Tuesday, 27 December 2016


Earmarked as potential nesting habitat for avocets - Rosper Road pools

THE UK's most elegant wading bird, the avocet, could be breeding on the outskirts of Immingham next spring thanks to a project funded by ABP.

The ports giant has financed  creation of eight avocet-friendly islands at North East Lindsey Drainage Board's Rosper Road pools.

Avocet - the elegant wader is emblem of the RSPB

At the board's November meeting, members heard from vice-chairman Lionel Grooby that Bicker Contractors had completed the works and hopes were high that the first birds - and possibly other wading species - could be nesting on the islands as early as next spring. 

The initiative has been welcomed by Richard Barnard, Humber conservation officer for the RSPB which is concerned that, elsewhere in the area, a main avocet stronghold, Read’s Island in the Humber Estuary, is being “badly eroded along the northern shore to the point where the lagoons are not functioning as they should”.

In an authoritative  post published on the website of the Lincolnshire Bird Club, he says: “This has forced a lot of the avocets out on to the surrounding intertidal, leaving them more exposed to predation, weather and tides.

“Similarly, the vegetation on Whitton Island, another decent breeding site, is starting to develop in ways that is not ideal for avocets (or any other breeding waders). 

 “As managers of these sites, this is something that the RSPB is looking at tackling.”

Richard continues: “That aside, the situation in the upper
Humber is not ideal anyway.

“Although avocets nest colonially, the numbers and densities we see in the upper Humber are more a reflection of the historic lack of good breeding habitat around the estuary.

“Avocets are typical of early successional stage breeders. They do great in early years on new habitat but, as their colonies grow, they tend to get badly hit by predation and other density- dependant factors which drive down the productivity of a colony. 

“We are starting to see this now on a lot of the upper Humber, so what we really need on the Humber is more dynamic and smaller avocet breeding sites.

“This will allow the population to respond by moving themselves around and staying ahead of the pressures.

“It also obviously reduces the impacts on the population of failure of any one colony.

“While the estuary's islands are currently key to the breeding population, having more terrestrial sites also gives those of us who manage avocet breeding sites more flexibility about how we manage them in a given year, so that there is  more chance of having good, dynamic wetlands spread round the estuary.”

 With avocets being one of the Humber's internationally important species, those of us who manage parts of the estuary have legal duties to make sure the population is maintained.

“A big part of this is thinking about the future for the species, not just their current numbers.

"Combined with the major benefits for wintering waders and wildfowl (both roosting and feeding) that tend to go hand in hand with avocet breeding habitat creation/management, these types of project should be great for the estuary's wildlife throughout the year. 

“It is fantastic to see ABP and the drainage  taking a lead on this at Rosper Road.” 

In the medium term, there are also plans to introduce cattle to graze adjacent pasture land at the Rosper Road reserve with a view to creating winter feeding and roosting habitat for birds such as curlew, redshank and oystercatchers.

In the past, the field  had been a no-go area for livestock because the beasts were at risk from ingesting coal dust blown from a nearby storage site.

However, since reduction of imports of coal to Immingham docks, this is no longer the problem it once was.

Formerly managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, the Immingham  reserve now comes under drainage board control

* Photo of avocet by Andreas Trepte  via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 23 December 2016


IT Is often that you see a raptor impersonating a wader, but so it was at Cleethorpes at the weekend.

A sparrowhawk was sampling life as  a redshank -albeit unsuccessfully because of the length of its tail which dragged in the water.

The exercise took place in a large area of standing water  on the Pleasure Island overspill car park

Later the same bird feigned being a duck before deciding to settle on having a good bath.

Part of its strange antics were watched in fascination by a couple of carrion crows.

Life as wader . . .

Or as a duck . . . 
Or it just wanted a good bath!

Whatever- the episode soon started to attract an audience of intrigued carrion crows


In this final extract from Birds and The War, author Hugh Gladstone pays tribute to the ornithologists who lost their lives in this most terrible of wars. 

IN conclusion, a passing tribute Is due to those British ornithologists who, with thousands of other valiant soldiers, have given their lives for King and Country. 

In days to come, mankind will be astounded by the grand total of human lives sacrificed in the war. 

At present we have figures for our own losses to which we must add the statistics of losses sustained by our allies and our enemies.

This vast total will be swelled still further by those who, though they have not fallen in actual battle, have perished as a direct consequence of the war. 

Shell and bullet, torpedo and gas, are reckoned as just some of the weapons of war. Accidental explosions, shipwreck, massacres, famine and disease, must be regarded as its contingencies.

An MP  stated, early in 1918, that between 10 and 12 million had been killed, and that 44 million had been maimed and shattered in mind and body.

