Alderney becomes Britain’s 20th Bird Observatory

The Alderney Bird Observatory. Alderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (46)From Rare Bird Alert and Alderney Bird Observatory

Britain’s birds are amongst the best monitored animals in the world, and it’s just about to get even better as a brand new bird observatory joins the nineteen others that are scattered around our coast.

Alderney Bird Observatory (ABO) received official accreditation at a recent meeting of the Bird Observatories Council (BOC), a gathering of all of the bird observatories, making it the twentieth in the country. Ranging from Fair Isle, Shetland, in the north to Alderney, Channel Islands, in the south, Britain’s bird observatories have kept an eye on the comings and goings of our birds since the first observatory Skokholm, Wales, opened in 1933 – these unbroken observations make them amongst the largest bird datasets in the world.

Alderney Bird Observatory

CI bird ringers in action. Alderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (23)

Many firsts for Britain have been found and documented at Bird Observatories but it is the day-to day observations of birds on the move that are the most important, birds making their way in and out of Britain on their migrations from far-flung destinations. Since the 1960s several of these have changed the timing of their migration as a response to a changing climate. The swallow now arrives back in the UK on average fifteen days earlier than it did in the 60s, and the sand martin over twenty days earlier, whilst for the cuckoo the timing hasn’t really changed. It is vital that we keep an eye out for changing patterns in the future if we are to fully understand the pressures that many of our birds might face and how we might help those that are showing declines.

Royal tern. Photo by Mick Dryden

John Horton, Warden at Alderney Bird Observatory, said, “It is such a privilege to be the first Warden of Alderney Bird Observatory and to know that the work we carry out here will make a real difference to our understanding of the birds that both live here, or pass through on migration. I look forward to ABO adding to the long-term observations gathered by my colleagues around Britain and Ireland. It is testament to the hard work of lots of volunteers that we have got this far and to them a huge thank you.”

John continues the story on the ABO Blog

Firecrest (2). Photo by Mick DrydenHaving got to where we are, many have asked; How has this all come about ? Well, in the autumn of 2015 The Alderney Wildlife Trust advertised a job vacancy for a Bird Recorder. The job description and requirements, however, went some way towards those required for a Bird Observatory warden. After doing a little homework and with particular consideration to Alderney’s geographical location that appeared ideally situated for attracting migrating birds, during an initial enquiry phone call with the Trust manager I suggested Alderney might consider setting up a bird observatory.  The immediate response was that an island resident and native Channel Islander Paul Veron was very much in tune with this idea and would be delighted to hear this.  I was asked to come back to the Trust with a proposal of how this might progress. It transpired that Paul (our observatory chairman) and I had a lot in common, both mad keen birders from our formative years, we both grew up visiting and staying at established British Bird Observatories and we are both experienced bird ringers.

Meeting Paul and his partner Catherine who accommodated Cathy and I for a longAlderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (41) weekend first island visit in November 2015, was a major factor in Cathy and I deciding to move to Alderney from Kent in March 2016. These early discussions brought about a 2-year observatory establishing pilot project supported by the Wildlife Trust, its primary remit to try and achieve bird observatory accreditation status from the Bird Observatories Council. Local interest and support for this project from the outset was exceptional and largely through Paul’s contacts we soon had a very experienced and capable bird observatory committee driving things forward.

We won’t pretend it has been plain sailing over the last two years, but thanks to the States of Alderney and to too many people to mention here (and of course to the phenomenal numbers of birds we have recorded) Alderney is now officially positioned amongst the ornithological elite. Such is international interest in birds and in this project that the ABO blog is now read by people in over 100 countries worldwide. We are delighted that the opportunity is now open to you all to visit us and stay at our bird observatory, itself situated in a cracking spot for observing visual migration, all within the unique location of the walls of a 1,900 year old roman fort. Alderney Bird Observatory opens on 1st April 2018, bookings to stay with us can be made on this site. Thank you to all those involved in getting us so far so quickly, and in particular to all those who believed in this project taking up Alderney Bird Observatory membership, your continued support has made the difference and remains invaluable.  We hope to see you all soon.

