Dipping Out: Red Lodge & Bybrook: Wednesday, 26th April 2023

I started the morning at Red Lodge, meeting with Miranda at 6:00, and setting the nets in the usual place for our breeding season sessions. After another poor return I might have to rethink!

The only nets that caught any numbers were the three nets along the main path. We had the usual lures running for arriving migrant warblers but the numbers were just very low. To be fair to the site, April has never been the busiest month, but this was the third lowest catch at Red Lodge. Unfortunately, the second lowest was the catch made on the 5th April, also this year. The lowest catch was back in 2015. The weather was cold for this time of year and I am pretty sure that impacted on the catch, especially the 3 x 18m ride at 90o from the main path. This is usually our best net, but it is in cover and never warmed up.

The list for the morning was: Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 2(2); Great Tit 1; Robin 1; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 1(2); Goldcrest 1. Totals: 10 birds ringed from 7 species and 4 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 14 birds processed from 7 species.

Miranda had mentioned that she would like to ring a Nuthatch and, as just about the last bird out of the net, she got her wish. All of the birds caught were showing signs of either coming into breeding condition or, in the case of two of the Blue Tits, ready to go. Interestingly, all four of the Blue Tits caught were females. Two had fully developed their brood patch and two had not only fully defeathered but were showing the skin folds associated with the raised blood vessels needed to brood their eggs and young. As our ringing station was no more than 20m from the nets, and with such a small catch, no bird was inconvenienced for more than 5 minutes.

When the weather clouded over, and we felt a few spots of rain, we decided that was time to call it a day, so we packed up and were away from site shortly before midday.

After a quick trip home to unload the car, have some lunch and grab my waders, I was back on the road heading to Box, where I had arranged to meet Jonny Cooper. Last summer Jonny kicked off a project to monitor Dipper on the Bybrook, most of which runs through Wiltshire. The source of the Bybrook is near Burton (not the brewing hub, that is Burton-on-Trent, this is between Acton Turville and Nettleton, and just south of the M4), and it runs southwards, past Castle Coombe, before bending south-westwards to meet up with the river Avon at Batheaston. We met up just to the west of Box. Having arrived a bit early, I had time to stop for a welcome pint at the Northey Arms: Butcombe Original bitter is a fine brew, but a pint of that plus a packet of Tyrrell’s Cheese & Chive crisps, coming to £6.10, makes it a very occasional treat and not something to be done every day.

Anyway, we met at 14:00 and donned our waders and lifejackets (health & safety comes first), and headed down to the river. Jonny being considerably younger and fitter did all of the hard scrambling, whilst I lowered myself down to the river bank in a leisurely, if entirely ungainly, manner, and set a single 9m net across the water. The net was set in a stretch that was no more than 100m long between two bridges that could provide suitable nest sites. Last year this site was active, with at least one pair nesting. Unfortunately, this year their early efforts were washed away, but we were hoping that they would be trying again. The river was still in full spate but a few of the rocks on the edge were proud of the water and offered perching spots for them.

We retreated up the bank into cover and waited and hoped, and waited and hoped. Jonny went off to see if there was any sign near the western bridge, whilst I stayed put to monitor the net, just in case anything flew in. Unfortunately nothing showed, they must have moved on for now. After an hour we also decided to move on to check out a potential nest site near the centre of Box, underneath a railway bridge. As Jonny lowered himself into the brook it quickly became clear that it was too deep to risk the walk through the tunnel, so we brought a halt to the proceedings.

It just goes to show, there are no guarantees when working with wildlife. Hopefully the brook level will fall over the next few weeks and we will be able to carry out some more checks for nests and youngsters. It is an ongoing project and there is no rush.

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