Wednesday, 10 December 2014

BTO Conference 2014

At the start of the weekend I was delighted to be driving down to the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, and as you can guess in the title of my blog, it was indeed the annual BTO conference, and my visit ever visit to it. It was a long drive down in horrendous traffic and even a sprinkle of snow, however despite the tricky drive across I was delighted to arrive and be greeted by all my young friends that I speak with on line, including Toby Carter, Ben Moyes, Josie Hewitt, Evie & Abby Miller and Ellis Lucas.

The first evening of the weekend started with a talk by Helen MacDonald who wrote H is for Hawk. Her talk was very interesting and there was lots of interesting information and even some bits I didn't agree with; but I think a presentation is good if it makes you think or question things.

Then it was off to the quiz with my young friends. Our team easily beat the parents team (and Hugh Brazier) but we didn't win the overall thing. Nick Moran was really funny doing the quiz. During the quiz we also got to know Gethin, a 15 year old birder who I hope to see again.    

After a great evening catching up with people and some sleep, Saturday morning started with a crisp but refreshing frost.


It was brilliant to listen to all the exceptional talks presented by some fascinating people, including first a brilliant talk all about wind farms located in the sea, and their affects on sea birds and other off shore wildlife. They also talked about what groups and the government could do to reduce the amount of deaths per year (especially the most affected higher flying species of bird including gulls, compared to the likes of shear-waters which fly closer to the water and to the shore).

It was great to listen to the talk based on the correlation between birds and climate change,  giving some brilliant explanations and points on how the weather affects breeding birds and the amount of migrants and immigrants that visit year after year to the United Kingdom.

I'd also like to pick up on Kevin Gaston's fascinating talk to do with birds in an urbanising world. The talk was so captivating and I am still thinking about the things he said days later. He also talked about the nature related words that have been removed from the Children's Oxford dictionary, words like Acorn,Buttercup,Kingfisher,Starling to name a few ... But then he talked about new words added in to the dictionary......Endangered and Celebrity !  It's scary isn't it.

Another great talk I'd like to mention was one by the extraordinary Dave Leech, not just because he is so inspiring but also because he is a great, knowledgeable man.  Now I'm sure you can guess what his talk was on (not rock music), it was nesting of course, showing all about the number of nest records sent in to the nunnery. It included the most frequent and obscure nests and it was also really nice to see he had used some of the youngster's nest pictures, including my Blackbird nest.


Kate Plummer's talk was based upon how our Blackcaps used to be mainly Summer migrants but how more are also wintering here in the UK. This talk was full of information, including why Blackcaps are wintering, to do with the fact of Climate Change and how our Winters are getting warmer, and how wintering Blackcaps have evolved in a short space of time (especially their beaks) to feed on our garden feeders like fat balls and sunflower hearts.

One of the best graphics I saw was one shown by Viola Ross-Smith which showed a flight of a Lesser Black Backed Gull from it's satellite tag. You could even see where it had followed a plough. You can watch this clip here, look out for the bit when it rises on the thermals, it's just brilliant.

On the Saturday the young birders were invited to have lunch with Chris Packham and Andy Clements. It was a great lunch with lots discussion about getting the BTO engaged with younger people.  We were all given a signed copy of Chris Packham's book (100 things that caught my eye) which was very generous, thank you again Chris and of course you Andy for all the support you have given me and my friends.


After a Brilliant lunch, it was time to listen to couple more talks, the first of which was called Urban Peregrines. This one caught my eye because it was about the fact that Peregrines have increased in our Urban areas like cities. This talk was also about how they have distributed throughout the UK and about how the BTO and colour ringing are helping to track and learn about the science of these fascinating birds.

I'd like to point out how a couple of the talks and conversations proved how important things like ringing and nest recording  are exciting, fascinating and inspiring for getting children engaged and involved with citizen science and the natural world.  Ringing and nest recording are the sorts of hands on activities that grab children's attention and spark an interest straight away.

After a delicious tea, and great nights sleep  I was delighted to wake up on Sunday and find it was the day of the Young Birders. Today we were taking to the stage.  I was going to deliver part of my passion, and talk about how we can help nature and what we have done to bird populations.


