(Tuesday 25th Sept 2007 6.30pm-9.00pm)
Our Breathing Places
Project began on the 25th September with an indoor workshop at Hessle High
School lead by local ecologist Richard Baines of Wold Ecology. 12 keen
conservationists attended. An outline of the project was given:
To acquire new
bird identification skills
knowledge of differing habitat requirements
To identify at
least 5 target bird species for habitat improvement in the country park
To carry out the
habitat improvement measures using nature conservation techniques
thereby improving the woods for future generations
The group were each issued
with an RSPB bird identification pocket book and great fun was had testing a
sample pair of binoculars to decide if everyone thought they would be
Richard took the group through
the 2005 ERYC Breeding Bird Field Survey Report carried out on the Humber
Bridge Country Park by "Ecology UK". The report lists all species
recorded in the park during the six separate visits comprising the survey.
33 different species were recorded. The report recommended 4 species
of birds as "Priority species for conservation action" within the park.
A good selection of the species found in the park were then focused on using
multimedia sound and vision footage.
At the end of this session the
group decided to adopt :
as 4 of our target species.
(Tuesday 2nd Oct 2007 6.30pm-9.00pm)
This second workshop focused on
"Woodland Habitats for Birds".
Richard took the group through a variety of
landscapes explaining how the underlying rocks and soil
determined the types of tree species which would thrive in an area and how the
tree species in turn determined the species of birds likely to found there.
For example Jays are very scarce in East Yorkshire due to a lack of oak trees
which are their preferred habitat, whereas in South and West Yorkshire they are
commonly found along with plenty of oaks.
If the components of a woodland
are changed this will result in changes in the bird population of the
wooded area. Removing a species of tree may result in the disappearance of
a particular species of bird and the introduction of a new tree species may
result in the appearance of a new bird species to the area.
The edge of a woodland
is very important as it is usually very productive with lots of insects and wild
flowers providing food for birds, whereas the middle of a wood is often very
dark with little undergrowth.
The density of the trees
in a wood is also an important factor. If trees are planted closely
together they will grow tall and have a narrow canopy whereas the same species
planted with plenty of space around it will develop a thicker girth and a broad
Coppicing of trees often
carried out in the past is beneficial to woodlands as this prevents an
impenetrable canopy developing allowing light to reach the woodland floor.
Woodland glades are a
very important area for birds as these open areas allow wild flowers and insects
Dead wood is also
important in woodlands as this provides lots of nest sites for species that
prefer nesting in holes in dead and decaying trees. They also provide a good
habitat for lots of insects.
A 5th species was added to our list of target
FIRST OUTDOOR SESSION
Unfortunately due to the postal
strike our new pairs of binoculars had not arrived in time for today, but we
managed with what we had as well as a powerful telescope brought along by
Richard Baines our expert on the project.
We spent the morning in the
woodland and meadow areas in the south of the country park and time absolutely
flew by. It was unbelievable how many different species of birds we saw and
heard, the majority of which we undoubtedly wouldn’t have noticed without an
expert guiding us. The highlight was probably
two goldcrests literally 3 feet above our heads on an overhanging branch having
a “domestic” totally oblivious of us watching them. We had to step back quite a
way for our binoculars to be able to focus in on them. Another notable sighting
was a pair of carrion crows mobbing a common buzzard overhead. Again none of us
would have had any idea of what the birds were if we didn’t have our expert with
After lunch we headed into the
more heavily wooded northern part of the country park and bird sightings were
decidedly thin on the ground. This fitted with what we had learnt at the
previous habitat workshop about woodland glades and edges of woodland being a
more productive area for flowers and insects and therefore birds.
These are the birds we encountered
through the day:
carrion crow, long tailed tit, robin, blackbird, goldfinch, goldcrest, great
tit, blue tit, dunnock, coal tit, black cap, magpie, chaffinch, songthrush,
mistlethrush, wren, bullfinch, wood pigeon, black headed gull, grey wagtail,
mallard, moorhen, common gull.
(Tuesday NOV 6th 6.30pm-9.00pm)
In this workshop we finalised our species list, had a look at
the song thrush and bullfinch and discussed habitat improvements which could be
made for them in the country park. Richard Baines' summary of the project
so far follows below.
