Monday, 18 April 2016

#Think500YearsAhead - Last Chance to Sign Up

Tomorrow morning at 9:30am, I am hoping that thousands (if not millions) of people will see the following message on their social media feeds:

“I want MPs to put the natural world at the heart of decision making and #Think500YearsAhead not just 5 years ahead."

You can read all about the reasons behind setting up the Thunderclap on my blog here and on Mark Avery's blog here.  You can even watch a short video about why we need to think further ahead here.

This is my final call for help with making the Thunderclap a success.  As I write this blog post 671 people from all walks of life have signed up to the Thunderclap, and it has the potential to reach over 2 million people. These numbers are far bigger than I ever expected them to be, but they also encourage me to keep pushing for more and get the message spread as far and wide as possible.

You can sign up to the Thunderclap on Twitter or Facebook (or both if you have both). If you have more than one Twitter account, you can sign up on each of them. The more it gets tweeted, the better the chance of it trending tomorrow.

You can sign up by clicking here.

I am going to be in school all day, so I would be so grateful if you could share this post and encourage as many people as you can to sign up. 

On the 19th April, in the run up to 9:30am and for the rest of the day, would you think about tweeting/facebooking a message using the hashtag #Think500YearsAhead and giving a personal reason why it is important to think long term for the natural world. It would be great to see everyone's thoughts and ideas circulating round and being shared.

Thank you again for all your support.


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Droning on About Anglesey!

Last Wednesday the whole family was off, so we decided it would be a good idea to go and visit Angelsey for the day. Now the island is at least 2 hours drive from where I live, so we set off early. I was a bit concerned visibility wise on the way there, as the car was surrounded by thick fog which wasn't too good. However, thankfully within half an hour the fog gave way to some stunning morning sunshine. The weather looked great for the rest of the day. 

Our first port of call was a stunning little beach just off Trearddur Bay called Porth Dafarch. It has a wonderful headland for attracting migrating birds and is brilliant for sea watching. Amazingly out at sea it was flat calm, you could make out some of the birds close in with a naked eye, and picking things out and identifying them further out at sea was relatively easy.


So a half an hour sea watch produced 2 Shag, 4 Lesser Black Backed Gull, 38 Herring Gull, 1 Arctic Tern (first of the year for me), 5 Manx Shearwater (2 flew very close in, giving extraordinary views). It was amazing to see them gliding over the water as they do. I also noted 100 Guillemot and Razorbill and a single Gannet.


The headland itself produced some good birds as well. Whilst taking a break from sea watching I trained my scope on a color ringed Chough which showed really nicely for everybody.


The smaller passerine birds of note included 4 Rock Pipit, 4 Stonechat, 6 Wheatear and the 'Alba' race of our usual Pied Wagtail: the White Wagtail.



After a nice session of birding we decided to do a bit of 'Go-Pro-ing' on the beach with Harley, and managed to get some footage for him. We stayed on the beach for a while, before heading off to RSPB South Stack to see the huge sea bird colonies present on the cliffs. It was amazing to see all the auks on the cliff and we even managed to see 3 Puffin sat on the sea!!!


I must also congratulate a member of RSPB staff for grounding a drone that was being flown too close to the breeding colonies on the rocks. I wonder when drones will have to be licensed.


We got a further 3 Manx Shearwater whilst sea watching there and that took total up to 8 which is quite good for this time of year. We also saw another Gannet and a few more Chough flying by.


By this point it was getting a bit late, however before we left for home, we had one last look at that Porth Dafarch again, only managing to see a few Wheatear this time.


A brilliant day

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

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I did also leave a message behind on the beach to support the #Think500YearsAhead thunderclap.


Only 3 days left to sign up, which you can do by clicking here.

Friday, 15 April 2016

House Martins - Running Late

I am beginning to appreciate just how valuable the notes are that I have made over the last 5 years, and this was really brought home today with the return of a pair of House Martins.

All week I have been looking out and listening for them, as I knew they were due back any day now. And today was the day. As soon as I got up this morning I heard them, and sure enough, there they were circling the house and already investigating last year's nest.


But they were late! I looked back on the last few years records I have kept, and realised just how predicable they have been in the past.

2013 - arrived back 14th April
2014 - arrived back 14th April
2015 - arrived back 14th April
2016 - arrived back 15th April

I like to think though that they arrived back just before midnight last night, and stuck to their 14th April plan.

