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Nightingales & Peregrines

Results of a national surveys…

Nightingales Up & DownThe results of a national Nightingale Survey are reported in this month`s Bird Study, the journal of the BTO. 4,565 singing birds were counted by 1,000 volunteers. Landowners keen to encourage Nightingales can send for a habitat management leaflet. Over 3,000 traditional Nightingale sites were visited by volunteers in the summer of 1999 and 4,565 singing males were recorded. Fieldwork by BTO staff, who spent many a night on the look out for uncharted birds, showed that volunteers had found 68% of singing birds, suggesting a true population of 6,700 pairs.Nightingales have disappeared from many counties in the last 50 years but the extent of declines between 1980 and 1999 is astounding. 70% or more have been lost from Avon, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Oxford and Wiltshire. The only counties not to see losses were Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk and Sussex, which now hold over three-quarters of the country`s Nightingales. Nightingales have long been associated with coppice woodland but the BTO survey has shown that scrub is now really important. Nearly half of Nightingales were found in scrub sites, in areas such as old gravel workings and in fenland edges. Traditional Nightingale sites on hill slopes throughout southern England have now been abandoned in favour of damp locations in river valleys. These changes could be due to climate factors, falling water tables, loss of habitat, or a reduction in the Nightingale`s food of large ground dwelling insects.A Nightingale habitat leaflet is available from BTO Nightingales, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU. Please supply an A5 stamped addressed envelope. For further information please contact:
Andy Wilson on 01786 466560 (BTO Scotland) or E-mail: andy.wilson@bto.org during office hours
Graham Appleton on 01842 750050 or E-mail: graham.appleton@bto.org during office hours
Chris Mead on 01760 756466 or E-mail: chris.mead@zetnet.co.uk anytimeNotes

Nightingales are summer migrants, spending the winter in Africa. The males arrive in late April or May, advertising their arrival with a wonderful song delivered by day or night. Nightingales are hard to see, remaining hidden in dense vegetation. They most closely resemble Robins but are brown from beak to tail.

Funding for the BTO Nightingale Survey came from the BTO`s Nightingale Appeal, the Esm?e Fairbairn Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation. Further funding is still sought to try to understand why so many Nightingales have deserted coppice.

For those living in the south and east of England there are opportunities to create appropriate Nightingale habitat. A leaflet, sponsored by Anglian Water, suggests scrub management techniques and good species to plant. Nightingales in the fens have been shown to prefer thick patches of scrub with hollow centres and dense ground cover surrounding them. Nightingales feed on spiders and insects in the leaf litter inside the thick scrub patches. They nest on the ground in the lush undergrowth at the edge of the patch.Mixed fortunes for peregrine falcons

