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Last week I saw a fantastic loose flock of Corn Buntings at one of the sites on the downs right next to a rape crop. With the permission of the farmer I scattered some rape and barley into the tramlines and the flock concentrated into a small area. I didn't expect to catch much but if we could catch a Corn Bunting or two it would be a worthwhile session and up on the downs you never know what could turn up.
 
The day dawned exactly as forecast, cold and flat calm, perfect for this site. As usual the Corn Buntings largely avoided our nets but we did manage to catch three which is excellent and these birds all have darvic rings to enable us to resight them as we drive through the area during the summer. We were surprised by the number of Tree Sparrows that we caught and they contribute further to the RAS project. Right at the end we were caught that bonus bird, a Skylark so on his first ever farmland bird ringing session Terry ringed Corn Bunting, Skylark, Tree Sparrow and Linnet! MP, GH, TL
 
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Corn Bunting 3, Skylark 1, Linnet 9, Tree Sparrow 1 (4), Reed Bunting 1
 
We try not to ring Swindon STW in April because the BTO prefer us to leave the CES sites in-ringed beforehand if possible. This can be hard because we want to see what is going through at this time of year but thankfully we have enough sites to keep us occupied. For this session today we set nets as far away from the CES area as possible which affected the catch because our nets were in the less favourable areas but it was perfect for us to teach new trainee Terry. I particularly enjoyed watching Biff training Terry, looking at the photo you could be forgiven for thinking that the more senior person was teaching the younger.
 
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It was lovely to see our first Lesser Whitethroat of the summer, they are my favourite warbler. MP, AM, TL
 
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Lesser Whitethroat 1, Whitethroat 1, Blackcap 4, Chiffchaff 2, Reed Warbler 1, Long Tailed Tit 5 (1), Dunnock 5 (4), Robin 2 (1), Blackbird 0 (1), Song Thrush 0 (1), Bullfinch 2, Greenfinch 4
 
The available nesting habitat at this site is extremely limited so I limit my sessions here to April when the finch and bunting flocks are still around and some birds are passing through on migration. Linnets and Yellowhammers are quite hard to retrap but in addition to the really good numbers of new birds ringed, we also retrapped Yellowhammers from 2014, 2015 and two from last summer and we retrapped a Linnet from this time last year. The retrap male Blackcap was very interesting because we originally ringed it as an adult make in August 2013 so he is actually approaching at least five years old.
 
I was on my own for this session but my friend James who is a local farmer came along to scribe. His timing was perfect as I had just caught our first Grasshopper Warbler of the year and then a really big male Corn Bunting. Using James's local knowledge we set a few spring traps and we were very successful catching two Stonechats and three Wheatears. We have previously only ringed 13 Wheatears in 17 years so this was a real red letter day. MP
 
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Wheatear 3, Stonechat 2, Corn Bunting 1, Linnet 27 (1), Yellowhammer 13 (3), Chaffinch 3, Grasshopper Warbler 1, Blackcap 6 (1), Chiffchaff 2, Dunnock 1 (4), Robin 2 (2), Blackbird 1, Wren 2, Long Tailed Tit 1 (2), Blue Tit 3 (2), Great Tit 3 (4)
 
The game cover at this exposed site is non-existent and our last session here was not very successful and though we were a bit pessimistic with the prospects for this session we continued with it because it is a major site for the Tree Sparrow Retrap Adults for Survival Project. With 12 new and 9 retraps it was a reasonable RAS session. To complete a RAS dataset for the summer the BTO would like us to make 60 adult captures but we are looking to far exceed that to make our dataset much stronger, thus this catch of 21 Tree Sparrows is most useful. Our I had a really good chat with the farmer about feeding farmland birds and I am confident that we will improve the site next year, there are at least 150 Tree Sparrows on site but it is fewer than last year. The first thing I saw was a net bulging with a larger bird and as I ran towards it I saw it was a Grey Partridge and then just as I got to it, it rolled out and flew away to freedom, we don't catch many Greys and it was a shame to have missed it. A Rook was not quite so fortunate, it was caught right by a feeder and so has obviously been ransacking our feeders. A male Whitethroat was singing incessantly and moving around the whole site and managed to evade our nets right until the end of the morning but eventually he got it wrong and was our first of the species ringed this year. MP, PW
 
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Tree Sparrow 12 (9), Yellowhammer 15 (10), Chaffinch 8 (2), Whitethroat 1, Rook 1, Robin 1 (2), Dunnock 2 (1), Great Tit 1
 
My friends have always been mildly fascinated by my bird ringing tales and they have often asked if I can show their children some birds. This seemed like an ideal session as it is very close to where I live and at this time of year we don't have to get up very early. We have been scattering a lot of seed on the ground here to feed the farmland birds and even though the flock has largely dispersed it was still worth a session.
 
