Aside from the glorious
weather in the last week on Havergate, what else has been going on?
The breeding season is
starting to gather momentum. The gulls have taken a little while to
get going but both the lesser black backed gulls and herring gulls
are now on eggs, though there is still less than 200 nests in total.
Compared to last year this feels like a slower start which is perhaps
an accurate assessment as by the 17th of May the first
Herring gull chicks had hatched. This looks unlikely to be replicated
Common terns have
returned to Cottage flood and look likely to breed again.
Interestingly, this is much earlier than last year. It remains to be
seen how they'll cope with the increased predation pressure that
nesting earlier in the season will bring. A lot depends on density
and numbers of nesting and how effective our nest protection is.
However, it is great to have these charismatic birds back, they
certainly bring life and excitement to the island.
Commons gulls are still
hanging around their usual spot but I won't expect them to be on eggs
until early June. They are beginning to look increasingly settled
with pair bonding In the upcoming week the blue rope that stops
undue disturbance will be going up. This should enable them to settle
and get about the business of nesting and raising chicks.
Avocets sadly are
absent from the island at this moment. Its not impossible that we
will still see some return to the island to breed, last year the
birds didn’t return until late May but it is likely to be failed
breeders from other sites rather than a colony of our own.
The barn owl's are on
eggs in the usual place. After a flurry of activity in early April
sightings have reduced again. This is a classic sign that the birds
have gone to ground to incubate eggs, we should expect to see an
increase in barn owl activity in late May early June.
As for the other birds,
the first goslings of both canada geese and greylag geese have
hatched this week. Oystercatchers, Shelducks and various passerines
are all starting there nesting.
We should start to get some numbers of breeding birds in the next couple of weeks as the survey season begins in earnest.
Passage birds have been
few and far between on Havergate however. Highlights in the last week
where a stonechat quite likely to be the only record this spring and
even perhaps the only record all year, yellow wagtails have been
frequenting the island but not in the same numbers as last year. A
juvenile Spoonbill was on the island briefly on Friday, the lack of
spoonbills in the spring months as been disappointing but Bar tailed
godwits, Whimbrels and Common sandpipers have been passing through
the island in the last week
The summer survey
season began today on Havergate with the traditional season opener
the Hare Transect. This is the count where we determine how many
Hares we have on the island.
Last year the
population of Hares stood at 29 and in 2011 the population stands at
27. Though this is a decrease of two, the population is by and large
stable this is despite another harsh winter and a die off some adult
Hares in the early winter.
Truthfully, this cannot
be described as the exact population, the transect provides us with a
population index. A population index allows us compare across years
without knowing the exact number of Hares on the island. It is
virtually impossible to guarantee that we count all the Hares on the
Island, they are very skilled in camouflage but perhaps more
pertinently it is also virtually impossible to say we don't count
some Hares twice as well.
So, How do we do
determine our population index? Every year we walk the same route at
roughly the same time of the year and count the Hares. As long as we
use a similar methodology across the years then we can compare the
results across the years. The most important important thing to
determine is if we have had any dramatic falls in the numbers of
Hares who indeed any dramatic increases.
The other interesting
facet that we can use the data for is to determine what parts of the
island the Hares prefer. This informs us if when we do any future
management on the island and when it comes to pointing visitors in
the right direction to see the Hares. It comes as no great surprise
that the Hares favour the gorse behind the volunteer huts. 14 Hares
where surveyed in this area alone, which compromises over half the
population on the island, the other important area is the area of
the gorse near Dovey's lagoon which holds 6 hares. The rest where
found in singles around the salt marsh between Doveys and Cottage
We have some great
photo's of Hares on our commmunity page, if you want to see any of
the Havergate hares.
The Hare transect this
year would not have been possible without the help of Paul and Ryan
Edwards, who are a couple of aspiring natural history film makers.
They are out on the island for a couple of days taking photo's and
gathering film shots of the Hares and whatever joins them on the
island. Please visit their website here
for an idea of what they are up to.
