ABANDON SHIP…

After the poor weather which had such an impact on our pairs during their first nesting attempts, it’s looking increasingly likely a handful of our Stonechats are missing. Four of our occupied territories on Dersingham Bog are now a Stonechat free zone.

After the mixed fortunes of the first broods, with 8 failures and 7 successes, we’ve been monitoring all 15 occupied territories to try and establish when each pair might attempt a second brood, or a relay in the case of the failures. So far, three of the territories which failed may have been abandoned entirely by the pairs and another territory, which successfully fledged five juveniles, is also now empty.

It’s too soon to be absolutely sure as it can take quite a while to confirm a territory is definitely empty and it’s not just that the female is being typically elusive while she’s sitting, but in three of the territories, the males appear to have gone AWOL too. And if they are now empty territories, we’ll never know what happened… whether the pair just abandoned the territory after their failure and moved elsewhere to try again, or if they’ve ceased breeding altogether for this season, or whether one or both of the adults has been lost, either through the bad weather or predation or illness.

But we can be fairly sure that one male has lost his female. One of the Bryant’s Heath males has been singing and displaying to the two females on neighbouring territories, much to the annoyance of their current partners. This is also having a knock-on effect on one of the neighbouring territories where second brood young have just hatched. The distraction means that the territory male is not pulling his weight by taking in the usual share of the food to the chicks as he’s spending too much time chasing off the intruding male.

It’s a shame to see these empty territories after such a consistent occupation over several years and it’s particularly poignant that our longest occupied territory at the Piezos now appears empty. We can only hope that some of them may be reoccupied again at some point, perhaps during the autumn and winter with the dispersal of this year’s young. Or perhaps we have now reached carrying capacity for the reserve and what’s happened shows that 15 occupied territories may be too many for the available food on the Bog, particularly when bad weather strikes early in the season?

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The other pairs, both the initial failures and our successful first broods, have been getting on with their second nests as expected. So we now have a satisfying mixture of incubating females and newly hatched young, including some where the fledged first brood juveniles are still hanging around while the female sits on a new clutch.

In fact, several females which failed first time round during the appalling weather were incubating barely 2-3 weeks after the initial failure, which just goes to show how quickly Stonechats can go down on eggs again. Even knowing how quick this species can be with second broods, it’s still remarkable when you consider the weather conditions at the time and the strain on the females. In one territory, a pair had been feeding young for a week before they were predated and yet the female then got back into condition, built another nest and laid six eggs, all within 2 weeks of the first failure.

So, as we move into the time for starting to ring the second broods and the weather has become more settled (until today!), it’s looking good for a more productive round two. Although as the rain lashes against the window, let’s hope that’s not tempting fate again…

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