Thursday, March 15, 2018

Can more be done for Hen Harriers?

Well, in my opinion, the answer is "Yes", much more !   But let's look at some of the background information.

Being "marooned" in Scotland recently due to the bad weather my mind wandered over a variety of subjects, including raptor persecution.  For example, why is it that the most overt campaigning for change is apparently being carried out by individuals or independent groups  as opposed to the RSPB, and that support from the latter is modest to say the least?  I idly speculated that, perhaps, more draconian measures were being imposed nowadays by the Charity Commissioners and this limited a charity's involvement. An examination of their guidance to all charities makes it clear that political activity is countenanced, but that such should not be the sole activity in which they are engaged.  So why, when raptor persecution  incidents are still occurring at an undiminished rate, is there not an absolute uproar being organized and robust and unrelenting pressure being put on our elected representatives at Westminster?  After all, the oft quoted membership of the Society is a potential force to be reckoned with if collectively organized ! Why does public campaigning for change figure so modestly  in RSPB's activities nowadays compared to yesteryear?  This may be a deliberate choice, poorly communicated to an otherwise expectant membership.

Nowadays I spend most of my time travelling around birding ( lucky me ! ) and bump into a lot of people raising the self same questions and concerns. These are respectable folk, not hotheads, but folk who are disappointed and bewildered.   The usual support and recognition is forthcoming towards the quality of the Society's work associated with research, reserve management, advisory services, policy assessment and , particularly, investigations work. Beyond this there's usually a quiet confession that the Society no longer appears to have the stomach for a major  confrontation and worries are expressed that the "harrier situation" appears to have been sidelined in terms of being a major priority.

Whether the current stance of the Society stems from a belief  that robust campaigning is not the most effective means to employ in seeking change, the support for and the progress achieved by Mark Avery's E-petition demonstrated otherwise. And the RSPB was nonetheless willing to be involved in the final part of the process held at Westminster !  The rather lukewarm support offered towards the current E-petition relating to the licensing of grouse moors, which the RSPB claims to advocate as a solution, is yet another ill defined position.  What is going on and what is the problem ?  Whether the RSPB is prepared to accept the situation or not , there is a credibility problem arising that needs closing down or otherwise the "Protection of Birds"  description becomes a misnomer.  Why does the Society's position relating to raptor persecution in England appear so weak and cautious ?    There are far too many adverse comments arising on the Society's position, which shouldn't be the case given the RSPB is seen by many as the organization who ought to be leading from the front.  Within all this, the sterling work of the Society's Investigations Section goes on undiminished and should be extended, congratulated, but also act as a "beacon" of what ought to be happening in other spheres.  If the current level of activity is deemed sufficient then I confess my personal feelings move towards those of the disaffected, underpinned by a great disappointment too.

Amidst all this the Hen Harrier breeding population in England remains  at rock bottom !!  I'm sure all those responsible for its demise are quite happy at the situation "remaining in the long grass"  and efforts being confined to internecine battles about reports,  membership of Working Groups and so on .
Setting aside the ideas of Natural England as being worthy of attributing to Lewis Carroll's creative genius it's nonetheless encouraging to see the RSPB joining the ranks of  those opposing the licence provisions currently being dealt with in connection with the brood management proposals.  More of the same please !

But, in my view, there is a clear need to demonstrate the depth of feeling and revulsion toward raptor persecution on a once and for all basis , and in a wholly collective sense. The current Government are clearly unwilling to consider action on the matter and, therefore, that position should be exposed as being utterly unacceptable by the organization of the public's opposition.  Recent E-petitions have provided more than sufficient evidence of the depth of feeling " out in the country".   Harnessing collective opinion , including involving the RSPB's own membership in administering the process,  overtly and robustly, could provide a once and for all demonstration of the level of opposition against those responsible and include a clear call for change.  The ultimate objective should be a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, admitting to being absolutely deluged by correspondence on the matter and promising the matter will be dealt with properly!!  This is an opportunity for the RSPB to reestablish its obvious position of being the organization occupying the most formal position where campaigning for bird protection matters are concerned. This, in recent times,  appears to have suffered from some sort of dilution, which most people find both irritating and confusing.

Whilst it doesn't give me any particular pleasure being critical about an organization which performs so well in many other spheres in conservation, there is a need for the RSPB to adopt a more buoyant and  proactive position on this issue. It's not a question of swimming against the tide either, there's a body of support willing you on "out there" , but wondering why things appear so modest . C'mon  RSPB, you're needed,  time for heads to appear above the parapet !!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Gorgeous Galloway.

