Listing, Lessons and Speculations

Like lots of people who look at wildlife I cannot resist keeping lists, not usually very thorough and I usually lose interest in about mid-February each year. So far I have kept going and find that I have seen 116 species of birds so far this year, all of them in Hampshire and at least 105 of them on visits to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves.

Of the 116 species I can see that five of them are introduced alien species (Canada goose, Egyptian goose, Mandarin duck, pheasant and red-legged partridge) and another an introduced population of a former native (greylag).  All of these  have been either introduced for “sport” or escaped from parkland collections.

Of the native species I am struck by the many species that have changed their status radically since I arrived in Hampshire. There are various reasons for this, the white trio of little egret (now breeding), great white egret (soon to be breeding here?) and spoonbill (perhaps likewise), have increased in number and range right across western Europe. The same could be said for Cetti’s warbler, avocet, yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.

Birds of prey have increased, more or less across the board and seeing red kite, marsh harrier and peregrine is not now especially notable and buzzard has spread right across the county rather than being a New Forest bird. All of these species have benefited from a more benign environment, in which they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer less persecution, at least in lowland England. One other species has gained from the same change is the raven, which now nests across most of the county. Goshawk has also colonised the county and benefited similarly, although the population is of escaped , or released, origin.

When I first came to Hampshire in 1978 there was no accepted record of ring-billed gull and I am not sure there was even such a thing as a Caspian gull thought about.

I estimate that if I had been doing the same thing forty years ago my list would most likely not have included at least 14 of those I have seen this year, so more than 10% of my list are birds that would have seemed remarkable then. Of course there would have been some species that I would have expected to see then by mid January, that we have now more or less lost, or at least which now need more particular seeking. For example Bewick’s swan, white-fronted goose, grey partridge, willow tit, corn bunting, yellowhammer and tree sparrow.

So listing may well be a rather pointless exercise in many ways but reflecting upon my list so far certainly tells a story of how much has changed and of course makes one think how much might change in the future. So what might a list in another forty years include?

I suspect we will have established populations of additional alien species, most likely is ring-necked parakeet (I suspect this will happen quite soon), but I think black swan may also get a firmer foothold too and Egyptian goose could become very common. Who knows perhaps even sacred ibis could make it over here in time if the continental populations develop uncontrolled.

Natural colonists that look like becoming regulars include, cattle egret and glossy ibis, both already occasional visitors. It is interesting to note the preponderance of wetland birds that are expanding their ranges. A bit of a wildcard might be the potential for a whole range of essentially  Pacific Arctic species to turn up as winter vagrants. The ice melt along the northern coast of Russia has opened up a route for many previously unconsidered species. The occurrence in Europe in recent years of slaty-backed gull hints at the potential for species to come via this route in years to come.

Unfortunately I think a lot of species are going to get much rarer. Coastal species will be under particular pressure, in forty years time there will be little or no saltmarsh along most of the Solent shoreline and much reduced mudflats, so wintering coastal wader populations will surely be much reduced. Couple this with and increase in “short-stopping”, which means that wintering birds coming from the north and east just don’t come so far in the increasingly mild winters. Overall I think it certain that the Solent will not be nearly so significant for wintering wetland birds.

This discussion of change is only considering the winter, our breeding birds could be in for at least as great a change, who knows I might speculate on this in a later blog.



A Day to Enjoy

Bird News: Ibsley WaterBewick’s swan 6, goosander 95, black-tailed godwit 2, peregrine 1, green sandpiper 1. Ivy Lakeferruginous duck 1, bittern 2, water rail 1, yellow-legged gull 1, green samdpiper 1. Rockford Lakegoldeneye 4, Egyptian goose 10, pintail 1, green sandpiper 1.

After yesterday’s wash-out today’s sunshine was very welcome. Visitor numbers were high all day, in fact the car parks were more or less full from mid morning to mid afternoon. Luckily people were well spread around the reserve so none of the hides were too jammed. The ferruginous duck was to the south of the Ivy South hide for most of the day, unfortunately looking into the sun did not give the best views though. A few lucky people saw bittern from Ivy North hide, the circumstances suggest that there were two birds involved.

As I opened the Tern hide this morning I was just in time to see the 6 Bewick’s swan before they flew out to the valley, curiously, although they flew in the direction of their usual feeding fields, they were not seen there today. Green sandpipers were seen on three different lakes and 2 black-tailed godwits added to the waders, although they left to the south in the late afternoon. At dusk a good roost count of the goosander was reported, still shy of the magic one hundred, but 95 was still impressive.

Following yesterday’s report of a Caspian gull on Blashford Lake I went to see if it was there this morning, I did find a large gull, which promptly flew to Ivy Lake, where I got a few pictures of it, but I reckon this bird is a yellow-legged gull, so my search for a Caspian this winter goes on.

yellow-legged gull

Walking back passed Rockford Lake the masses of whistling wigeon were rather drowned out by the cries of 10 Egyptian geese.

Egyptian goose

Going through the woodland I noticed several large flies basking int he sunshine on the lichen covered trunks of two trees. Looking closer I was taken by the fabulous gardens of lichens and moss that these trunks had developed. There also seemed to be some differences between the two trees flora, possibily because one was an oak and the other an ash.

lichens on oak trunk


lichens on ash trunk

One of the great things about Blashford Lakes is that it appeals to a wide range of visitors, not just out and out birders, although the ferruginous duck was attracting a steady stream of admirers, others did not give it a second, or even first, glance. There were people seeking their first glimps of a bittern or trying to unravel the finer points of gull identification, but at least as many were gathered at the Woodland hide enjoying  the great spotted woodpeckers, lesser redpolls and blue tits.

blue tit

Locking up at the end of a busy day, there were still people hoping a water rail would come out to feed as the sun set. Locking up the Ivy South hide it wa sgood to see the ferruginous duck doing something other than sleeping. It was bathing and preening and swimming about, it looked much better when it was active. Unlike many other ducks pochard, and I suspect the ferruginous duck also, feed at night and I think these birds were just setting out for the start of their day as I was finishing mine.