Sunday, 10 October 2010

A push and some Shovs

At last, a reasonable day in the valley. With low cloud over Holyfield hill from first light, birds were passing close overhead and heading mainly west or south-west. The highlight was a single Lapland Bunting, flying low and fast from the east at 8.45, calling overhead, and again as it sped west across the valley. Small flocks of Redwings appeared every few minutes, with 342 counted in total.  A hedgerow to the rear of the hill was alive with thrushes, a Ring Ouzel lurked with Redwings, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, and a further two Ouzels dropped out of the gloom into a scrubby area further back. A Marsh Harrier, picked up over Nazeing, headed south down the valley over Waltham Cross. Other totals included 271 Starlings, 32 Skylark, 43 Mipits, 23 Song Thrush, 22 Blackbirds, 57 Chaffinch, 3 Brambling, 3 Reed Buntings, 17 Goldfinch, 1 Yellow Wagtail and 4 Swallows. The clouds rose and the sun appeared around 10.30.

With most of the vis-mig action over, I looked around a few sites in the northern section of the valley specifically for Shoveler and amassed a reasonable total of 172. Most of these were at Rye Meads: a total of 105, with a single Garganey still present.  The Lee Valley supports internationally important numbers of Shoveler. However, although one of a number of winter visiting wildfowl that seem to be declining in the valley, the Shoveler is the exception in that ‘short-stopping’ is not a likely reason. In fact, UK wintering numbers appear to be increasing as fewer UK birds move south for the winter.

Shoveler numbers in the Lee Valley have dropped by around 10% over the last 10 years. There has been concern over sharply declining numbers on the King George and Girling reservoirs. However a closer look at the data shows peak numbers on these sites were mostly in years when water levels were low for some reason, and this is the crux of the issue. Shoveler tend to prefer shallow, productive wetlands and much of the valley is heading in the opposite direction. Only a very few sites in the valley can manage water levels for the benefit of nature conservation. Perhaps more should be done for the Shoveler – we might even get a few waders as well!

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