Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Holiday Welsh Birding

Most Easters I spend my time off in the beautiful locality of Denbighshire that is situated deep in the heart of the North Wales countryside; and much to my delight this Easter was no different. At this time of year birding is at its best with the wooded valleys either side of the house bursting with the recent arrivals of species such as redstart, pied flycatcher and even wood warbler. All of the latter and more can be seen from my Grandma's house doorstep, and yet even more fantastic wildlife sights are just a ten minute drive down the road; bringing you to places like Clocaegnog Forest and Llyn Brenig reservoir.

At the moment revision is one of my major lifestyle factors, which therefore pushes birding and other leisures down the agenda quite a few places; however every opportunity I've had to get out and about during this 2 weeks period, I have grabbed with both hands, resulting in some not bad days out.

As always on arrival not much is done, as the activities are a matter of catching up with my grandparents; however late afternoon I did manage a good hour stroll through the wooded hillside. It was fantastic to hear and see chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap flitting to and fro from tree to tree, all of which seemed to be in good numbers for the site. Of course it is important to remember that some of these birds won't yet be on territory, they may simply be passing through the area to their  breeding grounds.

I spent the my first full day in Wales exploring the glorious Isle of Anglesey. The island has a rich and varied coastline, most of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty, making these areas home to an abundance of diverse wildlife. This allows birders and other wildlife enthusiasts a fantastic opportunity to observe some of the most amazing fauna. As can be the case in this location, the wind was strong, but this did not put us off. We started off the visit at a couple of coastal headlands and bays on the run up to RSPB Southstack. I was delighted to come across my first wheatears and white wagtails of the year; both species sheltering from the weather. I didn't bother attempting a sea watch on these exposed bits of coast, but nevertheless, as we left two chough flew overhead chanting their charismatic call and a handful of rock pipit could also be seen collecting nest material.

The coastal fields alongside the road to Southstack held yet more wheatears and choughs (some of which were wearing colour rings; however as I in a moving vehicle and the choughs themselves were half a field away, I failed to get the full ring combination). The wind at Southstack was no better than further down the coast where I had previously been, but I did finally manage to find a sheltered, secluded spot which gave me chance to admire the mass array of seabirds on offer at this stunning RSPB reserve. Guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes were all relatively close in on the cliff faces allowing magnificent scoped views. Puffins had been sighted earlier in the day however after constant attempts to pick these distinct seabirds up, I couldn't seem to do so. As it aways does, time seemed to be escaping quickly so I squeezed in a brief sea watch before moving on to to my last Anglesey destination. To be honest the sea was fairly quiet, none the less a constant stream of gannet and common scoter were worthy of note, with the addition of a solitary red throated diver that steadily flew past heading north.

The final destination of the day was the one and only Cemlyn Bay. This enchanting curved coastal landform is unique with its shingle ridge dividing the open sea from a saline lagoon. The North Wales Wildlife Trust has control of the lagoon which they manage as a nature reserve. In the summer months, the lagoon provides a sanctuary for its famous tern colony which is indeed deemed nationally important as it is home to the only breeding colony of Sandwich Terns in Wales.

As Cemlyn is quite exposed, I decided to take quick look at what the lagoon had to offer. Immediately I was greeted by the exquisite calls of redshank and curlew flying overhead, whilst other individuals traversed the muddy shoreline feeding. On the slow stroll back, I picked up my first 2 swallow of the day heading inland, and then all of a sudden my first Sandwich Tern of the year!! I watched it for 10 minutes as the bird acrobatically swivelled and dived into the foamy sea water for food. Anglesey certainly was an excellent start to my 2 weeks in Wales, and it just kept getting better!

On the long drive back we took the route back over the moorlands due to terrible traffic on the A55.  And what a choice this was; as we steadily made progress through the unique landscape, a bird of prey caught my eye, rotating my head and having the bird in full view, I came to realise that it was in fact a ring tail hen harrier!!  Well, I am sure you know how I felt about that.

Day 2 of Wales brought me to the remarkable birding destination of the Great Orme. This fantastic coastal lump of rock is an avian migrant hotspot.  In the peak migration zones of Spring and Autumn species such as meadow pipit can be seen in their thousands overhead, whilst scarcer species such as dotteral, lapland bunting and black redstart are annually seen. However that day wasn't all about birding, as compromises have to be made to entertain the younger one; therefore the majority of my time up the Great Orme was actually spent under it. I visited the famous Great Orme Copper Mine, where it was fantastic to learn about the old geology of the rocks here and how the copper was extracted. Of course I did manage to fit in a short walk across the headland where it was good to see choughs in almost every field (this time succeeding to observe the colour ring combinations), there was also a constant stream of meadow pipits overhead, with a couple of wheatear thrown into the mix for good measure (one bird which appears to come in off the sea).

 Beautiful view from the Great Orme

Meadow Pipit

My Llandudno highlight came at the end though whilst sea watching.  A large falcon zipped through my scope view, followed by a square winged corvid.... I immediately got my bins on these 2 species and soon came to realise that a Peregrine Falcon was in fact being mobbed by a Chough!!! "Absolute Scenes" I yelled. Despite the experience lasting only a matter of seconds, it was certainly a highlight of my Welsh birding this Easter. Just before we left my first house martin of the year flew overhead.

