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.
Dr. Peter Inness from the Meteorology Department of Reading University opened this fascinating talk, the last in our 2021/22 series of indoor meetings, with two images of the same patch of woodland near his Oxfordshire home taken two years apart to the day. In the first, the forest floor was carpeted with bluebells; in the second merely a green carpet with a few unopened bluebell buds visible. This was one of several illustrations he used to show how short term changes in weather can impact the natural world, as he sought to distinguish this variability from longer term trends.
In her recent PhD thesis a student at Reading had used data collected by volunteers across the British Isles (recorded on the Natures Calendar website managed by the Woodland Trust) to show that across the UK the mean first flower date for bluebells was 1st of May in 2013, but 8th April in 2017, fully three weeks earlier.
Dr Inness was able to explain this difference reflected short term climate impacts, rather than long term trends. Data for bluebell first-flowering dates and temperature records for January to April in successive years show that bluebell flowering dates respond to the weather and temperature conditions during March, February and January, as the plant stems emerge and the flower buds form, rather than during the flowering period itself. And, though invertebrates react rather more rapidly than plants, similar analyses for the first appearance of orange tip butterflies and for blue tits nesting reached similar conclusions.
In 2021, by contrast, hawthorn blossom appeared a whole month later than normal, reflecting an abnormally frosty April.
Looking at longer term trends and the impact of climate change, however, Dr Inness referred to the paper published recently by the Royal Society. This used records on 406 plant species, some dating from as far back as the 18th century, to show a marked shift that took place in the 1980s. Plants are now emerging on average a whole month earlier each year than seventy years ago.
He showed projections prepared by the Meteorological office to indicate that by 2050, in every other year we will experience summer temperatures similar to those we experienced in the very hot year of 2018. And, unless significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are achieved globally, these temperatures will be the annual norm by the end of the century. And he also showed projected rainfall maps clearly showing that our winters will be wetter and summers dryer, and warned that individual rainfall events will be 29% stronger. A new UK record for of 316mm rain in a 24 hour period, set as recently as 2009, was surpassed again only six years later in 2015 with a new record of 341mm. All of which suggests that nationally there are considerable tasks and costs ahead to prepare reservoirs and infrastructure to be able to cope.
From a wildlife perspective these climate trends are complex and deeply concerning. Dr Inness gave as examples the likely impact on the relatively shallow root systems of beech trees, less well adapted to cope with summer drought conditions than deeper rooted oaks. And the impact on populations of birds such as swallows whose northerly migrations are triggered by seasonal changes in daylight hours. They may arrive at European destinations too late to feed their young on invertebrates maturing earlier as a result of warmer Spring conditions.
Troubling as these issues are, the talk was hugely valuable and timely, providing us all with deeper insight into the impact weather and climate have on the natural world around us.
by Richard Budden
In early March, lapwings return to their favoured place to breed. I can still remember them being such a common bird that their evocative courtship call and swooping flight was well known. Now, their population has declined so much that locally only a few pairs come back to just one field. During the 80's, their ancestors nested in the spring barley sown in 'Three Corner Piece,' a stony small field. But then the fence was pulled down, the field enlarged and wheat was planted so the birds moved on. They were then looked after by the Carter family at Place farm, who would search the maize fields before cultivating around them or who would move the nests to safety. When the Carters left, the lapwings left too, as the fields quickly became unsuitable for nesting. Luckily, at that time an environmental scheme came in, which paid for a ‘Lapwing plot' to be prepared for them annually. At least, they had somewhere permanent safe to breed in the middle of an arable field. Sometimes they would nest off the plot and it would take both myself and Geoff Lambert to find them and put down a marker. But even so, the numbers of pairs were still declining year on year, so I gave them a pond for water and a source of insects. I even cut down some hedgerow trees where crows would perch to predate on the chicks.
As lapwings are long lived (up to twenty years) and the old birds faithfully return each year, a lack of breeding success can go unnoticed for years, until finally, the old birds die and no more birds ever return.
This year, Nick Adams (a local ecologist with a long RSPB experience) has recommended fencing an area of grass to be grazed by a couple of sheep, which will provide the lapwing chicks with insects. Let's hope that works!
All this shows how farming and the countryside has changed even in my working lifetime, and a species which had adapted to a centuries-old agricultural system, suddenly find themselves relics in a hostile environment.
