Monday 20 May 2024

Guided warbler walk - led by Andy Harding, 12 May 2024



Fourteen of us gathered in the car park at 8.00am on a warm and fairly sunny morning. 

After a brief introduction Andy led us along the south side of the lake opposite the sand martin bank. There didn’t seem to be a lot of activity there, but the few people that waited a bit longer were rewarded by a Sand Martin flying round and into one of the nest entrance holes. 

We immediately had our first warbler – a clear flutey Blackcap, followed by a loud babbling Garden Warbler. It seemed so close but we couldn’t see it as it was hiding deep in a willow bush. Garden Warblers have few distinguishing marks so are the typical LBJ - Little Brown Job - and even have the scientific name of Sylvia borin. Nevertheless, the musical sounds of several of these two warblers, added soon by a Cuckoo, followed us around most of the morning.

We viewed the lake from near Gordon’s Bench, which has been painted again and looks like new. We could hear another warbler chattering away in the reeds or willows, but was it a Reed Warbler or Sedge Warbler? As it rose up into a display flight and added some whistles and chirps we were pretty sure it was a Sedge. Looking back into the meadow we spotted a Greenfinch at the top of a tree and a Reed Bunting flying across from the water’s edge.

The Warbler Hide gave us a better view of the lake but most of the birds were further away so we continued on towards the Otter Hide. We saw a few pairs of Great Crested Grebes but they didn’t seem interested in displaying for us. They should have been on nests by now but Andy thought the recent high water level had forced them to abandon their nests, even though they cleverly tie their nest on to reeds so that rising water level usually just raises the nest as well. He hopes there will still be time for them to try laying again. 

We had better views from the Otter Hide of Common Terns just sitting on wooden posts sticking out of the water. Perhaps they were recovering from their long migration, although it is Arctic Terns that have the longest migration of any bird – from the Antarctic where it is ice free in our winter to Arctic areas to breed in the northern hemisphere summer. The Parks Trust had tried providing a raft in the hope that Common Terns would nest on it. Although in many places Black-headed Gulls take over the space, in this case it was just Moorhens and Mallard that tried nesting there. 

On the strip of land called the bund, The Parks Trust had recently cut away a lot of willows hoping for more space for waders. On the mud of the bund was an Oystercatcher and a Lapwing. Keith could see a Common Sandpiper through his telescope but it then hid away among the vegetation.  Andy pointed out several Gadwall, with their greyish plumage and white, black and red patches. It’s a duck that quite recently has started breeding locally. 

On the short walk up to the Heronry Hide we added another warbler – the Cetti’s Warbler. As usual we just heard its loud call, delivered from the middle of a bush. This hide gave good views of the island where several Grey Herons were nesting. Andy explained that young herons can be identified from their plain grey heads, whereas adults have white and black heads. We had the chance to try and identify another warbler in the reeds. Was it a Reed Warbler this time? We noted the repetitive monotonous phrasing, unlike the Sedge’s tendency to go all over the place. Andy said it had been noted as like rubbing two stones together, and advised to wait and see if it appears. Then it popped up along a reed stem, confirming its identity. Further out in the water, we noticed something thrashing around. It could have been an Otter perhaps, but then a fin was seen poking out of the water and someone commented that it was a “cavorting” carp.

As the sun warmed up during the morning, some of us spotted some butterflies : Brimstone, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Peacock; and also a Hairy Dragonfly, Banded Demoiselle and Common Blue Damselflies, and Black-headed Cardinal Beetles. 

As we walked back to the car park, we discussed which other birds have display flights, and whether only male birds sing, and Andy included some anecdotes of the time he was leading bird tours overseas. 

The group thanked Andy for being such a helpful and interesting guide. Keith Gander also provided his telescope and much information on the bird ringing activities at Linford Lakes. Thanks also to Pauline and Neil Studman for being in charge of the First Aid Box.

Warbler Walk Species List

 

Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Canada Goose, Carrion Crow, Cetti’s Warbler, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, Coot, Cormorant, Cuckoo, Gadwall, Garden Warbler, Great-crested Grebe, Greenfinch, Green Woodpecker, Grey Heron, Greylag, Jackdaw, Lapwing, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Red Kite, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Robin, Sand Martin, Sedge Warbler, Song Thrush , Swift, Tufted Duck, Woodpigeon, Wren

 

42 spp


Andy Harding is the former county Bird Recorder for Buckinghamshire.