No, not George, but the place, the weather and the overall atmosphere. For a final day conditions couldn't have been better and certainly have portrayed the area at its best !   I'd promised myself to do a full circuit of Loch Ryan, as previously, as I had odd things to complete this afternoon. 

Red-throated and Great Northern Divers. Long-tailed Duck, Scaup, Wigeon,  Great Crested Grebe, Eider, Goldeneye , Shelduck ,and a nice variety of waders to compliment the haul, provided an apt and satisfying end to a great week.  Whilst there are certain things I've missed, there are other experiences that I shall continue to savor.  Due to the weather, both in Scotland and elsewhere over the past  couple of weeks, I'm loathe to suggest whether some things are on the move or not. Certainly duck numbers aren't high and the LB Brent Geese appear to have disappeared over the past few days ( but Loch Ryan is a BIG place ! ) . Certainly the nice warm weather this morning had countless common birds in song, but I wouldn't be foolish enough to suggest we've turned any corners !!!!

Within the past couple of weeks a variety of things has emerged that link to Hen Harriers.  Being up here , ( with plenty of "down time" at the beginning of the holiday ) , I've mused over a wide range of relevant topics connected with the current political scene, the continuing plight of Hen Harriers,  various involvements by organizations and individuals and some of the shortcomings. Rather than try and cram thoughts and opinions into one single entry I've decided to put out  a "three part treatment" next week, so watch this space as the saying goes.  The only shortcoming I've discovered already is that the recent computer fiasco has taken with it various photographs I had of harriers , so you might have to do without illustrations !!!!  Apologies!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Galloway's hills.

No holiday on the Solway would be worth it without spending time up in the hills.  The weather was marginally better but it's almost as if many birds aren't back yet. Large tracts of the conifer forest are devoid of very much other than the odd Robin and Chaffinch with the occasional chipping Crossbill and Siskin calling.  So was it, but worth it ! There's a particular serenity and wildness to Galloway at this time of year.

I had a tremendous flock of around 60 Icelandic Redwing in resplendent plumage.  Add to that a Raven giving the whole display scenario. Little else, but the day was still worthwhile although a little empty on excitement !

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Exploring Galloway's Rhins..

After getting this Blog up to date and completing an almost compulsory examination of Loch Ryan , but not being particularly successful in locating anything new, I set off to explore the Rhins.  It's many years since I'd been to the Mull of Galloway one harsh winter and really all I could remember was seeing a small party of Snow Bunting immediately outside the gate to the lighthouse !! Neither could I remember any of the other sites in the overall area.

Sandhead Bay  was the first stop to chase up what had been reported as a 3000 strong flock of Common Scoter with some rarer relatives among them.  Not to be,  as not a sign of any scoters  whatsoever. Odd Eider and Wigeon were in evidence, but little else. Continuing south I had some early lunch at Ardwell overlooking a very picturesque bay.  I did see a small party of Common Scoter , some Wigeon and Eider together with a couple of Stonechat but , again, things were quiet.  Making regular stops and scanning what was a relatively calm sea I was surprised at the apparent absence of divers with only one Great Northern Diver found at distance. Finally I was at Drummore ( is this the southernmost rookery in Scotland ? ) which is a surprisingly large community for such an isolated place, and moved on to the Mull of Galloway. 

As might be imagined at this time of year things were a little quiet. However, rafts of auks were offshore and both Razorbill and Guillemot were seen together with a fly-by Red-throated Diver. Several Rock Pipits were on the coast and a female Merlin started up from the ground and flew north, a migrant ?  Having seen molehills in the vicinity I was surprised to learn of the resident Red Foxes and their diet !

Afterwards I left the Mull of Galloway I did a further four hour stint at a harrier roost  ( until 1815 hours ) and saw not a one !!  Compensation was in the form of 700/800 Golden Plover and exceptionally good views of Raven which came up behind a knoll and stared at me penetratingly  for quite a period ( or so it seemed ). 

So another fine day in all respects !

High and low ground ! 5.3.2018

The inevitable attraction of Loch Ryan called and a visit to a selection of viewpoints was made before deciding what best to do with the day .  On the western side some superb views of two males and one female Long-tailed Duck was had. Even just with binoculars the views were tremendous!  Whilst all the usual suspects appeared, discovering a single and then several other Slavonian Grebe ( 4 ) was  rewarding . Three Knot, a few Shelduck, Rock Pipit were all welcome newcomers.  A relative absence , at least at this stage, of divers is noticeable, but may be down to little more than poor luck on my part !