The following day I visited what I think is one of the most scenic Welsh forest locations there is, or what I know of anyway; the one and only Bod Petryal. This walkway is part of an extensive forest biome made up of primarily coniferous woodland often with a deciduous outer edge. The forest as a whole is more commonly known as Clocaegnog, and known to many birders for the unique and difficult to find diversity the forest holds. In terms of birds, multiple great grey shrikes spend the Winter in tucked away deforested clearings, whilst crossbills are almost guaranteed to be seen. One of the forests speciality has to be the goshawk. This rather secretive species is difficult to catch up with in Clocaegnog due to the forest covering such a large area with not many public access spaces. Nevertheless on occasions you can see them gliding above the forest canopy, or glimpses of them skilfully zipping through the network of tree trunks.

As per usual, my visit to Bod Petryal proved fantastic, as soon as I arrived on site, I could instantly hear the chatter of crossbills, which are surprisingly rather camouflage amongst the tree tops. Goldcrests were out in force, with their jingling song seemingly coming from every other tree, whilst their wasn't one part of the walkway where you couldn't find siskins. My target species came mid walk though, when I came across a large female goshawk circling relatively high over the pine forest. It gave brief views before rocketing back into the concealment of trees. What a bird!!!!! The day ended with an obliging flyover from a red kite and 3 passing lesser redpoll.

The stunning Bod Petryal

 Grey Wagtail

One of up to 50 Crossbills present

The final part to a fantastic first week in Wales brings us to the upper course of the River Clwyd. The 2 words upper course can probably give those of you reading a good clue that the species I was after today was indeed the one and only dipper. Parking up in a pull in space adjacent to the river, I began to retrace the cars 'steps' back up the Clwyd. Within minutes out of the corner of my eye I noticed a brown blob whiz past my focal view, soon coming to realise this was indeed the bird I was after. It was fantastic to watch its typical bobbing action behaviour at a relatively close range, however what came next was even more incredible. After 5 minutes of the dipper hopping from rock to rock feeding, I observed it starting to collect mosses from the river bank! This particular bird was gathering nesting material, which for the time of year could have been seen as rather late. I enjoyed watching the bird retreating back and forth from its nest site for at least another half an hour from a safe distance (therefore not disturbing the bird). A fantastic end to a fantastic first week!



I should also mention that whilst I wasn't birding or revising, I spent my time participating in the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS for short) as I do every year. The aim of this ongoing project is to discover more and more information about species' nesting profiles from the start of the season until the end. Due to my Grandmas house being located high up in the Welsh hills, it is generally on average colder than lowland areas, therefore the breeding birds do tend to start their season a little later. None the less, I managed to find a surprising amount of nests of the expected species. The bulk of the nests found were indeed thrushes (an even ratio of blackbird and song thrush, 5 of the former and 5 of the latter); however 3 long tailed tit nests were also found during the course of the week. I was particularly surprised and pleased to find 5 song thrush nests as genuinely speaking, they are quite a difficult bird to catch up with around where my Grandma is based.

Song Thrush nest

Blackbird nest

Song Thrush nest

A brilliant start to my Easter break.

Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Thanks - You Made This Happen

The "Don't Let the Shadows Win" thunderclap was tweeted and Facebooked out today at 11am by 833 people with a social reach of 2,583,718. These tweets/facebook posts were then retweeted thousands of times and lots of people added in their own unique posts saying how they feel about hen harriers.

As a result hen harriers were soaring high for a while on social media and this continued to raise the awareness they desperately need.

A massive, massive thank you to everyone that signed, retweeted, posted and shared.

"Every act of evil unleashes a million acts of kindness. This is why shadows will never win while there is still light to shine." 
 Aaron Paquette

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Final Call - Don't Let the Shadows Win

As I sit down to write this blog post, 689 people have signed up to the "Don't Let The Shadows Win" thunderclap and it has a social reach of 2,452,898. So basically, even if no-one else were to sign, on Tuesday 21st March at 11am, a tweet will go out from each of the 689 people that have signed up and that tweet could be seen by all their followers and the followers of anyone else who retweets it, and that is why a thunderclap can be so powerful for awareness raising. 

So I guess this blog is really a last call and a checklist to try and do everything possible to get #HenHarriers to trend on social media on Tuesday and reach out to people who may not be aware of the unacceptable persecution being faced by raptors in the UK.

So here is how you could help in the run up to 11am on Tuesday:
  • Sign the thunderclap if you haven't signed it yet.
  • If you have signed, have you signed the Thunderclap using all your Twitter and Facebook accounts or just one of them? Please could you sign them all up.
  • Are you able to email the thunderclap link to you address book contacts and encourage them to sign up? This is the link 
  • Could you put a link on any blogs you post before 11am on Tuesday?
  • A tricky one next, but could you get your MP to sign up? You never know!
  • Could you share the thunderclap link on your social media accounts, again here is the link
  • Could you ask just one other person to sign up.
And here is what you can do to help on Tuesday as the thunderclap goes out to create a twitter storm and get #HenHarriers in to everyones social media feeds:
  • From about 10:45am to 12:00 please include #HenHarriers in every tweet or Facebook post you do. If you are not going to be able to tweet live on the day, could you schedule a tweet to go out? The more tweets that go out, the more chance we have of getting #HenHarriers trending and talked about.
  • Put a reminder into you phone so you don't forget to join in.
  • You could tweet about what hen harriers mean to you and about how you feel about what is happening to them.
  • Tweet pictures you have of #HenHarriers
  • Tweet links to blog posts that have information about hen harriers, there are some fantastic blogs out there including the ones from Mark Avery, Raptor Persecution UK and of course the RSPB's Life Project.
But however you choose to do it, please get involved and help speak up for #HenHarriers.

Thank you

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Thunderclap - What's The Point?

So firstly a massive thank you to everyone who has already signed up to the "Don't Let The Shadows Win" Thunderclap. As I write this, 475 people have signed up and it has the potential to be seen by nearly 2.3 million people when it goes out on 21st March.

