Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New book on wildlife crime.

For the past few days I've been immersed in reading a new book dealing with wildlife crime. The book, WILDLIFE CRIME     the making of an Investigations Officer, written by Dave Dick,  issued by Whittles Publishing,  is an utterly absorbing account of a former colleague's years with the RSPB tackling an unceasing  flow of bird related crime. The book carries a Foreword by Sir John Lister-Kaye OBE ,whose contents aptly introduce and summarise some of the core elements addressed in the book,  particularly why the continuing scourge of raptor persecution on Scottish Estates continues unabated.


I have neither the temerity, nor arrogance, to attempt a review of a book I enjoyed from end to end. A simple aspect emerges!  It is an essential read for anyone interested in the wildlife crimes that are seemingly endemic within our countryside. Following your finishing this book, your repugnance of the crimes it details, and the people who are responsible, will have increased many fold. This, I am sure, will bring about an increased  resolve to bring about essential change and an end to these wholly selfish and unnecessary crimes. As such one of the main objectives of the book will have been realised. The wide variety of casework illustrates but a small proportion of what is happening in our countryside. Thankfully, the only thing which appears to have reduced over the years is egg collecting, although individuals still currently and persistently involved in the practice are probably the most "professionally" motivated. Several of the past "characters"   were resident in the RSPB English region I ran and it was a cause of permanent embarrassment and frustration that their annual pilgrimages northwards to Scotland each Spring comprised the very threats that Dave Dick and his colleagues had to confront. However, the dedication, resolve and expertise they met with north of the border ensured many of them over the years were brought to justice.

The most saddening aspects of the book deal with the persecution of raptors which takes place on Scottish sporting estates. The level of self-dedication and determination which Dave Dick applied to this problem is exemplary in the extreme and the reputation he gained from his peers in pursuing such issues is more than well deserved. There are many more aspects to Dave Dick.....his music, his humour, his friendship,  all of which come through in the book. Previous to his being involved in investigations work he had actually worked on Islay. His descriptions of the "social scene" in the 1980's are absorbing and suggest some things have changed little, and the story of his " penultimate departure" is a story I wasn't aware of , but which is an absolute hoot!!! I've no intention of revealing any more details contained within the book as it would detract from what is pure enjoyment throughout until the very last page. Simply buy it and enjoy! However use its core messages to underscore a willingness to act further and bring about change!

As I finished the book this morning the first of two small earthquakes were registered on Islay. Quite literally  earth shattering events accompanying the equally similar revelations contained within the endless examples of mindless exploitation or persecution of wildlife in its most deplorable forms. At the risk of using confusing metaphors with Earth damaging effects,  may I express the hope that the case that Dave Dick so skilfully sets out in his book brings about a veritable tsunami wave of public outrage that  finally ends the ridiculous  situation that confronts our native wildlife. Such would be an apt reward for many years of selfless effort attempting to secure change and improvement for our wildlife.

Earthquakes on Islay!

February has seen Islay be at the forefront of seismic activity in the UK during the current month. Unbelievable though it might seem we've actually had six distinct earthquakes, full details of which can be found on the British Geological Survey web site. Overall it's fascinating stuff with far more occurrences in and around the UK than you might think. Thankfully none are ever sufficiently severe to figure on anything other than the occasional Regional News Bulletin!!

Just as a benchmark against which we can compare ourselves with the far more tragic events which occur globally, the severity of them is low, and whilst they are felt and "experienced" locally, no damage or other evidence occurs. Of the six which have occurred in February (5th, 20th, 20th, 27th , 29th and 29th ) the readings on the Richter scale have been 1.5, 2.6, 1.4, 1.6, 2.8 and 2.6.  Having been caught in a quake in Venezuela where the earth did actually move momentarily accompanied by a distant rumbling, ( who's specific location you can't quite pinpoint incidentally), the whole experience is certainly more than interesting , but only while it remains at that level!! 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Unwillingly hog tied due to birds!

Decided that, until I was free of bird-associated paperwork or similar, I'd keep at it and clear off various things that needed doing. Problem is that I then received either post or E-mails that kept topping up the pile! That's not fair, particularly as the weather improved today. Besides being mild , it was sunny at times!!

Received back the answers to various questions I'd submitted to Natural England about their current position vis a vis the Hen Harrier Recovery Programme. I couldn't resist starting an outline of an article, to be put out soon, on what continues to be a depressing situation when it comes to breeding harriers in England. Despite best intended efforts  the remaining population will be lost unless there is a public outcry. Doubtless the demise of the population presence will be seen as a victory by some, who need to remind themselves that they live in the 21st Millennium, as opposed to being blinkered , prejudiced and governed by unfettered, commercial selfishness.

Whilst some cynics will undoubtedly gripe from the complacency of their armchairs, I was pleased to see the announcement yesterday from RSPB and Tesco that funds will be raised in aid of rainforest protection. It's always easy to say what big business should be doing , but I'm afraid I always welcome any initiative that shows benefit to wildlife. At this point I need to make my own confession and salve my soul!!!  Some few years ago I cancelled my subscription to the RSPB , even given the fact I was one of their pensioners and had worked for "the firm" for twenty years. In parallel to all this, I have also to declare that I'm a staunch advocate of BirdLife International. I was incandescent when RSPB went independent and got deeply involved in SE Asia, even to the extent of gaining forest land in Sumatra,  actions that I felt should have been directed through BirdLife Indonesia. There were reasons, and I've become reconciled to such, but I felt very strongly about the issue at the time and still feel it would have been better if things had been different. Anyway, I'm now fully paid up and can trumpet the positive actions of my recently re-adopted conservation body with full hypocritical fervour! The tie up with Tesco will even benefit the Sumatran forest......... now careful, this is going beyond hypocrisy, even for me!!! Seriously, it seems to me that, in the light of seemingly endless other concerns being voiced about the threats to globally valued habitats, the rainforest " case" has been receding in recent times. It's good to see it in the forefront again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A useful catch up!

