Sightings week ending – Easter!

gv whiteNice to have a long weekend, it means that I can actually get out birding and hopefully do a bit of ringing!

It’s been another glorious week and you have to wonder when the run of good weather will break, though as I write this clouds are amassing over my house. Maybe a bit of bad weather would be good though, as the migrants seem to be flying straight through. A low cloud base for a few days and we might see a fall.

There have been some migrants around. A cracking male Wheatear has been along the south edge of the marsh at Farlington. There has also been a Redstart in the bushes, plenty of Whimbrel in the harbour and I saw my first Little Tern on Thursday. There are also Reed Warbler, Sedges and Blackcaps all over the site. The resident Cettis are very noisy and the Linnets are singing really well all the way around the point field. There was a Marsh Harrier on Thursday for half an hour or so.

There are still two Avocets on the deeps which is looking very promising but I don’t want to jinx it.

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Hook heath Meadows is currently glorious, full of Ramsoms, Bluebells, Wood Anemone, Red Campion and a number of other really nice woodland plants. There was also a Mandarin hanging around a suitable looking nesting hole. Not a native but an impressive looking fowl and I certainly have nothing against it if he fancies making a nest in an old willow. The butterflies are also building. I had a lovely Green Veined White on Tuesday.

Fingers crossed it’ll be a good Easter weekend for all the sites and hopefully everybody can get out and enjoy nature. Unfortunately there is a lot of antisocial behaviour going on at the moment. Some of our northern reserves have been hit really badly by arson. We’ve suffered down south but, thankfully, not quite as dramatically. Poaching, BBQ’s in areas where birds are nesting, people walking through the middle of the marsh and kids throwing rocks at birds are just a few things that will be taking their toll on our breeding birds. I am very sure that those of you who read this blog regularly are people who conscientiously enjoy nature but please feel free to report incidents to us as the more of the picture that we can build, the better we can deal with it.

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Sightings for week ending 09/04/2017`

What a glorious week it’s been! Well, apart from Monday which was highly dependant on where you were. I left the Botley offices in the morning in sunshine and tshirt weather and by the time I was at Farlington I was wrapped up against the mist and chill air.

A lot is starting to move now but the migrants are still holding back. The most significant influx has been the Sedge and Reed Warblers in the reed bed at Farlington. There is a good number chattering away and the Bearded Tits have been very active up the building end. There is a Cettis in the bush by the feeder which makes itself known occasionally.

I’m quite excited as there is a pair of Avocets hanging around. It has been a very good winter for Avocet on the reserve and to have a pair nest would be the cherry on the cake but its early days and they may just be hanging around until they feel strong enough to move to their breeding grounds. Fingers crossed.

There are around 80 Black-Tailed Godwits in glorious chestnut attire on the lake, well worth a look at in their breeding plumage. There is also a Marsh Harrier, two Short Eared Owls and the usual Widgeon,Teal, Shelduck, Redshank, Lapwing, Skylark, Meadow Pipits, Rock Pipits and Stonechats. There has been reports of an Osprey in the Isle of Wight today so that may head over soon.

Emma did a transect at Hookheath yeaterday and had a very good start. Green Veined White, Orange Tips,Speckled Wood, Peacocks, Brimstones and Commas are all on the wing as well as some Blues. The same at Swanwick.

All set to be a lovely weekend so worth a wander around the sea wall at Farlington I’d say.

 

Ringing in the Reedbeds

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An exquisite male Bearded Tit

On Sunday we started ringing in the reedbeds at  Farlington Marshes. The aim is to concentrate on the Bearded Tits to try and get an idea as to how the population is fairing. It turned out to be a reasonable start and we caught a good number of birds. The females all had brood patches which signifies breeding so things are looking good.

Bearded Tits, actually called Bearded Parrotbills now (formally Bearded Reedlings) are one of Farlingtons iconic species. They draw in a lot of people as the site has a very good population, especially for its size. The only issue is that they are very difficult to see. Normally all you get is a fleeting view of them as they bounce over the top of the reed before quickly dropping down. This makes monitoring very difficult and really the only way that we have a chance of getting a population estimate is through ringing. This also helps us look at longevity of individuals and location within the reed bed itself. All very useful stuff which can help influence how we manage the site.

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A very handsome male Reed Bunting

It was a good session catching Bearded Tits, Reed Bunting, Cetties Warbler and Sedge Warbler. The whole reed bed was alive with the chatter of segdes and there were even some Reed Warbler there. These will build up steadily as they migrate in and then disperse leaving the breeding population.

