Thursday, 22 November 2012

State of the marshes birds

With the recent publication of the State of the UK's Birds 2012 showing the mixed fortunes of the UKs bird population I thought I would take a look at how the birds across the marshes here have been faring in the 16 years we have been living here. There have been some major changes in the management of the marshes in those years. Our neighbour converted a large area of arable land back to grazing marsh under the Environmentally Sensitive Area arable reversion scheme after his combine harvester became almost irretrievably stuck in the mud 2 years running. As part of this he put in a large scrape handily viewable from our house and wide reed berms along some of his dykes. For a couple of years we had breeding avocets and such things as spoonbill, glaucous gull, garganey and little ringed plover dropped in. The scrape is sadly overgrown now through lack of management but we'll have our own soon if only the marshes will dry out enough to get the heavy machinery on to dig it. I digress....
Starting with the losers, there are few surprises here. Lapwings have declined markedly despite the agri-enviroment schemes which should have helped them. There used to be numerous pairs across the marshes but now just 2 or 3 remain and there is no sign they breed successfully. I remember seeing a pair with chicks on a pasture we now own but these had gone before we bought it. Turtle Doves have just about vanished too. Their gentle song used to be a  familiar backdrop to s sunny summers day. We used to have them feeding at our bird feeder but I have only 2 records for the whole of last summer. Spotted Flycatchers have gone completely as have Grasshopper Warbler although the habitat for them appears unchanged if not better. Cuckoo too seems to be slipping away. We still get them, indeed one had the opportunity to become a star in the BTOs satellite tagging project last year but flew over the net whilst it was being erected and didn't respond to the tape to lure it back. This year we heard them very infrequently. Greenfinches used to flock to the birdfeeders but went down to 1s and 2s in the last few years. The bright spot here is that we recently had a count of 6 in the garden so they could be making their way back. We have never had breeding House Sparrows but we did used to have regular records of them in the garden. Now Tree Sparrow is commoner! The same applies to Yellowhammers.
Fortunately it's not all bad news and there are even a few birds that seem to be bucking the national trend. Step forward Marsh Tit and Treecreeper. With first records in 2001 and 2002 respectively these two have continued to increase. It's rare to walk past the alder wood without hearing either. We also seem to have seen more Yellow Wagtails in the last couple of years and Little Owls keep popping up at many  more different sites in the area. The prize for most increased noticeable bird must go to Common Buzzard. These were a real rarity when we moved here but we see them just about daily with one distinctly pale bird in particular spending much of its time on the marshes. Marsh Harrier and Hobby have also increased with 2 pairs of the former breeding within sight  of the house, this year fledging 6 young. Barn Owls too continue to do well, my husband, incidentally, having the honour(?) of being shat on by one he accidentally disturbed from a hollow tree this afternoon. Jay and Reed Bunting have also done well, and Swallows have also increased from 0 breeding pairs to 3, seemingly triggered by our building of a large barn-like car port. New arrivals, although hardly surprising,  have been Little Egret (2005) and Cetti's Warbler (2006) and lastly,  mentioned in a previous post, has been Pink-footed Goose, probably my favourite of all the above.
This seems an appropriate post to mention the BTOs new member campaign. The BTO doesn't have bird reserves but its work provides much of the hard data on which conservation policy is based. You only need to look at page 37 of the State of the UK's Birds report to see how much the BTO is the lead body in all the surveys that contributed to it. The BTO is currently offering membership for just £1 until 1st June 2013 so click on this link and give them your support. If you put my name in the referring member box I get entered in a prize draw to win a 2 day birding holiday in Norfolk, not really a big deal as I live here but I wouldn't mind the tour of the BTO which goes with it. Thanks everyone.

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