Ravensroost Meadows Pond: Saturday, 27th May 2023

Working solo at weekends seems to be becoming a thing! Midweek I have Miranda and Rosie to help but it just seems that nobody is available at weekends. What is happening to work patterns these days? It is hard work for an old man, having to start at least 30 minutes earlier than if there was someone else to help, to get the nets open at a reasonable time, not to mention having to carry all of the equipment, make the holes and rig the guys ready for action. This morning I was up at 4:00, out of the door and on site by 4:30. Nets open by 5:30, first bird at 6:00. As mentioned in the last post about this site, I tried some different net positions to try and take advantage of the work carried out by the Trust over winter:

I was joined later in the morning by Laura and Mark with their children, Adam and Daniel. As usual, they stayed and helped me pack away at the end of the session: Adam and Daniel got to ring a few birds. Adam also got to fly his drone over the meadows: a long way away from the ringing site.

The weather was a disappointment. I had decided upon the pond area because the forecast was for sunshine, warmth and very low wind. The site is very open, not as much as Blakehill Farm, but also susceptible to the wind. Whilst setting the nets it was very cold compared to recent temperatures, but the breeze was very low. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I got the nets open, it remained cold but the breeze began to pick up. It remained like that until the sun finally broke through at just after 9:00, whereupon the breeze dropped somewhat and the whole experience became much more pleasant.

It started with a reasonable first round, as seems to be the way recently, and then died off, as is also the way recently! The final catch total was typical of recent sessions: just 17 birds caught from 9 species. First bird out this morning was a Whitethroat ringed at the last session. I was prepared: I had brought the book I am currently reading (“The Long Call” by Ann Cleeves (author of the Vera and Shetland crime novels)) but I was never reduced to reading, particularly not after Laura & Co. arrived!

The initial catch comprised one each of Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Great Tit plus two Chiffchaff. Nice variety and a reasonable number. Unfortunately, thereafter it was just one or two birds until the sun came out and we had four birds at 9:30, before it died off again.

The list for the day was: Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Dunnock 1(2); Blackbird 1; Garden Warbler (2); Whitethroat 1(1); Chiffchaff 1(1); Willow Warbler 2. Totals: 11 birds ringed from 8 species and 6 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 17 birds processed from 9 species.

There was one interesting bird in the catch: Garden Warbler, S859426, ringed as an adult in June 2017. As such, it must have made the journey to and from the Congo at least once before, so at least 7 years at 8,200 miles per annum: at least 57,400 miles in its lifetime: so far for a bird with a 76mm wing length and a weight of less than 20g! This was only the second time that the bird has been caught after ringing: the first retrap was just last May.

In between net rounds we had some excellent views of other wildlife. For a good 20 minutes there was a group of four Red Kites and a single Buzzard taking advantage of the thermals (when the place finally warmed up) over Ravensroost Wood. We also had a male Kestrel hunting over the meadow giving extremely good views of its hovering and swooping technique.

There were clouds of Common blue damselflies in the Ravens Retreat area and, around the pond, a goodly selection of both damselflies but, especially, dragonflies, including: Emperor, Broad Bodied Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer. There were a few beetles about: particularly Whirligigs on the pond and a male Swollen-thighed Beetle, a beautiful metallic green and with well-swollen thighs, living up to its name. Quite common on the site are the Black & Red Froghopper: lots of those around. My favourite of the morning was this:

I have no idea what it is, have ploughed through several field guides without success, but will endeavour to find out. If anyone knows, please let me know!

At 11:00 we decided to shut the nets and clear away. With the help from family Childs, it was all done and cleared away quite quickly, and we were off site by midday.

Lower Moor Farm, CES 3: Wednesday, 24th May 2023

After a couple of disappointing early CES sessions I was hopeful that we might see an upturn today. Rosie, Miranda and I met at 5:00 and had the first nets open by 5:20 and the rest by 6:00. We started catching straight away but, just like in Ravensroost last week, the early catches flattered to deceive. It is not to say that it wasn’t a very pleasant session: good weather, lots of bird song and some very pleasant conversations – and a few good birds.

