Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 12th October 2022

With a lot going on at some of my Wildlife Trust sites: the Firs is closed whilst contractors are removing diseased Ash trees (good job I got in there on Sunday as I was unaware of the closure); the coppicing of Ravensroost Wood’s 25-year coppice stand has started today, and the local volunteer group is also active there on Wednesdays, now that the breeding season is over and Lower Moor Farm is closed until the current avian flu epidemic has settled down, it leaves me with Blakehill Farm. With the forecast for the day to be rain free, with the wind picking up after noon, but virtually wind free for the morning, I decided to see what might be about on the western side of Blakehill Farm, in the fields either side of the Whitworth Building. We didn’t set too many nets – but it still seemed to take an age.

It was one of those mornings when twists, snags and general stupidity (on my part exclusively) conspired to make the whole thing tedious. Fortunately, I had Rosie and Miranda to help me and keep me stable! I had planned to set a Mipit triangle but, given how well the setup had gone, I decided to hold off and see how things developed over the next hour or so.

The first round produced three birds: a Blue Tit, Great Tit and a retrapped House Sparrow, all in the 9m net that sits in the gateway gap in the hedgerow from the farm buildings. That is the usual spot for catching House Sparrow but, today, that was the only one we caught. Instead, we caught five of the seven Robins in that net. Rosie processed the first three birds before heading off to Ravensroost Wood, to manage the aforementioned coppice work there.

The three 18m nets set today used to be set along the outside of the hedgerow. However, over the last winter the Trust replaced the fencing behind the hedgerow and, in doing so, created a decent straight ride for the nets. It also left a gap into which we could set a 9m net across the hedgerow.

It was a quiet start, but at 9:30 this new net position paid dividends: a large tit flock plus a few Wrens, a couple of Robins and a Blackcap hit the net: 35 birds in total. Miranda and I got busy extracting them. Fortunately, the Wrens were well behaved for once, and only one of the Blue Tits double-pocketed and spun. As a result of this catch, I decided to forgo setting up the Mipit triangle.

We got them out in pretty good time: a little over 30 minutes, ran another check of the other nets in the fields, and got on with processing them. The next couple of rounds were quiet, just a couple of birds in each. At about 11:00 the wind arrived, at least two hours earlier than forecast. Typically, the three nets by the farmyard produced another good haul, this time 12 birds: a Blackcap, Chiffchaff and half-a-dozen Long-tailed Tits.

We decided that would be the last round, only when we went to shut the nets, they were full of Field Maple and birch leaves. After half-an-hour trying to get them out, we gave it up as a bad job, shut them and took them down. I will look forward to a couple of hours cleaning them out of my nets over the next couple of days.

Prior to listing, just a reminder: both Long-tailed Tit and House Sparrow adults and juvenile go through the same moult strategy, at the same time and, by this time of the year, are inseparable on age. Hence, they are referred to as “full grown”. Most are probably juvenile, simply on the law of averages, but there is no consistent way of telling them apart. The list for the day was: 17 full grown birds ringed from 1 species, 8 adults ringed from 3 species, 33 juveniles ringed from 7 species and 1 full grown bird retrapped, making 59 birds processed from 9 species.

Although we regularly get large catches on the other side of Blakehill, this is the second largest catch on this side of the site. The biggest was 61 birds, but that was in August 2017 during autumn migration (that it happened to be the “Festival of Flight” public event run by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust was a bonus (for them – I was working solo)).

We had the nets down and packed away by 13:00. I told Miranda to toddle off whilst I finished packing the car. In truth, I was knackered and needed a rest before I finished packing. I got away from site by 13:30 after a successful session.

One final note: I extracted a Great Tit with a severe left leg injury. It was very obviously an old injury: there was no blood, and everything was clean and dry. The foot was only connected to the rest of the leg via its tendons. By careful use of my extracting skills, and a pair of needle forceps, I managed to free it without new damage to that leg. I chose not to ring it: even though the right leg was perfectly healthy, but I am well aware that some people will dishonestly use any injury on a ringed bird as “evidence” of the damaging effect of the ringing process. A shame: otherwise we would have ended up on a nice round 60!

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