Springwatch 2018 – what’s been happening so far
Springwatch 2018 has kicked off and already it has been full of wonder, guided along by the exuberance, knowledge and enthusiasm of hosts Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan. Like last year, the base for the show is Sherborne National Trust Estate in Gloucestershire, which has proven again to be a wonderful setting for the season due to its stunning scenery and diverse array of wildlife. Just a selection of the Springwatch wildlife visible at Sherborne are: badgers, cygnets, foxes, mini muntjacs, little owls, and many other bird species. There are cameras this year on nests of Mandarin ducks along with those of Blue tits, Marsh tits and Wrens. The show also travels further afield, with presenter Gillian Burke up in the Shetland Isles, keeping track of seabirds and with an eye out for Orca (or often referred to as Killer Whales).
The drama began early, with footage of a male Sparrowhawk interrupted while snatching a baby Starling by none other than a rabbit! The Sparrowhawk dropped the young Starling, though we can’t be certain whether it survived after it scrambled across the forest floor.
Nest box cameras
There was some wonderful footage from the nestbox cameras of Blue tits, with an adult removing the faecal sacks from its brood of 11! That’s definitely a lot of beaks to feed! Staying with the tit family, a first for the show this year is its feature on a Marsh tit nest with 6 fledglings. You may have seen our blog post on Marsh tits recently, but if not, click here to learn more about this striking bird. Presenter Chris Packham pointed out how there are fewer Marsh tits in the brood than Blue tits. This is partly due to the ability which Marsh tits have to control how many eggs they lay depending on how big their nest interior is. A smaller nest means fewer eggs.
Another first for the show is a camera on a nest of the brightly coloured Mandarin ducks. Due to the elevated location of the nest, the chicks may have a “parachute” down to the ground when they emerge. This should provide action for some stunning footage when it occurs!
(above: Marsh tit)
The Raven family
One of the more ragged nests out there belongs to the Raven, a family of which is being followed by the Springwatch team at the Gower peninsula this year. Male and female Ravens pair for life, working together with the male hunting for food while the female incubates the eggs and the young. The first episode this year showed the nest with four tiny chicks inside, blind and helpless but supported by their parents. Sadly, returning to the nest in the second episode, we saw that the smallest of the raven chicks didn’t make it. The largest, loudest chicks are fed first in the pecking order, and so it is often the runt which doesn’t survive. Did you know that only two bird species are known to nest in winter, one of which is the Raven (the other of which is the Crossbill). Some have been known to nest as early as December! Such early nesting is only possible due to a few features of the species which work together: they are monogamous, so no time is lost on courting; they are resourceful, accessing winter food such as carrion, and they are territorial so will already have awareness of suitable nest locations.
The Shetland Isles
Over on the Shetland Isles, presenter Gillian Burke pointed out how these 300 small islands are home to only 20,000 people, versus over a million sea birds. The beautiful beaks of Puffins made an appearance of course, and these birds are known to travel an impressive 800km in round trips for food. Another bird local to the isles is the Fulmar, which is even more impressive in its own round-trips of 5000km! Gillian also sadly pointed out the serious problem of plastic pollution for marine birds, with some graphic imagery of dead sea birds tangled in plastic.
Trends in the Big Garden Birdwatch
The Springwatch team highlighted some of the trends from the Big Garden Birdwatch over the years. Goldfinch sightings have increased 4% over the last 10 years, rising from 30%-34%, while Starlings saw a reduction of 50%-42% over the same period. Chris Packham suggested this decline may be due to a reduction of invertebrate prey caused by intensive farming. Woodpigeons on the other hand are doing magnificently (this may be controversial!), with recorded sightings up from 57%-75% in the last 10 years of the Big Garden Birdwatch.
Lapwing nesting and the dangers of sheep!
We were also treated to a nice feature on the increasingly rare Lapwing (find some statistics on this impressive bird here). The cameras followed Lapwings in North Yorkshire as they searched for suitable nesting spots, and the presenters highlighted the pros and cons of choosing farmland or moorland. One bird chose moorland, and scared off a rival, impressing a female with its colourful tail feathers before mating. A female Lapwing was also filmed being driven off its nest by a lamb, resulting in a broken egg before it could deter the young sheep. Nesting on ground make the species vulnerable whether they choose farmland or moorland, but when the eggs hatched, we saw some extremely cute fluffy chicks – which could walk within hours of hatching! Successful hatching and healthy chicks are vital for this declining species.
Springwatch also showed how sheep have been seen eating Curlew eggs (while Fallow Deer have surprisingly been spotted raiding Nightjar nests!) Sheep are herbivores, so rather than searching for nests, maybe they just incidentally discover them and simply need the calcium from the shells due to a deficiency. It’s as yet unknown what impact sheep have on the population of wading birds, if any!
There’s more to come
To cap off our look at Springwatch 2018 so far, we thought we’d link to the BBC cameras which are following the nests 20 hours a day! Take a look, you might be lucky to see some adorable fledgling action over the next two weeks. Click here to see them.
Remember to look outside occasionally too! You might miss fledglings heading to your very own feeders. Make sure you keep stocked up with quality bird food from our website, such as Ultiva Fledgling Mix, Sunflower Hearts and Peanuts.