Sunday, 19 October 2014

"Reddy" or Not, Here They Come!

It was good to be out ringing again on Saturday, especially because of the amount of Redwings flooding into the country from the East Coast. I'd seen my first couple of flocks on Tuesday morning on my way to school and with all the easterly wind in the week, it helped them along on their way.

We were ringing at one of our main Winter sites, however it certainly didn't feel like Winter or even Autumn, as on the way there the temperature was recorded at sixteen degrees.

Whilst setting up we could hear the Redwing passing over with their seeping contact call. As quite a few were going over we decided to set a couple of nets for catching them. 

When dawn finally approached we were already starting to get results.The Winter thrushes were coming in at a good pace, catching about several per net round, which is good for our first session catching them this year.

When we started to process the Redwings we noticed that we were possibly catching two different races of bird. One or two birds were quite dark with slightly longer wing lengths and heavier weights than normal (our lightest Redwing today weighing 51 grams and our heaviest 73 grams ). These birds were possibly from the Icelandic race - coburni.  Out of our 31 Redwings ringed today 47% were adults.

We also noticed on the Redwings that some of them had a couple of ticks, however all of these were very small which suggests that these specimens were on the birds just before leaving the country they came from. This is one way that places can get infected with parasites and therefore infect other birds with diseases.

Redwing with tick 

There were few finches around today, however there were some other highlights as an adult Jay made its way into our nets and a young female Greater Spotted Woodpecker.

Just waiting for those Fieldfares to put in an appearance next!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Harry The Hen Harrier's Winter Roost

Now I hope you all remember Harry! If not he's the six foot Hen Harrier who has been on quite a journey so far. It was all started off by a small scarecrow competition in my village, however now Harry is raising lots and lots of awareness about the persecution of Hen Harriers at events like the Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District.

Now, the last time I saw Harry was at the Birdfair at Rutland Water where I handed him over into the care of the RSPB.  However, a while ago I got an email from the RSPB saying that Harry was heading back North. He's back now, located at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and reminding people of the real danger of Hen Harriers going extinct in England. 

Sightings of Harry so far - Moulton, Peak District, Rutland, Sandy, Leeds and Burton Mere.

Unfortunately on Monday I was at school, so wasn't allowed to travel over to Leeds and meet Andre Farrar who had Harry for us to collect and bring back to Burton Mere. Andre had some help from his son Jack when he was loading Harry up.

Jack Farrar and Harry

Harry "relaxing" in the van in Leeds

When my dad arrived at Burton Mere with Harry he was greeted by Dan Trotman (Visitor Development Officer of Burton Mere), who helped set Harry up in his new Winter roost position. 

Harry and Dan

Hopefully by having Harry at quite a popular reserve it will make even more people think about how we all need to work together to protect Hen Harriers.  Harry may be lucky to see other Hen Harriers flying across Burton Mere and up and down the estuary at Parkgate.

Already several of this year's satellite tagged juvenile fledged Hen Harriers have "disappeared" with no further information coming from their tags. England should support at least 300 or more Hen Harrier pairs, however only 4 pairs bred in England this year. What happened to all the others? Were they shot, poisoned, trapped?

The good news is that Harry is already attracting some attention These nice ladies were interested to know all about Harry and why he was at Burton Mere. Hopefully they will now talk to other people about saving our Hen Harriers.

I know that Harry will settle really well at Burton Mere because the area around the Dee estuary has a few roost sites for Hen Harriers. I will be going to see him again at the weekend. I've really missed him.  If you go to see him, please post a Harry selfie on Twitter and use #HarrySelfie

So there you have it, Harry the Hen Harrier is back up and running trying to save his species. The war against nature by some of mankind isn't over, not by a long shot, however hopefully more and more people will try to do what they can to protect species like the Hen Harrier.

Harry at RSPB Burton Mere

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Wilde on Wild

A few weeks ago I did some filming with CBBC for their Wild series. They followed me on a morning ringing session, right from the minute I got up!

It was a brilliant opportunity to show other children the interesting and important work that the BTO do. I am so grateful for the opportunity to reach so many people and I hope it inspires more younger people to get involved.

If you would like to watch the program there is a link below. My bit of the program starts at about 51 minutes in.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Late Brood of Barn Owlets

Morning Session

As the Winter starts to draw in, getting up is gradually getting later which means I'm not too tired and can catch up and recover from the early Summer sessions. I was glad to be out this morning, as it poured with rain yesterday so I was a bit stuck at home, although I did manage a quick trip to Winsford Flash early in the morning to see this pair of Snipe.

 Today made up for all yesterday's rained off birding though. We of course started by putting all the nets up and a solitary Tawny Owl was calling close by, probably watching us. It was a lot cooler this morning than it has been and I needed my coat for the first time in months.