Richard Baines Nov 2007
This is the first
of several summaries designed to help the group highlight aspects of
individual species requirements and the link to management tasks we have
discussed at the Humber Bridge Country Park.
In the meeting at
Hessle High School on the 6th
November a draft list of Key Species was agreed these were;
Work planned for
the area behind the feeding station in the large meadow will be designed to
benefit Song Thrush and Bullfinch. Future meetings and species summaries
will cover the other four species.
The Song Thrush
is a fairly common bird over a large part of Europe. However since the early
1970’s the British population has undergone a large decline. This decline
has been linked to several changes in Song Thrush habitats such as increased
drainage of damp ground, maturing woodlands causing canopy closure and the
subsequent loss of shrubs as the light fails to reach the ground beneath
trees, grazing by an increasing population of Roe Deer and agricultural
intensification through the use of pesticides such as slug pellets.
feed on a wide range of foods with fruit berries and seeds forming part of
their diet especially in winter, in summer and winter a large range of
molluscs such as snails and a smaller number of invertebrates are eaten.
The Humber Bridge
Country Park is an area where breeding Song Thrush can be found in small
numbers. A detailed survey of breeding birds carried out by Ecology UK in
2004 found 6 Song Thrush territories in the Country Park. The habitat
management carried out by the Countryside Service will be benefiting these
birds by increasing areas of scrub and shrubs beneath the woodland canopy.
These habitats are excellent for a wide range of invertebrates and the chalk
cliffs and woodland floor may also be a good source of snail species for the
Thrushes. However since the Country Park opened in the 1980’s the habitats
have changed significantly. Plant succession over time has transformed the
open landscape dominated by newly planted young trees and shrubs in the
1980’s into maturing woodland with fewer open areas where shrubs can
flourish. This transition mirrors changes in woodland structure across the
At our meeting in
November we researched the food of Song Thrushes using the book British
Thrushes by Eric Simms (New Naturalist). On page 109 there is an excellent
table on the preferences of a wide range of Thrush species for different
fruits. Yew comes out top as the preferred choice in this study with
Hawthorn, Bramble, Ivy, Holly and Elder in smaller numbers. The presence of
large areas of Hawthorn scrub behind the feeding station is an important
habitat for Song Thrush. The Bramble patches also provide excellent cover
and food source especially in autumn.
A range of shrub
species will also benefit other bird species such as Bullfinch
illustrated in the next chapter.
Male Bullfinch in my
garden in 2006.
This bird was a
migrant, taking advantage of an easy source of seeds on the bird table.
Bullfinches are uncommon at bird tables where occasionally they extend their
diet beyond natural fruits. It will be interesting to see if we see any at the
feeding station during winter 2007 at the Humber Bridge Country Park.
Bullfinches were once
an extremely common bird over much of England especially in the orchards of the
south east. In 2007 populations are much reduced. Threats to Bullfinches are
very similar to Song Thrushes, they include; agricultural intensification, a
reduction in the shrub layer in woodland and the associated loss of fruit and
buds from suitable species and young trees.
The Ecology UK
breeding bird study in 2004 found 5 breeding territories with the Country Park.
The diet of
Bullfinches is surprisingly similar to Song Thrush. In summer they feed their
young on a range of invertebrates including a significant percentage of snails,
spiders, caterpillars and a range of seeds from small woodland flowers such as
groundsel and chickweed. Winter brings a shortage of invertebrate food so the
change to plant material is made. Various studies give a list of tree and shrub
species from which Bullfinches find their fruit and bud foods. I have listed
here the species from various studies and which are most practical for us to
plant within our management area. These are; Yew, Mulberry, Holly, Dog Rose,
Rowan, Guelder Rose, Dog Wood, Plum, Gooseberry, Currants, and Apple.
OUTDOOR (Sunday NOV 25th 10am-1pm)
This morning we carried out maintenance in the bird feeding area which included
rodent proofing the legs of the existing bird tables using plastic guttering and
tree guards, and cutting back overhanging branches. Three robins were feeding at
the tables at the same time! A pair of bullfinches were seen feeding as
well as blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, dunnocks, blackbirds. (We had
put lots of food out on the tables!)
We then assessed the area to the rear and side of the feeding area where we were
proposing to plant a "bird fruit orchard" with song thrush and bullfinch
in mind. A lot of clearance will be necessary before it will be possible
to plant any trees.
