NIGEL HEWSTON RAN THE LONDON MARATHON IN APRIL 2012 IN AID OF
THE SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER
You may have seen news reports recently about the Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation breeding project being started at Slimbridge. I ran the London Marathon in April to raise funds for this, and have raised approx £3700. If anyone would still like to donate to this cause you may contact me at www.justgiving.com/sandpiper ' or send a cheque to WWT, Sandpiper Marathon Fundraising Dept,Slimbridge, Glos. GL2 7BT.
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is an amazing and unique little wader - imagine something smaller than a Dunlin with a beak like a Spoonbill - which breeds in far north-eastern Siberia and winters in Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh, a migration of about 8000km. Until about 10 years ago there were still thousands, but there are now possibly as few as 200. The problems are not fully understood, but include development of some of the intertidal mudflats used as staging posts on migration, and trapping for food on the wintering grounds. The species is hurtling towards extinction perhaps faster than any other bird.
A major effort is underway to reverse the decline, involving a range of organisations working on different aspects, for instance helping the trappers to find alternative livelihoods. The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust's contribution is to try to establish a captive breeding population, so that if and when the problems are solved, there will be some birds to reintroduce. So far, staff from Slimbridge led an expedition to the breeding grounds in 2011, with Russian colleagues, to collect eggs for hatching and rearing. After many adventures and setbacks, thirteen birds are now in a purpose-built offshow facility at Slimbridge (with a daily TV link to the visitor centre), which will be expanded to include breeding aviaries (the birds don't breed until two years old in the wild).
I think this is one of the most exciting and important avicultural conservation projects of recent times,
Annual British Bird Breeding Report for 2011 - by Eric Darlow
Another particularly early Spring “caught me napping" as they say. Fully developed Coltsfoot seed heads were available in mid March as were Hazel Catkins. These were placed in the aviaries at every opportunity. Dandelions began to appear shortly afterwards and by l0th April were available in copious quantities. This coincided with the completion of hedge building along the backs of the aviaries. By 13th April my only pair of Linnets had built a natural, well hidden nest and produced their first egg. They had begun to carry nesting material before the hedges were completed - so it was all a bit frantic to finish and let them get on with nest building. As usual the Dandelion seed heads triggered the Goldfinches to carry nesting material and I discovered a nest with 4 eggs in a nesting basket on the 24th April. A few days later I checked the nest again and it contained a single egg which had also disappeared by the following day. As I had 3 pairs of Goldfinches, I pair of Linnets and 2 pairs of Siskins in a single aviary it was not possible to judge which was the culprit. Another nest was completed, but I was unable to positively identify which specie had built it, albeit characteristics were that of a Goldfinch nest. No eggs were laid to my knowledge and thereafter a lull in nesting activity seemed to take place. About this time the usual nesting season tragedies began. My hen Bearded Tit died of what appeared to be a respiratory disease. I began with 2 pairs of Bullfinches, albeit one of the hens had only one leg. I provided her with a preformed nest in a box and she laid 4 eggs. After about a week I found her dead on the nest and the eggs proved to be infertile. For this reason my records show a single breeding pair. I eventually ringed the 3 of the four Linnets chicks. The fourth was too small and it was my plan to wait 2 more days before ringing this one. However, on the morning following the ringing, all four chicks were on the floor of the aviary and dead. A second brood was eventually hatched which I did not interfere with, but only a single youngster emerged. Having removed the spare male Bullfinch the remaining pair went on to produce 3 chicks. These were ringed in mid May and suffered the same fate as the Linnets. The parents were however, keen to nest and produced 3 more nests of chicks, 2 of which I did not disturb in any way. These were reared successfully. The third nest of 3 was close ringed and successfully reared. Of these three one drowned and another escaped leaving me with 6 young Bullfinches only one of which was close ringed. The Goldfinches carried on nesting in a normal way, youngsters appearing from nests which I had failed to locate, were a bonus. I close ringed 2 odd birds which I found on their own in two separate nests. They were too large for the appropriate ring size so I fitted whatever I could get on them The remainder, 9 in all, were caught up and fitted with split colour rings for identification. Siskins have always been one of the easiest of my birds to breed, but this year proved an exception. 2 birds built nests, laid eggs and in some cases hatched chicks. None however survived and I had quite given up when in August 3 youngsters appeared out of the hedge. All 3 survived. On November 19th my, only surviving Twite died. It was a 6 years old male which would come to my hand to inspect food offered, but rarely if ever, ate it. He was just an inquisitive and friendly little chap. I shall miss him. On the wild bird front, a cold wet spell in the summer reduced the numbers of Swallows and House Martins bred around the house and outbuildings. A new bird seen in the garden was a Grasshopper Warbler. A new nest for the garden was a Spotted Flycatcher, but the female was predated by a Sparrow Hawk before any eggs were laid. House Sparrows are apparently in decline, but not so hear; they exist in abundance and as cheeky as ever. The resident pair of Starlings have not been seen for the past 2 years and for the first time ever, I did not see or hear either Skylark or a Cuckoo in this vicinity.
