Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Proclaiming success!!! E-petition reaches the 10000 threshold.

And we have signed 10000 times
And we can sign a 1000 more.

Based on the song, 500 miles by the Proclaimers to whom respectful apologies are offered!  The above words fit quite well actually even though I say it myself !

I've been going around the house singing the above words most of the morning. Tense time as the signature total crept up. The Ladies' Curling match at the Olympics didn't help either, ( but  excellent effort GB.)

Well , folks, we're there!  10000 signatures achieved and a written response from Government now anticipated . Well done to all concerned and sincere thanks for your support.

But let's not give up. Let's keep the subject alive until the 27th and really indicate the extent of feeling held against the persecution of raptors and those responsible.  Just for if you happen to have missed the fun previously , here's the link where you too can add your own signature to those of the many remarkable people who have contributed to the above success.

Licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.   Keep on signing, please!

Following the petition's closure on the 27th there's much to be thought about as far as further action is concerned, but I'll be putting out entries on the Blog to keep people up to date.

Again, many thanks everyone.  


Monday, February 17, 2014

New book, " Rare Birds of North America".

I fell in love with this book the moment I retrieved it from its postal packaging.  As a book, the paper quality, the clarity in its print, the quality of the illustrations and the very "feel" of the book itself inspire confidence. Whilst it obviously deals with North America there is much within it that will be of interest to British birders.

I found the early chapters fascinating  ( Migration and vagrancy in birds, Where do North American vagrants come from? and Topography, Molt and Aging  ). This is current and bang up to date thinking and worth access to in itself.

What follows is a series of absolutely fascinating species accounts accompanied by excellent illustrations by Ian Lewington. The Distribution and Status section within each species is extended further by  Comments that examine the various records of that particular species within North America. There is a  Field Identification section for each species with some particularly extended treatments being presented for gull species that I feel many will find of interest. Again, I have to emphasise that each of these species entries are accompanied by excellent illustrations some of which comprise an extended series dealing with different plumages and comparisons with other species.

Steve Howell, Ian Lewington and Will Russell have produced what I believe is an excellent publication that, even in its own right , is worth having simply for its sheer quality. Its published by Princeton University Press and available through the usual outlets.   Thanks guys!

Yet another E-petition update!

Early this morning the number of signatures on the E-petition   Licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers
was just under 9500. It has now exceeded this figure (9530) and continues to grow steadily.

It now needs around fifty signatures a day for ten days in order to exceed the required total of 10000 signatures at which point an official Government response will be issued. The response to the petition's proposals will be interesting to say the least and, I suspect, is eagerly awaited by many. Whilst I never presumed the proposals would be passionately embraced by Government, and result in law in what might be a process of automatic acceptance, I did hope that the petition would at least raise again the need for regulation and keep the idea alive.

Hopefully a Government response will be issued and then thought can be given as to what the next steps might be. Already over 9500 people have indicated that they feel there are sufficient  raptor persecution problems associated with upland grouse moors to warrant some form of regulation. The saddest element amongst all of this is that that realisation is not new; such problems have been in place for decades!  The industry, for that's what it is , deserves to have sensible regulations under which it might operate, as a lot of other businesses and professions have to do, so that indiscriminate persecution of particularly iconic species ends or penalties occur.  Regulation would not pose any problems at all for those estates etc which operate legitimately, indeed one might hope an unblemished record over several years could be positive publicity . Regulation would also eventually separate those who persist in breaking the law which, one hopes, might then bring condemnation of them from within their peer group. A pipe dream?  Maybe?  But the plain fact of the matter is that discussions have been going on for years without anything positive arising, indeed one could come to a conclusion that the contributing parties are now further apart than previously.

This is an attempt to break the circle and stalemate and ensure the debate is kept alive, leads to an increasing conviction amongst a greater number of politicians that something needs to be done which then results in action. Of course the ultimate objective is to achieve  a reduction in the utterly ridiculous situation that currently exists whereby iconic species within our wildlife heritage are persecuted.  All this is occurring associated with selfish pursuits by a relative minority practised under the aegis of commercial operations so why should they not be open to regulation?

So, if you in any way agree with the sentiments expressed above, please sign the petition  ( see the link above ) and lend weight to to at least an attempt to initiate progress and improvement to a situation which shouldn't be happening in the 21st Millenium.  Thank you

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What have I done to my Fatbirder 1000 Best Birding site widget?

