Sunday, 31 May 2015


Accord to the BTO we have lost we have lost over half of our breeding Cuckoos during the last twenty-five years.  They are red status bird.

Up until yesterday, I had never had a proper view of one, so you can imagine how excited I was when not one, but 4 Cuckoos put in an appearance at Frodsham Marsh. I had read on the Frodsham Marsh blog that the Cuckoos were back, so my plan for yesterday afternoon was to find them.

We arrived at the marsh and headed straight for the Weaver Bend. We were only about 3 minutes into our walk when I looked across the meadow and saw two medium sized birds sitting about 4 fence posts away from each other. I grabbed my bins and sure enough it was a male and female Cuckoo. 

I fumbled with the scope and tried to get the tripod legs out as quick as possible for a closer look, but as a looked up I saw them both flying off along the fence line and then across the river and over the bank on the other side.  Well at least I'd got a glimpse.

With their striped markings they looked very similar to birds of prey as they flew low across the grass.  There is some great research on the University of Cambridge website about Cuckoos resembling birds of prey to frighten nesting birds and get them to flee the nest. This of course gives them chance to go in and lay their egg in the nest.

However, our Cuckoo adventure was only just starting. We were on the bank of the Weaver listening to Warblers and then we heard the Cuckoos calling from across the river, what a great sound to hear. 

Swifts were flying between us and about 200 Black tailed Godwits were feeding on the muddy banks of the river. The Cow Parsley we were walking through was full of Drinker Moth caterpillars, in fact they were everywhere - a perfect sized snack for a Cuckoo maybe.

We turned to head back to the car, and as we did I spotted him. A stunning male Cuckoo sitting low on the fence. The scope was straight on him and we watched him for ages as he dropped in to the undergrowth time and time again, returning to the fence with a beak full of.......yes...Drinker Moth caterpillars. 

Male Cuckoo - My phone scoped picture

The Cuckoos on the other side of the river were still calling, so this was a new one for the day.  The views of him were amazing. 

Above two pictures are mum's.

Eventually he was flushed by some walkers and moved further off and out of site. We headed back to the car feeling lucky to have seen something special. But it didn't end there. Later as we were driving back along the other side of the marsh, we saw another female sitting up on the fence by No6 tank. 

Frodsham Marsh is such a great habitat for the Cuckoos, with Reed Warbler and Meadow Pipits nesting in good numbers and all the wild flower, over grown areas filled with caterpillars. I hope this doesn't change with the building of the 21 wind turbines.

The decline of the Cuckoos is worrying. The BTO's Cuckoo tracking programme is helping to understand all about the Cuckoos annual cycle to try and work out the reasons for the steep decline.

You can read all about the BTO's Cuckoo Project here.

Friday, 29 May 2015

A Break from Revision

I was glad to have a break from my hard core revision this week, and spent today at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, where Harry my hen harrier spent his winter roost. Of course, Harry has now migrated to Beacon Fell where he will stay for the Summer months. 

The morning started off very, very wet which dampened my spirits a little as I was hoping for a great day, especially with reports of two drake Garganey knocking around. However, the rain cleared by the time we arrived.

  Out on the main scrape it was great to see all the Avocets with chicks fending of other species which could be a potential threat, in fact some of the chicks have actually been taken by birds of prey already, such as Kestrels. There was a kestrel mithering the Avocets for most of the time we were there, but the feisty Avocets are no push over and kept seeing it off.  In fact, they were chasing almost everything including the poor Pied Wagtail that dared to land on the island.

Avocet chasing off a coot

Other birds out on the main scrape included roughly 70  Black Tailed Godwits, but they were hard to count as the group kept lifting and separating (that Kestrel again). Along with the Godwits, there were Lapwing, Shelduck, Canada Geese, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and a single Oystercatcher. 

Black Tailed Godwits and friends!

