Waders and warblers

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At this time of the year it is all about waders and warblers. Many adult waders are now at the end of their breeding season and are making their way south – for some it might only be as far as a UK estuary, whilst for others this is only the first leg of a very long journey that could take them to a beach in West Africa, or even further in the case of Ruff; a 10,000km (6,000 miles) journey to South Africa.

Ruff BTO (John Harding)

Ruff – John Harding/BTO

The Ouse Washes is ideally placed to see some of these waders as they pass through the area, and that has been the case this month. Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers have been reported at several sites, along with the first Greenshank of the season. Rarer waders often get caught-up in the movement of the regular waders that pass through and winter in the UK, and mid-summer is probably the best time to keep an eye out for any of these.

During the last few weeks the Ouse Washes has been graced with the odd rarer wader. Having arrived in the north-east in mid-June, the Black-winged Pratincole that slowly made its way down the east coast, was found on the Ouse Washes RSPB on 19 July. The same location also hosted a Temminck’s Stint. The former breeds no closer to the Ouse Washes than the Black Sea, whilst the latter breeds in Arctic Scandinavia, and very rarely in northern Scotland – the last confirmed breeding here was in 1993. The Ouse Washes also played host to a Glossy Ibis – a freshwater wading bird from the Mediterranean.

Glossy Ibis BTO (Kevin Carlson)

Glossy Ibis – Kevin Carlson/BTO

Warblers are also beginning to make their way out of the country, their final destination will be south of the Sahara Desert, largely in West Africa. Currently it is mostly Sedge Warblers that are on the move, and the reed-fringed ditches in and around the Ouse Washes seem to be full of them right now. Willow Warblers are also being seen and numbers of these are beginning to be recorded at south coast watchpoints and observatories. Swift migration is also well underway and the drop in numbers around breeding colonies will be very noticeable in the next few weeks. So, whilst we are still in mid-summer mode, for quite a few of our birds Autumn is definitely underway.

sedge warbler BTO (Anne Cotton)

Sedge Warbler – Anne Cotton/BTO

All of the BTO satellite tagged Cuckoos have now left the UK and seven of them are already in Africa. Six of these have successfully crossed the Sahara Desert and are resting and feeding before making their final push to the winter quarters in Congo. There are still another twelve tagged birds spread across southern Europe – follow them as they too make their way south.

We are currently unsure of the whereabouts of another four; they haven’t transmitted for over ten days and are no longer on the map but this doesn’t mean that we have lost them for good, they could pop-up again. The next month should see waders passing through the area peak, as young birds join the adult birds, the almost complete disappearance of Swifts, and a few ducks turning up on the washes. One thing’s for sure – there is always something to look out for.
Paul Stancliffe – British Trust for Ornithology

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Where are all the Cuckoos?

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The Cuckoo can still be heard across the Ouse Washes, however, all is not well with this iconic summer visitor. During the last twenty-five years we have lost almost three-quarters of the breeding population nationally.

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Photo by Edmund Fellowes/ BTO of a Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

The decline has been greatest in England, with the Cuckoos in Scotland holding their own, or even increasing slightly in some areas, whilst those that breed in Wales are losing ground but not to the same extent as those in England.

We know quite a lot about Cuckoos whilst they are here in the UK once they leave the UK much of what they do is a mystery. Or, at least that was the case until scientists at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) fitted tags to five birds in Norfolk in the spring of 2011.

The five birds were given names; two of them, Chris and Martin, after the BBC Springwatch presenters, Chris Packham and Martin Hughes-Games. They both set off, Chris in mid-June, and Martin at the end of June, which at the time surprised BTO scientists as it was thought that they might head off towards the end of August.  Both headed south through Italy, across the Mediterranean and the Sahara Desert spend the winter in the Congo Rainforest – prior to this the winter location was a complete mystery.

In February 2012, both birds started to head north but instead of taking a straight line 5,000 mile journey back to Norfolk, they headed into West Africa before crossing the Sahara once again –  effectively adding another 2,000 miles to their journey. From here they made their way back to the UK but Martin only made it as far as south east Spain, where he ran into an unseasonal hail storm and didn’t make it any further. Chris, however, made it all the way back to Norfolk.  Chris is currently still on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, where he has spent the last four summers but could leave for the Congo Rainforest any day now. He is the only bird remaining from the first five that were tagged in 2011. He has been joined this year by birds from Sherwood Forest, the New Forest, Sussex and Dartmoor, and the BTO are currently following 23 Cuckoos as they make their way south.