But really, is there any point in a Thunderclap, will it make any difference? Well, there have been a few interesting tweets this week in relation to these very questions. 

I have of course tried to answer some of these comments on twitter, but it is a bit of a struggle in just 140ish characters per tweet. So I thought it might be better to do a blog post to explain why I still believe a twitter storm and a thunderclap going out are worth the effort.

Now, I do not think for a minute think that a thunderclap alone will necessarily change anything. But I do believe that over the last few years more and more people have come to understand more about raptor persecution because of the regular drip feed of information through all sorts of different media.  

And yes many of the people that have signed the Thunderclap are people that know about the hen harrier story, but by no means all of them. I looked through the list of 473 people just moments ago and there are people from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds and also includes politicians, TV personalities, businesses, birding magazines and NGOs;  but when you dig even deeper than that, and look through their followers, then you see the opportunity to reach the people who maybe haven't even heard of a hen harrier. 

When the thunderclap goes out on 21st March, it is the followers of the people that have signed it that   you hope to reach out to, and I don't believe for a minute that all 2.3 million of them know that only 3 pairs of hen harriers bred in England last year when there should be over 300 pairs.

Action comes in all different forms and an issue needs to be tackled from lots of different angles. The satellite tagging projects, the monitoring of the birds, the campaigns by the bigger organisations and the messaging of MPs all play a part, as of course does the hands on getting out and getting evidence; but not everyone is in a position to do that, so you help how you can.

So the realistic objective of the Thunderclap is to keep hen harriers being talked about in between the bigger, more active things that happen. If #HenHarriers was to trend on 21st March, then even more people would get to know what a hen harrier is and what is happening and even if it is just a few more people, then progress has been made.

But one thing I feel for sure is that it is better to try something than do nothing.  We should all keep standing up for wildlife in anyway we personally can and of course support all the other different approaches being taken by others.

If you would like to sign up to the thunderclap and help it reach even more people, then please click here.  And please make a note to tweet using the hashtag #HenHarriers on the 21st March at 11am. Thank you.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Winsford Flash - Patch Birding

After 2 fantastic patch months of birding already this year, I couldn't wait to get out again and kick March off. I started the morning at the Rilshaw Lane (or bottom end) of Winsford Flash, being greeted by some (certainly overdue) sunny weather that made the reflective water and birds on it look spectacular. 

After the recent heavy and continuous rain, the scrape was waterlogged to the point that it was not even visible; however 33 black-headed gull, 2 herring gull, 1 common gull, 1 teal and a single snipe were still present. With not much else on show, I moved on to view the entire bottom end, but despite my best efforts not much was picked up bar 12 great crested grebe, 120 canada geese, another 70 black-headed gull and 7 cormorant. On the walk back to the car I picked up a few nice woodland species such as nuthatch and bullfinch in their usual areas (2 of the former, 5 of the latter).

The top side of the flash was certainly the most productive side today, and almost instantly on arrival I picked up 10 waxwing heading over the horse paddocks; which is a patch first!! Sadly they didn't settle, but this finding certainly spurred me on for the rest of the morning.

With not much else about in the paddocks I headed over to the sailing club to see what gulls had dropped in, and I was delighted to discover a gathering of about 2000.

 After a thorough grilling of these individuals, the species of note were 3 adult med gulls. The majority of the flock were black-headed gulls, which is expected for the time of year (numbers have been building up for last couple of months).

After picking out what I could from the gull flocks, I decided to walk the spit separating the River Weaver from the Flash. I enjoyed lovely views of 2 kingfisher zipping up and down the river.

I also got great views of more scarce Flash birds such as tufted duck (3) and wigeon (14) on the opposite side (although the wigeon failed to settle on the water and just kept circling).

I got myself into an even better and closer position to scan the gull flock again; however despite the change of scene nothing else was picked out.  A group of about 21 coot had however made their way out of the Flash to feed in one of the paddocks.

Raptor wise, 4 buzzards were up and about making the most of the nice weather and keeping a close eye on each other, and the 2 kestrels were in their usual field site.

On the return walk it was nice to see up to 7 reed bunting hanging about in the reedy, scrub areas adjacent to the waterway with a few singing males also worthy of note.

The stonechat was also still present in the same area as the week before. The real surprise however, came when I reached main scrape... Apart from 9 teal and 4 coot, in the opposite hedgerows I picked out a stunning tree sparrow which is certainly a scarce patch bird.

Another fantastic morning of patch birding. With some of the species now,  I almost feel that we are old friends, especially the Kestrel pair that always turn up to greet me.

And with raptors in mind, please think about signing up to the "Don't Let The Shadows Win" thunderclap due to go out as hen harriers return to the uplands for breeding season.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Thunderclap - Don't Let The Shadows Win

Firstly, thank you so much if you have made the effort to click on a link on social media today about hen harriers and arrived at this blog post.

Less than 4 weeks ago I wrote the blog below and set up a Thunderclap to try and raise awareness regarding hen harriers. If you want to remember just one fact from this post, then remember this one; last year just 3 pairs of hen harriers bred in England when we have the habitat to enable over 300 pairs to breed. 

Hen harriers breed in the uplands and that is where the trouble starts. Hen harriers, other raptors, mountain hares, foxes and corvids are just some of the animals/birds persecuted to protect game birds, which are then shot.  It is a cycle of destruction.

Grouse moors are intensively managed to encourage unnaturally large amounts of red grouse to flourish in time for the "inglorious 12th".  There is no natural balance on these grouse moors and it's wrong.  

