30 Days Wild- Day 16: The Curlew’s Cry

I spent a good part of the day at a small reserve in the New Forest at Linwood where we are discussing a habitat restoration project with the Our Past, Our Present Heritage Lottery project. The reserve is small but interesting as it is in the New Forest but not grazed by livestock. It is mainly woodland of quite recent origin and within the trees are areas of mire and it is maintaining these that is the objective. The open history of the site is attested by the patches of bog myrtle and the rare white sedge. The sedge is not that rare nationally but is predominantly a northern and western species and is rare in southern England.

white sedge

white sedge

The New Forest is something of a haven in southern England for species that are otherwise typically more often found northern or even upland areas. The reason is mainly that it is one of the few areas with bogs and mires in this part of the country. One of the once typical birds of such places, the curlew called repeatedly from the open bog beyond the reserve as we were looking around. There are now only about 40 pairs remaining in the New Forest and breeding success is worryingly low. As with many other species habitat change is probably a major factor nationally, but within the New Forest increasing recreation is probably a factor too, since the habitat appears to remain much as before.

There was not much news from Blashford, although the second year little gull was still to be seen from Tern hide.

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Sights and Sounds of Spring

St David’s Day today and although there was a rather wintery feel to things, at Blashford it did look commendably spring-like with the wild daffodil appropriately now in full bloom.

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Wild daffodils on a rainy St David’s Day

Although we have yet to see any summer migrants at Blashford, they will not be far away now, the first sand martin should be with us in about a week and the first has already been seen in the UK. We have had a number of clear signs of birds moving though, lots of the duck have left and for the last several days there have been curlew either on the shore of Ibsley Water or flying over calling. I am not sure if these are migrants heading north to breeding areas, perhaps in the Pennines or Scotland or birds that breed on the New Forest bogs. Either way they are an increasingly rare sight as curlew are a fast declining species in the UK, despite being one of our longest-lived bird species. They seem to be suffering from a double or even triple whammy of lowered breeding success in summer and pressure on their wintering grounds due to loss of habitat and increased disturbance.

In fact it seems that worldwide the curlew and godwit species are all suffering declines and recent research suggests that half of all species are at real risk of extinction. A summary of this research can be found at  http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=6233 .

We are lucky in the New Forest to have one of the last areas in Southern England with a breeding population, albeit one that is under threat. They nest on a number of the Forest bogs, but are especially vulnerable to disturbance and predation. These go together as often it is when the adults are scared away from their nest that the predators take the chance to take the eggs. Taking note of the signs about keeping to paths and preventing dogs from wandering off over open heath and bog would probably be a real help to them and many other ground nesting species.

Waders are especially vulnerable in several ways, most species will only attempt to raise one brood of no more than four young per year. They lay large eggs for their size as their chicks are well developed when they hatch, so incubation time is long, coupled with nesting on the ground, this makes them at high risk of being found by a predator before they hatch. They have overcome this relatively low productivity by being long-lived, a curlew may live well over 30 years! However this means that small changes in adult survival can tip them over the edge and send populations into free fall. It seems that curlew species globally are facing this twin challenge of lower breeding success and poorer adult survival, setting real challenges for conservationists and anyone who loves the evocative sight and sound of these fabulous birds.

So Close and Yet so Far

A rather better day today, sunshine in place of steady rain. My first sight upon looking across Ibsley Water was of a merlin sitting on the osprey perch out in the lake, not a bird I see at Blashford very often. I was also at the reserve to lock up yesterday when the bird of prey of the day was a marsh harrier feeding on something on the western shore of Ibsley Water. Also on Ibsley Water today were a black-tailed godwit, a curlew and 4 pintail. yesterday evening at dusk I counted 45 pochard and 22 goosander, so the waterfowl roosts are slowly increasing in numbers. In the same vein, tonight there were a few thousand starling gathering to the north of the reserve and the first indication of a greenfinch roost near the main car park, with perhaps thirty birds gathering.

With the day set fair I took the chance to clear some of the paths of leaves and do so cutting back. Despite the recent frosts there are still quite a few fungi about.

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candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Candlesnuff is one fungus that can be seen all year round, but I rather liked this group with water droplets on them, they were beside the path between Ivy North and the Woodland hide.

Along the Dockens Water path I saw a firecrest in the holly and for a change it was not hidden in the shadows but out in the sun, looking very jewel-like. This path is looking really good at the moment with the trees in full colour.

dockens-path

Dockens Water path

Clearing leaves from the path towards Rockford Lake I found a raptor plucking post with the remains of a jay, it could have been taken by a female sparrowhawk although, these days, a goshawk might be just as likely.

plucking-post

remains of a jay at a plucking post

I had seen “Walter” the great white egret at Ivy North hide when I opened up and heard water rail and Cetti’s warbler there too, but the bird of the day from there was the ferruginous duck, which spent the afternoon in front of the hide. Unfortunately I missed it as by the time I heard about it it was more or less dark. This is no doubt the drake that has been returning to Blashford for some years, although it usually frequents one of the private lakes to the south of the reserve.

