Another Bit of Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 21st September 2022

I spent yesterday morning checking and cleaning out Barn Owl boxes at Upper Waterhay Farm and Blakehill Farm, accompanied by local birder / photographer Chris Snook. Chris was hoping to get some photos of Barnies and, whilst he didn’t get any photos of them, he did get to see some. Better still, he got a fantastic picture of a juvenile Swallow being fed by an adult:

As we drove onto the site, we couldn’t help but notice Stonechat popping up at regular intervals. On our way back from checking the boxes where, annoyingly, I didn’t take my hand-net to the box in Allotment Field. Annoyingly because I thought, having seen it full of Jackdaw nesting material over the breeding season, that there would be nothing in the box, only for a Barn Owl to fly out as soon as I got the ladder against the tree. So, on the way back we stopped to look at the Stonechat and were surprised to see so many of them. My estimate is that there were at least 10.

I have never tried ringing birds in that area of the site, but the Stonechats were a big draw. We set nets in the area where the Wildlife Trust trialled seeding the area with weedy, seedy plants, which did not work out and has reverted to a lot of thistle and ragwort in the main area and the blackthorn is spreading in from the Blackthorn in the hedgerow. The area in question is the paler area in the diagram below, in which all of the nets were set, except the Mipit triangle:

This area fits between my regular ringing sites at Blakehill. The Chelworth Industrial Estate side is the main area, followed by the fields and ponds adjacent to the Whitworth building, as shown in the diagram below:

In an effort to attract in the birds we had come for, I set lures for Stonechat on every one of the four nets in the trial plot area and, unsurprisingly, put Meadow Pipit on in the middle of the Mipit triangle.

I was joined by Miranda and Rosie, doing her usual, helping set up, ringing a few birds and then heading off to work. As we drove down to where we were going to set up, there was at least twenty Skylark on the track. Perhaps I should get there earlier and try some dazzling for these birds of which I have only ever caught one previously.

The first birds into the nets landed in the 5-shelf 18m net: a Chiffchaff and a Great Tit. Whilst Rosie processed those, Miranda went and took the first few Meadow Pipits out of the triangle and our first Stonechat of the morning, a juvenile female:

Juvenile female Stonechat, Saxicola rubicola

We caught two juvenile females, neither of which responded to their lure, but which were caught in the Mipit triangle. I suppose it is possible that they are actually migrating with the Meadow Pipits.

The nets in the trial area were disappointing, with one caveat. The 9m net caught nothing, the 18m 5-shelf caught just four birds, one of which was a same day retrap. Next to that the 18m 2-shelf caught nothing and the furthest away 18m 2-shelf caught just one bird: another Meadow Pipit. Having said that: this Meadow Pipit was an adult that was ringed elsewhere in August 2020. I am looking forward to finding out where it has come from.

The list for the day was: Great Tit [1]; Wren [1]; Meadow Pipit 2[27](1); Stonechat [2]; Robin 1; Chiffchaff [4]. Totals: 3 adults ringed from 2 species, 35 juveniles ringed from 5 species and one bird retrapped, making 39 birds processed from 6 species.

Miranda and I decided to close the nets at 11:30 and, as so often happens, the weather turned as the decision was made, the wind got up and we had to get the nets closed and down quite quickly. We were away from site by 12:30. As I was driving back up the perimeter track, three male Stonechat sat on the posts of the fencing closing off the trial area, with another further afield, at the top of a prominent, dead Dock seed head. That rather underlines that there are good numbers of Stonechat at Blakehill this year. When you look at the last couple of sessions, Blakehill has done extremely well for me and the team.

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