pic: Doug M Dodds

Help Survey Suffolk Swifts!

Well, those that are coming back from their African winter are probably all now back, so the summer can start properly.

Those lucky enough to have populations of Swifts screaming around the rooftops should consider themselves very lucky; there are large swathes of the country (and county) where there are none.

New development, renovations and an equally alarming decline in flying insects all play a part in decreasing numbers of the fastest bird in level flight, depriving them of nest sites and food.

There are many roles to play in helping to reverse this trend, and you are being asked to take part in the Suffolk Swift Survey over the next couple of months.

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust/Suffolk Bird Group project is being hosted by Suffolk Biological Recording Online (Suffolk BRO) and details can be found at:

http://www.suffolkbis.org.uk/swift

The survey is requesting data in three areas: recording Swifts in flight (never easy!); recording traditional next sites, and records of Swifts using provided nest sites (where boxes have been erected).

The BRO site has links to other Swift-related web pages, including the RSPB, Swift Conservation and Action for Swifts.

If you have any confusion telling your Swifts from your Swallows and Martins (which are also in trouble!), you may like to check the BTO’s video highlighting the essential differences:

https://www.bto.org/develop-your-skills/bird-identification/videos/bto-bird-id-hirundines-and-swift

Those hip young things for whom a PC is an antiquated bit of kit may be interested in the Swift Mapper app for smartphones (Android/IOS). This also links to Swift recording, but there is no need to double-enter data, as the Suffolk survey will be accessing the Mapper numbers at the end of the season. The Swift Mapper will be very handy if you are on the road this summer though, as you can log numbers from wherever you end up.

Upcoming:

Look out for further info on the ‘Swift Walk, Swift Pint’ events later in July, when we will be pounding the streets of Waveney Valley towns (Beccles, Bungay and hopefully Harleston) and counting Swifts once this year’s broods are airborne. Then having a pint.

To coincide with this, there will be a ‘just for fun’ Swift-related quiz on the WBC website. You can, of course, award yourselves a prize if you get any of it right…….

Edward Jackson will be giving a talk on the plight of Swifts at Needham Market on June 28th. Details at   (paste link into browser) https://www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org/events/2019-06-28-save-our-suffolk-swifts

 

BTO Surveys in Suffolk: Opportunities to get involved

Although there are probably more birders per square metre in Suffolk than most other counties in the UK, it’s not always easy for the BTO to get the coverage in terms of surveys that the area so richly deserves.

There’s something very satisfying about survey work; perhaps it’s the ‘concentrated birding’ aspect, or the feeling of giving something back in the way of citizen science and contributing to the overall pot of knowledge. There are many who think they should get involved, but perhaps baulk at the perceived commitment, or think they couldn’t for some other reason.

I jumped in a few years back on a BTO Nightingale Survey, and got the bug for it, taking on a Breeding Bird Survey square the following year. Sure, you have to get a bit organised, but I’ve loved doing it to the extent of taking on a second one this year.

So, for those who think they might like to get involved, here are some of the BTO’s current surveys you can take part in without leaving the county. If you’re tempted, get in touch with the regional representative, Mick Wright at kupe1515@sky.com

BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Birds Survey (BBS):

This involves two survey visits (usually in mid-to-late April and again in May/June) to a 1km square, with two (roughly parallel) transects being walked. All birds present are recorded, whether by sight, song or call.

Although Suffolk has around 50 squares covered, this only represents about 1% of the county area, so there is more work to do.

The survey produces very robust results, the outcome having a significant influence on Government policy.

There’s still time to take a square for 2019 – just get in touch with Mick at the email above for a list of the currently available squares.

JNCC Seabirds Count: Urban Nesting Gulls

As part of the Seabirds Count census, volunteers across the UK will be participating in surveys during the Spring/Summer of 2019 and 2020, from late March to mid June. The count of urban-nesting gulls (April 23rd to May 7th) will provide valuable information on how the UK population of Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls are faring. This is particularly so in the context of the decline by over 30% in Herring Gull numbers at natural cliff, rocky coast and moorland sites. Is this in any way a result of movement into urban areas, or part of a more general decline?