In the late afternoon I was at the Goosander hide hoping to see some colour-ringed gulls on the perching rails there. There were gulls, but none with rings.

gulls

Lesser black-backed gull, yellow -legged gull, herring gull and black-headed gulls.

Yellow-legged gull are slightly large and darker than herring gull and typically have whiter heads in winter, lacking the grey streaking of herring gull. The picture above shows a fairly dark lesser black-backed gull, with the yellow-legged gull in the centre and a typical herring gull on the right.

yellow-legged-gull

yellow-legged gull, adult.

As I went to lock up the Moon was just rising, close to the horizon it always look large and this evening it looked especially so. It has good reason though as apparently it is closer to us at present than it has been for 68 years, so I really never have seen the Moon look so big.

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A big Moon

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Ivy Lake as I locked up after sunset.

 

A Few Sightings

The last few days have had a few good sightings around the reserve. On Saturday 3 otter were seen in the Ivy Silt Pond, a group of three was probably a female and her two off-spring, let’s hope they become regulars.

The great white egret has been seen on most days, including today, when it was briefly on Ibsley Water. Both yesterday and today a single curlew was also there. Other birds have included a wheatear on Sunday and a merlin today, which had go at catching one of the flock of meadow pipit currently frequenting the shore of Ibsley Water. However the undoubted star bird of the last few days was the yellow-browed warbler seen and photographed outside the Woodland hide today by John Hilton.

yellow-browed-warbler-by-john-hilton

yellow-browed warbler at the Woodland hide, by John Hilton

These tiny warblers breed in Siberia and used to be scarce vagrants to Western Europe, however they have undergone a remarkable change of status in the last few years and we now more or less expect to get an arrival of them each autumn, especially on the east coast of England. This autumn’s arrival has been on a very large scale, on one day there were over 130 on the Yorkshire coast around Flamborough Head.

Interestingly these warblers are not the only Siberian birds that are arriving in far greater numbers these days, a whole variety of previously very rare visitors are turning up more and more often. These include species like pallid harrier, brown shrike, red-flanked bluetail, citrine wagtail and others, who knows maybe one day we will see one of these at Blashford too, (well I can dream!).

On a more down to earth note, the moth trap contained a good, if small, collection of autumn moths, including merveille du jour, red-line Quaker, large wainscot and chestnut.

chestnut

chestnut

Locking up this evening it was noticeable that Ivy Lake has a good selection of wildfowl now and these included at least 139 wigeon, by far my largest count so far this autumn.

 

It’s all about the Curves

I arrived at Blashford to open up the Tern hide this morning and was greeted by the sight of an avocet flying across the lake and then swimming around. Not an unprecedented sight,  but still quite a rare one inland in Hampshire.

As It was Tuesday it was a volunteer day, our Tuesday group is much smaller than the Thursday and so we tackle tasks that work best with a small group, we also work for longer, typically about five hours. Today’s task was to cut the vegetation on the shore to the west of the Tern hide, this is a favourite are with nesting lapwing, but it is constantly being colonised by brambles, willows and birches, so  we cut it each year to keep it open. Below is what it looked like before we started.before 1 And now afterwards.after1

Disappointingly it does not look that different, but I can assure you that the vegetation that was some 25cm high is now mown right down, ideal for lapwing nest spring. You can see more of the lake over the top of the shore where the rushes have been cut along the lake edge, so there is a difference.

Around lunchtime a curlew flew over calling, another rather scarce wader at Blashford, although they can be fairly regular in the spring. Of course avocet are well know for having an up-curved bill, one of rather few species that do. Curlew have very decurved bills, in fact both curlew and avocet are probably best known for the curvature of their bills. I am almost tempted to say we got the set when it comes to bill curvature, but that would be to forget the wrybill, whose bill turns to the side, the only species to do so. Unfortunately this is a New Zealand species and so probably unlikely to occur at Blashford (okay it will never turn up here).

In keeping with the long tradition of top quality wildlife photography, for which this blog is so well known, I now present my picture of the avocet, taken at the end of the day when it was swimming with the roosting gulls.avocet

Other birds today included the great white egret again on Rockford Lake and perched in a tree on Ivy Lake and at dusk an adult Mediterranean gull in the roost on Ibsley Water.