Sunday, 29 March 2015

Well I Wasn't Expecting That!

Today it was the final Hen Harrier Awareness roost for the Skydancers on the Dee project before they head back to the moors to breed (I hope they all stay safe). However, "just for a change" it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale.  Before the wind came in, the RSPB team (Katy and Jane) managed to get the gazebo up which gave us a bit of shelter, but then the wind came from no-where and nearly took the gazebo across the estuary to North we took it back down!

The Welsh Hills

Despite the horrific weather, it was brilliant to catch up with Ellis Lucas and his dad Mark. Ellis and I spoke together at the BTO Conference in December. Before we saw them at Parkgate, they had already been to see the Laughing Gull at New Brighton (which is still showing very well). Anyway, it was great to catch up with them and we had a couple of good conversations about nest recording. Ellis had traveled all the way from Yorkshire and was hoping to see a Hen Harrier, however the conditions weren't too great. 

The pool in front of the Donkey Stand was quite quiet, but there we a few Shelduck and some Black Tailed Godwit lurking about.

Black Tailed Godwit

The RSPB ended up having to put everything away because of the wind and rain. As the weather just didn't clear up, me and Ellis decided to make a move as well and go down to the Old Baths end of the Parade.  We all watched for another half hour or so, but then Ellis and his dad needed to go as they had a long drive home. They hadn't seen the Hen Harriers they had come for, but I think they enjoyed the other Wirral birds.  About 10 minutes after Ellis had left, the rain stopped and a stunning female Hen Harrier soared effortlessly across the Marsh.  I felt so bad for Ellis and his dad.

Female Hen Harrier

As I mentioned, it was the last Skydancer event for this winter and it is timed this way because the Hen Harriers are due to return to the moors to breed for the summer. The birds from the Dee Estuary will probably be going up and into Wales, and will be departing shortly, so this was probably the last time we will see them on the estuary for a while.

An absolutely brilliant bird to observe and I hope to catch up with them throughout the year in their breeding grounds.

Even the swans were watching it

Since last October when I started volunteering with the RSPB for Hen Harrier awareness, I have never actually seen or witnessed the ghost, the male Hen Harrier on the Dee estuary. So I was stunned to watch a male Hen Harrier flying right across the estuary today, I'm not sure if it has been here all along on a different stretch of the river, or is just passing through towards a breeding destination, however what a brilliant way to end a wet, windy but excitable and interesting day.

Distant male Hen Harrier (click on the picture to make bigger)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Eyes in the Field BAWC Conference

Last Saturday I had an early start for the Eyes in the Field Wildlife Conference, which I was granted special invitation tickets to attend. The conference was the BAWC's (Birders Against Wildlife Crime) first ever wildlife crime conference, and certainly my first conference where a number of individuals and NGOs have united to talk specifically about wildlife crime in terms of what is happening and what can be done.

The conference was being held in Buxton, roughly about 50 minutes from our house. It was a beautiful drive over the moors of the Peak District and we managed some decent views of breeding Curlews and a solitary Red Legged Partridge (no Hen Harriers though). We stopped at the Cat & Fiddle for a little while to take in the great views. Looking out across the moors also gave me chance to think about the day ahead in a perfect setting.

In my post, I am not going to go through each of the talks in detail (even though they were all brilliant) but instead I am going to talk about the key messages I picked up and the ways in which we can all help win the fight against wildlife crime.

When we got inside, the NGOs and guest speakers were already starting to set their stands up, and it was great to be greeted and welcomed by good friends and people I have been longing to meet properly such as Charlie Moores from BAWC, Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay, Lawrie Phipps (vice president of LACS), Phil Walton (also from BAWC), Bob Elliot (RSPB Head of Investigations), Rob Sheldon (OSME), Chris Packham, Brian Egan (Rare Bird Alert), Tom McKinney, Stewart Abbott, Paul Tillsley (Head of Investigations LACS) and Alan Charles (Derbyshire Police & Crime Commissioner). Meeting with these amazing people really sparked my hopes for what the rest of the day would offer. And then of course there was Henry:


Now of course the conference was all about wildlife crime and in most cases illegal persecution.  As those of us that care know, wildlife crime is wicked and evil, but in many circumstances it is overlooked and people are just not aware of how widespread it is. In fact, in many cases the people committing the crimes, whether it's game keepers, shooters, land owners, farmers (and of course people from lots of walks of life), don't actually believe the things they are doing are a crime, and that's one of the things we have to knock out of those people, and make sure they know our wildlife matters and is essential. Wildlife belongs to everybody and nobody has the right to take that away.

