Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Good Question 29 - Can I Have The Bill Please?

Welcome to the first quiz night Tuesday of 2016. Tonight's question is all about bills. So can you identify which birds these bills belong to.  I have switched comment modification on, so none of your answers will appear until I reveal the correct answers. I will post the answers on Thursday, so good luck, and hope you don't lose too many hours working them out.

And the answers are

A massive thank you to all of you that had a go, there were some real tricky ones in there and no-one got 100%.  The answers are now all below.


Tree Sparrow


Fire Crest


Grasshopper Warbler









Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Make a B-Line for Buglife

Believe it or not, there are over 1500 pollinator species in the UK. Species that help to pollinate include moths, honeybees, beetles, bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies and even bats. Pollinators are such a fantastic example of how nature just gets things right, how everything just works in harmony; but sadly, once again, we are the ones standing in the way of nature doing its thing.

Eyed Hawk Moth

So what exactly are pollinators? Well the definition of a pollinator is:

“an animal that causes plants to make fruit or seeds. They do this by moving pollen from one part of the flower of a plant to another part. This pollen then fertilises the plant. Only fertilised plants can make fruit and/or seeds, and without them, the plants cannot reproduce”. 

This definition shows just how important bees and other pollinators are to us. It proves how much we rely on natural eco-systems in the production of food crops across the country.  For starters, one out of every three bites of food we eat is made possible by a pollinator, and 80% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators for survival.  Basically, if the pollinators all die, we won’t be too far behind them.

Imagine now what it would be like if all our towns and cities and villages were not linked together by roads and by rail; travelling would be virtually impossible. We would not be able to reach the amenities we need to survive in this modern age. But sadly, the natural network corridors relied upon by many of the UK’s bees and other pollinators are so badly disjointed, that bees are really struggling.  Our insects are already suffering due to climate change and chemicals such as Neonicotinoids, so the loss of natural corridors is just a step too far in their battle for survival.

I am lucky enough to have contact with two stewardship farms, which both have the most stunning wild flower meadows.

These meadows look stunning, smell amazing and really awaken your senses. But how often do you see places around you with a wildflower meadow? Think hard, in fact you’ll have to think very hard, as there won’t be many. Since the 1930s Britain has lost over 97% (an area the size of Wales) of wildflower rich grassland, therefore action needs to be taken immediately, or it is predicted that between 40 – 70% of our British insect species will go extinct. We must all speak out and action must be taken to enable these insects to disperse and travel across the landscape as they once could.

Our bees, butterflies and hoverflies have suffered badly over the last 50 years due to the rapidly changing landscape which is due to a number of factors including intensive farming, urban spread, and new transport links. However it is also important to note that it isn’t just our well known insect species like bees and butterflies being affected, but a whole array of different invertebrates are also in the firing line.  Two species that have become extinct in the UK since the start of the 21st century are the Cullem’s bumblebee (Bombus cullumanus), which was last recorded in 1941and the Short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus), which was last recorded in 1988.

So, what is being done? There are plenty of organisations out there who care about our British pollinators and insects, who are starting projects to help and protect these species.  One such organisation is Buglife. They have come up with a national solution, which I think is really stepping up to the mark to protect our British pollinators and insects, and this huge, long term project is called B–Lines.

B–Lines’ goal is to create a series of wildflower corridors across the UK to give insects the mobility to move around the country from one wildflower meadow to the next one.  They hope to create and restore at least 150,000 hectares of flower-rich habitat across the UK.  You can follow the progress they make on an interactive map on their website.

Benefits of this project include of course helping to conserve our native pollinators and lots of other species of wildlife, and also helping our wildlife to respond to climate change by enabling them to move around a lot easier.  Of course all these benefits are fantastic, but I think the most important one is the fact that B–Lines helps bring nature to people. It offers everybody the chance to help protect our native insects, and makes more people aware that even the smallest of our wildlife plays an important part in everyone’s lives.  The partnerships that are being formed between land owners, farmers and the general public are so important for this project to work.

Of course not everyone is able to get involved with the bigger projects, but there are things that all of us can do to help. Imagine if every rural and urban garden was brimming with native, pollen laden plants. That would add up to a huge area, increasing the number of stepping stones pollinators need to travel between the remaining wild flower meadows.

We can all do our bit to help pollinators by planting our gardens with native bee-friendly flowers that are rich in pollen and nectar which bees can easily access from spring until late summer. This will ensure that there is a good supply of pollen at all of the crucial times.  Just let your garden grow wild! And what about shared community areas, is there anything you can do to influence the planting of native bee friendly plants in these areas. If you are a land owner, then think about what you could do to help, and please, please get in touch with Buglife.

