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Since being allowed to bring visitors back onto site I have been looking forward to the chance to give a winter ringing demonstration so that we may have the chance to show people the special birds that spend the winter on the wetlands. I deliberately advertised the demo at short notice to try to restrict numbers and it worked pretty well with 15 people coming.
 
I met Noah on site way before dawn to set some wader nets to try to target Snipe and Teal. Many ringers do not get the opportunity to set such nets and it does make one a better ringer in setting nets in different situations. We then met the rest of the team, including Graham who came across to help teach the new trainees, and set some normal nets by two feeding stations, one of them targeting a range of passerines and the other specifically targeting Reed Buntings.
 
One of our wader nets did a great job and we were able to show our visitors Four Teal, this is a terrific catch because we have ringed 119 over the years which is just about all of the entire Wiltshire total but this year has been poor for them and so these have rather turned our year round for them. We also caught two Jack Snipe but almost unbelievably, one of them was a retrap. A winter to winter retrap would be absolutely fantastic but this bird was even better and was in fact originally ringed on 28th December 2016 on a day when we were joined by a pal of mine from the BTO. Some of our visitors were very experienced birders and seeing their faces and hearing their gasps when they saw the Jack Snipe up so close was brilliant.
 
Teal 2016 12 18 Swindon17
 
Jack Snipe 2016 12 18 Swindon22
 
Noah then came back with a superb male Sparrowhawk and I think it was the first he has taken out of a net and he did well though he did feel the effects of the birds talons. It was great watching Paul taking Gary through the correct way to handle and ring such a raptor so that both ringer and bird were safe through the process.
 
sprawk
 
The rest of the morning was good but it could only ever have been a bit like after the lord mayors show as we showed our visitors a steady stream of tits and other common passerines, dominated by Blue Tits but one of them was seven and a half years old which is a very good effort indeed. We put up a net for Redwing and this only caught a few but birders don't often get close to these wary thrushes and so they proved very popular. We also ringed a couple of Goldcrests and a few Chiffchaffs. We did retrap a Chiffchaff and this bird has challenged our previously held views whereby we think that Chiffchaffs migrate through our area in August and September and then winter visitors arrive in late October but we ringed this bird on 18th September and it has remained.
 
Reed Buntings have always been a bit of a favourite of mine and we run a feeding station specifically for them. The wintering flock has been smaller this year but we still managed to catch 16. Retrap Reed Buntings so often provide high quality information and today was no exception with two controls, two retraps from two winters ago and a retrap from last winter.
 
The morning total of 63 new birds and 55 retraps is excellent for this site at this time of year but my lasting memory is of the fantastic retrap Jack Snipe that justifies all the hard work we do to create habitat for them.
 
This really was one of the best ringing demonstrations that we have ever done, with some fantastic training, fantastic birds and a knowledgeable and appreciative audience. The feedback after the morning has  been brilliant and ensures that we will definitely do more demonstrations at this site. MP, GD, PW, NW, GH, JH, AP, TW
 
Jack Snipe 1 (1), Teal 4, Sparrowhawk 1, Chiffchaff 3 (1), Goldcrest 5 (1), Treecreeper 1 (1), Reed Bunting 9 (7), Bullfinch 1, Chaffinch 2, Redwing 5, Blackbird 1, Blue Tit 7 (16), Great Tit 11 (9), Long Tailed Tit 0 (2), Robin 5 (4), Dunnock 6 (11), Wren 1 (2)
 
We have been conducting our usual programme of feeding farmland birds, well supported by the farmers of the Marlborough Downs and we then ring these sites a few times each year to monitor the birds that use the sites and to track the Tree Sparrows that we ringed during the summer. Today was our first farmland session of the winter and as it was so calm we chose this fantastic but exposed site just north of Avebury.
 
We arrived on site well before light so that we could try to catch Skylarks just before dawn in a bonus net. We set the other couple of nets round the hedgerow. We then set one net for Redwing because they were calling in good numbers but we didn't want to catch too many as farmland birds are our priority.
 
