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The Forestry Commission requested that I meet with them at Somerford Common to discuss their work plans for the site.  They wanted to get my input on what would be beneficial for the birdlife there.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Jonny and I set up a dozen nets to see what we could catch. We didn't set up in our normal areas, as we were meeting in the small car park halfway down Somerford Road, but we had a decent catch nonetheless. 

There was an intermittent light drizzle, plus a period of an hour when we had to close the nets as it got a bit harder, but the sun came out later.  The list was: Treecreeper 2; Wren 1; Dunnock 2; Robin 8: Blackbird 2; Blackcap 3; Garden Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler 7(3); Bullfinch 8(1). Totals: 35 ringed from 10 species; 4 retrapped from 2 species, making 39 processed from 10 species.

The two Treecreepers, and five of the Robins, were this year’s newly fledged birds.  We are getting decent numbers of adult Willow Warblers on the site this year.  Last year we caught 11 individual adults in total on Somerford, we caught 10 this morning alone. It is the only site I have where singing Willow Warblers outnumber singing Chiffchaffs.

Tom Blythe, Beat Forester for this area, arrived at 9:00 and we had a wander around the site, discussing the current state and what the FC can do in the future to help the bird population.  They have agreed to create a coppice of a couple of hectares and will coppice a quarter of a hectare each year.  They are going to thin and space the regeneration area where the conifer plantation was harvested and then repair and clean up the rides (which just happen to be where I set my nets).  I had confirmation that the coppicing will start this winter. After they made their appearance a couple of years ago, there is a fabulous showing of Great Butterfly Orchid on the site this year.


We carried out CES session 4 on Wednesday, 8th June. I was joined by Andrew Bray, Ellie Jones and Jonny Cooper. Unfortunately we had rather a quiet session and they got to process just 10 birds each, whilst I just scribed.  The list for the day was: Kingfisher (1); Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit (1); Wren 1; Dunnock 2(3); Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 2; Blackcap 1(3); Garden Warbler 1(3); Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat (1); Chiffchaff 1(2); Willow Warbler (1); Greenfinch 1(1); Bullfinch (1). Totals: 13 ringed from 11 species; 17 retrapped birds from 10 species, making 30 processed from 16 species.

The retrapped Kingfisher was the first ringed on the site by me on the 20th August 2014.  We had a controlled Greenfinch: it will probably have been ringed within the Water Park, but it will be interesting to get confirmation of where it was originally ringed.  There were juvenile birds in the catch, one each of Robin, Song Thrush and Treecreeper.  When you compare the catch this year with the equivalent session last year (funnily enough, on the 8th June 2015), there were 63 birds processed in that session. However, 32 of those were Long-tailed Tits, which were noticeable by their absence in this year's session. It will be interesting to see if it is just a case of them having bred later, or if there has been a significant drop-off due to adverse weather conditions. ST / EJ / JC / AB

I was joined by Daniela and Jonny for today's session in Webb's Wood. It was an odd start to the morning: it wasn't raining and it wasn't misty, but the air was full of moisture, which made every surface damp.  We set the nets and, after about an hour, it dried up and, eventually, the sun came through and we had a good catch of birds: Blue Tit 5(2); Great Tit 1(2); Coal Tit 1; Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 9(1); Dunnock 2; Robin 5(1); Song Thrush 3; Blackbird (2); Blackcap 8(3); Chiffchaff 1(2); Willow Warbler 2(2). Totals: 37 ringed from 10 species, 16 retrapped from 9 species making 53 processed from 12 species.

The highlight of the catch was a Spanish ringed Blackcap, 3L74140.  This is my first foreign recovery and we were all rather excited by the find: particularly Jonny, who initially processed the bird.

