Friday, 18 February 2011

How big are your tussocks?

Brents at Old Hall - keep eating chaps.  Spot the Brant.

The ‘improved’ grass fields at Old Hall Marshes are managed to provide winter grazing for the internationally important numbers of Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the Blackwater Estuary. The fields are prepared to provide the lush sward of fine grasses the birds prefer to eat, with a target grass height of 50-100mm in October. The ‘by-product’ of a winter's grazing by geese and Wigeon is a tight, occasionally tussocky, short spring grassland that attracts nesting Lapwings. However, in recent years, Brent numbers locally have followed the national trend of decline. There has been less grazing in the fields, resulting in a spring grass height somewhat longer and poorer for Lapwings.

Today the sward measuring boots had an outing to the various fields at Old Hall. With reduced grazing and warmer winters, additional grazing may now be required to bring the spring sward into an ideal condition. Formerly fertilised, farm-yard manure is now added to the fields; the Dutch traditionally do this in late winter to bring earthworms towards the surface for the benefit of breeding waders such as Black-tailed Godwits.

Around 3,500 Brents have been using Old Hall of late, with around 18% of young birds suggesting a good breeding season in 2010. The flocks of Dark-bellied Brent today also harboured a Black Brant and a Pale-bellied Brent. Six white-fronted Geese were nearby. Displaying Marsh Harriers were continually in the air (up to 10 birds together), and Merlin, Peregrine, a couple of Ruff, Pintail, Scaup, Bearded Tit and a few of the recently recorded 1,800 Grey Plovers were amongst the mass of birds on offer today.

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