THE REDPOLL by ROGER TIPPETT
There are seven sub-species of Redpoll within a vast range from Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Great Britain, Scandinavia, Russia, Korea and Japan. All the sub-species have subtle variations of size, markings and colour. The captive bred populations that exist today in all probability slightly hybridised as we cannot be sure that they are 100% true to race. It would take a mammoth task of aviculture to obtain regional sub species to lay down future strains for aviculture. The best bet for certainty, would be the Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) as it is our native species. This being a small brown and well striated bird with a Redpoll and red flushed breast, (absent in the female and first year birds) with a dark chin bib which distinguishes the Redpoll from other small finches.
The Mealy Redpoll that we know today in aviculture is more of a man made specie, because very few legal true Mealies were made available to breeders in this country. This sub species which is of larger proportions and greyer in colour than the Lesser, were probably mixed with any large Redpoll that came in with batches of mixed foreign bird imports, never the less, the top Mealy breeders have developed a truly magnificent bird which challenges for top honours at shows around the country. Further more, with the advent of cinnamon and silver colour variants, many top class exhibition birds are appearing on the show bench.
My particular preference to breed and exhibit is the Lesser Redpoll.
During the winter months I hang bunches of millet spray, seeding dock and evening primrose from the roof netting which provides them with their natural tendency to cling upside down whilst foraging for food. As the seasons progress and winter turns into spring the pair selection begins. This is often difficult as the first year youngsters are hard to sex, but experience shows that hens are slightly better coloured, better marked and slightly bigger than the male.
The housing of the pairs is best in small aviaries with a single pair to an aviary, which contains areas for feeding and watering, perching and nesting sites. The nesting site must be partially secluded and many types of nesting containers can be used, my preference is a small wicker basket that can be wired into position, preferably two sites per aviary. The birds are then introduced to a simple feeding regime of hard seed, including condition seed in small quantities, soak seed and a choice of egg biscuit, all gradually increased towards the warmer seasons, hawthorn twigs at bud burst are avidly dealt with when available.
During the winter, the ovaries of the hen reduce to the size of a pin head and this is then reversed gradually with the introduction of light, warmth & food, as progress is made from winter through spring into summer. As the birds come into condition, they will become livelier and more vocal, it is then that nesting material can be gradually introduced, small amount of coconut fibre, moss and cotton wool type animal bedding, also the introduction of some mini-meal worms can be given at this time. Nesting often takes place when I am at work, so I am often surprised by a quickly built nest with the first egg, incubation can commence from the first egg, so 13 days from this time you must be ready for hatching. At this time increasing amounts of soak seed, egg biscuit, mini-meal worms and any green fly locally collected from the nettle beds will help in rearing generally healthy chicks. With the quantity of feeding stuffs now available, the ringing must be done at 4-5 days as rapid growth of legs and feet will often beat you at 6 days. The ring size for the Lesser Redpoll is size “B“ and this tiny ring must be passed over the three front claws and then down over the foot and rear claw, usually with the help from the mouth (spit) to make the task easier. When complete the chicks are returned to the nest and left alone, the only time I return to the nest is when a small chick needs to be rung a little later than its nest mates. Hopefully the nest is successful and a subsequent brood will be taken with the cycle beginning all over again.