CES 10, Lower Moor Farm: Sunday, 11th August 2019

Originally scheduled for Saturday, but postponed for very obvious reasons, Jonny Cooper and I met up at Lower Moor Farm at 5:00 Sunday morning.  It was still pretty windy, but all bar about 2 metres of one net was sheltered from it.  In fact the weather was pretty good right up to the point (midday) when I started to take down. Jonny had left at 11:00 for a prior commitment, so he missed the absolute (unforecast) downpour that means my nets are currently hanging over the washing line in the garden trying to get them to dry off. A shame because this Monday morning would have been perfect for an ad hoc ringing session.  Still, that is a minor complaint against what was another really good session: our best CES 10 since we started.

It was clear that Saturday’s high winds had an effect on the catch: birds that might have moved on passage having to stay put.  This manifested itself in the first round where there was a decent haul of Chiffchaff in the most sheltered part of the site.

The list for the day was: Kingfisher [1]; Blue Tit 2[7](2); Great Tit 1[2]; Marsh Tit [1]; Long-tailed Tit {2}[1](3); Wren [1]; Dunnock [2]; Robin [3](2); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird [3](1); Reed Warbler [3]; Blackcap [30](3); Garden Warbler [4](2); Whitethroat [1]; Chiffchaff 1[20](1); Willow Warbler [4]; Bullfinch [1].  Totals: 2 birds ringed as unaged from 1 species; 5 adults ringed from 4 species; 84 juveniles from 16 species and 14 birds recaptured from 7 species, making 105 birds processed from 17 species.  Of the 14 retraps 8 were juvenile birds, so the total number of juveniles in the catch was 92 from 105 birds.

It is always good to catch a Kingfisher, especially as they have been largely missing from the site for a couple of years.  This, like our previous one this year, was a juvenile female.  It was in the last catch of the morning, 20 minutes before the rain started. However, perhaps the best bird of the morning was this one:


This is only the second Marsh Tit that we have caught at the site, since I started my ringing activities there in 2013. The previous ringer on site, John Callinan, used to catch a few but his ringing activities were largely in the woodland on the Gloucestershire side of the site and ours is almost exclusively in the lakeside areas on the Wiltshire side of the reserve.

This was our second largest catch of both Blackcap and Chiffchaff, the largest catch for both being on 20th August 2014 (CES 11).   All in all, it was a very satisfying session. with a good catch, well spaced and nicely paced. We were never under any pressure from the number of birds we were catching.


Barn Owls: 17th June; 2nd & 8th August 2019

Over the last couple of years I have been taking over the monitoring of Barn Owl boxes in north and west Wiltshire.  It was previously done by a group led by Paul Darby, a stalwart of voluntary work for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Paul had a regular team of helpers but, unfortunately, when Paul packed it in so did his team.  Since then I have been helped by various  of my ringing colleagues to get around and check boxes.  It is a little hit and miss, fitting it in with other commitments, but we are determined to do as much as possible.

Because of the protected nature of the species, when Paul checked the boxes he had to do so in October, after the breeding season has ended.   This meant that he had to estimate whether or not boxes had been occupied, which was fairly easy to do, as there would be layers of pellets and other detritus.  What was not easy was to decide whether or not the box had been used for breeding and whether that breeding was successful.  Unlike Paul I have a schedule 1 licence from the BTO / Natural England to check the boxes during the breeding season.  We started quite late this year, when team members became available.

Our first session was on Monday, 17th June when I was joined by Jonny Cooper.  We restricted our check to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Blakehill Farm an Avis Meadow. .  There are three boxes on site at Blakehill: Poucher’s Field, Allotment Field and the Moat.  At our  first box, Poucher’s Field, we found two chicks in the nest.  They were developing nicely and were large enough for us to ring them.  The other two boxes were empty, although the box in Allotment Field was full of twigs and leaves and was probably being used as a roost by Stock Dove or Jackdaw.

When we arrived at Avis Meadows there was a large Well Being event going on. We checked the boxes, which were both empty.  The odd thing about Avis Meadows is that there are two boxes: one is old, dilapidated and falling apart and is usually occupied by either Barn Owl or Stock Dove. the second is a new, A-style box which has never been nested in but is used as a roost by either species.

