Sunday, 28 September 2014

M"eye"gration

So I think it's been about a month since I blogged about ringing - nevertheless I've been out every weekend, so this blog is a bit of a catch up if you like on the migration and catch rates of the sessions.

We have been catching a steady number of birds, but weeks have been very different, from really good numbers one week to not so many the next. Of course they are all on the move but you would think you would get similar numbers week to week. One bird we haven't really caught much this year is the Whitethroat. We had good numbers last year, but this year's numbers were way down. I think we only just got in to double figures this year

Whitethroat

Blackcaps and Robins however seem to have been caught in good numbers and this is evident across the country (see BTO demog blog).  In one session recently we managed to ring 36 robins and we are still catching into the mid teens currently. It must have been a good breeding season with multiple broods no doubt.

Along with this current migration pattern we had a couple of unusual catches, including a couple of weeks back a stunning Fire Crest; a first for one of our sites. This site this year has had some great birds including Cettis, Kingfisher, Spotted Fly, Firecrest, Siberian Chiffchaff - all this right on the edge of one of the most deprived areas in Merseyside.

Firecrest

Tied in with migration a couple of the birds migrating through have had a couple of distinguishing features, including this female Blackcap which had an eye deformity. On inspection, at first it looked a bit like a tick it but on closer inspection it appeared to have a  deformity on its nictitating membrane,


 A head on photo looked more insect than bird.

                                      

The following session after this one we also caught a female Bullfinch with a similar growth but ten times as bad, however this bird seemed to have a huge growth sticking at least a centimeter away from the beak and almost covering the gullet to swallow food. Not a nice sight, but in every other way this bird seemed healthy and had obviously been feeding okay.


I would be interested to hear if anybody else has been having any deformities of the eye region.

And so it wont be long now before our Scandinavian visitors arrive to our sites Fieldfare and Redwing shortly and after catching really good numbers last time will we have any retraps and controls? An interesting time ahead.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Vision For Nature - Vision into the Future

On the 5th & 6th September I attended a conference organised by AFON (A Focus On Nature). The theme of the conference was a "vision for nature", a brilliant title that really got everyone thinking even before the conference began. We arrived reasonably late to our hotel the night before, and I was glad to get some much needed sleep for the following day.

The first day started off great. The organised event was located in Cambridge, and was taking place in the Depart of Engineering Building of Cambridge University. It was an amazing place and got me thinking about how I will one day hopefully be studying something to do with conservation in a big lecture theatre like that.

Almost instantly I met up with Lucy McRoberts (organiser of event, along with Matt Williams).  In fact we helped her carry stuff from her car into the conference rooms.  We were quite early, but as more and more people started to arrive, I recognised more and more faces; people I had met at Bird Fair, people I have tweeted with and people I have got to know through my determination to help nature.

Over the period of the conference I learned an awful lot, and of course this started with the very first introductions, discussions and debates.

So I would like to start off with the first discussion that grabbed my attention about the importance of nature/wildlife education in schools, (which might keep popping up in future blogs). But before I talk about the facts I've picked up at the conference, I'd like to talk about my personnel view on environmental education. 

Now earlier in the year I did quite a large survey on all the Primary Schools in Cheshire on whether they would like to make environmental based subjects available to their pupils. This research was done for a guest blog I wrote for Mark Avery. Most of them actually said they would love to but it depended on cost and if it was part of the curriculum. Sadly it still isn't working at this current moment, not just in Primary Schools, but also in High Schools.

Now I think there is a little bit of nature based study done in Primary Schools however I think this relies on the school having a teacher who is a wildlife enthusiast, but it should be a key part of education in schools as well for the 11 to 16 year olds. This is because at this kind of age they really start to understand how their actions impact our planet and also they can chose the path towards what they want to do.

I can understand this because, now that I am 12, I have really got to understand conservation better and I know the direction I want to take in life. This is why I KNOW that environmental studies should be taught.......how else are we going to reverse all the damage that has been done to our shared home.  I also think that High School kids will understand the deeper issues and then maybe engage better, unlike the Primary school children who will enjoy the experiences but maybe not link them with the changes that are needed.  It doesn't even need changes in the curriculum to make a difference. Why can't we bring things like the university birding challenge into schools and things like that. I still think the NGOs need to do more with schools as well, using their network of volunteers.

