Update on summer 2016

You will have noticed that we haven’t posted anything for a while… that’s not because there hasn’t been anything going on! On the contrary, it’s because we’ve all been too busy to write anything for the website (must do better…).
So here’s a brief summary of various things that have occupied us this summer:

Nest-finding and ringing
Supporters have again tried to monitor all known Peregrine nests in the county. We’ve also been busy finding and monitoring nests of Goshawks, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Red Kites, Kestrels, Tawny and Little Owls, Hobbies and Ravens and, in some cases, ringing the young birds in them. Much of this work – but by no means all of it – is done in the Forest of Dean. This year we have been helped by a couple of climbers, who are a brilliant addition to the team.

One exciting project was that we advised and supported a crew making a film about Goshawks for the BBC’s Natural History Unit. The programme will feature our honorary president, Helen MacDonald (author of “H is for Hawk”), and she was involved in some of the filming sessions. We will report further when we know more about when the programme with be broadcast!

Since our formation less than two years ago we have made and erected about 200 nest-boxes – huge thanks to the box makers, especially Rich Harris and the Southam Crew, and to Jimmi Hill. Rich reports that 55 boxes for Tawny Owls were put up in the wider Southam area last winter, and 12 of them held breeding pairs this year – an amazing result in the first year. About 80 Little Owl boxes were made and put up, many of them in old orchards thanks to a collaboration with the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust. We look forward to seeing how well occupied they will be next year (hopefully not entirely by Jackdaws and Stock Doves!).

Little Owl Survey
All the available indications are that Little Owls are in quite rapid decline, so we tried to see what we can find out about how they are faring in Gloucestershire. During the BTO’s Bird Atlas spring/summer surveys from 2008 to 2011, Little Owls were found at just over 100 sites in circumstances which suggested they were definitely or probably breeding. We decided to visit as many as possible of these sites in 2016 to see if they were still present. We are very grateful to everyone who has helped with this survey. Records are still coming in, so if we contacted you and you haven’t yet responded, please do! Currently 46% of the sites visited still had owls present which, given the vagaries of surveying wildlife – especially a partly nocturnal species, is by no means disastrous. Having said that, there is evidence that a significant proportion of previous nest sites have been lost because of alterations to (or demolition of) buildings. Watch this space for final results in due course.

Wildlife crime
Sadly, wildlife crime does not only occur on remote moors and mountains, and part of Gareth Jones’ role in the group is to liaise with and support the local police and others on raptor persecution and crime in the county. Regrettably, Gareth has had a busy summer as a result of several criminal incidents involving persecution or disturbance. It is not possible to give further details because of ongoing investigations, but rest assured that we are active in drawing the police’s attention to incidents of which we are aware.

Winter talks
The talks we organised (on Honey-Buzzards and Little Owls) were well-attended and well-received last winter. We are planning more this winter (on Barn Owls and Buzzards), and we will post details as soon as dates and details are confirmed. In addition, members of the group will be presenting a talk about ourselves and our activities to Dursley Birdwatching and Preservation Society, Cheltenham Bird Club, the Forest of Dean branch of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and to the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society.