Change of Blog Name

I have changed the blog name to more closely represent the content that is posted. As I produce over 95% of the blog content and it is a constant battle to get others to contribute, so I have decided to give up the struggle.

Guest blogs will still be welcome, and I will still be nagging to get more into the mix, but for now it will continue with the focus it has had for the last 5 years or so.

Blakehill Farm West: Saturday, 28th January 2023

With it being forecast to be flat calm, I had hoped to be able to run a session at Brown’s Farm. Unfortunately, it is the last weekend of the pheasant shooting season, so the weekend is taken up with that. Instead we headed to Blakehill Farm. Doubly unfortunately, it proved to be a very small catch. Nice quality, shame about the quantity. I was joined for the morning by David and Anna. We set nets in the fields either side of the Whitworth Building:

These nets regularly catch good numbers of birds, particularly the 9m net set in the gateway from the farm buildings into the field, which is T-boned with the 18m and 12m nets set. It did catch a couple of birds, whilst the other two nets caught not a single bird. However, it is the one net, of all of my sites, that I can usually rely on to produce House Sparrows: not today!

The first round produced a Song Thrush, our first of the year, and two Great Tit. One was a retrap and the second was a new bird but it was deformed: the tarsus and the foot were missing. This was on the left leg, but the right leg was completely normal. It is a male that fledged last year: possibly a casualty of unsuitable nesting material?

I will stress that this could not be a ringing injury: we ring on the right leg. There is no sign of it being a recent injury, it is perfectly healed. I decided to ring the bird so that, hopefully, we will be able to recapture it in the future and see how it is faring.

Whilst the catch was very small, it wasn’t without interest. The third round produced just two birds, from the long net line, two male Bullfinch:

The last round produced a female Bullfinch and a female Greenfinch:

This was the first Greenfinch that Anna has ever ringed, and she paid the entry fee:

They really do have a strong beak!

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 1(1); Song Thrush 1; Bullfinch 3; Greenfinch 1. Totals: 11 birds ringed from 5 species and 1 retrap, making 12 birds processed from 5 species.

We did a last round at 11:00, which yielded precisely nothing, so we shut the nets as we went, took down and were off site just after midday.

Somerford Common: Wednesday, 25th January 2023

For once I was working solo at one of my sites and, with the current unavailability of the Firs, Ravensroost Wood is reserved for the volunteer group on a Wednesday in the autumn and winter, Webb’s Wood and Red Lodge ringed most recently, and forecast to be too windy for Blakehill or Brown’s Farms, I went to Somerford Common. I had topped up all of the on-site feeders at the Forestry England woodlands on Tuesday morning and, to prevent being inundated with birds, I just set the feeding station nets. As it had been pretty cold and icy for the previous two days, I decided to have the nets open for 8:30, to give the early birds time to get a feed in before I inconvenienced them.

I took the first birds out of the nets at 8:40. Surprisingly, there were no Blue Tits in the first round. There were three Chaffinch, of which two were able to be ringed, but the bulk were Great Tits and a couple of Coal Tits.

The second produced another three Chaffinch, but only one of those could be ringed. It is a long time since I have seen quite so much Fringilla papillomavirus in the Chaffinch population. That it seems to be making a comeback is very disappointing. That round also produced a new male Nuthatch.

Unusually for catches at this site recently, there were no Marsh Tits, either new or recaptures. Equally, there was no sign of Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll or Siskin. The reduction in the finches certainly has coincided with my having moved the feeding station away from the birch trees after the brush in the quadrant they are in was cut back and mulched in winter 2021/22. As there has been some regrowth around the original feeding station site, I have moved the feeding station back to that position. It will have a double benefit: potentially more finches and it is much less further to walk!

With the catch falling away by 10:30, I shut the nets and took down, with a slightly disappointing catch: Great Spotted Woodpecker (1); Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 6(3); Great Tit 5(5); Coal Tit 1(3); Chaffinch 3. Totals: 16 birds ringed from 5 species and 12 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 28 birds processed from 6 species.

Next week I plan to run a session on the western side of the site. This is where we caught the Buzzards a couple of years ago and where we had a reasonable catch of Siskin last winter. That area is primarily the commercial forestry operation and the avifauna is subsequently rather different.

