Leybourne lakes Country Park`s Nightingales Alan Woodcock

The Park opened in 2004 and covers an area of approximately 93 hectares (230 acres).It forms part of the land north of the M20 which separates the built up areas of Snodland,Larkfield and New Hythe.The Park in bounded by Leybourne way to the south,New Hythe lane and Larkfield trading estate to the southeast,the Rochester to Maidstone railway line to the east,the A228 to the west and the Ham Hill water treatment works to the north.Habitats include,established lakes which covers 60% of the area,running water (Mill stream) 5%,reed bed 5%,marshland/wetland 5%,grassland 15%,hedgerow 1%,dense scrub 4% and trees/woodland 5%.

Tree species include,sycamore,alder,ash,oak,silver birch,white willow,grey willow,crack willow,pussy willow,popular and horse chestnut.Beneath these the scrub layer is made up of bramble,buddleia,dog rose,hazel,crab apple,hawthorn,ivy,dog wood and blackthorn,amongst a few others.

The Park is mainly used by the local community for walking cycling picnics nature observations wind surfing scuba diving,regulated fishing sailing and dog walking.The Park now attracts up to 180,000 visitors a year and up to 30,000 a month during the summer.

SITE HISTORY -  The Park is part of an extensive former area of sand and gravel workings,which was excavated between 1946 and 1977.Much of the area is therefore `man made` with landscaping and planting having taken place as part of the restoration during the late 1970`s.

Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos became established in the New Hythe lakes area towards the latter end of the 1970`s.In 1980,I recorded three singing birds at Abbey Meads (east of the railway line and by 1991,the number had increased to ten.Five in the now Country Park and five east of the railway line.The count for 2016,was 25 in the Park and 5 east of the railway line.

Dots indicate singing males present in the Park in 2016 (25),with a further 5 east of the railway line.

CORE HABITAT AREAS - In the Park these have always been the areas known as the west scrub up to 4 pairs,east scrub up to 5 pairs and the Brook House area up to five pairs.I first recorded Nightingales using the east scrub and Brook House areas way back in 1991.The east scrub is mainly hawthorn,the west scrub is more mixed with hawthorn,willow and dog wood and the Brook House area is mainly,willow,hawthorn and buddleia.I believe the poor soils especially in the Brook House area (buddleia) have helped to prolong the life of the habitat,Nightingales use there.

NIGHTINGALE HABITAT CREATION AND MAINTENANCE -Planting,layering of hawthorn etc,has been taken place mainly in the west scrub,east scrub and the Brook House areas for the past four years or more and old territories which are believed to be nearing the end of their usefulness have been opened up to let in more light,essential for the ground vegetation.

RINGING NIGHTINGALES IN THE PARK - Unlike my study of a population of Nightingales between 1979 and 1992,on Reeds Island Site (just across the Medway from the Park),where I could use a large amount of netting and the catching effort was largely uniform from year to year.This approach to ringing Nightingales in the Park has proved to be impossible due to its very public nature.Despite this I have gathered some interesting re-traps histories,had two controls and gained a good understanding of the types of habitats Nightingales use in the Park.

CONTROLS - V376216 was ringed in the grounds of Kingsnorth Power Station,Kent,on the 23 04 2008 and controlled in the Park (west scrub) on the 26 04 2009.Although the bird was left unsexed on both occasions,it was most likely to have been a female.Males will often sing after being released and females are less site faithful than males.

L563452 was ringed at Icklesham,Sussex as a young male (3) on the 10 09 2010 and controlled in the Park (Water Treatment entrance territory) on the 15 04 2014.It was the re-trapped there again in 2015 and 2016.Unfortunately the bird failed to return in 2017 (aged 6 years).When the bird was ringed at Icklesham,it had a weight of 24,1g and was probably preparing to leave for Africa via the south coast.

RE-TRAPS - T677038 (5) male (hatched in 2007) was ringed in the east scrub on the 16 04 2008 and re-trapped there again in April 2009 and 2010.

X447480 (6) male (at least two years old) was ringed on the 26 04 2010 in the east scrub and re-trapped there again in 2014.

Y996138 (6) male was ringed on the 17 04 2013 in the Brook House area and re-trapped there again in 2014.

T677041 in 2008,when this (5) male was ringed on the 23 04 08,he was holding a territory in the west scrub.When I re-trapped him the following year he had moved into the east scrub (Pylon territory).I then re-trapped him again in the same territory in 2012,2013 and 2014 (aged 7 years).

T677063 (5) male (fledged in 2007),ringed on the 06 06 2008 in the east scrub.Five years later when I re-trapped the bird on the 17 04 2013,he was in the Brook House area,where he was re-trapped again in 2014 and 2015.In 2016,on hearing a bird singing in his territory on the early date of April 4th,I thought he had returned yet again.The following day I put up a net and caught the bird,but instead of it being T677063,it was a new unringed male.At this stage although I was disappointed  it was not T677063,I still had hopes that he would return as it was still early in the year.However some time later I was told of a ringed Nightingale singing about 400mtrs away in a part of the Park,I rarely visit,On May 4th,I put up a net and managed to catch the bird and much to my delight it was T677063.The bird was re-trapped there again on July 20th.aged 9 years,or 8 years,one month and 14 days from time of ringing.

On April 15th 2017,I heard a Nightingale singing in the same territory the above bird used in 2016.However a week later on looking at the bird through binoculars,I could see that it was not ringed.Although I have been trying to locate T677063 since that time,so far I have had no luck.

June 2017.

T677063 is now the oldest BTO ringed Nightingale.The record will be updated with the 2017,report.

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