Because the catch was front-loaded it did mean that Rosie got the opportunity to actually process a decent number of birds before heading off to work. One of the first birds out of the net was our first new Cetti’s Warbler of the year. There are so many male Cetti’s singing at the site I am hopeful that we will have a decent catch of their youngsters in the next few weeks. By the same token, there are so many Chiffchaff contact calls in the area and, although we only caught one retrap today, there should be a decent number of youngsters coming through imminently.

What did turn up this morning were:

Our first juvenile Dunnock of the year and:

Our first juvenile Treecreeper of the year. Like our Robins last week, this bird’s wings were still growing. I am wondering whether they are being flushed from their nests by potential predators.

The list for the session was: Treecreeper [1]; Blue Tit 1(1); Dunnock 1[2](1); Robin [2](3); Blackbird 1(1); Cetti’s Warbler 1; Blackcap 1(4); Chiffchaff (1). Totals: 5 adults from 5 species, 5 juveniles from 3 species and 11 birds retrapped from 6 species, making 21 birds processed from 8 species. Of the retrapped Robins, two were juveniles ringed during CES2.

The juvenile Treecreeper was the last bird caught at 10:50. Actually, we caught two birds: a Whitethroat as well as the Treecreeper, only Mr Incompetent managed to let it escape out of the bag instead of processing it! What is worse is that we had not actually caught a single bird between 8:50 and 10:50! I did have good views of a Hobby as it flew across Mallard Lake and Swallow Pool, heading north-west.

Miranda and I took down the nets at 11:15 and were off site just after midday.

Ravensroost Wood: Saturday, 20th May 2023

I remember the days when I used to catch 30, 40 or even 50 birds in a session. These days I would be grateful to catch 20! Since stopping feeding the sites at the end of March I have carried out 13 sessions across my sites, of which only three have delivered more than 20 birds.

Today I headed to Ravensroost Wood for the first time since mid-April. It was more successful than that previous session, as that only delivered seven birds: but that was a session badly affected by wind, and we closed it after just a couple of hours to protect the birds.

This morning David and I met up there at 5:30, and we set nine nets along rides R28 and R38.

The entire southern end of the wood is coppiced on an 8 year cycle: a quarter coppiced every 2 years. This winter it was the turn of the section identified on the diagram. That ride 38 has always been our best catching area, so it is not surprising that it did not deliver massively this session.

We were joined at 6:30 by Teresa and Andy and then at 7:30, Laura and Adam.

The first couple of rounds flattered to deceive, just like Thursday’s session at the Ravensroost Meadow Pond. We had 14 birds in the first hour – and just four more until I called a halt at 10:00, with nothing caught between 9:00 and 10:00. To be fair to the site, the breeze did get up at 8:30, making the nets along R38 billow and stand out more than one would like. At the same time, the sun came out and added to making the nets more visible. It did not affect the nets in R28 as they were nicely enclosed by the vegetation.

The list for the morning was: Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1; Marsh Tit 1; Wren (2); Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1(1); Blackcap 6(1); Willow Warbler 1(1). Totals: 12 birds ringed from 6 species and 6 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 18 birds processed from 8 species.

There were highlights: the Blackcaps missing from the Meadow Pond were found in the Wood; the first Marsh Tit of the year for the wood (much missed at this site last year, with just three ringed in 2022) and a returning Willow Warbler were all good finds.

It isn’t often that I get home in time for elevenses, but I was today! However, before I left I did have an opportunistic meeting with the owners of Distillery Farm, who have just put up their first Barn Owl box, and have agreed for me to monitor it for them in the future under my schedule 1 licence.

Ravensroost Meadows: Thursday, 18th May 2023

This morning’s session was the first that I have done in the Meadow Pond area this year and is exactly one year to the day since the first session there in 2022. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case this Spring, the catch was not as good as last year’s. However, it was much better than the same time in 2021.

