Bird News for UK May 2014

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Nightingales sing again after ninety years

Nightingales sing again after ninety years

Ninety years to the day since the first outside broadcast of nightingale song on the BBC, the RSPB has decided to do it all over again to celebrate the anniversary and mark the plight of the threatened, long-distance migrant bird.

Live from a site in north Kent, adjacent to the threatened Lodge Hill - England’s most important site for nightingale – a team of techies from the RSPB will record the bird’s famous song and stream it in real time from its website this Sunday night [18 May].

Dr Andre Farrar, the RSPB’s media manager and nightingale enthusiast, will be taking part the recording. He said: “Nightingales have sung their way into the consciousness of our country – popping up in literature and popular culture. Yet they are in trouble and if their decline is to be halted, action needs to be taken.

“Nightingales are long-distance migrants, facing the perils of a difficult journey to and from their African wintering home. And here in the UK, their most important site – Lodge Hill in north Kent, a Site of Special Scientific Interest – is under threat from proposals to build 5,000 houses. It seems right to mark the 90th anniversary with the nightingales in North Kent – hopefully it will help everyone realise just how beautiful and important these birds are and what we stand to lose.”

Lodge Hill has been notified as a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its nationally-important population of nightingales, an iconic bird in serious decline across England. It is the only SSSI notified specifically for nightingales. The RSPB has been fighting plans to develop this site for housing for three years.

Once an annual event featuring a songful nightingale with cello accompaniment, the BBC outside broadcasts ceased during the Second World War because of a concern background sounds, which included training war aircraft from overhead, could pose a threat if German intelligence tuned in.

Nightingales have declined by almost half (46%) in the UK since 1995 and by around 90% in the last 40 years. The migrant birds, most-loved for their tuneful song, arrive in April and leave for sub-Saharan Africa between July and September. In the UK as nesting songbird, the nightingale is confined to southern and eastern England.

A petition asking the BBC to mark the anniversary, started by campaigner Chris Rose, who has worked for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, received almost 1400 signatures. Last week the BBC announced it will be broadcasting a one-off Tweet of the Day the day after the anniversary [Monday 19 May] followed by a specially-recorded programme, Singing With Nightingales, at 11pm the same day.

Black-winged stilts nesting on the RSPBs new reserve at Medmerry in West Sussex.

Black-winged stilts nesting on the RSPB’s new reserve at Medmerry in West Sussex.

Two rare black-winged stilts are nesting on the RSPB’s new reserve at Medmerry in West Sussex. The long-legged wader has only bred successfully twice in the UK – the last time nearly 30 years ago - and the last breeding attempt was on the Somerset Levels last year.
It is thought that a dry spell in southern Spain has displaced the birds to southern Britain. And it is believed that a changing climate may bring these birds more regularly in future.
Black-winged stilts are large black and white waders with long reddish pink legs, usually found in the Mediterranean. They nest in wetland and feed on insects which they pick from the surface of the water or forage for in shallow mud.

The RSPB has set up a 24-hour watch on the nest with local volunteers to give the birds the best chance of producing young and to protect them from egg collectors.
The stilts’ presence is a tribute to the wetland conditions at Medmerry, the largest open-coast managed realignment scheme in Europe, and the RSPB’s newest reserve.
It was created between 2011 and 2013 by Environment Agency and consists of mudflats, tidal lagoons, saltmarsh, wildlife-friendly farmland and dragonfly-rich ditches.

Pete Hughes, Medmerry’s senior warden, said, “To have the stilts turn up so soon after Medmerry was created is such an exciting surprise. Our pair faces many threats, whether from egg collectors, the British summer, disturbance or predators, so it is touch and go whether they are successful, but we are doing everything we can to give them the best chance.
“They have built a nest on the mud and laid eggs, and now the male and female are taking turns incubating them. If all goes well, the chicks are expected to hatch in about three weeks. What is nice is that Medmerry has also attracted breeding avocets, the bird on the RSPB’s logo, which help shield the stilts.”
The only times black-winged stilts have bred successfully in the UK was in Norfolk in 1987 and Nottinghamshire in 1945.
Charlie Smith of the Environment Agency said: ““It is really exciting and rewarding for the Environment Agency, that a scheme designed to protect people and property has provided habitat for one of the rarest birds in Britain. Black winged stilts are choosy about their breeding sites!” said Charlie Smith, Technical Specialist for the Environment Agency.

“It's brilliant that the project has created the right habitat and conditions for the birds to take up residency so soon after completion of the work. We fully support the RSPB in their endeavours to protect the nest and hope to see fluffy young birds over the coming weeks.”

• A pair of black winged stilts is also breeding on an island on the RSPB’s North Kent marshes reserve at Cliffe Pools. The pair is nesting and is also the subject of a 24-hour watch organised by the RSPB to protect the eggs and young.
• The stilts have been able to breed on the reserve because the RSPB has managed the wetland to create the optimum conditions for breeding waders.
RSPB Medmerry is not due to formally open to the public until this autumn, once the paths, car parks and landscaping is complete. Until then, some of the paths are open in an unfinished state, but the remote location where the stilts are nesting mean that it is not possible to organise a public viewing scheme.

Leaflets and advice about Medmerry are available at the RSPB Pagham Harbour visitor centre.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2014 |  Bird News for UK May 2014

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