Summer Passing

It seems that once the 30 Days Wild are over, the signs of passing summer become increasingly obvious. I heard my last singing cuckoo on 22nd June, we now know that many will have left the country southward by the end of June, thanks to the advent of tiny satellite trackers fitted to some birds by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), you can follow their progress via a link on their website.

At Blashford Lakes common sandpiper are returning and on Sunday there was a greenshank, returned from breeding, probably in Scandinavia. Lots of the swift have left already as have the first generation of young sand martin. Over at Fishlake Meadows an osprey is being seen regularly, with other sightings including up to six cattle egret.

Around the reserves we are now at the peak of butterfly numbers, with lots of “Browns” especially.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

This week will probably see “Peak-gatekeeper” and we may have just passed peak-meadow brown. Speckled wood, by contrast are perhaps the only butterfly with a real chance of being seen throughout the 26 weeks of the butterfly recording season as it has continuously overlapping broods.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In places you may notice a few very dark, almost black, meadow brown, actually these may well be ringlet, with slightly rounder wings and multiple eye-spots.

ringlet

ringlet

Several species now have their summer broods emerging, this is true for common blue, brown argus, small copper and peacock.

peacock

peacock

The warm weather has been great for insects in general, there have been good numbers of dragonflies, including a single lesser emperor, a formerly very rare migrant species that seems to be getting ever more frequent.

 

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Blashford Bird Box Bulletin

Introduction by Jim Day

Brenda Cook, British Trust for Ornithology volunteer and bird ringer, has been ringing and recording birds at Blashford Lakes with fellow BTO volunteer and lead ringer Kevin Sayer for many years now, but the nest box monitoring scheme is her own project and relatively new having started in 2012. She and her stalwart HIWWT volunteer assistant, Jacki, were actually in today checking, cleaning, repairing and replacing nest boxes where needed ready for the 2019 nesting season so this blog, based on her report which was e-mailed to us on New Years Day, is quite timely!

I believe it makes interesting reading so have sought Brenda’s permission to publish it here.  If nothing else it may help to explain to all those visitors who are curious as to why our nest boxes are so (relatively) low – basically so Brenda can see into them without the need for a step ladder, solving a H&S conundrum, generally making life easier and the birds don’t care anyway! Thanks to Brenda for her hard work and for sharing the data collected with us:

BLASHFORD LAKES NESTING REPORT FOR 2018 – by Brenda Cook

Each year since 2012 as soon as Christmas and the New Year celebrations are over I always begin to think about the Blashford Lakes nest boxes and it was the same this year in 2018. Spring would soon be arriving and the birds would be beginning to look at the nest boxes in preparation for building their nests. I wanted to do my usual checks of cleaning out, repairing and replacing the very old rotten boxes as soon as possible. The Young Naturalists (YN’s) had kindly made 12 new boxes this year which I planned to use to replace old boxes or site on new trees.

yn bird box

It was on January 13th that Jacki and I found the time and suitable weather to go round and do our checks in preparation for the breeding season. We eventually ended up with 62 boxes to start monitoring. The boxes have a variety of hole sizes from 25mm – 32mm to suit either Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit or Nuthatch. Each nest box now has a metal plate fitted around the hole to prevent predation from particularly woodpeckers and squirrels. This has been very successful. I also have a couple of specially made Tree Creeper boxes which I am hoping one day will be used for nesting.

The first official nest box check took place on 14.4.18 and we found nest building taking place in many of the boxes. There were even cold eggs in 3 of the nest boxes. I knew that by the following Saturday there would be females incubating eggs. The first naked and blind chicks were found in 2 boxes on 29.4.18. This was much earlier than in 2017 when we had to wait until 22nd April for our first chicks.  I was keeping a close eye on the new YN’s boxes and pieces of moss were found in a lot of these boxes, but not all continued to form a complete nest.

I took photos at different stages and sent these with updates so Tracy would be able to inform the YN’s of the progress in their boxes.

