Sunday, 25 September 2016

First Ringing Session of Autumn

It has been a while since I did a blog about ringing, so I thought I would give you a summary of this weekends results.  

The forecast for the weekend was a bit unsettled so late decisions were made over the weekend as to  if, when and where there would be suitable ringing conditions.  Saturday wasn't looking the best so we decided to prep one of our winter sites, with a little maintenance of net rides.

  Overnight on Saturday conditions were set to improve so a late call was made and we agreed to ring this morning. After leaving the house at 4:45am we arrived to find the conditions reasonably calm and overcast.  There was a very slight  breeze which had a cool edge to it, reminding us that Autumn is now upon us despite the relatively mild temperature. 

We set 9 nets and whilst walking around there didn't seem to be too many birds moving around, or much song or calls. This was extremely evident on the first net round, as the only birds caught were a couple of Blackcap and a Chiffchaff, plus 3 Goldcrest. As the morning moved on things picked up a little with the odd tit flock roaming round the surrounding woodland. One of these flocks found it's way into the catching zone, along with 3 Treecreeper and a couple of finches. We pondered whether any Yellow Bowed Warblers were in the vicinity.

A few Meadow Pipits were heading overhead, however, none ended up in our nets this time.  The only other highlight of the session aside from the Treecreepers was this very striking a juvenile male Bullfinch.

Looking forward to see what else the sites produce this Winter.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Quiz Night Tuesday - The Golden Question

Welcome to Quiz Night Tuesday

Tonight's question is all about sunflower hearts and Goldfinch.  Last year I noticed a surge in the number of Goldfinch in the garden from the middle of Autumn. Much bigger numbers than in previous years, so I decided to track the Goldfinch a bit more closely by monitoring their numbers and the amount of food they were eating each day. 

I learnt a lot from the study last year and am therefore going to repeat it more accurately this year in an attempt to calculate the amount of energy Goldfinch get from a garden feeder in the Autumn/Winter months.

So your question for tonight, and it is a very tricky one, is as follows:

How many individual sunflower hearts (individual kernels not kilos) did the Goldfinch eat in the 7 day period from 11th October - 17th October 2015. I will help you out with a couple more facts:
  • we had approx a staggering 120 Goldfinch visiting the garden each day
  • it was a dry, sunny week
  • we were using one massive 12 port feeder for the sunflower hearts
  • and finally, this is what a kilo of sunflower hearts looks like

The person with the closest answer will win...................a bag of sunflower hearts of course.

When you post your answer, it would also be great if you could mention what your thought process was in working it out. You have until Thursday evening to post your answers.

And the answer is:

First of all, for a full explanation on last year's Goldfinch survey, please click here.

So here is how I worked out the final answer.

From from 11th October - 17th October 2015 the Goldfinch ate 7.92kg of Sunflower hearts.
I weighed out 50g of sunflower hearts and counted 1120 kernels
So 22,400 in 1kg
7.92 kg x 22,400 kernels = 117,408 kernels

So the answer is 117,408 kernels.

So the closest to this was Hugh with an answer of 174,804 kernels.

Thanks to everyone for having a go and well done Hugh, a bag of sunflower hearts will be on it's way soon.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Spurn Migfest 2016 - Isn't Migration Brilliant!

Migfest (or Migration Festival to give it a full title) really kicks off the Autumn migration season, and is held at Spurn on the East coast. With the highest mainland avian species list, excluding Shetland and Scilly, there really is no other place like Spurn if you want to see the phenomenon of migration in full force! 

Early Saturday morning I arose from a sleepless night, with just a 3 hour journey separating me from a fantastic weekend teeming with birds; and of course catching up with some great friends. Arriving at 9am, I was soon equipped with scope and bins and coat as well (for those of you that attended Migfest you'll know why a coat was particularly necessary). However, before I ventured into the (let's just to put it bluntly) absolute down pour, I called in at Westmere Farm to collect tickets for the Migfest and hog roast, and to say hello to the fabulous organisers and collect a pager for the weekend (thanks Brian/Rare Bird Alert).

