Coming back to the island after my holiday I was met by one of the more spectacular sights I have witnessed.
Wigeon numbers are now easily in the triple figures, as are teal. Brent geese, Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallards where all present. Numbers of Golden plover, Dunlin, Lapwing, Knot, Avocet, Black tailed Godwits, Grey plover where all high. The air was full of contact calls, low whistles and murmurs. Rarer birds included a couple of Curlew sands, a little Stint, Ruff and a spotted redshank. We also had a few of the song thrushes that have been dropped in the recent fall on the east coast. However, to focus on the rares in this case, really is to miss the point. Watching huge amounts of ducks and waders feeding on the lagoons or flying through the air totally oblivious to me was a special treat and quite the view.
The highlight of my sojourn was easily a ring-tailed Hen Harrier perched on top of the volunteers hut. A sighting of a Hen Harrier is always a pleasure, more so when one considers how rare these birds are becoming. England has only six pairs of breeding Hen Harriers (not including the Isle of Man) and the UK as a whole only 749. This is a truly astonishing statistic, damning in many ways as this is way below the carrying capacity of the availablehabitat.
The bird is a creature of moorlands and uplands preferring a mosaic of tall and old heather with patches of short grass for its preferred prey (voles and meadow pipits). Unfortunately, vast swathes of this land type are managed for driven grouse shooting.
The Hen harrier is heavily persecuted for its perceived impact on grouse moors, with young killed in the nest, eggs taken and adults and juveniles routinely illegally shot. Moorland managers worry about the number of Red grouse available to shoot, seeing the Harriers as potential predators. Merely no longer actively persecuting the Hen harrier would mean a 13% increase in the population size each year, if this does not happen then the Hen harrier will forever stand on the edge of extinction in England. A choice has to be made, if driven-grouse shooting is only viable when rare and protected birds of prey are routinely disturbed and killed then do we wish to see this practice continued.
I am lucky, I have had several encounters with Hen harriers over the years, the first I have ever saw was from a car on Mull where I watched it hunting over moorland, plunging down to pick up its prey near the side of a road. To watching a single male ghost over a Scottish hillside around Lairg, its concentration only broken by a posse of crows to this; a single ring-tailed Harrier flying away from me on a perfect windless evening on Havergate, I sincerely hope that this will not be the last
To find out what the RSPB is doing and how you can help this species and other birds of prey visit our website.
So after 5 months I said goodbye to the last of this years residential volunteers today. Can I just take this chance to say a big thank you to all who volunteered this summer. Your help has been invaluable and much appreciated. Without you the island would be a much poorer place and I sincerely hope all visited enjoyed their experience on the island.
Too many good memories and volunteers to list them all but I shall miss the cups of tea and coffee’s in the morning the most!? What will I do when I arrive on a windswept Havergate now?
I hope to see at least some of you again next year, those that I don’t all the best and good luck.
It’s been a decent week by Havergate standards in terms of birding, a Spotted Redshank was present at the beginning of the week, a Whinchat was found in the gorse on Thursday (a great bird on Havergate), a Spotted fly was present, a Short eared owl was around for yesterday at least, Ruddy Shelduck have been around for most of the week (almost certainly escapes) and the Spoonbills are still around but not much longer I suspect. Avocet numbers are amazing, in Belpers lagoon their is just a big smear of white across the lagoon at High tide. It’s also been a bit of a raptor fest at times this week, with Marsh harriers, Hobbies, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Peregrines all causing panic in the lagoons. Duck numbers especially Wigeon, Teal and Pintail are now beginning to build up, though we are still someway short of the winter peaks. There has been more impressive hirundine movement this week, I actually can’t believe Suffolk has any more Swallows or House Martens left.
Autumn is on us and winter will soon be here but work won't stop on Havergate or all the Havergate reserves, i'll be sure to keep the blog updated.