Thanks to volunteer Phil for his report. Phil helps us to monitor the breeding lapwings as well a being one of our regular 'hides & trails' volunteers.
The lapwing is one of the iconic species of Pulborough - this beautiful bird appears on much of our signage and sometimes heads up our web pages.
And yet the report from Anna and Gary on the Breeding Bird Survey only mentioned lapwings as lunch for our resident juvenile peregrine and I thought it was time to redress the balance by reporting on their breeding season.
With the UK population in decline we do our best to encourage lapwings to breed here and closely monitor how successful they are. So throughout April to June a small group of volunteers is involved in surveying the reserve to help our wardens establish how many pairs are attempting to breed, locate nest sites, hatched chicks and eventually fledged birds. We also look out for signs of breeding snipe and redshank but these are much more difficult to see so the main concentration of effort is on the lapwings.
Lapwing courtship display flights are one of the key sights of spring here as they loop the loop making astonishing twisting and turning manoeuvres. Having progressed to mating they then nest quite openly creating a small depression in open bare ground or short grass to lay their eggs.
The difficult part then begins as the lapwings have the job of defending against predators, the most common of which here are foxes and crows, but the nests are also vulnerable to trampling by deer and grazing cattle. And this year they need to worry about the peregrine which could make an easy lunch from a sitting bird. Watching lapwings defend their nests against crows is not an uncommon sight and can be quite thrilling as they are very feisty. On one occasion last year I saw a lapwing rise from a nest, fly very fast at a nearby crow on the ground and turn it onto its back, one of my wildlife highlights of the year.
After the eggs hatch the chicks will be immediately walking and the mother will typically lead them into cover usually in some of the more dense patches of rush in our wet meadows. They then face a difficult few weeks before being able to fly as there are several land based and aerial predators to contend with. According to research a rate of 0.7 fledged birds per pairing per year is needed to maintain the population. Sadly our local figures are below that at 0.6 last year, although that was a little up from 2014 so a small encouraging sign. It is also encouraging that other RSPB reserves with more favourable local circumstances have breeding success considerably better than the target rate.
Visitors to West Mead Hide will notice the electrified fence surrounding the immediate area. This is an attempt to reduce predation by keeping foxes out but is only temporary and will have to be taken down and stored away in due course. It has only been used for the first time this year, although a similar fence used last year on the South Brooks has also been erected again. The amount of effort we put into trying to protect the lapwings is perhaps a sad reflection of how their decline, largely down to changes in farming practices, has reduced the numbers to a point where it is more difficult for the population to survive natural losses due to predation.
Just before my recent holiday I had spotted my first 2 chicks of the year on the South Brooks, probably just a few days old. So returning on 17th I had high hopes of finding them significantly bigger, but they were nowhere to be seen. This was naturally disappointing but I consoled myself that some of the rushes are quite high and I could hear adults calling perhaps to warn chicks of danger.
On the rest of the reserve I found 5 nests I’d not seen before, 2 of them very visible on the largest island just in front of West Mead hide so that was some compensation for not finding any chicks.
By Friday one of the nests on the North Brooks had clearly failed and we’ve had at least 4 other failures so far. However I then discovered reports of chicks on the whiteboard in West Mead hide and after a second visit there found 2 chicks half hidden in the waterside vegetation on the far side of the pool. Where the nest was that produced these chicks will never be known as it didn’t show up on any of the marked up maps produced by myself and the other volunteers. This illustrates that it pays not to be too disappointed if a nest fails as chicks can appear seemingly out of nowhere. The nature of the terrain and the limitations on where we can survey from without disturbing the birds and other wildlife mean that we will never have a full precise picture of all the nest sites.
We are still hoping for a decent crop of fledged birds and should be able to derive a complete picture after the end of June.
Volunteers Gary & Andy and I were out and about early on Tuesday morning to complete our breeding bird surveys around the nature trail, on the wooded heath and at Rackham Woods. As we wander around the trails we're looking and listening out for all the birds, marking out their locations and possible territories on maps. We follow the same route at least 3 times through the breeding season, hoping that we'll move from singing and displaying birds in the earlier surveys, to signs of nesting and successful breeding as spring progresses. I took the wooded heath patch and was delighted to find spotted flycatcher and redstart, as well as plenty of vocal wrens!
Here is Gary's report from the nature trail...
What a fantastic morning for the Breeding Bird Survey at Pulborough Brooks today. Sunny, light wind and cool but slowly warming up as it clouded over as the day went on. As the season wears on, the nightingales are singing less often now, but very nice to see newly fledged green woodpecker, tree creepers, starlings and long-tailed tits. Most of the usual warblers were in good voice including common and lesser whitethroat, blackcap, garden, chiffchaff, sedge and willow. Bullfinch, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch and linnet were also fairly obliging. Two cuckoos could be heard but remained out of sight.
With the survey route completed, I decided to have a look on the heathland and was rewarded with a singing redstart, the best place to see it without disturbance is on the south side of the tumuli near the two benches. The heathland ponds have newly emerged broad-bodied chasers and red damsel flies looking beautiful as their wings glint in the sunshine.
Later, joining some fellow volunteers for lunch in the picnic site, a female beautiful demoiselle damselfly and several butterflies including green veined white and small copper distracted us from our sandwiches.
Our lunch concluded, a spell at the hanger produced the usual peregrine digesting its own lapwing lunch (shame, but that’s nature for you), a low hunting hobby and a little ringed plover.
Also reported but not seen by me was a tawny owl and spotted flycatcher.
I'm going to hijack Gary's report again to add a few more butterfly records. I was very excited to spot a green hairstreak butterfly perched on the bramble along the heathland zig zags - my first record of this species in the 10 years I've been volunteering and working here.
I have started to notice a pattern...
Bank holiday Mondays seem to be doomed to disappointing weather; Storm Katie on Easter Monday and a rather gloomy start for May Day bank holiday. But it's not all doom and gloom - we have also been visited by some rather exciting birds who perhaps also feel they have a long weekend and will go exploring on the bank holiday. Easter Monday saw the arrival of the American Wigeon and the May Day holiday by a group of 10 black-winged stilts.
This photo of the stilts was taken by Pete and we suspect he came to summon them to his reserve at RSPB Medmerry where they bred in 2014.
And this one was taken by volunteer Anne (who I shan't accuse of any underhand business!)
Would anyone care to hazard a guess as to who might put in an appearance on our next Bank Holiday on 30 May?
Although the black-winged stilts have not stayed with us, there are plenty of other goodies to see & hear. These are just some of volunteer Phil's highlights from Monday:
Here is Phil's first ever grass snake.
We now think we have 8 or 9 male nightingales singing around the trail which is fantastic. They seem to be inhabiting all the traditional spots and are also maintaining their reputation of being exhibitionists. As our nightingales don't skulk, could I just give a little reminder to all our visitors that there are lots of breeding birds in the hedgerows and scrub (as well as grass snakes & adders in the undergrowth) so please keep to the paths and don't pursue the wildlife into the undergrowth!
We have had reports of 2 Cetti's warblers on the reserve, one of which has been around near Fattengates courtyard for a couple of weeks - they have previously seemed to stop at Waltham Brooks just south of our site along the Arun Valley so it is exciting to think that they might start to breed here.
Swifts have arrived and hot on their heels have been hobbies. Garden warblers have arrived in force to complement the blackcaps and make bird song identification more challenging. The woodlands are glorious with carpets of bluebells and greater stitchwort and colourful brimstones are fluttering in the sunshine.
It's a wonderful time to visit with so much to see, hear and smell so don't miss out!