Blakehill Farm: Saturday, 21st May 2022

Rosie had a volunteer group turning up at Blakehill Farm, to work at nearby Purton Stoke Common this morning. They were scheduled to arrive at 10:00, so I changed today’s venue from Red Lodge to Blakehill, so she could get a good few hours of ringing in before having to go to work. David also joined us for the session. We met at 5:30 and set our main nets in the field in front the Whitworth building.

Over the winter a lot of work has been done replacing the fencing behind the bramble at the western edge of the field. This has left an alleyway between the tree line and the brambles that is just right for a good long net ride: which is where we set the 3 x 18m nets. I also thought that it might make a great hunting ride for a Sparrowhawk – not today though!

The only net retained from our last session was the 9m net set at the gate from the farm, with a 12m dog-legged to the left of it. If we are going to catch House Sparrows, that 9m net is the most likely place. In fact, the first bird in that net was our second juvenile Dunnock of the year.

The first round got us a bit over-excited: with an eleven bird catch. It included the aforementioned juvenile Dunnock, plus two Lesser Whitethroat and a Whitethroat. After that, it fell away, as usual, with just two or three birds per round, except for a wee spike at 9:45 when we caught six. I know for some that would not be enough but, as we are entering the first breeding season that many of my trainees have been involved with, it gives me the time needed to go through the intricacies of brood patch stages, and spend time on some of the more difficult species to sex. Taking yesterday as an example: we caught a total of five Lesser Whitethroat: three males and two females. All three males had a brood patch, as well as a pronounced cloacal protuberance. Sexing them is just not that easy, even for someone like me, who has been doing it for thirteen years. If they are difficult, so are Garden Warblers, and we had another of those as well. The fact is, though, that we had the time to be able to make considered judgements.

When Rosie’s volunteer group turned up it was at the same time as we had our little spike in the catch, so I was able give those volunteers a short ringing demonstration before they went off to start their work. They were very appreciative. One of the birds that I was able to show them was our first juvenile Robin of the year:

You can see why they are nicknamed “Bobbles”.

Our list for the day was: Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 2(1); Dunnock 3; Robin 2; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird (1); Blackcap 1; Garden Warbler 1; Whitethroat 3; Lesser Whitethroat 5; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2; House Sparrow 1. Totals: 25 adult birds ringed from 12 species; 2 juveniles ringed from 2 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 29 birds processed from 13 species.

We started to close the nets at 11:15, as the breeze had started to get up and, particularly, the long ride could have been a disaster. As it was, we had a short length of extraction from bramble and tree debris, but it wasn’t too bad. Trevor came along and helped us pack up again, meaning that we were able to get everything down and packed away just before 13:00. We spent the entire morning listening to a male Cuckoo calling for a mate. At one point a second joined in the calling. What we didn’t hear or see at all this morning was any sign of the Curlew.

One interesting creature that we came across as I was packing away was this beautiful green spider:

Arianella opisthographa

Apparently it is a very common species. This is a female just over 6mm long. I was surprised that my phone camera enabled me to get a decent shot, that I could actually enlarge.

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