In my case it was the school kid going to the conference, how about we take the conference on a tour of the schools.  And by the way, I am really grateful to my school for letting me take the time off to attend the conference.

Anyway, back to the conference............

I learnt so much from the conference. I built up lots of knowledge by listening to the talks and especially though hearing different opinions in the debates.

 Of course, over the course of the weekend I met lots of new people and people I needed to catch up with. It was great to see Dave Leech (who I missed at the bird fair due to me being sick). We talked a lot about Blackcaps and the RAS I helped with earlier this year. It was great to see him again. It's always great to catch up with people like Mark Avery, Andy Clements and Rob Lambert. It was also nice to talk to Alex Berryman and Josie Hewitt who I met last year at another AFON conference at the BTO Nunnery. We had a brilliant evening in the pub where loads of the conference people turned up to chat.


One of the other talks I went to was the one run by Peter Cooper, a wildlife journalist.  His talk made me more aware of how important my blog is, i.e. how to get my thoughts heard by more people and it may even help when the time comes for me to get a job (I will have a diary of all the practical work and knowledge that I've learned). I don't like the idea of it being competitive, but it is competitive for jobs in any type of business (I learnt that as well).

So the conference was brilliant; I learnt lots and like I said at this kind of age I am realising and finding my real passion, and understanding how I can help it.

I'm ready, I'm passionate, I'm determined and I can make a difference. And I feel even more ready to face whatever the future brings. 

Thank you for all the AFON members for this amazing event. It has only made me even more determined to make a difference.  

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A Response From DEFRA

In July I wrote an open letter to the new Environment Minister Mrs Truss which you can read here. I also kept emailing the letter to her hoping to be listened to. Well today I finally got a reply from the Customer Contact Unit at DEFRA. The response is below for you to see:

 Dear Findlay,

Thank you for your email of 16 July to the Secretary of State about wildlife conservation.  I have been asked to reply and apologise for the delay in doing so.

We agree with you that birds are extremely important. Bird populations are a good way to estimate the health of wildlife in general, because birds live in a wide range of habitats, so they tend to be near or at the top of food chains. There are many reasons why birds are threatened, including disease, weather, loss of habitat and climate change. 

One way in which we are helping birds is through Biodiversity 2020. The Government has plans to help farmland birds by increasing their habitats by at least 200,000 hectares by 2020. 

There are also grant schemes run by the Government where farmers are given money to make sure their land provides good homes for birds, or to feed seed eating birds during the ‘hungry gap’, which is the time of year when there aren’t many berries or seeds. 

You might wish to visit The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) website, as this provides a lot of information on birds and how you can help them. https://www.rspb.org.uk/youth/ 

I hope this reassures you we are committed to conserving the environment and helping birds. Thank you again for writing about this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Leah Pritchart
Customer Contact Unit
Defra

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)


.................................................

Now even though I am really grateful for the response, I am not confident or happy about what they have to say. I know I am only 12 and I know I don't understand all the politics but I do have common sense, some wildlife knowledge and a strong sense of right and wrong. So here are my first thoughts on there reply, but I will probably revisit this again.

  • firstly, they have just concentrated on birds, when my email was about all our wildlife.  I was at the A Focus on Nature Conference last week and listened to a debate called "should science have the final say in conservation". At the end of the debate it was agreed that properly researched science should definitely be listened to, and so should common sense. SO how is this the case with the badger cull. All the science bits I have read have said a cull wont work and it has been a cruel and badly thought through way of trying to control Bovine TB.  Maybe that's why they just focused on birds.
  • Now it is 2014 and 200,000 hectares of farmland are supposed to be used to create habitat for birds by 2020, now for me there's a few problems here:  
  1. firstly I think 2020 is going to be a little late, as I'm sure you're all aware, many birds have declined by huge amounts, a good example would be the Turtle Dove, what has happened to that species. It may be gone by 2020.
  2. Secondly farmland covers about 18 million hectares across the UK, so over the next 6 years just 0.01% is being given back. And how much other habitat is being lost to projects like HS2.
  3. And not really a traditional lowland farmland bird, but Hen Harriers have undergone a huge decline and yet nothing has been done about it by the people in power, even though there have been serious crimes committed. People are breaking the law, but where was DEFRA on Hen Harrier Day?


