Blakehill Farm: Wednesday, 6th September 2017

The weather forecast for Wednesday was for it to be a dry day with light westerly winds initially, strengthening throughout the morning, and changing direction from WSW to WNW by 11:00.  We decided that the session at Blakehill could go ahead, on the basis that the nets on the edge of the plateau could work until 10:00 and the hedgerow nets on the perimeter track would be okay until much later.  In the end, we had to take down the perimeter track nets at 11:00 and were packed up and gone by 11:40.  By 11:00 the birds had stopped moving around and the catch had died away to virtually zero.  However, up until then we had an excellent session.  The team for the day was Ellie Jones, Jonny Cooper, Andrew Bray, David Williams and myself.

Jonathan, the farms manager, and his team have done a great job of trimming the edge bushes of the central plateau.  They are compact and far less straggly, laden with blackberries – and just the right size for 9m and 12m nets: now, if the wind will stop blowing for a day or so!

Our first two rounds were quiet: a Wren and a Dunnock at 7:30, followed by two Goldfinch, a Blackcap and a Robin at 7:45. Then the Goldfinches arrived and we were very busy for the next two-and-a-half hours.  The highlights of the day were: our first Whinchat of the autumn and, at last, a reasonable catch of Long-tailed Tits: five ringed and five retrapped is our best return on this species in the Braydon Forest this year.​

The list for the day was: Swallow 4; Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 7; Long-tailed Tit 5(5); Wren 1; Dunnock 2; Whinchat 1; Robin 1; Blackcap 3; Whitethroat 3; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 35; Reed Bunting 2.  Totals: 74 birds ringed from 15 species, five birds processed from one species, making 79 birds processed from 15 species.  Only seven of those birds could be reliably aged as adults. Long-tailed Tit adults and juveniles have both generally finished moulting and their plumages as indistinguishable. We know the five retrapped birds are adults but, whilst we suspect the five we ringed were juveniles, it cannot be proven beyond doubt.  The mantra is to be “accurately imprecise, rather than imprecisely accurate” (credit to Richard du Feu for coining the phrase) so we code them as “age unknown”.

In amongst our Goldfinch catch was one with a single aberrant primary feather:


It was just that one feather, and the aberration was not present on the other wing.

All in all, another very satisfying session: handled really well by the team.  With five competent extractors working together, we cleared the nets quickly and efficiently in every round. Had the wind not got up and changed direction we would probably have had another 100+ bird session.

Simon Tucker

Ravensroost Meadows: Saturday, 2nd September 2017

This summer has been a bit of a nightmare for getting out to our more open sites: with three visits to Brown’s Farm and two to Blakehill being scuppered by the weather.  It seems that we have managed to get hit by rain or high winds whenever such a visit is scheduled.  Today we were scheduled for a session at Ravensroost Meadows, specifically the meadow pond and its surroundings.  It is an excellent place at this time of year, as you never know what will drop in.  The nets were set around the edge of the pond area.  The red lines are the hedgerow nets, the blue lines are the nets over the causeway and along the spit on the eastern end of the pond.

ravens meadow

Fortunately, the weather forecast was completely accurate, with a completely dry day and the wind speed never getting above 2mph.  I had a team of four (Jonny Cooper, David Williams, Steph Buggins and Lillie Woodley) with me.  At the equivalent session last year Jonny and I had a good catch of 92 birds, and we were hoping for something similar this time.  The first round delivered a respectable 30 birds, including four Swallows caught in the causeway net.  This was followed by a second round of 37 birds. It then settled down to a pretty regular 10 birds or so per round, which gave everybody a chance to ring some new species, and have the time to discover about ageing them at this difficult time of year.

Difficult because in many species, like Chiffchaff, adult and juvenile plumage is very similar.  Immediately post-fledging, the youngsters have very fresh plumage, they then undergo their post-fledging moult, replacing poor quality body feathers adequate in the nest with better quality feathers for life on the wing.  Whilst this is going on, their wing and tail feathers wear from foraging and their daily activities.  At the same time, many of the adults have completed their post-breeding moult and now have fresh wing and tail feathers, like the youngsters but with slightly less wear.  To compound the issue, we are still catching newly-fledged youngsters in full juvenile plumage, and some that are only part way through their post-fledging moult.

The highlight was our first Sedge Warbler at the complex. We have caught Reed Warblers there on occasion, but this was a good first.  There is a larger pond at the complex which, once upon a time, supported both Sedge and Reed Warblers.  Unfortunately, it is now horribly overgrown and full of Typha and is not suitable habitat for breeding warblers. It will need a lot of work to clear it out and make it suitable again. Any volunteers for a work party?  Waders essential.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Swallow 25; House Martin 3; Blue Tit 21(1); Great Tit 4; Marsh Tit (1); Wren 6; Dunnock 2(1); Meadow Pipit 2; Robin 4; Sedge Warbler 1; Blackcap 7; Garden Warbler 1; Whitethroat 4; Lesser Whitethroat 4; Chiffchaff 21(1); Willow Warbler 8; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 18; Bullfinch 2; Reed Bunting. Totals: 136 birds ringed from 20 species, four birds retrapped from four species, making 140 birds processed from 21 species.  All of the birds were juveniles except for one adult each of Swallow, Great Tit, Robin, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Bullfinch and the Great Spotted Woodpecker.

In addition to the Sedge Warbler, we caught our third and fourth Meadow Pipits at the site. Previously we have caught singletons in September 2014 and 2015.  The retrapped Marsh Tit was ringed inside the wood at the end of July this year.  It is a juvenile, possibly on dispersal looking for a territory away from the natal area.

The causeway net did its usual job of delivering Swallows and House Martins to the catch.  This time the spit net, usually a very quiet net, gave an excellent return of most of the Goldfinches caught in the session.

Simon Tucker