I decided to go east ! Having got to Newton Stewart, and with visibility and general weather conditions improving, I struck off into the hills within the Galloway Forest Park.  The weather actually deteriorated and visibility wasn't of the best as I ventured as far as Clatteringshaws Loch. A chipping Crossbill and a couple of other indistinct calls were all I earned for a rather cold hour , so I retraced my steps.  I always feel in awe of Alexander Murray as I pass both the humble ruins that were his birthplace and the magnificent monument erected to commemorate one of Scotland's most remarkable sons.   That someone brought up with six other siblings in a tiny stone cottage very much out in the wilds  should aspire eventually to be Professor of Oriental Languages at Edinburgh University is a wonderful story.

A view of Murray's Monument showing the bleak , open surroundings in the vicinity.

Retracing my steps I went southwards into The Machars to visit the wetland area nearby to Wigtown.  Well, imagine my surprise when this scene met my eyes!

The area lies at the confluence of two rivers  ( the Cree and the Bladnoch ) and, at the higher tides within Wigtown Bay, presents this watery view !  The access to the hide was cut off for a while, although little would have been in view initially. Eventually the waters receded and views of several Little Egrets, Grey Heron and parties of Pink-footed Geese and Barnacle Geese were secured. A single Greenshank fed within a flooded area and in the adjacent marsh numbers of Teal, Pintail and Shoveler afforded great views. This is a splendid site ( when not flooded ) and always worthy of a visit. Concluding sightings were a couple of Reed Bunting , odd Meadow Pipit and Skylark and an early "White" Wagtail, the first migrant of Spring ! .

I chose a cross country route to return to Starnraer which typified the quinessential countryside of Galloway's agricultural heritage. Turning a corner I was surprised to come across a very large gathering of Pink-footed Geese, which I scrutinized for any scarcer species without success.

All in all, a mixed day but one with some nice surprises and overall success.

A taste of west Galloway. Sunday, 4.3.2018

Up and out early was clearly the order of the day, although the beckoning weather was rather cold and uninviting.  A full circuit of Loch Ryan seemed a good idea as visibility was reasonable and the wind not too strong. Whilst tempted to stop off at various locations I eventually arrived at a point north of the ferry terminals on the eastern side of this large sea loch. Large ferry boats ply back and forth between here and Northern Ireland and it was fascinating to see the number of large lorries coming off the ferry even on a Sunday morning  ( unimpeded by Customs checks I imagine (!! ), but an indication of the volume of trade in place.  We need to get this whole situation sorted ! )

I confess I felt more than a pang of sadness as views of Great Northern Diver, Black Guillemot, Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Merganser occurred and transported me back to what was routine birdwatching fare on Islay. Working my way southwards down the eastern  side I discovered a roost of Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit besides numbers of Ringed Plover given the tide was now  at its full height.  Numbers of Scaup ( 150?) and Wigeon were scattered along the southern shore  as was a variety of waders ( Redshank,  Dunlin , Turnstone and more Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover ).

Eventually I moved off down to Sandend on the Rhins.  The wind backed tide here was almost overtopping the beach and bringing with it a lot of detritus which large numbers of gulls were picking over. It was clearly impossible to see anything out "at sea" so I moved off and had an explore. Later I moved to an area famed for sightings, and even roosting,  of Hen Harriers and prepared myself for a long wait. Occasional winter showers persisted and it was extremely cold, even in the car.  There were numbers of Pink-footed Geese and Grey-lag Geese around and I eventaully remained until almost dusk.  It paid off as I had a couple of harriers, both ring-tails  with one being a rather dark bird and the other somewhat the opposite!  Merlin, Kestrel and a couple of Common Buzzard completed the raptor sightings  from what had been an enjoyable afternoon.

Finally on the move. Sat. 3. 3.2018

After three days of self imposed "exile" in Dumfries due to the horrendous weather which has hit most of the UK It was time to transfer to my intended  "base" for the second part of the holiday.  I'd achieved nothing within the first part due to road closures locally, but reflected on the fact that, had I been at home , conditions wouldn't have been any better!

I was amazed, and in awe, of the small group of birds in the vicinity of the Travelodge , that , day after day, fed within the short length of hedgerow along a nearby ditchline.  That they could survive the conditions and exceedingly low temperatures is almost unbelievable.  Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Blackbird, Starling, Dunnock and Robin were doubtless welcoming the ever so slight improvement to conditions.

