Thursday, 29 January 2015

Fox Moth! Well sort of.

One minute it's getting a bit milder and the next minute it's a cold front again. 

On Monday night it was set to be 6 degrees over night and dry.  So I was thinking MOTH TRAP. After a bit of convincing, dad agreed to set up the trap in the dark. I got up extra early on the Tuesday and went out full of anticipation, and guess what.......................not a single moth!  But it was worth a try of course.

Tuesday night was getting a bit colder but it was going to be dry again, but windy. So this time I thought TRAIL CAM.  The trail cam went up on the back fence and a few scraps from tea got thrown just in front of it. And here is the fabulous result:

Of course, we saw quite a few cats as well, but these two foxes visited separately from about 10:10pm until 4:50am. One fox has very obvious patches on its flanks,so you could tell there were two. Then at 5:03am they both got filmed having this tussle; all the food had gone by then. But was this playing, fighting or maybe courtship. What do you think?

So not really a Fox Moth at this time of year of course, but moths and foxes were what I was after.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hen Harriers & Divers on the Dee!

 As you will see in this post, it has been a very busy weekend, but the very best kind of weekend too.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Like I said in the lines above, this weekend was packed full of activities, the first of which, I just had to participate in, it was indeed the Big Garden Birdwatch, which I did on Saturday. I had got all the feeders filled up the previous day, hoping to attract a couple more species.

We stuck to the one hour time limit, between 9:15 and 10:15, when the birds are still very active in for the garden.

The session started off pretty quietly with nothing apart from a couple of tit species and the resident House Sparrows. It remained slow for the remainder of the watch, however we managed to pick up a couple of nice species for the garden, including a Carrion Crow and a stunning little Wren. Most of the activity picked up in the last ten minutes and we managed to finished on a comfortable 15 species.

The missing regulars were Magpies, Pied Wagtail and our Jay.  How did you all do on your Garden Birdwatch count?

Frodsham Marsh WeBS Count

As the day was on a reasonably tight schedule, we were off to Frodsham Marsh next for the WeBS count at high tide.  As soon as we arrived at Frodsham Marsh and parked up. I was eager as ever to get out and watch the birds to see what was on No6 Tank. I first had a quick scan over the newly developed mitigation tank, located on one of the first fields alongside the track, just outside No.6 tank. The mitigation tank has been built as part of the planning conditions for the wind farm that will be put into action soon.  It is early days for this scrape so we will have to see how it does.

The Mitigation tank didn't have too much to offer on this day, except a solitary Redshank, and about 80 Lapwing.

No6 Tank

As usual for the WeBS count, you arrive an hour before high tide, and stay an hour after. The expected tide was a respectable 9.9 meter one which we were hoping would push more birds off the estuary and on to the tank. Sadly we didn't see the massive flocks we were hoping for, but the mix of species was good including 100 Dunlin, 300 Grey Plover, Teal, Mallard, Redshank, Shoveler, Cormorant, Lapwing and a flock of about 50 Pied Wagtail feeding on the mud.

Out of the corner of my eye, quartering over the reed bed, I located a stunning Marsh Harrier, gliding gloriously in the sun and bringing out the perfect contrast of colors. The Marsh Harrier stuck around for quite a while before disappearing over No4 tank.

Marsh Harrier

Due to it being quite a high tide, Frodsham Marsh had attracted a couple of other birders, which we had a good chat to including a nice lady called Mary. Her grandfather was the first person to farm sheep on the marsh.

 I noticed a sudden flicker of movement, so I looked up and noticed sat up on a reed was a male Stonechat (and an absolute stunner it was too) occasionally dropping down then returning to it's previous perch or one close by, gradually making it's way down the grass. I thought Peter Woodruff would really like to be watching them.

Within minutes, a female came to join it. I had seen one earlier in the session so I presume it is the same one, as it was in the same stretch of grassland just a little bit further up alongside the track. We watched these birds for a good ten or so minutes before they both took flight somewhere further along the track. 

Our WeBS count numbers will all be reported to the BTO along with the counts from across the country.

Ringing Session

After a brilliant day on Saturday, I was hoping that Sunday would be just as good. I was out ringing first thing for only the second time this year due to the Winter weather.  Sunday's session was a absolute delight, being out and about was one thing, but also catching some stunning birds, despite the low numbers, was just brilliant.