Return to home had produced no problems or surprises, although the first couple of days is always fraught with catch up tasks! Such was the case today, although the tedium was broken by a visit from Pauline and Gordon Yates, who have been on Islay more or less since I departed. Gordon is a well known bird photographer and raptor enthusiast, ably supported by Pauline, who I keep meaning to ask whether she's ever been tempted to overlook retrieving him from a hide by a few hours!!! They hail from Lancashire and so talk inevitably turned to Bowland Hen Harriers, Pennine Merlins, a species we're both in love with, and cycling, as it transpired we'd both been involved competitively in the past ( rather distant past it has to be said! ) A great morning and much preferred to , as yet , undone domestic tasks!  They'd not had the best of holidays due to poor weather but had seen most of what goodies were on offer. The "white winged" gull numbers appear to have gradually diminished over the period, presumably having moved south or eastwards on to the mainland.

Two days to forget!

Sunday (19th ) dawned somewhat quietly with a landscape covered in 3/4 inches of snow. Little was in evidence, called, or flew until mid -morning when various parties of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, doubtless scouting around for "open" feeding areas. Gradually the snow disappeared throughout the day as temperatures increased, but most birds seemed to have their heads down!

Monday (20th ) was always destined to be "returning home day" so after fond farewells to daughters and dogs I set off southwards, having chosen to go down the A9 and then cut across to Fort William at Newtonmore. Leaving at 0800 hours meant I could grab a couple of hours walk around a favourite stretch of Caledonian Pinewood north of Aviemore , before proceeding further. Whilst only a mere covering of frozen snow remained the temperatures were arctic!  Aviemore, I discovered later , had been the coldest spot in the UK on the 19th  (-10 C ) and certainly no real amelioration was in progress. However, I had a good tramp around but, of Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill ( the intended quarry! ), there was no sign. Conceding defeat I pressed on seeing a few Wigeon, Teal and Goldeneye on a roadside loch, but little else . Mid morning saw it beginning to rain as I passed westwards,  which continued unabated , along with accompanying mist, for the remainder of the journey until I finally got home around 2100 hours. A couple of days  to forget in many respects!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What a difference a day makes!

Yesterday (Friday ) was cold, mainly fine with a stiff wind from the north west. The early morning had several Robins in song, sub song from a Yellowhammer and lots of local bird activity along the lane leading down to the Beauly Firth. Numbers and variety were good , and whilst the temperatures were low, it did feel as if the year was "moving on" to some extent. Hazel catkins were in evidence and a couple of flower sprays shone yellow in the roadside Gorse.

By contrast, this morning was bitter with a strengthening wind and developing snow showers , which then went on all day, although none settled. There was no celebratory song welcoming this reversal in fortunes and very few birds were noted. Last evening, immediately after dark, there had been a lot of shooting down on the Firth which had probably disturbed the geese as none were seen or could be heard from their local feeding areas, until three parties overflew the house in the late morning.  Successive waves of snow showers, overcast conditions resulting in poor visibility, didn't improve things either and birdlife was hardly a feature of the day at all!

Friday, February 17, 2012

How do we mobilise action in defence of raptors?

Spent most of the day firing off E-mails connected with raptor persecution, Hen Harriers and the like. Received a very kind offer from Neil Calbrade to use raptor photographs contained within his web site portfolio. Sincere thanks , Neil, as the inclusion of appropriate shots within the text of forthcoming articles will help enormously. I'll shortly be putting up a link to Neil's site and would encourage everybody to have a look ( even purchase ) as there's some pretty remarkable material on there!

The Raptor Politics web site had put out my recent article on raptor persecution which will help to extend readership. Somehow the big challenge will be getting people to take action. There's lots of grumbling and claims it's all been said before, they've said it themselves even, but consequent and actual action appears difficult to pin down. I also had a horrible thought that,  given the age profile of many conservation organizations is not far short of my own, ( didn't enjoy that comparison a bit!! ) the ability to reach those people using social media and the like is limited. Not all are ageing cyber geeks like me ( and not terribly competent at it either) so have we a problem when calling for support on given issues?  Are we losing out on a significant proportion of potential signatories to petitions and the like? I wonder!  I look through Facebook suggested contacts and don't recognize too many of the faces or names, and those I do are twenty years younger at least! And yet the membership of the RSPB is extremely large, but comprised of many people contributing to the above profile and for whom Twitter, I suspect, is something associated with birds ( My God, I'm going to get pilloried for that! It was a joke and helps to make the argument! ).  As an example, the current number of signatures on the E-petition calling for the adoption of Vicarious Liability is less than 8000, when 100,000 + is needed for it to be considered for debate in Parliament.  If you haven't yet signed, then shame on you and do it NOW!!

But seriously, the question of mobilising support clearly needs a lot of thought before any strategy for action relating to raptor persecution, Hen Harrier protection and the like is developed. The RSPB has had "card petitions", or similar in the past, but can all this be extended much further to draw in the cyber savvy younger people whose affiliation with the social media is virtually permanent.  I'd also dearly love to know how many active birders are in the UK too. This body of support,  plus the addition of the more less active and interested people, must be immense and suggest change could be brought about by organized action. (that's opposition to raptor persecution practices incidentally, not an Arab Spring type uprising taking siege of Whitehall,   lest our cyber chums at Cheltenham start reacting to key words.  Just thought I'd better mention ). Time will tell,  but we need to do something and desperately soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An appeal for help!