I took my strimmer, and got there early (as if 5:00 isn’t “early”) in case I needed to do a bit of ride clearance. However, when I turned up I found that the Trust have done a great job of improving the site. It was becoming overgrown with bramble bushes, closing off rides and encroaching into any open spaces as this picture shows:

The white shapes outline the overgrown areas of the site. They have been cut back to open up space, whilst leaving areas thick enough to provide plenty of nesting cover, except for area 4, which was always thin and not a nesting area but simply blocked the ride. Also, one thing that I had suggested that I would do previously, but I never got around to it, was to put a ride through the middle of the large patch of bramble, area 3 which, as well as thinning it significantly, the Trust have also provided the requested ride. I set my nets where I would usually do, plus one through my nice new ride:

With all of the changes I will have to rethink my net ride positions, as they are no longer optimal. That isn’t an excuse for a smaller than hoped for catch. Although the catch was down on the same day last year, it is quite variable in May, up and down on alternate years.

I was joined by Miranda and her son Elliot for the morning, so had lots of help setting up and taking down. Whilst we were setting up, Miranda opined that in the area of the new ride there was a Garden Warbler singing. She said that she had been learning their song so she could clearly differentiate it from Blackcap. So it was rather nice that, when we did the first round, the first bird we took out of that net was a Garden Warbler. We were rather lulled into a false sense of security when the first round delivered three birds and the second six: four of which came from the nice new ride through the bramble.

Unfortunately, things then died a death and we took one or two birds out every other round for the rest of the morning. We had plenty of time to chat!

The list for the morning was: Blue Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Dunnock 2; Robin 1; Blackbird 2(1); Garden Warbler 1; Whitethroat 2(2); Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 2; Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 14 birds ringed from 9 species and 4 birds retrapped from 3 species, making 18 birds processed from 10 species.

There were two surprises: the complete absence of both Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat, and goes a long way to explaining the reduced catch size.. Even if just passing through I have always caught them in May at this site. The number of Whitethroat were on a par with previous months. One of them, ADY0068, was ringed at this site on exactly this date last year!

We closed the nets at 11:15, took down and were away from the site by midday. It was fun regardless of the lack of birds.

Accepting the Evidence: a Retraction & a Change of Diagnosis

Back on the 8th April I posted about catching a Wood Warbler at Lower Moor Farm. I was very excited about it: I have seen plenty as a birder but had never caught one to ring. As a result, I spent a long time looking into the bird to try to make sure my diagnosis was correct. My decision was made on the following basis:

  • Wing Length: at 74mm it was longer than the longest given wing lengths for any Willow Warbler in any text I have access to (Svensson, Demongin, BWPi)
  • Head size: compared to the Chiffchaff taken out of the net immediately adjacent to it, the bird’s head was at least 50% bigger
  • Bulk: it was just bulkier than any Willow Warbler that I have processed (338 at time of writing)
  • Colouration: the undersides were pure white, the legs and lower mandible were rose brown, indicative of a second year Wood Warbler rather than Willow Warbler
  • Wing conformation: the photograph that Anna took of the spread wing looked identical to the photograph in the second edition of Jenni & Winkler of a second year Wood Warbler wing (Fig.36 in that publication).

I asked on the original post for alternative opinions. Despite a lot of views nobody disagreed with my diagnosis. That information was also shared with two of the senior members of the group, with over 80 years ringing experience between them (no insult intended to the rest of the group: they are a lot younger than us old fogeys, and consequently have less experience). Initially one agreed with my diagnosis, the other said he would do an analysis of the data and come back to me. When he did, his diagnosis was Willow Warbler. His reasons for this were:

  • Colouration: the complete absence of yellow on and around the neck region.
  • Weight: within range for a Willow Warbler
  • Tail: within range for a Willow Warbler
  • Primary 1, when counting descendantly, was longer than the primary coverts, an absolute diagnostic characteristic of Willow Warbler. Wood Warbler P1 is always shorter than the primary coverts.

