Friday, August 31, 2012

BTO Breeding Bird Survey Report 2011.

The above report is the seventeenth in the series and , besides much other crucial data and information, includes trends in breeding bird populations in Scotland for 2010-2011 and 1995-2010. As such it provides an important barometer of change which can obviously be the basis for other comparisons and direct interest towards conservation policies. It's also fascinating to focus the results into one of local interest and see if the trends follow what is appearing at a much wider level.

In all 358 BBS were surveyed in Scotland in 2011, with 156 species being recorded within them of which the most widespread were Chaffinch, Willow Warbler and Woodpigeon. Of the 60 species for which trends could be calculated, eight have declined significantly and sixteen have increased significantly sine the commencement of the survey.

Birds that declined in Scotland between 2010 and 2011  included Kestrel, Skylark, House Martin, Mistle Thrush, Grey Wagtail, and Reed Bunting. The only one of these, in a local context,  that I would be a little sceptical about is Reed Bunting given we carry a seemingly widespread and successful population that , as yet, appears to be pretty stable. Of the other species, then I think full acceptance of the trends can be recognised.

Between 2010 and 2011 Bullfinch increased the most in Scotland,  along with four warbler species which showed large increases (  Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat ).  Again, based on a gradually increasing incidence of sightings,  I would contend the situation on Islay mirrors the results in a modest sense.

The most severe declines since the start of the survey have been shown by Kestrel, Curlew, Lapwing, Swift, and Starling. I suppose, with the exception of Swift which doesn't breed on Islay, general agreement could again be offered to the conclusions and other species added to the mix too. Based on personal impressions assembled over the same period, species that might be added to the above, as far as Islay is concerned, are Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Snipe and even Peregrine, which I appear to come across with reducing regularity. Obviously such impressions are extremely subjective , which underlines the value of long standing surveys such as BBS and the need to have as many plots as possible in order to generate results for a wide ranging selection of breeding species.

In parallel to the above declines, the greatest increases since the start of the survey have been with Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap, Goldfinch and Whitethroat.  Certainly the incidence of woodpecker records on Islay has increased over the decade, although breeding, or even presence throughout a breeding season, has yet to be proven. Again, it would be difficult to deny that the presence of the last three species in the list appears to be more obvious than previously. Clearly seasonal differences occur and lend hope to what might then be a continuing positive trend. In this context the apparent numbers locally of Cuckoo and Whinchat this season have increased, but the numbers locally of Northern Wheatear appear to be reduced. In a very local context, on Wednesday, I had my highest count ever of Woodpigeon on Islay ( 28 ) at a single location, having had several other small parties during the day too.  Given its apparent success in urban environments, and a BTO Press release this week reporting it is now the third commonest visitor to gardens in the UK ( behind Blue Tit and Blackbird ), one could easily assume it might be gradually increasing generally. It's not that common a bird here, although widespread, so we may well be joining the common trend ( something we try hard to avoid on Islay in a non-biological context!!).

All such again emphasises the need for long term monitoring and the absolute value that the BBS survey brings to the debate. 

Grey lag Goose survey ! 28.8.2012.

Well, finally, the actual  "day" arrived after time being taken up previously with reconnaissance checks, coverage arrangements and the like. Fortunately the weather had improved too, following the poor showing over the couple of days beforehand. Today dawned fine, although some quite heavy rain showers developed later!

You may have seen previous entries on this subject as, for several years now, I've completed a survey  when the autumn accumulation of birds occurs on Islay. The early years were easy as the birds chose a limited number of spots and all of these could be easily monitored. Nowadays it's more of an island wide operation with several other people involved on the day in order to secure a complete picture.

