Monday, November 3, 2014

Origin of visitors to this Blog.

Some readers  may have noticed the absence of the Clustrmap widget showing the origin of visitors to this site. Sadly I've had to cancel the facility as it repeatedly didn't load up properly and, despite best efforts, I couldn't rectify the problem. I even cancelled the necessary coding and tried to set the facility up anew , but was repeatedly reminded I was already registered.

Sad really as I found it really interesting given the map thumbnail showed the extent to which we all have worldwide connections with one another.  I'll try and find something similar, but felt a quick explanation was in order.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What IS going to happen to our environment?

I confess to being increasingly worried!!  With an election being held next year in May, with the main political parties and their initiatives being on a roller coaster of changing support and clarity, and their leaders' popularity ebbing and flowing, the status of our system appears to be in disarray, if not meltdown.

Add to this the clear indication, oft repeated and despite claims of an intention by the Tory Party to be the Greenest Government ever,  such was not the case and  environmental matters and concerns became increasingly way down on the political agenda. Indeed, one might have easily come to a conclusion that the Coalition Government  had little intention of affording any wide examination to a pressing array of countryside and subject based problems be it fracking, badgers or bees!!  With the role and prominence of Natural England, ( as the Government's advisory body on such matters), seemingly being degraded by the year, with a former Environment Secretary being in denial when climate change issues  emerged and whose attitudes towards the "Green lobby" was both antagonistic and downright rude, what conclusions are we to reach?  With the Chancellor of the Exchequer preaching that development should receive priority treatment come what may, whether this was in conflict with environmental concerns or not, are we right to conclude that not only has the Tory Party no empathy with our countryside, wildlife heritage and environmental issues but that it has no intention of giving such topics prominence either.  Not a position that bodes well for those subjects if they are successful in the forthcoming election in May,2015.

And what of the Liberal Democrats?  I suppose, through time, there has been a number of instances where the LibDems have demonstrated both concern and support for environmental matters, so should we view them as a continuing positive force? Well, in my opinion I'm afraid not given their current popularity ratings. I fear their forthcoming situation overall will see a massive dive into obscurity, no involvement in any position of influence and no accompanying leverage that might be of benefit on environmental matters. I feel rather sad at airing this view, but fear it represents a reality.

And then there's the Labour Party. With only seven months to the General Election and taking account of their current position, I suspect there will be such an over-riding need to reinvent themselves in order to survive, be it in Scotland or Westminster,  that "environment" will be a topic way down the list.  Indeed, there appears to be few really firm policies in place already, either as work in progress or referred to intentions, despite them engaging actively with debates in the Chamber involving such subjects.

And then there's UKIP.  Well I leave you to actually identify any meaningful environmental policies they might pursue if , indeed, they manage to succeed in their repeatedly declared mission of gaining a presence in Westminster. I get a firm impression this is not a series of subject areas in which they are interested and I neither hear nor see any displayed expertise in that regard.

All this causes me to reach an inevitable conclusion that, if all of us don't fight very hard to ensure our wildlife and countryside get a "look in" within the next session of Parliament, then both "quality and quantity" will spiral to an all time low level. It certainly gives me no satisfaction or pleasure to come to this conclusion, but all the obvious indicators suggest there is simply insufficient interest or willingness to engage with such topics in any meaningful way, certainly by any of the main Parties.  The NGO's appear strong on advice giving, but increasingly weak on campaigning for change. Attending endless meetings and advocating change is needed to secure improvements is not campaigning, but little more than offering polite comments within a continuing round of ineffective discussions. There needs to be a little more boat rocking I'm afraid!  RSPB, the County Trust movement and other bodies need to up their game more than a little as opposed to simply providing commentary as bystanders. We can all do that!  If you purport to protect the environment and its wildlife, claim to have a million members then do something with that clout for Heaven's sake!

Whilst I don't believe they will achieve any controlling position at Westminster in a single party sense, I have nonetheless joined the Green Party as at least they have a respectable list of policies which address environmental concerns, express a recognition of wildlife and countryside topics and appear to have some idea of how integrated action can attain benefit.  If they are successful in gaining an increased number of MP's to add to the efforts of the current representative, Caroline Lucas, whose efforts I judge to have been absolutely admirable, then at least we can feel assured environmental concerns will not be abandoned. You may feel personally that placing pressure on your  Party of choice might improve matters and I certainly wouldn't discourage such action. But action there has to be otherwise the future might be very bleak indeed.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Diversionary Feeding Survey.

On Thursday I helped in a monitoring survey associated with diversionary feeding, the first of several over the winter. Now you could be excused for thinking this might be an exercise connected to the Scottish Health Authority and an enquiry linked to such much vaunted delicacies as Scotch Pies, Fish Suppers and Deep fried Mars Bars, but you'd be way off the mark.  This was, in fact, a day monitoring various sites where alternative food sources are being provided for Greenland White-fronted Geese and "distraction treatments" are being trialled on grassland to attempt to persuade feeding geese to move elsewhere.

In the next few days I'll be Blogging on the more general subject area of geese on Islay. In essence we have a problem!  Each winter around 40,000 Barnacle Geese travel from Greenland and take up winter quarters on Islay, besides occurring in lesser numbers elsewhere in Scotland and in Ireland.  Their numbers have increased over the years and their predilection for feeding on grass pastures managed for cattle and sheep bring them into conflict with farmers.By contrast the numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese, now around 5000, have decreased such that their status is of increasing concern. Some interesting research is being completed by WWT ( I'll put out a Blog on that too! ) coupled with other efforts instituted by Scottish Natural Heritage. If you wish to be prepared for what is a complex subject area then here is a bit of homework for the weekend!!  The Management Strategy illustrated below can be found in entirety at the following link  Islay Goose Managemnent Strategy

Now I would ask to be treated gently in all this and the succeeding Blogs as the subject is a little complicated, not a little controversial and trying to present an informative summary in an appealing way to a largely lay audience is not the easiest task. However, we shall try!!

Today saw us looking at a series of diversionary feeding sites that have voluntarily been set aside by farmers and sown with a variety of crops that, hopefully, over the winter will prove attractive to geese, particularly Greenland White-fronted Geese.. Crops included fodder beet ( which will also ultimately provide food for sheep ), oats and turnips ( which are actually swede but called turnips in Scotland ). I'm told that one variety of turnip is possibly viewed as being too bitter by the geese, so enter the complication of palatability, not a difficulty one might have automatically arrived at!  It was also useful to see the different uptake of different sowings and the clear natural hurdles that are present and affect farming practice. Given the majority of geese haven't yet arrived the usage of these areas was patchy, but provided a useful set of control observations against which subsequent observations can be judged.  One field being managed was absolutely alive with birds other than geese...... larks, finches and buntings (20+ Yellowhammers ), some thrushes, corvids and a hunting male Hen Harrier up for a meal.  Is this each farm, single small field, winter feeding approach possibly a less complicated way worthy of subsidising generally compared to other options available aimed at supporting farmland birds?  Two other sites carried numbers of Twite in addition to other passerines. Clearly, already, the approach is generating results, questions and possibly solutions for the future. Certainly a couple of sites had already been discovered by geese and were obviously being successful in their role!

Another aspect we looked at were the results arising from the use of additives ( in fertiliser treatments) that are potentially off putting to the geese, back to palatability again! These have only just been completed so the results will emerge later on in the winter.

The whole question of goose management on Islay is laced with passionate convictions from differing factions of opinion and I'll be outlining some of the factors involved shortly.  Whatever one's position, it is becoming increasingly apparent that, in many places, we just have to routinely develop management solutions to upcoming problems, be they derived  from conflicts with farming, access, visitor numbers, built development, the sustainable development of energy sources and so on.  In that context seeking out a solution on Islay to what is an apparent conflict between farming and geese is simply one that is also mirrored elsewhere or is in the process of development.  In reality, and we must view it in that context, the solutions adopted finally on Islay are extremely important as they might usefully provide a way forward where problems of a similar nature are being experienced in other places be it in Orkney ( with Grey lag Geese ) or the Uists. In that sense, solutions must take account of the accumulative effects of any measures adopted,  as currently the holistic effects on the overall populations of various species don't appear to be figuring very prominently. Strategies are limited to areas of , shall we say, more parochial interest. Perhaps the Scottish Government ought to be considering an over-arching goose management strategy for Scotland that takes account of its international responsibilities and the effects any proposed solutions might have on the collective population levels of different species.  I'm sure such work will have been completed and exist somewhere against which any recommendations for action on Islay can then be viewed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Whopping Day for Whoopers!! 28.10.2014

Finally, it seemed, we were to get a break in the successive days of poor weather and receive something more decent. Not only was the weather fine, with light winds throughout, but the warmth of the afternoon sun  was something to take advantage of !  Such "windows of opportunity" are quickly identified and exploited by birds and such proved to be the case with birds from Iceland clearly on the move.

