets by the feeding station. It looked nicely settled and there was a Blue Tit that was rather entangled, so I decided to extract that first. Unfortunately, she was nicely settled but, also, not particularly restricted and as I removed the Blue Tit she managed to escape the net. Fortunately, by then Claire and the children had left for the morning so I didn’t have to apologise for my language.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 13(11); Great Tit 2(4); Coal Tit 1(3); Marsh Tit (1); Dunnock 1; Robin 1(3); Siskin 1. Totals: 19 birds ringed from 6 species and 23 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 42 birds processed from 8 species.

We had convened at Ravensroost Wood, as opposed to Lower Moor Farm, because the weather forecast was for it to be a bit breezy. In the event, there was no sign of a breeze until 11:00, which was when I decided to start closing up the nets and taking down. It took a while, as I was now working solo, and I took down in stages, extracting the few remaining birds as I went. I left site at 12:15. It will be Lower Moor Farm tomorrow, as I finally catch up on the fortnight lost to the storms.

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