The second session, due to a whole host of factors, was not until Friday,  2nd August when I was joined by Andrew Bray.  Again, we started at Blakehill Farm.  As we set up to check the box at Poucher’s Field a Barn Owl and a Stock Dove flew out from the box. There was no sign of the youngsters: which we are confident means that they fledged.  The Allotment Field box had a roosting Stock Dove and the Moat box was empty, except for several Barn Owl feathers.

We moved on to Upper Waterhay farm.  The farmer is very keen to support his local Barn Owls and has three boxes spread around his farm.  In the first box we disturbed two Barn Owls that flew off.  There was, however, no sign of recent breeding in the box and they may have just been roosting.  In the second box we had better news: as we approached an adult Barn Owl flew off.  When I checked in the box there were 4 warm eggs.  This is almost certainly a second brood for the year.  I shall be back to check again in 4 weeks time.  The third box realised total success: there were three juvenile Barn Owls ready to fledge.  One flew off, but I managed to gather two of them and we could ring them, identify their sex (both female) and take the wing length and weight bio-metrics.

20190802 Upper Waterhay

My third session took place on Thursday, 8th August, when I was joined by Henny Lowth.  We started in Avis Meadows where 3 Stock Doves exploded out of the barns as we approached.  We found signs of roosting in the A-box, and I collected a number of pellets for the Wildlife Trust’s Watch group. In the old box there were 2 warm Stock Dove eggs. We will be back to check up on these in a couple of weeks.

After Avis we went to check the two boxes at Plain Farm and Drill Farm.  The Plain Farm box had two roosting Barn Owls and signs that there had been successful breeding (broken egg shells).  In the Drill Farm box, which tested Henny’s mettle, as the field had a fairly large herd of Friesian heifers who were very curious about these two people carrying a ladder across their field.  It is definitely not for the faint-hearted or those unused to large farm animals.  Anyway, the only downside for me was the volume of cow dung spattered around the base of the tree holding the box.  When checked, we saw an adult fly off and, when I opened the box this is what we saw:


The two little pink bundles are recently hatched Barn Owl chicks, to the far right are the broken egg shells, and in front of them are two warm, unhatched eggs.  We shut up the box and moved on to the last two boxes at Home Farm and Echo Lodge Farm.  The Home Farm box is always active and the owners are keen observers of the owls on their property.  We checked the box, which contained one roosting Barn Owl but no sign of a second brood.  When we went over the road to the Echo Lodge box another adult flew off, and when I checked the box there was one warm egg.

It looks like the Barn Owls in the Braydon Forest area are having a successful year: we will keep an eye on these boxes and more over the next 6 weeks to see how things develop.

Meadow Farm: Thursday, 8th August 2019

This is a post by Jonny Cooper:

Regular, consistent ringing at a site is a brilliant way to build up a picture of the bird species that use the site across the year, and how the populations change over time. At Meadow Farm this is achieved by carrying out at least one session every month,  with more if possible.  The weather forecast for Thursday seemed to suggest a break from the relatively high winds we have been experiencing recently, so I made the decision to carry out a session.

The session followed the trend of recent ones at the site: kicking off the catching of half a dozen birds as the nets were being opened, and then taking off rapidly from there. Over the next 6 hours I caught and processed 120 birds exactly. The catch was as follows:

Blackbird (1), Blue Tit [37](2), Bullfinch 1[3], Chiffchaff [6], Dunnock [1], Goldfinch 1[3], Great Tit [12](9), Greenfinch 3[19], Kingfisher [1], Long-tailed Tit [1], Reed Warbler [5](1), Robin [3], Sedge Warbler [2](1), Whitethroat 2, Willow Warbler [1], Wren [4](1). Totals: 7 adults from 4 species; 98 juveniles ringed from 14 species and 15 birds retrapped from 7 species, making a total of 120 birds from 16 species.

To catch another Kingfisher was great. This was the tenth new specimen caught here since I began ringing the site in January 2018.  In fact, it is the tenth in just under a year, as the first was caught on the 31st August last year.  Of the 10 caught, 7 have been juveniles, suggesting that they have found a good breeding site.

