Tuesday, 24 November 2015

North West Bird Watching Festival 2015

 During the weekend, the annual North West Bird Watching Festival took place at WWT Martin Mere, where myself and Elliot Montieth were volunteering for the BTO. We were volunteering for both days, and our mission, if you like, was to hand out young membership leaflets/cards to the younger generation (under 18s), who had come for the event and had an interest in wildlife.

Our job was to engage with these young people, and make them aware of the BTO Young Membership Scheme, and if we could, actually get them to become members, as the BTO are trying to get more and more of the younger audience involved with their organisation. 

The idea of us walking around the reserve engaging with these young people is great, because firstly it is young people engaging with young people, so the young people we're trying to engage with, are more likely to listen more to us. But being young, we are also a great example of the opportunities  you can get being part of the BTO.

The person in charge of us was Kelvin Jones from BTO Cymru. It was great to meet up with him again, after being such an inspirational man in the past few years.  He has generated so many opportunities for me over the last few years that it was my absolute pleasure to be volunteering with him for the BTO. Kelvin looked after the stand whilst Elliot and I were out engaging with the young people.

On the Saturday the event seemed to have a lot less people than previous years, so this made the job of engaging with young people a bit harder, however despite this we still got to have good chats with quite a few people.  Sunday was much busier though and there seemed to be a few more families about which was great to see.

It was interesting to see that of the young people we spoke to, at least half of the them hadn't actually come to WWT Martin Mere for the Bird Festival, there had just been coming for a day out anyway. Many hadn't heard of the BTO but they were interested in what the BTO is doing once we got taking to them. A couple of the parents we spoke to were already BTO members though which was great to see.  All the children we spoke to had a really positive response to what me and Elliot had to say, and seemed to walk away quite interested, however we shall only tell if our work pays off, when we see how many more young memberships we get during the next couple of weeks.

Now because we were walking around the reserve, I did of course manage to fit in a bit of birding and got fantastic views of a White Fronted Goose, and of course the usual Pink Footed Geese and Whooper Swans. There were lots of young people in the hides as well, so as well as giving them a young membership card, I also showed them some birds through the scope, which I hope boosted their interests even more.

Of course you can't beat a full English on a freezing cold day, working hard, and having a great time. It also gave me chance for a good catch up with Mark Avery who was also in there waiting to give his talk later in the day.

On the Saturday we stayed to about 4pm, and at the end of the day we went over to the Harrier Hide to watch the murmuration of Starlings that has been happening over the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately we didn't get the best views of them coming into roost however a couple of other birds did gave us some great displays including an adult female and a juvenile Marsh Harrier, which are always a delight to see, especially when they put on spectacular displays, and quite close in.  Sadly the Harrier Hide got vandalised that evening after everyone had left for the day. I just don't understand why anyone would even think of doing something like that.

Over the two days, we managed to engage with 23 young people, Saturday having 12 engagements and Sunday 11. It was very good to see the amount of children at the reserve, a great sign for the future I hope.

During the course of the weekend I also got chance to meet up with some fantastic conservationists, birders and friends including: Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery, Kelvin Jones, Charlie Moores, Phil & Rebecca Walton, Ron Thomas, Rob Lambert, Lucy McRobert, Phil Gatley, Adele Montieth (Elliot's mum), Iolo Williams, Stuart Pike, Kane Brides, Dave & Grace McGrath, Don Weedon, Hugh Pulsford, Micheal Miles and of course Henry Hen Harrier.

Over the weekend there were also lots of great talks on, however my time was limited to be able to see any, but I did manage to fit one in. It was Iolo Williams talking about "Wonderful Welsh Wildlife". It was a great talk and one that I could relate to because of all the time I spend in North Wales.

 On the Sunday we didn't stay as late, however we still fitted in lots of bird sightings including 50 plus Ruff and a Mediterranean Gull, all of which showed nicely.

The most important thing during the weekend though was the engaging with young people, which I really enjoyed. I can't wait to see the results over the next couple of weeks on how many new young memberships come through. Of course I must say a massive thank you to Kelvin for giving me such a brilliant weekend volunteering for the BTO.