And so, after buying stores I set off westwards along the A75, fully open but with less welcoming roads leading off elsewhere.  I called at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas and was surprised to find it unfrozen.  Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen  plus an assemblage of gulls, mainly Black-headed , the odd Common and Herring and a single LBBG were in evidence.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew away and a Treecreeper industriously worked its way up one of the mature lochside trees whilst a Mistle Thrush , several Starlings and Blackbirds sought food in the open.  I abandoned my intention to walk at least part of the way around the loch as the fine snow continued to fall and create a mist like atmosphere that limited visibility.

Continuing on I parked up near Creetown overlooking where the River Cree flows into Wigtown Bay which, at high tide, presents a huge expanse of water !  Little was in view , although a couple of Goldcrest exploring a bankside tree were both a surprise and a delight. Whilst the weather hadn't improved, the amount of snow was lessening as each mile went by . Shortly after Newton Stewart the first open fields came into view ( hooray ! ) and life started to hold promise !   Continuing on Stranraer, let it be said, is snow free even to the extent of a few crocus and snowdrops adding a touch of colour to an otherwise drab  background.

I couldn't resist parking up at several spots overlooking Loch Ryan and was rewarded with views of Red-throated Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Eider, Goldeneye and a flock of Light bellied Brent Geese  near to The Wig on the western side. A good beginning !  After arriving at my "base" on the Corsewall Estate the rest of the day was taken up by the usual chore of unpacking , cooking and familiarisation of what is an extremely comfortable apartment in a converted stable block.  A welcome shift in fortune after the tribulations of the past week, although a thought must be given for the many folk who have had things far worse. It's got to end sometime, folks !

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Snowy update.

Some years ago , when I lived on Islay, I took a late winter holiday  (March) with the intention of visiting S. Yorks, Norfolk and stopping off in SW Scotland to do some birding. The latter never happened as I was marooned in Dumfries and had to stay at the Travelodge for several days due to severe weather. Thereafter my holiday planning was the brunt of family jokes as you might imagine.

So, in this period of inclement chaos where do I find myself?   Dumfries Travelodge ,of course, even down to the same room as previously ( henceforth this will be known as the Armitage Suite and have a blue plaque outside the door ).   Thoughts of getting out and about are best suppressed.  Although the main road ( A75 ) is open the side roads are not worth risking.  Irony, fate.......who knows? 

Yesterday morning , with light snow falling for quite a considerable time, some of the Rooks remained around the local roost adjacent to the Travelodge for most of the morning. The Jackdaws had moved off immediately and weren't seen again until late in the afternoon when they flew through rapidly as a composite group. The Rooks completely abandoned the roost last night and moved elsewhere. Odd birds have put in an appearance this morning but I guess they're having a tough time. Whilst it's far too early to tell, and certainly not to predict things, it will be interesting to see what the after effects are on small bird populations ( Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, ) given the bad weather is pretty universal across the UK with very few areas being unaffected.   This is the time when garden refuges really come into their own! 

So hopes have been dashed as far as planned intentions were concerned and everything is now pinned on next week in the far west ( Stranraer ) which I'll be moving to on Saturday and leaving this Amber Warning area behind !

Monday, February 26, 2018

East coast outing . 25.2 2018.

Yesterday was the routine monthly outing of the Huddersfield and Halifax RSPB MG. Despite the weather being grey and penetratingly cold at the onset,  the day improved with bright sunshine throughout, although without any discernible improvement to temperatures.  First stop was Scalby Mills at Scarborough which, unfortunately , was somewhat devoid of birds as the high tide, backed by a brisk easterly wind, had over-topped the rocks offshore and continued to sweep into otherwise sheltered areas immediately off the coast.. A few Wigeon were present, a Rock Pipit flew past as did a Shelduck offshore and a Grey Wagtail was present among the rocks of the nearby stream. 

As a consequence we moved on to check Scarborough Harbour which in recent winters has played host to some good birds. Our thinking was , with easterly winds , something would surely have sought refuge within the harbour. Well, our thinking was seriously flawed as, other than a few Turnstone, precious little was in evidence with even gulls being in short supply. It was interesting to see the numbers of people out and about and note the beefburger, fish and chips, cockles or similar and ice cream vendors now appear to work to a twelve month season !

On to an area immediately south of Scarborough, where we overlooked the coast from the car park. Red-throated Diver,  a pair of Goosander which then moved north, a couple of Mediterranean Gulls improved the day as did a very showy Roe Deer. We then moved on to our major venue for the rest of the day, Filey Brig. A little windswept and bracing it might be said, but the day was still bright and a pleasure nonetheless.  A few Gannets were offshore as was a distant raft of auks which were probably all Guillemots if the occasional single bird we identified was an indication.  A couple of Eider, Fulmar, a small group of Purple Sandpiper, a party of Redshank , a large feeding group of Oystercatcher in the car park area, several Cormorants and a Shag improved our day list.  In recent times reports of a Velvet Scoter being present were circulated. Despite an appreciable amount of time being spent searching the only bird we found was a single Common Scoter which, nonetheless was new.

