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We have been out dazzling a few times over the past month and we have found the Woodcock really quite difficult to approach. On the Salisbury Plain we are seeing up to 16 each time and we are seeing lots of Golden Plover. Our catch rate is very low but when we do catch something it is a pretty spectacular bird that cannot be caught by normal mist netting. We have ringed a couple of Woodcock and Golden Plover and a Fieldfare but we had some spectacular success with Grey Partridges and we have ringed six this year.
 
There are some challenges that we have yet to conquer in the form of Skylark and Snipe but I am sure they will come in time. MP
 
Grey Partridge
 
We have cancelled this ringing demonstration twice this winter due to the shocking weather but we saw an opportunity and at short notice Anna the volunteer coordinator at Action for the River Kennet did a really good job of promoting the demo and we were on. The ringing team came up trumps and we had a great turn out with Graham, Adam, Paul W, Jack and Biff. This shows how important the team feel that it is to engage with the public to educate them about birds.
 
ARK are making some great strides at Stonebridge to improve the habitat but the opportunities for mist netting are limited so we also set nets at Marlborough STW which is immediately adjacent. This gave us the opportunity to show the audience a wide variety of birds including some specialist birds of the site including Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail and Meadow Pipit. Surprise bird of the day was a Cettis Warbler that was well appreciated by the experienced birders in the crowd, though as usual the Long Tailed Tits stole the show.
 
Grey Wag 
 
A female Barn Owl gave us a lovely display but it became quite prolonged which whilst nice to see, supports what we are seeing elsewhere in that they are struggling to find voles to eat and so the owls have to spend more time hunting.
 
A small but very keen and knowledgeable audience gathered and we all had a great time, though it was bitterly cold. A bit later on we were joined by a couple of families and the kids got stuck in asking some great questions.
 
The attached photos are provided courtesy of ARK.
 
showing kids birds at ARK
 
We ended the morning with 100 birds ringed of 17 species and 5 retraps. MP, GD, AC, AM, JN
 
Cettis Warbler 1, Pied Wagtail 5, Grey Wagtail 3, Meadow Pipit 4, Goldcrest 15 (2), Chiffchaff 2, Coal Tit 2, Long Tailed Tit 11, Blue Tit 17 (1), Great Tit 6, Bullfinch 2, Chaffinch 2, Greenfinch 4, Blackbird 4, Dunnock 7 (1), Robin 7, Wren 8
 
With the weather flat calm and crisp I was able to get out for a little two hour session before work at Swindon STW which will always be my favourite site. At this time of year I operate two small feeding stations, they support really good numbers of Reed Buntings with the flock size being about 70. Two dog-leg net sets with short nets is all that is needed but I was still flat out and could easily have continued all morning.
 
This is high value ringing because we tailor a lot of our habitat management specifically for the needs of Reed Buntings. I ringed 12 today and retrapped 11. Retrap Reed Buntings are always really interesting, especially at a site where they show such winter site fidelity. I retrapped five from last winter, two from two years ago and one from three years ago, along with a control so it will be interesting to see where that has come from.
 
Other birds showing good longevity were a Dunnock and a Blue Tit both originally ringed in 2011.
 
Water Rails were very vocal in the reed beds and I need to make an effort to target them soon if we get another break in the weather.
 
This was a really worthwhile little session and 30 new and 42 retraps in two hours was excellent. MP
 
Reed Bunting 12 (11), Great Tit 5 (6), Blue Tit 4 (9), Wren 4 (1), Blackbird 3 (3), Robin 1 (6), Dunnock 1 (6)
 
With Saturday being yet another day this winter where the rain was too strong to allow safe ringing we were very glad to be out on Sunday, the forecast was for it to be a bit breezy so we chose a sheltered site in the Thames Valley. The sadness with this is that we have fantastic farmland sites with good flocks of birds and we just cannot get out to them, then it got worse when Sunday dawned bright with zero wind! In one way it turned out to be lucky as for one reason and another I was only joined by Noah and his dad the superscribe.
 
