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I have been ringing at the Firs nature reserve ever since I got my C-permit just over 4 years ago and it has always been a bit hit and miss, rarely producing large quantities of birds. The lowest point was setting 8 nets and catching two birds in three hours (both Blue Tits, one I could ring, the other a retrap). However, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust have been slowly developing the site over those years: opening a glade through the middle of the wood, to encourage butterflies, and adding two ponds (the ponds were my suggestion) back in 2013. I was joined for the session by Ellie Jones and Andrew Bray.

Slowly the nature of the site is beginning to change and the catches are improving in number and variety.  Earlier this year, as readers of the blog will know, we caught two Spotted Flycatchers in the wood - a first for any of my sites in the Braydon Forest. Today we caught our first Lesser Redpoll in this wood, in a catch of 59 birds. We catch Lesser Redpoll everywhere else in the Braydon Forest, it is good to know that they are also coming into the Firs now.

2016 11 23lesre

The catch also included two new Marsh Tits, making this the best year for this species in the Braydon Forest since I started my project in autumn 2012. Having Ellie, who is responsible for the Trust reserves in the north of the county, as a trainee is very helpful, as it gives me the chance to get my ten penn'orth in on the Trust's plans for my ringing sites.   Not that I ever have to worry, their plans are usually spot on.  For example, further plans by the Trust to thin parts of the wood, and replant with better, Marsh Tit friendly, under-storey trees, should help the continued development of the woodland and support for the Marsh Tits.

2016 11 23marti

The list for the day was Nuthatch 2(2); Blue Tit 16(2); Great Tit 10(8); Coal Tit 1(6); Marsh Tit 2; Robin (2); Redwing 1; Blackbird 5; Lesser Redpoll 2. Totals: 39 ringed from eight species; 20 retrapped from five species, making 59 birds processed from nine species.  The oldest bird caught this morning was a Great Tit, ringed as an adult male in December 2012, on my first ever visit to the Firs, making the bird at least five years old. There was also a venerable Blue Tit, ringed as a second year bird in February 2013, making it over four years old. ST/EJ/AB


Taking advantage of a weather forecast which suggested a lull in the windy weather; Jonny, Charlie, Neil and I had a session at Blakehill Farm this morning. It was a heavy ground frost and flat calm until 11:00.  We had a line of 6 nets along the hedgerow of the perimeter track and four nets set between the bushes on the edge of the central plateau. The plateau nets caught the Reed Buntings; the hedgerow nets caught the Redwings and the tits.  Whilst setting the nets we were treated, for the second session running, to a Barn Owl hunting in the fields between the perimeter track and the industrial estate.

Although we set 3 net rides (each of 2 x 18m nets) along the perimeter fence, the vast majority of the catch was in the furthest net ride, set between the one tree in the field the other side of the perimeter path from the hedgerow opposite. It acted as a magnet for the Redwing, helped by the use of the Latvian lure, and gave us our largest ever catch of this species in a single session. The hedgerow also provided us with a lovely catch of nine Long-tailed Tits.  They have been pretty scarce in our catches so far this year, with few caught outside of the breeding season and nearly 100 fewer than caught in 2015.

The plateau edge never fails to provide some interesting birds. This time the field nets delivered an additional four Reed Buntings and our seventh Stonechat of the year. Prior to this year we had only caught one Stonechat, in 2015. Blakehill is the only site I have that is likely to produce them  We are also seeing encouraging signs with Reed Buntings: from two caught in 2014, to 26 in 2015 and, so far, 52 in 2016.  This increase has coincided with the Wildlife Trust's decision to leave the plateau unmown for the last two years, with the increase in seeds available for winter feeding.  As you can tell from the picture below, of a female Reed Bunting with her plumage fluffed up, it was cold. 

 2016 11 19reebu

The list for the day was: Great Tit 1(1); Long-tailed Tit 9; Wren (1); Stonechat 1; Robin 1(2); Song Thrush 2; Redwing 39; Blackbird 3; Greenfinch 1; Reed Bunting 4. Totals: 61 ringed from nine species; four retrapped from three species, making 65 birds processed from 10 species.

