Saturday, March 31, 2012

As seen from a sedentary position! 28.3.2012.

A slightly modified phrase, borrowed from the Speaker of the House of Commons, but very apt when applied to  reporting what can be seen from a given position "occupied" over a period of time.  In my case I wasn't offering derogatory remarks against the presentation of a Minister in Parliament, but simply recording the bird species which might be encountered, at an appropriate season admittedly, from a given vantage point. In my case I was overlooking the Sound of Islay and it was extremely interesting to record what occurred over the day, in addition to completing the routine monitoring work I was involved in. In excess of 30 species from a sedentary position whilst sitting in a none too diverse habitat location is not bad by any means!

I've long been interested in the potential passage of birds through the Sound of Islay. Not as prolific, nor diverse as other vantage points locally, but of interest nonetheless. Today I suppose the highlight was an immature Glaucous Gull moving north in a very determined fashion up the centre of the Sound, but , also, sightings of Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, Razorbill,  "on the move" plus the undoubted gradual movement through northwards of GBBG, Herring and Common Gulls which was an almost permanent feature of the whole day. In addition to this several sightings of Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier and Peregrine were all more than an uplift to an otherwise long day! The first confirmed "White Wagtail " was a final bonus for the day!

And three wise men came from the south! 27.3.2012..

Another day of glorious weather enhanced further by my spending time birding with friends and colleagues. As you might guess , much time was spent reminiscing and not a bit of leg pulling, friends can often know a little too much or remember events too vividly!!  Overall, the day was one to remember.

Yes, the pilgrimage north had been made by Roger Lovegrove, Iolo Williams and Geoff Morgan, a well travelled trio who, from the onset, were obviously enjoying everything Islay had to offer. Much of our time was spent around Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal and, from the comments made, our local birdlife was being much appreciated. Whilst we didn't see anything special in Islay terms, time after time I was reminded how lucky we are on Islay to still have the buoyant communities of various species compared to other places.

Inevitably our discussions turned to Wales and the tragic circumstances that now appears to surround its much reduced upland bird communities. Time and again this was driven home by the comments made about the sheer number of Lapwings, Redshank and Curlew in the Gruinart area and the enjoyment being derived from the experience. Some years ago both Roger and Iolo , whilst working at the RSPB Wales Office, were responsible for a report entitled "Silent Fields", which addressed the alarming reductions in wader numbers in the Welsh uplands and the reasons behind such trends. Sadly such circumstances have not improved, indeed the situation  is worse in the sense that other species have now declined too.  We all agreed that the UK  reliance on policy solutions in the arena of farming and land use practices has simply not worked, ( and such might eventually apply to other European countries too ) despite a persistent adherence to the pursuit of such solutions by various conservation agencies. Of course there are some success stories, but all too often these are associated with the introduction of highly visible, iconic species providing a convenient token for success to the agencies involved. I remain unconvinced, if not somewhat depressed, by the fact that we appear unable to address the needs, the real needs, of pursuing practices within our countryside that sufficiently support a diverse ecology, currently subjugated under an economic system content to see its gradual demise or reduction to a stereotype of the lowest denominator as far as species presence and diversity. Not an enticing future it must be said!  The concept of the conservation bodies exhibiting "cahones" appears one of indistinct likelihood, which is all too worrying as, if they don't, who will?

But of the day, all such negative aspects could be set aside amidst the enjoyment of what we all  took much enjoyment from!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thoughts elsewhere! 26.3.2012.

News yesterday that my ex-sister in law, Jackie, had died suddenly swept the family with grief despite her being ill previously and , eventually, it not being an entirely unexpected outcome. Her bold confrontation with this reality over the past few years has been typical of the person she was and the sheer significance she gave to life and its value was an example to everyone. Named at the time of President Kennedy's assassination she too has been lost prematurely and will be sorely missed by all.  Perhaps a blessing , but nonetheless a shock!

The weather continues to be glorious with this part of the UK being warmest of all. Where are the "winter wynds of March"?  Most of the day was taken up with meetings or preparations relating to upcoming survey involvements, of which more later.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Here comes summer! 24.3.2012.

A great day in many respects , although haze throughout spoilt some of the potential!  Despite it being mild the SE wind took away much of the warmth.

An early morning Chiffchaff near home was feeding  continuously on the ground, much in the same way as I've seen them in wintering sites in Portugal. A couple of Northern Wheatear on the Rinns was the only other evidence of any arrival. Whilst seawatching almost 15 Meadow Pipit  came in off the sea near Portnahaven, presumably making a landfall after being confused by the mist ?

