Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Bleak Zero.

Wintering male Stonechat at Cockersands courtesy of Phil Slade.

Always willing to post a Stonechat pic but this isn't just any Stonechat pic this was the only surviving one - since this years return of the  ice-age - in our area and well beyond if the truth be known. You'll note the use of the word 'was' as I now have information on a Stonechat seen at Singleton on 17 February. But one thing for sure I saw not single bird again today in my four hour stint on Clougha/Birk Bank and there's a lot needs to be said about this if only in brief.


Bleak and empty up here today but what did I expect, this is Clougha and its February in the coldest winter in years. But the truth is that its the first January and February in more than ten years I've been coming up here and for the second consecutive visit have seen no Stonechats, but again the truth is I didn't really expect to.

In my view based on more than ten years observing and studying the Stonechat especially on Clougha - but elsewhere in many areas too - we are now back to pre 1999 and the upturn in the status of this species which was dramatic at first is now over.

The majority of our Stonechats remain to winter on or near to their breeding territories though some make longer movements within the UK.  A minority migrate to southern Europe and the coastal countries of North Africa, and during the mild winters we have been experiencing the population that remains have had the advantage over the migratory population in that they can commence breeding earlier. However, following this winters severe weather - when lets face it the resident population will no doubt have perished - the migrant population will have to take on the responsibility of getting the species back on track to build up the numbers to reach a situation whereby the sedentary part of the population regains the advantage of being in the position to start their breeding before the migrants return again which is precisely where the Stonechat has been for the past ten years at least until this winter of 2009/10. 

I think speculation was that global warming would allow the sedentary population to increase to such an extent that in the future the European Stonechat may become entirely resident in the UK. I'm no ornithological expert and don't think I need to be to hold the view that this winter has killed off that speculation and set it back at least five years....but what of next winter!

So the rewards for a four hour lonely trundle up Clougha/Birk Bank today were....15 Red Grouse, 2 Buzzard, and at least 80 Lapwings were noted in the fields off Rigg Lane.



Richard Shilling said...

I'me very sad about the stonechat situation. They kept me company lots of times when up there creating something. I'll miss them.

Went for a walk at Cockersands today at lunchtime. Lots of shelduck gave nice close up views despite leaving the bins at home. It was quite bracing but on our wander back but we were in for a treat.

We could see two hares boxing and chasing each other in a field near to the abbey. I've never seen that before. One of them was quite upset and the other was trying to get away and was being chased all over. But then they came careering across the path right in front of us. Completely oblivious to our presence; they went down the sea wall onto the beach and continued scrapping only yards away. The weaker of the two really had had enough and sprinted at high speed (they really shift when they have too) away and finally managed to give the stronger one the slip. It was quite a spectacle. A real treat although I'd left my camera at home. Will live long in the memory though.

(apologies for the punctuation -the comma key is broken!)


Pete Woodruff said...

Good time of the year for seeing the Brown Hare Richard, please do yourself a favour and get back there with your camera as their boxing will be a regular feature with them just now and as I said in the post the Cockersands area is by far the best I know of for seeing them.

Good to hear from you again Richard, I know you look in on Birds2blog daily and really appreciate this as you know.

Kind Regards


Dave Bickerton said...

The rise of the Stonechat has certainly been phenomenal in lancashire over the past 12 years from a situation where it was almost extinct. Upland birds will certainly have had a hard time of it. Even the coastal ones. But whilst I was in Ayrshire, there still seemed to be several on the coastal strip so let's hope that the more temperate regions around Southport and Liverpool have maintained a population from which the species can consolidate its status.

Brian Rafferty said...

Hi Pete. Yes everything is very bleak at the moment and Spring seems a long way off.

Let's hope the stonechats are still in hiding or maybe down at Brockholes learning to fish !! I am an optimist and like to think there will be survivors of this harsh winter.

I think it is a little early yet for the return to the windswept heights of Clougha and maybe another month or so will see some stonechats back on territory. Let's hope so !!

Warren Baker said...

I'm not convinced that all your ''local'' stonechats perished Pete. I still believe that some will return ( not just the continental ones) I dont think the chats would sit around and starve, when they have the cabability to move elsewhere. We shall see!

Pete Woodruff said...

A little to much to reply to here at the moment but really grateful for your comments especially Dave's as he's new on Birds2blog but always thought he'd show up sooner or later....many thanks Dave much appreciated.

Thanks also to regulars BR/WB I've noted all you said.

Enjoy your birding/photography.

Phil said...

Let's hope you're wrong about the Stonechat Pete. A few more weeks will tell but spring is definitely in the air this week with lots of species showing signs.

Pete Woodruff said...

I'm sincerely hoping if I leave my March visit to Clougha until one of the very last few days I'll find at the very least one bird back on territory....even I'm not that pessimistic but perhaps a little too optimistic on this one.

Thanks for comment Phil plus excellent news on the CG Common Sandpiper.