Early results from the 2002 national peregrine falcon survey reveal poor breeding success for the birds. The survey was organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and supported by Scottish Raptor Study Groups and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Returns for some areas from Scottish Raptor Study Groups, which consists of volunteers who have undertaken much of the survey in Scotland, indicate low chick survival rates. In Central Scotland and Western Perth and Kinross, for example, the overall number of successful nests was only half that recorded a decade ago. The peregrine falcon is a key barometer of the state of the environment and historically, declines in numbers and breeding success of peregrines heralded the adverse impacts of pesticides in the countryside. A national survey of peregrines in Scotland (as part of a UK wide survey) was last carried out in 1991, when a total of 625 breeding pairs (1,283 in the UK) were recorded. Plans for a repeat survey in 2001 had to be shelved because of restricted access to the countryside as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak. In 2002, data for Central, East and South West Scotland indicate that although the overall number of breeding pairs found was about the same, the number of successful nests (where at least 1 nestling fledged) was considerably less in 2002 than 1991. Conversely, peregrines breeding in coastal areas appear to have bred more successfully in 2002 than 1991. Much of the failure is likely to have been due to severe weather in spring and early summer. Other trends reported by fieldworkers include reduced occupancy of a number of traditional breeding sites in upland areas, notably on some areas with grouse moors. There are also some reports of suspected persecution of the birds, for instance in parts of south-east and north-east Scotland. These factors will be examined in more detail once all the data have been returned.The picture emerging in 2002 is rather different from 1991, when the results indicated that peregrines had recovered from a population crash in the 1960`s caused by the use of organochlorine pesticides. This was heralded as a success for wildlife conservation and proof that the environmental threat posed by these chemicals had been overcome in most areas of the UK. Scottish Natural Heritage chairs the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Group, which includes the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish Raptor Study Groups, British Trust for Ornithology, the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland and the Scottish Ornithologists` Club. Professor Des Thompson, Principal Uplands Advisor for SNH and Chair of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Group, said: These early signs are worrying, not least because the peregrine is known to be such a good indicator of the health of the environment. We are fortunate to be receiving preliminary results so quickly from the Scottish Raptor Study GroupsProfessor Jeremy Greenwood, Director of the British Trust for Ornithology, said: This survey shows yet again the immense contribution that volunteers make to our knowledge of bird populations. This year, the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and other birdwatchers covered almost the whole of Scotland, including the remotest areas. The apparent poor breeding success is disappointing but until the data have been fully analysed we shall not know whether it was just a particularly poor season or a sign of a long-term pattern.Patrick Stirling-Aird, of the Scottish Raptor Study Groups, said: While this year`s poor weather, with its impact on breeding success, may have been a one-off event, there is concern about the longer term trends, in certain parts of Scotland, of desertion of many peregrine territories that were occupied at the time of the last national survey in 1991. Detailed analysis of the survey results will have to be carried out but preliminary indications are that, while peregrine numbers appear to have gone up in certain lowland areas, there are alarming reports of decreases in some upland areas. There is evidence from some upland locations that peregrine territories are unoccupied as a result of persistent criminal persecution in the supposed interests of red grouse management. In other cases, however, the underlying cause of territory desertion may be reduced numbers of prey species, something that touches on fundamental land management practices in the uplands.Dr Jeremy Wilson, Head of Research for RSPB Scotland said: Scotland holds nationally and internationally important populations of Peregrine Falcons. We are delighted that this latest survey of Peregrines by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and BTO is producing results so quickly, and we hope that the poor weather turns out to explain this year`s apparently low breeding success. However, we await complete analyses of the data with keen interest, as these will tell us whether there are longer terms trends in peregrine populations that should give us greater cause for concern.Birds of prey are amongst the most threatened birds in Scotland due to habitat loss, persecution and poisoning. Despite their legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) around a third of re-introduced red kites in Scotland are believed to have died from eating poisoned bait, and up to 15% of breeding female hen harriers are thought to be deliberately killed each year. For more information contact:
Des Thompson, Principal Uplands Advisor, SNH Tel: 0131 446 2419Helen Riley, Ornithologist, SNH Tel: 0131 446 2437Notes

SNH is the Scottish Executive`s statutory advisor on the conservation, enhancement, enjoyment, understanding and sustainable use of Scotland`s natural heritage.

Heather moorlands ? one of the most important habitats for birds of prey - have declined by nearly a quarter since the 1940s, due to afforestation, heavy grazing pressure and a decline in grouse shooting (which has led to a considerable abandonment of active moorland management).

The Scottish Raptor Study Groups provide most of the data on raptor numbers, distribution and productivity required by SNH to enable it to fulfil its legal duties under the Wildlife and Country-side Act 1981 and the European Community`s Wild Birds Directive 79/409.

Representatives from SNH, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish Raptor Study Groups, British Trust for Ornithology, the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, and the Scottish Ornithologists` Club, signed an agreement (on 24 June 2002) to establish the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme. The organisations are working together to coordinate best-practice raptor survey methods and standards, collate and analyse data on a consistent basis and report findings through a publicly available report. The various organisations have been assigned different tasks within the monitoring work, with the overall scheme leading to enhanced monitoring and accurate data on Scotland`s birds of prey.

4th July 2014