Shortly after dawn I was outside, at home, and heard an intriguing combination of distant calls progressing towards me down the valley from the north.  Eventually they separated and proved to be two skeins, one of 10 Whooper Swans and the other of 30 Pink-footed Geese. What a magnificent sight as they passed closely overhead with the bugling and "wink wink" calls now clearly distinct. Both continued southwards doubtless towards Ireland or the Solway Firth/ NW England.

I'd arranged to meet up at RSPB Gruinart with Geoff Carr up here on holiday with family. It was a good choice as the area was heaving with birds. Whilst we were there a total in excess of 100 Whooper Swans arrived in varying sized groups, with some staying and resting or feeding out on the loch, but with others flying straight through. I'd seen others on my journey up to Gruinart with different groups seen on my way back too. Reports from the west of Islay suggested a succession of groups had moved through to Ireland and, although counts weren't available, there appeared every possibility that 300-400 birds had been involved throughout the day. I love Whooper days!

Besides catching up on gossip from South Yorkshire, discussing the woeful situation arising out of increased persecution of raptors in the Peak District and similar topics , we had some good birding too.  Geese were all around with some extremely confiding Barnacle Geese from the "New Hide". Grey lag Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese were there too, with us having the benefit of an update on the latter from Ed. Burrell ( WWT ) who's back on the island for the winter to continue his research. On a couple of occasions we had an obliging White-tailed Eagle move languidly down the loch, creating absolute panic and havoc in its wake amongst the assembled geese. At intervals too the assemblage of Golden Plovers took flight and parties of Common Snipe moved around providing a dynamic, ever-changing scene.

We looked in vain for Green-winged Teal amongst the throng of duck out on the reserve lagoons, but the light wasn't very kind ( too direct and too intense...although we shouldn't complain! ). Later we tried similarly to see if the Lesser Scaup was still around on Ardnave Loch, but again without success. A female Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Mute Swans and, guess what, more Whooper Swans were present and Chough called around us as we took a late lunch.

And so, as I eventually wound my way southwards down the Rinns, the various groups of Whooper Swans seen at the onset of the day had mostly gone.  A couple of parties of Redwing were present, feeding up voraciously and no doubt preparing for the next leg of their own journey.  A good day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reflections on Hurricane Gonzalo.

After a number of weeks away I'm back "on base" ....and what a welcome!  Hurricane Gonzalo ensured last night was more than a little stormy, noisy and disruptive.  But , in between....

After a period of being on the move I then spent a couple of weeks based near Spurn Bird Observatory.  But, first of all, let me give you details of where!  Based at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, is Westmere Farm, Kilnsea ( see ) where Sue and Andrew Wells provide bed and breakfast facilities ( and evening meals by arrangement ).  A working farm, there can be no warmer welcome than at Westmere .Whilst George Clooney opted for a 7Star Hotel for his honeymoon, I opted for Westmere and feel I got the better service. If you wish to stay near Spurn then look no further!!  And, to boot, Westmere is the base out of which the Spurn Bird Festival operates so if you wish to have assured accommodation , then book now for the future!!!

So what did Spurn deliver? Well, I had a great time. I suppose the late 1950's and 1960's saw me spending quite a lot of time there and being introduced to real birding by real birders.....John Cudworth, Charlie Winn, George Edwards and many others whose names I've forgotten.  A return visit was a joy, but a sentimental journey too. I suppose my best personal contribution was finding a Lesser Grey Shrike ( 1958) and, in associated days a Spoonbill , which sparked off a discussion with Ralph Chislett, the indomitable County recorder,despite a photograph of  a species now increasingly part of our avifauna, even as a  breeding species.

This stay was no exception.  Whilst I'd missed a couple of weeks within which Spurn had recorded half the Western Palaearctic list , or so it seemed from the distance of patrolling things via a pager!!  However, I couldn't grumble. A Masked Shrike, 3rd for Britain, Barred Warbler, Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Richard's Pipit, Black Redstart, Pomarine Skua, Little complaints at that . I missed a Little Bunting and Common Rosefinch.

Later there were two days when duck and goose passage much exceeded  those records previously established. On the first day I was "camped out" near Easington to the north and thoroughly enjoyed a ten hour seawatch despite being cramped in a car. Ducks and geese flying tight in to the coast, even over the beach, was a tremendous experience supplemented by southward moving waders, Red-throated Divers and terns. A great day! And next day was just as good, although I'd to extract the car  in a somewhat right angled condition after so many hours of dedicated observation !!!!

And then back to Islay. At Claddach Bay this morning the wind backed rollers moved incessantly towards the coast in a never ending succession creating a seething cauldron of white frothing water within the bay, replenished by huge rolling banks of water whose white tops were swept away by the wind. I actually saw Shags attempting to take off and being swept through 180 degrees and deposited roughly within adjacent waters! Some managed to gain height , but could make no progress!  The exception was Gannets, a number of adults of which still, despite the conditions, managed to fight their way northwards.  Precious little was in evidence within a full two hours until a young immature Long-tailed Skua swept through southwards on the wind, turned, held in the wind, before moving on. A real bonus followed, sadly, by little else despite high hopes. It would have been easy to miss birds further out, although a fog bank limited distant observations, but the vigil had been worthwhile extended further by finding a group of 12 + Purple Sandpipers in a nearby bay.  Not a bad return!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Birding Frontiers Challenge Series........ Autumn.

This is the first in a series that I hope just goes on and on!!   As the assertion on the rear cover of the book states

"We live in a new era of discovery"


I'm not going to indulge in a blow by blow account dealing with presentation style, detailed content and so forth and all the accompanying detail which usually comprises a "review".  Simply put, this is a very professionally produced publication with excellent illustrations by Ray Scally, wonderful photographs and clear accompanying text.  It's also, quite uniquely in many ways, a "team effort" as Martin Garner generously explains.  The 18 chapters deal with groups or pairs of species which can , in themselves, pose tricky ID challenges. The book addresses each in turn in a systematic, clear way using a combination of photographs, illustrations and descriptive text , all presented to a high level of quality.

Now, that's it!    I shall say no more other than that all birders should have a copy  ( see ). If you can't read through this at first and subsequent sittings and not learn something ( in fact, quite a lot ) I'd be very,very surprised. It's that good, order it today!!

Just to emphasize a point, two actually, as the following in no way detracts from the joy of reading this book , its quality or information.  It simply serves to show how much we are at the cutting edge of change, and in an era of discovery, and how things are, quite actively, open to interpretation.  Having absorbed the various details in Martin Garner's book about Cabot's Tern I then discovered that in the book I'd just written about previously

( HBW and BirdLife International's Illustrated Checklist of Birds of the World Vol.1 Non-passerines ), the authors  ( or should I blame the Tobias criteria ?)  had lumped the two species!!  

An era of change and discovery indeed. 

HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 : Non-passerines

Within the last few days I've received my copy of the above new Checklist. What a tour de force !  But what a challenge too.

Devising a "new" checklist must be no mean undertaking. The authors need to determine their position on a whole range of taxonomic issues, explain the approach being taken and then present the results in a cogent and consistent form. All such is a painstaking process with a need to transport the reader ( and lister! ) through every step of the way, convince them and, in so doing, justify every new approach being taken. Well, this certainly appears to have been the case, and to have succeeded, as far as Volume 1 ( Non-passerines) of this new Checklist is concerned. A detailed and lengthy introduction addresses all the above before the "new" approach is revealed, "the Tobias criteria",  upon which the taxonomic approach selected and contents rest.  Simply put, these criteria employ five types of taxonomic character   ( biometrics, acoustics, plumage and bare parts, ecology and behaviour and geographical relationship )  against which a scoring system is applied. Any taxon scoring over a certain points total then qualifies for species status.

The approach does not, quite remarkably, given initiatives in recent years, include any DNA associated justifications for which the authors provide a well argued case. Some will find this absence of genetic analysis rather strange and it could well be that it represents the most " independent departure" and unique element in the approach the book takes and upon which its contents are based. The introductory, explanatory sections represent a worthwhile standpoint of their own in my view, given the exhaustive and incremental approach taken, whatever one's eventual and personal position results from their reading!