 A fantastic Bird Watching Festival and I can't wait for the next one at WWT Martin Mere in 2016.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Wirral Wader Festival

Yesterday I was volunteering at Red Rocks on the Wirral overlooking the mouth of the Dee Estuary with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust as part of Wader Quest.  There were a number of different events happening all over the Wirral as part of Wader Quest.

My role in volunteering was to engage with the public; finding out how far they had traveled for the Wader Quest event and if they had come because of the event, but the best bit of the role was engaging with the people who aren't so knowledgeable and pointing out how important the Dee Estuary is for birds, especially waders.

The man in charge of me was Kevin Feaney, who I know through ringing.  He works for the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and invited me along to help out, so I have to say a big thank you to him. It was quite a high tide yesterday, and the wind pushing in made it even higher; it wont surprise you that we all got totally drenched!

Kev and I had arrived early, so before we started to set the gazebo up,  he decided to give me a tour of the reserve at Red Rocks.  It was really interesting to see how it came about and the work the wildlife trusts has been doing, as well as the history of the site. I also got to meet the reserve manager who was really interesting to talk to. We spoke about how he is going to manage the site in the future, and about the successful work he and the Wildlife Trust have done for species like natterjack toads. It was also great to see Elliot Montieth again.

Because of the terrible weather,  not too many people turned up; however the few of us that were volunteering were rewarded with some great birding, including over 100 Brent Geese, a Long Tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Common Scoter and a fantastic murmaration of thousands of wading birds including Knot and Dunlin. I was hoping for a blown in Leach's Petrel, however the winds weren't strong enough on this occasion.

Wind, waves and waders.

A brilliant experience and for those of you who couldn't get there, here is a short video of the wader murmurations:

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Good Question 27 - Whose Foot?

Quiz night Tuesday is back again. 

Tonight's question is about a foot and there are two parts to the question. And by the way you can click on the picture to make it bigger.

So, part one:

What species does this foot belong to?

And, part two:

What is special about this foot?

Good luck. I will post all the answers tomorrow night as I have switched on the comments approval function so no-one gives it away too soon.

And the answer is:

The foot in the picture above belongs to this amazing Nightjar I was lucky enough to see in Portugal this year.

What is special about this foot is the comb you can see on the middle toe.  The Nightjar uses this comb to remove any debris from the whiskers you can see round the beak.  The whiskers are used to funnel food into the mouth and help protect it's eyes. Isn't evolution brilliant!

Well done to Professor David Norman for getting the answer totally right.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Goldfinch Survey - Charming to Eat You!

I don't know about all of you, but a while ago I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more Goldfinch in the garden than I remember ever seeing before. After studying the Goldfinch closely, it was clear that they were mainly feeding on the sunflower heart feeders, and not even touching the nyger seeds or other food offerings in the garden.

So I persuaded my dad to let me get a large 12 port sunflower heart feeder so I could do my own garden Goldfinch study.  The feeder needs to be so big, as it will be the only sunflower heart feeder in the garden during the survey to ensure that I can accurately measure how much the Goldfinch are eating. I want to record the volume of food they are eating and compare this against the numbers of birds visiting, national Goldfinch number trends, temperature, weather conditions etc.

Once the 12 port feed arrived, I weighed out 100g of sunflower hearts and measured how much of the feeder this would fill, which then enabled me to draw a scale onto the feeder in permanent marker, making it easier record how much seed is being eaten every day.

On 22nd September, I started recording the results daily; volume of food eaten, weather, min temperature and max temperature.  I also tried feeding kibbled sunflower hearts as well as whole ones to see if that made any difference.

As I now have just over 6 weeks of data, I thought I would take a first look at the results.  The seed eaten on the chart below is all recorded in grams and the Goldfinch numbers are taken from the weekly results I record for the BTO's Garden Birdwatch Survey.  You can click on the chart to make it bigger and easier to read.

So here are some findings from the first 6 weeks:

1. Volume of food eaten. The Goldfinch have eaten a massive 32.2kg of sunflower hearts in just 6 weeks. So this is going to be quite an expensive survey, unless of course any kind bird food companies out there would like to sponsor the survey.

2. Waste! We all know what messy eaters Goldfinch are. From 22nd September until 3rd October, the feeder was hung in the tree and any waste was allowed to just fall on the floor and was not recorded. Even though I know a lot of seeds fall from the feeder, I was still amazed at just how much waste there was on the floor.

