Spring has arrived down at Verulamium this week - blackbirds, mistle thrush, goldcrest, robin and wren have all been singing, there's chaos on the lake with all the male ducks clamouring for a mate, the first brimstone butterflies have been out and about, birds are gathering sticks for their nests, a kingfisher pair have been chasing each other along the river, and we've been treated almost daily to aerial displays from buzzards and kites soaring high above the park. On friday we also spotted a pair of ravens displaying up in the skies above us - not just an interesting spectacle, but a rare sighting for Hertfordshire.
Best of all has been sunshine, and the promise of more! The warmth is slowly starting to dry up all the flood water around the lake, and our herons have been taking the opportunity for a bit of basking and stocking up on vitamin D in between incubating-duties!
Photo credit: Derek Girvan
Following on from last week, our total bird species total has now exceeded 50! But there is a particular notable absence in the form of a starling. Although once a common feature of the British countryside, the starling has suffered a massive decline in the past few decades. In fact, reports estimate that as many as 40 million starlings have disappeared from Europe since 1980 and as a result the bird was added to the UK 'red list' in 2002. In previous years we would have expected to see starlings in abundance down at the park, but this season we are still waiting. This just serves to illustrate how important conservation work is if we are to preserve species like this.
On the flip side is one of Britain's success stories - the red kite! By the end of the 19th century, red kites had all but disappeared from this country with the exception of a handful of breeding pairs. However, following successful reintroduction programmes, the species is now experiencing an increase in numbers - and proving a regular visitor to the skies above St Albans! It proves we really can make a difference.
Listen out for updates on the heron project on Radio Verulam, Fridays at around 10:45am.
After a somewhat soggy start, the St Albans Heronry project has sprung into action this week, introducing nearly 200 visitors to the busy lives of Verulamium Park Herons as they begin to incubate this year's eggs. An initial study of the aptly named 'Heron Island' has found 17 nest structures, of which 13 seem to be occupied. Furthermore we have spotted the birds sitting on eggs in 8 of these! The incubation period for Herons is generally about 28 days so as we don't know exactly when the first eggs were laid, we anticipate it could be only 3 weeks or so before we see glimpses of the first chicks!
But it's not only Herons! In the first 3 days we have racked up an impressive sightings list of 47! For anyone interested, details follow..
Mute swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Moorhen, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Red Kite, Buzzard, Greylag Goose (feral), Little Grebe, Ring-necked Parakeet, Kingfisher, Jackdaw, Common Gull, Rook, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sparrowhawk, Redwing, Stock Dove, Blackcap and Great Crested Grebe.
Our dedicated team are going to be in the park at the Lakeside by the Fighting Cocks pub every Wednesday - Sunday for the next 2 months, so do please stop by and see us between 10:30 and 16:30 to find out more and catch up on how the herons are doing! If you would like a badge as a souvenir of your visit we have a large collection, and you can also support our work in the Hertfordshire area by becoming a member - just ask the friendly staff and volunteers wearing blue!
We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the St Albans City and District Council and Verulamium Park staff for all their help in getting us up and running.
Hope to see you all down there soon!
Everything seems to be going according to plan up at Aberfoyle. The three osprey chicks are now three weeks old and are looking good. The male is doing a fine job bringing in fish every day, mostly rainbow trout, and the female has had her talons full this week, chasing off an intruder who's been flying close to the nest. It's been really interesting to see how the chicks react to mum being away from the nest - when she goes, the chicks keep really still and when she comes back, they spring back to life, exploring the nest and stretching their legs and wings. They've even started moving twigs about the nest, almost as if they're tidying up!
Feeding time for the osprey chicks
Blimey those chicks are well camouflaged!
The first of the peregrine chicks has taken the plunge and fledged. He's been named Duke after Duke's Pass. The other two chicks, which we think are males, will be named too once they've fledged, but at the moment they seem a little hesitant to take the next step. The parents are doing their best to coax them off the scrape. They're calling to them and the female's even tried bringing in a kill, feeding them briefly and then flying off with the food again. Unfortunately it's not having the desired effect and is simply leaving two rather confused looking youngsters, searching round the scrape to see if they can spot it or find some remains.
Where's it gone?!?!
And as if ospreys and peregrines weren't enough reason to visit Aberfoyle, there's some fab events going on every Saturday in July. The Summer Club is aimed at 8-12 year olds and costs just £3.50. It's all about birds on 6 July, bugs on 13, red squirrels on 20 and woodland explorer skills on 27. For information and to book, visit the Forestry Commission website.