When I first came to Islay in 1999 there was only a handful of breeding pairs of Grey lag Geese present and virtually all of them were around Loch Gorm, which was quite convenient given the house overlooked the whole area. Gradually numbers increased and autumn gatherings began to reach the low hundreds. It must be mentioned here that, in many respects, Islay is a potential paradise when it comes to the availability of breeding sites. These range from innumerable isolated lochans to offshore islands and islets and endless bits of suitable rough areas in between!!  In the early years the wintering population, largely remained close to where I now live in the south west of the island, was relatively static and numbered around a hundred or so, indicating some birds left and returned the following Spring. There has been much conjecture about the increase over the years, although I tend to think the solution is quite simple. In the early years there was never any real check on breeding numbers and I believe these increased exponentially, season after season, possibly recruiting "new blood" as birds returned after the winter ( from where,we don't know incidentally!! ). Small numbers of non-breeding birds were encountered and, in parallel, the breeding numbers continued to increase until, at its highest point the autumn gathering reached over 2,500. Following the moult the birds appeared to vacate many areas and congregate in the north of the island around Loch Gruinart and at the head of Loch Indaal.  As new feeding areas became available they became frustratingly mobile, but opportunities always arose to monitor "the assembled flock" when it chose to concentrate its activities at a small number of sites, which were close to one another, or at roost.

Now, of course, interest began to be raised as concentrated feeding on areas used by the wintering  populations of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese wasn't seen as desirable!! And, of course, from a farming viewpoint, the geese were seen as affecting managed pastures for cattle and sheep just as much as the above wintering birds. The situation also became complicated as undoubtedly Grey lag Geese on passage use Islay and fluctuating numbers occurred. Evidence for this came from first hand accounts at the RSPB reserve at Gruinart and birds actually seen passing  at sea along Islay's western coastline or down the Sound of Islay. Whatever the derivation, or the theorising, the fact remained that we were seeing increasing breeding numbers present on the island resulting in a similar increasing number in autumn. The extent to which these were supplemented by passage birds, moved off themselves, or remained in increasing numbers, was academic to many set against what was seen as an increasing problem affecting farming enterprises. As an aside, the numbers remaining in winter are beginning to be around 50% of the total congregation seen in autumn. Where the absent birds move to is anybody's guess and possibly a subject which will only be resolved when a sample of birds is caught and fitted with numbered collars which can be observed and reported upon.

With final figures yet to become available, the next step will then be to put everything together and compute what appears to be the outcome of this season, which is probably the easiest part of the task!!

I suppose a switch can now be made onto a bigger canvas!  The problem is also being experienced in several other parts of Scotland, either based on burgeoning breeding populations or increased presence in winter due to incoming birds from Iceland.  Understandably many farmers have expressed concerns about the situation and petitioned for action to be taken. Currently the Scottish Government is looking at the means by which such populations can be managed to ensure that a representative population remains in place, but that any exponential  increases are limited. Not the easiest of tasks I suggest!!  Licensed shooting can be carried out previous to the actual season commencing on 1st September each year and doubtless this has led to some containment of these populations, including here on Islay.

Another aspect which was central to concerns last year, but is less so this season, is the habit of the birds to enter ripening barley fields and generally cause mayhem!  Last year several fields were affected in this way, but the problem appears to be far more concentrated this season. With a full moon in evidence at present the  opportunity for the birds to feed during the night and undisturbed also becomes a reality. This is then followed by their use of sheltered, and far less obvious locations, during the day where they preen, rest and generally do very little!! Areas of moorland, isolated fields and even spells spent out on the larger lochs make counting a bit of a challenge.  Incidentally some of this barley is destined for use  by one of the island's accompanying important industries, that of producing malt whisky, although none of such fields appear to be affected this year

And so the story takes on an even more convoluted aspect and, I suspect, one might  hear strident calls for action from some who have never even set eyes on a Grey lag Goose !!

Monday, August 27, 2012

South easterlies aren't in favour at present. 26.8.2012.

The past few days seem to have sped by. Completing reports and setting up arrangements for the forthcoming survey of Grey lag Geese, plus some observation work on the latter, have eaten up more time than first anticipated.  Seawatching has acted as a  safety valve, but generated frustration at the same time, as passage has been pretty much routine and somewhat predictable. South easterlies aren't the best supporter of good passage!! Mind you, I feel guilty at complaining as watching endless Manx Shearwaters and Gannets  stream past interspersed with other species is something to feel very fortunate about.

