Tag Archives: birds

Have you seen Willow Tits?

Willow tits have been found in recent years on some farm holdings straddling the boundary of Ryedale / Scarborough local authority areas, amidst HLS wetland schemes under the Carrs Wetland Project banner. Parts of the Derwent riparian corridor support occasional breeding pairs and some isolated farm woodlands which are quite wet and scrubby. This species featured on the old Ryedale BAP (and Wet Woodland, a classic setting for nesting Willow Tits, was a named habitat for Ryedale too).
The bird excavates nest holes typically in rotten trees or stumps such as willow, alder and birch. It is known from research on the species’ habitat preferences that as scrub matures and larger-trunked trees establish, they become attractive to a key predator of Willow Tits – the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Thus keeping a suitable site free of mature trees could help.

Willow Tit © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Willow Tit © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In places HLS woodland management options were agreed on Carrs Wetland farms, mindful that Willow Tits might benefit in the longer term by maintaining suitable nesting habitat. Some areas were thus earmarked for rotational coppicing to keep a younger age structure to the scrubby wet woodland. On Willerby Carr even some woodshaving-filled nestboxes were put in place in the hope that they could be used by Willow Tits.

Do you know of any good Willow Tit sites in the Ryedale or Scarborough patch? (or sites where they used to be?) Following a discussion with Chris Bradshaw, a local ornithologist and member of Scarborough Birders group, we wondered whether an attempt to track down breeding Willow Tits would be a good idea this year, to assess local populations. In many parts of the UK this species is in serious decline, hanging on in parts of its range. Given that it is present in the Scarborough area and Ryedale too it would be valuable to hear of recent records. We should take care to not to give precise locations in the public domain, however, considering the scarcity and sensitivity of this species. Many sites will be on private land anyway, but if you have helpful ‘intelligence’ on their whereabouts, such as recent sightings in the last 5 years or sites that you know used to have them but may no longer, then please contact Tim on tim.burkinshaw@scarborough.gov.uk


Hoping for a Lapwing Spring

A Lapwing nest is a simple depression on the ground

A Lapwing nest is a simple depression on the ground

Now that Spring is here the wide open fields of The Carrs will resound once more to the calls of Curlew, Lapwing and other ground-nesting wader species. Which ones have you seen displaying or calling?

We have regular breeding by Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing, faltering efforts by Common Snipe and Redshank but their fortunes blow with the wind (and rain and drought and cold…) each season. I wonder if this spring will prove to be a decent breeding year for raising young Lapwing – A Lapwing Spring?

Without recruitment of juveniles, wader populations will dwindle. A lot of research has gone into this – it is particularly well-quantified for Lapwing. Seeing good numbers of adult birds paired up, displaying, even nesting and hatching chicks is no guarantee that the population is stable. In each clutch of eggs most will not make it to fledging stage.

Lapwing chicks www.arkive.org
Adult Lapwing by a wet grassland scrape www.arkive.org
Research shows that Lapwing pairs need to raise an average 0.6 chicks per season to fledging stage for the overall population to match natural losses. This figure is known as the productivity (chicks per pair each season).This may not sound a lot to expect of a bird that lays typical clutches of 4-5 eggs but we must remember these are ground-nesters. Eggs laid in a tussock of grass in an open field and the chicks which hopefully hatch run the gauntlet of predation by foxes, corvids, buzzards, falcons, stoats, hedgehogs and numerous other hungry mouths, not to mention the vagaries of the Yorkshire weather.

Disturbance can cause incubating birds to leave the nest and if they don’t return soon after the eggs may chill in the cool spring air. Nesting attempts might even be abandoned through repeated disturbance at a site. Farmers generally have a good view from a tractor cab to spot and avoid the nests in any essential operations.

