You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
Author: Rupert Masefield
I used to dream I could fly. Or more accurately, I flew in my dreams. Lots of people do – flying is one of the most common themes for our dreams. Theories abound as to the ‘meaning’, symbolism, and causes of dreams about flying. Don’t ask me to interpret their significance, that’s not what this is about and it’s not really something I want to understand. I’d much rather focus on the sensation of speeding through the air, soaring above the ground far below, wheeling and diving – as free as it’s possible to be from the restrictive action of gravity without going into orbit.
This, I imagine, is the feeling swifts get to experience almost continuously from the moment they first leap from their cliff-side ledge nests. I think the kind of flying I dreamed about is the kind of flying swifts, the fastest and most agile of birds, do in their sleep – literally, seeing as they sleep ‘on the wing’. I have to imagine it, as I’ve never had the inclination to try parachuting or don a ‘wing-suit’ myself. Instead, I’m content to experience the joy of flying vicariously by watching these aerial acrobats in action each spring and summer when they arrive back in the UK to breed.
Did you know? From the moment they leave the nests, young swifts will generally not land again until they are two years old, when they reach breeding maturity!
I’m often alerted to their presence in the sky above by the screaming calls before catching a glimpse of them. As much of scream as it sounds they are having though – and I don’t doubt they are – swifts on the whole are facing an uncertain future. We have lost half – half! – of our breeding swifts in the UK since the mid-1990s, which has triggered a warning light for conservationists, with the swift being categorised as ‘Amber’ on the UK’s traffic light system of Bird of Conservation Concern. That is why the RSPB is asking people across the country to help it find out where swifts are nesting to inform conservation efforts for the birds where they breed.
Look out for swifts this May as they return to the UK and send your sightings to the RSPB Swift Survey at rspb.org.uk/swiftsurvey
The national RSPB Swift Survey was first created in 2009, to collect data from the public on nesting swifts. It is important to record locations of swift nest sites around the UK as this information can then be used by
What to look for
Watch out for screaming groups of swifts flying at roof-height (that means they're breeding nearby), or where you've seen swifts nesting - perhaps entering a roof or hole in a building. You don't need to report sightings of swifts that are either very high in the sky, feeding over water bodies or away from villages, towns and cities. These birds could have traveled some distance and may not be local breeding birds.
Photo credit: Ben Andrew
When to look
The best time to look is around dusk on a warm, still evening, or early morning. And if you can see the nest, it's not a swift!
The first swifts usually start to be seen in April, but these really are the early birds and most will not get here until May. As soon as they arrive, swifts start looking for somewhere to nest.
June and July are the best months to look for screaming swifts, around dusk or early morning. These are likely to be young birds pairing up for the first time looking for potential nest sites.
If you have sent in records before, it’s important to know if birds are still returning to the same areas. Please tell us what’s happening there this year. This helps us know if the birds are returning, if the colony is stable and if the site is still in use.
Is it a swift, is it a swallow, or is it a house martin?
One thing you’ll need to be sure of before you start recording the swifts you see and reporting them to the RSPB’s Swift Survey is the difference between a swift, a swallow, and a house martin (or sand martin). This brief guide will help you tell them apart. For a more detailed look at all three see the RSPB’s online guide: www.rspb.org.uk/swift
House Martin – prominent white on the belly, smallest of the three (but that is only helpful if they line up next to each other in a Red Arrows type formation)
Illustration: house martin, credit: Mike Langman
Photo: house martin collecting mud, credit: Tom Marsh
Swallow – very defined forked tail and red on the head
Illustration: barn swallow, credit: Mike Langman
Photo: barn swallow, credit: Chris Gomersall
Swift – dark all over, wings are long and scythe-like
Illustration: swift, credit: Mike Langman
Photo: swift, credit: Mark Thomas
Photo: close-up of a swift, credit: Ben Andrew
You can also help swifts by putting up a swift nestbox on your house or at your office.
Advice on building and installing nestboxes is available on the RSPB website, and a range of nestboxes for swifts and other birds is available to buy from the RSPB online at shopping.rspb.org.uk
To find out more about the RSPB visit www.rspb.org.uk
For information and advice on ways to give nature a home in your back gardens and communities, visit rspb.org.uk/myplan
RSPB ‘Active in Nature’ officer Martin Rendle gives us a taste of a whole new way to experience the watery world of The Broads...
6.30 am on a warm bright summer’s morning and out on the water in the Norfolk Broads about to embark on a little pre-work adventure before the river gets busy with boaters, as it does around these parts at this time of year.
Photo credit: Ben Hall
But I’m not in a motor cruiser or sailboat, or even a canoe or kayak. No, for me there no better way to navigate the waterways than standing up on my SUP board and exploring the rivers and broads, soaking up the atmosphere – and sometimes getting a soaking – views and of course amazing nature that inhabits our beautiful area.
A SUP board I hear you say – what on earth is one of those?
SUP is an abbreviation for ‘Stand Up Paddleboard’. It’s superficially like a wind-surf board, but specially designed to be stood on while you propel yourself with a single long paddle, changing strokes from side to side in order to keep in a straight line. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do the rewards are well worth the effort!