Recovery Details Updated

The maps and data showing ringing recoveries have been updated to include the new additions for 2022. This includes a new entry for Kingfisher on the Residents page and updates to Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler on the Migrant Warblers page; Meadow Pipit and Redwing on the Other Migrants page.

Thanks to Jonny Cooper for collating the data and providing the maps.

Red Lodge: Friday, 20th January 2023

I was really pleased to be joined by Rosie for the entire session today. Usually she arrives, helps me set up, rings a few birds and then heads off to work. Due to circumstances beyond her control, her planned work for the morning had to be postponed, so a full session it was.

We set the same nets as last time: around the feeding stations and a dog-leg around the corner of one of the ponds, six nets, a total of 84m. It was a decent session numerically, not so good for variety. The list was: Blue Tit 32(11); Great Tit 9(4); Coal Tit 1(2); Marsh Tit (1); Robin (2); Goldcrest (1); Chaffinch 1. Totals: 43 birds ringed from 4 species and 21 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 64 birds processed from 7 species.

We are missing a whole chunk of species I would normally expect to catch: Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The latter were heard all morning, both calling or drumming, but they are clearly ignoring the peanuts so far this winter. We haven’t caught any at Red Lodge, Webb’s Wood or Ravensroost Wood this winter, and only four at Somerford Common. Nuthatch has been better in the forest but the last ones at Red Lodge were at the end of November. Treecreeper have been regular in Red Lodge, just absent for this session.

As for finches: both Lesser Redpoll and Siskin have been non-existent in the forest so far this winter. We have ringed one Chaffinch per session at Red Lodge over the autumn and winter, and it was the same today. Unfortunately, as usual, we caught two but one was suffering from FPV and could not be ringed. This is the one that was:

I think that the Blue Tit catch is the highest single species proportion I have ever had in a catch. What I find remarkable is that there are still so many Blue Tits to be ringed. I fully expect to get good numbers of recaptured Blue Tits: we ring the same places, with the pretty much the same net positions for each site, on a regular basis. However, this constant throughput of new Blue Tits to be ringed is surprising. A key part of that is the seasonality of ringing adult Blue Tits. We ring relatively few adults during the spring and summer, with the numbers increasing in the autumn and maximising in the winter:

When you compare that with the juveniles ringed, there are obvious differences, particularly once the breeding season offloads this year’s crop of youngsters into the mix. For the sake of trying to keep the figures consistent, I have included the previous year’s offspring as “juveniles” for the spring, although they are better described as second year birds.

As you can see, there are still far more juveniles ringed in each season than adults, which is why it is somewhat surprising that, in these regularly ringed woodlands, there are still so many adults being ringed over the autumn and winter season. When you look at my previous post on the movements of Blue Tits around the Braydon Forest, the question has to be: where do these birds come from?

For the sake of this analysis, the seasons are defined as follows: Winter = December to February inclusive; Spring = March to May inclusive; Summer = June to August inclusive; Autumn = September to November inclusive. As a general rule, numbers start to build up in the autumn, peak significantly over the winter and are virtually non-existent during the breeding season / summer.

Abbey Meads Community School: Thursday, 19th January 2023

I was privileged to be asked to do a presentation on bird ringing to the year 4 age group at Abbey Meads Community School (I don’t understand the school year system: I believe year 4 are 9/10 years of age). This came about because Zara, one of the children who occasionally join our ringing sessions, has been telling all of her classmates about bird ringing and this was her class. She is an enthusiast and is a competent ringer.

I was approached through her mum, Claire, and put in touch with the school when I agreed. After a visit to meet with Zara’s teacher, Tracy Dangerfield, where I had a chance to look around the school grounds, it was clear that there would be the possibility of doing a bit more than just talking about it. They have a small area with some wildlife ponds in and the school is very focused on exposing their pupils to the natural world. The school sports field is surrounded on three sides by varying depths of woodland. At the east and west ends of the field they have set up a number of feeding stations: mainly half coconut shells filled with fat and peanuts, and a couple of seed feeders.

When I arrived this morning, I checked in with reception, showed them my enhanced CRB registration document, and met up with Tracy. We did a walk around the field and checked the feeding stations at each end, and decided that the eastern end would be the better, as there was more activity there. I set a single line of just two nets one 18m and one 9m, which covered a line of 8 feeders.

