Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Hen Harrier on the Roof

Our village has started a Scarecrow competition, with no theme and which anyone can take part in. So I decided to take part and make a male Hen Harrier to raise awareness of it's decline. I've been lucky enough to see Hen Harriers a few times, but maybe I won't in the future if something isn't done to halt this decline.

Hen Harriers (and other raptors) have been illegally shot, killed by traps or poisoned and their habitat is being destroyed. This is happening all over the UK and some people believe it is linked to driven Grouse shooting.  I don't want to use this blog post to blame anyone though, but I do want people to understand what a sad situation we are in with not a single pair of Hen Harriers breeding successfully in England last year.  The Hen Harrier is protected so how can this be happening.

 The Hen Harrier Scarecrow Project

The whole design started off as pieces of insulation board from my dad's work, which slowly turned into the finished design. A lot of hard hours were put into getting the right shape and colors, but to start with we (me and my dad) had to form the body structure and think about how we would attach wings and head.

This picture here shows the cut away section ready for the head, and the body is starting to take shape. It was quite tricky carving and shaping the insulation board.  At this point it was looking more like a Basking Shark.

The head was formed from separate pieces of board stuck together and here you can also see the slot which was to take the wings. At this point it was know to everyone as the mutant budgie!

A bit more carving and the head begins to take it's Hen Harrier form. This was the most difficult bit to carve to get it to look right and I had to keep checking my pictures to make sure I was still on track.

The model was covered in feathers cut out from old grey material (by mum) and coating in a litre of PVA glue before colour spraying to give the bird its real effect. I thought I would share with you here my list of components which created the bird:

Body, Head and Tail - made from insulation board
Eyes - polysterene balls cut in half
Beak - cut off end of a plastic coat hanger
Legs and feet - hollow plastic tube with electrical cable for the talons.
Feathers - piece of old material.
Wing tips and tail tips -  turkey quill feathers
Colours - spray paint.

Of course I wanted the Hen Harrier to be ringed (you never know we might re-trap it one day) and know they are colour ringed with 3 letters and 3 numbers - mine are FIN ( that's me ) and 132 which is a memorable date for me.

Here it is hovering above our porch roof held on by a sturdy piece of timber ( let's hope it doesn't get too windy, although I would sort of like to see it soaring over the village).

A close up picture of the finished Hen Harrier showing our number for the scarecrow competition. If I am lucky enough to win, there is prize money, and I will be donating this to RSPB Skydancer.

What Can We Do To Make A Difference?

Well, there are lots of amazing people really trying to make a difference, and there are ways in which we can all help.

Mark Avery is really doing a lot to raise awareness and make a difference. If you read through his blog you will learn lots about the decline of Hen Harriers in England. Mark is also organising a demonstration to raise awareness, so you could give up some time and attend Hen Harrier Day.

You can sign Mark Avery's petition to ban driven Grouse shooting and help let the Hen Harrier numbers recover.

You could also choose not to eat Grouse at home or in restaurants and even question the chefs on where their game comes from and if there are breeding Hen Harriers on the estate.

You can vote for RSPB Skydancers to receive funding from the National Lottery so they can continue to help the Hen Harriers.

You could even build a huge Hen Harrier and stick it on your roof, as this may soon be the only way many people will see one in England.

Have you ever seen one? They are the sort of bird that is once seen never forgotten, but I don't want these stunning birds to become just distant memories.

Please help.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Amazing Moths for National Insect Week

Of course as a young conservationist I don't just like birds (even-though they are my main passion); but I love all wildlife and this year aside from birds I have particularly been focusing on early and mid year moths (just about coming out now and the start of July).

All of these moths were recorded over the last 2 weeks in my garden and will be entered into a national survey. I wanted to share these stunning moths with you as part of National Insect Week

So here they are, a real mix of colours, shapes and sizes: 

Angle Shades

Birds Wing (local)

Buff Tip

Burnished Brass

Common Rustic

Lime Hawk Moth (my favorite of the year)

Large Emerald

Swallow Tail

Double Square Spot

Yellow Shell

Eyed Hawk Moth

Ghost Moth

Gold Spot

Pebble Hook-tip

Scorched Wing

Now of course there are about 2700 species of moth in the UK, these are just a select few from my garden that I thought you might enjoy. So why not get out there set a moth trap up and discover these night time wonders for yourself.

By the way take part in the annual moth night from 3rd - 5th July.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

WeBS Count - Red Necked Grebe & Lesser Scaup

Frodsham Marsh is a great place to be out birding so it's an a absolute honour to take part in the WeBS count, which takes place once a month.  We had been told and read that two rare birds had been spotted and were hanging around the place, one on the Weaver Bend and one on No6 tank. 

I have seen a lot of species of grebe when I have been birding, but never the Red Necked; this bird is rare for Cheshire and so it was really special to see.

Now please excuse my pictures, there wasn't much light, but I still think you can tell what it is.  I spotted it almost instantly when I arrived at the Weaver viewing point, but it was only later that I got a proper view through my telescope. I pointed it out to the rest of my family and they were amazed by the size and colors of the bird. 

Now I said before that I almost instantly spotted it, however at that point I was at a very good viewing area, however if you were walking along a trail always have a look out as you never know what might be out there, maybe even be a Red Necked Grebe.

This individual behaved as if it owned this stretch of water, as whenever a Great Crested Grebe came along, the Red Necked would always fend it off as if it was on territory.

As you can see in this picture it wasn't the happiest of birds, even when the Tufted Ducks came along.

As we were about to leave the Weaver Bend and head towards No6 Tank, the Red Necked Grebe swam right over to the bank, so we got a closer look.

