An update from Rich Harris:
The Southam & District Tawny Owl Project has just completed its 4th breeding season.
In 2015 we had 12 breeding pairs in our nest boxes, and this has increased gradually each year so that we now have 27 breeding pairs this season.
The take-up of available boxes is an amazing 36% in 2019; the significant increase this year has been helped by a mild winter and an abundance of prey, especially the Long-tailed Field Mouse (aka Wood Mouse) which has been ever present at breeding sites.
Tawnies have taken to their new homes with gusto in coniferous plantains and mixed woodland where there is a lack of natural tree holes, and all the woods within the project, bar one, have maintained or increased the number of breeding pairs.
However, in ancient, mature woodland with ample natural nest sites, the uptake has been, since the project’s inception, a total blank even though it is clear while we are surveying that owls are present. Therefore I have decided to remove some boxes for repair and relocation to some new areas, and also to places in near to developing strongholds, building on past years successes.
We used a policy of placing boxes in pairs, 100 yards apart – in theory, one box for the breeding site and a second for the roosting male. The outcome has been interesting; either a second pair has taken up residence in the second box or other wildlife have moved in. Only on 3 occasions in 4 years has a male been flushed from the second box. The Tawny Owl is territorial, but seems to be able to tolerate other pairs nesting close by! So this policy has been abandoned going forward.
The positioning of boxes on the edge of woods rather than the interior has been helpful, enabling a passing owl to better identify a possible nest site. Most are East facing which is warmer and drier for the inhabitants and reduces wear and tear on the exposed box.
Although there are many reports of Tawny Owls moving into urban areas the 5 boxes in semi-urban locations have never been taken up; these will also be relocated.
We ringed our first Raven chicks of the year recently – always our earliest species – so that marks the start of another busy season of nest-finding, ringing and monitoring. We have some news to announce; two of our ringers have been granted a licence to fit GPS tags to Goshawks, and we have secured funding to buy eight tags for use this year. Huge thanks to our donors/sponsors, namely the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society, Gloucestershire Ornithological Co-ordinating Committee, Forestry England and Mr Richard Webb. This is an important project for us; it is an obvious extension of our work monitoring colour-ringed birds using trail cameras. We hope it will help us to track Goshawks that have had tags fitted to them as young birds in the nest. We should be able to assess their scale of their movement, habitat dependency and dispersal, and interactions with farmland as well as managed forest habitats. We may be able to accumulate information on the last known location of birds and mortality, and to understand the potential for population mixing and recruitment beyond the region. There is also the possibility to assess breeding home range if birds survive to adulthood or are tagged as adults.
This is in effect an extension of a project already being run by BTO staff in Breckland, Norfolk.
Goshawk nest being monitored by a trailcam enabling us to read GRMG colour rings
BTO will license the whole activity, and BTO staff will train 2 GRMG fully-qualified ringers. Read on for full details…
Nationally, the Goshawk is a scarce breeding species and a “Schedule 1” breeding species (protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1982). The species should be a common breeding raptor and although the UK population is slowly increasing, there is much regional variation, potentially due to low recruitment where persecution may pay a role. Very little is known, locally, about seasonal movements, habitat dependency, home range size, or their reliance on specific habitat types such as farmland. Farmland use is relevant given the potential for conflicts with game bird enthusiasts. Winter movements, recruitment potential and connections with more distant breeding populations are also currently unknown. Entirely new information on habitat use and the dispersal would emerge for this population, also giving the potential to compare and contrast with other regions within the UK. We would like to make it known publicly that individuals of these species are being tracked, as a protection measure.
The Goshawk is an elusive species, not amenable to normal visual observation. Advances in remote tracking offer the best opportunity and most objective way of acquiring behavioral data.
Project objectives: Determination of habitat use and dispersal, the farmland interaction and possibly sources of mortality in the Gloucestershire population of Goshawks:
• To track Goshawks, to assess scale of movement, habitat dependency and dispersal; interactions with farmland as well as managed forest habitats.