I did my talk, from just after 11:00 until just after 11:30. There must have been 50 children in attendance. When I demonstrated the use of a Potter Trap they were intrigued. When I then demonstrated the use of one of my spring traps, they wanted me to set it up by the feeders! They loved it.

The children were really interested throughout, and there were lots of questions, and it was lovely chatting to them all. Mind, I probably ought to just say that I don’t like Grey Squirrels, rather than that I would happily shoot the lot of them, to a room full of 8-year olds! What was nice about the talk I put together was that I was able to use some of our recent data to illustrate salient reasons for ringing birds: movement within the country (our long-distance Blue Tit); migration (our record breaking Redwing recovery) and longevity (our record breaking Goldcrest).

At the end of the talk I left to open the nets to see if we might catch some of the birds that had been using the feeders. I couldn’t believe it: as I started opening up the nets, a chainsaw started up at the house marked with an X on the photo! What a nightmare: the birds just disappeared, and I ended up catching just a single Robin. Unfortunately, the noise of the chainsaw didn’t stop and, rather than keep the children out in the cold, we decided to call it a day. However, the children were very happy and excited with what they had seen. I sometimes forget just how enthusiastic children can be: they were queuing up to tell me how much they had enjoyed it. Three of Zara’s classmates have asked whether they can join me for some ringing sessions. We shall see how that develops.

We had some lovely views of a Green Woodpecker taking advantage of the school sport’s field. Apparently he is a regular. There was also a Herring Gull on the field: they nested on the school building roofs last summer. I have offered to make this a regular occurrence and the school are keen for me to do so.

Webb’s Wood: Tuesday, 17th January 2022

After 15 days of being unable to get out, due to a combination of bad weather and ill health, I was determined to take advantage of the next available day. On Sunday, unsuitable for ringing due to high winds, I got out and topped up the feeding stations at my three Forestry England sites. It was forecast to be wind free but cold this morning. As it was going to be sub-zero, I decided to limit the number of nets, so that we could ensure no birds were left in the nets for any length of the time. As expected, the nets adjacent to the feeding station were the busiest.

I was joined for the morning by Miranda. We set up at 7:30. Unfortunately, it is going to have to be 7:00 starts for the next few weeks, and I will have to steel myself for starting even earlier. It was full daylight soon after we arrived.

With the nets set up, the birds started arriving straight away. The first round delivered the two most interesting birds of the session:

We had a male and a female about 12″ apart in the same net. This immediately begs the questions: do Nuthatch stay paired from year to year or do they pair up very early in the year? As they don’t start laying until mid-April, that does seem early.

As expected, the catch was very Blue Tit heavy and was as follows: Nuthatch 2; Blue Tit 13(5); Great Tit 2(8); Coal Tit (3); Marsh Tit (1); Robin 1(2). Totals: 18 birds ringed from 4 species and 19 birds recaptured from 5 species, making 37 birds processed from 6 species.

We started packing up at 11:00 and were off site by just before midday.

West Wilts RG: 2022 Review, Part 3 – Recoveries

There are two tables in this part: the first is list of the birds recovered by us but ringed elsewhere; the second is the reverse, ringed by us but recovered elsewhere. The pale green band identifies foreign recoveries or recoveries of foreign birds, whilst the pale purple band identifies birds that have travelled further than 100km within the UK.

I have not included the details of the 15 birds recovered after being killed by cats.

The key recoveries in this section are the Finnish Redwing and, funnily enough, the first Blue Tit in the list. The only other foreign recovery we have had of Redwing was a bird ringed at Lower Moor Farm in October 2015 and shot by some (expletive deleted) in France in December 2017. Having just checked the BTO on-line ringing reports, it looks as though this is the furthest movement of a recovered Redwing in the UK. The previous highest was a mere 1,905km!

As indicated in the notes, I was astonished to find just how far this Blue Tit had moved. The furthest Blue Tit movement within the UK is actually 770km and the next after our one is 611km. Interestingly, there have been some foreign recoveries, but the furthest of them is 573km.

Obviously, the long distance travels of both Sedge and Reed Warbler would dwarf those of our wee movements into France, as they continue on to Africa to spend the winter.