The early weather was not perfect for the nesting birds, but then as we all know conditions improved and it became hot and dry which meant the adults did not have to do so much brooding of the growing chicks and were able to spend their time collecting the plentiful food. Chick survival rate was good and also the numbers which eventually fledged. A total of 204 Blue Tit eggs were laid in the boxes and 169 chicks were ringed. Great Tit females laid 141 eggs and 102 chicks were ringed.

I was able to show the YN’s a little about nest box monitoring on Sunday 27th May. They came round with me in small groups and we looked in nest boxes to see different stages of nesting and saw the difference between a Blue Tit and Great Tit nest. The Blue Tits line their nests with lots of feathers and the Great Tits line theirs with hair, fur wool and other soft material, though rarely feathers.

The YN’s also saw adult birds in the hand and chicks at different stages of development. They actually saw me ring some chicks which they all seemed interested in, so maybe there will be some future ringers among the YN’s!

A total of 42 nest boxes all reached the egg stage which is from when the BTO like me to keep records to enter on the new online DEMON data system. Out of the 12 new YN boxes 6 of them fledged young successfully. The last check for fledging from the final nest box took place on 7.6.18.

I also found time to monitor a Blackbird’s nest in a bramble bush and 3 Reed Warbler nests during the breeding season at Blashford.

These are the results from all the nests I found at Blashford Lakes in 2018.

 

SPECIES NESTS EGGS PULLI RINGED PULLI FLEDGED NEST SUCCESS NEST FAILURE
BLUE TIT 23 204 169 154 21 2
GREAT TIT 19 141 102   70 16 3
NUTHATCH   1        4     4     4   1  
BLACKBIRD   1        4     3     3   1  
REED WARBLER   3     12     8     8   2 1
             
             

I am always interested in re-trapping the females who are nesting in the boxes. I managed to trap all females from the boxes monitored. This is time consuming, but if done at the right time provides me with data on their age, their survival rate how many eggs they lay, how many they manage to hatch and the numbers of chicks they have successfully fledged. I always take measurements of these birds. The most interesting is their weight. If the birds are of a good weight they have prepared themselves well for breeding. They have managed to find plenty of food and survived well over the Winter months. These birds are likely to lay more eggs, be good at incubating, and are fit enough and have enough energy to be able to feed their hatched young through to successful fledging. The heaviest female Blue Tit this year was 13.8 g and the heaviest Great Tit was 21.9g. I also managed to trap a few of the males and would like to try to trap more next year to add to my data and see if any have the same mate.

I have discovered over the years that once females have used a particular nesting box they like to use it the following year. If another female has got there before them they nest in a neighbouring box and then return to their original box if possible the next year. The 4 oldest birds I had nesting this year were born in 2013 and most of them I have trapped each year while nesting.

Another piece of interesting data is that 5 chicks I have ringed in boxes over the years are now using nest boxes to produce their own young. 2 of these were ringed in 2015.

We have done a couple of mist netting sessions in November to help collect data for a new project on Blue Tit moult for the BTO. This has also provided me with some re-traps of this years fledged chicks. This data shows me which young are surviving and I hope to find them nesting in 2019.  There were 3 Blue Tit chicks from Box 102.  2 from Box 6b.  1 from Box 107A. 1 from Box 110 and 1 from Box 113. There were also some Great Tits re-trapped and these were  1 from Box D. 1 from Box 5A. 1 from Box 101 and 2 from Box YN 11(TB.) There was also 1 Nuthatch chick re-trapped from the four I had ringed.

We also caught 2 Blue Tit chicks from Box 110 on 29.8.18 and 16.9.18 during one of our mist netting sessions near the Lapwing Hide. The second bird was undergoing post juvenile moult. A Great Tit was also re-trapped on 24.10.18 and this bird was able to be aged as a 3M and was from Box YN 9(WH).