Over the next few weeks I shall be putting out a series of articles linked to raptor persecution and similar themes. All these would benefit from the inclusion of the occasional photograph of one of the typical species concerned. Whilst I've started to photograph birds  I have to admit I've not progressed very far!!

I'm wondering if anyone reading this , or with personal contacts, has any suitable material they would be willing to donate for the above purpose be it for use on the Blog or within campaigning material?  I'm sure your worst discards would put my best efforts to shame. Shots of any of the obvious raptor species, but particularly Hen Harrier, would be a tremendous help either of flying birds or otherwise. On each occasion of usage a full acknowledgement will be give. Many thanks 

Reflections on raptor persecution.

Over the past two-three months I've given an appreciable amount of thought to the above problem, discussed matters with different organizations and deliberated the options for improvement with like-minded colleagues. The problem is one which requires urgent correction........irreversibly and with any resumption met by severe penalties.

But do we ever take time out to consider what is actually involved?  Our reactions and criticisms so often appear to relate to the most recent incident, an apparent lack of action by given conservation bodies or to the questionable logic contained within a press release issued by a representative body with undoubted connections with the practitioners!  Discussions between national bodies currently appear to be at a standstill with little hope of any immediate solution arising out of concord. The current situation in the UK vis a vis   raptor persecution is a national disgrace and something which the current coalition Government appear to conveniently ignore despite declared "green commitments".

Do we take time out to ask why it is happening and, in the process,  possibly identify the means for its eradication?  In many cases I think not and the continuing debate so very often revolves around the analysis of respective positions and incidents or to promote an individual issue with some tangential connection! Doubtless some people would claim this current article is unnecessary, old hat, and fails to add anything to the debate. But is that correct?  Examine some of the distorted facts, prejudicial remarks, personalised crusades, unsubstantiated accusations and downright unintelligent remarks on some web sites and Blogs, coupled with an inability to even express  such comments in basic English, and it suggests otherwise.

The foremost objective must be the eradication of persecution of our raptor species with parts of the accompanying policy being aimed at a consistent and extended effort with some species demanding a high priority of attention. All this must be a collective effort brought about by co-operation between all those involved with personal and "tribal" differences set aside. In my book anyone unwilling to accept the brief is simply ignored given the magnitude of the problem we are facing. The facts of the problem are plain and continually amending the game plan wastes time!

Firstly, let's dispel the notion that persecution is isolated, carried out by a minority of gamekeepers and that , in some way, it reflects some primaeval prejudice held by man against raptors. Such activities are geographically widespread in the UK, collectively condoned and carried out with ruthless and unrelenting determination by far too many within the "industry" associated with game management.. Yes, there are those within the industry who, thankfully, have a healthy respect for all wildlife and who are supported by their employers. They buck the trend and, what's more, they should receive suitable recognition and support from conservationists and activists for adopting such a positive role. Do we do enough in that respect I wonder?

As far as the others are concerned, every conceivable avenue should be explored, and the results applied, to stop what is the pursuit of selfish ends.  And, in passing, let's put into perspective the whole business about the responsibilities of estate owners and their agents. No modern day enterprise , if it expects to prosper, vests the overall management of its operation within the lowest level of its staffing structure. Key decisions are shouldered by those "at the top" , not as an optional element but as a permanent reality. Uppermost amongst this reasoning is that it is they who are usually responsible for the investment involved, a management aspect of which they are usually unwilling to delegate entirely.  Negative PR, such as a court case, is clearly something which can affect such effective management and is to be avoided. It follows that the day to day strategies will all be examined to ensure they are watertight and activities occurring on the estates will, therefore, be generally agreed. Whilst legislation associated with vicarious liability embraces the above, the matter is sufficiently fundamental in my view such that no especial provision is necessary. If persecution events occur on an estate then all associated with its operation are culpable!

Neither let us delude ourselves that shooting activities are the product of a nice few days including social exchanges, fine dining and an opportunity to pot a few birds! Far from it! Many shooting enterprises are based on a commercial philosophy against which requisite charges are raised on the participants. I have no objections to this scenario as I am not anti-shooting. However, it does offend when one realises some areas within shoots qualify for government subsidies aimed at habitat management requirements , all of which run in parallel to the commercial aspects. Associated with such habitats can be some of our key raptor species which are an integral part of our natural heritage which the above subsidies are intentionally linked to. Additionally, such iconic species are protected by law (see below) and their disturbance or destruction can attract financial penalties if an incident is proven in court. Some species contained within Schedule 1 ( Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (amended) ) attract even greater penalties under the same provisions.

Given our raptors are protected by law and many, some would argue all, are iconic elements of our natural heritage then their retention is as significant as the policies we apply towards our cultural heritage. Try destroying artefacts in a museum and then , arrogantly, expect everyone to turn a blind eye to your excesses or to at least exert leniency. Is that not what these people involved in persecution expect or, even worse, that they somehow expect to be allowed to Play God and destroy every competitive natural component associated with their enterprise that they find unacceptable, be they raptors or mustelids!