As I write this after a night of strong ( yes, you've got it! ) south easterly winds, the rain is lashing on the windows and conditions outside are pretty rough. Various ferries in the Outer Hebrides appear set to be affected by the 45 knot winds, or already have been, but ours is currently described as being on "Normal Service". Whilst you don't really need to know all that it might well be an indicator that conditions are set to improve!!

Since writing about the "pulse" of passage of various warblers and chats, the situation seems to have settled down enormously with no similar movement taking place. As yet the noticeable "falls" of Meadow Pipits haven't occurred and the recurrent south easterlies might be playing a part in this scenario too by holding birds back

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wildlife legislation review.

Whilst I was in the midst of trying to bring a series of conflicting commitments into some sense of order, a task I never managed and which resulted in my having to cancel arrangements to go to the BirdFair , I was surprised to find a notification had arrived on my PC advising that the consultation documents relating to the Law Commission's review on wildlife legislation were available. Moreover, the consultation period is to run from 14th August to 30th November, 2012. It immediately seemed to me that the likelihood of final recommendations and the like appearing much before the middle of 2013  seems somewhat remote.

Well I have to say that , as might be expected from a review put together by legal eagles and their researchers, it's not the most user friendly array of suggestions I've ever come across. After more than a sufficient time to digest the analysis and accompanying proposals I guess many of us will still need to turn to our requisite advisers within the conservation organisations to determine whether our conclusions are correct and whether they represent  what is required!! I shall look forward to receiving comment too from my eldest daughter who, as a solicitor, will be able to detect any issues that are deliberately being covered in obfuscation. Sadly, I suspect there could be several, even many!

In the introductory announcement, the objective of simplifying the existing complex framework associated with wildlife law and placing same under a single statute appears entirely sensible and laudable. But then I was less convinced on reading that  there was " an intention to try and reduce the dependency on criminal law by allowing an appropriate mix of regulatory measures, such as guidance,advice and a varied and flexible system of civil sanctions.....such as fines and bans". Seems we could add wrist slapping to that as well, but we'll see!!

So, an immediate task it would seem, for the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and other similar organizations, is to unravel the core elements and , in turn , advise their members in straightforward language what they might include in any responses they are willing to submit. It is thirty years since the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 ( as amended ) came into being and, in the meantime , there has been much that has been amended so there is a clear need to update things. This, however, is an opportunity to ensure that what applies over the next thirty years is sensible, workable and adequately protects our natural heritage, be it sites or species.

If you wish to see the whole consultation document, or even a summary, then it can be found here (Review of wildlife law.) Happy reading!

Now, what do we find within this outpouring of wisdom and intention that refers to practical measures that one might anticipate as far as raptor persecution is concerned. Well, in the time I've had available, which was not much and I wasn't in a terribly charitable frame of mind either given my not being able to make the BirdFair (!), I discovered the old chestnut of VICARIOUS LIABILITY gets an airing. On first reading I'd best describe the proposal and the way its being handled as being one close to a cricketer smashing a huge "six" into the Pavilion and it taking some time to retrieve the ball as it trickles down between the rows of seats!! In the meantime everybody gets a breather!   "Kicked into touch",or a "long grass approach" might also be appropriate.  I would hope not, as it means the approach taken on other matters might equally lack definition. Mention of open questions, accompanied by no real firm resolve , time-scale etc and a hint that it depends on what is seen as necessary by the public and what happens in Scotland smack of prevarication and lack of intention in my book. I may be wrong, I may be doing the authors an injustice, but we shall see what a more relaxed reading and the views of others provides.

It does occur to me that if the mood of the country is in need of being tapped we could provide a response to the question even in advance of the Closing Date (30th November )  for the consultation. The ill-fated E-petition may yet have a role to play. The cessation date for this petition is 17 November, 2012, at 1638 hours to be precise ( only the UK could enshrine such detail!! ). This morning the number of signatures stands at 9949. Whilst the wording of the petition leaves something to be desired, the RSPB and others could give an early indication to the Government of its feelings on this subject by putting the might of the conservation membership behind the it. A simple announcement in all literature reaching the membership this autumn would be a start linked to other means ( press releases , Twitter, Blogs etc). It seems to me that this is the one major issue that can bring on a case of the vapours within the fraternity whose actions are aimed at reducing our raptor populations.  As I understand it this aspect of legislation is something the RSPB wishes to see brought forward. Giving the Government an early indication of what will then be argued for and endorsed within , hopefully, the many submissions on these proposals will do no harm and I'll be ensuring the idea wings its way to Sandy without delay!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

England expects, Naturally!!

