Bird ringing in Britain and Ireland is organised and co-ordinated by the BTO. A network of over 2,500 trained and licensed volunteers currently ring over 900,000 birds every year. In our postings last week, sightings of ringed birds seen on Wallasea were referred to. These birds had been ringed across the river by Burnham farmer Martin Smith.
Aims of ringing on the farm are mixed, Martin has been attempting to ring the majority of swallow pulli (chicks still in the nest), which might produce information on longevity and how many fledged juveniles return to the farm. Barn Owl chicks were also ringed and might be re-trapped at some stage in the future elsewhere. Corn Buntings have received special attention and are the focus of a colour ringing project, part of the aim being to track Corn Bunting movements. Martin has managed to ring about a third of the singing territorial males on the farm and has some data on holding territories. As well as target species, he rings migrants and residents, which gives some indication of species on the farm and those
using his farm’s stewardship features - plenty of Dunnocks, Whitethroat and Reed Bunting use the area planted with wild bird seed mix. This area also held good numbers of wintering thrushes and blackbirds with a control from Sweden in 2008. Away from the farm, Martin’s trainer Chris Harris rings birds on Foulness and we have had some movement from Foulness to Burnham with a pied wagtail born on Foulness, breeding within the farm yard the following year.
Placing a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring around a bird’s leg provides a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals. Each ring also has an address so that anyone finding a ringed bird can help by reporting where and when it was found and what happened to it. Some ringing projects also use colour rings to allow individual birds to be identified without being caught.
On average only one in every 50 birds ringed are subsequently found and reported, so every report of a ringed bird is of value. More information on bird ringing can be found on the BTO website.
A Leucistic lapwing has been spotted regularly each winter on Wallasea Island for several years. This may sound like it has a nasty disease, but a leucistic bird is one with abnormal plumage. Now most of us differentiate one bird from another by the colour of its feathers, so this can pose Bad Birdwatchers like me a few problems!
Leucism, or leukism, is a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird’s feathers. As a result, the birds do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides, and instead the plumage have several color changes, including:
Albinism is another genetic condition that can turn a bird’s plumage pale, but in this case the eyes, skin, legs, feet and bill are also pale in colour. Leucistic birds have normal skin colouring and their plumage shade can vary. For instance, for several seasons a few years ago in Rathlin Island, an RSPB reserve off the County Antrim coast, visitors were thrilled by the sight of a 'Golden Puffin' which sat on the cliffs among the razorbills and guillemots because its fellow dark puffins did not accept it! Its plumage was a pale buff colour, but it was otherwise a normal, and very cute little puffin.
Although birdwatchers may identify the bird by its call, habitat or behaviour, this distinctive plumage can cause real problems. The bird is often easier to spot by predators, without protective camouflage, and they may have trouble attracting a strong, healthy mate without the attractive courtship colours. While it may be exciting for us to see one of these unusual creatures, it is unfortunately at a disadvantage and will suffer at nature's cruel hand.
Now before you take offence - that means WRITTEN by an idiot! Following an enlightening one-day conference organised by ABPMer I am now a lot wiser, and thought I'd pass on some interesting facts about the sort of scheme that will be used in parts of the Wild Coast Project.
The threat of sea level rise and flood risk means that there is an increasing need for a planned approach to shoreline management. Coastal Managed Realignment was first undertaken on a small scale at Northey Island in 1991. However, it had been practised before this in Germany and the US. There are now 50 completed projects in the UK totalling about 1400 hectares - Wallasea will contribute another 465ha to this total. Over the last 20 years, a significant amount of expertise has been built up in how to implement these schemes and how they develop overtime. Research on sites is ongoing but there is still a huge need for more to be done on , for example, how the plant life develops on a recreated marshland.
Managed realignment can yield not only flood risk and habitat benefits, but also a wide range of additional ones. The use of these ecosystems to society is now becoming more apparent and more widely recognised. In fact these schemes should really be seen as change of use not loss of land, as diversification into businesses such as rare breed grazing ( think cheese, wool and saltmarsh lamb!),samphire harvesting, oyster fishing and sea fish nurseries. Not to mention the already trumpeted recreational uses for local and touring members of society. In addition to the recreation of wildlife habitat, often as compensation for areas lost elsewhere, saltmarsh is also a carbon sink, comparable or even superior, to that of heathland. Perhaps the rapidly developing business of carbon offsetting, planting trees etc., will soon include creating saltmarsh.
The RSPB has been active in pressing for coastal habitat restoration for many years now and has had an interesting and challenging journey along the way. They are now well placed in working with a number of partners to play an important part in its future. Next time you look at a local estuary and think its just mud and sea lavender - think again!
The Corn Bunting is the ‘Billy Bunter’ of the buntings, and among the farmland birds suffering dramatic population declines in the UK, making it a red list species. However, in this part of Essex they seem to be hanging on and they are among the birds that RSPB’s new Farmland Advisor, Frank Vargas, is working to help.
Frank’s role, funded by the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, is to advise coastal landowners, managing c.5,750ha of farmland, on measures to help corn buntings (and other farmland bird species) and encourage the take up of suitable Environmental Stewardship land management options. With this aim, a group of local farmers were treated to a farm visit, hosted by award winning Burnham Wick farmer Martin Smith. (see photo)
Martin’s methods of wildlife friendly farming clearly reaps rewards, both financial and in number of wildlife populations taking advantage of his hospitality. Martin created a wetland habitat with funding help from Environmental Stewardship. The lagoon or ‘scrape' takes advantage of the farm's location near the Crouch estuary and just across the river from Wallasea. It uses a solar-powered pump to retain water levels throughout the year. It attracts lapwing, snipe and teal in winter and yellow wagtails in summer.
A new 15ha Wild Bird Cover area has recently been established on Wallasea Island primarily to provide food in winter, this new food supply is likely to be used by birds from a wider area and hopefully will increase the over winter survival of adult birds. This should help slow or reverse the population decline in Essex Coast corn buntings.