The main session started at about 6:15am (setting up the nets and all of that kind of stuff). Throughout the session it stayed consistently mild for the time of year. The highlights of the session were a re-trap Willow Tit, a Redwing, and some Yellowhammer (male and female).  

In early Spring, when winds blow chilly cold,
The yellowhammer, trailling grass, will come
To fix a place and choose an early home, 
With yellow breast and head of solid gold
extract from a poem by John Clare

So overall despite not catching too many birds, it was a rather successful session and it's always great to catch up with the other trainees; Sophie, Dan and Kev. However, those Yellowhammer were the main stars of the session. 

Did you know that the Yellowhammer has many different names, such as Yellow Bunting, Yellow Amber, but my favourite is the Scribble Lark. Why the Scribble Lark you may ask; this is because of the unique markings on the Yellowhammer eggs. See the image below (which is not mine) if you are out nest recording later this year. 

RSPB Skydancers on the Dee Volunteering

Sunday was another tight scheduled day, as the next stop was for my volunteering for the RSPB at Parkgate on the Wirral (Dee Estuary) with Dan Trotman. It was an absolute perfect day to be out; the sun was shining, a nice comfortable temperature, barely any wind, and of course no haze over the marsh. The  best conditions you could ask for. We were there to raise awareness about the illegal persecution and declines of the Hen Harrier. A great place to do it as several Hen Harriers spend the Winter on the Dee Estuary. We were trying to spot a Hen Harrier for people to see for themselves.

As it was quite a nice winters day, there were lots of people walking along the front and being attracted by the big green RSPB gazebo. Before you could say "Hen Harriers" I was already off interacting with people and informing them about the situation of Hen Harriers. It is so good to engage with so many different types of people and show them things that they didn't even realise were there. It was great to see Ollie who I had spoken to on twitter. He came all the from Yorkshire to see the Dee Estuary Hen Harriers.

A person came up to us and described a strange bird they had seen in the tidal channel which separates us from the marsh. From the description we narrowed it down to a Red Throated Diver, but didn't really think it could be, so of course we just had to go and have a look. And there it was. 

Luckily grey and green stand out against one another, and after about five minutes of searching I found it, lying down against the grass on the bank of the little ditch.

As you can guess, getting that close to a Red Throated Diver is quite a scarce moment, as they are usually miles out at sea, and you can usually just make them out with a strong scope. So the clues are all there. This bird clearly wasn't very well and maybe got carried in on the high tide and is now stranded. A lot of people were saying it was a great spot, but I did feel ever so sorry for the bird.

I was on a role spotting birds and chatting to people and we really did get some stunning birds (all of which got entered on to the BTO's Birdtrack). The light and everything was absolutely brilliant, and with the high tide, birds were being pushed closer towards us and the wall. We picked out Black Tailed Godwits, Redshank, a Great White Egret, loads of Little Egret  and of course thousands of Lapwing. 

Every time the Lapwing lifted, I would be scanning, desperate to see a bird of prey. And the main bird we were looking for out on the marsh was the Hen Harrier. Suddenly, after all the confusion, you would see a Hen Harrier cruising through the distressed birds. All of the Hen Harriers we saw were ring tails, hunting effortlessly in the Winter sun.

Whilst watching Hen Harriers, we saw one actually take down a Lapwing in flight. It is one of those spectacular moments that you never forget.

Hen Harrier hunting over Parkgate marshes (mum's picture)

So overall a brilliant session at Parkgate interacting with people and seeing some great birds. It will be hard to beat a weekend like that!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Flash Attack

Sandbach Flash

Yesterday the weather was not suitable for ringing again, so I was out birding.  I decided to go to a place that I've been to more recently this year, Sandbach Flashes. The ground is sinking in this area, so every year more pools start to appear and the main pools get bigger.

As usual we (me and my mum) parked in a lay-by by the main lake of Sandbach Flashes. After I had got all my gear together, I got a nice half fly half run-by of a squealing Water Rail, which vanished swiftly into a patch of reeds. After a brilliant first bird, I headed down to a one of the viewing areas, and as usual the water was filled with Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, and Lapwing.

After a good scan of the  main lake we headed off to some of the flooded fields a couple of hundred yards further along the road. Further out across the water I located Lesser, Greater, Black Headed, Common and Herring Gulls, all in a huge group, creating a huge fuss when a nearby Buzzard approached. The edges of many of the pools were still frozen.

