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Fri 30th July 2010 14:23 by Graham Smith
The Breeding Season at Blue House
Blue House Farm EWT Reserve, North Fambridge : The breeding waders enjoyed their fourth successful season on the trot. The number of Lapwing pairs on The Flood increased from 12 in 2009 to 20 this year and Redshank from 10-12 to 15+. Single pairs of Snipe and Little Ringed Plover also summered. Avocets were also on course to increase but several of the early nests failed to hatch. Three of these were in front of the New Hide and my notes indicate that the clutches were brooded for over five weeks (long past their normal incubation) before the adults began to lose interest and the nests were subsequently robbed by Coots (see my entry in May). There may also have been some losses to other predators but there was no evidence during the summer of any widespread predation by foxes, the usual culprits. I suspect that the myriad young rabbits along the railway embankment are a counter attraction to most predators. In the end, the five pairs of Avocet that did hatch young all succeeded in rearing at least some of them, ten youngsters fledging. The poor hatching success may have been due to the cold night-time temperatures in spring as Avocets are emotionally incontinent and more than once I saw a brooding bird leave its nest on a cold day to chase off birds as inocuous as a Pied Wagtail!

As for the Lapwing, the 20 pairs on The Flood reared around 35-40, an excellent return for a ground nesting bird such as this. Elsewhere, 6 pairs on The Fleets reared 8 young; Kestrels (which bred on the reserve this year) probably taking at least some of the chicks, while the 6 pairs on the Flat Fields failed completely; their first clutches probably being lost to cattle trampling and their second due to the extreme dryness of the fields later in the season. Many Redshank young were seen and this species definitely benefits from its close association with Lapwings and Avocets, which offer a far more effective defensive shield than they can provide on their own. An example of this occurred when a male Kestrel was foolish enough to venture on to The Flood and found itself on the losing end of a dogfight with ten Lapwings and five Avocets!

Among the wildfowl, a total of 24 broods of Mallard were seen along with 5 Shelduck, 3 Shoveler and single Wigeon, Pochard and Mute Swan. Around 40 pairs of Coot and 15 Dabchicks also nested. A pair of Water Rails with two fledged young was a bonus. Again, predation was very low; a brood of 13 Mallard ducklings in early May remaining intact (and nearly fledged) four weeks later and a similar number in early July losing only one of their number before fledging. Similarly, the Shovelers reared 9, 6 and 6 young respectively.

Wetland passerines included 80 pairs of Reed Warbler, 28 Sedge Warbler, 38 Reed Bunting and 5 Yellow Wagtail (up from one the previous year). On the downside, we lost our few remaining pairs of Corn Bunting and the two pairs of Turtle Dove that usually nest on the railway embankment failed to return this year. Both are red listed species in sharp decline. To end on a more cheerful note, a pair of Swallows nested under the eaves of the New Hide and reared four young.



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