However the real highlight was the catching of 22 Greenfinch, this is the biggest single catch of Greenfinch since 1st January 2013, when the West Wilts ringing group began in its current form.  That 19 of these were juveniles, many newly-fledged, suggests that they are having an excellent breeding season.  Nationally this species’ numbers have dropped markedly over the last decade or so due to the disease Trichomonosis, hopefully this large catch is a sign the numbers are now bouncing back.

One species notable by its absence was Blackcap, at this time of year you would expect to catch good numbers as they start to move through on migration but today none got into the nets.

I closed the nets and packed down at about 11:30, by that time the temperature had risen and most bird movement had ceased.

In Between the Showers: Webb’s Wood, Wednesday, 7th August 2019

Why is it so difficult to forecast the weather? It seems that none of the usual suspects can get it right. Before deciding on this session I checked the Met Office, xcweather, Meteo Group and, just for luck, because they now take their weather from Meteo, the BBC.  All of them said dry and windy with only the Met Office suggesting any chance of rain before midday.

I met with Jonny and Henny at Webb’s Wood for a 5:00 start and we set up 4 rides of nets. My last two woodland sessions had been hugely disappointing, after the Tuesday night storms of last week, so I was hoping that this would be better.  It kicked off okay, with a juvenile Willow Warbler, a Blue Tit, a Robin and a Wren in the nets as soon as they were opened at 5:45. Cue the first sharp and forceful downpour. Everything, including my record sheets, was soaked in seconds.  We shut the nets.  That lasted a mere 15 minutes but caused a lot of mess.

We then had 45 minutes of calm before the next “shower” hit: this lasted until 8:00 and was, again, very heavy.  Again, the nets were furled until it passed.  Thereafter, every once in a while we had a fleeting light shower.  Why do they spend all that money on super-computers and satellites? Seaweed is cheaper and every bit as accurate!  The wind did finally get up: about 30 minutes before we decided to pack up for the day.

To be fair, given the weather, it was a half-decent session: twice as good as our last two woodland ringing trips.  The list for the day was: Nuthatch {1}; Blue Tit [1](1); Great Tit 1[1]; Coal Tit [1](1); Long-tailed Tit [3]; Wren [3]; Robin [3](1); Blackbird [2]; Chiffchaff [2]; Willow Warbler [1]; Goldcrest [4](1); Bullfinch 2.  Totals: 1 unaged ringed; 3 adults ringed from 2 species; 21 juveniles ringed from 10 species and 4 birds recaptured from 4 species, making a total of 29 birds processed from 12 species.  Good variety and it would have been better had a Song Thrush not managed to extricate itself from the net just as I stepped up to extract it.

The Nuthatch is “unaged” because adults and juveniles both go through moult in the late summer and autumn and moult into full adult plumage. This Nuthatch had completed its moult and so cannot be reliably aged at this time.  In another month or so the same will apply to the Long-tailed Tits.  The three juveniles processed today are getting close to the end of their moult and, although the eye-ring of the juveniles is usually red and that of the adults usually orange, this characteristic is not reliable enough to accurately age birds post-moult.

We were joined at just gone 6:00 by a grandmother and grandson combo, Glenda and Brendan, who had enquired of the Wildlife Trust about seeing ringing.  The Trust put them in touch with me and we arranged for them to attend this session. It was good that we had plenty of variety to show them. They were both keen and attentive and will be welcome back at any time.

In between the showers there was a great deal of insect activity: Black-tailed Skimmers and Emperor Dragonflies were seen, as well as a good selection of butterflies, including this Brown Argus female who posed for an age whilst I fiddled around with exposure times to get the best balance of colour:

Common Blue

What a stunning little butterfly it is!  We packed up at 11:30, with the weather throwing one final, but light, shower at us as we were packing the stuff away in the car.

Two firsts at Blakehill Farm: Saturday, 3rd August 2019

This was our first session on the Chelworth side of Blakehill Farm since the 8th March this year. Our agreement with the Wildlife Trust is to stop activities on the plateau area when the Curlew arrive to breed and recommence once any potential young have fledged.  They arrived early this year.  I was joined by David for this session.  With just the two of us we didn’t set too many nets: 5 short nets on the plateau and 6 x 18m nets along the hedgerow.  Having seen Wheatear and Redstart on the site yesterday we were hopeful of catching a few passage migrants.

