Thursday, 24 April 2014

Heronry Census with Professor David Norman

After a long but exciting wait I was finally able to get my chance to count the Herons as part of the Heronry Census coordinated by the BTO with Professor David Norman.

I was really glad to be out, and the Heron Counting started really well by straight away looking up to see a reasonably large Heron sat perched on a huge nest, obviously active due to all the white wash either on the bottom layer of the nest or the branches just below. 

Here it is again below, this time about to fly off.
We could also tell this was in use because of the broken egg shells littered all around the base of the tree (the eggs are normally a dark blue, however you normally see them more of a light blue colour because of the white wash covering the egg).

They were very interesting to watch, and it wasn't just heron eggs we found on the floor of the wood, in fact there was also one or two possible duck species which looked predated.

Normally when we looked up, a lot of the nests were in the Pine Trees, and as shown in the picture the nest can be rather small and even very see through. Normally they were quite a bit bigger however even the smallest of nests had activity including this one, and quite a few other nest of which a similar size. It mad me wonder how those bid chicks managed to stay in.

On the way back from the heronry we count we called in to see the land owner which David taught me is a very important part of the count. We were able to thank the land owner and report back to him on how the heronry count had gone.

It wasn't just Heron nests we found. Towards the edge of this hedge below, Professor Norman and I found a Dunnock's nest holding 3 lovely blue eggs, also great to see.  We also found the start of a Long Tailed Tit's nest, which looked very peculiar, with two separate parts to it.  It is always good to be out with someone else who thinks it is quite normal to have your head in a hedge.

Whilst counting the Herons we also got to do a little bird watching, the Buzzards and Rooks kept us entertained (as well as the Herons of course).

Overall, we counted 70 nests in use this year, this may seem a lot however Heron nest numbers here are dropping; so I wanted to ask if any of you had any thoughts on this? It will be interesting to see how the heronry counts across the country have gone and how overall numbers are doing. 

I want to say a really big thank you to Professor David Norman for letting me help and for sharing all his knowledge with me. I really did learn a lot, even how to recognise raptor poo!

Monday, 21 April 2014

BTO Workshop and Stone Curlews

Now I said in my last blog that the purpose of me visiting Norfolk was to deliver a talk explaining what birding means to me at the BTO Head Quarters (The Nunnery), which was all organised by A Focus on Nature (or AFON).

The day started with amazing talks from a mix of the BTO staff and how they got their jobs; so where they had studied, what they had studied  and all the volunteering and stuff they had done. They had all done such different things and some hadn't even been all that birdy until they started their BTO jobs. 

Before me and all the other young wildlife lovers begun to talk, we all had 4 workshop experiences to chose from, all of which could be career paths. Out of the 4 we all had to pick 3 and I chose nest recording, ringing and surveying. 

So ringing, possibly one of my favourite parts of bird conservation, was quite interesting as I could see how everyone was fully engaged with the demo. I think overall we had 45 minutes of observation and the odd time handling birds, including Blackbirds, a Blackcap and a Marsh Tit. Harry Martin (who travelled down to Norfolk with us) had never held a bird before, so he got to let most of them go, including the Marsh Tit. His smile was enormous.

One of the amazing walled gardens at the BTO HQ

Now on to nest recording; I am rather fond of this now as it's another great way of interacting and helping with bird conservation. This workshop experience was led by Dave Leech, a lovely, helpful and really knowledgeable man. He has been bombarded with tweets from everyone since he introduced us all to the wonders of ringing. 

Before we went out to see some nests, we were  given a talk by Dave so we could understand how to nest record and understand really what it is actually about.  He also tested us on our bird song recognition.  After the talk, we were led outside and shown some nests including a Chaffinch, a Song Thrushes and a Blackbird.

Dave Leech showing us the Blackbird nest

As you can just make out in the picture, the Black Birds had chicks, 3 in fact. By the way, if you ever want to nest record you are not allowed to handle the pulli, unless you're a qualified ringer. So even I wouldn't ever take a bird out of a nest.

A Blackbird chick in Dave's safe hands
Now before I go on to talk about the second part of my blog, I'm yet to tell you how my talk went with all the other young people, the audience and of course a Focus on Nature and the BTO (the people who invited me).
Before I started the talk, I had a bit of time to meet and talk to some of the people also talking and taking part; it was great to meet everyone and I made great friends with Toby Carter, Ben Moyes, Josie Hewitt, Alex Berryman, Ellis Lucas, Mya Rose Craig and Abbey Miller (her birdy sister Evie was in China so I didn't see her).