A discussion with a close friend and colleague last evening about Hen Harriers caused me to ponder somewhat later on the continuing saga surrounding the lack of  results arising from English bred satellite tagged birds. In a bit of a "take" on that famous expression, " England expects",  one actually does really wonder what we might anticipate from the research undertaken by Natural England and when.. Such work has been funded from the public purse and I believe we are entitled to a greater amount of access to the data than is being provided at present. Clearly the senior management of Natural England are avoiding such provision to avoid political embarrassment, either to pursue some form of personal survival or at the instigation of their political masters. Remember an acknowledgement has already been issued by that agency, within its report published by its parent Ministry, DeFRA, admitting that there is a correlation between persecuted raptors and upland grouse moors. Might we then rightfully  ask whether such results are being deliberately "suffocated" to protect other interests, namely those of the shooting fraternity? We are naturally concerned at the situation one might say.

Now let's dispel any confusion about the potential difficulties of such information and data  being made available to the public and the level of detail that might be expected !  May I suggest a look be taken at the following (  Raptor tracking in the Cairngorms. ) which provides, or has provided, access to individual birds and the results of their movements following them being fitted with satellite tags. Much additional information besides is made available and is further bolstered by similar data and facilities on the Highland Foundation for Wildlife web site (Raptor tracking and information.).  Even the much quoted Langholm Moors Demonstration Project has a web site where one is provided with some access and information to individual birds which have been tagged  ( Hen Harriers tagged at Langholm ). The results arising from this latter research have been dogged by repeated analysis, criticism , praise for the realism involved and, of course, the anticipated prejudice from those who condemned the efforts from the start and have delighted in repeated doses of "I told you so" outpourings at various intervals. And yet they openly provide a form of summarised information for all to access. However, the point is that one has been able to follow the fortunes of individual birds on various  web sites until the satellite transmitter has ceased to supply data.  So why have no details emerged from the Hen Harrier Recovery Project research being administered by Natural England? Is our curiosity and concern for harriers, now on the verge of extinction as a breeding species in England if they have not already reached it, being viewed with contempt by the Authorities concerned or have they pertinent facts to hide with the potential for such causing embarrassment for the Tory grandees associated with the Government?  With a worsening situation as far as the fortunes of this species and increasing condemnation of the shooting fraternity, within whose hallowed boundaries the illegal persecution would appear to take place,  are we seeing a policy of protectionism being mounted by the agency concerned. One might naturally leap to that conclusion!

The situation is now becoming ludicrous and one shudders to think of the time being spent, and the accompanying cost, of responding to the various letters of enquiry and Freedom of Information requests which have been submitted. Surely the agency is not going to try and justify such information can never be disclosed?  If so, why and what is it that is being protected as a succession of data about where birds flew to is hardly going to put the Nation at risk?  Or is it perhaps a certain sector of the Nation that might have its interests placed under further scrutiny that is the basis of the prevarication and obfuscation. There has to be a reason and I suspect far more effort is going to be placed in the direction of its disclosure in the future unless some imminent change of stance is detected.  

Basking Shark tagging project!!

Have just been sent some extremely exciting news about a joint project being undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Exeter. Several Basking Sharks have been fitted with satellite tags and are being followed as they move around in Scottish waters.

The idea is to try and find out how long they remain in certain areas, how are they using their chosen feeding locations, where they go after they spend the summer in Scottish waters and, even , whether some of them actually remain with us through the winter and in deeper waters. Without stealing their thunder, read all the details on this helpful web site (Basking Shark tagging project. ). I know I'm going to find this exercise utterly absorbing given we see Basking Sharks off Islay's shores from time to time, with records arising from a variety of places, ( Outer Loch Indaal, off the west coast close to Portnahaven and at various locations off the southern part of the island ). In late August, 2010 several were around for a few days in the Sound of Islay and provided tremendous views. Not that you see a lot of them, other than a fin, given the huge size of many of the individuals!!! The public are encouraged to assist via the return of any of the  tags ( they detach after a period ) which may be found on a beach or elsewhere, so more information will undoubtedly follow.