One of last year's broods

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Together in Electric Dreams

Last Saturday I was at Parkgate where I am usually volunteering for the RSPB Sky Dancer on the Dee project. On Saturday, however, I was there to meet up with some really good friends and hopefully introduce them to a very special bird.  

The people who came up for the day were coming to try and see a Hen Harrier. Although many Hen Harriers have already returned to their upland breeding grounds, there was still a chance that one or two would still be at Parkgate, a well known over wintering location for them. The other thing in our favour was the high tide expected that day. During a very high tide at Parkgate, the whole salt marsh floods, driving small mammals close to the promenade wall, which then brings the raptors in closer.

We arrived (me, mum, dad, and Harley) relatively early in order to help set up the RSPB tent with Dan Trotman from Burton Mere Wetlands.


The high tide watch is a great opportunity for the RSPB to engage with the general public and show them the fantastic variety of wildlife at Parkgate.

Shelduck over the salt marsh

First of the visitors to arrive was Helen Taylor, (the ambassador for Ecotricity) and her partner Nick. I first met Helen at the Young Green Briton debate I took part in at the WOMAD festival last year.  I was there representing and speaking up for nature, but you can read more about that here. It was great to meet her again and catch up on what we had all been doing since the festival.  After meeting Helen last year, I have been working with Ecotricity, as they agreed to sponsor a satellite for one of this years Hen Harrier chicks, but more to come on that in another blog soon.  Ecotricity have been so supportive of me and the other Young Green Britons.

Next to arrive was my great friend Ruth, who I have met countless times before. Ruth is very fond of raptors and was really hoping to see some at Parkgate, so the pressure was on. 

Finally, last but by no means least, to arrive was Simon Ashley, who is Head of Online for Ecotricity. He also brought along his children, Maya and her brother Koa. Maya is very keen on falconry and taught me lots about the anatomy of some species of raptor. It was great to have another keen, young birder with us for the day an introduce her to 3 lifers.  We chatted about everything from birds to blogs to twitter.  In fact, since meeting up, Maya has started writing her own blog which you can find here.

Once everybody was there, it was time for all the introductions. I introduced Helen to RSPB's Dan so we could talk about the Hen Harriers and the satellite tagging for later this year.  It was great to chat to everyone and see so much enthusiasm about the day ahead.  Our numbers increased again, when we were joined by Kev, Harriet and Olivia; some of my ringing friends.

Harriet, Dad, Me, Kev

High tide was expected at 13:20, and we had promised everyone that it would reach the promenade wall, however at about 12:30 I was beginning to doubt it would even get half way in. The wading birds were certainly getting pushed up and there were plenty of species to point out to everyone including a Great White Egret, but the star of the show was yet to show up.

As 13:00 approached the tide had crept closer, but it still looked doubtful that the whole marsh would be flooded. A massive rat clearly thought otherwise as it ran across the grass and up the wall.  We thought it was going to scamper straight into a group of people right by the wall, but it disappeared into a drainage hole just before the top of the wall; so all the cameras dropped back down again (imagine how funny that picture would have been though).

And then all of a sudden the tide reached the large pool in front of the Donkey Stand and there was just no stopping it.  The water soon reached the wall and the whole marshland was flooded in just minutes. It was fascinating to watch.

A flooded salt marsh

There were birds everywhere; the Redshank had to improvise by landing on floating bits of vegetation, which occasionally knocked them off balance! A funny sight to see little groups floating past. 


The main reason we were at Parkgate though, was to see the raptor species that feed on all the mammals that are flooded out of the marsh by the rising water. The first bird of prey seen was a Kestrel hunting close in to the the wall. It hovered for ages close to us before gliding further out to the marsh and out of view. The next bird of prey to be seen were 2 Short Eared Owls that were quartering the flooded marshland quite high up in the air.  They were being mobbed by Carrion Crows, a great bird however they were quite distance so the views were not great; if only they could have been closer!

A Merlin could be seen sat far out on a post, a lifer for some people with us including Maya. The final bird of prey (well almost the final bird of prey) of the day was a ringtail Hen Harrier that flew quite close in past everybody watching from the RSPB tent.


The bird was likely to be a young bird, as the adults by now should have returned back up to the moorland in the hills to breed. It went quite quiet as everyone focused in on this amazing bird. A lifer for quite a few of the group, but an amazing bird regardless of how many times you have seen one.  So the pressure was off, the tide had reached the wall and a Hen Harrier fly by had happened.

I was so pleased that Helen and the Ecotricity team had finally seen a Hen Harrier and could feel that bond with the bird.  I don't think they will ever forget that moment.

Could the day get any better?

