Monday, 11 July 2016

Blakeney Point

At the weekend, we took the 250 mile trip over to Norfolk for the wedding of some great friends.  We had a fantastic day on Saturday with them, and the on Sunday we had 2 choices; start the 5 hour journey home or head off and enjoy the amazing salt marshes on the North Norfolk coast.  So of course we headed ............ to the coast.

After visiting the stunning village of Cley next the Sea, we carried on to Blakeney where the tide was right in. Straight away I could see terns swooping and diving over the inlets. Oystercatchers were flying overhead, big brutish Heron Gulls were upsetting all the nesting birds.

Little Egrets were posing gracefully on the banks and a Marsh Harrier was quartering in the distance. I have dreamed of seeing this stretch of coastline for so long that it took a while to take it all in.

Little Egret

But there was one bird in particular that I was looking forward to see, the Little Tern. My eyes were drawn to every acrobatic bird in the sky and I had already spotted Common Terns. 

As the tide was so far in, the mud banks and beach areas were covered, so there weren't many waders feeding, so we decided to head over to Morston and take a boat to Blakeney point to see the seal colonies and hopefully the Little Terns.

After crossing a small wooden bridge to get to the pier for Bishops Boats, I couldn't believe my eyes. A Little Tern soared straight past us and then headed off back towards the spit. I really needed to board this boat and get going.

As soon as we left the mooring, we were in more open water surrounded by a variety of gulls and terns.  It was one of those moments where there are just so many places to look, that you almost don't know where to look. A Sandwich Tern dived right in front of us and headed off with a whitebait.

Sandwich Tern and whitebait

As we neared Blakeney Point, we could see so many birds, and quite a few chicks. Some of the Heron Gull chicks were of course quite large, but the tern chicks were still very young and trying to stay hidden and avoid being a meal for those persistent Herring Gulls.

Herring Gull adult and chick

 Oystercatchers were everywhere you looked and all in various stages of development.

And then we reached the seal colonies. First of all we saw the Common Seals basking on the small area of beach left at high tide.

Common Seal 

The shingle beach and tufted areas of marsh grasses also provided perfect nesting habitat for the terns.

Common Tern

The seals lazily opened the odd eye as we sailed past them.

We headed away from the tip of the spit (caused by long shore drift as the sediment from fallen cliffs further along the coast gets washed up and builds on to the end of Blakeney Point) and towards a sand bank where a colony of Grey Seals were huddled on a tiny shallow area.

Grey Seals

One of the large male Grey Seals had been raiding the crabbing pots and had sadly got the rope from the pot stuck around it's neck.  

Being amongst the seals was amazing. Watching them watching us, watching them swim under the boat and then raise their heads out of the water for a closer look at us. And those dark deep eyes; I almost felt like I could just fall into them if I stared for too long. 

Of course there were Little Terns, and not just one or two, but lots of them, and chicks as well. 

Little Tern

But after all the anticipation of seeing the Little Terns (which was fantastic) the most amazing feeling I came away with was the importance and fragility of habitats like Blakeney Point. 

Nesting Oystercatcher

A few hours was not enough. I will be going back to Norfolk as soon as I can.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Common Tern Uncommon Breeding Attempt

This spring there has been a fantastic passage of terns through most of  Cheshire's waters, including my patch Winsford Flash. Cheshire has one of the biggest densities of individual inland waters in Britain; some resulting from mining subsidence, some man-made from extraction of sand and gravel and some naturally formed after the ice-age. One thing is common to all though, and that is the underlying clay deposits.

I've spent plenty of time watching all the areas around the Flash and managed great views of Black Tern, Arctic Tern and Common Tern, the latter being the most numerous. Sadly however, the passage of Terns died off quite quickly, and just 2 Common Terns remained (a possible pair I thought at the time).

Common Terns breed inland throughout most counties in England, but sadly Cheshire is one of the few that don't really get inland breeders, so I was delighted (and totally surprised) to find on a visit one morning a pair nurturing 1 egg (Common Terns normally lay 2-3 eggs but occasionally just 1 and rarely 4) on a jetty of the Winsford Flash Sailing Club.