So, an extremely enjoyable day in typical winter weather that produced some nice birds despite the robust conditions! 

Friday, February 23, 2018

The start of a new begining !

The last two years has seen some major changes in my personal circumstances, e.g. moving from Islay to South Yorkshire,  challenging family incidents which, thankfully, have all resolved themselves satisfactorily and  now a series of utterly frustrating events at the beginning of this year that have moved beyond the simple description of "unfortunate"!

Setting aside a bad fall on ice, a less than comfortable journey back home from Scotland and surviving, along with everyone else, a less than clement period of weather thereafter, the main problem was yet to occur. Can you conceive of a set of circumstances where you have two absolutely serviceable laptops that then abruptly cease to function within the same ten days.!!  Desolation followed and a growing realisation of how completely dependent we are on technology nowadays!  Leaving the boring details to one side , a new machine has been bought and I'm gradually becoming acquainted with Window 10 ( tell me it does happen, eventually ! ).

In between times I've managed a period down in Norfolk and trips off here and there but, of course, have not been able to put out Blogs about the visits or indulge in any ranting about conservation issues!  No comments please !  After 2017 this year was meant to be the absolute perfect launch into what might now be considered "retirement". The first six weeks have been a bit mixed but things are now hopefully under control!  I've set up Patchwork Challenge, BirdTrack , Bubo, Bird Journal and got this facility under way again, so it's wall to wall birding from now utterly apt lifestyle for a 76 year old, don't you think? I'm away to the Solway shortly and have a continuous flow of similar "expeditions" in hand. Can't wait!

Finally, this is a shot I got of a male American Wigeon at Clachnaharry Loch, Inverness in early January which has returned for a second winter.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The "High Tops"......but with a difference. 3.1.2018.

Not a lot of opportunity for birding today and the routine spells out locally produced nothing new.

In the afternoon I went with my daughter Rachael to the cinema within the Edencourt Theatre in Inverness. She'd got hold of tickets as a part of my Christmas gifts for a showing of the film " Mountain".  I can't recommend it highly enough ( forgive the pun ! ). It's not a natural history film as such but the scenery shots are absolutely spectacular. There was a real spiritual and artistic aspect to parts of the film with shots of avalanches, "rooftop vistas", ski-ing descents and even erupting volcanoes and close up shots of lava flows.

I confess I found the shots of tent "villages" and columns of people queuing to  access the summit of Everest less than inspiring. The "must have" mentality of conquering this majestic peak somehow relegates the sheer beauty of the surrounding landscape.  And then I reminded myself that to many outsiders the congregating masses of birders comprising a major "twitch " might seem just as offensive.  Live and let live I guess.

At several junctures there was footage of some of the extreme activities now taking place in high places, some of which appear completely absurd.  Solo climbing vertical cliffs almost came across as de rigeur ! Launching off high cliffs within mountain ranges on a bike, plummeting downwards with the whole situation then relying on the deployment of a parachute was spectacular. I confess I really enjoyed the somewhat more mundane filmed descents down precipitous snow fields and through woodlands !

Try and see it at one of your local, privately run cinemas. It is well worth it.

Wrong kind of Grand Slam ! 2.1.2018

With Andy Murray's hip injury making the headlines it wasn't at all compensating to be part of the idiom !

Dawn saw me out with the dogs in what was Baltic weather temperatures. A misjudgement led to my upending, going horizontal and slamming down on the frozen ground with its ample ice covering. Whilst I sustained no direct injuries I did give my head a wallop. Thankfully no aftermath arose from that part of the drama, but the next few hours did increasingly confirm which body bits had made contact with the cold , cold ground !   The worst part is actually getting up from ice covered ground.....not a wholly dignified process and a bit reminiscent of animals taking their first steps after being born !  Morning walking duties completed the rest of the morning was given over to garden birdwatching.

It proved to be quite interesting with Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpoll and a small group of Goldfinch appearing and overflying Fieldfare and Pink-footed Geese being seen.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

And so it begins......2018 !

In retrospect 2017 was both a good and bad year in a personal sense. A great trip out to Morocco in Spring, various trips around the UK and periods spent at Spurn contrasted against a couple of near disastrous family experiences that were far less enjoyable .  Thankfully, all is now improved and, hopefully, 2018 promises to be a more consistently productive and happy year ( once I've got my Speed Awareness Course out of the way on the 23rd January ! ).