WORKSHOP (Tuesday DEC 4th 6.30pm- 9.00pm)
At this workshop we concentrated on treecreeper and tawny owl. We split into
small groups each tasked with finding out about a particular aspect of each
bird. We then shared our findings with the whole group. Richard
Baines compiled the following report based on what we discovered.
This report has been compiled by
Richard Baines from notes and research by members of the Humber Bridge Country
Park Breathing Spaces Group taken at the Dec 07 meeting.
This is the
second of several summaries designed to help the group highlight aspects of
individual species requirements and the link to management tasks we have
discussed at the Humber Bridge Country Park.
Species Notes from the 4th December Meeting
caught and ringed at Flamborough 2004
treecreeper has many colloquial names throughout regions of England. Many of
these are based on its habit of climbing up the main trunk of a tree in search
of insects like a mouse, hence the names tree mouse from Somerset and creepy
tree from Yorkshire. Treecreepers breed in every county of the British Isles
except Orkney and Shetland. They nest in well developed woodland nesting in any
species of broad leaved tree behind large crevices or gaps in the bark or behind
Ivy. Their nest is made of loose moss, roots and dried grass on a base of small
twigs. They are particularly fond of large open bark trees such as Wellingtonia.
their way up the trunk in short jerks of ten moving sideways and always stiff to
the bark supported by its tail held against the trunk. As these birds work their
way to the top and outer smaller branches they complete their feeding cycle and
fly back to the base of a new tree to start upwards again. Their courtship
consists of a bat like flight and wing shivering.
It is thought
that as many as 3 million pairs of treecreepers breed in Europe. Largely
sedentary they rarely move more than 5km from their home woodland. There are
however a few records of Scandinavian birds arriving on the east coast of
Britain. Throughout Europe they have fairly large territories, a study in 1989
found 9.2 territories /sqkm in an English woodland. Populations are known to
fluctuate depending upon severity of winters and particularly high rain fall can
cause problems as finding insects on trees becomes more difficult. In the Humber
Bridge Country Park survey 2004 a minimum of two territories were located. The
relatively young age of the woodland and consequently few large old trees may
indicate fewer opportunities for locating suitable nest sites. The breathing
spaces group are looking into the feasibility of making and erecting
specifically designed nest boxes.
Tawny Owl nest
site. The owl gives away its presence courtesy of a few misplaced feathers!
Tawny owls are
familiar birds of broadleaved and mixed woodland, fairly common from the open
countryside to the middle of towns and Cities. However, despite their widespread
population they are seldom seen most often only being heard. A highly nocturnal
owl they rarely show in daylight preferring to sit motionless and out of sight
hidden behind tight branches or foliage. One of the only ways to locate one is
to listen carefully for the sound of smaller birds mobbing an owl as they try to
move it on. They become aware of this big brown threat sitting within their
territory! The tawny owls familiarity brings many colloquial names from parts of
the UK most recalling the famous call; tawny hooting owl from Shropshire and
hill hooter from Cheshire being two typical names.
A common owl
throughout their Palearctic range they are found as far east as Asia, where the
identifiable race may be geographically separate from the western populations.
They are common in the UK but completely absent from Ireland. Throughout their
range they are highly sedentary. Young owls almost always establish a territory
close to their birth but have been recorded moving up to 10km. There was a
decline in the 19th Century due to human persecution, followed by
increases in the 20th Century.
These owls use
speed and silent flight as prime hunting weapons. They have two main hunting
peaks; before dawn and just after dusk, often resting in the total darkness of
night. Their prey is varied and consists of many small animals from birds to
amphibians, worms, insects, fish, small mammals and even bats.
They nest in
large holes or crevices in trees often where large branches have split or trees
have died and rotted still standing. They have also been known to use old
sparrowhawk nests. They commonly use large specifically designed nest boxes
which have been more successful where an old nest site has recently been
In the Humber
Bridge Country Park they have never been properly surveyed. The Breathing Spaces
group are looking into the feasibility of conducting a night time survey to
establish general data about numbers present in the Country Park. We are also
looking at building and erecting nesting boxes in some of the larger trees in
order to conserve the populations of owls in the woodland.