Magistrates, newspapers and TV don't seem to recognise or report just how bad wildlife crime is. It is seen by them as a very low level of seriousness. This has got to change.

As we continue our fight, wildlife crime is being talked about more and more, and we are slowly getting the message out there the right way. One of the great quotes from the conference from Charlie Moores was "we are vigilant, not vigilanties". I thought this quote linked perfectly to the title of the conference; Eyes in the Field.  To me this quote is saying we are on to, and looking out for, wildlife crime where it happens and when it happens and that we really care and are doing as much as we can to prevent it, and doing it the right way.  And very importantly reporting it.

We together are the strongest force we have in the battle against wildlife crime. It is my belief also (and this was mentioned throughout the conference) that we have one of the best modern day tools we can possibly have right at our fingertips, and this tool is social media. It could be one of our greatest powers to spread the word and shout out about injustices, and it is something that cannot be taken away from us or controlled by anyone else. It is like all our voices shouting loud together, but from all across the country.

How do you think all the rapter persecution news is given out? How do we find out how things involved with wildlife crime are changing? The point is, it is a brilliant resource to spread the news, and discuss and recall, share and understand, everything we can through things like websites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

Social media is quick and easy to access and reaches a lot of people very quickly when used properly.  In fact I remember last year when a thunder clap was arranged on Twitter for Hen Harrier Day. Almost 2 million tweets went out to the followers of everyone that signed up for the thunder clap. It got Hen Harrier Day trending on Twitter and that then got lots of people questioning "what is Hen Harrier Day" and in some worrying cases "what is a hen harrier"? Once people start to question in that way, then awareness is being raised. (By the way, are you all joining Mark Avery, Chris Packham, BAWC, Henry & Harry Hen Harrier on 9th August for the second Hen Harrier Day)?

So even if you don't think you like Twitter or other social media, give it a try and let your voice be heard. People need to be dedicated to doing things, rather than just caring, because caring alone just isn't enough to change things.

Now aside from education through social media, there is also the punishment side of things for the actual crimes. Do these punishments really fit with what has actually happened. For example, the big rich land owners that get fined £1000, is this going to stop them? Not in the slightest, to them it's probably less than they get for a membership fee to shoot on their land. The crimes committed need to be taken seriously, and the result of murdering innocent birds of prey and any protected wild animal should carry a heavy penalty, because it is a violation to us as well as nature.

Chris Packham demonstrated this in a great visual way by spray painting and slashing a famous work of art (not the real one of course). He then smashed it on the floor a few times for good measure.  It demonstrated the shock people would feel if that happened for real (you can watch this part of his talk here).  If I were to do do something like that with a real work of art, I would be thought of as a disgrace, a disappointment. And that outrage is how we should feel when our natural world is mistreated and vandalised.

Now I want to move onto public awareness again. So many people are not aware of the seriousness of wildlife crime, and the scale at which it is happening. So the different organisations and active individuals need to start reaching out to these unaware people and give them a solution and ways they can get involved and help us in the fight. We need to have more of those people that are vigilant and actively doing things, and telling other people to do things, and making a change happen. Action needs to be taken quickly and not just talked about.

I learnt a lot from the conference and all the fantastic talks. And I came away convinced more than ever that we can and will change things.

So please, don't just care from a distance, care actively.

