Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Spurn depicted even earlier than 1958 , 1950 in fact !!!

I found this reference yesterday whilst researching out some details on Spurn.  It's a film made in 1950, so almost seventy years ago, and less than a decade after the Spurn Bird Observatory was brought into being. I'd never seen it before and suggest it's essential viewing for anyone with an interest in Spurn, its birds or the Observatory.

Click on this link       Film on Spurn Bird Observatory

There are a number of remarkable things about the scenes depicted. Clearly it was de rigeur to wear a long macintosh,  a  flat cap , stout boots and carry a large stick when driving a Heligoland trap, oh , and be in a suit, preferably with waistcoat !!!  Plus too, note the sheer numbers of people involved in guiding the birds into the trap.

Early days, even to the extent of showing the preferred way of using a Dolland and Aitchison Target Major telescope ! It might all look rather amateurish, but it must be acknowledged that , from such efforts, grew the observatory network we see to day, including Spurn which grows from strength to strength.  Who would have thought that those early efforts by Ralph Chislett and his colleagues would result in the situation we see today where an award winning book on the birds of Spurn has been published, on land being owned and a new observatory building set up. Tribute indeed and one that leads to a confidence that other such initiatives are likely to follow in the future.  A great place, a great example and continuing great efforts in the cause of  bird migration studies. And remember, you can do your bit too by becoming a Friend of Spurn ( see the Observatory web site for details ) so that the necessary ideas of the future can move forward.

Spurn remembered 1958 !

Now I suspect this entry will cause some hilarity in some quarters, not without justification I guess !!  Even a glimpse at the reproduced diary entries below , the writing style, the layout, the simplicity and so on, points at humble beginnings. But that was how it was , folks !  It serves to show that enthusiasm was high and efforts just as focused even if the outcomes weren't perhaps as extensive as today.

In August, 1958 I was sixteen. I'd been to Spurn before on day trips but never stayed over for any period. A birding friend of mine at grammar school , Geoff Aynsley, and I decided to spend a holiday at the observatory during the last couple of weeks of August. This involved getting a train from Barnsley to Doncaster,   Doncaster to Hull  and then a bus to Spurn from Hull itself.  No M62 in those days !

There was no full time warden in those days, but one, Lt.Colonel H.G. Brownlow, was in residence at the Warren for the autumn of that year, supervising ringing and general arrangements and soon had us sorted out. We met up with other birders staying at the observatory ( Bill Curtis, Colin Pask, Ken Hardcastle , George Edwards and Charlie Winn ) and were soon into the swing of things.  The initial thing we were "recruited into" was a drive on the Heligoland trap. A "semi-long" in the parlance of our military advisor !  This started at the gate I believe, but his  "long version" started at the Blue Bell and involved disturbing each and every bush so hoping that any hapless birds made their way towards the Warren trap. In a way it was exciting stuff really ! After that we went seawatching for the remainder of the day, but were also given some "lucid" rejoinders from Charlie Winn as to what our responses should be to the almost incessant requests for long and semi-long heligoland drives.  Charlie became a close friend during the time I was in Yorkshire , an ace birder and , shall we say, an exceptional character !  His three wheel "van"  ( watch a similar version owned by the Trotter family in "Only Fools and Horses" ) guaranteed a near death experience  when negotiating Hull traffic and roundabouts !


Click to enlarge images.

I was to spend many days , if not weeks ,  at Spurn in the decade afterwards, and since returning from Scotland recentlyI can again take my fill of this wonderful place. This particular  holiday though still stands out vividly in my memory as do many other periods which followed "in the early days". A rite of passage in many ways and an intro to a lifetime's passion.  Things have changed , and continue to change at Spurn , but that essential magic is still present. For example, there were three fields to cross from the Warren to the coast in those days ; nowadays the rigours of coastal erosion  have ensured the sea is a very close neighbour of Warren Cottage itself.! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumnal Equinox

Today ( 22nd September ) marks the occasion of the Autumnal Equinox within the Astronomical  calendar. This means that our night and day are of approximate equal length as the Equator passes the centre of the Sun.   Our North and South poles are not tilted towards or away from the Sun, as on other occasions, but are aligned to , theoretically at least, the same amount of daylight to both of Earth's hemispheres.

The next notable occasion is that of the "winter solstice" on the 21/22 nd December, with the 21st being the shortest day of the year in the context of daylight.

The Meteorological Calendar is derived from the Grigorian Calendar  which we assiduously follow . The seasons are simply split into three monthly blocks, which makes forecasting and the comparison of statistics easier to follow. These are straightforward.....Spring is March to May inclusive, Summer is June to August, Autumn is September to November and Winter is December through to February.

And , if you really want to be precise, we now have 100 days left to the end of the year!!!  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Huddersfield and Halifax RSPB MG first autumn meeting.

The first meeting of the autumn/winter was last evening. After all the usual formalities were dealt with by David Hemingway ( Group Leader ) we were treated to a very entertaining and informative talk by John Gardner on " Iberian Birds".  A very varied array of bird photographs was shown from a variety of locations in northern Spain including some superb shots of Great Bustard in display. Similarly close up shots of both Bonelli's and Golden Eagle were impressive. I wasn't aware previously of the extent to which photographic opportunities and facilities were laid on with a whole series of hides having been created for that purpose at various different spots and local guides providing the necessary back up too. Quite a business . The one that John Gardner used utilised road kill as bait, i.e. dead Rabbits, for the eagles in question with some obvious regular success at the site on the boundary between Spain and Portugal overlooking the immense "jointly" protected nature reserve. I doubt the process or habit of using tethered white pigeons ( by other people ) is legal (?) but clearly the local populations of eagles are thriving and taking full advantage of the situation.   My favourite photograph.......Bluethroat, a real corker , but many others similarly competed !!!

The Group are visiting Rutland Water on Sunday, one of a series of trips that are organized throughout the year.  Why not pay us a visit ? Take a look at the website of the group for all the details of both meetings and trips.  

Inaugural meeting Penistone and District Countryside Society.

Tuesday evening saw the first formal meeting of the Penistone and District Countryside Society ( South Yorkshire ).  This is the brainchild of Chris Tomson, previously a farmer at Broomhead in the Peak National Park and now an Agricultural Advisor with the RSPB.  Currently his main ( work ) "target area" is the Yorkshire Wolds and it was on this area and the theme of farming and wildlife that he presented the first talk to the embryonic group. The intention is to hold a series of meetings in winter and a programme of outside visits to areas of interest in the Spring and summer.