I am really pleased with all the data I have managed to collect since 2012. Each year I have increased the starting number of boxes which I begin monitoring. I have records of dates when the birds begin to nest, lay their eggs, their young hatch, the numbers of chicks I have ringed and finally the numbers fledged. I have evidence of re-trapping females in the same nest box each year and now there are chicks I have ringed who are using the nest boxes to build their own nests and have their own young.

Below are charts showing the results of my NEST BOX MONITORING for Great Tit, Blue Tit and Nuthatch from 2012 – 2018.

 

GREAT TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 11 75 51 19 6 5
2013 8 49 40 15 4 4
2014 13 93 88 44 9 4
2015 18 133 94 58 12 6
2016 19 121 81 56 14 5
2017 13 95 85 55 11 2
2018 19 141 102 70 16 3
BLUE TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 11 85 26 10 3 8
2013 12 101 65 32 7 5
2014 13 103 82 38 9 4
2015 12 101 75 59 8 4
2016 17 129 107 62 14 3
2017 16 148 137 87 13 3
2018 23 204 169 154 21 2
NUTHATCH NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 0
2013 1 7 7 7 1
2014 1 7 7 6 1
2015 2 13 12 10 2
2016 1 7 7 4 1
2017 1 3 3 3 1
2018 1 4 4 4 1

 

I always enjoy doing the nest box monitoring, but would not be able to do it without the kind permission and help from the people mentioned below.

I would like to say thank you very much to John Durnell and Bob Chapman for giving me permission to monitor the boxes. To Jacki Griffiths for helping me again this year and to two of my friends who filled in when Jacki was on holiday. To Jim Day who kindly lends me Jacki from her usual Saturday voluntary jobs and lastly to Tracy Standish, Geoff Knott and the YN’s for making the new nest boxes.

30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Land of Giants

Another great night for moths, as anyone trying to sleep will have noticed, good moth nights tend to be too hot and windless for sleeping.  I caught 31 species in the garden and an impressive 46 at Blashford Lakes. I say impressive, but this is just for these days, catches of 80 or even 100 plus species were more common in days gone by and can still be achieved on the very best night at the best sites. There now seems to be no doubt that moths, along with perhaps all insects, have become less common. This seems to be a gross decline in numbers across the board, rather than a the extinction lost of species, although rarity does precede extinction.

It is very hard to say exactly why insects have declined but I think it is to do with human n=intervention in the environment, perhaps not a single cause but a combination of habitat degradation, nutrient enrichment, habitat fragmentation, chemical use etc. The sum of our many and various impacts on the world around us. I have run traps in more out of the way places where human impact is less obvious and have been impressed by the large number of individuals, even if not species that I have seen. Once in the far west of Ireland I saw several hundred garden tiger moths attracted to a single light trap, it was an extraordinary sight!

A 25 year long study of 63 nature reserve in Germany using a standardised collecting method concluded that flying insects of all types had declined by 75% during the study period, a truly shocking statistic an done that supports the gut feeling of most that look at insects here too. You can find out more on  Naturespot an excellent site that records wildlife across Leicestershire and Rutland.

puss moth

puss moth -one of my favourites from last night’s catch.

Moth traps do not only attract moths and last night at Blashford we caught a giant lacewing, these are really big, at least for lacewings. It is a species found in damp woodland that I have only ever found at a moth light, they must be hiding out there somewhere, but they are not the most obvious creatures when resting.

giant lacewing

giant lacewing

After a morning spent mowing bramble regrowth I was off the Fishlake to do a walk for Trust members. It was very hot in the sunshine and we enjoyed seeing a hobby and hearing a cuckoo.  The cuckoos will very soon be leaving us again, work by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has shown that many of our cuckoos arrive here in mid April and leave by the end of June. How do they know? They have fitted a number of them with satellite tags and you can follow their progress at BTO Cuckoo tracking , it is a fascinating project and well worth a look.

