Sunday, 16 November 2014

Wishing You A Harry Christmas

By the time you read this there will probably be just over a month left until Christmas. That’s not long. And it might not be long until Hen Harriers are extinct in England. So if you are thinking about Christmas shopping, you might think about one of these special Hen Harrier Christmas cards.

Now you might be wondering what a 6ft model Hen Harrier is doing on a Christmas card. Well I think Christmas is a time for hope and I have a lot of hope for our Hen Harriers and feel that a change is definitely in the air.

By having this card sent out far and wide, it increases public awareness towards the illegal persecution. Many people don’t even know what is happening and they are the people I want to reach and make aware of how bad the situation actually is.

The cards are left blank inside so you can write your very own Hen Harrier message when you send the card to a friend, family, MPs or land owners.

The money raised from the Christmas cards is going to RSPB Skydancers. The cards are £1.00 each and £0.50 postage (postage is 50p in total if you buy 1 or 100 cards, I hope you buy 100). If you would like some cards, you can pay by my Just Giving page (and then let me know you have done that) or you can buy them from Ebay.

So thank you for reading. Keep trying, keep hoping and keep talking to everyone you know (and even people you don’t know) about our wonderful Sky Dancers. And most importantly don’t lose heart and don’t let the fight for our birds and wildlife start to fade and drift away.

How Far Did Harry Reach

If you receive a Harry card it would be great of you could comment below and say that you received one and the town you live in. I can then update the Harry sightings maps and see how far the message has spread.

If you are on twitter, please tweet me @WildeAboutBirds a selfie with the card and use #HarrySelfie to keep Hen Harriers in everyone's minds over Christmas.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Good Question 22 - BTO Garden Birdwatch

It's Tuesday Night Quiz Night

At the weekend I was looking through my BTO Garden Birdwatch species list (which totals 33 species of bird). You can find out more about the BTO Garden Birdwatch here.

I have been doing the BTO Garden Birdwatch for over 2 years now and there are just 3 species that have appeared in every survey I have done.

So the question is, which 3 species have appeared in all my Garden Birdwatch Surveys.

And while you are thinking, I will leave you with a picture of a bird that hasn't made any of the official counts, but who was in the garden for quite a long time. #SaveOurHenHarriers.

I will post the answer tomorrow night. Good luck.The prize for this week's winner is a packet of "Wishing you a Harry Christmas" Christmas cards which will be ready very soon.

And the answer is:

Blue Tit
Great Tit

And the winner is Nick Moran who got the answer right on twitter. I will send you the cards as soon as they are ready.

Thank you to everyone who took part. The answer took me a bit by surprise when I was looking through my Garden Birdwatch surveys. I was sure House Sparrows would be in there.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hen Harriers on Autumnwatch Extra

Sky Dancers on the Dee

Recently I've been doing lots of work to promote awareness about the illegal persecution of birds of prey, particularly Hen Harriers. I was lucky enough to have the chance last Sunday to volunteer with the RSPB at Parkgate on the Dee Estuary. This gave me the opportunity to talk to everyday people about how our Hen Harriers are in danger. The RSPB are doing monthly Sky Dancers on the Dee events at Parkgate, so try and get to one if you can.

 I spent the afternoon with  Dan Trotman (who works at RSPB Burton Mere) and Sheila (an RSPB volunteer). Dan is really enthusiastic about saving Hen Harriers and raising awareness and it was great to help him.  Each one of these events is the last Sunday of the month throughout the Winter (I'm hoping to attend all of them).

The whole point of these events is to get the public aware of what is actually happening out in the field and how they can report it, because persecution of raptors is illegal. Everything from suspicious behaviour to physical harm should be reported. 

In the end it was a brilliant day having at least 15 good proper engaging chats to people about Hen Harrier persecution. We even got a very brief glimpse of a Hen Harrier out over the marsh. I just hope that the long term effects of what we did help to change people's attitudes towards our wildlife.

Dusk on the Dee Estuary

Harry's Flight to BBC Autumnwatch

Following on from raising awareness for Hen Harriers at Parkgate, a few day later, after a 2 and a half hour journey (and hiring an Enterprise sprinter van just for Harry) we finally arrived at RSPB Leighten Moss so I could be interviewed for Autumnwatch Extra. My interview for Autumnwatch fits nicely in this blog because I was talking about being a young naturalist and more importantly about raising awareness about our of Hen Harriers.

So the day really started off a bit let's say chaotic, as firstly we had to find somewhere to park the huge sprinter van, thank goodness for a very understanding car park attendant! We found our contact from Autumnwatch and then I got introduced to Brett Westwood who would be interviewing me later. After getting Harry out of the van and set on his roosting perch, we got a bit of time to relax and have a wander around the spectacular (it really was an amazing) reserve; getting fantastic views of a female Marsh Harrier drifting over the reeds, memories you just can't forget.