Again, this count will focus on an allocated 1km square, and be carried out from the ground. Even if the square contains no gulls, the result is important.

One visit is all that will be required, recording apparently-occupied nests, apparently-occupied territory and individual adults, with Herring and Lesser Black-backed reported separately.

Mick really needs help on this one, with 80 random 1km squares to cover!

Farm Woodland Survey

Since 1988 over 22,000 farm woods have been planted in England; usually small and thus quick and easy to survey, checking how these new environments are being colonised.

It involves 4 morning visits between March 15th (it’s now April, so get a move on!) and July 15th, recording all individual birds (and some basic habitat recording). A 1km square may involve a few sites, but several could be covered in a couple of hours.

If checking this one out on the BTO site, it’s found under ‘English-farm-woodland-bird-survey’ in the volunteer surveys pages.

BirdTrack

For those who haven’t used this before or have let usage fall away (as I did): the data and site entry has been revised, making it much more straightforward and quick. You can record either a complete list (species plus count) or just a species list, so there’s really no excuse not to do it! This is the basic entry point for anyone considering a bit of ‘citizen science’ and making your birding count!

Please also check out the information on the Rook Survey, which is a separate entry on the News page of this website.

For further information on any of the above, make Mick Wright your first call at the email at the head of this article.

Rook

Suffolk Rook Survey - Get Involved!

One of the most evocative sights and sounds of Suffolk winter mornings and afternoons are the noisy, black clouds of Rooks and Jackdaws commuting to and from their roosts and daytime feeding grounds – hundreds of Corvid cousins, calling to each other as they struggle against the wind or are blown forward on it.

Soon they will be rediscovering their nest sites – Jackdaws to the chimney pots (and Barn Owl boxes!), and Rooks to the rookeries.

It is at that point that you come in.

Suffolk Ornithologists' Group (SOG) is seeking the help of their brothers and sisters in birding across the county to help in a two-year survey of Suffolk’s Rooks, counting total bird and nest numbers at as many sites as possible.

The last count by SOG (supporting a BTO survey) took place in 1975, with 15,850 nests recorded in 929 rookeries across the county.

Now, generous funding from Suffolk resident Jenifer Bridges-Adams and support from the highly respected naturalist and conservationist Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, Fifth Earl of Cranbrook has enabled the Rook to once again take centre-stage in this latest survey, taking place in 2019 and 2020.

SOG is hoping that birders will involve their families and particularly any children in the count, as a relatively easy way to engage with the natural world of their own communities. Scout and Guide groups, schools and other local organisations and institutes will be encouraged to participate.

You will be able to submit your counts on the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service website, where you can accurately map your rookeries and record bird numbers.

The survey page is available at:

http://www.suffolkbis.org.uk/rookerysurvey

As you probably know, Rooks are early nesters – the task will be much easier before the leaves are on the trees……

So, the information should be simple to collect:

  1. Location of rookery
  2. Number of birds
  3. Number of nests

Please encourage as many friends, relatives and other birders to take part!

The Waveney Bird Clubs ringing team has been conducting ringing sessions at this site since August 2010. The site is located in an area of largely arable farming, on the edge of the village of St James South Elmham, grid reference TM 31436 80968. The surrounding land comprises mainly of large-scale arable fields, up to about 40 hectares in size.

Click to download report

Sand Martin © Harry Read

The Sand Martin ( Riparia riparia ) is a species which has been studied for many years, so our site at Fen Farm, Bungay with 4 years of recording is very much in its infancy when compared to this. Click to download report.

Adult and nest with chick

“Feathers are ruffled in Beccles”

Seagulls – well you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em! If you were a warden of a nature reserve, hoping to attract ground nesting birds like lapwings, then large gulls certainly wouldn’t be a friend as they are notorious predators. If you were a manger of a warehouse on which the gulls had chosen to nest, then the gulls wouldn’t be a friend as gulls’ nests would block your drainpipes and birds would defecate over your customer’s and employee’s cars (and maybe even your own!). If you were a resident, living close to an urban gullery then the gulls would hardly be a friend as you would be woken at 4 a.m. each morning by the eerie cries of squabbling birds. But lesser black-backed gulls, in particular, are a bird on the move. They are not only expanding their range, but also their nesting preferences from coastal cliffs and beaches to industrial and residential areas.

Adult and nest with chick
Adult and nest with chick – Photo Andrew Easton

For centuries gulls have scavenged around seaside resorts and fishing harbours being accepted as part of everyday life, but when they nest at inland towns like Beccles, it’s a different story! Lesser black-backed gulls with some herring gulls have continued their relentless march across East Anglia and now it’s Beccles that is in the frontline of a pitch battle to deter the scavenging hoards. They have formerly colonised Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Felixstowe, Ipswich and pioneering birds are already in Mendlesham, Bungay and Aldeby. They have reached the northern outskirts of Ipswich and they will soon make their next leap to colonise the towns of Needham Market and Stowmarket.

Herring and lesser black-backed gulls have traditionally bred at coastal beaches and sea cliffs away from urban areas, but due to recent predation by foxes, they have been forced to find alternatives. So how about the roofs and wastelands in Beccles residential and industrial areas? To the gull’s eye, the huge, flat-topped warehouses give similar benefits to that of sea cliffs – they’re high, safe and there’s plenty of food in the surrounding area. In some instances, shingle roofs have been provided that very much resembles a beach. Unlike natural sites, the virtually predator-free inner sanctuary of a town like Beccles is ideal for nesting gulls Attracted by discarded fast-food – a plentiful bi-product of today’s literally “throwaway” society – and the vast and seemingly ever-increasing acreage of rooftop nesting space on the town’s commercial premises, the gulls have arrived in force.

In these balmy summer days, the gulls leave their homes early in the morning. At the crack of dawn, they take to the skies and their eerie cry echo over Beccles residential estates. The gulls squabble for territory and youngsters pursue beleaguered parents. Although Lowestoft’s roof-nesting gull population has reached a staggering 4,500 pairs, for Beccles this is just the start as around 150 pairs have taken up residence. They nest on wasteland beside Rainbow Stores, on Tesco’s roof, on top of workshops and warehouses in George Westward Way and on the roofs of Beccles townhouses. Businesses have gone to extraordinary lengths to deter this “airborne army”. They see the gulls as a public health hazard – a view disputed by many scientists. They see them as a safety hazard – despite “attacks” on humans being exceptionally rare. And they see them as a noise nuisance – despite some of the alleged “gull noise” actually being produced by klaxons installed in often unsuccessful attempts to frighten the gulls away.

The principal species involved is the lesser black-backed gull and herring gull. From a wildlife prospective, the herring gull is endangered and appears on the amber list of “Birds of Conservation Concern”, the same status as RSPB’s flagship bird, the avocet and Britain’s best-loved bird, the barn owl. Unlike these two species, however, both lesser black-backed and herring gulls have few friends and they would be an unwelcome nester on Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserves such as Carlton and Castle Marshes due to its habit of preying on the small chicks of wading birds.

Chicks on roof at Lowestoft
Chicks on roof at Lowestoft – Photo Andrew Easton

Where have they come from?

WBC Project Officer, Steve Piotrowski, has been monitoring the gulls on Orfordness since 1968 and had watched the colony grow from a handful of pairs to its peak in 1998 of 26,000 pairs. Since then the colony has dwindled mainly due to predation by foxes. From the total of over 12,000 gulls ringed on Orfordness, nearly half have been colour-ringed. In recent years, the colony’s dramatic downturn in fortunes has culminated in total failure in recent years and the colony now hosts less than 4,000 nesting pairs. This is not good news for people living at coastal resorts as the gulls will be seeking safer breeding sites and the roofs will become even more attractive.

WBC members have been heavily involved in monitoring the movements of larger gulls and teams have been to both Havergate Island and the Beccles site this summer to fit bright red, inscribed rings. In past winters, Steve, Andrew Green (WBC Recorder) and Mike Marsh have made almost annual pilgrimages to the gull’s wintering grounds in Southern Morocco, Portugal and Spain. There they scour the beaches, harbours and fishing ports for colour-ringed birds and Andrew spends a considerable amount of his time looking at the legs of gulls that forage on Aldeby Tip and Earsham pig fields.