It was a great evening with a series of attractive and hugely relevant photographs, most of which had been taken by Chris himself. Now we all know that our farmland bird communities have reduced in recent times, decimated by the increase in intensive farming methods and the rapid turn around between summer harvested crops and those sown for over-wintering. And it's easy also to lay blame and criticise such innovation and call out for change. Hopefully change there may be, given that it's estimated that many farmland bird species, for instance, have reduced by 60%,  that due to the specificity of insecticide sprays the food upon which many species depends is a thing of the past and due also to the spraying of crops the botannical diversity of the countryside has plummeted. But also let's remind ourselves that the call for increased food production ( predicted at needing to double by 2050 ) comes from successive Governments, who we elect, who operate on our behalf and whose policies we should be prepared to confront as necessary. In all these situations the "adult way" is to participate, identify opportunities for change and work hard at gaining support for suggested changes , not stand on the byelines and bleat !!  Certainly the "targetting" of important agricultural areas and the adoption of these principles is symptomatic of the RSPB's approach which is enjoying success. OK, as yet, it might only be 5% of farmers who are participating , but the potential opportunity for change is just around the corner with the schemes under consideration by DEFRA in a post-Brexit situation.

I felt more optimistic when I came out of the hall than when I went in. We'd heard of endless examples of  a wide variety of projects,  from Syngenta's Operation Pollinator scheme  ( Operation Pollinator ) to much smaller scale, almost personalised projects introduced by individual farmers. One of these, at Ryedale, near Malton, I felt particularly encouraged by . It's aim is to support Corn Buntings, by planting to assist food availablity, by providing breeding habitat and even song posts and I'm looking forward to receiving more information on this in due course.

So a great start. But what next. Well, another meeting is already planned, on the 17th October.

Click to enlarge!

Do come along and mention it to your friends too. It's always difficult introducing something new like this but I'm sure support will grow over time. Given sufficient interest is evident a Committee will be formed and a longer series of meetings organized. So, watch this space.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

West Mere farm, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire.

This is where I stay when at Spurn. It's immediately on the left as you enter the small village of Kilnsea and offers B and B as well as three small self-catering  accomodation units.  It's home from home , believe me!

There are other places to stay at, of course, the Observatory itself, the Crown and Anchor and several caravan sites ( Driftwood, Sandy Beaches, and Kew Villa, the latter being operated by Spurn Bird Observatory ). Contact details are available at the end of this posting.

What can be said is that notable birds have been seen in the immediate vicinity of any of these. Within a couple of days of arriving at Westmere recently a young lad had photographed a Rose-coloured Starling on the telephone wires outside his bedroom. Not bad !.

Having spent 16 years living on Islay I'd missed "east-coast falls " and so I was determined this year to spend as much time as I could in a catch up situation. For me Spurn was the obvious place to be. It also has the obvious advantage of providing access to sites further up the coast where particular migrants might find landfall. During my recent visit I went up to Bempton to take in the Greenish Warbler which had been there for a few days. So, having been there in Spring and part of August/September I'm now poised for a long spell within October basing myself in one of the above self catering units. Such provide comfort, convenience and flexibility . "Mine hosts" are Sue and Andrew Wells for which nothing is too much trouble. I've already placed my bookings for 2018 so ensure you move early!

Access to Kilnsea Wetlands is just down the road and easily withing walking distance, as is the walk across a couple of fields to the North Sea coast. A similarly distanced walk across the fields will bring you to Sammy's Point adjacent to the Humber with its attractive stand of mature bushes so  beloved of a variety of migrants.   And, of course, you're not that far away from the Penninsula itself , the Canal Zone, the Observatory's Church Field area, Beacon Lane and the Warren area where visual migration watches and sea watching activities take place.  So, a busy day followed by a self catering preference or a meal at the Crown and Anchor washed down by Timothy Taylor's beer. A life style for the Gods .

If you've never been birding at Spurn , then try it. It's a phenomenal place which , admittedly is changing radically given the breach of the |Penninsula which took place in recent times. What the future holds is anybody's guess so now is the time to take it in. Where else can you stand on a narrow penninsula with the North Sea to one side of you and the mighty River Humber flowing past you on the other.  A unique place and experience and a mega place for birds.

Spurn Bird Observatory
Westmere Farm         
Kew Villa Campsite             E-mail
Sandy Beaches          
Crown and Anchor              Ring   01964 650276    

Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder Award.

Apologies for a belated entry on such a relevant topic. These awards were presented on the weekend of the Spurn Migration Festival after the participants had spent a proportion of their day being assessed in a variety of ways. The awards were presented on the Saturday evening by Professor Ian Newton and Dr. Andy Clements with all participants being acknowledged. Whilst there was an outright winner,  apparently the final marks had been close, all were clearly to be firmly congratulated. In Ian Newton's encouraging  words, "please do keep involved as we need you in the future" !

This is now a firmly established part of the Observatory's programme and the competition will certainly continue in the future. For details of what is involved then refer to the Spurn Bird Observatory website.

I have to admit I had a vested interest in the proceedings this year.  Sami, the son of long standing friends Sarah and Steve Sankey, now resident on Orkney, was one of the contestants, although sadly not the winner this time around !  "Team Sankey" had never been to Spurn before so the weekend necessarily included a whole variety of involvements, including sampling Timothy Taylor's beer at the Crown and Anchor  ( that was for Dad and me whilst Mother and son went on the bat walk which, incidentally, was very successful and something I'll sign up for next year ) !!

Now it's not everyday that anyone can visit a new place and find part of it carries the same name!!  Here's Sami at Sammy's Point on Humberside which is an integral part of Spurn. Unfortunately the weather was less than kind and we had to rush off  anyway to try and see a Sabine's Gull which was flying out along the Humber. Sadly we missed it ( much to Sami's disgust ) although there'd been previous compensations given the showy Wryneck and Long-billed Dowitcher  which were present.

Altogether a very enjoyable weekend for all and one to remember.  Well done , Sami !

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Let the Spurn MigFest commence !

There's now less than 48 hours before the commencement of the SPURN MIGFEST. Registration formalities can be completed on the day ( Friday ) , so don't let the imminence of it all put you off. take a look at the Spurn Bird Observatory website for details or contact the BTO for information.  Whatever, don't miss it !

Set out below is very full programme of events taking place and other details of less formal activities,  ( click to enlarge the image )

There's something to entice everyone, a keynote lecture by Professor Ian Newton on Migration and a hogroast to restore those depleted energy levels.  Don't miss your opportunity to attend this event !!!!

An update of sorts from Spurn, with apologies !

Well, folks, it's always said that it's bad to start off with an apology, but I've no alternative. I haven't managed to keep up with a daily Blog on what's been happening at Spurn as things have been a bit more intensive than I thought in the "personal time management department".  Most definitely could have done better !!

However, daily updates are available on the Spurn website, with results from the efforts of the guys who make available countless hours monitoring visual passage and sea passage, besides details of what has been ringed and recorded generally.

