Monthly Archives: June 2014

Gull chicks

After transects early in June suggested we had about 3,000 gull nest with eggs hatching or newly hatched, it was very disappointing to return to ring the chicks last weekend only to find that, for the 6th year in a row, the chicks were almost all gone or dead.

But why? Previous years have assumed starvation, as adults have been seen eating dead chicks. However, adult gulls will eat a dead chick regardless of what it died of; might there be a disease in the colony? Poison? A predator we’ve not spotted?

So I took a couple of gulls to the government vet lab, where they were a lot more interested than I was expecting, as a mass wild bird mortality is important enough to be investigated by the lab free of charge.

The scientist carried out an autopsy, and asked me to bring a lot more dead birds for analysis. This morning, he called and reported that the two birds I’d brought had died from predation; one had been bitten and the other badly pecked. But not eaten or damaged further which is strange. And neither chick was starved, they’d both been well fed in the preceding day.

It is really odd. The government scientist wants to come out with me as soon as possible and see the site for himself. I am very keen to find out what is going on!

Ringing Sand Martins

We went out last night to ring sand martins, using a mist net, a fine net strung across the sand martin sandbanks. They fly into it, we carefully remove them and ring them.

It was a bit nerve-racking trying to remove the first ones without hurting them, but soon got the hang of it with expert guidance from Mike, and it was a real delight and privilege to see these lovely little birds up close.

Elsewhere, today in the hot sunshine I found a few tern nests, including this one with chicks! Tern nests are hard to find, and in recent years we only have a few pairs (compared to a peak of 240 pairs in the mid-70s), so its wonderful to see these. However, even when numbers were higher, earlier reports estimate very low numbers of chicks fledging.

Oh and have a moth, a Beautiful Golden Y and a White Ermine:

Gelt Quarry

It was a pleasant sunny evening last week, so I went for a little walk in Gelt Woods, where there was a Roman Quarry for stone to repair nearby Hadrian’s Wall in about 200ad.

The woods themselves were very peaceful, a nice dene with the River Gelt running through it.

The quarry too was impressive, with pick marks clearly visible

and the sandstone glowing a lovely colour in the evening sun:

As for the alleged Roman Inscription.. I climbed some slimey old steps up the river bank and scrambled along a partially collapsed path. There was a rock face that must contain the inscription, as it had a fair bit of Victorian Grafitti too, but I couldn’t make anything out. Reading online, I think I was looking too low – it’s apparently “7 or 8 feet above the path”, but this article from the Cumberland News ends suggesting they weren’t visible in 1962 which is a shame. I’ve had a look online and can’t find a single photograph of the inscriptions, although plenty of pictures of the quarry itself; if they were visible I’d have thought there’d be a picture of them online somewhere.

In moth news – I put the trap out back home in Fife on Thursday night and got my first Hawkmoth! A poplar hawkmoth, lovely.


I had the moth trap out last night on the edge of the salt marsh – well in the back garden, which is right next to the marsh – and got a lot of lovely moths.

We have a simple heath trap, which is a UV lamp over a box, with a funnel entrance (to trap any moths that fall in) and lots of bits of egg box so the moths have somewhere to snuggle in safely overnight.

So here are some of the moths I found in the trap this morning. First up, a lovely brimstone:

Two White ermine (the fluffy dotty ones), a Silver ground carpet (the striped one) and an older, worn moth I couldn’t quite identify:

A Buff ermine:

To contrast – a very handsome White ermine:

A Heart And Dart, the dart being the two black, pointed shapes on the wing:

And this, with the stripe, is a lovely July belle:

Mothing is brilliant! Tomorrow hopefully I can put the trap out 2 miles from here, right on the edge of the saltmarsh, and see if we get anything very different.

I’m just getting into it, but I really recommend it as a hobby! Find out more at the Butterfly Conservation’s Moth Count.

The Tower

This year on the reserve we want to observe how well the gulls are feeding their young. They’ve started hatching, as you can see:

Aww. A bit soggy there, as the parent birds will take flight and attack you if you go too near. To watch them closely without disturbing them we need a hide, but as this is a large, flat, open marsh, we wouldn’t see much from just a hide. We need a tower!

I didn’t include “having planks of wood hoyed at me” in the risk assessment

Luckily one of our volunteers is a scaffolder

I might name it “Castle Black” because I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones

Or “The Deathtrap”