Yellowhammers and Chaffinches appeared en mass and Redwings filled that net and so we were instantly busy. Not long after dawn we had a visit from the Police checking that we weren't hare coursers. Coursers have been a real problem across Wiltshire and it is good to see the Police on the case. There was a massive flock of Linnets flying over the adjacent cover crop, it must have numbered about 400 birds. We had set a couple of home-made two-shelf nets for them and we managed to catch 29 during the morning which is pretty good.
 
The caught one Skylark in that net set and a Corn Bunting in the main set. Corn Buntings are so hard to catch and every one caught and then colour ringed is a real success and we ring the majority of them in the country so each one is about two percent of the national total!
 
Cornie
 
The five Yellowhammer retraps were all from the same site, the previous year and the one retrap Tree Sparrow was from a nest box 1.5km away but the lack of other retraps shows that we can put more boxes up locally and we have identified an adjacent farm that we have not approached yet. This farm could be strategically important because I checked it ten years ago and there were no Tree Sparrows there and if we can build a colony there then it would be a great stepping stone towards getting Tree Sparrows to recolonise a wider range like they did twenty years ago.
 
When we ring at this site we base ourselves by a public footpath and we met a couple of groups who were very interested in what we were doing. The first group were a group of friends over from Australia and the second were two families with a bunch of very enthusiastic young children. We gave an impromptu ringing demonstration and the kids absolutely loved it.
 
Finishing with 180 birds ringed and 9 retraps this really was an exceptional start to our farmland bird monitoring for the winter and we can't wait to get out again. MP, AF, PW, NW
 
Corn Bunting 1, Yellowhammer 61 (5), Tree Sparrow 11 (1), Skylark 1, Fieldfare 2, Redwing 29, Song Thrush 4m, Blackbird 2, Chaffinch 32 (2), Linnet 29
Goldfinch 1, Blue Tit 3, Dunnock 3 (1), Robin 1
 
Because the team focussed their efforts for the important conservation ringing of yesterday we only had a small team for today which is a bit of a shame because we all love ringing this site because we ring in a nice warm building and we can use the kitchen and have fresh tea and coffee and bacon sandwiches. I was joined by Gary, and Simon made a rare excursion away from Swindon STW. It was very calm which is important for this open site and we set the two-shelf nets between the filter beds and two normal nets by a couple of feeders.
 
In previous weeks I have been seeing good numbers of wagtails and pipits and I fancied our chances of catching quite a lot of birds and just after dawn wagtails and pipits came swirling down to match my expectations. We caught plenty of wagtails, giving us a great chance to compare the differences between the UK race of Pied Wagtail and the continental White Wagtail. This site is good for Grey Wagtails and today we did very well indeed catching 14 that included one ringed two years ago and then another one (pictured) that is just shy of 7 years old and is 51 days short of the national longevity record for the species.
 
Grey Wag 7yrs old
 
Meadow Pipits seemed to be going in from every direction and we caught one that we originally ringed in 2013 and one from last year. Unusually for this site, we didn't catch many Goldcrests today but we did retrap one that was ringed in 2014, a two year old Goldcrest is quite a rare bird. We only have a couple of small feeders here but they always seem to catch a lot of birds and Blue Tits especially came in waves. Normally we try not to catch Blue Tits but they do seem to survive well at this site and we retrapped three that were originally ringed in 2013.
 
This was a really great session and Gary is really improving at extracting which is a great step forward and we all agreed afterwards that though we were busy we were never actually hurried and it was a great training session. MP, SW, GH
 
Pied Wagtail 17, White Wagtail 6, Grey Wagtail 12 (2), Meadow Pipit 46 (2), Chiffchaff 3, Goldcrest 3 (1), House Sparrow 4, Chaffinch 2, Bullfinch 1, Dunnock 4, Robin 12 (1), Wren 6, Song Thrush 1, Blue Tit 44 (6), Coal Tit 1 (1), Great Tit 18, Long Tailed Tit 1, Nuthatch 1
 
We put a good team together for this session as it is the last session of the winter for this wonderful woodland site. As it had been a cold week we didn't try for Goldcrest until mid morning but when we did so, we still ringed 17 and processed a control which is a bird ringed elsewhere.
 
