Davide Scridel, Research Assistant with RSPB Scotland, gives us a final update on his research work in the Outer Hebrides. Catch up on his previous posts here and here.
The second and third visits to the assigned 1km2 survey squares occurred from late May to early July. The latter was probably my favourite period here on the Hebrides, as the weather was exceptionally good after a comparably cold spring. Sunny, hot and long days were spent walking transects in search for the elusive twite; from heather-thick moors to flowering yellow-white-red Machair, ending in sandy beaches and turquoise-blue water.
Twite family group.
For the majority of squares surveyed during my initial visits, twite were found in similar locations. As the season progressed, however, small family groups with up to three juveniles were spotted seeking cover in thick heather, and occasionally feeding communally on road margins.
Road margins Hebridean style.
Road margins, which are sometimes overlooked in wildlife conservation, can benefit many species including twite. In June, these “disturbed” sites are heaven for different species of ruderal plants such as dandelions, which are an essential source of seeds for twite raising their young. By July, most dandelions have lost their seeds to the winds to be dispersed across the landscape. This is synchronised with another important food source for twite - common sorrel – which gets into fruiting just as the dandelions fade and is used to feed second and third broods. These plants, together with other favourites, such as Autumn hawkbit and common knapweed, are even more frequent in the machair, where a low-input system of agriculture allows rare European wildlife to flourish here. By mid-summer, the rich assemblage of breeding waders (oystercatcher, ringed plover, lapwing, redshank, snipe and dunlin), terns, corncrake, corn bunting, Belted Beauty moth and Great Yellow bumblebee, are surrounded by a rainbow of colour provided by the flowering Kidney vetch and Red clover present within the fallows of the machair.
While the data collected over the summer is currently being collated and analysed to re-assess the status of Twite within the UK, it seems clear that the Outer Hebrides remain one of the major strongholds for this finch in Britain due to the extensive system of farming.
After leaving the Hebrides in July, I was lucky to return at the end of August to assist with the Machair Life+ Conference. Machair Life+ is a four-year project that aimed to demonstrate that traditional crofting practices have a sustainable future. Machair habitat is extremely rare, and changes in local agricultural practices are now threatening the condition of the habitat and the conservation status of key flora and fauna populations. The conference was a great opportunity for the Hebrides where crofters, schools, local and national policy figures and academics gathered together to reflect on the importance of the machair.
During a lunch break I just could not resist going out to check on how twites were preparing for the approaching autumn. With a bit of surprise, I found over 30 adults and juveniles already assembled in a classic winter flock formation along the shore...just a perfect end to a twite-tastic season.
You can read Davide’s previous posts here:
All photos © Davide Scridel.
Jenny Tweedie, gardening enthusiast and RSPB Media & Communications Officer, tells us about the butterflies that share her garden.
A good summer for garden butterflies
The results of the Big Butterfly Count are in, and Butterfly Conservation has announced that it’s been a really good summer for peacocks, large whites, small tortoiseshells and lots of others.
Anyone with a garden had probably figured that one out for themselves, given that every inch of every buddleia seems to have been hoaching with butterflies in the last few weeks. And what an absolutely beautiful sight it’s been.
But of course, one good summer does not secure the future of one of our favourite insects, with numbers declining in the long term, and some sharply (take a look at the State of Nature report for more). Loss of habitat seems to be the main culprit, with climate change likely to bring its own winners and losers, as it does for birds and other wildlife.
We can of course, all do our bit to help butterflies in future years. I planted a strip of wildflowers this summer, as well as the ubiquitous buddleia, and lots of annuals like cosmos and pot marigolds, which pollinators love. It’s been a revelation to see my garden quite so alive with insects, and after standing in relative clouds of small tortoiseshells and peacocks a few weeks ago, I’m planning a bit of research to see what else I could sow for them next spring. If you don’t have space for plants, you could always try putting up a butterfly feeder.
What this summer might also have encouraged you to do is get out and about and see even more butterflies. RSPB reserves are a great place to start: their rich diversity of habitats attracting and supporting a huge range of insects.