At first it looked as if we were going to have an awful session: with the nets open at 6:30 we caught only 3 birds in the first 90 minutes of the session. Fortunately, as the morning warmed up the birds started to move and we started to catch more regularly.  We ended up on 31 birds but with a couple of stand out catches, of which more later.  One of the reasons was very simple: our nets are set at a height where the top shelf is at about 7′, the hedgerow has now reached a height of 10′ and the birds were simply flying over the top of the nets. We watched several flocks of 30+ Goldfinch flying just over the net from the top of the hedge and head off elsewhere. I had hoped that they might come back and and end up in the nets, as happened before on a day when Jonny and I took 69 of them out of the nets over the course of the morning session – but they didn’t.  About 8:00 Neil Pullen, the Trust’s Reserves Manager, arrived for a chat. Tongue-in-cheek, I asked whether there was any plan to trim the hedge. Delighted to say, there are plans to do so this winter.  I requested a height of 6′ or less.

So, to the birds we did catch.  The first “first” was a Sedge Warbler.  Although there are three medium sized ponds on the western side of the site, they don’t really have traditional Sedge Warbler habitat and we have never previously caught one here.  With plenty breeding in the nearby Cotswold Water Park, and with us catching plenty of birds that have been ringed in the Park, it is a little surprising that this was the first we have caught. It was a juvenile on dispersal / migration and a cracking looking bird for David to ring:


He looks a bit big-headed but that’s my awful technique with my camera phone.

The second “first” was a first for me and a bird I have been very keen to see up close for a long time: a Skylark.  There are so many on site it is somewhat surprising that it has taken this long for one to blunder into our nets, but I am delighted one did today.  They are not a usual catch: in fact, nobody in the group has caught one since West Wilts Ringing Group became constituted in its current form on the 1st January 2013 and Jonny caught two, using a technique called drag netting (rather self-explanatory), in February.  This bird was the first to be caught in a standard mist-net.  This is not too surprising, they do tend to be VTOL birds, not conducive to flying into mist nets.  This was a juvenile, which might explain it.


In a session with only 31 birds, to catch 14 species is pretty good.  The list for the day was: Skylark [1]; Blue Tit [2]; Great Tit 1; Robin [2]; Sedge Warbler [1]; Blackcap [3]; Whitethroat [6]; Lesser Whitethroat [1]; Chiffchaff [2]; Willow Warbler [2]; Chaffinch [1]; Goldfinch 1[1]; Linnet 3[2]; Reed Bunting [2].  Totals: 5 adults ringed from 3 species; 26 juveniles ringed from 13 species, making 31 birds processed from 14 species. No recaptures at all but, as the majority were juveniles, it is what one might expect.

We started packing away at 11:30 after what turned out to be a very nice and rewarding session for both of us.

Back In Business: Lower Moor Farm; Thursday, 1st August 2019

In my previous blog I wrote about our rather disappointing session at the Firs on Wednesday of last week. I chose not to write about an equally dispiriting session at Ravensroost Woods on the following Saturday. Both woods were remarkably quiet, the only birds to be heard were a few Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  In sessions where we would have expected to catch 30 to 50 birds in each, we only caught 15 and 14 birds respectively.  That equates approximately to 1.5 birds per net in a five hour session.

With our Constant Effort Site (CES) sessions running ahead of last year’s sessions I was concerned as to what impact this recent weather has had on the birds at Lower Moor Farm.  It didn’t help that the originally scheduled date of 31st July proved impossible: with winds blowing at 20 mph and gusting to 30 mph.  Fortunately, Thursday was a much better day and, although we could not double last year’s 66 birds the catch was still higher.  I am sure this weather has had an adverse effect and it will be interesting to see what impact it has on the numbers of birds caught on passage, given how much worse the weather has been further north.

I was joined by Andrew, Henny and David for the session.  It started well and we had regular catches throughout the morning.  Because we had moved the session from Wednesday to Thursday it coincided with a Milestones session run by Rachel Bush of the Wildlife Trust.  The Milestones project aims to connect vulnerable and marginalised young people aged 11-24 to their local, natural environment by offering opportunities to participate in practical activities and widen their knowledge and appreciation of local green spaces and nature reserves.  This meant that we had a couple of audiences of young school children during the course of the morning.  I show them the birds, explain about ringing and, if any are interested / brave enough, we will show them how to, and allow them to, hold and release a bird.  The bird is only held briefly and not passed around: one child, one bird.  We did have a Blue Tit for the first group. One young lad was very insistent that he should be the one to hold and release it.  I warned him that they peck, and that they are very feisty, but he insisted – and was then shocked when it pecked him several times.  He was a little upset – but the bird was fine!

