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Where are we at?

Q: Are all of the released birds breeding now?

Monty and Chris on the their nest. Credit: James Lees, WWT
Monty and Chris on the their nest. Credit: James Lees, WWT
A: Not yet - but the youngest  - those released in 2014 were only 3 years old in Spring 2017. Cranes rarely breed before they are 4 years old, so we were amazed that two separate pairs built nests in the Spring of 2013.  Although both went on to incubate eggs, neither pair were successful. This year (2017) a 3yr old female has successfully raised a chick to fledging on the West Sedgemoor Nature Reserve, but most of the 3 yr olds remained unpaired or didn't nest this year.   2018  should see all the release birds reach usual breeding age.  

Spring 2014 saw five territorial pairs with 2 pairs going on to lay and incubate eggs in Somerset. Sadly both these pairs failed, with the eggs taken at night by (presumably) ground predators.  In the same year two pairs at the Slimbridge Reserve bred with Monty & Chris successfully hatching 2 chicks in late May. Sadly both chicks were lost here - one at 5 days and the other at 20 days. The second pair (Bart & Ruby) failed to hatch their eggs - one egg was found to be addled, and the other contained a dead chick.

2015 saw 16 pairs form and hold territories, many in the Somerset Levels and Moors, but others in South Wales, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and East Somerset.  Nine of these pairs made breeding attempts with 4 of these going on to hatch and raise chicks.  Three of these four pairs went on to raise a chick or chicks to fledging: Alexander, a 2012 male, & Swampy, a 2011 female on private land in Somerset (raising twins); Minnie, a 2010 male & Wendy, a 2010 female, on the WWT Reserve at Slimbridge (raising a single); and Midnight, a 2012 male & Gemma, a 2010 female on private land in Wiltshire.  These six birds were the first to successfully raise young to fledging.

2016 saw 15 of 23 territorial pairs make breeding attempts, with 2 pairs successfully raising 3 chicks to fledge. The Somerset pair Alexander & Swampy were successful again in Somerset with a single chick raised (and ringed Red White Green  - nick-named Wurzelina) and Lofty, a 2011 male, & Gibble, a 2012 female, raised a pair of twins to fledging on the Gwent Levels in Wales. This was the first breding in Wales for over 400 yrs!

2017 saw 10 of 19 territorial pairs make breeding attempts, successfully raising a further 4 chicks to fledge.  The drop in number of both territorial and nesting pairs in 2017 is thought to be due to the exceptionally dry spring that meant food was hard to come by, and suitable wet nesting sites were scarce.   Successful pairs were Legend, a 2011 male & Elle, a 2011 female (raising a single); Timmy, a 2011 male & Michaela, a 2010 female (raising twins - one of which was caught and ringed Red Black Green -nicknamed Eugene) and Manfred, a 2013 male, and Diamond, a 2014 female (raising a single - which was caught and ringed Red Yellow Green and nicknamed ManDi).  All these 4 chicks fledged from the RSPB West Sedgemoor Nature Reserve in Somerset.  

The breeding fortunes for the last few years are tabulated below.  You can read more in the annual reports, and on the individual crane pages.  

 

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Total

No. of pairs observed during Spring

1

5

16

23

24

-

No. of pairs holding a territory

1

5

16

22

19

-

No. pairs making confirmed/probable nesting attempts

1

2

9

15

10

-

% of pairs that made nesting attempts

100%

40%

56%

65%

41%

-

Confirmed number of nesting attempts    (includes pairs making 2 or more attempts)

2

4

11

25

14

56

No. pairs reaching hatch stage

1

1

4

5

7

18

% of nesting attempts reaching hatch stage

100%

50%

44%

33%

70%

-

No. of hatched chicks

1

2

6 -7

7

11

27-28

No. of hatched chicks per nesting pair 

1

1

0.72

0.46

1.10

-

No. of fledged chicks

0

0

4

3

4

11

No. of fledged chicks per nesting pair

0

0

0.44

0.20

0.40

-

No. of fledged chicks per territorial pair

0

0

0.25

0.14

0.21

-

The project targets is to establish  20 regularly breeding pairs in the South West by 2025.

Q: How many eggs were collected for the reintroduction?

