Sunday, 19 April 2015

When Henry Came to Stay!

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


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

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


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


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


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



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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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



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

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Long Time No See Sylvia atricapilla!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Easter Mothing

As we get a little bit further into the year, it is starting to get a bit warmer now, so as I had the opportunity I decided to put the moth trap, to see what is out and about at the moment, and to see if I've made any progress in catch rates this year so far.

It was quite a good haul, with about six separate species, and about fifteen moths in the trap, one of the first we got out was a new species for the year and the trap, and it was a Brindled Beauty. It was a stunning moth, (we had happened to catch a male), and it was easily recognisable. A really gorgeous moth. 

Brindled Beauty

During processing the moths, we also caught 3 Clouded Drabs and two Hebrew Characters, however the second more unusual moth, especially for the time of year, including this stunning Herald moth below, which was the best condition that I've seen one in for a while.

This fiery coloured moth overwinters as an adult, and as a result, can be one of the last species to be seen in one year, and one of the first in the next.

Herald

I released all the moths safely after dark when the birds were roosting.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Skydancers

Last week I was at my Grandma's in North Wales, and as usual it is always one of the best trips of the year when I'm there. Where my Grandma lives, we are 500 feet above sea level, so spring is apparently 3 weeks behind, so I decided to shove nesting aside for a couple of days and actually do some birding. (Although I did spend a lot of hours trying to find out where the Long Tailed Tits were starting to nest......and failed).

As you probably know, the weather last week was brilliant, especially for early April, so the moors and the water looked great in contrast, and just stunning anyway. You may recognise this site from previous blogs on my visits to Llyn Brenig, which was the main birding trip of the week and it really didn't disappoint.   


After having lunch viewing the main reservoir (which for those of you who don't know, use to be a huge valley, but got filled in, which makes the reservoir you see today), we all moved onto to the back lanes which zig zag across the open moorland, and I was instantly surprised to see two police cars trailing over the moors, which was a bit alarming; was this a result of a possible wildlife crime?

The valley here is beautiful in the sun and held at least 15 Sand Martins swirling in front of the dam which ends the valley, also in pursuit of the Sand Martins was a male Merlin which didn't seem to have any success, however looked stunning when the light reflected off the slate - grey back.


My primary target species of bird to see was of course the Hen Harrier, and as you can see from the picture below they have returned to the moors already to breed, the male put on a spectacular display as it rose high into the air and started to perform the actual Skydance! It was amazing, a brilliant reward after all the work and effort put in to try and save these birds. But even though one dancing skydancer in Wales warmed my heart, there is a long way to go before we can all enjoy watching them dance across their rightful english moors.

Within a few minutes the female appeared and together they trailed off into the distance, still performing there special and spectacular display.


Llyn Brenig, and it's moors are owned by the Wildlife Trust and although it was traditionally a grouse shooting moor, there is no shooting there anymore thank goodness, so hopefully that pair of incredible Hen Harriers will breed safely with only natural predators to be wary of.  These moors hold at least 2 pairs that I have seen previously, and seem to be returning every year to these areas, so hopefully they are doing okay.


If you want to know more about Hen Harriers and why they need our help, then watch this fantastic video that has been made for the RSPB Skydancer project, and then of course vote for the Hen Harrier in the National Bird Vote (we can't let our National bird go extinct now can we).

After those marvelous displays from the Hen Harrier we moved on further around the moorland, and got a great view of a Red Kite circulating over the car and managed to get a couple of pics before that too disappeared over the sloping hills. There were also dozens of Buzzards catching thermals and effortlessly gliding overhead.


I got a couple of year ticks as well last week, including the Red Kite and also my first Wheatears of the year including this male below. These individual birds were quite skittish, however I managed to gather a few pictures before they took flight to the other side of the road. 


Overall on that visit we managed to see 4 species of raptor including: Hen Harrier, Merlin, Buzzard, and Kestrel, it was a brilliant first week at my grandma's and to be honest I just spent all my time walking in the woods and along the tracks to see what local species I could get. I only found one nest  which was a Song Thrush nest, in a hole of a tree, which makes it extremely difficult to monitor, however I have seen it going in and out.

