Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The season starts at NWT Weeting Heath

Sophie Harrison, Summer Warden

There has been plenty of stone curlew action to report since NWT Weeting Heath opened for the season on Saturday 28 March. Our first birds arrived as early as 17 March, but have had a slow start due to the high winds and cold weather. Once the sun reappeared and the weather improved, our stone curlews started to establish territories. By Easter weekend nine had arrived onto the heathland. Stone curlews are most active between first light and 9.30am in the morning, and after 4pm in the afternoon.

Stone curlew, photo by Gary Noakes
They are incredibly territorial birds, so the last couple of weeks have consisted of a lot of fighting and running about the heath. All the stone curlews have been running around in a group, calling continuously, with wings outstretched, and tails pointed down. There were even collisions with lapwings and rabbits, which resulted in a lot of wing flapping and the stone curlew retreating to avoid a kicking from a rabbit!

When they started to separate out into pairs, a couple of unpaired individuals would duck down low in the grass and hide to avoid confrontation. This looked like a game of hide and seek, as when one bird stood up, the other would crouch down to avoid being seen. This went on until the unpaired bird was caught out, and was then rapidly chased off by the established pair.

After all this drama, we currently have two established pairs on our heathland. In one corner of the compartment, one of our male birds would forage for food, and then turn around to feed its mate. In response to this, she would lower her beak and lift her tail, presenting herself to him. This courtship behaviour indicates to us that shortly we may have a couple of scrapes being developed with eggs to follow.

Firecrest, photo by Neil Coe

Other news includes our little bandit thief the firecrest! This crafty individual has been hanging around our long tailed tit's nest. Once the coast is clear, and the parents have left the nest to gather more nesting material, the firecrest seizes its opportunity and swoops in to steal the nesting material.

Treecreeper, photo by Neil Coe
 A male treecreeper has taken quiet a fancy to the NWT sign and has started to build a nest behind it! Both birds have been caught on camera by a local photographer, who kindly gave us these beautiful photos.

Since the reserve has been reopened for the season, I have been also keeping a close eye on our lapwings. We currently have five scrapes here at Weeting, so hopefully in the next two weeks we will see some eggs beginning to hatch! These birds are incredibly defensive parents and have been seen doing their ‘tumbling flights’ to draw predators away.

Butterflies that have been spotted so far this season have included: brimstone, peacock, red admiral and common blue. The chiffchaffs have also been singing their hearts out, telling us that spring really has arrived!

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