Alderney ABO conference 8-9 October 2016. Photo by HGYoung (31)

Once again it’s time to count the birds in the garden

Blue tit (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

Jersey’s Great Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 3rd and 4th February 2018

Nothing predicts the coming spring like the announcement of the annual Action for Wildlife, Birds On The Edge and Jersey Evening Post Great Garden Birdwatch. Of course, nothing prepares us for a weekend of atrocious weather more than the announcement of the Great Garden Birdwatch! Mind you, the weather throughout January was so awful that things couldn’t be any worse. Surely? This year we’re asking everyone to count the birds in their garden on either Saturday 3rd of February or the following day, Sunday 4th of February.

Action for Wildlife

JEP logo

Whatever the weather the birds will be there in the garden and they’ll need us. We’ve seen some of our favourites declining over recent years. Blue tits, greenfinches and starlings are now very rare visitors. Even house sparrows aren’t the familiar sight in every garden that they once were. Notes on previous years surveys have detailed the fate of different bird populations in Jersey gardens so please have a look at 2016 and 2017.

Of course, as we’ve shown in the past, some birds do buck the trend and are doing ok. Our winter blackcap population, different from the birds here in summer and pretty well absent from the countryside over winter, seem to love it here. And wood pigeons aren’t showing signs of deserting us any day soon.

Please, this year as before, take a few minutes to watch the birds in your garden on the Saturday or the Sunday and fill out the simple form here and email it in to us at Birds On The Edge. The more completed surveys the better and the stronger the data becomes in showing us all the state of our favourite birds and the importance of our gardens in safeguarding them.

Robin (5). Photo by Mick Dryden

How to enter the survey

Counters should note the highest number of each species of bird that are seen together at one time during that period – not the total number which enter your garden over the period of the watch.

Survey forms and a handy identification guide will be published in the JEP on Tuesday January 30th and all data received will be passed on to La Société Jersiaise to add to their records and included in Birds On The Edge bird monitoring analyses.

Completed forms can be posted in or delivered to the JEP. You can also send in your records online through this website here from the weekend.

And remember, for one weekend a year red squirrels can consider themselves birds!

Download the record form here

Blinded by the light: how light pollution lures birds into urban areas during autumn migration

Toronto skyline at night

From Rare Bird Alert

On their autumn migration south in the Northern Hemisphere, many birds are being lured by artificial light pollution into urban areas that may be an ecological trap, according to new research using weather surveillance radars from the northeastern United States over a seven-year period to map the distributions of migratory birds during their autumn stopovers.

Since most of the birds that migrate in the US are nocturnal and leave their stopover sites at night, the research group took snapshots of the birds as they departed.

Red-winged blackbird. Photo by Mick Dryden

“Shortly after sunset, at around civil twilight, they all take off in these well-synchronized flights that show up as a sudden bloom of reflectivity on the radar,” University of Delaware’s Jeff Buler said. “We take a snapshot of that, which allows us to map out where they were on the ground and at what densities. It basically gives us a picture of their distributions on the ground.”

The researchers were interested in seeing what factors shape the birds’ distributions and why they occur in certain areas.

“We think artificial light might be a mechanism of attraction because we know at a very small scale, birds are attracted to light,” Buler said. “Much like insects are drawn to a streetlight at night, birds are also drawn to places like lighthouses. Especially when visibility is poor, you can get these big fall-outs at lighthouses and sports complexes. Stadiums will have birds land in the stadium if it’s foggy at night and the lights are on.”

One hazard for birds attracted to city lights is death from flying into high buildings. Buler said that some cities such as Toronto have even gone so far as to institute ‘Lights Out’ programmes, turning off the lights in tall buildings to deter birds from colliding with them.

Earth's_City_Lights_by_DMSP,_1994-1995_(large)

Sky Glow

The research team analysed the distributions of the birds in proximity to the brightest areas in the northeast such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“These are super-bright, large metropolitan areas,” Buler said. “We found an increasing density of birds the closer you get to these cities. The effect goes out about 200 kilometres [about 125 miles]. We estimate that these flying birds can see a city on the horizon up to several hundred kilometres away. Essentially, there is no place in the northeastern United States where they can’t see the sky glow of a city.”

Parks and yards

The researchers also found that suburban areas, such as people’s backyards and city parks, such as Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, harbour some of the highest densities of birds in the northeast.

“Fairmount Park has higher densities of birds than at Cape May, New Jersey, which is where birders typically go to see birds concentrating during migration,” Buler said.

When they do get lured into cities, the birds seek out suitable habitat, which can cause concerns from a conservation standpoint as lots of birds pack into a small area with limited resources and higher mortality risks.