Beccles is not the only town to suffer from exodus of gulls from Orfordness. Some have moved to natural sites in The Netherlands with many in Rotterdam area and several in the Zeeland region. One was reported as probably breeding on the island of Schiermonnikoog in 2001. In Belgium, several are breeding around Zeebrugge and in France two Orfordness-reared birds are at Le Clipon (nr Dunkerque) and another at Calais. It is in England where dispersing gulls are nesting on roofs. In Suffolk, several are on port roofs at Felixstowe and on industrial estate roofs in Ipswich. At Great Yarmouth, there are one or two Orfordness protégées on industrial estate roofs and there are others in Worcester, Harlow, Greater London and East Sussex.

Assessing the situation with a hope of bringing about a solution acceptable to the town – and the gulls, Steve said “The total nesting population in the Waveney Valley is staggering and has rocketed quickly. It is now about 5,000 pairs and the length to which some residents and businesses have gone to deter them is quite astonishing. Some have shrouded their buildings with netting and fixed anti-perching spikes to the perimeter edges. Plastic eagle owls have been erected and, in some instances, loud-hailers have been installed which transmit gulls’ alarm calls. Falcons have been flown. Whether any of these measures are effective is open to question and I would be extremely interested to find out. I am anxious to learn from local business in Lowestoft whether the methods used have had any noticeable effect as part of the feedback for this study. My knowledge to date suggests that gulls have not been deterred by any of the methods. Herring gulls are nesting immediately alongside one loud-hailer and gulls have used the anti-perching spikes that surround chimneys as added protection against airborne predators, their chicks sitting snugly amongst the prongs. Netting is an expensive and high-maintenance strategy and may only act as a deterrent for a few years. Weathering may soon cause it to sag and the gulls will then nest on top of it. Gulls are often seen perched on the plastic eagle owls. Even if firms manage to get rid of their nesting gulls, Steve fears they may simply be moving the “problem” on. Some of the methods used by commercial companies to deter gulls from breeding may well be successful, but displaced birds may then choose to breed more in residential areas, where ordinary people may either lack the funds to deter the birds or may even encourage them to nest,” he said.

As for the future, the Waveney Bird Club and Steve hope to be peacemakers.

“We think there has to be a co-ordinated approach. It may be that there should be some areas in which there has to be some form of control because of perceived health and safety issues and some areas where control is not necessary because there are no health and safety issues,” Steve said.

General advice to residents:

Legal aspects

All wild birds and their eggs and nests are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Under this Act, birds cannot be taken or killed or their eggs or nests (when in use or being built) taken or destroyed except under license. Please see the full details set out in Rural Development Services Technical Advice Note 13 “Birds and their control in non-agricultural environments”. Please see:

http://naturalengland.etraderstores.com/naturalenglandshop/UserFiles/Files/tan_13.pdf

However, it is recognised that a number of common “pest” species (e.g. feral pigeons, starlings, house sparrows, herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls) may frequently cause problems. Defra issues a number of general licenses which allow authorised persons (e.g. an owner or occupier) to kill or take these “pest” species using certain specified methods (e.g. shooting or cage trapping). The licenses also allow the removal or destruction of these species’ eggs (e.g. using egg oiling) or nests. Nests not being built or not in use are not protected under the 1981 Act and may be removed or destroyed at any time. Action is permitted under these general licenses to prevent the spread of disease and for the purpose of preserving public health or public or air safety.

The 1981 Act does not allow action against birds or their eggs or nests for the purposes of preventing damage to property or preventing nuisance problems; such problems include noise, smells and the triggering of intruder alarms by birds flying within buildings. These can only be tackled by using non-lethal methods of control, for example, scaring and proofing.

Herring and lesser black-backed gulls are listed in Part II of Schedule 2 of the Act. This means that these species can be controlled by authorised persons at all times. However, it is dependent upon a “good reason” for taking action, the onus of proof lies with the licensee should opposition to such action occur.
Management options

Before deciding on a specific course of action, the extent and nature of the problem should be carefully considered. The aspects that need to be addressed include:

  • the species and number of birds involved;
  • the level and type of damage or problem being caused;
  • the buildings, structures or areas which are affected;
  • any specific limiting or influencing factors that may affect the action proposed.