Crane eggs
Crane eggs

A. The project aimed to collect 24 eggs each year for five years.  Over the five years 2010-2104 we have transported 121 eggs back to the UK, 114 of which hatched.  From these 115 chicks - 93 have been reared to release, with 3 being held back in captivity for welfare reasons. 

Q: Has this had any effect on the German  population?

Egg collection in a German Reedbed
Egg collection in a German Reedbed
A: It would appear not.  Our Germany partners have been very diligently monitoring the pairs of cranes from which we take the eggs, and there appears to be no statistically significant difference in fledging success of pairs from which we take eggs, and pairs from which we don’t.   

In other words the birds re-lay once we have removed the eggs, and these new eggs go on to hatch and fledge with the same % of success as other pairs in the same study area where we don’t take the eggs. 

Q: How many birds did you release on the Levels and Moors?

A: We have released 93 birds in total.  21 in 2010, 17 in 2011, 19 in 2012,  19 in 2013, and 17 in 2014 - one of which was taken back into captivity to leave 92. 

Gerald and Flash on Aller Moor, Somerset. Credit: John Crispin
Gerald and Flash on Aller Moor, Somerset. Credit: John Crispin
Q: How many of the released birds survive?

A: 68 of the released birds are currently known to be alive (fig at end Dec 2016).  This represents a 73% survival rate. The project had a target of 60% survival to adulthood as this is the usual survival rate for birds across their range in continental Europe.  The released birds have done much better than we thought they might, particularly seeing as they have to make it through tricky periods such as their first moult, where they become flightless for a period of around five weeks – see below.

Q: What happened to those that didn’t survive and have you any missing birds?

A: Two birds of the first cohort died during their first Autumn.  A bird known as Jack flew into powerlines and was killed, and a bird known as Howard disappeared in the autumn, and its remains were found much later, with the cause of death not clear.  A third bird, Dennis,  from the 2010 cohort was taken back into captivity  for his own welfare and is currently within the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust collection.  The following autumn, on the release of the 2011 cohort a bird known as Mildred flew off, was seen in Kent and then disappeared.  She has not been seen since and we don’t know if she is alive or dead.  Another bird from the 2011 cohort, Gizmo, became ill over his first winter, was alone and isolated from the group, and was taken by a fox in the night.  In 2012 a bird known as D2 sustained a fairly severe leg injury, but proved uncatchable for treatment.  It became a bit of a loner, and was probably pretty under the weather, when it was finally taken by a fox in March 2013.  Trinny from the 2011 cohort went missing in April 2013 - but in the company of an unringed cranes  - so perhaps she went abroad. No sightings have been reported mind you.  Vince from the 2010 cohort went missing in May 2013 around the time of the start of moult.  Her whereabouts or life status are unknown.  Clarence also from the 2010 cohort started behaving oddly in spring 2013, hanging around on his own a lot - which usually indicates that a bird is ill.  We saw him go into moult in June, however, and are pretty confident he was seen in flight following moult in July - but he has subsequently disappeared - and has not been seen again.  The radio tag and a few scraps of feathers and bones of Jess from the 2012 cohort were found in early September 2013  - her cause of death is unknown.  Jess had always been quite a weak bird, and a poor flier - but had seemd to be been doing OK post release. The remains of White Green Yellow, one of the 2013 cohort were found out on the moors in early November following release.  His cause of death is unknown, but his remains had been scavanged by a predator, most likely a fox.  Charlie - one of the 2011 cohort, went missing in late October 2013, and has not been seen to date and Frieden  - one of the 2013 release cohort disappeared during the winter of 2013/14 and has also not been seen again. A report of Frieden's ring combination has been received from Germany, however, but was not confirmed.  Pepper - one of the 2011 Cohort was last seen in December 2013 - cause of disappearance unknown.  Sven  - a 2013 male had a collision with (we think) a powerline in February 2014, and was found, recovered and taken for treatment, but had to be put-down on account of a severely broken wing.  Misty Moor, also from the 2013 cohort was last seen in May 2014 and his whereabouts are unknown. Two of the 2014 cohort Humbug and Yellow Red Black were found dead in early November 2014.  Cause of death of these two were likely to be linked to leg injuries that they sustained shortly before being found dead, although the cause of the initial injury, and cause of death is unknown.  Mennis  - a 2010 male went missing in Nov 2014  - reason unknown; Gilbert  - another 2010 male picked up a severe leg injury, was seen to deteriorate in condition and then went missing in January 2015.  Minnie another one of the first (2010) cohort one of the first males to successfully fledge a chick, went missing in the autumn of 2015, and the 2010 bird Chris the first female to hatch eggs in 2014, was found emaciated and ill at WWT Slimbridge in February 2016 and sadly, had to be put down.  Stanley a fine and feisty 2013 male unfortuately collided with a fence and was killed in the Spring of 2016, and later that summer, 2 more 2013 birds - a female called  Buttercup and a male called Willow were both lost at or around moult.  In  September 2016 the body of the project's most productive female - Swampy was found, and post mortem discovered that she had been shot  - the only bird known to have been lost through this cause. Despite a reward being offered and a significant police investigation,  no-one was caught or charged with this wildlife crime.    

