Published: 06:00, 10 May 2021
This turtle dove was snapped in the garden of Tilmanstone resident John Brewin.
It is a rare series of photographs for Mr Brewin, a retired Coastguard officer, because recorded numbers of the migratory birds (Latin name Streptopelia turtur) are low.
He said: "Sadly they are a breed diminishing and if seen should be reported to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)."
The sighting was on Bank Holiday Sunday and involved two birds which Mr Brewin suspects were a mating pair.
The one he photographed "was foraging the seed that had fallen from the bird feeder," he said.
He added: "They have returned to our garden a few times since the weekend. They are regular returnees to this part of Tilmanstone.
"Due to coppicing in the local area I don't think they are nesting in the immediate area."
The website of the RSPB charity describes the species as "the fastest-declining bird in the UK" and apparently they have declined by 93% since the 1970s.
In Europe the decline is 78% since 1980.
Turtle doves spend two thirds of their time outside the UK where they face a range of threats along their migratory route, which takes them from their wintering grounds in West Africa to their breeding grounds in the UK. However, research shows that the loss of habitat in England is the biggest factor driving their declines here.
A conservation project aims to reverse the decline.
Named Operation Turtle Dove, it is building on research throughout their migratory route and establishing feeding habitats throughout their core breeding range by working with farmers and landowners.
"Several areas within the Sandwich, Deal and Eastry area are good for Turtle Doves. One of our Trustees in Eastry had one in her garden last year..." Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory assistant warden Becky Downey
Its website says: "At this current rate of change if we don’t help this species scientists calculate that complete UK extinction as a breeding species will be a real possibility."
You can recognise a turtle dove from it's dainty appearance. It is smaller and darker than a collared dove and about the same size as a blackbird.
The turtle dove is mainly a bird of southern and eastern England, although it does reach as far as Wales. It is best looked for in woodland edges, hedgerows and open land with scattered bushes so if you have any of these near your garden, you may catch sight of them near your land.
Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory helps in monitoring Turtle Doves within its recording area and have have created several pockets of habitat called “plots”.
Assistant warden Becky Downey said: "Several members of the Observatory help with the RSPB Operation Turtle Dove project, which involves providing supplementary seed mixes for the Turtle Doves in suitable areas, such as Lydden Valley (Worth marshes), which have perfect habitats for Turtle Doves with high dense hedgerows, scrub layers and bare ground.
"In addition to this, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), RSPB, Natural England and Rare Breeding Birds Panel have set up a national Turtle Dove survey this year, with the aim of mapping Turtle Doves across the entire UK.
"The Kent Ornithological Society are organising those conducted in Kent, and collectively many of the staff and members of SBBOT are taking part across East Kent, helping to monitor this declining species as part of the national survey.
Several areas within the Sandwich, Deal and Eastry area are good for Turtle Doves. One of our Trustees in Eastry had one in her garden last year! There are possibly several other local areas where others are taking part in the Operation Turtle Dove to provide supplementary seed and good habitats for the species, and therefore sightings are reported throughout this area of south east Kent.
"Friends of Staple in Kent are another wonderful community of people working together to help save the Turtle Doves in their local area.
"The group has worked with the RSPB in creating habitats and providing food for Turtle Doves, and they have worked together in keeping these areas available for the birds. Betteshanger is also known to be good for Turtle Doves, and the communities there are trying to protect the habitat areas from development.
In terms of numbers, last year we had around 14 recorded on the RSPB Lydden Valley (also known as Worth Marshes), an area within our recording area which we monitor on a regular basis. They’ve just returned this year, and a few have been sighted already.
Last year there were definitely other sightings scattered throughout the rest of the Deal and Dover area, it's a relatively good area for them although of course their numbers are still declining. The national survey this year will help get a better idea of the populations here in Kent, as well as the rest of the UK."
How can you help turtle doves at home?
of early English vetch (25%), black medick (20%), birdsfoot trefoil (20%), early white clover (20%), early red clover (10%) and fumitory (5%) and is available from several seed merchants. For further details contact the RSPB.
If you see one, log it on the Operation Turtle Dove website where you can also make a donation by visiting https://www.operationturtledove.org/get-involved/habitat/