As with the rest of the country ..indeed the world, it has been a very strange Spring and Summer here at Geltsdale Reserve this year.
With lockdown coming in just as the breeding season was kicking off, it has meant that we have been unable to do anywhere near as much monitoring as usual and as a result do not have a very complete picture of how various species have fared. For much of the Spring there has been a much reduced wardening team who were largely present to check and repair stock fencing and ensure that we were fulfilling our commitments for the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, however it is clear from observations, that one particular species has done spectacularly well. Voles ..the short-tailed field vole to be precise, have been conspicuously abundant across the reserve, as have many of those species which rely on them to feed their young.
All four species of owl currently recorded on the reserve have benefitted greatly from this bonanza with three successful broods of Long-eared Owl seen and broods of eight, seven, six and four from the four monitored Barn Owl nests. The pair that fledged eight young have since re-laid and are currently feeding another four chicks. Short-eared Owl, a ground nesting species that are usually found on the higher fell ground have also done well and have probably exceeded the previous record of twenty six pairs!
Merlin, another ground nesting predator have also benefitted from healthy numbers of moorland passerines with the four nests found producing seventeen fledged young. With the reduced effort in monitoring this year it is entirely possible that there were other nests not found.
March proved an extremely exciting year for other raptors on the reserve with at one point at least six hen harriers foraging on the hill. By early May two females were nesting with clutches of five and seven eggs and all looked likely for a bumper year. A single male was provisioning both nests with apparent ease and still had time to continue with some spectacular bouts of skydancing (the amazing aeronautical display flight of the hen harrier). However less than a week before eggs in the first nest were due to hatch the male flew off to hunt at 9.30 in the morning and never returned. This mysterious and desperately disappointing disappearance meant that both nests failed.
As the season has progressed and more staff, as well as members of the public have been out and about it has been possibly to gather some data for a wider selection of species including some of our more elusive invertebrates. Of particular note was the discovery of three new sites for the nationally scarce Tormentil Mining Bee (Andrena tarsata) which was only recorded on the reserve for the first time two years ago.
Numbers of visitors have increased dramatically after some aspects of lockdown were lifted which it is probably fair to say has not been without it’s problems. Fortunately we have not experienced some of the more anti-social behaviour witnessed in the Lake District over this period and ..with a very few unfortunate exceptions, folk have been very considerate of the nature they have come to enjoy. Many thanks.
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