To give the roll of honour, even if it were possible, of all the British lovers of birds who fell  would occupy many pages, but a fairly complete list could probably be compiled from the columns of such publications as The Field Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, British Birds magazine, The Zoologist, The Ibis, and Bird Notes and News

I propose, however, only to record the names of those who were particularly well known on account of their contributions to ornithology and whose deaths, often in the prime of their lives and at the commencement of promising scientific careers, are therefore the more to be deplored :

C. J. Alexander (October 4-5, 1917);
Commander Hon. R. Bridgeman (January 1917) 
Lord Brabourne (March 12, 1915);
Captain Sydney F. Brock (November 9, 1918)
Captain J. C. Crowley (September 9,1916)
 Eric Dunlop (May 19, 1917)
 Captain Leonard Gray (July 31, 1917)
 Lieutenant-Colonel H. H. Harrington (March 8,1916)
Lieutenant-Colonel R. R. Horsburgh (July 9, 1916)
Captain Hon. Gerald Legge (August 9, 1915)
Captain Lord Lucas (November 4, 1916)
Lieutenant-Colonel Aymer Maxwell (October 8, 1914)
Lieutenant L. N. G. Ramsay (March 21,1916)
Captain F. C. Selous (January 4,1917)
Colonel Charles Stonham (January 31, 1916)
George Stout (November 13, 1916)
2nd Lieutenant G. V.Webster (August 4, 1917)
Major H. T. Whitehead (September 26, 191 5) 
 Lieutenant R. B. Woosnam (June 4, 915).

The librarian of the Zoological Society of London, H. Peavot (April 21, 1917), and the assistant librarian of the Linnaean Society, E. E. Riseley (August 1, 1917), fell in action in France.

And I must not omit to record the loss to ornithological art in the deaths of 2nd Lieutenant O. Murray-Dixon (April l0,1917) and Frank Southgate (February 23,1916).

Doubtless, our enemies' losses in the scientlfic ranks have been as  heavy as our own.

If the outcome of this ”the world's greatest war” is to be a permanent peace, it will be as welcome to scientists as to mankind in general.

Science can only pursue her course by a mutual and international exchange of thought and must always conserve an attitude of mind abhorrent to such brutal acts as wars.

Nature, it is true, is at times cruel.

We human beings, who are only her creatures, but endowed with generations of education, should strive, puny though our efforts may be, to eliminate her cruelties and cultivate her beauties until she becomes sublime.

We have seen that the birds were indifferent to the noise of battle, and that migration went on uninterrupted by the struggle of mankind. 

The greeting card of the RSPB, issued at Christmas, 1917, was a picture of a robin sitting on a snow-wreathed identification cross behind the lines.

The following verses, which accompanied the picture, form a fitting ending to these Notes on Birds and the War :

A wooden cross alone may show
A hero's grave ; but this we know,
In summer's warmth and winter's cold.
In autumn, when the leaves turn gold,
In spring, when new life bursts from old,
God sends His messengers of love to seek the spot,
And tell us that the hero's grave is ne'er forgot.


What were the ultimate consequences of this terrible war for bird life? In this sixth extract from his book, Birds and The War, Hugh Gladstone makes his assesssment.

I AM not aware of any change of habit in birds actually due to the war unless indeed their supreme indifference to the noise of battle may be so described. 

Swallows are reported to have built freely in trees in France when all buildings had been levelled.

An eye-witness described a  poplar tree, which had escaped being cut down by the Germans in their retreat, in which there were at least half a dozen nests, the lowest being about 10ft  from the ground and others wherever the birds could get a lodgement.

The occurrence of such nests is not unknown though this is the first occasion, as far as I know, that trees have been freely (I can hardy say habitually) used by swallows for nidification. 

Magpies, in parts of Somme where most of the large trees had been felled, nested in quite small trees.

It is certainly remarkable that the vibration of gunfire in the vicinity of nests containing incubating eggs did not destroy them, nor even affect the embryos or the young when hatched.

I have already mentioned the case of a blackbird which reared its brood in a nest built in a hedge only 20 yards from two heavy guns. 

That any thing so sensitive as an embryonic chick should have been able to sustain with im-
punity the near discharge of a big gun is certainly unexpected, and Nature, in her far-seeing wisdom, can scarcely have foreseen the exigencies that would be required of her in this the most terrific war of all time.

The case of the blackcap whose nest had been blown sideways by shells and who laid three pure white eggs in a second nest within10ft of the old one is worthy of remark here, as it is conceivable that this abnormally colourless clutch was the result of the fright which the female had sustained.