Acknowledgment to R.Pickering ( Photographer ).

But the story gets even better and I guarantee will be as compelling as your viewing of the Olympics in past days. You can actually access a web site and follow the journeys of each of the individuals concerned. Better still, you can elect for daily E-mail updates on what is happening ( Follow your favourite Basking Shark!! )
You have to accept certain understandable conditions about not using the data, but the request for updates etc is absolutely "painless" and the plethora of information overwhelming.Well done to all concerned. I shall now go and bask in the wonder of it all!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday, 12th August, 2012.

Would you believe, I've actually no intention of firing off a few rounds of comment or criticism to add any form of acknowledgement or recognition  to this day or date. It's best consigned to being an anachronistic token!   Must stop now, but feel I did well......

Basically it was a foul day here. A strong, blustery south east wind accompanied by rain , mist at times and overcast conditions, although it felt very mild. The passerines moving through the local area yesterday had all gone, leaving a  strange, empty atmosphere cloaking the hill land, never at its best with this type of accompanying weather!!

And so, after spending too much time at a computer, planning some work on Grey lag Geese, what was left?  Yes, it had to be the Olympics!   Endless summaries of accomplishments, all of which were soundly deserved, after which came the Closing Ceremony. In all honesty I think one's impression could only ever reflect  the output the television broadcasts provided and that you really needed to be there to fully appreciate the spectacle.  I will admit that, throughout the fortnight, I've felt very proud of what we were achieving in providing the whole series of events and the way in which things were being conducted, in addition to our phenomenal performances in a whole range of sports. Well done!   A time to feel very British and proud of the fact and proud too of the goodwill and many friends made within the process. . Why is it "we can" when we have to?  Now,  let's tackle some of our national problems with the same fervour, consideration and zeal!!

Within all this extravaganza no one mentioned the Perseus Meteor Showers anticipated for last night during most of the hours of darkness until dawn, with anticipated sightings even reaching several per hour.  I somehow guess the London area with its own immense "lightshow" was badly placed to pass judgement as were we given the overcast weather conditions!! There's an outside chance there may be a repeat tonight!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Raptor's muck or nettles I'm afraid!

There's an expression used in the North of England (  "Aye, well, it looks like its muck or nettles". ) that arises when an implacable situation is faced and no easy solution is likely. None of the choices are terribly attractive and it's either a question of leaping into the muck heap or the nettle bed!  Strange therapies these Northerners go in for!

It rather seems to me that this is the situation we've now reached when considering what might be done when it comes to solving the current raptor persecution problem. Productive dialogue, aimed at some form of  improvement, now appears to be in "lock down mode" with the shooting fraternity and conservationists being at utter loggerheads.  We've now even got the former openly advocating the RSPB should be ignored in any such process due to their intransigence and bullying tactics ( or even truth telling perhaps? ). Such is the advice coming from Roy Green ( formerly , or currently, of Buccleugh Estates ) in an article in the current issue of the Shooting Times, followed closely also by claims from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association that it is they and their management of the countryside who are keeping the rural economy afloat in these times of recession.  Minions doing the Masters job, the contents of which articles being little better than self delusion.

As we all know upland and lowland shoots are largely commercial entities. Evidence associated with court cases and from other official sources show that activities on some of these estates result in numbers of our raptors being persecuted. Such activities are against the law, often occur on areas which are also designated to protect key wildlife species and for which owners can receive Government subsidies, i.e. tax payers money, in order to maintain appropriate land management with that objective in mind ( not to improve the habitat to maximise Red Grouse production and its concomitant financial returns, ere the while removing the key raptor species! ). Accompanying this at present are increased outpourings of prejudice against all raptor species, calls for controls and so on. Clearly the landowning fraternity, along with , now, their self promoting serfs, appear intent on exercising what they see as "their rights" in "their interests", if necessary in direct contravention of the law and without exhibiting any sense of public, or even national, responsibility. It has to be said that,coupled with some of the attitude trends portrayed by some senior members of the current majority interest in our Government there appears to be more than a faint flush of nostalgia for the halcyon days of the Victorian era and not necessarily associated with shooting matters either!