Every generation has the basic right to a natural inheritance. It's time we all spoke up to protect the natural world for generations to come, we can't survive without it.


There is a dark shadow that follows and reaches for our hen harriers.

This unrelenting shadow led to us having just 3 breeding pairs of hen harrier in England last year when there should be over 300 breeding pairs.  Illegal persecution has been a huge part of driving hen harriers to the point of extinction as a breeding bird in England.  

Hen harriers have the power to massively move people, as an earlier post called "Those Thought Provoking Hen Harriers" clearly showed.

If an iconic species like a hen harrier can be so close to extinction as a breeding bird in England, what does that say about all the other species of birds, mammals and insects that face a daily struggle for survival. We all have a responsibility to safeguard the natural world for future generations and speak out against the greed, ignorance and denial that is pushing the natural world to it's limits.

So focussing on the hen harrier for a minute, I would ask you all to sign this Thunderclap that is due to go out as hen harriers make their way from wintering sites back to the upland breeding grounds. Birds like Finn (the only bird tagged as part of the RSPB's LIFE project in mainland England last year that is still alive) who have managed, against the odds, to survive so far, unlike many of their fellow tagged birds who never made it to a year old; birds like Carroll.

So what else can you do? Well, this is where I am going to push back on you this time and ask back "what will you do?".  Awareness raising is a great place to start; please sign the Thunderclap and get other people to do the same.

You can of course use the comments section to offer up ideas, thoughts, comments on what more we should all be doing and how best to bring about the urgent changes that are needed.  

Let's bring those shadows into the light where they will start to disappear.

Thank you.

Every act of evil unleashes a million acts of kindness. This is why shadows will never win while there is still light to shine.
Aaron Paquette

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Those Thought Provoking Hen Harriers

Circus cyaneus, the hen harrier. The bird at the centre of so much controversy, and yet it is a bird that once seen is never forgotten.  It has the power to stop people in their tracks and take them to another place as you will see when you read through this blog post.  

This blog post is, at a simple level, just a collection of thoughts on seeing a hen harrier (I asked a few people to write 100 words on how they feel when they see a hen harrier). But as you read through you will see that it is so much more than that. When I first thought about putting this post together, I knew that people would have great things to say about how seeing a hen harrier makes them feel, but I totally underestimated just how beautiful everyone's words would be. It's almost as if people felt that they really had to do the bird justice, and they all really have.

So please enjoy a blog post that no-one can argue with, no-one can disagree with, no-one can say is wrong; a post about how a single moment in nature can make you feel.  


There’s no other moment quite like it. No matter how many times I see this bird, I am silenced as I watch in awe. This majestic figure floats effortlessly over the landscape, with the ability to stun all observers. No one forgets their first, the anticipation is immense and moment is treasured. You can almost feel the tension when this ghostly character appears, prey fleeing from the undergrowth. This is soon replaced with excitement as its pristine plumage twists and turns through the air. The Hen Harrier is a special bird.
Daniel Gornall @Dan_Gornall

Picture by Daniel Gornall


All wild life always captures my heart and my mind. My wellbeing is measured by exposure to nature. A dose of the wild keeps me happy, challenged and inspired. Then you discover an animal that beyond expectation adds some extra wonderment. My first experience of seeing a hen harrier did just that. This handsome creature was a robust, energetic, masterful male, and, I have to admit that I was totally entranced. Its shape, colouring and self confidence in its abilities all hit that soft spot. Electric and exciting. The perfect concoction. A female would have crushed me too. Love at first sight is guaranteed. Believe me. Go see!
Alexia Fishwick @AlexiaRFishwick


When I first saw a hen harrier I was 10 and it was probably one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me! It soared through the air, barely even flapping its wings. I also felt so angry that people would persecute this graceful, amazing bird. It enlightened my heart to see it hunting for its prey, with no persecution in sight. As we had been on a long walk over RSPB Geltsdale moor, the sight of this magnificent bird would stay with me for life! It was truly magical.
Jack Farrell @NatureBoyJack11


On 29th May, 2013, whilst on holiday in the Scottish Highlands, I was standing in a lay-by, from which Short-eared Owl and Black Grouse could be seen, when pal Jim called out ‘Hen Harrier’. Heading down the valley towards us, beautifully illuminated in the early evening sun (it was 18h49), was a magnificent male Hen Harrier.  All thoughts of owls and grouse were immediately dispelled as it continued and flew at low level, to pass us at distance of about 500 metres – my most memorable moments of a bird-filled holiday.
Richard Pegler @RichardPegler1

Picture by Richard Pegler

Yomping up a heather clad hill, reminding myself how unfit I am and that I’m not cut out for fieldwork these days. But the thought of glimpsing a bird I spend so much time talking about, but so rarely see keeps me going. Jumping at every shape coming out of the mist, but no, it’s just a heron. And then there it is. A grey shape emerging and disappearing as quickly as it came, filling me with euphoria tinged with sadness at such a rare sight.
Jeff Knott @jazzy_jeff44


There I was literally sat on a fence overlooking a rough grassy sludge tank with patches of phragmities choking the last of life from a once productive muddy area. I was in my teens and I was about to take the long walk home with my beloved border collie 'Pele'. Across the fields a ghostlike phantom appeared gently floating above the gathering mist. The brown plumage and white band above the tail immediately told me it was a 'rintail' Hen Harrier. This bird for me is a mythical waif that appears rarely but when it does it's always warmly welcome.
Bill Morton @FrodshamBirder