It was noticed that swallows and martins on the Western Front habitually circled more closely than usual to human beings, doubtless attracted in search of the insects disturbed from the tangle of weeds , and this habit was also noticed in Palestine.

Eye-witnesses in France were impressed by the fact that all live creatures who had experienced the blast from a gun appeared to avoid passing in front of one. Birds proved no exception to this rule. 

The powers of mimicry of the starling found scope, writes an artillery officer on the Western Front, in the imitation of the three shrill blasts on a whistle used to denote theapproach of enemy aeroplanes. 

"It was great fun," he writes, ''to see everyone diving for cover, and I was nearly deceived myself one day.

A similar story is told of an owl in the vicinity of the London ''Outer Barrage" anti-aircraft gun-stations.

 ''The beastly bird learnt to imitate the alarm whistle to a nicety," said the gun commander.."On
several occasions, he turned me out in pyjamas and, when the crew had manned the gun, gave vent to a decided chuckle" 

The cocks and hens of a French farmyard are said to have learned  to make a noise exactly like that of a falling "dud" shell, and it would indeed prove a valuable addition to Darwin's instances of domestic instincts if this imitation could be shown to be transmitted as a fixed habit in the hen's progeny

It is conceivable that birds bred within the battle area and reared amongst all the turmoil of war may have acquired an innate indifference to terrific noises which they may impart to their progeny, successive generations of which might be expected, if wars continue, to become progressively more indifferent to their abnormal conditions. 

But this conception, which is without any substantiation by experience, has still to be proved. 
Gulls, rendered ravenous by hard weather, are alleged to have attacked fishermen off Deal while making a record haul of sprats in January 1917.

It was only with considerable difficulty that the fishermen were able to keep the gulls at bay with their oars. 

This temerity on the part of the gulls can perhaps hardly be attributable to the war, unless, indeed, they were infected with the war fever which pervaded the world.

In the autumn and winter of 1917-18, when energetic attempts were made to plough up more pasture land in this country, motor-ploughs were extensively employed for the purpose. 

One observer noticed that the gulls, normally the constant attendants of the horse-plough, did not follow the motor-ploughs, presumably on account of their noise and smell.

Another observer, however, reported having seen hundreds of gulls following motor-ploughs as unconcernedly as if they had been of the old-fashioned kind.

It is, perhaps, worthy of remark that under the new regime, when it has become possible to plough one day and sow the next, birds (such as gulls, rooks, and pheasants) have not the same opportunity of destroying wireworms and other noxious insects, of which, under the more protracted system of ploughing with horses, they so beneficially availed themselves.

It was not to be supposed that the unqualified success of the institution of ''summertime " would in any way affect Nature. 

Pet birds in houses and poultry in farmyards utterly ignored the '' willetted watch "but a peacock which had always been in the habit of going to its night rest at 8.40 pm is alleged to have re-
tired to bed at 8.40 p.m. (summer time) on the first day of the innovation and to have continued thereafter to do so!
Mr. William Beebe, in his recently published Monograph of the Pheasants, has pointed out that the far-flung influence of the war has granted a fresh lease of life to many species such as pheasants which had been jeopardised by the persecution conducted by plume-hunters and by the spread of mankind into their haunts. 

Nearer home, probably the greatest effect of the war is yet to be seen as regards birds. 

I am thinking of the destruction of forests and woods, sacrificed for national needs.

For a generation, at least, nothing but desolate areas will take the places of what were, in pre-war days, sanctuaries of wild life.

Already in 1917, an extension of the range of the great spotted woodpecker in the Tay area has been attributed to the cutting down of the larger and thicker woods for war purposes, the woodpeckers having been driven into the smaller woods which fill many of the more remote glens

Similar changes of habitat, if not of habit, may be expected, all of them due, more or less, to the exigencies of the war. 

There can be no doubt that the absence of gamekeepers from many estates has favoured an increase of ''vermin," both four-footed and winged. 

From many districts, it has already been reported that several species of predatory birds, which were, in pre-war days,  comparatively rare or but locally prescribed, have appeared in unusual

 Mr. W. Beach Thomas asks :"Is it an accident, or a result of the keeper's absence, that bitterns have bred on the East Coast during the period of the war? "

It is to be hoped that the powers conferred on county councils  by our Wild Birds Protection Acts will be utilised to continue any benefits which our rarer birds may have enjoyed owing to
the absence of their persecutors during the war. 

The effects of increased cultivation should, as regards this country, be beneficial not only to graminivorous but also to insectivorous birds, but there is no reason to suppose that any changes of this kind will immediately influence the habits of birds. 