The speciality bird of this site is Willow Tit and I have been monitoring them in this woodland since 2001. It is one of the last sites in Wiltshire and indeed in southern England where they persist. We have been worried that large-scale clear felling has affected the Willow Tits but through the morning we caught a decent number. We ringed four, retrapped three from the last session and also retrapped two that were ringed as nestlings, one from the same site two years ago and one from 2km away from this year. We know that there was at least one other Willow Tit present so the population in the wood is a minimum of ten. The photo shows a nice comparison of a Willow Tit and a Marsh Tit together.
 
Marsh and Willow Tits
 
This site is our best site for Coal Tit and we ringed plenty of them but their numbers have declined in the wood by over 70% in the past few years, we processed one Coal Tit that was ringed as an adult 3km south in November 2014, it seems most strange that an adult should roam such a way. We ringed a steady stream of woodland birds and though we were busy we still had time to cook ourselves up some bacon sandwiches.
 
Crossbills once again flew overhead and there were a few Siskins around and we managed to ring three of them. 146 new and 24 retraps made for an excellent session but if we had caught nothing other than the Willow Tits it still would have been a red letter day. MP, NW, AM, PW, GH, AP
 
Willow Tit 5 (4), Marsh Tit 4 (2), Coal Tit 27 (10), Blue Tit 22 (1), Great Tit 11 (2), Goldcrest 17 (1), Treecreeper 1, Nuthatch 2, Chaffinch 24, Siskin 3, Bullfinch 6 (1), Robin 11 (3), Dunnock 2 (3), Wren 4, Jay 2 ,Great Spotted Woodpecker 4 (1), Blackbird 1
 
We were back at our Willow Tit woodland and so we once again had a terrific turn out from the team and we were joined by Nigel Pleass who rings at the Cotswold Water Park.
 
We set nets at four feeding stations and also played sound lures to attract crests and also a bonus Redwing set at this site that really isn't a Redwing site. As we finished setting, we were excited with our prospects as we could hear Bramblings calling but sadly they didn't grace our nets. Crossbills once again flew overhead without coming anywhere near our nets. Goldcrests again dominated the catch but once again they weren't joined by anything unusual.
 
Tits and finches were around in reasonable numbers and the number of Long Tailed Tits were particularly noteworthy. We have been catching good numbers of Long Tailed Tits recently and we have just passed ringing a hundred for the year which makes it the second best year for them and we still have seven weeks to go so it could end up as a record year for them yet. This is remarkable when one considers that 2015 was amongst the worst years that we have ever had for them.
 
This site is unique in that we get the opportunity to compare Marsh Tits and Willow Tits in the hand and today didn't disappoint and this really is great for the team to be able to examine both species. The undoubted highlight of the morning was a retrap Willow Tit, especially when the ring number was read out to me. This bird was ringed as a nestling in a nest box that I put up especially for Willow Tits 2km away. This was the first nest box that I have put up that has been used by Willow Tits and this bird is the first recovery of a nestling Willow Tit that we have had away from its natal site. There is still so much to learn about this fantastic little bird and I just hope that we can learn enough about them before they go extinct in the county.
 
Wilti ringed as a nestling
 
A couple of the team contributed bacon and bread and Noah showed us his cooking skills and once again we enjoyed a bacon sandwich, this is a really good habit that we are getting into! MP, AF, PW, NW, AM, GH, NJP, TW
 
Willow Tit 2 (1), Marsh Tit 1 (2), Goldcrest 56 (3), Coal Tit 11 (3), Treecreeper 2 (1), Blue Tit 9, Great Tit 10, Long Tailed Tit 14, Chaffinch 11, Bullfinch 4, Yellowhammer 1, Wren 6, Robin 6 (1), Dunnock 9 (1), Redwing 6, Blackbird 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
 
It was again left to Noah and his superscribe Dad to join me at this lovely little site close to the River Thames. We run a feeding station at this site and it is set in farmland with really high quality hedgerows. We knew that with the mild weather we would not get the flocks of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers that we are used to here but regardless of that, we enjoyed a lovely morning made even better by Noah cooking bacon sandwiches.
 
