Each autumn, many of us eagerly await the the arrival of our winter population of stonechats.
These attractive little birds bring a splash of colour to the many ditches at the Great Fen, just as the vegetation is dying back.
Due to the large size of the Great Fen, as seen from its boundary, how we manage the Living Landscape can have a considerable affect on how wildlife moves within it, and in and out of it. After looking into what subjects (i.e. species of wildlife) can provide useful data about such movements, certain bird species were selected, one of which was the stonechat.
This year, we decided to begin this project, and once licencing from the British Trust for Ornithology had been confirmed, the project started to gather information.
Already several birds have received colour rings, so if you are out and about, keep an eye out. The colours we are currently using are; yellow, white, mauve (lilac), dark blue, dark green and brown.
As stonechats regularly use the same perches, such as the tops of small bushes, or fence posts, or fence wire, they are easily located. Then your can focus your binoculars or spotting scope on to them, to take a closer look. They can also be seen sitting on the dead stems of hemlock and other plants in the special headlands we have at the edges of many of our fields.
The males, even in winter, have dark faces, but the females, and young from this year, do not. In windier weather, they may fly up above the reeds, hovering, but with a fairly erect posture, looking like little hummingbirds.
From our recent surveys, we estimate over 30 of these birds are using the Great Fen, including the area north of Holme Fen. Also on the wing are the short-eared owls, which have also been spotted north of Holme Fen, and barn owls are about, as are merlin. Check out the little car park at the southeast corner of the Northern Loop, and take a walk late one afternoon.
If you have any records of stonechat, I would be very interested to receive them. You can find my details on the Monitoring & Research page.
Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring & Research Officer)