The main part of the book comprises double page format (text on the left and illustrations and incorporated distribution maps on the right ).

As we have come to expect , following the publication of HBW, the layout, quality of presentation and concise nature of the text are first class.  I certainly welcome the introduction of distribution maps and was completely bowled over by the key information being provided, so much so that I lost two hours above what was intended as a cursory examination!!

It is intended that there will be regular updates, an undertaking which has already been given by the authors, besides the publication of Volume 2 being in 2016.  There will be a link with "HBW Alive" and fieldworkers are encouraged to participate in a forum wherein the submission of new information and queries will be encouraged.  Altogether a new approach in so many ways associated with what may yet be described  as "the new definitive taxonomy".  A huge challenge indeed, but looking at my HBW volumes and thinking, "How on earth did they ever achieve all that", I have no doubt that , as before, such hurdles will be overcome.

Anyone who has a serious interest in birds should have a copy of this publication, whatever the cost (£159) and whatever your position might be relating to its contents!!  It is ground-breaking and different,  but worth it for the hours of reflection and enjoyment you'll gain from poring over its contents, in addition to the information you'll glean relating to the initial query you pursued. Well done Del Hoyo and Collar !!

Heralds of autumn. 17.9.2014.

Yet another day of high pressure, blue skies and warm sunshine. I've a feeling the next comments might just be about a need for rain though!!!  Sadly, the above conditions, linked with (still) an easterly wind meant that sea watching was somewhat unproductive. Adult Gannets plied back and forth but no other passage was in evidence despite a rather flat sea and good visibility.

Outer Loch Indaal was almost devoid of birds too, but the Inner Loch made up for things with a couple of groups of Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter, Eiders and a few auks.  The biggest change was the presence of almost 300 Wigeon at the very head of the loch, which is a sure indication autumn is upon us. Waders too are in better numbers with Oystercatcher, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit  being prevalent amongst equally large numbers of gulls. A low tide, haze and distant views made identification of a tantalising group of godwits impossible. They might well have been islandica Black-tailed Godwits ( a little late? ) but remained an unresolved challenge and a distant, shimmering image in the warm afternoon air.

Grey lag Geese were much in evidence today at both Bridgend and Loch Gorm, but I'll feature these in a separate Blog at some point. Other than the geese almost 100 Tufted Duck were on Loch Gorm, a family of Mute Swan, but little else. The weather conditions must be assisting the passage of night migrants, both of departing birds and those arriving with us or even passing through. Circumstances change from day to day and provide the very essence of what birdwatching is about.  At three separate locations single Greenland Wheatears were present and a patient examination of the various alba wagtails around showed one or two good "Whites" to be present.

Whilst Swallows were seen at a number of locations, the numbers are now depleted, as are the mixed finch flocks which could be seen previously at a couple of places. Moved on the pastures new?  Certainly the autumn song of Robins is now in evidence, a good proportion of which will be incoming birds as we don't carry that high a population. With much of the harvest now gathered in our attention can turn to the stubble fields which remain. One of the real pleasures I hold for this time of year is to see the inevitable Skylarks, there's usually at least two together (!), indulging in that yo-yo flighting over the newly cut fields whilst calling all the while. So, change is at hand, the next major phase of which will be the arrival of the geese......

Monday, September 15, 2014

Migration between the islands.

One of the things which has intrigued me since moving to Scotland has been not only the sea passage past the west coast of Islay, which is both considerable and extremely interesting, but also the passage which takes place in the Sounds between islands , notably the Sound of Islay and the Sound of Jura.

Periodically I've stationed myself strategically at points overlooking the Sounds and been quite amazed at the amount of passage, and the variety of species, which are "on the move" between the islands. It's well worth more concerted attention, but sometimes it can be a little slow, tedious even , or even bordering on the non existent. Such was the situation today!!

A few Wigeon, a few auks and  a Red-breasted Merganser moving south ........ and that was it!!   It's not always been the case.  Terns, Kittiwakes, auks of various species, various waders,and Manx Shearwaters are all possible in a single season plus notable individual records. For me these have included Crossbill , Lapland Bunting, Little Auk, besides migrating duck, swans and geese, odd skuas,  raptors, hirundines, and Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, all of which provide an exciting mix of totally unexpected occurrences.  It's certainly something which deserves more attention, but can demand patience and the need to ignore particularly non-productive and depressing days!!!   A colleague had Great White Egret, but local Golden Eagle and White-tailed Eagle are always possible and raise the spirits. Try it!!

I had a great conversation with a visiting birder today who, on finding that I had an interest in the passage of Whimbrel, which can occur in Spring across Islay, regaled me with details of mixed flocks of Curlew and Whimbrel he'd had in recent days. Well, I have to say that the main passage of Whimbrel in autumn follows an easterly path past the UK, a total contra to Spring. Of course we can get the odd bird , but mixed flocks...   The Spring passage can also be moved westwards in times of strong easterly winds that sees Ireland receiving more birds.  More importantly ( I didn't tell him ) is that flocks of Curlew in autumn can include female birds ( longer bills than males ), male birds and also immature birds whose bills might still be even shorter and developing. Don't fall in to the short bill equals Whimbrel trap!!!  All fascinating stuff.  Take a look at the BTO Migration Atlas and end up wondering where the evening went as you move from species to species and embrace the wonderment of migration!!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflections on a Barn Owl neighbour!

I've been away for some quite lengthy intervals this year. When I returned after being on the Uists this May I discovered that a Barn Owl had taken up residence in the barn across the yard from the house.  I've seen Barn Owls in the vicinity of the house before, but never had any, to my knowledge, remain for any length of time.

My first real knowledge of a bird being around was hearing screaming at night at the front of the house at 1 o'clock in the morning. It went on a bit and then receded. On a quite unrelated basis I went in the barn next day and, to my pleasant surprise,  found a number of pellets strewn around the floor. From then on, and on a regular basis, I was awoken quite regularly on following nights by a bird screaming outside, usually at some point between 0100 and 0300 hours.   You see Barn Owls very rarely in daylight on Islay and the activity suggested a possible late emergence and  return shortly before dawn.  I also worked out that the bird was very probably sitting atop an orb-like structure on the apex of the small porch at the front of the house, the relevance of this being that it's only about 7-8m from me lying in bed!!!!  No wonder the screaming sounded loud and intense.  Sometimes the calls receded gradually as the bird presumably flew off.   Last winter a regular breeding site in a ruined building across the other side of the valley partially blew down. I wondered if this was one of the displaced birds and whether it was attempting to attract a mate.

The barn provides an ideal place in which a pair might breed. When it was renovated several years ago nest boxes were installed inside in the hope of providing a facility for Chough. They have never done so.

A bit ornate I agree, but possibly great for Barn Owls, despite the entrance being less than auspicious!!

Sadly my new neighbour hasn't attracted a mate, but continues to use the barn. It often sits on one of the central spars and quickly retires to the confines of the nestbox if disturbed ( and usually scares you to death in the process). If it is "in residence" it sometimes calls within the barn previous to darkness falling ( and its early departure?).  The calls resonate around the barn and even outside it's all a pretty eerie experience!

I have to say, ladies, that I'm convinced the bird is a male given the untidy living conditions!!

But how many people have got a Barn Owl just across the yard?

Vultures face continuing crisis.

For those of you who keep in touch with the various press releases of international conservation organizations you'll no doubt have seen the concerns being expressed in recent times about the catastrophic crashes within the populations of vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal. These have crashed by a mind boggling 99%!!  Birdlife International is in the forefront of promoting these concerns and it is up to us to provide all the support we can to accompany their efforts.

At the present time the vulture family is one of the most threatened on our Planet!

So what is responsible for this unprecedented change?  A drug used for veterinary purposes in treating cattle has been shown to be the culprit. From memory I also seem to recollect that this same treatment has been used in Africa with the same accompanying results. Now this means that we are faced with the equivalent of a pandemic effect on our vulture species, at least as far as I am concerned, as the drug is now been shown to be available in at least two European countries.

Now, sadly, I'm old enough to recollect the effects of DDT and similar on our bird populations and, particularly, on birds of prey. That recollection spreads also to the first time around reading of the original "Silent Spring" ( with all due deference to Conor Jameson ! ) and the disclosures and warnings that the book contained. Ground breaking research on Peregrine productivity, egg shell thinning, behavioural changes in female birds and much else finally brought about the banning in the use of such chemicals in the UK  I can attest to the fact that, at that time,  Kestrels even became a rare bird to see locally such was the universal effects and usage of the chemicals concerned.  That must not happen again. Now is the time to act!

