April, 2011

Blacktoft Sands

Blacktoft Sands
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Charlie's Blacktoft Blog

I'm the visitor experience officer at Blacktoft Sands
  • Day 5 of Slavonian Grebe

    Well the slavonian grebe is still on singleton.  It seems to be finding a plentiful supply of food to keep it going. 

    We also had a little gull on townend this afternoon.  Spotted redshank up at Ousefleet.  Plenty of sand martins again and also more swallows now.

    There seems to be a lot of different birds on the move and arriving at Blacktoft at the moment with grasshopper warbler, sedge warbler around so you never know what you might find at the moment.

  • Bearded tits fight back to replace winter losses

    OK , maybe the poor old man of the reedbed (a french colloquial name) the bearded tits are not really showing to visitors at the moment but I thought a few of you may like to know what is happening with the population deep in the reedbed and if there will be a chance of seeing them in late summer. 

    For those who don't know, the severe December  weather of 2010 resulted in mass starvation of the birds due to the reed seed panicles being frozen solid for a couple of days mid month. The crash was probably worse than those recorded in the snowey winters of 1979 and 1991 at Blacktoft with the loss of up to 85% of the population, with maybe only as few as 40 - 50 birds surviving through to spring. Of note though were 15 birds seen in Nottinghamshire in February 2011 along the river Trent which may have been Blacktoft birds that had erupted in the Autumn. Ringing studies from the 1970's proved that birds like these can make it back to Blacktoft so this gives a bit of hope that our population may be boosted by birds that have returned from other areas which did not have quite the extreme weather of the Humber.   

    More reason for optimisim is that recent research work on site is giving real hope for a star bird that is turning out to be a real tough little cookie. In fact Blacktoft has helped pioneer reedbed management for bearded tit and in good years the superb and productive mosaic of reedcutting and pools helps to support 15% of the UK population. The findings of the work has also been used on other sites and helped promote the conservation of this secretive but beautiful little reedbed nymph. The ongoing work has also had great benefit for marsh harrier, bittern, water rail and many other reedbed warblers and buntings which has really put the site at the fore of reedbed conservation in the UK.

    So what is the current situation? Beardies (as bearded tits are often called by birders) are a very difficult species to survey, they generally don't sing, defend territory, and can remain hidden deep in the reedbed while raising their young! But careful and regular research (me hidden behind a bush usually!) work does give some indication of what is going on and has revealed things are going quite well at the moment. Summary as follows

    • End of March/early April bearded tits quiet with individuals observed nest building
    • April the 11th - First male feeding young in the nest (this is almost 1 week earlier than ever recorded before)
    • Today April 28th - First two bearded tit young fledged (probably out of the nest up to 4 days ago as their tail was well developed
    • Also plenty of other birds feeding young at the nest giving and estimate of between 15 and 25 pairs on site
    • Lots of food in the beaks of birds feeding young which often helps give good broods of birds

    This gives some real encouragement as beardies can have up to three broods and fledge anything up to 18  - 21 young (6 - 7 per brood) in a good year. In reality it often averages out to maybe between 4 and 8 young per pair during a season but this could still equate to between 60 and 200 young on site by mid summer! So hopefully by mid June and early July there will be a few birds starting to feed and show around the edges of the lagoons and fingers crossed for everyone to see.

    One more bit of geeky beadie info which I think is certainly noteworthy. Last week a female with a colour ring was seen on site and was indeed seen again today. She was from a ringing study done a few years ago on site and although we could not specifically identify her or say which exact year she was ringed it was at least 2005 or 2006. That makes her at least an amazing 4 years and 7 months old. Although female bearded tits have been recorded as old as 6 years 7 months old at other sites such as Leighton Moss, what is amazing here is that this little gem has survived two of the coldest and snowiest winter periods in the last 130 years! That is what I call a true tale of survival - none of that Bear Grills and Ray Mears stuff!   


  • Arctic terns trickle through while warblers sing

    Seems usual these days to get a spell of north easterlies at this time of the year. But winds and conditions like this can bring interesting birds to site and at the moment it is a light passage of arctic terns. I have also known some good rarities arrive over the years at Blacktoft on these winds so here's hoping for the weekend.

    Still plenty to catch up on though what with the magnificant grasshopper warbler who just cannot seem to stop showing off to everyone often down to less than 15m! The marsh harriers and avocets are also pretty impressive with the bittern occasionally showing and booming.  Still plenty of sedge warblers, whitethroats and blackcaps singing with a nice mix of pochard, gadwall, shoveller, great created and little grebes on the ponds. Only a few reed warblers in at the moment but it's still early days. Should be only a few days before the first avocets chicks hatch too so hopefully the weather will warm up a little. (I reverted to my wooly hat this morning!) A few snipe still around with one very obliging bird often in front of marshland while there has been up to 3 spotted redshank (in breeding plumage) and the odd record of greenshank and black tailed godwit

    Of note the short eared owl is still present with the little gull showing for most of the week, A superb hobby screamed through at speed on Wednesday morning. The first fledged young bearded tits were also seen this week with quite a few feeding young. Both coot and Greylag goose seem to be hatching good numbers of young while we still have two pairs of lapwing on site. A couple of Little egrets dropped in and were the first on the reserve this year.