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The West Wilts Ringing Group is actively involved in a large number of local projects: constant effort sites at Cowleaze Wood and Lower Moor Farm; the Braydon Forest Living Landscapes and Marsh Tit projects and the Ravensroost coppice project are all long-term projects focused entirely on our activities in Wiltshire. On top of that, we probably have one of the heaviest schedules of organised ringing demonstrations and social engagement programmes of any ringing group in the country.

Outside of that, however, we are also pretty active on other projects with other organisations. Ian Grier and Andy Palmer are long-term collaborators with the RSPB on the Wessex Stone Curlew project.  Ian has been training RSPB staff (and Andy) on how to ring Stone Curlew chicks for three years now. In the 2016 summer season, as well as the Stone Curlew ringed by the RSPB staff, Andy ringed a further 10 chicks. 

Jonny Cooper has been very busy this year. The year started with him working with the Widlfowl and Wetlands Trust to ring and radio track a wide variety of birds using the Newport Wetlands. I also got involved in this project and we had a great time ringing a number of bird species that we would not normally have expected to get close to.  Further to that, Jonny spent time with the WWT at Slimbridge, Martin Mere, Caerlaverock and on Lake Windermere, doing a wide range of ringing and getting experience with a number of different catching techniques, including cannon netting and whoosh netting. In addition, it would be wrong not to mention his trip to Iceland and his long weekend at Spurn Point, immediately prior to my elevating him to his C-permit. 

Although, unusually, I didn't get out with the Wash Wader Group or the North Thames Gull Group in 2016, Jonny and I have already started 2017 with a trip to Pitsea with the NTGG, and we have another two sessions lined up with them this Spring.  So our additional birds for 2016 were as follows:

  Retraps Ringed Pulli
Fulmar   3 1
Shag     22
Greylag Goose   21  
Canada Goose 2 25  
Shelduck   18  
Wigeon   4  
Teal   3  
Mallard   4  
Pintail 1 2  
Coot   2  
Oystercatcher   1  
Stone-curlew     10
Ringed Plover   5 5
Knot   1  
Dunlin   5  
Snipe 1 1  
Black-headed Gull   1 11
Kittiwake 5 12 139
Common Tern   1  
Arctic Tern   8 33
Black Guillemot     9
Puffin 3 1 3
Totals 12 118 233



A quieter year than last year for various reasons but, it would seem, a poor breeding season for many of our commoner birds.  For example, Blue Tit ringed was down by 103 birds on last year: an 18% reduction. That reduction was almost entirely down to there being fewer young fledged this year. The ratio of adult to young in every other year recorded has been 40:60. This year the proportions were reversed.

Despite it being a quieter year there were quite a few highlights. Without doubt, the star bird was the Yellow-browed Warbler, only the second caught in Wiltshire. The previous one being caught in 2005. There were hundreds of them all around the coast but very few came inland, and there were very few sightings in Wiltshire.  Also, Spotted Flycatcher were caught for the first time in the Braydon Forest: two in the Firs and one in Red Lodge in the autumn.  All three birds were juveniles and, given that at least one brood was rescued and reared at the Oak & Furrows Wildlife Centre at Blakehill Farm, we can be pretty confident that they are breeding in the area.  Almost as exciting was catching two juvenile Lesser Redpoll at the meadow pond in the Ravensroost complex. These were newly fledged birds, indicating that they, also, might well be breeding within the Forest.

We had a good year for Kingfisher at Lower Moor, with five juveniles ringed and three other individuals recaptured, including the first one we ringed at Lower Moor, in August 2014 and a bird that was originally ringed at Waterhay and dispersed westwards to end up at Lower Moor.