A period of seawatching produced little due to the bank of mist /haze which was present offshore and which persisted throughout the couple of hours I was there. Other than adult Gannets plying back and forth there was precious little else in evidence other than the resident birds along the coast ( Common Gull, Herring Gull, Fulmar, Oystercatcher, Shag and a few Eider "sitting out ").

An examination of Outer Loch Indaal , which was a bit impaired by the haze, showed a few small groups of Razorbill, a Guillemot, odd Kittiwake, a couple of Common Scoter and Red-throated Diver, and 7 Great Northern Diver, although I suspect the numbers of birds seen were affected  by the visibility. As I moved up the Rinns groups and pairs of Grey lag Geese seemed to be everywhere and larger numbers of Barnacle Geese were around , including a leucistic bird south of Port Charlotte. Given it's the end of the winter goose flocks are beginning to exploit all sorts of marginal areas as well as the more regular feeding sites. A chat with a local farmer dealt with the same situation, namely that little appears to be growing and the quality of grass is poor, that the ground is still saturated in many places after a long wet winter and that the cold easterly winds we now seem to get in spring aren't helping either.

Loch Gorm held a variety of waterfowl ( Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and a Red-throated Diver )  plus numbers of gulls loafing around or bathing. Similarly nearby lochans held small assemblages of the same species. A flock of around 90 Golden Plover at Ballinaby had only one bird whose summer  plumage  was near complete, the others carrying a variety of dark blotches and patches as they too assumed their summer garb. Running out of time I headed down to Loch Gruinart for a quick look after picking up two separate female Hen Harriers. The pools held a good variety of birds in absolutely fabulous plumage, the male Pintails of which must surely take the award for the best of the day! A flock of Linnet off the Flats held promise but carried no other species!

Friday, March 23, 2012

A sad outcome!

The day started off badly! After a couple of hours at the computer, accompanied by rather more cups of tea, the electricity supply suddenly went off at 0815 hours until around 1100 hours!  Apparently a section of line had been affected by a "goose collision" and the power supply had been temporarily suspended. Whilst that might seem improbable to some people, given Islay plays host to 40,000 or so geese each winter and the supply lines are above ground, the likelihood of this happening occasionally begins to be more of a reality.

A few years ago, whilst working for Scottish Natural Heritage on a temporary basis, we had a call to the office one spring that a flock of Barnacle Geese had collided with wires in the Gartmain area and that several birds were injured or worse. Indeed, over 20 birds were either dead or badly injured and had to be disposed of. Apparently the flock had been disturbed by the sudden appearance of a low flying military aircraft and had risen and connected with overhead wires running across the field concerned. The timing was similar to that of today, i.e.late March or early April, which actually carries some relevance to both episodes.

Most of the geese will have departed in three or four weeks time.  Prior to their departure they feed voraciously  and lay down an appreciable amount of body fat which serves to fuel their flight northwards by providing the necessary energy resource. Undoubtedly their ability to rise into the air quickly and manoeuvre flexibly is impaired to some extent due to the additional weight they're carrying and they are slowed down compared to normal ( now that's a familiar story! ).  I well remember on the above occasion being quite amazed at the weight of the dead birds we collected or despatched. Given the necessary circumstances are in place, coupled with questionable reactions arising from sudden disturbance, the potential for an accident arises. Such events can also arise, of course, in periods of poor visibility and at any time within the year. In today's event a mere three geese had died but with far reaching results given 580 properties were without electricity!!

Harbingers of spring. 22.3.2012.

Given the nature of the day I spent some time wandering about locally in wonderfully dry and warm conditions. From being the desolate grass moors of winter the area has now taken on some obvious life of its own. Raven and Hooded Crows patrol and feed in areas close by to current and prospective territories and various gulls ( GBBG, LBBG, Herring and Common Gull ) comb the higher and drier areas for food. The past winter's foddering out spots for the local free ranging cattle provide a particular magnet for their endeavours and early morning can see an accumulation of 60/70 birds.

The local flocks of Starling and Fieldfare,  plus the odd Icelandic Redwing, have not been seen in the last couple of days and have either moved off to more productive areas or have commenced their gradual journeys back to their breeding grounds. By contrast , the local Starlings have commenced nest building in the barn ( gaining entry through the never used Chough nesting box! ). His spell of mimicry in the morning included a perfect Oystercatcher call, a species I've only recorded once from the house in the four years I've lived here!! Nearby Lapwing and Curlew are currently spending appreciable amounts of time in display each morning, the populations levels of which of which could be easily confused by the addition of the above Starling's perfect rendition of their calls!!