Personally I enjoyed the sight of lots of male banded demoiselle jockeying for the best perches on the yellow water lily flowers along the barge canal.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Back home I had a wander around the edge of the meadow and it struck me that I had not mentioned clovers, perhaps because they are in almost every patch of grassland, even maintained lawns. I have just the two most common species, the red and the white clover, but both are wonderful nectar sources for insects, especially bees. Clovers, like the rest of the pea family to which they belong have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is why they were used in crop rotations before we had chemical fertilisers to increase the nitrogen content of our soils.

white clover

white clover

I think I will have a quiet night in today, last night I was tramping around a New Forest heath in search of nightjar for a survey being run by the Wildlife Trust. I enjoy a survey as much as the next person, but I confess that when I was crossing from one transect to the next and found that the “path” actually just lead into an uncrossable bog, resulting in the need for a nearly two mile detour, the appeal waned a little. I did find some churring nightjar though and heard a drumming snipe. These are two of the strangest natural sounds to be heard in this country and ones that, if you have not heard them on a dark June night, need to be added to your “Bucket lists”, a proper Wild Experience.

Ringing the Changes

ox-eye daisy

ox-eye daisies

Perhaps the last of the warm days for a while so I thought I would start with a summery shot of the ox-eye daisies which are just starting to flower now. The good weather has been very useful to us as we have been resurfacing paths and doing much other refurbishment at Blashford over the last few days,. With this in mind I will mention that the car parking on the southern (Education Centre) side of Ellingham Drove will be closed tomorrow whilst the entrance track is being resurfaced. Hopefully we should be more or less back to normal on Friday, so everyone who has been putting up with the bumpy track should notice a significant change.

I had a moth trap opening public event this morning, there were not a lot of moths, but a better catch than we have had for a while. There was common swift, poplar hawk, alder moth, treble lines, light brocade, may highflyer, green carpet, brindled beauty, pale tussock,

pale tussock

pale tussock

silver Y, clouded border, white ermine, buff-tip, common carpet, common marbled carpet, spectacle, pale prominent, sharp-angled peacock, fox moth, flame shoulder and Apotomis betuletana (a micro moth that looks like a bird dropping).

buff-tip

buff-tip

Yesterday I found a dead bird on the path as I went to open up the Ivy North hide, it was not freshly dead, so I am not quite sure why it had appeared there now.

IMG_2625

a very dead bird!

As you may have spotted, it is interesting as it has a metal ring on the leg. Although there is not much to go on I think it is a chiffchaff, the ring is one from the British ringing scheme run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), it could be one ringed at Blashford or maybe it is from elsewhere, I will find out soon.

IMG_2626

The ring on what might be a chiffchaff

The ringing of birds tells us a lot about where they go to and how they get there, how long they live and much more. With this in mind I have a challenge for all the photographers out there that visit Blashford Lakes. At present there is a pair of oystercatcher with two chicks near Tern hide, one of the adults has a ring, but I cannot read it properly, I have three of the numbers but need more to find out where it came from, if you get a picture that shows any of the numbers or letters please let me know, we may just be able to piece the number together. I have also noticed that two of the common tern have rings, if they ever land on the posts near the hide we may be able to get the numbers off these too. What I know for sure is that neither was ringed at Blashford as we have never caught one at the reserve.

Who would live in a house like this…

On Thursday I joined volunteers Brenda, Jacki and Sarah to put up the twelve nest boxes made by our Young Naturalists last October.

Brenda had made a few changes to the boxes for us: attaching a metal plate to the entrance hole which will prevent larger birds and other predators from enlarging the hole to gain access; adding a couple of drainage holes to the bases of each box; drilling fixing holes to allow wire to be passed through so the top of the box can be secured firmly to a tree; and finally extra hooks to ensure the box lids closed firmly.

Nest boxes

Nest boxes built by our Young Naturalists group in October

The boxes were used to replace some of the older ones on the reserve that had seen better days, rather than increasing the number on site as checking them all takes time! Once they were positioned on to a tree, Jacki recorded the direction the box was facing, the height of the box, its GPS, the species of tree it was attached to and the number of the box.