Suffice to say I've been having a great time , which has included Red-necked Phalarope, Pectoral Sandpiper, Rose-coloured Starling over several days, Citrine Wagtail, Great White Egret and Greenish Warbler ( although this involved a trip to Bempton ) besides species like Pied Flycatcher, Curlew Sandpiper, Arctic Skua and the like. A couple of reasonable days seawatching were absorbing and I'm looking forward to more when I return in October !

And now , well in less than 48 hours , it's The SPURN MIGFEST.     What's not to like.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Egret bonanza. 25.8.2017

Due to some necessary phone calls I was a bit late in getting "off the blocks". I decided to take a walk along the river bank west of Sammy's Point way on towards Patrington. It was glorious sunshine, excellent visibility and I caught the tide just right. Full tide when I started, with the river surface calm and glass like and the waters gently lapping against the bank,  the waters gradually receded providing the exposed mud that the numbers of Shelduck offshore had been waiting for. All the while flocks of Dunlin and Ringed Plover winged their way up river to feeding areas. There was a marked absence of hirundines which linked with the reports of the good counts from the Observatory of birds moving out yesterday. Whilst I didn't have anything special, it was a good morning.

After lunch straight out to Kilnsea Wetlands where two Great White Egrets had been reported ( isn't technology wonderful! ).  Except they weren't there when I arrived  ( ! ) although one turned up shortly afterwards.

Seen like this they're quite big chaps in reality !!

Shortly afterwards the other bird turned up too.  Mediterranean Gull was again present ( there's been up to 15 ) and the Little Stint showed well, although odd other species I wanted to see appear to have moved on. A nice Short-eared Owl moved over the site ( mid afternoon ! ) and a few Yellow Wagtails were near the hide.   Again, entertaining times.

Finally , a session seawatching. Again an Arctic Skua, Common and Sandwich Terns on the move as were several groups of BHG , a splendid adult Mediterranean Gull above me, and single Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and Redshank.

Tentative explorations ! 24.8.2017.

Whilst I suspect I might look like some "hominid land crab" when on the move at least things are relatively back to normal, albeit at crawler pace!

And I now have a new weapon in my ornithological armoury. I've purchased one of the radios used by "Spurn regulars" which allows everyone to keep in touch and , hopefully, not miss too much. Thanks to Paul Collins ( Warden, Spurn Bird Observatory )  and to the supplier in Hull for the support.

Being the absolute non-techie I didn't fiddle with it when it arrived and therefore received a rather old fashioned look when I called in at the Obs. and enquired as to the next stage. A knob was dutifully turned to "ON"  ( how embarassing )  and the unit handed back .... and , there you are, operational. There are those of acquaintance who will forsee endless disasters emerging from now on ranging from incomplete reportage, and variations on a theme, but I've realised benefits already and heaven knows how useful it will be in OCTOBER !!!!!

On to a careful stroll along the Canal Zone , although little was present , except a southward moving Common Buzzard ( picked up through a report of the bird over Kilnsea on THE radio. Goal in one I thought ! )
Kilnsea Wetlands area for most of the afternoon didn't deliver anything beyond what I'd had before but was extremely rewarding in terms of views of a variety of species.

Not quite the intention for the day. 23.8.2017

The usual walk down to the coast in fine, bright and sunny weather was welcome, although it didn't produce much that was different to yesterday other than a Mistle Thrush. The passerines were still around and attracting the attention of a Sparrowhawk and a couple of Wigeon hove into view.

And then disaster struck in the form of back trouble, don't ask me from where or how, but I ended up for the rest of the day either on my bed or on the floor. Agony, "old man's back" I reckon. Not much fun getting old at times! And that was it as far as birds were concerned.

Spurn.....the start of it all. 22.8.2017.

Well, perhaps not the most auspicious start given it was overcast with drizzle and visibility down to 150 m. at times!  But, of course, all that can be good for birds, so onward.

Down through the farm to the coast with various waders on the north Field wetlands ( Greenshank, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and overflying Curlew and Whimbrel ) A couple of Sparrowhawk found the Linnet flocks of interest and numbers of passerines were feeding on the field edge with Beacon Lane ( Blackbird (15+) Song Thrush, a Wheatear, several Dunnock besides the Linnet parties ). Unfortunately visibility over the sea was virtually non-existent although odd Sandwich Tern could be heard on the move. Around 700 Starling were strung out along telephone wires as well as numbers of Woodpigeon.

Back for breakfast with the weather now gradually improving. A knock on the door revealed a wee lad whose bridge camera almost engulfed him ! "Is this the Rose-coloured Starling" he enquired politely. And it was, taken through his bedroom window a few minutes previously. He then proceeded to say it had moved on to wires just outside the farm and there it was showing well. Sadly I didn't get his name ( I hope he reads this somehow and gets in touch ) as he's certainly a future if he keeps involved as his knowledge and photographic skills were first class. Eight years old  with class shots of Little Stint, Greenshank and more !

After a quick visit to Patrington I spent a time at Sammy's Point but nothing particularly of interest was present. then on to Kilnsea Wetlands where a variety of waders was in evidence including Little Stint and Greenshank.  A Brent Goose, several Mediterranean Gulls and 8 Little Egrets were present and increasing numbers of Redshank as the tide started to rise on the Humber, besides duch and an ever changing assemblage of gulls.

Finally, a seawatch to round off the day. A couple of Arctic Skua, 2 Sanderling , a Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher and Common and Sandwich Tern moving south plus a few Gannet and a Fulmar north provided a nice variety. The observatory "seawatch count team" had had 542 Oysercatcher move through during the day and 790 Common and 97 Sandwich Tern during the evening roost movement.

Not a bad start!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And finally......Spurn!

After a hectic day "organizing" things I'm now ensconced at Spurn for a while ! Daily Blogs will follow that I hope will entice you to visit if you haven't yet visited this absolute first class migration site, linked with convenient wetlands nearby, the Humber Estuary and, of course, the North Sea.

This morning wasn't the best with visibility down to 200m at times, drizzle and wet conditions underfoot. I set off across the fields from the farm, but could hardly see across the first two wetland areas and certainly not a part of the sea itself. Guess it could have been a morning for successive tea drinking !  Nonetheless, a few waders, a couple of Sparrowhawks hunting passerines ( Linnet, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Dunnock and a Wheatear ) along Beacon Lane, but basically that was it. A mission to look for the Rose-coloured Starling was somewhat downgraded on discovering around 700 Common Starlings strung out along local telephone wires ( although it was good to see such numbers ! ).

