Sunday, 28 September 2014


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


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.


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 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. 

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

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.