I've clearly done something stupid as my counter, linked to the above, has disappeared. But not quite!  If I click on the central image in the box over to the right I gain access to the site itself.

It'll be something stupid on my part I'm sure, but any ideas how I can sort it out?  Clearly it's not a problem with the site.

Help! Comments please!

Friday, February 14, 2014

E-petition update.

Valentines Day, folks.          WHY NOT LOVE A HEN HARRIER?

As at 0900 hours this morning 1024 signatures are needed to reach beyond the 10,000 signature threshold that then ensures an official response from the Government. Those signatures need to arise within the next 12 days though!   I'm prepared to believe it can be done, do you?  If so, then please ensure that anyone that you suspect the appeal may have bypassed is made aware of the need to gain this important response.

Even the RSPB has made a last minute reference to the petition within a Blog put out by Martin Harper yesterday Tackling wildlife crime abroad.....and at home.

So, what to do?   Without delay access the following and sign if you haven't already done so or ensure this Blog entry is promoted as widely as possible.  Thank you.

Licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hen Harrier data.......and still we're waiting!

The last time I raised this issue was in August, 2013  ( Too little, too late for Hen Harriers in England)!  For that I feel personally shamed, as the issue in itself is crucial to pursuing a solution relating to Hen Harrier persecution.

Now for a quick summary.  Some time ago DEFRA instituted studies in England relating to harrier distribution, its breeding numbers and factors affecting that situation. An officer within Natural England was charged with specific responsibility for the work , which was also to be the basis of that person's doctoral thesis. Birds were fitted with sat tags and the journeys and consequences followed with interest.  Good for them one might think, long overdue and just the sort of raw data which was required to combat the seemingly increasing prejudice being levelled at the species.

Without dwelling too precisely on the timing of what followed, the project finally coincided with what might best be described as a concerted and deliberate assault on wintering harriers with roosts being deliberately targeted over the ensuing couple of winters.  Survey work showed harrier populations to have been decimated with the most telling outcome being the clear reduction of what had previously been a buoyant breeding population in England in the Forest of Bowland.  OK, the "opposition" would doubtless harness a whole suite of explanations about a peak in coincidental natural mortality, poor Spring feeding conditions, other people otherwise unidentified being responsible and a host of other weak and convenient excuses. The truth is the birds were cleared out by a concerted and synchronised strategy aimed at eliminating as many birds as possible!  Difficult to prove, of course, but enter (surely ) the results arising from the DEFRA  research.

Now some time previously Natural England, the Government's advisor, had determined that a significant number of harrier deaths appeared to coincide with not just upland areas , but upland areas actively being managed as grouse moors. Oh dear!  The results were alluded to in official documents and the case for linking the decimation of harriers with those largely responsible for those operations and management tasks appeared to be proven.  Except that DEFRA, under whose aegis Natural England operates, has never released the results of the work. Endless excuses have been put forward and Richard Benyon, MP, in his time as a DEFRA Minister, steadfastly defended that position which appears to obtain still to this day.

Now, reflect a little. Such work was funded , is funded, by public money which surely in itself dictates that we are entitled to learn of the results showing where the persecution hotspots were located. For some hitherto undisclosed reason the results are still held in confidence by the Department.  One could mischievously consider such locations might coincide with the upland landholdings of stalwart Tory chums, with a consequent need to avoid disclosure, which is a thought that is difficult to stifle.  It could be held that, with the results being withheld,  the declared objective of the RSPB of gaining the offence of Vicarious Liability adopted for England is frustrated as the direct connection of persecution events to upland grouse moors would help to underpin the justification of a need for such legislation.  Presumably then the RSPB is pursuing all this with alacrity?  Well, not that is being declared , unless they have been briefed by DEFRA in confidence and the continuing need for a  veil of secrecy accepted.  Uhm!  If such is not the case, why is the situation not being pursued and the continuing lack of disclosure by Government criticised?

RSPB appears to be firmly holding DEFRA to account as the agency from whom action and initiatives are now expected when it comes to saving the Hen Harrier, as outlined in the Blog entry put out today by Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB.)   See the link here Tackling wildlife crime abroad....and at home.  It points to the emergency recovery plan for the Hen Harrier being developed by DEFRA  as the means within which progress might be expected. Nothing one might find fault with one might say. But it's all so cosy, even complacent in a way. When is DEFRA going to be taken to task about the above results, what comprises the referred to action plan and what precise measures will be adopted?  Engaging with a process maybe,  but not in a way that really signals an intention to stir things up in the event of nothing moving forward. One might ask what the RSPB intends to do if nothing emerges in time for the upcoming breeding season. Polite foot stamping isn't enough in my view!