Well yes it could, as out of no where another Hen Harrier appeared, this time a definite male. And a very well known one at that. Henry Hen Harrier had turned up.

Helen, Henry, Me

Olivia, Harriet

 
Maya, Henry, Koa, Simon

He just can't resist the opportunity to look out for a ringtail. He hogged the scope, chatted and charmed everyone and then disappeared in the direction on the fish and chip shop.


So a count of two Hen Harriers was just fantastic.

As the tide continued to ooze in, the bird life kept us entertained. The timings of the tides were good for us watching; however not that great for all the breeding birds on the marsh, especially Water Rail which could well be sitting on eggs by now. One Water Rail flew straight at us and then veered off along the promenade wall giving us great views as it floated past on yet another vegetation raft.


By this point it was getting late in the day,  so at 16:00 we retired for the day and went to the Boat House pub for a meal together. Unfortunately Dan had to go and couldn't join us, as he is still working, however a massive thank you to him for helping to give a great day out for everyone.

So picture the scene, we are all sitting in the pub, overlooking the salt marsh; tired and happy after a great day and just catching up and chatting. Then one of the group suddenly shouts "Short Eared Owl" quite loud and our whole table is on their feet pointing and shouting very excitedly.  It must have been quite infectious as soon nearly everyone in the pub was watching the owl. It flew up and down, quartering the marsh right in front of where we were sitting. It was that close you could see the fantastic orange ring around the eyes.


But it didn't end there. A darker owl flew by. Was it just the light or was this another owl. And then they were flying together. So we had 2 owls entertaining us over dinner.


Simon then pointed out another owl sitting on a post, so 3 Short Eared Owls flying just metres away from us to end the day with.  I am sure the food was amazing, but those owls.......They continued to give outstanding views all the way through dinner


So what can I say. A truly fantastic day with amazing people. One of those days that will sit in your memory for a long, long time.

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To safe guard the future for all these species though, we need to get our MPs to #Think500YearsAhead. So please join the Thunderclap by clicking here.



Sunday, 10 April 2016

A Chance Skydance Encounter

The first week of the Easter holidays was my usual holiday visit to my Grandma's located in the beautiful countryside of North Wales. I couldn't wait to get out out birding around the area and visit some of my favorite sites in Wales. I arrived on Sunday afternoon and was already out and about on Monday, firstly visiting Lynn Brenig. 

This birding site is really high above sea level and is great for watching migration. When I first arrived there the weather was so nice that I decided to do a bit of gull watching; my highlights were 2 Yellow Legged Gull, which were really nice as it was the first time I've seen them in Wales. There was also some nice spring migration as well, with plenty of Sand Martins flying over and a few Swallows as well.

Wheatear

After a good look around the main lake, I went for a walk around the surrounding moorland to see if the Hen Harriers had returned yet. After a good couple of hours of searching, watching, waiting and listening,  I didn't have any luck; however I did get a few spring migrants that are travelling on to breeding sites. Everybody seemed to have been seeing Wheatears and I hadn't seen any yet. Thankfully I managed to get some great views in some fields just off the moorland from Llyn Brenig. There were at least 6 Wheatear and some White Wagtail around as well.

Wheatear

Due to some heavy rain the following couple of days, I couldn't really get out anywhere, however on one of the days my Grandma had visitors. The dad of the family that visited is called Alex Laude and it turns out he knows BTO's Ieuan Evans as they were at university together, so we had lots to talk about.  

Anyway lets get back to birding. On Wednesday I persuaded my Grandparents to take me to Llandudno for the day to try and get some more spring migrants coming in off the Irish sea. It was blowing 50mph winds and there wasn't a bird in the area apart from a single Ring Ouzel, which was of course fantastic to see.

Anyway the star bird (or birds) of the week came during the drive home....


Whilst driving back over some moorland, I noticed a pale bird hawking low over the moorland, I told my Grandpa to stop the car and focused my binoculars onto it and realised immediately that it was a male Hen Harrier. A much browner bird soon followed, the female. So I knew that already at least 2 Hen Harriers on this moorland had paired up.

Male & female Hen Harrier

The male bird especially gave fantastic views, which I have only ever seen a handful of times before. I'm more used to seeing them over winter on the Wirral at Parkgate, but those birds have tended to be juveniles or females.

 

Hen Harriers are amazing raptors and certainly my favorite of them all. The skydance performed by the male really does make you pause for breath and you forget everything whilst you are watching. The moorlands would never be the same if we lost these spell binding birds.


