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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Common Terns on the Thames

As some may know I am involved in the Thames, more specifically winter roosting waders and riverside structures/jetties along the Thames corridor, the aim is to try and get them recognised as a habitat. What initially started out within the London Natural History Boundary (20 mile radius from St.Pauls) 4 winters back may well now extend along its length as far as Southend.

For this I have to thank the London Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, PLA and the Thames Estuary Partnership for pushing the idea forward, it is moving forward and the wheels are turning, not as fast as I would like but it is progressing.

I also have to thanks my mates for turning out in the depths of winter and doing a coordinated count of roosting birds at high tide.

Fords Dagenham roost with 300+ Black Tailed Godwits on board

Another aspect and spin off from this which was highlighted about 4 years ago is the use of redundant or even usedDolphin Jetties, they make brilliant Common Tern breeding platforms.

A Dolphin Jetty, this is the regular Common Tern breeding colony

For those that are not aware Dolphin Jetties are positioned at either end of the larger jetties, around 40 metres away, there sole use is to secure the ship at the Bow and Stern by large ropes anchored to the Dolphin Jetty.
They are anchored permanently to each particular Dolphin Jetty and when a ship arrives, the lengths of rope are still laying on the main Jetty to secure the ship.

Consequently this means that no one ever goes on each particular Dolphin Jetty, unless to replace a rope, this means that they are a haven for wildlife, in particular Common Terns and Oystercatchers.

A Dolphin Jetty is pretty largish, I would say around 10 times the size of a normal Tern Raft, due to this and the one I watch regular with 25+ pairs on it, the numbers makes for better defence from predation from Herrings, Lesser Black Backed and Great Black Backed Gulls. They simply cannot get near it, and I have seen this, they are attacked by 20+ Terns at the same time, it works and works well due to the size of the colony.

With Common Terns losing out to Black Headed Gulls on the larger Reservoirs, (Broadwater Lake for one) unused or even used Dolphin Jetties may well become an important resource – i.e. to safeguard numbers and large colonies in London.
Last year I blogged about a pair of Oystercatchers on the regular colony, by nesting with the Terns they automatically gain there protection, whether it was an intentional move is hard to say, the Terns gave them no trouble as there not seen as a threat.

The breeding colony of Common Terns

My idea with the number of Dolphin Jetties along the Thames is to utilise them for wildlife, it could be done at very little cost.

All you would need is an exterior haunch board, a covering of pea shingle and some pieces wood/logs to break it up into sections giving cover to chicks, if you want to go the whole hog, half moon salt glaze pipes here and there to give young cover also.

The colony on the centre jetty, the left hand jetty could soon be adapted to further increase the size of the colony.

The left hand jetty

Pretty soon a meeting will take place, hopefully a few pilot schemes like the empty jetty below can be put in place.

As above, ready to be used complete with waiting Common Tern

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Beckton Barn Owls

I have been aware of these, as have other London Birders probably for a good number of years, I can still remember Ken telling me about them many years ago, they have been on the Thames Water site for a good 25 years, very likely longer.

Being a Schedule 1 species I have never advertised them, not until now, they only really came visually to my notice with confirmed breeding in 2011/12, this was when I spent quite a bit of time watching them.

Being that it is now a very secure site, and in particular an impregnable nest site, I thought I would bring them to light having checked firstly with Thames Water.
Being involved with London’s Peregrines, advertising them is not something I would do lightly unless totally secure and on a private site.

As you can imagine they are very hard to see and totally nocturnal, I know they range along the A406 verges as I have seen them, they also cross the A13 as again, I and other Birders have seen them. These are total Urban Owls, they are extremely site faithful and even with a massive construction program they are still present, albeit nocturnally.

Having said all that, of late I have put in a bit of time in the dark hours lately and have not seen them coming or going to their nest site, if indeed they are nesting.

Are they still present, hard to say, could the dramatic changes to their foraging areas, large scale construction on site finally pushed them onto pastures new? A new landscape for wildlife is being put in situ along with a pond so given time wildlife will return, Boxes are also being put in place for them.

I intend to try and find out this weekend. Below are a few photos from the past few years, I hope I am wrong on this and am just missing them.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Wood Sandpiper at Hoo

Monday was to be a really good visit, they all are but this was too be made even better with the finding of a Wood Sandpiper and really good views of a hunting Hobby.