As we got in to the session, the birds came in in a steady pace, mainly Blackcap and Wrens, however as we continued along the nets we came to a Cetti's Warbler. I was stunned and amazed, and even though it was a re-trap from last week it was fantastic to study it close up, especially as it's the first time I've ever seen this species.

Throughout the rest of the course of the day we caught a couple of Chiffchaff, a beautiful male, a female Bullfinch, a few Blackbirds, a couple of Song Thrush and about five Gold Crests. It was really nice to see Kevin, Dan and Sophie; all the trainees were out today.

Owlet Session

After our main session of ringing we went to check a couple of our Barn Owl boxes. The first one we couldn't check as the owner of the farm wasn't in. However with the second one we managed to ring three healthy chicks. These birds take a ring size of a G. This is quite a late second brood, however looking at them, they still had at least 2-3 weeks to go before they leave the nest. 

Last year was a bad year for Barn Owls, so it is great to see second broods this year.

Just waiting for those Winter thrushes to show up now.

Sunday, 28 September 2014


So I think it's been about a month since I blogged about ringing - nevertheless I've been out every weekend, so this blog is a bit of a catch up if you like on the migration and catch rates of the sessions.

We have been catching a steady number of birds, but weeks have been very different, from really good numbers one week to not so many the next. Of course they are all on the move but you would think you would get similar numbers week to week. One bird we haven't really caught much this year is the Whitethroat. We had good numbers last year, but this year's numbers were way down. I think we only just got in to double figures this year


Blackcaps and Robins however seem to have been caught in good numbers and this is evident across the country (see BTO demog blog).  In one session recently we managed to ring 36 robins and we are still catching into the mid teens currently. It must have been a good breeding season with multiple broods no doubt.

Along with this current migration pattern we had a couple of unusual catches, including a couple of weeks back a stunning Fire Crest; a first for one of our sites. This site this year has had some great birds including Cettis, Kingfisher, Spotted Fly, Firecrest, Siberian Chiffchaff - all this right on the edge of one of the most deprived areas in Merseyside.


Tied in with migration a couple of the birds migrating through have had a couple of distinguishing features, including this female Blackcap which had an eye deformity. On inspection, at first it looked a bit like a tick it but on closer inspection it appeared to have a  deformity on its nictitating membrane,

 A head on photo looked more insect than bird.


The following session after this one we also caught a female Bullfinch with a similar growth but ten times as bad, however this bird seemed to have a huge growth sticking at least a centimeter away from the beak and almost covering the gullet to swallow food. Not a nice sight, but in every other way this bird seemed healthy and had obviously been feeding okay.

I would be interested to hear if anybody else has been having any deformities of the eye region.

And so it wont be long now before our Scandinavian visitors arrive to our sites Fieldfare and Redwing shortly and after catching really good numbers last time will we have any retraps and controls? An interesting time ahead.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Vision For Nature - Vision into the Future

On the 5th & 6th September I attended a conference organised by AFON (A Focus On Nature). The theme of the conference was a "vision for nature", a brilliant title that really got everyone thinking even before the conference began. We arrived reasonably late to our hotel the night before, and I was glad to get some much needed sleep for the following day.

The first day started off great. The organised event was located in Cambridge, and was taking place in the Depart of Engineering Building of Cambridge University. It was an amazing place and got me thinking about how I will one day hopefully be studying something to do with conservation in a big lecture theatre like that.

Almost instantly I met up with Lucy McRoberts (organiser of event, along with Matt Williams).  In fact we helped her carry stuff from her car into the conference rooms.  We were quite early, but as more and more people started to arrive, I recognised more and more faces; people I had met at Bird Fair, people I have tweeted with and people I have got to know through my determination to help nature.

Over the period of the conference I learned an awful lot, and of course this started with the very first introductions, discussions and debates.

So I would like to start off with the first discussion that grabbed my attention about the importance of nature/wildlife education in schools, (which might keep popping up in future blogs). But before I talk about the facts I've picked up at the conference, I'd like to talk about my personnel view on environmental education. 

Now earlier in the year I did quite a large survey on all the Primary Schools in Cheshire on whether they would like to make environmental based subjects available to their pupils. This research was done for a guest blog I wrote for Mark Avery. Most of them actually said they would love to but it depended on cost and if it was part of the curriculum. Sadly it still isn't working at this current moment, not just in Primary Schools, but also in High Schools.

Now I think there is a little bit of nature based study done in Primary Schools however I think this relies on the school having a teacher who is a wildlife enthusiast, but it should be a key part of education in schools as well for the 11 to 16 year olds. This is because at this kind of age they really start to understand how their actions impact our planet and also they can chose the path towards what they want to do.

I can understand this because, now that I am 12, I have really got to understand conservation better and I know the direction I want to take in life. This is why I KNOW that environmental studies should be else are we going to reverse all the damage that has been done to our shared home.  I also think that High School kids will understand the deeper issues and then maybe engage better, unlike the Primary school children who will enjoy the experiences but maybe not link them with the changes that are needed.  It doesn't even need changes in the curriculum to make a difference. Why can't we bring things like the university birding challenge into schools and things like that. I still think the NGOs need to do more with schools as well, using their network of volunteers.