On the journey down to Spurn, in fact just approaching Hull,  my phone had notified me of a KENTISH PLOVER seen on the Humber Estuary. On arrival however, after talking to a couple of individuals and the finder, BTO's Andy Clements (well done), there had been no further sign for at least an hour. As the tide was on it's way in, I decided that my best bet for finding the bird would be Kilnsea Wetlands. So I dashed there from Westmere Farm, seeing a couple of late Swift on the way, and meeting up with a few fellow young birders in the actual hide.

As expected the hide was absolute full of sodden birders, however thankfully I managed to squeeze my scope into the little room there was (jabbing the odd person with my tripod leg, sorry if it was you) and began scanning the scrapes. Due to high tide nearly being upon us, waders were flooding in and giving some pretty special views. Hundreds of Dunlin, Golden Plover, Redshank, Knot, Ringed Plover and a few Bar Tailed Godwit were soon settled making life much easier for picking through the masses.

We also got some great close up views of a stunning Wood Sandpiper.

I located the odd Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint within the Dunlin flock. However after nothing else particularly unusual I moved on to the mixed Plover and Knot flock. I scoured through the large quantity of birds; Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Knot, Ringed Plover... and then there is was, the Kentish Plover!

I literally shouted Kentish Plover and everyone in the hide soon had their scopes swinging round to locate it, but just like many scarcities it was quite a distance away. The decision was made with the other young birders to try viewing the bird from the top part of Kilnsea Wetlands alongside Beacon Ponds where hopefully the views would be clearer, but still a safe distance from the bird.  The relentless rain made it much harder to get good views from most places, but we carried on regardless. It was worth it, the views from the bank were great.

Kentish Plover admirers!

This Kentish Plover was only the third record for Spurn. What an amazing start to the weekend.

Sadly the Kentish Plover flew off onto Beacon Ponds, ending up just a tiny spec in the distance. I headed off with a couple of other young birders to do the full walk round the 'triangle', an area with a couple of fields surrounded by scrub, perfect for grounded passerines. With the awful conditions I thought there would be a few less common birds around, and sure enough we managed great views of species like Whinchat, Lesser Whitethroat and Redstart.

As always on the Saturday night there is the official evening of Migfest where great food is served, great people gather to talk to and the evening lecture takes place.  This year the evening lecture was about two international observatories; Cape May bird observatory in North America and Falsterbo in Sweden. Both these birds obs were interesting as they are both on spits just like Spurn.  But first of all, for the 2nd year running, the Spurn Young Birder of the Year award was presented. It was fantastic to see the BTO and Spurn Birds Obs  joining forces to support the under 16s in this fantastic young birders opportunity. This year's award was presented in memory of the fantastic and inspirational birder Martin Garner who has sadly passed away since Migfest 2015.

Martin was an inspiration to all generations of birders and it was so right that the Spurn young birder award is now named "The Martin Garner Young Birder Award".  This year the award went to a great young birder (of course from Cheshire!) called George Dunbar.  I feel so lucky to have met Martin last year at Spurn.  I have always heard so much about him from Bill Morton at Frodsham Marsh, where Martin did his birding at my age. Last year I talked with Martin about Frodsham Marsh. I wish that I could have walked round No. 6 tank with both Bill and Martin, even just once.

On Sunday morning I was up early for the sea watch as the weather was so much better. Visibility was fantastic. The sun rising over the cut corn fields round Spurn was just stunning.

 A couple of juvenile Arctic Skua were the first birds I spotted flying south relatively close in. They were then followed by a third bird even closer which put on a great performance as it chased the juvenile Common Terns. The highlight of the sea watch for me though was the Black Tern which flew past at only 10 meters off shore!

At the start of this blog I mentioned that Spurn is the place to come if you want to see migration. My stand out moment from Migfest was just a Meadow Pipit; well not really just "a" Meadow Pipit. The Arctic Skua, Long Tailed Skua and even the Kentish Plover were totally outdone by the amazing spectacle of migrating Meadow Pipits.  Standing on a grassy bank next to the North Sea, I witnessed not hundreds, but thousands of Meadow Pipits flying overhead and out across the sea. Living in land locked Cheshire I have never seen migration so raw like that before, and I will never forget it.