The Lapwing have begun to settle down and there seems to be a good number of Redshank on the marsh and in the hay field. Hopefully we will see a higher than average year for these this year but its still early days. The Lapwing are in low numbers but this is the same across many sites at the moment so hopefully they are just late arriving.

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The very noisy Sedge Warbler

Sightings for week ending 19/03/2017

Spoonbill! That was the most exciting sighting from the week. Last weekend and the early part of this week there was one on the scrape and the lake at Farlington. It eventually flew west and Wednesday there was one at Pennington so may be this one. Still, worth keeping an eye out for and hopefully there will be some more.

Plenty on the Marsh this week. Still the usual suspects with the Spotted Redshank returning and two Marsh Harriers and of course the SEO’s. There was also talk of a little ringed plover down the stream at the start of the week and I’ve had reports of Wheatears turning up. Two Ravens flew in on Tuesday and there are plenty of Chiffchaffs singing across all the sites. The reeds on the deeps are excellent spots for watching the stunning male Reed Buntings singing away at the moment.

Still lots of Brents, Pintail, Teal and Widgien on the main marsh and the stream as well as a number of wader species. Black Tailed Godwits and Dunlin are still present and plenty of Snipe, Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew across the whole site. The Redshank and Lapwing are starting to settle down to  nest and you can hear them calling in the morning across the lower section of the marsh.

Plenty of butterflies have been seen this week. Swanwick seems to be the hot spot for us. Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and Red Admiral have been seen on every visit that was sunny. There has also been Slow Worm, Common Lizard and Grass Snake reported.

Luxury Penthouse to Rent, Riverside View, Fishing Rights and Natural Surroundings Included

DSC_0974We spent a very happy day last Thursday at Swanwick playing at the edge of the water. This of course was made all the better with the t-shirt weather that we had. The aim was to build a Kingfisher nesting cliff to entice them to stay on site all year.

Kingfishers generally nest in river banks and excavate nests out of loose soil, digging a long tunnel with a chamber at the end. I don’t think anybody who has seen a kingfisher would expect this of them and it does seem like a strange thing for a bird to do. It is however a good strategy as the small cliffs at the side of the river tend to drop straight into water and so are very tricky for predators such as stoats to access. I’ve also seen them nesting in the root bases of fallen tree. These often form pools where the root base has been ripped out of the ground and so creates a perfect little spot for them to nest.

A lot of sites have Kingfishers in late summer and through the winter but don’t have them in the spring and early summer. This is generally because of the lack of suitable banks in which they can nest. The late summer individuals will be the first brood which are then self sufficient and then all of them rove around a bit in the winter. You get a number along the coast as well, especially in cold times when fresh water is frozen over.

So if you have a site ‘sans bank’, you have to help them out a little bit if you want them to stay all year and everybody likes a Kingfisher so many reserve officers take on the challenge of enticing them in. Enter the fake Kingfisher cliff.

This is how we went about it.

Step 1. Find a suitable spot. This is on the edge of a lake with a some deepish water in front of it, preferably with a bit of a bank already. We found a good spot on toms lake.DSC_0962

Step 2. Dive in two stakes on the edge of the bank. You then clad the front with boards. You also need to box in the sides.

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Step 3. Back fill with soil. This builds up the bank behind it. It’s good to have a team of volunteers/minions to do this

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Step 4. Place the nest box. Once you have the soil high enough (the entrance hole needs to be a metre or so above the water) you then need to place the box at a slight angle, so the box is a tiny bit higher. You also need to line the bottom of the box with clay or soil so its a bit more natural.

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Step 5. Cover with soil. This surrounds the box and you want a good layer over the top. You can leave this loose so you can access the box to clean it out.

Step 6. Fill the tunnel section with loose sand/soil. The Kingfishers like to excavate a little themselves.

Step 7. Clad the front with clay. This makes it look more natural (we haven’t done this yet).

Step 8. Sit back and watch the Kingfishers flock in.

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Hopefully step 8 will be the case but they are tricky little things. I’ve seen boxes on other sites used but in other places they aren’t touched. There has been one at Swanwick for a few years now but has never had any success. It may be a number of reasons but we intend to put three up in total to maximise our chances of success. Hopefully one will look attractive.

