Contrasting the fortunes of red kites and corncrakes

I am now back from my trip to Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire where I volunteered for a day with the RSPB Corncrake project on the Nene Washes (see here) and I photographed a red kite near Denton Woods in Northamptonshire (see here). Two birds with very different recent histories! I’ve now had a chance to refer to a couple of books which detail their recent fortunes.

Historic Atlas
If you haven’t come across this book ‘The Historical Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland 1975-1900’ by Simon Holloway published by Poyser I can thoroughly recommend it to you – it is one of my favourites. Using historical published data it maps out the distribution of Britain’s breeding birds in the Victorian era.

Historic Atlas Corncrakes
Here is the 1875-1900 distribution in the UK and Ireland for Corncrake – a pretty common bird

BTO Atlas Corncrakes
Here is the distribution by 2011 – the four square shaped dots in Cambridgeshire are the re-introduced birds on the Nene Washes (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

BTO Atlas Corncrakes losses
Here is the decline in the species since the 1968-72 survey – downward pointing triangles = loss, dramatic to say the least – all associated with the intensification of agriculture and the loss of hay meadows. (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

Historical Atlas Red kite
By contrast here is the story of the red kite – exterminated from the UK and Ireland by Victorian gamekeepers between and before 1875-1900 – except in mid Wales (source Historic Atlas)

BTO Atlas Red Kites
And here is the distribution  between 2008-11 – major success conservation success story as a result of the  highly successful re-introduction story led by English Nature. You can clearly see the re-introduction sites in the Chilterns, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Scotland etc. (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

BTO Atlas Red Kites change
The red triangles show where red gains are being made as a result of the re-introduction project. (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

Let’s hope that in 20 years time the corncrake map shows the same trends.

Corncrakes on the Nene Washes

Last Thursday I was invited to help with the corncrake re-introduction project on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire. The project is run by the RSPB in partnership with Whipsnape Zoo, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England. Corncrakes went extinct in England during the middle part of the 20th century having previously been a common feature of lowland hay meadows. Today in the UK they only survive in the Western Isles and parts of Northern Ireland.

In 2003 RSPB began a project to re-introduce corncrakes to the Nene Washes.

Corncrake drive
The purpose of the work on Thursday was to ‘drive’ one of the washes in an attempt to catch some corncrakes so that they could be ringed. This involves creating a line of people who drag a rope across the wash whilst making a lot of noise!

Corncrake netting
Mid way down the field is an zig-zag net fence which contains a four traps where the driven corncrakes can be caught

Tractor flush
We also used an mp3 player and speaker which produced the sound of a tractor which apparently encourages the birds to flee – it was very very loud. Corncrakes tend to scuttle through the long grass towards the traps opposed to taking to the air and flying away. Wet ditches delineate the edges of the washes and the corncrake don’t cross these either.

The Nene Washes consist of hay meadows and fen communities – here is a patch of sneezewort.

CorncrakeUnfortunately despite carrying out 2 drives we didn’t catch or see any corncrakes – in previous years many birds have been caught and ringed – here is one from 2015 (courtesy of Steve Brayshaw). Earlier in the season between 18-21 singing males were recorded.

Cattle egrets
Despite no seeing any corncrakes we were lucky enough to see 5 common cranes, a number of marsh harriers, a couple of hobby, a wood sandpiper and a couple of  cattle egret.

Cattle egretThe yellow bill and the dark legs  tell us it is a juvenile

A good day out helping with an important project – thanks to the RSPB corncrake team and Charlie Kitchin the reserve manager who showed us around.

Spotted flycatchers

I’m currently up in Northamptonshire visiting a friend – he lives in a farmhouse in the middle of a large wood which is part of the Yardley Chase complex.

Denton Wood Farm
Today we were treated to a family party of spotted flycatchers – four maybe even five birds

Spotted Flycatcher 2Spotted flycatchers sit on a perch and flit out to catch small insects and then often return to the same branch

Spotted Flycatcher 1Spotted flycatchers have declined enormously in the last 30 years or so

Spotted Flycatcher 3

These are the first breeding spotted flycatchers I have seen this year. I saw a bird on passage in spring on the Isles of Scilly but haven’t seen any in Devon so far.

A New Flora of Devon is coming

I’ve just received a flyer which announces a pre-publication offer for a A New Flora of Devon. Publication is expected in December this year. I have reproduced the flier in full below which gives you the full details of what to expect and how to order it. A pre-publication price of £40 for an 848 page full colour book seems very good value. I will be ordering my copy very soon – the pre-pub offer ends on the 5th November. This book will be essential for all those interested in and charged with conserving Devon’s plants.

Flora 1

Flora 3

Flora 2
Congratulations to the authors Roger Smith, Bob Hodgson and Jeremy Ison on completing this mammoth task – Devon is a huge county and contains 2000 species of plant. Since the publication of the 1984 Atlas around 1 million plant records have been collected at both 10km and 2km level.

Flora 4
This is the 1984 Atlas by R Ivimey-Cook who was one of my lecturers when I was an undergraduate at Exeter.

Flora 6
I remember consulting this book the Keble Martin and Gordon Fraser ‘Flora of Devon’ when I worked for Devon Wildlife Trust in 1983

Flora 7
Prior to the Flora of Devon an updated list produced by W.P. Hiern and the Rev Moyle Rogers was published in the 1906 Victorian County History of Devon

Flora 5
The first published Flora of Devon was published in 1829 J.P. Jones and J.F. Kingston

It is also good to see that the excellent Devonshire Association is continuing to support the publication of Devon floras.

As the flyer says “only a limited number will be printed and a second print run is unlikely” so if you want a copy make sure you order one in advance.

A large Burying Beetle

There was a large Burying Beetle in my moth trap this morning – it was about an inch long. Burying beetles are scavengers and carnivores – often burying the corpses of dead mice and birds which they and their larvae then feed off.

Burying beetle Nicrophorus humator 1
This is Nicrophorus humator – it is one of the few all back species but is characterised by its orange clubbed antennae

Burying beetle Nicrophorus humator 2It was a very lively individual which quickly scuttled away when I released it from the pot – thus the rather poor photographs