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My wife and I went for a walk around Moulden Hill Lake last week and we took a slight deviation and ended up walking round Purton Wood that is adjacent to the lake. Purton Wood is comprised of a network of ancient hedgerows and what was once fields has been planted with a mixture of trees but  unfortunately they have been planted a bit too formally and it is taking a while for an undergrowth to develop. However, during our walk we were struck by the number of birds present and so I got in touch with the Woodland Trust who owned the wood and they were extremely helpful in providing us with access. This is really exciting because we also ring at Swindon STW that is 2km south and the disused canal that is 700 metres south west so we are monitoring the three main wildlife areas within the River Ray Parkway and the data we collect will enable us to show how important the area is as a wildlife corridor through Swindon.

I set three long lines of nets to enable monitoring of a cross section of woodland habitats. I was joined by Noah and his parents, so as ringers we had a scribe each! Two male Cuckoos were both vocal and visible on and off all morning and we also saw a Barn Owl fly over which was highly unexpected. Fairly soon after, we were joined by my brother and his wife and my 6 year old niece.

As expected, most birds were caught at the cross sections of the ancient hedgerows and though the catch was excellent, as is common in the spring we heard a lot more warblers than we caught. The site has a very healthy population of Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and we retrapped two Blackcaps that were originally ringed at CES sessions at Swindon STW.

Blackap from sstw1

4 Bullfinches provided further evidence of the quality of the ancient hedgerows and a couple of Reed Warblers were quite a surprise, especially the one that was singing in the middle of a dense hedgerow.

It was great to show my little niece the birds and she really enjoyed it. This site is very public and we met quite a few people out walking their dogs and we were able to provide them with a wildlife education lesson as they enjoyed their morning, and what a morning, flat calm and sunny. In fact it was so sunny that we saw our first odonata of the year in the form of Banded Demoiselle along with 5 species of butterfly.

We finished up with 75 new and 2 retraps which is very good for the time of year and I am sure that we are going to be back here quite a few times. MP, NW

Blackcap 12 (2), Whitethroat 3, Lesser Whitethroat 2, Willow Warbler 5, Chiffchaff 5, Reed Warbler 2, Bullfinch 4, Blue Tit 8, Great Tit 8, Long Tailed Tit 3, Song Thrush 1, Blackbird 4, Dunnock 6, Robin 7, Wren 5

We had to abort CES session 1 last weekend because the nets froze! It was probably just as well because the low temperature would have affected the catch and thus the session would not have been comparable with last year.

Luckily with me working in Swindon I have a greater flexibility to be able to get out and so we managed to get out on a Thursday. Simon and I set the nets and we were joined by Phil just after the first round.

It was a beautiful calm, warm morning and it was fantastic to retrap Reed Warblers from previous years. We did very well for Sedge Warblers and 9 new was a very good but we also processed a UK control. We also caught a Long Tailed Tit that has been ringed elsewhere, this is very unusual and it will be interesting to see if it is a genuine control or just a short distance movement from elsewhere in Wiltshire.

We don't catch a lot of finches on CES but today we caught a Linnet, a Chaffinch and 2 Bullfinches. We heard and then saw a Cuckoo, such a fantastic sound and a joy to hear once more. The male Cettis Warbler was calling incessantly again but the first bird out of the net was an unringed Cettis Warbler that not only is a long overdue first for Simon but was a female with a early stage brood patch so this constitutes the first breeding attempt of this species for the site. Let's hope this is the start of the colonisation of the site and also the River Ray Parkway for this lovely little bird.

Cettis female1

I left Simon and Phil to finish the session off and they were joined by Jack who ringed a few and helped take the nets down. 39 new and 38 retraps totalled 77 birds of 15 species processed that is higher than the comparable session last year. MP, SW, PD, JN

Reed Warbler 5 (8), Sedge Warbler 9 (1), Blackcap 8 (4), Cettis Warbler 1 (1), Whitethroat 3, Lesser Whitethroat 1, Linnet 1, Chaffinch 1, Bullfinch 2, Blackbird 3 (4), Dunnock 0 (5), Robin 0 (2), Wren 2 (2), Long Tailed Tit 1 (6), Great Tit 1 (5)

The forecast was for potentially quite breezy conditions by mid-morning with a cold start but the chance to catch some more quality migrants was too good to pass up.