I spent the rest of the morning at the narrows observing the migration of the many pratensis going over. After being grounded by the weather the day before, there was no holding them back on the Sunday.

Isn't migration brilliant!

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Thursday, 25 August 2016

An open letter to Antoinette Sandbach MP

I am posting here the email I have sent to my MP Antoinette Sandbach today. If you have not already done so, would you please consider writing to your MPs asking them to support the ban driven grouse shooting debate in parliament. Mark Avery has a great template that you can use here.


Dear Mrs Sandbach,

Firstly I just wondered if you have ever seen a hen harrier before. I can vividly remember the first time I ever saw one. I was high up on the North Wales moors. The fine rain and mist covered my face in water and the low cloud limited my views over the vast landscape.  Despite the rain and mist, I resolved to walk even further up the moors, but my plans to keep going suddenly came to an abrupt stop. A grey ghost, elegant and effortless, glided past within 10 metres of where I stood. He soared effortlessly on the wind, appearing and reappearing through the sloping hills. An image locked in my head forever.

I am a young constituent of yours and I signed the e-petition on the parliament website entitled Ban Driven Grouse Shooting 

On the 13th of August this petition reached the target of 100,000 signatures, which as you know means that this petition will be considered for debate in parliament. Currently at the time I am writing this email, the petition stands at almost 118,000. That’s 118,000 members of the public calling for the ban on an activity (for I can’t call it a sport) that leads to the persecution of upland wildlife; hen harriers, red kites, buzzards, peregrines, mountain hares, foxes and many other species. The persecution of raptors is of course illegal, and yet it still happens. This year just 3 pairs of hen harriers bred in England when the uplands could support over 300 pairs.  In our constituency of Eddisbury 166 people have supported this petition.

Driven grouse shooting means that the uplands are intensively managed to support unnaturally high levels of red grouse to then be shot.  Managing this “investment” also means getting rid of any species that are a threat to the red grouse.

The e-petition is expected to receive a debate in Westminster Hall some time later than 9 October.  I hope that when the date of the debate is determined you will be able to attend the debate. When the debate occurs I really need you to represent my views in that debate. I want to see stronger regulation of driven grouse shooting and changes in the way our hills are managed. Do you think you would be able to speak on that subject?

I would be grateful for your response and the opportunity to talk to you about it if you are planning to attend the debate. Please, please attend if you can. We have lost 50% of world wildlife over the last 40 years, so we have to ensure that we are doing the best we can for the natural world. We cannot survive without it.

It really is a simple question you have to ask in the end, what is more important; the money that goes to a tiny number of people on the back of an industry based on killing, or giving something back and restoring the balance of species we should have in the uplands.

I am asking you and hoping that you will be able to attend the debate and would it be your intention to do so? I hope you can represent mine and others views, and if you want to or know you can take part in the debate, I would be very grateful for your response.

Yours sincerely,

Findlay Wilde

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Hen Harrier Day 2016 - A Murmuration of People

Just 3 pairs of hen harriers have bred in England this year when our uplands could support over 300 pairs.

When you have already been part of amazing hen harrier days in 2014 and 2015, you do wonder if they can get any better. Well 2016 proved just how much better things can get.  This year hen harrier day events had been organised across the UK as the awareness of raptor persecution on grouse moors continues to grow.

In the weeks running up to the events, we had been busy preparing some new props for the Edale event, and all this was fitted round a fantastic weekend campaigning at the WOMAD Festival.  Harry had to have a respray, the grouse butt came out of storage and the new 2.5m high letters we made meant another huge van needed hiring.

Saturday 6th August

On the Saturday we were down at RSPB Rainham Marshes for the first hen harrier event of the weekend.

