Monday, 25 May 2015

RAS Update

I thought I would update you on what has been happening on our RAS project on Blackcaps.
This is our third year monitoring Blackcaps and this year we started slightly earlier than the previous year. We made this decision based on experience from the previous years and the timings of birds arriving back to established territories in the woodland.

On our first session of the RAS this year, on the 18th April (see here) we caught and ringed 18 Blackcaps, a 50/50 split of males and females, which was a brilliant start. However, we soon found out that these birds were likely to be just passing through the area and on to other destinations, as we re-trapped one of the eighteen at another destination a reasonable distance away.

This means that we have discounted those 18 as part of the RAS numbers for the moment.  But if we should re-trap any of those in our designated RAS site we will include them in our RAS totals.

So where are we up to now? Following on from the first session we have been as active as we can in attempting to catch breeding pairs of Blackcaps; juggling school, work and the poor weather we have been having (it just seems to be windy all the time).

 We are on 47 new encounters this year, (excluding the 18 from the first session); this includes 2 re-traps from 2013, 6 re-traps from 2014 and 1 re-trap from another site.  These are our best numbers since we started, but we would of course like to have further re-traps.

It will be interesting to see what the final numbers are for this year's RAS.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Dear Mr Cameron

Below is the letter I am emailing to Mr Cameron every day.


Dear Mr Cameron

Congratulations on being the Prime Minister again. I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but if I had been old enough, I wouldn't have voted for you.  You never convinced me that you care enough about what really matters.

You see, the thing is, I understand how important the natural world is to everyone, and how everything we touch comes from nature in some form. I made a video for you to see before the election, but I don't think you would have watched it.

You might have time now though, just 5 minutes is all that I am asking. Things have to change for me and for your children and for all the people who care and for all the people who still don't even accept that there is a problem.

The bigger issues of pollution and climate change need to be addressed. These are things you should be shouting out loud about and asking for help with, but this hardly got a mention from you in the run up to the election.  There is nothing wrong with saying "I need help with this". Speak to the experts, talk to the people with answers.  Put it at the top of your pile of things to do. Please.

There are species at risk of going extinct right on our doorstep, species that don’t need to go extinct. Did you vote in the National Bird Vote? Did you know that our amazing hen harriers are now so persecuted that we may not have any breeding pairs this year? I voted hen harrier. I took a stand to say that what is happening is wrong.

Come and take a walk with me and see the world through my eyes. Come and talk about what matters even though most people take for granted all the things that really do matter.

The natural world is my inheritance, so please make sure that there is something left to leave for my generation.

This is the link to the video I made for you and the other party leaders. I hope you have time to watch it. 

From Findlay Wilde

Monday, 11 May 2015

2015 Heronry Census

This year I have been able to take part in 2 different heronry counts which form part of the BTO Heronry Census, which first started in 1928.

During mid April I was out with Professor David Norman counting one of the local heronies  for the second year running.  The numbers were down again this year to only 60 nests (with last year's count being around 70).  At it's peak, this particular heronry held over 150 nests.

In this picture above you can see a dead heron chick dangling in the tree below the nest - its sad but can happen as they are vulnerable to falling out.

Once they fledge, heron chicks can disperse miles away from there original site, in fact they have been proven to end up in other european countries. Its possible and likely that the herons from this site are moving to other heronries, which is why the numbers keep decreasing.  It will be interesting to see how other heronry numbers are doing this year. We finished up the count by reporting all the information back to the land owner, who also thought from his own observations when he has been working the land that there weren't as many herons about.

This year I've also managed to count at my local heronry, just a short distance from home.  I have been watching this herony from across the river for a good few years, so I was thrilled to be able to take part in the actual count here this year.

My initial thought of viewing the herons from the opposite side of the river looked to be about fifteen nests, however, when we crossed the river and got into the wood, we realised that the heron nests extended quite alot deeper, and seemed to be in deciduous trees, rather than the evergreen species, which was interesting.

The official who was taking us on the count, wanted us to count the active nests first, to see what our results were compared to his, as he had already previously counted them. In order to count them, we thought of the nests to be in three different groups along the stretch of woodland and ended up with a count of 31 active nests (which is more than double of what I originally thought, viewing from the other side of the river). 