So, what of the onset of 2018 ?  I'm up near Inverness, Scotland in what has been cold and icy weather so far, but is gradually set to improve. Walks out during the day ( with the dogs ) has produced little within the nearby coniferous woodlands or adjacent agricultural areas with far more activity in the garden around the feeders. Best of the bunch has been Long-tailed Tits, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Tree Sparrow, Treecreeper and odd Greenfinch with occasional Red Kite and Common Buzzard overhead.

The star performance was from a Long-tailed Field Mouse.  This individual repeatedly appeared out of its "hidey hole"  , ran down to a group of House Sparrows gathered around some food I'd scattered under the bushes, retrieved a supply and sped off !! Except it did it several times leaving the sparrows literally bewildered. What the hell was that ? There was no reaction whatsoever ! Animal theatre at its best.

With daughters accounted for after the Hogmanay celebrations the next day or so proved to be a football filled, crisis-free series of days. A good start !


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Spurn depicted even earlier than 1958 , 1950 in fact !!!

I found this reference yesterday whilst researching out some details on Spurn.  It's a film made in 1950, so almost seventy years ago, and less than a decade after the Spurn Bird Observatory was brought into being. I'd never seen it before and suggest it's essential viewing for anyone with an interest in Spurn, its birds or the Observatory.

Click on this link       Film on Spurn Bird Observatory

There are a number of remarkable things about the scenes depicted. Clearly it was de rigeur to wear a long macintosh,  a  flat cap , stout boots and carry a large stick when driving a Heligoland trap, oh , and be in a suit, preferably with waistcoat !!!  Plus too, note the sheer numbers of people involved in guiding the birds into the trap.

Early days, even to the extent of showing the preferred way of using a Dolland and Aitchison Target Major telescope ! It might all look rather amateurish, but it must be acknowledged that , from such efforts, grew the observatory network we see to day, including Spurn which grows from strength to strength.  Who would have thought that those early efforts by Ralph Chislett and his colleagues would result in the situation we see today where an award winning book on the birds of Spurn has been published, on land being owned and a new observatory building set up. Tribute indeed and one that leads to a confidence that other such initiatives are likely to follow in the future.  A great place, a great example and continuing great efforts in the cause of  bird migration studies. And remember, you can do your bit too by becoming a Friend of Spurn ( see the Observatory web site for details ) so that the necessary ideas of the future can move forward.

Spurn remembered 1958 !

Now I suspect this entry will cause some hilarity in some quarters, not without justification I guess !!  Even a glimpse at the reproduced diary entries below , the writing style, the layout, the simplicity and so on, points at humble beginnings. But that was how it was , folks !  It serves to show that enthusiasm was high and efforts just as focused even if the outcomes weren't perhaps as extensive as today.

In August, 1958 I was sixteen. I'd been to Spurn before on day trips but never stayed over for any period. A birding friend of mine at grammar school , Geoff Aynsley, and I decided to spend a holiday at the observatory during the last couple of weeks of August. This involved getting a train from Barnsley to Doncaster,   Doncaster to Hull  and then a bus to Spurn from Hull itself.  No M62 in those days !

There was no full time warden in those days, but one, Lt.Colonel H.G. Brownlow, was in residence at the Warren for the autumn of that year, supervising ringing and general arrangements and soon had us sorted out. We met up with other birders staying at the observatory ( Bill Curtis, Colin Pask, Ken Hardcastle , George Edwards and Charlie Winn ) and were soon into the swing of things.  The initial thing we were "recruited into" was a drive on the Heligoland trap. A "semi-long" in the parlance of our military advisor !  This started at the gate I believe, but his  "long version" started at the Blue Bell and involved disturbing each and every bush so hoping that any hapless birds made their way towards the Warren trap. In a way it was exciting stuff really ! After that we went seawatching for the remainder of the day, but were also given some "lucid" rejoinders from Charlie Winn as to what our responses should be to the almost incessant requests for long and semi-long heligoland drives.  Charlie became a close friend during the time I was in Yorkshire , an ace birder and , shall we say, an exceptional character !  His three wheel "van"  ( watch a similar version owned by the Trotter family in "Only Fools and Horses" ) guaranteed a near death experience  when negotiating Hull traffic and roundabouts !


Click to enlarge images.

