Drought and flood! The paltry 92mm of rain which fell January to March left the reserve looking somewhat parched going into April with water levels 37mm below ideal. RSPB ecologist Graham White made a timely visit to carry out a water audit and it has poured down ever since. 117.5mm fell in April alone, bringing water levels up to 168mm above the ideal! Although we are not aware of any nests being lost directly because of this, it has certainly reduced the nice muddy feeding edge and decreased the available nesting areas on the Irongate and Pennyhole Bottom islands.
A stone curlew spotted by Paul on 24/4 lurking in field 3 east was the second record for the reserve (the first was in the 1930s). Determined local birder and volunteer Colin refound it and reported: “The bird sat almost motionless for 90 mins when I was in the area and I never did see the legs!” A common sandpiper was also grounded by the murky conditions. Other passage treats included bar-tailed godwits 136 on 27/3 and black-tails putting on a very colourful show: 212 on 21/4; 284 curlew on 26/3, 6 greenshank 30/4, up to 2 little ringed plover 5-10/4, a peak of 22 ruff 16/3 and 19 spotted redshank 15/4; 5 black terns 30/4;
3 water pipit 27/3 and a black redstart 26/3. Whimbrel passage continued throughout the period, peaking at 56 on 27/4. Winter stragglers included 2 common scoters in March and April and 3 velvet scoter 14/3, single hen harriers on 5 occasions, the red-breasted goose hung around 8-27/03, a peak of 41 red-breasted mergansers on 12/3, a red-throated diver 27/3, 3 twite still around on 6/3, a brambling on 11/3, a yellow legged gull 14/3 and a kittiwake 6/3. Avocet numbers peaked at 180 on 8/3, but by the end of April around 100 birds were hanging around Irongate island scouting out nest sites. A peak of 6 short-eared owls on 6/3 with at least 2 still about daily at the end of April and two pairs of barn and one tawny owls are apparently nesting. Black-headed gull numbers were also building with 300 on 23/4. Common terns peaked at 11 on 24/4. A great white egret was seen on 4/4. Raptor action has involved odd common buzzards present throughout peaking at 6 on 21/4, a hobby on 27&30/4, single merlins from 6/3-27/4, 4 red kites flying through on 29/3 and 23 marsh harriers on 28/3. Nest building was found in 13 locations, but it was thought this would reduce to a more sensible number when they settled down a bit more. At least 2 Mediterranean gulls have been present throughout and a spoonbill graced us with its presence 24/3-5/4. Passerine spring arrivals: chiffchaff 21/3, yellow wagtail 26/3, blackcap 29/3, swallow 3/4, wheatear 8/4, sand martin, sedge and willow warbler 11/4, cuckoo 18/4, whitethroat 20/4, reed warbler 22/4, house martin, swift 27/4, lesser whitethroat 30/4.
Other Flora and Fauna
Thanks to local volunteers, especially Derek and Ade for their help with Sloe Carpet moth trapping. 14 adults were found in traps – the cold and rainy April didn’t help, but hopefully the data will be useful. Thanks also to Essex Wildlife Trust's Darren Tansley who looked round our watervole transects, reassured us that we have a good deal of healthy habitat and found plenty of watevole signs. There were frequent sightings of muntjac throughout April.
Events & Staff
High turnover in residential volunteers! A new set of interns were recruited for the Eastern England Internship and Gareth Brookfield started his first six months at Old Hall on 5th March. Paul ‘The Stagg’ left for more volunteering at RSPB Forsinard whilst still looking for a job. Dave left in mid March for a job with the Environment Agency. Chris Swatridge replaced Dave for a short time before getting a job in the New Forest. Good luck to them all. Mike Andrews then stepped into the breach for a week to cover the gap before leaving for Lake Vyrnwy, and another Lake Vyrnwy volunteer continued our unofficial exchange programme: Alex Jessop joined us on the last day of April for a three month stay. Fingers crossed for a bit of stability for the rest of spring. Suzanne attended a wet grassland training day at Otmoor and Gareth has done no end of training since arriving. No events as yet this year.