All our British insect species need protecting, and B–Lines is offering everybody the opportunity to get involved.  It is a brilliant long term project and one I’m sure will succeed if we all get behind it (or even bee-hind it).  A lot of our insects currently go unnoticed, but image if they were not there at all. If that was the case, then I think everybody would start to understand, and miss, the positive impact they have on all our lives.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

RSPB - Big Garden Birdwatch

As many of you know, this weekend is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, during which you spend one hour counting the birds you see in your garden and reporting the numbers back to the RSPB, contributing to an important piece of citizen science.  As I am writing this, over 18,000 surveys have been submitted for this weekend's count already.

I had spent this morning birding at Winsford Flash, so I didn't do my count until the afternoon, by which time the wind had really got up and the garden was quite empty.  The back field however was full of Winter thrushes; Redwing and Fieldfare in their hundreds were feeding just behind the back fence. Temptingly close to count, but I stuck to the rules.

The field had been planted with fodder beat for the sheep, but the sheep have eaten most of the leaves and stalks now, leaving a great muddy feeding acre or two for the birds.

Over the last week, the thrushes have been joined by large flocks of Pied Wagtail, Jackdaws, Starlings and Gulls.

So I sat down and started the count at 13:22.  Within minutes I had Jackdaw and Blue Tit on the list and then about 10 minutes of nothing. But then a huge Buzzard soared across the back field causing a bit of birding panic. Fieldfares and Redwing took flight, and were carried off by a massive gust of wind. And guess what?  Well that big gust landed 8 stunning Redwing and 5 Fieldfare right into the tree in the garden.  They hung around until they were confident that the Buzzard was more interested in worms than them, and so the bird count list rose to 4 species.

Fieldfare in the garden tree

And then the usual suspects started to show up, despite the strengthening wind.  The final count and numbers per species was as follows:

Starling - 10
Redwing - 8
Goldfinch - 7
Collared Dove - 5
Fieldfare - 5
Jackdaw - 4
Blue Tit - 3
House Sparrow - 3
Blackbird - 2
Greenfinch - 2
Dunnock - 1
Great Tit - 1
Robin - 1
Magpie - 1

So a final count of 14 species and 53 birds.  The missing regulars included Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren and Coal Tit.

How did you get on with your counts?

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Guest Blog from Ecotricity - Hen Harrier Satellite Tagging

I asked Ecotricity if they would write a guest blog for me about why and how, as a business, they got involved with helping to protect a magnificent bird of prey, the Hen Harrier.  I got involved with raising awareness about Hen Harriers because I just had to help protect them from going extinct as a breeding bird in England.  I have, from that point tried to raise lots of awareness though campaigning and volunteering. We need people to have the desire to want to protect the Hen Harrier and understand the suffering that this species has gone through. 

So I want to say a huge thank you to Ecotricity for being another much needed voice for the Hen Harrier and for taking the extra step forward in protecting it as a species.  I hope more businesses will follow this lead and step up to help our wildlife.


Guest blog by Simon Ashley, Ecotricity Online Manager 
and Helen Taylor, Ecotricity Ambassador

It’s a daunting prospect being asked to write a guest post for Wilde About Birds – it’s full of inspiring content and I’m joining some exalted company.  I work for Ecotricity a green energy company. We have a vision for a Green Britain –– a place where we all live more sustainable lives and we’ve made room for nature by creating and protecting wildlife habitats.
Energy, Transport, and Food are a big part of this story: together they account for a massive 80% of our personal carbon emissions – by making simple choices about how we get around, where we get our energy from, and what food we choose to eat, we can make a huge difference to the world around us.

I look after our online activity - our website and other bits and pieces. I’m also a bit of an amateur naturalist and I’m at my happiest outside looking for something.   It can be anything Slow worms , Glow worms , Birds, Bats, Badgers or other more exotic things when I’m on holiday.

So I was cock-a-hoop when I learnt that we’d got involved with the Hen Harrier project via Finn.

My encounters with Hen Harriers have been pretty limited but all the more special for it. My most memorable was at  RSPB’s Otmoor reserve on 1st March 2009. Otmoor is a wetland meadow with extensive reedbeds and it’s a great wintering ground for wildfowl – where there are huge numbers of birds there are predators and Hen Harriers are right at the top of the foodchain.

My bird list for the day says there was a red kite –and fantastic though they are that’s not what I came to see.  It took an hour or so of watching before I finally got to see the hen harrier, a female, flying low just above the reeds.  Quartering backwards and forwards.  She got really quite close, within just a few meters.  I watched her for about an hour, no sky dance or food-pass for me - just the beauty of a wild space and this graceful apex predator hunting on its territory.

I’m going to let my colleague Helen Taylor take over from here.


