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FIRST WORKSHOP  (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

  • To acquire 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 suitable.


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 :

  • Spotted Flycatcher

  • Stock Dove

  • Song Thrush

  • Bullfinch

as 4 of our target species.



SECOND WORKSHOP (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 canopy. 


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 to thrive.


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 species:

  • Goldfinch



FIRST OUTDOOR SESSION (Sunday 14th October 10am-3.30pm)


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 seeing 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 us.


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:

Common buzzard, 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.



WORKSHOP (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.

Key Species

In the meeting at Hessle High School on the 6th November a draft list of Key Species was agreed these were;


Song Thrush



Spotted Flycatcher

Tawny Owl

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.


Species Notes

Song Thrush


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.


Song Thrushes 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 country.


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





Treecreeper caught and ringed at Flamborough 2004


The 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.


They work 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



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 destroyed.


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)


At 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 course.


Species Notes from the 15th January Meeting




 Adult                                            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.


Male and 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.


The 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.


In the 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.



Spotted Flycatcher


 Spotted 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.


They are 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.


Male and 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.


Spotted 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.


In the 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.



RSPB 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!






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