PICTURES: Toilet tern ‘Lulu’ takes up testing nest spot

Desperate birdwatchers visiting the Farne Islands’ toilets face an unexpected tern – with a rare bird nesting just inches overhead.

An Arctic tern, which will have arrived on the remote Northumberland islands from the Antarctic in May, is incubating two eggs in the grooves of the toilet’s clear corrugated plastic roof.

Toilet tern 2 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

An Arctic tern has built her nest on the clear plastic roof of the Farne Islands’ ladies toilet. National Trust rangers on the remote Northumberland islands have nicknamed her ‘Lulu’. CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

Jen Clark, National Trust ranger, said: “It might be that she’s seen the groove in the plastic as a great place to lay her eggs. Terns like to scrape out a cup shape for their nest.

“It might be potty, but the staff are loving it. That block has three toilets in a row, but everyone’s using the two that have the best view of the tern.

“We’re calling her ‘Lulu’.”

Toilet tern 1 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

Toilet tern 3 CREDIT Jen Clark, National Trust LO

CREDIT: Jen Clark/National Trust

It’s not the first time the island’s wildlife has taken up home in the toilets on Inner Farne.

Jen added: “We get an eider duck that nests against the toilet wall. The ducklings only just hatched and we had to lower a fence to help them off the nest.”

The National Trust has cared for the islands since 1925. Set a mile off the Northumberland coast, the islands have been protected for 189 years and are one of Britain’s oldest nature reserves. They are home to more than 96,000 pairs of seabirds, including puffins, arctic terns and eider ducks.


13 things we learned about making nest boxes from Sherborne Park Estate’s rangers

Earlier this morning National Trust rangers on the Sherborne Park Estate took to Facebook Live to explain how they’re looking after birds on the Cotswold estate that’s charming millions on BBC Springwatch.

As well as building a bird box in under five minutes, they showed-off the different kinds of bird boxes they put up at Sherborne Park – including homes for barn owls, willow tits, tawny owls and dippers.

Here are 13 things we learned from the Facebook Live.

1. It’s really easy to make a blue tit box

Ranger James Gomery knocked up the blue tit nest box in under five minutes from untreated wood that they had lying around their yard.

He used a pattern from this amazing British Trust for Ornithology nestbox guide.


Laying out the box – plus one made earlier

2. If you’re making a nest box you should use wood

Anna Field, an ecologist and ranger at Sherborne Park Estate, said: “The important thing is not to use plastic or metals. They can get hot or damp inside and cause problems for the chicks.

“The other important thing is that you use wood that’s at least 15mm thick. That insulates birds from the weather.”

3. There are around fifty nest boxes for blue tits and great tits at Sherborne – but there are lots of other boxes for different species

A few years ago rangers put up several nest boxes that have no front panel at all. These were for dippers – a small black and white bird that snatches insects from fast flowing rivers.

“It’s historically bred on the estate,” Anna said. “But we don’t have any at the moment.

“A couple of years ago we had a young bird who came to winter with us, so we rather speculatively put up some of these boxes. We have had grey wagtails nesting in them.

4. If you’re putting up a box in your garden, don’t put it near your bird feeder

Birds don’t tend to use nest boxes near where they feed, ranger Anna said. Keeping the nest boxes away from the feeder also helps reduce disturbance.

Anna added: “If you’re putting them in an exposed position in a tree in your garden it’s best to face them north to east, away from the wet winds to the bright sunshine.”

5. Regularly cleaning your feeder helps prevent diseases

Anna said: “Empty them, put them in boiling water – and that kills off the diseases.”

At this time of year a water bath can also help the birds to keep clean – important when they’re nesting.


6. Owl nesting boxes are massive

Anna said: “Different owls have different sizes and different habits, so you need to have different boxes for each of them.”


Anna and Simon with a barn owl box

7. But they don’t always get used by owls – sometimes they’re used by greedy jackdaws

Last year rangers put up a few little owl nesting boxes. The distinctive design – with a tunnel opening up into a larger chamber – is tailor made for the species, which like their nesting chamber to be really dark.

Despite having a healthy population of little owls at Sherborne, with six males, none of the boxes have been used by owls. Instead, Anna said, one of the nest boxes has been filled up with sticks by jackdaws. She said: “We’ve got them in our barn owl nest boxes and tawny owl nest boxes, but I’ve not seen one down a tunnel in a little owl nest box before.”

8. Barn owls are doing really well at Sherborne

A family of barn owls has been charming Springwatch viewers – but there are four more pairs using the nest boxes at Sherborne.

“Out of our 18 boxes we’ve got five of them with nests in this year, which is really good for an estate this size,” Anna said.  “I was just checking them yesterday and in one of our boxes the eggs are just hatching and we’ve got three little chicks and four unhatched eggs, which is a massive brood.”

9. A muddy puddle can help house martins

The small bird, which is a similar size to a swift or swallow, builds its nest from wet mud – so a source of fresh dirt can be really helpful.

“We’ve got a really damp area of our yard and we’ve had scores of house martins coming down and taking mud out,” Anna said. “I think it’s in quite short supply at this time of year because it’s been so dry.”

10. Despite the name, willow tits like to nest in rotting birch tree stumps

Sherborne’s rangers have hollowed out a big birch log to mimic the kind of nest they like.

Anna said: “We’ve hollowed it out and put a hole in. Because they like to excavate their nests we’ve filled it with wood chippings.”

There are 15 of these distinctive nest boxes at Sherborne, funded by the North Cotswolds Ornithological Society. And rangers plan to plant wet woodland this winter to help the birds further.