The key element lurking below all this is that it is not an all abiding hatred of all such things that persuades them into such activities but the aspect of competition.. Eradicate all competitors, create a level playing field of your own making and expect, along the way, to be exonerated of all responsibility if such actions fly in the face of civilised behaviour. It's like a local takeaway enterprise setting fire to the premises of all its nearby competitors in order to ensure success. Why should we see the demise of iconic elements of our natural heritage in order to lend support to a commercial enterprise bolstered up in some instances with money from the public purse? It stinks and it needs to end!

What do these people really think they're at?  Arrogance beyond belief and a deliberate setting aside of the requirements of the laws of the land. One could easily be led into believing such attitudes are  being expressed by a certain strata of society, or their cohorts, who are of the belief that they are above the law in many respects and that, in any event, their chums will turn a blind eye. Undoubtedly such beliefs obtained in past times , but things have changed and are still changing.

The above sets out what I believe to be the component factors of the problem. Within these are legal, social, systemic and political aspects within which the solutions lie. Given the objectives for reform are clear it only remains to clearly identify the means by which change can be achieved and to construct a strategy aimed at an unrelenting challenge to the practices condemned.  The time has come to set aside the Queensbury rules of engagement,  which undoubtedly the national conservation organizations have abided by in the past , and to move forward by force of numbers, exposure of the facts, pressure on Government and direct exposure of those responsible. More to follow!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Inverness update! 13.2.2012.

To date the weather has been quite reasonable with snow on the high hills to the north but little more than moderate frost at lower levels. It's also been relatively calm.

The routine dog walks have provided an opportunity to gather in sightings of local birds, but with nothing extraordinary arising. However, if such circumstances were in place locally to me on Islay on New Years morning I should be pleased to welcome and celebrate such a variety of birds.  Tree Sparrow , Yellowhammer and Great Spotted Woodpecker stand prominent,  but Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese calling from their feeding areas adjacent to the Beauly Firth are niceneighbours.  Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon,  a variety of titmice and other common species are obvious , even a few House Sparrow, but no Starling as yet. And , in the    quietness of  a recent night the perfect repertoire from a Tawny Owl,  which then responded to my inadequate taunts.All in all a good representation of what we might describe as the fabric of our birding countryside.

Inverness bound! 9th February,2012.

I suppose one of the downsides of completing a successful birding trip early in the calendar year is that it leaves few of the regular species you come across in your local area "unseen" and , therefore, some element of routine satisfaction is lost. On returning from East Anglia and Yorkshire I'd seen in excess of 160 species in January alone, but I still hadn't/haven't seen Meadow Pipit or Grey Wagtail, so some modest challenges remain. I'd plans to check odd places on my journey to Inverness except fog, rain and general grot turned the experience into a nightmare. Hopefully opportunities will arise to add on odd species during the time I'm up here , although are usually a bit limited.

Handbook of the Birds of the World. 6th February, 2012.

Whilst I was away the final volume of HBW arrived, equally as sumptuous in quality as every other edition in the series. This achievement of consistency across the various volumes is one of the major accomplishments in my opinion besides all the other compliments one might offer against its contents and photographs. When first it was promoted and placed on offer I seriously questioned whether I could afford it. The fact that one could pay by monthly "subscription" helped both the management of  the process and the budgeting of what has been a bit of an elongated purchasing system.

Now, surrounded by the sixteen volumes,  I feel pride in having taken the decision and a certain smugness and comfort when opening up a volume and referring to something specific or simply reading through things at random. When time allows I shall enjoy reading the lengthy article on Climate Change and Birds which is contained within the current volume and going through the promotional literature accompanying it to find out what comes next. Certainly anything beyond this tour de force is almost inconceivable, but of one thing I think we can all be sure, there will be ideas aplenty within Lynx Edicions that will continue to inform and entice us!

Wild behaviour by feral cat! 4th February, 2012.

Returning late evening from visiting friends in the nearby village I approached the track leading up to my house when the headlights picked up an object in the road. It proved to be a dead Rabbit!  I was both beginning to turn and looking at the hapless mammal when a black cat dashed out of the undergrowth, grabbed the Rabbit, and pulled it into a patch of  juncus adjacent to the road. Nothing particularly remarkable in many senses in that , except the method employed by the cat. It straddled the carcass with its front legs astride it and, having taken a firm grip on the neck, it then dragged it rapidly off the road in a manner reminiscent of big cats moving their prey.  I can't recollect having seen a domestic or feral cat move a large item before so have no reference point for comparison. Whilst the rabbit carcass was of a similar length to the cat it was probably marginally heavier overall.  Interesting to speculate on innate behaviour coming into play!! Whatever debatable elements arise it was both a competent and efficient job the cat completed!!  Moving kitty is one thing, dragging Rabbits is another!!

Return of the non-native. 1..2.2012.

A return journey through Argyll in idyllic weather is always worthwhile , and so it was , almost as a reward for an itinerant resident returned. The ferry journey was similarly near perfect. Having said all that there appeared to be little "on display" during the journey, particularly divers.
Nothing of particular significance appears to have been picked up in the last couple of weeks. The number of "white gulls" appears to have reached its highest level shortly after I left but, as elsewhere , I suspect they've begun to very gradually "wash out" southwards or onto the mainland.

It looks as if the weather is due to deteriorate  shortly if the longer forecast is to be believed. Seems likely that we may have got away with the trip being in half reasonable weather as opposed to being disrupted by snow!

Almost the final leg! 31st January, 2012.

Paul had kindly booked a days holiday so after a few hours sleep we continued our discussions until the point at which I had to leave to travel up to Glasgow. Little arose that was  new, or which produced an immediate solution to the long dissected problem, but a feeling that a greater collective response was needed to what was most definitely a more collective effort nowadays to eradicate raptors and that the "problem" had assumed different dimensions to previously. Time will tell, but certainly effort towards its resolution will grow!