Its about buoyancy, about pushing against gravity with feathers, those lightweight, fragile wefts which make wings and things, which throw beauty high into the sky, to frolic, to roll and sweep and slide, to ring up and stall, with the confidence to fall, earthwards fast and then to find that invisible trampoline to bounce back to dance again, to dance in the sky, that great volume beyond our rooted reach, to where our hearts can be flung by the simple thrill of watching this bird.
Chris Packham @ChrisGPackham


A chilly, early morning on Mull - we'd already heard the bellowing of red deer stags and we were taking the long route back to the car. Suddenly, across a small valley, perhaps 150 yards away a male hen harrier low to the ground. The sheer pleasure at seeing this ghost was overwhelming - all the more because it was unexpected - gave way to admiration of its hunting skills. Remembering to breath and willing it to stay longer, the only disappointment was felt as it disappeared from view. Then elation again at the remembrance.
Paul @vivthesetter


The last time I saw a hen harrier was just over Christmas with my son in the tower hide overlooking Wicken Fen at dusk. While a starling murmuration began to build and a parliament of rooks created a cacophony, we were captivated by the grace and steel of a male hen harrier. We watched it fly away from us until our eyes strained and we could see it no more. It was a fitting climax to a great day. But, walking back we talked about the conflict that has engulfed this species and threatened its future. A conflict that has polarised opinion, created anger and passions on both sides and led to seemingly endless debate about its future. But, in the end it is just another species threatened by the actions of humans – and that is why it is why the best adjective to sum up hen harrier is “totemic”. It is a reminder of how our species continues to exploit the millions of other species with which we share this planet which, in turn, threatens our own survival. Save the hen harrier and we may just learn to save ourselves.
Martin Harper @martinRSPB


Never had I seen a Hen Harrier - or really thought about one, until meeting Finn at our Ecotricity young Green Briton Debate in 2015. It was truly very special to see my first with Finn and his family, last April (2016). The build-up was like waiting for the start of a Show – one that you’ve been dying to see but you’re not really sure what to expect, other than knowing it’s going to be spectacular! It really was! First, we observed a short-eared owl, redshank and water rail – and then, at last – we saw what we’d hoped for, our first Hen Harrier – in fact more than one! They were so elegant as they glided backwards and forwards. It felt as if they were teasing us, as if they knew we’d been waiting a while, just for them - and their shop-stopping performance. Ever since that day I’ve taken to watching the skies - in the hope that I’ll see my next...........................
Helen Taylor @HelenTaylor_eco


I always go home happy if I see a Hen Harrier. They are rare, they are beautiful and they are exciting. Always on the move, always actively searching for prey, they draw the eye like no other raptor. You have to watch them when they are in sight and you hope for their return when they are gone. Seeing a Hen Harrier makes my day.
Dr Mark Avery @MarkAvery


Emotions when I see a HH. Joy and wonder are the first words that spring to mind when I see a hen harrier. Nowadays I usually see them at a roosting or foraging site in Essex. The feelings of joy and wonder quickly subsides when I ponder the fate of these magnificent birds when they return to their upland breeding grounds.
Dr Rob Sheldon @_robsheldon 


I first saw a hen harrier (two actually!) on Sunday 19th July 2015 at RSPB Geltsdale. I'm still not sure what gave me the most joy, the spectacle of the hen harriers themselves or the fact I shared it with my husband and children. But I do remember my heart stirred and soared watching those magnificent hen harriers. However the joy was also mixed with other emotions - sadness at the uncertainty of ever seeing a hen harrier in flight again, and anger at those who wilfully set out to persecute our wonderful birds of prey, and deprive my children of them.
Samantha Farrell @BlackLabrador10

Jack & Lucy at RSPB Geltsdale


I've never seen a hen harrier. I live in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, perfect upland territory for raptors of all sorts and in five years the only raptors I've seen are a few buzzards, and that felt miraculous. I have booked a holiday to Islay because I can't bear the idea I might die before I see a Hen Harrier in the wild. I'll let you know how I feel when I see one. Right now I mostly feel furious about the lack of raptors in our National Parks.
Nick Miles @nick_miles_


My first hen harrier sighting was fleeting. It came 20 years ago when I was standing on the summit of Mt Yoash in Israel as part of a team counting the spring raptor migration. My binoculars were trained on the thousands of gliding steppe buzzards & black kites, trying not to lose count, when a lone male hen harrier flapped through my field of vision and was gone. I didn’t think twice about that first one; it was a tiny part of a much wider picture. It’s ironic that these days I treasure every single glimpse I can get, precisely because this species has itself become symbolic of a much wider tragedy.
Ruth Tingay @RuthTingay 


Drifting through the mist of a January dusk came my first hen harrier. Grey wings quartering the reeds on a grey winter’s day. Years later, starting a job in conservation, my first hill had revealed just how unfit I was. As I recovered, sat in the heather a merlin flashed past. In the distance those grey wings again, now catching the sun as over and over a male hen harrier threw himself into his skydance. With my eye in, two more on nearby hill tops. Hen harriers animate the landscape, their presence thrilling as I share their world.
Andre Farrar @andrefarrar


Driving along a well-used upland road there it was. Not far over the fence a little way up the moor a ghostly pale grey shape shining bright against the dark end-of-winter heather. We just had to pull over to enjoy the spectacle. Almost in awe I watched as it wafted effortlessly low over the ground like a child’s kite on a short string, taking advantage of little updrafts of air it gracefully kept airborne without stalling. How amazing it looked as it gave a thrilling display of just doing what they do best - precision flying. An unexpected treat!
Dave McGrath @DaveyManMcG