Thursday 2 May 2024

Bird Ringing Report 2023 - By Kenny Cramer

Introduction

2023 was another very successful year for ringing in Milton Keynes. Our primary study site remains Linford Lakes Nature Reserve and over the course of the year, we conducted 28 ringing sessions which equalled our efforts in 2022, but was some way behind the covid years 2020-21, when circumstances allowed up to 38 sessions to take place.

Despite the reduced number of sessions, we processed more birds than ever before. In total, 1947 birds were handled, consisting of 46 species, 1,569 of which were newly ringed. This was 11% up vs 2020, with 8% more birds newly ringed, although the number of species was down by 8% (46 species in 2023 compared to 50 species in 2020.)

Key species we failed to encounter in 2023 included tawny owl despite the provision of 2 nest boxes, one of which had previously been occupied. No marsh tits were recorded, after records in 2014, 2014, 2021 and 2022. Coal tit was also absent for the third year running.


Common Breeding Species

For the second year in a row, blackcap was the most commonly ringed species, and the numbers were truly remarkable. 359 new birds were processed, 85% up on the previous record of 195 set in 2022 and continuing this species’ increasing trend. Chiffchaff numbers were equally impressive with 284 new birds, almost doubling the count of 143 from 2020.


The ubiquitous blue tit was in third place, fairing favourably with a total of 170 birds ringed, a 52% increase vs 2022, but some way off their peak number of 230 in 2018.


In fourth place was reed warbler, which finished the year with a respectable 114 birds ringed, which was somewhat down compared to a peak of 172 in 2021. This drop can be attributed to the fact that we did not conduct any mist netting in the main reed bed on the bund, due to the removal of the entirety of the willow scrub, which meant we lacked any suitable net rides. Despite this, some 30 nests were surveyed and 9 chicks ringed.      

Rounding off the top 5 was great tit. 71 birds were ringed which was a 97% increase on 2022, but still a 46% decline vs 2018.


Just falling short of the top 5 was garden warbler which also enjoyed a record year with 60 birds ringed, an increase of 43% vs 2021. 

Common Whitethroat was another warbler species that seemed to thrive in 2023 with 28 birds ringed, up one third vs 2019.

     

Overall, it seems like common resident species which have suffered from recent changes in the timing of spring are slowly bouncing back, while certain migratory species are benefiting from warmer, wetter conditions.

Cuckoos

Of course, cuckoos have become something of a Linford speciality and 2023 was no different with 9 birds being processed, 4 of which were newly ringed, and the retraps including DT04157, our site faithful male who was ringed as a full adult (2+ calendar years) in 2017 and retrapped in 2021, 2022 and 2023. This now puts him in contention for the UK longevity record if he makes it back for one more summer.

The Sand Castle

The artificial sand martin nesting bank constructed in 2020/21 continued to attract a steadily increasing number of residents with 4 nests producing 12 chicks. 2 free-flying adults were also ringed during the course of normal ringing operations. Water ingress continues to be a problem, but we remain hopeful that the number of occupied nest boxes will continue to increase, and we will be able to improve the roofing and drainage of the building later in 2024.

 

Other Notable Birds

Probably the biggest surprise of the year was the capture of an adult hobby, which was the only new species ringed in 2023, and brought the Linford ringing list to 69 species.  Other notable birds included 2 adult kestrels, a barn owl, a redstart, a tree pipit, and a siberian chiffchaff. 

Recoveries/Controls

We controlled 4 birds during the course of the year, a chiffchaff from Tyne and Wear, a garden warbler and a blackcap from Oxfordshire, and a blackcap from Wilstone Reservoir, near Tring. As of the time of writing, there have been no recoveries of Linford birds ringed in 2023.

 

The shape of 2024 so far…

2024 is already shaping up to be another record-breaking year. A new feeding station was set up in a sheltered spot behind the Bug Bank in the hope that it would enable us to ring on more days, especially when wind meant that our usual nets would be too exposed. This proved to be more successful that we could have imagined, largely due to an unusual abundance of redpolls and siskins in the region.