Of these, the colouration is as shown in BWPi and the Concise BWP for second year Wood Warbler. So the lack of yellow does not immediately disqualify it as a Wood Warbler. The weight and tail are both within the normal ranges for both Wood Warbler and Willow Warbler. However, the weight is mid-range for a Wood Warbler and towards the top end of the range for Willow Warbler. One would have thought that a newly arrived migrant would have weighed lower in the scale. Of the 489 Willow Warblers processed by our group in the month of April, 11 have hit that weight or more, so it isn’t unique. Whilst the wing length is outside of the extremes given in the texts mentioned, looking at our group records there is a record of a Willow Warbler with a 75mm wing caught and ringed at Swindon Sewage Works on 19th August 2012 by an experienced ringer, so I expect the record to be accurate.

However, the one thing that cannot be overlooked is that first primary exceeding the length of the primary coverts. Having reluctantly accepted that to be the case, one of the more experienced members of the team suggested Phylloscopus trochilus acredula. Checking that bird out: it all matches well to the bird that I caught, including primary one exceeding the length of the primary coverts. As a result, I have changed the record to reflect that subspecies of Willow Warbler. Accepting that this is the correct identification one has to put the head size and seeming bulk down to clinal variation.

Having not had any experience of this subspecies, I have had a look at the details of the bird and this subspecies summers from Scandinavia across Siberia to the River Yenisey. Online resources label it as the Northern Willow Warbler. I asked the BTO if they could let me know how many of this subspecies have been ringed in the UK. Including this bird there have been 21 identified as acredula and ringed in the UK and 3 in Ireland. Interestingly, the first record was on the 23rd July 2017 – in Wiltshire. This is the second for Wiltshire. The majority have been caught in Dorset (nine) and there have been two caught next door in Gloucestershire.

Lower Moor Farm, CES 2: Saturday, 13th May 2023

The point of a constant effort site (CES) is that the same nets are set in the same places, for the same length of time, over 12 sessions approximately 10 days apart, year on year. This is the ninth year of my CES at Lower Moor Farm, with 2020 being missed out due to Covid restrictions. So I now have data for eight full years. What it shows, in the lead up to this year’s CES, is a significant decline in the catches over the period. I am currently doing an analysis of the possible reasons for this for my annual report to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

When looking at each full year in turn, (1st April to 31st March) even with a significant spike in numbers in 2019, the overall trend is a decline in average catch size for the site:

The number of species is not as much of an issue (yet?):

There is a slight declining trend. but nothing as clear as the reduction in the size of the catch. When I shut this down to just the CES period, the decline becomes rather clearer:

The trendline shows that there has been a significant reduction in the size of the catch but, unlike for the year as a whole, there is also a clear reduction in the number of species since 2019. So to 2023!

The first session delivered 21 birds: 9 ringed and 12 retrapped from 10 species. Although still another reduction, this compared favourably with session one last year: 24 birds: 11 ringed and 13 retrapped from 8 species. On to session two. Last year delivered 20 birds ringed and 8 birds retrapped from 12 species. So what happened in CES 2, 2023:

Unfortunately I was working solo for this session, so I had a 4:30 start to get the nets up and open by 5:30. There was no rush: despite having them open on time I didn’t catch my first bird until 7:00. It was slow all morning: and the end catch was disappointing, to say the least. I was joined by Laura and son Adam at just after 8:00, and then dad Mark at 10:00, having dropped his other son off for a Duke of Edinburgh Award route march first.

Adam, in his fledgling career as a ringer, got to ring a couple of birds: a Blackcap and a Robin. The highlight of the morning (there was one) was a newly fledged brood of Robins. I extracted three of them close together in the same net. On examination, all still had both wing and tail feathers still growing. The wing feathers were between 5 and 10mm shorter than I would expect but the tail feathers were less than half full grown. It seemed to me likely that they had fled the nest in response to some sort of threat. We processed them and then returned them to the area that we had originally found them in, in case the parents were in close proximity. They all flew off okay. Interestingly, in my last round I recovered one of the youngsters, but in the net ride furthest away from where we originally caught them.