Breakfast finished I was approached by a wee lad, whose bridge camera almost engulfed him, and asked if he'd got a picture of "the Starling" which he proudly displayed.  He most certainly had, and from his bedroom window at that and, whats more, the damned thing was still sitting there outside the farm ! He'd also got some other tremendous photo's and clearly has a developing gift. I wish I'd got his name as "watch this space" I guess is the best compliment I can offer. So not a bad start , particularly as the weather was improving.

Visits to various sites produced a variety of species. A walk along the Humber from Sammy's Point, a spell at Kilnsea Wetlands late afternoon then saw successive waves of Redshank coming off the Humber around high tide to roost, and a number of Mediterranean Gulls in evidence supported by Greenshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and a large flock of Golden Plover on nearby farmland.

The end of the day saw me seawatching and witnessing the stream of Common and Sandwich Terns moving south to roost. A couple of Arctic Skuas introduced momentary mayhem, around 150 Oystercatcher flew south , as did a small number of Gannet, so the day wound down in fine fashion with Atlantic Grey Seal and a couple of Porpoise to boot.  I was well satisfied for a first day !

BirdFair memories.

This year I only attended the BirdFair for two days ( Friday and Saturday ).  Having worked there in the past, volunteered there in the past and, more recently, simply attended the weekend, this was certainly the one I've enjoyed most.  Why?    I'm not actually sure, as there were "downsides" ! I supposedly "scheduled" 13 talks and managed to attend one  ( Martin Collinson, well worth it ! ) and I arranged to meet up with particular friends and missed them completely. But overall the whole event was vibrant , brought repeated contacts with friends, produced extremely useful discussions and updates with past colleagues and others and, generally , just came together terribly well, including, dare I say , some putative arrangements relating to future trips!! Successions of friends flowed into vision, messages were passed and arrangements concluded, even a couple of nice "street meals " consumed. And I gained a hell of a lot of information which I sought out or received.  So, I enjoyed it enormously !

I confess I bought a few things, but have determined a strategy that I believe produces a feeling of success from the beginning.  Some clothing , a couple of books I wanted and pies from Brocklesbys ( conveniently retained by them until my departure ). Friday morning saw me "sorted" in terms of a whole list of personal needs ( or dreams " ) so I was off to a good start and was free to gossip, get educated and updated, and, generally dip into various things at random. I will apply that approach in future, which I suspect is what it's all about really anyway.

Work underway on the .Birdfair mural depicting the species/habitats which will benefit from the proceeds raised over the weekend.

May I wish our Birdfair every success for the future. Well done, and thanks.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Book review. "Where the wild thyme blew " by Peter Marren.

This is a book which I've had tucked away for quite some time. . Dipping into it, immediately after I'd first purchased it, I came to a conclusion that this was a book that warranted an "undisturbed read", a book that shouldn't be read in five page instalments, but one that should be savoured, absorbed and enjoyed to the full. I'm pleased to say I've just had a couple of days of unmitigated pleasure !!

Now I'll not take up space writing about the man himself,  Peter Marren,  as the essential "building blocks" of the person , his love of nature, his scholarship, his acute powers of observation and insight, not just associated with natural history, but of us humans as well, are a major part of what makes this book so unique. I'm a little older than Peter Marren, by about eight years or so, therefore this book pitches up against so many of my own recollections and, indeed now, has so enjoyably reinforced and elevated them.  Whilst the major part of this book is autobiographical, his love of wildlife and how that developed, his insatiable curiosity for virtually everything in the "outside world" is woven through the other events of his early life, but with such good effect.

As things move on,  the personal exposure of opinions, emotions and attendant facts of every day life were a particular pleasure for me. Memories were unlocked in me that I suspect had never seen the light of day in recent times. Tastes of food (mainly sweets ! ), TV programmes,  books, advert jingles, pop songs, Christmas presents....they're all there with , eventually, even sex and rock an' roll resting alongside the angst and self doubt of teenage years. Even my memory of my first French book at grammar school ( "Toto" and his blessed aunt ) was unearthed and fondly served up !  So, so much, and all interlaced with mischievous humour, honest analysis and motivations of the time.

If I said that the natural history parts of the book are less prominent than the autobiographical parts , then I'd be telling the truth. But don't let that put anyone off.  The enthusiasm for exploring "wild places" ( some not very far from home ), and the life they play host to, never diminishes and I have no doubt is replicated among many of us who were also ensnared within this obsession with the natural world.

I'm conscious this is not a terribly  bona fide book review, but more a letter of thanks to Peter Marren for providing us with a first class book, but so be it and I hope it's interpreted as an outright recommendation . The honest admissions, the intimate revelations , but also the very graphic descriptions of what being caught up with a passion for birds, or butterflies, or botany, really felt like and how different it was experiencing that within the 50's and 60's compared to the opportunities today and what that must mean for anyone starting out.. But for anyone , yes anyone, between the ages of 60 and 80+, this is a damned good read whether you're interested in natural history or not. There'll be moments when you laugh out loud, when emotions rise and your eyes fill at some long lost memory now prised loose and there'll be a feeling of camaraderie and liberation too  ( "I'm glad someone else felt like that" you'll say to yourself and feel better for it !! ).

Peter Marren ,  thank you! ( but you forgot the "Wagon Wheels" ).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Future licencing of grouse moors must receive greater focus!

Over four years ago I raised an E-petition calling for the licencing of grouse moors ( and gamekeepers ) which gained sufficient signatures  to warrant a response from central Government, although this, in itself, was vacuous and unhelpful. Following that a further petition was raised by Mark Avery calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned.  Through a lot of hard work this enjoyed even greater success, gaining well in excess of 100,000 signatures and and an eventual hearing before the Committee dealing with such matters at Westminster. There the whole business came to an abrupt halt with the  "Establishment  opposition"  pouring scorn on the whole issue and paltry support being forthcoming from elsewhere in Westminster to assist the petitioned case.

In the meantime the persecution of raptors still goes on and the previously decimated population of Hen Harriers in England is not being allowed any opportunity to recover.  In the absence of action, the same tired cliches are still being poured out within the continuing rhetoric issued by both sides and no progress is in sight!  The whole debate has become unpleasant, personal in some cases and increasingly a tit for tat situation that is leading nowhere.

In the Official Programme for the 2017 BirdFair Chris Packham writes ( in connection with the continuing slaughter of songbirds on Cyprus )  " I, too, am sick and tired of talking and failing, lobbying and losing or sitting around for someone else to solve the problems. For us it's time for action......simply caring is not enough". Well, after around forty years grappling with raptor persecution problems I, too, am sick and would like to feel I could yet look forward to a day when I might venture out on my local moors and see harriers. Instead, arising from the concerted efforts of the shooting industry that possibility is unlikely. I and many others will have to endure the current situation, accompanied by their attitude of smug  contentment at success arrived at, and maintained, by placing themselves above the law and receiving no meaningful official condemnation. Such is not just a conservation disaster, but a national disgrace !