Surely it's not just me that suspect's this barely disguised trend?  The rapid  and clearly orchestrated demise of the English Hen Harrier population, both in winter and as a breeding species, backed up by research and statements from one of the Government's own departments ( DeFRA ) , pays testimony to the fact that there is an ever emergent, brash intention to "play the game in any way we choose".  In the light of all this, and with the English breeding Hen Harrier population being all but extinct, what signs do we see from from the RSPB or Natural England to indicate that this deplorable situation is going to be addressed with anything resembling spirit, fire or firm resolve?

Well, actually, nothing that is terribly apparent, not even a bit of heated indignation!!

When will the penny drop that this problem is not going to be resolved by cosy policy discussions with Government agencies when such antipathy exists towards the subject from the latter's political masters? When will the penny drop that some evidence of some firm action is needed, not passive commentary appearing on Blogs and elsewhere?  And when will the penny drop that, amongst others, the RSPB membership is looking for some major public stance to be taken?

One has to ask what options are open for action?  Further discussions would now seem to be a waste of time if the views expressed in the Shooting Times are to be acknowledged. Doubtless these will echo around many a noble drawing room as the "mini-conventions" in the aftermath of today ( 12th August ) gather and mutually firm up their resolve. And so the "muck or nettles" scenario arises!  Is the RSPB going to capitulate and set back raptor conservation by an unimaginable margin or is it to create a "Thin Red Line" of opposition the likes of which has not emerged since the good ladies of  Didsbury, Manchester dug in their collective heels over a hundred years ago and said " No" to the plume trade that was threatening a variety of iconic species. Such capitulation would automatically award an opportunity to the land owning fraternity to repeatedly pick and choose the balance of our natural heritage in the future, albeit one best suited to their commercial interests be it in shooting, farming or woodland management and such like.  A great store of anticipation appears to be being extended to the forthcoming results from the Law Commission's review of wildlife legislation requested by DeFRA. Given the current aggressive climate of opinion being adopted by the shooting fraternity,  a less than enthusiastic Chancellor for anything "environmental" ( from whom any funding would need support) , an admission by the appropriate Minister ( Richard Benyon ) that he would monitor closely the progression of the Vicarious Liability legislation adopted in Scotland  can we really believe there is likely to be some automatic adoption of  ground breaking revisions?  Such is going to be the battle ground upon which the future of our raptor communities rests unless we are very careful indeed. The RSPB needs to take the whole matter "to the country" and, if necessary, put its very history on the line in an attempt to draw a halt to these increasing trends in persecution. Yes it means taking on the Establishment, becoming unpopular, even diminishing its position in an advisory context, but can the alternative scenario be contemplated? I think not!

Muck or nettles I'm afraid.

Autumn exodus underway. 11.8.2012.

I'd resolved to cover quite a large local area, call in at the coast and spend as much time as was needed during what promised to be another gorgeous day. So, loaded with all the necessary bits and pieces, I launched out with the sun beginning to come through  and supplying a little warmth despite a fairly brisk breeze. In reality I walked less than three miles, spent nearly four hours in the process, never got to the coast and enjoyed every minute of it.

As they say here in Scotland, the place was hooching with birds!!