And so I set off northwards and with my mind overflowing with information, ideas and an ever growing realisation the challenge needed immediate consideration, ( set against the seemingly muted initiatives of certain organizations) , I made my way to Glasgow where the evening was spent going over and over the subject!! The past weeks had been exciting and enjoyable and had , through experiences and relationships revisited, provided   a real shot in the arm and an impetus towards being actively involved ( again ) in a very real problem!

Even more discussions! 30th January, 2012.

The morning saw us locked again into more discussion about what might be done to save the ailing Hen Harrier population in Bowland, which now represents the only regular breeding area. in England. Bill and Pat Murphy came round too so it was very much a gathering of the clans. More will be said on the raptor subject in due course, but it was sobering to contemplate that the current situation with raptor persecution in Bowland has changed so little in what has been a significant proportion of all our lives and the amount of time which has been afforded its attention, particularly from "the Billls".

We resolved it wouldn't be as long before we met again (!) and I set off on the next leg of my journey. I travelled east through Clitheroe back to Harrogate in Yorkshire to meet up with an old friend and colleague, Paul Irving. Paul  worked for RSPB in Bowland, now works for the  Government's ecological research laboratories and , in what time remains , acts as Chairman for the North of England Raptor Forum besides being much into birding and ringing..

From early evening , when we met, to late into the night our conversation centred around raptors and persecution and what might be done . The situation is dire and has to change!!  

Pastures revisited. 29th January 2012.

And so the time for departure came!  Whilst the weather was acceptable for travelling it was quite cold and appeared to changing!  I'd arranged to meet with past colleagues in Bowland and so I followed what had been a very familiar route in days past up through Huddersfield, Halifax, Todmorden and Clitheroe into the Forest of Bowland.   Part way through the journey I actually found a sandwich caravan and awarded a creditable 7 + for a palatable Spam and sliced mushroom roll!
|The route became increasingly nostalgic as I gained the outskirts of Bowland and noticed they'd changed the AONB sign in recent times.


If only the Authorities had awarded as much attention to the protection of the iconic species they feel so free to depict the situation might have been much better than the abysmal level it rests at currently!! However, more on that later and here's suggesting they shouldn't feel too comfortable on the issue either!

Met up with Bill Hesketh and Bill Murphy for the first time for several years despite being in contact. Things resumed as if no time lapse had intervened and we set off to do a mini tour of the area and its raptors which had first brought us together in the early 1980's. Little appears to have changed other than some bizarre management technique United Utilities appears to have adopted which has resulted in an overzealous mowing of wide strips of heather moor. I'm sure it rests on some good logic and practice but seems to have been a bit overdone. A good roast ruined you might say!

We didn't see many birds ( Peregrine, Raven, Grey lag Geese ) but it was good to be in amongst it again and  the strong emotional ties with the place were certainly resurrected. As might be imagined a never ending succession of current circumstances provided an  unrelenting flow of conversation until darkness descended upon us all.

                                                   Bill Murphy, myself and Bill Hesketh

I was staying with Bill Hesketh and his wife , Pat, who stoically and patiently survived a long evening of yet more Bowland discussions. Over the years I suspect Pat knows as much as the rest of us about Bowland given the number of discussions she's been exposed to!!  Such brought to an end a very enjoyable day.

Final innings in this series! 28th January,2012.

We'd resolved to make the final day of the holiday a real "marker" and so we departed early for Tophill Low again. Thankfully, and just as we arrived, the Cattle Egret was feeding adjacent to the road but took off and headed away to the south disturbed, I suspect, by a posse of birders who coincidentally emerged from behind a farm building close to its initial location. Some people never learn!

With little need for a detour we went to look at a White Stork to the south of Bridlington.

The bird had moved from its original site but was relocated. It carried no rings and was feverishly preening when we saw it. Soon it rose and flew off to the south but about twenty minutes later, as we drove northwards, Matthew saw it high to our right making its way up the coast.

Buoyed up by all this success we continued north to Scarborough amidst really nice sunny weather and soon located the male Black Redstart feeding along the cliff bottom precisely where we;d been unable to find it previously!  Shag and Cormorant offshore and a couple of Red-throated Divers in flight plus two Porpoises completed the rather bracing walk along the Marine Drive. We did the tourist bit and had a walk around the harbour in the vain hope of seeing a "white gull" ,but with no success, although we did have an adult Kittiwake come in and do a round flight before departing again.

A stop at Seamer to go through a big collection of gulls and then on the final return leg , via Mirfield, in the hope of seeing the reported Ring-billed Gull, which I'd not appreciated was that uncommon in Yorkshire. Despite proffered bread the bird didn't appear, although a male Mandarin Duck was in evidence besides Canada Geese  and Mallard and countless BH Gulls.

Onto our final destination for the day, after picking up Matthew's car from the bodyshop where it had resided all week for a paint job, we made our way to a woodland block north of Sheffield. Titmice moving to roost, Nuthatch and an overflying female Goshawk to add a final absolute flourish to the week ended what had been a damned good birding trip. Now for that Indian!

Yorkshire mainland! 27th January,2012.

A day when we decided to limit travelling and concentrate on relatively local sites. Moved on to the moorlands NW of Sheffield and thoroughly enjoyed a good flog around a previous "stamping ground" at Broomhead. It was cold, but worthwhile, as we had a good varied tit flock with accompanying Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Great Spotted Woodpecker. A Crossbill  flew over, called,  and showed salient features as Red Grouse indulged in a few disputes on an adjacent moor.  The day was building nicely!