Very slowly the moor is coming to life and smaller birds, seemingly absent for most of the winter , are now returning. Song Thrush, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Stonechat are all in evidence and will soon be supplemented by more variety as the more far travelled summer migrants appear, ranging from Northern Wheatear to Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler to Whinchat. To their welcome efforts in song will be added the bleating of those true proponents of any Spring, the lambs, the appearance here of which is timed for mid April!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Distilled normality!

Sorry, nothing to do with whisky , I'm afraid, or its usage, but a statement more related to the normality of the last few days. As is very often the case when us pure individuals on Islay ( stated in a context of health ) venture out into the polluted maelstrom of general society we lay ourselves open to infection from all sorts of bloody bugs, and suchlike, that lay us low on our return. Not a myth, but a reality I'm afraid. A tribute to the circumstances we exist within and the restricted interactions within a small community. Anyway, I've been stricken down with some virus that has left me completely shattered. However, today has seen some interest being taken in normality, even without recourse to the holy medicine, and, hopefully, the worst is now behind!!

The Chancellor has done his worst , or best, and the threats relating to the relaxation of planning regulations, as they apply to our most loved and, hitherto, best protected areas, must now wait until the new planning guidance and regulations are revealed. I took encouragement from the brief explanation he offered in this respect and hope that he has taken heed of the potential level of criticism he will  entertain if something more draconian is suggested.

For the first time in a few days I witnessed the falling of dusk from the rear of the house.  Odd calls from Lapwing and the bubbling calls from Curlew confirmed the gradual withdrawal of light and the receding silhouettes of the surrounding hillsides into a more all embracing darkness. A reassuring end to a day that will have the same components marking its resurgence in the morning, a repetition that we often take for granted and , perhaps, should offer more relevance to and draw more enjoyment from. Simple, free, but resonating with the daily rebirth of our lives and very existence.

Return to Islay. 15.3.2012.

I was going to put " Return of the Native" until I reminded myself that , in some respects, I live in a foreign land and wouldn't wish to offend  ( particularly after labouring Yorkshire ancestry! ).

The journey went well but didn't produce much at all , despite stopping at lochside vantage points. Sometimes I confess to myself a certain unease at simply noting, unemotionally, five Buzzards in the air at once, or seeing a Red-throated Diver on a loch, as previous to living in Scotland I would have risked life and limb for such a  view, or the seeking out of a secure parking spot, better to gain a good view of the birds. I hope I never get blase about such sights.......

Anyway, home was reached and the necessary domestic tasks completed. A good trip with many memories and with a slautary reminder that there are still many good , and wild, places in which we can see and enjoy our wildlife. Long may it be so1

A long, cold vigil! 14.3.2012.

I'd always earmarked this day as one in which I might pursue any of the inevitable "good" geese that might be present on the Solway ( pity the Snow goose is in Cumbria though ). Anyway, based on reports, I struck out to Southerness in a quest to try and see the Red-breasted Goose that was obviously in the area. The Point itself had little on offer, around 100 Greater Scaup, the usual waders , a skein of Pink-footed Geese flying north over the entire estuary and a Yellowhammer. A search around the usual feeding areas around the golf course showed no geese until., suddenly,  the sky was alive with endless skeins of Barnacle Geese that had obviously been out of view and then disturbed. These Barnacles are unique, set against those on Islay whose provenance is Greenland, as they originate from Svalbard ( Spitsbergen) and more or less exclusively visit the Solway to winter.  They took some time to settle down, with most of them being obscured from view anyway below undulating landforms. A long period of scanning the flocks I could see by telescope ensued with me, realistically, accepting the possibility of finding the Red-breasted at that distance was a bit unlikely.

Some local birdwatchers appeared and we all walked down a farm track to try and get a better view. Much better views of Barnacles were had, but little else and they moved on to visit other sites. Yours truly persisted and  four hours later ( yes, four, cold , breezy, boring at times, hours later ! ) the bird suddenly appeared as I was going through 1500/2000 Barnacle Geese again.......... I guess the total counting tally was up to 20,000 by then as I'd been through them so many times. Oh, but well worth the wait and endeavour! An absolute perfect bird and perfect views at 300m for five minutes or so. How do they lose themselves so easily? And then for the first time in over four hours , they all flew off!  Divine reward, delivery or what?  Once I'd shopped for tea, and thawed out,  the experience gained in value !