We decided to start taking down at 11:30, just as the weather turned, the wind got up and a degree of showery, squally rain drifted in and over the site.  Just time to take the final five Redwing out of the end nets before leaving site at 12:30. I have to make a special mention for Jonny. He had the misfortune to have his car skid off the road in the icy conditions. We couldn't get purchase to push it out of the ditch it was in so we left him shivering by the side of his car but, once the RAC pulled him out and checked the car was okay, he turned up on site to do his stint. That's dedication. ST/JC/CS/NS

With the postponement of yesterday's planned ringing demonstration because of the poor weather, we reconvened, for those who could make it, on Sunday morning.  Jonny and Annie were my help for the session, with Annie doing a great job as the scribe.  As the public were not due until 9:00, we started out at 7:30, knowing it would mean we were unlikely to catch roosting Redwing as they were likely to have dispersed before we opened the nets.  It didn't stop us setting a net for them though. We only set four nets in the main ride, with one large mesh net a distance away to see if we could catch any laggard Redwing. (We did: two of them.)

We were joined by half-a-dozen visitors, two young lads, Aaron and Leo who, with their mum Catherine, seem to attend all of our ringing demonstrations, kept up their record - this time announcing that they want to take up ringing.  Their enthusiasm is wonderful. If they are still interested in a couple of years, they will be welcome.

The catch had quite a few highlights for the visitors, three Nuthatch (one a retrap); two Redwing; five Lesser Redpoll and 12 Chaffinch (three retraps) were the main ones.  Chaffinch have been few and far between in the wood over the last few years, and this was the largest catch since 13 in January 2013, i.e. nearly four years ago.  We did catch a thirteenth Chaffinch, but it was suffering with the Fringilla Papilloma Virus and so Jonny extracted and released it (and then used alcohol rub to sterilise his hands - with the number of Chaffinch in the catch we weren't going to risk and possibility of our playing a part in its transmission.  Two of the retrapped birds were ringed as full adults in February 2013, making them at least five-and-a-half years old.  Ironically, both were originally ringed on the same date and retrapped on the same date, but neither has been caught in the intervening period.  They weren't the oldest birds caught today, however. That was a Marsh Tit, only the second to be colour-ringed in the wood, ringed on my first independent visit to Ravensroost as an adult in October 2012. Mind, if it is going to set a longevity record it will need to survive another six years.  There was also a Great Tit ringed at that same session, retrapped today.

The list for the day was: Nuthatch 2(1); Blue Tit 7(12): Great Tit 12(10); Coal Tit 2(5); Marsh Tit (2); Dunnock (1); Robin (1); Redwing 2; Goldcrest 1; Chaffinch 9(3); Lesser Redpoll 5. Totals: 40 birds ringed from eight species; 35 retrapped from eight species, totalling 75 birds processed from 11 species.

2016 11 13nutha  ST/JC/AH

The first genuinely cold session of the winter (I know, it is still technically autumn) was quiet, but that was a good thing as I was joined by Neil, Charlie and a welcome back to Annie Hatt.  Charlie is extracting well, but Annie and Neil need a few sessions to reaquaint themselves with handling birds before they start extracting again. It gave me the chance to go through the methods with Annie and Neil, to set them up for next time, whilst Charlie got on with developing his skills.

The list for the session was: Blue Tit 3(1); Great Tit 1; Coal Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 5(8); Wren 2; Robin 2; Redwing 1; Goldcrest 5(2); Lesser Redpoll 2.  Totals: 23 birds ringed from nine species; 11 retrapped from 3 species, making 34 birds processed from nine species.

The star birds were our first two Lesser Redpoll of the winter. One was a lovely juvenile male:

 2016 11 05Lesre  ST/CS/AH/NS

It has been quite a week. After the Goldfinch fest in my garden on Tuesday, followed by the awesome Yellow-browed Warbler on Wednesday, I was hoping that we might have another good experience at Blakehill Farm today. The team comprised Jonny Cooper and, proudly clutching his new C-permit, Andrew Bray (congratulations, well deserved).  Because the weather forecast had changed from when I first proposed the visit on Monday, with the wind forecast to be much stronger than originally, I had contemplated changing the venue. Fortunately, I decided that, with the wind coming from the west, the hedgerow would act as a windbreak, which it did quite admirably.