I was to spend many days , if not weeks ,  at Spurn in the decade afterwards, and since returning from Scotland recentlyI can again take my fill of this wonderful place. This particular  holiday though still stands out vividly in my memory as do many other periods which followed "in the early days". A rite of passage in many ways and an intro to a lifetime's passion.  Things have changed , and continue to change at Spurn , but that essential magic is still present. For example, there were three fields to cross from the Warren to the coast in those days ; nowadays the rigours of coastal erosion  have ensured the sea is a very close neighbour of Warren Cottage itself.! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumnal Equinox

Today ( 22nd September ) marks the occasion of the Autumnal Equinox within the Astronomical  calendar. This means that our night and day are of approximate equal length as the Equator passes the centre of the Sun.   Our North and South poles are not tilted towards or away from the Sun, as on other occasions, but are aligned to , theoretically at least, the same amount of daylight to both of Earth's hemispheres.

The next notable occasion is that of the "winter solstice" on the 21/22 nd December, with the 21st being the shortest day of the year in the context of daylight.

The Meteorological Calendar is derived from the Grigorian Calendar  which we assiduously follow . The seasons are simply split into three monthly blocks, which makes forecasting and the comparison of statistics easier to follow. These are straightforward.....Spring is March to May inclusive, Summer is June to August, Autumn is September to November and Winter is December through to February.

And , if you really want to be precise, we now have 100 days left to the end of the year!!!  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Huddersfield and Halifax RSPB MG first autumn meeting.

The first meeting of the autumn/winter was last evening. After all the usual formalities were dealt with by David Hemingway ( Group Leader ) we were treated to a very entertaining and informative talk by John Gardner on " Iberian Birds".  A very varied array of bird photographs was shown from a variety of locations in northern Spain including some superb shots of Great Bustard in display. Similarly close up shots of both Bonelli's and Golden Eagle were impressive. I wasn't aware previously of the extent to which photographic opportunities and facilities were laid on with a whole series of hides having been created for that purpose at various different spots and local guides providing the necessary back up too. Quite a business . The one that John Gardner used utilised road kill as bait, i.e. dead Rabbits, for the eagles in question with some obvious regular success at the site on the boundary between Spain and Portugal overlooking the immense "jointly" protected nature reserve. I doubt the process or habit of using tethered white pigeons ( by other people ) is legal (?) but clearly the local populations of eagles are thriving and taking full advantage of the situation.   My favourite photograph.......Bluethroat, a real corker , but many others similarly competed !!!

The Group are visiting Rutland Water on Sunday, one of a series of trips that are organized throughout the year.  Why not pay us a visit ? Take a look at the website of the group for all the details of both meetings and trips.  

Inaugural meeting Penistone and District Countryside Society.

Tuesday evening saw the first formal meeting of the Penistone and District Countryside Society ( South Yorkshire ).  This is the brainchild of Chris Tomson, previously a farmer at Broomhead in the Peak National Park and now an Agricultural Advisor with the RSPB.  Currently his main ( work ) "target area" is the Yorkshire Wolds and it was on this area and the theme of farming and wildlife that he presented the first talk to the embryonic group. The intention is to hold a series of meetings in winter and a programme of outside visits to areas of interest in the Spring and summer.

It was a great evening with a series of attractive and hugely relevant photographs, most of which had been taken by Chris himself. Now we all know that our farmland bird communities have reduced in recent times, decimated by the increase in intensive farming methods and the rapid turn around between summer harvested crops and those sown for over-wintering. And it's easy also to lay blame and criticise such innovation and call out for change. Hopefully change there may be, given that it's estimated that many farmland bird species, for instance, have reduced by 60%,  that due to the specificity of insecticide sprays the food upon which many species depends is a thing of the past and due also to the spraying of crops the botannical diversity of the countryside has plummeted. But also let's remind ourselves that the call for increased food production ( predicted at needing to double by 2050 ) comes from successive Governments, who we elect, who operate on our behalf and whose policies we should be prepared to confront as necessary. In all these situations the "adult way" is to participate, identify opportunities for change and work hard at gaining support for suggested changes , not stand on the byelines and bleat !!  Certainly the "targetting" of important agricultural areas and the adoption of these principles is symptomatic of the RSPB's approach which is enjoying success. OK, as yet, it might only be 5% of farmers who are participating , but the potential opportunity for change is just around the corner with the schemes under consideration by DEFRA in a post-Brexit situation.

I felt more optimistic when I came out of the hall than when I went in. We'd heard of endless examples of  a wide variety of projects,  from Syngenta's Operation Pollinator scheme  ( Operation Pollinator ) to much smaller scale, almost personalised projects introduced by individual farmers. One of these, at Ryedale, near Malton, I felt particularly encouraged by . It's aim is to support Corn Buntings, by planting to assist food availablity, by providing breeding habitat and even song posts and I'm looking forward to receiving more information on this in due course.