In truth the Wood Sandpiper was hard to miss, it was initially feeding with 2 Redshank, I was checking a Flood which the Shanks are showing a good interest in hopefully to breed. The bird was watched off and on for about 15 minutes before relocating briefly to another Flood and then heading off in a westerly direction. At the time I thought Cliffe RSPB would be a good candidate for another stop over but Paul picked up a Wood Sandpiper early evening at Rainham RSPB.
Given there’s not that many about at the moment it could possibly be the same bird.

Feeding with Redshank

Monday was also a good day for another wader, Whimbrel all 21 of them including a flock of 15, good to see, 6 Curlew were also present along with a single Ringed Plover.

2 late Wigeon were also picked up and at least 12 Gadwall have moved onto the Dykes/Fleets, some paired no doubt with the intention to breed in the area.
I also had stunning views of a low level Hobby, I was never going to nail it with the camera, just too close and too fast to get a lock on against the Fragmites. I watched it through Bins as it went away and it did actually take a Dragon, most likely a Hairy.

Wednesday was also a good wader morning with my usual check of Egypt Bay producing 19 Avocet, 14 Curlew, 12 Whimbrel and 3 Bar Tailed Godwits. With Oystercatcher and Common Sandpiper inland it made for a good selection.

Other inland highlights were 2 Wheatear, 2 Corn Buntings, Hobby, 4 Yellow Wagtails, Common Buzzard, 19 Swift moving through and at least double that amount of Swallows.

Corn Bunting brushing up

Interesting sight of the morning goes to a Marsh Harrier flying across a field and then suddenly plunging into the dense grass. Just before it entered the grass and only inches from the Harrier out came a Red Legged Partridge, a very lucky bird.
For myself I have never thought of Marsh Harriers regularly taking largish prey, usual prey at this time of year seems to be ducklings and land based adults/chicks of other smaller species. They are a large raptor and well equipped with those long legs in dropping onto larger prey so probably happens occasionally. I have heard about them dropping onto adult Coots at water fringes and drowning them but I suspect this is in hard winters and desperate for food?

To round off the morning a female Peregrine came in from the west, after monitoring them in London for the last 15 years, I still get the same old buzz whenever I see one; they to me are the perfect raptor.
I am biased but we all have our favourites don’t we?
Mind you I still have not seen a white phase Gyrfalcon……

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Catching up

Most of the week has been tied up with London’s Peregrines, in particular one event and making sure all went along smoothly for the birds, this story will shortly be related on my Parliament Peregrine Blog. It is a good news story and testament to the Company concerned. In this day and age with the pressures on Urban Wildlife, it shows how Nature and Construction can co exist with enough planning.

Hoo Peninsula

Of course I still had to do my surveys at Hoo on Monday and Wednesday and as usual the land always delivers good birds, I will start with Monday, a rather gloomy morning unfortunately.

A very good start to the survey as I arrived at dawn, heading along the lane towards Cooling Towers I had a Nightingale singing in a Woodland Copse, first one of the year for me.
As I headed out on the entrance track, a Cuckoo was heard and 2 Corn Buntings on territory were seen, the one I was looking for was Hobby.

A distant silhouette on a gate post turned into a Common Buzzard but alas no Hobbies.

The survey was undertaken, good numbers of Lapwing and Redshank were seen, all territorial with eggs or young, it makes you realise how important this land is to them, the flooded areas provide nest site opportunities and a food source. If it or land like it was to go because some Twat so far removed from reality wants to build an Airport on it, it would be a national tragedy if allowed to happen. How could you even contemplate building it with 300,000 birds wintering in the Thames?

Sentinel of the Marshes

My usual check of Egypt Bay produced no less than 24 Avocets, 2 Whimbrel and 3 Curlew, also good numbers of Swallows moving west.

Wednesday was far better weather and a Greenshank was seen feeding on one of the floods on arrival, prior to this though the entrance track gave up a Hobby at last, initially on a post and then got some reasonable views as it flew off.
The now complimentary Wheatears numbered 6 birds out on site and good to see that a male Swallow has already claimed the Barn for himself, likely the same male as last year.

Mediterranean Gulls have really thinned out now and only 2 were seen during the morning and these were not stopping and carried on west.
A quick check of Egypt Bay produced 178 Black Tailed Godwits feeding up and many squabbling as usual, I expect these are on the move already or will be heading to their breeding grounds very shortly. A single Whimbrel, 2 Oystercatchers and 4 Avocets were the only other waders present.

A good visit finished off with a stunning male Marsh Harrier crossing the track as I left.

Seen recently in my garden, becoming a regular