Most of the boxes were attached quite low to trees – bird boxes do not need to be high and fixing them low means they can be easily checked by volunteers without the need for a ladder, speeding up the process. We did however attach one box higher than the others, in the hope of enticing a pair of nuthatch to make it their home, so low boxes don’t suit all species.

Brenda and Jacki are going to keep us updated with our Young Naturalist nest boxes, fingers crossed they will be put to good use and we can follow what happens, who moves in and how many chicks fledge successfully. All of the data they collect is passed on to the British Trust for Ornithology and helps to build a better picture of the breeding success of our birds across Britain.

We look forward to our updates and hopefully later on in the Spring when there is less chance of us disturbing any activity we will be able to assist Brenda and Jacki with some of the monitoring.

Blue tit

Blue tit checking out one of the nest boxes on site

 

 

Getting about

Sadly the title does not refer to me as I have been laid up for several days. Having done no more than look out of the window for three days, yesterday I ventured out to at least look from the car window at the fine sunny day.

I headed for the coast, feeling then need for a wide horizon. This also gave me the chance to see a little wildlife. I also came across a story of many years of wandering, that highlights the importance of the Solent coast. The carrier of this tale was a black-tailed godwit feeding beside the road at Milford-on-Sea.

Black-tailed godwit are medium sized (a bit smaller than an oystercatcher), long-legged, long-billed waders that breed on Iceland and return to the UK to moult in late summer and then to winter, staying on until they moult back into their red breeding plumage and return to Iceland, usually in late April. They feed on intertidal mudflats, pools and fields and will move between the coastal flats and flooded river valleys, avoiding the sandy shore favoured by their relative the bar-tailed godwit.

black-tailed godwit feeding

black-tailed godwit feeding

We actually know quite a lot about the lives of black-tailed godwits and they have been the subject of intense study for almost twenty years. They are attractive birds, quiet approachable and have long legs (that is important!). They are also the traditional bringer of spring in Iceland where they do not get the more familiar harbingers of most of the rest of Europe, the cuckoo and swallow.

Now for the legs! It is always important to have legs but if you are studying birds long legs allow the use of easily seen rings, which means you can individually mark birds and identify them in the field, with no need to catch them again. It was in this way that I came across a story of wanderings, thanks to RR-YX.

black-tailed godwit RR-YWx

colour-ringed black-tailed godwit RR-YX

I could see that this bird was an adult and the worn rings told of a few years, small size also hinted at it being a male. In these days of the internet it can be very quick to get information about colour-ringed birds and so it proved for this one. It turned out that it was ringed as an adult male on 18th April 2003 as a newly arrived migrant at Vogalækur, Mýrar, Mýrasýsla, Western Iceland. This was done as part of a long-running project to track the movements of Iceland’s waders co-ordinated by the University of Iceland. But this was just the start of the tale after a couple more sightings nearby in the next couple of days he then turned up at Keyhaven, Hampshire on 17th November 2003 and remained in the area until April 2004. What was pretty certain was that he would have left Iceland well before November, so was he in the Solent unseen?

The following autumn gave a clue to where he might have been, in August 2004 he was seen at  Killingholme, on the Humber in Lincolnshire before turning up again at Keyhaven in November and then staying until at least 13th April 2005, although there was a surprise, a brief trip to the Ouse Washes, Cambridgeshire in mid February. It was again at Killingholme in the autumn from July, staying at least a couple of months before again being seen at Keyhaven in November staying until late March. The autumn of 2006 saw him avoid the Humber as far as we know and appear in Keyhaven in October, after a trip to Newtown on the Isle of Wight in November he was not seen all winter until appearing at Titchfield Haven at the start of March 2007 and then on the River Avon at Ibsley on St Patrick’s Day.

The next few years saw the general pattern of autumn on the Humber, winter at Keyhaven continuing. Sightings became more interesting in 2013, with a trip to Coward’s Marsh, Christchurch Harbour in February, then the Ouse Washes on 1st April, Benbecula in the Western Isles on 23rd and then SW Iceland on the 25th. Not quite as good as a satellite tag, but you can still see get the picture and a lot cheaper and now ten years after he was ringed! Further sightings followed at favoured sites with another in Iceland in May 2015.

