Monday, 21 May 2018

Upcoming Moth & Bat events in Kent

10th June, 19.30 Bat & Moth evening at Monkton Nature Reserve

18th June, 18.00 Moth night at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, viewing moths trapped the night before by Francis Solly and Ian Hunter

16th July, 18.00 Moth night at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, viewing moths trapped the night before by Francis Solly and Ian Hunter

Sunday, 20 May 2018

GBW Annual Results 2017

GBW Annual Results 2017

Coal Tit. Photograph by Jill Pakenham
Song Thrush. Photograph by Amy Lewis
Overall 2017 was warmer than average, with a mild winter followed by a rainy but warm summer. Numbers of winter thrushes, and indeed garden birds in general, were low at the start of 2017, with no severe weather events to drive them to bird feeders. Wintering Blackcaps appeared to leave early last year, with counts dropping away in February rather than March. The normal Siskin peak in March was fairly low at 13% of gardens, compared to 27% the year before.
Numbers of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Sparrowhawks were very low at the start of the year, following a rainy spring in 2016 that seemed to particularly affect these birds, but the breeding populations of all three species appeared to recover in 2017, with counts at normal levels from June onwards. Blackbird counts were unusually low in July and August, with birds appearing to leave their garden breeding territories earlier than normal, perhaps due to the heavy rain in June and July. Goldfinches were seen in very high numbers in the autumn, with counts dropping back to normal by November. The final months of 2017 saw colder weather, and more birds at our feeders.
GBW Annual Results 2017 infographic
Select to enlarge

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull numbers followed their normal seasonal pattern, with a peak in the winter months. These birds usually only visit gardens during very unsettled, cold weather.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Rare reptile reintroduced at Surrey reserve

One of the UK's rarest reptiles may have a brighter future after a project between the RSPB and the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) saw 21 Sand Lizards released at Farnham Heath RSPB, Surrey.
Native to Britain, the lizard grows no bigger than 8 inches in length and needs sandy ground in sunny spots to dig burrows for egg-laying, shelter and sunning. Females are a sandy-brown colour with rows of dark markings along the back, but males have exotic green flanks which are at their brightest during the summer, making them easy to spot. They are the country's only egg-laying lizards, as Common (aka Viviparous) Lizard gives birth to live young.
Sand Lizards were first reintroduced to Farnham Heath in 2012 in an attempt to boost the dwindling British population. However, three years ago a fire started by an illegal camper destroyed a good portion of the restored heathland at Farnham, killing off much of its rare wildlife. Since then, the damage has slowly been repaired and colonies of Sand Lizards, Field Crickets and other species are being brought back to safeguard their future as a British species. In partnership with ARC, 21 lizards were bred at a nearby site before being relocated and released on sandbanks created especially for them at the reserve.

Male Sand Lizard (Christoph Caina/wiki commons).
Mike Coates, Farnham Heath RSPB Warden, said: "With their bright, exotic appearance these reptiles would look more at home in a desert or [on a] Mediterranean island, but in fact Sand Lizards are native to the UK. Sadly, their numbers have plummeted in recent decades and are in desperate need of our help.
"In partnership with ARC, we are building a more resilient UK population, by boosting the numbers we have here at Farnham. Over the past six years we've worked to restore and create the perfect heathland habitat for these amazing creatures and we hope this will allow numbers to continue to grow in the coming years."
The heathland found at RSPB Farnham Heath continues to not only provide a home for lizards, but a wealth of other species including Dartford Warbler, European Nightjar and Grass Snake.

European Nightjars can be found at Farnham Heath in the summer months (Natalino Fenech).
The UK has lost close to 80 per cent of its heathland habitat since the turn of the 19th century through being converted to farmland, for forestry or used for housing. Farnham Heath's 162 hectares sit within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and offers a home to some our own rare heathland wildlife.
Mike Coates added: "The creation and restoration of lowland heathland at this site will not only benefit the many species we have living here at the moment, but those that may arrive in the future with the impacts of climate change."
Ralph Connolly, Field Officer and Volunteer Co-ordinator for ARC said: "Habitat fragmentation in the form of intervening roads or development can be a real barrier for wildlife, so reintroductions are a great way of putting native species back on suitable sites that they would be unable to reach on their own. If you are lucky you may see the Sand Lizards basking on south-facing heather banks."
In the future, the RSPB aims to revive Sand Lizard colonies in several locations, including at Pulborough Brooks RSPB, maximising the chance of success for this special resident.

Bullfinches on the increase in gardens

Eurasian Bullfinches are being seen in more gardens than ever before, according to the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Garden BirdWatch Survey.
Records from approximately 11,000 'citizen scientists' recording for the BTO's weekly Garden BirdWatch Survey indicate that Eurasian Bullfinches are being seen in more gardens than ever before.
Bullfinches were seen by 19 per cent of Garden BirdWatchers in April 2018, which is almost double the average (1995-2017) for this month. These figures follow on from a record high last winter, after a successful breeding season. The BTO's annual results for 2017 show a 16 per cent increase in the number of gardens reporting them, compared to 2016.