We ringed 40 birds and retrapped 17 of a wide range of species and it was great showing the kids the birds and allowing them to release them. I then found some Barn Owl pellets and that kept the kids completely rapt for the rest of the morning. From our point of view it was a decent little April session and completes a god winter monitoring for this particular site. MP, NW, GH
 
Yellowhammer 9 (3), Reed Bunting 1, Chaffinch 4, Bullfinch 3 (3), Greenfinch 5, Linnet 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Blue Tit 1 (1), Long Tailed Tit 1, Song Thrush 1 (1), Dunnock 1 (2), Robin 2 (2), Blackcap 3, Chiffchaff 2, Treecreeper 1, Goldcrest 2, Wren 2 (1), Blackbird 0 (1), Great Tit 0 (3)
 
Our last session at this site didn't work very well and as we watched the birds during that session we did a bit of habitat management to make the site more open for farmland birds and then we fed some seed along a field edge to set a two shelf net alongside. Both of these methods worked an absolute treat and Linnets and Yellowhammers filled our nets. There was a flock of about 30 Tree Sparrows present and we did very well for the Thames Valley these days ringing five and retrapping 4. This site has a large solar farm on it and it has affected the number of birds at the site but as I packed up, the farmer popped by to see us and we had a great chat. The outcome is that he will be planting a large area of conservation cover crops and that there may even be money available to help our conservation work.
 
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In the afternoon I popped into a woodland that the previous day held over 100 Redpolls and Siskins but they had all disappeared overnight and I only caught one bird but it was a superb adult male Brambling. MP, AF
 
Yellowhammer 49 (7), Linnet 40, Chaffinch 21 (2), Tree Sparrow 5 (4), Reed Bunting 4 (1), Blue Tit 1, Goldfinch 2, Brambling 1, House Sparrow 4, Greenfinch 4, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, Robin 4 (1), Dunnock 3 (2), Blackbird 1, Blackcap 1, Great Tit 0 (1)
 
Today dawned very cold but bright and clear and we were really excited about this session as it was the first session of our Retrap Adults for Survival Project for the year. We did very well last year and this session is very important for the project. We had a great team out and we were joined by a couple of trainees from two different ringing groups in Avon and Dorset who wanted to experience farmland bird ringing.
 
This site is easy to ring with lots of short nets set across a long hedgerow along which the birds fly to access a series of feeders. The birds did not disappoint and we were able to treat our guests to a whole array of new species and experiences through the morning.
 
As ever, with these Tree Sparrow sessions we get a fantastic set of local movements and today was no exception, birds flock here from all round and the flock now totals about 300 birds and is probably our largest winter flock this year.
 
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After the farmland session, Gary and I went to Bedwyn Common to try to catch some redpolls that we had seen come to a drinking pool. By the time we got to site it was really quite hot and for a couple of hours the finches swarmed down to the pool and into our 9 metre net. It was a great sight to see and a new experience for Gary. During this session we ringed 46 birds including plenty of Redpolls and a few Siskins. MP, GH, PW, NW, OA, FS
 
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Tree Sparrow 9 (16), Chaffinch 16 (2), Yellowhammer 11, Goldfinch 13, Linnet 9, Dunnock 3 (1), Wren 1 (2), Blackbird 1 (1), Great Tit 1 (3), Greenfinch 0 (1)
 
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Lesser Redpoll 36 (1), Siskin 4, Goldfinch 2, Chaffinch 3 (1), Dunnock 1, Coal Tit 0 (4), Great Tit 0 (3), Blue Tit 0 (1)
 
Over the years this has been one of our best Corn Bunting sites but in the past few years the farmer has got rid of his game cover and the farmland birds are now never as concentrated as they used to be. We now feed in a small copse which is okay but not ideal and we rarely catch and ring Corn Buntings here nowadays. I was joined by Biff for this session, there can't be many 17 year olds in the country who got to experience what he did this morning as we started the day with a couple of stunning Short Eared Owls. From there on it was very slow despite the perfect cold but calm ringing conditions. A lucky birder bumped into us as we were about to release the owls and so he had a real treat seeing such beautiful birds close up.
 
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We only caught one Linnet but it was a retrap and was originally ringed in March 2013, this is our oldest ever Linnet, four years survival is excellent. This is a great site for raptors and in addition to the usual Buzzard and Red Kite, we also saw a Sparrowhawk and then right at the end a superb Merlin flew through. MP, AM
 
Short Eared Owl 2, Yellowhammer 17 (2), Chaffinch 5 (1), Chiffchaff 1, Robin 2, Dunnock 2 (2), Linnet 0 (1), Blackbird 3, Great Tit 4, Wren 1

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Wiltshire Ornithological Society was formed on November 30th, 1974, and has grown in recent years to more than 500 members.

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