Friday, 19 June 2015

Plumstone - yellow is the colour....!

Early this morning Mike Young-Powell, Clive Hurford and myself helped Jon Hudson carry out a yellowhammer survey on Plumstone Mountain. This is known to be a pretty good site for this rapidly declining breeding species in the County, so getting any form of estimation of the minimum number of territory-holding males/pairs seemed to be a very worthwhile thing to do.

We each set off in different directions to cover as much of the site as possible. Various interesting birds were encountered along the way: it was very nice to see and to hear both male and female cuckoos; an immature Dartford warbler was a nice find (no adults seen though); reed buntings were in evidence, as were plenty of linnets, meadow pipits and several fledged stonechats. Most of these species seem to be having good breeding seasons here and elsewhere.

There were plenty of juv. mipits and stonechats around

But the star of the show had to be the reason for our visit - the yellowhammers. Between us we reckon that we must have recorded at least 17 individual males (some noted in pairs). There wasn't much evidence of song and this morning most were on the gorse patches, where sometimes they were not too easy to see at first. The reason most likely being that they were probably busy feeding young; some rival males also being occasionally involved with territorial conflicts. The female in the photo below is carrying a nice juicy caterpillar for nestlings nearby. So all in all our visit was a great success.

Let's hope there will be plenty of juv. yellowhammers around in a few weeks time

Plumstone must currently rate as the best yellowhammer breeding location we have left in the County - this species having declined enormously over the past 20 years or so. Apart from the obviously good heath and gorse scrub breeding habitat, rich in invertebrate and seed sources, could it also be that they survive here well due to availability of good winter feeding areas on nearby farms (pheasant rearing areas etc). This may be the key to their success here?

There is still plenty of reasonably good breeding habitat in the County, but now without yellowhammers in most places. Why? A key to ensuring their continued survival seems likely to rest on the availability of suitable winter feeding areas. Clearly there is much more to learn and much more to be done if we are to help this species recover to anything like its former population levels.

Finally, a couple cracking images of breeding males, these two taken by Clive.