Walking between the reed beds and the woods I could hear Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler and a Reed Bunting calling. A musical feast for the ears. Then, walking round the pools, we stopped to watch and admire a male Chaffinch singing within touching distance. 

It's funny the things that can lift your spirits. When I look back on today, one of the things that makes me smile is that fluffed up Chaffinch, sat smugly on a branch, surrounded by fresh bursts of bright green leaves, singing it's heart out.

As we wandered slowly round the pools I spotted my first Little Grebe of the year.  Has anyone else noticed lower numbers this year?

Little Grebe

On the way back to the main hide I bumped in to Dan Trotman and it was great to catch up. We chatted a bit about Harry and about the next Hen Harrier Day on 9th August.

Despite the rain and cold, cold wind we still managed 47 species of bird, and the wind blew away the revision cobwebs. But back to it tomorrow!

Monday, 25 May 2015

RAS Update

I thought I would update you on what has been happening on our RAS project on Blackcaps.
This is our third year monitoring Blackcaps and this year we started slightly earlier than the previous year. We made this decision based on experience from the previous years and the timings of birds arriving back to established territories in the woodland.

On our first session of the RAS this year, on the 18th April (see here) we caught and ringed 18 Blackcaps, a 50/50 split of males and females, which was a brilliant start. However, we soon found out that these birds were likely to be just passing through the area and on to other destinations, as we re-trapped one of the eighteen at another destination a reasonable distance away.

This means that we have discounted those 18 as part of the RAS numbers for the moment.  But if we should re-trap any of those in our designated RAS site we will include them in our RAS totals.

So where are we up to now? Following on from the first session we have been as active as we can in attempting to catch breeding pairs of Blackcaps; juggling school, work and the poor weather we have been having (it just seems to be windy all the time).

 We are on 47 new encounters this year, (excluding the 18 from the first session); this includes 2 re-traps from 2013, 6 re-traps from 2014 and 1 re-trap from another site.  These are our best numbers since we started, but we would of course like to have further re-traps.

It will be interesting to see what the final numbers are for this year's RAS.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Dear Mr Cameron

Below is the letter I am emailing to Mr Cameron every day.


Dear Mr Cameron

Congratulations on being the Prime Minister again. I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but if I had been old enough, I wouldn't have voted for you.  You never convinced me that you care enough about what really matters.

You see, the thing is, I understand how important the natural world is to everyone, and how everything we touch comes from nature in some form. I made a video for you to see before the election, but I don't think you would have watched it.

You might have time now though, just 5 minutes is all that I am asking. Things have to change for me and for your children and for all the people who care and for all the people who still don't even accept that there is a problem.

The bigger issues of pollution and climate change need to be addressed. These are things you should be shouting out loud about and asking for help with, but this hardly got a mention from you in the run up to the election.  There is nothing wrong with saying "I need help with this". Speak to the experts, talk to the people with answers.  Put it at the top of your pile of things to do. Please.

There are species at risk of going extinct right on our doorstep, species that don’t need to go extinct. Did you vote in the National Bird Vote? Did you know that our amazing hen harriers are now so persecuted that we may not have any breeding pairs this year? I voted hen harrier. I took a stand to say that what is happening is wrong.

Come and take a walk with me and see the world through my eyes. Come and talk about what matters even though most people take for granted all the things that really do matter.

The natural world is my inheritance, so please make sure that there is something left to leave for my generation.

This is the link to the video I made for you and the other party leaders. I hope you have time to watch it. 

From Findlay Wilde

Monday, 11 May 2015

2015 Heronry Census

This year I have been able to take part in 2 different heronry counts which form part of the BTO Heronry Census, which first started in 1928.

During mid April I was out with Professor David Norman counting one of the local heronies  for the second year running.  The numbers were down again this year to only 60 nests (with last year's count being around 70).  At it's peak, this particular heronry held over 150 nests.

In this picture above you can see a dead heron chick dangling in the tree below the nest - its sad but can happen as they are vulnerable to falling out.