  • Another thing I'd like to pick up on is the part where it says 

There are many reasons why birds are threatened, including disease, weather, loss of habitat and climate change. 

What is the government (DEFRA) doing to resolve the problem of this and how are they working with all the people involved to make sure it is a focus for all the influential people in power.

  • The final thing that really wound me up was "maybe you should visit the RSPB" now that is really, really annoying because I am trying my best to do so much for wildlife. 
I would love to here your points of view on the reply. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Spotted Flys and Spotted Spiders!

I was absolutely made up that I found out I would be able to be back out ringing again after Peter finally returned from six weeks in Portugal. I wasn't that sure how the day would go and didn't think we would get too much, but almost straight away I was proved wrong. Birds are of course on the move and migration starts earlier than you think.

The start of the session wasn't as early as before, as it is lighter a little later now; however I still had to jump myself out of bed at 2.30am. The first net round proved great, and I knew from that moment that the session was going to be great, as all the nets had caught something. One of the birds from the first net round was a Garden Warbler, the first I'd seen of the year. Rubbish picture below that Dad took as he'd messed the settings up ! doh !

Garden Warbler

As the session developed, we were catching steady numbers of birds, i.e good numbers of Black Caps and Robins with most being young birds. After the first couple of net rounds I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, two birds perched in a dead tree, occasionally flitting into mid air and back to the perch. Spotted Flycatchers!

I was so excited as they were right above the line net. It was great to see them back, as last year one of them  just hopped over the net so I never got to study it up close. But we had better luck this time and when we got one out of the bag it was so amazing, suddenly seeing all that detail in the hand.

Spotted Flycatcher

 Over the course of the morning we were lucky to catch two Spotted Flycatchers so Dad and I got to ring one each. We wondered whether these birds had bred locally or had moved a distance already?

Both these birds were juveniles, the plumage looking very fresh.


 Spotted Flycatchers have quite a broad bill and have a look at the marking on the head.


It wasn't just birds we were catching today, my dad found a very unique spider upon his shoulder, so took it back to the ringing station to observe. When we got back home I found out that it is a Four Spot Orb Weaver Spider (quite a name) this species isn't rare, however is not found in gardens or sheds so might not be commonly seen.


This spider also had quite an aggression to it, as every time our finger approached it, the gnashers on it went for them!!


At the end of the session we counted up the ringing totals, and the results were 132 birds ringed. The birds included 52 black caps ( which we caught in one morning compared to not many more for our Blackcap RAS which was many many more hours of effort ) Also of course there were the 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Wrens, 6 Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs which were good numbers; 2 White Throats (that we have barely caught any of this year), 36 robins (which I have never seen or witnessed as many in a single session), 9 Blue Tits, a couple of Reed and Sedge Warblers, a few Great Tits, a solitary Garden Warbler, a solitary Chaffinch, and finally another good bird for the site, a Bullfinch. 

With the volume of birds today and the variety it was a great learning session with all types of plumage and moult on display, a great session and so good to be back out there again.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Rockpooling in Blackpool

Last Sunday we went to Blackpool to meet up with Dave McGrath (@DaveyManMcG) to do some rock pooling which was really fascinating and great fun. The traffic was chaos and we only just made it in time as we arrived at the wrong end of the prom and had to drive right down the promenade dodging trams, horses and carts and thousands of people.

We met up with Dave at the Solaris Centre and had a quick tour of where he does his pond dipping and then we got to meet one of the starts of the day,  Dave's friendly dog Frank.


Of course we were with quite a few other people and it was great to see other children taking a shine to nature in this way. We started off with all the safety rules, however after that we were free to do what we wanted and to find what we could. We were rockpooling just in front of the giant mirror ball.


The water in a lot of the pools was crystal clear which let us see some great anemones opened up.

Beadlet Anemone

There were one or two jelly fish about including this one below.