So, as well as lending support to the various petitions and other actions which are being raised, I must also draw attention to the following. The whole business of the seeming side effects of Diclofenac have been murmured about for some time and now find specific disclosure in various press releases and research findings.  Clearly, in the "open" environment, the dosage levels and retained traces within carcases fed upon by the birds are seemingly sufficient enough to cause eventual death after accumulation, a straight facsimile of the situation outlined in the above book.  But what of things closer to home?

By sheer chance I discovered that a treatment I had willingly adopted myself for pain I was/am experiencing within the tendons in my right wrist contained Diclofenac. In fact the very ingredient was mentioned in a TV advert. The gel is openly available at all the usual outlets and is effective, admittedly,  in relieving pain caused by inflammation, the very same condition being treated in cattle.

Now, I'm not suggesting human users are under any kind of threat, far from it. It just occurs to me, as a lay person, that if correct levels of dosage can be calculated such that humans can be treated with the drug safely, then surely similar levels can be calculated for cattle treatment that ensure , whatever circumstances then ensue, there are no threats to wildlife involved in the potential food chain thereafter. If there are, then surely the first action should be to suspend the availability of the treatment until such time as a finely balanced usage can emerge or that the treatment is withdrawn altogether if the side effects persist.

To avoid such action is folly given the lessons of the past. It's up to us to seek responsible usage of such chemicals if we feel there is a problem and to campaign accordingly.

Grouse moor licencing may still be an option to pursue.

A month ago the "Inglorious Twelfth" came and went amidst a welter of publicity surrounding the Hen Harrier Action Days.  Since then the Government's response to Mark Avery's E-petition, which promoted the banning of driven shooting on grouse moors,  has been issued. This response was both as pathetic and obtuse as was the previous one referring to the E-petition I had raised suggesting grouse moors ought to be licensed. This aimed at a provision whereby any departure securing prosecution from operating in an entirely lawful way would then result in the licence to operate being withdrawn by a court . It is now abundantly clear where the present Government's sentiments lie as far as the shooting industry is concerned. In  a variety of ways it now seems likely that imminent attempts to secure even some formal debate on a ban on driven grouse shooting will not succeed.  To that extent any future strategy aimed at altering the "status" of grouse moors needs to reflect that position. Whatever effort is put into bringing about change, it is not going to happen before next May, a mere seven months away.. We must now prepare to aim at achieving such change within the next session of Parliament. A different ruling Party perhaps, and different participants, all hold the potential for change and we have to use that opportunity.

There is, of course, a major weakness in the current Government's position.  Reports of raptor persecution still continue to come forward. While ever that situation continues the opportunity is present to hold the Government to task and point out that the status quo is just not working. Clearly current legislation is insufficiently effective enough to act as a deterrent and other means must be found to address the whole subject matter of raptor persecution, particularly to ensure that the deep seated prejudice against Hen Harriers must be countered.

I've read carefully the RSPB Chairman's statement on Mark Avery's Blog relating to the Society's position on raptor persecution, upland management and Hen Harrier protection and find there is much within it that I find acceptable. Similarly, Stuart Housden's excellent Guest Blog on Martin Harper's site ( see RSPB blog site ) addressed similar points, all of which are welcome after a rather bewildering period of public dormancy by the Society.  It is good to now see a framework of initiatives and policies that they are to  follow.

Whatever is being said elsewhere I don't believe that regulation of grouse moors, via licencing, should be written off completely. It's far too early to do that and to do so would be foolhardy in my view. I honestly believe that, as a first step in bringing about change, it has potential.  I do acknowledge the well made point that time is of the essence and that dramatic action is required, but feel some "intermediate step" now needs to be campaigned for. It's more than clear where Government's sympathies lie and the sort of proposal that would attract a salvo of outright and organized opposition, a political "thin red line" , is not going to succeed at this point !!

When first I considered the licencing issue, and registered the E-petition in early 2013, I viewed it as a single initiative operating within an official regulatory framework following the abysmal failure by the shooting industry to consider any form of self regulation. Indeed their collective silence on the matter might have been taken as tacit approval to the continuing levels of raptor persecution. An imperfect solution? Maybe, but aimed at bringing about a change that would only affect those who sought to break the law.  Suggestions by some that such a system and its application would result progressively in prolonged debate and legal opposition is wrong as far as I'm concerned. The undoubted organized opposition would arise at the parliamentary stages, as it would with any other similar proposals and, in my view, would be considerably less than the entrenched opposition that would result in the face of a call for a complete ban on driven grouse shooting.  I suspect that licencing might be seen by some politicians as assuaging the public's concerns and be far less of a hassle to promote.  Supposing support for licencing emerged, such accreditation would be issued to each operating grouse moor and it would only be in the case of a successful prosecution for raptor persecution that the license would be automatically withdrawn. For those operating within the law there would be no discernible change to current activities!  I believed it to be a "one off" potential solution and , for that matter, deliberately did not seek to include any mention of additional provisions aimed at habitat management or retention of water quality. I've an awful feeling that an attempt to build in too much to a proposal can be its downfall. Keep it simple in its focus, as opposed to it being a catch all !

Now we can all debate the pro's and cons of alternative suggestions until the cows come home. What is the most important aspect is that we all continue to fight together to achieve change, a cessation to raptor persecution and a dramatic improvement in the breeding status and distribution of the Hen Harrier in England. I no longer believe in the potential influence or strength of the E-petition system as far as this collective topic is concerned and feel we need to look to other solutions. Despite the admirable efforts of Charlie Moores, Mark Avery and others the "constituency" of politically active birders and supporters has not grown to immense proportions. That there are more people in sympathy is in no doubt, that there are people who are willing to make known their personal support for such issues publicly is equally without doubt, but the combined total of such support is still low compared to what is needed to secure change.  Doubtless this view this will offend some, which is unfortunate, but we have to face facts. We need , in the run up to the General Election in May, 2015,  to consider alternative initiatives.  Support for the RSPB's call for licencing is a small step everyone can take. Actively calling on Parliamentary candidates for support against raptor persecution, if they get elected, is another straight forward action.  But more is needed , far more!!  I somehow guess that the subject will occupy my thoughts and those of many others as much within the next few months, as has the situation in the past few weeks following the Government's latest partisan response to the E-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Raptor you still need convincing?

Recently I received my copy of  Legal Eagle, the RSPB's Investigation Team's Newsletter. It's not a new concept, indeed this is Issue number 73 and one might be led to consider how many persecution incidents have been reported on over the series!!!

As might be imagined the recent incident on the Black Isle, near Inverness where sixteen (16 ) Red Kites and six (6) Buzzards carcasses were found on a single farm is covered in detail. Those examined so far were found to have been poisoned.  Other instances of raptors being killed are cited and an accompanying heading simply states, " The biggest threat to birds of prey in Scotland remains the systematic illegal areas managed for driven grouse shooting".  The latter, I would remind you, is a statement referring to a whole country, NOT an isolated incident such as the above.

I would recommend anyone to read the publication as issues usually cover a much wider spectrum of interest than birds. However, it is the continuing reportage of bird related incidents that I'd wish to dwell on.  One of the prominent articles is entitled, "Raptors suffer yet more persecution in Peak District".  The article refers to a Buzzard being found near Winscar, near Penistone with a spring trap still attached to its leg.

I lived nearby to Winscar for many years and know the area well. It's not the first time that activities like this have been investigated.  But for those whose geographical knowledge of the area is a bit hazy, the most salient point is that the above area is not that far away from where the Hen Harrier Action Day took place last Sunday. Nor is the latter location far from where another persecution incident reported on in the same article took place. This involved a female Goshawk found with broken legs, a sure sign of trapping having taken place. Whilst some would seek to convince that such incidents are isolated, then I would seek to assure you that activities like that are widespread, too widespread. Reported incidents in the press and elsewhere continue to provide more than ample evidence to support that view.

There is a problem, an embarrassing problem, that the shooting industry is doing its utmost to deny. Indeed, not only is there no admission that elements within its own ranks are responsible for such incidents , but that the industry is in itself in a state of denial that it has any connection with such persecution despite prosecutions coming forward on a regular basis.

Is there a need for more proof before change is enacted or are we prepared to allow even more of our raptors to suffer such depredations?

Beyond the Glorious (?) Twelfth.

