May 13th – Salisbury Plain   Leave a comment

Today Margaret, Ewan and I went to see the Great Bustard re-introduction scheme on Salisbury Plain. My interest was two-fold, to see the bustards and to year-tick the Stone-curlews that nest inside the release pen. You are not allowed to search for the bustards yourself, partly to prevent disturbance and partly because it’s a military area, so we joined the guided tour that left the pretty village of Enford at 0930.


We joined the tour at the pretty village of Enford.

The re-introduction of Great Bustards to Salisbury Plain is not without its critics, some see it as unnecessary waste of money that could be spent on other aspects of conservation, others see that collecting Bustard eggs in Russia might damage the native population. Both criticisms are without foundation. Much of cost is privately funded through subscriptions or donations to the Great Bustard Group and eggs are only collected from areas where the nests would certainly be destroyed by agricultural processes. For more information on the scheme and how to visit see

Although over 150 birds have been released over the last nine years less than 20 are known to still survive, although a few may occupy areas of the Plain that are completely inaccessible due to the high risk of unexploded shells. An 80% mortality is normal in wild reared populations mainly due to fox predation and the foxes on Salisbury Plain have taken their toll. Although several females have bred over the last few years it is not known if any young have reached maturity. One or two non wing-tagged individuals exist but they might be birds that have lost their tags. Several males have reached full size, about the size of a cock turkey, they at least are immune to fox attack.

The release pen is not a cage, the birds are free to come and go as they please, but it is fox proof and the area is planted with the crops they prefer. There are also decoys to attract the birds, which are sufficiently realistic to cause the big male to mate with them. Currently five males, a five-year, a four-year and three one-year olds regularly using the release pen and can be seen from the hide that overlooks the area. It is hoped that most of the females are on eggs somewhere.

The release pen from the quarantine area. The viewing hide is on the hill to the left.


All five birds were by the rear fence of the enclosure. The big male, challenged by the younger male took one of its tail feathers …………..


…. and then proceeded to peck and shake the feather repeatedly before starting to display …..


…. and turned ‘itself inside’ out in the famous ‘foam bath’ display. There is no doubt who is in change on the Plain. Two of the one year old males can be seen in the foreground.


A pair of Stone-curlews take advantage of the fox proof enclosure. This poor digiscoped shot shows the distant pair with a single pullus between them.


During the evening Margaret’s friend Jenny came round for a meal after attending a music workshop nearby. Jenny came on our South African trip in early 2011 along with my friend Ewan.


Margaret and Jenny absorbed watching ‘Countryfile’



Posted May 14, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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