Eurasian Bullfinches are attractive birds, with the males possessing a bright salmon-pink breast (Derek Lees).
Bullfinches are enigmatic and secretive birds often seen in gardens with plenty of cover, usually close to their natural woodland and scrub habitats. A long-term decline has been noted in the species since the 1970s, which is thought to be due to agricultural intensification and a reduction in food availability and nest sites in woodlands. However, since 2000 they appear to have been increasing nationally, according to the joint BTO/Joint Nature Conservation Committee/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey, but as yet there is no clear explanation why. The BTO has also seen an increase in the percentage of gardens reporting the species since the start of the Garden BirdWatch survey in 1995.
While often seen feeding on the seeds of fleshy fruits and flower buds, they will also take sunflower and other seeds from hanging feeders. At this time of year, they also forage for invertebrates for their chicks. Listen out for their soft peu call or look out for the bright pinkish-red underparts of the male and pinkish-grey of the females, both with a black cap that extends over their large, robust bills. While these sedentary birds are seen year-round, the BTO sees a striking peak in garden sightings in June, which is thought to be when parents bring newly fledged young to gardens to feed. It remains to be seen whether record counts will continue into the early summer period.
Claire Boothby, Garden BirdWatch Development Officer at the BTO, commented: "2017 saw record reports of bullfinches from October-December and this year we are on track for the highest-ever records. Will this be the case? We need your help to find out."
Kate Risely, Garden BirdWatch Organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, added: "Not only was 2017 a great year to see bullfinches, we also recorded more Pied Wagtails (up 32 per cent), Song Thrushes (up 15 per cent), Goldcrests (up 11 per cent) and Goldfinches (up 5 per cent) in gardens than we did in 2016."

Rescue effort to save Godwit Eggs

The unseasonably wet April has caused problems for nesting birds on the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk washlands, including the area's breeding Black-tailed Godwits, the RSPB and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) have revealed.
The soggy conditions have left the Nene and Ouse Washes unusually full of water for the time of year, forcing large numbers of birds to nest away from the safety of the reserves. Conservationists have discovered clutches of Black-tailed Godwit eggs on nearby farmland. The eggs have become stuck in mud, sparking fears for the overall success of the 2018 breeding season and consequently the species' future.
However, farmers and conservationists teamed up to save a total of 32 eggs, which were collected from arable land and are now in incubators at Welney WWT, Norfolk, as part of pioneering conservation scheme Project Godwit.

Several clutches of Black-tailed Godwit eggs have been found in wet, muddy fields – far from ideal incubating conditions (WWT).
Hannah Ward, RSPB Project Manager at Project Godwit, said: "The Nene and Ouse Washes in the Fens are two of just a handful of sites in the UK where Black-tailed Godwits breed.
"Historically, they nest on the washes, but the high water has forced them onto wheat fields, where eggs have been fused to the mud and the tall crops conceal potential predators. Due to the conditions these eggs have been subjected to, we are anticipating a reduction in the numbers of eggs that hatch."
Conservationists have been using a technique known as headstarting – raising young birds from eggs collected in the wild – to help boost the British godwit population. The species' numbers at the Ouse Washes are critically low, but it's hoped that headstarting, combined with the creation of extra wetland habitat, could ultimately restore the population to the counts seen in the 1970s. The Ouse and Nene Washes in the Fens are artificial wetlands, created in the 18th century, to drain the surrounding land for farming.

Nesting in arable fields is suboptimal for Black-tailed Godwits, as the cover can conceal predators (W.Schulenburg).
Leigh Marshall, Centre Manager at Welney WWT, said: "The change in climate, as well as pressures from increased run-off from housing developments upstream, means we are getting excess water later in the year, particularly when ground-nesting birds are using the Ouse and Nene Washes in spring and early summer.
"Flooding traditionally used to occur in winter, but over the past 20 years we are seeing an increasing shift to spring, affecting the two wetlands, which are the most important sites for breeding waders in the UK. The provision of more sustainable drainage systems along the catchment area would help wetlands sites like the Ouse and Nene Washes."
To address this, the WWT has created a new nature reserve next to Welney adjacent to the Ouse Washes, which provides safe godwit breeding areas. The RSPB is creating and improving similar sites at other locations around the washes.
Headstarting is just one aspect of Project Godwit, which also focuses on monitoring, habitat management and trialling conservation techniques. Any sightings of headstarted godwits can be registered at, where more information on the project can also be found.

This aerial photo of Welney WWT, Norfolk, illustrates just how flooded the washes remained into April (WWT).