Harry doing what he does best, engaging people

This day was just getting better and better, as after a drink or two I got to do some proper recorded filming with Brett, which was great because I got to talk about Hen Harriers and the project of creating Harry. I also had a great chat with Brett Westwood about all sorts of wildlife stuff, he is a really, really great person.

Talking about Hen Harriers with Brett

After the filming me and my dad went for a proper walk along the causeway trying to find the Bearded Tits, however as it was  mid afternoon our chances were quite slim, as they are normally out feeding in the morning. We only had a limited amount of time before I was live on air so we used the time wisely and did get a fleeting glimpse of a Water Rail.

So after another good walk around the reserve, we headed off towards Lilian's hide where Autumnwatch Extra was taking place and where I was going to be interviewed. We arrived a good ten minutes earlier before I was going to speak so I could think about what I was going to say (which is quite important as I didn't want it to go wrong live)! When Brett arrived I sat with him for a bit watching the Starlings coming into roost before it was time for me to go on air.

I walked into the production room a little anxiously before I sat down and the interview began, at first I was a little nervous however the words soon started to flow. It was so important to me to get things right and come across well for the sake of Hen Harrier awareness.

Brett was asking me questions about me as a naturalist, what  is happening to Hen Harriers and about a world without them. Brett also showed me some of the footage of the highlights of the day so I also commented on those images a bit as well. On my way out Iolo Williams was waiting to go on,; he made a really nice comment about what he had heard me saying. I'd love to go birding in Wales with him (just in case you read this Iolo).

It was also really nice to get in a chat with Chris Packham again who is always really inspiring and of  course very supportive and enthusiastic towards the next generation of conservationists.

I did also stay for Unsprung which was nice as I got chance to meet Nick Baker and had another chat with Iolo Williams. I had nothing to do with the power going off on Autumnwatch that night by the way!!!

Once again Harry was the real star of the show and a great talking point. It was great to see and talk to so many young people on the reserve, especially the lovely and friendly family I also met at bird fair last year.

With Jack and Lucy

I want to finish this post by asking you all to do something;  imagine a world without Hen Harriers, what would you miss?

The wondrous dives and angles the sky dancer shows us, effortlessly drifting ghost like over reeds or moorland. A serene master of the skies, showing us a glimpse of how beautiful nature can be.  

What right do we have to take this away. I think having a natural treasure like our Hen Harriers on the edge of extinction in England sadly tells us a lot about the attitude of too many people today.


I want to say a massive thank you to the BBC Autumnwatch team, RSPB Burton Mere and RSPB Leighton Moss for the opportunity to talk to so many people about Hen Harriers.

You can watch my Autumnwatch interview on the link below. The Hen Harrier part starts from about 2 hours and 6 minutes and 30 seconds in.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Yellow Browed Warbler - here to stay?

Once again it was great to be back out ringing on Saturday.  The session started off slow (we expected more as the conditions were ideal), catching a couple of finches, tits and thrushes. With spare moments when we weren't catching birds we sat with a cup of coffee and a biscuit (or two) watching the huge flocks of Pink Foots drifting over- what a fantastic noise and commotion.

The Redwing numbers had died down massively considering the passage last week when we caught and ringed 30. In fact this week we barely heard any Redwing passing over never mind a flock and we only ringed three.

When we went on our third net round check, in one of our single 12 metre nets we noticed a warbler pocketed in the 3rd panel. We approached the solitary bird thinking it was a Goldcrest. We then noticed two distinct wing bars across each wing suggesting something different.. was in fact a Yellow Browed Warbler!

This Autumn has brought many things, the change in season, outstanding scenery, incredible fungi and some fabulous birds. Yellow Browed Warblers are one of those special birds and have become more and more frequent visitors to the UK.

In around the 1970's Yellow Browed Warbler occurred in Britain in very limited numbers; however in the last several years this species has flooded into the country distributing everywhere across the UK including the site we were ringing at yesterday. This could be  largely to do with the fact that our  Winters are warmer and they could be being using it as a wintering ground, this may be linked with climate change. Birds ringed across the UK and further afield will further help us understand their movements and populations.

We collected the biometrics from the bird with the bird weighing 6.4 grams, not much bigger or heavier than a Goldcrest (Goldcrests on average weighing just over 5g). This bird will stick in my memory for a long time and it was fascinating to be able to see it up close and study it,  a great reward for all the effort we put into ringing and the management of our ringing sites.

This Yellow Browed Warblers now adds to some great results this year including Spotted Flycatchers, Firecrest, Cetti's Warblers and Siberian Chiffchaff.  

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, here is my bit: