We are fortunate to have a range of lakes and pond in the vicinity of Tisbury. These make popular destinations for walks, are great places to look for birds and at this time of year attract increased number of wildfowl which overwinter there awaiting a new breeding season.
Fonthill Lake is the largest and close to a score of waterbirds may be seen there in winter. We are all familiar with the Mute Swans, Mallard, Coots, Grey Heron and Tufted Duck which may be seen all the year round. But it is only in the winter months that the Goosanders arrive. These are quite large diving ducks of the sawbill family (so called because of the serrations on their bills used for catching fish). The male is a very handsome black and white bird with a glossy dark green head which contrasts with its bright red bill. They appear to be quite gregarious so if there are any present, they are generally all in a group rather than scattered across the lake like the swans for example. Their numbers are increasing throughout the country so we might be seeing growing numbers at Fonthill in winters to come.
Another handsome bird is the Mandarin. Although the female of this neat little duck is largely brown and grey with a distinct white eye stripe, the male is much more striking with multicoloured plumage. It has a red bill, broad white eye stripe, orange ruff like feathers on the side of its neck, more orange sail-like feathers sticking up above its back and patches of purple and dark green elsewhere. If you catch a view of one in bright sunshine it looks terribly exotic. It was introduced from China (hence the name) and has naturalised after escaping from private collections. It likes lakes and ponds with lots of overhanging vegetation and can sometimes be seen sitting on branches above the water.
We are becoming used to seeing Little Egrets (a small white heron with bright yellow feet and a black bill) on local lakes, ponds and watercourses so it is surprising to think that they only started colonising the UK in the late 1990s. Far less frequent but occasionally to be seen in the Nadder Valley and its waterbodies is the Great White Egret, another relatively recent colonist. It is possible to confuse these two Egrets when apart, but the Great White is much larger – the size of a Heron – and has black feet and a longer, yellow, dagger-like bill. A third species, the Cattle Egret, has also expanded its range across Europe, and first bred in the UK on the Somerset Levels in 2008. Who knows how long it will be before they are seen around here?
In contrast to the Goosander, some other duck species favour salt water and winter off our coasts. However, when there is a particularly bad storm some of these might be driven inland and can turn up anywhere, so it is always worth having a close look at the wildfowl around us in winter especially after really bad weather.
by Andrew Graham
Izzy Fry gave us a fascinating talk on bird ringing last week at our final meeting of the year. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) regulates bird ringing in this country and Izzy has built up a huge amount of experience over the last 4-5 years in a range of locations and with different mentors, and even at night for the nightingales and nightjars, as she works towards a professional qualification.
As always Izzy's photographs were beautifully clear and expressive, and we were treated to a panoply of stunning close-ups of birds and saw how the fine meshed nets, which gently capture the birds, were stretched out near field boundaries. The birds go still in these nets and don't flap, so there is no harm to them in the process. Tall ladders (12 feet or more) can be set up for inspecting raptor nests and there are even ring sizes for baby birds which are delicately handled by those who have a special licence.
We heard how the ringing of birds has helped to further our knowledge about migratory journeys, when the codes from the leg rings of captured or dead birds are reported back to the BTO from overseas. The practice of doing regular bird-ringing in the UK also contributes to our understanding of the populations of species around the country, as it provides valuable longitudinal data sets for the BTO.
One of the joys of a still December’s day is the plaintive winter song of the robin ringing out across the garden or woodland. This is softer and lest assertively sung than in spring and summer but may be heard at any time of day especially dawn and dusk. Both male and female sing as they hold separate territories during winter: the male defends the breeding territory, while the female of the pair moves a short distance away to hold an area with good feeding opportunities.
A small, neat bird, the robin is a relative of the chats, redstarts, and flycatchers. It is common throughout the country, and resident across the whole of the British Isles mainland but for the mountaintops of the highlands.
It must be one of the few birds which everyone will recognises, with its distinctive orange-red breast the colour of which also extends up to the bird’s “face” around the bill and eyes. This very visible plumage is used in display when birds are defending territory. The bird thrusts out its breast and fluffs up its feathers to make the show of red as prominent as possible. You may see two birds facing off against each other seeing which can display most impressively before a chase ensues. The red breast provokes such a strong response that they sometimes attack their own reflection in a window. However, as male and female have the same plumage, the red breast has no courtship role. In the languages of several continental countries the bird’s name also refers to the red breast and British colonists took the term robin with them so that birds with red breasts in both north America and Australia are referred to as robins, even though they are not from related families.
We take for granted that robins are quite comfortable near humans and will hop around us looking for food items disturbed by our gardening. This appears result from people’s longstanding affection for and protection of the bird in this country. In contrast, on the continent where some huntsmen have a propensity to shoot anything that moves – including robins – they are considerably more wary.
The birds are quite short lived, many fledglings fail to make it through their first winter because, in common with all small birds, robins will lose body weight very quickly in extended chilly weather. This is when garden feeding can be critical for their survival.
Even those that survive usually only live on for a couple of years. So, although we may regularly see robins in our garden, over the years they are likely to be a sequence of different birds rather than the same ones. They are sedentary, rather than migratory, so vacant territories will likely be filled by locally bred birds, perhaps the offspring of the previous territory holder.
by Andrew Graham
This month we welcome Rebecca Twigg, founder of Salisbury's Secret Garden.
Rebecca is an organic gardener with a passion for the natural world who received a DEFRA award for the Salisbury Bee Trail project. She has now started a new community garden at the Five Rivers Health and Well-being Centre and an additional ‘green space kick start’ scheme for those wanting to take on a patch of ground themselves.
