Thursday, 14 November 2013

A quick meze or two

The occasional trip abroad is a perk for the over-worked, under-paid ecologist.  Cyprus was the venue for the latest jaunt, with the only hardship being the preparation and delivery of a presentation on the management of coastal lagoons.  On the up-side - hearing about projects across Europe, in Spain, France, Slovenia, Greece and of course Cyprus, the ouzo, meze, and a quick tour of some of the key birding sites on the island.

Akrotiri Lake was much as I remembered it from 30 years previously - a shrunken, distant, heat-hazed wetland with thousands of pinky-flamingo-shaped-shapes.  The scruffy pools behind Lady's Mile Beach at Zakaki were still good despite some on-going works around them and offered up Citrine Wagtails, Bluethroats, White Pelican, Penduline Tits, Red-footed Falcon and a selection of waders.

The muddy margins of Akhna Reservoir looked good, but heavy disturbance by fishermen and shooters left it virtually bird-less and disappointing. 50+ Spur-winged Plovers was the highlight.  By contrast, the undisturbed airport treatment lagoons held many birds; lots of Shoveler with some Teal and Garganey, a good variety of waders including Marsh Sandpiper and a couple of Whiskered Terns. Loafing large gulls allowed a leisurely ID comparison of mixed flocks of Yellow-legged, Armenian, Caspian and Baltic Gulls. At least 40 Red-throated Pipits grovelled and pssseeii-ed around the margins, along with a couple of Black Francolins.

John was desperate to re-live his clubbing days at Aya Napa but luckily we overshot to Cape Greco. Some continuing migration was evident by the regular flocks of bugling Common Cranes passing overhead.  BOPs were also on the move, with Short-toed Eagles, Sparrowhawks and some distant ring-tail harriers. Cyprus, Sardinian and Spectacled Warblers scuttled around the sparse bushes and we finally managed to dig out a couple of the wintering Finsch's Wheatears.

Pics - Spectacled, Finsch's, Baltic, Armenian, Caspian, Cranes and Short-toed Eagle.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013


A new wetland makes its debut this week. Back in July, work started on a new coastal lagoon in Suffolk, in the style of a newly created site we had seen in The Netherlands.   Utopia on the island of Texel came to Hollesley in Suffolk and we now have Holl-utopia.  After the moving around of 16,000 m3 of soils and the installation of two sluices on the 18 ha site, water was allowed onto the site last weekend.  A day later, the first good bird, a Glossy Ibis, turned up.

Holl-utopia is a shallow lagoon with a high percentage of islands; some grassy, some bare, some covered in sand or gravel.  The objective is to attract breeding waders, such as Avocet, Ringed Plover and Redshank, hopefully breeding terns, and certainly passage and roosting waders.  Water levels will drop during the spring and summer to expose extensive muddy areas.  An electric anti-predator fence around the margin will keep the local foxes as mere spectators. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Tern around

Previous blogs have discussed the remarkable increase of breeding Black-headed Gulls on rafts in the Lee Valley and their interactions with the Common Terns the rafts were intended for.  There is a widespread feeling that the terns are being squeezed out by the Black-heads.  Last years total of 56 pairs of Common Terns was the lowest in the valley for some 30 years and productivity was poor.  However, this summer has seen a more encouraging picture with an increase to 72 pairs spread across four sites and with a minimum of 77 young birds fledged.   The Black-heads continued their rapid increase; from 107 to 180 pairs. The graph below shows Lee Valley nesting Common Terns in blue, Black-heads in red.


This year, a few new c-rafty ideas were tried out.  One theory has it that the gulls prefer nesting against an edge, whereas terns prefer the open spaces in the middle of the raft.   At Rye Meads, 4 normal sized 3 x 3m rafts with wire-framed side panels were locked together and put out with a new giant 6 x 6m raft with open edges sloping into the water (see pics above).  We sat back and waited.  The gulls arrived and occupied all the corners and edges of the smaller rafts, with only the last few birds settling on the large raft, and most of these nesting against the chick shelters provided for the terns. Somewhat surprisingly, the first terns settled in the middle of the gulls on the smaller rafts, with a few on the new raft.  On a group of rafts on another site, a similar pattern was noted, with the terns settling amongst gulls despite considerable space being available.  Are the terns nesting amongst gulls for protection? And balancing this against any hassle they may get from the gulls?

So the jury is still out on whether Black-heads are squeezing out terns, as long as there is enough space for both.   Try larger rafts, with Black-heads around the edges and terns in the central space.  Put at least one raft out later, just as the terns are arriving, so at least some space is available for them. Then sit back and enjoy both gulls and terns.