 

 

Sightings for week ending 12/03/2017

Its been a busy week down Farlington this week. Lots of Bearded Tits, a Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher, Barn Owl, tons of Curlew, Brent Geese and Shelduck and still a Short Eared Owl or two. There was a leucistic duck by the building Tuesday which I think was a Gadwal, despite being positioned next to a Pintail.

Today was particularly gloomy but there were 500+ Dunlin feeding on the mudflats west of the marsh with a few Black Tailed Godwits and Redshank mixed in. There was also one solitary Avocet roosting on the lake. I haven’t seen any Avocet around for a little while, despite the high numbers earlier in the year.

Spring really descended on Thursday. We were working in tshirts at Swanwick Lakes, basking in the warmth on the edge of the lakes. Whilst we were sat at lunch we had a Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and a Red Admiral pass by! These are the first butterflies that I have seen this year.

I think Saturday will be the better day this weekend and so will be a good opportunity to see the last of the waders and wildfowl. The numbers have certainly dropped significantly in the last couple of weeks and it will be sensible to keep an eye out for the first of the summer migrants. Reports of Wheatears and House/Sand Martins have been arriving across the country for a week or so now!

Helping out the beardies

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We have spent a couple of days working in the reed bed at Farlington. I love reed beds, they’re one of my favourite habitats. Once your in a few metres, you have a huge sense of isolation with all the reed towering above you. The best part of the Farlington reed beds is that as soon as you step in, you are surrounded by Bearded Tits making their classic ‘ping’ call.

Reed beds are an unusual habitat with lots of interesting traits. They are essentially effemeral, only existing naturally for a reasonable short length of time (in the grand scheme of landscapes). They doom themselves as they grow each year, die and steadily raise the level of the soil, eventually drying out the area within which they are growing and then getting out competed buy more vigorous plants. I suppose that you can say this about many habitats as succession eventually changes them into the climax community, normally a woodland.

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Cutting reed, great fun!

So, if you want reed beds to stay as reed bed in the long term you have to manage them and the key to reed bed longevity is to cut them and remove the cuttings so that they don’t build up. Some places even graze them, short stocky ponies that don’t sink are often the beast of choice. The simple rule is if you cut the reed in winter, you promote the reed. If you cut in summer, you suppress the reed and allow other species to grow. Like most things it isn’t all together that simple but that is the basic premise.

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Raking reed, great fun!

Water levels throughout the year play a vitally important role.You don’t want to flood freshly cut reed in the summer as it will drown. You also need to flood the reed bed, preferably in sections to allow invertebrate species to thrive and support the species higher up the trophic levels, species such as Bittern, Bearded Tits, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Cettis Warblers. These are all reed bed specialists, many of which are in decline due to the lack of large reed beds in the UK.

Bearded Tits are one of the most iconic species at Farlington. I meet a lot of people who have come to the site just to see them. They are however very tricky to see. A warm still day is best and you can see the floating over the top of the reed or between the patches of reed by the sluice. During winter they feed on reed seed and therefore need grit to help digest this. During the breeding season they switch to high energy invertebrates to feed their nestlings.

They nest quite close to the ground , preferring older dense stands of reed. There is evidence to suggest that newer reed stands, (reed that was cut that winter or the one before) have a higher seed density and support higher invertebrate numbers, suggesting that a mix of older and newer stands will yield the highest number of birds.

With this all in mind we have cut some small patches of reed bed this year. This also creates edge habitat which species such as reed warbler prefer, nesting very close to the edge of the reed. Cutting sections maximises this usable area. It also allowed us to collect the cut reed to turn in to nest boxes for bearded tits.

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Great work from the team, lots of bearded tit nests

Last year there was big issues with the water levels in the reed bed and we think that the bearded tits may have really suffered as their nests may have been flooded out. They are also restricted to the dryer sections of the reed bed in which they can nest. An RSPB reserve up north called Leighton Moss have used nest ‘wigwams’ to great success, opening up more reed bed to the bearded tits and maximising the area that they can use. We though that we’d give it a go. they may not get used and they are certainly doing quite well but I was keen to have somewhere safe that they can nest in as a back up in case of severe flooding again. It’s also quite cool.

Making the nests was surprisingly difficult. You bundle a load of reeds together. You then tie off both ends. The secret is to tie them off super tight. I mean SUPER tight. This stops the reed slipping but also makes the next stage really hard. You have to tease the reed out into a wigwam shape with a nice little cavity in the middle in which they can nest.