Given the proclaimed hallowed day has now passed, what now I ask?  In the run-up to the Hen Harrier Action Days the predicted media statements from those associated with the shooting fraternity  racked up in intensity.  Some of this was utter drivel ( How can you predict that Hen Harriers will be the cause of the Lapwing's demise ), some , as might have been predicted, praised gamekeepers as being the saviours of virtually everything that lives outside of our towns and cities, including their profession being a vital element in the rural economy. Indeed , this much maligned sector of our Society was held by some to be the " real conservationists".   I'm not sure raptor persecution statistics accord with that interpretation ! And, of course, there was that well developed technique employed of diverting attention away from the core aspects of the overall issue and blaming someone else for the perceived problem and uproar, be it DEFRA or the RSPB.

We are likely to hear much from the shooting lobby that conservationists are calling for change and yet being unwilling to co-operate. This refers largely to the Hen Harrier Recovery Action Plan, developed within the DEFRA group of combined interests, elements of which are being heavily promoted by the shooting interests within the group, but which the RSPB is currently unwilling to "sign off" as it's uneasy about some of the contents. That the shooting lobby has raised an E-petition calling for DEFRA to publish the report anyway is a somewhat desperate measure in my view, but I suspect the latter will meet sufficient bureaucratic headwinds to ensure no progress is made. All this is little more than, when you're not getting your own way, you simply shout loud and blame everybody else, the intention being to draw fire away from the real issues being examined.

Undoubtedly the main topic of conversation over dinner for some for the next few weeks, following  a day's shooting, will be these "accursed conservationists who are championing Hen Harriers and what should be done about the problem". Whisky and port consumption will benefit and entrenched opposition will no doubt be agreed upon.  [ rumour has it that Uncle Hubert is calling for a "Hen Harrier Harrumphing Day", but such needs to be confirmed !].

So, we can expect much more of the rhetoric, no open admissions that this sector of Society has been the sole element responsible for the demise of harriers in England and parts of Scotland, no assurances that persecution will cease and no real expressed intention of being willing to co-operate with anything that really involves a collective effort. Oh yes, there's the idea of retrieving eggs , hatching them and then releasing the youngsters in areas far away from the treasured haunts of grouse, a suggestion that I'm afraid I don't buy into as I seriously doubt it contains one shred of sincerity other than a resolve to deflect the issue.  I'm prone to ask what the reaction might be if, or should it be when, one of those birds strays northwards and takes up residence on a grouse moor?  Such would be bound to happen if the population was ever to achieve its potential status in England?  Would attitudes have changed given the event had sprung from an initiative so vigorously promoted by the shooting lobby?

While ever the arguments range back and forth, no real progress will be made.  As yet no detailed reaction has arisen, at least that I've seen,  relating to the current E-petition calling for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting. That the shooting interests remain unwilling to discuss the fundamental aspects surrounding the collective subject of raptor persecution, upland management and their future acceptance of Hen Harriers as a legitimate part of out national, natural heritage, then pressure must remain in place.  If you examine their outpourings then nothing really is being offered, no real concessions proposed.  What they remain oblivious to is that their repeated entrenchment will eventually lead to far more stringent changes being called for, such as the abolition of upland shooting and a call being made for land reform. Maybe not in my lifetime, but much has and is changing in terms of how an ever growing, urban based part of the electorate see the countryside. Privilege and past awards for good deeds to the Monarch, resulting in great swathes of land being offered into the hands of an absolute minority, might count for nothing in future times.

But for the present we need to achieve change via our more immediately available parliamentary process!! In
 turn, this means that if you haven't already signed  Mark Avery's E-petition , now is the time to do so and, more importantly, to promote it far and wide. Use the link below to access the Government site

Ah!  Sadly, I have to advise that my DNS server facility is not allowing direct access to the link at the present time.  So, simply key in the following

Many thanks.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Waterbirds in the UK 2012/13.

The above report arrived yesterday and holds a fascinating array of articles associated with waterbirds. As usual it is produced to a high quality, contains some fine photographs and is packed full of information.

Access to this and much , much more can be obtained from and copies can be downloaded from site. Each page or double page holds an account of a particular species or an aspect of waterbird monitoring plus there is a more extended treatment on the current contribution that gravel pits play in terms of "hosting" waterbirds. But there's more, much more and it certainly is deserving of anyone's time if they have an interest in waterbirds.

Whilst I'm not going to undermine its appeal by revealing full details of its total contents there's some pretty impactive conclusions set out which are derived from the WeBS Count data.

  • Shelduck index dropped to its lowest level for forty years
  • an August count of 127 Garganey at the Ouse Washes was unprecedented
  • the winter population of Great Crested Grebe has declined by 25% in ten years
  • Little Grebe has also shown marked short term declines 
  • Gadwall has tripled its population in 25 years
  • numbers of Redshank are at their lowest point for 30 years
And so it goes on.   "Pink-footed Geese....have there numbers stopped increasing ?"  " Non-native waterbirds in the UK" and even a short piece, which I found quite fascinating, entitled "The Arctic Breeding Season". So, whatever your personal interest is with waterbirds , please take a look and remember that on the " WeBs reporting" section of the website there's a lot more data and information ranging from Species Trends, Site Tables for all Species and WeBS Alerts.

Well done to BTO and the supporting partners for WeBS, the JNCC, RSPB and WWT !!  

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Atlas of Dragonflies in Britain and Ireland.

This recently published Atlas is an absolute tour de force !  The British Dragonfly Society and the Biological Records Centre deserve the congratulations of everyone with an interest in dragonflies for their publication of such a splendid and inspiring volume.

There has been very many other agencies along the way who have supported the initial work, the production process and the funding of the whole venture. To you all , many thanks also.

Within the introductory chapters there is a fascinating array of material including "Environmental factors influencing dragonfly distribution", "Dragonfly habitats", "Recording and data collection", "Mapping the data,species richness and recording intensity", "Trends in the status of dragonflies in Britain and Ireland since 1980", and "Phenology".  Following these are the Species Accounts, which usually include  first class photographs of the individual species and its habitat together with details of its flight period and a well sized distribution map.

I found the latter absolutely fascinating as they are all of a size to make the interpretation of a stable population, recent gain or recent loss easily discernible. As might be expected the "introductory" photograph for each species is probably the best that is available which, in each case, was an absolute delight.  The Atlas includes details of rare vagrants as well as our more established populations and is a pleasure to simply keep delving into. What I hope it achieves is for more people to become interested, including me as I have to admit dragonflies are peripheral to my greater obsession with birds. Looking at the Atlas and concluding that, perhaps, a particular species might also occur in a nearby area for which there are no records, and then getting out there and proving the point will be an ultimate "reward" to the authors who have clearly worked tremendously hard to produce a book of such quality. Might Northern Emerald occur on Jura or Islay I ask myself ? Well, we'll never know unless someone  looks, which is the effect the publication has had on me and one that I hope is a more widely held sentiment that results in even more dragonfly records being generated.

Whatever your obsession within natural history this is a book which should be on your shelf !  Further details can be seen at

Hen Harrier Action Day 10th August.......well done to all !!

Yesterday was a dreadful day on which to try and make a mark on anything!  Well, thankfully, a particular "mark ( Mark Avery) did just that despite the conditions, ably assisted by Chris Packham, on a day that did its best to put a damper on things. What am I referring to?  Well, the Hen Harrier Action Days of course.

I have to say that I spent a frustrating day wondering how things were progressing and feeling a bit of a fraud at not being able to be there  ( however, I have to say the outcome of the personal medical appointment which prevented that on Friday came out good !! ). For once the weather on Islay was wet, but not that bad, and I kept hoping that conditions elsewhere were similar. They weren't , they were awful apparently, but not sufficiently bad enough to put people off. Around 570 attended the event in Derwentdale in the Peak District and 100 in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire ( I haven't figures for the Northumberland event organized by Alan Tilmouth ).  Good news too that the E-petition raised by Mark Avery calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting has now received over 13,000 signatures.

Most remarkable of all was to know that the "Thunderclap" message many of us subscribed to went out across the world on time and reached an estimated 2.3 million people.  Unbelievable!! And there I was, crouched over the computer from ten o'clock onwards like some kid, waiting for the confirmation to come through !!!

Various commentators, Bloggers and others have mentioned recently that the mood has changed and that more and more people are calling for the shooting industry, and grouse shooting in particular, to be better regulated.  Given that Barry Gardiner MP , Shadow Environment Minister was at the Derwent event yesterday  ( good for him ! ) the central message will most certainly get back to Parliament.