The cold morning turned into a -2°c start with a considerable frost so that some of the first nets we put up had a bit of a frosty sheen to them but thankfully this didn't effect the catch and it soon warmed up. A few Grasshopper Warblers were reeling away early on with some putting more effort into it than others as the closest one gave a few seconds of half speed song which soon stopped once we went over to investigate and a Cuckoo was calling in the far distance. 

It soon became apparent that it was going to be a good warbler morning with lots of Blackcap and Willow Warbler around supported by a lot of Whitethroat that started moving once it had warmed up a bit. A pair of Redstart were knocking around the female of which we caught late on and we also added a Grasshopper Warbler to the totals right at the end. as well as ringing our first Garden Warblers of the year.

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The most interesting bird of the morning was a very pale and grey coloured Willow Warbler which looked good for a 'Northern' acredula type.

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A very productive morning with 82 new, 25 retraps. GD PD OF AB

Wren 1, Dunnock 1, Redstart 1, Grasshopper Warbler 1, Sedge Warbler 3, Lesser Whitethroat 1(1), Whitethroat 14(2), Garden Warbler 3(1), Blackcap 33(3), Chiffchaff 2(4), Willow Warbler13(8), Goldcrest (2), Long Tailed Tit 1(1), Chaffinch 2, Goldfinch 3, Linnet 2, Bullfinch 1(1), Yellowhammer (1)

With spring now with us and the migration season under way we have had a few visits to our Salisbury Plain site in the last couple of weeks to catch some of the early migrants and get the site set up ready for CES.

The first couple of visits were fairly quiet but we managed to catch reasonable numbers of Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap including a good number of retraps going back as far as 2013 and even a retrap Goldcrest from 2014. We’ve also had a control Blackcap that we believe may have been ringed further west at Portishead based on the ring number from a previous control from this area.

A late Redwing was a good catch on our first visit, the first one we have caught at this site in spring and it appears that Redstart has had a good winter as we have seen them on all our visits including 4 (1 caught) today. One has been holding territory at the only large trees on the site where we always seem to get them and where we believe they have bred in the past. Hopefully they will use one of the nestboxes we now have up on the trees before the local Tit’s take advantage.

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Early Lesser Whitethroat’s have also been a feature each visit this spring including 3 today but all of them have done a grand tour of the nets rides without getting caught which is a shame as we never seem to catch as many as we used to or should do at this site.

Redstart, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat all made their 2016 debut on the ringing totals today along with 2 of 4 Grasshopper Warbler  that were all singing away. All that’s missing for the full warbler set are the above mentioned Lesser Whitethroat’s and Garden Warbler that we’ve neither seen or heard so far.

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So far resident birds seem to be well down in number with very few finches caught and virtually nothing from Robin, Blackbird and Song Thrush.

One very sad note this year is the total absence of Nightingale’s meaning that this small isolated population right at the edge of their current range in now gone for good. After the very wet 2012 breeding season when all breeding attempts failed was the cold spring of 2013 when no females arrived onsite as they had all stayed to breed in France in the warmer conditions. This meant that the number of returning males on 2014 was down to 3 from 10. Only one of these males attracted a female and that breeding attempt failed just after the young fledged and so were probably predated by badgers. Last year it was down to 2 males and one female and again the only breeding attempt was predated and again probably by badgers. Nightingale therefore joins Turtle Dove in the extinct from this site list. GD, PD. OF, AB

Totals so far, 158 new, 59 retraps: Wren 7(3), Dunnock 5(11), Robin 1(5), Redstart, Blackbird 1(1), SongThrush 1(2), Redwing 1, Grasshopper Warbler 2, Sedge Warbler 2, Reed Warbler 1, Whitethroat 1, Blackcap 88(5), Chiffchaff 7(17), Willow Warbler 18(5), Goldcrest 3(1), Long Tailed Tit 2(4), Blue Tit 2, Great Tit 2(2), Linnet 3, Bullfinch 7(3), Yellowhammer 3

