Next up in our ‘The story so far’ series is our Kingfisher family. These guys were very busy excavating their nest cavity which we blogged about on the 24th March. Since then we haven’t mentioned them much and that is because we haven’t been sure what’s been happening! We are currently of the opinion that they are sitting on eggs. Sightings are currently few and far between which as I said with the Marsh harriers is a good thing. The only sightings we’ve had of them are when they swap over incubation but this is very brief and only happens every three or four hours. This has been going on for a couple of weeks which should mean that eggs are about to hatch. They could possibly be hatching as I type!
We are currently asking visitors to Radipole to watch out for any food being taken into the nest chamber as this would mean we have baby Kingfishers, so for a chance to be the first to witness this head up to the hide! When chicks hatch they are fed small aquatic insects and tiny fish so food at first might not be too obvious but as they grow larger fish need to be fed. Something to look out for is fish being carried head first which means they will be feeding other kingfishers. The fins on a fish all slope backwards which would make eating a fish tail first very tricky!
The blogging baton has been passed my way this week as Mr Quintrell is currently enjoying a well earned break down in sunny Cornwall. So, for this week I thought I'd update readers on a few of Radipole’s star species.
First up are our well watched Marsh Harriers. We’ve already said about them breeding at Radipole and we have also gone through Harrier identification so for this post I’ll take you back through the last three weeks and dish the dirt.
On the morning of April 1st our ‘new’ female turned up at Radipole. The following afternoon war broke out but this soon turned to flirting as mentioned in Nick’s blog on 20th April. The following week nest building started. Firstly the birds were carrying larger sticks which would make the base and bulk of the nest; then grass and moss was being brought in which suggested that eggs were imminent. This proved true on the 21st April when all went quiet over the reed beds. There was no sign of the female which is actually a good thing as she would be spending most of her time incubating the eggs.
Birds of prey lay eggs in two day intervals but start incubation as soon as the first is laid. This means that they will hatch at two day intervals which results in there being chicks of different sizes. If food is hard to come by during the summer the larger chicks will eat the smaller one which allows at least some chicks to survive and hopefully fledge the nest when fully grown. This all seems quite gory but its nature’s way of getting through difficult times.
Since the 21st we’ve seen the male bringing food in for the female which is something you really must get down and see. They pass the food from one to another in mid air which is predictably called a food pass. This spectacular show occurs several times a day so with a bit of patience you can see this from the North hide.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on developments over the next few weeks and we’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Male Marsh Harrier taken from the North Hide just after bringing food in for the female.
Picture by Allan Neilson
During an event at Radipole yesterday we had a hawker type dragonfly reported to us from the North Hide. There aren’t many hawker species that can be seen this time of year except for the Hairy Dragonfly which has yet to be confirmed as a Radipole species. There was one individual seen last year by myself but couldn’t get a picture to confirm it for the records. This spring however, another large dragonfly species could be on the cards, Vagrant Emperor. This species is currently spreading through Europe and is very rare in the UK. Its breeding range is sub-Saharan Africa but have tendencies to migrate vast distances. In fact it’s the only dragonfly species to be recorded in Iceland.
Yesterday there was sightings of this insect in Kent at RSPB Dungeness and one possible at nearby Portland. There have also been a few records elsewhere in the south west over the last week. It seems quite likely that yesterday’s dragonfly could well have been a Vagrant Emperor. So If you're walking around Radipole or Lodmoor over the next week or two keep your eyes open for any large Dragonflies and make sure you let one of us in the visitor centre know!
This morning I managed my first glimpse of Hobby over Radipole for the year, only fleeting but I let the VC and the hide know and others were able to get superior views of this fantastic little falcon. Moments later three Swift appeared in the same air space - no doubt keeping a close eye on their similarly sickle shaped tormentor.
A hobby dining on the wing. Picture copyright RSPB Images.
Although their habits differ enormously (and ignoring the size difference) swift and hobby look remarkably similar in flight pattern and silhouette. Hobby are our only migratory falcon; wintering in Southern Africa and breeding as far north as Scandinavia. They follow the seasons latitudinally to coincide with hatches of large flying insects, (primarily dragonflies) which form a key element of their diet and which they are apt to catch, de-wing and consume in flight. Other prey includes the odd hirundine, an occasional swift and other small birds, mammals or reptiles.
Swift in every sense - scything through the blue. Copyright RSPB Images.
Trivia fans take note, the table football game 'Subbuteo' derives its name from the hobby's Latin name (Falco subbuteo) after copyright was refused on the name Hobby. The game's inventor wisely elected not to name his game Falco, presumably for fear of association with the Austrian pop weirdo of the same name, responsible for the irksome1985 smash hit, 'Rock me Amadeus'.
Swifts sadly are in a steep decline. To learn more about this and what can be done to help them battle back click this: Help us help swifts
...and other than that have a happy, relaxing, sun-drenched and 'wild' Easter y'all!
Following on from Nick’s post yesterday about our Radipole Harriers, I thought I’d introduce the two birds. There’s occasionally confusion in the hide regarding who’s who as both birds are essentially brown with pale heads. But there are one or two things that separate them which I’ll try to point out using some slightly dodgy photo’s taken over the past month or so.
First up is our male. In all birds of prey, males are smaller than females. This is because females spend a lot their time during the breeding season on the nest so being larger would enable her to be more effective if she ever had to fight of other predators. If both birds are together then this size difference is noticeable but sadly for us they are often seen on their own. The best thing to look out for on the male is his distinctive breast band and pale tale feathers. As male Marsh Harriers get older they turn a very striking grey and brown. This bird is in his 3rd Calendar year which means he would have been hatched in 2009, so he’s currently just starting to acquire this grey colour but only in small amounts. He’s also got a pale eye which you can see if you’re lucky enough to see him fly right past the hide which he does on occasions.
The female completely lacks the breast band but does have small pale patches on her shoulders which the male also has. Her tail is more uniform brown which best describes the rest of her plumage. The male has very dark, almost black wing feather whereas our lady harrier is very brown. She has a dark eye.
If you’ve got any questions just call in to the visitor centre to ask and if you’ve got a camera just take a few snaps of the harriers and we’ll try our best to help identify them for you, regardless of how rubbish the picture may be!