So a great start. But what next. Well, another meeting is already planned, on the 17th October.

Click to enlarge!

Do come along and mention it to your friends too. It's always difficult introducing something new like this but I'm sure support will grow over time. Given sufficient interest is evident a Committee will be formed and a longer series of meetings organized. So, watch this space.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

West Mere farm, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire.

This is where I stay when at Spurn. It's immediately on the left as you enter the small village of Kilnsea and offers B and B as well as three small self-catering  accomodation units.  It's home from home , believe me!

There are other places to stay at, of course, the Observatory itself, the Crown and Anchor and several caravan sites ( Driftwood, Sandy Beaches, and Kew Villa, the latter being operated by Spurn Bird Observatory ). Contact details are available at the end of this posting.

What can be said is that notable birds have been seen in the immediate vicinity of any of these. Within a couple of days of arriving at Westmere recently a young lad had photographed a Rose-coloured Starling on the telephone wires outside his bedroom. Not bad !.

Having spent 16 years living on Islay I'd missed "east-coast falls " and so I was determined this year to spend as much time as I could in a catch up situation. For me Spurn was the obvious place to be. It also has the obvious advantage of providing access to sites further up the coast where particular migrants might find landfall. During my recent visit I went up to Bempton to take in the Greenish Warbler which had been there for a few days. So, having been there in Spring and part of August/September I'm now poised for a long spell within October basing myself in one of the above self catering units. Such provide comfort, convenience and flexibility . "Mine hosts" are Sue and Andrew Wells for which nothing is too much trouble. I've already placed my bookings for 2018 so ensure you move early!

Access to Kilnsea Wetlands is just down the road and easily withing walking distance, as is the walk across a couple of fields to the North Sea coast. A similarly distanced walk across the fields will bring you to Sammy's Point adjacent to the Humber with its attractive stand of mature bushes so  beloved of a variety of migrants.   And, of course, you're not that far away from the Penninsula itself , the Canal Zone, the Observatory's Church Field area, Beacon Lane and the Warren area where visual migration watches and sea watching activities take place.  So, a busy day followed by a self catering preference or a meal at the Crown and Anchor washed down by Timothy Taylor's beer. A life style for the Gods .

If you've never been birding at Spurn , then try it. It's a phenomenal place which , admittedly is changing radically given the breach of the |Penninsula which took place in recent times. What the future holds is anybody's guess so now is the time to take it in. Where else can you stand on a narrow penninsula with the North Sea to one side of you and the mighty River Humber flowing past you on the other.  A unique place and experience and a mega place for birds.

Spurn Bird Observatory
Westmere Farm         
Kew Villa Campsite             E-mail
Sandy Beaches          
Crown and Anchor              Ring   01964 650276    

Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder Award.

Apologies for a belated entry on such a relevant topic. These awards were presented on the weekend of the Spurn Migration Festival after the participants had spent a proportion of their day being assessed in a variety of ways. The awards were presented on the Saturday evening by Professor Ian Newton and Dr. Andy Clements with all participants being acknowledged. Whilst there was an outright winner,  apparently the final marks had been close, all were clearly to be firmly congratulated. In Ian Newton's encouraging  words, "please do keep involved as we need you in the future" !

This is now a firmly established part of the Observatory's programme and the competition will certainly continue in the future. For details of what is involved then refer to the Spurn Bird Observatory website.

I have to admit I had a vested interest in the proceedings this year.  Sami, the son of long standing friends Sarah and Steve Sankey, now resident on Orkney, was one of the contestants, although sadly not the winner this time around !  "Team Sankey" had never been to Spurn before so the weekend necessarily included a whole variety of involvements, including sampling Timothy Taylor's beer at the Crown and Anchor  ( that was for Dad and me whilst Mother and son went on the bat walk which, incidentally, was very successful and something I'll sign up for next year ) !!

Now it's not everyday that anyone can visit a new place and find part of it carries the same name!!  Here's Sami at Sammy's Point on Humberside which is an integral part of Spurn. Unfortunately the weather was less than kind and we had to rush off  anyway to try and see a Sabine's Gull which was flying out along the Humber. Sadly we missed it ( much to Sami's disgust ) although there'd been previous compensations given the showy Wryneck and Long-billed Dowitcher  which were present.

Altogether a very enjoyable weekend for all and one to remember.  Well done , Sami !