Though I get a bit sad to see the wintering flocks break up I have been looking forward to April to start the Tree Sparrow 'Retrap Adults for Survival Project' (RAS) for the year. RAS  requires us to catch a certain number of adults of a certain species during the breeding season which is counted as between April to the end of August so that survival rates can be calculated. Tree Sparrows are one of the most challenging species to catch but we found that the data we collected last summer was of such high quality that the effort was well worth the while.

I have left ringing this site for a month so that it was primed for the first session in April but it can only be ringed when the weather is flat calm so there are no guarantees that we can ring it. On my way to the site it was raining but with the forecast set to improve, I carried on and as I arrived on site the rain stopped and the wind calmed down to nothing.

The first round was brilliant as I took a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler out and then I saw the bright pink legs that can only mean one warbler - Grasshopper! I knew immediately that this was a notable record because I normally hear my first ones in mid April. It turned out that is was in fact the earliest ever Grasshopper Warbler to be recorded in Wiltshire. It really was a strange place to catch such a fantastic bird. Grasshopper Warblers favour long grassy areas but this one was caught by a pile of tyres around a silage clamp but I guess that it was grounded by the rain that went through just before dawn.

There was a lovely flock of about 80 Corn Buntings and I did really well catching 5. Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows trickled in in decent numbers for the time of year and a Pied Wagtail was a nice surprise and despite the fact that they are ever present on site it was the first full grown one that I have ringed at the site since 2001!

Tree Sparrows are always interesting because the retraps tell us the story of how they move around the downs and todays retraps were all ringed as nestlings and included 4 from 3km west, 2 from 2km north and 1 from 12km away on the Marlborough Downs. Same site retraps included 2 from last year and 2 from 2014.

I was on my own today and it was quite nice to bimble around on my own but a group of birders came over to see me and we had a really nice chat and though they missed the Grasshopper Warbler they did get to see Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer close up. MP

 Tree Sparrow 9 (11), Corn Bunting 5, Yellowhammer 32 (6), Chaffinch 11, Linnet 2, Goldfinch 2, Chiffchaff 4, Willow Warbler 1, Grasshopper Warbler 1, Pied Wagtail 1, Wren 2, Blackbird 2, Robin 2

 

Gropper at B1

The team have been pushing me to try different methods, particularly with the number of lost days earlier in the winter. I have been regaling them with rose-tinted stories from yesteryear about whoosh netting and they have all been badgering me to dust off my whoosh net. A whoosh net is a large net that is fired using powerful bungee elastics under tension but not a lot of ringers have whoosh nets these days.

I have found that just putting a whoosh net out and putting a pile of grain there does not work because our farmland birds are just too cautious so I have set up dummy poles and elastics and keeping the areas fed for a few weeks and with today forecast for being too windy for mist netting today was the day. We met up mid morning and after me having to go back home to get one of the elastics we had set a net where I have been watching decent numbers of Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers coming down. We sat back in the car and were treated to a lovely close quarter performance by a stoat. He disappeared and we were then able to sit back and wait for the birds. The addition of the net made the birds quite wary and the Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows thought better of it. The Linnets however were much more obliging and we took a catch, reset and then took another. 26 Linnets, 2 Chaffinches and a Corn Bunting were excellent reward for our efforts.

We then packed up and went round to Windmill Hill where I have seen over 50 birds coming down onto the seed in the dummy net area. Our net setting had already improved and we sat back to watch the birds but it soon became clear that they didn't like the net. We pulled the net on a small flock and caught 3 new and 3 retrap Yellowhammers but it was a poor effort compared with the huge number of birds present.

We ended the day on 32 new and 3 retraps which was very good for a day when we could not otherwise have ringed. We learnt some good lessons about how to improve the dummy net sets and also where to site our catch zones and the team loved the method so we will definitely be working on this method more in the future. MP, PW, SW, NW

 

Corn Bunt1

2016 groups totals so far....