Most breeding bird
species are now on eggs with the exception of the common gulls who
will not lay eggs until early June. However, the large gulls are now
on eggs, as are some Oystercatchers, the geese and Mallards.
Shovelers and Tufted Ducks are prospecting for nesting sites and in
some cases are on eggs. It will now not be long until we survey these
Migratory wise it has
been a quiet time on the island with most of the action occurring at
Spring has undoubtedly
sprung this week with the weather to match. With it has come to the
usual early spring bird migrants including a Black Redstart, an array
of Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and the first Swallows and Sandwich
Terns of the year.
Star birds recently
must be a Black Necked grebe which spent about a week on Havergate
feeding in front of Gullery lagoon, this is only the 6th
ever record of this species on havergate, though I have a feeling
that it should be an annual winter visitor as it winters in sheltered spots
along the coast and saline lagoons and not technically on the island
but within the Havergate recording area was a Great crested grebe on
the river, only the 13th ever record of this familiar
grebe. There has also been a Peregrine and Short Eared Owl around at
various times this week.
Operation Spoonbill was
finally completed on Wednesday (see pictures). Unfortunately I don't
have any before hand photo's. What Operation Spoonbill consisted of
was trying to recreate a small part of Wadden Island on Havergate
Island, in the hope that this might entice a pair or two to breed on
For those unfamiliar
with the status of Spoonbills in Europe . The Wadden Islands are the
name of the area in Holland that a majority of the dutch Spoonbills
breed. Over 900 pairs of Spoonbill call these islands home. The
islands Spoonbills colonies are small to medium size grassy and
marshy islets surrounded by ditches and dykes with minimal predators
and low levels of disturbance.
So what have we done to
encourage them, this winter and Spring we have patched up the decoy
Spoonbills so they look almost as good as new. We managed to get some
photo's from the Dutch colonies and from this we have chosen where to
place the decoy spoonbills carefully. We have also transplanted some
bushes from our nearby Hollesley marshes reserve to give the area a
more Wadden island feel and finally we have replicated Spoonbill
nests as closely as possible (they tend to be large sprawling
affairs, not to dissimilar to Cormorant nests).
Some of characteristics
of the Wadden Islands we already have in place, small grassy islets
surrounded by saline water, we have also had the sluice gates open
throughout spring to try and encourage as many shrimps and small fish
into the lagoons as possible (Spoonbills peferred food). Though we
need to be careful with this as too much water places food out of the
reach of even a Spoonbills bill. We also have a large colony of co- breeders in this gulls and relatively low levels of mammalian predation.
It is perhaps unfair to
expect miracles from the management this spring but least it is something to build on. One of the biggest
problems when managing for Spoonbills is that there is no set
program, no booklet, no guide, this makes managing for and trying to
attract Spoonbills the ecological equivalent of pin the tail on the
can be drawn from the fact that all the new colonies currently
spreading throughout Holland and Germany where from sites with large
summering flocks. As has been well established, for the last 10 years
or so, Havergate has played host to a large flock of summering
Spoonbills. Therefore maybe the best management technique we can
deploy is patience.
Late March has seen the
island begin to don its breeding season cloak.
Big numbers of gulls
have arrived at the last Webs count 624 Lesser Black backs had
returned to the lagoons and 518 Herring gulls. This count doesn’t
include the salt marshes or the long shingle bank at an estimate
these populations add another 200 or so to each species. Which means
we are somewhere near the islands population. In addition the Common
gulls have returned to they colony and have begun to establish
territory. Its not only gulls that are on the move, avocets have
been passing through the island, though how many will remain to breed
on the island is unclear. Skylarks have been in full song and the
meadow pipits are beginning there distinctive parachuting flight
The Hares are
increasingly active, or at least relatively active. Nether the most
lively of animals on the island the warming temperatures have seen
them become increasingly boisterous. Its a quirk of the island
population that whilst this inherent laziness makes them incredibly
confiding it also means that actual behaviour can be a little low on
the ground. A warm day tends to get them out and about but too warm
tends to leave them sprawled in a big heap catching the sun and
soaking up the warmth.
