The following post is by Jonny Cooper:
Sometimes you come across a brilliant ringing site just by chance. This is what happened with the farm I ring on just outside of Calne. The landowner also owns some land adjacent to my site at Sutton Benger and, through the grapevine, heard about my ringing and asked if I wanted to give his farm a go. That was at the start of the year, in the half a dozen or so sessions since, the site has proven to be amazing.
I rolled up on site Monday morning hoping to ring some of the early winter flocks of finches coming into the cover crops put down for them alongside some Redwing. I set the nets and in the first round had a nice flock of Redwing plus a few Goldfinches. The session then ticked along nicely for a couple of hours, with each round producing a few birds, and I was content.
Things took a more exciting turn during the 10am round. The first thing to get the heart racing was a Stonechat (a lovely male). This is the first ringed at any of my sites. The spotlight was swiftly snatched from the Stonechat, as the next net produced a stunning Merlin. Safe to say at this point I was over the moon.
In Wiltshire Merlin are a reasonably widespread but uncommon winter visitor. However, this bird is only the second actually ringed in the county (the first being in 2020) so it was a real red-letter day.
After the Merlin things really took off as the day started to warm up. The session finished with 90 birds processed. The totals for the day were: Merlin 1, Blue Tit 12(2), Great Tit 3(3), Chiffchaff 1, Wren 1, Redwing 38, Robin 2(1), Stonechat 1, Dunnock 6, Meadow Pipit 2, Chaffinch 5, Goldfinch 8 and Reed Bunting 4. A total of 84 new birds from 13 species and 6 re-traps from 3 species.
Overall, a brilliant ringing session. In addition to the birds ringed there were flocs of Linnets and Yellowhammer flitting about all morning with Lapwing coming down to feed in the stubble fields. A great example of how farming and nature can work hand-in-hand.
Editor’s note: the first Merlin caught by the West Wilts RG was in July 2003. That was a retrapped bird, caught near Beckhampton, about 4km away from where Jonny caught his one. I don’t have the details of where it was ringed. The only other Group record was another retrap caught on the Imber Ranges, Salisbury Plain Training Area, in November 2019. That bird was ringed near Glenshee, Aberdeenshire.