In any case, it is imperative that the protection of birds, as at present enforced by our Game Laws and Wild Birds Protection Acts, should not be withdrawn, but rather increased,seeing that our best crop protectors are the insectivorous birds. 

Next: The ornithologists who died in battle.


In this fifth extract from Birds and The War, author Hugh Gladstone ponders whether the intense hostilities of 1914-18 had any consequence for bird migration.

A FRENCH commentator observed in1916 that ''the war had changed all the habits of migrating birds."

He stated ''The storks which make their home in Alsace began to leave that country a full fortnight before war was declared." 

He attributed this "to the noise of the movement of the German artillery on its way to attack France".

He went on: "In normal times, nearly all the birds of passage used to pass over France on their way north or south, but the thunder of the guns has changed all this.

"The route taken by woodcocks leaving England for warmer climes is across the Channel into Brittany,  then by way of the Loire, Charentes and Landes to the Pyrenees. 

"As these birds do not have to cross the war zone, they have kept to their old route throughout the hostilities.

"But their brethren from Scandinavia and Holland, who used to fly by way of the Aisne and the mud lakes of Champagne, now make a long round by sea and do not touch land until they arrive off the coast of Brittany. 

"Snipe from Russia and Poland wing their way for sunny climes by way of the western coast of the Black Sea to gain the Bosphorus, or else cross Greece and Romania. 

"German and Danish snipe go south by way of Italy, and members of the thrush family escape the shrapnel of the front in France by crossing Switzerland and making for Italy. 

"The wild ducks of the eastern counties of England, which used to fly over the North Sea, have also a horror of battles, and now fly north, then west, and then south again, skirting the coast of Ireland. 

"The calendar of the migrations, which for thousands of generations has been rigorously kept, has, since the war, become more elastic, and some birds, such as martins, have renounced their return journey to the north and remain in Tunis rearing their young "

In 2016, a French zoologist, M. Cunisset-Carnot, maintained that, in places where fighting occurred, the birds became greatly disturbed, screeching and flying about in all directions, unable to settle down any where, day and night.

Among the migratory birds, those which dwell south of the war zone carried out their flight to the warm lands in the customary direction, but began it somewhat earlier than under normal condi-

As regards migratory birds dwelling north of the war zone, they skirted the line of the front and, instead of flying through France, flew through Switzerland and Italy.

For example, blackbirds, which from Germany and Scandinavia fly southward annually in huge flocks through Burgundy, did not appear there.

Similarly, no larks were seen in October 1915. 

In Flanders and Holland, there were neither marsh nor water birds.

According to the observations of Russian naturalists during the first year of the war, jackdaws and rooks disappeared. 

Larks no longer sang in the fields, and even sparrows grew very scarce. 

The eagle, a constant resident in the Carpathians, migrated to the Balkans, and the wild pigeon disappeared also. 

Ordinarily, birds in Central Siberia gravitate during the spring from south to north, in Eastern Siberia from south-west to north-east, and in European Russia from south-west to north-west. 

Since military operations were proceeding exactly in the region of these migratory routes, the
flights of birds were powerfully affected, especially those of the stork and snipe. 

An extraordinary movement of geese northwards was reported, and this was attributed to the military operations in progress in Mitau and White Russia, which prevented these birds from settling there.

The same explanation was given for the abnormal number of duck which appeared on the River Volkhov.

Individual species of birds which ordinarily carry out their migratory flight through Poland appeared on the island of Qesel.

 In the Tauride province, an abundance of every kind of bird was observed in 1915, particularly of those species which migrate through the Carpathians. 

Those birds whose nests were usually situated in localities affected by the war were perforce
compelled to abandon their homes and migrate to other places, thus evoking an increased flight of individual kinds of birds to certain spots.

In autumn, 1914,  large flocks of gulls were observed off Norfolk, flying in from the North Sea in so wild and erratic a fashion as to suggest that the explosions at sea had disturbed them. Their appearance curiously synchronised with the times of reported sea-fights. 

Unusual flocks of starlings were noticed in Norfolk in September 1914, and their premature migration was attributed to the disturbing factors of battle which had driven them from the continental marshes.

It was reported, in summer,1916, that thousands of small birds, apparently took fright many scores of miles from their native homes and sought  refuge on American liners.

The presence of a stork near Carnarvon in July elicited the query as to whether this rare visitor had been driven by gunfire from more usual haunts in Flanders.

In 1917, it was publicly stated that, as the result of gunfire, 60 kinds of migratory birds had ceased to visit Britain but this statement was soon disputed.

In 1919, it was suggested that the scarcity of snipe in the British Isles in the past winter was due to the effect of big-gun firing in the North Sea and elsewhere, which had deflected the direction of their migration

In spite of the above assertions, I do not believe that migration was seriously affected.