More and more I am beginning to feel  we need a national debate about shooting. At the same time I also feel the likelihood of any rapid change is a distant dream and I repeatedly come back to that conclusion as far as a ban on driven grouse shooting is concerned. However, and make no mistake, things will change as the practice of placing their actions beyond the law will, eventually, be the undoing of the shooting fraternity's current strategy. In the meantime we need something that at least acts as a curtailment against these self serving antics !  A system whereby the abilty to operate a shoot is contained for a period and economic penalties apply against any grouse moor enterprise following a proven persecution incident on the land concerned will put pressure on the industry and isolate them from public sympathy making way, in the fullness of time, for an outright ban unless things improve. Such regulation could be included within a licensing system.There are many other aspects where upland management and accompanying practices need to be placed under the spotlight, with accompanying penalties where standards of operation are not met and I'll Blog about this separately later. Whilst this is provided for already in some senses the monitoring and penalty elements need beefing up in my opinion.

At the present time it's essential the topic of raptor persecution is kept alive and the forthcoming Hen Harrier Action days are designed to do just that. Thankfully the RSPB has (finally) begun to openly support and promote them, but particular recognition needs to be given to Birders Against Wildlife Crime and associated individuals whose hard work continues to promote this national problem. Banning driven grouse shooting in our uplands may be a long way ahead, but active support is needed from everyone in sympathy with the proposition for change, which is where we can all help.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Things begining to move !

Out very early to miss the exercise enthusiasts and canine lovers !  Previous to 0600 hours appears to be a critical threshold and , currently, proved to be the most tranquil time in all other senses too.

Ingbirchworth Reservoir appeared to "hold" much less than previously, although the weather and viewing conditions were better than a couple of days ago. A full circuit produced a Little Egret, a Little ringed Plover (  alarm calls suggested late breeding ? ) , a Common Sandpiper, and, eventually, counts of waterbirds and  passerine feeding flocks were much the same as previously.  Each day I've ended up feeling guilty at disturbing the resting non-breeding adult Cormorant from its comfortable roosting position on a buoy, but there you go !

On to Broadstones  Reservoir, where an absolute bevy of ladies who walk dogs ( in advance of lunching ), suggested any passing waders might have been disturbed already. Nonetheless a group of 30 post-breeding Mallard, 3 Little Grebe, Curlew and odd Lapwing  and an attractive 25-30 charm of Goldfinches were noteworthy.

Nearby moorland areas produced Kestrel and Red Grouse , but little else.  Winscar Reservoir, I suppose the highest in this particular part of the South Pennines, had a Common Sandpiper, several Oystercatcher,  around 85 Canada Geese, a singing Chiffchaff and Jay in adjacent woodland and several Siskin. At a  lower level, Bowshaw Whams reservoir held 10 Mallard, Grey Heron and had an overflying Cormorant west.

A migration watch from 1000-1130 over a large expanse of open mooralnd had a Common Swift west, a local Kestrel, territorial Curlew interacting with a local Common Buzzard but little else. So, at lunchtime, and six hours on , I called it a day after an interesting and satisfying birding outing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Donald Trump and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Now all of what follows is conjecture on my part, but I wonder about it all the same.

Much was made during the media coverage of the G20 summit of the approaches made by Merkel, Macron and May ( the M and M's ) to Donald Trump in an attempt to influence and reverse his previously announced withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Agreement relating to Climate Change.  Various sections of the violent demonstrations which took place left no doubt what was thought of Trump, either specifically or generally, in this regard.  No response was forthcoming from Trump on the matter.

Now we learn, here in the UK this morning, that his intended visit here has been put back to sometime next year. I just wonder if, on his return home, his advisers have cautioned strongly against his visit where it is likely a high level of opposition to his plans and him personally would be in evidence on the streets and in the press.. Remember over 2 million people registered their opposition to such a visit and his refusal to alter matters with respect to the Paris Agreement would infuriate further environmental groups and many others. The negative vibes to his already shaky reputation is not the sort of thing he would relish. Such opposition would be directed at him, not a collective presence of Heads of State.  Bad news one might say !

So does this also mean that, on his return home, discussions have been held already about the Paris Agreement and that the situation is not going to alter. We'll have to see what the ensuing days bring, or don't, in the form of announcements.

Not a good day for charities !

Currently new regulations are emerging which will cause charities to look carefully at their future plans and commitments. Given this Government's lack lustre commitment to "things environmental", and a succession of mediocre Secretaries of State for the Environment, the whole picture surrounding the UK's recognition of the worth and needs of our natural environment gets incrementally worse. Equally the social care sector will be affected too.

Now the new regulations , as I understand them, address something that I must say I don't necessarily disagree with. "Cold calling" and  unsolicited mailings linked to fund raising I've always thought to be pushing boundaries a lot of people might find offensive. All of us are aware of our own financial situation and I guess, in the event of an unexpected increase in our funds, are apt to consider offering one off support to something dear to our hearts beyond the annual subscription commitments we maintain. Some charities, not all, have felt differently and a number of difficult circumstances have resulted. Such direct appeal activities are now to be limited and doubtless various accountants are poring over the implications.

It's difficult as charities support much that Government has no connection with or deliberately chooses to ignore. The plethora of support groups in the social care sector are an example. I've always suspected the vast majority of appeal mailings must go straight in the bin, but clearly a sufficient number must produce results for the charities to continue with them. Are we now to see more TV advertising from individual charities ( or the ones that can afford it ! ) ?  I suspect the difficulty such regulations influence are the one off appeals for support for research projects or environmental disasters as, otherwise, how do charities communicate their needs to the general public. I suspect this is something which won't go away and might even see some innovative alternatives emerging. Certainly it suggests for those of us who care for our wildlife and environment, indeed any type of charity you support, now is not the time to be reviewing the usual commitments we've entered into and even to consider extending them.

Rain almost stopped play ! 10.7.2017.

And finally, back to writing! Feels good.

Why is it that, at the point of departure out birding, it all too often starts raining ?  And so it was yesterday morning, with conditions continuing for over five hours until , at 1100 hours in a thoroughly damp and demoralized state, I called it a day. For once a usual circuit of Ingbirchworth Reservoir was virtually bereft of joggers and dog walkers and I almost had the whole area to myself.  The water level is still slightly down, but obviously now being replenished as the rapid flow of the stream in the north west corner illustrated. However, more than enough mud exists to attract passing waders so it could be a good autumn!