Northward Ho (at least for me ). 13.3.2012.

I left Sheffield early, as Matthew departed for work, and took the opportunity of visiting Worsborough Reservoir, near Barnsley, which , in a personal context , has some real attachment to the Armitage family and natural history. In truth, the site has some connection with the family through four generations!

The above is a watercolour of part of the area by John Wood, local artist, that Matthew bought me as a birthday present. Equally I could reproduce the obituary that Arthur Whitaker wrote of my grandfather, Joseph, whom he had met whilst they were watching a Sedge Warbler nest there in the early 1900's. A lifetime friendship developed before my grandfather's untimely death in 1936, some years before I was born. Whitaker and my grandfather were oologists ( egg collectors as we now term the activity ) , with Whitaker's collection being in Sheffield Museum and his notes being deposited within the archives of the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology at Oxford. I'm not sure what my grandfather would have made of my being employed by the RSPB and its/my unrelenting pursuit of such illegal activities in recent times, but I suppose that's progress!!!
Tales ( from my Dad) of the activities of these two enthusiasts, who had close contact with icons of the time such as the Witherbys and Coward,  led to "field visits" to Worsborough arranged by him, for me, that were clearly nostalgic repetitions of those he'd received himself at some juncture, but which certainly cemented my early love of birds and wildlife. I guess, in a way, such has replicated itself with Matthew, who lived for a while near the reservoir and from which he himself has many memories. It seems slightly embarrassing to be talking and revealing such connections, but the area played a key role in my own teens when I lived in Barnsley and regularly visited the area ( along with local Yorkshire stalwarts Dave Standring , Alan Archer, Malcolm Rhymer and Michael Clegg ). Great days worth repeating !

Anyway , on this day, a "good walk round" produced not a lot, as they say, but was worth the living!

Following this I struck off north  and called in at the RSPB Leighton Moss Reserve to try and see the Glossy Ibis that has been in residence for a while. After quite a while patiently awaiting its possible appearance I saw a past colleague who advised that its appearances were a bit unpredictable, but that I was in the best area. I left soon after and headed north into Cumbria where I tried to locate the blue Snow Goose, but with an equal measure of failure, although I have to concede , based on later information, that I was close but not quite in the right place!!  So, onward to Dumfries, where I'd elected to stay over, as opposed to going on through direct as far as a return to Islay was concerned.  A good sleep in the offing!!

Birders homeward bound. 12.3.2012.

Fog , rather than mist , as we carefully found our way down to Exminster Marshes again, hoping we'd find the Water Pipit using its favourite area ( we didn't ), and even the confiding ducks had to be identified on silhouette. Undeterred we moved on through Lympstone to the east where an entry to the SW Coastal Path  took us alongside the estuary for a mile or so to a copse of Holm Oak. The weather was improving and our quarry, a Yellow-browed Warbler, provided good views feeding out on some , as yet , exposed branches. A local cat adopted us and a few good viewing sessions were spoiled by extensive areas of orange fur suddenly appearing right in front of us as it balanced its way alongside the path's boundary fence!! I suspect the visits of birders have provided it with an unexpected diversion in what was a very nice location ( well if you ignored the nearby trains and weren't mown down by the succession of very earnest looking cyclists! ).

Previous to visiting the Axe Estuary we located, by chance, a good breakfast van ( a 7, if not an 8 ) within which  stopping time the weather improved and the mist disappeared. Seaton Marshes and the Axe yielded a few waders and duck ( including a tagged Black-tailed Godwit ) , a couple of Peregrine chasing a hapless feral pigeon, but despite there being countless gulls of various varieties and plumages, the reported Caspian Gull appeared to have moved. (Some impressive reedbeds in the upper reaches of the marshes made us wonder if these saw ringing activities conducted there in autumn and if Aquatic Warblers had ever been recorded).

And so our somewhat intensive birding trip had drawn to a close and we set off northwards, with time in hand so as to miss the worst of the afternoon traffic, amidst ever improving weather. En route, a tick of a different kind, was to see an Ecotricity topping up facility for any electric car enthusiast. Don't they need to be a bit more  regular given the mileage capacity is fairly low?  I guess much of the advent of such vehicles is still in its infancy, but are they not really better employed in urban circumstances? Conscious of exhibiting a bit of ignorance on this one! We'd reached Sheffield by early evening with thanks going to Matthew for his sterling efforts in driving throughout.

Only partial delivery, but good nonetheless! 11.3.2012.