“One of the things we point out in this research is that there might be negative consequences for birds being drawn to urban cities. We know there’s risk of collision with buildings, collision with vehicles, and getting eaten by cats, which are a major predator,” Buler said.

“Domestic cats could be the largest anthropogenic source of mortality for birds. If birds are being drawn into these heavily developed areas, it may be increasing their risk of mortality from anthropogenic sources and it may also be that the resources in those habitats are going to be depleted much faster because of competition with other birds.”

Another concern: light pollution created in these cities has been increasing in recent years with the advent of LED lights, which are much brighter than the incandescent lights they replaced.

“The transition of street lighting from incandescent to LED continues to increase the amount of light pollution,” Buler said. “If you think about it from an evolutionary sense, for all wildlife really, mammals and insects and birds, they’ve only been exposed to this light pollution for less than 200 years. They’re still adapting to the light.”

Access the paper Artificial light at night confounds broad-scale habitat use by migrating birds here

Study pinpoints Arctic shorebird decline and it could be our fault!

Dunlin (2). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

A new study addresses concerns over the many Arctic shorebird populations in precipitous decline. Evident from the study is that monitoring and protection of habitat where the birds breed, winter, and stopover is critical to their survival and to that of a global migration spectacle.

To understand why arctic shorebirds are declining and the role humans may be playing, Dr. Rebecca Bentzen of the WCS Arctic Beringia Program and her colleagues set out to quantify adult bird survival. The scientists collected and combined data across nine breeding sites in the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic in 2010–2014, engaging in unprecedented levels of collaboration as part of the Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network.

Sites included the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Six species of shorebirds were represented in the study – American golden plover, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, and grey phalarope.

Red-necked phalarope. Photo by Mick Dryden

Testing how ecological and human-related variables affected the adult annual survival of the birds, the scientists observed few breeding ground impacts, suggesting that shorebird declines are not currently driven by conditions experienced on the Arctic breeding grounds.

“In a positive sense, our estimates for adult survival were substantially higher than previously published across five of the six species,” said Bentzen. “This is good news; we seem to be doing the right thing in the Arctic as far as conserving these birds.”

This could change, however, with a warming and more variable climate, and oil extraction in environmentally sensitive areas such as ANWR’s coastal plain or around Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve.

In addition, the study found that the survival of five species of shorebirds that migrate from breeding sites in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic to wintering areas farther south in the Americas is robust, presumably due to favourable conditions in the nesting areas along that flyway. Meanwhile, dunlin — a shorebird species that migrates to wintering areas in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway on the west side of the Pacific have poorer adult survival.

Jersey January shorebird counts 1987-2017

Are declines in Arctic shorebird counts happening in places like Jersey?

The authors surmise that loss of habitat at migratory stopovers or overwintering sites on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway are responsible for driving poorer adult survival rates and should be a focus of future conservation efforts.

Bentzen notes that the results should focus attention on habitat needs in the East Asian region. In addition, breeding grounds should be carefully monitored and protected as climate impacts and potentially development encroachment increases in and around these critical Arctic breeding habitats.

Download the paper Environmental and ecological conditions at Arctic breeding sites have limited effects on true survival rates of adult shorebirds here

State of the UK’s Birds 2017

State of the UK's Birds 2017Just published, the latest State of the UK’s Birds Report highlights how our birds are doing. Some of our summer migrants are arriving earlier, the distributions of others are moving north and some are just beginning to colonise. The report is only possible due to the efforts of volunteers who take part in BTO surveys including those throughout the Channel Islands.

Headlines

  • Climate change will provide opportunities for some species, while others will be more vulnerable
  • Birds in the UK are showing changes in abundance and distribution, predominantly moving northwards, in a way that is consistent with a changing climate
  • Migratory birds are arriving earlier and egg-laying dates have advanced such that swallows, for example, are arriving in the UK 15 days earlier, and breeding 11 days earlier, than they did in the 1960s
  • A large number of bird species are likely to have opportunities for colonisation and range expansion in the UK under projected climate change. Potential colonists include a number of wetland species such as little bittern and night heron. A considerable list of southerly-distributed species have already shown substantial increases in recent years, including garganey, quail and little egret

