Webb’s Wood: Wednesday, 8th February 2023

It was back to Webb’s Wood this morning, and back to the cold weather. It was touch and go when I arrived on site as to whether I would go ahead. The forecast was for it to start warming up from 7:00, so Miranda and I met at 7:15 and opened the nets at 8:00. Interestingly, it actually felt warmer than I expected, although the car’s thermometer was showing minus 5 degrees Celsius. We only set 4 x 18m, 1 x 6m and 1 x 9m net: the small nets around the feeders and the usual 3 x 18m line and a single 18m adjacent to the feeding station (the circle):

The fog that was supposed to be present until 11:00 (according to the Met Office yellow warning) had pretty much lifted by the time we got to site. Surprisingly, as the morning wore on, and the temperature started to rise, the nets actually iced up. We decided to call a halt at just gone 10:00. It was absurd: the sun was out but it felt colder than when we started. There was no sign of cold stress in any of the birds: just in the ringers!

The first surprise of the morning: ever since I started to do solo working I have used a portable clothes airer to hang the birds in bags on whilst they are waiting to be processed. We all used to make tripods from net poles or stick them into bales of straw or strap them horizontally to the ringing table, so that bags could be hung off them. After a few incidents, one involving the back hatch of the car, a couple involving unexpected gusts of wind, there have been repairs and gaffer tape used to hold it together. Imagine my surprise when Miranda produced a brand new one to give to me to use in future! The only thing my trainees have to provide is their time, no money exchanges hands (it will cost them enough once they become independent, and I would be doing this and spending the money anyway) so I was absolutely blown away. One other nice surprise this morning was catching our first Braydon Forest Redwing of the year:

Our last was on the 27th December in Red Lodge.

The catch was: Nuthatch (1); Blue Tit 6(2); Great Tit 3(3); Coal Tit 1(1); Wren (1); Dunnock 1; Robin 1(2); Redwing 1; Blackbird (1). Totals: 13 birds ringed from 6 species and 11 birds retrapped from 7 species, making 24 birds processed from 9 species.

The Dunnock was also an unusual catch for this site: only the eighth caught in 10 years.

We finished packing away by 10:30, but I didn’t get off site until 11:00 as, initially, I was goosed by an overly friendly Labrador, whilst I was pushing the poles into the back of the car. That got my attention. His owner, a very pleasant local gentleman, who is currently putting the neighbourhood plan together for the area, was very keen to talk about the bird life of Webb’s Wood and what Forestry England’s plans are for the wood. We had a good long chat and, hopefully, I will be able to help with his work.

Somerford Common West: Saturday, 4th February 2023

With the Firs being unavailable until the end of March and Ravensroost Wood unavailable, probably until the end of February, due to forestry works removing, dead Ash trees, followed by woodland mitigation measures and restoration of paths and access, Lower Moor Farm being out of bounds as a precaution against HPAI, and Blakehill Farm and Brown’s Farm dependent upon it not having any wind, and the latter also dependent on it not being a shoot day, I have had a regular routine of Webb’s Wood -> Red Lodge -> Somerford Common since October. We did get out to Blakehill last weekend, and it was extremely disappointing numerically, the Bullfinches and Greenfinch notwithstanding.

For today, I decided to make a trip back to the western side of Somerford Common. Clearly I have fond memories of working there, what with the two Buzzards back in November 2019, and the Siskin in March 2022, so I don’t quite understand why I haven’t done more there, apart from the fact that the catches are fairly hit and miss, and generally need a lot of net set to ensure a good catch. Now that I tend to be working with just one additional pair of hands most sessions at the weekends, I don’t like setting more than 10 nets. I like things manageable!

On Tuesday I set up a small feeding station in the wood, in the hope that it would attract a few more birds in for today. Having woken 3o minutes before my alarm was scheduled, I arrived on site a bit earlier than intended. It did mean that I got to disturb two Woodcock as I drove onto the site. As I am surveying this site for the GWCT / BTO Woodcock survey, that was a good sign. I was also serenaded by a male Tawny Owl whilst setting up the first net line. David joined me close to the scheduled start time at 7:15. I had agreed for Laura to bring Adam and Daniel and for Claire to bring Zara and Samuel along to the session and they arrived around about 8:00. Three of the four children got an opportunity to ring a bird, and Daniel has been promised the first bird next time out. Daniel and Adam are working towards their Scouting Natural History badge and Daniel is also working towards his Duke of Edinburgh Award and these sessions are contributing to that.

We set the following nets:

I set lures for Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Redwing and Brambling (ever the optimist) and, after 10:00, for Goldcrest. The Goldcrest worked!

