In the June issue of British Birds – which has a lovely, vicious sparrowhawk on its cover, I was struck by the juxtaposition of two papers. One was about lesser-spotted woodpeckers and the other about Dartford warblers in the Thames Basin heathlands of Surrey.Each was an interesting and valuable record of what we know, and don’t know, about the species but the thing that struck me was that in my youth, living in north Somerset in the 1970s, I would often see lesser-spotted woodpeckers on my local walks and in the places where I regularly watched birds. They weren’t common, but they certainly weren’t unusual. A couple of years ago I made a special effort to see a LSW locally in east Northants, and managed it, but it isn’t easy these days.
Whereas, the Dartford warbler was rare. I had to persuade my parents to holiday in the New Forest so that I could be up on Hampton Ridge looking and listening for Dartford warblers – and it took me several visits to track them down (that may have been incompetence of course). Nowadays, I can see Dartford warblers in many counties that I visit and although I still thrill when I hear their harsh call it isn’t such an unusual sound.
I guess some of the biggest bird success stories in my birding lifetime have been avocet, red kite, greylag goose (not sure I am so thrilled by that one), Dartford warbler, marsh harrier, gadwall, buzzard, little egret, gannet, fulmar etc. There are quite a lot of them and this is only a short list. The main losers include species such as lesser-spotted woodpecker, wood warbler, corn bunting, skylark, song thrush, and, gosh! there are lots of them.
But thinking about it, it’s quite difficult to think of bird species whose numbers haven’t changed appreciably in the last 30 years (and I can remember further back than that but I don’t want to exclude younger readers). Which would be the species that you would suggest as having had the most stable UK population over the period 1982-2012. That’ll be the species whose numbers are similar at either end of that period and whose population has varied the least? I haven’t thought very hard about it, but it seems an interesting puzzle – what do you think is the answer?