In the first 4 months of the year, a time of unfavourable and unpredictable conditions which usually equate to a limited number of possible ringing days and low catches, we were able to conduct 9 ringing sessions, equalling our previous record set in 2018. So far this year we have already ringed 602 birds, which is around 3x more than the same period in any other year.


While almost all species we would normally expect to catch at this time of year have enjoyed an increase, it was the finches that have really led the charge. 115 siskins and 81 lesser redpolls are truly unprecedented numbers, around double the amount we have ringed in the entire history of our group’s ringing at Linford. It may be worth to note that despite several reported sightings of mealy/common redpoll, we failed to ring any which fit the biometric criteria.

 

Another species seemingly making a comeback this year is the humble greenfinch. A red-listed conservation species, they have suffered from a viral infection which caused a sharp drop in populations. Linford records have been up and down, but 2024 has already surpassed any previous year by almost 2x. The increase may be driven by an influx of continental birds, but hopefully the trend continues throughout the year and plenty of fledglings will be ringed, indicating a healthy local breeding population.


Acknowledgements

These results are only possible with the investment of countless hours of hard work and heavy lifting (in sometimes gruelling conditions), from a hardy, dedicated and passionate group of people.

Firstly, I must thank everyone at the Parks Trust for continuing to allow us the privilege of ringing in their beautiful parks and reserves. The work they do to manage and maintain the green spaces in Milton Keynes and cater for the needs of a wide variety of users while nurturing wildlife and biodiversity, cannot be over-stated.

Secondly, The Friends of Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (helpfully known as FoLLNR), and especially Tony Bedford, who’s tireless advocation for the value of the site as a nature reserve has undoubtedly protected and secured its future as the most important site for wildlife conservation in Milton Keynes, which will hopefully be enjoyed and appreciated by generations to come.

Thirdly, everyone who has bought a permit for the site, attended an event, or volunteered at a work party. It is only through the support and contributions of us all that Linford can truly achieve its full potential.

And last but by absolutely no means least, huge thanks to my ringing crew, without whom, none of this would be possible:-

To Keith Gander, who has helped out with almost every session from set up to take down and performed perhaps the most important role as our scribe, ensuring that the data we collect is accurate and all rings accounted for. To Richard Geary for his energy, expertise, silly ideas, general gadgetry and cider drinking companionship, and to Helen Franklin for keeping us all under control (and taking the breakfast orders).

To my trainees, Sally, Steve, Michelle, Beth and Simon for keeping the faith that I can actually teach them something, and my nephew Jasper, whose willingness to get up at 3am, whilst maintaining flawless handling and recall skills between naps, continues to astonish me.

And to all the ringers and volunteers who turned up and contributed to a session, Neil, Miles, Louise, Chris, Otto, Tracey, Laura, Jake, Naimh, Bethan, Simon, Reuben… apologies in advance to anyone I missed.

Special shout-out to Sarah McDonald, whose passion for bramble-bashing and nettle-ending over the years, continues to shape many of the net rides we use today.

 

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Tough as Old Boots

 



I first photographed this badly injured Muntjac back in April 2021. At that time it had one ear and many nasty looking injuries, including a deep wound on it's neck. I suspected it had been hit by a car. Today nearly three years on we met again - it still seems to have only two bits of ears, but otherwise looks fine, proving what tough old boots munties are.


Thursday 18 January 2024

Planning Appeal Dismissed

 Great News - the Planning Appeal against refusal to develop the land adjacent to the Nature Reserve has been dismissed and the site therefore remains safe from development for what we hope is a good few years.

More details can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/712891355444118

Monday 8 January 2024

Guided walk for waterbirds with Andy Harding 17.12.23



Andy is the former county Bird Recorder for Buckinghamshire and visits Linford Lakes Nature Reserve every month to count waterbirds for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Fifteen of us gathered in the car park on a bright and dry morning in December 2023. Andy began by explaining how he counts all the waterbirds at the reserve and surrounding lakes each month. He then sends the records to the BTO for including in the Wetlands Bird Survey. We started off by counting 8 Great Crested Grebes on Blackhorse Lake and then noticed two groups of Lapwings coming together high over our heads, in a loose flappy flock of alternating black and white shapes. Some of us needed more practice at counting large moving flocks but the consensus was an estimated 120 birds. 