  Full grown Pulli Recoveries   Total
Kestrel 1 0 0 1
Woodpigeon 4 0 0 4
Collared Dove 2 0 1 3
Tawny Owl 1 0 1 2
Kingfisher 5 0 3 8
Green Woodpecker 2 0 0 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker 10 0 1 11
Swallow 43 7 0 50
House Martin 16 0 0 16
Meadow Pipit 15 0 0 15
Grey Wagtail 2 0 0 2
Pied/White Wagtail 1 0 0 1
Wren 186 0 86 272
Dunnock 96 0 66 162
Robin 253 0 136 389
Redstart 1 0 0 1
Whinchat 2 0 0 2
Stonechat 6 0 2 8
Blackbird 146 0 64 210
Song Thrush 55 0 27 82
Redwing 132 0 0 132
Mistle Thrush 1 0 1 2
Cetti's Warbler 2 0 4 6
Sedge Warbler 8 0 0 8
Reed Warbler 27 0 3 30
Lesser Whitethroat 20 0 3 23
Whitethroat 29 0 2 31
Garden Warbler 39 0 15 54
Blackcap 208 0 78 286
Yellow-browed Warbler 1 0 0 1
Chiffchaff 292 0 82 374
Willow Warbler 75 0 13 88
Goldcrest 133 0 27 160
Firecrest 0 0 1 1
Spotted Flycatcher 3 0 0 3
Long-tailed Tit 149 0 89 238
Marsh Tit 22 0 29 51
Coal Tit 69 0 52 121
Blue Tit 454 0 173 627
Great Tit 244 0 134 378
Nuthatch 28 0 7 35
Treecreeper 36 0 23 59
Jay 2 0 0 2
Magpie 3 0 0 3
Starling 9 0 0 9
House Sparrow 21 0 0 21
Chaffinch 45 0 5 50
Greenfinch 18 0 2 20
Goldfinch 148 0 11 159
Siskin 25 0 2 27
Linnet 39 0 0 39
Lesser Redpoll 37 0 3 40
Redpoll (Common/Lesser) 2 0 0 2
Bullfinch 70 0 28 98
Yellowhammer 22 0 0 22
Reed Bunting 58 0 6 64
Total: 3318 7 1180 4505

Group highlights have included both Andrew Bray and Jonny Cooper being awarded their C-permits. During the year the group carried out a number of ringing demonstrations, notably for the Wildlife Trusts' Trainees Residential Course at Langford Lakes in January (trainees from Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Dorset); the Help4Heroes Families' Day and the Nationwide Building Society Families's Day, both in March, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Watch Group in November plus nine sessions at Tedworth House and our usual sessions at Ravensroost Woods and Ravensroost Meadows.  I also became involved in the work of the Wildlife Trust's Well Being Team. You can read about what the Well Being Team does on the Wildlife Trust's web-site: it is a very worthwhile social enterprise, for which the Trust should be applauded. We know that the people who have attended the talks and demonstrations have thoroughly enjoyed them (and I have recruited a ringing trainee from one of the events).  Mike and Rob have already kicked off 2017 by running the demonstration for the Wildlife Trusts' Trainees at Langford Lakes again this January, which has generated another youngster interested in becoming a ringer.  We look forward to an exciting and interesting 2017 (when it stops raining). ST and the rest of the WWRG

We had planned on ringing at Ravensroost this morning but, as Ellie informed me that there was going to be a large work party there today, she thought we might do a session at Blakehill instead. I thought that we would have a go for Snipe and Redwing, as there are plenty of both around. Having had a chat with a few other ringers about the best way to catch Snipe, we set a few nets around the ponds close to the Whitworth Centre. Close to the marshy edges of the pond, close to grassy tussocks, as advised by those who catch them regularly.  However, we made one mistake. The weather forecast had been for the weather not to freeze and for the freezing fog to have moved on. So Tuesday evening found Jonny and myself setting nets at dusk, furling them, ready to open them before dawn today. We saw a couple of Snipe fly off as we approached the ponds: boding well for the morrow, we hoped.  Whilst setting the Redwing nets, I was lucky enough to get great views of a dog Fox. It was trotting around the field, barking quite regularly, He wandered off around the ponds for a while before coming back into the field. He eventually noticed me working and sat and watched me work for few minutes before going on his way. Clearly unconcerned at my presence.

Anyway, our mistake was believing the forecast. Jonny and myself arrived on site at 6:30, ready to open the nets, only to find them frozen together. It took an hour or so to open them but then the fog froze those elements that were not already rimed with frost.  Despite those nets being incredibly visible, we did manage to catch a couple of Blackbirds and three Redwing that were clearly not looking where they were going. It was a shame we caught so few Redwing: there were good sized flocks moving around but they were clearly seeing the nets. Absolutely no sign of Snipe.

Ellie joined us at 7:30 and we set a few more nets, along the hedgerow / tree-line opposite the Whitworth Centre. These also became rimed quite quickly: but not before we caught our first Stonechat of the year  After 11:30, the fog lifted, the nets thawed and dried out quite quickly and we caught a few more birds. The list was: Blue Tit 1; Stonechat 1; Robin 3; Redwing 3; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 1; Bullfinch 5. Only 16 birds from seven species but an interesting catch nonetheless.

We took advantage of the proximity of the Whitworth Centre to set up our ringing station indoors, out of the cold and fog. We shared the building with the over-50's Wellbeing Group, who were fascinated with what we were doing and welcomed the opportunity to get a close up look at the birds. When they were offered the chance to be taught how to safely hold a bird and release it, we think (know) it really made their day.  They were busy making rustic Wellington boot racks, so that you can hang up your wellies and not tread mud all over the place.  I used it. Only one downside: the boot goes on upside down, so your hands get dirty.