Looking at the records from previous years this heronry seems to be relatively stable, with a peak of 35 nests, and the lowest count being 26, so not bad. After further discussion with the official counter about one inconclusive nest, we all settled on a count of 30 nests.

It was great to be able to count our heronries again and I can't wait until next year.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Hen Harrier at Beacon Fell?

Last weekend was the time when Harry (my Hen Harrier), left his Winter roost at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands to spend the summer up at Beacon Fell. But before I talk about his migration, I have to thank Dan Trotman and all the staff at RSBP Burton Mere for their fantastic co-operation and of course kindness in having Harry for the Winter.

Whilst at Burton Mere, Harry created lots of awareness for hen harriers. He gave people a reason to talk about hen harriers and how some of his species like Sky and Hope have been persecuted. Thanks to Harry, even more people are now aware of this illegal crime. 

Every week I had been getting selfies of families and birdwatchers with Harry the Hen Harrier on Twitter. And it has just been brilliant for spreading the message of raptor persecution, particularly hen harriers. I think he will be missed at Burton Mere, but it is time to head to the Summer breeding grounds.

Now linked in with Harry moving for the summer, actual hen harriers have been on the move and most of them have arrived at their vunerable breeding grounds. I saw my last Winter roosting harriers on my last session of RSPB volunteering on the Dee Estuary at Parkgate.

Before Harry's migration to Beacon Fell me and my dad gave him a bit of a make-over so he looked good for those ring-tails! A really big thank you to our local farmer Royston who let us use one of his barns to do the work in.

The drive up to Beacon Fell was horrendous as it poured down during the whole journey; however we did manage to spot some roe deer, a brown hare, nesting lapwing and a curlew.

We arrived just before opening time, so it was time to get Harry set up and ready to introduce to the Beacon Fell team.

Sky dance practice in the van!

We were meeting up with a guy called Nick Haigh who looks after Beacon Fell.  It was great to talk to him and to have a look at all the brilliant educational stuff they have going on there.

We got Harry set up in amongst all the education boards at the visitor centre just in time, as over the next few months there will be daily visits from large school groups who will learn all about the importance of protecting out raptors. So hopefully there will be a future generation to protect the hen harriers and other persecuted wildlife.

Beacon Fell are doing brilliant work for the hen harrier in raising awareness, particularly aimed at children, they even have a junior volunteering group from five to thirteen year olds who are doing hands on stuff out in the field. Beacon Fell is a perfect Summer home for Harry, and I hope he will have a great Summer raising awareness. Hopefully I will have more Harry selfies popping up on Twitter very soon.

Addition: Sadly, as I post this blog, another 3 of our hen harriers have gone missing from the area around Harry's new home and we have a government re-elected who do not have wildlife high on their list of priorities. This worries me so much. 

It's time to work even harder, even longer, even louder and give wildlife the voice it needs.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Dear Party Leaders, It's Time To Fix Things

With just days to go until the election, please take just a few minutes to watch and listen.

Please fix things.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

When Henry Came to Stay!

This week I got a visit from Henry. For those of you who don’t know who Henry is, he is a male Hen Harrier who is on a mission to find a mate, and he is currently touring the country in his quest. He arrived on Sunday and soon settled in to life in the Wilde household.

Since he was up north with me we decided to visit some hot spots on the lookout for a nice ringtail and to show him some well known areas of the Northwest.

Our first stop was Granada Studios in Manchester, where Henry really wanted to visit Coronation Street and have a look in the Rovers Return.  I’m not too sure who he was hoping to find there, but we took him along to cheer him up. 

Before he could visit the Rovers, he had to go round the full tour of the Coronation Street set. The tour guides were not overly happy about having a huge male Hen Harrier on the tour and Henry did suffer a little bit of persecution which stopped him from dancing for a while.  

This did deeply upset Henry, but he is a very determined Hen Harrier and when their backs were turned, well he got up to a bit of mischief! He liked the look of the sign on Roy’s cafe and tried to get a snack, but it was all locked up so Henry moved on. 

So we tried our luck at the Rovers, but it was locked as well, so no hot pot for Henry today either. 

So instead, Henry just got a paper and some bah humbugs from the Kabin.