I have to acknowledge that, finally, a reference to the E-petition has emerged within the above Blog. Somewhat muted, to the extent one might question the real motive, but at least present if one ignores the eleventh hour  appearance!!

When it comes to the results discussed above, well, watch this space, as it seems, in the absence of what action one might expect from elsewhere, the necessary steps are best pursued independently.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What hope for Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles and other raptors?

Any sane thinking person who watched the Channel 4 News item this evening about raptor persecution would easily be disgusted that such outmoded opinions, as expressed by Alex Hogg of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, are still being upheld in the 21st Millenium.  It would seem grouse management is necessarily being maintained on the back of persecution if its proponents are calling for the possible culling of  natural raptor populations in order that the industry is maintained and prospers. What universe are these people living in? It seems to me that Alex Hogg is being an unwitting sacrificial lamb propounding the preferences of the landowning/grouse shooting fraternity whilst regularly standing up there making completely unfounded claims on behalf of owners and grouse moor managers.   Stating that  gamekeepers are not responsible for raptor persecution is a nonsense, illogical and  " cringingly" embarrassing given the number of successful prosecutions on the public record. It's hard to think how someone would be so willing to make such an ass of themselves on behalf of owners/employers who are willing to hide behind anonymity and position.

Additionally,  the obvious weak willed response from the Scottish Environment Minister hardly signals a robust stand from the Government. So what remains?

It becomes increasingly obvious to me that we, the electorate and lovers of our natural heritage, need to take concerted action against such utterly selfish and entrenched activity. Forget the commercial bit, although the possibility of grouse moors being designated areas for which management grants might well be provided by Government, is a subject which demands further research and action.

Quite frankly, until many people wake up to the fact and, more importantly, accept  that we are not just confronting raptor persecution per se, but an activity which the Establishment is more than willing to defend on behalf of its own, the quicker we might isolate the problem and reach a solution. Not even the most determined adversaries appear willing to define the problem in such terms and, therefore, it trundles on, gets worse, conservationists gnash their collective dentistry and nothing changes.   There is a need for the likes of the RSPB to come out , accuse the Establishment of deliberately maintaining this sham situation and for a serious call for change to be made, otherwise an all out PR onslaught will be maintained ad infinitum. Is that likely? If not, I suggest there is little hope for our raptors.  Yes, headlines and accusations have been issued before, which we should all support and recognize, but sustained confrontation would be different! Conservation cahones  to the fore one might say.  There's a lot of people who would support such an initiative, including those who have supported the current E-petition. Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers ( click here and sign! ) It has now reached nearly 8900 signatures , but requires another 1100  (  with only a fortnight to go) at which point it will receive a formal Government response. Lets's not miss that opportunity in the face of all of the above.

A bad beginning, but a much better end!

Yesterday ( Tuesday ) I was due to be goose counting again, but was laid low by some strange virus (?) and felt absolutely foul until later in the day.  Additional to that I then hurt my back and so, with a foul mood well in place, I spent my time offering advice to the television on flood control from a sedentary position!!!  I'm a very poor patient which, in a way, can then hasten recovery, and so it was, gradually.

However, a much better situation then emerged mid-afternoon with the arrival of Pauline and Gordon Yates. The next couple of hours was filled with gossip, updating and laughter and more than a bit of "bird-talk".  Islay has been their holiday destination for many years, way back to when their, now grown up, family was young and so their knowledge of Islay's wildlife is both unique and valuable. This has been reflected in Gordon's film making and a succession of films associated with Islay have emerged over the years coupled, more recently, with those recording visits to more exotic climes!

Yesterday I was delighted to be given a copy of the DVD illustrated below. It presents absorbing footage from travels in the Pennines, the Cairngorms, South West Scotland and. of course, Islay.


There is film of  six species of owl, of Golden Eagle, Osprey,Goshawk, Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin, Red Kite and Peregrine.  As Gordon said  " you know some of those individuals" !!  This is a must if you admire and enjoy raptors as the comprehensive treatment of their breeding cycles and the accompanying commentary provide insights that are normally something few of us have access to.