Along any road, track or ditchline there seemed to be birds. Lesser Redpolls and Goldfinches buzzed around frenetically and literally dived into clumps of vegetation or on to clumps of thistles, feeding for a short while before exploding upwards , flying around in huge excitement  before returning closeby. Odd Willow Warblers flicked around in isolated bushes and what must surely have been a juvenile Grasshopper Warbler came up through dense vegetation, showed briefly and then dived back into the depths of its cover again. Whinchats were widespread, indeed more than I've seen throughout the whole summer! Whilst some adults were around, the majority involved young birds, which was quite nice to note for a species about which population concerns are so readily expressed. Likewise their close relatives, Stonechats , joined in the fun, doubtless being local birds, with loose parties now containing birds that can be aged as being from either an earlier or of a more recent  brood. This upsurge of energy and collective activity appeared to draw in other birds too. Reed Bunting, Northern Wheatear, Meadow Pipits, whilst a family group of Swallows swirled around overhead. Great stuff and slightly reminiscent of mornings spent in rainforest habitat when you realise you've only walked 100 m in an hour!!! Strangely enough three species I'd anticipated appearing never did!
Linnets were entirely absent and haven't been at all common this summer in many places. I'd quite expected to pick up both Sedge Warbler and Common Whitethroat too, both of whose numbers seemed quite good earlier in the season but then noticeably dwindled.  The occasion also provided confirmation of a late Northern Wheatear nest I'd suspected , but couldn't pin down. Both adults and five youngsters foraged and played around a small, isolated rock buttress, with an obvious entrance below its bulk, in quite the opposite direction to where I'd looked previously!!!. Odd ones of the youngsters had small bits of down on them which paid testimony to their recent fledging. First broods were poor and I suspect their appearance coincided with one of the poor periods of weather we experienced, which, for the same reason, caused the young Swallows in my barn to starve and perish. Over the past few days we've had relatively still days and open skies at night , both sets of conditions allowing birds on the move to make progress with little interference. Whilst today's weather was fine, the blustery wind  perhaps prompted a pause in the progression of birds on the move.

As if to endorse the experience , and later in the day at home, both juvenile Dunnock and Robin were in the garden. The former are present nearby and occasional individuals are seen , but Robins are very much a species of winter with Continental types predominating. Doubtless both these were juveniles dispersing from relatively nearby areas and undertaking slightly less ambitious journeys!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bowland Eagle Owls, 2012.

Following on from the brief announcement earlier today the full text of the report presented on the World Owl Trust web site is set out below. Tony Warburton, Hon. President of the Trust requested that I put out the details to give the news as wide a readership as possible. Whilst I know there are friends and colleagues who are more sceptical about the presence of this species in the UK, and whose views I sincerely respect, the fact of the matter is that the species has successfully bred in Bowland again this season, which I personally feel, along with many others, is a cause for celebration.


Following the failure of the first nesting attempt by Bowland's Eagle Owls ( their egg(s) were allegedly smashed following deliberate disturbance by humans on the weekend of 24/25th March ) we are delighted to announce the successful fledging of two owlets on the United Utilities Estate in 2012.

Although what was believed to be the usual resident pair were present in their territory at the beginning of the year we became concerned by the lack of calling or courtship behaviour after 6th January. However, we put this down to the horrendous weather during that month, plus the disturbance effect of a Pheasant shoot on the 1st February, which might well have caused the pair to move site for a while as this species is highly sensitive to disturbance at their breeding sites early in the season.

To our relief, on 3rd February, the pair was back at the regular site and for the rest of the month their behaviour became more familiar, strongly suggesting that egg laying was imminent. Alas, it was not to be, the last sighting of the old female being noted on the 26th February. By 2nd March it had become obvious that something had gone wrong, as all courtship and calling had ceased and only the male was present around his favourite song post. Sadly we have to report that once again the cause of the female's disappearance has to be placed firmly at the door of humans, for we found four apparent nesting scrapes in the area, which along with their appearance and certain incriminating evidence, which I'm afraid we must refrain from disclosing at this stage, strongly suggest they were man made.

On 8th March the male was found calling at a new site and , on 11th March, he was accompanied by what was easily recognizable as a new female by her exceptionally large size and dark russet brown colouration. She was found to be incubating a single egg and from then on wasn't disturbed.