Dawn proved to be misty once again so we set off with high hopes and faith, little else, for our big day in Cornwall. Our first stop at the Hayle Estuary provided a good variety of birds including a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a single Little Gull, whose dark head was developing well.

As everyone knows a combat army moves on its belly,  particularly Armitages , so we made an obligatory stop at a Morrisons for a cooked breakfast  ( well we needed to let the weather improve, didn't we!) before moving out for further action.

Our main "area of search" was  Mount Bay where we hoped to pinpoint the Surf Scoter that has been there for some time. Whilst we spent quite a time in the area we didn't see the bird and it wasn't until later that we met some birders who advised that it can be well out from the coast and very difficult to locate. However, some compensation was finding two Red-necked Grebe coming into summer plumage and a Great northern Diver, besides a few Common Scoter , Eider and a single Gannet. Nearby Marazion Marsh produced little other then excellent views of a Common Snipe. We moved the short distance to Penzance  (gaining a glimpse of the Scillonian 111  and paying due homage in the process ), before walking around the docks to try and locate the adult Glaucous Gull which had been reported. It was perched out on its own on the farthest most point on the harbour wall but gave some good views once we'd located it. We also got some good views of Rock Pipits searching around the various items of marine equipment on the jettys.

Our next target area was Helston Sewage Farm (only the best locations for these boys! ) in search of reported Firecrest or better. Well, best weighed in with a male Blackap, a couple of Chiffchaff and a tantalising Goldcrest . but nothing better, so we moved on Carnon Downs Sewage Farm.  Here the weather improved with bright sunny conditions, which seemed to provoke activity around the surrounding boundary planting. The place was alive with Chiffchaff types, at least one tristis, several typical collybita but ,also, some more subdued birds ( are we getting abietinus wintering too? ). A birder was patiently taking pictures of as many individuals as could be captured momentarily within the ever moving body of  this frenzied Phylloscopus feeding flock, so better evidence might emerge.  A single Firecrest kept coming into view , another Blackcap showed, but of the reported Yellow-browed Warbler we had nothing prior to our necessary departure time.

Our final navigational challenge was the Parr Beach Pool located within a local park and caravan area.  A slightly unlikely place to find a full adult male Ring-necked Duck, but there it was in the middle, seen immediately and providing excellent views. The day had improved as time had passed! our final call of the day was to Roadford Reservoir, SW of Exeter, where the final hour of real daylight provided less than sufficient time to view what is a vast and enticing area. A small group of Goosander and 30/40 Pied Wagtails  preparing for roost was the most we could salvage from our vantage point prior to our accepting our efforts had now come to a close.

Eventually a "hats off" day!! 10.3.2012.

Our arrival at Chew Valley Lakes was both misty and cold, a situation that took some time to improve. After looking at two separate areas, a temporary improvement in visibility allowed us to pin down the Spotted Sandpiper, which showed very well. The spots are beginning to show under close examination but the bird remained out of any reasonable range for a photograph, which was disappointing.

Moving through Wells, we located a sandwich van whose use of home made bread, fresh eggs and good bacon earned a 9!!  Surprisingly all other customers were obviously locals, which is perhaps the best advert of all. One to remember!

Shapwick Heath NNR took some finding and both Natural England and RSPB ( Ham Wall Reserve ) could do with investing in a few more road signs! Despite this initial trial we had an enjoyable time in the overall area and I'd certainly like to spend time there again. Took a walk to a couple of the main lagoons and had a good selection of birds including Whooper Swan, Little Egret, Bittern, 3 Great White Egret, which even indulged in a period of display at one point, and at least 11 calling Water Rail and 14 singing Cetti's Warblers despite the weather still being dull and cold.

Journeying towards Paignton the weather began to improve immeasurably with blue sky and broken cloud and warm sunshine developing. By the time we reached out destination it was a "hats off" day ( quite relevant in my case! ) and fleeces too, a great bonus to things. We were seeking out an area for Cirl Bunting near the coast, which Matthew found with uncanny ease! And there they were, at least two males and a female along with some Reed Buntings and a Dunnock coming down to a feeding area. What splendid birds they are, the colours coming through brilliantly in the bright sunshine.

We moved on to Dawlish Warren and completed a period of seawatching which produced a couple of Slavonian Grebe in addition to Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Great Crested Grebe. Whilst the volume of birds seen wasn't great it was nice to be out in such nice weather! We then moved on to the Exeter area and down to Exminster Marshes. Close views were had of Wigeon, Pintail, Teal, Shoveler and Mallard plus some Black-tailed Godwit and, close to dusk, a Short-eared Owl hunting briefly over an open area.