The DVD is for sale generally and details can be found via the following link.  Gordon Yates Photography

I've watched it twice already and can vouch for its ability to entertain and lift your spirits!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Geese,thrushes and water!

A "routine" goose counting day with the usual concentrations within the Kilmeny route and nothing remarkable discovered. Noticeable that Greenland White-fronted Geese have, in some cases, reverted to exploiting deep" juncus marsh", as opposed to feeding out on open fields, and are turning up in a few unexpected places too.  Many pastures are absolutely saturated with a very obvious slick of water moving across them, particularly within undulating topography.

In a number of locations , particularly nearby to coverts, thrushes were feeding out in open saturated fields. There's a noticeable presence of Song Thrushes here at the moment , but Blackbird numbers are quite high too. Whether or not they are more obvious because of feeding habits and abandoning the cover of woodlands is uncertain. In the Finlaggan area the above situation was supplemented by a few Fieldfare and odd Redwing , all presumably feeding on invertebrates brought to the surface. On a couple of fields Grey Herons could be seen  patiently picking there way across saturated areas, doubtless with the same fare in mind, although, for once, "worming Buzzards" were not much in evidence.

The one opportunity to be at the coast saw several Great Northern Divers in onshore waters, a situation which appears to be mirrored at various points around the island. Doubtless birds driven towards land due to the somewhat hostile conditions offshore at various times!

Whilst they didn't contain much else , other than the odd Reed Bunting, it was good to see several reasonable flocks of Chaffinch in the vicinity of certain farms, along with a number of Starling flocks.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

And finally, a mention of climate change!

And suddenly, with the Met Office leading the way, there was a mention of climate change!!   Now, from the onset, I will be totally honest and admit that I am personally persuaded by the various arguments in favour of climate change and global warming.  Others are not, and whilst I respect their opinions, I believe they are wrong.

Doubtless there are effects within our weather systems, which are unique in themselves, or even repetitive events with a long incidence horizon. On top of this though,  the extreme weather events emerging over the past few years, coupled with wide ranging research evidence, is sufficient to convince me that major changes are occurring and that we can envisage these arising time and again in the future. Even whilst TV reports from the Somerset Levels were forthcoming this morning, an announcement emerged that torrential rain and flooding in Bolivia had claimed 38 lives and caused 40,000 to be homeless!!

Sadly there are those amongst our politicians who are serious sceptics when it comes to climate change, foremost amongst which appears to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson.  But is it convenient public scepticism being offered up aimed at hiding a serious private political realisation ?  The latter would undoubtedly contain a pragmatic assessment of the infrastructure and environmental costs involved in addressing the implications of climate change, and the challenges involved, if such future regular adverse weather occurrences continue.  All in the run up to an election in 2015 too!  Better to hope the research is wrong, that the problem will go away in terms of frequency and that the short term resolution of problems is sufficient to maintain popularity. WRONG, I'm afraid!  The situation will be a headache for who ever is in power and better to commence addressing the problem now than being forced into permanent knee jerk reactions in the future that will do little to alleviate the misery being experienced.

Already we see the preferred political actions emerging as far as approaches are concerned. Pick holes in the additional  funding being offered, (UKIP ), distance yourself from what has happened ( several ), use the opportunity to hopefully see the departure of the Chairman of the Environment Agency,  ( a former Labour MP ) transparently fronted up by Eric Pickles, use it as an opportunity also to challenge overseas aid (UKIP) and so it goes on. Keeping more focussed on the theme, the Prime Minister has promised £130 million to combat the problem, but this is a drop in the ocean contrasted against what one imagines is actually required to combat both the current problems and extreme weather events in coming years. But , folks, remember,we are currently in a situation of retaining or creating votes given the approach of 2015!!

Regrettably criticism of the sincere efforts made by various agencies in the past to support the unique wildlife interest and farming activities of the Somerset Levels  have been dismissively referred to by some, particularly UKIP.  In parallel their leader also advised we should ignore climate change as long as China and India were constructing coal powered power stations. Surely such policies demand to be confronted, rather than ignored, given the global consequences.