2016 06 04Blaca

We caught two families of Long-tailed Tit, each comprising one adult: the first group with four young, the second with three.  One of the Song Thrushes was a juvenile that had already completed its post-fledging moult: it must have been from a very early brood.  About 7:00 we had a Curlew fly overhead, calling as he went. There are always Curlew around the fields of the Braydon Forest: not just on Blakehill Farm but in all of the fields to the south and west of that site, as far south as the B4042 and as far west as Braydon Pond.  A little later in the morning we heard a Raven calling and a Red Kite flew slowly over the treetops.  They are still quite an unusual sight over these woods, so always good to see. On my way home, back to Purton, the Red Kite was still around, gliding over the fields to the east of the Firs, and a Raven was being mobbed by a couple of Carrion Crows: I even saw some claw to claw action as the Raven responded to one particular attack.

Where we set up our ringing station was a carpet of Wild Strawberry and flying around the area was a lovely Yellow-shell moth:

Yellow Shell (Apologies for the slightly unsharp photo but the moth was under my car and I had to lie down on the ground to get it, manual focus and try to prevent camera shake, whilst my trainees were amused by my activity)  ST / JC / DD

This week was session 2 of year 4 of the Ravensroost coppice project. The sessions were on Saturday and Tuesday.  Ellie Jones joined me for the Saturday session. Although today was a bit windy, one of the benefits of ringing in Ravensroost is that it can be blowing at 19mph, gusting to 30+mph, as it was today; the tops of the trees can be whipping around like crazy and the nets have barely a billow. The results for the two sessions were, as follows:

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper 1; Blue Tit 1(1); Great Tit 1(1); Marsh Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 3(2); Wren 2; Dunnock (3); Robin 2(5); Song Thrush 2(4); Blackbird 1(5); Blackcap 11(4); Garden Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 4(2); Goldcrest (1).  Overall totals: 31 birds ringed from 12 species; 29 retrapped from 11 species, making 60 birds processed from 15 species.

The birding highlights were: the Long-tailed Tits processed today and the Treecreeper.  The Long-Tailed Tits were a family group comprising an adult bird with three of the smallest youngsters I have ever seen.  I am pretty certain that these youngsters fledged this morning.  As I processed the youngsters, I put them together in a large bag so that the whole family group could be released together. I released them back near the nets that they were caught in, so they could join up with other family members in the area.

2016 05 31Lotti               

The Treecreeper was my first juvenile of the species for 2016. It seems very early but they can lay as early as the 5th April and, with 30 to 35 days incubation to fledging, well within the boundaries.

2016 05 31Treec

The Marsh Tit was quite unusual: it was a male who had clearly finished breeding (no cloacal protuberance) and had started its post-breeding moult already. Unfortunately, I have to conclude that it is a failed breeder.  You would normally expect moult to take place in August / September.

2016 05 31Marti

As it did on Saturday, a male Cuckoo called continuously from all parts of the wood, including right over my head up at the Shooters’ Hut.  However, my highlight of Tuesday's session wasn’t a bird at all: I was chatting with a couple of dog-walkers (the kind that can read, so had their dogs on leads) when a Weasel ran across the path about 20’ away from me.  I haven't seen one for quite a while, so it was great to see. ST / EJ

I ran CES session 3 at Lower Moor this morning. It was a quiet session, as far as catching birds goes, which suited me as I was flying this one solo.  There was masses of birdsong from all of the species caught, plus plenty of Willow Warbler and some Sedge Warbler singing.   The 27 caught this morning compares with 29 caught in the corresponding session last year.  The list for the session was: Long-tailed Tit 3(2); Wren 1; Dunnock 1(2); Robin (1); Song Thrush (1); Reed Warbler 1; Cetti’s Warbler (1); Blackcap 1(2); Garden Warbler (2); Lesser Whitethroat (2); Chiffchaff (4); Goldcrest (1); Bullfinch (2).  Totals: 7 ringed from 5 species; 20 retrapped from 11 species; 27 processed from 13 species.

One of the new Long-tailed Tits was the first juvenile of this species that I have caught this year.  The Reed Warbler was a male: small numbers, but they are increasing in the catch on the site.

