House martins, like their close relative the swallow, return each spring to their familiar mud nests, typically built onto our own homes and offices. Like the swallow, their return each year cheers us up as it reminds us that summer is coming. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising then that, for a bird that is so familiar to us, we know virtually nothing about what happens to house martins after they leave Jersey.
Recoveries of ringed birds from across France and on into North Africa have revealed a migration route south but we have no idea what happens to these birds once they cross the Sahara. House martins are rarely seen in Africa during our winter. There has only been one record of a ringed house martin from south of the Sahara, despite the many thousands of individuals to be fitted with rings in Britain each year (see tracking house martins).
It has been suggested that they remain on the wing and feed above the canopy of the equatorial rainforest, out of sight of human eyes.
However, what we do know is that house martin population in the UK may have declined by 15% over the last decade and may have fallen by as much as two-thirds longer term. In Jersey the house martin was (in 2011) Amber listed as it has shown a moderate breeding population decline (see report here). Since 2011 numbers have continued to decline alarmingly suggesting that it might be Red listed (severe decline in the Jersey breeding population size, of more than 50% over 20 years) when the list is next revised.
It is not clear how many house martins there are in Jersey as it has been difficult to survey them. What we can do is watch closely their colonies and see how they are faring each year and from year to year. If you have a colony on your house or other buildings and would like to record the birds please get in touch with Birds On The Edge by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org The BTO will be carrying testing survey techniques this year before starting a wider survey of house martins in the British Isles in 2015. We will feed Jersey’s results from this year into the national survey.
House martins and their nests are fully protected in Jersey. Please download guidelines here.
In Jersey we are rightly excited by the colonisation and spread of marsh harriers. First breeding on the Island in 2002 they have become a well-loved and much photographed member of our bird fauna. Marsh harrier numbers have increased right across the UK while, sadly, and totally unrelated to their relative’s success, the smaller hen harrier has undergone alarming declines.
Hen harriers have never been very common in the Channel Islands but small numbers have been seen each year as birds pass through on migration or come to spend the winter here.
The cause of the declines may be obvious. Of all the UK’s birds of prey, the hen harrier is the most intensively persecuted. Once predating free-range fowl, earning its common name, its effect on the number of grouse available to shoot is the cause of modern conflict and threatens its survival in some parts of the UK, particularly on the driven grouse moors of England and Scotland.
The hen harrier lives in open areas with low vegetation. In the breeding season UK birds are to be found on the upland heather moorlands of Wales, Northern England, N Ireland and Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man). In winter they move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys. Those found in eastern and south-east England are probably mostly visitors from mainland Europe. Birds in the Channel Islands may be from the UK or from Europe.
Once present throughout the UK, hen harriers fell from grace with the rise of driven grouse shooting in the 19th century.
A ground-nesting bird, hen harriers mainly eat small birds and mammals like meadow pipits and field voles, though they will occasionally take red grouse chicks. This made them unpopular with Victorian gamekeepers and estate managers, who were keen to get rid of any predators that might reduce the number of grouse available for shooting.
The resulting persecution, coupled with lowland habitat loss, drove breeding hen harriers to extinction on mainland Britain by 1900.
Recolonisation and return to the brink
Land-use changes following World War II and new wildlife protection laws helped hen harriers to naturally re-colonise England by 1958, but they now face an uncertain future yet again. A 2011 UK Government-commissioned report, the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework (download here), shows that although there is enough suitable habitat for over 320 breeding pairs in England, ongoing illegal killing and disturbance continue to keep hen harrier numbers perilously low.
The situation is so critical that in 2011, there were only four successful breeding attempts in the whole of England, all on a single estate in the Forest of Bowland owned by the water company, United Utilities and co-managed by the RSPB.
It is time to redress the balance and save the hen harrier in the UK.
Hen harriers are graceful birds, best known for their aerobatic spring courtship displays, known as ‘skydancing’, and the spectacular passing of food from males to females while in flight.
Skydancer is a four-year RSPB project – running from October 2011 to October 2015 – with the aim of protecting and promoting the conservation of hen harriers across their remaining breeding stronghold in northern England. Visit the project’s website here and follow them on Twitter at @RSPB_Skydancer
Throughout this project the RSPB will be working hard to:
•safeguard hen harriers and their habitat with nest protection schemes
•continue to work closely with landowners, managers and game organisations to find solutions to conflict, so that hen harriers and grouse moors can thrive alongside one another
•Work with local communities to educate and enthuse them about hen harriers.
Hen Harrier Day
The concept of Hen Harrier Day was inspired last year by Alan Tilmouth basically for conservationists to take back the so-called ‘Glorious 12th’ (the opening of the grouse- shooting season) and celebrate this beautiful bird that has virtually been ‘cleansed’ from the grouse moors of northern England (and most grouse moors in Scotland, too).
Last year, Hen Harrier Day was celebrated by hundreds of people using the #HenHarrier hash tag on Twitter and other social media. This year, the campaign is going to be even more visible with a series of planned public protests in the northern uplands.