Of course I was nervous about speaking in front of 350 or so ringers, nesters, birders, scientists, experts and important members of the BTO. I think we were all nervous and couldn't stop worrying about whether it would go well or not, however knowing that I knew my words and believing in my words, I felt like it was going to be OK.

I was speaking last, and I don't know if this is better or worse than going first, but the great talks I heard from my friends held my attention and stopped me thinking about my turn.  Before we all began speaking we were formally and informally introduced by Lucy McRoberts (Head of A Focus On Nature) who first spoke a bit of why we were there and her interests in engaging the youngsters. Lucy has done so much to get young people involved and I will always be grateful for her time and support.

First up it was Ben Moyes who delivered a brilliant talk about his birding patch. He also talked about the water coloured cards he has just got printed from his paintings (we bought some of them). Second up it was Josie Hewitt who again gave a brilliant talk on her ringing and just getting her C-permit. After that it was Toby Carter, who also delivered a great speech on what birding activities he gets up to and a bit about his ringing.

Next it was then onto Ellis's talk (who has never spoken to a big audience before), but he was brilliant and made everyone laugh in a good way. He talked about all the nest recording he does (great job on that Whinchat Ellis). Then it was on to Evie Miller's talk  about how she first developed an interested and also a bit on her ringing.  They were all such great talks, that I was getting even more nervous.


And now it was my turn to step and be heard.  I spoke about how I got interested in the natural world, but I mostly talked about the declines in nature and how we all need to work together to turn this round.  My slides in the background started with a murmuration of about 20,000 Starlings and gradually reduced until the last slide had just one Starling.  The slides represented how quick extinction can happen if we do nothing. But I also talked about hope and how working together can change things. I finished with a verse from a poem which is about hope, but I will finish this blog on that.

First I want to say a massive thank you to all the people I met and how supportive and inspirational they are to me including Andy Clements, Ieuan Evans, Dawn Balmer, Dave Leech, Justin Walker, Carl Barimore, Paul Stancliffe, Nick Moran, Any Musgrove, Stephen Baillie, Mark Avery,  Lucy McRoberts, Toby, Ellis, Josie, Ben, Evie, Hugh Brazier, Chris Packham,


So overall a brilliant weekend and BTO conference, and certainly one I'll remember probably forever. But back to that poem of Hope by Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

We all are and always will be students of the natural world, so young or old, let’s learn and share together.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Animal Hero Awards 2014

A few weeks ago I was amazed and excited to be nominated for the Animal Hero Awards 2014 in the category Young Animal Enthusiast.



Now I'm sure many of you will have been to London before, however I have never been, so that made the journey to London for the awards even more exciting. We traveled down by train yesterday through lots of misty murk, but that didn't stop me seeing a massive flock of Fieldfare flitting across the fields. I also spotted a great looking wetland area just a bit north of Stafford. I need to find out where it is because there were a few hides on the site. Maybe one of you knows where this might be.

We arrived in London in plenty of time and enjoyed a taxi ride to the hotel. That London really is a big place, but our hotel was next to Hyde Park so I could still see lots of green and trees.

And then it was time to get ready for the big event. I couldn't just slip any old clothes on for the event, instead I was wearing a suit, a "lifer" for me. 


The awards were held at the Marriott Grosvenor House Hotel which is probably the poshest place I have ever been in. When we arrived there were police horses, people from the forces, stars, dogs and all sorts standing round a big red carpet.

When we got in there was a champagne reception which was great for mum and dad, but Harley and I had an orange juice reception.  I must mention a lovely couple called Mr & Mrs Boddie who we got talking to and who were very supportive. 

It was suddenly time to go in to the ballroom for dinner. The room was huge and shining a kingfisher blue colour.



Before the awards started, Harley decided to go and talk to Brian May about electric guitars. I went to join them and had a great conversation about badgers and Hen Harriers. I even ringed Brian with one of my WildeAboutBirds wrist bands!


After tea it was time for the main event and just enough time to check that there was no tomato soup on my shirt! I didn't know who else had been nominated in my group until we arrived at the event, but it was great to hear about them when Amanda Holden read out the information about why we had all been nominated. Eager anticipation was  building inside me, and of course even if I didn't win, it still felt great to be recognised alongside some amazing animal heros.  

