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Summer 2017

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Although spring and autumn are the most exciting seasons for birdwatchers, summer is the critical season for monitoring breeding success and determining population trends. I carry out a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) on a farm and quarry in Lincolnshire for The British Trust for ornithology (BTO) and all my records are entered in to a nationwide database.

In general, my findings locally mirror the national trends with declines in Tree Sparrows and Corn Buntings - in fact the latter has disappeared from the area. Skylarks, Linnets and Yellowhammers however, are stable at a high level, which is probably due to the field margins and conservation headlands sown with grasses. These have not only benefited the birds, but wild flowers and insects, including some interesting butterflies such as Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Copper. These last two years have seen an increase in Whitethroats, a migrant warbler, whilst it's cousin the Lesser Whitethroat, remains stable in the area but at much lower numbers.

Red Kite

Reviewing the successes and failures of nature conservation reveals a mixed picture. Introduction schemes such as Red Kites nationally and Ospreys at Rutland have been a great success and have coincided with an expansion of the existing populations. Peregrines continue to do well and Buzzards have expanded in both range and numbers, whilst Kestrels outside of Lincolnshire and east Anglia have become quite rare. Illegal persecution of raptors by some members of the shooting fraternity remains a problem with Hen Harriers on the verge of extinction in England and absent as breeding birds almost anywhere in the UK where driven grouse shooting takes place. Goshawks, Sparrowhawks and even the iconic Golden Eagle are frequently poisoned, trapped or shot.

Bittern in flight

On a happier note, concerted efforts to create reed-beds inland following the damage caused to coastal reed-beds during the recent surges have paid off. Predictions that climate change will result in sea level rises and more tidal surges has spurred government and conservation bodies to concentrate resources on the creation of inland wetlands to great effect. The Bittern was hanging on by a thread as a breeding species ten years ago but now the population is thriving; especially in the new inland reed-beds.


The RSPB reserve at Lakenheath is probably the best example hosting several pairs of nesting Bitterns and many other reed-bed specialists such as Bearded Tits, Marsh Harriers and Water Rails. A welcome surprise colonist are the one to two pairs of Common Crane that nest there annually.

The wetland habitats at Lakenheath are also home to a variety of dragonflies which are hunted in the air by the Hobby; a migratory falcon.

Insh Marshes

It seems that not all wetland habitats are valued as they should be. Insh Marshes another reserve managed by the RSPB and also an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in the Scottish Highlands is soon to be irretrievably damaged when a new dual carriageway bisects this beautiful reserve. A total of 20 hectares will be lost and fears are that the construction and disturbance caused by the traffic will result in rare wading birds and wildfowl abandoning the area for good; probably failing to find an alternative nesting site.

Chimney Sweep Moth

I visited this beautiful reserve earlier in July and the breeding waders for which it is so important were much in evidence. The reserve holds more than 16% of Scotland's breeding Lapwings as well as Snipe, Curlew and Redshank among others. It is not only important for birds, but also insects including Chimney Sweep Moth, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Northern Scotch Argus.

The Ospreys at the famous RSPB Loch Garten reserve suffered a tragedy shortly after the third and final chick hatched, when the male Osprey failed to return. The result was that the chicks starved to death in the nest and only after the last chick had died did the unfortunate female abandon her vigil on the nest and go off to fish for herself.

Red Squirrel in tree

My long weekend in Scotland also included visits to some of the remnant Caledonian Pine Forests where I got good views of Red Squirrels, Bank Voles and Roe Deer. I also managed to see of some of the special birds of the area including what is now thought to be Britain's only endemic bird; the Scottish Crossbill. Crested Tits and Capercaillie were also observed, but the latter only briefly and in poor light at four-thirty am!

Red Squirrel

Roe Buck

Bank Vole

Red Grouse

Where the forest gives way to birch scrub and heather moor I found Tree Pipits, Lesser Redpolls and heard but failed to see Black Grouse. I had more success with grouse on the higher moorlands of the region,

Red Grouse
where Red Grouse are clearly enjoying a good breeding season and I saw and photographed several family parties.



Ian Misselbrook
July 2017


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