Tray attempt 1
The trays you can get with the feeders to catch the seeds really aren't big enough to catch the waste, and the seeds tend to just bounce off, especially on such a tall feeder.

Tray attempt 2
Next we tried cutting the bottom off a large gorilla bucket, leaving a rim round to stop seeds falling off.  This was attached to the feeder with wire, but it had a few problems, especially with portly Wood Pigeons. Every time they decided to perch on the edge, the rubber would bend and buckle and the seeds would fall out. Most mornings and evenings I would find the bucket tray almost vertical and doing no good at all.

Tray attempt 3
A proper fix needed to be put in place for the survey to work, so in the end I had a stainless steel tray made to catch any dropped seed. The tray has a large enough diameter (compared to the height of the feeder) to catch all the falling seed. It also has a big rim to prevent the fallen seeds blowing away. And of course it has drainage holes.

Any dropped seed can now be weighed at the end of each day and taken off the total of the amount of food gone from the feeder, which since 4th October has given much more accurate results for the volume of seed being eaten.  You can see the immediate impact of the new tray on the graph. On 4th October the volume of seed eaten dropped sharply as the waste could be weighed and taken off the volume of food taken from the feeder.

3. Peak! There was a big peak in Goldfinch numbers the week that started on 11th October. It will be interesting to see if this matches any surges in Goldfinch migration numbers.  I hope the BTO can help me with this.

4. Kibble. Goldfinch prefer a whole sunflower heart, they do not like them broken up. The bars in orange on the graph is when the broken up sunflower kibble was fed.  You can see how steeply the food eaten dropped during the kibble weeks. I am not sure, but does anyone know if the very core of a sunflower heat is more nutritious that the other part? The finches do seem to roll the seed round in their beaks, almost peeling off some of the seed.

5. Temperature. Because it has been so mild and relatively dry (apart from the last week or so) there are no clear trends showing up yet in relation to the weather, so hopefully, I will be able to report more on this in my next update.

6. Other birds. Of course this feeder is not exclusively used by the Goldfinch, but they are the main birds feeding on it and the other garden bird numbers are quite consistent, so they don't really impact the results too significantly.

7. 12 Ports. As there are just 12 ports, there is a limit to how many birds can feed at once, although the tray has allowed for more birds to feed on the fallen seeds. So I wonder if the volume of food eaten will reach a set level even if more and more Goldfinch come to feed once it starts getting colder. We will have to see.

8. Sprawk! Our Sparrowhawk has been a more frequent visitor as the Goldfinch numbers have gone up. They certainly are noisy visitors and I wonder if that is something that is attracting the attention of the Sparrowhawk. Again, I will see how this trend continues.  I also have another blog coming soon on my observations of the Sprawk's behaviour in the garden.

9. Hygiene. Finches are quite susceptible to diseases like trichomonosis, so I ensure that the feeder is cleaned and disinfected weekly to avoid any disease being spread from the feeder.

This post was just a quick introduction to the survey I am doing.  At the time of writing, our Goldfinch numbers have dropped off a little, but there is a lot more information to be collected over Winter. I will post the next set of results once we see a change in temperature.

If you are interested in tracking the Goldfinch numbers in your garden, the BTO are also doing a survey that you can take part in. You can find out more by clicking here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Marsh Awards for Ornithology 2015

Recently, I received a letter in the post from the BTO, inviting me to an awards evening in London at the Mall Galleries. The awards evening was last week, on Wednesday night, and as it was half term, it fitted in perfectly, meaning I didn't have to miss any time off school. This was my third time in London, (all conservation related), and it was great to be with the BTO on this occasion.

The journey down on the train passes through quite a few wetland areas. I really need to get to that wetland area just before the train passes through Stafford Station. I say that every time! A stunning Red Kite was the highlight of the train journey.  Once in London, we had time for a quick wander round Trafalgar Square, which was all set up for the Rugby World Cup.

When we arrived at the Mall Galleries, I got to see Andy Clements pretty much straight away. It was great to catch up. We were then shown into the gallery by Ieuan Evans and shortly after that I bumped into Ellis Lucas, (a brilliant young birder) and had a good look round all the art with him. The Natural Eye 2015 Exhibition was taking place at the Mall Galleries, and it was great to be surrounded by so many wildlife related pieces of art work.

