May, 2016

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Saving Species

The need for species conservation has never been greater. Despite notable successes in improving the fortunes of a number of bird species, more are being forced onto the list of those that need attention, both globally and in the UK. If we want to have a
  • Searching for the Super-Ouzel

    Guest blog by Dr. Innes Sim Conservation Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science 

    In my previous blog 'Unravelling what is needed to save the Ring ouzel' I said that we would be searching Glen Clunie for the possible return of the super-ouzel. This bird was ringed as a male nestling in Glen Clunie in June 2008, and has returned to breed here every year since, raising a minimum of 43 young.

    Well, the great news is that he’s back! On Friday 6 May he was seen at a nest site that he last occupied in 2012, paired to a female chick ringed 4km away in 2015. So, subject to confirmation by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), he is now the oldest recorded UK-ringed ouzel ever at 8 years of age. We hope to find his nest next week and discover how many more young he can produce, to add to the 43 he has already fathered during the last 7 years.


    Photo of a male super-ouzel by Innes Sim

    GPS-tagged birds
    We have also been busy searching for the 10 breeding males tagged with miniature GPS tags in 2015. So far, we have seen 2 back and they both have nests with eggs so hopefully we will be able to re-catch them to discover more about their movements since last summer. Hopefully we will locate more tagged birds in the coming weeks.

    The season so far
    This spring has been generally pretty cold. Indeed, there was a late snowfall in late April, with 2 inches lying in Glen Clunie between the 26th and 28th of the month, and a temperature just above freezing. Just two weeks later and it was beautiful sunshine and 22 degrees celcius – pretty typical spring weather for Scotland!


    Photo of Ring ouzel habitat - Looking south towards snow-capped Munro Carn Aosda from Glen Clunie by Innes Sim

    However, ouzels are mountain specialists and are well capable of coping with such weather extremes. By 10 May my co-worker (Graham Rebecca – RSPB conservation officer for East Scotland) and I had located 20 nests with eggs.


    Photo of a Ring ouzel nest with typical clutch of 4 eggs by Innes Sim

    On re-checking some of these on 11 May we found that two of them had newly-hatched nestlings, meaning that the first eggs must have been laid around April 24th. This means that the females from these nests would have had to sit through the blizzards in late April – amazing!


    Photo of Ring ouzel nest with 3 newly-hatched nestlings and a hatching egg by Innes Sim

    More hatchlings expected 
    We expect several more nests to have hatched next week, and to begin ringing nestlings at the end of the week. We will continue to search for GPS-tagged males, and hopefully re-catch them to download the secrets of their migrations. We should also have an initial estimate of the size of the breeding population in 2016 – will numbers increase here for the 6th year running or will we see a drop in numbers?

    New paper on Ring ouzel calls for more research

    A new paper published in Bird Study on 11 May 2016 titled The status of the Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus in the UK in 2012 suggests UK Ring Ouzel population continues to decline and calls for more research.

    The research was undertaken to produce an estimate of the breeding population of Ring ouzel in the UK. Using playback of song to survey for territories the researchers concluded that the UK population estimate in 2012 was 5,332 territories, a decline of 29% since 1999.

    Ongoing and future research should determine where the main threats to the population are: on the breeding or wintering grounds, or during migration.

  • UK National Fish Vote

    I'm delighted to welcome 'fish twitcher' and underwater photographer, Jack Perks,  back for another guest blog - here's his last one. This time time his in'tench'tion is not to enc'roach' to much on your time but to ask you to vote for the UK's national fish - here's how. Anyway, I'll cut the fish puns and leave it to Jack.

    Last year we had the National Bird vote which the plucky robin ultimately won but this year fish are getting the spot light and it’s up the British public to vote for which species should be the national fish. Fish are secretive and unless you fancy a dip in a river can be tricky to watch as are often hidden away from view so it’s easy for people to forget about them. They play an integral role in the ecosystem and that aside are fascinating to see swimming around. The list started out as 40 species from fresh and salt water, which has now been narrowed down by a previous public vote to these top ten fish.