  Full Grown Pulli Retrap Total     Full Grown Pulli Retrap Total
Sparrowhawk 1 0 0 1   Chiffchaff 32 0 5 37
Kestrel 2 0 0 2   Willow Warbler 11 0 2 13
Grey Partridge 6 0 0 6   Goldcrest 43 0 11 54
Water Rail 1 0 0 1   Long-tailed Tit 62 0 35 97
Moorhen 1 0 0 1   Marsh Tit 6 0 9 15
Golden Plover 2 0 0 2   Coal Tit 51 0 30 81
Jack Snipe 4 0 0 4   Blue Tit 387 0 253 640
Snipe 0 0 1 1   Great Tit 167 0 165 332
Woodcock 2 0 0 2   Nuthatch 5 0 8 13
Stock Dove 1 2 0 3   Treecreeper 6 0 4 10
Woodpigeon 4 0 2 6   Jay 7 0 0 7
Collared Dove 2 0 0 2   Magpie 1 0 0 1
Kingfisher 2 0 0 2   Rook 1 0 0 1
Green Woodpecker 1 0 0 1   Starling 4 0 0 4
Great Spotted Woodpecker 10 0 19 29   House Sparrow 36 0 2 38
Meadow Pipit 14 0 3 17   Tree Sparrow 87 0 76 163
Grey Wagtail 11 0 0 11   Chaffinch 514 0 62 576
Pied/White Wagtail 32 0 0 32   Brambling 23 0 1 24
Wren 59 0 13 72   Greenfinch 122 0 9 131
Dunnock 176 0 78 254   Goldfinch 42 0 14 56
Robin 104 0 47 151   Siskin 5 0 0 5
Redstart 1 0 0 1   Linnet 155 0 1 156
Blackbird 100 0 29 129   Common Redpoll 1 0 0 1
Fieldfare 3 0 0 3   Lesser Redpoll 118 0 199 317
Song Thrush 9 0 3 12   Bullfinch 24 0 18 42
Redwing 39 0 0 39   Yellowhammer 494 0 53 547
Cetti's Warbler 1 0 0 1   Reed Bunting 114 0 56 170
Grasshopper Warbler 1 0 0 1   Corn Bunting 8 0 1 9
Blackcap 12 0 1 13   Total: 3127 2 1210 4339
 
Today we ringed at the third of our Thames Valley sites for the second time in three weeks because there have been such large numbers of birds on site. I set up a good team with Paul W, Noah and his dad and I lured Graham out just in case we had large numbers of birds. We were also joined by Michelle for her first time out ringing in the UK.
 
The day dawned flat calm and beautifully sunny and the air was alive with bird song. It soon became clear that within the last few days the birds attention had been drawn towards the breeding season rather than feeding. The one thing with this site is that for some reason we continue to catch birds until after midday so we weren't too worried about the slow start. With a team of this size and experience a catch of 107 birds seemed slow but it did give us time to take Michelle through plenty of birds and on her first days ringing she ringed eleven birds including Reed Bunting as her first bird and Tree Sparrow as her second, this is how to properly start your Wiltshire bird ringing career.
 
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It was brilliant watching both Noah and Paul training Michelle as it shows them just how much they know and teaching others is a great way to learn more yourself. MP, GD, PW, NW, MC
 
Noah training Michelle
 
Yellowhammer 33 (4), Reed Bunting 9 (6), Tree Sparrow 1, Chaffinch 4 (1), Greenfinch 1, Bullfinch 0 (1), Linnet 1, Blackbird 2 (2), Song Thrush 0 (1), Robin 2 (1), Dunnock 11 (9), Wren 2 (1), Long Tailed Tit 1 (2), Blue Tit 1 (4), Great Tit 0 (4), Chiffchaff 1, Goldcrest 1, Woodpigeon 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.

Our mission is to encourage and pursue the study, recording and conservation of birds in Wiltshire

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