A little egret. Picture by Ian Fletcher.
NATURE NOTES AS A member of the IW Natural History and Archaeological Society (IWNHAS), one of the events I look forward to is the annual bird report.
This is a joint publication of the IW Ornithological Group (IWOG) and the IWNHAS and is issued free to members.
It is a very well produced record of each year’s sightings with reports and photographs. It provides a very good source of information about the birds of the Island and also demonstrates emerging trends and changes.
I am always surprised by the range of some of the less common or rare sightings, wondering (slightly enviously) about how much time some of the observers must be able to spend studying birds out in the field. But I am very glad they do because the information they gather as a result is fascinating.
Apart from the birds one is used to seeing all the time, either in your garden or elsewhere, there is a huge range of birds which appear regularly, albeit some of them in low numbers, in the principle 'birding’ sites around the Island. That is not to say that they are not seen in other places around the island, but years of experience tell the ornithologists where the most productive sites are.
As you might expect many of the best sites are round the coast. Brading Marsh (which is now an RSPB reserve) is a particularly good site, and so is the National Nature Reserve at Newtown. St Catherine’s Point produces many sightings of birds on passage, being a prominent land-fall. Good inland sites include Ventnor Downs, and Brighstone and Parkhurst forests.
But if you keep your eyes open, and have your binoculars to hand, you can spot birds anywhere.
Over the 14 years that I have lived on the Island, even I have witnessed the changes in some of the bird populations. Perhaps the most striking is the spread of the beautiful little egret, which is now virtually ubiquitous, not only on the Island but also in many places on the mainland.
Even more dramatic has been the rise in the number of buzzards, which can often be seen in groups of up to a dozen over Bleak Down.
One is no longer surprised to see it anywhere on the Island, even in back gardens. Some of the other birds of prey which occasionally crop up are members of the harrier family, and red kites, which are gradually increasing in number, spreading from the mainland re-introduction programme areas.
Among the rarities listed for 2011 (the latest report) is a group of seven glossy ibis; the first to be seen on the Island since 1908.
Also listed for that year is a rosy starling, a strikingly marked bird quite obviously different from our normal Starlings. Nevertheless, even Starlings are becoming less common, and are included on the Red List of birds which are under threat.
Another Red List bird which had a good year on the Island (relatively speaking) was the bittern, which is a winter visitor. It is hard to spot in the reeds, in which it secretes itself.
I am pleased to see the nightingale is keeping a fairly steady appearance in its usual haunts on the Island. I most frequently hear it at Newtown where it always lifts my spirits.
Also at Newtown I have been lucky enough to see ospreys, which sometimes take up residence for several weeks while on passage.
Birdwatching is a hobby which is rewarding throughout the year, and once kitted out with a good pair of binoculars and some warm clothing, is quite inexpensive.
If you are interested in learning more, you can find out more about IWOG by visiting their website (http://iowbirds.awardspace.com/IWOG.htm) or the society website (http://www.iwnhas.org/) which has a bird group.