When I saw him yesterday he was over sixteen years old and back at an old haunt. Many people see colour-ringed birds and do not report them as “They will have been seen before” or someone else will report it. What his story shows is that all the records together produce a story of regular haunts on which he mostly relies of survival, but also of a knowledge of other key sites all around the country. His tale shows how our wildlife relies on a network of sites, regular returning shows how continuity of habitat is important, he knows where he is going and what to expect when he gets there. So we need to look after networks of sites across the whole of these islands and further still and we need to ensure that they persist, a new site will not automatically get added to the inventory as an immediate substitute for the loss of a traditional location.

Lastly his trip from Benbecula to Iceland in 2013 shows his speed of travel, in fact it will have taken him well under the two days to make the flight as he took the spring to Iceland with him after we looked after him for the winter.

Please do report any colour-ringed birds you see, there might not always be a long story but there just might be. You can report them via the BTO at  BTO Ringing Scheme and click on the “report a ringed bird” icon on the top left side (you can report all ringed birds you see or find here, not just colour-ringed ones). For some schemes you can track down the ringer which can get you the details much faster, but there are links as to how to do this there too. Not only is it fascinating but it provides invaluable data for nature conservation and gives insights as to how we might go about serving the needs of real birds.

For colour-ringed birds note which leg the colours are on, where they are in relation to the leg joint “knee” and where the metal ring was if it can be seen. By convention the combinations are quoted with the bird’s left leg first then the right, so this one was RR-YX.

colour ringed BW from rear

RR -YX

Just imagine looking at him from behind and you will get it right! Oh, and get a picture too if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

A bird in the hand…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were privileged to be joined by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers for a special ringing demonstration here at Blashford Lakes. The ringing scheme organised by the BTO aims to monitor the survival rates of birds whilst collecting information about their productivity and movements, providing vital support for conservation efforts. A lightweight, uniquely numbered metal ring is placed around the bird’s leg, enabling birds to be identified as individuals in a reliable and harmless manner.

BTO volunteer bird ringers Trevor Codlin, Chris Lycett and Kevin Sayer arrived bright and early to set up their nets and begin ringing in our willow wood, where we had put up an additional feeder to entice the birds in. Luckily they did not need much enticing, and by the time the group arrived we had a nice variety of birds to look at.

ringing-demonstration-resized

Ringing demonstration with Chris and Kevin

Trevor, Kevin and Chris demonstrated and talked through the processes involved, including catching the birds using a mist net, ringing the birds, the different measurements taken and how to carefully release them.

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The Young Naturalists were even able to release some of the smaller birds themselves, with Chris keeping a watchful eye. This was definitely the highlight and something they all thoroughly enjoyed!

We were really lucky to see a great variety of birds up close, including reed bunting, firecrest, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, long tailed tit, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, robin and greenfinch. Holding a bird is definitely not something you get to do every day and it was fabulous to give the Young Naturalists the opportunity to release them after they had been ringed, measured and weighed. To see the birds this close was a real experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration, so thank you again to Trevor, Kevin and Chris for your patience, expertise and for giving up your Sunday morning!

To find out more about bird ringing please visit the BTO website.

After lunch we carried out a bird survey of the woodland birds from Woodland Hide. We spotted 15 different species, including at least 16 chaffinch, 10 blackbird, 5 siskin, blue tit, goldfinch and long-tailed tit, 4 greenfinch, 3 robin and great tit, 2 brambling, dunnock and great spotted woodpecker and 1 reed bunting and nuthatch.

We also found time to visit Ivy South hide, where the bittern was showing nicely in the reedbed to the south of Ivy Lake and three goosanders were also present. Hopefully you can make out the bittern in Talia’s photo below, just above the two Canada geese!

bittern-talia-f-resized

Bittern spotting by Talia Felstead

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.