2016 05 25 REEWA

There were a few other points of interest:

  1. At about 6:00 I saw an Otter porpoise three times as it made its way across Mallard Lake towards the drain between the lakes; I have never seen that behaviour by Otters before.
  2. The male Mute Swan spent the morning acting aggressively towards all of the Canada Geese. There is a family of 5 goslings and I watched a particularly enthralling interaction.  The parents saw the swan approaching and ushered the goslings under overhanging vegetation at the side of the lake (alongside the path). The swan did its best to get at them but failed. One of the parent Canada Geese swam out in front of the swan and was attacked, it swam away and then waited for the swan to attack again. It did this repeatedly and led the swan away to the far side of Mallard Lake before flying back to re-join its family. It was brave and clever. without anthropomorphizing too much, the Mute Swan is clearly psychotic towards Canada Geese.  They are known to regularly kill Canada Goose goslings, usually by drowning them.  Canada Geese being no threat to them and not really competing for food sources, Canadas tending to graze on land, Mute Swans on aquatic plants, one can only put it down to Mute Swan nature. There was a family of Mallard ducklings, totally ignored by the swans, who have four cygnets themselves. 
  3. A pair of Egyptian Geese settled in to the site. It is the first time I have noticed them there. They were behaving as aggressively as their reputation suggests.  Over the course of the morning I saw the male attempt to attack a Raven, a Carrion Crow, a Jackdaw and severely disturb the Herons.
  4. Common Terns were regularly flying over the lakes. It would be interesting to float a couple of tern rafts out on Mallard Lake, but being a SSSI and the fishing club lake, I am not sure if it is possible.  ST

With yesterday being so wet, we had to postpone CES session 2 to today. We started out fairly early, at 4:45, and, as Jonny and I were setting up the last net ride, we had the treat of a Black Tern flying across Mallard Lake, heading north.  We heard at least one Cuckoo calling during the morning: and saw one fly across Mallard Lake, again moving south to north. I have already heard them on most of my sites but this was my first sighting for the year.

The session started off really well, but by 10:00 it died away and, despite a nice final throw of Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat and Great Spotted Woodpecker, it was a slightly disappointing end result. We had one each of recently fledged juvenile Blackbird and Robin. The list for the session was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Treecreeper (1); Blue Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Wren 1; Dunnock (3); Robin 2(1); Blackbird 2; Cetti's Warbler (2); Blackcap 5(1); Garden Warbler 6(3); Whitethroat 1; Lesser Whitethroat 2; Chiffchaff 1(4); Willow Warbler 3(1); Goldfinch 1; Bullfinch 1(2); Reed Bunting 1. Totals: 28 ringed from 14 species and 19 retrapped from 10 species. Somewhat frustratingly, we saw and heard both Sedge and Reed Warbler - but they avoided our nets this week. 

There was a massive emergence of Common Blue damselflies this morning and they were finding our nets a useful spot to hang out, rest and warm up in the sun.  The trout were leaping out of the water almost continuously: big fish leaping vertically out of the water before landing back in with a massive splash. Tom Daley they aren't: more Peter Kay / John Smith.  It was quite amusing watching one soul in a boat in the middle of the lake attempting to catch trout that were busy attempting to catch the insects that were emerging from the water and leaping out of the water all around him,  He did eventually catch one. so not a completely wasted morning for him. One gentleman photographer, who was delighted to have had the opportunity to photograph both Lesser Whitethroat and Whitethroat up close, and to get an identification lesson as well, came back to show me some of the dragons he had photographed: 4-Spotted Chaser and Downy Emerald. This was the first time I had seen anything of the latter - and I was delighted to see a couple for myself as I went into Sandpool, heading for the exit.  The final sight, before exiting Sandpool Farm, was a pair of Hobby displaying over the trees: my first for the year, so a lovely end to the session. ST / JC

This monthly session at Tedworth House turned up a couple of highlights: my first Dunnock and Blackbird fledglings of the year, plus yet another juvenile Song Thrush.  (Yes, I know, I am easily pleased.) 2016 seems to be a good year for Song Thrushes. Whilst I caught plenty of adult and second year birds in the first five months of 2015, I didn't catch my first newly fledged bird until 21st June.  In 2014 the first fledgling was on the 30th May.  So far in 2016 I have caught six fledglings, with the first on the 29th April. 