The need for that central message to be kept alive and circulated further is now essential.  I'm sure it will as more and more people are becoming  aware of the circumstances that have caused our harrier population in the UK to be decimated.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reflections in advance of the Hen Harrier Action Days on the 10th August!.

Sadly I am unable to attend any of the Hen Harrier Action Days due to commitments here on Islay. I'd E-mailed and spoken to one or another of the local organizers of the protests and had intended to send messages of support to each.  I'm firmly convinced that all of the occasions will be successful and do much to promote the dreadful situation involved with the continuing persecution of our birds of prey.  I then thought, why simply send on a message of support when putting something out on the Web has the potential to reach many more people and advertise the events further at the same time. And so, the following......

The event in the Peak Park is not very far from where I lived and worked for many years, until moving here in 1999, and where I had enjoyed birdwatching for many more. Conflicts with raptors were always a prominent issue over the whole of the area, to which was added the pressures arising from egg collecting too. Even in the latest edition of the RSPB's newsletter, LEGAL EAGLE, there is an article referring to raptors suffering more persecution in the Peak National Park  Occasional nesting attempts over the years by Hen Harrier never really expanded such that they might be an expected presence annually and the breeding Goshawk population, against which so much protective effort was placed, is now a mere shadow of what it was in the 1980's.  And why, certainly the latter species was targeted by egg collectors and falconers, but there was outright persecution too.  The point being that this is not a new phenomenon , but one that has gone on for years and years. Sadly, for species like the Hen Harrier, those illegal efforts at containment have now seen the English breeding population at an all time low.  It has to stop and that is the core message of the action days!!

If any inspiration is needed then take heart that other radical initiatives have seen their nascence in the area within which the protest is taking place.  Over to the south west the mass trespass onto the Kinder Scout Plateau took place in April, 1932, to highlight that walkers were denied access to areas of open country.  Yet another example of private landowners attempting to wield influence and power over the rights of the majority. Such  has resulted, after many years of campaigning by the Ramblers Association, in the CROW Act 2000 which addresses the problem. Having gained access to such areas, we now see the very fabric of many areas being mis-managed and the natural heritage they support being eliminated, a situation I feel we have a right to contest.

And closer to the protest site it must be remembered that planes of the 617 Squadron RAF, the Dambusters, practised over the self same location below which people will congregate previous to their successful raid on the dams within the Ruhr valley that provided power for the German war effort. Actions that maybe are a little out of context with the intentions of the 10th August, but from which the determination to change what is very wrong can draw strength.

 In the Forest of Bowland the protest will take place in the very heartland of what has been a stronghold for breeding Hen Harriers for many years, until recent times.  There is a very strong message which must be taken away by everyone on the day.  In the 1970's the number of breeding pairs of harriers approached forty, yes forty! Even when I was associated with the area for the RSPB in the 80'sand 90's the number of pairs present each year still  remained high, but enjoyed limited success and most certainly were the targets for persecution.  Birds shot, poisoned, nests trampled on, eggs removed....the all too familiar litany associated with the utterly selfish motives employed by those operating grouse shoots.  And for the ones who did try to do the decent thing, the condemnation and ridicule that one might expect.  For anyone wishing to learn of the sheer challenges associated with such work, please take time out to read the Blog entry entitled
" Hen Harriers in Bowland.....a lament"  which I put out on the 1st May, 2012.  It makes for sad reading and is a testament to how little things have changed, indeed since then we have undoubtedly seen the synchronized elimination of harriers over a couple of recent winters which has decimated the numbers and brought the breeding population in England to the point of extinction.  Thankfully, two pairs have returned and bred successfully in Bowland this year, but such has demanded round the clock protection being provided by the RSPB.  Is that the sort of approach we should need to apply in this day and age, the 21st Millenium for heaven's sake!!  As with the examples above the circumstances demand our support and action and a major call for change to take place.

To ensure that people are up to date with details associated with the Hen Harrier Action Days please access the web site,, where any last minute instructions will be displayed.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Pleasure Killers.

I've meant to write this for some time, but difficulties with broadband/internet facilities has dictated otherwise. That intervening period, however, has allowed me to return to the subject time and time again to ensure that the comments below are really what I think!!  The conclusions are directed absolutely towards the motivations of people associated with shooting, not with wider aspects of their personalities. I know various people who shoot and, in all other respects, accept them as people absolutely, but simply don't understand the real, deep reasons for their interest.

A little while ago a good friend of mine advised that there are some proposed revisions to shooting legislation being considered in Denmark and that the rough translation ( into English) of shooting " aficionados " being considered was " Pleasure Killers".  I didn't pay too much attention at the time but, more recently, I've returned to the subject and attempted to try and determine what my own thoughts on the subject really are.

I suppose I've always accepted the fact that shooting, under the laws of the land, is a legal activity and never taken the subject any further. And summarizing things, I suppose that's the stance that many conservation organizations, not all,  take too. However, increasingly,  I've begun to feel more than a little uneasy about the whole process if I'm honest. I'm not a person  (I hope ) that holds deep prejudices or disagrees with anything without a degree of reasoned consideration, and so I started to consider many of the issues that actually surround shooting.  Setting aside, as a conservationist, the usual subject areas which give rise to concern with the activity, e.g raptor persecution and, seemingly, the mindless slaughter of numbers of Red Grouse, Pheasant and Partridge each season, and moving to what I feel are fundamental aspects associated with shooting, I confess to coming to a conclusion that it's all somewhat dis-quieting!!!

What actually motivates these people and why?  Why?

In order to try and set the subject in context , let us set out why they don't do it!  It's absolutely not because they need the food. I doubt no one attending an urban food bank can afford the luxury of these pursuits!!  Do they receive wide recognition of their prowess in being a good shot?  A few do, I suppose, in the somewhat sectarian publications that support these activities, but , generally, an individual's involvement goes unrecognised.  Indeed,on many occasions fees are paid for the "privilege" of taking part in an organized shoot, which is perhaps a major clue to one of the fundamental drivers of the whole scenario. Is there a sense of tribalism in it all?  Or is there a sense of trophyism?  If not then , is it to exhibit good hand and eye co-ordination? I doubt it unless you've designs on being a member of the Olympic Target Shooting Team.  The list goes on until you arrive at the conclusion that they enjoy going out and pitting their wits against their hapless prey and then, hopefully, efficiently knocking them off,  i.e. killing them. The description "Pleasure Killers" begins to take on more substance!!

Now I'm sure it's also necessary to take on board the feedback from the social melange that surrounds such activities, so we are transported into the realms of ego and " having arrived " ( Oh, well done Charles!! ). Such is perhaps not as elevated as the ultimate accolade of bagging a Woodcock with both barrels!!  Hooray!!  But these are perhaps no more than quasi-social aspects, not what is actually motivating the activity. Surely not!!  I'm sure there are wannabees involved in the process, but that they exert little influence in the greater scheme of things is unlikely.

At the end of the process the activity involves the killing, quite deliberately, of a living entity whatever the extent of the congratulations on expertise or the quality of the port at the end of the day!! Now let me say, at this point, that I'm not a vegetarian  ( perhaps I ought to be ) and that I square the knowledge of how we source our supplies of meat and fish with a desire to keep alive and a varied palate!!  By contrast, I wonder how much, by proportion of the grouse, partridge and Pheasants which are killed each season, are actually eaten?  Am I the hypocrite then?   Do please tell me if you know anything of this as I believe the truth is something we need to have revealed.  Discovering that an appreciable proportion is just wasted adds to the despair surrounding such activities.

Birds reared in their thousands to face no better than a "deliberate despatch" within twelve months is a pretty appalling situation in this day and age.  But it is the motivation of those involved that bears the most scrutiny and I'm led, time and again, to conclude that they are involved simply because they are " Pleasure Killers". Doubtless their need for such involvement is deeply wired into their psyche based on our primaeval beginnings and the need to hunt to survive. But does the need to "bring home the bacon" have any relevance in this millennium?

Out of this is arising an ever more stronger personal feeling now that suggests driven shoots  ought to be banned altogether. If the urge to shoot is so irresistible then why not fall back on Clay Pigeon shooting?  In other words, why is it necessary to kill things?  Now I hear objections from the sidelines, but I suspect all will be confined to those who make a living from the world of organized shooting.   What actually intrigues me is what the shooters believe they're actually achieving when they're engaged in shooting.  Walk up shooting does appear to involve the many basic skills involved in hunting that many of us can more readily understand. The slaughter associated with driven shooting is too redolent of the dreadful circumstances on the Somme to be anything more than comfortable I'm afraid!!