Ironically, as I was walking across the field opposite the Whitworth Centre to start taking down the nets, I put up a Snipe: which flew off and narrowly missed the edge of the net I was neading towards. We will persevere.  ST/JC/EJ

Following on from my talk about Tedworth House at the WOS indoor meeting last Tuesday, I did my first session of the year there this morning.  I mentioned as part of my talk that, despite the small catches (average 13.6 birds per session), this small woodland punches above its weight in the variety of the catch compared to some much larger woodlands.  The Firs, Webb's Wood and Red Lodge have produced 24 species each; Somerford Common 27; Ravensroost, Lower Moor Farm and Blakehill Farm have produced 34 species and, until today, Tedworth had produced 30 species caught. As of this morning it has increased to 31 - and I do wish it had been 32.

Species number 31 was a Grey Wagtail. I have been trying to catch one of these beauties ever since I started ringing there in September 2013.  We have tried baiting the pond area with mealworms, which have been gratefully received, right up to the point when we set out the walk-in traps.  Today, one turned up at the frozen pond and managed to fly into my net:

 2017 01 18grewa

This is the first I have ringed for five years, ever since I last had the chance to ring at Marlborough Sewage Works, on the 15th January 2012.  It was a juvenile enduring its first winter.  I was able to share the experience with a few members of the Tedworth team, who were fascinated with the yellow colouration of the belly and under-tail coverts and wanted to know why it wasn't a Yellow Wagtail. Explanation duly given.

Species 32, the one that got away, was a Black Redstart. It has been hanging around the house for about a week now. Unfortunately, I only found out about it when I arrived on site, so had none of the necessary equipment to attempt a catch, so I consoled myself with a couple of glimpses of it as it patrolled the roof area.  The catch for the day was: Blue Tit 1(4); Great Tit 1(1); Coal Tit (3); Wren 1; Dunnock (1); Grey Wagtail 1; Robin (1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 4. Totals; nine birds ringed from six species; 10 retraps from five species, making 19 processed from nine species. ST

Every now and again it is refreshing to have a major change to your ringing routine.  Over the last couple of years I have had several trips out with the Wash Wader Group, a couple with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and several with the North Thames Gull Group. They all catch their birds primarily using cannon nets.  They probably should be called "mortar nets" as the net is propelled by four mortars.  Today, Jonny and I went on the 275 mile round trip to the Pitsea Landfill Site to work with the NTGG. We arrived at 7:30 and were on the site by 8:30, with the cannon nets ready to fire soon afterwards.  As you can see from the photograph below, the immediate landscape is pretty bleak, but it overlooks the Thames Estuary, which is somewhat nicer to look at

 2017 1 14PITSEA

The gulls have become habituated to following the heavy machinery that compacts the rubbish into the landfill and then staying around to feed on the newly compacted rubbish. A truck load of rubbish is emptied in front of the net and the compacting machine runs backwards and forwards over it, which piques the gulls' interest. It  then moves away and the gull settle down to pick through the rubbish for edible scraps.  Usually we wait for an hour or more before there are suitable numbers of birds to warrant firing the net. Today, it was ten minutes.

The first catch was just under 100 birds: mainly Black-headed Gulls, but including a good number of Common and Herring Gulls, plus a couple of Great Black-Backed and one Lesser Black-backed Gull. All birds processed were identified and aged, fitted with a BTO metal ring on the right leg and a numbered colour ring on the left, and their maximum primary length and their head and bill length measured.  Jonny got to ring his first Common, Great Black-backed and Herring Gull - so I suspect he thought it worthwhile.

2017 1 14JC2017 1 14GRBGU

We had reset the cannon net before starting to process the first catch: and it was fired for a second time just as the last couple of birds were being processed. This was a much bigger catch: approximately 250 birds.  This time we had the same mix as before, but with no Great Black-backed, but with one intriguing bird: a potential Herring x Caspian Gull hybrid, shown below.

2017 1 14WTF

This was a cause for considerable debate amongst the highly knowledgeable regular team but I would not profess to be any sort of expert, and certainly don't have an opinion on it.  However, the whole Herring Gull / Lesser Black-backed Gull ring species seems to be being split on a regular basis: 20 years ago would anybody have actually considered the provenance?  

