Sunday, 5 June 2011

Chick's Tough Life and Death

On Friday evening we went out to the gull nesting island in Ibsley Water to ring some of the black-headed gull chicks. Gulls started nesting on the island in 2006, with one pair, which lost their eggs. In 2007 about 30 pairs nested and there are now about 240, much the same as last year. Most black-headed gulls in southern England nest on coastal saltmarshes, a lot of these sites have been abandoned in the last few year, possibly due to more frequent flooding. This is not to say that the Ibsley Water birds have been displaced from the coast, but they might have been. Although we don't know where they have come from, by ringing some of the chicks we might at least get some idea of where they go to.So three of us headed out on a fine evening with fifty or so rings, enough for an hour or so of ringing. The first surprise was a lesser black-backed gull nest with one egg on the eastern end of the island, I knew there had been a pair about but I had not realised they had a nest. The first black-headed gull nests we found contained eggs, no good for ringing! As we moved west there were more and bigger chicks. It became clear that the colony was at almost every stage, form nests with eggs to pairs with young only days from flying. It was also apparent that the pair of oystercatcher had young, although we could not find them anywhere. Although we had no problem finding and ringing the number of chicks we set out to get, actually catching them did involve ferreting about in dense nettles, long sleeves would have been a good choice.

In the middle of the colony there were several squashed nests, I suspect the result of stamping geese running around. There were also an extraordinary number of mallard nests, probably in excess of fifteen, as to how many were active it was hard to say, some were certainly abandoned.
Last year something over 300 black-headed gull chicks fledged, although we had no great problem finding chicks there did not seem to be very large numbers. Today I got a possible insight into why there might not have been as many as might behave been expected. As well as losses to the lesser black-backed gull pair, which I had already seen, today I watched a buzzard land on the island, it took no notice of the mass of mobbing gulls and just wandered about until it found a large chick and flew off to dismember it. Hopefully it was not one of our ringed ones.

On the whole today was quiet, two pairs of pochard and the female pintail were on Ibsley Water and a teal was reported. The lapwing chick near the Tern hide still grows well, although it now seems to be alone, the second seems to have disappeared. On Ivy Lake the mute swan at the Ivy North hide seems to have lost the plot entirely, it is sitting on the nest again, although it hatched and lost a cygnet well over a week ago. The common tern chicks still seem to be doing well and when it rained they did seem to have got the idea of the shelters, or at least some of them had, a few still stood out in the rain getting soaking wet.

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