A break in the stormy weather, a gap between deluges brings a Saturday morning cloudy and calm. Good ringing conditions. The garden at the farm was still vibrant with green and deep red leaves, late blooming flowers and vibrant green grass. Still there is the hint of autumn in the air. Some of the trees are turning, not least the Katsura tree which begins to give off a wonderful smell of toffee from its yellowing foliage. Under the trees brown and creamy coloured mushrooms had replaced the purples, pinks and whites of crocuses and cyclamens. Add to this the slight chill in the air and flock of 30 Redwing overhead and you know autumn is here. It does not take long to set some nets and even less time for the birds to start being caught, drawn by the offer of food.
It is a busy morning, with plenty of young Goldfinch their faces still pale buffish white rather than the vibrant red or orange of adult plumage. There are the usual Blue Tits, although it is not the tit-fest of previous sessions, with the finches dominating. A young Great Spotted Woodpecker adds its raucous cry to the scene, while Siskin, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Blackbird, Robin and Dunnock are welcome additions to the catch.
By far the best story of the day is the return in good numbers of Greenfinch. 15 or so years ago flocks off 100 to 200 Greenfinch would regularly winter in the garden, swirling round like starlings before small groups would break off and dive for cover in the bushes. By the time they were all in the noise of squabbling and chattering would carry on for a good few minutes before they all settled. Then in 2005 a disease known as Trichomonosis was first noted in British finches. Known for a long time in doves and pigeons where it is called ‘canker’, as well as in birds of prey, this was the first time it had been recorded in finches. Epidemics of the disease, which is caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae, occurred in 2006 and 2007 with some smaller scale mortality events in subsequent years. For Greenfinch the epidemic in 2006 is widely acknowledged as a factor in the rapid decline of the British Greenfinch population.
At the Farm, the numbers plummeted, so that when Lee and I started ringing there in 2008/2009 they were already few and far between.
In recent years however the numbers have started to recover in the garden, with small flocks returning to the feeders and trees in autumn. In the last couple of years we would catch a handful over the autumn and winter. No surprise then the delight that in this one ringing session we caught 18.
While recovery is not being seen everywhere, and appears to be relatively slow, the return of at least small numbers of Greenfinch to this site is a very welcome one.