Sunday, 19 October 2014

Good summer weather means success for most birds - but not all.

Grey Partridge have had a good breeding
season - as long as they have been looked after!
In general, I think it has been a good breeding season for birds here in the UK, with encouraging reports from a number of quarters. Even some birds returning to our shores to over-winter, having spent the summer breeding elsewhere seem to have done well! 

For instance, a record number of at least 45,800 Pink-footed Geese have arrived at Lancashire's Martin Mere WWT (Wildfowl and Wetland Trust), counts have revealed. This beats the previous record of 36,000 in 2010. Over the next couple of weeks, numbers will continue to increase as more of these birds make the 500-mile journey from Iceland to spend the start of winter in Lancashire. The geese will ultimately winter to the south and east, particularly in Northumberland and Norfolk.

The Grey Partridge breeding season seems to have also fared well this year, following two poor years. Reports of large sized coveys are coming in from those estates and farms that have provided good nesting cover, insect rich foraging habitat and have also implemented legal, targeted predator control. Some Eastern areas such as Norfolk and Lincolnshire do not seem to have performed quite as well as the rest of the country however, with keepers telling me that there were prolonged cool winds in from the North sea during the peak chick hatching time, which may well have reduced insect numbers at a crucial time.

Two other species which I'm particularly pleased about this year, because they had taken a real bashing from the weather over the last couple of breeding seasons (not helped by the lack of small mammals) is the Barn Owl and Kestrel. I have had a number of farmers excitedly telling me of the “biggest ever clutches” eventually fledging from the boxes that they had put up in trees and barns.

As with all things in life though, not all birds have had a brilliant year. A farmer in Hampshire told me just this last Thursday, that his long term House martin colony that had been in existence as long as he could remember, had this year fallen silent, with not one nest being occupied. He was genuinely upset as he said it was very much part of his summer to watch these delightful birds flying overhead.

It was with great interest then that two days later, a letter popped through the post box from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), asking for help in order to study the worrying decline in House Martin numbers – a UK decline of 16% over the last decade, but an English decline of as much as 65% longer term. What is interesting is that there have been alarming declines in the south of England and yet some healthy increases in the North and across Scotland and Ireland.

Of course, with migratory species, these regional differences may not necessarily be as a result of what is happening here during the summer, but might be that more northerly House Martins go to a slightly different place to over-winter than southerly based birds and may therefore have had better weather or habitat conditions during their winter stay there.

This is exactly why research from organisations such as the GWCT, BTO and WWT is so vital in helping us to understand the intricacies of our wonderful bird life. So make sure you support their work!!!

Barn Owls have had an excellent breeding season

For one Hampshire farmer, there were no little House Martin heads peeking out of nests this year.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to read your article, which shows exactly the opposite of our experience here in West Devon. Our best ever year for House Martins (24 nests around the house) but sadly no Barn Owls this year,. We normally have two broods in different nest boxes around the farm.