Hi, I’m Helen, the organiser of our first ever Ecotricity Young Green Briton Debating Competition which was held at WOMAD this year.

Our competition winners, aged between 11 – 16 years old, took to the stage, supported by their mentors, to speak about their vision for a Green Britain, and what we can all do to help achieve this, across the subjects of Energy, Transport, Food and Nature. Finn was the youngest competition winner and debater, at 13 years old, representing Nature, of course. I can’t tell you how moving it was to hear all our young speakers  - we were hugely proud of Finn and his powerful take on us all needing to take responsibility for the world around us. We’ve kept in touch ever since.

As a result, Ecotricity is supporting the Hen Harrier project - a RSPB- run initiative designed to track the movements and activity of hen harrier chicks. We’re funding a satellite tag to enable the tracking of a chick – to help identify how they can be protected longer-term. Finn tells us that the final count for breeding pairs in England this year was 6 pairs, but would have been so many more if the 5 males hadn't "disappeared" – this is still a long way off the 300 pairs that there should be.

The chicks will be born in April/May time – so we’ll keep everyone posted. If other companies are also interested in joining us to protect the Hen Harrier, that would be amazing.

We clearly should do all we can to support Finn’s hugely inspirational campaigning work to raise awareness of the plight of the Hen Harrier….

We also look forward to all witnessing a Skydance with Finn in 2016!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Christmas Holidays End With A Pallas's Warbler

Despite the terrible rain today, I thought what better way than to spend your last day of the holiday birding. So I headed off to Heswall for a specific bird species; yesterday I  saw a Pallas's Warbler report appear on Rare Bird Alert, so as I go birding on the Wirral quite often, I decided to go for it today, as it's a superb bird to see, and not one you often get on the Wirral. 

By the time we arrived at the Heswall sewage works, the rain was consistently heavy, and it just didn't stop, so it made viewing birds through the scope and binoculars rather difficult; however after 20 minutes I finally latched on to the target bird, which was moving around a small woodland with at least 5 Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. I spent about an hour and a half searching for the bird, which showed well about 6 times, however they were only 30 seconds to a minute views. We did get some brilliant bits of behavior from it, including hovering searching for food, and also when the bird was flicking its tail, I got some great views of its yellow rump. A fantastic bird to see, and I'm glad I saw it in my own county, and area.

Pallas's Warbler

Despite the rain, after Heswall, we moved onto West Kirby Marina Lake this time in search for the Great Northern Diver, part 2 of my birding experience today. This bird has been on the marina for about a month now, and looks in pretty good condition. 

This bird is a juvenile and you can tell this because of how pale the bill is, the amount of white on the  bird, and also the fact it is quite brown and has a lot of speckled markings on the wing. After 10 minutes of getting great views (after a 30 minute walk round the marina to get to it), the rain had started to make my waterproof jacket, un-waterproof, so we departed from the Great Northern Diver and walked back round the Marina Lake towards the car.

On the way back we got great views of 2 Red Breasted Mergansers and in this picture you can see the male, absolutely stunning birds. During the day I also saw and heard lots of other species of wader.

What a fantastic end to the holidays.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Predictions for 2016

At this time of year I usually do a video mash up of things that have gone on over the last 12 months, but this time round I have decided to look forwards instead of back.  Partly because I don't think wildlife had a particular good year in 2015.

So this time round I thought I would offer a few of my thoughts/predictions for the coming year 2016. So in no particular order:

Wildlife/Conservation NGOs
I think it's going to be a tough year for wildlife/conservation organisations, as getting money will be harder than ever. NGOs will probably find themselves needing to work closer together to try and make things happen through more shared projects. One thing for sure is that technology and citizen science work really well and conservation volunteers will become more important than ever.

Social Media
Social media will be absolutely massive, but video and live streamed messages will be used so much more and become more important as video does engage people more than text.  There are already several tools to stream live video messaging such as Twitter's Periscope. Imagine receiving live streamed video of protests, rare birds, more weasel peckers, promoting special science, evidence of an actual wildlife crime happening, Hen Harrier day, NGO conferences, speeches - the list is endless. The really great thing about live streaming is it's not from one person to another, it's from one person to potentially thousands ...... instantly.  It would be really nice to have a live video message from the CEOs of the main NGOs every month or so. No pressure though CEOs!

Media Coverage of Wildlife
Wildlife will be even less in the news, as its not seen by the media or by politicians as high up the "action required" list. Massive cuts to The BBC and the loss of the interactive red button will put pressure on new and existing natural history programmes.

Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winter Watch could very easily disappear next year.  Seems impossible to believe as a nature lover, but is it too expensive to run for just a few days every year? For me some of the best bits are the live cameras on the red button and this will all go for sure.

