The Tern and the Turtle

 

About ten days ago we put out the first two tern rafts in the hope that the twenty or so terns present then would quickly occupy them. We kept two back to go out after the first had attracted a core group. The idea of leaving it late to put them is to give the best chance against the black-headed gulls, which start nesting earlier so would get in before the terns arrive. The plan does not seem to have worked this year, although common terns were the first to land on the rafts they were quickly replaced by gulls, at least keeping two rafts in reserve allows us to try again with unoccupied nesting sites, we will see if the gulls take over ahead of the terns. A lot of the gulls are probably first time breeders, they mess about a lot, make nests but don’t necessarily ever lay or if they do, they don’t know what they are really supposed to do, they do keep the terns off though!

tern rafts

tern rafts

There were a few terns around as we towed the rafts out and a few gulls as well.

gulls and terns

gulls and terns

We put the rafts out first thing in the morning and a s I walked back to the Centre the sun was getting really warm along the path beside Rockford Lake, with the west wind the blowing the path was really sheltered and there were swarms of recently emerged common blue damselflies. They take a few days to get the intense blue colouration.

common blue damselfly uncoloured

common blue damselfly uncoloured

The male above will be brilliant blue in a couple of days, a few slightly older ones were also about, but in the sun they were hard to get close to without them flying away.

common blue damselfly. male

common blue damselfly, male

Despite the sun I only saw one other Odonata species, large red damselfly and not very many of them.

large red damselfly, male

large red damselfly, male

Ed and I went up to Kitts Grave later in the morning to take a look a the work done in the winter clearing scrub. The site is a mosaic of grassland, scrub with some true woodland, all the these elements are rich habitats in their own right, but the scrub has been spreading at the expense of the grassland in recent years. As we arrived at the gate we spotted a small blue, the first I had seen this year.

small blue

small blue

It was a morning of sunshine and sharp showers are we dodged in and out of the trees trying to keep dry. Along the way we saw good numbers of common spotted orchid and twayblade, although both were a couple of weeks or so from flowering, unlike the early purple orchid which were just about at their peak.

early purple orchid

early purple orchid

The area of scrub we cleared in the winter now looks green and there are remarkably few areas of bare ground.

Kitts Grave area cleared by volunteers last winter

Kitts Grave area cleared by volunteers last winter

When the sun came out it was very warm and we saw a fair few butterflies, including  a lot of brimstone, orange tip, green-veined white and a few peacock. We also saw there or four dingy skipper, although I did not manage to get a picture of any of them as they were much too fast for me. A bit easier was the scarlet tiger moth caterpillar that we came across.

scarlet tiger caterpillar

scarlet tiger caterpillar

As we headed back to the car park that once common and so evocative summer sound, the purring of turtle dove. It is extraordinary and very frightening how the status of these beautiful birds has changed in my lifetime. They were genuinely common birds in hedgerows and copse edges and now it needs a special trip for even the chance of hearing one. We also saw a fair few yellowhammer, another bird so familiar thirty years ago that everyone knew them as the bird that sang “A little bit of bread and no cheese”, one of the most familiar sounds of the countryside then.

Obviously there have been gains, with some species colonising over the same period, but the declines in some species that were so common that they were generally known to anyone who ventured out into the countryside to a condition of scarcity, or even rarity, is a warning to us all.

Eventually we retreated as a particularly heavy squall approached and headed back to Blashford.

storm clouds gathering

storm clouds gathering

The loss of once common and widespread species tells of the limitations of relying on nature reserves to look after wildlife, reserves can do valuable work but it is the way we live in and use the country that really determines what our future wildlife will be like and how many species will be common enough for the next generation to just take them for granted, as I did the turtle dove and yellowhammer.

3 thoughts on “The Tern and the Turtle

  1. Yes Bob, your comments are very apposite. I to remember both Turtle Doves and Yellowhammers being so much more common than they are today. Also House Sparrows, Swifts, Swallows, House Martins, Corn Buntings etc etc. More common for certain are Magpies and Jays …. any relationship I wonder,,,

  2. Great Blog Bob and sadly I have to agree with yourself and Brian into the decline of our previously “common” birds! I’m in Ashley Heath and we have a plethora of Magpies and Jays at the moment, but then it’s the breeding season so it happens every year now, unfortunately; there’s even been a Nuthatch endeavouring to get into my Coal Tit box!!

    • I have to say that I don’t think the decline in the common birds mentioned can really be put at the door of predators, several of the species you mention can hardly ever feature on their menu. Research into this has shown that putting the blame on these predators is incorrect and perhaps due to an unwillingness to admit that it is the changes in our land management practices that are the real drivers. Undoubtedly agricultural intensification has played a huge role in decline on farmland. There seems to be a widespread and very worrying general decline in insect numbers, so food supply is decreasing for lots of species of birds.

      Obviously some changes are happening at a global scale, we can do something but a lot of the damage is done and turning things around is going to take generations. Some changes in populations will be driven by climate change and some natural variations. I am most interested in those things that we can potentially control, we could do some things differently and see a real positive change if the will was there.

      The most worrying aspect for me is that even where wildlife could be given space we seem to choose to exclude it, developments do not opt for green spaces with a mixed flora but carpets of intensive grass, trees will often be ornamentals and buildings put up without space for even a house martin or swift to nest, indeed perhaps designed to exclude them. The attitude so often seems to be that wildlife will get by on nature reserves, which it won’t, or at least only a very impoverished fragment will. We need to take a whole landscape approach to this, there is space if we choose to let it exist, blaming magpies, or for that matter pet cats is a cop out. Planning should be inclusive of nature from the inception of a scheme, not ignored or at best added on at the end.

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