We then moved on to the reserve past the Sand Martin bank which was constructed in 2019 by the Friends group. It successfully hosted some nests in the pipe chambers this year. Andy pointed out the large permanent light trap for moths next to the centre building. We walked past the carved wooden bench installed as a memorial to the late Gordon Redford who was a long-standing moth recorder here, faithfully identifying and releasing the night’s catch over many years. The carvings included representations of Scarlet Tiger, Clifden Nonpareil, and, demurely on the reverse side, one that Gordon liked to call Large Yellow Underpants (actually Underwing). 

On the main lake viewed from the Warbler Hide we could see a good number of 12 Shovelers which breed in north and west Europe; a Great Egret becoming a more common resident in Milton Keynes; and 8 Little Egrets, also increasing their UK populations. There were 2 Pochard, much fewer than the numbers that used to come for the winter, probably because they have found just as amenable wintering grounds closer to their breeding sites in eastern Europe.

On the way to the furthest hide, the Heronry Hide, we spotted a group of active Siskins feeding in the alders, and noted a Goldcrest and Great Spotted Woodpecker. From the hide we saw a smart male Goldeneye, a species which spends some of the winter locally in small numbers, more in North Bucks than in the south of the county. It kept us guessing as it spent a lot of time disappearing under water. But then it had a rest to preen so we all had good views. Other birds were 43 Tufted Ducks, Gadwall, Teal, and a few Mallard, a duck that is decreasing in numbers. Hiding among the trees on the island were 10 Little Egrets. One of them was just standing with its legs in the water which seemed unusual but perhaps it found the water warmer than the air. The wind had become stronger and ruffled the plumed feathers on its back. Andy reminded us that it was to preserve this species from being shot for fashionable feathered hats that led to the origin of the RSPB. The island is also home to Grey Herons, which begin thinking about breeding there in January. Herons manage to move among the branches, if looking rather ungainly, but Andy pointed out that Cormorants also nest in trees despite their webbed feet. 

After a final check and a chat in the Otter Hide, the group thanked Andy for leading the group in such a friendly and informative session.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Update on Appeal re Planning Application - 18/10/23


Letter from MK Planning Department 18/10/23

TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING ACT 1990 (AS AMENDED)

APPEAL BY Templeview Developments Limited
AGAINST REFUSAL FOR
(1) Full application for the change of use of 68.65ha of agricultural land to a linear park and a new access road to the Linford Lakes Study Centre with associated works including the stopping up of the public road in Stanton Low and demolition of the Marle Inn; and (2) Outline application (matter of access to be considered, with matters of layout, scale, appearance and landscaping reserved) for up to 277 extra care apartments (Use Class C2); a care home providing up to 70 bedrooms (Use Class C2); up to 41 retirement bungalows (Use Class C3) and up to 196 homes (Use Class C3) with communal amenity space and other associated works.
AT Linford Lakes , Wolverton Road, Milton Keynes , MK14 6GH

EIA development (submission of new EIA information, 30 day consultation)

Appeal Reference: APP/Y0435/W/23/3321221

We are writing to advise you that the appellant for the appeal has submitted further EIA information, which the Inspector has accepted as part of the appeal documentation. He has asked me to notify of this and give you an opportunity to make comments on it. You have 30 days from the date of this letter (by 17th November 2023) to comment on the new information.

The new EIA information can be viewed at Public Inquiry – 21/02533/OUTEIS – Linford Lakes | Milton Keynes City Council (milton-keynes.gov.uk)

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Work Party Sunday 24th September - 10 am Start

Just a reminder that we will be carrying out work to finish painting the warbler hide and bridge and to cut back surrounding vegetation. Your support would be very welcome so please do come and join us if you can. All tools and equipment will be provided but please wear suitable clothing and footwear and bring gloves if you have them although we do have a small supply of spares.

We start at 10 am and aim to be finished for 1pm.