Early morning and the light was just enough for me to see through the twisted branches of a Hawthorne hedgerow. A large pale bird was flying low to the ground, it couldn't be, my heart started pounding as I tried to get a better view. I ran along the hedge to a clearing as a moonlit pale grey male Hen Harrier banked left and glided right in front of me, its piercing yellow eyes giving me a stare. It flew away from me and hugged the ground at a height of a couple of feet, then with a slight flick of its tail it turned left again and quartered the meadow. I watched in awe for 5 minutes before it headed for the other side of the reserve and out of view. I was shaking and realised I'd never even thought of lifting my binoculars or camera, the whole experience was raw and unforgettable. I've seen Hen Harriers since and its always a real treat but that first UK bird was so personal as it was on my patch.
Stewart Abbott @birdman1066


I’d been waiting and watching in the cold for well over an hour on a hilltop in my local Hertfordshire with 2 pals and another birder who I didn’t know. Suddenly my reward appeared in the form of a ring tailed hen harrier ghosting along the bottom of the hill. I’d seen rarer birds but none had given me the sense of euphoria that this one did. It was special, iconic, enigmatic, magnificent. I failed to contain my excitement and had to explain to the stranger that this was my first hen harrier. Needless to say he understood.
Paul Frost @FrostyBirding


The first time is an unforgettable moment, suspended in a place reserved for monumental things. It rose from the Sitka like a shadow and shot out and upwards, a second later it was joined by another male and they artfully twisted, turned and jubilantly soared. If I had a superpower it would be to fly, in those 2 minutes I did because I'm sure I soared that day too. I was amongst them, or at least my heart was, it still is. I will continue to be an advocate for the Hen Harrier, when you give your heart to something you need to fight for it, to keep it alive, so that others can fall in love too.
Dara McAnulty @naturalistdara


I was walking alone on the Hebridean island of Eigg this summer when I spied a pallid shape hugging the contours of the moor on long thin wings. A hen harrier – a souped up hot rod assembled from bits of owl, hobby, swift and hawk – like no other bird in Britain. Its owl-like face swivelled, it knew I was there. Then it expertly banked, threatening to land, violently, on a hidden vole, before disappearing over the edge of the mountain. For once, I could simply enjoy it, with none of the usual anxiety: there are no grouse moors on Eigg.
Patrick Barkham @patrick_barkham


The first time I realised that Hen Harriers existed was when I thumbed through my first field guide, aged eight. I was sucking on a Murray mint at the time as I flicked onto the harrier plate. I thought that the male’s grey plumage was absolutely stunning and immediately my desire was fired to see one in the flesh. I had to wait until I was 18 before I saw my first live one, a ringtail in Norfolk. A few years on from that, I saw my first male wafting over a wintry marsh. I remembered the taste of that mint then. It’s a taste that I hope to forever associate with Hen Harriers.
David Lindo @urbanbirder


I’ve seen magnificent marsh and Montagu’s harriers in summertime, but sadly, I’ve never seen a skydancing hen harrier. And it’s not because I’ve been in the wrong habitat; it’s because they are so often ‘missing’. The hen harrier is teetering on the edge of extinction as a breeding bird in England. Could this tragedy happen in 2017? I feel intense sorrow and outrage each time another hen harrier is illegally killed, which is predictably common. I yearn to see my first skydancers. More than this, I yearn to see the day that this majestic, beautiful and aerobatic bird is safe in our uplands. Thank you to all who tirelessly work to try and safeguard our hen harriers.
Emily Joachim @emilyjoachim


And then sadly for those who have yet to experience the sight of a hen harrier in its natural habitat, the thoughts are naturally all about what has taken this bird from them:

The dramatic sight of a hen harrier in flight is something I have yet to experience. With only four breeding pairs in England, this most threatened of our birds of prey has become a lightning rod issue when it comes to the debate over who controls the future of our countryside and the precious wildlife that inhabits it.

All too often is it a combination of ignorance and greed that it leading to the destruction of wildlife at home and abroad and this is most definitely the case when it comes to the hen harrier. 

With a grouse shooting industry valued at over £67 million a year, gamekeepers are coming under increasing pressure to kill hen harriers to protect grouse for their employers. With hen harriers targeting grouse chicks as well as rodents, these birds of prey which are known as sky dancers for their elaborate aerial displays, are not a welcome sight over the grouse moors.

It has been illegal to kill hen harriers since 1954, but like others forms of wildlife crime including badger baiting and hare coursing, illegal persecution of the species continues to take place in secluded wild parts of the country

Since 2000, 20 gamekeepers have been found guilty of "raptor persecution" or poisoning offences on grouse moorland but this is only the tip of an iceberg, as most crimes go unreported, in 2013 alone the RSPB logged 238 reports of birds of prey being illegally killed. 

However, the caring compassionate wildlife loving British public are now making a stand for the hen harrier. Wildlife broadcasters and campaigners such as Chris Packham and Mark Avery have taken the fight to protect this beautiful species to Westminster into the National Parks and into the media. Despite the misinformation and propaganda of the landowning and shooting industry, Hen Harrier day has now become one of the largest wildlife campaigns in the UK, organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime with the support of the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts it brings thousands of people together for events across the country.

2017 will continue to see growing public awareness of the scandal of widespread illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on upland grouse moors. We cannot remain silent whilst one of our most iconic birds of prey faces extinction as a result of the negligence and greed of the shooting industry. 

As a wildlife protection campaigner I will continue to add my voice to the calls for their protection and hopefully will be fortunate to see a beautiful hen harrier in the wild for the first time in the year ahead.
DominicDyer @DomDyer70


So how are you feeling after reading all that?  A massive thank you to everyone who took part and for helping to create such a positive and heartfelt blog post.