The sight was amazing. This pair is the first to attempt to breed at the Flash and in inland Cheshire since 2004 I believe.  As you can see from the images, the single egg was balanced precariously close to the edge of the pier. Whilst watching these terns I could see that they (as both sexes incubate) appeared to be struggling to incubate the egg at times because of the possibility of knocking the egg off and being able to balance on the edge of the jetty. Occasionally one bird would spend time very carefully attempting to nudge it into a better position.  

I think the Flash is/would be an ideal place for Common Terns to breed; water quality is okay and there is a good supply of small fish and invertebrates which the Terns can adapt to quite easily. As mentioned before, Cheshire is filled with water bodies very similar and the use of floating rafts could/ would be beneficial to all our inland lakes and meres to encourage breeding. This has proven to be very successful outside of Cheshire.  You can't of course guarantee or control which species may use the floating rafts but it's a start!

 I have to say a huge well done and thank you to the sailing club for working with me to give these Terns the best chance of survival. They did fantastic work by fencing off that particular pier and restricting people from using the area around it.

In the end though, I am truly gutted to say that this Tern pair's breeding attempt didn't make it this time round.  Shortly after we discovered the egg, there was a prolonged torrential and squally rain shower.  After the weather system had passed, the egg had sadly disappeared. I was gutted of course, but there is hope that these birds will occupy a nest next year at the Flash and be more successful.  We watched the site for a good few weeks to see if the Terns tried again, but they have not been seen at the Flash since.

The breeding attempt has been reported to the county recorder and my next plan is to explore the possibility of getting rafts in place in time for next year's breeding season.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

"In or out" for Nature?

The decision on whether we will stay in or leave the EU will be made in just a few days time during the referendum vote on the 23rd of June. In anything like this, people of course vote on what matters to them and how they see that things will impact them.

If may come as no surprise to you, but what really matters to me is the natural world and the negative impact that the enormous "world" population is having on it.

This blog is about  my concerns for British wildlife, habitats and global climate change if we decide as a country to leave. To prepare for this blog I ran a poll on twitter to see how everyone else felt about the impacts of the referendum on the natural world. I asked one simple question; "Will climate change legislation and nature protection laws be stronger in or out of Europe?" The results are below.

More than 200 people voted, and as you can see an overwhelming percentage feel that the natural world and environment would be better protected if we stayed in the EU.

Nearly all of our environmental laws are formed and backed up at EU level. According to the RSPB, the EU Nature Directives have provided the highest level of protection to vulnerable habitats and species for the past 30 years. And although they are being reviewed, they still offer strong protection.

If we decide to leave, will these laws become weaker? Weak to the point that it will be easier to get round laws/guidelines; for example climate targets, hunting laws, use of EU banned pesticides, raptor persecution, emissions etc.

During the last UK elections I blogged about my disappointment in the leaders debate, about how low down the political agenda the natural world is.  The trouble is that most decisions seem to be so short sighted. Take fracking for example. It's a quick fix to securing energy for a good few years, but what are the long term implications; would we still choose fracking if we were to #Think500YearsAhead. Maybe we would still have to due to all the short sighted decisions that have gone before.

My fear is that if we come out of the EU, the political priorities will all be about quick, short sighted wins. And where does that leave nature directives..........right at the back of the queue.  Take our bees for example. Back in July 2015 the UK government decided to suspend the EU ban on pesticides linked to serious harm in bees.  Bees are essential pollinators. One out of every three bites of food we eat is made possible by a pollinator; so why even consider using a neonicotinoid pesticide linked to serious harm in bees. Fortunately this year the temporary lifting of the ban was not granted, but who knows what will happen in the future.

The risks faced by our wildlife are growing every day, and the days are growing closer to the all important referendum. Our wildlife is under real pressure from building development and infrastructure, intensive farming and agriculture, also not to mention fisheries. This is not a problem the UK faces alone or in isolation. Migratory birds, insects and marine wildlife all cross borders; as does pollution. We need to tackle this together, as part of an agreed plan.  The risks are ever increasing and there is real urgency for international action.