The catch for the day was: Jay 1; Treecreeper [1](1); Blue Tit 1[6](4); Great Tit [1](1); Long-tailed Tit (1); Wren [7](3); Dunnock (1); Robin [1](1); Song Thrush [1]; Blackbird 1[5]; Cetti’s Warbler (1); Reed Warbler [1]; Blackcap 1[11](3); Garden Warbler [2](2); Whitethroat [1]; Lesser Whitethroat [1](1); Chiffchaff [7]; Willow Warbler 2; Bullfinch 2[2](1). Totals 8 adults ringed from 6 species; 47 juveniles ringed from 14 species; 20 birds recaptured from 12 species, making 75 birds processed from 19 species. Of the 20 recaptured birds 13 were juveniles ringed in previous CES sessions.

Whilst putting up the nets alongside Mallard Lake we heard Reed Warblers churring away in the lakeside vegetation.  In the event, the only one we caught was in the furthest ride from the lake.  It was a juvenile Reed Warbler and was our first at Lower Moor Farm this year.

Bullfinches are a regular catch at Lower Moor Farm and we caught another couple of juveniles this morning:


Our last catch of the morning was a Jay: always a lovely bird to look at and can be a nightmare to handle.  They have a very sharp beak and a strong, blood-drawing peck plus extremely sharp claws on strong feet.  The trick is to keep the claws busy (I put a pencil between its feet) and stay away from the beak.  This was a female undergoing her post-breeding moult and was surprisingly docile:



The Firs: Wednesday, 24th July 2019

Tuesday night was quite astonishing in this part of north Wiltshire.  The lightning show started before midnight and continued at least until 2:00 a.m., which was when the thunder started rolling in and when I last saw the sky for the night.  When I left the house at 4:45 a.m. I couldn’t believe just how much rain must have fallen in the 2 and a bit hours that had subsequently elapsed.  It had stopped but there was debris, tree branches and leaves, mud and stones, all over the roads between Purton and my destination, the Firs.  I mention this because we had our worst ringing session for some considerable time Wednesday morning, and I am wondering just what impact the previous night’s weather had on the local birds.

We caught a measly 15 birds: 13 ringed from 5 species and 2 recaptures from 2 species.  All of the newly ringed birds were juveniles, and both of the recaptures were adults.  The list was: Great Tit [2]; Marsh Tit [1](1); Wren [4]; Robin [4](1); Blackcap [2].  Naturally, I had a big team out with me: Andrew, Ellie and David.

This is not to say the catch was without interest: a new, juvenile Marsh Tit, our focused project species, is always a highlight.  An adult Marsh Tit of at least 4 years of age is also rewarding.  One of the two juvenile Blackcaps was identifiable as a male: it had virtually completed its post-fledging moult.

Whilst the ringing was not the best we have had recently, it gave us a significant opportunity to have a good look at the insect life in the wood, which was plentiful.  When I first started ringing in the Firs, back in 2012, it was a dark, wet wood with a close canopy and very little light. Since then the Trust and their volunteers have opened up the central glade, dug a couple of ponds and thinned the woodland. The result has been spectacular, not just for birds.  Most striking of the insect life around were the butterflies.  There were dozens of them: excellent numbers of Silver-washed Fritillary, several Small White, Peacock, Comma and Gatekeeper and the obligatory horde of Meadow Brown.  However, my insect highlight, and my most difficult extraction of the day, was a superb (what I think is a) Southern Hawker dragonfly:

Southern Hawker 240719

Having extracted it, instead of just flying off it flew down and landed on my leg, where it sat for a few minutes whilst it revved up its flight muscles, before flying off strongly.

At 7:00 we were joined by a reporter for BBC Radio Wiltshire. She arrived to interview Ellie, as the Wildlife Trust’s Northern Reserves Manager, about Ash die-back.  This is one of the latest diseases to attack our native flora due to the incredibly lax laws we have about importing foreign plants and timber. With the diseases imported that are killing Oak, Larch and Horse Chestnut trees, following in the footsteps of Dutch Elm disease, and now Ash trees (the disease imported in from the continent because garden centres and arboriculturalists couldn’t source just about the commonest and most readily available, and disease-free, tree species in the country) you would think that a government might do something to prevent future occurrences cf New Zealand and Australia.  Anyway, having done three interviews with Ellie, she then asked if she could interview me about bird ringing whilst I processed the juvenile male Blackcap. I have no idea when (or if) it will go out on the radio – apparently there is a wildlife spot on the weekend breakfast show.

We strung it out for as long as possible and packed up at 11:30.

Lower Moor Farm: Sunday, 21st July 2019

After a couple of days of rain we managed to get CES 8 done this morning. It was calm and overcast for most of the session: almost perfect ringing weather. I was joined for the session by Jonny, David and Henny.  The catch in the equivalent session last year was 45 birds and, as we have been doubling last year’s catch in every session to date, I was hoping for 90 birds. Unfortunately, we only had a 50% increase and ended up with a catch of 69 birds

What is really noticeable is just how many juvenile birds we are catching this year.  Comparing with 2018 shows a stark contrast:


There is a significant increase in the commonest resident species at Lower Moor Farm: Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren and Robin.  This is almost certainly due to the much drier and warmer Spring we had this year, enabling the adults to get in better breeding condition, and then providing enough food for the youngsters in the nest. There have also been significant increases in LMF’s commonest Summer visitors: Blackcap and Chiffchaff, with better showings for all of our other summer migrants.  One other potential helpful factor: 3 years ago the Wildlife Trust started what has become a trend for Wildlife Trusts across the country. It is called scalloping. What has been done is that where there are wooded and hedged rides they cut out flattened semi-ovoid edges at intervals along the edges. This opens the area up to be cultivated by flowering plants, encouraging more insects into the area. It has taken a couple of years, but the scallops are now full of  flowers and the sheer volume of insects was unbelievable. Our ringing station was inundated with thousands of tiny black flies: they didn’t bite but they seemed impervious to deet and were a bit of a nuisance – but great food for insectivorous birds.

Particularly encouraging is the huge improvement in the fortunes of the one resident warbler species at LMF: the Cetti’s Warbler.  Last year we recaptured a couple of adult birds, but there was no sign of successful breeding.  This year we have caught 9 juveniles at different times and plumage development stages at the site. It is pretty convincing evidence of three successful broods for the first time since we started working there.

Our catch for the session was: Blue Tit [1](1); Great Tit 1[5](1); Wren [4](1); Dunnock [1]; Robin [4](2); Blackbird 3; Cetti’s Warbler [2](2); Reed Warbler 1; Blackcap 2[15](3); Garden Warbler [2](1); Whitethroat [1]; Lesser Whitethroat [3](1); Chiffchaff 1[9]; Willow Warbler (2).  Totals: 8 adults ringed from 5 species; 47 juveniles ringed from 11 species; 14 birds recaptured from 9 species, making 69 birds processed from 14 species.  Significantly, most of the recaptured birds were also juveniles ringed in previous sessions, so juveniles made up 55 of the 69 birds in the catch.

The session was full of highlights: the juvenile Cetti’s – evidence of a third brood fledging this year, a clear highlight, given that this is the best ever breeding season for them evidenced at LMF.  However, one of my favourite birds is the Lesser Whitethroat so catching 3 new juveniles and recapturing another juvenile we ringed earlier in the season was very pleasing:


One of the problems with doing a formal project, as this is, we have to keep the nets open for a fixed period of time: even when the birds have all decided to push off elsewhere, as happened here. We stopped catching any number of birds at just gone 10:00 but had to look at empty nets until 11:30 when we could pack up. It’s not all fun.


A Couple of Firsts at Tedworth House: Wednesday, 17th July 2019

I have been carrying out my monthly sessions at Tedworth House since September 2013. Over the years the site has been improved by opening up the beech woodland to allow the floor to develop better under-storey.  They are never my biggest catches but they so often contain an unusual catch.