In summary the above, I believe, does raise serious questions about the continuing validity of commercial shoots given their proven association with raptor persecution. Given the apparent, almost shallow motivations  demonstrated above associated with the activity, the continuing  persecution of raptors in order to achieve commercial benefit must surely be little more than illegal exploitation of an opportunity. To that extent the industry has much to answer for in my opinion, not least what really is it encouraging and supporting in the end?

This is a highly emotive subject. Do please take time to comment, to promote these thoughts as widely as possible and to disagree as necessary.  I do think we need to understand what the shooting industry itself thinks its actually achieving and representing in the current Millenium.  We don't want the usual rhetoric that normally surrounds any response to criticism of the industry but heartfelt explanations of what it is really felt is being achieved in the long run.

Is the pendulum finally swinging in the Hen Harrier's favour? 3.8.2014.

Yesterday morning  (before the heavy rain set in) I watched a male Hen Harrier systematically scour the grass moor opposite the house. It was an enthralling sight and one which caused me to ponder long and hard on the current, but long continuing conflict surrounding the species. They are hated by the shooting fraternity, they are persecuted due to their proven predation of Red Grouse, but they are increasingly championed by conservationists,wildlife enthusiasts and critics of the illegality upon which the shooting industry pursues its case.  Certainly the issues surrounding the plight of the species are at an all time high.  Is this a signal that we might , finally, expect some change to the situation?

News this year that three nests had been successful in England is most welcome, but certainly no panacea in the cause of getting the species "back on its feet". The young have yet to face the potential depredations of flying farther afield and facing the widely held prejudices that then put them under pressure. But it's a start! News also that the RSPB intends to fit its own satellite tags to birds is even more welcome given the continuing obfuscation surrounding the results from lost birds associated with the long running DEFRA scheme where birds were similarly tracked. The supposed Hen Harrier Recovery Plan has been both a failure and a farce given the population almost reached a point of permanent extinction within its period of operation. DEFRA has repeatedly refused to release any results from this not inexpensive work funded by the taxpayer on the continuing excuse that the results are to be used for a Ph.D.!!  When has Government policy ever been suspended based on the needs of students I wonder!  More to the point is that it has long been suspected that the results showed that birds lost were closely associated with grouse moors and would be acutely embarrassing therefore for the (Tory dominated ) Government.  Time will tell, but, pessimism aside, the inevitable independent results derived from the RSPB initiative will at least carry the assurance that investigative action will have been taking place in the background !

And so to recent, very recent initiatives in fact!  The creation of Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) can find details at the Hen Harrier Action Days that will take place on the 10th August in the Peak Park, Forest of Bowland and Northumberland are all signals of both an increasing frustration by conservationists at the lack of progress and a more collective call for action than we have seen in recent times. Whilst the RSPB are endorsing the action days I don't actually see from them a lot of promotion of the detail or intent. Indeed I increasingly begin to wonder if their apparent lack lustre association with public campaigning nowadays is a deliberate intent  based on a more stringent interpretation and adherence to the regulations of the Charity Commissioners. Although this might be disappointing to some there will undoubtedly be endless other initiatives being pursued in the background against which we should provide our unqualified support. Their eventual promotion of an initiative to licence grouse moors is more than welcome, particularly the presentation of a case to each of our current political parties.

With the Government response to the E-petition I organized ( Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers )  being less than competent the fact remains that, despite misgivings by some, the licencing of grouse moors would be a positive step forward. I don't agree it would eventually result in endless legal proceedings as its advent would be based on Government policy and action with all the usual counter claims and battles arising in the run up to the introduction process. Doubtless there would be battles and opposition aplenty, but following its introduction the only people fearful of its accompanying implications would be those who are brought before the law and convicted based on proven persecution activities.  The shooting industry's response to all this is somewhat similar to that of the Government, focussing on the commercial value of the industry to the rural economy without recognising the underlying reason for the call for such measures, namely their own irresponsible management of wildlife resources and habitats.

Against this background yet another E-petition has emerged organized by friend and colleague, Mark Avery, which calls upon the next Government to ban driven grouse shooting
The signature total (10461 ) for this has already surpassed that achieved by the one I organized (10428 ), and in a short time too, which is perhaps a measure of the increasing awareness of people at large and the frustration they feel as well as the success of promotion activities. SIGN THIS WITHOUT DELAY if you haven't done so already.

Any response from "the other side" has been difficult to find, almost as if they feel it doesn't refer to them and that complete denial will in some perverse way exonerate them from facing the reality. The fact of the matter is that they are on the back foot, have demonstrated a lack of willingness to clean up their own act and are simply hoping that their all too usual display of arrogance will see them through. Far from it in my view! Conservationists have nothing to hide or answer for and will continue to raise questions, call for change, expose any future persecution activities and press Government for action. Eventually the bubble will burst....

And in answer to all this? The shooting lobby contributing to the current Hen Harrier Recovery Plan overseen by DEFRA have advocated removing eggs from harriers nesting in the north (!), incubating and raising the resultant chicks and releasing them in suitable areas in Southern England. Who within their ranks, one might ask, are the hitherto undisclosed supporters of  harriers such that they want to support their future success or is this lobby looking towards conservation bodies, the National Trust etc to play host by running schemes on the southern heath lands they manage.  And, of course, such recruits to the population will fly, be independent and might eventually even find their way on to grouse moors!!  Oh dear, what then, permission to shoot, sir ?  The suggestion smacks of an intention to move the problem into someone else's lap as opposed to any genuine intent to improve the breeding population of Hen Harriers for which, incidentally, the carrying capacity in England is calculated to be over 300.

Despite such desperate diversions I still retain a feeling that, gradually, the tide is turning and that Hen Harriers are receiving the attention they deserve.

But their are five things you need to give attention to help all this on its way,

  • sign the E-petition above
  • attend a Hen Harrier Action Day if you can
  • write to your MP calling for his/her support for change and an end to bird of prey persecution
  • ensure all your friends and family are aware of what's happening
  • use social media to promote the initiatives above.

Many thanks.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Birds on the move! 1.8.2014

If ever an updated edition of that excellent TV programme, Fawlty Towers , emerges I think they should add Broadband and WiFi facilities to the advice about not mentioning the war..........

Following a party of Siskin, all males, in the garden yesterday evening this morning showed further species to be on the move. Odd Willow Warblers have appeared over the past few days and more were present today, along with several Chaffinch, Blackbird, a family party of Song Thrush and a small group of House Martin flying straight through. The first real evidence in recent days of actual movement derived from the "bonus" of noticing anything new that appears given the isolation of the house and garden.

A seawatch provided little by comparison. Good numbers of Gannets were moving south on a feeding movement back to Ailsa Craig, and a string of Kittiwakes similarly moved south derived, one imagines, from the breeding colonies on Colonsay but to the north.  A group of around 15 Manx Shearwater fed in the mouth of Loch Indaal and that was it!!  The Outer Loch was virtually devoid of birds, a situation that will no doubt change quite significantly in the near future.

Moving on up the Rinns provided little that was new, although I was pleased to see several young Stonechat suggesting a good breeding season. A check around Loch Gorm to get some early indication of how Grey lag Geese had fared this season produced several small flocks, but no large total, although it's still a little early for the congregation of birds in that overall area. A walk alongside the loch showed numbers of Willow Warblers to be present in the dense shrubbery adjacent to the track, suggesting a mass exodus had not yet begun.

A gradual journey through the farmland of NW Islay produced more Stonechats, Whinchat, and several Wheatear, these latter birds possibly being migrants..  Sedge Warbler and a couple of Sand Martin showed them too to still be around. Parking up alongside a favourite patch of conifers for a late lunch provided further evidence some birds might already be on the move. Several Willow Warbers and 3/4 Chiffchaff, ( which were a surprise ), a group of Lesser Redpoll and a couple of Spotted Flycatcher fed around the edge of a plantation as well as numbers of Chaffinch and Goldfinch.

So, all in all, a suggestion that dispersion and autumn migration may have begun , but that there is more to follow.  When I got back home not a bird was in sight ..........

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Scottish Windfarm Bird Steering Group.

Whilst I was away in Speyside around a month ago I picked up a Scottish Provincial Press supplement entitled Energy North.  It's packed full of really interesting articles, to the extent that I shall try and get hold of future copies.

I'd not realised that such a group existed. It's funded by the Scottish Government, SNH, RSPB, Scottish Renewables, SSE, Scottish Power, RES and Vattenfall and £50,000 has already been spent on various studies with research costing another £54,000 underway.