The first round was the biggest and had the most variety, delivering three Blue Tits and two Great Tits, but also two Coal Tit, a Nuthatch, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Robin. This was followed by a catch of six birds, including, much to my delight, two second year Marsh Tits, colour ringed as follows:

This takes us up to 16 ringed in the year 1st April 2022 to 31st March 2023, which is a welcome return to normal after a disappointing return for the species last year. Bearing in mind that this is being achieved despite awful catches across the board in Ravensroost Wood: usually one of the most productive sites for the species in the Braydon Forest and the lack of access to the Firs since October.

The catch for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 2; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 4(2); Coal Tit 4(2); Marsh Tit 2; Robin (1); Goldcrest 3(1). Totals: 22 birds ringed from 8 species and 6 birds retrapped from 4 species, making 28 birds processed from 9 species.

So, still no finches, but I did get the extra Coal Tits and Goldcrests that I had hoped for. The retrapped Goldcrest was ringed at this site in November 2019 and has been caught once more in between. That suggests to me that it is a resident bird, rather than a winter visitor.

It was a lovely, relaxed session and I have to say that I have never laughed as much, or for as long, as I did when Adam and Daniel got into a brilliant discussion about money, with older brother (Daniel) loan-sharking to younger (Adam). It was very funny.

The three boys did lose me after a while when they started talking about Minecraft, Fortnite and some other computer-based games, whose terminology was way beyond my understanding, despite my 40 years of IT experience.

It started out remarkably mild but slowly got colder as the morning progressed and the number of birds fell away by 10:00. We started shutting the nets at 11:15 and, with many hands making light work, had the nets down and everything packed away quite quickly and were off site just after midday.

Red Lodge: Friday, 3rd February 2023

Well, I finally found out where all the finches have gone: meeting local man John and his dog, Denver, walking in the woods this morning, he asked how the catch was going. I mentioned the dearth of finches, to which he replied that he had a flock of 40 Chaffinch and 30+ Goldfinch visiting his feeders, a mere 300m away from where our nets are set!

I was joined for the morning by Rosie, before she had to go off to work, and Miranda for the whole session. We set just the usual four nets by the feeders, and the dog leg further up the path. The dog leg was a complete failure today: despite a very noisy flock of titmice flying around the area, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and calling regularly, and a Song Thrush singing his heart out immediately adjacent to the nets. The feeding station more than made up for that.

As expected the catch was titmouse heavy, primarily Blue Tits. What was unexpected was that so few of them were retrapped birds. There seems to be a never ending supply of new Blue Tits at the moment. The list for the day was: Nuthatch 3; Blue Tit 29(2); Great Tit 12(2); Coal Tit 1(2); Marsh Tit (2); Robin (2); Chaffinch 1. Totals: 46 birds ringed from 5 species and 10 birds retrapped from 5 species, making 56 birds processed from 7 species. So John hadn’t hogged all of the finches!

Any session that produces three Nuthatch can’t be all bad! The year seems to have started pretty well for them so far: with seven ringed and two retrapped.

We did have one Great Tit with a somewhat unusual crown colouration:

Not great photos, but it was a pepper and salt crown. I have seen it in Coal Tits but this is a first for me in Great Tit.

One of the nice things about setting so few nets is that it takes very little time to take down and put away. We finished the last round just after 11:00, processed the birds, and were packed up and off site by midday.

West Wilts Ringing Group Results: January 2023

This was a very difficult month: the impact of the freezing weather, followed by high winds and torrential rain, for two of the weeks restricted activity levels for the group, and reduced the actual catches. In fact, only Jonny and my team carried out any ringing at all. I managed only five of ten scheduled sessions. Other factors involved are: the unavailability of one of my key over-winter sites, the Firs: out of bounds since October, and will not be open again until March, due to extensive forestry work. Ravensroost Wood has been awful all year and, with the Wildlife Trust banning feeding stations, as a precaution against HPAI, it continues to be awful. That is now also undergoing some forestry work, timber removal, and will be out of bounds until at least mid-February (but I suspect it will be the whole month). Lower Moor Farm has been out of bounds all winter, as a precaution against HPAI. Fortunately, there has been no evidence of it there and the restriction was lifted yesterday.

The fact is that January 2022 was exceptional: January 2023 was similar to 2019 and 2020, and three times the level of 2021.

It is pretty clear from the table what the differences are. The number and variety of species is well down. Just look at the Lesser Redpoll: 25 last year, split between Somerford Common, Webb’s Wood and Lower Moor Farm. This year, just one at one of Jonny’s Sutton Benger sites. In fact, the Redwing number from this year doesn’t include a single bird from the Braydon Forest sites, all are from Jonny’s sites around Sutton Benger, East Tytherton, Melksham and Hilmarton.

The rest of the details you can see for yourselves.

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.