Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Call of the wild ...

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus)


The beautiful Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus ssp. scoticus is the British race of the Willow Grouse (Lagopus l. ssp. lagopus), although it was once believed that the Red Grouse was a species in its own right known as Lagopus scoticus, endemic to the British Isles. Furthermore, birds in Ireland are sometimes thought to be a separate subspecies known as L. l. hibernica.

Males mark out their territories with an energetic display during which they bound into the air, giving their characteristic call, whilst challenging opposing males for an area of moorland with abundant heather and bilberry in which the female will produce a nest scrape for her eggs. The eggs, which are well camouflaged, are typically laid in April and may number ten or more.

Widespread predator control is a key feature of grouse moor management. Foxes, stoats and crows are usually extensively controlled in such areas, with birds of prey, such as Golden Eagles, Goshawks and Hen Harriers, often being illegally targeted. The extent to which this abhorrent abuse occurs is hotly contested between conservation groups and shooting interests. The subject, quite rightly, generates much heated debate and media attention in relation to the management of grouse moors, wildlife crime and the shooting community.





References:

BirdLife International (2015). Species factsheet: Lagopus lagopus [Online]. Available from: www.birdlife.org [Accessed, 28 April 2015].

Friday, 24 April 2015

Moorland riches ...

Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)


Motionless and, at first view, almost invisible against a sunlit moorland, a Golden Plover is a wonderful sight, the ‘golden’ in its name being well deserved. It is even more dramatic when in an environment of silence, only broken by its delicate plaintive whistle.

It breeds on high moorland and tundra from Iceland right across to Siberia, including northern Britain, wintering in large flocks in west and southwest Europe, including Sussex, and the Mediterranean. Its nest is typically a shallow scrape, lined with pieces of lichen, heather, grass and bilberry, often in burned areas; hence its presence in such regions on the upland grouse moors.

A female at rest in the late afternoon sun …

References:

Barfield, C., (2014). Golden Plover. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 239-240.
Nobbs, J. (1996). Golden Plover. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 241-242.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Final approach ...

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)


Rising almost vertically from farmland, grassland, salt marshes, heathland and moorland, male skylarks can be observed, effortlessly hovering and singing from a great height before suddenly parachuting back down to earth. Their long and complicated song-flights can last for up to an hour and the birds can reach several hundred metres before descending. They'll also sing from perches such as fence posts or large rocks. Despite their aerial activities, skylarks nest on the ground, laying three to four eggs. Chicks become independent after only two weeks and parents can have up to four broods in a breeding season.

They are, at least to me, the vocal delight of spring and high summer ...

References:

Gutteridge, T., (2014). Skylark. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 427-428.
Scott-Ham, M. (1996). Skylark. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 383-385.
The Wildlife Trusts (2015). Skylark [Online]. Available from: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/skylark [Accessed, 23 April 2015].

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Call of the curlew ...

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

N. arquata is our largest wader and probably the easiest to identify, being long-legged and with a long down-curved bill and evocative bubbling call. It can really only be confused with the more compact, stripe-headed Whimbrel.

Although the Curlew no longer breeds in the county, last breeding on Ashdown Forest in 1991, Sussex remains an important migration stop and wintering destination. Their breeding range has now contracted away from most of lowland Britain, although a few non-breeding birds still spend the summer in Sussex, usually on the coast.




A bird who’s beautiful voice embodies the atmosphere of the lonely marshes and high moorland where it is found …

References:

Barfield, C. (2014). Curlew. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 276-277.
Nobbs, J. (1996). Curlew. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 278-281.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Through the Looking-Glass …

Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)


Although found in many areas across the southeast, L. europaeus has become much more intermittently distributed during the last century; no more so than in my home county of Sussex. Reasons for the decline are varied but are believed to be connected to a range of factors including agricultural intensification, predation, disease, and both legal and illegal human persecution. It is due to this decline in distribution and numbers that L. europaeus was made a UK BAP priority species for conservation in 1995. Despite its decline, L. europaeus is the only game species in Britain, which does not have a shooting close season.

Although mating can take place almost all year round, with February to September forming the principal breeding season, the familiar boxing and chasing is most easily observed during March and April. Most boxing is typically a doe, the female, fighting off the unwanted sexual advances of a buck, the male, although male to male fighting is also recorded. When a doe is ready to accept a buck, following a period of chasing and a variety of gymnastic like movements, she presents herself and allows the buck to advance and briefly mate with her.

I can't help thinking he's watching me ...

References:

Bjärvall, A. and Ullström, S. (1986). Brown Hare. The Mammals of Britain and Europe. Beckenham, Kent: Croom Helm Ltd, pp. 60-62.
Corbet, G.B. and Harris, S. (1991, third edition). Brown Hare. The Handbook of British Mammals. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, pp. 154-161.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)


The Long-tailed Duck C. hyemalis is a circumpolar marine species that breeds mainly in the Arctic tundra and winters further south, often far out at sea. It is estimated that only around 3,500 birds winter in Britain; most of these are thought to breed in Fennoscandia or northwest Russia and Sussex is on the southern edge of their wintering range. During 1992-2009, wintering numbers in the Baltic Sea, which held 70% of the world population, declined by an alarming 65% for unknown reasons.

In Sussex it is a very scarce passage migrant and winter visitor and a rare non-breeder in summer. The above image, of a spring plumaged female, was recently taken in Lancashire.

References:

Cowser, R., 2014. Long-tailed Duck. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, p. 125.
Wilson, T.J. 1996. Long-tailed Duck. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 175-176.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Skyfall ...

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)


The unmistakable song of the Skylark A. arvensis heralds both the arrival of spring and its transformation into summer. Who has not spent time staring into the sky to try to find and focus on that small dark spot before it comes falling to the ground?

A. arvensis is found across much of the Palearctic, including almost all of Britain and Ireland, wherever there are extensive habitats of low vegetation, including dunes, moors, meadows and arable crops. Although still very common in Sussex, no lover of the countryside can be unaware of the severe decline in numbers over recent years.



Long may its beautiful and charismatic voice grace our skies …

References:

Gutteridge, T., (2014). Skylark. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 427-428.
Scott-Ham, M. (1996). Skylark. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 383-385.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Signs of spring ...

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)



The Linnet C. cannabina is a small, lively bird, of warm downland, heathland, rough grassland and suitable areas of farmland; requiring places where it can forage safely on the ground, often in flocks, for seeds.

Breeding Linnets are widespread in Sussex and are locally common in their favoured haunts; it is even recorded as a garden bird in a few rural locations. Ashdown Forest and the northwest heathlands are especially favoured, as are coastal areas with gorse, scrub and where farming practices are accommodating to their needs. In full summer plumage the males are attractively marked with crimson foreheads and breasts, the females are much browner. Spring plumaged birds are pictured.


A delicate bird with a song once heard not forgotten …

References:

Perry, A., 2014. Linnet. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 558-559.
Bentley, V. and Newnham, J. 1996. Linnet. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 529-532.