They are looking
increasingly smart now. However, Its not been an easy winter for the
Hares. Two factors have contributed to a long hard winter for this
animal, the cold spell in late December which led to at least a week
of completely frozen ground and a covering of snow. However, perhaps
more seriously was the loss of five adult animals in October, the
exact cause is unknown but the return of the viral haemorrhaging that
afflicts the population on Havergate is not out of the question.
Partly brought on by the poor diet, Sea-purselane and an enormous
amount of salt is not ideal for Hares.
Such an outbreak is
recorded on the islands every four to five years and when one
considers that the island only plays host to around 29 hares, losing
five from the population is a significant chunk. However, Havergate
Hares are nothing if not resilient and i'm sure they'll bounce back
and they remain remarkably easy to see on the island. The annual Hare
census will not be conducted until early May now so results will not
be known until then.
Migrants have started
to arrive including a Black Redstart and the first Chiffchaff of the
year. However, winter still lingers in the shape of a fantastic Short
Eared owl and the large flock of Shore larks remains on Belpers
lagoons, though mobile and often at times frustratingly elusive.
Indeed the flock was missing assumed migrated and but for the sharp
eyes of the Webs counters this would have remained the case. It
remains a long shot and no doubt in many ways a vain hope but it
would be truly great for the island and the species as a whole if
Havergate became a favourite of there’s in winters to come.
Management of Belpers will reflect this hope next winter.
On a separate note,
Operation spoonbill has begun with the area set aside for this
enigmatic species beginning to be prepared.
Despite the lack of blogs recently its been a busy time on Havergate Island.
The last two weeks have seen a flurry of activity, some great birds and a real sense that the seasons are once again on the change.
Going back a couple of weeks to a cold February morning myself and the now sadly departed Matt Williams completed the accretion monitoring (Thanks Matt). This is essentially monitoring the rate of mud collection in the area of the island dedicated to managed retreat. This data is then used to predict and inform any future changes in the management of the Suffolk coast. In the longer term Cuckolds will go from being long rank grassland to a fully fledged Saltmarsh. Essentially, boiling it down to a simplistic measurement the mud “accretes” 8cm’s a year.
Later on that month the winter brush cutting on the island came to an end. A few years ago this was far more of a major operation as large parts of Dovey’s lagoon where also strimmed. However, due to a change in the management policy to try and entice a greater variety of diving ducks large parts of Doveys lagoon is flooded and will be so until early April. Therefore the need to do lots of brush cutting in this lagoon is reduced as saline water is an effective herbicide! This year brush cutting was focused on Belpers lagoon and the Avocets and Tern islands.
The Rat program has been stepped up; eighty percent of the island is now covered under the eradication programme with the remaining 30 or so boxes to go out next week. Surprisingly time consuming, once all these boxes are out then the eradication can really begin in earnest.
The winter work party has moved from its winter quarters at Boyton to starting construction of the new Doveys screen. So far, so good. Though not without teething problems, initially the screen was decided to be to low and required raising but now the team is racing ahead with construction.
Operation Common gull is completed and the new discreet nesting areas have been created in the gorse. Hopefully the Common gulls will take to these areas, though this may take several years.
Easily the highlight of the last week or so was 23 Shore lark on Belpers lagoon, feeding on the recently strimmed areas. Without a doubt next winter a degree of staggered brush cutting will be used as both times this has proved a greats success with the birds. 23 is the joint biggest flock in the country this year
Two female Smew have taken up residence on Doveys lagoon along with up to 12 Goldeneye including several smart males.
Sadly the Short Eared Owls have started to become less regular and many of our wintering ducks have moved on, though these have been replaced by good numbers of Brent geese and Lapwings, who are daily, at least for now.
Lots of Herring Gulls and Lesser Black backs have begun to return from there wintering quarters and today for the first time I noticed a significant number of Common gulls gathering around the Saltmarsh near the volunteer chalets.
And with two visitor trips this weekend, early March has taken on the feel of the seasons beginning to change once again.