All was well on 23th March but, unfortunately, this was not to last. On Sunday, 25th March it was reported to the RSPB Bowland Officer, Jude Lane, that two young men had called at a nearby farm ( why would they do this?)  to report that they had just disturbed an adult Eagle Owl and had discovered a nest containing one smashed egg from which the yolk was "still wet, having sunk into the material of the nest scrape " (sic). They seemed oblivious to the fact that, if this was the case, it was probably their own disturbance which had almost certainly resulted in her smashing the egg as she hastily departed the scene! They later reported, in an anonymously written letter sent to Mrs Chrissie Harper, that they had been searching for nesting Eagle Owls for some days before finally locating and flushing the incubating female from her nest. They had apparently collected and sent to Mrs Harper a fragment of eggshell ( presumably leaving the main eggshell remains in the scrape? ) plus what they described as " an unusually thick matted aggregation of Eagle Owl feathers, many of them soiled" for analysis. They theorised that, since the feathers had not been found within the nest scrape itself, or at a nest site, there was a suggestion that one of the adults may have been killed, then removed. However, a big question mark hangs over the description of events. having been notified of the men's report on 26th March Jude lane requested Mick Demain, the seasonal warden, to investigate the site to see if he could find any evidence of what might have occurred. Mick found the nest scrape to be empty, as reported, but the nest itself to be dry with no sign of shell fragments or Eagle Owl feathers, though a few wisps of dry down clung to the nest's interior. In his opinion what had occurred was simply a straightforward egg theft. While we have our suspicions regarding the motive for this, we cannot at this stage prove our theory, so reluctantly it will have to remain as conjecture for the time being. Frankly we were appalled at this set back and assumed that this was the end of the Eagle Owl story for 2012 especially when visits throughout the following days failed to locate any sign of the pair. It was therefore with a great sense of relief that on 30th March the new dark female and a calling male ( probably the usual breeder ) were relocated at a new site, which for obvious reasons we do not intend to disclose.

Because we were anxious not to cause the pair any further disturbance which would cause this marvellous area to be deserted completely, it was not until 19th May that we were able to confirm that the birds had continued breeding despite the trauma of losing their first egg(s). On that date a lone owlet was found at the estimated age of c.3-4 weeks old, strongly suggesting this was the product of a replacement or continuation clutch ( not unknown in this species). Given the unfortunate events leading up to this discovery we trust everyone will understand our decision not to report the success until the owlet had fledged successfully and was to the best of our ability out of danger from undue disturbance. We are glad we took this precaution for there is even better news to relate. On 3rd August it was discovered that in fact two owlets had fledged successfully, the second one having gone un-noticed until now owing to the difficult terrain and particularly dense vegetation cover which is so prevalent this year. This means that since the first successful breeding in 2007, no less than 15 Eagle Owlets  have fledged successfully on the United Utilities Estate, as follows;
2007 (3), 2008 (2), 2009 (1 ), 2010 (3 ), 2011 ( 4 ) and 2012 (2 ).
Most have been BTO ringed.

The World Owl Trust would like to place on record our appreciation of the landowners, United Utilities, the RSPB and its Area Managers and seasonal wardens ( Jude Lane and Mick Demain in 2012 ), Natural England, and , in particular, the two RSPB Voluntary Fieldworkers, Bill Hesketh and Bill Murphy. These two remarkable men ( both in their seventies ) are often on site well before pre-dawn and long into the night, frequently in seriously severe weather conditions which would deter much younger men. Without their dedication and vigilance we have little doubt that the Eagle Owl story in Bowland would be very different.

Written by Tony Warburton, MBE, Hon. President World Owl Trust and based on notes and other summarized information compiled by  Bill Hesketh.

Eagle Owls successful in Bowland! Stop Press!!

Well, despite all the disappointments, shameful politics and attempts to frustrate the breeding of Eagle Owls in Bowland this season, it's pleasing to report that a pair have actually been successful and have raised two young.

An announcement made by friend and colleague, Tony Warburton, MBE , on the World Owl Trust's web site  ( see , go to Reports and download the PDF file ) provides all the details and will hopefully be replicated in full on this site shortly.

In Bowland  2012 has been a season with endless frustrations and disappointments, clear opposition to the presence of the owls by some and their presence used as an excuse for wholly un-necessary remarks by others about the constituent bodies, and the workers involved. Truth will out and the news will be a cause for celebration by many.