• Potentially, to accumulate information on the last known location of birds and mortality.
• To understand the potential for population mixing and recruitment beyond the region.
• Potentially to assess breeding home range if birds survive to adulthood or are tagged as adults.
Links between forest, farmland and fenland habitats may be expected, especially for juveniles or females in winter and links to forest edge are predicted. Some exploitation of game bird populations is expected, though varying widely with native prey availability (pigeons, jays and squirrels), sex, age and season.
The devices supplied by a company called Movetech Telemetry, a subsidiary of the BTO. The devices weigh between 18 and 23 grams depending on sex of the carrying bird. The devices are attached on the bird by a harness, which contains a sacrificial thread that is designed to break after around 5 years.
No ill effects have been shown on birds that have been recaptured or have been collected.
The ‘Movetech’ bird-tracking system described here is a bird-borne method of tracking bird movements, by connecting to the mobile phone network. This technique has been successfully applied to similar sized birds (gulls) and raptors (Goshawks, eagles, Ospreys, harriers, Peregrines). the system is much more objective and less labour-intensive than radio-tracking, producing high precision fixed location data, unlike any other currently available method (bar satellite tracking at far greater cost).
Due to circumstances entirely beyond our control, the venue for this Wednesday’s ‘Adventures with Rainforest Raptors’ has had to change. We’re not going far though – just around the corner from the Gala. It’s the Oxstalls Sports Centre, Plock Court (just along from Fairmile Gardens, opposite the Beefeater), Gloucester GL2 9DW. We’re in the Conservatory Room there. There’s a café on site. Apologies for the inconvenience, and we look forward to seeing you there!
The main feature is a talk and short film ‘To Find a Harpy’ with Natasha Ellison and Dan O’Neill, respectively a researcher and a wildlife film-maker who recently went to Guyana to search for a Harpy Eagle, and filmed their adventure. We will also hear from GRMG’s Jimmi Hill, who visited the Philippine Eagle Project to see its amazing conservation work – and visited an active nest in the wild. Come along and feel the heat!
This is a ticketed event; tickets are £5 and can be bought at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/adventures-with-rainforest-raptors-tickets-57329127965 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for tickets to be reserved for you and pay at the door.
Venue: Gala Club, Fairmile Gardens, Gloucester, GL2 9EB
Doors open at 7:00pm for a 7:30 start.
Followers of this blog will already be familiar with Dave Pearce’s regular updates on the lives of the Cheltenham Christ Church Peregrines. Dave has now kindly provided us with a ten year summary which replaces the previous seven year summary, with refreshed videos, information, data, prey species analysis, privileged views and a whole lot more. You can download a copy of Dave’s summary here, and it will remain available along with lots of other resources, on our documents page.
We’re delighted to announce that our next talk is on Wednesday 30th January at The Gala Club, Fairmile Gardens, Gloucester, GL2 9EB – doors open at 7:00pm for a 7:30 start.
The speaker is Richard Sale, raptor researcher, Arctic enthusiast and author, and his New Naturalist book “Falcons” was described by British Wildlife magazine as ‘one of the best New Naturalists on birds, and one that is likely to remain the last word on British falcons for a long time.’ He wrote ‘the most comprehensive guide to Arctic Wildlife’, and is co-author of the just-published work on the Steller’s Sea Eagle, the first English-language study of this species. Richard will talk about falcons and about the Arctic, enabling him to draw on his vast experience of both topics – for example his recent studies include breeding Merlins in Scotland, Hobbies in England and Steller’s Sea Eagles in eastern Russia.
Richard will bring some copies of his Steller’s Sea Eagle book which he will sign and sell on the night for £30. He will also be happy to sign any of his published work which is brought along to the evening.
This is a ticketed event. Tickets are £7.50 each and are available online from The Bristol Ticket Shop.
If you are unable to buy online please email email@example.com to reserve tickets and pay on the door.
May we take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and restful festive season and to thank you for your continued support.