Foraging Fields for Turtle Doves - Pilot Year

After a cold start to the year, rain that lasted for days and then a bit of a heat wave, it’s been incredibly difficult to make our sown fields suitable for foraging turtle doves. All 6 participating fields were sown in the first half of May, and we are only now seeing the first plants coming into seed.

Photo: We are testing 2 sowing periods during this project: spring and autumn. This May the first seed was sown into our spring fields.

Trap cameras have been deployed, and a small group of volunteers have been visiting the fields to monitor them for any sign of birds or animals using them. While this information is extremely valuable, it currently asks a lot of perseverance from them: without seed, the fields have of course been incredibly quiet. Hopefully this will quickly change once the first seed is available.

The trap cameras have picked up photos of crow, magpie, mallard duck, wood pigeon and stock dove, along with various other animals (hare, fox, and roe- and fallow deer).

Since May, we have also been kept busy with ongoing communication surrounding the projects.

On behalf of all partners, BirdLife NL released an online article on Nature Today on 14th April (‘Lichtpuntjes voor de zomertortel’), marking the official start of the Foraging Fields for Turtle Doves project.

The return of Jos the turtle dove led to his beautiful species gaining much media interest from the PZC, Omroep Zeeland and Vroege Vogels in May. NPO Radio 1 broadcast a short piece about turtle doves and our research in Zeeland on the 20th June on their Vroege Vogels program (similar to the BBC’s Springwatch). You can still listen to this online – it is approx. 81 minutes into the program. Photo: Corstiaan Beeke

Poldernatuur Zeeland gave two excursions in June regarding this new research: one for the deputy minister of Zeeland Anita Pijpelink, and René Steijn, the other for a group of agriculture and landscape specialists (SCAN). A further presentation and excursion is planned in July for their member council.

We are looking forward to a busy summer and, with a bit of luck, our spring-sown fields will follow suit and soon be buzzing with wildlife.

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Spring has officially arrived in the Netherlands. Resident birds are now getting up to sing at the crack of dawn, and are busy looking for both mates and suitable nesting places. However, there are many birds we see during the spring and summer that have wintered in warmer climes. The return of these birds is heralded from early-April onwards with the first calling chiffchaffs and the erratic flight of returning swallows, but some species take their time returning to their breeding grounds. Turtle doves are one of these species.

This is the first year that a Dutch turtle dove can be followed online in near real-time (here), and it’s been very interesting to see what he’s been up to since he left the Netherlands in September 2020. His 4200 km journey to his wintering grounds in Africa took Jos just 17 days. After crossing the Sahara Jos arrived on the edge of the Sahel in south Mauritania. Ultimately, Jos has spent most of his winter in just 3 areas of half-open landscapes with riparian forest along the River Senegal and its tributaries.

We know from earlier research in Germany, England and France, that turtle doves begin to get ‘restless’ in April, at which point they will start the long journey back to their breeding grounds. Contrary to many migrating birds, they take their time doing this, flying gradually further north over a period of 5-7 weeks. They arrive back at their Dutch breeding grounds from mid-May to June.

We are already looking forward to their arrival this year!

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Updated: Mar 26, 2021

In September, shortly following the suspension of Turtle Dove hunting in France, ‘Jos’ left his Dutch breeding grounds in Zeeland and headed south. The journey to his wintering grounds in the Sub-Saharan Sahel region of Africa took him over the Mediterranean, Atlas Mountains and the Sahara – a one-way trip of 4200km, taking 17 days. Since he arrived in the Sahel, Jos has spent the bulk of his time at 2 different locations, both along the Senegal River and its tributaries.

Turtle Doves from Western Europe follow what is known as the ‘Western Flyway’, which goes through France, Spain and Morocco. Suitable wintering habitat needs to have food, water and good roosting locations. Doves tend to use acacia scrub and trees for roosting, and research indicates that crops such as peanut, sorghum and millet, and natural scrubby grassland could be important to the species. If any one of these 3 things is missing, Turtle Doves quickly move on to other areas.

Many Turtle Doves spend the winter around the Senegal River and surrounding area, which we can see reflected in Jos’ movements. The Senegal River basin spans 4 countries (Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal) and, for the large part, has a sub-Saharan desert climate. Peanut, millet and sorghum make up a large proportion of the agriculture here, while acacia grows along the river banks, and on drier slopes. Furthermore, irrigated rice paddies in the Senegal River Valley result in spilt rice grains after the harvest – an important food source for Turtle Doves during drought. It’s little wonder this area is popular with overwintering Turtle Doves.

If all goes well, Jos will spend Christmas 2020 in this same area.

Join us in following Jos via our online map:

Photo: Daniel Triveau, Flickr

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