These amazing pictures of birds were all taken on British golf courses
The STRI has been collating data of birds that have stopped-over at British golf courses to refuel in recent years, before continuing their migrations from one part of the world to another.
Management of the out-of-play habitats on a golf course can play a significant part in the recovery of threatened birds, as was demonstrated at Turton Golf Club, Lancashire during the period 2007 to 2013.
Here, only a single pair of whitethroats bred on the course during 2007 within a small patch of scrub, the preferred habitat of this bird. With further maintenance and enhancement of this habitat on the course that number rose to six pairs during 2013 which all bred successfully before they returned to Africa.
What was also very interesting about these whitethroats is that all six males arrived back on the course within a day of each other during 2013, on the first and second of May, indicating there is much more to learn regarding the intricacies of migration.
Further marvels of migration were also demonstrated at Turton Golf Club by a certain grasshopper warbler.
This is an extremely secretive species that depends on rush-fields and other thick grasslands to be found on the golf course. The interest lies in what was very likely the same individual male that revisited the course every year from 2007 to at least 2013.
Remarkably, he always returned either on the April 21 or 22 to sing and proclaim a territory within one of the ecological areas present there. However, during the spring of 2013 a major low-pressure weather system developed over the Mediterranean, stopping migration in its tracks and delaying birds from returning to their breeding grounds. This was reflected with the arrival of the grasshopper warbler that year as it did not arrive until May 1, over a week later than seen previously. This example clearly demonstrates that birds are excellent indicators of our environment and are particularly sensitive to changes in their surroundings.
Bradnor Hill Golf Course, Herefordshire during a few days in May 2012, saw a cream-coloured courser. The course is the highest 18-hole golf course in England and a far-cry from the deserts of north Africa where the vagrant should have been. Although perfectly adapted to exist within their arid environment, these birds can also be found feeding on the short-cropped turf of irrigated farmland, race-tracks and golf courses in the Middle East. This represented Britain’s first ever spring recording for this species and had birdwatchers the length and breadth of the UK clambering to see it.
Another example of an off-course vagrant visiting a golf course was the arrival of a greenish warbler at Turton Golf Club, Lancashire, for a week in June 2013. These birds should be no nearer than Eastern Europe in summer after their northward migration from India but this one continued its migration until it reached the beech woodland at Turton, which incidentally is its favoured habitat. It was only the second ever occurrence of this bird within the north-west of England and it generated much publicity for the golf club and went down in birdwatching folklore. Hundreds of people visited the course during the bird’s stay and the event turned into a successful public relations experience for the club.
Birds are an excellent indicator of our environment and the example of four glossy ibis visiting Bolton Old Links Golf Club during September 2013 exemplifies this.
However, these special birds are not a passage migrant and more of a nomadic wanderer that can be found throughout the world across every continent except Antarctica.
They are quite a rare bird within the UK though, with only a handful of annual records concerning birds from the Mediterranean basin. However, the autumn of 2013 was an exception where an unprecedented number of glossy ibis visited our shores involving 37 individual birds.
This event is known as an ‘irruption’ where a large movement of birds is necessitated due to a number of reasons which include a lack of an available food source within their usual range or, as in this case, a change in climatic conditions. Glossy ibis are also one of a few species that are thought to be on the verge of colonising the UK due to changing climatic conditions and are moving further north with the warming climate.
The four birds that visited Bolton Old Links Golf Club remained on-site for a number of weeks whilst they replenished their fat reserves and played host to a large number of birdwatchers, and golfers, throughout their stay.
The UK has lost in the region of 44 million breeding birds since the late 1960s. Many of these species have shown strong changes in abundance or distribution, indicating that recent environmental changes are having a dramatic impact on the UK’s bird populations. There is also evidence to suggest that species with specific habitat requirements are faring worse than generalist species that are better able to adapt to a changing environment.
The recording of all these birds establishes that it is not only golfers that come flocking to the UK’s golf courses throughout the year, and highlights the fact that course managers have a vital role to play in preserving and enhancing wildlife habitats on their course. Many greenkeepers and course managers are now performing excellent environmental stewardship within their small piece of the environment and contribute in helping reverse the trend of our disappearing wildlife whilst improving their course. The surroundings of a golf course add to the playing experience for the golfer and surely should contain quality habitat conducive for golf. These will be beneficial to the golfer through improved course definition, aesthetic value and playability, whilst importantly preserving and enhancing our troubled natural heritage.
Contact: STRI ecologist Antony Wainwright