A Weekend in Wiltshire (4-5 January 2020)

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A blog post by Amy Schwartz.

Looking to gain additional ringing experience as I work towards a C permit, I got in contact with experienced Wiltshire-based ringer Matt Prior at the suggestion of my trainer, Owain Gabb, and we arranged a weekend for me to join him and his team at a farmland site near Swindon. I had hoped to gain additional experience of ringing in different habitats, there was the possibility of a variety of species that we seldom or never catch at Oxwich, as well as the invaluable opportunities that come from ringing with other groups. I was certainly not disappointed………


The first day was at a farmland site north of Swindon in the Thames Valley. This site has been utilised by the group since 2000, and now has 30 nestboxes and 2 bird feeding stations (the seed for which is paid for by the farmer), and is in stewardship, with a kilometre of conservation crop and ongoing hedgerow management.

A variety of mist nets were set up along hedgerows and in scrub, including one which was put up before first light in the hopes of catching some late redwing. There were still a few redwing (and a decent-size fieldfare flock) around the farm, and I was delighted to see that we had caught a single redwing alongside several blackbirds on the first net round – a new species for me.

A very busy session followed, with lots of birds caught. I was particularly impressed with the numbers of yellowhammer that were both ringed and seen (more than I think I have ever seen cumulatively before!), an estimate was made of around 300 yellowhammer on the site that day. This was another species that I had not had the chance to ring before, so was pleased to have the opportunity to ring 8 of these marvellous birds.

Other birds I ringed at this site included 6 blackbirds, 11 blue tits, 1 wren, 1 great tit, 8 greenfinch, 2 robins, 5 dunnocks (and processed one retrap), 2 chaffinch, 2 goldcrest, and another new species for me, (2) linnet.

Altogether, we ringed an incredible 235 birds, and recaptured an additional 26 birds that were ringed in previous years. This total included 35 of both yellowhammer and greenfinch.


Another bright and early start, this time at another farmland site south of Swindon, on the Marlborough Downs, that was also started in 2000. Even as we were setting up, there were finches galore, and I was delighted to hear and see so many corn buntings in the area (up to 40!), another species I very rarely get to observe.

On the second net round, we managed to catch one of the corn buntings! A surprisingly hefty bird in the hand, this bird was also ringed with a black-on-yellow Darvic ring, which allows the ring code to be read in the field. This was particularly interesting to me, as the first corn bunting I ever saw was part of Matt’s colour-ringing scheme.

The site held very good numbers of chaffinches, and we also caught 4 yellowhammer. The increasing numbers of house sparrow in the area means the rarer tree sparrow is now more scarce here (none were caught or seen this day, but there are 5 pairs utilising boxes that have been put up by the group). However, plans are currently being made to provide extra assistance to the tree sparrow population just a little way up from the area that the house sparrows are now occupying. The group are also helping to further improve the land for wildlife with the construction of a dewpond, which is used frequently by yellow wagtail in the summer, and no doubt countless other species.

I ringed 22 birds on the Sunday, comprised of 8 chaffinch (plus 3 retraps), 1 dunnock, 1 great tit, 2 house sparrow (my first capture of this species), 1 wren, 6 blue tits, and 1 each of robin, goldfinch, and corn bunting.

Overall, this was a very busy, fun, and educational weekend farmland bird ringing, and I am immensely grateful to Matt Prior and his team for having me along, and for showing me how much the site management that takes place alongside ringing, in collaboration with farmers, can benefit birds and other wildlife.

Amy Schwartz


A male yellowhammer. A fairly uncommon sight in my home county of Glamorgan, it was wonderful to see so many!


A beautiful redwing. A winter visitor and Britain’s smallest thrush, this bird will hopefully soon be on its way back to Scandinavia.
A male linnet. This species has never been caught at Oxwich before, so it was great to have the opportunity to ring one, as well as learning more about ageing and sexing of this species.
A female house sparrow.
My first corn bunting ‘C39’, seen on a Wiltshire farm in 2016, and a member of the same ringing scheme run by Matt Prior.


A lovely chunky male corn bunting ‘C10’, sporting his new bling.
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