West Wilts RG: 2022 Review, Part 2 – the Highlights

There is a lot to choose from for last year. No doubt every ringer will have their own personal favourites but some things just stand out. To me, the bird of the year has to be the Icterine Warbler caught by Jonny at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Langford Lakes.

This is the only record I have found of one being caught and ringed in the county by our group.

The Merlin caught by Jonny Cooper at a farmland site near Calne was another brilliant catch. Ian processed a retrap on the Imber Ranges in 2019, a habitat that I would associate with over-wintering Merlin far more than arable farmland. Whilst I understand that there are one or two other records logged with the Swindon & Wiltshire Biological Records Centre, the only other record we have of a Merlin being ringed was back in July 2003, at a site near to Beckhampton on the Marlborough Downs.

Jonny has clearly had an absolutely stellar year. In addition to these two beauties, he also caught and colour-ringed four Dipper, as part of a new project kicked off this year:

Andy and Ian had an excellent catch of three Nightjar at their Salisbury Plain sites: two at New Zealand Farm and one on the Imber Ranges. This adds to the singleton caught on the Imber ranges in 2020.

Three Spotted Flycatcher is also something of a rarity for our group. Before this year we had caught seven in the previous nine years: all within the woodlands of the Braydon Forest, from our first two in the Firs in August 2016. This year they were shared out amongst the group: Ian at New Zealand Farm, Jonny at Langford Lakes and me at the Trust reserve at Blakehill Farm. Mine, ironically, was caught in a Mipit triangle with a lure for Meadow Pipit playing:

Although we have good numbers of them at a number of locations around our sites, all ringers know that Fieldfare are a difficult catch. The Imber Ranges have provided a few good catches but Ian seems to have found a decent catching spot in an old orchard near to Erlestoke and caught six of them in the run up to Christmas.

All in all, a good year for both variety and numbers and, whilst it is not the same as catching them in the wild, I am never going to forget my first experience of coming close to a Peregrine Falcon: what a magnificent bird:

In other news, I was delighted to be able to put Alice through for her A-permit. She was assessed by Oliver Padgett in Oxford and, as a result, was approved both for her A-permit and the upgrade to be a trainer, an S-permit. Between them they have set up the Central Oxford Ringing Group, so we have lost her from the group as a result.

I have also lost a few other personnel this year: Lucy has taken up a warden’s post at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust site at Caerlaverock; Tanya has started an ecological consultant’s post in Shropshire and so has moved to train with a ringer local to her and Annie has found working full time and being Mum to two young children just hasn’t left her enough time to continue ringing.

However, I have also gained a couple of additional trainees this year: the indomitable Rosie, who turns up to nearly every midweek, and quite a few weekend sessions, with just enough time to help me get setup and ring a few birds before heading off to her job at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust; Miranda, who is, like me, retired and is a great help with the midweek sessions and Anna, who, having changed job from ecological consultant, which had her running all over the country and reducing her availability for ringing, has joined the Swindon & Wiltshire Biological Records Centre and will now be able to fit in more ringing sessions.

West Wilts RG: 2022 Review, Part 1 – the Numbers

We are a small group, largely working independently of each other, except for myself, as the only active trainer in the group these days. Currently we comprise three geriatric A-ringers (in which I include myself), one young, fit and active A-ringer (who is responsible for just under 60% of our catches), four C-permit holders of varying degrees of activity, and I currently have three licensed T-permit holders, plus four children taking their first steps into bird ringing.

It has been an excellent year for the group in 2022. Far and away our best return in the last decade:

In only three months of the year did we have our best ringing totals, but August was phenomenal, with our best ever total of birds ringed in any month, but also the best ever stand-alone month for birds processed. Also, January was quite exceptional, with our best ringing and recapture totals for that month, with a near 50% increase over the previous best. Indeed, the recapture total for January was the best ever for an individual month. I suspect that this January is not going to be able to compete, unless this wind drops and rain ceases.

Although on the face of it we processed more species than last year, 70 against 68, in reality, the wild bird catch was 67 vs 68, as that 2022 total includes the ringing of the rehabilitated Peregrine Falcon at Mere Falconry Centre and the Buzzards and Tawny Owl at RSPCA Oak & Furrows.

(Just a note for non-ringers: N = New / Ringed; S = Subsequent Encounters / Retraps, BTO nomenclature).