A Lapwing nest and its camouflaged clutch of eggs

A Lapwing nest and its camouflaged clutch of eggs

It’s a tough life being a Lapwing. The next pair that you see when crossing a field or walking a footpath, spare a thought for their plight. They might be the only pair on a farm to succeed in fledging this year’s recruits – so long as we don’t disturb them at this critical time. Lapwings will dive-bomb you or show agitated behaviour if you enter the field they are nesting in. If you do see behaviour indicating a nest nearby or you spot a nest, eggs, chicks or juvenile Lapwings over the few months – please let me know so we can record how they fare this year.

Oh, and all those watery scrapes the farms have created in the fields at Staxton, Flixton, Potter Brompton etc. This is where they come into their own, fingers crossed, providing some rich feeding habitat for those little chicks. Let’s hope for a good year for them.

A Bounty on the Brow

Jan14 011

Some mornings on the way over the Yorkshire Wolds to Scarborough I like to take in the back roads. One such route crosses East Heslerton Wold to arrive at the top of Sherburn Brow, where it encounters the Wolds Way long distance trail, which follows the road downhill towards Sherburn before regaining the crest of the brow. Now this un-sung viewpoint offers a cracking view across the Vale of Pickering any day of the year*, but the added bonus on this occasion was a mixed flock of finches alighting in a skeletal hedgerow.  The birds were enjoying the bounty of a stewardship crop planted as a winter food source for farmland birds. These wild bird mixtures can be a vital crutch to the survival of some of our smaller seed-eating birds in the winter countryside and I stopped briefly to appreciate the crop and the flighty flock of winged seed-seekers.

A wild bird seed crop (sometimes called WBS mix by those in the know) is a tailored mix of arable crop plants left unharvested over one or two winters. Typically they include a mix of starchy cereals and oil-rich brassicas. Wheat, barley or triticale, a forbear of modern wheat, could provide the cereal element for instance. Providing seeds with high lipid content could be oil-seed rape, fodder radish or kale. Such brassicas left to seed will provide seed pods for a couple of seasons and the sought after seeds will be held tightly by the plant until a prying beak makes good its entry. Other seed bearing crops like millet are sometimes are included in the mix to increase the variety. The whole lot grows together and additionally provides cover and shelter for game birds in the barren months of winter and spring.


Wild Bird Seed crop on Sherburn Brow

One of the advantages of a sacrificial crop like this is that the seeds remain attached to upright stalks, safe from the rot and mould they would quickly succumb to if scattered on the ground. It can produce quite a wildlife spectacle if carefully located, by a thick hedge or a woodland for safety and warmth. This particular location, on my visit, had attracted 40 or more Bramblings, among dozens of Goldfinches and Chaffinches, with a few Greenfinch, Linnet and Bullfinch for good measure. While we enjoy our garden bird visitors attracted to seed feeders and bird tables it is worth thinking about the feast we might have in the countryside if a few more hectares of wild bird seed mix were sown on every farm. To recover their dwindling populations our farmland birds need not only to survive through the winters but emerge fit enough to breed the following spring. It made my week to see Bramblings and Linnets in double figures. Will future generations enjoy such treats I wonder?

* Footnote: The spot I refer to is one of my favourite routes to descend into the Vale of Pickering. While a sunny morning view is a joy, there is a phenomenon I long to capture on camera: that magical meteorological situation when a thermal inversion holds a thick grey fog pooled in the Vale while the Moors and the Wolds are bathed in golden sunshine. One can almost imagine Lake Pickering once more filling the Vale.

Reflections of a wetland officer

A jungle of hemlock on an abandoned arable field near Star Carr was the daunting starting point five yrs ago this autumn for a wet grassland creation site. This 40 acre lump of Carr land belonging to Scarborough Borough Council was the first location where, as a newly recruited Wetland Project Officer I was expected to demonstrate the viability of Higher Level Stewardship schemes in our small part of the Vale.

I think it’s fair to say that there were those who voiced their doubts and concerns at the time and indeed there may be plenty of people even now who upon seeing the site today will wonder and ask what all the fuss is about. I don’t mind admitting that there were moments when even I had my doubts whether this wet grassland restoration lark was going to prove viable on The Carrs in the face of strong economic pressures on farms to boost food production, grow energy crops or invest in re-draining of arable floodplain land.