Sometimes you don’t need to go far, either. Commas, for example – lovely orange butterflies with ragged wings, and a distinct punctuation mark on their undersides – can sometimes be seen at Baron’s Haugh near Motherwell, even in the car park! For the more adventurous, rarer wall butterflies can be found at the Mull of Galloway, right at the southernmost tip of Scotland, while Loch Gruinart on Islay, is one of the few places you might see marsh fritillary butterflies.
You can search for good butterfly reserves using key words on our website (scroll down, it’s at the bottom of the page) http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves.
With the summer coming to an end, however, and autumn on the way, butterflies will be slowing down and their numbers falling. But why not plan to go searching for them next year? We’ve got around 30 species in Scotland. How many have you seen?
All photos by Jenny Tweedie
RSPB Scotland Youth Officer, Nicole Brandon, tells us about an innovative partnership project that allows birds to tell their own story.
Blogging birds could use your help!
Which new online initiative has been reported on in Wired, in New Scientist, and in The Irish Times?
What cutting-edge new website was featured on BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors and has been a featured video segment with AOL on?
Why it's the RSPB partnership project - Blogging Birds! Alongside our colleagues at the University of Aberdeen, and with the support of digital economy hub dot.rural, RSPB staff and resources have been busy creating one of the world's first ever wildlife blogs that is written without the input of a human! Read the latest blog from one-year old red kite, Millie:
September 2nd to September 8th: Millie's Blog
This week Millie was active. She predominantly flew between Errogie and Easter Aberchalder. Millie's foraging patterns during this week have been varied. Millie was seen together with kite Moray. Monday to Wednesday Millie spent most of her time around Errogie and Easter Aberchalder. During this time she was seen mainly on bog while making occasional journeys to moorland. On Thursday afternoon she was observed in heather close to Loch Killin outside her home range perhaps feeding on voles. The next 3 days Millie spent most of her time around Errogie. During this time she was seen mainly on acid grassland while making odd journeys to moorland. Acid grassland is generally a species poor habitat. However there must be enough worms and insects for Millie to feed on. Will Millie continue exploring the same area next week as well?
What a neat read! And this was all generated by computers and specialist software using data from RSPB's satellite tagging of Millie and three other red kites. No editing after the fact by human hands or minds involved! You can read blogs from each of the four blogging red kites, new each week.
As for how this is possible: RSPB staff fitted red kites with satellite transmitters while the University of Aberdeen team analysed the red kite movement patterns and created this revolutionary software. The University of Aberdeen line-up was an unusual mix of computing scientists and ecologists. This Aberdeen team worked to get the satellite data from the red kites processed via Natural Language Generation to produce readable and exciting blogs which enable humans to understand what the birds' behaviours tell us - in plain english! For more reporting on this extraordinary new means of connecting people to nature, please click on the video here.
But, just because Wyvis, Moray, Millie and Ussie can blog without us each day, doesn't mean they don't need our help to get their website up to scratch! The project team for Blogging Birds has requested feedback from anybody who uses the site through their site survey. This is to help them improve the experience of the humans reading it and to get the message of the red kites' blogs across with the best clarity.
Blogging Birds has already recieved formative help from several Aberdeenshire RSPB Wildlife Explorer groups, and the RSPB's Phoenix members on Facebook. Now they're asking for even more people, especially young people under 19 years old, to take a look at the site and please feedback about what you liked, didn't like and would like to see on Blogging Birds. All feedback is welcome, but they especially want to hear from young people, as they are very keen for these blogs to be fun and beneficial to everybody.
So, if you're under 19 years old and reading this, please do head on over and explore at Blogging Birds! If you're a bit older, please also do the same, and see if you can't find a young person you know to show this article and Blogging Birds to. See if you, and people in your life, can help this outstanding and innovative project become an even better bridge between people and nature.
Thank you, all! That's it from me for now.
Though maybe some day they'll fit me with a satellite tag and you'll be able to follow me on 'Blogging Youth Officer!'....
Photo by Ben Hall