Please join in and use the comments to write your own 100 words about how seeing a hen harrier makes you feel. And come back and visit this blog soon, as I need you all to help with another big hen harrier awareness campaign starting very soon.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, 5 February 2017

RSPB Raptor Watch - Parkgate

Throughout the Winter an RSPB Raptor Watch has been taking place at the end of every month at Parkgate on the Wirral; aiming to show off the vast array of wildfowl, waders and especially the raptors that can be seen at this important estuarine site.

The habitat consists of acres upon acres of salt marsh which is an over wintering haven for many birds of prey. This winter the site has been home to at least two male hen harriers and up to three ringtails. Both the males and ringtails have been giving rather spectacular views, and people have travelled from far and wide to see them.

With so much awareness being raised about the persecution of this species, it is great to be able to show people these birds in a safe environment, before the birds head back to the troubled uplands to breed.

So last Sunday I attended the monthly raptor watch, volunteering with Dan Trottman for the RSPB. There was a steady turnout throughout the afternoon and it was fantastic to be able to show people the comings and goings of the natural world; things they my never have stopped to appreciate before. I am sure people may have noticed a bird sitting on the branch that sticks up in the middle of the salt marsh, but as most people don't tend to wander round with a scope, it is great to see their reaction when you zoom in on a merlin for them and they get to appreciate such a stunning raptor up close for the first time.

Of course, an event such as this is a great opportunity to talk to people about the on going persecution of raptors. I met a lady who had travelled from Burnley in the hope of seeing a hen harrier, so it was fantastic to be able to watch the bird with her and see her reaction. She worries about what is happening to this species, and as she has heard so much about them, she wanted to make the effort to see one. And then it was also fantastic to see the next generation coming through and enjoy watching George who could not contain his excitement every time a raptor was spotted. Sharing my scope with George and the lady from Burnley (and many other people), and sharing the experience of the raptors together was really special.

It's great when a family heading off for a walk with their dogs stop for a few minutes to see why you are there, and then they end up staying for 15 - 20 minutes to watch the birds and ask so many questions.

We were situated at the Old Baths car park.  This area of Parkgate sticks out into the marsh a bit more than the Donkey Stand (where the event used to be) allowing much closer views of the raptors on show. During our time observing from noon till dusk, we were privileged to see jaw dropping views of birds such as merlin, kestrel, marsh harrier, peregrine, buzzard.......

Marsh Harrier

.........and of course the awe inspiring hen harrier.

Wherever it may happen, the experience of being lucky enough to get a glimpse of a hen harrier is extraordinary; it literally leaves me shaking no matter how many times I may have seen one before. However, the first time is heart stopping, and this proved to be the truth when many people who had travelled far and wide, finally got their chance to see one of these birds. The atmosphere was incredible, a group of people all as excited and amazed as each other and all at a loss to understand how anyone in their right mind would want to shoot such a bird (or any bird for that matter).

This event was simply amazing, and I can't wait until next time. Anyone thinking about making the journey over next time.... Just Do It! It is truly an amazing day out.  The next raptor watch is on 26th February and I hope to see you there.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, 30 January 2017

Glaucous Gull at Winsford Flash

After loving every minute of competing in Patchwork Challenge last year, I couldn't wait to get back out on my patch, Winsford Flash, to see what 2017 had to bring.  January always starts well, with new birds being added to the patch list during most visits. As I write this blog, my current patch stats stand at 75 species which equates to 76 points (with some of the expected species still to be seen). 

This year has really started with a bang! On the 22nd January, in some pretty awful conditions, a large, ghostly gull come into view through the scope. It was in fact one of the only gulls on the water. I immediately thought "white winger".  I couldn't believe it, could it be the first record for the site of any white winged gulls!! After a few more seconds of viewing this beast of a bird, I confirmed the identification as a first winter GLAUCOUS GULL!! Birding in torrential rain and hail isn't the best, but it was certainly that sudden heavy shower that grounded this gull for a short time.

I immediately I did my best to fire off a couple of record shots, and literally in the nick of time. Within a heart stopping time phase of 60 seconds this enormous, stand out gull took to the air and headed off west. I phoned up a couple of other people who visit the site regularly, however sadly this bird eluded them. Birding really is hit and miss.

According to the 2007-11 BTO Bird Atlas, the winter distribution of the Glaucous Gull in Great Britain has increased by 9% since the 1981-84 survey.

Every morning, hundreds if not thousands of large gulls pass low over the flash, presumably on the way to feed at Maw Green Tip at Sandbach where white wingers often occur, so who knows what might drop in next.  Again, it just goes to show you don't have to travel far and wide. Putting your efforts into a particular patch will reap rewards.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, 9 January 2017

Environmental Curriculum

Its not the nicest of thoughts, but truthfully all of these brilliant, older, working conservationists aren't going to be here forever, therefore the people that must replace these people the next generations coming through. And how are organisations such as the BTO, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB (to name a few) going to find these people, not just the type of individuals that already have an interest in the environment and want to protect it, but enough supporters and people concerned enough to protect the environment? Well the answer is simple.... Education.

A lady called Mary Colwell has started a brilliant e-petition to get develop a GCSE in Natural History.  I have signed the petition as I would like to hear the subject debated in parliament and ensure that politicians understand how important this is, however, I do not entirely agree that a GCSE is the best way forward.

It is blatantly obvious to me that having environmental education in schools is the best way by far to reach out across the whole of the younger generation and get these people engaged from the point of view that they start forming opinions. I personally attend The County High School Leftwich, and very few, if any, people in my year apart share the same attitudes to the natural world that I do.

