As the countdown for the Spring/Summer term begins, this post is the first of a new feature, illustrating some of the special species we will be looking for.
One of the star birds we will be looking for next term will be the Turtle Dove. In the 11 years of the course we have found these almost every summer at probably 7 locations in total. Unfortunately, it will probably be found in only 2 of those locations in 2015, and in one of those venues there appear to be fewer individuals every summer. All classes will be going to the most reliable, but relatively little-known site, whilst the Friday group will also be visiting the second place.
Turtle Doves were relatively common when I remember seeing my first ones in about 1970, but they have declined around 80% since then, and continue to do so. There is probably no one reason, but changes in farming practice, which has meant the reduction in field side wild flowers and the resultant seeds is one of the most important factors. Continued shooting and trapping on some Mediterranean Islands has probably exacerbated the problem.
Turtles Doves are the most attractive member of the pigeon family currently found in the UK. In comparison with the others they are fairly secretive birds, and prefer to nest under the cover of thick scrub. Apart from the wonderful pink underparts, the rufous tortoiseshell upperparts, and white bordered diamond shaped tail, they are renowned for their wonderful soporific trimphone-like cooing, which is redolent of lazy, hazy summer days, and which regretfully seems to be slipping into the past.
Note the red eye
The birds shown on this page were all photographed during the course of previous classes with at least 10 students in tow. Rather belatedly the RSPB and other conservation bodies are taking action to try and prevent further losses before this species becomes extinct in the UK. Here's hoping the rot can be stemmed, and these birds will continue to be seen and heard for many years to come.
Taking off - showing tortoiseshell back and white-edged tail
Note the white-edged tail from underneath