The species list for the St Albans Herons Date With Nature hit 73 yesterday as the project drew to a close. While volunteers Barry and Ian were winging their way down from Bedfordshire to collect the exhibition trailer, we added house martin (a bird which had evaded us for some weeks) to the tally.
Other species that found their way onto the sightings board included tawny owl and swift. Towards the end of the project, the grey wagtail pair was seen every day and will almost certainly be breeding nearby. A pair of long-staying pochard remain on the lake and trilling little grebes can be seen around the islands along with their bigger great crested cousins. So from the heaviest to the lightest, we were eight species more than ever recorded on this Date With Nature.
Did you know that the mute swan is the heaviest British bird with an adult male weighing in at nearly 12 kg? Compare this to the tiny goldcrests which are also found in the park and which were regularly seen around the trailer. This is Europe’s smallest bird. They are only about 9cm long and weigh in at just 6g; that's about 12 normal-sized paper clips...and yes, sad I know, but I've just been into the kitchen to check it on some digital scales!
Debs Allbrook, the DWN Project Coordinator, and Murray Brown were able to accompany three excursions onto the island to ring the heron chicks and a total of 21 were ringed this year. (We reckon that there were approximately 30 chicks, in 12 occupied nests, this year.) Since he began monitoring the herons here in the mid-1990s, Barry Trevis has ringed well over 300 pulli. Ringing the birds provides useful data that helps to establish survival rates and longevity, as well as distribution patterns, and it seems that after breeding, our birds will disperse into an area within a 60 mile radius of the colony. Having said that, one of the St Albans birds was found in Greater Manchester last year, the furthest recovery from this heronry.
The majority of the grey herons’ diet at this time of year consists of fish and amphibians but the diversity of prey items was highlighted by the discovery of the claws of signal crayfish under the nests and also by the arrival of two excited children at the trailer who reported that they had just watched an adult heron catching and eating a mouse!
We regularly had a daily total of over 300 visitors and were also able to host primary school educational sessions when pupils were able to experience the herons and other wildlife in the park at first hand and take part in a fun learning activity based on the freshwater food web.
A huge thank you to those who have contributed to making the Date With Nature successful again this year: our wonderful volunteers, Seb the Park Ranger, Barry Trevis and his ringing team, Ian, Carol and the photographers, the staff at the Fighting Cocks and all our friendly visitors, to name but a few.
....but after we’ve congratulated ourselves on a job well done, let’s think about what still needs to be done, and let’s reflect on why we can never really sit back and rest on our laurels...
On the last day of the project, in glorious sunshine and with people enjoying the endearing little ducklings and goslings, or admiring the majestic, soaring red kites, I noticed a gentleman looking intently at our proudly displayed sightings list which on Bank Holiday stood at 72 (we hadn’t got that house martin yet!). He seemed wise; a bit detached from the families milling around the ice-cream van. He wasn’t looking to ‘get one up on us’; to point out a glaring omission. But he did point out that something was sorely missing. Quietly, sadly even, he only muttered three words: “No house sparrow.”
Small actions collectively can make a huge difference and to find out how you can take part in the RSPB’s latest Giving Nature a Home campaign visit: www.rspb.org.uk/givenatureahome
In the meantime we hope everyone continues to enjoy the wildlife in the park at Verulamium, and helps us take care of it for future generations. The herons are now nearly grown enough to leave the nest so have a look the next time you pass the lake, and remember to keep an eye out for the beautiful white little egrets which look to be taking their turn at nesting next.
See you next year!
Murray Brown, Debs Allbrook and the team in the park
Looks like the stars of our Dates with Nature are busy settling into family life with a wave of eggs being laid over the last couple of weeks.
The Manchester peregrines are still sat on one egg, whilst the pair over in Chichester are now sitting on two - one laid on 9 April and one on Sunday.
Up at Loch Garten, EJ and Odin have delivered as usual, with two eggs - laid on 11 April and yesterday - likely to to hatch in about five weeks time.
Last, but not least, the New Forest goshawks have got their work cut out for them, with four eggs currently being incubated and likely to hatch in about two weeks time.
Down at the heronry in Verulamium park, we have been treated to fantastic views of the newly hatched heron chicks over the past few weeks. The first ones were seen on the 13th March but since then they have been eating at an incredible rate and growing bigger every day!
Last sunday we went over with the local ringing group to ring 9 of the chicks, and there are at least double as many again over there- so a really good year. Make sure you pop down to see us soon as this is the best chance you will get to see these cute little punk rockers!
Alongside that, our species list has now reached 67, and the first family of mallard ducklings have arrived and been seen swimming round the lake! Summer is really on its way!
I will leave you with a few images from Heron Island.
Photo credit Stuart Harrison
Photo credit: Debs Allbrook