Sadly little was on offer that indicated any link with migration !  Yellowhammer and a single Garden Warbler were still in song and young birds were widespread , although not abundant. Best of all was calling Willow Tit in two places, which was encouraging. House Martins were busy foraging over the reservoir margins where small ( irritating ) insects were present in profusion. The new housing development nearby appears to have been adopted by the birds rather speedily ! The usual suspects were hanging out  on the exposed banks ......Mallard, Canada Goose, Grey lag Goose and a single Coot ( the other birds present previously just seem to have vacated ). Sadly 4 Great crested Grebe  were out on the water with no young in evidence and access to any late breeding site now impossible due to the  receding water margin. Still, the variety of species was still good overall.   I may be wrong, but I felt this "season"  was possibly a little later than previously with perhaps first broods having perished with the period of poor weather we had before. Hopefully some birds might still be raising young and we've yet to enjoy the "spike" in newly fledged youngsters. I was intrigued by the absence of Common Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Song Thrush, but perhaps I was just unlucky!

Broadstones Reservoir, previously showing some encouraging muddy margins, is now back to capacity. Unfortunately the recently recorded Quail weren't in evidence. but given the weather that was hardly surprising , particularly as conditions were getting worse ! A single Curlew called forlornly across the rain swept fields and 10 Lapwing fed nearby, a mere reflection of post breeding season numbers present in previous times.

And so, eventually, soaked and defeated, I called it a day !  Rain, very definitely, had stopped play.  

Friday, June 2, 2017

Pennine flank birding !

I live on the eastern flanks of the Pennine chain at the western end of South Yorkshire  ( OK, read it again slowly ! ).  You can gain a feel of the sorts of habitats available by looking at the map I posted in a previous recent entry. And it was to parts of this area that Matthew and I directed our attention this morning. Early on it was a bit murky at higher levels, but visibility was still acceptable.

The first surprise was near to home. A Little Owl flew from a perch on telegraph wires to "take on" a Blackbird in a nearby mature tree , perhaps a good indication of a breeding territory  and a good record for the local patch. On to Whitley Common , where numbers of Lapwings, not that large but with some youngsters, was particularly pleasing.   Ingbirchworth Reservoir held 4 Common Shelduck, 4 Grey Heron, a Cormorant, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 8 Grey lag Geese and at least 7 Great Crested Grebe, and that was without walking round.  Scout Dike Reservoir held precious little, and so we moved on.

Immediately previous to the chosen  " breakfast cabin " Matthew had a Hobby from the car, which I couldn't see,  £$$%%**, damn.  Restored with cholesterol and strong tea and coffee we moved on to Langsett Reservoir, setting aside the temptation to go for the much visited local Wood Warbler and even the  Pied Flycatchers, and explored some woodland I doubt gets that many visits. I can understand why perhaps, but it was worth it in some senses, although we didn't unearth anything ! The reservoir had shown around 40 Canada Geese, a Mute Swan and a Mallard brood, but little else.   Scrutiny over a local moorland provided Common Buzzard and Cuckoo.

On to Broomhead. The environs of recent international and national  bike races of prominence and, as a consequence, improved road surfaces !  A longer scouring of local woodlands provided a good selection of expected and typical species , but no Crossbills as we had hoped for.   Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Great Spotted Woodpecker, titmice, Nuthatch and a pleasing number of Song Thrushes in song was sufficiently satisfying plus a Grey Wagtail collecting food nearby to the local reservoir.  

And so a long morning came to an end, but a satisfying one at that !

New Indian photographic field guide.

Strangely enough I've never actually been to the Indian sub-continent and for no good reason either !  This book now justifies a reason to plan not one, but several, visits!

The title is a long one! " A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh " by Grewal, Sen, Singh, Devasar and  Bhatia.  And for those of you whose minds immediately raise a query, yes, the Andaman Islands are covered too !

This book provides precisely what is "claimed on the tin" in the form of 4000 coloured photographs of high quality covering every distinct species  and sub-species in the specified area ( some 1375 in all ). A distribution map is provided for most of the species alongside brief details of Voice, Range and Habitat coupled with a succinct description of the bird itself.

The photographs! They're superb!  It would be difficult to make a Yellow-bellied Babbler look "sexy"  but page 498 presents a bird which creditably holds its own amongst a plethora of more colourful, resplendent individuals !  It would also  be wrong to select a favourite, in fact, it would be nigh on impossible given the selection available. Make your own choices!

At nearly 800 pages this is not, in my opinion,  a Field Guide for the field unless used judiciously.  In addition to weight, I doubt it would stand up to repeated "thumbings through" or inclement weather as the binding is a little bit flimsy. However, as a reference book at the end of the day it is an absolute essential for every trip For heavens sake don't forget to pack it !.

Published by Princeton University Press ( ISBN 978-0-691-17649-7 ) , but , in the UK, simply contact Wildsounds.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Quality raptors reign supreme! Monday,22nd May.

A slightly belated entry of a visit yesterday morning to Thorne Moors.  Leaving home early I travelled to Stanley, Wakefield where Matthew and I then went on to Thorne Moors NNR in bright, fine and virtually calm conditions, arriving out on the moor area itself sometime after 0830 hours.  The walk-in approach after Moorends was a riot of birdsong with Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Robin, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Blackbird and others, all contributing to a symphony of unorchestrated, vibrant sound, added to further by views of Bullfinch, Stoat and Roe Deer. Magic!


Humberhead Peatlands NNR ( or , as I prefer, Thorne Moors ) is a large wilderness which figured prominently in the time I was with RSPB until it was saved for the nation by its purchase and current administration by Natural England. Previously it had been worked for its peat by a firm  ( Fisons ) and the political aspects in operation prior to its purchase for the nation are a story in themselves.  As is the worth of Thorne Moors, its protectors ( William Bunting.... remember him ? ) and the fact that it is unique in so many respects with many isolated representations, be they botannical or entomological, besides its equally unique birdlife.  Other than planes flying overhead the  current  sense of "wilderness" takes some beating and is not replicated in many places in "downtown England" !

We walked out on a "bouncing" peat track, made slightly more moist due to recent rain, and headed for Middle Moor. Here there is a constructed viewing platform of some 20 feet in height which gives unimpeded views out over vast expanses of the moorland proper!  From here we saw Stonechat, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Cuckoo, Grey lag Geese,  but not quite what we were looking for, and so we moved on a little further. And then, suddenly, the bird we'd come to see.......Red-footed Falcon. An adult male swirling, swooping, twisting and dexterously weaving around at low level before rising up over our heads and providing first class views. It powered across an open water area, scything through the air on sculpted wings before swerving round and just as easily hanging for a moment in mid air. After several minutes of this awe inspiring display it simply disappeared which prompted a celebratory sandwich and a hope it would return.