We only put up 6 nets around the two feeding stations and sited our ringing base close by to be able to keep on top of things. We needn't have worried as we were not too rushed and we were able to do some great one to one training especially on extraction. The Yellowhammer numbers seem to be low at this site this year but I think that is more down to the game keeper feeding around the farm so the birds have too much choice, thus we only ringed 19 this morning. Tree Sparrows still seem to be holding on in a good winter flock and we ringed another 7 and retrapped one that we ringed as a nestling 3km away last July.
 
Reed Buntings often start gathering together this late in the winter probably as food becomes scarce and we ringed 6 today.
 
Highlight of the day was a Chaffinch wearing a Belgian ring, we have ringed well in excess of 6000 Chaffinches as part of our farmland bird monitoring work and this is only the second foreign ringed Chaffinch that we have controlled, with the other being a French ringed bird in 2004 on the Pewsey Downs.
 
92 new and 24 retraps made for a pretty decent day. MP, NW
 
Yellowhammer 19 (1), Chaffinch 11 (1), Reed Bunting 6, Tree Sparrow 7 (1), House Sparrow 4, Bullfinch 2 (2), Greenfinch 5, Blue Tit 13 (9), Great Tit 9 (1), Long Tailed Tit 2, Robin 2 (4), Dunnock 7 (2), Wren 1, Blackbird 3 (3) ,Redwing 1
 
Reebu 5M
 
I feed about 15 sites in the winter as we try to increase the Tree Sparrow population and when we ring at these sites our aim is to retrap Tree Sparrows to see how they disperse across the landscape. This site consists of an isolated hedgerow in a wild and windswept landscape and a couple of superb strips of conservation cover. The feeders in the hedgerow have been emptying fast and I have seen over 100 Tree Sparrows there and so I fancied our chances of a good catch of them. To this end we put a strong team together including Graham and Phil and it is great to be joined by these experienced chaps to help the others along and makes my job of training a lot easier.
 
A net alongside one of the strips of conservation cover failed to produce the hoped-for Skylark but did turn up a first year male Sparrowhawk.
 
Sprawk 5M
 
I have been feeding a small area with rape seed and the flock of Linnets was at least 250 strong but we only managed to catch 13 which though good is such a tiny proportion of the flock, though it was still very helpful for the team to work through the ageing and sexing of them.
 
Linnet
 
Yellowhammers came in thick and fast but the Tree Sparrows were notable by their relative absence. The nets went quiet quite quickly and it soon became obvious that this site has so much natural food that the birds were not desperate for our feed. We estimated the Yellowhammers to number about 700 but there could easily have been more. We retrapped two Yellowhammers, one from last winter and one from two winters ago. Star bird of the day was a retrap Tree Sparrow that was ringed as a nestling in May 2015 in a gamekeepers garden 5km away.
 
We ended up ringing 112 new and processing 9 retraps which is a bit below average for this site. Biff and I then went to a couple of other sites and fed them and also checked out a new site where there were a few Tree Sparrows. MP, GD, PD, PW, AM
 
Sparrowhawk 1, Yellowhammer 68 (2), Chaffinch 17 (1), Linnet 13, Tree Sparrow 1 (3), Reed Bunting 1, Blackbird 5 (2), Dunnock 2 (1), Great Tit 2, Blue Tit 1, Wren 1
 
With a sudden change in the weather we at last managed to get to one of my favourite sites, Marlborough STW. I deliberately haven't put feeders up at the site to keep thhe numbers of birds lower. We put up a lovely set of nets around the site, mostly between the filter beds and also two between bushes. We were treated to a constant stream of Chiffchaffs and we ringed 14 in total which is our highest winter day total ever for any site. All of the Chiffchaffs looked like the standard European Colybita race apart from one that had some khaki but in my view any differences are purely clinal. Chiffchaffs are quite interesting to age and the photo of the wing below shows some of the ageing criteria.
 
Chiff wing age 5a
 
I really like this site because we ring birds here that we otherwise wouldn't catch like wagtails and pipits and also the birds tend to show good site fidelity allowing us to learn more about ageing these species and also how they use the site and we get to ring in a heated building with fresh hot drinks constantly available. This is far and away our best site for Grey Wagtails and during the morning we ringed six of them. For some ringers any wagtail would be a star bird of the morning but we also ringed six Pied Wagtails and three White Wagtails, these are low numbers for the site but that is probably because the weather has been so mild.
 