The sad conclusion is that not many younger people care, because they don't connect the natural world with everything we take for granted in our material world.  They haven't been shown just how much we rely on the natural world for everything we have.  Imagine how brilliant it could be if environmental science/natural history was incorporated into all subjects within the curriculum in both Primary and Secondary schools. It  could connect the younger generation with the environment and make younger people realise why the environment should be protected.  Of course it won't inspire a passion within everyone, but it may well teach a respect for what many people take for granted.

Where to start? Well I think its important that environmental aspects are taught from a very young age, so ideally Primary Schools.  At this age young people are still forming opinions and it is much easier to engage them before it becomes "uncool" to care and want to protect something. The job of Secondary Education would then be to build on this introduction and reinforce the vital link between our quality of life and the quality/health of the natural world.

I know there are many different opinions on how the environment should be squeezed into the curriculum, and some say it can't be done! Why say that though, that is just putting an obstacle in the way of something that quite frankly must be taught. I believe this can happen.  Sadly though, I don't think it could happen as a single subject that people could opt for in schools, as this would rely on the people already having an interest in the subject.  As a single environmental subject it would not reach out to the people who aren't interested or who have not had an opportunity for whatever reason to engage with the natural world already.  These young people are the important target people. The environment being incorporated across all subjects would reach out to everyone. If it is taught in some way, shape or form, no matter the lesson,  young people would form a good understanding of the impacts the human race are having.

I know this is a very emotive subject, and that change won't happen quickly, but unless we start trying to change things, then nothing happens, and we don't safeguard the natural world for future generations.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Patchwork Challenge - Just a bit of fun?

Patchwork Challenge (PWC) is a great idea.  I took part for the first time last year and have signed up again for 2017. Many people taking part are likely to treat it as a bit of competitive fun that can be taken part in all throughout the year; recording the variety of bird species that vary depending on the season and where your patch is located. I do also like to think of PWC in this way, however there is also so much more to PWC, including all the data that can be recorded and reported as a result of consistently monitoring a set patch.  You get to compare the birds appearing each year and the times at which they appear, and also the birds that may be missing.

Winsford Flash - my Patchwork Challenge patch

The great beauty about PWC is in the name; patch. Your patch is a set area of land, water or both that you regularly visit and record the birds that you see and hear, but there is nothing stopping you recording all the other wildlife you see there.  This is of great importance, as you learn a lot more about a species and the general habitat if you are regularly visiting/monitoring a set site.  For example, I would never have recorded the Common Terms breeding attempt at Winsford Flash last year if I had not been visiting regularly.

Common Terns with their egg at Winsford Flash

PWC is great because it encourages birders to record and stick to a particular area rather than racing off everywhere in search of new bird species for their life lists; which of course I have no problem with, however more useful data is learnt from regularly visiting a particular site.

Now of course, it's all very well recording the birds you see and updating your own personal spreadsheet with the information, however if you don't do anything else with the data then it really means nothing to anyone but you. This brings me onto another great aspect of PWC. The PWC results spreadsheet has a column that asks whether you have filled out a BTO Birdtrack record for the species you have seen.  This is great as it encourages birders to send their records to an organisation that wants the data and knows how best to break it down and use it.  The more information the BTO receive, the more accurately they can monitor things such as the impacts of climate change on migration.  

You decide when you will visit you patch and how long you will spend there, so there is never any pressure on you, but the more time you spend there, the more you will see and learn. So why not choose a patch and join in; and of course learn more about a habitat close to you.

Here are the links you need:

Register for Patchwork Challenge 2017 here.

Enter you data into BTO's Birdtrack here.

One of the breeding pair of Kestrels at Winsford Flash

Tuesday, 3 January 2017


This Winter, the UK has and is being lucky enough to be inundated by large flocks of Waxwings that  are heading across the North Sea after a poor crop of berries, their main food source, in the northern forests in places such as Russia and Scandinavia. This year Britain has had a bumper crop of berries therefore it would seem these Starling sized, sandy brown birds are making a wise decision. This Winter has been particularly good for seeing these striking avian creatures;  however they do visit the UK every Winter in varying numbers, so it's always worth keeping an eye on the berry trees every year just in case. 
The main bulk of these Waxwing flocks are to the North of the UK in places such as Aberdeen and Carlisle where flocks of up to 200 - 500 have been recorded. However as the berry crop starts to thin out in these places, the Waxwings are now making their way further south to Northern England and the Midlands with small numbers even further south than this.  I have been waiting (impatiently) for Waxwings to turn up in my county of Cheshire, but of course I couldn't wait that long to see them, so on the last day of 2016 I headed off to North Wales to look for a flock of about 60 birds that had been reported at Wrexham Industrial Estate. 

As soon as I arrived, I immediately locked on to the target flock of birds that were perched above a very vibrant Rowan tree absolutely teeming with berries. The adjacent tree of the same species had been completely stripped already. 

Now it isn't just Waxwings that feed on berries, there are many other species of bird that rely on berries as an important food source such as Redwing, Blackbirds, and Mistle Thrushes, the latter being very territorial as you can hear in this short video taken at Wrexham.

During the first view days of 2017 yet more Waxwings have been reported and this time some turned up in Barnton in Cheshire (just 15 minutes from home). The flock was reported as 20 or so, however on my visit myself and a few other good birding mates counted up to 38 individuals which is quite a large increase in the space of a day. 

Seeing these birds has been a great end to 2016 and start to 2017 and I'm sure I'll be tempted to look for more as the Winter continues. 

So keep an eye out on your berry bushes/trees, you never know what might turn up!

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday