Regular blog readers will know about my wildlife watching adventures over the Springwatch period, but as promised in the last issue of Birds, here's another update on my summer wildlife-watching.
The weather has scuppered several of my planned trips to see a variety of butterflies and dragonflies this year and has also temporarily scuppered my garden badger watching because of the rain-induced thick growth of vegetation on the other side of our boundary fence. This weekend, it was time to turn the attention back to birds - always less weather dependent than insects!
With Father's Day approaching fast, it was time to find a present for Dad on Saturday and I took a visit to one of my old stomping grounds - the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust reserve at Welney on the Ouse Washes. You can read about the effects of the spring flooding on the birds of the Ouse Washes in the next issue of Birds (with you from mid-July) and I was shocked to see so much water on the fields (which by June should be home to several hundred head of cattle munching away to improve the vegetation structure for nesting birds like snipe and redshanks). It has been too wet to allow the cattle on, so it is a serious problem and could affect breeding conditions on the washes for several years.
Above: this should be a view of lush fields with cattle grazing and lots of nesting birds at this time of year (image by Steve Blain)
Stilt struts its stuff
There were very few young birds about, but the sight of a vagrant black-winged stilt (one of those very well-named birds due to this wader's incredibly long bubblegum pink legs) cheered me up. Ok, I admit it; getting a Father's Day present wasn't my only reason for visiting... Black-winged stilts are a bird that has long been predicted to colonise the UK as it is common in mainland Europe and this year, a larger than average arrival has taken place, leading to at least two nesting attempts. How good would it be for these amazing birds to be a regular sight at RSPB reserves, including our new Wallasea Island reserve in Essex? The next issue of Birds will give you the lowdown on what's going on there.
I like to visit as many new nature reserves as I can. It is my ambition to one day have visited every RSPB reserve, but I also like to see what's going on at the reserves of our conservation partners (including the Wildlife Trusts, as well as WWT). I've always loved herons, so on Sunday it was down to London and the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust's Stocker's Lake reserve. With a great Father's Day present delivered on Saturday, the pressure was off so I used my brownie points to treat myself and friend Steve Blain, who works at the RSPB as Reserves Data Manager (essentially he works with a lot of maps and keeps track of what is where on RSPB reserves) to the sight of a little bittern creeping around on the River Colne.
Steve's also a great photographer and he kindly agreed to let me share a couple of his shots.
You'll have no doubt read a lot about bitterns in Birds magazine, but these are great bitterns (to give them their full name). This little bird is a third the size and is actually quite colourful - it is also very rare and has only nested in the UK a handful of times. We had great views of this female, so it was well worth the trip. You can watch a video of it here
Check out Wild about
There's lots of ideas for things that you can look out for and do in the coming weeks in the Wild about pages of the next issue of Birds. We can't predict the appearance of rarities like the two I enjoyed over the weekend, but there is so much to look for. Don’t forget to tell us what you’ve been seeing, whether it’s in your garden, nearest RSPB nature reserve, or further afield on holiday. I love receiving and reading all your e-mails and letters to the magazine - and seeing your photos. Our new readers' photos section has really taken off, which is great to see.
I'm hoping to get out of the office to meet up with RSPB Broads Area Manager, Ian Robinson, on Friday to see what's been happening on our nature reserves in Norfolk. I'll keep you posted.