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If you are interested in birds, you may also like to read what's on our Birds on Magog Down page.

Bird Club - come and join us!

If you have never given birdwatching a try do come along on the first Saturday of the month (meeting in the car park at 8am from April to October; slightly later at 8.30 am from November to March).

Membership is very informal–– just turn up and enjoy the birding walk. It is a healthy way of getting fresh air and exercise, and de-stressing while learning about birds.

We welcome new members of any age from beginners to life-time bird watchers. Sorry, no dogs

skylark_garth_cropped_250Photo: Skylark (Alauda arvensis) © Garth Peacock 2015

Bird Reports 2015 prev

2014 Report of a Long term survey of breeding birds on Magog Down, Stapleford

Bryan Davies and Robin Cox, Cambridgeshire Bird Club
 

Summary

This is the third annual report of the long term breeding bird survey at Magog Down. Records were taken during three visits starting in early April and finishing in the third week of May when summer visitors had returned. 26 species were probably breeding compared with 29 in 2012 and 28 in 2013. In addition several species that are currently not breeding on the Down were recorded: Fieldfare, Redwing, Buzzard, Rook, Swift and Swallow; these birds are discussed in the 2013 report and are not referred to again in this report. 

Of the species breeding in 2013 but not recorded in 2014, three are warblers (Willow, Sedge, and Garden), Mistle thrush and Reed bunting. Of these the Willow warbler and Mistle thrush are of particular concern because in the past they have been regulars on the Down. 

Of the UK Red listed birds eg. Song thrush, Greenfinch and Corn Bunting whose numbers nationally have fallen severely in recent decades, the numbers recorded in 2014 were very low, in contrast Skylarks which are also red listed continue to prosper on the Down.

Several well known resident species that prosper nationally continue to do well on the Down of these the Blue tit, Great tit, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Wren are the best known.

Two additional conservation measures were introduced in 2014, eight standard flowering trees have been planted in the western hedge adjacent to the arable to act as Singing posts for corn buntings and yellowhammers, 30 nest boxes in total were put up in Youth, Colin’s and Villedomer woods, and kestrel and tawny owl boxes installed in woodland. In 2015 a bird seed strip will be planted in the eastern section of the arable area to provide food overwinter and to encourage insect populations.

This is the third report of a long term breeding bird survey on Magog Down using the revised field methods described in Appendix 1 of the 2012 Report.
 
Field Visits
Three recording visits were made (4/4, 2/5 and 22/5). Each visit took about 2 hours following the same route on each occasion. In addition skylark numbers and territories were recorded on North Down during two additional visits.
 
Results
We recorded a total of 26 species that were probably breeding compared with 29 in 2012 and 28 in 2013. Three summer visitors (Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Common Whitethroat) were recorded but Willow warblers, which have been regular summer visitors to the Down, albeit in small numbers, failed to appear in 2014. Garden warblers, Sedge warblers and Reed buntings which were all recorded for the first time in 2013 failed to appear in 2014; the absence of oilseed rape probably accounted for the absence of the latter two species.  In the first two years of the survey the car park was one of the species hotspots but only about half the number of species were recorded there in 2014; there was no obvious reason for this decline. Four formerly abundant species whose numbers continue to decline nationally: Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Bullfinch, Meadow pipit and Corn bunting were either absent in 2014 or recorded in very small numbers.
 
The monitoring of Skylark territories on North Down was continued and as in the two previous years nesting was confined to the longer grass in quadrants uncut for 3 years where we assume nests are better protected from both ground and aerial predation.
 
Weekly grain feeding during February and March was continued at two sites in the far car park; however many fewer birds were seen feeding than in the prolonged winter of 2013 presumably because of the warmer weather and maybe greater abundance of food on the Down. 
 
