The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is an environmental charity which aims to increase our knowledge of birds and other wildlife and, using data gathered by volunteers, seeks to inform decisions on government policy, land use and conservation priorities.
To do this, it organises a range of recording schemes through which volunteers gather data about birds’ numbers, distribution, habits, breeding success, and more. One of these schemes is the Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS) which counts the UK’s internationally important non-breeding waterbirds. This includes wildfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) waders, grebes, cormorants, and herons. Since it started in 1947 this scheme has grown and now over 3000 volunteers monitor 2,800 sites. Each volunteer adopts a location to count once a month, with the core counting season between September and March as this is when the numbers of many species peak.
The largest aggregations of waterbirds are at our estuaries. But inland lakes and wetland areas are favoured by certain species so cumulatively they also contribute. Locally, Fonthill Lake and Wardour Castle Lake are monitored, but as waterbirds can be very mobile, and one can often see wildfowl flying between these two areas, there is a risk of double counting. So, one Sunday a month is designated as the core count day, so that all counters can visit their sites on the same days. Records over decades for these sites show significant changes in the balance of species seen and their annual peak counts. Unfortunately, most of these changes show a downward trend.
Collecting all the information together from all sites across the country allows the BTO to generate indices and trends for each species. As many of the species that overwinter in the UK breed elsewhere, in Europe or the Arctic, changes in abundance relate to conditions across large parts of the world.
Monitoring these bird numbers help us to assess how wildlife populations are responding to environmental change. The efforts of all those volunteers contribute to documents such as the recently published State of Nature report which provides a benchmark for the current status of our wildlife. It doesn’t make happy reading, but one can be assured that it is based on the best data available.
15 members and friends gathered on the car park at Lodmoor on a bright, sunny but slightly chilly morning. Andrew started out by describing how the marshland of Lodmoor had been designated an SSSI in 1952 but had still suffered from being used as the municipal rubbish dump until the 1970’s. Mercifully, only about a quarter was infilled but this is still evidenced by the vents allowing gases from the landfill to escape – into the car park. Nice.
Lodmoor lies on the east side of Weymouth the earlier parts of which lie on slightly higher ground which separates Lodmoor from Radipole Lake to the west. As the area drains south eastward toward the sea, the freshwater marshes become progressively more brakish until, close to the sea wall and the sluices which control the flow of water between the moor and the sea, it becomes saltmarsh.
The flat nature of the area means that reeds, rushes, and other vegetation can obstruct clear views, but we walked along the perimeter paths which gave good visibility out over some of the pools. There were plenty of birds to see including numerous Canada Geese, Lapwings, Teal, Mallard, Shoveller and Gadwall as well as a variety of gull species. The highlight was a flock of around 40 Golden Plover which occasionally got up and flew around together in the sunshine, alternately showing their white undersides and speckled golden upper parts as the swooped around in the blue sky. There were also plenty of Grey Herons as well as several Little Egrets and at least three Great White Egrets. Unfortunately, the Spoonbills which often show up at Lodmoor were not present. These, as well as Egrets, were very unusual birds on Lodmoor 30 years ago but are now relatively commonplace as they colonise the south of the country.
There were relatively few wader species to be seen. In addition to about a score of Black Tailed Godwits there were a handful each of Dunlin and Snipe.
After being a bit irritating by only showing briefly above the reeds a Marsh Harrier eventually made a decent, very visible flight across the moor. This is another bird, once vanishingly rare in Weymouth which is now resident and breeding and which can usually be seen at Lodmoor and Radipole.
After lunch we went over to Radipole Lake which, like Lodmoor, is now managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve. Very different to Lodmoor, visibility is much more restricted by the dense reed beds which make up so much of the reserve. In summer these are full of Reed and Sedge Warblers but throughout the year you can hear the distinctive, and very loud, call of the Cetti’s Warbler. We had our ears peeled for the distinctive call of the Bearded Tit or Bearded Reedling as it is now known (because technically it isn’t a Tit) because this beautiful but elusive bird is more often heard than seen. Unfortunately, we were unlucky although we did hear the unmistakable squealing call of the Water Rail, another rarely seen resident of the reed beds.
