In 2021, our pilot year, the first 'foraging fields for turtle doves' were set up by participating landowners and farmers. A total of 6 small fields were created around our study areas near Westkapelle and Oostkapelle.

These fields were visited every week during the growing season, to see if they were suitable for hungry turtle doves. Farmers have been hard at work, hoeing, milling, and mowing the fields in an effort to create suitable feeding habitat for the doves. It's been a steep learning curve, and has resulted in a number of changes in our sowing and field management.

This year marks the second phase of the project: additional farmers have joined the project, the seed mix and sowing methods have been adapted, and we're testing different management strategies... but is all the effort worth it? Are the feeding fields of any use? What wildlife come to the fields?

With the help of camera traps and field observations, we've found the fields to be excellent habitats for insects and birds. This spring the fields abuzz with insects visiting the early blooming flowers, and atwitter with goldfinches and linnets coming to feed on early seeding mustard. Some birds, such as barn swallows, come for the insects, while other species, such as European quail and stock dove, come to feed on the seed.

In 2021, turtle doves were seen and heard around 4 of the 6 fields, though very few were observed on the fields themselves. This led to changes in field sowing and management, but also highlights the need for more detailed information on turtle dove movements.

This June, four European turtle doves have been caught and tagged with accurate, lightweight (4.6g) transmitters which will record their location at fixed intervals. Since being tagged (between 8th and 17th June), the doves have given us nearly 500 coordinates from areas they have visited, and they all seem to be doing well. All this information will be analysed to identify where the doves find their food; we want to know more about what they need at a foraging site, so we're better able to tailor the foraging fields to their specific needs.

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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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