Positives & negatives - the breeding season so far
With the breeding bird survey just about complete it is a good opportunity to review the spring so far. As is so often the case, some species seem to be faring quite well, whilst others are not so well off. With the exception of Lapwings and wildfowl, productivity is not something that is monitored each year, so it is the trends in numbers of territories that give an indication of how well each species is doing on the farm. Unless stated otherwise, all figures given here refer to the number of territories located during the breeding bird survey.
It is disappointing that the Lapwing population has sunk to a new low, despite our efforts to target conservation measures at this species. Two pairs on the farm with three on the nearby arable is very poor and continuing low productivity is doubtless an important, although probably not the only factor in the continuing decline. Brief checks of populations elsewhere in The Carrs suggest a significant decline for many farm populations locally when compared with surveys carried out in 2011. Populations on the nearby Wolds seem to be doing better and we are currently investigating what we can learn from the more positive picture on farms there.
Other species having a disappointing 2015 include Sedge Warbler (9), Chiffchaff (7) and Whitethroat (11). These species are all down on recent highs and issues on migration or on the wintering grounds are perhaps likely causes of the decline, although one or two Chiffchaff territories have probably been lost as a result of the removal of the North Screed shelter belt (but other species appear to be benefitting – see below). The 2015 Yellowhammer population is down to five territories, down on the high point of nine in 2011, although there were only six territories in 2013/2014.
It is pleasing to report the presence of three different Willow Tit territories around the farm this year, a striking reversal in fortunes for this nationally declining species. Present here in 2010 and 2011, we had lost this species from the farm as recently as 2012 and 2013. However, there were welcome sightings in 2014 and confirmed breeding this year with birds feeding young in the second half of May; great news!
A pair of Snipe made a breeding attempt, with a bird flushed from a nest in early May. Disappointingly, it is thought that this attempt failed but it is the second successive year that breeding activity has been recorded for this species.
There have been record numbers of breeding territories of Skylark (16), Willow Warbler (19) and Reed Warbler (15). There were six Skylark territories on the farm in both 2011 and 2012, but progress since then has been much better and this latest figure exceeds the previous highest count of 10 territories in 2013. Reed Warbler is taking advantage of the removal of trees from the North Screed shelter belt, with several new territories located in the reed-fringed ditch here. It is perhaps the increased numbers of Reed Warbler that attracted a calling Cuckoo on a couple of dates in late May, the first record since regular monitoring began in 2009. Reed Warbler is a frequent host species for this parasitic bird.
Reed Buntings continue to do well with 11 territories located (up from 8 in 2014) and there has been a modest uptick in the number of Linnet territories (9) found in 2015. Nine territories is however still down on the high point of 11 in 2011. The populations of Song Thrush (5), Tree Sparrow (6), Blackcap (10), Garden Warbler (2), Yellow Wagtail (1) and Curlew (1) appear to be stable.
And finally, the farm bird list hits 150!
It has been a fairly quiet spring for passage migrants this year, a situation that many sites have reported. A general lack of winds from an easterly quarter has meant relatively few waders dropping in, although a small number of Dunlin and Ringed Plover have been seen, and probably two different Wood Sandpipers and a Greenshank have also been noted. After a handful of previous records, there has been a significant change in the status of Little Egret this year, with more regular sightings and an impressive flock of nine on two dates in late May – the largest such flock to have been recorded within the Scarborough Birders recording area.
There have also been three additions to the farm list, which records species back to the start of regular observations in 2009. These have been the first Arctic Tern (early May), Cuckoo (late May) and finally a Honey Buzzard that flew over in early June.
Ringed Plover on one of the pools.
Wood Sandpiper on North Screed.