All the trade and finance we seem to strive for amounts to nothing if we don't have the basic as a priority; a healthy planet.  We can only achieve a healthy planet by working together across the borders. But we are leaving it way to late to make the big, often hard decisions, needed to put things right.

I believe that climate change will be one of the biggest challenges faced by my generation. Climate change cannot be tackled as an individual; it needs joint plans, agreed action and a desire to do the right thing across all the borders.

In or out though, one thing is for certain, we all need to step up a gear in protecting our natural inheritance. We all need to #Think500YearsAhead.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Unofficial Hen Harrier Day Register

Hen Harrier Day 2016 is fast approaching. Events are taking place all across the country again this year as more and more people become aware of the plight of our Hen Harriers. 

Sometimes a number doesn't really mean anything, but when you can see a solid list of people that want to make a difference, I think that then you really start to see the growing strength and power for change that we can make.

To demonstrate the number of growing supporters, I am building an unofficial list/register of all the people and organisations that are proud to show their support.

So here begins a list of all the people supporting this year's Hen Harrier Day events. Tweet me, message me, email me ( or add a comment if you are supporting this years's events, and I will add your name or Twitter ID to the list below:


@WildeAboutBirds @HenryHenHarrier @HarleyWilde @BlanaidDenman @RaptorPersScot @natalieben @MarkAvery @birdman1066 @lorrybus @ev1e_miller @abby_millerx @raptorwatcher @Peak_HHDay @HHDaySouth @HHDayHighlands @DaveyManMcG @jazzy_jeff44 @KidsNorthWest @RuthTingay Nigel Wilde, Rosemary @ChrisGPackham  @vivthesetter @csdriver @craiglee86 @knitspincake @NatureBoyJack11 @ruthpeacey @NorfolkBea @RareBirdAlertUK @BlackLabrador10 @MancRockChick @GailtheFragle @WoodlandStrix @CymraesSwil @SaveOurSparrows @YoloBirder @McKenzie6593 @LdnPeregrines @exPWCO @Jon_T_R Iolo Williams @WildChild_Sco @GeorgiaLocock @Nature_Scotland @josiethebirder @Alison_H61  @Keelby_Wildlife @SRJennings25 @Portland_Nature @johndmccormick @CommonbyNature @carolinelufc  @Tonydotlufc Margaret Green @_robsheldon  @phhoward1 @marymaryslack @chocciechoccie @ecotricity @GreenBritCentre @ElecHighway @HelenTaylor_eco @Rosskites Margaret Adamson @tiffins11 @FaBPeregrines @HHDayLondon  @ASPaton @ginachron @ShepherdWells @ShefEnvironment @DouglasMcf1 @RSPB_Skydancer @CourtneyHickey2 @shaunkhickey @DerbysMossfool @Dovey1974 and family (Gill, Alice & Edward) @arborist2222 @charliemoores @PhilWWalton @birdersagainst @naturalistdara @nirsg @Greens4Animals @lumber_darren and Frances @gmarsh47 @zoe19920 @djd21 @fred_fearn @RoisinMcanulty @peterjohnhowe @heyjooode @AshleyWatts3 @sorriega @FrostyBirding @gingko74 @DerbysWildlife @angeenviro @kaitehelps @JoSmithDWT  @WildHils, @shepster55 @Birdwingeu @ellisethanfox @ellisethan @John_Ranson @FrankHeron2 @missmagpirate @aquasulis1998 @notsotweets @akazeeox @theworkeruk @TwitchardThe3rd @petersketch @KimLilyKC and Kellie, Hugh Stewart @MaxHellicar1 @RSPBRainham @JulianThomas19 @LouHargreaves32 @FrodshamBirder @AlanTwitch @biggesttwitch Peter & Isobelle @inthestoop @SunshineOnLeaf @Kitty_B_Good @3birmans @Alanehitch 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Is This The Year We Say Goodbye?

"The Hen Harrier goes extinct as a breeding birding in England."

Imagine waking up to that headline. How would that make you feel? Would you feel angry? Would you feel a sense of loss? Would you feel guilty that you didn't try and do more to save them?  I would feel all those things, but I would also feel cheated; cheated that one more species from my natural inheritance has been allowed to disappear.