After a rest at our Travelodge, a drink at a local pub ( where we were offered a "taster" by the barman of the local Cornish beer. Bad move with Yorkshiremen! ), we took on the traffic system of Exeter and, finally, found our way back to base clutching our respective Chinese takeaway selection! A good day.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

The adventure begins! 9.3.2012.

An early start from Sheffield, reaching Southampton after four hours, witnessing that, based on the amount of traffic out and about , this country is working its socks off!!  Despite that we were at the Lakeside Country Park, Eastleigh at 0830 hours before things got too busy and, as a consequence, had tremendous views of Hawfinch, in fact the best views of birds in flight that I've ever had!!  At least eight were around and perched, as well as close flying birds,  were thoroughly enjoyed as well as our somewhat overdue breakfast!

On to the New Forest where we took a walk out on to the open heath and had a couple of Woodlark in full song, one flighting nearby.  Crossbill,  Stonechat, an unexpected overflying Raven, Siskin and an array of common species were also in evidence.. A  Treecreeper within a stand of conifers intrigued us both as its underparts were pure white and the bird "stood out " at a distance as a consequence. It showed no slight  brownish tinges on the flanks and was certainly worth the experience. Best of all were a couple of Dartford Warblers that showed well atop heather shrubs, calling, with one indulging in a display flight for extra benefit. Moving to another area we joined other birdwatchers looking for the Dark eyed Junco, but without any success. The bird had been seen briefly, but several explorations of the local area, and rather chilly waiting out periods in between , produced nothing, so we decided to move on and to call back if time allowed.

On to the Solent where we looked in vain for the reported Red-breasted Goose, but beneffitted from a good  variety of birds in the process. Several Mediterranean Gulls, with three flying overhead calling, Little Egret, Peregrine, Dark bellied Brent Geese and Red-breasted Merganser were around besides commoner duck and wader species.

With ever improving weather we moved the short distance to Calshot where we located the roadside hedge in which the male Spanish Sparrow and its domesticus mates had been seen.  A couple of patrols along the length of the hedge proved there was plenty of chirping individuals buried deep in its centre, but few could be seen. Then, as is often the case, the bird in question suddenly appeared , and what an utterly resplendent individual it turned out to be. Sitting out in full view, its colours and patterns were shown off to the fullest and best effect.....a great bird!

With time in hand we returned to the New Forest site for a renewed attempt to see the Dark eyed Junco. As we walked towards where we had been previously, all seemed very quiet. And then the bird suddenly flew across the path and disappeared under a large, fallen pine "frond", only to emerge almost immediately and perch in a nearby birch sapling. We had absolutely tremendous views following those of it in flight, when it showed off its very distinctive dark tail with white outer feathers that are so conspicuous  when it flies into cover. I was just about to say to Matthew, " I guess it's back here as everyone's gone home and it's totally undisturbed now", when one of the photographers, who'd been there all day, came from behind the large bush the bird had then disappeared into. Well, I had to tell them, didn't I !!   Whilst we hung on a little while we didn't actually see it again!

Ever onward was the cry given the success of our day, so we moved to Hordle where, eventually, we saw the immature Rose-coloured Starling. It was pretty  mobile, but we got two more than acceptable periods of viewing it in the large trees that it was using along with the local Common Starlings. Retiring for a short period from the "field of avian conflict" we took advantage of the Co-operative Supermarket car park where we enjoyed a well earned break, coffee and sandwiches before moving on to Christchurch Harbour. Whilst we were beginning to wind down our luck still prevailed as we located the female Long-tailed Duck out in the open bay and had a good variety of waders at a further yachting haven just around the corner.

And so ended the first full day of our break........successful, satisfying and, in many ways, more productive than we could have imagined!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Retracing footsteps of the past!

An early start, on my own, visiting a series of sites I used to regularly cover in the past, both within and around the Peak Park and some close to where I lived. Certainly a memory lane day! The weather was kind with some sunny periods , although the highest points were a bit cold despite there only being a breeze!

Birds seen were much as anticipated and it was as enjoyable to see Lapwings and Curlew displaying over a couple of moorland fringe sites where they were, er (!), fifty years ago as to watch the birds themselves. Whilst some things have changed , it's certainly not all gloom and doom. I spent a time within a small tract of deciduous woodland and enjoyed watching the whole selection of species you might anticipate there, including a Nuthatch at 2 m. , which actually did a repeat "visit".  This was a species that certainly wasn't there in the 60's and 70's   so there has been some changes. Most frustrating was hearing a short spell of drumming, almost more of a whirr, that I'm convinced wasn't Great Spotted Woodpecker, but its much smaller relative. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has bred there before a number of years ago so a current confirmation would certainly have made this a Red letter Day!  Despite spending time looking ,waiting and listening not a further thing happened.

