It’s Not Always What You Catch: Ravensroost Wood, Friday, 8th April 2022

Miranda and I met at Ravensroost Wood at 6:30 this morning. This session was planned for Wednesday but the forecast was, for once, accurate, and Wednesday was wet and windy, so we moved it to today. My intention was to set 11 nets but, due to a problem with the 12m net I took with me, and an oak tree getting in the way of an 18m net, we ended up with just the 9 x 18m nets. After faffing around for far too long trying to get the 12m net operational, we had all of the nets open by 7:30 and started catching straight away: the obligatory Wren flying in and getting horribly entangled in an unopened net to start the ball rolling. You can almost always guarantee that the first bird caught in my woodland sites will be either a Wren or a Robin. Whilst setting up the nets, we were treated to a lot of bird song. Key amongst the choristers were the Willow Warblers: there were at least half-a-dozen singing.

Needless to say, we didn’t catch a single one.

On the west side I set 3 lures: Chiffchaff / Blackcap / Chiffchaff and on the east side I set 2 lures: Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Naturally, the first round did not produce any of those species. Instead it produced 3 Blue Tits, a Great Tit, 2 Wrens and 2 Long-tailed Tits. Unfortunately, I managed to let one of the Blue Tits escape from the bag as I was getting it out to process it. The Long-tailed Tits were caught in the same net, just a few feet apart, but on opposite sides. I guessed that they were a pair, one getting caught flying in, the other getting caught coming back to find its mate. Sure enough, when processed one was a male and the other a female with a well-developed brood patch. We released them together and they flew off in the same direction together, helping cement my opinion.

Whilst processing these I heard the unmistakeable song of a Mistle Thrush. We only got glimpses at that point and, like the Willow Warblers, it never got near our nets. The bird stayed around all morning and about 10:00 we got some excellent views as it flew around the tops of the guard trees left in the newly coppiced coupe. Mistle Thrush is a rare catch for us. In Wiltshire in 2020, the latest for which data is currently available, none were either ringed or recaptured. In the two prior years the totals were 4 in 2019 and 2 in 2018.

Soon after the Mistle Thrush moved on, I saw a Hare running across the coppiced area. Unfortunately for Miranda, he disappeared before she got to see it. I have seen them on the bridle path that splits Ravensroost, and on one of the forest tracks at Somerford Common, but it is still surprising to see them in such a habitat.

At 10:00 we had a little fall of Chiffchaff hit the net, 5 of the 6 processed this morning. We didn’t have lots of birds at a time 3 0r 4, occasionally 5, but that gave us plenty of time for me to introduce Miranda to the vagaries of sexing sexually monomorphic species. Fortunately, the Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs, Dunnock and Wrens we caught were all showing excellent signs of their sexuality: mainly males, it has to be said.

Our last proper round, at 11:15 turned up a superb pair of Nuthatch. Again, I use the word “pair” quite deliberately. They came out of the same net as the Long-tailed Tits, were actually closer together than they had been, one was male, the other female. As with the Long-tailed Tits, we processed them and released them together. They flew off in the same direction. Unfortunately, the male flew straight back into the net. The female stayed close by calling, and waited until I released the male again, whereby they then flew off in the same direction. Again, I am pretty certain they have paired for breeding this year. Actually, one of the nice points about it was that they were both unringed. I like recapturing birds, it is where the science is, but we do seem to have been catching rather few new Nuthatches, particularly at Ravensroost. In the previous 2 years we only ringed 2 in Ravensroost in each year. Let’s hope we can get back to the heady days of 2017, when we ringed 10!

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 2; Wren 4(2); Dunnock (1); Robin 1(2); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (2); Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 5(1). Totals: 21 birds ringed from 9 species and 9 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 30 birds processed from 11 species.

The recaptured Chiffchaff was ringed as an adult in Ravensroost Wood in July 2019, so it is at least 3 years old. That’s a year longer than the birds typical lifespan (BTO Bird Facts) but it needs another nearly 8 years to beat the longevity record. I am intrigued by Chiffchaffs: I would like to know how many have given up migration and remain in the UK overwinter. There are areas around the Cotswold Water Park where they can be found year round. It would be good to know if these birds are “our” breeding birds, or migrants talking advantage of our milder winter climate, as is the case with overwintering Blackcaps.

It was a really cold morning, without being frosty. We were both getting very chilled by the time we started packing up at about 11:45. Ironically, that’s when the sun came out and warmed the place up! Such is life! We were away from site just after 12:45.

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