It didn't return, but, then, an adult Hobby provided a not dis-similar diversion by hawking the now more obviously emerging dragonflies over the moor in front of us . Its own display of agility, as it swung with ease around the isolated stands or individual stunted trees on the heath was equally as entertaining until it , too, disappeared.  Eventually we made our (weary ) way back along the track ( try walking three or four miles  miles in a Bouncy Castle ) well pleased with our morning , which was enhanced further by a pair of Grey Partridge.  A good, productive time in an uplifting environment of peace and tranquility, what's not to like !


After the spiritually uplifting experience of Thorne and its wildlife, a call from my youngest daughter at the very end of the day confirming she was alright, safe and away from the horrific brutality of the bombing incident at the Manchester Arena brought reality into perspective with a sharp jolt.  Two entries on a histogram depicting experience that were in stark contrast to each other, but signified what can so easily arise in different spheres, both of which set out to provide joy and excitement, one of which ended in tragedy and irrevocable insecurity.  A good and bad day in equal measure !      

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Let's celebrate successes and take heart !

Yesterday morning ( Saturday ) Matthew and I visited Fairburn Ings RSPB NR, near Castleford in the Aire Valley, a large, linear wetland reserve with a variety of different accompanying habitats.  The weather was great ( until a torrential downpour in the afternoon, which we just missed ) and birdsong was in full swing in the glorious sunshine.  Reed Warbler song brought a roadside reedbed alive and Blackbird and Whitethroat similarly performed in a nearby hedgerow with at least one Cuckoo calling in the distance.  Common Terns and Black'headed Gulls "hawked" over the large water area, with groups of Grey lag Geese and Canada Geese moving overhead to nearby feeding pastures. We recorded an increasing number of different species and were very satisfied with what we'd seen by the end of our visit.  My only gripe is with the opening and closing times at some RSPB reserves which are somewhat late and somewhat early, but let's not allow that to spoil what was an otherwise great day.

One thing we both remarked on, and which always fascinates me if I'm honest, is the changing fortunes of some species. Having lived away from Yorkshire for a number of years I find myself contrasting what "used to be" with what I now find. And it's not all bad news either , although we are faced with some parallel situations that generate serious concern.  But let's set those aside for later treatment.  Many years ago, as a young birder, I would have been thrilled by sightings of breeding Cormorants and Common Terns and numbers of Gadwall and of Common Buzzard. Changes that, understandably, are perhaps taken for granted by our emergent generation of young birders.  But what of more exciting changes still, and changes that have taken place in the relatively recent past too !  What of Little Egrets, of which we had several yesterday,  of Avocet, of which a pair of birds appeared particularly hefted to a small island, of Cetti's Warbler, which sang lustily from roadside bushes adjacent to marshland and of Red Kite, a single bird of which drifted around at the western end of the reserve.  Such would have been a red letter day of first class proportions !  Not all changes have been the product of direct conservation initiatives, e.g. the release schemes for Red Kite, but are still a part  consequence of consistent action by conservation organizations like the RSPB who have continued to protect a wide variety of sites through direct ownership. A role that RSPB , Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and local authorities must receive recognition for. Long may that situation continue

For this day, at least, there were several things to really celebrate and enjoy. Let's draw strength from that enjoyment and stiffen our resolve and commitment to address the parallel problems referred to above. Beyond this,  the task is to simply get out and enjoy the great variety of birdlife which is available to us!      

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Labour's vision for our future environment.

Well, I'm finally up and running again !  Given that's it's destined to rain all day, and heavily at that at times, I thought I'd take the opportunity to get something "in print". Whilst there's much I could dwell on, given that I've had almost three weeks at Spurn Nature Reserve in East Yorkshire,  I thought it sensible to start afresh and concentrate on current issues rather than commit entries to what, after all, is "historical material".  And so I took a peek at the Labour Manifesto launched yesterday and examined what they had to say about the environment and nature.

Rather than being thrown into paroxysms of rage and frustration that really did ruin the day, I have to say there are commitments expressed that I was heartened by, at least from  a very quick read.  It's always easy to nit pick, to find omissions and seeming inadequacies but, on this occasion, the thing that impressed me was the specificity of certain undertakings. The trick is in the delivery of course !

In broad terms these are some  ( I'm sure there are others ) of the declared policies which caught my eye.

  • fully embrace the goals of the Climate Change Act. Over the next 10 years plant 64 million broad-leaved trees via schools and our communities and reinstate the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
  • fully implement EU environmental protection regulations including the Birds and Habitat Directive, matters relating to air pollution  and to refuse any Brexit deal that reduces environmental standards.
  • introduce a long-term plan that stops the loss and begins the recovery of nature
  • strengthens environmental protections in farming and fishing
  • create corridors of nature that better connect protected nature sites and thus provide pathways for wildlife
  • use a precautionary principle to protect the environment and people from harm  - NOT a pay to pollute approach which wrecks our planet.    

Now I'm sure there'll be those among us who feel the above is inadequate, is unnecessary, is irrelevant at this time and so on, but it does put specific ideas on paper that allows us , the voters . to evaluate their importance to us , as individuals, and to our nations' heritage.  There are bound to be omissions ( protective measures for the marine environment for example ) but I was impressed to see some specificity coming forward following an era of recent government when the environment has been seriously short changed, if not ignored completely . The combined efforts of Paterson, Truss and Leadsom have not particularly impressed should they represent an indication of future commitment ! 

For those of us who are concerned about nature and the environment it seems necessary for us to look carefully at the declared commitments of the various parties in this particular respect and , then, set alongside the prominent issues of the day that affect us all, decide on balance who should be trusted with power. As a nature conservationist these commitments appeared to address many of the issues which have exercised my mind in recent times. Do they go far enough? Can they be delivered ? Will they be held in sufficient priority and not open to compromise ?  Who knows ?  However, the more immediate step is 
looking at what other parties have on offer .

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just bear with me a while longer !!

You might well be wondering why the gap in entries ( well , at least, I would hope so ! ).  The truth is that my E-mail account appears to have been accessed and, I suspect alongside it, full contact details ( address, telephone numbers etc ) AND details of this web site.

For that reason, and until I've sorted it out, which is likely to be very shortly, I've minimized my output on everything. Likely as not I'll be up and running again from the 8th May. In the meantime just think " Spurn" and Broad-billed Sandpiper !!!


Friday, April 7, 2017

Where are we really going with Hen Harriers ?