     European Bass (seabass)

    Atlantic Cod

    Atlantic Mackerel

    Basking Shark

    Three Spined Stickleback





    Brown Trout

    It’s a healthy mix of fresh and saltwater some of them can enter both such as brown trout and bass. Species like sticklebacks and basking sharks also have little angling value so shows its not just anglers voting but a wider audience. You might think why do we need a fish vote well its highlighting a group of species we just don’t think about enough and the problems they face such as pollution, habitat loss and invasive species. Cod and bass are subject to overfishing commercially damaging stocks while some species are still a mystery to us like where basking sharks go in the winter something that if we knew we can better protect them.

    Three-spined stickleback; Photo credit Jack Perks

    Lots of groups have got involved in publicising the vote which is great to see the support for these species. BBC Springwatch were keen to get involved and on the 15th of June the results from the vote will be aired live on the show for everyone to find out so keep you eyes peeled and get voting!

    Fish make up a significant part of the UK’s fauna but many struggle to name more then a few species despite the fact there’s over 400 fish in the British Isles. Pretty much all of these species can be viewed from RSPB reserves and as spineless Si proved last year can be quite popular!

    Roach: Photo credit Jack Perks

    Voting only takes a minute and helps promote UK fish species so get voting and spread the word!

  • Marvellous Monty‚Äôs on World Migratory Bird Day

    ‘Suddenly the female rose from deep within the reeds, she circled looking upwards and gaining height, then out of nowhere another bird silently arrived, he the most sleekest steel grey raptor with rowing wing beats, he was carrying prey and heading directly for her, they momentary met, the gift was exchanged and another year of breeding was sealed in that encounter.’

    RSPB's Mark Thomas celebrates one of nature's nomads


    Image of male and female Montagu’s Harrier (credit Graham Catley)

    With only seven breeding pairs in 2015 the Montagu's harrier is the rarest breeding bird of prey in the UK.

    This nomadic species currently breeds on agricultural land in three locations in this country, and widely across Europe, from Spain to Belarus. The survival of the UK population is dependent on both the positive partnerships between farmers and conservationists and birds surviving their amazing migrations.

    The UK breeding population has always been small and prone to fluctuations in success, as elsewhere across the European range. The RSPB and its partners have been protecting UK Montagu's harrier nests since 1982.

    In order to understand the factors that control our small population and to protect Montagu's harriers during migration and on their wintering grounds, we also need to understand how and where they migrate and where our birds winter. This information, supported by research in the UK and West Africa, is crucial to developing a plan to help Montagu's harriers in all parts of their range.

    Satellite tagging provides these answers! During the last two years experts from the Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation have fitted six adult Montagu’s harriers with small, lightweight satellite tags in the UK.

    The project, licensed by the BTO, is providing detailed information on the daily movements, migration routes and wintering locations for each bird.

    Map showing the migration routes of three UK satellite-tagged Montagu’s harriers 2015-2016. NB all journeys start/stop in London due to secrecy of actual nest locations.

    It’s easy to forget when watching these special birds at places like Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve that they only spend four months in the UK and the other eight on migration or wintering in Africa. They are not our birds, they don’t know boundaries but they certainly need all our collective help.

    Even in the short space of two years we have learnt many things: this species is a marvelous flyer able to cover over 180 miles per day on active migration, males are highly site faithful returning to the exact same nest field and females are just as likely to chose a different breeding country one year to the next! In Senegal, communal roosts of over 5000 birds have been found recently and here their diet consists largely of locusts!

    Montagu’s harriers are fully protected by the Birds Directive across every EU country, yet despite this legal protection birds are annually and illegally shot dead when passing through the Eastern Mediterranean, a terribly saddening situation that must change. Throughout the past year we’ve been campaigning hard against the weakening of the Birds Directive and its sibling law, the Habitats Directive. We’ve worked with partners in every country across Europe to call for them to be fully implemented and enforced, to properly protect birds like the Monty’s harriers. The future of these laws is still uncertain – you can help keep the pressure on European politicians to put them properly into practice by joining BirdLife Europe's online thunderclap.

    Tomorrow we launch our annual Montagu’s harrier hotline. If you see one of these special birds please let us know by calling 01767 693398, and working with land owners we will both monitor their progress and protect their nests.

    The Montagu’s harrier is a truly splendid bird, epitomising a nomadic freedom so lost in the modern world. On World Migratory Bird Day

    we salute you!


    Male Montagu’s harrier over yellow field (credit Roger Wyatt)