But we did manage to do some birding together.  There were a pair of Kestrels mating on the roof of Audrey’s salon, raptors galore on The Street!  Henry met lots of really nice people on the tour and even tried to make friends with the tour guide.

Henry was glad he managed to get a couple of pictures to share with his supporters, however he was quite disappointed with his first part of the tour of the Northwest. Surely Hen Harriers are not unwelcome in some parts of the country are they?

Always trying to be positive, Henry looked on the bright side as he realised his next stop was Parkgate, where he knew that I’d been doing some volunteering for the RSPB Skydancers on the Dee project over the Winter. Henry knew that I’d regularly spotted ringtails here and he was quite excited on the drive over. We shared the humbugs and chatted about where he’s been and all the places he still plans to visit. 

Henry was glad to be welcomed with open arms by everyone he met on Parkgate. He loved meeting all the younger children, and raising awareness about what amazing birds Hen Harriers are.  He also managed to give out some “Have you seen Henry?” badges. 

In between engaging with people, Henry loved gazing out over the marshland and was glad to see that he was on a protected RSPB reserve as it made him feel a bit safer. He had a dance all ready prepared, but sadly there were no ladies to impress.

Of course Henry was pleased that Parkgate went well, however he could barely contain himself, when his next stop was Burton Mere Wetlands, where he could finally get to meet Harry, my male Hen Harrier who has been enjoying his winter roost at Burton Mere.

Henry also met lots of lovely families and many of the staff at RSPB Burton Mere who have looked after Harry so well.

I left Henry to chat to Harry whilst I gave out some badges, which all the smaller children loved. It was also great to catch up with Dan Trotman who is the Development Officer for RSPB Burton Mere, and was also the one who let me to do the volunteering at Parkgate. I managed to listen in on the conversations Harry and Henry were having and of course it was rather interesting.

They started off by talking about female Hen Harriers, girls of course, and if they had found a mate yet, of course the reply was “I've not found one yet and that beautiful Annie has disappeared now as well”. They then moved on to talking about why everyone should vote for the Hen Harriers in the National Bird Vote and how they hoped that more people would understand and be worried about how close they have come to being extinct in England. Of course chat between two male Hen Harriers is very serious and so they then moved on to talking about what dance moves they had planned for this year!!!!

Henry had a brilliant time over here with me, and was glad to finally meet Harry. Henry will carry on his tour around the UK, trying to keep safe and of course trying and find a mate.

The question is, where will Henry turn up next? And, have you seen Henry?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Long Time No See Sylvia atricapilla!

Spring now seems to be well underway although I think it feels a little late. The trees and hedgerows only just seem as though they have sprung to life. 

Today was our first ringing session in 2-3 weeks as it's been the Easter holidays, Peter was away in Portugal and other opportunities for getting out have been cancelled because of the windy weather. Today's ringing session had a difference, because it was our first RAS (Re-trapping Adults for Survival) session of they year, which we kicked off at one of my favorite Blackcap RAS sites.

What's a RAS?  Click here to find out more.

This becomes our third year of doing the Blackcap RAS and will be interesting over the course of the next few months to see which birds we will catch from previous years that may have come back, or new birds to the area, or birds that are just passing through the woods.

This year, we have started the RAS slightly earlier than last, and we have learnt that timings of catching are very important to the numbers of birds caught. The Blackcaps were definitely back and were singing around every corner which meant this morning started off brilliantly, catching a Blackcap in every net round.

In fact there was a lot of bird activity all over the place with lots of birds gathering nesting material. By simply watching patiently, I managed to find a Chiffchaff nest and saw the bird bringing back material. We also found a Robin nest.  Apart from the Blackcaps, birds caught were steady throughout the morning with the usual tit species and it was very nice to catch a re-trap adult Jay and a couple of Treecreepers.

HOWEVER, the last Blackcap we caught during the session was very special. It was first ringed at this site five years ago, however, we hadn't been able to re-trap it since.  In between when it was ringed originally and when we had caught it today poses the question, where had it been all this time? Has it been here all along every year breeding and we haven't caught it, or perhaps it uses this site en-route to another site? Anyway this was very interesting and we will know if it sticks around if we catch it again - we'll see!  It just shows how science often creates more questions that need answering.

 All together we caught 19 Blackcaps, and it was a pretty even percentage of males and females which is a great start to the RAS.