We set two nets on the edge of the plateau, gambling on the initial absence of cattle staying that way. Then we set four nets along the leeward side of the hedgerow, on the perimeter track. Whilst we were putting these nets up, we had excellent views of a hunting Barn Owl, as it flew along the tree line on the edge of the reserve about 100m away from us.  It was the first of several good sightings of birds of prey we had during the day: Kestrel being mobbed by Corvids as it flew across the plateau; Sparrowhawk bouncing out of our net and then it, or another, seen later finding a thermal and spiralling up into the sky, whilst a Carrion Crow tried to get above it.  It was a fine day for birding, let alone ringing.

In the meantime, we were regularly catching birds.  A decent range of species and a good number of birds.  Our first round delivered up two Stonechats from the plateau, and our third round delivered another from the same net.  Previously my team had only caught a single Stonechat, also at Blakehill Farm. The third bird was a stunning adult male:

 2015 10 28Stoch

The run of Reed Buntings caught at the site continued, with three new birds and four retraps. However, three of the four retraps were not birds of this parish, sporting a ring series that indicated they came from the same location, just not Blakehill Farm. I suspect they will have come from CWP but it will be good to find out.  Along with these farmland birds, we had a reasonable catch of Meadow Pipits, but probably only one percent of what was flying around the plateau. The only thing missing were the Linnets. We have seen good numbers on the site, but not today, and they are almost totally missing from our catches at Blakehill this year. There was a decent catch of Redwing, and quite a few flying around.  We also saw, but did not manage to catch, a couple of small flocks of Fieldfare.  

Amongst the other memorable birds caught were a pair of Magpies. Personally, I love these birds and hate the way they are maligned for behaving naturally (I know people, who should know a lot better, who think they have the right to destroy their nests) and it is always a pleasure to catch them, especially if you can get someone else to extract and process them!  They do have sharp claws and beaks but are beautiful birds:

 2016 10 28Magpi

Whilst Andrew and Jonny were extracting the Magpies, I was extracting the first Greenfinches caught on the site: three of them.  Jonny then came back with his first ever Starling. I had caught one before, in the garden of Purley farmhouse next door to the site, but it was the first for Blakehill proper.  In the next round I extracted another two. So, that is three new species ringed on the site in the last two sessions.  It really was a varied and interesting day and catch. Ellie, in her work role, arrived at about 11:00 to remind the others that she was with me when we caught the Yellow-browed Warbler. They took it in the right way - grown men shouldn't cry without a very good reason.  

The list for the session was: Magpie 2; Blue Tit 1; Meadow Pipit 8; Wren 4; Stonechat 3; Robin 2; Redwing 13; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 3; Chaffinch 1; Greenfinch 3; Starling 3; Reed Bunting 3(4).  Totals: 48 ringed from 13 species; four retrapped from one species, making 52 birds processed from 13 species. As the number of birds died off significantly after 11:00, we took down and were off site by about 12:30.  It was a fine end to an excellent week's bird ringing. ST/JC/AB

*Update*: John Wells kindly confirmed that the three controlled Reed Buntings were originally ringed at Waterhay in 2015.  Jonny and I had a short session back at Blakehill today (Wednesday, 2nd November) and added the following to the list: Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Meadow Pipit 5; Stonechat 1(2); Robin 1(1); Redwing 8; Song Thrush (1); Reed Bunting 5. Totals: 22 ringed from seven species; five retrapped from four species, making 27 processed from nine species. ST 

A brilliant morning at Lower Moor Farm, crowned by ringing my first Yellow-browed Warbler. Everybody knows that the numbers of them have been very high this autumn - but that is in coastal regions: there haven't been anything like as many records inland. With the easterly winds that have been blowing on and off for the last few weeks I had been hopeful that one might turn up. Jonny Cooper, one of my ringing trainees, saw one at Morgan's Hill on the 12th October but, despite using lures to try and attract one in, we hadn't seen hide nor feather of them at any of my ringing sites.

This morning's session was just myself and Ellie Jones (it is so helpful having the reserve manager as one of your ringing trainees), and we decided to focus our efforts on the wildlife refuge area and try out some different net positions from our standard CES positions. We did erect two of the usual rides and three new net rides.  Immediately upon completing the net set, we noticed that there were four birds in one of the usual net rides.  As I got to the ride I noticed what looked like a Chiffchaff: and then I saw the wing bars.  I couldn't believe it: Yellow-browed Warbler in the net, no lure, no expectations and a stunning looking bird.