Now in a good way and a bad-ish way, I was talking first.  I myself am not the most confident person talking in front of a large audience, and I have to say when I first started I was a little wobbly but then I got straight into it after about 30 seconds and just let my feelings spill out (so I think it went okay).  I talked about what birding means to me and the importance of all the conservation things I try to help with like ringing, WeBS count and even blogging.  I even managed to ring everyone with my WildeAboutBirds wrist bands.

I was glad at the end to meet everyone; it was great to talk to Ieuan Evans and see Andy Clement again, well I mean it was great to meet everyone, so I would like to say thank you to everyone who helped and supported me throughout that talk and everything that led up to it. But a really special thank you to Lucy McRoberts from AFON who organised it all.

I really, really learnt a lot and met some amazing people who I know I will see again. 

Stone Curlews

Now onto my second part of my blog, Stone Curlews. After the whole BTO day was finished, me and my family, Alex Berryman, Josie and Josie's mum (Alison) went to see if there were any Stone Curlews about at Weeting Heath, and fantastically enough there they were. I think these birds have eyes like Sparrow Hawks (only a bit more bulging) and remind me of prehistoric birds.

Out of the whole visit we managed to spot 4 birds (you can only see 3 in the next picture, as the fourth was sitting in a nest further away down the field).

These were really interesting to watch and you will see some of their behavior in the pictures below (thanks mum for the pictures).

In these 2 pictures below, you can see that 2 males were fighting whilst a female was watching (it was quite intense).

There was also an awful lot of displaying going on, as you can see in the picture below.

When we arrived to watch them, they were right up close and we got some great views, however they soon started to drift away, and one male kept trying to nest change with it's chose female.

On the way out of the hide we bumped into Ellis and his dad who had also gone to see them. I really hope I meet all these people again, they just feel how I feel and I can talk to them about all the things I really love.

I have really enjoyed my time in Norfolk and it would be great if I could go again. It has been a pleasure meeting everyone, and I can't wait until something like this happens again. So no pressure Lucy McRoberts!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Swarovskis, Crossbills and even an Eagle!

Sorry I've not been blogging for a while, I've been away in Norfolk due to me giving a talk at the BTO Head Quarters. I shall be talking about that in a separate blog, however in this one I will be sharing with you what birding I got up to at Lynford Arboretum. Due to us living rather far away from Norfolk we decided to stay for a short while. We, as a family, were staying in a small cottage in Mundford. Throughout the journey we were joined by a student studying Zoology at university called Harry Martin who enjoyed watching the Red Kites with us on the way.

When we all finally arrived, we decided to take a visit to Lynford Arboretum which was just within a mile from where we were staying. Apparently the site was a good place to see Two Barred Crossbills, however throughout the first trip at this site we didn't manage to see them. Nevertheless we still did manage to see some other great birds...

(Now I haven't mentioned that A Focus On Nature, or AFON, has kindly offered me some Swarovski binoculars for a month.  AFON and Swarovski have clubbed together to find 12 young wildlife enthusiasts to share the bins over 12 months and record as many species as they can with them; so if you unfortunately don't see the bird with the binoculars it doesn't count, even lets say if it was a Hudsonian Godwit. The binoculars arrived from James Shooter on the very morning we were setting off for Norfolk, perfect timing.)

..Anyway back to Lynford Aboretum. As soon as we arrived into the car park, bird song filled are ears, and could easily pick one out; the Firecrest! (The first bird I saw through the bins, not bad ay), not the rarest of birds (but still not common) however one of the most stunning. As it stood perched in a rather large Beech Tree, it continued to sing; now though flaring it's head at us and the people around us. The next bird I saw through them was a singing male Chaffinch.

After a good ten minutes of watching the Firecrest we moved on further down the path, we soon came across a feeding station, of course it was full of Titmice, Chaffinches and the odd Nuthatch and Blackcap. What really caught my eye was the male Brambling, and I've got to say he really was a stunner. I managed to take a couple of snaps before he took to the trees.

We did visit this site (Lynford Arboretum) twice, so I am now moving onto part two of the Aboretum if you like, however this time the first bird I saw and actually heard was a ringed Marsh Tit, beautiful as they look, they still take a bit of work to get a good picture (which in my opinion I almost managed to do).

As we continued our walk we soon came to a large area of pine forest, we all as a family though it would be nice to stray a bit from the path to see what was about. RUSTLE, RUSTLE, RUSTLE, went the grass. As I looked up a pine cone crossed paths with my eyes I looked up further and my eyes came to a stunning male Crossbill, tearing the pine cones apart then licking the seeds out. What a perfectly designed beak for the job.