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Photo by Phil Atkinson/ BTO of a tagged Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

As I write this, Thursday 3 July, only four birds remain in the UK, including Chris. The others are spread across Europe, with birds in France, Spain, Italy and Bosnia-Herzogovina. Not all of them will make it safely to the winter quarters in Africa, the crossing of the Sahara desert is particularly tough, but everyone can follow them online as their journeys unfold by visiting www.bto.org/cuckoos

* This is the first of a series of guest blogposts by Paul Stancliffe of the

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

 

50th Swanniversary!

LogosThe Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is celebrating its 50th Swanniversary!

This is the celebration of 50 years of successful research on the Bewick’s swans, one of the WWT’s iconic animals.

Sir Peter Scott’s great idea

The study started on 11 February 1964 when the conservationist Sir Peter Scott started painting the swans on the lake outside his window, close to the salt marshes near Slimbridge.

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Bust of Sir Peter Scott, founder of the WWT, at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

He noticed that the swans can be recognised individually as they each have a unique bill pattern of black and yellow markings. He meticulously recorded each swan that visited.

He appreciated that natural markings could be used as a powerful tool for the study of the migratory Bewick’s swans. Scott’s research has formed the basis for a very unique study which has grown into an important international population study in a collaboration that continues to this day.

As a result of the collaborative studies, the Nenetskiy National Nature Reserve in Russia, an important breeding area for the swans, was also given protected status in the 1990s.

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Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s Swans: original 1960s drawings as recorded by Sir Peter Scott. Source: https://www.wwt.org.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/bill-patterns.jpg

Even though more traditional tagging of the birds and – more recently – GPS tracking are also used in the study of the Bewick’s swans, the bill pattern recognition is still of utmost importance in this study – all down to Peter Scott’s original idea.

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Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s swans. Information panel at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Swanniversary celebrations at WWT Welney Reserve

This Wednesday I was invited for a celebratory event at WWT Welney Reserve. Besides the delicious muffins in the WWT Welney café (do try them!) we were also treated with informative presentations from the WWT’s Chairman Sir George Russell; The Centre Manager at WWT Welney, Leigh Marshall; the Head of UK Waterbird Conservation, Eileen Rees; and Dafila Scott, WWT Vice President (who is Sir Peter Scott’s daughter). Dafila explored her personal memories of her childhood at Slimbridge, how she helped to paint and name dozens of swans, and her subsequent life-long interest in swan migrations and family patterns.

Recent changes at the WWT Welney Reserve

Leigh Marshall gave an overview of all the major, positive changes that the WWT Reserve has seen in just the last six years, since the new eco building was erected: two new hides, almost all footpaths having been resurfaced and made more accessible, and a dragonfly pond has been installed. In addition only in the last few years new land has been acquired to the east of the reserve centre: Lady Fen and Bank Farm, together accounting for c 200 ha of new wetland.

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Lady Fen to the east of WWT Wetland reserve centre, hugely important for swans and wader birds. Source: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/dont-miss/lady-fen-and-bank-farm/

Currently, works are taking place to convert the adjacent 100 ha of former farmland into wetland; a new hide is also planned. Although still very much developing, these new wetlands have already proven to be vital for such rare wader species as the Black-tailed gotwit of which 45 of the 50 UK breeding pairs breed at the Welney Washes [More about this great story in a separate post to come].

The future of the Bewick’s swans

Bewick’ swans numbers have gradually grown until they peaked in 1995 around 30,000 internationally. since then, there has been a rapid decline in numbers: currently there are only c18,000 Bewick’s swans left in the world.

In order to counteract this decline, international efforts have been stepped up: the last few years saw, for instance, the production of an international Bewick’s swan Action Plan which will be implemented over the next few years. This Action Plan has been drawn up with conservation colleague in numerous countries, including The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Russia, and was adopted by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement in 2012. It is hoped that, through combined efforts, the population will reach healthy numbers again in the future: the aim is to halt the decline and maintain the population at 23,000 birds or above.

Changing weather patterns: lower numbers of Bewick’s swans at Welney

One of the changes that have been affecting the Bewick’s swans is the rapidly altering weather pattern we have been experiencing lately. With milder winters, fewer birds migrate all the way to the UK to overwinter, from their breeding grounds in Siberia.