Today was one of those days. Over the last 10 years I have caught 12 Green Woodpeckers, and today I caught my first at Tedworth House:


This was an adult male.  Fabulous though this was, my morning started with a real high when I got the opportunity to ring my first ever brood of Dunnock nestlings.  Whilst I do the catching and ringing of the adult birds at the site, my friend, the wonderfully named Jack Daw, is a nest finding specialist and he manages the ringing of nestlings at Tedworth.  It helps that he works there and can spend his break times checking on them.  Anyway, a female Sparrowhawk has been making a meal of some of the Crows that frequent the grounds.  Apparently they have been coming to the ornamental pool to drink and the Sparrowhawk has been ambushing them there. My plan was to set a net across the flight-path she has been taking. Jack suggested that I didn’t, because there was a Dunnock nest immediately adjacent to where I was planning to set the net. He then asked if  I would like to ring them as he had planned to do it Thursday but one day either way is neither here nor there.  Actually, it is quite important to me: I have a licence to ring nest box and hole-nesting birds plus Swallows and Crows but not open nest small Passerines.  It is something I hope to add to my existing licence quite soon, with Jack’s on-going help.  So, this morning I ringed the brood.

The rest of the catch was largely juvenile, including 5 Blackbirds all caught in the same net, 4 in one catch, the fifth in the next.  We are pretty convinced that they were brood mates, given the proximity and the remarkable similarity in their plumage.

The list for the day was: Green Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 1[2]; Great Tit [2](1); Dunnock {4}[3](1); Robin [1]; Blackbird 1[5]; Blackcap 1. Totals: 4 adults ringed from 4 species; 4 pulli ringed from 1 species; 13 fledged juveniles ringed from 5 species and 2 birds recaptured from 2 species, making a total of 23 birds processed from 7 species.

My ringing station is set up in the top corner of the visitors’ car park. Immediately adjacent to my station was a huge Horse Chestnut tree.  It was being devastated by the larvae (caterpillars, but you never see them) of a leaf miner moth:


Brown’s Farm: Saturday, 13th July 2019

Brown’s Farm sits at the top of Postern Hill, south of Marlborough.  It is the least sheltered of my sites and can only be ringed when the weather is expected to be more or less flat calm. The forecast was for it to become breezy as the morning wore on but I decided to take a risk on a session, as the results from my two Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) visits have been very encouraging,   The wind was forecast to come from the north, with nothing to block or mitigate its passage over the Marlborough Downs, so net positioning was important.  One of the key things about Brown’s Farm is the fantastic hedgerows they have surrounding the fields.  These hedgerows are primarily hawthorn and blackthorn kept trimmed to just above head height  and threaded throughout with dog rose, bramble and many other species of wild plant. As well as that, there are plenty of weedy, seedy edges to the fields, as you can see from the photograph below.


This enabled us to set some nets which were a little sheltered from the breeze.  I was joined by Jonny Cooper and Henny Lowth (my latest volunteer and, yes, that is spelt as she spells it). The wind did get up earlier than I was expecting and we did have to pack up early, as the wind became untenable at about 9:30.  By then we had already caught over 50 birds from a decent selection of species.

It was a good diverse catch: Blue Tit 1[8]; Dunnock 2[3]; Blackbird [1]; Blackcap [1]; Garden Warbler [1]; Whitethroat [1]; Chiffchaff [3]; Chaffinch 2; Linnet 4; House Sparrow 6[12](1); Yellowhammer 3[3](1).  18 adults ringed from 6 species, 33 juveniles ringed from 9 species and 2 retraps from 2 species, making 53 birds processed from 11 species.  The only disappointments were that we didn’t catch any juvenile Linnet or Chaffinch, and that there was no sign of the Yellow Wagtail seen on my last BBS visit.]

However, it was lovely to get our first juvenile Yellowhammers of the year:


The surprise catch of the morning was a juvenile Garden Warbler.  We catch them regularly at Lower Moor Farm and the Ravensroost complex but this is miles away from what I think of as their normal habitat: scrub and woodland edges.  Instead it was on an arable farm with fields full of wheat, barley, oats, oil-seed rape and maize, a couple of horse paddocks and the aforementioned fabulous treeless blackthorn / hawthorn hedgerows with weedy seedy edges to the fields.  It was a juvenile so I expect that it was dispersing from more suitable habitat: perhaps the water meadows along the river Kennet running through Marlborough.

All in all a very satisfying session. Henny, on only her second outing with us, has already shown that she can extract birds with enough care to bode well for her future as a bird ringer.