Media Coverage of Climate
Climate will feature more in the news and 2016 will be the warmest on record.  (Will all this wet/mild weather affect the birds breeding season; for some probably yes). After the Paris Climate change talks where 200 nations agreed a plan, I think the countries will just carry on just as they were regardless, as who's monitoring who and what they said they would do? We all need to remind them and I will continue to push the "think 500 years ahead not 5 years ahead" campaign.

Europe (2017)
Did 2015 go quick for you? It did for me and 2016 will be even faster (not really) but everybody tells me as you get older the years go quicker. Anyway, before you know it, 2016 will be gone and you will be making a choice on whether we are "in" or "out" of Europe. So I guess we better get thinking about it. What happens to any wildlife laws if we come out of Europe? I've no idea, but does that give those in power the chance to start a fresh and make new laws? If so, will they be thinking 500 years ahead?

Hen Harriers
I think the awareness message will continue to build strongly in 2016. Next year will see the highest numbers of raptors satellite tagged thanks to more business funding from companies like Lush and Ecotricity, but it is always the public awareness that will make a big difference, so imagine the awareness levels if we can all track the progress of all of 2016's fledglings.

These are just a few predictions from me and I will be revisiting many of these themes in my blog during 2016. But over to you now, what are your predictions for 2016?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Short Eared Owls at Frodsham Marsh

Frodsham Marsh is one of my most favorite places to go birding, not just in Cheshire, but out of all the places I've ever birded. It is in my opinion one of the best. Due to a sudden break in this awful weather we have been hit with, I decided to spend a full day at the marsh with my dad. We arrived at about half past nine and immediately noticed how flooded all the fields were because of the recent heavy rain, however the gulls were making good use of that feeding opportunity and plenty of Pied Wagtails also patrolled the edges of the floods.

As soon as we arrived, Bill Morton pulled up next to us, a great mentor to me and a faithful marsh birder (there most days).

We started off at No.6 tank in hope of seeing the Green Winged Teal, however making it out amongst so many Eurasian Teal was almost impossible due to the light which was in front of us making everything silhouetted. We decided that we should come back later and give the Teal chance to come further out in to the middle of the water rather than staying put near the daisy beds.

So our next stop was a place I've never visited before on Frodsham Marsh, and this place was Frodsham Score. We had a great vantage point opposite the Manchester Ship Canal and viewed the grazed grass and salt marsh. We immediately saw the mixed Swan flock of Mute and Whooper feeding alongside Holpool Gutter. We counted 18 Whoopers of which were all adults. No juveniles might suggest that they may not have had a good breeding season.

After further inspection of the score we soon picked out 2 Great White Egrets and numerous Little Egrets scattered all across the edge of the tide. Also on the tide line were hundreds of Canada Geese with a few Pink Footed mixed with in them. Sadly there was no sign of the 2 Dark Bellied Brent Geese that had been seen the last couple of days. Due to the visibility being so good we all got a great panorama of the whole of the score.

And one of the main reasons we were here was because of it being a relatively high tide, so we were all expecting a good show from the wading birds, mainly Dunlin (my phone video will only play sideways when uploaded, does anyone know how I can rotate a phone video).

Before all that action kicked in, we were joined by Frank Duff, also a regular birder at the marsh. We all stood together despite the cold, and waited for the Dunlin to rise in the air, and when they did it was utterly amazing; at least 15,000 birds were in the air, and performed something called the Mersey snake where they murmurate in a snake like shape because of the sheer quantity of the birds. This spectacle carried on for another hour at least before the birds finally settled as the tide retreated. I also learned that when huge flocks of birds are performing in the air you often see them twist and turn and at the same time see the flock going dark and lighter colors, this terminology is called stroboscopic.

As the tide continued to push in, it seeped onto the edges of the score, pushing all the birds in as well and allowing some great views of a Merlin and all the wading birds.

 After a great proportion of the day spent at the score, me and my dad decided to head back to No.6 tank in search of the Green Winged Teal. When we arrived, most of the Teal had retreated back to roost in the daisy beds, however just before we were about to leave some very kind people pointed out that there had been a Short Eared Owl around this area.

 We soon latched onto it and found that there was not actually one but two Short Eared Owls quartering no.5 tank, putting on the best show I have ever seen them do. An absolutely incredible experience, and I also managed to get some great phone scopes.

I got 6 species of bird of prey today including, Kestrel, Buzzard, Short Eared Owl, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Merlin.


By the time we left it was getting onto 3:30pm. I must say a massive thank you to Bill for giving me such a great day at the marsh and I'm sure I'll be back down there before the New Year with more great bird species to tell you about.

I will leave you with a short video of the two owls.