As I went to tell mum, dad and my brother, they were soon looking up in amazement, even though I've seen Crossbills before I have never had as good views as this.

As my Swarovski binoculars stuck glued to the male ( below right) Crossbill, my attention was turned to a female that had come to join it (below left). I was really amazed to see the amount of wildlife that place held, probably one of my best bird watching experiences ever.

And it just gets better...

Not in these pictures but towards the end of the trip something caught my eye in a Black Thorn tree, I then noticed a large group of birders staring at the same Black Thorn I was looking at, I looked through my (Swarovski) Binoculars and realized it was a stunning male Two Barred Crossbill.
I only got a couple of glimpses through a scope before it took off into the much larger Pine Trees. 
As we continued walking, listening to the Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, we soon came to a large pond, and as you can see this trip was not just about birds.

We were joined by what looked like a Grass Snake swimming through the water, I've got to say my mum spotted that, but nevertheless it was still such a pleasure to watch.

Of course we can't forget about the common birds, it was still lovely as ever to watch all the tit mice going to there nests and feeding, it really was amazing. 

When I said that the trip wasn't just about birds, it certainly wasn't, we again as a family were joined by some beautiful Orange Tip butterflies, the first time I had seen any this year.

I spent a bit of time enjoying and photographing these as they are my favourite butterfly (especially the male)

I saw and recorded quite a few butterflies whilst in Norfolk but the biggest was the most beautiful Brimstone.
 There were lots of these about, and gave us great views, but they wouldn't open their wings for a photo.

We also saw lots of deer whilst at the Arboretum (three species in fact) but this cheeky fellow was the Muntjac, and whether this makes you laugh, it certainly  makes me laugh sneaking behind the photographers, what a perfect way to end my time at Lynford. 

However that Muntjac didn't end the day; watching this eagle below (jet not bird!!!) did. We decided to visit the military base for my brother and I've got to say he really enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and I'll keep you updated with more news at my time in Norfolk.

So, the all the species seen so far with the Swarovkis bins are: Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Tree creeper, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Brambling, Siskin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Chiff Chaff, Black Cap, Willow Warbler, Gold crest, Fire crest, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Common Crossbill, Two Barred Crossbill, Sarling, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Carrion Crow, Raven, Rook, Grey Heron, Jackdaw, Reed Bunting, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Mallard, Linnet and Magpie - and I've only had them for 5 days.

Now to get them in to action on my local patch.

(More blogs on Norfolk coming very soon including a fabulous lifer and an amazing conference at the BTO Head Quarters with AFON and other young birders, photographers and various environmental students.)

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Kestrel in the Bottom Pocket

I have been down at my Grandmas all last week as it's our school holidays. It was a good week - but that's for another blog.  Dad picked me up on Friday night and it was early to bed, as on Saturday I was able to go ringing again.

It was a calm, cloudy morning, so good conditions for ringing; however the session started off quite slow with us not catching many birds apart from a few tit mice, a few Redpoll and a Chiffchaff. A buzzard and a Kestrel were seen overhead on a number of occasions and watched them swoop and hover.

After a couple of net rounds the bird numbers started to pick up a bit, catching two rather nice re-trap male and female Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and a re-trap Nuthatch. 

Birds such as woodpeckers eyes change colour generally to a more red colour as they get older - I wonder why that happens ? This picture doesn't show it that well but the iris was becoming a bit more reddish.

We were also delighted to catch this stunning male Yellow Hammer, this was the first one of the year, so it was quite exciting to catch. They are from the bunting family and I think they used to be called Yellow Buntings ?

Towards the end of the session, we all saw a rather large bird in the bottom pocket of one of our single nets. Peter went down to have a look and found it was a stunning Kestrel, perhaps this was the one we saw earlier in the morning 

No words needed here as I think the pictures say it all.

This particular bird was an adult  male, we could tell this because of its size and the grey colour of it's head. It weighed 196 grams.

As you can see in this picture, I was pretty nervous (but confident) handling this stunning bird of prey. It was really amazing to have the privilege of holding it, but remember the joy of holding it comes only after respecting the bird.

I certainly didn't expect to end the day with a Kestrel.

It's another busy week coming up and I am hoping to meet some of my younger blogging friends at a birding conference this week.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Willow Warblers Are Back

Saturday was ringing, a perfect way to start the Easter Holidays, we managed to avoid the rain and get a few hours of ringing. The day started off great; just as we started to spread the nets a Wood Pigeon shot into the net (Dan's favorite).