The list for the session was: Great Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren (1); Dunnock (1); Robin 3(1); Blackbird (1); Blackcap 2; Garden Warbler 1(1); Chiffchaff (2); Goldcrest 1. Totals: 8 birds ringed from 5 species and 8 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 16 birds processed from 10 species. So, this session was over 40% down on last year! I hope that things pick up in future sessions or I might have to consider whether the effort required is matched by the return.

As ever, Laura, Mark and Adam helped me pack away at 11:30: I was extremely grateful, and away from site by 12:30.

Young Birds & a Couple of Oldies: 10th & 11th May 2023

I don’t do a lot of nest finding in the breeding season: I am always worried that I might accidentally expose the nest location to a predator. However, I am happy to do my Barn Owl boxes and to check on those nests that are otherwise open to view, like Swallows or box nesting titmice.

Rosie has been monitoring a Robin’s nest in the tool shed at Clattinger Farm, since she found them nesting in a plastic container. It is a pretty safe place to nest as access is through the window being left cracked open. Large enough for Swallows, House Sparrows and Robins to get through but not so for a predatory bird. The young were blind and naked on the 29th April and too young to ring, so we left them until we came back from Portland Bill. Yesterday evening we visited them to see if they were ready for ringing. Not only were they ready, their flight feathers were two-thirds grown and I expect they will have fledged by the end of next week. We ringed these four and then left them in peace:

The Swallows are back in force, with half-a-dozen actively building / repairing old nests within the stable block. Hopefully we will have some youngsters to ring in there in the next few weeks. One set that we will definitely have a possibility of ringing is a Blackbird’s nest. She is currently sitting on eggs in a nest immersed in a wall of ivy in the barn. Hopefully they will hatch and we will have a brood to ring in the next week or two.

Yesterday afternoon I received an email from the RSPCA Oak & Furrows Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. They have a Tawny Owl ready for release, and a whole bunch of young birds that have been brought in having fledged prematurely. I went over to check on the birds, ring those that were ready to be so, and discuss the others.

The Tawny Owl is definitely ready to go, flying around the pre-release enclosure and turning a few aerobatics at the same time.

It is a male bird that fledged last year.

In the “nursery” I was pretty astonished to see just how many juvenile Starlings there were. They are being inundated by well-meaning people finding Starlings that have come out of the nest and, rather than putting them somewhere safe where the parents can find them, they have been collecting them up and delivering them to Oak & Furrows. I didn’t ring them as my agreement with them is to focus on birds of prey, Corvids and the occasional unusual specimen.

However, I did ring juveniles of Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Rook and Magpie: all of which will be releasable in the next week or so. There are a couple more Magpies to be ringed next week and a juvenile Tawny Owl who will probably get ringed in a fortnight’s time.

The highlight for me was, though, the opportunity to ring a couple of Swifts. I have not done them before. They take the same rings as Kingfishers, and for the same reason: they have the shortest legs imaginable on a bird. It is the only ring applied using fingers, not pliers, and are gently rounded again by fingers. I suppose that when you spend your life on the wing the evolutionary pressure is for streamlining rather than for leg development. Both birds had been found grounded, underweight and dehydrated. Thanks to the care given by the excellent team at Oak & Furrows, they are now back to a median weight and will be released in the very near future.

The working relationship with Oak & Furrows enables me to improve my knowledge of birds that I don’t get to ring in the normal course of my ringing sessions. I value it, and I think they value the inputs that I can give about the birds in their care.

Portland Bill: Friday 5th to Monday 8th May 2023

In an effort to expand on their experience, Anna arranged for herself and Rosie to go to Portland Bill this weekend. Unfortunately for them, that meant dragging me along as well. Needless to say, when this was organised there was no inkling of what would be happening this weekend. Fortunately, there is no television at the Portland Bill Bird Observatory.

