Back to some birds

I have been off for the week and today was my first day back. In my absence the reserve has turned green! Many of the trees have leaves bursting through and around the lakes emergent plants are doing what they do best and emerging.

The change of seasons is very apparent, with Ibsley Water having swallow, sand martin and a few house martin swooping over at least 47 wigeon and a goldeneye, reminders of winter. A fine adult little gull was hunting insects over the lake in the morning, but seemed to have gone in the afternoon. The rain of early afternoon brought in a flock of 25 Arctic tern, always a treat and at the end of the day some of them had joined the 4 common tern on the shingle near Tern hide giving a great comparison.

Migrants generally are still rather few apart from chiffchaff and blackcap, which are both around the reserve in good numbers. Today I found just singles of willow warbler and reed warbler, we usually have just one pair of willow warbler but there should be many more reed warbler to come.

Other more random sightings I had today included a red kite, a pair of mandarin duck, 4 goosander and 3 snipe. I also had reports of 2 white wagtail and a common sandpiper.

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Sundown

Recent evenings have seen the return of the starlings to Blashford, with a murmuration of perhaps 30000 birds. They are mostly arriving from the north and west, perhaps because this is where there are pastures and urban centres for them to feed in during the day. The best place to view them is from the bank at the south side of the main car park, although it can be very cold up there if the evening is breezy. How much they fly about depends upon conditions and predators, so the spectacle can vary widely from one day to the next. At present they are roosting just to the west of Ibsley Water, but they may well move if the reeds start to get beaten down by the weight of birds.

Starlings-064

Starlings murmuration by Cathryn Baldock

The gull roost remains as an additional spectacle with perhaps 8-10,000 birds.

This evening I was helping out with the Solent wader and brent survey work, I was rather late to the field as I had a meeting in the middle of the day, but I ended up at Lepe in good time for a really spectacular sunset.

Lepe sunset

Lepe sunset

I also saw a few brent geese flying north across the Solent, they appear to be roosting in the Beaulieu River and feeding on the north side of the Isle of Wight in the day. This is the first winter I have observed regular cross-Solent movement by brent geese. These observations are being collected to help understanding of how the birds are using the resources around the Solent. If we are to conserve them we need to know how they are using the habitat and how different sites are linked.

The brent geese come to winter with us from Arctic Siberia, staging in Holland and Germany en route to and from. Perhaps surprisingly the starlings are also long distance travellers and some of them may also have come all the way from Russia to winter with us.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 28: Good for Snails?

This maybe the time of year when the sun is at its highest but it was hard to tell today as it never actually stopped raining, it eased to drizzle at times, but never stopped.  It seemed that the return of wet weather had every froglet, toadlet, slug and snail out and about in celebration of the end of the hot, dry days.

The night was damp but warm with the cloud overhead and the moth trap was quite busy again, I had only one out last night. Although it is a “Moth trap” it would be more correct to call it a nocturnal flying insect trap as it catches many other insects, in fact sometimes many more non-moths than moths. One of last night’s non-moths was a fly and one that probably also benefits from damp conditions as it was a snail-killing fly. It is actually the larvae that are the killers of snails and slugs. Considering I have so many slugs and snails in my garden it is surprising I have never found a snail-killing fly there, although the reason for this is that they do not generally prey on the common garden species.

snail killer

snail-killing fly

I also realised that yesterday’s moth catch included one that was new to the reserve, although all the books describe it as “common”, I had never seen one before. It was a green arches. Looking at the distribution map for Hampshire it is apparent that it avoids the New Forest area for some reason, despite being a moth of damp woodland, perhaps it does not like acid soils.

green arches

green arches

The heavy rain in the morning did present one surprise, as I opened up the Tern hide there was a flock of 20 black-tailed godwit flying around, eventually landing to the east of the hide. They were all in fine, red breeding plumage, these were Icelandic godwits returning to the south coast for the winter, or at least to moult. They had all their wing feathers too, which would indicate that they had probably arrived straight from Iceland and just been forced low by the rain. This early in the “autumn” they will be birds that have failed to breed successfully so head to the south coast of England to undergo their post-breeding moult. This will start only once they get here so they can make the journey fully feathered, having arrived they will start to moult their wing feathers almost immediately. Moulting is an energy intensive business, but there is lots of food in the mud at this time of year and not many waders around competing for it, so their strategy is a good one. A lot of godwits from this population have been given colour-rings, so when they landed I checked through the flock, but there were all unadorned.

Sightings, Comings and Goings

The last week has seen good numbers of birds at the Woodland hide, all the regular species in good numbers and including at  least 14 brambling, with some males now looking very fine indeed, c20 reed bunting and loads of siskin.

The bittern was still present early in the week at the Ivy North hide. On Ibsley Water the Slavonian grebe and 2 black-necked grebe were seen on most days.

The big news has remained the gulls, the evening roost on Ibsley Water is huge, probably at least 10,000 black-headed gull, 200 or so common gull and probably at 3 adult ring-billed gull. Ring-billed gull is a North American native and the only one regularly seen in England this winter was the bird that roosted on Ibsley Water each evening, so when a second turned up this was remarkable. Subsequently a probably hybrid one has appeared and now what seems to be yet another pure bird. Although all adults they vary subtly in wing-tip pattern, degree of moult into breeding plumage and exact shade of the mantle. With so many gulls present careful searching may yet turn up more are visitors. In addition there are a lot of gulls migrating at present and in total many tens of thousands may pass through Blashford Lakes during the course of the spring.

Numbers of larger gulls have dropped right away though as have ducks, with the exception of shoveler which remain in large numbers. But the arrival of something like real spring weather which causes the wildfowl to go also heralds the certain coming of our summer birds, there should be chiffchaff, sand martin and maybe wheatear and garganey over the next few days. All you need to do is get out there and get looking!