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The UK Tree Sparrow population crashed dramatically between the 1970’s and 1990’s. There were 30 times more Tree Sparrows in our countryside in the 1970’s than there are now. Tree Sparrows feed their young on invertebrates of wetland margins, and so here at Saltholme, our mosaic of wetlands and scrub provide ideal colony sites. We have 70 nest boxes strategically placed in little colonies for Tree Sparrows. We now know that this year, 24 nest boxes produced 103 fledged Tree Sparrows from the first broods, and 10 pairs went for a second brood producing another 26 young birds. That’s another 129 Tree Sparrows here at Saltholme munching away at our feeding stations.
Tree Sparrows are easily told apart from House Sparrows by their chestnut heads which shows nicely in this photograph by Mark Stokeld. And just now the young birds appear to enjoy nothing more than a dust bath at the visitor centre feeding station, and their amusing antics can be enjoyed from the gallery windows.
Posted by Dean H
Last year we had an electric anti-predator fence installed around 26ha of the central wet grassland, south of Paddy's Hide. This was primarily intended to prevent Foxes taking Lapwing eggs. Last year in this area, 9 pairs of Lapwing only managed to fledge 5 young. Then came the winter rains and the wet grassland flooded. In April, the benefits of the fence soon became apparent. At the end of the breeding season, our monitoring programme has estimated that 60 Lapwings fledged from 38 nests inside the electric fence. We also had 4 broods of Redshank produce a minimum of 6 fledged birds. Young Redshank are very difficult to track in long grass. Not only that, but the flooded conditions attracted Avocets to breed for the first time on our main site. Avocets are supposed to breed on islands, but the flooded conditions created numerous pockets of land surrounded by water which eventually supported 17 nests, producing 27 fledged young.
Juvenile Avocet at Saltholme by Lockhart Horsburgh.
We're very happy with our shiny new electric fence, even though it cost a lot of money, needs to be checked regularly, weeded, and no-one wants to have 5,000 volts go through them, the benefits to conservation are tremendous.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that a day out at Saltholme is full of surprises. Don’t believe us? Well how about this as a great example of what exploring our beautiful nature reserve in the north east of England can uncover…
Earlier last month, young scientists discovered a new beetle at RSPB Saltholme, never before seen on the nature reserve. During a school trip to the wildlife reserve and discovery park, students from Chandlers Ridge Academy in Nunthorpe and South Kilvington CE School in Thirsk, found two beetles as part of a pond dipping activity.
Staff at RSPB Saltholme were stumped as to what the mini-beasts could be and so sent photographs of the beetles to the RSPB reserve’s ecologist for help. The creatures have since been identified as Macroplea appendiculata – something rarely encountered. In fact, they’re so rare, they don’t actually have a name!
As there is no official title for this particular type of species, the beetles have now been named Chandler and Kilvy, in honour of the schools involved in their discovery.
Finding a new species on site is always exciting, but for a school to uncover something new is extra special for the reserve. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be an expert to see something special here at Saltholme.
We want everyone to come and have a go at pond dipping – who knows, they might uncover a new species too. So if you’re looking for educational experiences to enjoy with the kids this summer holiday or are just looking for a fun-filled family day out in Teesside, why not come along to Saltholme and see what you discover?
Pond dipping is available every day until 31 October and equipment is available to hire from the reserve. The cost is £2 per family for non-members and free to RSPB Members.
So what are you waiting for? Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in to Saltholme – could you discover the next big thing in the mini-beast world?
Every spring one of rarest ducks, Garganey arrive at Saltholme. Fewer than 100 pairs of Garganey breed in the UK so we’re always filled with excitement and every year I am determined to find where these secretive birds are nesting. But I always fail miserably. We usually get about 5 males which we can see from the hides, but the females are always more secretive, and then it all goes quiet. For a few months we have no idea where they are, or even if they are still here, and then all of a sudden someone gets a fleeting glimpse of a brood.
One of our Saltholme Guides, Bernie Hodgeson, managed to get this photo earlier this week of 7 chicks with a female on Bottom Tank. Female Garganey are vary dull compared to the splendid males, but they do have a characteristic head pattern. What is interesting in this photo is you can clearly see a head pattern on even the very young chicks.
Will I find a Garganey nest next year ? Probably not.
Saltholme Hide is the place to be just now as there are over 30 noisy Black-tailed Godwits in front of the hide, along with Ruff, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper and our very slowly developing Avocet chick.
Black-tailed Godwit by Mark Stokeld
And on the way to the hide, make sure you see the first of this years Common Hawkers at the Dragonfly Ponds.
Male Common Hawker by Mark Stokeld
He is currently patrolling the northern pond, and has already mated, grabbing his female by the head and taking her into the Hemlock at the back of the pond.
Now that's what I call romance.
As you walk through Haverton Gate listen for the sound of a large grasshopper coming from a patch of scrub in the Wildflower Walk loop. The sound is in fact a Grasshopper Warbler, and it is singing now because the poor bird has decided to go for a second brood.
Grasshopper Warbler at Haverton gate by Mark Stokeld
Once Grasshopper Warblers have attracted a mate and commence raising a family they go quiet, and their skulking behaviour means they are very difficult to find, so catch this while you can.
One of the joys of being a warden is being on the reserve in the early mornings. I noticed this female Marsh Harrier on the gauge board in the Wildlife Watchpoint cut this morning as I entered the hide. Ed brought the reserve camera and managed to get this shot as I slowly opened a shutter.
Just before this, a very nervous looking female Gadwall with 11 chicks swam past underneath the post watched intently by the Harrier.
Why didn't the Harrier pounce on the ready meal beneath her ?
It could be that she was well fed. When Sparrowhawks have fed well they are unable to fly easily. The birds in the area can tell this and are more likely to mob the predator.
Or, it could be that she was very wet from all the overnight rain. She was sitting with her back to the morning sun and stretched her wings a few times which looked like she was trying to dry them ?
Or was it just an early morning stretch ?
I suppose we'll never know. But that must be one relieved Gadwall mother out there. For now.
We have week old Avocet chicks in the Saltholme Scrape in front of Saltholme Hide.
Come and see them before they grow up !
Good weather in June means juicy new insects about. Black-tailed Skimmers have emerged from the Main Lake and are sunning themselves on the paths. When Dragonflies first emerge, they are pale and weak and need about 3 weeks of nice weather and munchy food to mature. In this state they are called ‘teneral’. Interestingly teneral males are coloured as females, and the wings are very reflective.
This photograph by Mark Walpole of a Black-tailed Skimmer shows a teneral female, very different to the powdery blue of the adult male.
Mark also took this photo of a Four-spotted Chaser. They emerged a few weeks ago, and are now fully mature and bight. On the hunt for flies, they can turn up anywhere, but watch for territorial males defending their patch at the Dragonfly Ponds.
I found this newly pupated Poplar Hawkmoth low down in the willow tunnel at the Wildlife Watchpoint entrance on Wednesday:
It has spent the winter pupating in the soil at the base of the caterpillar foodplant, which in this case were the willows.
And look a the stunning colours of this Small Elephant Hawkmoth caught in Ed’s light trap on Wednesday night:
Once it warmed up a bit It flew onto this Vipers Bugloss in the compound.
And here is a picture Ed took of his little mothy face:
It won’t be long now before those juiciest of insects, Emperor Dragonflies, are patrolling the Dragonfly Ponds.
Grid reference: NZ5023 (+2km)
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