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Reflections on the last week before travelling back

An incredibly intense last two days have now come to an end and we are sitting around a camp-fire at the Glambekker Mill finally trying to relax - but knowing that we need to be up at five tomorrow morning to start the long journey back. All collection has gone incredibly well and we have now taken 25 eggs in total for transport to the UK, with seven travelling back in this current batch. We visited a number of nesting sites over the last two days, where the eggs were in the process of hatching, or had hatched - and at one site we saw the adult birds with a gorgeous fluffy gingery chick stalking off silently across an open grass field and into the forest edge.

We now realise that we would probably have been better making our two collecting periods closer together - perhaps four or five days rather than seven - and also think that it would work better to fix the dates of travel in advance and collect eggs to fit the dates of travel. The vast majority of birds seem to lay in the first two weeks of April, and the weighing and measuring of eggs is proving a very useful way to determine the date of hatching to within a week and in some cases within a few days.

What is incredible is the variation between eggs- some are short and fat - others long and thin, and the markings are striking in thier variability between clutches - but the eggs of a particular clutch are often very very similar in size, shape and markings. This does however, make the models to determine hatch date based on egg length, breadth and weight a little unreliable. There is a chap in the Mecklenberg Vorpommerns state in North east Germany - Wolfgang Mewes - who has worked with cranes all of his life and who has taken pictures of crane clutches from thousands of sites. He is able to recognise a particular female crane from the clutch that is laid - ie female cranes lay a particular type of egg that is distinctive to that particular bird. I am not aware of this being the case in any other species - but am happy to be proved wrong!

The nest sites themselves are also very diverse - with birds sometimes being inside dense alder swamps in the middle of the forest - and other times in small - (0.5ha) depressions ('Feldsolls') in the landscape amongst arable crops or surrounded by grassland. Sometimes they are very close to railways and main roads, just outside villages, but ALWAYS they are in water - often around a foot deep but in places much deeper. All nest sites are difficult to access and have very low disturbance from people....all things that I am taking on board and will build into any habitat work that is carried out in Somerset to improve the chances of the birds settling quickly into their new landscape.
Although the general 'Biotopes' (a great word that the Germans use a lot - but we rarerly use in the UK but kind of means habitats within a specific area) within the Levels and Moors are very different - there are the key crane requirements present. Wet, undisturbed areas in Spring to nest, and good insect rich feeding habitat. What is really missing from the mix of habitats that occur within the Biosphere Reserve in the UK is the forest and the alder swamps. These are important habitats for cranes in this part of Germany - but this is not true for cranes elsewhere in Europe. (See some of the pictures in my previous post - Field Notes from Germany - Collection continues)

One thing that I have picked up over the last year working on this project is that cranes around Europe are highly adaptable and resourceful and this gives me a sense of calm that everything will be OK and they will do well in Somerset. One thing is for sure though - I for one will be doing everything they can to make sure that cranes have the very best chance of regaining the rightful place once again in the south west of the the UK. They are truly remarkable and wonderful birds.

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Damon’s role is to act as the hub of the project - making sure everyone involved knows what is going on and that it is all running smoothly. He is also responsible for project community awareness work in Somerset, construction of the release enclosure, and running the post release monitoring work in Somerset.  Damon works alongside the RSPB reserve teams in Somerset.