One of the huge advantages of paddling a SUP is the fact that you’re standing up. Think you’d rather be sitting down in something more boat shaped and with more between you and the water? Think again! From my elevated position I can see right over the top of the reeds and down into the crystal clear waters below, giving me a perfect 360 degree view of nature, both above and below the water.
This particular morning, as I quietly glided past reeds which were softly whispering in the mooring breeze, I was in for some thrilling encounters – some rarer than others, but all of them special.
Photo credit: Andy Hay
My first was of course with the plethora of ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl that inhabit that area and to be fair are a wonderful and common sight, however what happened next was quite remarkable. As I was looking down into the water, a Pike flicked it’s tail and sped under my board from left to right – this little speeding bullet was on a mission and was after breakfast I’m sure! Then moments after this I heard a noise in the air and as I looked up (trying to upset my balance too much!) I saw two marsh harriers dancing in the air with each other, displaying as only they can.
Photo credit: Ben Andrew
I watched these two raptors for a while and was quite mesmerised by their grace, chasing, gliding and soaring around the vast blue back-lit skies – what a wonderful experience!
After all this excitement and interactions with so much nature right on my doorstep, it was time to head back and get ready for my day at work, but what a way to start the day!
Book your own SUPer experience in The Broads
The RSPB is has teamed up with Whitlingham Outdoor Education centre to offer introductory Stand Up Paddleboarding session on six dates between April and September this year.
The first RSPB SUP experience of the year takes place on Saturday 22 April and there are still a limited number of places available, so if you’re feeling adventurous and want to try a new way of getting active in nature, book your Introduction to Stand Up Paddleboarding.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01630 715191.
Get Active in Nature in The Broads
Through their Active in Nature partnership, the RSPB and Sport England are offering new and exciting ways for people of all ages and abilities to experience nature, from Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) to Nordic walking, and kayaking to running.
Find out more about the Active in Nature project and activities at www.rspb.org.uk/activeinnature
Author: Rupert Masefield
Some of its nicknames may sound less-than-flattering – goggle-eyed plover, heath chicken, thick-knee – but there aren’t many birds that have captured the hearts of the people that share the land where they live as completely as the stone-curlew.
As unflattering as those names might be, they do give a fair impression of this wide-eyed wader: it really does have big yellow eyes and thick ‘knees’ (actually its ankles). Of course, it’s not unusual for a plant or animal’s common and colloquial names to be descriptive of its most noticeable characteristics. Woodpeckers do peck wood and a hedge is a good place to look for hedge sparrows (another name for a dunnock) – so it should come as no surprise to learn that stone-curlews have a penchant for making their nests on bare stony ground and have a high-pitched whistling call similar to that of a Eurasian curlew (to which they are not otherwise closely related).
Photo: Stone-curlew hiding in vegetation, credit: Andy Hay.
They are largely nocturnal, lying low during the day, giving them a certain air of mystery, and they are intimately associated with the unique characteristics of the landscapes in which they live – the sandy flint-strew grass heathland of the Brecks and Suffolk Coast, and the chalk plateau of Salisbury Plain – nesting on the ground in the open and relying on their incredible cryptic camouflage to stay hidden. Males and females take it turns to incubate their eggs and in an entirely charming ritual, when it is time to swap places the returning bird passes its partner a small pebble or piece of flint, which is dropped on the edge of the nest until all these little tokens accumulate to surround the nest like a meteor belt around a planet.
Photo: Stone curlew adult near nest and eggs, credit: Chris Gomersall.
It is likely thanks in part to their curious appearance and habits that stone-curlews have become such celebrated residents in the few parts of the country where they are still found. Unfortunately the same habits and reliance on the landscape that made them a favourite with the people that knew them also caused them problems, first when much of the habitat on which they depended disappeared and then when the mechanisation of farming made their nests on the bare patches in amongst farmers’ crops vulnerable to being unintentionally destroyed by farm operations.
Photo: Stone curlew nest with eggs, tractor in background furrowing crops, credit: Chris Gomersall.
Since the mid-1980s though, when there were as few as a hundred breeding pairs of stone-curlews left in the country, farmers, landowners, gamekeepers and conservationists in the Brecks and across the other side of the country in Wessex have all stepped up to turn things around for these charismatic birds. Today there are three times as many pairs breeding in the UK as there were 30 years ago, and that is largely down to the heroic efforts of a small number of people and communities in the places where stone-curlews live.
Photo: close-up of a plot managed for Stone Curlew, credit: Andy Hay.
It is thanks to these heroes that we still have stone-curlews returning to the UK from Africa to breed each summer.
In these places, people’s connection with nature where they live has helped to save this very special part of it. Legal protection and funding for conservation and agri-environment schemes have played their part too, of course, and the spectre of Brexit looms large over these, but the future of stone-curlews in the UK is that much safer for having people who care about them enough to go the extra mile to look after them.
Find out more about stone-curlews www.rspb.org.uk/stonecurlews