There were 4 people under 18 at the conference, me, Zach, Sophie and Georgia. Next year I want to see 40 there, the word needs to be spread across all generations.  But whatever your age, make sure you are a part of the BAWC 2016 Conference, I know I'll be actively involved.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

New Willow Tits and a Deformed Beak

Last weekend, on the Saturday, I was so pleased to be out ringing. It has been several weeks since the team had been able to get out due to the wet and windy weather. Unfortunately Peter wasn't out because of the random possible outcomes of his sheep having lambs, so he had to take care of them. So on Saturday we were with Moxey and two other trainees, Kev and Sophie.  I will introduce you to Kev and Sophie in more detail next time if I can persuade them to pose for a picture!

It was the perfect conditions for ringing on Saturday, nevertheless throughout the session the catch rate stayed at a pace which was quite slow, only about twenty birds were ringed by the end of the session.

 Even though we didn't get too many birds, our efforts were rewarded with 2 new Willow Tits for this site. They were presumed to be new birds into the area looking for terrority.

A little bit before the Willow Tits were caught, we noticed one of the Blue Tits we caught had a deformity of the beak. It's not that often we catch birds with deformities and here you can see the elongated upper mandible. This bird had a good weight so it wasn't finding it difficult to feed. We once caught a Great Tit with a fascinating bill deformity and here's a link to the blog where I called it the "Spoon Billed Great Tit."

At the end of the session we checked the Barn Owl boxes as one of the owls has been seen using a different box rather than it's favourite, but no eggs just yet, only fresh pellets.

So it was a very interesting session despite of the low numbers.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Good Question 26 - An Anagram

It's quiz night Tuesday, but it's starting in the morning as I might be out later and this is an important quiz.

All you have to do is solve this anagram and post the answer in the comments or on Twitter and copy me in to the tweet @WildeAboutBirds


(The clue is in anagram itself)

Good luck, I will post the answer on Wednesday night.


And the answer is:


Thanks to everyone that had a go on this blog and on Twitter. My twitter feed filled up with a few "vote hen harrier national bird" answers which was good to see.  You have to vote for what matters to you of course, but raising awareness for the Hen Harrier is what matters to me to try and help save it.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Why Vote Hen Harrier?

As I'm sure you may know, there is a large scale vote currently in action to select Britain's new National bird.  The first round of judging has already taken place and I am delighted that in the top ten species is the Hen Harrier. In this blog I hope to explain why I feel it is so important to vote for the Hen Harrier and make it our National bird.

As you know our Hen Harrier numbers aren't doing that well in England, which is mainly down to us, yes all of us. We have between us either killed them, allowed people to kill them, turned a blind eye to people killing them or done nothing for far too long. I'm sure sooner rather than later, if we don't act, when you head out up to the moors and hope to see the slatey grey of a male Skydancer, you won't.  But imagine if the Hen Harrier became our National bird, imagine if everyone knew what a Hen Harrier was and how they dance, and how they silently cruise in and around the moors in Summer and migrate to the lowlands in Winter. Imagine if all these people wanted to catch a glimpse of one of these ghosts of the moors. Imagine if all these people knew only 4 pairs bred in England last year. 

How many people care when a Hen Harrier is illegally shot? How many people would care if our National bird was shot?  How much publicity is there when a Hen Harrier gets poisoned? How much publicity would there be if our National bird got poisoned? I think it could make a difference. Do we want to see our National bird go extinct?

And my mind is racing away with me now. If people see our National bird on the edge of being extinct, will they start to think about what we are doing to our other native species; our badgers maybe.

If the Hen Harrier did become the National bird, there is a likelihood, of it becoming more popular and visible in so many ways, for example having pictures and photos on Christmas cards (like Harry did), badges, posters, T Shirts. Maybe the Hen harrier could become as well known as our much loved Robins.  Our Hen Harriers need positive publicity and they need it now.  

Linking with the paragraph above, by having the Hen Harrier as the national bird, it will make alot of people want to see it, maybe the habitat they love will benefit from birding tourism and make money for the land owners in a more positive way. And not just people from England, but overseas visitors too,  it is the National bird, they would be curious to see it. 

