WHERE HAVE OUR GREENFINCHES GONE?
I sometimes get asked why Greenfinches have disappeared from many of our gardens. Certainly in the 12 years that Tim Jones and I have lived at Harpers Mill we have noticed fewer Greenfinches in and around the village, as well as at Smythen Farm. For some reason Greenfinches are only infrequent visitors to our garden, despite lots of apparently suitable habitat. Among several diseases which affect birds, one in particular, trichomonosis, has been the principal cause of the decline in Greenfinches, and to a lesser extent Chaffinches.
Trichomonosis typically causes disease at the back of the throat and in the gullet. Affected birds show signs of general illness, such as lethargy and fluffed-up plumage, and may show difficulty in swallowing or laboured breathing. Some individuals may have wet plumage around the bill and drool saliva or regurgitate food that they cannot swallow. In some cases, swelling of the neck may be evident. The disease may progress over several days or even weeks. It does not affect humans or other mammals.
An item on the British Trust for Ornithology's website in mid-September reported new research that brings our understanding of the disease outbreak up to date.
The widespread emergence of trichomonosis in 2006 has resulted in a substantial decline in the Greenfinch breeding population. The new research demonstrates that mass mortality in Greenfinches continued in 2007-2009 at a rate of more than 7 per cent of the population each year, but with a shifting geographical distribution across the UK. In this time the population of Greenfinches in Great Britain fell from some 4.3 million to about 2.8 million birds. It appears that the disease jumped from pigeons or doves to finches, but quite why Greenfinches suffered more than other small birds remains unknown.
For more information on trichomonosis and other bird diseases, visit the BTO website at www.bto.org and follow these links: home > volunteer-surveys > garden birdwatch > gardens & wildlife > birds > disease. This will take you to a page on 'Disease and garden birds'. Here you will find advice on what you can do to look after your garden birds, especially the need to keep feeders clean. If you would like to report finding dead garden birds or signs of disease in garden birds, there is also an online reporting form.
Greenfinch © Mike Langman
Most Berrynarbor residents will be familiar with Swifts,
which arrive in the
In addition, their habit of [literally] screaming at high speed low over rooftops, often in small parties, especially towards dusk, makes them unmissable to anyone out and about the village.
Swifts are the most aerial of birds. They feed on flying insects and never perch on wires like Swallows. In fact, once a young Swift has fledged, it is unlikely to land anywhere until it reaches maturity and looks for a nest site of its own three or four years later. But finding that desirable location in which to nest is becoming increasingly hard for Swifts. Their nesting places, in the eaves of rooftops and older buildings with cavities, such as the Manor Hall, are disappearing as buildings are modernised and access to roof spaces blocked up.
Ten years ago, when Tim Jones and I came to live in the
Now, we have a chance to help them. As some of you may have seen in a recent issue of the North Devon Journal, a conservation project has been launched within the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
[AONB] to help Swifts. With funding from the North Devon AONB, researcher Greg Ebdon has been visiting villages within the AONB to record the numbers of Swifts and the location of nest sites, as well as looking for appropriate sites where specially constructed Swift nestboxes can be put up. Four nestboxes have already been installed at St Helen's Church in Abbotsham, for example.
If you would like to encourage Swifts to nest within the eaves of your house or on the wall under the eaves, you can obtain a nestbox from Greg by contacting him on firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that because Swifts need height to take off, single-storey buildings are not suitable; nest sites are usually located at least six metres from the ground. Once a nestbox has been installed, to stop other birds using it, the opening can be blocked until the Swifts return. If you are unsure whether your house is suitable, I should be happy to give advice. You can contact me on 882965 [daytime] or 883807 [evenings/weekends] or at email@example.com.
For more information on Swifts, including a short video and a sound recording of their calls, visit www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/swift.
Artwork by Mike Langman [www.mikelangman.co.uk]
THE BIRDS OF LUNDY
some ten miles off the nearest point on the
- that is the Tims of Harpers Mill - have been visiting Lundy for more than 50
years between us. The idea to write a
new book on the island's birds first struck in 1999. Initially we contacted former Lundy Warden
Nick Dymond to ask if he had any plans to update his own book on Lundy's birds,
published by Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Society in 1980. At that stage Nick was part way through
revising the text but, as he put it, 'running out of steam' and with many other
things on his plate. Nick kindly forwarded his notes, giving us a
great starting point. In the intervening
years, as well as scouring every Lundy Field Society (LFS) Annual Report, Devon Bird Report and the surviving LFS logbooks
from the island, we have researched every scrap of information we could find.
This included a fascinating visit to the Alexander Ornithological Library in
of the work has been done in our spare time, but, conscious of the years
passing by, we began to step on the accelerator in 2005 until finally, in
February this year, we completed the manuscript. Since
then we've been polishing it and adding bird records for 2007. We took the book to the printer, Short Run
Press Limited of
Birds of Lundy itself fledged on 29th September at a launch at RM
Young (Bookseller) in
The goals we set ourselves in preparing the book were:
- To produce an up-to-date account of the ornithology of Lundy, with a review of historical records and an account of all bird species that have occurred on the island since the founding of the LFS in 1946 and the commencement of daily records in 1947.
- To raise awareness of the Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Society and the Lundy Field Society and promote their roles in the research and conservation of birds and the natural environment, both in Devon and on Lundy.
- To invest any proceeds made from sales of the book in bird-related conservation work on Lundy.
- To promote awareness and appreciation of Lundy's conservation value and its importance as a prime 'ecotourism' destination and birdwatching venue.
- To stimulate enhanced recording of birds and other wildlife on Lundy.
Whether we succeed in all of these objectives only time will tell. The immediate result is a detailed account of the 317 species that currently make up the Lundy bird list, plus a further 36 species which for various reasons do not qualify for the full list. Internationally renowned biologist Hugh Boyd, who began his ornithological career as LFS Warden in 1948/49, has penned the book's foreword. [Health permitting, Hugh will be staying with us on the island this October.]
well as writing the book, we also published it on behalf of Devon Birds and the
LFS. Both organisations contributed
grants to cover the printing costs, and we are grateful also to several other
individuals and organisations that have supported the book financially. All are acknowledged within the books 319
pages, which are enlivened by 20 colour photographs and more than 100 line
For more information visit www.birdsoflundy.org.uk or contact us on 882965 [daytime] or 883807 [evenings and weekends].
you have thought about going to Lundy but have yet to do so, we hope that The Birds of Lundy might inspire you to
step onto the island boat, MS Oldenburg, and off at the other end onto the
Tim Davis & Tim Jones