At the top end of the loop path known as Buddleia Walk, we had views out over the open water where we added Pochard and Tufted to our list of ducks. By the time we dispersed from the car park at Radipole we had seen or heard 40 species of birds, which included Swallow, several of which were flying over on their way south throughout the day.
As an ambassador for Dark Sky International, Steve Tonkin gave us a comprehensive talk on the importance of doing all we can to reduce nocturnal light pollution. Not only does it cause a disruption to the normal life of a wide range of animals, but it is having a long term effect on species numbers. Bright lights at night cause confusion, leading to death on roads, predation by larger animals and fewer opportunities to mate.
We heard examples about robins who get exhausted, mistaking artificial lights for daylight, as they sing through the night and migrating birds who are disoriented by lights and fly into buildings. There are parts of the world where already crops have to be pollinated by hand; for instance, in parts of Canada for their blueberry crops and in parts of China for their apples because insect colonies have vanished.
Steve warned that we still have a way to go in further decreasing the light pollution across the AONB, otherwise we risk losing our dark skies designation. The light pollution over Tisbury was a particular concern to see when he showed us the satellite imaging of the AONB.
So how can we help? https://darksky.org/ shows the way with guidance on how to assess your own home lighting, particularly in making sure that any outdoor light is appropriately placed with motion sensor activation and downward facing beams in warm not blue tones, to minimise disruption to wildlife. We can also look around our own community to see whether there is unnecessary lighting on public buildings and seek to persuade decision makers to implement changes.
Andrew Graham has organised our last trip of the season to these two RSPB reserves in Weymouth. The focus will be on resident and migrant birds. Bring binoculars if you have them. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 09:00am or at the Beach car park at Lodmoor DT4 7SX, just to the west of the entrance to the Lodmoor reserve, at approximately 10:30am.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear : The combined distance at these two separate locations will amount to approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy after rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons.
Bring a packed lunch and refreshments. There is no limit to numbers on this visit, but it will help if we know how many people to expect. Either use the Contact form here or send us an email to the address mentioned in the members' newsletter.
There are spaces available for our September Field Trip, organised by Julia Willcock, your editor. Guests are very welcome for £2 per ticket. Members and under 21s are free. If you'd like to join us, please use the Contact form or the new email address which Andrew (controller of the lists) and other members of the committee can access, as requested in the monthly TDNHS newsletters. Unfortunately we can no longer publish that email address in our blogs because we're attracting Spam!
Keith Lea is guiding us around a section of Savernake Forest and we shall be learning about the veteran trees and biodiversity of this Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) which boasts more than a thousand years of history as a forest.
Keith has over 30 years' consultancy experience in woodland management, with the overall aim of his work being to improve woodland biodiversity. He is the Vice-Chairman of The Salisbury and District Natural History Society and says "I have been a birdwatcher for over 40 years and have a keen interest in butterflies and native flora. I enjoy leading natural history walks and sharing my knowledge with others."
Special instructions: No dogs. Please note that the forest is grazed by cattle which may be near us at times on our outing. Bring binoculars if you have them.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 9:00am on Sat 30 Sept or roughly one hour later at the Burbage petrol station, SN8 3AR at the junction of the A338/A346/B3087. There are parking bays at the garage or by the side of the B3087. We shall gather there and Keith will lead us in convoy to the parking area on the Grand Avenue, within the forest.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear - Under 3 miles with plenty of stops before lunch and there will be a short (5 minutes) drive after lunch for the optional afternoon walk of under 2 miles. The terrain is generally flat with gravel or hard tracks. Some minor pathways can be muddy and slippery underfoot. There are a few inclines, but they are relatively short. Hiking boots should be fine, rather than wellies, although it always worth packing them. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
Midsummer is usually a time when I see fewer birds in my garden. Until recently, the sparrows had been evident as they busily created, and then fed, their brood and sparring blackbirds defended their territories. But things seem much quieter now. There may be plenty of food in the garden and countryside that they do not need to visit the bird feeder, or they may be keeping closer to cover because the adults are starting to moult.