As a result, this winter the lowest number of Bewick’s swans have been recorded at Slimbridge since 1965. At the Ouse Washes, where most of the UK Bewick’s swans congregate in the winter, this year has also seen a record-low number of c1,000 only whereas in a ‘normal’ year c5,000 turn up.

As a result of the internationally co-ordinated research we know that this winter many birds did not migrate any further than Germany: also The Netherlands, usually the last ‘stop’ before Bewick’s swans move on to the UK have seen record low numbers: whereas the Netherlands usually is host to 70% of the total Northwest European population they have only counted 4,800 Bewick’s swans this winter, down from the usual c13,000.

All of this may not be as bad as it seems: as the birds do not have to fly as much and do not experience harsh weather this winter, the birds are likely to remain stronger and thus, when back in Siberia in their breeding grounds, may actually turn out an above-average numbers of young. We will find out next year…

Further information

For further information about the Swanniversary, also see the following links:

 Related posts:

Proudly Presenting: Our Themes!

Heritage Lottery FundWe have just finalised our themes for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme. As you can imagine, quite a bit of brainstorming and discussion have gone into producing this, but – following recent approval of the final draft by the Project Board – we are now able to show everybody the themes that will be guiding our work.

Why do we need themes? From the start, it was clear that all partners felt that we needed themes to help focus everybody on what we want to achieve. It is, in fact, a logical development from our vision and strategic aims and objectives for the scheme.

As the landscape of the Ouse Washes LP area is far less known, understood and appreciated than other landscapes in the region – as set out in this previous post -, it was thought that the themes would also provide the partnership with an important tool to tell the ‘stories’ of this landscape, and help getting people to understand what this landscape is about.

The themes will:

  • Help our partners to develop their projects in more details;
  • Guide the way we will promote and deliver events throughout the scheme;
  • Help communities to find ways of engaging with the landscape’s heritage through the scheme’s projects and events;
  • Guide the way we want to promote the landscape and its heritage;
  • Help in the development towards a clear legacy for the landscape.

We are very curious to hear from you, our audience, what you think about our themes; do let me know. Ok, here they are, our 5 themes:

Themes

More details are provided in the below PowerPoint file, setting out: our five themes, with further explanation given, as well as a range of example subjects we feel could fall under each of the themes:

Themes PP_May 2013

International Children’s Day at Rosmini Centre

Heritage Lottery FundIn case you have missed it: yesterday was National Children’s Day. But not to worry: you get another, very good chance to participate this weekend.

This Saturday, 18 May, the Rosmini Centre in Wisbech is holding its annual and very well-attended International Children’s Day. There will be a range of activities and is worth a visit. This is a summary of their programme:

International Children’s Day is running from 10am – 4pm on 18th May 2013, this is the fourth time we have run this event and it has grown each year in popularity. This year we have Live entertainment, BBQ, Children’s activities including games and Dance workshops, Ice Cream and Cake stalls as well as The Police and Fire Brigade attending with their respective vehicles.

We will have our first ever Annual Balloon Race, tickets are £1.50 and the winning prize is £100.00. Tickets are available from the Rosmini Centre and will also be available on the day.

Download the flyer for this event here: International Children’s day poster

The Rosmini Centre is one of our key partners in the delivery of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme. About our partner, the Rosmini Centre:

The Rosmini Centre is a Registered Charity that is run for the Community, we provide rooms for hire, a community Cafe, groups for Parents and Children, Information, Advice and Guidance in several languages and much much more!

We have a very friendly and helpful set of staff and volunteers who can assist you with any query you may have so do not hesitate to get in contact.

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As part of the Ouse Washes LP scheme, several of our partners will be directly targeting children and adolescents through the delivery of their projects.

As part of the delivery phase for the Ouse Washes LPs scheme, Rosmini Centre is working out details for the creation of educational ‘tool boxes’ which will be loaned out to schools and youth groups. In these, information will be available to explain the myriad relationships between historic and recent migrations within the Ouse Washes and the wider Fens area, and the effect this has had on the landscape, heritage and heritage perception.

Migration is a key element in the Ouse Washes landscape, whether we talk about wildlife, the daily and seasonal water movements, and people; as such, this project will help people getting a better understanding of their own heritage and that of others. As part of the development phase, we are currently also finalising a series of themes to create a coherent way we are presenting the project and the landscape itself. ‘Migration stories’ will be one of these key themes. More about the themes shortly; watch this space!