Q: So with many of the birds now over 3 years old... they must have had their first moult?

A: Yes – most of birds appear to be going into their first full wing-feather moult in their third or fourth year.  They tend to find a very quiet area out on the  moors where they are undisturbed and can roost in safety.  Each year the moult period is a tense time for us all as  - and it seems that some birds are lost most years around this time - it is clearly a very stressful and danger-fraught period in their lives.  

Q: Are all the birds in Somerset still?

Squidgy in flight with unringed bird at Covehithe, Suffolk. Credit: Chris Darby
Squidgy in flight with unringed bird at Covehithe, Suffolk. Credit: Chris Darby
A: No and Yes!  2 years after the initial release in 2010, a handful of birds moved further north and have made a permanent home in the Wetlands of the Severn Vale - often to be seen feeding on the WWT Slimbridge reserve.  Although there appear to be a usual gang of around 11 birds at WWT Slimbridge there have been other movements of birds between the two areas and the picture is complicated and often confusing!  The birds certainly don’t seem to find it any effort to move between the sites – with the biggest movements usually coinciding with periods of high pressure and good thermals.   Ringed, released birds from the project which have ended up back in Somerset - have also been seen on occasions as far north as Staffordshire, as far west as Glamorgan, Wales, as far South as Devon and incredibly as far east as Suffolk!   More information on the movements can be found in the annual reports

Q: Have they mixed with other resident cranes from the east and north of the country? 

Unringed crane coming to the autofeeder on Aller Moor. Credit: John Crispin
Unringed crane coming to the autofeeder on Aller Moor. Credit: John Crispin
A: An unringed crane turned up for the first time in the autumn of 2011 and stayed with the flock in Somerset over the winter.  This bird then left the flock in the Spring of 2011 – at the same time as one of the ringed birds turned up in Suffolk.  The origin of this bird is unknown – but it could well have been from the UK population rather than from the continent – and may have led the ringed bird to Suffolk.   An unringed crane appeared with the birds at WWT Slimbridge in autumn 2013, and then moved to Somerset for the winter of 2013/14. The origins of this birds are also unknown.  The project hoped for an eventual mixing of the two populations and in 2016 one of the 2011 project females  Beatrice, was reported with an unringed fenland mate on the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border. Beatrice and mate made a (sadly unsuccessful) nesting attemping in 2016 in Cambridgeshire where she remains.  Unringed cranes turn up with the Somerset flock regularly now - but with 8 of the 11  2nd generation birds unringed - it is now almost impossible to know of their origin.  

Q: What about the habitat aims of the project – how is all that going?

Wetland creation works in progress
Wetland creation works in progress
A: Very well!   Along with the release of the birds the project has been working to create new suitable crane breeding habitat across the Levels and Moors so that the project can achieve its target of 20 breeding pairs by 2025. Enhancement works have been carried out the RSPB’s own landholding at West Sedgemoor and Greylake, and on private land on Aller Moor to the West of Langport, Walton Moor near Street, Northmoor near Aller, Cossington Moor, Kings Sedgemoor near Henley, and Moorlinch Moor to the North of the RSPB's Greylake Reserve. Sites on the Somerset Levels and Moors that are managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust and Natural England at Catcott Lows and Shapwick Heath are now also being managed with cranes in mind too, and some of the created sites are now being used as breeding and roosting areas.

 Last updated - September 2017

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