There were 3 fantastic talks by Charlie Moors, Mike Clarke and Chris Packham with Mark Avery compering. All had their own take on hen harriers and what needs to be done, but the main objective of all of them was to see hen harriers protected, the wrong doers prosecuted and a future that includes hen harriers breeding in our uplands. And do you know what, this vision is totally natural and shouldn't be something we are having to fight for.

My mission was to record interviews with hen harrier day attendees on behalf of Rare Bird Alert and Charlie Moores for his Talking Naturally podcast.  It was so good talking to people and hearing their thoughts. My questions included why they were attending a hen harrier day event, if DEFRA was fit for purpose, their thoughts on the shooting community, their thoughts on NGOs and how Brexit may have an impact. I was lucky enough to question a great mix of people including MP Kerry McCarthy, RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke, Chris Packham and many others.

I must also add that RSPB Rainham did a fantastic job of organising the event.

Sunday 7th August

On Sunday we got up early, although not quite ringing early, and loaded up the van ready for the Edale event in the Peak District. On the way over I was thinking back to that first Peak District event and being one of the sodden 570. It is so frustrating though that the awareness is building and yet the hen harrier situation has got worse with just 3 pairs breeding in England this year.

We arrived at Edale early and met up with Stewart Abbot who had worked so hard to organise this event. Next job was to empty the van and get Harry, the grouse butt and the HH Peak letters in place.

 As we were doing this Mark and Rosemary Avery turned up along with other great friends (you know who you are) and we all had breakfast together in the Penny Pot cafe, talking about the day ahead.

And then it was a bit of a waiting game. A slow trickle of people started arriving in the car park, but the trickle soon turned into a steady stream. Henry Hen Harrier was there to great people from the train station, familiar faces showed up, there was lots of great catching up and all this within the beautiful green hills around Edale; hills that hid the over managed, burnt, drained grouse moors just a few miles away. Moors that are managed to rear unnaturally large numbers of Red Grouse and get rid of any other wildlife that may have a negative impact this.  

If the natural wildlife had been allowed remain in its natural habitat, we would never have had to reach this point.

There were 6 talks being given on the day; I was up first, then Hardyal Dhindsa (Police & Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire), Dr Mark Avery (writer, blogger and environmental campaigner and loser of bird quizzes!), Jon Stewart (National Trust General Manager In the Peak District), Natalie Bennett (Leader of the Green Party) and Tim Birch (Conservation Manager with The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust).  All the speakers were brilliantly introduced by Alan Davies from Biggest Twitch. 

This was the talk that I gave (on a wobbly step ladder with only one hand to hold on):

You can find all the other talks on Stewart Abbots You Tube channel and they really are all worth listening to.

After the talks I did some more vox-popping for Talking Naturally and had great interviews with Natalie Bennett, Hardyal Dhindsa, Tim Birch and several others.

It was an inspiring day, a hopeful day and it really did feel this time like a change was in the air.

So just 3 things to ask you to help with tonight:

Please sign up to this Thunderclap to help get #Inglorious12th trending on Twitter tomorrow


Please sign this e-petition to help get raptor persecution debated in parliament


Please ask one other person to do both these things.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Wilde About Finn

My personal journey with hen harriers started a while ago and has led me to see some amazing things and meet a group of very inspiring people. But before I look back on this journey, let me introduce you to the star of this blog post "Finn". Finn is the first Hen Harrier chick to be satellite tagged in England this year.

Finn with her 3 brothers

I will of course come back to Finn a bit later on in this blog.

I can still vividly remember the very first time I saw a hen harrier. It was high up on the North Wales moors. The fine rain and mist covered my face in water and the low cloud limited my views over the vast landscape.  Despite the rain and mist, I resolved to walk even further up the moors, but my plans to keep going suddenly came to an abrupt stop. A grey ghost, elegant and effortless, glided past within 10 metres of where I stood. He soared effortlessly on the wind, appearing and reappearing through the sloping hills. 

I was simply captivated and inspired by such a spectacle of nature. I had to know more about this bird.

As a young conservationist, I was learning all the time about the problems facing British wildlife and was shocked, upset and angry that the bird I had been watching was on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England.

The more research I did, the more I learnt. These birds love this land, just like we all do. As with all nature, I saw these birds and these lands as our natural treasures and my natural inheritance.  But these natural treasures were being stolen from us. They were being stolen from us by what I called the “Pirates of the Countryside”. These pirates of the countryside appeared to be driven by selfishness, greed and ignorance and came in many forms; land owners, politicians, developers, councils, local authorities and even retailers.  Although I must say there are many excellent and pro-nature people in each of these groups as well. It was just the small numbers of short sighted people that sadly were having such a massive negative impact.  No-one could argue that something had gone terribly wrong if a bird like the hen harrier had been pushed to the point of extinction in England.

Surely this couldn't be happening, but it was, and it was a very real situation. The more information that was shared by respected organisations and individuals, the more I made it my goal to raise awareness and try to reach the people who had never even heard of a hen harrier.

So in 2014, I began “Project Harry” to help the RSPB’s Skydancer project. Harry, a 6ft hen harrier, started off as a tiny thought in the back of my mind. He was built and bought to life for a local scarecrow competition in our village and perched on the roof of our house for 4 weeks. 

Posters were put up telling people all about the persecution of raptors.  Harry went on to win the competition and the prize money was given straight to RSPB’s Skydancer Project.

I quickly realised that Harry was reaching people who hadn’t heard of a hen harrier before and who were equally shocked to hear about the near extinction of such a precious bird.  So Harry went on a tour in 2014 to inspire people up and down the country, visiting the first Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District, Birdfair, BBC AutumnWatch, Beacon Fell and then spending the winter at RSPB Burton Mere on the Dee Estuary.

BBC Autumnwatch

Hen Harriers attempt to move from their upland breeding grounds down to places like the Dee Estuary on the Wirral to spend their winter, and it can be a good place to see one. The RSPB do monthly “Skydancers on the Dee” events throughout winter to raise awareness about hen harriers and I volunteer there every year to talk to passers by about the plight of hen harriers and when possible show the birds to people through the scopes.

It’s hard sometimes to explain the difficulties faced by these birds, but try thinking of hen harriers as a massive dot to dot picture puzzle.  Think of each dot as one of our much needed hen harriers. We need thousands of dots to realise the picture we want. But the dots keep disappearing. Sky, Hope, Chance, the 4 males that went missing, forcing the females to abandon their nest.  All those vital dots erased.

The end picture we all want for Hen Harriers doesn’t look good at the moment, so we have to ensure we get all the future dots in the right place.  Each connection line between the dots is all the hard work going on to protect them and stop their persecution, but it’s frustrating that our connection lines seem to be getting longer and longer.  Each plotted dot for the future represents hope and our efforts and successes, strengthening the picture we all want to see.

I can’t always campaign as hard as I want to as school often gets in the way, but that’s where others come in and we can all help connect these dots.

Last year I made a short video to try to persuade politicians to take much more notice of the environment and make sure it was at the top priority of every decision made on the run up to the general election. Around the same time the green energy company, Ecotricity, launched their “Young Green Briton of the Year” competition.  So I thought I would enter the competition and sent them the video. I was delighted to find out that I was a finalist in the Nature category, but what I didn’t realise yet was how our relationship would grow.

As a finalist I was invited to the annual WOMAD music festival where I was speaking on a panel about the problems facing the environment and how to make it better. Anyway, during this process of being at the festival, a remarkable opportunity came up which I grasped firmly with both hands.

One of the people on the panel supporting the Young Green Briton’s was the founder of Ecotricity; Dale Vince. I thought being there with the main people from a big green energy company, doing brilliant events to promote young people interested in the environment, was a chance to explain and discuss the plight of hen harriers.  It was also an opportunity to ask Ecotricity to get involved and maybe help with some funding for satellite tagging of the 2016 chicks.

The Ecotricity team, but especially Dale Vince and Helen Taylor were brilliant. They jumped at the chance to help.  I took the Ecotricity team to the Wirral in April this year to watch Hen Harriers on the Dee; it was the first time they had seen one. 