It was then time to hear the words....and the winner is..........Dominik Reynolds.

And do you know what, I honestly didn't feel at all disappointed, I just felt really happy for Dominik, especially after hearing everything he has done. I also thought, I really need to meet him, so I went to find him after all the awards were announced to say well done.



On the way back we found out Dominik was staying at the same hotel as us, so when we all came back in from the coach we all had a drink together and talked about all our wildlife goings on. We swapped emails and stuff and it's great to have found another young wildlife enthusiast to talk to.

The morning after that brilliant evening, we all decided we needed to see more of London, so we decided to take a ride on the open top bus tour ride. Now I've got to be honest it was freezing up there, but we managed to see some beautiful landmarks. I did keep thinking though, how are we ever going to change things with all these people rushing around and chasing things that wont make them really properly happy. 

But back to landmarks, such a variety including The Shard, The Gerkin, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square (with a big blue chicken in the middle), Marble Arch, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament (no Elizabeth Truss sighted, no doubt hiding away preparing to cull something).



So overall a brilliant two days;  new scenery and new friends.

A massive thank you to the Kate Whitehead at the RSPB for nominating me. I really am grateful for even being considered for the awards.  And of course a massive thank you to the RSPCA and The Daily Mirror for putting on such a brilliant and inspiring event.

But I would like to finish with a thank you to Bill Oddie for the fabulous speech he made. He talked about the attacks that various NGOs were being faced with by people who support the shooting community. He asked everyone to continue to support the NGOs and recognise the positive difference they are trying to make. I like that Bill Oddie.

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I will leave you with some famous faces:




Sunday, 16 November 2014

Wishing You A Harry Christmas


By the time you read this there will probably be just over a month left until Christmas. That’s not long. And it might not be long until Hen Harriers are extinct in England. So if you are thinking about Christmas shopping, you might think about one of these special Hen Harrier Christmas cards.

Now you might be wondering what a 6ft model Hen Harrier is doing on a Christmas card. Well I think Christmas is a time for hope and I have a lot of hope for our Hen Harriers and feel that a change is definitely in the air.

By having this card sent out far and wide, it increases public awareness towards the illegal persecution. Many people don’t even know what is happening and they are the people I want to reach and make aware of how bad the situation actually is.

The cards are left blank inside so you can write your very own Hen Harrier message when you send the card to a friend, family, MPs or land owners.

The money raised from the Christmas cards is going to RSPB Skydancers. The cards are £1.00 each and £0.50 postage (postage is 50p in total if you buy 1 or 100 cards, I hope you buy 100). If you would like some cards, you can pay by my Just Giving page (and then let me know you have done that) or you can buy them from Ebay.

So thank you for reading. Keep trying, keep hoping and keep talking to everyone you know (and even people you don’t know) about our wonderful Sky Dancers. And most importantly don’t lose heart and don’t let the fight for our birds and wildlife start to fade and drift away.

How Far Did Harry Reach

If you receive a Harry card it would be great of you could comment below and say that you received one and the town you live in. I can then update the Harry sightings maps and see how far the message has spread.

If you are on twitter, please tweet me @WildeAboutBirds a selfie with the card and use #HarrySelfie to keep Hen Harriers in everyone's minds over Christmas.



Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Good Question 22 - BTO Garden Birdwatch

It's Tuesday Night Quiz Night

At the weekend I was looking through my BTO Garden Birdwatch species list (which totals 33 species of bird). You can find out more about the BTO Garden Birdwatch here.

I have been doing the BTO Garden Birdwatch for over 2 years now and there are just 3 species that have appeared in every survey I have done.

So the question is, which 3 species have appeared in all my Garden Birdwatch Surveys.

And while you are thinking, I will leave you with a picture of a bird that hasn't made any of the official counts, but who was in the garden for quite a long time. #SaveOurHenHarriers.

I will post the answer tomorrow night. Good luck.The prize for this week's winner is a packet of "Wishing you a Harry Christmas" Christmas cards which will be ready very soon.

And the answer is:

Blue Tit
Great Tit
Jackdaw

And the winner is Nick Moran who got the answer right on twitter. I will send you the cards as soon as they are ready.