After realising we weren't going to see much else at the flooded fields we headed back to the main lake where I got some great views of Redwings, feeding along the floor by the road, and also got some decent views of a Mistle Thrush.

I came across even more Redwing feeding in the field with the Wigeon, but there was also a flock of stunning Field Fare which crept closer and closer. The sun then came out and lit them up brilliantly. 

On the other side of the main lake you come across a flooded horse paddock which is usually where your more unusual waders can be found.   This time we saw a couple of Black Tailed Godwits, which was great to see. Also feeding with the Godwits were 4 Redshank and some gorgeous Ruff. There were a few Curlew mixed in.

As the  sun was getting quite low, I decided to stick around the main lake to see what was going to come in for the roost.  Most of the wigeon were still feeding in the fields, but every now and then something would spook them and there would be a mad dash back to the safety of the water. And all the time Tree Sparrows were feeding within arms length of where I was standing.  

After a good half an hour, I didn't see anything come into roost so I decided to head of to where the Water Rail was showing the best, after a few minutes the bird crept from within the reeds and got some cracking views.

As soon as we were about to leave I noticed a white flash, and decided to look back just to check to see what it was, and after a quick look through the scope it was a Little Egret. Apparently there had been one knocking around from Thursday however, hadn't been seen since then, so I was pretty pleased to see it. It is one of the rarer birds for the Flash. 

50 species in just over an hour isn't too bad.

Winsford Flash

This morning I woke up to a covering of snow and a hard frost. There was also thick fog, so I decided to bird more locally and got dad to take me to Winsford Flash as soon as it was light enough.  It was quite strange trying to make out the shapes in the fog, and these Snipe kept disappearing into it and then popping out again.

We made out about 26 species through the fog, which took a lot of eye straining. Just as we were leaving a Grey Wagtail flew in to it's usual spot on the edge of the Flash. The fog didn't bring out the stunning markings, but it's always nice to see one, especially as they are a declining species.  

So what's next? Well a roost ringing session for me. I hope you are all having a great weekend.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Good Question 23 - My thoughts on the Walkie Talkie Park

It's quiz night Tuesday

Tonight's quiz is slightly different from previous quiz night questions. Below you will find 4 pictures and you need to work out what connects all the pictures. Good luck.  

I will post the answer tomorrow night and maybe a few thoughts on it as well. The comment approval is switched on, so answers wont show until tomorrow night.

The answer and my thoughts are.....

Firstly, well done to Chris Driver on twitter who go the right answer. And thank you to everyone else who had a go.

All the clues in the pictures connect to the nicknamed Walkie Talkie skyscraper's public garden in London. You can read all about the story behind this controversial park on the BBC News page here. I suppose some people will really like this park in the sky, but for me it is one of those terrible examples of people taking and not really giving back to nature. What is this park doing for our wildlife or to help people (and especially children) engage with out amazing native nature. Where are the birds, the butterflies, the mammals, the rain, the wind, the sounds, the space and the freedom of nature? For me, planning decisions like this are a wildlife crime.

Some other crazy examples of planning authorities decisions include the outdoor cycles pursuits centre in Derbyshire. You can read about that one here on Mark Avery's blog.  Read about the approval to build 5000 homes on nightingale habitat here.

But what to you all think of this park in the sky and what other bad planning examples do you have to share?

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Rally For Nature - A Letter from my MP

On the 9th December there was an important Rally for Nature day in London. You can read more about it here on Mark Avery's blog. It was a school day and I had exams, so I couldn't go, but I did write to my local MP, Stephen O'Brien, inviting him to attend the day. In my invite to him, I told him how concerned I was about wildlife crime and in particular raptor persecution.

I am very grateful for the reply from Mr O'Brien that I received yesterday, and must say thank you to him for taking the time to respond. An image of the letter is below. If you click on the picture it does get bigger.

Whilst reading the letter I discovered a couple points that I'd like to pick up on. Mr O'Brien says that £7.5 million has been provided for 12 Nature Improvement Areas.  I will need to do more research to find out what all of these are, but 12 across the country  doesn't sound like many, especially with all the frightening declines we are seeing across our wildlife species. I would like to see more protection  now to help numbers increase in the future.