A call to a favourite breakfast caravan replenished the inner man and set us up for the rest of the day. Over the years we've always rated such facilities, with most scoring a 6 or 7 out of 10. Occasional ones have earned 4, it's unimaginably bloody desperate what some people can do to a bacon  and egg roll! Odd ones even earn an 8 or 9 and any facility that now offers SPAM gains an extra mark from Matthew anyway, so it's a pretty scientific assessment.

On to Wintersett Reservoir where we'd hardly parked the car before male Smew, Black-necked Grebe and Goosanders had been located followed in swift succession by the appearance of a good friend, Pete Smith, who doesn't look a day younger!  As you might imagine there was a lot of banter and it was a real uplift. The site holds many good memories from the times when we ran the ringing station together and Pete still manages an operation there to this day........forty years of almost continuous coverage. We moved around to the nearby Anglers Country Park where first of all we had a chat with John McClaughlin ( Johnny Mc ! ) who I'd not seen for some time either , so, again, a nice supplement to the visit.  Finally we had great views of the male American Wigeon amidst the flock of wintering Wigeon on the site. A good few hours......

Finally down into the Dearne Valley where the RSPB has secured various wetland sites. With the weather closing in we managed to see Little Owl, Green Sandpiper, Willow Tit, all of which were new for the week plus a good variety of other birds too.

Opening the batting! 26th January,2012.

We journeyed out to the Tophill Low Reserve operated by Yorkshire Water. The regularly visiting Cattle Egret was nowhere to be seen despite an intensive search around the site itself and a wider farmland area. Given the weather was reasonable we moved on to the coast and the RSPB Reserve at Bempton Cliffs. Always a stunning site to visit the vertical , white cliffs were virtually devoid of birds other than Fulmars contrasted against the teeming thousands of breeding birds which would be present later in the season. A single Gannet and a few auks offshore were a minimal indication of what would be an ever increasing of their numbers.

We walked southwards towards the fields where the Desert Wheatear was regularly appearing and began to scan around. The bird was located in a well vegetated area of ground and showed reasonably in what were deteriorating weather conditions. Unfortunately a couple of absolute idiots walked into the area and began pushing the birds around ( and earned a "telling" in the process ) and it moved into a nearby field where it gave much better views. After looking at it in detail we returned to the feeding area near the Centre and watched a variety of common species, including Tree Sparrows.

As we were on the coast already we set off northwards and called in at a couple of sites, although little of interest was discovered. Finally we arrived at Scarborough which, surprisingly, held good numbers of people walking along the Marine Drive and the harbour area. Unfortunately the wind had risen and conditions were far from ideal as we scoured the cliffs below the castle for sight of a reported Black Redstart. We spent quite a time on this "mission" , enjoyed no success ( with anything ! ) as there was precious little over the sea  and then got caught in the most horrendous rainstorm. Returning to the car with the wind in our faces we were absolutely soaked and the next two hours were like walking around in a wet nappy body suit!!

The day wasn't quite turning out as expected so we retraced our steps to Tophill Low in the hope of catching the egret coming into roost. It didn't, at least while we were there, and so we retired with our spirits and beings somewhat dampened.

Final day in East Anglia 25th January,2012.

Given the forecast was reasonable we decided to go to Cantley / Buckenham again. Whilst the distance wasn't a problem , the fact we were travelling east when, later, we needed to travel NW required a bit of mental persuasion in us both! We reasoned the opportunity might not arise again , so decided to go for it.

The weather began to improve as we arrived at Cantley and . almost immediately, located a number of groups of geese. White-fronted Geese and Bean Geese were seen well, and relatively close so we carefully began to go through the groups to try and locate the Lesser White-fronted Goose. For a while we had no success and then a single goose appeared to fit the bill, but, typically, it was partially obscured and moved both behind cover and into lower ground. Great...the start of the patience and faith game, both strong qualities in Yorkshiremen!  Eventually it came out and stood , isolated from nearby Bean Geese for a while, and then moving closely with them. It's easy to see why the species can be a real challenge in some conditions and at distance but today proved different and we had good views at leisure of the essential features. And then, as one, all the geese flew off  so we considered our good luck.

On to Ranworth Broad, a site neither of us had ever visited before. I always like exploring new sites and this one proved to be larger than we thought surrounded on several sides by woodland. It's managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, has an interesting boardwalk and is well worth a visit. The Ring-necked Duck wasn't seen but Tufted Duck, Pochard, Teal, a very loud Cetti's Warbler, Bullfinch and a variety of woodland birds were in evidence. From there we explored a couple more similar sites along our return route, but all we recorded was a repetition of species we'd recorded previously which, nonetheless, were welcome.

Eventually we arrived at the RSPB Ouse Washes Reserve in mid afternoon. As ever ducks were in profusion and we enjoyed routinely going through them. A Green Woodpecker and a Stonechat showed well as did at least 3500 Golden Plover that wheeled overhead as they arrived to roost after feeding in nearby Fenland areas. A really great sight! Eventually we located the wintering Temminck's Stint and actually had quite good views of the bird as it fed on one of the small islands below the hide.

And so we returned along the embankment to the car having finally ended what had turned out to be a very successful trip. The journey back to Yorkshire was uneventful and laced with a degree of satisfaction, but also discussions on what lay in front of us for the next three days.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Simply notable! 24th January, 2012

Well, folks, I can now, officially, claim to be a grumpy old man given I've reached the three score years and ten mark!  Now on to some serious study for the " Cantankerous Order of Merit"!! The fly past was reduced in extent due to the ongoing austerity measures, but thanks to those on high for the token recognition..