Being a Bank Holiday weekend, the traffic down the A350 / A354 past Melksham was abominable and, despite leaving from Purton at 9:30, it was 13:30 by the time we got there. We were met by Jodie, whom I previously met when Jonny, Ellie and I went to Skokholm in 2019, who is doing her second stint as assistant warden, and later by Martin Cade, the warden of the Observatory.

Naturally, being a Bank Holiday, the weather was not very good! Fortunately, the garden at the Observatory is very sheltered and so wind is not a big problem there. Obviously, rain prevents ringing and rain, wind and fog all affect the arrival of migrants. The nets were already open when we arrived at the Observatory, and we took over from the previous ringers at 14:30. Unfortunately, there were absolutely no birds hitting the nets until, at 18:50, just as we had decided to give it up as a bad job, we caught this beauty:

Neither Rosie nor Anna have processed a Pied Flycatcher before, Rosie processed this one. It had already been ringed a couple of days before, so it was processed as a recapture. In fact, it was seen every day of the weekend, but not captured again. Although it is very brown in colouration, it is a second year male. This is identified by the two white spots on the forehead, one either side of the beak. The tail was blackening up, to add further evidence as to its sex:

This ageing and sexing was a little outside of my comfort zone, having personally only ringed or handled a single specimen (on Skokholm, back in 2014), so it was good to have Peter, one of the long standing members of the observatory, on hand to help (as well as the Demongin & Svensson reference guides).

Saturday dawned wet, windy and miserable. It remained so until about 10:30, by which time it had calmed enough for us to open the nets and started to catch a few birds. None of the catches were heavy, for different reasons each day, and it meant that we had lots of trips around the nets, often returning with nothing to show for it. Saturday’s first birds were a couple of Blackcaps at just before 11:00. Anna then got the opportunity to ring her first ever Whitethroat at about 11:30, and then straight after lunch she got to process her first ever Woodpigeon.

The catch for Saturday comprised: Woodpigeon 1; Wren (1); Blackcap 2; Whitethroat 1; Willow Warbler 1; House Sparrow 2. Totals: 7 birds ringed from 5 species and 1 retrap, making 8 birds processed from 6 species.

Sunday dawned dry but, unfortunately, after the rains of Saturday cleared, the mist rolled in on Saturday evening. The foghorn started up at about 18:00 and was still going at 6:00 the next morning, whilst we were opening the nets. As a result, it was another quiet day, with no falls of warblers or other migrant species. The numbers caught were low, but the quality was good for two relatively inexperienced trainees. Between 6:00 and 10:00 we caught a number of the expected migrant species: Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and another Whitethroat, plus two retrapped birds: a Chiffchaff and a Whitethroat (both ringed at the Observatory this season). Soon after 10:00 Rosie got her chance to process her first Woodpigeon.

We then caught a couple of lovely birds. First off was a female Redstart:

I don’t have a good enough portrait shot to put up, but this shows the female colouration and the bicoloured tail. Note the dark central tail feathers, which is helpfully diagnostic of this species, especially if one is not familiar with Nightingale, that has a uniform tail colouration.

This was followed soon after by a Swallow. We usually catch our birds in mist nets: this one decided to fly into the Observatory building itself, colliding slightly with one of the windows, without harming itself, and being caught by hand by Jodie. Once processed it flew off strongly away from the garden.

We had a Willow Warbler at 14:00, and then caught absolutely nothing for the next two hours, until this lovely male Firecrest turned up in the nets:

Those facial markings do make him look cross!

However, he did pose nicely for the few seconds it took to get these photographs. The rest of the session comprised recaptures of three Blackbirds and a Robin.