Garganey pair. Photo by Mick Dryden

  • Climate change will increase the pressures on species already in decline. A number of our declining rare breeding birds, including dotterel, whimbrel, common scoter and Slavonian grebe, are likely to be at a higher risk of extinction in the UK, based on projections of how climate will become less suitable for them

Slavonian (horned) grebe. Photo by Mick Dryden

  • The UK’s kittiwake population has declined by 70% since 1986 because of falling breeding success and adult survival. Climate change has reduced the availability of the sandeels they rely upon in the breeding season. Other species that feed largely on sandeels, such as Arctic skua, Arctic tern and puffin, are at high risk of climate-related decline
  • National surveys provided updated population estimates for capercaillie and hen harrier and revealed declines for both species
  • In the UK Overseas Territories, there are positive signs of recovery for four endemic land birds on Henderson Island and updates on a successful translocation project for the cahow.

Download the full report State of the UK’s Birds 2017 here

Kittiwake. Photo by Mick Dryden (3)

Citizen scientists helping tackle puffin decline

Puffin by Romano da CostaFrom Rare Bird Alert

The RSPB’s Project Puffin has taken the first steps in solving the mystery of why some puffin colonies in the UK are in dramatic decline after scientists analysed more than 1400 photos sent in by the public, helping them to build a better picture of what these seabirds are feeding their chicks.

UK coastlines have come alive each spring with the sight, sound and smell of puffins nesting and raising their young, known as pufflings. With their bright orange bills and distinctive eye markings people from around the world visit puffin hotspots in the UK and Ireland to photograph the bustling colonies. However, in recent years puffin numbers have plummeted at some colonies, and experts estimate that without help more than half the global puffin population will disappear within the next forty years.

In the summer RSPB scientists set out to understand more about the differing fortunes of puffins around our coasts. The project aimed to capture a snapshot of what puffins are feeding their young at as many colonies as possible, as it is thought their food supply has been negatively impacted by warming seas and shifting ocean currents. By enlisting the help of the public, also known as the ‘Puffarazzi’, 1,402 photos of puffins bringing food to their chicks were sent to the team.

Atlantic puffin. Photo by Mick Dryden

The photos have helped scientists identify areas where puffins are struggling to find the large, nutritious fish needed to support their chicks. Early results suggest that the diet of puffins vary significantly around the UK – in the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, where serious puffin declines have been seen, puffins appear to be consistently finding smaller prey compared to most other colonies.

Traditionally puffins feed on a mixture of fish, but with nutritious sandeels making up a high proportion of their diet. The photos from puffin colonies in northwest Scotland show that sandeels are making up about half of their diet compared to the two-thirds at colonies in southern Scotland, northern England and Wales.

Ellie Owen, RSPB Conservation Scientist leading the Project Puffin team, said: “puffins colourful bills and unique eye markings make them a favourite bird to photograph. The huge response to our appeal for photos has been incredible, with more than a thousand submitted. It’s taken the team of staff and volunteers more than three months to go through them all.

“For a young puffin waiting in its burrow, its life hangs on whether its parents return with enough food. An abundant supply of large, nutritious fish such as sandeels, sprats and herrings is key to healthy colonies. The public response means we’re getting data on a scale that we’ve never been able to collect before; showing what puffins are managing to find to feed their chicks around our coastline. The next stage of the project is to look more closely at the diet of puffins compared to their breeding success to pin down what part diet plays in the decline of some puffins.”

From May to August, 602 people joined the Puffarazzi, gathering 1402 photos of Puffins taking food to their chicks. Pictures came from almost 40 colonies around the UK, including those on the Farne Islands, Skomer and the Isle of May. The project is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. To see more of the pictures and to learn about the RSPB’s Project Puffin, visit their website here

A brambling winter at the bird crops

Romano2By Cris Sellarés

To some of us, nothing signals the arrival of the colder months as much as the bloom of the sunflowers from the BOTE winter bird crops across the Island. Their bold colours are the sign that the fields will again produce a good amount of seeds right at the time of the year when our farmland birds need them the most.

Just as the blooming of the crops signals the goodness to come, other signs go up, the ones that we put at the edges of the fields to inform neighbours and visitors about the  role of the fields and their importance to the birds.

Romano1

Away from their breeding grounds, be they here in Jersey or in far corners of Europe, once the birds arrive at the crops that we’ve prepared for them, all they have to do is survive. This translates in wildlife terms to “eat and do not be eaten”, and this is why the crops play such a crucial role: the seed from the crops provides the food, the structure of the crops and nearby hedges provides cover – from predators and bad weather.