I must say a massive thank you to my Grandma and Grandpa for taking me to all these fantastic places. It was an amazing week.


Hen Harriers are at risk of going extinct as a breeding bird on the English moors. Only 6 pairs breed last year and we are yet to see what happens this year.  We are seeing worrying declines in far too many of our native species. On the 19th April I am planning a twitter storm to raise awareness for the need to think and plan much further ahead. If you have a Twitter account, please sign up to the Thunderclap by clicking here

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Common Bird, Rare Nest

Tomorrow me and my dad will be ringing at a site we haven't been to in quite a while (so today we had a walk round the reserve to see what was about and heard lots of Chiffchaff and saw a Peregrine which flew up and landed on a nearby telegraph pylon).  As the site is close to Wigg Island, we thought it would be a good idea to call in there and see what was around. 

There is currently being a new bridge being built over the Mersey Estuary and if you look closely at the huge pillars, you can see the surface is littered with lots of small holes. The local Great Tits seemed to be using them as a potential nesting site for the breeding season, as we watched a few of them checking out the holes. 



The main reason we went to Wigg Island was for the huge gull numbers that gather on the banks of the Mersey at low tide. Although winter is pretty much over, I was hoping for a possible Glaucous or Iceland Gull, sadly that was not to be, however I did manage a rather nice adult Yellow Legged Gull. We had to walk quite a distance to get close enough to the gulls to scan them so we could actually make out what they were. On that walk I also found my dad his first Swallow of the year.

The surrounding fields and woodland of Wigg Island were teeming with Mistle Thrushes, a bird that  you don't really see much of, especially not in big numbers. It was good to see that there were quite a few around mainly feeding in the fields; apart from one of them I noticed sat in a tree.


I then came across a second bird....


I noticed the second bird was sitting on a branch very close to what looked like a nest in a fork of a tree. Now I knew Mistle Thrush nested like this; however I really didn't expect to find an actual nest, so I was in absolute disbelief when it hopped along the branch and sat on the nest to incubate (as Mistle Thrush start laying early).


This was the first Mistle Thrush nest I have ever found, and what a way to start the BTO's Nest Recording Scheme (NRS) for 2016. There are only 70 records of this nest found on average per year, so you can imagine I was pretty made up.


We watched the next from a distance for a while and managed to phone-scope the close up pictures.

Have any of you seen any active nests yet this year?

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Back to Spurn

The weekend just gone was a Bank Holiday for Easter, allowing me 4 days off school, and it just so happened that the weekend clashed with the Spurn Bird Obs opening event, something I had been looking forward to for ages.

The people at Spurn have been really supportive to lots of young birders. Last year they ran the first Young Birder of the Year competition during the MigFest, giving up their time to support me, Ellis Lucas and Evie Miller. They have also given lots of identification tips on certain species, and even offered  us all a 3 night stay at the Observatory for taking part in the Young Birder Competition.

The main reason I was at Spurn was to give something back to them, to show how grateful I am for their support. I wanted to congratulate them on how far they have come with the new Obs. It looks absolutely amazing and everyone there who helped out has put an extraordinary amount of effort in to it.


We (me and Mum) set off for Spurn at about 11am with a 3.5 hour drive ahead us. I really was so excited about this trip, especially after the experience at Migfest last year. Due to Spurn being so far way from where I live, we decided to stay for a couple of days rather than just the Sunday which was when the actual opening was. Spurn has one of the biggest bird lists in the country, so you never know what might drop in.

We arrived on Saturday in the afternoon which left plenty of time for some birding. There were a few nice species around, so once we arrived, we decided first of all to have a look for the 2 Black Brant that had been seen with a large flock of Dark Bellied Brent Geese.


We managed to locate the flock in a flooded field opposite Kilnsea Wetlands and began trying to pick it out. There was a really helpful man who found one of them and pointed it out; it was to the left of the flock where I soon got onto it. They're a striking bird with a thick neck collar which goes all the way round the top part of neck. They also have a white flash on the flanks which contrasts with the darker color a lot more than Dark and Pale Bellied Brent Geese. It was an absolutely great bird to see, however I apologise for the picture as it's a bit blurry; things were really difficult considering the awful wind which was shaking the scope and making phone-scoping a bit tricky.


After a successful look at the Brents, I decided to do a bit of afternoon sea watching which produced a Great Northern Diver and several Red Throated Divers. I also managed to catch up with some NGB birders including Matt Bruce, Liam, and Beth  Aucott who were great to talk to over the course of the event.