On this otherwise auspicious day the weather cast a telling verdict, it was rubbish!  We set off early to Lynford Arboretum with some hoped for views of Hawfinch. Nothing,
 except wetness! A flock of Siskin produced some respite but very little else in the circumstances. 

On up to the north coast, via Sandringham and  Wolferton, where we didn't see  Golden Pheasant (!). Hunstanton  produced Knot,Sanderling, Grey Plover, Fulmar and Red=breasted Mergansers plus a cooked breakfast at Tesco!  Yorkshire lads know how to celebrate special occasions.. Holme and Thornham were wet, miserable and somewhat unproductive. Chosely provided good views of Red-legged Partridge and, Yellowhammer but nothing else/ so we moved on to RSPB Titchwell Reserve  where we stayed for the rest of the day. There was very little over the sea  ( Northern Eider, Red-yhroated Diver, Goldeneye ) but a good selection , and numbers , of waders on the seashore. Numbers of birds on the enclosed lagoons were low, but Ruff and a variety of duck were in evidence.  We hung on in the hope of seeing Bittern, but with no joy, although we had a Little Egret and a ring tail Hen Harrier! As it was cold we spent the final hour before dark in the Fen Hide where we had at least 11 Marsh Harrier and a male and female Hen Harrier into roost. Matthew managed a brief view of a Bittern and we witnessed the spectacle of 23 Moorhen using the same route down the edge of a reedbed into a presumed roost area.. Perhaps not a day as distinctive as yesterday but a good solid birding day nonetheless.

Red letter day. 23.1.2012

Our first call of the day, following a very commendable early cooked breakfast in the nearby Fakenham Morrison's Supermarket, was to see a Great Grey Shrike, whose race has been the subject of much debate. Notes were retained and the bird does appear to be very distinct and worthy of scepticism as far as its geographical provenance is concerned. In weak but , nonetheless, bright sunshine we had exceptionally good views when the bird flew across and perched in a tree almost above our heads.

We then moved on northwards and had a great walk around a much favoured area, Salthouse Heath. We saw very little , but it was bracing and provided a nice sense of wilderness. On  to see the reported redpolls on the north coast. The birds were repeatedly returning to a garden feeder and very good views were had of two Arctic Redpoll and a number of Lesser Redpoll. A short journey to the coastal  dune ridge at Salthouse had a number of Snow Buntings feeding around the car.This day was developing into one of convenient delivery!!

We moved on to the NWT Reserve at  Cley. Sadly a good friend, Patrick Dwyer ( promised you'd get a mention! ),  wasn't on duty so we hastened on to what was the main quarry for the day! Eventually  we saw the "object of our desires", the Western Sandpiper, a 2/3 sized Dunlin that was a bit mobile and exhibiting an obvious foot injury that has , apparently, emerged in recent times. Good views, supplemented by a nice conversation with a couple from Barnsley allowing a catch up on gossip about mutual friends!  An Avocet was new and a fine overfly westwards by skeins of Pink-footed Geese ( which apparently included the Ross's Goose, which we didn't see!! ) impressed both of us. Matthew's continuing assertion about contextual birding being the most qualitative aspect of the whole activity touched base!! 

A gradual journey west, via Wells Harbour , produced little until we reached the area west of Holkham where the flock of Lapland Buntings was present. Well, we saw the flock, heard  odd calls, saw various features on flying birds but, sadly, we never got  " on the deck"  satisfying view of the entire collection of birds, We moved on and covered the Wells Woods /Holkham Gap area.  A walk out on to the   exposed sands area provided good views of four Shorelark. Our return then coincided with several good views of the two Rough-legged Buzzards in the area, including one overhead. A search for a reported Firecrest was wholly without success (")  but a Chiffchaff was a small compensation!  Good views of Grey Partridge and an overflying and perched Peregrine were valued adjuncts at the end of the day to what had been a very satisfying series of good species seen in reasonable weather!  A Barn Owl near Fakenham provided the final positive comment on the day!

The day improved as time went on! 22.1.2012.

Off early eastwards through Norwich where we called in at a residential area to see a flock of 36 Waxwings that had been there a few days. Some police operation nearby indicated we didn't tarry but, by then, we;d had good views of the birds perched and in flight! Onward to Whitlingham Country Park in reasonable weather but with the wind rising. The site, a lake surrounded by deciduous woodland, and doubtless having the potential of holding a variety of interesting birds, was increasingly wind swept which fed frustration into our intended attempt to locate the male Ferruginous Duck which was apparently in residence. A slow walk around one side of the lake produced a good variety of duck, a male Sparrowhawk but showed that most of the waterbirds were confined to a bay which had a wooded island at its centre.......not the easiest scenario in which to locate a single bird!
Gradually we went through the various groups of duck, but to no avail. Suddenly the movement of several Grey lag Geese and an Egyptian Goose on the island disrupted things generally and then, suddenly, the bird was there, rising from rest and moving out on to the water. Over the next few minutes it simply moved around in a fairly restricted area and showed absolutely every feature, colour, shape to best effect. Stupendous, and then, as if on cue , it went back to its original position and resumed its slumbers!!