If you want to see and hear lapwings, a good place to go is Winterbourne Downs RSPB Nature Reserve near Newton Tony. The whole farm has been converted to suit the habitat requirements of stone curlews (another endangered bird species), and lapwings just happen to like it too.
by Andrew Graham
A delightful story is in the Guardian (20th January) about John Stimpson in Cambridgeshire who made it his mission to help swifts find appropriate nesting sites. Having just turned 80, Mr Stimpson is proud to have reached his goal of building 30,000 swift boxes and is intent on continuing for as long as he can. Thank you to Anne Perkins for bringing the story to our attention. You can read the full article by clicking on the Guardian link above.
An update from Elizabeth Forbes
My warmest thanks to everyone who supported our campaign - volunteering to host a nest box (even if your house turned out not to be suitable), as surveyors or just by being encouraging and feeding in information. Swifts are now officially 'endangered', but we can all take some satisfaction from having 'done our bit' to help our own population to thrive. So, with the arrival of the swifts from April on ward to look forward to, now is the time to report on where we'll be starting from.
Inspired by the talk via Zoom last January by Ed Mayer of Swift Conservation, people responded from across the community: from Teffont Evias to Semley, Hampshire Swifts installed a total of 32 nest boxes, with six also playing recordings of swift calls to attract interest. We are so grateful to Hampshire Swifts for their support from the outset right up to the present day when the last boxes are about to be installed.
The report by Andrew Graham of the survey we then undertook is found here. This suggests there were at least six active nests and that the overall population is around 35-40 birds, of which around 23 may be looking for new homes this breeding season. As we said, we didn't expect new boxes to have residents straight away - the four boxes I put up on my own house in 2019 have still not got established occupants, but there was certainly interest last year so I hope you'll share my patient optimism!
In the future, with the information now available on where in the village there is the most activity, our survey will most usefully focus on feedback from nest box hosts and previously recorded active nests.
Finally, I am absolutely delighted to say that Laura Downer, who so very ably kept the whole complex campaign running smoothly, has now offered also to take over the practical side of things and Andrew will continue his wonderful work on the statistics. In a way it's not for me to thank them for their very hard work, but I do, most warmly. So please keep in touch with Laura, from now on, and of course let her know if you'd like to help.
Again I wish you all the very best 2022 has to offer and thank you again on behalf of Tisbury Swifts.
Winter can be a tough time for wildlife and while a number of mammal species will hibernate, many birds deal with poor weather by moving to lower ground or even to a different country. The storms and snowfall of December got many thrushes on the move, and in the weeks following there appeared to be many more blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares in the local fields and hedgerows. It is not just the cold temperatures that they are escaping; a blanket of snow will make food inaccessible forcing them to move to clearer land to feed. Redwings and fieldfares will already have travelled from Scandinavia and Russia to find a milder winter and will keep moving to keep clear of the worst conditions. Similarly, there are increased numbers of coots, mallards, and tufted ducks on Fonthill Lake, where they will spend the winter.
This is all normal but what makes things interesting is when there is real dearth of food for birds in their normal wintering areas. This might be because the food crop (for example acorns, beech mast or fruits and berries) has failed or a species has had a population boom after a good breeding season. This is when an irruption can occur, and huge numbers of birds move to parts of Europe where they are not normally seen. A recent example of this was during the winter of 2017/18 when unusually large numbers of hawfinches were seen throughout the UK. They made a rare sight in the beeches around Fonthill Lake and even popped up in Tisbury gardens. This year it seems to be the turn of the brambling to visit us in large numbers, presumably because of a failure of the beech mast crop on the continent. After reaching the east coast in late September, they had soon spread across the whole country and by the end of November seemed to outnumber the chaffinches in some local beech woods. (You can see this movement graphically on eurobirdportal.org).
It has been a particularly poor year for acorns which will hit jays which favour this as their winter food, normally burying thousands in the autumn for later retrieval. They may travel several kilometres from their home range looking for acorns and will be more visible than usual as they do so. But if the acorn supply is exhausted, they too will be on the move. The classic irruptive species is the waxwing, a bird rarely seen in the UK apart from during one of their irruptions which only occur once every 10 years or so when flocks of a hundred or more may be seen. Who knows what this winter will bring?
by Andrew Graham
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.