The list for the session was: Woodpigeon 1; Swallow 1; Redstart 1; Robin (1); Blackbird (2); Blackcap 3; Whitethroat 1(1); Chiffchaff (1); Willow Warbler 3; Firecrest 1. Totals: 11 birds ringed from 7 species and 5 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 16 birds processed from 10 species.

Although we were scheduled to be ringing the site Monday morning, the overnight forecast was for it to start raining between 5:00 and 6:00 and to get progressively heavier until lunchtime, with no let up until late afternoon, if at all, so we took the decision to head home after breakfast. It was a shame that we didn’t catch more birds, but we had nearly three days with a bunch of very friendly people. Coincidentally, the journey home took just two hours!

Outside of the bird ringing, we saw some lovely birds whilst there. I was lazing around the site whilst Rosie and Anna were checking the nets, when I came across a Spotted Flycatcher perched on the end of a branch in a tree lining one of the unused net rides. I spent a good few minutes watching it hawking for insects, in that typical flycatcher way. Rosie and Anna came along in time to see it go about its business.

Over the course of Friday, through Sunday, a Cirl Bunting was seen, and heard, regularly in the grounds. It was clearly a singing male. However, other sightings from outside the garden indicated that there was a pair in the area. Hopefully these Cirl Buntings are a sign of an increasing natural eastward spread of this species from its Prawle Point isolation.

Sunday afternoon, whilst I manned the empty nets, Rosie and Anna went out with Mark Cutt, a local birder and ringer, to check on a nest box that was occupied by Great Tits. Unfortunately, they were introduced to the dark side of Titmouse breeding: of the seven chicks in the box, five were dead and two were too small to ring. It is hard to know what caused the deaths: most likely one of the parents has met its end and the other is struggling to keep them fed. Mark then loaned them his thermal imager, so that they could go out see what was about after dark. They got some excellent views of the Bill’s Little Owls.

Out on the sea regularly were hundreds of gulls of multiple species, including many Kittiwakes. There were plenty of Gannets out there as well, but the star seabird that I saw was a passing Arctic Skua. Unfortunately, I dipped on the Pomarine Skua and I didn’t get out of the Observatory grounds to go and see the Guillemots and Razorbills – but that was my own fault / decision.

The garden was very busy with insects: Rosie identified three species of Bumble Bee: Early, Buff-tailed and Red-tailed, together with lots of Honey Bees. She also found a Glow Worm. I came across this beauty on the path:

It is a caterpillar of the Oak Eggar, Lasiocampa quercus. They overwinter as a half-grown caterpillar and then feed up until pupating in June. This specimen was approximately 8cms long. Up on the balcony of the Observatory this caterpillar turned up:

This is the caterpillar of the Ruby Tiger, Phragmatobia fuliginosa.

So to sum up: not as many birds as we would have liked, but that has been the norm for my sites back in Wiltshire anyway. It is a great place to go for a weekend, whether ringing, birding or just hanging around and chilling: all of which was happening whilst we were there. At £20 per night it is not an expensive weekend.

The Observatory has a fabulous bookshop, well stocked with a huge range of natural history titles. New books are actually as cheap, or cheaper, than any online retailer. Second-hand books can cost as little as £1:00. Rosie took full advantage of the second-hand racks and I bought “European Birds” by Hume, Still, Swash & Harrop, for £15:00. The cheapest price I saw online, from the obvious suspect, was £17:50, elsewhere the absolute cheapest price for a new edition was £16:50. It took all my self-control not to spend over £100 on books.

I fully expect to go back for next Spring migration with whichever trainees fancy having a go. Just a week or so before we arrived there, the team processed over 600 birds in a single day. That would be daunting, but with the availability of experienced local ringers, entirely manageable.