So not much joined up thinking in evidence, although the call for an "action plan" within six weeks by the Secretary of State on the occasion of his visit to the Somerset Levels area at least signalled a serious intention.  Sadly continuing circumstances have offered little respite.  Amidst all this has actually been an example of first class joined up thinking at play.  Early February saw the publication of a report,
2030 vision for the Somerset Levels.   Use this link to read a blog entry by Mark Avery on 7th February that deals with the contents and background.  The amazing thing is that the vision is one agreed by farmers, conservationists, local authorities and Government agencies based on an initiative set up by Richard Benyon (MP) whilst he was a Minister at DeFRA.   Given the widespread consensus aimed at the area supporting a thriving local economy in the future,  in which farming will play a major role, it will be interesting to see what is reflected in the eventual actions put in place by DeFRA based on the report commissioned above.

BUT, all this is not just about the Somerset Levels! Events have occurred at many places across Southern England, all of which require equitable consideration. There is a need for a National Policy Plan to emerge, evaluating the needs for the future, the costs involved, the actions required and the accompanying policies to be put in place. It's not just about dredging or flood defences, emergency services or insurance provisions, transport services or upland catchment management being seen in isolation, but the single and simple need of bringing all of these together   This is not the ground for petty party politics, nor internecine battles between agencies, but for an increasing self evident problem to be addressed by equally self evident national solutions. If events during the 2014/15 winter have any resemblance to this current one, then we might even see the subject become a major election issue. We might even see George Osborne suggest some Keynesian based economic solution by announcing major infrastructure initiatives !!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Funding secured for Wildlife Crime Unit.

After the uncertainty which has surrounded the above it was good news indeed to learn late yesterday that funding had been secured/allocated for the continuation of the Unit until 2016.  Full details can be read here
Funding for Wildlife Crime Unit

Now, I am sure we can all welcome that news given the valuable work which has been undertaken and successfully completed previously. The news was released at 1730 hours last evening and, doubtless, was a relief to many people associated with the unit , both directly and indirectly.  It's to be welcomed.

But, you know, it's always worth looking a little further and examining motives at the same time. Politics is a strange game of massaging the collective ego of the presiding Party, but also scoring points over the Opposition, however small. It may also be a knee jerk reaction to avoid embarrassment too.

Now why do I say this after expressing overwhelming support for the initiative?  Well, first of all this very afternoon, and at the instigation of the Back Bench Committee, a debate was held in Parliament on International Wildlife Crime.  Remember too, that some little time ago, a very telling report from the Environmental Audit Committee contained a whole host of recommendations relevant to this subject area.   Joan Walley, (Labour)  ) Chair of that Committee, emphasized many of these points today,and their relevance to the days proceedings. Sadly, it seemed only two Labour MP's were present, Joan Walley and Barry Gardiner, who did the summing up on behalf of the Opposition. A signal that hardly augurs well for the positioning of the Labour Party on environmental and wildlife matters, but there you go!!

By contrast, several Tory MP's and a couple of Liberal MP's were present and several spoke well on the subject.  On that score I felt gently chided given the somewhat frequent asides I've made about the Greenest Government Ever!!!  However, repentance is a waste of time as you can't turn back history!!  The contributions were detailed and passionate from people concerned for the subject and who wanted to see progress, foremost amongst which were Nick Herbert, Richard Benyon and Sir John Randall. Well done!

This debate preceded what will be a major international conference at Lancaster House next week, fronted by HRH, the Prince of Wales, and also the Duke of Cambridge. Many Heads of State will be there and the whole affair is to the credit of the UK as the host and the inevitable message it will send world wide as to our sentiments and intentions on the matters being examined.  Doubtless there will be an opportunity to comment on what is agreed etc etc next week.

But, turning back to the initial point, all this politicking is a bit last minute, isn't it?  It's very commitment is sadly undermined by its timing, as one wonders why the announcement was made so late.  [ I say, Hubert, it would have been bad form to announce no funds were available for a unit pledged to tackle the very fundamental elements of what next week's conference is about, wouldn't it!! HRH would not have been pleased!  ] Of course it would, and that's where the politics comes in, including one might suspect, the timing of today's debate. BUT...

There were other elements of the debate that were very revealing and I had to confess a feeling of support  for what was stated.  I'd not realised that international  terrorist organizations are using the proceeds from poaching to fund their activities and that, wildlife crime , is the THIRD most lucrative illegal activity across the globe after narcotics and people trafficking.  OK, it's easy for someone like me to take a poke at the Government for deliberately timing something to its advantage, but these are clearly not routine, everyday problems that can be easily dealt with.  I was heartened to learn that there is an Inter-Ministerial Group, chaired by the Foreign Secretary and which is attended by all other appropriate Secretaries of State, that considers cross departmental implications of such activities. Impressive I thought!