Thank you to everyone who took part. The answer took me a bit by surprise when I was looking through my Garden Birdwatch surveys. I was sure House Sparrows would be in there.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hen Harriers on Autumnwatch Extra

Sky Dancers on the Dee

Recently I've been doing lots of work to promote awareness about the illegal persecution of birds of prey, particularly Hen Harriers. I was lucky enough to have the chance last Sunday to volunteer with the RSPB at Parkgate on the Dee Estuary. This gave me the opportunity to talk to everyday people about how our Hen Harriers are in danger. The RSPB are doing monthly Sky Dancers on the Dee events at Parkgate, so try and get to one if you can.


 I spent the afternoon with  Dan Trotman (who works at RSPB Burton Mere) and Sheila (an RSPB volunteer). Dan is really enthusiastic about saving Hen Harriers and raising awareness and it was great to help him.  Each one of these events is the last Sunday of the month throughout the Winter (I'm hoping to attend all of them).


The whole point of these events is to get the public aware of what is actually happening out in the field and how they can report it, because persecution of raptors is illegal. Everything from suspicious behaviour to physical harm should be reported. 

In the end it was a brilliant day having at least 15 good proper engaging chats to people about Hen Harrier persecution. We even got a very brief glimpse of a Hen Harrier out over the marsh. I just hope that the long term effects of what we did help to change people's attitudes towards our wildlife.

Dusk on the Dee Estuary

Harry's Flight to BBC Autumnwatch

Following on from raising awareness for Hen Harriers at Parkgate, a few day later, after a 2 and a half hour journey (and hiring an Enterprise sprinter van just for Harry) we finally arrived at RSPB Leighten Moss so I could be interviewed for Autumnwatch Extra. My interview for Autumnwatch fits nicely in this blog because I was talking about being a young naturalist and more importantly about raising awareness about our of Hen Harriers.

So the day really started off a bit let's say chaotic, as firstly we had to find somewhere to park the huge sprinter van, thank goodness for a very understanding car park attendant! We found our contact from Autumnwatch and then I got introduced to Brett Westwood who would be interviewing me later. After getting Harry out of the van and set on his roosting perch, we got a bit of time to relax and have a wander around the spectacular (it really was an amazing) reserve; getting fantastic views of a female Marsh Harrier drifting over the reeds, memories you just can't forget.

Harry doing what he does best, engaging people

This day was just getting better and better, as after a drink or two I got to do some proper recorded filming with Brett, which was great because I got to talk about Hen Harriers and the project of creating Harry. I also had a great chat with Brett Westwood about all sorts of wildlife stuff, he is a really, really great person.

Talking about Hen Harriers with Brett

After the filming me and my dad went for a proper walk along the causeway trying to find the Bearded Tits, however as it was  mid afternoon our chances were quite slim, as they are normally out feeding in the morning. We only had a limited amount of time before I was live on air so we used the time wisely and did get a fleeting glimpse of a Water Rail.

So after another good walk around the reserve, we headed off towards Lilian's hide where Autumnwatch Extra was taking place and where I was going to be interviewed. We arrived a good ten minutes earlier before I was going to speak so I could think about what I was going to say (which is quite important as I didn't want it to go wrong live)! When Brett arrived I sat with him for a bit watching the Starlings coming into roost before it was time for me to go on air.


I walked into the production room a little anxiously before I sat down and the interview began, at first I was a little nervous however the words soon started to flow. It was so important to me to get things right and come across well for the sake of Hen Harrier awareness.


Brett was asking me questions about me as a naturalist, what  is happening to Hen Harriers and about a world without them. Brett also showed me some of the footage of the highlights of the day so I also commented on those images a bit as well. On my way out Iolo Williams was waiting to go on,; he made a really nice comment about what he had heard me saying. I'd love to go birding in Wales with him (just in case you read this Iolo).

It was also really nice to get in a chat with Chris Packham again who is always really inspiring and of  course very supportive and enthusiastic towards the next generation of conservationists.


I did also stay for Unsprung which was nice as I got chance to meet Nick Baker and had another chat with Iolo Williams. I had nothing to do with the power going off on Autumnwatch that night by the way!!!


Once again Harry was the real star of the show and a great talking point. It was great to see and talk to so many young people on the reserve, especially the lovely and friendly family I also met at bird fair last year.