“We’ve only got a few pairs left. But we’re trying to do everything we can to improve the habitat.”


A willow tit nest box

11. Even the rangers’ office at Sherborne is home to wildlife.

Countryside manager Simon Nicholas said: “We’ve got great tits nesting, we’ve got blue tits nesting, we’ve even got a nuthatch nesting in the building this year.

“In these older buildings, sometimes the mortar starts disintegrating. But in some places the cracks between the stones get bigger and the little birds find their way in and build a nest.”

12. The rangers at Sherborne really love what they do

Ranger James Gomery found a tawny owlet perched in a tree just the other day. He said: “We’re always keeping our eyes peeled for the wildlife. That’s what we’re fascinated by and interested in.”

13. And every office should have a dog called Alfie

Alfie, a black, white and tan border collie, threatened to steal the show – with his heavy panting and occasional barking interrupting the start of the video.

“He’s a bit of an attention seeker,” said Alfie’s owner Simon Nicholas – the countryside manager at Sherborne Park Estate. “Apart from that he doesn’t do much work.”


Show-stealer Alfie with Simon Nicholas, Sherborne’s countryside manager

PICTURES: New arrival for ‘Ronald’ the Farne Islands shag

An egg belonging to a Farne Islands shag christened ‘Ronald’ by a Year 4 class from Gateshead has hatched.
Sarah Lawrence, National Trust ranger on the remote Northumberland islands, said: “Ronald nests right next to the main jetty on Staple Island. He’s probably the most photographed shag on the island.”
Ronald the shag CREDIT Sarah Lawrence, National Trust

Ronald the shag sitting on top of ‘his’ nest on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Credit: Sarah Lawrence/National Trust

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Celebrating International Dawn Chorus Day 2017

Hundreds of early birds will get the chance to hear the dawn chorus over the next week, as National Trust places celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day.

The global event, which takes place this Sunday, will be marked by dawn chorus walks led by rangers and expert birdwatchers at more than 20 National Trust places this month.

Among the sites where walks are planned are Cambridgeshire’s Wicken Fen, one of the UK’s oldest nature reserves and home to rare cuckoos, and Greenway, mystery writer Agatha Christie’s Devon retreat and a sanctuary for scarce farmland bird the cirl bunting.

Robin sitting amongst the branches of Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' in the Winter Garden at Dunham Massey, Cheshire.

Research suggests that listening to the dawn chorus could prove good for the mind – as well as the legs.

The University of Tampere’s Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe spent four years researching the psychological benefits of birdsong. Her PhD at University of Surrey, which discovered that listening to birdsong could relieve feelings of stress, was supported by the National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Dr Ratcliffe said: “There’s a large body of research showing that being in nature can help people suffering from stress or mental fatigue. We now also know that natural sounds like birdsong can have similar effects.

“We found that people responded best to birdsong that is melodic, like a blackbird’s song. As for me, I’ve always thought that the wren had a beautiful voice.”

Pete Brash, an expert ecologist at the National Trust, added: “There’s no better feeling than heading out whilst it’s still dark and listening to the birds waking up around you.

“At this time of year listen out for the languid serenade of the willow warbler. If you’re lucky you might even hear a nightingale.”

Read our online guide to British birdsong.

Landscape that inspired Thomas Hardy acquired by the National Trust

More than 200 acres of the sort of wild and windswept heathland that inspired Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy, has been acquired by the National Trust. Slepe Heath in Dorset is the largest area of lowland heath that the Trust has acquired for more than a decade.

The magical Slepe Heath in Dorset. A landscape that inspired Dorset's most famous writer, Thomas Hardy. Credit: National Trust/Will Wilkinson.

The magical Slepe Heath in Dorset. A landscape that inspired Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy. Credit: National Trust/Will Wilkinson.

As part of a conservation vision inspired by the landscapes featured in the novels of Thomas Hardy, Slepe Heath will connect the protected lowland heath of Hartland Moor, already looked after by the National Trust and Natural England, and the Arne reserve, owned by the RSPB.

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Isle of Wight bee-eaters rewrite the record books

Bee-eaters nesting on the Isle of Wight have raised eight chicks – the most successful breeding attempt by these birds, normally found in the Mediterranean, on record in the UK.

Three chicks have now fledged from one nest, on National Trust land, and another five chicks have fledged from a second nest.

Bee eater

Bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight. Credit Danny Vokins.

An adult bee-eater was first spotted at Wydcombe on 15 July by National Trust dragonfly survey volunteer Dave Dana. And chicks were first sighted a month later on the 15 August. There were originally thought to be nine chicks but one has not survived.

Dave Dana, a National Trust Volunteer on the Isle of Wight, said: “I’d just come from counting golden-ringed dragonflies at a stream and I thought ‘that bird looks a bit different!’

“Its flight path seemed almost triangular. I didn’t really appreciate the bird until I got home and looked at the photos. I’d always wanted to see a bee-eater in this country but I never thought it would turn out to be a major wildlife event.”

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Four bee-eater chicks take to the air

Four bee-eater chicks have fledged on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight thanks to aTwo juvenile bee-eaters, credit Andy Butler joint protection operation by the National Trust, the RSPB and Isle of Wight naturalists. It is the first time the birds, who usually nest in southern Europe, have bred successfully in the UK for 12 years.

Three of the chicks fledged last week and the fourth has tried out its wings in the last couple of days. If these survive, this will be the most successful ever bee-eater breeding attempt in the UK. The last successful attempt, which resulted in two chicks, was in county Durham in 2002, the first for 50 years.

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