There were quite a few birds passing through. Birdsong was heard everywhere and a high pitched song caught our ear. It was a Willow Warblers song and later on as you can see in the picture we caught it, our first Willow Warbler of the year.

The majority of the birds we caught today were Blackcaps, two of which were females. We caught a retrap male from a couple of years ago, however most of the others were new.

It was really interesting to see how many were passing through. However, some of them were singing in the same place for quite a while which suggests they could have been on territory already.

I'm really looking forward to the start of our RAS ( Retrapping Adults for Survival ) project on Blackcaps which we will start in a couple of weeks.

We also caught a couple of  Chiffchaffs, however one in particular stood out; a retrap and a rather pale one. We soon realised it was the Siberian Chiffchaff we ringed in January. It must have stayed around so it will be interesting to see if the Siberian Chiffchaff continues to stay around during the breeding season.

We also caught two Linnets (Mark Avery's favourite birds) which is a new ringing bird for me. 

Other birds caught today included Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Long Tailed Tit, Wood Pigeon, Blue Tit and Reed Bunting.

Off to Grandma's in Wales now for a week, can't wait; I will be watching out for the return of the Pied Flycatcher while I am there.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

200th Blog Post - Peregrine, Choughs, Wheatear and More!

Today is 1st April 2014 and one year eight months ago I started my WildeAboutBirds blog on the 8th of July 2012. And the reason I'm mentioning this is because you're currently reading my 200th blog post; a huge and important special leap in my network of birding and enjoying wildlife on both the computer and more importantly the great out doors. However, I wouldn't have got this far without all the support and help given by my parents and all of you fellow bloggers and supporters out there, commenting kind and helpful messages, all of which continue to inspire me to enjoy and protect nature as much as I can. 

Now, because this blog is rather special, I am going to be basing it on my first day at the Angelsey this year. Because it was Mother's Day last Sunday we as a family were suppose to be spending the day on the beach, however I couldn't help resist persuading mum and dad to take us all to South Stack to see what wonderful wildlife was hanging about. As well as there being lots of nature on South Stack , the actual journey through the country lanes and by the sea shore really blew me away. 

To start with, as soon as we reached the moorland leading up to South Stack. My ears were soon filled with the mating and usual call of the Stonechat, all together through out the whole day I counted a record number of 11 Individual birds (most of which were males). In a day of birding I'm usually lucky if I see one.

The Stonechats you can see in this picture were sat up perfectly on a fence next to a field full of gorse; perfect habitat for this species. As you can see in the picture there is a male (right) and a female (left) the handsome male was performing rather spectacularly it's courtship dance in front of the female.  

As you can see I was really intrigued by all the wildlife, and  even decided to lie down on the rather wet grass (I have got to say I got some great views).

All of a sudden I though I saw a glimpse of a Wheatear; but it wasn't a single Wheatear, it was in fact about 9 on them. A group of 7 males and 2 females.

The Wheatear were flitting across the grassy bits near the edges of the cliffs. They didn't seem too bothered by me.

And then suddenly my eyes got distracted by another bird and a first for me.......a Rock Pipit. Well I think it was, what do you guys think?

And then it was back to those stunning male Wheatears.

Even though it was a bit hazey, the view from the cliffs was amazing. 

As we approach the really high cliff at South Stack, something bobbing about in the sea caught my eye. A sleek Grey Seal gliding through the water, but stopping to have a good look round every now and then. Then it disappeared round the corner so it was time to look for something else, and that something else turned out to be epic.

A beautiful Peregrine Falcon sitting high up the cliff on a grassy ledge, watching us. I thought my heart would stop for a minute. I have never seen one so close for so long. The Peregrines do nest on the cliffs at South Stack.

Here it is again having a good look round. And then it was time to drive back round to some of the bays, but I had to shout S T O P!

In one of the fields near to South Stack I spotted a Hooded Crow, but on closer inspection it was a Hybrid Hooded Crow. I have contacted Ken Croft who knows everything about the birds on Angelsey and he said it was one of the offspring of a pure Hooded Crow that lived on South Stack for about 15 years. Don't you just love facts like that.

Here it is next to a normal crow.

And then the day got better still as 2 Choughs flew straight in front of us. I nearly exploded at this point.

After all the amazing birds and scenery, we sat on the beach for a bit to think about how lucky we are to be able to enjoy all this. The sun on the waves was the perfect end to a more than perfect day.

I hope you enjoyed my 200th blog, I can't think of a more perfect one.

From Findlay