And do you know what, I think that this year will be the one where we wake up to that headline.  RSPB's Martin Harper today published a blog giving an update on this year's breeding season, and it does not make good reading.  According to Martin's blog there have been "only a tiny handful of nesting attempts to date" and no confirmation of any successful breeding pairs in England.  The weather and low vole numbers would not have had the serious impact they are having if we had a healthy number of hen harriers to start with.

I find the hen harrier situation one of the most frustrating conservation challenges. The breeding habitat is there, but the on-going persecution of raptors by a small minority has brought us to this point. There are some people that think they are above the law and the evidence is clear to see; shot, poisoned and trapped raptors across the uplands.

I have written before about the first time I ever saw a hen harrier. It was a stunning male in North Wales. It was a misty morning high up in the moors. My eyes were adjusting to the grey scale colours when this ghostly bird soared effortlessly out through mist and I swear our eyes met for a moment. As quickly as it appeared, it blended back into the moorland; and from that moment I was hooked.  

Why should moments like that be taken away from us? Why should someone else, with their finger on a trigger, decide whether or not we get to see sky dancers soaring over the moors.

So are you angry? Have you had enough? Well then you need to do something. You need to stand up and say that you are not prepared to let such an iconic bird go extinct in our lifetime.

It is now 2 years since I made Harry to raise awareness about the plight of the hen harrier, but sadly I am watching the situation go from bad to worse, despite all the efforts of so many dedicated people. But you can't give up, you have to talk more and more about what is happening. You have to all pull together and speak up together.  

So please, please tell everyone you know about the plight of the hen harrier and come together at one of the forthcoming Hen Harrier Days taking place across the country. Talk to the people you know there and more importantly talk to the people you don't know. Find out as much information as you can and decide how you want to help going forwards.  I have learnt so much more about hen harriers and raptor persecution over the last 2 years. 

I will be at RSPB Rainham on Saturday 6th August and I will be giving a talk at the Peak District event on 7th August.

Don't be one of the people that thinks "I wish I'd done more".

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Operation Spoonbill

Annoyingly my teeth have been on a real go slow on coming out, so yesterday I had a minor operation to remove the remaining 5 of them. This inhibited me from taking part in any activity with a lot of action and movement needed, so sadly I could not go ringing today.

Instead I decided to go and do a bit of birding with my dad on the Wirral. We started at Leasowe overlooking the estuary, however the tide was miles out, which sadly meant the wading birds we were in search of were right out on the tide line, so way to far even for the scope. However we did get a nice close flyby of 2 Common Tern, which then started to fish in a small inlet close by.

That was all the action we got at Leasowe and as the tide would be the same all along the Wirral coast, we decided to drop in to RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands.

When we arrived at the visitor center, we were greeted by good friend Dan Trottman who I have volunteered with at the Skydancer on the Dee events. It was great to have a catch up with him.

In the last couple of weeks there have been up to 4 Spoonbills located around the reserve, however they have been quite mobile and some days they have been all the way over at Burton Marsh.

Thankfully we manged to locate them resting up in a pine tree with Little Egrets; sometimes doing the odd circuit of the wood before settling back in the trees again. We managed to get great views of 3 of the birds. So did the Grey Heron just below them!

A lifer for me and my dad! And a rare bird in the North West. Whilst watching these magnificent waders, the air was filled with the song of Cettis Warbler, however sadly they didn't show, but nevertheless a great birding experience. 

As it was approaching time to leave this brilliant RSPB reserve, another bird made an appearance to finish off a superb day. When we arrived at the car park, literally right above our vehicle, there was a Spotted Flycatcher. The first I'd seen this year and a great bird to end the day.

Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Good Question 30 - You Cannot Be Serious!

It's quiz night Tuesday!

Tonight's challenge combines birds and one of my favourite sports, tennis.  So what you need to do is try and link a tennis player's name to a bird in some way. Here are a few examples to get you thinking:

Billie Jean King Eider (Billie Jean King)
Boris Wood Pecker (Boris Becker)

So over to you. I will pick the four best ones tomorrow night and put them on a twitter poll to select the winner.