All the birds need at this point is to be left to it, so whilst more and more people love the sight of these impressive flocks by the crops, we ask everybody to enjoy the view from the boundaries and footpaths, and not scare the birds away from their food and shelter.

This winter, with over 60 fields planted at fourteen sites across the Island, is already turning out to be one of the most interesting years that we’ve had at Birds On The Edge.

In late October, when birds started to flock to the crops our resident chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches and linnets were joined not only by their continental relatives arriving from the north and the east, but also by other species of finches which we do not usually see in Jersey, in particular dozens, maybe hundreds of bramblings. In comparison, the previous winter only two representatives of this colourful finch were seen at the crops.

Chaffinch. Photo by Romano da Costa

Bramblings will hang out with chaffinches and other finches, and have no problem following them to people’s gardens to feed, so if you start seeing chaffinches in your garden, particularly if the weather turns very cold, keep your eyes peeled for bramblings, they will be making their way there soon.

Brambling12wm

In conclusion, seeing that these hungry bramblings that found their way to Jersey and to the crops are feeding in them is a great sign that the fields are doing their job – providing sustenance for birds in need is exactly what they were planted for.

The seed for the crops was bought with a generous donation from Action For Wildlife Jersey and a grant from the Countryside Enhancement Scheme. Action For Wildlife Jersey is a local group of nature enthusiasts and experts on various fields (excuse the pun) who organise many educational walks and talks throughout the year. The many farmers, sponsors and everyone at BOTE hope that you are enjoying the winter bird crops as much as the birds already are.

Read the report from the 2016-2017 winter here

Does the early bird catch the caterpillar?

Willow warbler (6). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BTO Science

The time that birds decide to breed has a strong impact upon the likely success of raising their young to independence. Pairs of birds will generally time egg laying to maximise the availability of food for their chicks. However, one of the strongest impacts of climate change so far has been to alter the timing of spring. In response to milder temperatures, flowers and insects are all appearing earlier than they used to. Songbirds struggling to match their timing to the changing climate could be facing population declines.

To test this, BTO, in collaboration with The Woodland Trust, Rothamsted Research, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), have collated some of the most comprehensive long-term data on the timing of spring from across the UK. They have related changes in the timing of leaf and flower emergence as well as aphid, butterfly and moth emergence, to changes in the timing of egg-laying, tracked by the BTO/JNCC Nest Record Scheme. Survey data from 1983 to 2010 was used to estimate variation in spring phenology from 280 plant and insect species and the egg-laying phenology of 21 British songbird species to explore the effects on avian population trends and potential underlying demographic mechanisms.

Common whitethroat (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

As expected, in warmer springs, birds do tend to breed late relative to the timing of spring. However, by using data from the BTO/JNCC ringing scheme to monitor changes in the number of fledglings produced by each species per year, the study’s authors found no evidence that these mismatched species were also suffering a long-term decline in breeding success. This suggests that the population declines observed in many British songbirds are not directly caused by the effect of mismatch on breeding success.

These results significantly increase our understanding of the impacts of climate change upon birds by showing there is not a strong link between changes in the timing of spring and long-term trends in breeding success. The heroic efforts of thousands of volunteers recording information on birds, insects and plants were vital in providing the long-term data required to understand the impacts of climate change upon bird populations, and we thank them for their hard work and dedication.

See the paper The sensitivity of breeding songbirds to change in seasonal timing is linked to population change but cannot be directly attributed to the effects of trophic asynchrony on productivity here

Plémont – how to create species rich grassland…. or heathland

Plemont headlandBy Jon Parkes 

July 2016 saw the official opening of Plémont Headland and for the first time in over 140 years (before the original “Plémont Hotel” was built in 1874) the public have been free to enjoy this special place.

Creating and protecting “green space” for people has been at the heart of the Plémont debate and acquisition and indeed forms a very important part of the National Trust for Jersey’s ethos. But ensuring that nature has a home is also a vital component of what we do and there has never been a time when action has been so desperately needed.