CES 1: Lower Moor Farm; Wednesday, 3rd May 2023

Today was the first session of the Lower Moor Farm constant effort site (CES) for 2023. This is the seventh year of this CES, and it was certainly the oddest first session I have had so far. Rosie and I met at 5:30 and got the nets open by 6:30, which immediately caught a retrapped Robin. This was the net setup:

We processed the Robin and released it: and then we caught it again and again and yet again. Unfortunately, it was a theme that ran throughout the morning. Several of the birds we caught and processed were recaptured later in the morning. The first Robin, a Dunnock and a male Blackcap were all caught multiple times: driving me to distraction. Had they not all been males I might have shut the nets: I don’t like keeping females away from the nest when they might be on eggs or brooding young.

It started out slowly: we caught nine birds before Rosie had to leave for work at just gone 8:00. On the last round before Rosie had to go we extracted a pair of Nuthatch. I use the term “pair” deliberately: a male and a female next to each other in the net, with both in breeding condition, and they flew off together upon release. Prior to these two, we have caught just three other Nuthatch at Lower Moor Farm: two in 2016, one in 2019. Not exactly a common catch at this site.

It was a frustrating morning in many ways, but particularly between 10:00 and 11:00, when I caught precisely nothing. As a result I decided to shut the nets. I checked them all before closing and, having walked past empty nets all the way to the end of 18m + 9m combination, I started to close them from that end. When I got back to the 3 x 18m setup alongside the lake, at the far end were three birds: a pair of Bullfinch and my first Garden Warbler of the year. That cheered me up a lot.

When I went to shut the separate 3 x 18m ride I extracted two male Blackbirds and a Wren: all three were recaptures.

Something that was particularly odd about this catch: not one Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler caught in the entire session. On the 8th April we caught and ringed seven Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, but I didn’t even hear any Chiffchaff calling this morning, although there were a couple of Willow Warbler singing.

The list for the morning was: Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper (1); Great Tit (3); Wren (1); Dunnock 1(2); Robin (2); Blackbird 1(2); Blackcap 2(1); Garden Warbler 1; Bullfinch 2. Totals: 9 birds ringed from 6 species and 12 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 21 birds processed from 10 species. This is on a par with first CES sessions in previous years.

Non-ringing highlights of the morning included a very pleasant 20 minutes with Debbie: the vicar of the parish of Cricklade. Not just a very capable vicar and good company but an astonishingly good photographer: her collection of Bittern photographs were superb. That they showed an adult with well-developed recently fledged young was not something I have ever seen before.

There was also a photographer to whom I owe an apology: whilst we were chatting I noticed a falcon flying across Mallard Lake. It was my first Hobby of the year. I had excellent views as it flew away from me. Unfortunately, my brain played a trick on me and, instead of saying Hobby, it came out Merlin. I only realised my mistake when Debbie mentioned that he had told her he had seen a Merlin. By the time I got to the hide he had been in, he had left, so I wasn’t able to correct my error.

Finally, I got to hear my first Cuckoo of the year, calling from the far side of Mallard Lake. Having cleared everything away, but chatting to a succession of interested people, I finally got away from site at 13:00.

West Wilts Ringing Group Results: April 2023

For the group, this month was almost identical to April 2022, only with three more species:

Lots of summer migrants have started to arrive. Hopefully the weather will be kind and they will hang around more this year than they did last.

Of the additional species this April, one was Barn Owl and another was Buzzard, both ringed pre-release at Oak & Furrows.  Yellowhammer, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Kingfisher were also additional to last April.  Missing this April were Dipper (not for want of trying), Grey Wagtail and Woodpigeon.  Jonny and I did have a go for Dipper last Thursday. Unfortunately, the Bybrook is still running hard, fast and high and there was no sign of Dipper where we set up, although the site is a known Dipper territory.  We plan to try again elsewhere this week.

My highlight of the month was the other species that was different to last April: Curlew.  As posted about on Friday last, Jonny organised that we would meet up with a couple of experienced Curlew catchers from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust: Kane Brides and Dan Gornall. We used a whoosh net, with a decoy and lure, caught one and were unlucky not to catch a second.  I was lucky enough to ring this one: an adult male:

I start my Constant Effort site tomorrow: hoping it will be busier than last year.