Bird Watch: Positives can be found in tough breeding season

A family of mute swans. Picture: Janet Packham.
A family of mute swans. Picture: Janet Packham.
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CAREFULLY negotiating the narrow winding road in north-east Norway from Vardo to Hamningberg at the beginning of June, I was looking forward to passing over a wooden bridge and re-acquainting with what is perhaps the most northerly colony of sand martin in the world.

This road is open in only the summer months, and is deservedly classed as being in the Arctic climate zone, next to the cold Bering Sea, and far removed from any warming from the Gulf stream.

The stop revealed a rough-legged buzzard on the lookout for lemmings, a few arctic redpoll, but no sign of any sand martins. They had not made it this year.

A quick look on the internet revealed that the temperature in Vardo was one degree warmer than Heysham (10C).

What on earth was going on back home?

The answer was a continuation of the wet and cold late spring as the jet-stream decided to plough across the middle of England instead of somewhere to the north of the Shetland Isles.

I returned home to reports of much-reduced numbers of sand martin at the Lune riverbank colonies, and at least one spell of many nests being flooded out by rising river levels.

This is particularly ironic, as the main reason for reduced numbers was yet another drought in the Sahel region of Africa which is, as widely-reported, still having tragic consequences for the human population.

The sand martins which did find enough food during the winter then faced one of the trickiest northerly migrations ever recorded.

Sandstorms in the Sahara followed by freezing cold north-westerly gales as far to the south as Spain, took their toll.

Several farmers have reported fewer nesting swallows, and they faced a similar migratory minefield to the sand martin, with both of them depending on sustenance from flying insects along the migration route.

The good news is that even the great floods of Friday, June 22, did not wash out all the remaining sand martins along the Lune.

It is quite hard to find anything positive to say about this year’s breeding season for birds.

However, along with the fox-excluding fences and subsequent breeding success by avocets at Leighton Moss, positives can also be found in the oakwoods of upper Hindburndale.

As the residents of that region will concur, this has been a bad year so far for midges and other small insects of a biting nature.

This is, however, great for the bat populations, and also the pied flycatchers and redstarts.

The nestboxes in upper Hindburndale held record numbers of pied flycatchers and redstarts, with just one brood succumbing to the dreadful weather of that Friday.

Another positive from this year is the largest-ever family of mute swans in the process of being reared at Middleton Nature Reserve – let’s hope they continue to do well in the coming weeks.