Location No. of species*
No. of birds**
Table 1: Breeding species recorded at 14 survey locations on the Down.
Car Park and adjacent Picnic area 7 14
Colin's Wood, Roadside and Garden hedges 9 20
Feoffee's fields and edge of Parish Pit 6 9
Feoffee's field hedges 0 0
Clunch pits on Little Trees Hill 10 58
Cleared woodland and Magog Wood 10 12
Shelter belt wood 3 3
Sheep paddocks and Collin's bank 3 3
Memorial Wood 8 19
Arable field 1 2
Vestey wood and adjacent mature wood 14 17
Western boundary hedge 4 14
Villedomer wood 2 2
North Down 3 12
  * Wood pigeons not recorded because of likelihood of double counting 
** Minimum number of birds breeding
 
Table 2 shows the total number of each breeding species recorded, the number of locations in which they were noted and their UK status. 
 
Family Total*
Locations UK Status**
Table 2: Species probably breeding on Magog Down (blank entries show species in the previous report that were not recorded in 2014)
Thrushes      
   Blackbird 10 8  
   Song Thrush 1 1 red
   Mistle Thrush - - amber
   Robin 8 5  
Tits      
   Blue tit 7 4  
   Great tit 9 5  
   Long tailed tit 6 2  
Finches      
   Bullfinch 2 1 red
   Chaffinch 36 8  
   Goldfinch 26 2 amber
   Greenfinch 2 2 red
   Linnet 1 1 red
Buntings
     
   Corn bunting 1 1 red
   Reed bunting - - amber
   Yellowhammer 4 2 red
Warblers      
   Blackcap 12 9  
   Chiffchaff 3 3  
   Common Whitethroat 10 3 amber
   Garden Warbler - -  
   Sedge Warbler - -  
   Willow Warbler - - amber
Larks      
   Skylark 13 3 red
Crows      
   Carrion Crow 2 1  
   Magpie 4 4  
   Jay - -  
Crests and Wrens
     
   Wren 6 5  
Accentors      
   Dunnocks 3 3 amber
Partridges      
   Red-legged Partridge 2 2  
   Pheasant 2 2  
Woodpeckers
     
   Green Woodpecker 2 2 amber
Pigeons and Doves      
   Wood Pigeon [large numbers but not recorded]
Falcons      
   Kestrel 1 1  
  * Sum of the largest number of birds recorded on any one visit at each location = the minimum no. of birds breeding.
** Species on the UK red list have shown a severe decline in numbers during last 40 years, species on the UK amber list have declined by 25-49% during the last 40 years.

 
 
Discussion
This is the third annual report and it is now apparent that variation in the results from year to year is very substantial.  Some of these differences are probably real but others are likely be due to random effects, for example warm windless days favour greater bird activity and recording of birds than colder days with moderate wind speeds. This large variation in annual results emphasises the need for the survey to continue over many years so that real trends can be reliably established. 
 
However after only three survey years a few probable trends have emerged. Several species, namely: Blackbird, Robin, Blue tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Skylark, Wren, Dunnock, Magpie and Wood pigeon are breeding satisfactorily every year. With the exception of skylarks all of these species are well established throughout much of England. At the other extreme are species which are finding it difficult to keep a breeding toe-hold on the Downs, namely: Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Corn bunting, Willow warbler and Meadow pipit. All of these species are UK red or amber listed and during the three years of the survey have only been recorded in very small numbers. Without special measures tailored to the individual needs of each of these birds, they may well cease to breed on the Downs altogether. 
 
The specific needs of goldfinches were met abundantly during the Spring of 2014 when thistles and similar species grew strongly in the former Shelter belt area attracting a large mixed flock of goldfinches and chaffinches. We expect that similar benefits will result from part of the arable area to be sown to bird seeds attractive to a range of birds. This area will not only help birds to survive the Hungry Gap (February- early April) but also enhance insect populations which are so vital for survival of nestlings.
 
The main survey will be continued in the Spring of 2015 and the effect of a change in cutting regime on North Down on skylark numbers will be monitored.

 

Birds on Magog Down

We publish the monthly reports of Stapleford Bird club here, plus other occasional bird-related articles; hot links in each report will take you to the RSPB information page for each bird spotted.

The gallery below shows a random six of the birds often seen on Magog Down.

  • Blackbird.jpg
  • Blackcap female.jpg
  • Blackcap male.jpg
  • Blue tit.jpg
  • Chaffinch.jpg
  • Chiffchaff.jpg