With Jack and Lucy

I want to finish this post by asking you all to do something;  imagine a world without Hen Harriers, what would you miss?

The wondrous dives and angles the sky dancer shows us, effortlessly drifting ghost like over reeds or moorland. A serene master of the skies, showing us a glimpse of how beautiful nature can be.  

What right do we have to take this away. I think having a natural treasure like our Hen Harriers on the edge of extinction in England sadly tells us a lot about the attitude of too many people today.

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I want to say a massive thank you to the BBC Autumnwatch team, RSPB Burton Mere and RSPB Leighton Moss for the opportunity to talk to so many people about Hen Harriers.

You can watch my Autumnwatch interview on the link below. The Hen Harrier part starts from about 2 hours and 6 minutes and 30 seconds in.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0299nbf/autumnwatch-extra-2014-6-day-three-part-two


Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Yellow Browed Warbler - here to stay?

Once again it was great to be back out ringing on Saturday.  The session started off slow (we expected more as the conditions were ideal), catching a couple of finches, tits and thrushes. With spare moments when we weren't catching birds we sat with a cup of coffee and a biscuit (or two) watching the huge flocks of Pink Foots drifting over- what a fantastic noise and commotion.

The Redwing numbers had died down massively considering the passage last week when we caught and ringed 30. In fact this week we barely heard any Redwing passing over never mind a flock and we only ringed three.

When we went on our third net round check, in one of our single 12 metre nets we noticed a warbler pocketed in the 3rd panel. We approached the solitary bird thinking it was a Goldcrest. We then noticed two distinct wing bars across each wing suggesting something different.. .......it was in fact a Yellow Browed Warbler!


This Autumn has brought many things, the change in season, outstanding scenery, incredible fungi and some fabulous birds. Yellow Browed Warblers are one of those special birds and have become more and more frequent visitors to the UK.

In around the 1970's Yellow Browed Warbler occurred in Britain in very limited numbers; however in the last several years this species has flooded into the country distributing everywhere across the UK including the site we were ringing at yesterday. This could be  largely to do with the fact that our  Winters are warmer and they could be being using it as a wintering ground, this may be linked with climate change. Birds ringed across the UK and further afield will further help us understand their movements and populations.



We collected the biometrics from the bird with the bird weighing 6.4 grams, not much bigger or heavier than a Goldcrest (Goldcrests on average weighing just over 5g). This bird will stick in my memory for a long time and it was fascinating to be able to see it up close and study it,  a great reward for all the effort we put into ringing and the management of our ringing sites.


This Yellow Browed Warblers now adds to some great results this year including Spotted Flycatchers, Firecrest, Cetti's Warblers and Siberian Chiffchaff.  

Sunday, 19 October 2014

"Reddy" or Not, Here They Come!

It was good to be out ringing again on Saturday, especially because of the amount of Redwings flooding into the country from the East Coast. I'd seen my first couple of flocks on Tuesday morning on my way to school and with all the easterly wind in the week, it helped them along on their way.

We were ringing at one of our main Winter sites, however it certainly didn't feel like Winter or even Autumn, as on the way there the temperature was recorded at sixteen degrees.

Whilst setting up we could hear the Redwing passing over with their seeping contact call. As quite a few were going over we decided to set a couple of nets for catching them. 

When dawn finally approached we were already starting to get results.The Winter thrushes were coming in at a good pace, catching about several per net round, which is good for our first session catching them this year.


When we started to process the Redwings we noticed that we were possibly catching two different races of bird. One or two birds were quite dark with slightly longer wing lengths and heavier weights than normal (our lightest Redwing today weighing 51 grams and our heaviest 73 grams ). These birds were possibly from the Icelandic race - coburni.  Out of our 31 Redwings ringed today 47% were adults.

We also noticed on the Redwings that some of them had a couple of ticks, however all of these were very small which suggests that these specimens were on the birds just before leaving the country they came from. This is one way that places can get infected with parasites and therefore infect other birds with diseases.

Redwing with tick 

There were few finches around today, however there were some other highlights as an adult Jay made its way into our nets and a young female Greater Spotted Woodpecker.

Just waiting for those Fieldfares to put in an appearance next!