Monthly Archives: May 2014

Gull eggs

I checked over the main gullery the other day, as most of our smaller gullery has mysteriously lost their eggs. Plenty in the main gullery, thankfully, plus a few odd eggs.

Blue eggs

And a tiny third egg, that won’t be viable.

This egg has been damaged, possibly by one of a crowd of rooks that were foraging about in the gullery. The young inside is far too young and won’t survive, but it was still alive when I found it.

This egg has been predated – a bird has poked its bill straight through. Rooks, Heron and other gulls will predate gull eggs

Also, it was my day off today so I went to the Farne Islands in Northumberland to look at seabirds, because I clearly don’t do enough of that.

It was really wonderful, I miss cliff-nesting seabirds!

Sand martins

Closely related to the more familiar house martins and barn swallows, rather than building a hanging nest from spitballs of mud like they do, sand martins nest by digging burrows into sand banks along watercourses.

However, our colony of about 100 sand martins nest above a tidal river, which is cutting away at the bank so they’re unlikely to be successful, even though they seem to be digging new burrows as soon as the old ones collapse.

Annoyingly we’ve built a lovely sand martin nest site above an entirely stable pond not too far away, but they’re not showing any interest in it. Typical.

The Marsh

The marsh I’m working on is a large, flat, grassy salt marsh cut with creeks and ditches, which flood at high tide; on a very high spring tide, lower parts of the marsh flood, and during a storm in winter the entire marsh might be inundated.

(A spring tide isn’t seasonal, it’s “spring” as in rise up, like a spring is where water rises up from the ground).

Tides are complicated and despite having studied them at uni in my marine biology degree, I can’t remember much about them. Here, as we’re in an estuary, high tide occurs half an hour after low tide, which is incredibly fast! This means its easy to get stranded as creeks that were dry 10 minutes ago become 6 foot deep. Or, worse still, on the wrong part of the marsh there’s a real danger of getting caught in the tide itself.

Hence my “ah shit” moment when, for some reason, I thought high tide was an hour later than it was, and saw water rushing up this creek

3 minutes later, it looked like this

I wasn’t swept away but did have to make a long detour.

Also – the odd egg in a clutch from the other day; my boss tells me:

What you have described I have seen before. Laying eggs is pretty demanding for a bird. It seems in some cases the female just “runs out of steam” in laying the last egg.

I’ve now seen it again twice, and find it interesting that on other reserves I’ve worked, where I’d counted several thousand nests, I’d never seen this yet here we have very few nests with eggs yet I’ve seen it three times. Are the gulls here having difficulties?

Ringing lapwings

I want to write about my work for the summer, which is warden of a coastal marsh in Cumbria. Internet’s not great here and I only have my tablet and a phone, so it’s been a bit of a faff getting started but here we go..

Yesterday I went out with two of the guys, Brian and Mike, to ring some lapwings. Despite nearly 12 years of working in mostly bird-related ecology, I’d never actually done any bird ringing until they took me cannon netting with the local bird ringing group a few weeks ago, which was the most fun, and I got to ring a Dunlin!

So we went out on the marsh to find some little lapwing chicks and ring them. This involves driving on the marsh – birds scare very easily when you’re on foot; the adults fly and alarm, while the chicks hide and are a nightmare to find. In a car, however, you have a mobile hide and can get much closer to the birds.

Once an adult with chicks is spotted, we drove as close as we dared, then leapt out to run after the chick, who is frantically waving his/her little stubby wings and chirping adorably, grab them, then carefully take them back to the car to fit a tiny ring to one end.

The ring has a unique number and the address of the BTO on it, and the details of the bird ringed are then recorded before letting the little thing go. Then, should it be captured again or found dead, the details of the ring can be submitted through EU RING allowing the age of the bird and any movement to be recorded. Through this, the lifespan and migration routes of many species have been identified; it’s an epic international study carried out by volunteers, co-ordinated by the BTO in the UK. It is also strictly regulated to avoid harm and inappropriate ringing, so might I study to get a ringing licence in the future?