Environmental management: A build-up of bird numbers in urban environments is normally a result of the presence of a readily accessible food supply and/or the availability of attractive habitats where they can roost or breed. Effective long-term management is normally dependent on the ability to eliminate or reduce these aspects. In urban areas, this can be difficult because numerous occupiers and individuals may have some degree of responsibility for the cause of the problem or may be affected by it. The single most important factor is the ability of the birds to gain access to a regular supply of nutritious food. If this can be denied, then problems may be resolved without recourse to other measures.

Consider the possibilities for:

  • avoiding the spillage of foodstuffs
  • keeping food storage areas secure and bird-proof
  • ensuring that disposal and waste facilities are kept clean and tidy
  • limiting or preventing the deliberate feeding of birds by the public or site staff

The chicks are flightless when small, but they grow quickly and residents may become alarmed if they find them wandering from their nesting area into their gardens and even onto the road. Others nesting on roofs may be blown off. Waveney Bird Club advise that no attempt is made to move the birds, as gulls make good parents, will recognise their own chicks call and find them to feed them.

Final Note

Origins of Lesser Black-backed Gulls breeding beside Rainbow Store in Beccles
Just in case there is any doubt about the origins of the birds breeding in Beccles, two adults were found bearing red colour rings that were ringed as chicks in the Orfordness colony. Details of the movements of both birds are as follows:

Colour ringed bird from Orfordness in Spain  Red SAZ (metal ring GA37210)
Colour ringed bird from Orfordness in Spain
Red SAZ (metal ring GA37210)

13/07/2002 Orfordness, Suffolk – ringed as pullus/chick
05/02/2005 El Musel, Gijon, Asturias, SPAIN (43.33N 05.41W)
21/06/2006 Aldeby, Norfolk
27/06/2006 Earsham, Norfolk – seen again 28/06/2006
13/07/2006 Aldeby, Norfolk
25/02/2007 Orfordness, Suffolk – seen again 10/03/2007
26/08/2007 Earsham, Norfolk
22/07/2009 Beccles, Suffolk
red RDH (metal ring GG77327)

09/07/2005 Orfordness, Suffolk – ringed as pullus/chick
01/09/2005 Gloucester Landfill Site, Hempsted, Gloucester

07/11/2007 Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire

23/02/2008 Pinto, Madrid, SPAIN (40.15N 03.42W)
02/04/2008 Gloucester Landfill Site, Hempsted, Gloucester
26/04/2008 Orfordness, Suffolk – seen on 7 more dates to 19/07/2008
14/03/2009 Orfordness, Suffolk – seen on 12 more dates to 19/07/2009
22/07/2009 Beccles, Suffolk (TM4290) England 52.27N
Steve Piotrowski

27th July 2009

school-nest-box

Please contact Kathy Piotrowski on 01986 893311 or Helen Gooderham on 01986 785318 for further details.

Waveney Bird Club helps to halt Tree Sparrow extinctions in the Waveney catchment area

Screen shot 2014-06-05 at 08.23.36

Introduction

Thirty years ago, the Tree Sparrow was a very familiar sight in the East Anglian countryside and no one would have dreamt that it would ever become threatened.  However, at the turn of this Millennium it was on the verge of extinction, both as a breeding and wintering species and local ornithologists feared the worst.  They formerly nested in holes in trees, thatched buildings and old orchards and readily took to nest boxes. The Tree Sparrow’s former abundance along with the county’s strategic importance can be seen in the maps depicted in the “1988-1881 Breeding Atlas”. Undoubtedly, the species extinction from Suffolk would have national implications.

Nationally, the Tree Sparrow population crashed between the late 1970s and the early 1990s. There was a decline of 93% on farmland between 1968 and 1999 with the UK range undergoing marked change between the two Atlas periods, with a contraction in the west and south of England.  This has continued subsequently with many local extinctions occurring during the 1990s and the current population level is still only about 3% of that of the 1970s. Components of agricultural intensification, such as reductions in winter stubble availability, are likely to be implicated in the decline. Breeding performance has improved substantially as population sizes have decreased, suggesting that decreases in productivity were not responsible for the decline. Following declines across western and northwestern Europe during the 1990s, the European status of this species is no longer considered ‘secure’ and it is now classified as a BAP species Red Listed.