 Sea watching wasn't producing too many birds (we did get a seal though) so after half an hour or so I decided to call into the new observatory to see what it was looking like. From the outside it really looks amazing and is located next to the Humber estuary, so the views out of some of the obs windows were absolutely stunning.  There are several house rules in the obs to keep it looking great, and I managed to stick to most of them. Once inside I was greeted by several of the people who took me out for my Young Birder tests last year at Migfest. It was great to catch up with these people and have a chat, I also managed to finally meet Jonnie Fisk another NGB person and a great and funny guy to talk to.

After a bit of a catch up I investigated all the rooms which were fantastic. The whole place sleeps about 13 people and is really cheap to stay at as well. Some of the rooms viewed the estuary and some viewed the massive garden they have, which had it's first rare bird on the Sunday which was a Firecrest. Since it was just a quick look around, next we decided to check in to the place where we were staying, Westmere Farm.  On the way we pulled over to watch a small flock or Curlew feeding in one of the paddocks.


By this point it was almost 6pm so we decided to go up to the Crown and Anchor Pub for something to eat where we were joined by all the NGB people I have mentioned above along with Lizzie Bruce, Nathan Pickering and Tim. It was a great way to finish the evening and I couldn't wait for what Sunday would bring.

I had set my phone alarm for 6am in the morning, as I wanted to do an early morning sea watch before the main Obs opening; however before all that I was treated to the one and only Westmere Farm cooked breakfast which was delicious and filled me full of energy for the remaining day.

I arrived at the sea watching hide at about 7:30am where all the people from the previous evenign were. It was nice to do a bit of birding with them even though the main birds we saw were Wood Pigeons. Sightings wise we did get a couple of Red Throated Divers (one of which was close in giving nice views), several Common Scoters flew south and 15 Kittiwakes were nice to see. The highlight of the session for me though had to be a single Fulmar which flew past.

I also managed to meet up with another young birder who I had never met before, but spoken to online via twitter. This person is a great Yorkshire birder named Darragh Hudson, a great guy and really nice to meet up with. We did a bit of birding together later in the afternoon along with a good birding friend of mine Ellis Lucas.

The rest of Sunday morning was pretty much all out birding for me, and after the session of sea watching, me and mum had a quick stop at Kilnsea Wetlands to see the Avocets.


Next we went a little further a field to Sammy's Point to try and see the Firecrest that had been seen for the last couple of days. We arrived at the car park and walked a short distance along the coast to the horse paddock where it had been seen. On the way was where I first saw Ellis and his dad over the weekend. We had a quick meet and greet before departing from each other knowing we'd catch up later.  The fields around this area held small group of deer.


Now then, the area where the crests were was a lot bigger than I expected so finding it involved a lot of walking round scanning every tree; however I managed to pick it up with the help of 2 other birders. The bird was seen on and and off, flitting about in a hawthorn with a Goldcrest. At points it showed really well.


After this success, we headed off to the new Spurn Observatory for the official opening. When I arrived the building was already filling up and I was glad to get in and chat to some people before the space became a bit to cramped. It was good to finally meet Mike Dilger who gave a great talk about the success of the new obs and how he had a great relationship with Spurn. He's a really nice person to talk to and always has a positive attitude to everything. Mike was also the one to officially open the Observatory by raising the cloth from over the plaque attached to the new building. There was a great turn out for the opening of about 250 people, which obviously showed how much people support the observatory.

After the official opening it was  nice to catch up with some other people including Paul Stancliffe, Stuart Pike, Brian Egan, and many others people that I'd met at Migfest last year. I also met and spoke to lots of new people, including some young people which was great.

I decided to spend the remaining afternoon doing a bit of birding with my young birding friends that were at the event: Ellis Lucas and Darragh Hudson. We first decided to walk to Sammy's Point to see the Firecrests again as they are such a stunning bird; we immediately clocked them, and happily showed them to Ray Scally and a few other birders.

Unfortunately by this point it was now getting late and was time for me to head back to the pub for a meal before I left Spurn. I called in to the Obs on the way back to say my good byes and once again congratulated them for the success of the new Spurn Observatory.

As we were leaving Spurn, we witnessed a stunning flyover by a Marsh Harrier.  A great way to end a brilliant weekend.

I am looking forward to getting back to Spurn again soon, and hope to bring you some exciting news on the 2016 Spurn Young Birder of the Year Competition soon.

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On another note, there is still time for you to help speak up for our natural world by getting politicians to think and plan much further ahead. Please think about signing up to the #Think500YearsAhead Thunderclap

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday