Elves in Webb’s Wood: Saturday, 19th November 2022

Having been unable to get to Webb’s on Wednesday due to the weather, I decided to have a go today. On Thursday morning I set up a couple of feeders at the ringing site (one peanut, one mixed seed (no wheat)), on the off chance a few birds would have found them by today.

Okay, so what is this title about? Where I set up my feeders we discovered plenty of rotting wood and lots of fungi. As with last year, there were a few clumps of Yellow Stag’s Horn fungus, Calocera viscosa. However, for me, the most striking of them was this, because I have never seen it before:

Green Elf Cup, Chlorociboria aerugonescens. Not only are the fruiting bodies this fabulous turquoise colour, but the blue of the mycelium completely pervades the log upon which it is growing, as you can see on the bottom photo. Obviously, where you have elf cups you must have elves to use them! (Sorry!)

So to the real business of the day. I was joined by David for the session. The Forestry England contractor had been in during the week and tidied up the ride edges and opened up some areas. I am delighted to say that, unlike at Somerford Common last winter, the work has improved the ringing prospects. I made a small change to the net setup:

FS = Feeding Station RS = Ringing Station

It is a nice compact site when set up like this. The feeders had been found and the birds had made small inroads into the food, so I was expecting an increase in the numbers of titmice, but not an explosion in numbers. We set lures for Redwing plus a finch mix (Lesser Redpoll, Siskin & Brambling) on the 3 x 18m net set and the finch mix on each of the other net sets. The Redwing lure worked immediately and we started taking them out of the nets pretty much straight away. Whilst doing our first round Mark and his children, Daniel and Adam, arrived and, soon after that. Claire with her children, Samuel and Zara. I have arranged to do a talk on ringing, followed by a practical demonstration, at Zara’s school in January. It came about because Zara was talking about bird ringing in class and that she had been allowed to ring some birds, and her class mates were interested in learning more. The school in question, Abbey Meads Community School in Swindon, has its own little forest school, wildlife ponds and natural habitats, with lessons that make use of all of them. It will be a pleasure to show them. That said, being 8 year olds, some did originally think that ringing was about pairing the birds up for breeding, so I was told today.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. It was a decent session. Both Redwing and Lesser Redpoll responded to the lure and we caught and ringed some 46 birds: Blue Tit 12(6); Great Tit 4(6); Coal Tit 1(1); Robin 2(3); Redwing 8; Goldcrest 1; Lesser Redpoll 2. Totals: 30 birds ringed from 7 species and 16 birds recaptured from 4 species, making 46 birds processed from 7 species.

The number of Goldcrest was well down compared with previous sessions. We did catch two, but one showed signs of cold stress, so I didn’t process it. They are such small birds it is why I don’t lure for them until at least 10:00 in the morning, and once the temperature has reached a reasonable level. I have a very simply remedy for dealing with any stressed birds (don’t get too concerned, perhaps one in a thousand birds extracted might show signs of stress), particularly cold stress: I pop them in a bag and drop them down my front next to the skin. It always works: I am not sure if it is the warmth or the smell that helps, perhaps it is the combination! With this one, he wasn’t responding as well as I wanted, so I took him out of the bag and popped him back in again. Ten minutes later he was crawling all over my chest. When he reached my armpit I took him out and he flew off strongly into the top of an adjacent tree and started foraging for food. Job done!

Because of the way that the birds were coming in, I didn’t have time to allow the children to do any ringing during the main part of the morning. However, they all took turns to release the birds once each was processed. All of the rides caught, but 2 x 18m ride was not as successful as it usually is. That is the problem with ringing birds: you cannot predict their movements. The catch died off soon after 10:30 and, with it still being pretty cold, Claire and her brood departed soon after. With things having quietened down, I could work with the other two children, Daniel and Adam, and allow them to ring a bird each. By then that was all that we had left for them to ring.

David and I started shutting the nets at 11:45, extracting the last few birds and processing them before taking down and packing away. We left site by 12:45 after a cold but fairly productive morning.

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