In 2015 The States Department of the Environment published the results of the Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme after 10 years of collecting data across 38 sites by a team of dedicated volunteers. The results suggest that whilst Jersey’s butterflies might be faring slightly better to those in the UK, the surveyed population has still decreased by 14%, (compared to 29% in the UK). Interestingly Jersey’s butterfly population is doing best in semi-natural sites as opposed to those in agricultural or urban habitats where they are declining. In fact the green hairstreak is one species that is doing particularly well and has been recorded as increasing by 458% in the last 10 years as opposed to suffering a 40% decrease in the UK. This could be seen as a strong indication of the importance of managed semi-natural sites such as Plémont.

Ponds

The creation of two ponds at Plémont was eagerly anticipated by the local toad and palmate newt population, who were literally queuing up to jump in upon their completion. For two consecutive years the Eastern Pond has been used by both species to breed. This year, the larger Western Pond has seen a whole new generation of toadlets emerge after metamorphosing from their tadpole stage.

Common toad. Photo by Kristian Bell

Despite the amphibian successes, both ponds have experienced teething problems and most noticeably the appearance of the lime-green algal blooms. Spirogyra is a family of around 400 species of filamentous algae that is commonly found in freshwater and is indicative of clean water that has high concentrations of phosphates and nitrates. It can be easily removed but doing so would jeopardise any invertebrate life or tadpoles that would become encapsulated amongst the tiny strands of algae.

Plemont pond

Another issue the ponds face is loss of water through evaporation, due to their exposed position to the sun, wind and transpiration – the evaporation of water from plant leaves. Whilst there is means to top up the water levels from a well, this would mean the introduction of more nutrients which would cause more algae. The proposed solution is to encourage more oxygenating plants and remove the algae once the toads have emerged from the water, decreasing the level of nutrients over time. Equilibrium will be reached, the water quality will improve and we will have to accept that the water levels will drop in the summer months. As long as there is water during the amphibians’ breeding period (February-June) the pond is serving its purpose and will act much like many natural ponds without constant water inflow.

Reseda luteola Weld R

Grassland

Back in the spring of 2015 you may remember the huge mounds of sandy soil which were spread over the footprint of the demolished buildings. Over 7,000 tonnes of sandy soil, sourced from Les Quennevais and recycled soil from La Collette formed the base of what we now refer to as the restoration area. To create a heathland such as Les Landes we would need a free draining sandy soil with a low pH (pH 5-6 ideally) and low nutrient levels. It is easier to maintain a species-rich wild flower habitat when there are fewer nutrients in the soil. If you add fertiliser (or compost or a lot of manure) to the soil, a small number of competitive plants are able to rapidly exploit these extra nutrients. These species then tend to become dominant and other plants are less able to compete for space. Most plants rely on a relationship with fungi and soil micro-organisms in order to grow. Fertilisers have a negative impact on these organisms making it more difficult for the flowers to grow.  With very little choice available, in the quantities we would need, a mixture of sandy soil, sourced from Les Quennevais and recycled sand from La Collette was chosen. Although the average pH was around 8.5, the particularly low nutrient status would mean far less of a burden when it would come to managing the developing vegetation.

Plemont headland 5

Snow bunting, Plemont, November 2017. Photo by Romano da Costa

This June our Conservation Officer, Jon Rault, assisted by the very knowledgeable local botanist Anne Haden, undertook a vegetation survey to assess how things have developed and have some interesting results. Around 50 plant species have so far been recorded including: wild carrot, toad rush, birds-foot-trefoil and small-flowered catchfly. Maritime Duneland plants such as fragrant evening-primrose, sea beet and sea radish have appeared, but this isn’t so surprising considering the origins of the soil, Les Quennevais of course being built on Dunes. Some more invasive plants such as the non-native cape cudweed and spotted medick which may need some management have become quite well established and some more exotic species including echium and Californian poppy have appeared as likely remnants of the holiday camp era.

Lotus corniculatis Common Bird's-foot-trefoil

Oneothera sricta. Fragrant Evening Primrose.Resent soil tests have confirmed that pH levels are still rather alkaline at between pH 8.5 and 8.9 and this is unlikely to change without any intervention due to the amount of concrete based material that must be underneath the layer of imported calcareous sand. Perhaps more encouraging is the nutrient status results from the same soil samples. For example, the amount of available phosphorus is currently between 8.8 and 25.8 mg/l with a “P index” of 0-3, compared to a recently tested former agricultural field which showed levels of available phosphorus at between 66.2 and 153.4mg/l giving a “P index” of between 4 and 7.

