BIRD NOTE 8 - The Turtle Dove

You will no doubt have seen that on Friday 26 April the RSPB released a charity song, “Let Nature Sing”, to highlight Britain’s declining bird numbers. It contains the songs of 25 threatened or endangered birds out of 67 species on the organisation’s “red list” of globally-threatened species in severe decline. Familiar names include Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Skylark and Nightingale. In the last 50 years Britain has lost 40 million birds.

It is timely to release the recording now because it is the time of year when migrants return from Africa. 

Read more: BIRD NOTE 8 - The Turtle Dove

BIRD NOTE 7: Common Crane

common craneBritain’s tallest bird species, and the one with the biggest wingspan, is the Common Crane. In medieval times they were a common species and much treasured for the dining table. Indeed Gyr Falcons were obtained by Kings from the continent because they were the only birds with the size and strength to overpower a Crane. 

In Mark Cocker’s splendid book, “Birds Britannia”, he records that after one successful crane-hunting expedition with his Gyr Falcons King John caught enough to feed 100 paupers on bread, meat and ale. But over-hunting and habitat loss, notably wetland drainage, had a major impact on numbers and, by 1600 or possibly earlier, Cranes ceased to be a breeding species in Britain and died out. Evidence of their presence remains, however, in almost 300 place names such as Cranwell – Cranes spring – in Lincolnshire and Cranborne – Cranes stream – in Dorset.   

Read more: BIRD NOTE 7: Common Crane


With the continuing decline in numbers of farmland birds much of the interest in birding comes from wetland birds such as waders and wildfowl and in this regard the Nene and Welland valleys have become excellent sites for observation in the last 20-30 years or so. The common feature is the availability and re-use of redundant gravel workings. The lakes at Ferry Meadows were created after Peterborough Development Corporation extracted gravel for the urban parkway network. The Langdyke Trust has within its portfolio the former gravel workings adjacent to the Welland in the Etton-Maxey area where extraction is still taking place to the east. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Deeping Lakes Reserve has a much older history as the large,deep lake was the result of extraction by the Great Northern Railway in the late 19th century to provide ballast for its tracks.



hummingbirdIn September I spent two weeks birdwatching in Peru. With its neighbour Colombia it is one of the two countries with the world’s biggest bird-list with over 1900 species. In comparison, the British list has just risen to 618. Peru is blessed with such ornithological riches because of its very diverse range of habitats ranging from the Pacific coast to the high Andes and to the Amazon.Coastal beaches and mudflats, humid lowland forests, river-edge and mangrove forests, montane forests, scrub, dry or semi-dry plains called puna, marshes, elfin forests and lakes and ponds support a huge variety of bird-life.

One of the families of birds that is widely observed is the Trochillidae, the Hummingbirds. Of the 338 species in existence 120 are found in Peru of which we saw 50. They are birds of the Americas but with only 18 species being found in North America. The Ruby-throated hummer is the only one to nest in eastern USA and Canada migrates from Central/South America to eastern North America and has the daunting task of crossing the Gulf of Mexico. On the occasions when they mis-judge the best time to cross the 500 miles they perish in the deep.


Bird Fair - Rutland Water 2018

rutland waterI’ve just spent two days at the annual Birdfair held at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Rutland Water. Amazingly it was the 30th such event and it has grown from humble beginnings to attract over 15,000 visitors from all over the country and beyond, providing a substantial injection into the local economy.It is the largest such event in the world and has spawned similar events overseas.It is a chance to see bird tour operators from all over the world together with all the latest optical and camera equipment and books and much more. Scores of lectures provide a window on birds and places across the globe plus reports on ongoing research, some of which I have touched on in earlier notes. It is also an opportunity to meet up with old friends.  

Read more: Bird Fair - Rutland Water 2018


sand martinIn my note in June I rhapsodised about the influx of summer migrants. This year the stormy weather caused great disruption and it is widely thought that numbers of many species were down as a consequence. The full picture won’t be apparent until after the breeding season. One of the first arrivals, in late March onwards, is the Sand Martin and there are nesting boxes at  Ferry Meadows on Lynch Lake where you can watch the Martins catching insects on the wing and taking them to their young. 


JULY BIRD DIARY - The Common Cuckoo

caterpillerLast month I wrote about the joys of seeing summer migrants from Africa, the most iconic being the Cuckoo with its distinctive call. Over the last 30 years or so, however, their numbers in Britain have dropped by 65% but the reasons for this are not known.  A lot is known about their breeding behaviour whereby they parasitise other birds, notably the Dunnock, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Reed Warbler. So could changes in the numbers and breeding patterns of these birds be an influence ?

Research using breeding and nest survey data suggests not very much. So other explanations focus on a reduced supply of the Cuckoos’ food (mainly caterpillars) during the breeding season and worsening conditions on their migration routes and in their wintering grounds in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Click on the video to hear the cuckoo's call....

Read more: JULY BIRD DIARY - The Common Cuckoo


ospreyFor bird-watchers spring and autumn migrations are the most exciting times of the year. In late Winter- early Spring those birds that came to spend the winter in the UK from Scandinavia and the Arctic return north to breed. These include Redwings and Fieldfares, members of the Thrush family, which love coming into orchards for the windfall apples in the Autumn. When food is scarce in Scandinavia the UK also sees flocks of the beautiful Waxwings which are often seen in supermarket car parks feasting on the cotoneaster and pyracanthus berries.

A few years ago when the acorn harvest failed in Scandinavia hundreds of Jays were seen coming in off the North Sea over the cliffs at Hunstanton to find food in England. Common garden birds such as Chaffinch and Blackbird may not have been your regulars, because birds resident in the UK tend to move south in Winterand be replaced by visitors from Scandinavia too. Out on the Nene washes and Fen agricultural areas in Winter are Whooper Swans from Iceland,Bewick Swans from the Russian Arctic, Brent Geese from the Canadian Arctic and  Barnacle Geese from Greenland.