At a recent meeting in Perth the Scottish Windfarm Bird Steering Group ( SWBSG) announced the development of a Good Practice Guide focussing on how bird populations and their related habitats can be managed effectively where wind farm development is taking place. The research itself is being carried out by Stirling and Newcasle Universities the results from which will feed back into advice available for industry and others in the future.

With repeated concerns being expressed about the potential effects further developments might have upon wildlife, this guide promises to be an extremely useful tool and is a good representative example of how industry, government and the conservation NGO's can work together.

A little bit of natural "history".

A couple of weeks ago I returned home after a good spell of birding at a variety of places around the UK. Following a couple of  "domestic days" getting things organized I was ready to enjoy what Islay had to offer. But as with every potential idyllic situation , there was a downside too.

Despite a brief period of working the television then went off ! Now I have to say that I'm utterly dependent on Mr Murdoch's empire when it comes to TV services, as attempts to receive "ordinary" telly through an aerial on the chimney have met with unmitigated disaster. Indeed most of at least two aerials have been spread around the countryside as a result of high winds within fierce storms.  Natural forces at their most potent!

On this occasion the problem appeared to be associated with electricity, not from within a failed supply source, but of an altogether natural variety!! Various parts of the island had been affected and, of course, other equipment was affected too, including computers for some. I escaped that onslaught but suffered from some gremlins which now appear to have fled the circuitry of their own accord.

Well,of course, with all the excitement building around sports events, being without a telly was a bit of a bum deal given it took a fortnight to get things sorted.  And then, with a system restored, and entertainment guaranteed,  the next phase struck.  England's elimination? Oh no, that could be deemed "natural" in a way , I suppose. No, this held more potential than that!   Just after the Costa Rica v. Italy match commenced (our time ) we had not one, but two, EARTHQUAKES !

Just after 1700 hours a distant rumble was heard and slight effect felt , followed a minute or so later by another. See the British Geological Society web site for details ( ).  Thankfully , they were seven and six kilometres down and "only" 2.5 and 1.7 in intensity, of which I'm told the UK suffers around 25 per year!!   Was this a portent of things to come ?  Within 90 minutes the final blow was struck?  As for the telly, well, I've switched it off in disgust or in honour of all things natural!!!  

Friday, June 6, 2014

And finally, with apologies, a catch-up!!

I suppose I could give you a detailed catalogue of problems amounting to a collective tale of woe, but I doubt it's the sort of thing any of you really want to read.  Suffice to say, hardware gremlins, inadequate WiFi facilities in far flung places, despite being promised, and simply being away in places where no such facilities operate, have all contributed to an absence of entries.

In that intervening period though I have to admit I've enjoyed some damned good birding. From Fife/Lothian, South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, the Western Isles and the Cairngorms, all have provided a succession of rich experiences and enjoyment. Simply listing out the best birds seen perhaps says it all..........
King Eider, Surf Scoter, Collared Flycatcher, Subalpine Warbler, Dotterel, Temminck's Stint, White-winged Black Tern, Red-necked Phalarope, Corncrake and good views ( again ) of Scottish Crossbill.  All these were supplemented by a rich "supporting cast" of species as wide ranging as Common Crane, White-tailed Eagle, Hobby, Black-throated Diver, both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and many others. A memorable selection and a Spring to remember!

Of course, there was the downside, there always is to some extent.  Moving up to the Western Isles for a period, intent on connecting with the Spring passage of skuas, was a total disappointment as the birds failed to appear whilst I was there!!  Persistent NNE winds worked against any coastal occurrences and although I had the odd Arctic and Great Skua not a whiff of any Pomarine or Long-tailed Skuas was in evidence. However, who can grumble at a period spent on the Machir in good weather and with breeding waders everywhere.  Who can grumble at the spectacle of successive waves of Turnstone, Sanderling , Dunlin,and Ringed Plover arriving with an urgency that saw them feeding frantically along the beaches, whilst others grabbed a short rest from the rigours of their northwards migration. Present in numbers one day,absent and still involved in their northward travels the next, some even perhaps having reached their ultimate destination in Iceland, some still moving on to more far flung locations.  A magical, dynamic, background tapestry that underscores the utter fascination of birding!!

Whilst away I also had an ample opportunity to contemplate the next steps necessary in following up the absolute pathetic response from the Government ( read DEFRA ) to the E-petition I'd registered previously and which had gained in excess of 10,000 supporters. Again, to all those who provided that support, many thanks indeed.  After a lot of consideration I've decided that to try and gain a retraction of the Government's official response, however dismal and patronising it might have been , is probably a waste of time.  Politically the response stands as an endorsement of the shooting industry and the Government's willingness to turn a blind eye to the continuing proliferation of persecution incidents. This could be a drastic mistake on their part given the number of people who are clearly disgusted at the arrogance being displayed and the continuing disregard towards raptor species. Such will come back in the form of reduced support, given the upcoming election next year, and deservedly so!

However, another initiative has also influenced my thinking. Past colleague and friend, Mark Avery, has also been doing a lot of thinking in the aftermath of the above petition. In his own words, despite misgivings about supporting the banning of any activities, he has come to the end of his "personal tether" and set up an E-petition which calls for the banning of driven up grouse shooting in England. In its early days it's doing very well already and rightly so. I shall devote a separate Blog entry to it shortly and provide the necessary means by which readers can access it and sign up in its support.  For the present time I wanted this particular Blog to explain what had been happening in the interim since my last entry in April  ( yes, April !! Many apologies again! ) and to declare business as usual.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

More departures than arrivals. 19.4.2014

The weather promised to provide a good day again, although the SE wind was unlikely to provide the best conditions for seawatching, which soon proved to be the case.  However, well before then I had the experience of being woken by a "double alarm" clock without having set it!!

Just beyond the garden wall, on a small mound, a cock Pheasant has commenced to display each morning. It usually ensures I'm up by six am!!  The penetrating call, and whirring sound of its wings as it jumps in the air to advertise its presence, are extremely effective reminders of the time.  This morning proved to be worse! Immediately below the bedroom window is a bush, indeed "the garden bush", within which a Collared Dove was producing its most metronomic efforts.  Not the best start at a little past 0530 hours, but welcome in the sense that its not every Spring that this species is recorded at home. They're present around various villages on Islay, but from personal experience Spring is the time when the occasional bird can be found outside of these areas too.

A seawatch produced no evidence of birds "on the move" other than Gannets moving north and south on feeding movements and parties of Auks speeding northwards. Driving through the nearby village the sound of chirruping House Sparrows was redolent of what used to be another widespread sound which has ceased to be in many places in recent years. Atlantic Grey Seals were hauled out in the harbour and a small number of Eiders moved around calling quietly. On nearby Orsay island one, possibly two, Common Sandpipiers picked around, whilst Oystercatchers went through their noisy displays and flights, all the while with neighbouring seals stretched out on the rocks around seemingly unaffected by it all.

 Outer Loch Indaal unfortunately proved impossible to cover with morning light from the east producing an excessive amount of glare reflecting from the water surface.  Certainly the odd Great Northern Diver was present.  The various rocks offshore of Bruichladdich produced at least 36 Ringed Plover, Turnstone, a Purple Sandpiper, two Sandwich Terns and a couple of Cormorant.

On to the Loch Gorm area to complete various WeBS counts and give the site a good inspection. Firstly, though, the inner man and breakfast which, on this occasion, was accompanied by a curious Stoat appearing several times to check out what was happening.  Duck numbers were few and far between, but an overflying immature Golden Eagle provided excellent views, floating around in a clear blue sky and showing off its white tail with dark sub-terminal band and its wing markings to great effect.  Willow Warblers are now increasing and a single Grasshopper Warbler and several Reed Buntings added to the scene. A nearby lochan provided good views of a female Goldeneye and, as previously, two flocks of  Golden Plover totalling almost four hundred flew around to the east and again landed out of sight.

Later a male Peregrine replaced the Stoat at a late lunch stop and circled overhead for some time before slipping away northwards. Generally Northern Wheatears still appear in low numbers,  with only Willow Warblers arriving in strength so far.  The mainly clear overnight conditions have obviously allowed migrants to move through and the southerly wind conditions have supported a final clear out of geese. I saw none today ( other than Grey Lag Geese ) compared to a couple of days ago. A check at Loch Gruinart saw fewer Pintail and Wigeon present, the Black-tailed Godwits apparently gone with an altogether more tranquil scene in evidence.