News archive

June 2014

Saturday, 28 June 2014



One of the joys of summer is watching terns and yesterday at Rye Harbour we saw little tern, common tern and Sandwich tern.

There was a little tern on a nest from the first hide and we watched one fishing in front of us, splashing down into the water over and over again.

The Sandwich terns were on the three islands visible from the Ternery Hide and we could see chicks with the adult birds - apparently some 250 pairs of Sandwich tern are breeding there this summer.

Our best views were from the Steve Denny hide, where common terns were feeding chicks at close range. It was hard to make out the chicks as they crouched against the pebbles, but when an adult returned with food they would leap up and squawk vociferously. One adult kept chasing off another returning adult, and as the chick huddled back into the vegetation we worried it would not get fed. Its parent eventually landed on the other side of the island, called to its chick and then fed it. It was all very dramatic - bird-watching at its best.

We don't often see Arctic terns, but the BTO report that an Arctic tern ringed on Anglesey was found 18,056Km away in Australia 6 months later! What amazing birds terns are.

Friday, 20 June 2014

28 year old buzzard

28 year old buzzard

The oldest known buzzard in the wild has clocked out at 28 years, 1 month and 11 days, breaking the previous record by nearly three years. This record breaking bird features in the latest report from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Each year, the BTO publishes a report revealing the latest information to emerge from the network of bird ringers, who collectively catch and ring wild birds under licence for the benefit of conservation. During 2013, these specially trained volunteers fitted just under a million rings and recaptured 240,000 birds that had been ringed previously. The information they collect informs conservation policy, revealing some of the factors that influence bird populations, their movements and their longevity.

Buzzard 'GK41814' was ringed as a nestling at Sunbiggin Tarn, Orton, Cumbria on 16 June 1985 and found dead 12km to the northeast of there on 27 July 2013. The typical lifespan of a buzzard in the wild is 12 years, so GK41814 is a remarkable bird.

Other record breaking birds in the 2013 report include a 32 year old herring gull that was seen alive in Clydach, Glamorgan and identified from the colour rings that it was wearing, an 11 year old great spotted woodpecker that was found predated at a golf club in Norwich, Norfolk, and a Cumbrian marsh tit that has reached the ripe old age of 10 years, 4 months and 25 days and still counting. The typical lifespan of a marsh tit in the wild is only two years.

It is not just about old birds though, recaptures of two nestlings ringed in 2012 that were caught again in 2013 highlight differences in behaviour for different species. Reed warbler 'Y512371' was hatched in June 2012 at Longham Lakes in Dorset, migrated to Africa and back, and started to breed one year later at the site he was born, being caught on 24 July 2013.

However, pied flycatcher 'L699165' also hatched in June 2012 (at Lake Vyrnwy in Powys) was caught again in June 2013, breeding on the shores of Lake Bassenthwaite in Cumbria, 213km (132 miles) to the north. By monitoring where young birds end up breeding we can start to understand how distribution ranges change. As climates change, for example, we expect to see more individuals heading north to breed.

950,000 birds were ringed by 2,800 trained volunteers in 2013, providing data that helps the BTO piece together complete life histories for many of the birds that are seen in Britain.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Rare Beetle makes a comeback

The black oil beetle, an endangered species which is in steep decline due to changes in countryside management, has been found on the RSPB's new Great Bells reserve on the Isle of Sheppey in east Kent.

The beetle, which relies on solitary bees to complete its life cycle, was discovered on Friday 23 May at Great Bells Farm in East Kent, former arable land which is being developed as a grazing marsh reserve for breeding and wintering waders and wild fowl.

The RSPB won a competitive tender to develop the 193 hectares of land released as compensation for coastal alterations by the Environment Agency. RSPB staff locally designed and managed the creation of the shallow scrapes and other landscape alterations necessary to attract the birds.

The shiny black beetle, more than 2.5cms in size, is one of five species of oil beetle in the UK, and it lives on wild flower-rich grassland. Adults feed on the leaves and petals. When the females have mated and are ready to lay their eggs, they dig several nest burrows. They lay around 1000 eggs to ensure that some make it through the complex rearing arrangements. They choose sites near the nests of the solitary bees.

When the eggs hatch into larvae, the larvae climb to the top of flowers and lie in wait for a bee. They hitch a ride on the bees' back when the bee is collecting nectar and pollen for its nest.They feed on the bee's eggs, pollen and nectar, and when they are fully grown they leave the burrow to find a mate and start the life cycle again.

Oil beetles are the subject of a recovery programme to try and increase their numbers and safeguard the wild bees which they rely on.

At the moment there is no public access at Great Bells so that the ecology has a chance to settle after the restoration, but the aim is to open up the reserve to the public at a later date.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

News from the RSPB's Weald reserves, Broadwater Warren and Tudeley Woods.