We had hoped to go for a third firing but the birds just disappeared.  However, it was certainly the most compact and effective gull ringing session I have been on.  Gulls are facing a considerable pressure these days: from compost.  So much food waste is now being composted that there is much less food in the rubbish dumped in the landfill. Therefore, there is much less food for the gulls. This is reducing the number of birds on the tip and, clearly, stressing the gull populations.  One result is, possibly, resulting in their moving more into towns and cities more often: where human feeding habits and discarding of same offers better feeding opportunities. ST/JC

We had hoped to have a session at Blakehill Farm on Wednesday, but the weather forecast was for strong winds gusting to over 30mph, so I changed the venue to Webb's Wood. I was joined for the session by Jonny and Ellie. I wasn't expecting there to be a large catch: I have been out of the country working and unable to top up the feeding stations for a couple of weeks.  In the event, we had a reasonable catch and, in some ways, a very decent one.  The list was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Blue Tit 6(5); Great Tit 6(3); Coal Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit 1(3); Robin 3; Redwing 1; Goldcrest 2; Lesser Redpoll 3. Totals: 24 birds ringed from nine species; 12 birds retrapped from four species, making 36 birds processed from nine species.

It is always good to catch Lesser Redpoll in the Forest, but the stars of the day were the Marsh Tits. After last year's good showing of them, 19 ringed and a total of 30 individual birds processed in the Forest, we had our best ever catch of them in Webb's Wood. One bird was ringed on the first session in Webb's Wood, in February 2013. It was subsequently caught in the Firs in October 2016 and then recaptured back in Webb's Wood on this occasion. Although the Firs is adjacent to Webb's Wood, the distance between the two capture sites is over 700m. For a bird that is exceedingly sedentary, this represents quite an unusual movement.

2017 1 11MARTIST/JC/EJ

Our first session of the new year was at Lower Moor Farm. By way of a change from our usual CES site, we set up close to the visitor centre and in the wildlife education area.  Apart from Jonny, I had a fairly inexperienced team out with me: Annie is just starting with extracting birds; Steph started processing on this session and David came along for his second session and is just getting used to handling wild birds.  In the event, we had a good, manageable catch, with plenty of opportunity for the team to work without pressure.

The list for the session was: Blue Tit 14(3); Great Tit 5(3); Long-tailed Tit (2); Wren (3); Dunnock 3(1); Robin 1(2); Blackbird 5; Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch (1); Bullfinch 2; Reed Bunting (1). Totals: 31 birds ringed from seven species; 16 birds retrapped from eight species, making 47 birds processed from 11 species.

2017 1 7BULLF2017 1 7REEBU

There was a large work party of teenagers on site, with Chelsie and Ed from the Wildlife Trust so, once again, I took the opportunity to give a quick impromptu ringing demonstration and explanation of what it is all about. ST/JC/AH/SB/DW

It has been a couple of months since we have managed a session at Somerford Common. My usual ringing site is undergoing significant work: the Forestry Commission are instituting a coppice regime in the fenced off paddock area, which is where I usually set my winter feeding station. This year I have set it up in the bridleway that runs parallel to, and 150 metres south of, Queen Street.  The only problem with this particular part of the site is the mud. The subsoil is so churned up by horses and, unfortunately, trail bikes, it is very difficult terrain.  Given the 100th anniversary of this particular battle in 2016, I think they should rename it: Sommerford Common.

There was a good team turn out, with Jonny, Charlie, Ellie and Neil joining me for the day.  With the improving skills of the team we will be setting more net next year, to make sure everybody gets plenty of opportunity to continue their development.  The forecast for the day was for it to be dull, grey, misty and mild. We set the nets and carried out the first round: and then the rain started. We closed the nets and for the next hour drank coffee, until the rain stopped.  There is nothing more galling than looking at the weather app on your phone telling you that it isn't raining whilst the rain is drumming on the roof of the car.  About 9:45 the rain stopped and we reopened and shook the water off the nets and continued to catch birds.

The list for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Nuthatch 1; Blue Tit 6; Great Tit 7(1); Coal Tit 5(4); Marsh Tit 2(1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock 1; Robin 3(3); Blackbird 2(1); Goldcrest 6. Totals: 36 birds ringed from 12 species; 10 birds retrapped from four species, making 46 birds processed from 12 species.

Ellie got to ring her first Great Spotted Woodpecker, which was good experience for her (even if it was still my blood that got shed, holding the bird so she could photograph it, for her records). More importantly, the two Marsh Tits ringed, and the one retrapped, made this the best year for the bird in the Braydon Forest since I started my project in late 2012. There have been 19 new birds ringed this year: a significant improvement on the 12 last year. Of those 19, at least 12 were juveniles (it has been impossible to reliably age the birds caught in the last few months, as adults and juveniles share the same plumage and are showing similar levels of wear).  28 retrapped birds, representing 17 different individuals, is also the best rate of recapture at any time.  The combination of records represented 30 individual birds processed within the Forest (20 in 2015; 24 in 2014; 19 in 2013). Hopefully, there is a real, if gradual, increase in the number of Marsh Tits in the Forest and good survival rates. ST/JC/CS?NS/EJ

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