So, 8 out of 10, timing can be better and can we have an Inter-Ministerial Group that examines the not infrequent notions that DEFRA comes up with and considers their implications for Government, its popularity and efficacy.  A reassuring day nonetheless!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

And finally........good weather.

An early post due to other work in hand later!  Yes, the wind has dropped ;  no more whining and moaning, tiles rattling and the house being buffeted.  At one point in late morning the sun could be felt to actually have warmth in it......yippee!

Coverage of the local patch and a seawatch. Whilst there was nothing eventful, it was just good to be out! I now know how cows feel when released into the fields in spring.  The sea carried a large swell and onshore waves were crashing on the coastline and filling bays with white spume.  A sight that never ceases to fascinate!  Very little was on the move, although quite bright conditions and salt spray didn't help!  A single Gannet moved south as did a single Razorbill.  Fulmars rode the troughs with effortless ease, but most Shags appeared to have opted for inshore waters. At least three Great Northern Divers fed close inshore, an indication of perhaps how many there are  "out there".

Three Song Thrush and a Blackbird fed out on open pasture, grateful I imagine for being less constrained in their choice of feeding areas than in recent times.  I spent some time pinning down feeding flocks of Barnacle Geese and found birds in areas where I've never noticed a presence before. Some were simply taking time

out to rest and bathe around a lens of floodwater, and no doubt enjoying the sun and absence of strong winds. Click on the picture to see them in close up and at their best!

 A straightforward day, simply enjoying birds!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

E-petition update.

A couple of weeks ago, following my having contacted almost two hundred bird groups and natural history societies, I undertook to update people on how the E-petition on licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers  was going,  see automatic link here, Licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.

There has been a magnificent response, with a real "step up" in signatures since the above exercise, with the current total being 8553!  Whilst 10,000 signatures are needed in order to get an official Government response, there is still three weeks to run within which time we can achieve that total.  Let's do it!!

                                              Courtesy of Isle of Man Govt. via Alan Tilmouth.

In recent days two other events have occurred which tie in closely with the above. The Scottish Raptor Study Group and the Scottish Ornithologists Club have both advocated that grouse moor shooting should be regulated and have been in contact with the appropriate Minister within the Scottish Government, Paul Wheelhouse. An idea whose time has come one might say!!  Both are actions that draw further attention to the general issue, keep the issue alive and add a further head of steam in a collective sense!!

If you haven't yet signed the petition and wish to do so, then use the link above. Alternatively, if you have already taken action, please promote the details as widely as you can, for which many thanks.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hills not yet alive with the sound or sight of birds!

Readers of this Blog will recollect that, occasionally, I deliberately cover the local grass moor and adjacent just to be aware of what is around locally and to keep in touch with any environmental changes. This morning, whilst it was windy and the odd shower swept through, the weather was sufficiently fine to have a bit of an exploration.  I say this because the weather of the past two months has been wet, in fact, very wet. The ground underfoot was saturated virtually everywhere and I spent as much time undertaking detours as I did making progress.

The most notable impression was the absence of passerines. The only small birds I encountered  were either in or around the garden ( Blackbirds and Dunnock ), with nothing on the open ground. The nearby conifer plantations were equally devoid of life, although my route only took in the edge of a couple of the larger blocks.  So, what was around?

Well, I suppose you could group them generally under scavengers!  Raven  (3) , Hooded Crow (4),  Greater Black-backed Gull (2), Buzzard (1), Sparrowhawk (1), Hen Harrier (1 ).   There was also a couple of Choughs exploring one of their favourite feeding areas.   Noticeable by their absence was any sign of Pheasants, of which one or two are usually encountered. Given I've not noticed any of the official shoots taking place over the winter then it's seems unlikely numbers have been reduced. Perhaps they've "retired" into the confines of the plantations where drier conditions are available?

I suppose you might question why so many "scavengers" were present , but I guess the prospect of  food availability attracts most of them, particularly dead sheep, Red Deer/Roe Deer, Rabbits or Brown Hare of which , at this stage of the winter, there's bound to be some. The Sparrowhawk was heading towards the house/garden , doubtless drawn by the occasional activity of feeding birds. The male Hen Harrier was moving purposefully northwards up the valley needing, I suspect, to cover a large amount of ground in search of prey!

Certainly a few days of drying winds would be welcome and less frequent rain, but I suspect most of Britain is wishing for the same !!