Meet at the Nadder Centre car park on Sat 3rd June at 10.30am or approximately 1 hour 15 minutes later at the Westhay Moor Reserve BA6 9TX. The car park is at OS ST 456 437, just north of the junction between Westhay Moor Drove and Dagg’s Lane Drove, between the villages of Westhay and Godney.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: Approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
This Field Trip has limited numbers. There may still be places if you've not yet signed up and want to come. Equally please let us know if you're on the list, but can no longer make the date. We are now using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org for organising lists for events, so please contact us there.
(c) RSPB Swell Wood
A reminder for our upcoming field trip to RSPB Swell Wood Reserve, an ancient woodland west of Curry Rivel off the A378. We will view the heronry as the birds roost for the night and there could be an option of a longer (approximately 1km) walk through the reserve after seeing the heronry, if there is sufficient daylight. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 6:30pm or at RSPB Swell Wood Reserve on the A378, Taunton TA3 6PX at approximately 7:30pm
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear - less than 100 metres on a flat path through woodland. Stout shoes should suffice. Torches will be needed, as the return walk will be in twilight. Further details on the heronry are available on the RSPB website.
A steady stream of Martins
Sheltering from the driving rain behind a Bakewell Slice in the cafe at the Wilton Garden Centre, I noticed a Martin of some sort fly over beneath the low clouds. Then another, and another. As I watched, there was a steady stream of them heading north westwards up the Wylye Valley, presumably forced down by the low cloud and rain. Without bins I couldn't make out whether they were Sand or House Martins. I thought it likely that they would be Sand Martins.
On the way back I diverted to have a look at Fonthill Lake and sure enough there were scores of Martins there too, scooting around over the water, and against the backdrop of the surrounding trees I could see that they were Sand Martins, which generally are the first of the Hirundines to arrive, I think. I suppose they use the valleys are convenient routes to follow and the Lake a useful feeding stop on their migration to wherever it is they will be breeding.
In spite of the weather spring is on its way...
Peregrine play over Tisbury
I was woken by the distinctive cry of a Peregrine above the garden and sprang up to watch it repeatedly stooping on a crow, which seemed to be enjoying the fun rather than making any real efforts to get away.
A new species for my "from the bedroom window" list and the first time I have seen one actually over Tisbury (usually up on one of the local ridges) so it confirms the entry in the bird list that I’m working on for this website. I gather that the cathedral breeders scout out a considerable distance from the tower or it may have been a roving winterer. I am ignorant of the extent of quarrying still going on at Chicksgrove, so I am wondering if there is scope for them to nest in there undisturbed?
[editor: no Tisbury photo available yet!]
Our AGM will start at 7.00pm for a brief run through of the minutes of last year’s meeting and the 2022 accounts. We urge as many members as possible to come along. The hall should be open half an hour before we start, so this year you can even enjoy the proceedings with a glass of wine in hand.
The talk will start at 7:30pm and we shall hear from Sarah Barnsley on 'Why hedgerows matter'. Sarah is Hedgerow Officer for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, and a huge hedgerow enthusiast, working to promote these humble countryside heroes.
Hedgerows form a key component of our natural heritage and provide many vital ecosystem services and functions. They connect up our countryside and provide essential food and shelter for much of our wildlife. From nesting birds to hibernating hedgehogs, well-managed hedges can provide abundant resources for animals, birds and all manner of insects. Yet, to maintain a healthy hedgerow network into the future, we need to manage hedgerows according to their natural lifecycle.
Wintering wildfowl (Focus - January)
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
Talk notes: Bird ringing: how, what and why.
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.
Robins (Focus - December)
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.
Doves and pigeons (Focus - November)
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
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.