Large flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares flew over all through the morning but we only caught Redwings and only 15 at that which is quite low for this site. The morning was dominated by Dunnocks and this is one of our largest catches of this species for some years. Star bird of the day was a Blackcap that we originally ringed in April 2015, this bird is either a breeding bird leaving late or it has been unlucky being caught on migration both north and south.
 
We finished a little earlier than normal so that I could get to watch my son play rugby but we still ringed 97 new birds and processed 7 retraps. MP, NW
 
Redwing 15, Blackbird 11 (2), Song Thrush 1, Chaffinch 7, Greenfinch 1, Dunnock 22, Robin 3 (1), Wren 9, Goldcrest 4, Blue Tit 12 (1), Great Tit 5 (2), Long Tailed Tit 3, Blackcap 2 (1), House Sparrow 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
 
With it being half term most of the team were not available so it was just Noah and me out today. Once again I set some wader nets, a Redwing set and a few passerine nets. Redwings came in steadily but without any particular influx and we ended up with 16 ringed, but there was a little passage of Blackbirds and we ringed 10 during the morning. Two Snipe continued our success with them this year but it was clear that there was a slight lull in their passage but we know that we will get another influx fairly soon.
 
Water Rails were calling so we must have a go at catching them soon. Late in the morning we saw four Green Sandpipers fly over and descend into a lagoon and a minute later three flew out so it was no surprise to see one in the net. This is our third of the year which is a fairly typical year for us and Noah ringed it, how many fifteen year olds have ringed three Green Sandpipers in the UK???
 
Green Sand
 
We use large mesh nets to catch Redwings because they don't fall out of them like they do in normal nets, the only issue with these nets is that if you catch a small passerine in them they can be difficult to extract if one is inexperienced. To avoid this I set these nets away from the usual areas but on one check of the net I did see a Reed Bunting in it, and boy was I surprised when I could clearly see that it had a foreign ring on it. With all of the eastern vagrants turning up in the UK, this bunting could have been anything but it was just a Reed Bunting but the ring was from the Stockholm scheme and beats any vagrant in my book, after 17 years of ringing and our team processing over 4000 Reed Buntings this is our first ever foreign control and I cannot tell you how delighted I am at recording it at my favourite ringing site. There have been fewer than ten previous Swedish ringed Reed Buntings recorded in the UK.
 
Swedish Reebu
 
A bit later on, we tried a roost at Moulden Hill Lake but it failed but we had a good time setting the roost nets and listening to Water Rails. MP, NW
 
Green Sandpiper 1, Snipe 2, Redwing 16, Song Thrush 1, Blackbird 10 (1), Reed Bunting 3 (1), Chaffinch 3, Chiffchaff 24 (1), Blackcap 8, Goldcrest 5, Long Tailed Tit 5 (7), Great Tit 2, Blue Tit 1, Wren 10 (2), Robin 3 (4), Dunnock 7, Bullfinch 0 (1)
 
After the recent success at this site we quite fancied another go as this site could produce anything and with Yellow Browed Warblers being caught at all manner of sites across the UK in their largest ever influx we keep going out fancying our chances of catching one. We also wanted to catch some more Skylarks and so set a couple of nets for them.
 
The Skylark set only produced one but it was a first for Noah to ring. The morning was dominated by huge flocks of Goldfinches MP, NW, GH
 
Skylark 1, Stonechat 1, Redwing 22, Song Thrush 2, Goldcrest 8 (2), Treecreeper 1, Blackcap 1, Blue Tit 5, Great Tit 7, Long Tailed Tit 14 (1), Goldfinch 13, Linnet 1, Bullfinch 1, Reed Bunting 8, Chiffchaff 4, Robin 1, Dunnock 4, Wren 2, Meadow Pipit 1
 
WP 20161022 13 27 37 Rich 2

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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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