Somerford Common: Saturday, 25th February 2023

After having to abandon three sessions this week: Tuesday at Blakehill Farm, due to (unforecast) constant light drizzle (is there anything more frustrating than sitting there in the rain looking at multiple weather forecasting apps telling you that it isn’t raining, that there is <5% chance of rain and 0mm of precipitation expected for the day?); Thursday afternoon / evening due to unforecast wind and Friday morning due to overnight illness (also not forecast). We did manage to get out to Somerford Common this morning. Unfortunately, we had to curtail today’s session as unforecast wind got up at 10:00, the nets were billowing, they were getting entangled in the trees (despite being set at least 1 metre away from them) and it was clearly too dangerous to risk damaging the birds. That is not to say that it wasn’t an interesting session.

I was joined at 7:00 by David and at 7:45 by Nikki Morgans, the new Beat Forester for this area from Forestry England, and her son Oscar. A little later still we were joined by Laura, with Adam and Daniel. As there was only myself and David to do the extracting and processing, Laura took over the scribing duties, for which I was extremely grateful. Later still, we had more visitors as Laura’s husband Mark arrived with their friend Alex (who I misnamed as Susan the last time she came to a session, at Ravensroost Wood last autumn)

Unlike the last session at Somerford Common, we managed to avoid birds hitting the nets before they were fully open. However, the first round, at 8:30, was still a busy round, with 17 birds extracted and processed. The next round produced another 13 birds but we only managed one more round, with just two birds, before shutting everything down.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 2(4); Great Tit 1(9); Coal Tit 1(4); Marsh Tit 1(4); Robin 2(3). Totals: 7 birds ringed from 5 species and 25 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 32 birds processed from 6 species in under 2 hours!!

I have never had a catch that was so heavily weighted towards retrapped birds. Some ringers would conclude that the site has been “ringed out” and, if ringing them is the reason you do it, the site becomes unattractive. If you are a data nerd, like me, recaptured birds are the whole point. Take ACJ5593, a Marsh Tit ringed on the 10th October 2019. It has been recaptured on seven further occasions: twice more in 2019, twice in 2020, once in 2021, not at all in 2022, and now twice in 2023. Not bad for a bird that, according to the statistics from the BTO BirdFacts database, has a typical lifespan of just 2 years. Mind, the oldest recorded (from ringing data) is 11 years and 3 months from date of ringing to date of last recorded recapture. Perhaps more importantly, since the start of this year, at Somerford Common we have ringed three second year Marsh Tits and recaptured seven other individuals of this species. That is encouraging for the current health of the species at this site, given that we are working in a fairly small area, accepting that they are drawn in from a wider area to take advantage of the feeding station.

One could assume that we are catching the same Blue and Great Tits at the feeding station at each session but, when I looked at the Great Tit records, as per the Marsh Tit data, there have been 61 Great Tits processed, representing 46 individual birds, of which 33 have been caught only once. 25 of the Great Tits were ringed in the period, with only 7 of those having been recaptured in the subsequent sessions. With Blue Tits there have been, possibly surprisingly, only 54 birds processed (because it always feels like so many more), representing 48 individual birds, of which 41 have been caught only once in the period. 33 of those Blue Tits were ringed in the period, with only 4 of them being recaptured subsequently.

Still no finches, which is a shame. We did disturb a Chaffinch that was feeding on the spill from the seed-feeder on the ground (the bottom shelf of the nets was set at 70cm off the floor, as there are a few pheasants who weren’t stupid enough to stay where they might get shot, wandering around the site, and I don’t want pheasant sized holes in the bottom of the net and, although I would not be averse to a lead free roast pheasant for Sunday lunch, I am not sure wringing the neck thereof is something to be done in front of the children.

With everybody joining in to help take down and pack away we were off-site soon after 10:30. It was shame we had to shut up shop early but it was a reasonable session nonetheless, and the company was excellent. I am pleased to say that it left a good and positive impression on Nikki, and I am certain that we have established a decent rapport for the future.

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