It was such an fantastic venue. And what's more the venue was filled with some really inspiring people.  Harriet Mead, President of of SWLA (and the artist who created the Lapwing above)  introduced the awards. Mike McCarthy from The Independent was next on stage to present the first award of the night, the Dilys Breese Award Medal, which was won Ben Hoare, Features Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine. You can find out more about Dilys Breese and the history of the award by clicking here.

Next up was the presentation for the 5 Marsh Awards sponsored by the BTO. The awards were presented by Peter Titley, Ambassador for The Marsh Christian Trust, and Andy Clements, Chief Executive of the BTO.

The awards presented were as follows:

Marsh Award for Ornithology - Dr Stuart Butchart (Head of Science, Birdlife International)

Marsh Award for Local Ornithology - Malcolm Burgess & Piedfly.net

Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology - Mark Constantine & The Sound Approach

Marsh Award for International Ornithology - Professor Franz Bairlein
(Director of Institute of Avian Research, Wilhelmshaven)

Marsh Award for Young Ornithologist - Findlay Wilde (me)

After the formal presentations were done, there was plenty of time to chat to people, which I always enjoy. I got to speak to all the other award winners, some of the artists, lots of great people from the BTO and many of the other invited guests.

Speaking to the other winners made me realise just how much can be achieved for wildlife and the environment with the right mix of knowledge, effort and determination.

I must say a massive thank you to the BTO and the Marsh Christian Trust. It was a very special evening, and one I will remember for a long time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

13 Years Wilde - A Thank You

I must say a massive thank you to the following people for the time and effort they put in to writing their honest, emotional, funny and heartfelt guest blogs on what their relationships with nature were like when they were 13:

If' you've not read them all, I would strongly recommend that you do. They are brilliant. 

There were a lot of themes that came out of this guest blog series and I have written a blog about all these themes. It is appearing as a guest blog for Mark Avery today, and you can read it here

It has been an amazing series of blogs and thank you again to all those involved.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Parkgate - Speaking up for Hen Harriers

Last month was the first "Skydancer on the Dee" event of the Autumn/Winter. It is an RSPB project where we set up a stand/marquee at Parkgate (on the Wirral), looking out over the marshes of the Dee Estuary, and talk to people about the serious issues facing Hen Harriers; raising awareness about their illegal persecution. 

Now the main reason we have the event at Parkgate is because Hen Harriers annually winter on the estuary and are seen regularly from Parkgate promenade. So it's a great place for the public to see them, and it is a safe place for the Hen Harriers, as that area of the marsh is managed by the RSPB.

Marsh Harrier

So yesterday was the second event of this season, and I was delighted to be there supporting RSPB Burton Mere's Dan Trotman, who does most of the Skydancer on the Dee work. I was volunteering along with Elliot Montieth; a young birder from the Wirral and a really amazing photographer.  Although I have spoken to him a lot on Twitter, it was the first time I'd met him. We had so much to talk about.

I also got a surprise visit from Bill Morton, THE birder on Frodsham Marsh. It was great to meet up with him and Sparky.  It was also great to catch up with Phil Gatley who volunteers at RSPB Conwy and has a head full of great knowledge.  It was also good to catch up with Gail and her son and seeing them at Hen Harrier Day earlier this year.  It was great showing her son all the birds of the marsh through the scopes.

The weather was actually nice for once, however it did make it quite hazy over the marshland which meant spotting birds was quite difficult.  Unfortunately there hadn't been a Hen Harrier spotted for a while on the Dee, which is a bit concerning, but I heard from Alan Davies that they spotted one at the same place today.

As it was a nice day, there were lots of people walking along the promenade, and it was good to see a lot of people taking interest in our stand and the work being done. I was encouraged by lots of  positive engagements, and a couple of new members for the RSPB.

The birding highlights of the day were 3 Marsh Harriers, 7 Greenshank and a Great White Egret. But just looking out over that salt marsh as the sun starts to set is an experience not to be missed.

By the way, if anybody decides to visit Parkgate, the chippy has been refurbished and a batch of chips is all you need after a good days birding/volunteering!

A great event and I can't wait for the next one in a few weeks time.

Wild Bird Wednesday