Incessant gunfire on certain parts of the coast may have frightened away wildfowl from the vicinity, but statistics from Great Britain during the period of the War do not show any marked diminution in our summer visitants. 

From such reports as are avail able from the Palestine Front, it would appear that migration went on uninterruptedly, and a similar state of affairs seems to have existed on the Mesopotamian Front and in the zone of our operations in France and Flanders.

In any case, it is a somewhat arbitrary assertion to state that certain migration routes were deserted when these very routes are themselves still only problematical.

Such birds as were migrating during the heavy anti-aircraft barrage of September, 1917, and whose path across the moonlit sky led over London, must have been considerably disturbed by the bursting of shells.

The raid periods in 1917 coincided with the autumnal migration of such birds as the whimbrel, but possibly they ''rose to the occasion" or somewhat diverted their course on seeing the barrage from afar for not a single bird was found whose death could be attributed to a shell splinter. 

Small birds, if migrating on those nights, would probably be travelling below the barrage, and September would be too early in the year for many geese or ducks to be on their journey

Their passage over any bombarded area in October or November would probably be diverted in a similar manner if they encountered a barrage on the way.

So far from thinking that the birds forsook their accustomed migration routes, I believe that they continued to use their aerial highways, undeterred by the thunder of guns, the marching of troops, and the din of battles taking place many hundreds of feet below them.

Perhaps the abnormal amount of insect food on the Western Front may have detained a few of the migratory insectivorous birds which habitually visit us, and it is possible that Italy's intervention in the war may have had some effect on the numbers of the migratory visitants to Central Europe.

It has been stated that when the Austrians invaded Italy they destroyed all the "roccolos" so thickly scattered throughout the compartimento of Venetia. 

They cut down the groves of hornbeam (skilfully planted and netted in such a way as to give
no chance of escape to any autumnal migrant when once within the high green walls), liberated the decoy-birds, and razed to the ground the towers in which the ''sportsmen'' were wont to conceal themselves from their unsuspecting prey.

Italian ''sportsmen" are apt to kill any bird. Professional bird-catchers, in their ''roccolo"  decoys, take thousands of linnets and insectivorous birds as they enter the funnel of Italy on their annual emigration to Africa. 

These men being otherwise engaged, Europe may have benefited by having more birds and less insect pests in consequence.

All things considered, I think, however, that I am justified in saying that there is at present no
definite proof that the course of migration was seriously affected by the war.

An airman, who must have been an enthusiastic student of migration, made observations
regarding the height at which he met with birds when in the air.

Swallows, he found, preferred an altitude of 2,000 ft, wild duck 5,000 ft and flocks of plover were encountered at 6,500 ft.

Pilots and men in observation balloons agreed that they rarely saw birds at a height of more than 3,000 ft,  but a captain in the RFX., about March 9, 1918, ran into a flock of lapwings at a height of 6,500 ft, over  Hulloch, near Lens.

Capt. Collingwood Ingram, in his paper Notes on the Height at which Birds Migrate, gives some interesting figures obtained from airmen on the Western Front .

Lapwings were observed on 14 occasions at between 2,000 and 8,500 ft, the height, in the majority of cases, being between 5,000 and 6,000 ft. 

A flock of five hundred duck, or geese, was observed, on November 26, 1915, at about 11,500 feet. 

Two large birds, possibly cranes, were met near St. Omer, in August, 1917, at 15,000 feet. 
Birds resembling linnets were seen over Bethune, on August 22, 1917, at a height of
10,000 ft. 

About 50 rooks,  jackdaws, or crows were noted over Lens, in March,1917, at 6,000 ft, and
'' six birds about the size of rooks " over Arras, at 3,000 ft, on July l0, 1918. 

Starlings and fieldfares (or redwings) were observed at 3,000 ft in March 1917.

Some species of sandpiper was met with over Arras, towards the end of March,1917, at an elevation of 12,000 ft, and other Limicoline birds at 9,500 and10,000 ft;

Whimbrel were observed at 4,000 feet, and herons at between 2,500 and 3,000ft . 

Wartime does not offer the most favourable conditions for the solution of the question at what height birds fly when migrating, but the following advertisement was published on February11,
1919, in The Times newspaper: "Any notes on the flight of migratory birds made in the air would be highly appreciated. Where possible the species, height, and velocity of flight, time of day, and year would add greatly to value. Single or even negative notes would be most acceptable. "

With the return of peace and a more general use of the aeroplane, we may expect many interesting facts and discoveries concerning the question of bird migration, which is, at present, quite unsolved. 

Next: Did the war change bird behaviour?