News from the RSPB's Weald reserves, Broadwater Warren and Tudeley Woods.

Tree pipits are still singing and displaying at Broadwater, and woodlarks are singing again at both reserves indicating that they have bred successfully and are now going for a second brood. Other notable bird sightings at Broadwater have been a male whinchat, passing through on the way to its breeding areas in the uplands of northern and western UK, and a lapwing on the newly-created wetland near the Shooting Butts.

Summer really began for us on 17 May when we heard that our nightjars had returned. Since then three birds have been seen and heard from the main track, calling their eerie "churring" noise from tree-perches. Woodcock are also patrolling at dusk, "roding" around the open areas.

In May our butterfly recorder at Broadwater Warren saw the reserve's first-ever green hairstreak butterfly. Speckled wood have been seen in good numbers flitting along the dappled rides at Tudeley too. Look out for impressive looking white admirals later this month as they start to glide along bramble-edged woodland rides at both reserves.

The Exmoor Ponies have settled in well at Broadwater, and are a magnificent sight out on the open heath. However, we have noticed that they are approaching visitors more than we would like and it's important that they remain semi-wild animals. If you see anyone feeding the ponies please let us know. Even more alarmingly, we've had two separate reports of dogs off leads chasing the ponies across the heathland. This is extremely serious and we welcome any information about these types of incidents.

At Broadwater, hairy dragonflies, broad-bodied chaser dragonflies and common blue and large red damselflies have all been spotted at the Decoy pond. Along the stream edges in woodland glades, look out for the aptly named Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies. The males have a jewel like blue-green metallic body and sheer black wings, and the females vary between shimmering bronze and emerald hues.

Our 2014 reptile surveys at Broadwater and Tudeley are well under way and reports of adders, slow worms, grass snakes and common lizards have come in. A word of warning: Adders are venomous! They are very vulnerable to disturbance and although adders seldom bite humans, they do pose more of a threat to dogs. Last week ago a dog was bitten at Broadwater and had to have veterinary treatment. The dog was not on a lead as it should have been, and was bitten because it picked up an adder it found off the main path near the car park. Our dogs-on-leads policy is intended to protect all wildlife, and to prevent such incidents.

Our check of the dormouse nestboxes at Broadwater in May was very satisfying in that we found 13 healthy animals (nine females and four males) recently emerged from hibernation. This is the best result for May since we started the monitoring programme in 2010.

There has been a spate of fly-tipping at both reserves with a particularly bad incident at Broadwater in which the fence around the northern grazing paddock was cut. If you see any fly-tipping taking place please report it immediately to the police. A really good website to use for reporting many problems is We appreciate all the help we can get with issues like this, as we simply don't have the resources to be everywhere at once.

Finally we are sorry to report that Tom is leaving us on 12 June to take up a job with the National Trust in Devon. He joined the team on a temporary 6-month contract 18 months ago so we are lucky to have kept him so long. He has been a joy to work with and we'll miss him a lot. With Steve having left us at the beginning of May it will be down to myself and Alan to hold the fort until replacements arrive. Recruitment for both jobs is well underway so we hope to be back to full strength within a couple of months or so. In the meantime please bear with us if there is a delay in replying to messages or e-mails.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Pair of kittiwakes on rock

Images of lost seabirds

The RSPB is calling on wildlife watchers to help build a picture of seabird declines.

Kittiwakes have declined across the UK and have been hardest hit in northern Scotland where their numbers have fallen by 86 per cent in 25 years - many colonies in places like Orkney and Shetland have virtually disappeared. Guillemots and Arctic terns have also suffered catastrophic declines in the same period.

Research indicates that one of the main reasons for these declines is a lack of sandeels to feed on, caused by a rise in the sea temperature. From the available evidence, these birds have not just moved somewhere else, rather their populations have been whittled away.

The RSPB is campaigning for Marine Protected Areas to be designated to help tackle the threat to kittiwakes, guillemots and Arctic terns, and also for governments to take the issue of climate change, and its impact on wildlife, more seriously.

Campaigners are trying to collect images of thriving seabird cliff colonies from the past in order to compare them to the same sites today.

We're asking anyone who has been birdwatching, gone on holiday, worked or volunteered anywhere where there are kittiwake strongholds like Orkney, Shetland or elsewhere to have a look through their old photos and see if they have pictures of thriving cliff colonies from before 2000.

When compared with photographs of the same cliffs now, we will have a really stark image of these declines which we hope will raise awareness of the seabirds' plight, and help get them better protection. If you have some images gathering dust in a loft or sitting on a hard-drive which you think would help, then please let us know - they could make a big difference.

Anyone who has photographs of colonies of kittiwakes, guillemots or Arctic terns before 2000 can email them to