Various reservoirs boosted the number of species seen and, all in all, it was a really enjoyable bog standard birding day....but somehow I didn't mind, as I'd also relived a whole series of exciting experiences of the past in the process and remembered a lot of people I've sadly lost contact with.  I think I'll start a business called Nostalgic Birding Tours.... everything you've seen before and more!!!

Teeming transit! 7.3.2012

Taking the early ferry meant an 0530 hours departure, the benefits  from which were a bit sparse, to say the least, with only a single Woodcock seen along the route. With the light beginning to rise bird activity improved in the Sound of Islay with a noticeable gathering of gull species all frantically feeding down the "central corridor" of the Sound itself. Herring Gull (250 ), Common Gull ( 150 ) a few GBBG and a couple of LBBG were all taking advantage of whatever food  source was being transported by the tidal flow. By contrast, very little was in the open water towards the mainland!

The day proved to be very mixed as far as weather was concerned. Snow and sleet appeared as the journey up the Rest and Be Thankful Pass was taken and this continued until north Cumbria. None of the snow remained, but driving and visibility was pretty bad and, of course, few birds could be seen!  Late afternoon saw the weather improve dramatically as I travelled eastwards over the spine of the hills.with glorious sunshine bathing the whole landscape. Common Gulls fed in many oif the moorland pastures , but generally things were  very quiet and remained as such as I hit the traffic in the confines of South and West Yorkshire in the late afternoon.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Another invitation for action!!

Now, before reading this , I acknowledge that there will be some people who feel the idea is monstrous, invasive, downright potty and presumptuous, or much worse. Well , by contrast, I'd simply say that, whilst there might be good formal reasons why such can't be considered, some action is required to counter the utterly disgusting level of raptor persecution in this country at the present time. Outrage and complacency from the anonymous depths of an armchair, that familiar refuge of the huff and puff brigade, might be a suitably healthy outpouring for the individual concerned, but it brings about not one jot of improvement!!  Perhaps the submission of positive suggestions for improvement to the situation might be an alternative of which you can be proud?

Recently, Chris Packham, currently President of the Hawk and Owl Trust, issued some condemnatory remarks  about raptor persecution, the need for change and so on. Doubtless these will be reported widely and add further weight to the calls for such deplorable activities to cease. Others too have added their voices to this cause, but is there a need to centralise such concerns and bring about a national, completely open focus on the problem, which will ultimately lead to stronger enforcement,  more telling sentences and the placing of responsibility on both employers and employees associated with such activities within the shooting industry?

Presuming the BBC's "Springwatch" programme will go ahead as usual in a month or so, is there not an opportunity to link such a focus to the programme , which attracts countless thousands of viewers across the UK?  A joint appeal from Kate Humble ( President of the RSPB ) and Chris Packham ( President of the Hawk and Owl Trust ) requesting people to write to their MP's condemning the slaughter of our  birds of prey on so many of our sporting estates would doubtless generate both outrage and action.  Yes, I'm sure some would say,"It's all been done before", well maybe , but there is a need to relentlessly ensure the problem is put before the eyes of the public until such time as improvements are wrought!  It seems to me hypocritical that the beauty and sheer enjoyment we can all take from our wildlife is being extolled whilst, at the same time, this  is being matched by the wanton destruction of our most iconic raptor species. Television has highlighted all sorts of problems in the past, including raptor persecution and egg collecting, but why not again, and why not link such publicity with dynamic engagement with the democratic process? The means by which all this could be achieved is not demanding. A small Working Group, archive film footage of raptors and of incidents , statistics for respective Web sites and advice on what to do. It's not beyond the wit of man to put together a compelling  case why change is needed and how to achieve it!

Whilst the idea might just be picked up, I shall also be ensuring the suggestion is put directly to the above organisations concerned as I wouldn't wish to generate embarrassment by action being called for before due consideration of the ideas take place. It may be the BeeB can't countenance such direct actions or that other ideas are in the pipeline, if so, such is not a problem. The real problem is in identifying something that keeps the issue alive and results in positive change!  And by way of lightening the load.....

We may all know that KFC is on every High Street, so let's get the new KC partnership out there too.