Heading back there next week for round 2 with those pesky lotties though.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Leaders Debate Bingo Results

Well I managed to sit through the 2 hours of the leaders debate and I also managed to fill in my key words bingo card that I made up.

Official leader's debate bingo card

Every time one of the words was mentioned, I gave the word a point. The purpose was to see what was talked about the most and how important the environment is in the political world. Here are the results below:

Click on graph to make bigger

As you can see, all the words that should really matter to us got barely any mention. The one thing that we all truly cannot live without, NATURE, isn't even a concern for most of the politicians that were on that stage. I think it's so worrying that looking after our shared planet is not important enough to win votes. 

Some other words I did notice mentioned a lot were future, youth and balance. Well as a "youth" I will keep pushing for a better natural "balance" for my "future" and all of yours.

So how would I vote, well as I'm only 13 I can't stand or even vote in this election and I don't understand all of what was being said, so instead I will use my vote for a very important cause I can help change. I will vote Hen Harrier in the National Bird Vote and make sure greed, persecution and ignorance don't empty our skies of dancers.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

ITV Leaders Debate Bingo

Well tonight it is the big debate and although I would rather be watching a wildlife program, I have decided to try and sit through it.  But of course, there are some things that interest me more than others, so to make it a bit more interesting I am going to keep a tally of the how often the following words get mentioned:

Environment
Housing
Un/Employment
Crime
Climate
Education
NHS
Taxes
Conservation
Europe
Immigration
Energy
Economy
Hen Harrier :)

Words suggested by you lot:
Fairness
Long term economic plan
Sustainability

Have a go yourself or tell me which other words I should include. I will follow up this blog tomorrow of course.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Well I Wasn't Expecting That!

Today it was the final Hen Harrier Awareness roost for the Skydancers on the Dee project before they head back to the moors to breed (I hope they all stay safe). However, "just for a change" it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale.  Before the wind came in, the RSPB team (Katy and Jane) managed to get the gazebo up which gave us a bit of shelter, but then the wind came from no-where and nearly took the gazebo across the estuary to North Wales......so we took it back down!

The Welsh Hills

Despite the horrific weather, it was brilliant to catch up with Ellis Lucas and his dad Mark. Ellis and I spoke together at the BTO Conference in December. Before we saw them at Parkgate, they had already been to see the Laughing Gull at New Brighton (which is still showing very well). Anyway, it was great to catch up with them and we had a couple of good conversations about nest recording. Ellis had traveled all the way from Yorkshire and was hoping to see a Hen Harrier, however the conditions weren't too great. 

The pool in front of the Donkey Stand was quite quiet, but there we a few Shelduck and some Black Tailed Godwit lurking about.

Black Tailed Godwit

The RSPB ended up having to put everything away because of the wind and rain. As the weather just didn't clear up, me and Ellis decided to make a move as well and go down to the Old Baths end of the Parade.  We all watched for another half hour or so, but then Ellis and his dad needed to go as they had a long drive home. They hadn't seen the Hen Harriers they had come for, but I think they enjoyed the other Wirral birds.  About 10 minutes after Ellis had left, the rain stopped and a stunning female Hen Harrier soared effortlessly across the Marsh.  I felt so bad for Ellis and his dad.

Female Hen Harrier

As I mentioned, it was the last Skydancer event for this winter and it is timed this way because the Hen Harriers are due to return to the moors to breed for the summer. The birds from the Dee Estuary will probably be going up and into Wales, and will be departing shortly, so this was probably the last time we will see them on the estuary for a while.


An absolutely brilliant bird to observe and I hope to catch up with them throughout the year in their breeding grounds.

Even the swans were watching it

Since last October when I started volunteering with the RSPB for Hen Harrier awareness, I have never actually seen or witnessed the ghost, the male Hen Harrier on the Dee estuary. So I was stunned to watch a male Hen Harrier flying right across the estuary today, I'm not sure if it has been here all along on a different stretch of the river, or is just passing through towards a breeding destination, however what a brilliant way to end a wet, windy but excitable and interesting day.

Distant male Hen Harrier (click on the picture to make bigger)