The weather has reasonably kind so far this winter, although not dry enough to carry out any heather burning yet. Most of our work lately has been replacing fence posts that don’t seem to last very long these days and tree sapling removal from the heathland. The latter job is helped greatly by our volunteer task group, as it is much easier to cover a good area of ground with a group of people. If left to its own devices the heathland would fairly quickly succeed to scrub woodland, so tree removal is a constant task to maintain the heathland habitat and the species that depend upon it.
Last weekend I went on a visit (some would call it a twitch) to Newcastle on Clun to watch a bird that I have never been able to see in this country, a hawfinch. These striking finches are very hard to see usually, as they are not common and not very obvious as they tend to feed quietly in the top of tall trees. However this year there has been a large influx of them into the country from Europe probably due to the failure of the beech mast this year. Which means that the birds in Newcastle have probably moved in from the continent. The result was that I managed to get my first views of these elusive birds. Their most obvious features from a distance are their large head and bill and their thick neck. The males are quite orangey brown and the females more greyish. Both have a black mask around the bill. They have amazingly strong bills that can crack cherry stones, but in Newcastle were feeding on yew berries.
Although we might not be lucky enough to see hawfinches on the Stiperstones, the failure of the beech crop on the continent could bring over another finch, the brambling. These birds are similar in size to a chaffinch, but can be identified by its orange tinted breast, compared to the pink male chaffinch. However its most obvious feature is its white rump which shows when it flies away. Bramblings are common winter visitors from Scandinavia but this year could be a lot commoner.
The Curlew Country project has recently reported on the success of the nests that it monitored this summer. You may remember that none of the nests had fledged any young in the previous year (2016). This year showed some improvement with twenty eight young hatching from twenty two nests, with possibly eight fledging. This is a huge step forward made possible by lots of help like putting up electric fences around nests and farmers delaying cutting times, however we need to see more successes before we can save these birds from local extinction. To read the full report, visit www.curlew county.org.
Don’t forget the Christmas wreath making at the Blakemoorgate cottages on the 10th December and of course the Dash or Dawdle on Boxing Day, or we might bump in to you as we try and sell some of our new reserve gifts at a Christmas fair.
Simon Cooter and the Natural England staff at Rigmoreoak
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