Compass Jellyfish

It was great to have expert Dave on hand to help identify everything we found including shore crabs, Blennies, Prawns, Shrimps, Masked Crab, Spiny Cockle, Otter Shells and all sorts of wonderful creatures, and some that I have never seen before.  I learnt about the Masked Crabs that you might feel tickling your feet with their long spiky tongue if you stand still on the wet sand.

Masked Crab

Of course I had to look out for the birds, plenty of Oystercatcher and a couple of Turnstones (that Dave said had only recently arrived).

I thought wearing wellies would keep my feet dry however that didn't really work out as planned. They don't protect you that well when you're crawling through the rock pools.

Should have taken my watch off as well!

Of course a big thank you to Dave (and Frank) for inviting me and letting me have such a great opportunity to discover nature in a completely different environment.


I'm hoping to go Long Eared Owl spotting with Dave again soon and of course he has to come and see the birds on my patch.

Monday, 25 August 2014

A Nice Surprise on my Patch

After weeks of travelling round and being really busy it was great to enjoy some pure birding on my ,local patch. As you know I have a feeding station in a farmers wood, which attracts all kinds off birds, but the fields and pastures on the way there attract a few different migrants. 

As I was walking down the track yesterday I saw the white flash, and this was indeed the rump of what I think is a first winter Wheatear, a lovely bird which  I have seen only rarely on my patch before.  


I was able to get a few nice snaps before it was off, however I had to check the books on the identification because it's hunched body shape and "fat" neck made me a bit curious of a possible Wheatear rarity.


So a great little bird to go on my BTO bird track report, oh and also got great views of a Green Woodpecker (a first for my feeding station area).


My next post will be more coastal!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Harry (the Hen Harrier) goes to Rutland Birdfair

Birdfair, my annual birding "holiday", it is the place where all conservationists come together to share ideas and to inspire. Everything is fantastic. Last year we only made it for two days, however this time we decided to do all three, like always our birdfair adventure started a bit slow.

Yep, you guessed it, busy traffic almost the whole way and we were stationery for over half an hour, but this was one of the reasons we came on the Thursday so we wouldn't miss half of the actual event. Like last year we were staying in Scalford Hall Hotel, which is located in some gorgeous countryside which is home to Tawny, Barn and Little Owls. 

Now last year I was at the A Focus on Nature and BTO conference in Norfolk at the BTO Headquarters, and met up with some other passionate wildlife enthusiasts, and staying with us this year were Josie Hewitt and her mum Alison. It was lovely to see them again and they were also pretty excited about staying all three days. As well as meeting Josie, it was also lovely to catch up again with Joyce a lovely lady that works at the hotel who reads my blog and is very supportive.  Josie, Harley and I went looking for the owls and were very lucky to see and hear Tawny Owls.

Of course after a good sleep it was time for the first day of Bird fair. Now bird fair is supposed to be all inspiring, relaxing, learning and fun, however this time we had to bring a 6 foot Hen Harrier with us, in a hired van with only 20 minutes to get it into the fair and on to the correct stand. Of course firstly it took a bit of persuading of security to get it in however after a bit of sweet talk we were escorted to the correct stand, the Wildlife Crime Unit which is all to do with illegal persecution of wildlife, especially raptors. Once our Hen Harrier was settled with the wildlife crime police, we were free to enjoy the fair.

Settling Harry into his home for the weekend

  On the Friday we didn't do much except listen to Mark Avery and Tristan Reid's talk which was all about the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and it's relevance today, and how the Turtle Dove could disappear if we don't take action now (of course no one noticed Mark Avery mentioning his new book)!!  Now the reason we didn't do much on the Friday was  mostly because I was very sick so unfortunately we had to go back to the hotel at about 11:00am,  so I was pretty down and  I missed talks from Andy Clements and Ieuan Evans. I managed a quick hello to Toby Carter before I had to rush away.  I was also really pleased to see Keith and Trevor as well, as they were only there on the Friday.  

Fortunately I still had the rest of bird fair left to look forward too (by the way thanks for all the support on Twitter and thanks for all the Harry selfies that started appearing on Friday).