Another point I picked up on was the fact that a million trees are being planted in towns and cities, and 20,000 acres of woodland have been created.  But this doesn't mean anything unless you work out how much woodland has been lost (something else I will need to research a bit more).  And the new areas of woodland do not replace the lost ancient woodlands of established habitat. It will take years and years and years before any newly planted woodland establishes itself as real habitat for our wildlife. 

A final point and a big issue for me is that £500,000 of funding was announced for National Wildlife Crime Unit till March 2016. Firstly this amount (about the cost of a large house) will not go far, although it is a good start, however with the next general election coming up in May, how secure is this funding if the government changes.

I am really grateful to Mr O'Brien for his reply and it might be good that it actually makes me ask even more questions and doesn't make me think, oh well, that's okay then.  I know that politicians have a lot of decisions to make and that wildlife is just one of those decisions, but the natural world provides us with almost everything we need every day, so it has to be looked after and it should come first.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Ohhhhh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside!

Unfortunately my Christmas holiday is drawing to a close, so I thought what better way to spend my last few days than doing a bit of coastal birding. We started off a little bit further a field than my local places this time, going to the marina path off West Kirby, which is literally right on the edge of the Dee Estuary.  You can get good views of Hilbre Island from here, but we weren't sure of the tide times, so we didn't attempt to walk across the sands to the island.

West Kirby

We started off by parking on the road alongside the Marina, getting brilliant views of Red Breasted Merganser in good numbers. There were also some cracking views of some stunning Goldeneyes (a bird which I've seen now every day since the start of the New Year). These Goldeneyes were hanging around with the Mergansers, the male in particular was the closest, enabling the family to get some superb views.

Red Breasted Merganser

After a good scan of the marina we moved on to a couple of jetties just in front of the main estuary. I noticed a few smaller birds alongside the gulls, wandering along the jetties, before swiftly flying to join a gorgeous Redshank (which was only about 4 meters away). These small birds were Turnstones, possibly one of my favorite waders. 

Redshank and Turnstone

In total there were 6 Turnstone, which after a few minutes flew off calling at the same time to join the thousands of other birds out on the main estuary. An absolutely brilliant little wader to observe. 


We stayed watching the Turnstones for a good ten minutes before moving on to the main estuary. The marina is separated from the sea by a stone wall and path. You can walk along this path right around the marina, but also right alongside the actual estuary.

This meant we could walk from watching the Turnstones to watching the thousands of other birds on the estuary. Before checking out the distant birds, I decided to scan all the solitary birds dotted throughout the estuary, picking up Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshanks and Sanderling (a surprising lifer and new bird for the year).

After I'd done my best to look for all the solitary birds, I moved onto the larger flocks (when I say larger, I mean flocks of thousands), observing Dunlin in their thousands, which were accompanied by hundreds of Knot (another first for the year), and huge flocks of Redshank as well. 

After I'd scanned the estuary back and fourth as far as I could several times, I stumbled across a truly striking bird. This pitch black chest came in to view with speckled silver washed wings, I knew before I had time to think that this could only be a Summer plumaged Grey Plover surrounded by a couple of Winter plumaged as well, I thought this was quite unusual, however despite this it was an absolute pleasure to observe and probably my bird of the day.

Grey Plover in Summer plumage


After a brilliant morning at West Kirby we all spent the afternoon at Leasowe Lighthouse which is basically just round the corner from the Dee Estuary. As the tide was almost completely out, most of the birds were out with it, which made it more difficult to tell what was out there. 

Unlike West Kirby, many of the birds were at the tide line, as you can see in the picture below. There were thousands of gulls, however mixed in with them we scoped out Dunlin, Knot and another possible Sanderling.

Bird filled tide line

Leasowe Lighthouse was a stunning place with a wide stretch of flowing water in front of the barricade flood defenses, attracting Redshank right up close to you, allowing great views. 

We didn't spend as long at Leasowe because the tide was was right, right out and we were losing light so it was getting more difficult to identify the birds; however the scope had a long range so we were able to make out a large quantity of Common Scoters beyond the tide line, and also a solitary Ringed Plover blending in brilliantly with the sandy mud.

The sun finally came out and lit up the sand banks and water closest to us and creating some great reflections.

Black Headed Gull

On the way back from the rocks where we'd hoped we might get Purple Sandpiper, we looked in to the fields and spotted a small bird perched amongst a dead shrub. My mum got a picture whilst I got great views in my binoculars and scope, I soon realised this bird was a female Stonechat. It came almost 2 meters away from us and spent it's time dropping to the ground and then sitting high up on dried shrubs.