Democracy in action! So why don't we use it?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at Westminster, Mrs Caroline Spelman, and her Minister, Richard Benyon, signalling my intention to begin lobbying about raptor persecution and, in particular, the current plight of Hen Harriers. Should such campaigning be successful then, hopefully, the Department would receive a significant amount of enquiries, criticism of policies, requests from MP's and so on and, being the person I am, I thought it only fair to mention the possibility!

I didn't expect a response to what , after all, had been little more than a notification, so I was pleasantly surprised to get a very polite and informative E-mail in return. As a firm advocate of our use of the democratic process this lent weight to my beliefs that the system does work and that we should utilise the process far more than appears to happen when it comes to the sphere of wildlife conservation. I'd also written to Natural England and , similarly, received a detailed response from that organization on the queries I'd raised about the Hen Harrier Recovery Project, Special Protection Areas and other points of concern, details I'll summarize and  put out on the Blog shortly.

Sadly such transparency and co-operation flies in the face of the complacency exhibited by too many conservationists and birders, whose potential and collective efforts could make a real difference if only they could be persuaded to participate. I don't understand, quite genuinely, why this happens! Understandably other commitments might intervene, and so the problem revolves around priority. But the enthusiasm, fervour and sheer physical commitment many participants pour into the pursuits about which we're all so obsessive surely suggests time would , somehow, be made available to submit opinions, raise questions and so on. For some strange reason we appear still to prefer to grumble about things amongst ourselves than take action.

The issues are certainly pushed under our noses and participation couldn't be easier nowadays given modern technology, the social media and the like. Surely if social media networks can play a central part in upending dodgy administrations we can utilise the same means to gain improvements for our native wildlife. Or does it need a "catalyst", a physical , charismatic co-ordinator who can convince, kick backsides and goad people into action? My greatest personal fears on the matter are sometimes realised when , in moments of despair, I'm persuaded into believing that it's just the  " can't be bothered " syndrome which invades our best intentions! What seems clear is that, if it's left to the individual, not much seems to happen!! So let's indicate that change is possible!!

In November, 2011 an E-petition was registered with the Government calling for the offence of vicarious liability to be debated in Parliament and, hopefully, adopted within our legislation. For such a petition to be considered for debate at least 100,000 signatures need to be registered showing that an appreciable number of the electorate is concerned about the issue. At 1030 hours this morning the wholly underwhelming total of signatures had reached 7921.  This is pathetic , folks, as I cannot believe so few of us feel so little about raptor persecution and those responsible for such activities.

There is a remedy! Disregarding the possible confusion with links etc etc simply enter " Vicarious liability E-petitiom " in your browser and, hey presto, the details to access same are there in front of you. The signing up process is straightforward and without any potential confusion.  Simply put, if people can't be bothered to raise the profile of the issue then they must equally be unconcerned about the scourge of persecution of our iconic raptor species which is taking place. The final judgement is actually upon yourselves, as will be evidenced by the signature total!!!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New month, new start?

If sunlight, warmth and brightness had anything to do with it, then it certainly felt a corner had been turned this morning. A murmuring flock of 120 Starlings on wires near the house drove the local male representative into a frenzy! In addition to the usual whistles and calls he must have drawn on any and every species he'd ever imitated in an attempt to faze the unwelcome incomers!
With daffodils fully out, singing Skylarks and Pied Wagtails more in evidence it was time to give seawatching another go in the hope things had improved a little set against recent days. As it was nothing different was seen , but the circumstances were more pleasant. Offshore Fulmars, a few passing Gannets, local Common Gulls proclaiming possession of territories and the odd Shag on a feeding foray were very much a repeat of what had gone before, but possibly with a more elevated sense of purpose.  Outer Loch Indaal showed a few Herring Gulls, a single in-flying Kittiwake and a small raft of Razorbill , but little else. On the very gradual journey back home down the southern Rinns a flock of around 80 Fieldfare and a single Redwing was of note , but singing Song Thrush and Robin added some additional scant evidence that we were finally moving forward in calendar terms. Contrasted against all this was a nicely varied flock of Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch at a friend's garden feeding station whose members continued to feed voraciously as if in preparation for what lay ahead based on some insider knowledge! Time will no doubt tell!

As for the local grass moor areas near home, little appears to have changed or, indeed, be around. The list of species encountered on recent daily walks since returning from up north sadly duplicates that of over a month ago with, as yet , no Stonechat in evidence or of returning Meadow Pipit. The only discernible change is of more gulls around the cliffs and visiting a nearby foddering out area for the local cattle.