With Toby Carter and Harry

After being sick, I was glad to be back at the bird fair on Saturday,  luckily most of our talks were on the Saturday, but mainly in the morning. This left all afternoon to meet up with people and look around all the wonderful stands.  It was great to see so many more younger people there this year, especially at the Focus on Nature meeting on Saturday afternoon.

However firstly about the talks, we started off watching and listening to Guy Shorrocks. This talk was great and fascinating in a sad, but making you realise properly way. This talk was all to do with Raptor Persecution and the work he does on stopping the illegal killings. It was really interesting and Guy also turned up at the Hen Harrier Protest.

Our second talk was in a building (not part of the tent set up) which was being used this time by Jack Perks. It was his first bird fair and he spoke really well. Jack was talking all about fish and his mission on filming all the freshwater fish in the UK; out of the I think 53 species Jack was on 38, so was doing pretty well.

All these talks I went to have made me really want to talk at the birdfair next year. I would really like to talk about what it means to be a young conservationist and all the ways us youngsters can help to make a positive difference. I will have to try and ask Tim Appleton if this would be possible. 

We were going to listen to Mark Avery's and Chris Packham's talk, however by the time we got there the tent was full, however I couldn't help but wait to say hello to Chris (after meeting him at the Hen Harrier Protest) who was pretty inspiring with his "we will win" attitude. At the end of the talk I bought Mark Avery's book "A Message from Martha" on Passenger Pigeons. 

Trying to do a Harry selfie with Mark Avery

It was also lovely to say hello again to Mark and explain to him why I didn't see him on Friday because of course I was sick. That left the rest of the afternoon to have a look around the stand and meet lots of new and familiar faces. I've got to say probably the most frequent collisions were with Jason (Wildlife Gadget Man) off twitter, he's a great man with lots of technical support and knowledge to share, also I met Toby Carter round every corner. Toby is another young birder and I met him the at the A Focus On Nature conference.  

Of course, as usual I just had to keep visiting the BTO stand, it was great to see Andy Clements, Nick Morgan, Jez Blackburn, Lee, Carl Barimore (gave me the nest challenge, got seven out of eight which was reasonable) Dawn Balmer, Ieuan Evans and of course Kelvin Jones (also great to see again after ringing Choughs).

With Andy Clements

After I'd met everyone and talked for ages, it was time to look around. The first tent we went in we met my Turkish friend from last year, and the year before that, who was lovely. Of course there were lots of holidays  for sale, but I didn't manage to get a free one. I also met some great people on the Hawk & Owl Trust stand and on the Butterfly Conservation stand. It was good to see Dr Robert Sheldon and of course Phil Gatley again as well.

Now I did actually have one more talk left to go to; a talk by Lucy McRoberts on why children should engage with nature and how important nature is in everything we do. Lucy talks really well. 

After a tiring day it was time to go back, however before I went to bed I got into a chat with a guy called James who does conservation work and lives in Honduras in Central America. He had some 700 species of butterfly and 700 species of bird all out of his window, it was fascinating; however the most astonishing thing was that in the rain forest he had Barn Owls like we have here. 

Also at the hotel we met some of the Hookpod people who have made a specially designed fishing hook which stop Albatross getting drowned, these people were very nice and fascinating to talk to. The final people who were at the hotel were some of the people from the BioTope stand which are a group like the RSPB, but in Norway, they gave me a T-shirt. 

After the Saturday it was Sunday (obviously).  It was great with only one talk on Dragonflies that was fascinating. The guy was lovely and would like me to go to the society meeting in London.  After that it was just looking round the stands again and it was great to meet up with Geogia Locock who writes a brilliant blog and recently got some great Otter footage.

with Georgia Locock

As I mentioned right at the start of this blog post, we were really happy to have Harry the Hen Harrier with us at Birdfair. He stood tall and proud all weekend reminding people just how amazing this species is and what a big gap there would be if we lost them from England forever. I have seen so many Harry selfies on Twitter, the response to him has been amazing. 

Harry people watching

And then it was time to finally say goodbye to Harry, which was actually really hard. We have been on such a journey with him and met so many amazing people through him.  I am really going to miss Harry, but hopefully he will keep spreading the word and raising awareness for our amazing Hen Harriers with the RSPB.

A great birdfair with great people full of great ideas.