If the Hen Harrier goes extinct in England in the next few years (which could happen) some of us would mourn it. If our national bird went extinct, a whole country should be made to hang it's head in shame. And that is the difference this vote could make to our Hen Harriers.

I know many people have a great fondness for their garden birds, and I do too, but Hen Harriers really need us, and they need us now, so please, I beg you, vote Hen Harrier as our National bird and make a difference.

A very special person sent me a card with this quote on a while ago and it always makes me think about doing the right thing:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing."
Edmund Burke

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Tale of the Colonial Nest Box

Last year, as a project, me and my dad built a colonial bird box for House Sparrows which we have in good numbers in and around the garden. It's important to help House Sparrows as although their numbers are more stable now, they declined by 69% in the UK during 1977 -2010 (numbers from the BTO Bird Atlas).

Of course we didn't know how successful the box was going to be, and we couldn't be sure what was going to inhabit it, since there are many other species of bird looking for suitable nest sites in the garden.

The colonial nest box

And guess what, last year the Blue Tits got to it first, despite having plenty of nest boxes in other gardens surrounding ours. Unfortunately the Blue Tits failed there breeding attempt as they kept getting confused as to which hole there actual nest was in, so there was basically half a Blue Tit nest in each of the box segments.

2014 nesters

This year however, I have noticed that the House Sparrows are investigating the box, and I have seen them bringing in feathers and material, so hopefully they have beaten the Blue Tits to it, which is brilliant. The box is right nest to my bedroom window, so you can imagine how much time I spend watching it before school in the morning.  If they nest successfully, I will be able to complete a full BTO nest record for them just by looking out of the window. I will of course be looking for less obvious nests round and about as well.

2015 The House Sparrows got there first

House Sparrows have always been special to me. They were one of the first species that got me hooked on the natural world when I was younger. The family squabbles, but at the same time the need to be together and look out for each other. I really do like House Sparrows.

In between all my revision sessions this weekend, I spent time in the garden keeping an eye on the nest box and satisfying myself the the House Sparrows really are keen to nest there.

Whilst outside me and my mum noticed these strange and unusual clouds drifting in the distance, which I had never seen before. 

After a bit of research we found these are actually called Lenticular clouds and have been mistaken on the past for UFOs!!

Lenticular Clouds

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Good Question 25 - Mystery Bird

Good evening and welcome back to Quiz night Tuesday.

With Spring just around the corner, I was looking though some old pictures of some of the birds I look forward to welcoming back. I came across these pictures, but can you ID the bird.

Good luck, I will post the answer tomorrow night and where I saw the bird. 

I wont post any of your answers until tomorrow.

And the answer is:

A  leucistic Sand Martin. 

Well done to all of you who got it right, and most of you were nearly there. 
Douglas, I am letting you have that one tonight because I am taking your first answer :)

The bird was with a group of Sand Martins at Frodsham Marsh in 2013, but we never saw it last year. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Quick Trip to Frodsham Marsh

Yesterday afternoon we had an hour to spare, so me and dad had an opportunity for a quick visit to the marsh.

We started off at the new mitigation tank which held a couple of Pied Wagtails, 5 Snipe, a couple of Redshank, as well as at least 20 Teal. It will be interesting to see how this new scrape develops during it's first few years.

The new mitigation tank

At the back of the fields before the Ship Canal, I picked out a largish flock of Canada Geese, a strong hold of about two hundred and fifty birds. The group also contained a couple of hybrid species and also a single, striking Barnacle Goose.  

Despite it being a low tide when we arrived, the main tank still held quite a decent number of waders and ducks, with the stand out species including 750 Golden Plover mixed in with about 300 Lapwing, which occasionally got flushed and put on a great display.

Other waders on the tank,included about 75 Dunlin, a couple of Black Tailed Godwits and at least 12 Redshank.

The waterfowl life was good, with the water being as high as I've seen it on the tank this year. It held at least 400 Teal mixed in with a variety of species, including Tufted Duck, 4 Pintail, Mallard, Shoveler and Pochard. 

Away from waders, there were 3 Stonechats out in the reed bed. An absolute brilliant hour of birding.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday