Category Archives: Birdlife

CONSERVATIONISTS CONCERNED BY LATE SWIFT RETURN

This is a story published by the RSPB

Wildlife experts who work to save the UK’s dwindling swift population are concerned at the late arrival of these birds, which nest here after spending the winter in Africa. Many swifts have arrived up to two weeks late, and the RSPB has received numerous calls and emails from people concerned at their absence.

What might have caused this delay? Swifts would normally begin their journeys north from Africa in April. Their epic 6,000 mile journey is often fraught with hazards but weather conditions this year may have made migration especially difficult.

When the birds arrived in Europe, they were faced with serious climatic challenges. This year there have been distressing stories from Italy and Spain showing that swifts, some of which may have been on their way to UK nest sites, have even been killed by storms and cold wet weather. Doomed to die of starvation and hypothermia, they have been trying to survive overnight by clinging to each other on walls to avoid the wind and rain.

Swift expert Edward Mayer, who runs the Swift Conservation website and free advice service, says “There has been some really appalling spring weather this year in Italy, France, Spain and the Balkans. Temperatures should have been in the 30s but were in the low teens, and much lower at night, with prolonged rain storms making things even worse. This suppresses the swifts’ flying insect food, soaks and chills them – and can kill them”.

The unseasonably low temperatures in southern Europe will have made life even harder for these small birds desperately needing to refuel for the final leg of their journey. Then predominantly northerly winds have made flying north even harder.

Although these are extraordinarily resilient birds, swifts that make it to the UK face further challenges. They typically nest under the eaves of houses but in recent years many of these spaces have been blocked up, leaving the birds with the difficult task of finding somewhere new to raise their young during the limited time they spend here. The RSPB ran a campaign between February and April to encourage people to make new homes for them, by buying either a specially made nestbox or making one of their own.

“Swifts have huge public support in the UK” says Jamie Wyver, the RSPB’s Swift Lead. “Our supporters and social media followers are incredibly enthusiastic about them, and earlier this year we sold well over 1,000 new swift nestboxes! As well as our own regional teams working hard to make sure these birds have plenty of places to nest, there are around 75 independent local swift groups.”

The RSPB’s John Day and fellow swift experts Dick Newell and Edward Mayer recently had published a co-authored article providing advice for ecologists in the membership journal of the Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). The article outlines ways in which new building developments can easily accommodate homes for swifts, neatly built inside wall cavities. These ‘nest bricks’ should be added typically in small clusters of two to four to gables of houses, as swifts prefer to nest close to one another.

Everyone can help swifts this summer by adding sightings of the birds nesting or flying around roofs to the RSPB’s Swift Survey: rspb.org.uk/swiftsurvey. Data gathered in the survey are used to show which sites are most important for swifts.

There’s also an opportunity to get out and enjoy the swifts that have made it back this year and learn how to help boost their numbers during Swift Awareness Week, from Saturday 22 to Sunday 30 June. This will highlight the plight of this iconic bird and show how everyone can help by, for example putting up swift nest boxes and gardening for wildlife. Over 70 local events have been organised during the week so far, from the south coast to the north of Scotland. Further details of each event can be found on the Action for Swifts website: actionforswifts.blogspot.com/p/2019-swift-awareness-week.html .

PHOTO: Swift Apus apus, lone bird flying over rooftop where they are actively encouraged to nest in houses, Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire, by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com).

SEABIRDS FLOCK BACK TO LUNDY ISLAND

A new study led by the RSPB has revealed that total seabird numbers on the island of Lundy have now tripled to over 21,000 birds, and key species such as Manx shearwater have increased to more than 5,500 pairs and puffins to 375 birds.

This growth over the past 15 years resulted after the island was declared rat free in 2006.  The eradication of rats was necessary after evidence from other important seabird islands revealed that the biggest threat to burrow-nesting birds such as Manx shearwaters and puffins on Lundy was predation of the eggs and chicks by rats.

In 2002 a partnership of Natural England, the Landmark Trust, the National Trust and the RSPB was formed to eradicate the rats on Lundy, which are not native to Britain but were imported unwittingly on ships visiting the island or from shipwrecks.

Rosie Hall, Director of Science & Nature at the National Trust, said, “We were really concerned as previous records showed that puffin numbers on Lundy had plummeted from over 3,500 pairs in 1939 to fewer than 10 pairs in 2000.  And although around 75% of the global population of Manx shearwaters breed on UK islands there were only 297 pairs on Lundy in 2001 – way short of its potential considering its size and available habitat.”

Helen Booker, Senior Conservation Officer for the RSPB in South West England, said: “This study clearly shows how quickly and positively seabirds respond to the removal of non-native predators. Of course, we had anticipated major population increases when the project was launched, but the scale of this recovery has far exceeded our expectations.

Dean Jones, Lundy Warden, speaking for Landmark Trust, said, “It is exciting to see this level of recovery in Manx shearwaters, one of our most important seabirds. In spring the island comes alive at night with the sound of these amazing birds. The increases in puffins, guillemots and razorbills is also very encouraging for the future of seabirds on Lundy and we are maintaining our vigilance to ensure rats cannot return to the island.”

