Most people wouldn't turn their heads if they saw a twite. This humble-looking streaky brown finch whose only colour is a bright pink rump (and even that shows only in spring), closely related to the linnet, is a bird in need of protection as their numbers have dramatically plummeted in Wales and England in recent years. Rhian Pierce RSPB Cymru Conservation Advisor explains her fight for the twite in Snowdonia:
A little brown bird that needs help
Though they were never common, twites used to be relatively widespread in the uplands of North Wales. They are now restricted to the Nant Ffrancon and Llyn Ogwen areas of Snowdonia, where even here they have declined in recent years. A 2008 survey estimated only 14-17 pairs compared to 20-40 pairs in 1999. So the twite is a priority species for RSPB Cymru.
Twite - known as Llinos y Mynydd in Welsh - linnet of the mountain
How we’re helping bring back the twite
The twite recovery project has been underway for a number of years, showing local farmers how important their land is to the survival of the breeding Welsh twite population.
A number of farmers agreed to feed the twites with nyjer seed, boosting their natural menu. We’ve found that twites use these feeding stations throughout the breeding season. In 2015 the project was ramped up, with more advice and help given to the farmers.
Nant Ffrancon, Snowdonia
Twites are unique in that they are only eat seeds, and rearing their young on seed alone (many birds feed insects to their chicks). Traditional hay meadows are a valuable source of seed for the species. As well as providing food for twites, these meadows provide homes and food for a variety of wildlife, as well as being of agricultural value.
Due to the nature of the land in Snowdonia a number of farmers felt that their land was not suitable for mowing and baling hay. So we decided that on four farms we would use ‘grazing breaks’ - removing animals for 8-10 weeks to allow the grasses and flowers to flower and go to seed. The fields are then grazed as normal rather than mown for hay.
This meant that some new fences were needed to stop sheep and cattle getting into the fields. Some other areas were getting too wet for hay meadows and needed draining, while some parts were lacking the twites favoured food plants. So we’ve sown seeds to make sure that the fields are just to the twites’ liking.
The goal is to eventually remove the need for the nyjer seed. We’re monitoring the grazing breaks to see which plants grow, and how much the twites use them as a seed source. It will be interesting to see if less nyjer seed is eaten as the habitats improve.
Rhian, looking for twite food plants
With a little help from our friends
The British Trust for Ornithology has also worked closely with us on the twite project. They have carried out regular ringing at the feeding stations, and at their wintering grounds on the Dee Estuary.
The twites are caught and each fitted with a uniquely-numbered metal ring, and a combination of coloured plastic rings, so they can be told apart. Using this method, and combined with work carried out across England and Scotland, we know much more about the movements and behaviours of Welsh twites than ever before.
We now know that the same birds do not always return to the Welsh breeding grounds. But this mixing of genes from Welsh, Scottish and English birds helps keep the population healthy.
The community of farmers within the valley are making a real difference to this little brown job. By changing some of their farming practices, they’re playing a vital role in securing a better future for this small population of the twite. We thank them for that. And so will the twite!
Guest blog by Gareth Stamp, City of Cardiff Council Park RangerWith the longer days and warmer weather, birds really only have one thing on their minds –finding their true love. Birds tend to be distracted at this time of year as they show off and argue with one another as they attract a mate.
Many of our local birds, such as blackbirds and robins, will already be busy feeding their young. For them their breeding season is in full swing. It will be a similar situation in the garden with many birds sat on eggs or feeding their chicks. So, we might see less activity around the feeders but that is just a sign that they are busy nesting.
Our summer migrants, such as warblers and flycatchers, continue to arrive in the UK through the first few weeks of May. The dawn chorus will be in full swing as the birds that have arrived for the summer burst into song to attract their sole mate. Chiffchaffs, willow warblers, blackcaps and reed warblers fill the local woodland and reed beds with their rich cry. So, why not get up early and visit your local park to hear some bird song? Forest Farm Country Park and Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve are good places to experience this wonderful operating performance.
With nature in full bloom, May is one of the most enjoyable months to spot some beautiful birds, perhaps by taking a walk or a cycle along the River Taff, the backbone of Cardiff’s wildlife. Dippers will be busy feeding their young and can be seen searching for food in the shallows. The woodlands along the river are also full of rich flute like notes from the blackcaps and willow warblers. Kingfishers tend to sit tucked away in their burrows protecting their eggs – but if they take a quick break from their duties you might by lucky to spot one.
Mixed flocks of migrated swallows, house martins and swifts congregate over water pools, making sure they’re well hydrated after their long flight. Cardiff Bay is a great place to see this feeding frenzy and to familiarise yourself with each species.
Cardiff has many lakes and ponds, such as Roath Park, Hendre Lake and Forest Farm which are home to a variety of water birds. Many of them, such as coots, moorhens and mute swans are in full breeding season. In fact I have already spotted the first moorhen chicks of the year at Forest Farm, possibly the first of three families. This coot family were also photographed last year at Roath Park Lake (see below).Coot family, Roath Park Lake, Cardiff
The heronry in north Cardiff will be reaching its peak of noise and activity as parents bring food for the large hungry chicks. They can be seen daily hunting for fish and frogs at Forest Farm as a tasty treat for their young.
With migration reaching its peak this month, you can spot migrant wonderful birds just about anywhere. So, why not get out and explore this summer? You never know what treats you might hear and see.
Guest blog by Katie-jo Luxton, RSPB Cymru Director
This blog is a thank you to all of you who took part in our campaign to take action against the M4.
When the Welsh Government brought forward its plans to divert the M4 motorway earlier this year, the diversion sadly seemed like a done deal. Maybe the government thought that people didn’t care enough about nature or that we’d turn a blind eye after being promised faster journeys. However if this is what they thought, then they couldn’t have been more wrong. What they didn’t count on was the astonishing amount of support from members of the public who spoke up in their thousands. That’s a major demonstration of how we want the Welsh Government to save nature, not destroy it.
As I write a new Welsh Government is forming and our new cohort of Assembly Members are gearing up for the new Assembly term. Please do make sure that your new elected members know your views on the proposed M4 as the building of this road is now a hot political issue and will be a real test of commitments to sustainable development.This overwhelming response makes it more likely that the threatened otters and lapwings that live in the Levels will continue to be protected. Each response means that our wildlife has a better chance of thriving. Each response makes it less likely that the M4 motorway can be diverted through the heart of the Gwent Levels.
The public consultation has now come to a close and the new Welsh Government will announce the results shortly. If they choose to build the road now they’ll be choosing to ignore all the voices that spoke out against it.
But before then I’d just like to thank you, the public, for your unfathomable support against the M4 diversion. Together we have given nature the voice it deserves, which will hopefully inspire the Welsh Government to protect the Gwent Levels for both the people and the wildlife that call it home. For all the latest news from RSPB Cymru, please follow us on Twitter @RSPBCymru or on Facebook at RSPB Cymru.