In my case it was the school kid going to the conference, how about we take the conference on a tour of the schools.  And by the way, I am really grateful to my school for letting me take the time off to attend the conference.

Anyway, back to the conference............

I learnt so much from the conference. I built up lots of knowledge by listening to the talks and especially though hearing different opinions in the debates.

 Of course, over the course of the weekend I met lots of new people and people I needed to catch up with. It was great to see Dave Leech (who I missed at the bird fair due to me being sick). We talked a lot about Blackcaps and the RAS I helped with earlier this year. It was great to see him again. It's always great to catch up with people like Mark Avery, Andy Clements and Rob Lambert. It was also nice to talk to Alex Berryman and Josie Hewitt who I met last year at another AFON conference at the BTO Nunnery. We had a brilliant evening in the pub where loads of the conference people turned up to chat.

One of the other talks I went to was the one run by Peter Cooper, a wildlife journalist.  His talk made me more aware of how important my blog is, i.e. how to get my thoughts heard by more people and it may even help when the time comes for me to get a job (I will have a diary of all the practical work and knowledge that I've learned). I don't like the idea of it being competitive, but it is competitive for jobs in any type of business (I learnt that as well).

So the conference was brilliant; I learnt lots and like I said at this kind of age I am realising and finding my real passion, and understanding how I can help it.

I'm ready, I'm passionate, I'm determined and I can make a difference. And I feel even more ready to face whatever the future brings. 

Thank you for all the AFON members for this amazing event. It has only made me even more determined to make a difference.  

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A Response From DEFRA

In July I wrote an open letter to the new Environment Minister Mrs Truss which you can read here. I also kept emailing the letter to her hoping to be listened to. Well today I finally got a reply from the Customer Contact Unit at DEFRA. The response is below for you to see:

 Dear Findlay,

Thank you for your email of 16 July to the Secretary of State about wildlife conservation.  I have been asked to reply and apologise for the delay in doing so.

We agree with you that birds are extremely important. Bird populations are a good way to estimate the health of wildlife in general, because birds live in a wide range of habitats, so they tend to be near or at the top of food chains. There are many reasons why birds are threatened, including disease, weather, loss of habitat and climate change. 

One way in which we are helping birds is through Biodiversity 2020. The Government has plans to help farmland birds by increasing their habitats by at least 200,000 hectares by 2020. 

There are also grant schemes run by the Government where farmers are given money to make sure their land provides good homes for birds, or to feed seed eating birds during the ‘hungry gap’, which is the time of year when there aren’t many berries or seeds. 

You might wish to visit The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) website, as this provides a lot of information on birds and how you can help them. 

I hope this reassures you we are committed to conserving the environment and helping birds. Thank you again for writing about this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Leah Pritchart
Customer Contact Unit

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)


Now even though I am really grateful for the response, I am not confident or happy about what they have to say. I know I am only 12 and I know I don't understand all the politics but I do have common sense, some wildlife knowledge and a strong sense of right and wrong. So here are my first thoughts on there reply, but I will probably revisit this again.

  • firstly, they have just concentrated on birds, when my email was about all our wildlife.  I was at the A Focus on Nature Conference last week and listened to a debate called "should science have the final say in conservation". At the end of the debate it was agreed that properly researched science should definitely be listened to, and so should common sense. SO how is this the case with the badger cull. All the science bits I have read have said a cull wont work and it has been a cruel and badly thought through way of trying to control Bovine TB.  Maybe that's why they just focused on birds.
  • Now it is 2014 and 200,000 hectares of farmland are supposed to be used to create habitat for birds by 2020, now for me there's a few problems here:  
  1. firstly I think 2020 is going to be a little late, as I'm sure you're all aware, many birds have declined by huge amounts, a good example would be the Turtle Dove, what has happened to that species. It may be gone by 2020.
  2. Secondly farmland covers about 18 million hectares across the UK, so over the next 6 years just 0.01% is being given back. And how much other habitat is being lost to projects like HS2.
  3. And not really a traditional lowland farmland bird, but Hen Harriers have undergone a huge decline and yet nothing has been done about it by the people in power, even though there have been serious crimes committed. People are breaking the law, but where was DEFRA on Hen Harrier Day?

  • Another thing I'd like to pick up on is the part where it says 

There are many reasons why birds are threatened, including disease, weather, loss of habitat and climate change. 

What is the government (DEFRA) doing to resolve the problem of this and how are they working with all the people involved to make sure it is a focus for all the influential people in power.

  • The final thing that really wound me up was "maybe you should visit the RSPB" now that is really, really annoying because I am trying my best to do so much for wildlife. 
I would love to here your points of view on the reply.