Tim Frayling, Senior Specialist in Ornithology at Natural England, said, “Lundy Island is home to one of the most important seabird colonies in England and it is fantastic to see such a revival in numbers.

“The current challenges facing wildlife are huge, but this remarkable increase demonstrates that wildlife recovery can be achieved by partnerships and local communities working together, in this case by
combining their expertise to create a safer breeding environment for the fantastic diversity of breeding seabirds that help make Lundy so special.”

Ms Booker added, “The partners are grateful for all the support we’ve had over the years from a huge team of volunteers without which both the work to eradicate the rats and our knowledge of the seabirds’ recovery simply would not have been possible.”

PHOTO by Elisabeth Price

ACEARTS AND SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCH OPEN WILDLIFE ART EXHIBITION

ACEarts is working in partnership with the Somerset Wildlife Trust on an Open Wildlife Art Exhibition, and is seeking submissions from artists and creators.

The submissions are now open and will be judged in May by a panel which includes Wildlife Broadcaster and Patron of Somerset Wildlife Trust Simon King OBE; Stewart Geddes, President of the Royal West of England Academy; Katie Arber, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Somerset Wildlife Trust; Nina Gronw-Lewis, Curator of ACEarts; and Frank Martin, Trustee of ACEarts. The exhibition will take place at ACEarts between 6 October and 3 November 2018.

Nina Gronw-Lewis, Curator of ACEarts, said, “This is a really exciting opportunity for local creators of every discipline to be part of an exhibition of wildlife art. We’re really looking forward to seeing the artwork which is submitted, and are grateful to Simon King OBE and Stewart Geddes for agreeing to be part of the judging panel.”

Katie Arber, Somerset Wildlife Trust, comments, “Britain’s wildlife inspires many artists. Working in partnership with ACEarts we hope many more people will become aware of just how special Somerset is for wildlife and understand how important it is to safeguard our local wildlife and wild landscapes.  It will also help us and ACEarts raise the critical funds needed to continue to carry out our work.”

Interested artists can find out more details by visit ACEarts’ website www.acearts.co.uk, emailing aceartssomerset@icloud.comor visiting their Facebook page.

Somerset Wildlife Trust has been protecting vulnerable wildlife and preserving Somerset’s wild places for over 50 years and, with over 18,000 members, it is the largest conservation charity in the county.  Alongside its members and volunteers the chariety works year round to protect wildlife, transform landscapes and put nature back into people’s lives.

Top: ‘Launch’, by Kaye Parmenter

HAVE YOU HEARD A CUCKOO YET?

Have you heard a cuckoo yet? If so Exmoor National Park Authority would love to hear from you. Through Exmoor Wild Watch 2017 the National Park is monitoring cuckoo sightings this spring and summer.

Last year on Exmoor, the first cuckoo was heard on 12 April, so it’s time to start listening for their distinctive call – or perhaps be lucky enough to spot one of these charismatic birds whose appearance can be mistaken for a sparrow hawk when in flight. Traditionally, good places to hear cuckoos on Exmoor include Croydon Hill, Alcombe Common, Ley Hill and Webber’s Post.

Cuckoos are migratory birds which visit the UK during the breeding season between March and July after spending the winter in South Africa. Survey data suggest that across the UK cuckoo numbers dropped nearly 50% between 1995 and 2012, and they are a species that remain on the “red list” meaning they are of conservation concern.

On Exmoor, cuckoo populations are doing quite the opposite to what we see nationally. Despite their decline across the UK, populations on Exmoor are thriving. The latest Breeding Bird Survey (2014) highlighted a promising an 82% increase in cuckoo abundance across the National Park, since the previous survey in 2008.

Ali Hawkins, conservation officer (wildlife) at Exmoor National Park says:“Exmoor Wild Watch is an opportunity for everyone to join us in finding out more about some of the species that are characteristic of Exmoor. This year we would love to hear from you if you see any of the following species: cuckoo, dormouse, golden ringed dragonfly, kestrel, Atlantic grey seal, red kite, grey wagtail, red admiral, adder and tree bumblebee.

“You can record your sightings by visiting www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/exmoor-wildwatch where you can also get involved by joining a Wild Watch training event.”

Spotter guides and a family wildlife leaflet can be picked up at National Park Centres at Dulverton, Lynmouth and Dunster. The cuckoo features on the front of the Moorland Birds of Exmoor National Park pocket guide which is available free of charge from National Park Centres at Dulverton, Dunster and Lynmouth. 

Photo by Chris Triggs

KNIT FOR NATURE AND HELP PROTECT BARN OWLS ACROSS SOMERSET

Somerset Wildlife Trust is excited to announce the release of its  latest Knit for Nature™ pattern – Boris the Barn Owl –  as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the decline of much-loved Somerset species and get communities inspired to pick up their knitting needles to raise much needed funds for wildlife conservation in the county. Boris follows on from the success of Rustle and Bluebell Hedgehog patterns.