Screen shot 2014-06-05 at 08.24.40

Status in Norfolk and Suffolk

This national decline has been mirrored locally and the Tree Sparrow is now absent from most of East Anglia.  Large flocks formerly gathered on stubbles and weedy fields during winter and large movements were logged at coastal watch-points.

Tree Sparrows are fairly sedentary, so the magnitude of wintering flocks can be used as a “health check” for the breeding population.  Flocks of 100-150 were regularly recorded up to the mid-1980s and, occasionally, there were four-figure gatherings.  Between 1985 and 2005 flocks of 30 or more were very rare indeed, but three-figure flocks have been noted during consecutive winters of 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 perhaps indicating a partial recovery.  The current breeding population for both counties is likely to be less than 100 pairs. 

Status in the Waveney Catchment

There are only two known colonies in the Waveney Valley catchment, at Thorndon and Flixton both on the Suffolk side of the valley. There have been a few winter records from Mutford, Somerleyton and Burgh St Peter in the past three winters, but otherwise the species is more-or-less absent.  No colonies were found in south Norfolk during fieldwork for the Norfolk Atlas during 2002 to 2007. 

Overview of the decline

The recent decline of the Tree Sparrow has occurred at the same time as decreases in the numbers and/or range of other farmland birds which share its diet of grass, wildflower seeds and some cereal grains.  It is likely that the decline in Tree Sparrow may be due to changes in agricultural practice, both in the UK and in their wintering grounds in south-west Europe.  These include the increased use of herbicides and fertilisers, the switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown crops and the consequent loss of winter stubble fields.  The general reduction in farmland habitat diversity due to the loss of mixed farming, increased specialisation and habitat fragmentation has also had an effect.  Breeding performance has improved substantially as population sizes have decreased, suggesting that decreases in productivity were not responsible for the decline.

Tree sparrows tend to form loose local colonies and, where these are supported with nest boxes and ample seed supplies, local populations can be stable and increasing.

Current actions and advisory work to date

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust has identified key sites as part of their work with Natural England’s Countdown 2010 Project.  Landowners have been encouraged to retain the availability of wild birdseed strips (they were often ploughed up in February) to prolong the stay of the Tree Sparrow flocks.  Breeding pairs have been located and nest boxes provided and erected in and around the wintering and known breeding areas.  Waveney Bird Club volunteers will assist with the project by liaising with landowners, suggesting sites for nest boxes, monitoring nests and ringing chicks.  WBC ringers will also target Tree Sparrows as part of their ringing efforts and coordinate work with other ringing groups elsewhere in East Anglia.

Our remaining Tree Sparrow colonies tend to be concentrated in mixed farming areas with access to at least small wetland patches and artificial nest sites or old/pollard trees. However, there are others which thrive in isolated gardens in the middle of arable deserts and survive solely on supplementary feeding.  Several of theses sites have been identified and new sites are being sought.  Once identified it is important that favourable management is maintained and if possible enhanced using all possible means, both within and beyond the scope of agri-environment schemes.  During the breeding season of 2008, significant breeding colonies were identified in the Waveney catchment area and these are to be further enhanced and protected.  Current BTO Atlas fieldwork may well locate further colonies, so swift action will be necessary if these are to survive.

Key to success is the plentiful supply of seeds throughout the year and this should include supplementary feeding to ensure overwinter survival and maintain the condition of adults during the breeding season. There should be supplementary provision of nest sites to allow colonies to expand.  New boxes should be in place by the end of the breeding season rather than in early spring, as new nest sites are partially established at the end of the breeding season.

Conclusion

The large wintering Tree Sparrow flocks in and around Lackford and Benacre are noteworthy and it is important to support them during the winter and encourage them to stay to breed.  The continued provision of wild-bird strips is the mainstay, but supplementary feeding will prolong their stay until the time comes for breeding.  Availability of insect food for the young, and a good supply of nesting holes are essential for successful breeding.  Nest boxes will provide nest-sites in selected areas.  The agreement of the landowners is essential to this proposal.

