Re-wetting the reedbed!


As can be seen in yesterday’s post, the historical widening and deepening of South Milton Stream, the main input of fresh water into the SSSI, has lowered the water table significantly in the eastern third of the reserve. In 2015 Vic Tucker, the reserve manager, proposed enlarging an existing watercourse on the opposite side of the reedbed to create an area of open water. Previous attempts to do this had failed due to difficulties of access and rapid recolonisation by Phragmites. After dialogue with Natural England a location on the southeast side of the reedbed was selected, which would offer unobstructed views of the new habitat, help to raise the water table and avoid damage to the existing reedbed.

Work has just begun to widen and deepen a length of this ditch, to produce an area of open fresh water of sufficient depth to prevent re-colonisation by Common reed (Phragmites australis). This is intended both to increase biodiversity in the area and to raise the water table. Natural England has generously contributed to the costs of excavation and the installation of a sluice to enable fine control of the water levels and thanks are due to Kevin Cox, the outgoing Devon Bird’s Chairman, for submitting the proposal documents. The detailed SML Ditch proposal 2017 and SML Ditch rationale 2017 documents can be viewed here.

Recent ringing controls

Details of three birds controlled at South Milton Ley have been received from the BTO:

1.            A Reed Warbler, ringed as a juvenile on 31st July 2016 at Westdown Plantation, Wiltshire, UK and controlled as an adult female at SML on 8th July 2017.

2.            A Reed Warbler, ringed as an adult female on 2nd July 2017 at RSPB Cors Ddyga, Anglesey, UK and controlled at SML on 16th September 2017.

3.            A Chiffchaff, ringed as a juvenile on 26th June 2017 at Hartland Point, Devon, UK and controlled as an adult female at SML on 16th September 2017.

Monday 25th September 2017 – Part 2 – Meeting with Natural England

Following the morning’s ringing session, Nick Townsend, Devon Bird’s Area Conservation Officer and I met on site with Simon Tame, Land Management Adviser and Orlando Venn, Senior Water Advisor from Natural England to discuss the possible impacts on the ecology of the reserve of the adjacent South West Water sewage treatment works, which discharges into the SSSI. It was agreed that any improvements to the efficiency of the STW could only be beneficial. I took the opportunity to point out that a lack of contemporary data on the concentrations of nitrate and phosphate entering the reserve, coupled with no guidance on what maximum nutrient concentrations should be, hampered the preparation of the current management plan. Hopefully Orlando will be able to provide some figures for us.

SML S Milton Stream pre 1991 Daphne Julian 1South Milton Stream in the 1980’sPhoto: Daphne Julian.

A quick tour of the upper part of the reserve gave me the opportunity to confirm that my understanding of the local hydrology was reasonable. It was agreed that historical widening and deepening of South Milton Stream, the main input to the SSSI, had lowered the water table significantly in the upper third of the reserve. This has resulted in a spread of willow and other trees in this area. The spoil from the excavations was used to create a path along the northern side of the reserve, necessary to allow access, but this nutrient rich substrate, coupled with a lower water table, had encouraged the proliferation of nettle and hemlock water dropwort at the expense of reed. A number of possible interventions were discussed but it was agreed that the best option is probably to do nothing and allow the stream to return towards its original level over time.

SML S Milton Stream 1991 1 Daphne JulianSouth Milton Stream in 1994, after dredging and straightening. Photo: Daphne Julian.

Monday 25th September 2017

After returning yesterday from a week’s break at Portland Bird Observatory, I managed a morning’s ringing at SML. A warm, cloudless day with light winds and the calls of water rail and crests to indicate that a few birds had arrived whilst I’d been away

A total of 55 new birds were ringed including 5 Blackcap, 20 Chiffchaff, 8 Goldcrest, 11 Meadow Pipit, 2 Reed Bunting and 1 Song Thrush. A UK ringed Reed Bunting was also trapped.

How good are your bird identification skills? Win access to budget birding trips!

BirdIDProbably not as good as you like to think they are! A look through the posts on the Devon Birds website over the last year reveals plenty of errors. Test your skills with images and calls using the training quizzes for the Western Palearctic on the BirdID Norway website. Set the difficulty level to 3, the same as their formal test, and see how close to 100% you can get on the image quiz before attempting the sound quiz! If you feel up to it register and take the formal tests. These are web-based and if successful you get a certificate and a free t-shirt with the BirdID logo. It’s completely free and you can have up to three attempts. Once the formal tests for the Western Palearctic have been passed you become eligible to take part in any of three, low-cost, annual field study trips. The destinations and current prices are:-

·           Morocco (Atlas mountains, Sahara desert and wetlands) in March (10 days for £228)

·           Bulgaria (in conjunction with the BSPB) in late April/early May (10 days for £137)

·           Northern Norway (Finnmark, Pasvik and Varanger) in June (7 days for £340)

These prices include guides, drivers, transport, accommodation, breakfast and dinner and the field study trips are fantastic value. Having taken part in and thoroughly enjoyed all three, I felt the least I could do was publicise their WEBSITE as they are keen to engage with more UK based birders. For a bit more info, an article I wrote for Devon Birds after our trip to Norway in 2016 can be viewed HERE.

Bird Ringing at South Milton Ley

This is a blog which concentrates on the day-to-day bird ringing activities at South Milton Ley Nature Reserve, a 16 hectare reedbed in south Devon. The title reflects the fact that it takes me about an hour to drive to the site from my home and a further hour to set up all of the nets. This makes for some very early starts, particularly in the summer months!

If you stumbled across this website whilst looking for up to date information about the birds recorded here, at South Huish Reserve, South Efford Marsh, Thurlestone Bay or simply in the general area I recommend visiting Mike Passman’s excellent website: Thurlestone Bay Birds

Saturday 16th September

After two weeks of gales and rain the weather finally improved enough for me to get in a morning’s ringing, although I ended up processing birds in the back of the car at one point as a heavy shower put a halt to proceedings and dumped 15mm of rain in 20 minutes. Luckily, I was able to open the nets again for long enough to dry them out before packing up.

The star bird of the day was a 1st year Marsh Tit. Uncommon in this part of coastal Devon, this was only the second to be trapped at SML this century!

A total of 56 new birds were ringed including 1 Marsh Tit, 23 Blackcap, 13 Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrest, 3 Reed Warbler, 3 Sedge Warbler, 2 Willow Warbler and 2 Reed Bunting.

Also UK ringed controls of Chiffchaff and Reed Warbler were trapped.