18 September 2018

Very special Nightingale at Leybourne Country Park

Alan Woodcock writes:

Leybourne Country Park was opened in 2004 and is part of an extensive area of former 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 1970s. It comprises 93 hectares, of which 65% is water, 10% marshland and reedbed, 15% grassland, 6% trees and woodland and 4% scrub. The Park is sandwiched between the villages of Snodland and New Hythe in the Medway valley about five miles south of Rochester in Kent.

Nightingale became established in the general area of the park towards the latter end of the 1970's. The main Nightingale habitat is hawthorn / bramble scrub and willow / hawthorn / buddleia scrub with adjoining open areas.

Nightingale scrub habitat - photo by Alan Woodcock
In 1980, I recorded three singing birds around a gravel pit (Abbey Meads), which is separated from the Park by the Snodland to New Hythe railway line, and by 1991, the number had increased to ten pairs (five in the Abbey Meads area and five in the Country Park). The count for 2016 was twenty five singing birds, with five in the Abbey Meads area.

The Park now holds a very important population of Nightingale, with up to thirty singing birds in some years. A dedicated team of rangers and volunteers have helped to create and maintained Nightingale habitat throughout the Park.

Footpath by Nightingale habitat- photo taken by Alan Woodcock
Between 1979 and 1992, an area known as Reeds Island Site, which is just across the Medway from the Park, also held a high population of Nightingale (Kent Bird Report 1991, The Burham, Eccles and New Hythe Nightingale). Although Nightingale still breed in the general area, without habitat maintenance and the recent solar park development, the population is now much depleted, which makes the Leybourne Country Park's population even more important.

Singing Nightingale - photo by Alan Woodcock

Good Nightingale habitat - photo by Alan Woodcock

T677063 was ringed in the Pylon territory on 6 June 2008, as a 5 (hatched the previous calendar year) male. Five years later when I re-trapped him on 17 April 2013, he was holding a territory in an area known as Brook House, which is about 300 metres away. He was subsequently retrapped there in 2014 and 2015.

On the early date of 4 April 2016, I heard a bird singing in the territory he held in 2015; I set up a net the following day and caught the bird, but instead of it being T677063, it was an unringed, age 5 male. Although I was disappointed, with it being so early in the season, I felt he still might return. A while later I was told by a bird-watching friend that he had seen a Nightingale with a ring singing in a different area about 400 metres away. On 4 May, I set up a net and managed to catch the bird and on reading the ring number much to my delight it was indeed T677063. He was then re-trapped there on 20 July and it was this capture that made it to the Online Ringing Report longevity pages, breaking the previous British and Irish longevity record for this species.

Ed - Submission of the recapture data for this bird has been delayed and it broke the longevity record for this species in 2016. It wasn't beaten in 2017 so this bird is the current record holder.