Image Credit: Ben Andrew, RSPB Images

July has given way to August (we know…we can’t believe it either) and the summer holidays are in full swing. The sun has even made an appearance to keep everyone happy. The wildlife has been competing with the sunshine for the most appearances (and won by a mile), so read on to find out what has been happening this week.

News from the Estate:

Maintaining mixed heights of vegetation is a great way of encouraging a wide range of species to visit Saltholme. Image Credit: Andy Hay, RSPB Images

With the rain and sunshine over the past few days, the plants at Saltholme have been pretending they’re in a rainforest instead. The excess growth had covered footpaths, sown ragwort in hay meadows and even taken current away from electric fences (if you see any part of our vegetation generating lightning, you now know why). But don’t worry, we won’t be losing (or finding) Doctor Livingstone on the reserve any time soon- the staff and volunteers on our Estates team are on the job!

On Tuesday, the work party cut back plants that were touching the wire of our predator fence, thereby taking charge out of the electrical aspects of the fence. They then spent the afternoon pulling ragwort from the hay meadows by the wildflower walk (want more information on why this is necessary? Check out last week’s blog post).

Thursday brought daylight back to the verges of our paths as the team worked to ensure accessibility to the reserve for our visitors. What’s more, they also removed saplings from the path connecting the two car parks at the Dorman’s Pool hide.

All this, of course, was completed on top of ongoing monitoring work and general site maintenance. It goes without saying that conservation would not be possible without the hard work, dedication and expertise of wardens, volunteers and rangers. We’re always grateful for more hands on deck, and to train up the next generation of rangers. This is why we have volunteer work party tasks running on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a Youth Rangers group that meet once a month (usually on a Saturday). These two groups are great ways to get out and enjoy the wonderful outdoors, while helping to ensure its future and meet with like-minded people whilst doing so. Interested? Contact Adam Jones (one of our Assistant Wardens) through adam.jones@rspb.org.uk.

What’s On:

There have been two events so far this week, with another one just around the corner.

Salthome’s mammalian mascot- Harry Otter- joined our Little Birders group on Wednesday. Image Credit: Imogen Coverdale

On Wednesday morning, the latest Little Birders event took place. Harry Otter joined attendees, where he and everyone else learned about the birds you can see at Saltholme (and the surrounding area) and how to see them even better using binoculars. If you’re wanting to get younger family members into wildlife and birdwatching, or simply want to further your own knowledge on local wildlife, this is the event for you! Harry Otter and other event-goers learned all about where starlings sleep, how kestrels can see ultraviolet light, why herons have long legs and much more! Interested in attending future iterations of this event? Click on the link above! 

There are multitudes of minibeasts lurking around Saltholme. Our Discovery Zone is the perfect place to go hunting for them. Image Credit: The Woodland Trust

And the fun didn’t stop there! Our Saltholme Safari introducing visitors to minibeast hunting, plant identification, natural art and birdwatching. Not bad for £2.50 per child (£2.00 for RSPB Members)! Armed with magnifying glasses, binoculars, whiteboard markers and a can-do attitude, Saltholme Safari-goers experienced a side of Saltholme that is often overlooked.

Want to give the safari a go? Come along this weekend and ask at the Front Desk to book.

Speaking of this weekend, we’ve got binoculars and telescopes to try! If you’re wanting to buy a first pair of binoculars for you or someone else, the latest model, or simply more information on what’s out there, this is the event for you. Entry to the Binoculars and Telescopes Open Weekend is free; you just need to pay if you are then wanting to have a look around our wonderful reserve (and try out your purchases).

Recent Sightings:

The wildlife has been keeping us on our toes this week (more so than usual); many of the species we’ll be mentioning in the next section do their best to trick us into thinking they are a different species.

The black tern is mainly a passage migrant in the UK, meaning it doesn’t tend to breed here. Image Credit: Mike Langman

On Tuesday, a black tern visited our main lake. It kept a fairly low profile, hiding amongst the common terns that breed on the main lake islands. But it couldn’t hide from the eagle eyes of our hide guides!

The great white egret is the largest of the three egret species found in the UK. Image Credit: Mark Stokeld

There are so many amazing things to see at Saltholme that we can get quite blasé about species that are often seen on our site, but that other areas would give their eye teeth for. The great white egret is one of those species. These elegant birds strut around our pools with (almost) monotonous regularity, and yet they only started regularly wintering (and some breeding) in the UK a few decades ago. In fact, in the 1800s they were almost hunted to extinction in certain places, with their feathers being used to decorate ladies’ hats. Yes, they try to look as much like other types of egret as they can (although their size doesn’t help them), but we’re still pretty please to have them on-site.  

The wheatear is a species that displays ‘sexual dimorphism’, meaning the males of this species look different from the females. This is how we know the bird seen at Saltholme this week was a female. The individual in the image above is a male. Image Credit: Leslie Cater, RSPB Images

A female wheatear graced us with its presence. This bird is named after the striking facial markings present on both sexes of this species. The wheatear is often confused with the whinchat which, incidentally, was also spotted on the reserve this week! As well as some visual differences, wheatears spend more of their time on the ground than whinchats do; if you’re struggling to tell them apart, have a look at where they are in the habitat.

Snipe are often seen in wetland areas, although they can also be found on farmland. Image Credit: Andy Hay, RSPB Images

Another species that likes to make your life difficult is the snipe. This species looks very similar to two others- the jack snipe and the woodcock. It is also incredibly well-camouflaged against background vegetation (which is why these three species look so similar- they all rely on camouflage and concealment to survive). So, there are two levels of identification:

  1. If mottled brown plants/leaves appear to be making a noise, walking or flapping wings, then chances are they’re actually birds.
  2. Look at the length of the bill and the shape of the body to determine if that bird is a snipe, jack snipe or woodcock. You can also use the surrounding habitat to help you, as these birds are often found in slightly different areas (click on the links above to learn more).

Two snipe were seen snoozing in front of our Saltholme Pools hide on Wednesday.

But we have to finish off with two species where there is no mistaking their identity. First of all, the two glossy ibis have been taking a break from their adoring fans recently, but have made a reappearance from our Haverton Viewpoint this week. There is nothing else on the reserve quite like the glossy ibis- deep purple feathers with hints of green, a curved bill, long legs, and the ability to pose for every camera in sight. It’s good to have them back!

Image Credit: Ben Andrew, RSPB Images

And our yellow wagtails have been brightly yellow and wagging their tails in front of the Saltholme Pools hide this week. With both adults and juveniles around, we look forward to this bird being on the reserve for many years to come!

Phew! That was a lot to cover in one blog post, and in reality that’s only a tiny proportion of the amazing species spotted at Saltholme this week. We hope you visit us over the coming days to see these birds (and all our insects, mammals, amphibians and staff) for yourself!

References and Additional Reading

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Black Tern [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/black-tern/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Common Tern [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/common-tern/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Great White Egret [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/great-white-egret/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Jack Snipe [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/jack-snipe/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Snipe [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/snipe/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Wheatear [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/wheatear/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Whinchat [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/whinchat/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Woodcock [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/woodcock/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2022). Yellow Wagtail [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/yellow-wagtail/ [last accessed 05/08/2022].

The Wildlife Trusts (2022). Great White Egret [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/herons-egrets-spoonbill-and-crane/great-white-egret [last accessed 05/08/2022].

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