“Exploration outside is absolutely in my heart, there is something magical about immersing yourself in nature …these interactions shape our values and abilities to manage in an ever-changing world too.”
As last month, the Victoria Hall bar will be open from 7:00PM to serve wine, beer and soft drinks before the meeting.
We plan, as usual now, to live-stream Rebecca’s presentation over Zoom for anyone not able to attend in person; I’ll send out the Zoom link to members a few days before.
Attending our meetings is free for members and anyone under 21; adult visitors are asked for a £2 contribution. If you are not a member but would like to come along, please get in touch via the contact form. The Victoria Hall is on the High St, Tisbury, opposite the garage.
There is not much difference between doves and pigeons, as they are all related in the same bird family. We seem to refer to the smaller more delicate looking species as doves and apply the term pigeon to larger woodpigeons and feral pigeons.
All feral pigeons descend from escaped domesticated Rock Doves, now relatively scarce in the UK and only found on the coasts of north and west Scotland. Also increasingly scarce is the Turtle Dove, whose populations have plunged in recent years because of habitat loss and agricultural changes. This is a great shame as it has an attractive purring call and the plumage of its wings, which resembles the pattern of a turtle shell, is quite beautiful. In contrast, the Collared Dove only colonised the UK in the 1950’s but is now common. It is easily identified by the dark collar of plumage on its neck and seems just as comfortable in towns and villages as in the countryside, often visiting gardens and nesting around houses. The other native dove, the Stock Dove, is rarely seen in urban areas favouring instead open country with trees in which it can find nesting cavities. The parkland with aged trees in the vicinity of Wardour Castle always seems a good place to see them. They are smaller than Woodpigeons, have a glossy green band on the back of their neck and partial dark bars on their wings. In flight they look generally blue grey.
The larger Woodpigeon has a distinctive white patch on its neck, a pink breast and white wing bars which are very visible in flight. It is a familiar bird of gardens, parks woodland and farmland. Due to its monotonous call and its willingness to trample over everything in search of food, it is unpopular with gardeners, as well as a occasional agricultural pest. The noise of the males’ clashing wings battling during courtship rituals, often punctuates a summer’s day. The clatter of wings as a Woodpigeon takes off also gives warning to other wildlife of our approach, when out trying to observe wildlife undetected. In the right conditions, they can breed throughout the year, but little effort goes into nest building. It is usually a flimsy affair made of a few sticks, and users of Tisbury station will probably have noticed the unimpressive efforts made on the underside of the roof, much of which ends up on the platform. Depending on the weather, and food availability on the continent, there can be significant movements of Woodpigeons into this country in winter. At such times, massive flocks can be seen crossing the skies, an impressive sight.
by Andrew Graham
Elizabeth drew our attention to the Defra advice, which she checked after finding a dead sparrow under her bird feeder. It's always hard to know how a bird has died and it's sensible, with avian influenza still around, that you know what to do.
Remember that you shouldn't touch a dead wild bird from your garden with bare hands. Please follow the advice here about how to dispose of one in your black bin.
Please also see an excerpt from the gov.uk website below:
Avian influenza (bird flu) is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of avian influenza in poultry or captive birds you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.
Reporting dead wild birds
You should call the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) if you find:
16 members gathered on a predictably hot day at The Learning Centre at Durlston Country Park near Swanage. Dorset Council ranger Paul Jones gave us an introductory talk about the different habitats and the wildlife that we were likely to see. Had we visited earlier (say early June), we could have seen, heard and smelt the colony of guillemots nesting on the cliffs and seen the numerous different species of orchids flowering in the meadows that Durlston is well known for.
However, there was still plenty to see. Paul led us to an old quarry where, on hands and knees, he showed us the rare bastard toadflax (stars-in-grass is his more preferable name for it). He led us to meadows where we quickly saw brown argus, common and holly blues, meadow browns and a single grayling butterfly and, later on, a clouded yellow.
From the cliffs we spied a flight of cormorants and a few lucky members saw peregrine falcons and a white-tailed eagle (They have been re-introduced on the Isle of Wight).
After a fascinating 1.5 hour guided walk we bade farewell to Paul and most of us made our way to the cafe in the castle where, to top things off, we were treated to fly-by from a Lancaster bomber off Old Harry’s rocks as part of the Swanage Festival.
by Peter Shallcross
Apologies to Debbie and Andrew Carter for being late in uploading these great photos of one of their swifts on the move from their special swift box home on 20th July. Andrew has caught the exit flight so well.
On Thursday afternoon Andrew Carter's patience paid off as he waited with camera poised to catch the moment of the swift diving into its box, then having a peek out before taking off again. Thank you for sharing these remarkable pictures!
Liz Nash has reported that she saw 5 swifts yesterday afternoon from her garden off High St, Tisbury.
As Elizabeth Forbes mentions in her newsletter to supporters of the swifts campaign, now is the time to turn on the player for swift calls if you have one with your swift nest box.
"There's no need to check on the boxes, other than to note if any have come loose in the winter gales. Any problems: let me know and we'll try to sort.
This year, we're hoping to record the outcome of our campaign in terms of nesting activity. If you would like to help in this way, please just keep an eye open and a notebook and pencil handy, because we'd be really grateful if you could make a note of activity around nests/boxes:
Elizabeth is happy to be the first port of call for any queries or reports, so if you don't know her email address, please use the contact form and we'll pass them on to her.
Photo: Barn owl
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.