Keeping an eye on the birds at Stanwick Lakes
All year round the Wrisdale family volunteer to keep an eye on the birds at Stanwick Lakes – monitoring them so we can find out which birds visit, which are resident, and which breed on the site. As well as telling us the health of the local bird population, the data also contributes to national bird recording schemes and helps us to manage the site for conservation.
One of the main ways this is done is by checking the nest boxes on the site throughout the breeding season. This is not only useful for us, but also contributes to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) national Nest Record Scheme. Every year, hundreds of volunteers across the country submit observations of nests they have monitored and the data is used to assess the impacts that changes in the environment, such as habitat loss and global warming, have on the number of fledglings that birds can rear. (A fledgling is a young bird who is ready to leave the nest).
We have 36 nest boxes at Stanwick Lakes, with 23 designed specifically for blue tits and great tits, 8 for robins and wrens and 5 for kestrels and tawny owls which are checked weekly between March and October by volunteers who are trained to ensure that the welfare of the birds comes first. Nest recorders also follow the Nest Record Scheme Code of Conduct, a protocol designed to ensure that monitoring a nest does not influence its outcome.
2020 was a challenge for the volunteers as they were unable to access the site for several weeks due to lockdown rules, but it started as normal in mid-March with all the boxes empty, except for a few scraps of moss – possible early signs of nest building. The next opportunity they had to visit was mid-May, by which time lots had happened.
(Pictured below: Stock Dove in bird box at Stanwick Lakes)
Nest Box Babies
It was discovered that many of the blue and great tit families had built their nests, laid their eggs and several had already matured and left the nest. They found that the Tawny Owls had laid eggs, but the squirrels had taken over the nest box and were rearing their own young! Excitingly, one of the larger nest boxes had four newly hatched kestrels, which were ringed on the next visit a week later when they were 2 weeks old. Young kestrels only spend about 4 more weeks in the nest, with the larger females taking a couple of days longer than the males. Upon fledging, they climb out of the nest box to sit on the perch or its roof and may even return to the box when they see a parent returning with food. Over a period of about a week, they will gradually venture further into the tree until they are confident to leave.
By June nearly all the young had successfully fledged and although the kestrels were still in their box they were expected to be gone within the next few days. Three stock dove eggs were found in one of the boxes – this is unusual as they nearly always lay 2 eggs, or if not, just one. It is suspected that a neighbouring stock dove may have laid an egg in their nest.
Over the season all 23 boxes that are considered suitable for blue tits and great tits had nests built in them, eggs laid and young hatched, with a minimum estimation of 135 chicks hatched and fledged. The 8 boxes designed specifically for robins and wrens only welcomed great tits this year, but we are unsure of how many chicks as they had fledged in the early days of lockdown when the site could not be checked. The 5 larger boxes designed for Tawny Owls and Kestrels only had one clutch of kestrels, some stock doves and unfortunately no Tawny Owls. Eggs were laid but the local grey squirrels took over the nest and they were also causing trouble for stock doves as they ate the eggs and chicks from several stock dove nests. In total, at least 160 birds are known to have fledged from the nest boxes at Stanwick Lakes this year, and the actual total is probably higher as several nests were missed due to not being able to visit during lockdown.
Overall, it was a tough year for the Nest Box team as they were unable to visit the site as much, or as regularly, as they usually do to complete a comprehensive survey. But they did conclude that it had been a productive season for many of the bird species and the data they have gathered has been submitted to BTO’s national Nest Record Scheme. We are very grateful for all the time the Wrisdale family volunteer throughout the year at Stanwick Lakes.
~ Liz Williams