You may have noticed a new face around the place in the past month or so, and sure enough we have another residential volunteer on site! Emma wrote this introductory blog about what she initially came here for and how she's evolved into our latest resi-vol:
The end of my university semester saw me quickly move onto collecting data for my third year dissertation project which I had chosen to conduct here at Burton Mere Wetlands. As an avid birder since a young age I was adamant that my research would be bird related, so when I was offered the chance to investigate the predation risks impacting wader chicks, I jumped at the opportunity.
Lapwing with chick on wet grassland (A.Grubb)
Starting in late May, after the first few chicks had hatched, I developed a timetable to sit and watch the waders, initially focusing on their behaviour around birds of prey. However, after a week of few interactions and little data gathered, I spoke to the reserve's warden team and discussed my options. After all, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete a dissertation with little to no data! (although this was a good sign for the chicks as none were being taken).
Site manager, Graham suggested that although the site had historic data on crow predation, jackdaws were somewhat of a mystery as to their impacts so my project shifted to focus on their activities. This saw a great change in the amount of data I was recording as jackdaws were very abundant around the main scrape and wet grassland, and the waders were certainly not a fan of having them around. Each day I would watch the scrape and monitor the avocets, lapwings, redshank and black-headed gulls to see which predators went after their eggs or chicks. Over a study lasting around five weeks I recorded a range of birds that the breeding species considered as threats: buzzard, marsh harrier, carrion crow, jackdaw, herring gull and grey heron.
'Digi-scoped' avocet brooding a chick - click to enlarge! (E. Drainey)
As the weeks went on, I collected over 200 sets of data and of all the incidents recorded, over half were caused by jackdaws. Although they didn’t take more than other species did, the energy expended by the parents to chase them away still would have a massive impact. The grey herons, for example, would always be chased even though they clearly were just passing over and had no intentions of going after any chicks; watching an avocet go after such a large bird was quite amusing. Further into June the chicks started to resemble their parents more and it was clear that the number of predator-prey interaction incidents was beginning to decrease and I had sufficient data, so I asked if I could take up the vacant residential volunteer position for the remaining weeks of the month in order to gain experience in a field I would like to work in the future.
My first full shift in the visitor centre coincided with the busy Binocular and Telescope Open Day, so I was glad to have helped out on odd occasions in the weeks before so I knew roughly what I was doing on what proved to be a busy and successful event. The practical work I am helping out with is very fulfilling, and a trip to Point of Ayr to maintain fencing for protecting ground-nesting shorebirds on the shingle beach, plus seeing my first ever little tern, was certainly a highlight of my time here so far.
While here I am being exposed to many new birds and new experiences which are helping me grow as a person and in my understanding of conservation work; I have been enjoying it so much that I have extended my stay until the end of July, and I'll be back with another blog to round up my time here before I leave.
Keep an eye out for Emma in the visitor centre, or you may cross paths out on the reserve while she's with the warden team - say Hi next time you're here!
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