Basin Notes - July 2001

Effects of foot and mouth

Thousands of volunteers take part in various surveys every year, which provide essential information regarding the population of the nation's birds.

Foot and mouth restrictions have meant that many of these have either been postponed or cancelled this year. Three major surveys - on the mute swan, peregrine falcon and waders in wet meadows - are to be rescheduled for 2002.

As a result of these restrictions, large parts of the countryside will have seen little human disturbance and I believe many birds will now be breeding in habitat not used before.

The Wetland Bird Survey, a national monthly survey to monitor the numbers of wildfowl and waders on our estuaries and inland waterways, has been suspended since March this year, so much of the monitoring of our Basin birds has been from the Visitor Centre.

Under the eaves of the Centre we have four swallows nesting and on the partially dried out pools out front, house martins have been busy gathering mud for constructing their nests nearby. A single black swan has been in the company of the mute swans in the Basin since June 3rd and is still there at the time of writing.

A spoonbill was also on the Basin during the first week of June, again with the mute swans. This exotic looking bird with long black legs and ivory plumage is an occasional visitor to the Basin although its normal haunts in Western Europe at this time of year are Holland, France or Spain. Its spoon-shaped bill has a yellow tip and it feeds in shallow water for fish and shrimps.

Within the Centre the blue tit in its nest box, monitored by our miniature camera, hatched four young on May 28th. Fledging may take up to three weeks so they could be gone from the nest sometime next week. The close up viewing of this life cycle has been of great interest to our visitors.

Thousands of young birds will now be leaving the relative safety of their nests to face a harsh and dangerous world. Many will hop around on the ground once they leave the nest and before they can fly.

They have not been abandoned by their parents but at this stage are most at risk from natural predators such as domestic cats or crows. Cats kill millions of young birds every year, but then they are simply doing what comes natUrally. Fitting bell collars and keeping cats in at night would markedly reduce this death toll.