Beta vulgaris subsp maritima Sea Beet.Our current situation, with the encouraging results of vegetation surveys, indicates that the soil choice was a good one. Whilst our soil pH is much higher than we would have ideally liked, this is something that can be changed by adding sulphur, an expensive but affective way of raising acidity. As the results from the former agricultural field’s shows, high soil fertility is much more of a problem with no “magic cure”.

The decision on whether to try to acidify our soil in the effort to meet our original vision of creating a heathland is not one that needs to be made straight away and whilst wildlife and people are clearly making good use of the site, we have already achieved much of what we wanted to do.

For the meanwhile, the addition of calcareous grassland to our north coast may be something of an oddity but this may also be its strength and reason to remain as such. A new and interesting patch adding heterogeneity to the landscape is something that’s often lacking.

Further decisions will be required but there will be a need to balance and create opportunities for nature as well as public access and enjoyment.

This piece was originally published in the National Trust for Jersey magazine Discover and is reprinted here with kind permission

Choughs at Sorel Point May 2017. Photo by Mark Sleep

 

Tribute In Light: A chance to study light’s dramatic impact on bird migration

Tribute in Light, New York City. By Glyn Lowe - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28138731From The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds

Billions of birds undertake migratory journeys each spring and autumn. Most of these spectacular movements go unseen, occurring under the cover of darkness. A new study provides some of the most compelling evidence yet that artificial light at night causes radical changes in the behaviour of migrating birds.

“We found that migrating birds gather in large numbers because they’re attracted to the light,” says Benjamin Van Doren of Oxford University, a lead author of the study. “They slow down, start circling, and call more frequently. They end up burning energy without making any progress and risk colliding with nearby buildings or being caught by predators.”

Scientists from the University of Oxford, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and New York City Audubon studied migrant bird behaviour over seven years in a truly unique setting—Tribute in Light in New York City, held to commemorate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack. Two beams of light–each with 44 xenon bulbs of 7,000 watts—rise into the night sky, mirroring the twin towers of the World Trade Center where nearly 3,000 lives were lost.

“This was a rare opportunity to witness the impact of powerful ground-based lights on nocturnally migrating birds,” says co-lead author Kyle Horton, Cornell Lab, but working at the University of Oklahoma during the study. “This analysis would not have been possible without the help of tribute organizers.”

Well before the results of the study highlighted the effects of the installation, New York City Audubon reached out to the original tribute organizers, the Municipal Art Society, to let them know about the impacts of artificial light on migratory birds. In 2002, the two organisations developed a protocol to save the affected birds. The tribute lights are turned off for approximately 20 minutes when more than 1,000 birds are seen circling in the beams or flying dangerously low with frequent calling. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which took over as tribute organisers in 2012, continued this practice.

Tribute In Light

These brief interludes of darkness during the nightlong tribute provide a unique opportunity for the scientists to quantify changes in bird behaviour in several ways during the alternating periods of light and darkness.

“We had more than 20 wonderful volunteers on the ground counting birds to confirm what was happening in the beams,” says co-author Andrew Farnsworth at the Cornell Lab. “We also used remote sensing tools, including data from local National Weather Service radars, to understand the density and movements of the birds. Acoustic monitors recorded call notes and captured the vocal behavior of birds in the beams. And we ran computer simulations to try to better understand the dynamics of the patterns we were observing.”

When the tribute was illuminated, the study’s authors found that densities of birds over lower Manhattan could reach 60 to 150 times the number that would typically be found in the area at that time. The concentrating effects of the intense light on the birds reached as high as 4 kilometres (2.5 miles). The impact on birds was consistent even on clear nights. (Many previous artificial-light studies focused on nights with poor visibility.) When the light beams were turned off, the birds dispersed within minutes to continue their migrations.

Although Tribute in Light provided a way to measure a specific instance of light attraction, bright nighttime lighting poses problems for birds, even in rural areas. The study’s authors point out that one solution is relatively simple.

“We recommend building lights be turned off for as much of the night as possible, but at least from midnight to dawn during migration season,” says study co-author Susan Elbin of New York City Audubon. “This is true for areas around homes as well as other brightly lit areas such as sports stadiums, construction sites, offshore oil rigs, and large buildings. Migrating is already hard enough for birds without this added danger from artificial light at night.”

The full paper High-intensity urban light installation dramatically alters nocturnal bird migration can be accessed here