WORKSHOP (Tuesday JAN 15th 2008 6.30-9.00pm)
this workshop we investigated our 2 remaining target species - Spotted
Flycatcher and Goldfinch. We once again split into small groups each
investigating different aspects of these 2 species. Our findings are being
compiled into another report by Richard Baines and will be posted here in due
Species Notes from the 15th
Immature in early Autumn
Goldfinches can be found in a wide variety of habitats from open cultivated
land with good hedgerows to urban parks and gardens. Such a familiar bird
has many colloquial names; thistle tweaker (Angle Saxon), Spotted Dick
(Shropshire) and King Harry (Yorkshire) are just a few. A group of goldfinch
is known as a charm no doubt originating from the charming sight of flocks
of this red and gold bird flashing through the sky.
female goldfinches are almost identical; the female is generally duller with
a more greyish head. The face in both sexes is red with a contrasting white
cheek and black nape. The wings have bright yellow wing bars present in both
adults and immature birds.
goldfinch is a common bird throughout the British Isles. Throughout the UK
numbers have increased in the last century as bird trapping has
progressively been outlawed. In 1860 132,000 birds were being caught each
year for the cage bird trade. The RSPB had the protection of goldfinches as
one of its first tasks after its creation. In the past 20 years increases in
feeding Niger seed have helped increase garden populations of goldfinches.
Although these birds are resident in the UK they do migrate within this
country seeking out milder climates and food rich areas. A peak is seen in
migrants between mid April and mid May and again between mid Sept and mid
November. During these times of movement large numbers can be counted
migrating through our migration watch points. In spring 1977 11,873 passed
through Spurn during a 7 week count.
Goldfinches feed on a variety of seeds. Often soft and half ripe, they are
fond of thistle and teasel seeds which they extract with their long pointed
finch beak. They also take a wide variety of small invertebrates during the
breeding season when they are feeding nestlings.
Humber Bridge Country Park they are commonly found around the large and
small meadow areas where there is an excellent mixture of their favourite
habitats. In 2004 they were also recorded breeding in this area.
Flycatchers can be found in and around woodland, parkland and large gardens.
They particularly like open glades and woodland edges where they can find
most flying insects attracted to the larger numbers of flower rich areas in
these habitats. Old names for this small robin sized bird are many and often
relate to their habit of perching upright and flying from a perch to catch
airborne insects. Spider catcher and post bird (Kent), beam bird
(Yorkshire), wall robin (Cheshire) are just a few.
one of the last summer migrants to arrive from their wintering grounds in
Africa. The first few back are seen from mid April but most arrive from mid
to late May. Post breeding movements are south and breeding birds have left
by September. At this time migrant Scandinavian birds can be found on the
Yorkshire coast at sites such as Flamborough Head.
female spotted flycatchers are identical. Their combination of silvery
underparts, dark brown upperparts and a dark brown tail are distinctive when
the posture of the bird is taken into account. No other common British bird
has this plumage and upright perching habits. The spots are far more obvious
on juveniles. In adults they are restricted to the upper breast and are only
seen when close.
Flycatchers were once a far more common sight in the UK. Numbers fell by 83%
between 1967 and 1999, then a further 24% 1994-2000. There are many theories
for the causes of the decline. Cool and wet summers, loss of flying insects
due to agricultural pesticides, loss of birds on wintering and migrating
grounds through drought and loss of habitat etc. The spotted flycatcher is
now listed on the UK red data species of conservation concern list due to
these dramatic declines.
Humber Bridge Country Park survey of 2004, a pair was located in the NW
corner of the site where they probably bred. The Friends group are looking
at ways they can improve habitat for these birds and looking into the
feasibility of providing nest boxes.
OUTDOOR (Sunday JAN 20th 2008 10am-3.30pm)
The morning was spent planting our bird fruit orchard designed to benefit
Bullfinch and Song Thrush, 2 of our target species.
More details here!
The rodent proofing of the bird tables was also completed.
After lunch we did a spot of bird watching led by Richard Baines.
Big Garden Bird Watch (Sunday JAN 27th 2008 10am)
This morning the Friends joined up with members of the
Phoenix group to carry out the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch in the country park.
It was a chance to put our new found bird identification skills to the test and
we are pleased to report that we were able to identify all the bird species we
encountered that morning!