It is pleasing to note that Tree Sparrows appear to be making a recovery with three-figure flocks being noted in coastal districts and in Breckland in the past two winters.  The flocks are attracted to the seed heads of millet and other flowering plants sown by farmers in strips as part of the Government’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme.  This is a clear sign that this policy is working which is good news for birds and birdwatchers alike.

If we do nothing, it is likely that the Tree Sparrow will decline further and will soon become extinct as a Suffolk breeding species.  Act now or pay the price!

NEWS – Farmland Birds Project – Interim Report (first year)

Project Profile: Foraging ranges and favoured food of four farmland bird species (Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting) that winter on Suffolk Farms

Introduction:

There has been much written about the declines in range and abundance of a host of farmland bird species since the early 1970s. Many species that were formerly abundant have become vulnerable to agricultural intensification and are now in steep decline. In an attempt to reverse these declines, Government-backed, voluntary schemes have introduced measures that would provide for the ‘Big 3’, i.e. nesting habitat, chick food and winter food for birds that favour farmland. Countryside Stewardship (CSS) was the forerunner of Entry Level, Organic Entry Level Stewardship and High Level Stewardship (ELS, OELS and HLS), which are the schemes available to farmers today.

In Britain at least, farmland is the single most important habitat for the four species listed below and, in recent winters, they have become increasingly reliant on seed-bearing crops. Therefore, the wild birdseed plot option, available as part of Environmental Stewardship, is becoming more and more important to the survival of wintering seed-eating species. Many farmers supplement this food source by supplying seed to fill the hungry gap in late winter and early spring. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the habits of farmland birds, Waveney Bird Club (WBC), in partnership with Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT), will lead a local study on 19 Suffolk farms focussing on the foraging ranges of four species: Tree Sparrow, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting. WBC will act as the lead organisation for the research work working under the umbrella of SWT’s farmland bird advisory work.

On completion of the research project WBC will seek funding to employ the BTO to professionally analyse the results. This might result in a paper for publication in a national journal.

Aims and objectives:

The aims and objectives of the project are to determine:

  • Foraging ranges of target species
  • Food preference between spring and autumn sown crops (Westhorpe only)
  • Flock sizes and species mix of birds using wild birdseed cover plots
  • Weight gain and/or weight loss throughout the winter
  • Supplementary feeding (tonnage and grain type) to bridge hungry gap
  • Record any net immigration to or emigration e.g. as a result of cold snaps as well as any large-scale exchanges of individuals between farmland and other habitats

Methodology:

  • Map areas of wild birdseed mix for each farm and determine area (ha) of each plot
  • Number/name each plot
  • Determine seed mix and dominant plants from that mix (which plants have done well that year?)
  • Set up net lanes within the cover plots and capture birds that are exploiting the food source between 1st December and 31st March
  • Note specific area where birds are caught (plot number, etc.)
  • Take full biometrics and weights of each bird and record all recaptures (even if caught that day), noting time, date, etc. (perhaps collect faecal samples?)
  • Estimate flock size and species range for each plot
  • Record other features on the farm that would encourage wintering seed-eating birds (e.g. overwinter stubbles)
  • Note: methodology may be further tweaked once we have received direction from BTO and a joint programme of work agreed.

Funding:

Funding to be sourced from various outlets with initial expenditure attributed to the WBC BAP fund, which is being administered by SWT (Action – Chris McIntyre/Patrick Barker). WBC will consider bids for the cost of rings from ringing teams outside the lead organisation’s umbrella. Funding for professional analytical input will be sourced jointly with BTO.

