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On Monday two special things will happen at Saltholme. Firstly, the track outside these compound gates will be tarmacked which means I won't bounce along to the gates in the morning anymore. And secondly, a 13 tonne excavator will be creating more muddy habitat in front of the Phil Stead Hide. This is to get birds such as this Snipe, photographed by Dan McKie, closer to visitors.
More than 40 Snipe were present in this area yesterday along with a Spotted Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits. In preparation for the work, we are drawing the water down, as we'd rather the 13 tonnes of digger doesn't submerge. This will expose more mud, which contains the Chronomid midge larvae which wading birds love to eat. This should make the week end an interesting time to be in the Phil Stead Hide.
Posted by Dean H
The Migrant Hawker dragonfly colonised Britain in the 1950’s, about the same time as the Collard Dove. When I was a young man, with youth on my side and a disposable income, I used to travel to see dragonflies and I when I wanted to see a Migrant Hawker, I had to go to Skipwith Common just south of York. How times have changed. They are now the most numerous of the hawker dragonflies at Saltholme, and now is the time to see them. They are unlike other hawkers in that they are less territorial, and so they occur in groups, either at favourite basking sites or hunting areas such as paths along hedgerows. They are also more approachable, but do try to remember, they can see you 20m away.
Mark Stokeld’s photo captures the simple beauty of a dragonflies wings. Unlike modern insects, the wings are attached to flight muscles in the thorax, and so can move independently. They are fast, and can outfly a car on a residential street. Not something a modern midge can manage.
If you visit Saltholme in the morning, look for Migrant Hawkers on the path between the pollinator garden and the walled garden. There are also numerous Common Darters around there, and if you’re lucky, the odd Ruddy Darter.
Ruddy Darter by Mark Stokeld
And you will tell it is a Ruddy Darter because it has a lovely little red face.
By carefully drawing down water and exposing wet mud, the larvae of Chironomid midges become easy prey for waders. At this time of year, migrant waders are moving back from their breeding grounds further north and wet mud is where you’ll find them. This last week we’ve had a good variety of waders on display. On Bottom Tank we’ve had 2 Curlew Sandpiper, 3 Greenshank, 2 Green Sandpiper, 5 Ruff and 14 Dunlin. Good views of the Curlew Sandpiper and Greenshank are to be had from the Phil Stead Hide. From Saltholme Hide lucky visitors have seen a Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, 5 Little Ringed Plover and up to 96 Black-tailed Godwit.
Greenshank probing wet mud by Mark Stokeld
Other migrant birds have included a Redstart, Little Gull and Whinchat. Just now, there is a Black-necked Grebe on the main lake, visible from the gallery windows or the cafe. Sadly, it is no longer in breeding plumage, and so you need to be careful to separate it from the juvenile Little Grebes.
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.
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.
Grid reference: NZ5023 (+2km)
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