Mike, our regular residential volunteer on Havergate, has kindly written a guest blog documenting his 3 weeks on the island. Mike does a fantastic job of monitoring and maintaining the island for the 3 weeks he is out there. Thanks Mike!

Havergate Island Blog – June 29 – July 20 2018

I thought that I had written a blog when I was on Havergate from 23 – 30 March, so I checked, but I hadn’t. So this one is my first of the year. But first a summary of my March visit.

In brief Havergate in March was COLD, especially the nights! Despite that I had a great time with, as usual, very varied work and some interesting birds. Work included recording the salinities and water levels on the lagoons, measuring the heights of the mud level markers on the river bank at the jetty and near Doveys hide, tidying up paths, bridges and ways into the hides, cleaning hides and windows and undertaking a Canada goose breeding pairs count of the whole island with Lyndsey, including round the island by boat and then lagoon by lagoon. Of the birds seen there were, avocets, teal, oystercatcher, curlew, shelduck, widgeon, barn owl, kestrel, whimbrel, redshank, pintails, mallard, shoveller, common gull, spoonbill, carrion crow, plus both herring and lesser black-backed gulls.

So, to June. It seemed much quieter than usual on arrival at the beach due to the fact that there were fewer herring and lesser black-backed gulls on the shingle bank stretching from the huts towards Doveys. In fact, island wide, there were fewer of these gulls this year. I like to mow the paths early on in a trip as it makes getting round the island much easier, so I did that and repeated this just before I left with weeding bridges and paths into hides and sluices included during my stay. Lyndsey always prepares a list of jobs and we prioritise these on the first day. One idea we discussed in March was to formalise the arrangement a barn owl had in the old toilet by Main hide. This was being used as a roosting site, accessed by the open window, and was full of owl pellets. The idea was to remove the small window and replace it with a panel with an entrance hole and landing perch. Inside the toilet would be a box, attached to the wall, with roosting ledge inside and a detachable back section so inspections/cleaning out would be simplified. Fortunately there was plenty of suitable wood and the box was duly fitted with a single pellet being found in it within days, so a success. Whether this will be just a roosting site or used for breeding remains to be seen. As some of you might know there is another barn owl box sited not far away at North hide.

When I was there in March a pair of barn owls was prospecting at the nest box near the old tractor shed and a pair of kestrels at the box attached to the gator shed. By June both the owls and kestrels had produced three young all of which fledged during the last few days of my visit and all had started hunting. The other owl box at North hide did not produce young.

As usual there were lots of ongoing maintenance jobs to do and these included, salinity and water height measurement on all lagoons, which was done twice, cleaning the jetty, cleaning and sterilising the rain water barrels on each of the huts, hide and window cleaning, brush cutting in front of the hides (I had got my LANTRA licence in 2017), sorting out the wood store at the gator shed so the wood was more accessible, litter picking and monitoring the sluices to ensure water height in the lagoons was optimal. This proved interesting as my visit coincided with the heat wave and so drying out of the lagoons could have been a problem and with it a change in salinity, both having, potentially, an adverse effect on the birds on the lagoons and the vertebrate and invertebrate life in the lagoons. So I remained in touch with Lyndsey on the mainland and as I relayed water heights and salinity measurements to her she would ask me to open or close the sluices at each of the inlet and exit points.

One of the must sees for me on Havergate are the spoonbills and the arrival of the black tailed godwits (blackwits). Initially there were no more than one or two spoonbills at North lagoon but just before the end of my stay there was a treat in store, six spoonbills at the SE bottom corner of Belpers, right beside the new hide at Cottage (renamed from Cottage Flood) and very visible from the excellent windows in that hide. They were around for about three days and one evening I photographed all six feeding there, one individual with leg bands on both legs. The colour positioning of the rings was recorded and will enable that individual to be identified, probably a Dutch bird. One interesting observation was seeing three little egrets joining in the fishing expedition a little time after the spoonbills had started. I surmised that they in fact gained from joining in as the spoonbills were flushing fish as they darted their bills through the water. Neither species of bird seemed adversely affected by the presence of the other.

The other highlight was the arrival of the blackwits. These I usually see first at Cuckolds lagoon, which this year proved again the case, but they also appeared at Cottage. These are beautiful birds especially so in their summer plumage.

Of the other birds seen on the island these included, common gulls (attempting to breed on the shingle by the huts), black headed gulls (nesting recorded), shoveller, mallard, shelduck, oystercatcher, dunlin, redshank, grey plover, lapwing, female pheasant with six chicks, magpies, carrion crow, stock dove and wood pigeon, male cuckoo (seen over several days feeding on caterpillars), marsh harrier, red kite (in the distance on the mainland), sparrowhawk, Canada geese, cormorant, common terns (raised at least four young which were on the point of fledging when I left), sandwich tern, spotted redshank (the first I had seen and beautiful birds), little egrets, grey heron, curlew, whimbrel, avocet (all young at North taken by large gulls), starlings, greylag geese, 6 Upland/Magellan geese (Chilean, and escapees from presumably from a wildlife park), ringed plover and mute swan (on river).

One evening at Cottage hide, in my opinion now the best on the island for bird watching, a lesser black-backed gull attacked the small common tern colony on one of the two islands they were breeding on. Earlier in the season Lyndsey had put out canes and chick shelters to try and provide cover for the birds. Usually canes prevent gulls from attacking as they like to fly in low and pick off chicks from the ground while in flight. This particular gull landed though, perhaps pushed down by pressure from the adult terns, and initially caught a well grown but not yet fledged chick by the wing. The adult terns continued to attack and the young bird tried to escape but the gull pursued it, on the ground, through the canes and eventually, holding it by a wing, attempted to fly off with it. By this time the adult terns were in full pursuit and the gull was forced to drop the chick which fell into one of the deep water channels at the edge of the lagoon. Amazingly, with the help of the adult terns, the chick made it back to the island and further monitoring showed it surviving to fledging stage.

During my stay a freelance journalist spent the day on the island preparing an article for the Suffolk magazine on the history and present use of the island by the RSPB. This article is meant to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the RSPB taking over the island after the arrival of avocets.

The hot weather brought a huge profusion of butterflies, including large numbers of skippers, meadow brown and gatekeepers. Of the mammals seen there was an adult Chinese water deer, hares, voles and rats. Most years I see common lizards, but not this year which was surprising considering the hot weather.

My thanks to Aaron for allowing me to stay on the island, to David for advice on all things ornithological and to Lyndsey for making yet another visit so memorable and interesting.

Mike Matthewson