2016 10 26yebwa12016 10 26yebwa2

If that wasn't enough, we had a nicely productive morning and did a couple of impromptu ringing demonstrations to families visiting the reserve. Ellie taught the children how to identify the sex of Goldcrests, and then got them to sex the birds for us. They were very good.  Hopefully she has sown a seed of interest for the future. 

The list for the day was: Treecreeper (2); Blue Tit 5(3); Great Tit 2; Long-tailed Tit 9(7); Wren 1; Dunnock (1); Robin 1(1); Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 3; Yellow-browed Warbler 1; Goldcrest 7(2); Goldfinch 1; Bullfinch (1). Totals: 31 ringed from 10 species; 17 retrapped from 7 species, making 48 processed from 13 species. Unfortunately, the wind got up at about 11:00 and so we had to curtail the session a bit earlier than I had planned. Ellie had to leave for a meeting (the inconvenience of having a job) just as we finished taking down the main net rides. I had just one net left to take down (along the lake-side in the picnic area) where, as is par for the course when you think you have finished for the day, there were 10 Long-tailed Tits and one Blue Tit in the top shelf of the net. Still, with the dearth of all species of Tit caught this year so far, I am not really complaining. ST/EJ

Finding myself at a loose end Tuesday afternoon, due to a problematic software upgrade at my part-time bookkeeping job, I opened the nets in the back garden, hoping I might catch a few Goldfinches, coming in for the sunflower hearts.  Pretty quickly I caught a Dunnock. Fifteen minutes later it was a Blue Tit, then 15 minutes after that, the first Goldfinch - and then they started coming: five, then six, then 14. In the space of four hours my little garden delivered up one new and one retrapped Blue Tit; one new Dunnock, one new Greenfinch, one retrapped Collared Dove and 43 new and 2 retrapped Goldfinches. 50 birds in my back garden, lovely.  ST

The team had a good little session at Ravensroost Woods on Saturday. I gave them a lie-in: meeting at 7:00, so I had a good size team turn up: Ellie, Jonny, Charlie and his dad, Neil.  We caught a reasonable number for a woodland with no winter feeding stations set up yet: 33 new and 20 retrapped birds. During the morning we were joined by a few families walking through. I was asked the perennial question: "Do you catch many of them again?"  The usual argument against ringing is that the recovery rate is so low that all we are doing is trapping birds and letting them go again. This is a massive misunderstanding of the reality. In the case of my woodland sites, the recapture rate is better than 30% and, as in this case, sometimes much higher.  Even on sites with high migrant throughput recovery rates are better than 10%. When you realise that natural mortality rates for first year birds in Passerines is 70% to 80%, and for adults it is 30% to 40% recovery rates in woodlands are surprisingly high.  Taking all of my sites together, recaptures make up 26% of my 2016 catch (this will be diluted as we catch more winter visitors over the next two months); 21% in 2015 and 23% in 2014. Logically, one would expect the proportion to decrease as more new birds are ringed each year and survive.

The list for the day was: Jay 1; Treecreeper 1(1); Blue Tit 3(2); Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 1(1); Wren 1(4); Dunnock 1(1); Robin 2(5); Redwing 3; Blackbird (1); Goldcrest 16(5); Bullfinch 1. Totals: 33 birds ringed from 11 species; 20 retrapped from 8 species, making 53 birds processed from 12 species.

Ellie got the opportunity to process her first Jay, always a valuable lesson - they have sharp claws and strong, sharp beaks and need careful handling. She did it well, with no injury.

 2016 10 22Jay

One of the retrapped Wrens was originally ringed as an adult in May 2013. By my reckoning that means that this small bird has survived since fledging in, at least, 2011.  A five-and-a-half year-old bird, weighing less than 9g on each occasion it has been caught.  The longest lived Wren, from ringing data, is 7 years 3 months and 6 days, so it has a while to go yet before becoming a record breaker.

Whilst we were processing the birds we couldn't help but notice several large flocks of small finches flying around the treetops.  We never got a good view: I never had my binoculars to hand, Jonny did but they were always in silhouette. Having caught a couple of newly fledged Lesser Redpoll in the meadow in the autumn, we assumed that is what they were but Robin Griffiths tells me that there has been sightings of a couple of flocks of Siskin flying around the wood this autumn. That is pretty unusual for Ravensroost - we get the odd one in February / March time.  I will be putting a couple of nyger seed feeders up to see if we can attract them down in time for our ringing demonstration on the 12th November. ST/JC/EJ/CS/NS  

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