It now seems a dim and distant memory 19 days since the throng of visitors for the book festival at which point I must thank the Crook volunteers for their time covering my dinner times across the ten days it was very much appreciated and so Wigtown is settling into autumn with winter on the horizon.
Down on the Crook however, the wintering birds are starting to arrive with skeins of pink footed starting to arrive and little egret numbers starting to increase this morning on lagoon 5 we had 146 teal these have been coming in since the weekend along with 38 mallard and 10 widgeon and 6 black tailed godwits, two lapwing and on lagoon 1 we had 3 little egrets, 5 swans, 32 lapwing.
Out on the saltmarsh are golden plover and dunlin knot in small numbers lots of shelduck and a good number of curlew and the predators are starting to arrive with the increase of prey with kestrel, sparrow hawk showing well and regular visits by the buzzard and raven.
On the passerine front the flocks of goldfinch and linnet are feeding mainly out on the saltmarsh on the Spartina seed and hopefully it will not be long before the twite start to arrive. Already I have counted flocks around the bay of over 200 winter thrushes being predominantly redwing but quite a few fieldfares as well their distinctive call bringing home the fact the first frosts to the lowland part of the Machars are not too far away.
We have been treated well this year by with the weather. The dry summer has allowed us to do all the grassland management we have needed with rush cutting and removal complete across all 96 hectares with the islands done as well. We have started putting boards in to retain water in the lagoons and hopefully by Christmas we shall be full once again and looking to the next breeding season.
We might just get some hedge laying done this year if the weather is kind once the winter thrushes have had their fill of berries our main aim is to create a dense thicket of hawthorn for breeding passerines without losing to much fruiting wood should be a good winter project if you would like to volunteer at the Crook of Baldoon do get in touch 01988 402130 we meet on Thursdays 9.30 till 4 with a lunch break so bring a flask and food.
Numbers of breeding lapwings unfortunately dropped this year however the number of fledged young increased giving a productivity of just over 3 per pair nesting. The redshank pairs increased as did the numbers of young per brood which is all very positive. The numbers of mallards breeding this year increased as did the number of young produced however many fell fowl of predators we think relieving the predation on the lapwings and redshanks. We had widgeon and pintail until quite late in the season with many only disappearing once the entered eclipse. The Ospreys nested further up the bay as they have done for the past 4 years but have treated us with their fishing in the bay and soaring above the reserve looking for fish.
The Crook suffered under the heat during July with drain down of the lagoons being more effective due to evaporation which however was a boon to the land management operations with the expected shortage of quality straw our neighbours were more than willing to cut and remove our rush for bedding this year which resulted in an total clearance of rush across 60 hectares of wet grassland after all the fields being dragged for breeding birds predominantly for snipe by the volunteers.
We managed to get both fields 7 and 8 cut quite early in July but because of a question mark over possible water rail breeding with in field 6 cutting was deferred to the mid July. Fields 2 and 3 were both deferred to late July areas that would be beneficial to feeding bird such as water courses and the lagoons were left till late August early September.
And the Lagoons were finally finished on the 9th of September and this is the first time in 8 years we have been able to mow and clear the aftermath as being alluvial clay getting onto certain areas has proved very tricky.
Other tasks have been fence repairs due to delinquent cattle and supplying enough water to keep them hydrated in the heat. The Saltmarsh has come into its own over the past couple of years and two botanical surveys have listed many of species however the summer survey on the 9th August recorded 6 Lax Flowered Lavender Limonium humile which had not been recorded for up to 30 years and a single Sea Purslane Atriplex portulacoides again not recorded for 30 years both severally affected by over grazing and livestock trampling. The reduction in livestock density for the past 7 years is starting to show its worth from a biodiversity point of view.
Lax Flowered Sea Lavender
Other tasks during this period have been the digging of two scrapes by staff and volunteers to meet with an Agri environmental grant conditions.
Also some minor alterations to the water control across field 1 which will help improve the control and make it safer for operation.
As always my thanks to the Thursday Volunteers how excel each week at achieving tasks and more. Safe to say without them the Crook would certainly not have come as far as it has and the RSPB owe them a great deal of thanks for their continued work traveling from far and wide to give 6 hours of time each week.
Late June saw me off to the RSPB reserve at Inch Marsh for a very interesting course in the art of rope dragging for Snipe it sounds simple but dragging a 50m rope through dense rush is challenging while monitoring what is being disturbed. The following week the volunteers and I managed to do this exercise across the 98 hectares of wet grassland at the Crook with interesting results unfortunately no evidence of breeding snipe but on lagoon 5 we managed to count 17 birds feeding in a small area of wet margin where I had only seen two the day before and on field 3 4 birds feeding in the wet margin in the ditchway.
The rope never gets near the bird as the rustle of the rope on the vegetation makes for a safe escape by the bird and because of the speed we are working at the nest is not left for too long by the parents another factor is that the chances of treading on a nest when looking for breeding birds is greatly reduced as each transect is fifty meters wide.
We have to monitor breeding birds on the reserve however some are more difficult than others also the exercise enables us to make a more informed management decision about agricultural operations in sensitive areas of the reserve. As it was evident that a number of birds were using the lagoons we have still not cut the lagoons in field 1 and 5 and will rope drag around mid-August to see if we have any late breeding attempts which snipe are liable to do. It is with those results we will make a decision about cutting at that point.
July was a quiet month as both human and wildlife mainly sheltered from the Sun and high temperatures rather from the usual rain for a change. However, work carried on with rush being cut and bailed for bedding by a local farmer this gives us an opportunity to control the rush this late August early September by weed wiper.
Our control of rush is a major factor with the our breeding lapwing project as you may know lapwings like open areas to nest were they have a good line of sight so a short sward is a paramount for distant views. The also prefer wet grassland were their precocial young can find food within a short space of time after hatching so wet grassland is ideal. Unfortunately, it grows rush as well.
Our volunteers besides the rope dragging and fence repairs have helped harvest large amounts of yellow rattle seed which has now been sown by them on the islands and around lagoon 1 to slow the grass growth down.
Both Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and Red Bartsia (Odontites vernus) seem to like our soil and the native grasses we have on the Crook, for both plants are native to the UK and semi parasitic on grasses both also form great scuttling hiding places for chicks were they might feed with some cover. The Red Bartsia is self-sown or more likely from the seed bank in our disturbed soil from when we dug the lagoon however the Yellow Rattle has come in when we sowed the wildflower meadow in 2016 and has proliferated.
Out on the saltmarsh our changes to the grazing is numbers is allowing plants that we have not recorded for many years. A small numbers of Lax Flowered Sea-lavender Limonium humile and a single plant of sea purslane Halimione portulacoides which so I am told has not been recorded this far west on the Solway since the 1970's. The Crook of Baldoon was pleased to welcome two botanical groups to the reserve this past month which discovered these two interesting plants.