The weekend of October 17/19 was the first Field Centre wader ringing course. The weather behaved and the seven participants plus Rod West, Mervyn Miller, Mike Pratt and Jacquie Clarke all got two chances of catching and ringing waders. In total, over 70 birds were caught including 11 Black-tailed godwits which were also colour ringed. Food and accommodation were both good so all in all the weekend was seen as a success – thank goodness!
Stanny Farm Blog Post
I arrived at Stanny House Farm on the 14th of April. I stayed in a room, perched up in the barn rafters, overlooking the Alde estuary, through the summer until the 11th of July. A few days before I set of for Suffolk I had been staying at my parents’ farm in Hampshire and caught sight of three lapwings flying overhead after hearing their strange discordant call. Just a handful of birds return to nest in this valley, the remnants of a much larger population which once laid eggs on the ploughed hilltops and came down to the water meadows to feed. The first lapwings of the year always take me by surprise. Their flight, shape and song is so different from the other birds which inhabit the Hampshire Downs. They are the dandies of the avian world. Well groomed, green-velvet jacketed birds which flit between warm European reaches, gracing parts of the UK with their rakish presence for a few months before they wander on.
After the Hampshire stragglers, Suffolk seemed to team with lapwings. And the lapwings shared the wet pastures with other remarkable birds. Over the next months Nik, Rodney and Maggie introduced me to species which I had previously only glimpsed. Redshank, snipe, curlew, black-tailed godwit, dunlin and bearded tit filled my thoughts as I returned to Low Barn each evening after a day’s fieldwork.
Nik was at Stanny for the lapwings and, as his assistant, I was too. Put very simply, our aim was to measure the Suffolk birds’ reproductive productivity and find out why some of their nests were more vulnerable to predation. Every day we set off to scour the pastureland at Stanny, Sudbourne, Boyton and Orford Ness. We were looking for black quiffs poking above grass and juncus tussocks, noisy lapwings defending nests and, later on, their brown and white fluffy chicks. Having pinpointed a clutch with his telescope Nik would stride out into the field. The eggs were weighed and measured and the nest was gps located, staked out and planted with an ibutton: a device which measures the temperature changes as the parent birds come on and off the nest.
There was other work to be done too. A network of trail cameras was emplaced to spy on egg eaters: foxes, badgers, otters and mustelids. Small mammals, an alternate food source for lapwing predators, were monitored using ink tunnels. We also recorded the height of the grass as the spring turned into summer. Each dataset was plugged into a computer model, a numerical representation of the wetland ecosystem in which we worked and lived.
At the beginning of June a new project was commenced. This time it was the turn of the marsh harriers to be represented by data points. Each prey item brought to the nest was logged and identified. By rigging up fixed-cameras we were given an insight into the private lives of these beautiful birds. I watched with fascination and morbid curiosity as the voracious chicks swallowed a hundreds of birds, mammals and amphibians. These young marsh harriers were not picky eaters, they wolfed down two of their siblings without hesitation.
The three strongest march harrier chicks eating a moorhen chick
As well as working on the lapwing and marsh harrier field research I was fortunate enough to spend some time on other projects with the Stanny Environmental Group volunteers too. I will always remember a warm summer evening spent looking for yellow wagtail nests in a potato field with Rodney, Nik, Mike and Mervyn.
Stanny House Farm is a wonderful place, a beautiful bird-filled farm. I hope to return one day.
Throughout the day (4 October) the Suffolk Mammal Group held an Otter Workshop at the Stanny Field Centre. The main objective of the day was for the delegates to look at various ways of monitoring otters, including digital microscope work with otter spraint samples! Members of the Suffolk Mammal Group already work at Minsmere on otter ecology and they have already launched a larger project on otters using the Alde estuary as their study site. If anyone is interested in joining in then just contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
The Earl of Cranbrook (left) and Mr Paul Cooke
Saturday 4 October was a busy day! The Field Centre played host to a Suffolk Mammal Group event – an Otter Workshop (more of this in the next blog). Also at one o’clock over sixty people gathered to watch the Earl of Cranbrook open the Field Centre. Mr Paul Cooke, who is responsible for the creation of the Centre, also spoke about the centre’s vision of inviting BSc, MSc and PHd students to come and use the facilities at the centre, using the farm or the greater estuary as their study area.
On the Sunday a lecture/lunch was held the speaker being Dr Sam Newton on the subject of ‘The Forgotten History of St Botolph. Over twenty people attending this first of a series of occasional lectures on subjects connected with the history of the Alde estuary.