The newly-formed campaign group Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC – of whom Alan Tilmouth is a founding member) has joined forces with Mark Avery to organise four legal, peaceful and media-friendly public protests in four counties where grouse-shooting is a dominant force: Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland (see news here).
The date for the protests has been set as Sunday 10th August 2014. This date was chosen in preference to the inglorious 12th (which falls on a Tues this year) to enable more people to attend.
According to Mark Avery, so far over 200 people have emailed to say they’d like to be involved. This is a fantastic opportunity to make a lot of noise about a subject that has received relatively little media attention in relation to the severity of the situation.
Enough is enough – it’s time to fight back.
For further information, check out the Hen Harrier Day campaign on the BAWC website here
Many thanks to Blánaid Denman, Project Officer, Skydancer and Charlie Moores, Birders Against Wildlife Crime, for their kind help in compiling this entry.
It is timely that, as we in the Channel Islands, with our friends at Swift Conservation, become increasingly concerned about our breeding swifts (see post here); there is a UK-based survey to try to determine numbers of these birds in the British Isles.
Swifts are fantastic birds, just look at these details of their annual migrations from the BTO. They are amongst the last spring migrants to arrive, but the first to leave. You’ve probably seen them speeding through the air, screaming their heads off, or swooping into crevices in buildings.
But, as we have seen locally, they’re in trouble – they are birds of Conservation Concern. Their numbers have declined dramatically in the past 10 years; we’re not sure why, but one likely reason is that their nest sites are being destroyed.
The RSPB is working with swift groups around the UK and your information will help our knowledge of swifts so that more nest sites can be provided and protected. Tell us where you see swifts and help us to help them. The RSPB will make sure that Channel Islands records and provided for our use in future.
What to do
The RSPB would like to find out where swifts are seen and where they’re nesting. Look out for low-level screaming groups of swifts (that means they’re breeding nearby) or where you’ve seen swifts nesting – perhaps entering a roof or hole in a building (if you can see the nest, it’s not a swift). The best time to look is around dusk on a warm, still evening, or early morning.
You don’t need to report sightings of swifts that are either very high in the sky, feeding over water bodies or away from villages, towns and cities. These birds could have travelled some distance and may not be local breeding birds (our birds may commute to France daily).
You can enter as many records as you like at different times from anywhere across the UK. You can even record those sightings you remember from the past. The more records the better. If you already have an account for the RSPB’s online community you can sign in and enter your swift sightings using those details when the survey is open. If not, don’t worry, you can still submit your sightings.
I’ve done this before
The National Swift Inventory will only work if information is kept up to date. You may have submitted records in previous years, but it is important to know if birds are still returning to the same areas and using the nests you recorded them at before. Please submit the latest information relating to the site, giving either numbers of screaming birds and/or nests. This helps us know if the birds are returning, if the colony is stable and if the site still in use.
Swifts are often confused with similar hirundines (swallow, house and sand martin). This helpful identification video from the BTO show’s the differences:
This can be done by using a free mobile phone app to help determine the distribution of the invasive plant Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) or records can be sent directly to David Tipping email@example.com
PlantTracker, a free app developed by the UK Environment Agency and the University of Bristol, allows Islanders to record and submit geo-located photos of suspect plants directly to the Department of the Environment. These images would then be verified using the photo or a site visit, and subsequent positive records could be plotted on a map. PlantTracker app can be downloaded at no charge from the iTunes App Store or Google Play and you can begin using it as soon as possible. While PlantTracker features 14 invasive plant species, the Department is asking Jersey users to restrict their recordings to knotweed. Guidance on identifying knotweed and on how to submit pictures is included in the app.
If you are on site and come across Japanese knotweed record it using the Plant Tracker app… Here
The Department is also issuing a general reminder to the public that knotweed spreads via its roots and from fragments of the plant, so strimming or flailing only increases the problem. Cutting, hand-pulling and herbicides are the most effective methods of eradication. A leaflet Japanese knotweed: management advice can be downloaded here
In recent weeks we have asked people to look out for and report sightings of chough here in Jersey. Reports will help us understand better the activities of the released Sorel birds. It might also help us locate two birds that have wandered from the group. We lost signals for two birds four weeks ago. One was found at Noirmont Manor, but then disappeared again.
However, our desire to hear of sightings has now taken on a new impetus. On Wednesday (30th April) one of the breeding male choughs at the Wildlife Park (Arthur) got out of his aviary and disappeared.
On Saturday (3rd May) and Wednesday we received reports of Arthur. He was in Gorey Castle and then in the Les Platons area. The quicker people report sightings the sooner the team can catch up with the birds to check on their welfare (and exact identification). Please report any sightings of the choughs to firstname.lastname@example.org or through here.
Swifts are with us just three months each summer, bringing vital action, drama and excitement to our islands’ skies. These amazing birds have shared our buildings ever since the Romans came to Britain. They still breed in our eaves and gables, but not for much longer, as modern and renovated buildings exclude them. Unless we do something about it, swifts will vanish from the Channel Islands. But not if we can do things to help them and Swift Conservation are giving a hand.