The catch for the day was: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Wren 1(1); Dunnock 1; Robin 2(1); Song Thrush 1; Blackbird 5; Blackcap 1; Goldcrest 1. Totals: 13 ringed from 8 species and 2 retrapped birds from 2 species.  

The Great Spotted Woodpecker, one of the Blackbirds and the Song Thrush were the last birds of the session.  When I processed them I had an audience of gardeners and stonemasons.  These are two of the vocational training courses being run by H4H at Tedworth, expanding the skill sets of either current or former service personnel.  I taught a couple of the audience how to safely hold and then release the birds (a Blackbird and the woodpecker). One is always hopeful that close encounters like this will encourage people to become involved in ringing. 


This was a beautiful adult male. The males share incubation duties with the females and this male had a very well-defined and vascularised brood patch. So well-defined that I had to double-check that it was a male. ST

Today I was lucky enough to be invited out to do some owl box checking on Salisbury Plain by Robert Haydon.  There were three of us, being joined by Mick (in true British tradition, I didn't get his last name) one of the trainees from Robert's group.  The plan was to visit a number of Kestrel and Tawny Owl boxes to check on their progress.  All of the boxes were in and around the Bulford ranges and the surrounding Salisbury Plain. Virtually every box visited was occupied.  Three Kestrel boxes were in use by the intended species, with eggs in each of them. One had a particularly interesting egg set: 3 were the expected brick red shell colour but one was pale and speckled: same size as the others but very different in colour.

Three of the Tawny Owl boxes, and one of the Kestrel boxes. were occupied by Jackdaws.  All of their young were somewhat early in their development: none were feathered yet, but one group distinctly showed their feather tracts ready to erupt.  We found that, although the boxes occupied by Tawny Owls were productive, the brood sizes were small. All broods only had one or two young, rather than the three or four that might be seen on better years.  All young were healthy and of decent weight. Most had their wing feathers at the mid-range stage of development (feathers medium), but a couple were still at an earlier stage (feathers small).  Failed eggs were in place in a few of the boxes.

We checked out a couple of natural nest holes as well.  Both had occupants: one contained a solitary Tawny Owl, the other contained three Stock Dove young at feathers medium. The tree containing the Stock Doves is quite remarkable: over previous years Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Jackdaw and Mandarin Duck have all been found nesting within it. All birds large enough to be so were fitted with a ring.  In total we ringed 10 Tawny Owl pulli, 3 Jackdaw pulli and 5 Stock Dove pulli.  A brood of Pied Wagtail pulli, found in a nest inside one of the army's pill-boxes, were too small to be ringed. One thing I was appalled by: the dirty habits of the human animals who use the Plain but don't appreciate what they have access to. These Pied Wagtail pulli were sharing their home with a number of empty beer cans and sundry other items of rubbish that should not be there.


Whilst we were moving between sites, we had some excellent views of birds that are a speciality of the Plain: Stone Curlew, Lapwing with chick and two Corn Bunting were highlights.  Perhaps the most surprising sight was a family of Stonechats: male, female and at least three newly fledged young. The young were sitting either in a bush or on the wires of one of the fences and begging for food from their parents.  Whilst that does seem to be an early brood, according to the BTO's Bird Facts site, although the average date of first laying for Stonechat is 25th April, the earliest date from the nest record scheme is the 25th March.  The incubation period is 15 days and the time to fledging is a further 15 days, so a laying date of the 15th April is not unreasonable.

For me, whilst I am incredibly grateful to Robert for the opportunity and the chance to ring so many pulli, my favourite sight of the day was my first ever Grizzled Skipper butterfly. It flew in and settled, briefly, on a plant immediately adjacent to my right leg whilst I was sitting eating my lunch. A brief view but a wonderful one. ST

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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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