• Sim Elliott

RSPB Pulborough Brooks 27.04.21: Egyptian Geese, Greenshanks and House Martins

Updated: May 16, 2021


To get to Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve from Brighton by public transport I find it easiest to get the train to Pulborough (via Barnham), and walk. There is a lovely footpath from Pulborough, across the flood plain (the Brooks) of the Arun to the RSPB reserve. There is now a Wild Art trail that links Pulborough Station with the RSPB reserve


Here is the Pipistrelle Bat sculpture where the trail enters the Brooks

This is one of points on the trail, with a snail poem on top


I sat down for my packed lunch by this marker, and whilst I ate my lunch these two Mute Swans spent half an hour preening; as I ate my lunch all I could here was the splashing of water as they preened.

Here they are preening,

I passed many Mallards as I crossed the brooks.


When I got to the RSPB reserve I walked fairly randomly around the reserve. There were many birds listed on the days sighting board, including Nightingales, Lapwings, Blackcaps, Whitethroats etc. - that I did not see, I did see three birds new to me: Greenshanks, House Martins and an Egyptian Goose The rest of the birds I saw were very common Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Canada Geese, a Chaffinch, Dunnocks, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Great Tit, A Grey Heron, House Sparrows, Redshanks, Song Thrushes, Shelducks and Woodpigeons. But a happy days birding does not need to include rarities, or a huge tally of species seen. I was happy to see a few things new to me, as some very common birds that were beautiful. There are others days to see Nightingales


As I walked randomly, and retraced my tracks many times, I have ordered the birds I saw in alphabetical order rather that chronological order of spotting


Blackbird - Female


Blackbird - male


Blue Tit


Chaffinch - Male


Dunnock


Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca


Related to the shelduck, this pale brown and grey goose has distinctive dark brown eye-patches and contrasting white wing patches in flight. It was introduced as an ornamental wildfowl species and has escaped into the wild, now successfully breeding in a feral state. Egyptian Goose Facts | Alopochen Aegyptiaca - The RSPB


Egyptian Geese in the UK are the result of colonialism and the desire for conspicuous displays of wealth, and an interest in the exotic; 17th gentleman bought these birds from colonial merchants for their ornamental lakes of their stately homes; to display their wealth and their appreciation of the exotic. There was no regard for the geese's welfare, as they were transported from a north African climate to a much colder British landscape. Ironically, naturalised Egyptian Geese have prospered in the UK of late as a result of global warning, one of the reasons for the the decline in populations of British native birds, along with habitat loss.


After struggling to survive Britain's cold winters for more than 300 years the Egyptian goose, Alopochen aegyptiacus, is undergoing a population explosion. Once confined to a small area of Norfolk the goose is now abundant across Greater London and surrounding counties and has been reported breeding in the West Country and as far north as the Humber.

A native of sub-tropical Africa the Egyptian goose was brought to Britain in the late 17th century as an ornamental bird for the lakes of country gentlemen. Its attraction is its apricot breast, white wing patch and the dark brown patches over its eyes that make it look as if it is wearing dark glasses.


Not surprisingly, being used to warmer weather, the goose found survival difficult not least because it was accustomed to breeding in January – a habit it has found hard to break – making the survival of its chicks unlikely. Another handicap is that it prefers to nest in large holes in trees, something not always easy to find near a suitable lake.


Forty years ago its numbers began to creep up and its breeding area expanded away from the Norfolk Broads to all of Norfolk. Fifteen years ago the population began rising far more rapidly and there are now thought to be 900 breeding pairs in Norfolk alone. London and Berkshire, along the Thames and in gravel pits, are now also strongholds and there is a new colony growing in the East Midlands.


This bird still nests in the winter before other geese and ducks have started breeding and has up to ten young. While this appearance of chicks so early makes them particularly vulnerable to hungry predators, the warmer weather of the last 20 years is thought to have improved their survival rate and to be the reason for the sudden jump in numbers.


Climate change therefore means a permanent and probably large population of another non-native goose. Canada geese show that an explosion in population can be a problem in parks and on farms but is the Egyptian goose going to be another?


The birds are regarded as pests in their native environment in Africa and some are shot because they munch crops, but being grass eaters they are not good to eat. So far there are no reports that the species is a nuisance here.


There is a fear that they might out compete or cross breed with native species but again there is no evidence yet that they are doing so. The fact they nest in holes in trees and also rabbit burrows makes them a potential rival to the Shelduck but so far that does not seem to be issue either. This is possibly because the goose needs fresh water and likes lakes, and the Shelduck prefers coastal nesting sites and estuaries.


In the jargon of the bird world the goose has become a self-sustaining species, in other words no longer needs to rely on escapees from private collections to keep them going in the wild. The Netherlands already has a much larger population than Britain, around 100,000 individuals, even though the first breeding pair was not recorded until the 1960s, and they were thought to be immigrants from Norfolk. Now some are re-crossing the North Sea. This goose is obviously here to stay. Paul Brown Specieswatch: Egyptian goose | Birds | The Guardian


The Egyptian Goose is a member of the Shelduck family and is very distinctive stocky-looking bird that you really can’t confuse with anything else. Its plumage is predominantly a mixture of browns and greys, with a diagnostic dark brown ‘highwayman’s mask’ eye patch and large white patches on its forewings seen when in flight. It’s a goose that reminds me somewhat of the colours of some African spices, its plumage carrying more than a hint of those warm tones.


It will perhaps come as no surprise then to learn that this bird originates from subtropical Africa and was once common along the Nile Valley. The bird was considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians and it appears regularly as a feature in their artwork. It was brought to the UK in the 17th century as an ornamental bird for country estates but wasn’t well adapted to our climate. As you can imagine, the species struggled somewhat to cope with the cold winters in the UK for nearly 300 years, especially as it is programmed to breed in January. However, with global warming altering the climate, feral populations are beginning to expand and it is now not uncommon south of the Humber, with thriving populations along the Thames and suburban London parks in particular.


As already mentioned, they breed early in the year, preferring holes in trees in which to nest and producing up to 10 young in a brood. The early birth of their young makes them vulnerable to bad weather and hungry predators.


Ironically, they are considered a pest in the countries that once revered them, their tendency to munch crops often bringing them into conflict with farmers and many are shot as a result. It is now not an easy bird to see in the country from which it gets its name. Sadly the spirits of the long-dead Egyptian Pharaohs seem to have lost their powers of protection for this bird which you are now more likely to see along the River Thames than those of the Nile. Rob Reed Geese of the UK. 5. Egyptian Goose — Purple Crow


The Egyptian Goose was a big hit with wealthy Norfolk landowners of the 19th and 20th centuries when their exoticism made them a popular sight on private lakes and ponds, but as these foreign geese escaped into the Broads they found that the habitat suited them well and they can now be found thriving up and down the Broads river systems. The exotic creatures of the Broads National Park (visitthebroads.co.uk)


Great Spotted Woodpecker


Great Tit (and Blue Tit)


Greenshanks Tringa nebularia.

Population: UK breeding: 700-1,500 pairs; UK wintering:700 birds; UK passage igrants:1400 birds.


The greenshank is confined to the North and West of Scotland in summer around boggy moorland and peatland pools. On migration it can be found across the UK, inland around lakes and freshwater marshes, as well as at coastal wetlands and estuaries, with the largest numbers close to the coast. In winter it is found on the estuaries of SW England, Wales, W Scotland and N Ireland. Greenshank Bird Facts | Tringa Nebularia - The RSPB


These Greenshanks are either over wintering or passage migrants.


There is evidence of the classic leap-frog migration, with individuals that breed further north spending the winter months further south. British breeding Greenshank may not move very far but many birds from Norway, Sweden and Russia spend time in Britain on their way to western African countries such as Ghana and Ivory Coast. Spring records in Italy suggest some birds might take a more easterly route on their way north. Graham Appletonm Migration of Scottish Greenshank | wadertales (wordpress.com)


Data from a UK-based colour-ring and tagging programme, coordinated by Pete Potts of Farlington Ringing Group, are being analysed. Initial findings suggest that a single estuary can host birds from a range of breeding locations. Some passage birds stay to complete moult but others just fatten and move on. We should soon know more about the relative importance of these British stop-over sites to western European Greenshanks.


Greenshank can be distinguished from similar-sized waders like Redshank and godwits by the colour of their legs: grey-green. Adults are olive-grey above and silvery-white below, with dark streaking on the breast. Greenshank have long, slightly upturned, grey bills. Greenshank | The Wildlife Trusts


Grey Heron


Highland Cow - not a bird, but used for conservation grazing by the RSPB!


House Martins, Delichon urbicum (and a Canada Goose)


The House Martins I saw were eating insects on the wing over the water of the Pulborough Brooks


The house martin is a small bird with glossy blue-black upper parts and pure white under parts. It has a distinctive white rump with a forked tail and, on close inspection, white feathers covering its legs and toes. It spends much of its time on the wing collecting insect prey. The bird's mud nest is usually sited below the eaves of buildings. They are summer migrants and spend their winters in Africa. Although still numerous and widespread, recent moderate declines earn them a place on the Amber List. House Martin Bird Facts | Delichon Urbica - The RSPB


UK breeding:510,000 pairs


House martins and the weather


From 1970-2014 there was a 47 per cent reduction in numbers of house martins with a 10 per cent reduction between 1995-2014. They currently have Amber status. House martin populations are affected greatly by weather. They require rain so that there will be plenty of wet mud to build their nests as well as warm weather to ensure there are plenty of insects for them to eat. When weather is either cool or dry this causes problems with insect presence and mud availability impacting on their ability to breed. In dry weather, making an area of wet mud can be beneficial to them to make their nests. Their numbers have also been impacted by reduction in suitable nesting habitat due in part to barn conversions. Their habitat in their overwintering grounds in Africa is also being degraded. Large-scale mortality is regularly recorded during and after periods of bad weather, during both breeding and migration. On the other hand, hot and dry weather can result in mortality through dehydration and heat stress. House Martin Population Trends - The RSPB



House Martins and Shelducks


House Martins

House Martins and Greenshanks


House Sparrows


A Jay


Robins

A Scruffy Robbin


A Somg Thrush


A Woodpigeon


A ... I don't know!


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