There has been much debate about the benefits, or otherwise, of putting food out for birds in our gardens and whether we are interfering with their natural survival rates. In the UK, we collectively put out astonishing amounts of food for our birds. It allows us to see birds close-up, get a better look at their plumage and movement, which helps us to identify them more easily in the field. Of course, we all hope that in providing food we are helping them to thrive and at least maintain a stable population.
Much research has been done and the consensus seems to be that garden feeding is supplementary, that is, the birds do not wholly depend upon it and can survive without it although extra food can improve over-winter survival in several species. There is no evidence that habitual use of feeders causes birds to lose the ability to forage in the wild.
It is true that those species which use feeders have been more successful, while the populations of those that do not have been more stable, but our feeding is just one positive environmental change which is more an offset against the many other negative ones.
So, while it appears we have no need to worry about whether to feed, what is important is the way we feed the birds. Gathering many species to feed together in a way that they would not do naturally, risks spreading disease and making them a target for predators. We need to offer the best quality food we can afford, ideally putting out no more than the birds can consume within the day. A mix of different foods will support a variety of species, while your garden’s plants can help by providing invertebrates, seeds, nuts, hips, and berries for them to feed on. Ideally, there should be some food available all the year round as shortages can occur at any time. We should move feeders around to avoid an accumulation of waste and droppings. We should also avoid shrubs from which cats can pounce and locating them near nest boxes as the birds in the box may think the feeder is “theirs” and waste time and energy trying to drive off other birds. The feeders themselves also need regular (e.g., weekly) cleaning with soapy water, to help stop the spread of disease. Lastly, water is as necessary to birds as, and sometimes less available than, food. A supply of water, refreshed daily, will be welcome for bathing as well as drinking.
On Wednesday 19th July a group of 13 people set off at dusk from the Turf Hill car park in the New Forest near Woodfalls on a beautiful, still night to listen for churring Nightjars.
After about an hour, when the sun had gone down, a distant churring was heard, followed by another in a different direction.
In all some people heard three different Nightjars and one was seen flying from a stand of trees to another tree. It would have been lovely to hear them closer but it was a surreal experience enjoyed by all.
Debbie Carter has organised this trip to hear Nightjars in the New Forest. If you've not yet signed up, please let us know by the email* mentioned in Dick's monthly newsletter or use the Contact form. The committee have access to this gmail account, so please use it because we're trying to ease Dick's Treasurer admin workload!
[*Editor: I have removed the precise details of this email because we have begun to receive Spam on the account.]
Meet at the Nadder Centre, Weaveland Road car park to set out at 7:45pm or at the Turf Hill car park ( OS Grid reference SU 212 176) just west of the B3080 at Hale Purlieu, Fordingbridge SP6 2NT at approximately 8:30pm. No dogs.
Editor's Note: Please note the meeting time is earlier than the Field Trip Details pdf which was uploaded in April. An updated version will be put on the website.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: we shall be walking from the car park for about ½ mile, 15-20 minutes or so. This is easy walking on a rough but level gravel track to where the Nightjars are in the trees near a row of pylons. As we shall be starting at dusk and returning to cars in the dark, you need to bring with you a good torch.
I was walking a butterfly transect in a local wood recently when I disturbed a buzzard which flew off deeper into the trees. Continuing along the grass path, I noticed a brown lump ahead of me and through my binos I saw that this was another buzzard crouched down on the ground. Cautiously approaching, I realised that the bird wasn’t going to fly off, so I was able to get right up close to take these pictures. I guess that it was a youngster, not all that long fledged and not a confident flier that the parent that I had seen previously was keeping an eye on. The youngster seemed focussed on trying to scare me off by looking impressive with its full wingspan and a bit of hissing but making no effort to fly off.
After taking these pictures I left him in peace and hope that he was able to fly off in due course.
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.