Grey Wag a
 
The site is normally really good for Meadow Pipits but again numbers were low but a few do show winter site fidelity and we retrapped two that are two years old and another that is three years old. Most Meadow Pipits are ringed as migrants pouring through the country and so ringers rarely get the chance to handle adults year to year.
 
mipit ad a
 
It was great to see Biff and Paul putting nets up on their own, showing how they are improving their skills. It was also great to see the 200 gorse bushes that Simon, Biff and I planted in November looking very perky. These were bought by Thames Water and we hope that they will help tiny insectivorous birds like Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs survive the winters. MP, SW, PW, AM
 
Chiffchaff 14, Goldcrest 10 (1), Meadow Pipit 10 (3), Grey Wagtail 6, Pied Wagtail 6, White Wagtail 3, Marsh Tit 1, Blue Tit 7 (1), Great Tit 1, Long Tailed Tit 4 (1), Wren 8 (1), Blackbird 1, Dunnock 1,, Robin 4

 

After another couple of weeks of atrocious weather we were finally able to get out again; the weather was still forecast for breezy but within the dense woodland we knew we would be very sheltered and so it proved. Last year we took a mammoth catch here and so this year I lined up a good team, drafting in Graham to ensure that not only could we cope with the numbers but that we had two trainers to help the others. We set two wader nets before dawn and they came up trumps with a Woodcock, this was a new bird for Biff and now we only have one of our team who hasn't ringed a Woodcock which is pretty amazing. We had six nets set and with all nets up before dawn we were able to process a lot of birds with no pressure whatsoever. We have been scattering grain on the ground and that proved well worthwhile as finches dominated the day with a superb catch of 44 Chaffinches and 11 Bramblings. Catching this number of Bramblings was exciting, particularly so for Noah and Biff. Biff had earned the privilege to have a good day because he has done a lot of work parties on the non ringing days. 14 Redpoll were our largest catch of them for a year and prompted some very interesting conversations about the redpoll complex, particularly helped by Grahams phenomenal experience in Norway with our old pal Nige.
 
Noahs dad, Tim once again did an amazing job as scribe and though we have had some excellent scribes over the years I think that he is just about the best we have had, certainly no-one has been better. This was Anna's last day for a while as she is soon to have a baby and I reckon it is remarkable that she was out ringing at all, her last bird ringed before her break was a Brambling.
 
Woodcock1
 
The usual cast of woodland birds kept us well occupied all morning though sadly we did not catch any Willow Tits. We processed 27 retraps with the oldest bird being a three year old Blue Tit. MP, GD, AF, PW, AM, NW, TW
 
Woodcock 1, Chaffinch 44 (2), Brambling 11, Lesser Redpoll 14, Nuthatch 4 (2), Treecreeper 2, Goldcrest 3, Coal Tit 26 (7), Blue Tit 65 (7), Great Tit 18 (4), Marsh Tit 1 (1), Blackbird 4, Dunnock 1 (2), Robin 13 (2), Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
 
Bramb male
 
James and I had another go at dazzling but the weather conditions were really against us. There was no moon so that helped but all of the recent rain has turned the fields into a quagmire and the birds were alerted to our approach well in advance and though we saw 16 Woodcock we didn't get anywhere near them. We did enjoy the spectacle of seeing between 50-60 Snipe feeding around a particularly wet area and we may try for them on another night if we get the chance. We got very close to a Golden Plover but just couldn't get close enough so we gave up and went back to the car. Just as we were about to get in the car I had one last check and saw a bird so we went for it and it turned out to be a Golden Plover and we made a very slow, careful approach to be as silent as possible and James did a terrific job at catching it at long range. This was a really special moment for me because I have previously ringed American Golden Plover and Pacific Golden Plover and so now I have completed the worldwide Golden Plover set and it was also the first Golden Plover to be ringed in Wiltshire. We will catch and ring more in the future but it was great to get the first one. MP, JW
 
Golden Plover2

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