Steve Piotrowski
Project Officer – Waveney Bird Club
Farmland Advisor – Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Waveney Bird Club (WBC) is championing a community-based project that will attempt to reverse a worrying trend that shows a drastic decline in Spotted Flycatcher populations.  The project will be run under a partnership arrangement with the diocese of Ipswich and St Edmundsbury.  The idea is to supply open-fronted nest boxes and fix these in churchyards in the Waveney Valley and northeast Suffolk.  The project will draw attention to the plight of this much-loved bird, get people involved and provide nesting sites that would allow easy monitoring.  Subsequently, WBC will monitor the nest sites and the data collected will make a valuable contribution to the national database at British Trust for Ornithology.  The success of the project could then be evaluated and further contribute to scientific studies on breeding success as well as determining the requirements of Spotted Flycatchers locally.

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Once known in Suffolk as the “wall bird” the Spotted Flycatcher is indeed in danger of “going to the wall” in the most tragic of senses. Its habit of nesting on walls self-evidently puts it in close proximity to humans and for centuries the two species lived in harmony. Now, however, with the onslaught of a host of environmental difficulties the flycatcher has to face, the balance has been well and truly disrupted. It is a summer migrant to Britain, returning in late may or early June as one of the last to arrive, having spent “our” winter in sub-Saharan Africa. The scourge of pesticides in Britain has caused a well-documented decline in the bird’s insect prey – but in recent years the scourge has spread to its African wintering grounds where agriculture is fast becoming as intensified as it is here, with devastating droughts and habitat loss making matters even worse.

British farmland and woodland-edge breeding populations have suffered badly. Now conservationists say the more benign habitats of gardens and churchyards – not usually affected so adversely by pesticides – can play a major role in the bird’s survival.

A Suffolk Ornithologists Group/Suffolk Wildlife Trust survey, completed in 2007, gave an estimated population of about 200 breeding pairs in the county. In common with the broader British picture, the survey found the species was generally confined to the vicinity of human settlements with few pairs in farmland and woodland. The majority of records (84%) came from village and town gardens, although observer-bias could not be discounted. Otherwise, the distribution was churchyards and similar (9%), copses and orchards (4%) and farms (3%).

The British picture is so grim that the spotted flycatcher is now a Red List Species of Conservation Concern as well as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. In addition to the effects of pesticides, various factors have been cited for its decline – cool weather during the early part of its nesting period, heavier nest predation by grey squirrels, cats and crow species, especially jays, and the deterioration of woodland quality due to lack of management.

Monitoring work by WBC members this summer resulted in a number of Spotted Flycatcher territories being located, most of them within the vicinity of churchyards.  In consequence, meetings have been held with representatives of the diocese with a view to installing nest boxes.  An article highlighting the project has been published in The Church’s own East Anglican Times. Marion Welham, Church Buildings and Tourism Officer for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “Not only are churchyards important places for archaeology and history, they provide essential food, water, shelter and breeding places for an abundance of wildlife to flourish. Taken together, Suffolk churchyards add up to an important acreage of land that has been largely untouched by chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Churches and communities are privileged to be guardians of their natural and historic heritage and are increasingly managing their churchyards sensitively, often with the help of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Churchyards are traditionally known as God’s Acre, an ancient Saxon phrase that doesn’t literally mean acre but God’s Field. They are beautiful and meaningful places and often within walking distance of communities so they can be a focus for learning. With their stonework and boundary walls, ivy and veteran trees, churchyards make ideal nesting sites for the flycatcher and the Diocese is delighted to be part of a project that will help it.”  The Rt Revd Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, added: “I am delighted that the Church of England in Suffolk is able to be part of this important community project. Working together with conservation bodies and HM Prison and Young Offenders Institution Hollesley Bay, I hope we can give this little summer visitor a helping hand.

This enthusiastic response has encouraged the club to order one hundred boxes and these have been fixed in churchyards to celebrate National Nest Box Day on 14th February 2011.  A total of 130 nest boxes have been made by the citizens of Hollesley Bay Prison, one for each member of the club.  Pat Carter, project support officer at Hollesley Bay, said prisoners had been carrying out the work alongside making barn owl boxes for the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project. “Producing the boxes gives the prisoners a feeling of self-worth because they are creating something which will help enhance the natural world,” she said. “This acts as part of a resettlement programme for offenders, working in the community on various projects. Prisoners work throughout the local area in charity shops, local churchyards and on prison based projects as part of their preparation for release at the end of their sentence.