What stays in my mind after such a brilliant day is just the total stillness and calmness of that reflective water and the engaging sounds of so many different bird songs carrying across the sand banks.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year's Day Birding

2015, a new start for everyone, and of course new hope for our wildlife. I started my 2015 with a full day out birding around a couple of my local places; however before visiting these places, I have to tell you what my first bird of 2015 was. I'm sure you can all guess, as it was seen in my garden very early, and has been the same first bird I've seen for every New Year three times running. This bird was indeed the Blackbird, which also finished my year of 2014.


Taking advantage of the milder snippet of weather, as a family our first birding destination for 2015 was Sandbach Flashes, a place we have just started to really get in to. Basically, Sandbach flashes is a decent sized permanently flooded hole in the middle of a field surrounded by other flooded areas, attracting a good amount of wildlife, particularly wildfowl. During a quick scan of the feeders I noticed a Tree Sparrow (right, on seed feeder below) on the seed accompanied by a House Sparrow (left). always nice to see Tree Sparrows, especially on the first day of the year. 

Tree Sparrow on right of seed feeder

Throughout the course of the morning, I scanned in detail the main water itself, noticing large numbers of Wigeon and Lapwing spread out across the water and the field. Within the mixture of birds it was also nice to see good numbers of Teal and Tufted Duck. There must of been about 300 Lapwing and a mixture of about 1000 ducks, including some stunning Shoveler. The majority of wildfowl were actually feeding in the fields, with the Lapwing occasionally being spooked by the wind and all lifting up on mass.


As you can see in the picture below, there were quite a few of birds to sort through; however I did so carefully, finding several Curlew and about another 100 or so Starling which kept building in numbers until we left. As usual, we were recording all of the data into a book to be uploaded on to the BTO's BirdTrack (with a good amount of species observed so far).

Standing room only

After we had studied the main pool for long enough, we all moved on to some of the flooded areas just the other side of the main lake. As usual the first flooded patch didn't have too much to offer apart from five Curlew, a couple of Teal and Wigeon. Also a solitary Lapwing moved from it's vulnerable position to join the large flock just across the road. 


There were quite a few more birds on the other side of the lane, yet another flooded field, supplying well over 100 Black Headed Gulls, about 50 Lesser Black Backed Gulls, about 60 Herring Gulls and 30 Great Black Backed Gulls.

After sorting through that huge mixture of Gulls I moved on to see what else I could find. I managed to spot about another 200 Lapwing and a couple of Tufted Duck.

Gull Mix

However, some of the other more unusual waders were also present.  I spotted 3 Ruff, which are always nice to see. I haven't seen many Ruff in the past, so was lovely to see them so close to home. Another one of my favorite waders, the Redshank, was continually strolling along the grassy bank of the water. 


After a great morning at Sandbach Flashes, we spent the majority of the afternoon at Frodsham Marsh, a place I haven't really visited enough since I got my new scope.  I was really glad to visit as I got some great birds despite the horrible weather racing in. 

Dark clouds gathering

After a good scan of the fields, I observed a large flock of Lapwing mixed in with a couple of hundred Golden Plover. These birds looked stunning against the black sky, with the sun light shining directly among them.  I haven't seen Golden Plover for ages, so was quite glad to see them in good numbers and putting on a great display.

Golden Plover and Lapwing over Frodsham Marsh Farm

On  the main scrape (No.6 tank) I noticed about 100 Teal, and about 50 Black Tailed Godwit, but I did keep getting distracted by those Golden Plover rising out of the field in huge golden bursts.

Golden Plover and Lapwing

Rapter-wise we saw some absolutely stunning views of a Buzzard catching and eating prey in flight. This which was a brilliant sight to see as it kept passing the prey from it's talons to it's beak (and all time being mobbed by another Buzzard). 

Buzzard with prey at the top

The day finished with a roost walk at Winsford Flash (a place I am really going to focus on in 2015). Yesterday I got a new species for this site, a bird I'm surprised I hadn't seen before there, it was indeed a Goldeneye, Winsford Flash has had some great birds in the past and I can't wait to start tracking it a bit more closely.  Great Crested and Little Grebe finished the day off nicely.

Diving Little Grebe

Happy New Year everyone!!!!!