Somerset Wildlife Trust is dedicated to protecting vulnerable species such as hedgehogs and barn owls by creating richer and more sustainable habitats for them across their reserves – but they need the public’s help to ensure this important work continues. Action is needed now from people and communities where these wonderful animals choose to make their homes. So, whether you are a nifty knitter or knitting novice, there’s a simple way that YOU can support their work AND have fun at the same time!

You can get your hands on the wonderful new pattern and others from Somerset Wildlife Trust’s website and all proceeds will go directly to the work they do to safeguard vulnerable species in the county. To download the pattern go to: www.somersetwildlife.org/knit_for_nature

You can not only raise money by buying the pattern, but why not also raise funds through hosting a tea party or coffee morning to knit with friends and sell cakes or other crafts at the same time. Every penny raised makes a real difference.

Barn Owl numbers have declined by 70% in the UK since the 1930s due to the changes in land use and loss of available nest sites and reduction of the rough grassland areas that support their small mammal prey. We have also lost around 30% of our hedgehog population since 2002 due to the disappearance of our hedgerows and permanent pasture, increase in roads and traffic and the use of pesticides amongst other things.

Don’t forget to share photos of your creations on social media -­ maybe you knitted Boris in some crazy colours, or perhaps you took Bluebell with you to a wild or exotic location? Somerset Wildlife Trust want to know!

Share your photos and stories with them using #knitfornature on Twitter (@SomersetWT), Facebook (@somersetwildlifetrust) Pinterest or email them to wildlifenews@somersetwildlife.org and they will feature them on our website. Please also share them with Exmoor Magazine (@exmoormagazine) on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

If you’d like to send some barn owls or hedgehogs back to the Trust, the address is Somerset Wildlife Trust, 34 Wellington Road, Taunton, TA1 5AW

‘Knit for Nature’ is a registered trademark of Somerset Wildlife Trust.

PHOTO: Rustle, Bluebell and Boris photographed by Paul Mitchell.

FREMINGTON NATURE RESERVE GETS SPECIAL SCRAPE

Work has started to try to encourage more birds and wildlife at a Fremington nature reserve.

North Devon Council is ‘scraping’ an area of land at Lovell’s Field Local Nature Reserve to form a pond-like area. This will improve the habitat for over-wintering birds and create a natural haven for wildlife.

The term ‘scrape’ is used to describe a shallow pond that forms in a natural low-spot in a floodplain. Scrapes are sometimes dry during the summer and provide off-river habitat for many plants and animals, including frogs and newts. They also provide important feeding areas for adult and young birds.

Executive Member responsible for parks and leisure, Councillor Dick Jones, said: “I’m really excited about this project and will be following the results of the scrape with interest. Lovell’s Field is a beautiful spot and as a designated Local Nature Reserve, it has to be carefully managed to conserve its special qualities.

“Much of the important bird life that is found on the estuary in winter depends on finding food in short vegetation, mud and shallow water. It is hoped this scrape, along with the traditional summer grazing on the reserve we already have in place, will create the right conditions for many bird species for both feeding during the winter and breeding during the summer.”

The work will be completed in the next few weeks, with interpretation boards also planned for the footpath that runs alongside the nature reserve to the Tarka Trail.

Storm Petrels are Breeding on Lundy!

Lundy is celebrating once again with the news of a historic seabird find. Whilst searching for manx shearwater chicks in one of the west coast colonies, Lundy Field Society bird ringers Luke Phillips, Tony John and Tony Taylor came across a storm petrel chick, the first ever recorded for Lundy!

“We saw a small dark shape moving in the bracken and as we approached, we quickly realised it was a Storm Petrol” Luke said. Tony Taylor added, “We realised it was a very special one indeed when we picked it up and found its belly was coated in down. This was certainly my most special Lundy moment in the past 40 years.”
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Storm Petrels are tiny seabirds, weighing on average less than 30g, and, similarly to Manx Shearwaters, enter their nests (burrows) at night in order to evade predators. “We are ecstatic at the news that these wonderful seabirds have begun breeding on Lundy,” says Beccy MacDonald, the Lundy Warden. “We’ve been celebrating the success of the Seabird Recovery Project through news of the large increases in our manx shearwater and puffin populations and hoped that one day we would find a storm petrel chick.”

Lundy’s seabirds are protected through the island’s Site of Special Scientific Interest and, on hearing the news of this important find, Nik Ward of Natural England said, “It’s fantastic news for Lundy’s seabirds and adds another significant species to the list for this important colony.”
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The importance of this little chick was also recognised by the National Trust’s Head of Conservation, David Bullock, “I have been visiting Lundy for over 20 years, including in the dark days when rats were everywhere, shearwaters were rare and stormies non-existent. The discovery is the first evidence we have that indicates this beautiful bird of the ocean is now on the island, which is fantastic news.”