Once they fledge, heron chicks can disperse miles away from there original site, in fact they have been proven to end up in other european countries. Its possible and likely that the herons from this site are moving to other heronries, which is why the numbers keep decreasing.  It will be interesting to see how other heronry numbers are doing this year. We finished up the count by reporting all the information back to the land owner, who also thought from his own observations when he has been working the land that there weren't as many herons about.

This year I've also managed to count at my local heronry, just a short distance from home.  I have been watching this herony from across the river for a good few years, so I was thrilled to be able to take part in the actual count here this year.

My initial thought of viewing the herons from the opposite side of the river looked to be about fifteen nests, however, when we crossed the river and got into the wood, we realised that the heron nests extended quite alot deeper, and seemed to be in deciduous trees, rather than the evergreen species, which was interesting.

The official who was taking us on the count, wanted us to count the active nests first, to see what our results were compared to his, as he had already previously counted them. In order to count them, we thought of the nests to be in three different groups along the stretch of woodland and ended up with a count of 31 active nests (which is more than double of what I originally thought, viewing from the other side of the river). 

Looking at the records from previous years this heronry seems to be relatively stable, with a peak of 35 nests, and the lowest count being 26, so not bad. After further discussion with the official counter about one inconclusive nest, we all settled on a count of 30 nests.

It was great to be able to count our heronries again and I can't wait until next year.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Hen Harrier at Beacon Fell?

Last weekend was the time when Harry (my Hen Harrier), left his Winter roost at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands to spend the summer up at Beacon Fell. But before I talk about his migration, I have to thank Dan Trotman and all the staff at RSBP Burton Mere for their fantastic co-operation and of course kindness in having Harry for the Winter.

Whilst at Burton Mere, Harry created lots of awareness for hen harriers. He gave people a reason to talk about hen harriers and how some of his species like Sky and Hope have been persecuted. Thanks to Harry, even more people are now aware of this illegal crime. 

Every week I had been getting selfies of families and birdwatchers with Harry the Hen Harrier on Twitter. And it has just been brilliant for spreading the message of raptor persecution, particularly hen harriers. I think he will be missed at Burton Mere, but it is time to head to the Summer breeding grounds.

Now linked in with Harry moving for the summer, actual hen harriers have been on the move and most of them have arrived at their vunerable breeding grounds. I saw my last Winter roosting harriers on my last session of RSPB volunteering on the Dee Estuary at Parkgate.

Before Harry's migration to Beacon Fell me and my dad gave him a bit of a make-over so he looked good for those ring-tails! A really big thank you to our local farmer Royston who let us use one of his barns to do the work in.

The drive up to Beacon Fell was horrendous as it poured down during the whole journey; however we did manage to spot some roe deer, a brown hare, nesting lapwing and a curlew.

We arrived just before opening time, so it was time to get Harry set up and ready to introduce to the Beacon Fell team.

Sky dance practice in the van!

We were meeting up with a guy called Nick Haigh who looks after Beacon Fell.  It was great to talk to him and to have a look at all the brilliant educational stuff they have going on there.

We got Harry set up in amongst all the education boards at the visitor centre just in time, as over the next few months there will be daily visits from large school groups who will learn all about the importance of protecting out raptors. So hopefully there will be a future generation to protect the hen harriers and other persecuted wildlife.

Beacon Fell are doing brilliant work for the hen harrier in raising awareness, particularly aimed at children, they even have a junior volunteering group from five to thirteen year olds who are doing hands on stuff out in the field. Beacon Fell is a perfect Summer home for Harry, and I hope he will have a great Summer raising awareness. Hopefully I will have more Harry selfies popping up on Twitter very soon.

Addition: Sadly, as I post this blog, another 3 of our hen harriers have gone missing from the area around Harry's new home and we have a government re-elected who do not have wildlife high on their list of priorities. This worries me so much. 

It's time to work even harder, even longer, even louder and give wildlife the voice it needs.