What is Happening in Ravensroost Wood? Saturday, 3rd December 2022

It was a cold and breezy morning, so Ravensroost Wood was the right choice for some sheltered net rides. This year the Wildlife Trust have banned the use of supplementary feeding at their sites, as a precaution against avian flu. On top of that, we have just had new directions from the BTO: we have to disinfect our equipment (all of our equipment: nets, bags, pliers, scales, clothing) between sessions. Each bag to be used just once per session: it’s a good job I have 80 or so bird bags!

To say that I have been worried about the drop off in catches at Ravensroost Wood is an understatement. Over the years it has been an excellent site for me. This is how the site is structured, with my various ringing areas marked up:

Area 1 is the most used part of the site. This winter the south east quadrant of that area is being coppiced, so I am avoiding it for now. Area 3 has been worked twice in the last two months: the first time delivered just two birds, the second delivered just three: which is remarkably poor for that area. I think that the issue is fairly simple: the trees have reached a height where the birds are flying over the nets rather than in to them.

Area 4 has been largely ignored since I took over ringing the site, as we were not allowed to take a vehicle down the path, and it was too much hard work to access the area, particularly when working solo. This year, with that restriction lifted, we did try a session there in October. Unfortunately, a few days before the session the volunteer group cleared the area around the pond, removing the cover needed for a successful mist netting session. I did not know until we arrived to set up and I felt it was too late to set up another set of rides. We caught just 14 birds.

My key project in the wood was covered by areas 1 and 2, as I monitored the effect of the coppicing on the distribution of birds in that area of the wood. Area 3 was used as the control site. The project lasted from 2013 to 2020 when Covid-19 disrupted the project, and negative interactions with a couple of members of the public made me decide I did not want to work in public areas. My plans for the wood going forward are to try out different areas and get a better map of the distribution of the birds within it.

I have done some analysis to see whether my concerns were justified:

As the chart shows, 2016 was the worst year for the wood. That was the result of awful weather in April and May, giving the titmice their worst breeding season since I started ringing Ravensroost and was able to monitor such things. That was repeated across my other sites, unlike this year where the others have performed as expected. Outside of that, both 2021 and 2022 are almost as bad: but without the dreadful weather as a reason. 2022’s figure is rather inflated by a single large catch of 101 birds at the feeding station in area 1 in January, otherwise things would have looked much worse. With no feeding stations set up at Wildlife Trust properties this winter, it will no doubt impact on catch sizes. It is, of course, possible that the tit and finch flocks will be larger, as they have to forage harder and further afield to find food. It is also possible that our catches at the Forestry England sites, where we continue to supplementary feed, might increase as the birds displace to those areas.

Saturday’s session was set up in area 2: along the two rides to the north of the 8-year coppice area:

I was joined by Anna and Rosie for the session and, later, by Laura and her family.

The area where we set up delivered the largest ever catch in Ravensroost Wood, almost 11 years ago to the day, on the 4th December 2011: 258 birds ringed and 59 retrapped from 18 species, including the only Lesser Spotted Woodpecker ever caught in the wood. There was a feeding station in place at the time, but you can always hope. As it was, the catch was pretty disappointing: Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit (1); Wren 1; Robin 2(1); Goldcrest 4(2). Totals 10 birds ringed from 5 species and 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 14 birds processed from 6 species. To be fair, throughout the coppice project this areas regularly produced the lowest catches, so it wasn’t too surprising that we weren’t inundated with birds.

Part of the issue was that it stayed cold all morning, although it wasn’t wet, it felt damp as well and, by the time we packed up early, at 11:00, we were all thoroughly cold, fairly disappointed and happy to go home.

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