Birdwatch: Righting of historic wrongs sees silvery foragers stabilise

Ring ouzels are on the red list as their population has declined but there is hope on the horizon.               Picture: Michael Flowers
Ring ouzels are on the red list as their population has declined but there is hope on the horizon. Picture: Michael Flowers
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More summer visitors are arriving, including a good passage of ring ouzels up from the Mediterranean and reported in many places.

They are like blackbirds but the ring ouzel has a white crescent just below the throat, also silvery patches on the wings. The plumage has a silvery sheen because of the thin white edges to the feathers.

Many, especially those seen on the coast, are on their way to the mountainous regions of Scandinavia and others to Scotland and the Lake District.

More breed in the Pennines and on the North York Moors choosing areas with a few rocks or isolated trees that the males can use as song posts. They also need sheltered gullies to nest in.

Ring ouzels have declined in many places and the first national survey in 1999 estimated a 58 per cent decline in numbers since 1988. The interim results of a survey carried out in 2012 show a further decline of 28 per cent.

One major cause is the high mortality rate of nestlings and these declines have resulted in the ring ouzel being Red Listed as a species of major conservation concern.

It is thought that this low survival rate could be due to a lack of suitable habitat. Ring ouzels are known to forage for invertebrates in short grass and a mix of grass and heather early in the summer, before switching their diet to bilberry and rowan berries later. They also need deeper vegetation, such as heather, to hide their nests and newly-fledged young from predators.

But there are indications that the ring ouzel population has now stabilised or even increased in some areas thanks to widespread work to restore and conserve upland peatlands.

Miles of grips, drainage channels dug out during the 1960s-1980s in the mistaken belief that this would benefit livestock and grouse shoots, are being blocked and huge areas of bare peat are being re-seeded with sphagnum moss, cotton grass, dwarf shrubs and grasses. Wetter moors will mean more plant cover and food for ring ouzels and other birds such as whinchats which are returning to breed on moors in the Peak District.

It also means less peat erosion and silting up of downstream rivers, and, most important of all, a reduced likelihood of disastrous flash flooding in Pennine towns such as Hebden Bridge.

Newly returning migrants include the first swifts, pied flycatchers and redstarts both back at Strid Woods, Bolton Abbey, grasshopper, sedge and reed warblers, cuckoos and common and Arctic terns.

Two hoopoes, overshooting from Europe, were seen in Yorkshire, one in fields near Blackmoorfoot reservoir above Huddersfield, the other at Wiggington, York while a short-toed lark was in fields next to the Cleveland Way at Long Nab, Burniston.

Two green-winged teals were reported, one at Wheldrake Ings, the other at the Nosterfield Nature Reserve. Another North America duck, an immature drake surf scoter, is still present after more than four months in Filey Bay.