Female hen harrier at Parkgate, Wirral

Throughout the last 12 months we have all worked together, along with the RSPB Skydancer team, and the result is that “Finn” who you met right at the start of this blog was recently satellite tagged and became the first hen harrier in England to be tagged this year. 

This year there is an ever growing “murmuration” of people and organisations.  Amazing people and organisations who really care about the environment we all share together and want to put a stop to the hen harriers consistent, disgusting persecution.  

You will be able to keep up to date with the progress of the tagged chicks on the RSPB's website. I will be following Finn’s journey very closely, I can only hope that it is long one.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

WOMAD 2016

I've recently arrived back home from my second ever weekend stay at the annual WOMAD festival. The event is all about world musicians coming together to entertain and perform to us. It's not just about the music though, there are many other stores and types of food on offer from all over the world.

So why was I at WOMAD? Well let's start from last year when I was part of the Young Green Britain debate. Last year was the first Young Green Britain debate organised by the green energy company Ecotricity, where I was representing the Nature category. The other 3 categories were energy, transport and food. This year, as a family, we decided to spend the full 3 days at WOMAD to have a great experience as well as encouraging this year's Young Green Britons and raising awareness about the illegal persecution of the Hen Harrier.

We arrived on Friday afternoon where we first were escorted to our 'Glamping' tent which is what we would be staying in for the next 3 days.

Next stop was music; listening to some of the very first bands to play. The variety of music was just fantastic.

Whilst listening to the bands, I also got chance to catch up with Ecotricity's Helen Taylor who I have been working with over the last 12 months on hen harrier satellite tagging; but more on that later.

After a further mooch around the stalls that were on offer we met up with fellow campaigners including Henry Hen Harrier. The WOMAD festival is a perfect place to raise awareness about the illegal persecution of hen harriers and try to boost the amount of signatures on the ban driven grouse shooting e-petition. My purpose in me pushing now on the e-petition is to hear a fair debate in parliament.

So for the majority of the Friday evening we were handing out leaflets and engaging with festival goers. There certainly seemed to be a lot of interest in this subject and a few people I spoke to on the Friday had already signed the petition and some were even going to one of the Hen Harrier Days. So a great start to WOMAD!!

On the Saturday morning we all went to listen to the first Ecotricity debate. This was the big green debate. It was really interesting to see what the founder of the leading green energy company, Dale Vince, had to say about our current energy issues and talk about how climate change/environment should be taught as a core subject in schools, something that has been close to my heart for years now.

After the debate it was also great to meet up with the host of the event, Jon Snow who hosted the Young Green Britain debate last year.

It was great to meet this years Young Green Britons who seemed really passionate about their chosen subjects. I had great and deep conversations with this year's nature representative Josh, who was talking about re-wilding. The rest of the Saturday was spent engaging with people and talking about hen harriers, and handing out leaflets.  I am delighted to say that over the course of the festival the e-petition reached a big milestone of 70,000 signatures! Let's hope it gets to the 100,000 needed by 20th September.

Sunday came, the day of the actual Young Green Briton Debate, where Mark Avery was the mentor for nature. Before the actual debate me and the other Young Green Briton finalists from last year went up to give this year's young speakers some encouragement.

 At the end of the event, we were asked to give some advice to the speakers. I talked about making the most of opportunities and to work closely with Ecotricity. I spoke about working with Ecotricity to sponsor a satellite tag for one of this year's hen harrier chicks.   I have to hand it to Ecotricity that the work they do with young people is absolutely fantastic. They are giving young people such a powerful voice.

At the end of the debate on Sunday I got a good chance to speak to Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, and thanked him so much for the funding for a satellite tag which Helen and I have been heavily involved with over the last 12 months. I also got chance to meet up with Max Boon who has been involved also with the media around the satellite tagging. I manage to do a bit of filming with him about what I had been up to with Ecotricity over the last year.

I also caught up with the Young Green Briton host Lucy Seigle and the Transport mentor Robert Llewellyn.

We left on Monday morning. A brilliant event it was, and of course great to catch up with everyone.  I will leave you with some more pictures from the festival.