Tufted Ducks are such a recognisable bird and always a joy to see, but are Lesser Scaups as easy to identify? This was the other rarer species of bird that was located on Frodsham Marsh. This bird seemed to like hanging about near an old dead tree piercing through the water, however even though it was reasonably close to our vantage point, it was still incredibly difficult for us to spot it.

We used our telescope, and eventually came across it; what a wonderful sight. It looked as if it was moulting. As you can see, from a distance, the Lesser Scaup looks quite similar to the Tufted Ducks. If you look closely though the Lesser Scaup is much greyer than the Tufties both on the sides and across it's back.  

Also whilst we were there we saw a pair of Avocets feeding along the water line on No6 Tank, these were lovely to see and later they took off and flew right over our heads.  With the help of a scope, we scanned the full tank and I came across a small wader feeding in a shallow pool, I zoomed in a little and realised it was a Ringed Plover.

The other highlights from the WeBS count included a flock of about 500 Black Tailed Godwits (with a few Shelduck mixed in) which kept circling round the Weaver Bend, but never settled.

Another great experience doing the WeBS count.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Fluff and Talons

It was great to be out ringing again on Saturday as I haven't been able to get out due to the weather over the last couple of weeks, this is frustrating,  but I put all that behind me when I finally got up at 2:30am to a great session (on the way we saw what looked like a female fox, which ran across the road in front of us). 

Before we started putting up the nets, we had to cut back all the net rides; brambles and nettles had totally overgrown the path and net rides themselves, so once all the nets were up we came out with a load of lumps and bumps (from the nettles) and lots of thorns and spikes (from the brambles).

There was a mix of birds early on and obviously at this time of year quite a reasonable amount of juvenile birds including Tits, Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds, and a number of Reed Warblers - these were  my first Reed Warblers of the year that I was able to ring.

This Reed Warbler in the picture above was ringed at this site four years ago - amazing. I wonder how many chicks it has helped to raise in this time?

After a few net rounds things started to slow down a bit, however a couple of Chiffchaff at the end of the day were nice to process.  Of course like I have said in other blog posts, when you are ringing you get to watch the birds/wildlife as well, and it was lovely to see a family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and even saw a Six Spot Burnet Moth. 

After the first session of ringing we went to one of the local farms to ring some Kestrels.

 Only two Kestrel chicks had hatched and they were the perfect age for ringing. They are kind of a bit ugly and a bit cute at the same time, but just fascinating to study up close. You may remember earlier in the year we had caught an adult bird at a different site which had made its way into the bottom pocket of one of our nets and I thought I would share the photo again here so show the young chicks and a fully grown bird side by side.

 We also ring Swallows at this farm as we are carrying out a RAS project on this species so it was great to see some of the pulli being ringed today. 

Let's hope we see them when they come back next year.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

An eye for a moth!

It was great to be out Moth Trapping again, due to all the thundery weather (i.e torrential  rain, forked lightning, and thunder the trap hasn't been out for a while). Even though it was a school night I really wanted to see what night time moths were stirring at the moment.

Now in this picture, this looks like any ordinary Poplar Hawk Moth, which we've been catching quite a lot of at the moment. At first when I saw it inside the trap I myself also thought it was a Poplar Hawk moth. But take a look at this next picture...........

Again some of the less experienced moth-ers again might think this is a Poplar Hawk moth, but if you observe closely you can see the colouration on the wing is more pinky the wing is slightly more patterned, but for me the main difference is the black stripe going across the head.

Now when this wonderful spectacle opened up it's wings, I found that this moth was indeed the Eyed Hawk Moth, slightly larger than the Poplar. In this picture below you can tell where it gets it's name from, the blue spirals look like the eye of something on the hind wing.  I have wanted to catch this moth since the beginning of 2014, so I had to write a quick blog about it. The excitement rushed through me and I can't wait to report in to the Cheshire moth recorder.

Of course with all moths (including this one) I always spend time researching about them, and this one's caterpillar's food plants tend to be fruit trees (of course some other things as well).

A remarkable way to start the day and a great mid week treat.

Monday, 9 June 2014

2014 Garden Bio Blitz

On 31st May, I took part in the Garden Bio Blitz survey, which is basically an activity where you set yourself a time period (over 24 hours) to record as many wild species as you can in your garden or in a park; plants, birds, insects anything like that. I did this for the purpose of further examination of the wildlife in the garden, as I had no where near an accurate idea of what exists there; and I was pretty pleased with the turn out.

Our grass that we have let grow wild this year

My garden is a relatively small area, however I try to attract as much wildlife as possible and I was pretty pleased with the turn out of wildlife. As I went on an adventure round the garden I came across some rather wonderful species I didn't even know existed here; i.e yellow slugs, Hedge Mustard, Honesty Plant and some other really extraordinary things.

Honesty Plant

So a little lesson is to be learnt here. Even though you may have a small garden, you never know how much is living there, in fact, like me you would probably be really surprised.

Tree Bumblebee

Buff Tailed Bumblebee

At the end of my count from starting at 9 a.m and finishing at 9 p.m, I counted a total of 111 different species, all of which I have entered on to iRecord as part of the count.  

Yellow Ophion

So next year I advise all of you to at least have a little go at the Garden Bio Blitz. Or maybe try it now and see just how many creatures and plant life you are giving a home to.

Cuckoo Spit (inside is a Frog Hopper)

Even though I saw all this wildlife I reckon there must at least 4 or 5 times as much lurking somewhere in the trees, under the logs, in the plant pots or in our long grass.

Blue Tit Fledglings

And the day was made even more special by being joined by lots of fearless fledglings.