Bustard Watch 22/12/2011

Posted on Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

The last month has seen some interesting reports of our Great Bustards. One of this years birds has been regularly seen down in Devon, close to Kingsbridge, and three birds had seemingly taken up residence for the winter in Dorset. Two were right down on the coast, and all have been spending most of their time feeding on oil seed rape. Alland Goddard from GBG has been keeping a regular eye on the Dorset birds and was surprised to spot one of the them flying in off the sea. We do not know how far out she went, but she obviously though better of it, and headed back to land. Sadly one of these Dorset birds was picked up dead a few days ago. The remains were well fed on, but a post mortem revealed predation by a fox as the likely cause of death. It is late in the year to be having foxes kill our birds. We know they feature strongly in the immediate period after release, but by now the remaining birds seem to have got the measure and learned appropriate responses.

The releases from the new site in Wiltshire still seem to have done significantly better than the ones released on Salisbury Plain. A review of the numbers will be prepared in the spring as there are several birds whose whereabouts are unknown to us at the moment, but who will probably turn up in the next month or so.

After a bit of a flurry of press activity we had the usual spike in Bustard sightings. We are always grateful to anyone who makes a report in good faith, but they all need to be screened before sending one of our team out. The obvious ones to avoid are Bustards standing on posts, sitting in trees or even one one occasion swimming across a lake!* The most common none Bustard species are pheasants, Guinea Fowl, the odd turkey and even chickens. Whilst some of these are a bit frustrating, and a few amusing, we do appreciate all the reports made.

At the main project site on Salisbury Plain P5 (from 2007) is the largest male about. He is already starting to grow his whiskers and his neck is beginning to redden up as he grows his spring plumage. A large male from 2010 (Pink tags) is also around the site and usually with his older rival. It will be very interesting to see at what point the bigger bird ceases to tolerate the company of the younger bird. This will tell us the hormones are building up for the display.

We have had several reasonable size groups of birds around, with 8 being reported together a few miles from the new site, and often up to 7 at the Salisbury Plain site. Despite our best efforts many of the birds spend this time of the year in ones or twos or as individuals. They are likely to join up again in the spring. One of the birds from the first release (2004 – Orange tags) has taken some of this years birds under her wing and is rarely seen without them. I am sure this is a help for the youngsters to learn the techniques of survival.

On other topics we are all indebted to Charles Hibberd a GBG volunteer who has helped install a wind turbine at our site. This turbine was given to us by the RSPB, but was in a state of dismantled disrepair and without any instructions or handbook. It needed a great deal of thought and consideration to get it all up and running. This will help us greatly at out mobile home office which is not connected to mains electricty.

*Great Bustards lack hind claws, preventing them from perching.

David Waters

Posted by David Waters

David Waters is the founder and director of the Great Bustard Group.

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