We moved on to the Buckenham / Cantley area to look for the Bean Geese and the Lesser White-fronted Goose which were present. The wind was near gale force and it was even difficult to hold a tripod stable! Whilst we located some distant geese it was clearly not going to work out so we moved on to the coast. At Great Yarmouth we enjoyed close views of several Mediterranean Gulls in the area immediately north of the Pleasure Beach and then, just to the south, a Velvet Scoter just offshore. Moving further south to Lowestoft docks we found an immature Yellow-legged Gull in the  harbour area and had good views of Purple  Sandpipers, besides Turnstone , Redshank and Oystercatcher along the  coastal walkway.

A good day despite the best efforts of the weather!!

21.1.2012. And so it begins.......

Our departure to Norfolk was graced with foul weather, which I suspected was the large  slow eastward moving front I'd been within west of the Pennines yesterday. Cyclonic conditions and  useless visibility somewhat surprisingly didn't dampen our enthusiasm as exhaustive plans for the week were discussed, amended and re-examined. A breakfast stop north of Peterborough, marred by rain, produced an unexpected bonus of an overflying Red Kite which we conveniently took as a positive omen!

On to a rain soaked RSPB Fen Drayton Reserve which produced a reasonable list of year records but nothing unexpected. We gradually pressed on eastwards across the Fens calling in at various stopping off points we'd discovered in earlier years. The most uplifting sight was a flock of at least 600 Bewick's Swans feeding near the road and quietly bugling to one another. A combined total of 90 Linnet in two flocks, a Little Egret, several Kestrels, Grey Heron, and a LBBG moved our species total slowly forward!

A visit to the Santon Downham area began to lift our efforts, and the weather had improved too. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Brambling and a variety of common species boosted our total which was now beginning to look respectable after the poor start! On to the RSPB Lakenheath Reserve and a decision to walk out to the farthest observation point overlooking the vast reedbed and stay until dark. The walk out produced a couple of Marsh Harrier coming in to roost but nothing more . We settled down and over the next hour and a half had a great time.  At least 13 Marsh Harriers, 3 Common Crane, a calling Water Rail, a nearby Cetti's Warbler and a short period of muted booming from a Bittern immediately previous to dusk were all welcome plus, and almost best of all, the sight of Matthew being mobbed by two Wrens as we were obviously sitting under their preferred entry point to a roosting niche in the roof of the observation shelter!! The walk back to the Centre in the dark was accompanied by the cacophony of countless corvids at roost in the woodlands alongside the pathway as they exchanged their final round of contact calls for the day.

And so to the Travelodge at Barton Mills where, following a visit to a real ale pub and a takeaway, further plotting and planning was indulged in for the coming day!!

20.1.2012. Southward ho!

Much to the amusement of two ladies in a sandwich van across from the Travelodge car-park my progression to the car was gradual, comical and resembled a Michael Jackson moon walk due to the black ice resulting from recent rain and cold conditions. So, first hurdle over, what might the day bring!

Progress south around Edinburgh was unhindered, with road conditions seemingly safe. But then the journey through the Borders saw a snow clothed landscape and roads needing at least a little respect! Ever onward I moved south and decided to have a break in north Lancashire at the RSPB Leighton Moss Reserve at which a Glossy ibis was present and had been seen earlier in the morning. By this time the snow had disappeared but visibility was moderate only with mist and general gloom. So I spent a couple of hours or so seeing very little for my pains, even to the point of waiting for the bird to fly into roost! With the gloom getting worse and darkness fast approaching I set off south again to experience some of the worse driving conditions I've encountered for a long time. Rain and thick mist on the motorway brought things almost to a halt, with spray being a huge problem. Having cut eastwards on the M62, the poor weather was left behind once the journey up the  western flanks of the Pennines had been completed and, despite the recurrent setbacks, the rendezvous with Matthew was secured within a few minutes of my arriving at the service station. Not the best of days and little seen or secured as far as birds were concerned despite calling on St. Jude!!!

19.1.2012. Mixed fortunes.

Off early across to Fife in reasonable weather, at least it was fine. Had woven in the opportunity to get some birding in during the first part of the day, which saw me at Largo overlooking the Firth of Forth and having some breakfast. A few Northern Eider and distant Scoter were in evidence, but little else. With the weather improving I sped around to Ruddons Point in the hope of connecting with the Surf Scoter which is present in that area at times. The weather suddenly began to deteriorate with a strong wind blowing out of the Forth and grey visibility developing. By the time I got to the actual  Point it was gusting F6/7 and unpleasant. I actually got blown over, in the sense of losing my balance, and a leg of the telescope tripod got damaged. Great!

Crouched in a gully I had some great views of Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Great crested Grebe and 5/6 Red=necked Grebe, the latter and the Common Scoter having being blown very close to the shore. Wind and waves conspired to make anything at distance an impossible task and despite a long time scoping distant views of Common and Velvet Scoter parties which kept appearing and disappearing in the troughs the Surf Scoter remained elusive. The walk back to the car  was a disappointment, particularly as it started to rain!

A look at the lake at Kilconquhar from the confines of the churchyard produced a few common duck but nothing else, so I began my journey on to Glenrothes in what , for a period, was marginally improving weather.

18th January,2012......belatedly!

The last couple of days have been a bit hectic with arrangements to be off island for a period, getting various surveys completed , having some new tyres fitted and a host of other bits and pieces that erode away time and provide few opportunities for additional options!!

Today saw me on the ferry across to the mainland in somewhat murky weather that provided few opportunities for birding. Fog and drizzle are a miserable combination at the best of times so little benefit came out of the general journey. Managed to check various harbours and other suitable places for "white gulls " but without any luck which suggests little penetration inland as yet despite good numbers on the coast.

Loch Lomond and Glasgow itself were wreathed in mist and rain so the day ended, as it had begun, as a bit of a write-off!