Most buildings put up since 1945 are swift proof. Re-roofed or pointed older buildings are swift proof too. Nesting in buildings, swifts do no damage, even adding aesthetic value to the neighbourhood. Last year Vic Froome gave an impressive talk to Channel Islanders on work being done in Guernsey to ensure that new and renovated buildings here included provision for swifts. There are also devious ways to encourage swifts to entirely new sites with specialised tape-lures.
Swifts are easy and cheap to encourage and a variety of novel techniques and specialised nest-boxes can be used. Boxes can be added to the outside of a building or special hollowed bricks can be built into the wall (these, from Bird Brick Houses, can be used for bats and house sparrows too). Existing structures can also be modified easily to let these tiny birds fit snugly out of site behind facia-boarding or under tiles. In older buildings there are often lots of potential sites that can be made more swift-friendly by narrowing entrances to ventilation or post holes or even just behind bricks – this will encourage swifts whilst also keeping out less welcome nesters like feral pigeons.
In Guernsey, swifts nest in a variety of buildings as they do in most places, while in Jersey they have, unexpectedly, at least in recent years, been restricted to our castles (Elizabeth and Mont Orgueil), Fort Regent, the Old Harbour and, something of a rarity, a fully natural colony on the north coast cliffs near Plémont. However, even here swift numbers have declined alarmingly. While swifts undoubtedly face challenges through bad weather and changing food supplies, even in Jersey’s heritage buildings improvements and restoration to walls and towers have, over the years, made these traditional sites less swift-friendly.
Following Vic’s lead in Guernsey, Swift Conservation have been invited to advise Jersey on ways of increasing nesting opportunities for swifts at existing colonies. Edward and Mandy Mayer visited the Island on 30th April and, seeing first-hand why existing swift numbers might be low, looked around the castles finding numerous spots that could be used to encourage more nesting pairs at these sites. Our swifts arrive in early May so we hope to have some new opportunities ready for them in time for next year.
A healthy population of swifts can be recognised by their extraordinary screaming parties as many birds fly together at alarming speeds around their colony. Screaming! The screaming helps the birds bond and helps formation flying in restricted areas while creating a distraction for birds to slip un-noticed from predators to and from their nests. These parties are a much-loved feature of summer evenings and to many people they mean summer as much as cricket does! Let’s make sure that we don’t lose this wonder of nature from the Channel Islands.
Herring gull with Guernsey Gulls ring W7CT3. Photo by Paul Veron
Paul Veron with lesser black-backed gull. Photo by Paul Veron
While gulls, with their close association with we humans, tend to stir strong emotions (both positive and negative), few would argue that they are not iconic symbols of our Island lives. We are indeed most fortunate to host numbers of lesser black-backed gulls of international importance, and herring gulls and great black-backed gulls of regional significance. However…we now know that gulls across their European range are struggling to maintain their numbers, with herring gulls listed in the UK’s Red Data Book (Birds of Conservation Concern 3: download here) as “Red” (i.e. most conservation concern) (and in Jersey as “Amber”: download full list here). Lesser black-backed gulls and great black-backed gulls appear to be following close behind with Amber status (medium concern) in the UK. The herring gull population across the UK appears to have fallen by more than 50% in the last 30 years!
Canon netting at Chouet Landfill. Photo by Vic Froome
The exact reasons for such declines are now under study in several countries, but changes to solid waste disposal practice (with the closure of landfill sites) and reductions in fisheries discards at sea are believed to be major factors. With the knowledge that the Channel Islands’ only remaining landfill (Chouet Landfill on Guernsey) is due to be closed for organic refuse in the foreseeable future, we expect some further large-scale changes to the gull populations in the Channel Islands. This was the primary driver for establishing gull research using colour ringing of both adults and chicks. Although the projects were established in 2008, they received a major boost when the North Thames Gull Group effectively became our partner in 2009. Every year since, members of this UK specialist gull catching group have visited Guernsey for a week to cannon net and colour ring gulls at Chouet Landfill.
Great black-backed gull chick gets its ring. Photo by Paul Veron
As a result of this collaboration, and also the ringing of gull chicks in the islands, we are now building a very valuable database of sightings records, which will help reveal the complex lifestyles of our gulls, including their migration strategies and survival rates. Not only will this ultimately help in the conservation and understanding of gulls here in the Channel Islands, but as our projects are now amongst the largest such studies in Europe (9,507 gulls have been ringed since 2008) they will be of value elsewhere too.
With a reasonable sample of gulls now being colour ringed, they are easy to spot around the islands. It is evident that many of Jersey’s breeding herring gulls visit Chouet
Lesser black-backed gull B0AJ2. Photo by Paul Veron
Landfill at some point during the breeding season, although they are less frequent there at other times of year. Every colour ring observation is of value, and they are very easy to report direct via a specially designed web site. Reporters get the benefit of being able to instantly see the full life history of the gull they are reporting.
It will be very much appreciated if any colour ringed gulls seen could be reported through Guernsey Gulls here (register for convenience and follow easy instructions).