It's quite a time since I offered up any views on the Hen Harrier issue. In the interim I've followed various initiatives which have been proposed, attended odd events and talks and discussed the issue with many friends and colleagues.  We could all be excused though, for thinking that the current situation is worse than a stalemate. The actions so far have largely  failed, despite immense efforts put into them by certain individuals. The translocation proposals, put forward under the aegis of the DEFRA working party, are so nonsensical as to warrant no consideration in my view.  In the meantime, the factions within the shooting community, which caused the decimation of the harrier population, continue with their utterly illegal actions with no apparent intention to desist. Indeed, with the number of reports on the persecution of other species of birds of prey, the actions appear to be increasing. All such is coupled with calls for licences to cull Common Buzzards in the cause of commercialism.  Against this we have calls from the RSPB for the shooting industry to clean up its act, crowdfunding of satellite tags resting upon an undertaking to publicise full details of any which are lost due to apparent persecution and a continuing reiteration of the need to ban grouse shooting.  So what next ?

For my part I still believe that a properly regulated licencing system could work and comprise a solution in the shorter term. In that sense I still adhere to the fundamental construct I put forward in the E-petition I launched some years ago.  I confess to having serious doubts about the applicability of an outright ban on grouse shooting,  not because I don't believe the industry deserves such an outcome given its current operational reliance on illegality and the environmental havoc arising from its management activities , but on two separate counts. Gaining a ban and closing down shoots is likely to take decades and what are the land use plans for the upland areas thereafter? In the former scenario, breeding harriers in Britain are likely to become a thing of legend unless we're very careful and , in the latter, solutions thus far have been rather airy and non-specific based on pipe dreams and preference. Hopes that either conservation agencies or the Government of the day would take such areas in hand is unrealistic and I suspect the time that would elapse in dealing with the various legal issues the Establishment ( owners ) would bring to bear is an issue in itself.

So who should take the lead and what might be the building blocks of progress?  Whilst I have the utmost regard for the RSPB I'm afraid, on this particular issue, I find its position vacillating and weak.  The recent article by Martin Harper ( RSPB Conservation Director ) raises the many problems associated with modern day upland management and of the renewed pressure being brought to bear on raptors. Sadly there is no declared resolve on what RSPB, as our premier bird conservation organization, intends itself to do. Instead a call on the shooting industry to improve its own act and bring about change is suggested coupled with the suggestion that a licensing system would "build trust" within the current situation. Additionally there is an expressed hope that " a maturation of political thinking and sustained public pressure " will bring about change.

Whilst I don't disagree with the general sentiments expressed,  the absence of any declaration of resolve or recognition of the need for someone to grasp the baton NOW, show leadership and attempt, at the very least , to move things forward, is disappointing. It seems everybody else is somehow seen as being able to be involved and responsible whilst RSPB sits on the by-lines.  What happened to the Society's declared support on Vicarious Liability ?  And how will a Licensing System be secured  and under whose initiative ?
On this subject, even acknowledging the many years of frustration and involvement the Society has endured with its attempts to change things , the RSPB is now failing in its mission if this seemingly back-seat approach aptly describes its position.  

There may be good reasons why the Society isn't organizing an outright campaign ( contract conditions associated with the large grant it received from the EU or pressure exerted by the Charity Commission relating to political activities for instance ). Surely the membership deserves to know ?  Then tell us , please, so that we can lend weight and independent support to a programme designed to get Vicarious Liability enshrined in law and to see a proposed Licensing System moving forward.  The (honest) alternative is to explain that the RSPB no longer believes it can effect any new changes to the situation beyond supporting positive initiatives by other agencies  ( I'd expect your annual income figure to be affected by such a declaration (!), but it does seem to be the position you're prepared to occupy at present ).

C'mon, RSPB. Bone up!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Local recording.

I've finally decided on an area within which I'll do my local birding when I'm at home. There'll be gaps in coverage throughout the year, for sure, but, hopefully, it will provide some reflection of what is happening in my immediate home area.  I admit that , as a "local patch", it's a bit big, but I wanted an area that reflected the transition of habitats on the slopes of the eastern Pennines to the actual moorland summits as well. In between these is a good mixture of farmland, both arable and pastoral, woodlands, reservoirs, marginal land and managed moorland with the odd formal bit of parkland too. As might be imagined, there's also a series of rivers and streams flowing off higher ground, often with interesting, sinuous lines of woodland accompanying the entire watercourse. Sadly the presence of in-bye land and juncus ridden wet pasture, so beloved of breeding waders, is almost a thing of the past. Modern farming methods has seen the transition to silage growing, which is prevalent in the area, and the traditional hay meadows and boggy areas of yesteryear are somewhat of a distant memory. I confess to having driven past some areas and thought " Look at it now, Redshank used to breed in there".  The sad fact is that, too often, that span of time is not actually all that long in duration. Change is often difficult to reverse, but hard data on the worth of areas is a way of defending them in the first place. Once sites are gone, such data is the stuff of anecdotes or summarized history, carrying no continuing benefit to our current or future biodiversity value.

Mindful of the changes which have taken place in the area since I last lived here I've decided to try and ensure all observations are submitted to the BTO's  BirdTrack system. Due to the ever fluctuating levels of Broadband provision on Islay  ( and absence of mobile phone coverage in many parts too ) I never contemplated contributing to this scheme, but now there's no excuse!!  Nick Moran ( BTO ) has been more than helpful in suggesting the best ways forward when generating observations from a variety of sites in an overall "fixed" area and I'm now embroiled in completing the necessary steps to set up the basics. If your havering over taking part, in much the same way as I was, then look at the BTO web site first of all and take any queries to them. I can guarantee any fears will be dispelled.

So, it's crouching over the computer time in order to set up the basics, and then on to the job of generating the data and ensuring it's submitted. Easy, peasy I hear you say........I do hope so, but if this ageing cyber-child can do it, so can anybody !

Monday, April 3, 2017

New Annotated Checklist for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

I like this book, I really do, not least because of its precision, its "crisp" appearance and the "no nonsense" presentation of its contents throughout ! Any birder with an abiding interest in the Western Palearctic will both welcome and treasure this book.  Written by Managing Editor of Birdwatch magazine , Dominic Mitchell, who is both an active birder,and  author of many articles and books on birds , but also  a passionate devotee of birds within the Western Palearctic.

I'm not going to follow the normally adopted parameters of book reviewers, but simply provide a personal account of why I feel this book achieves its intended objectives and how it will both attain, and retain, a  prominent position within those available for some considerable time.

Basically the book addresses the long running discussions about the boundaries of the Western Palearctic, whether the Arabian Peninsula and Iran ought to be included and where the borders of the northern Sahara ought to rest. It does so succinctly and with well presented justification. A photograph of the plate  in the book showing the specific area adopted is given below.

By courtesy of Dominic Mitchell/Lynx Edicions.

Some people, of course, might not agree with the position taken, but the case is put forward with convinced clarity and results in 1148 species being listed, an increase of 129 beyond those previously considered within the boundaries described by Cramp (1977 ) within "Birds of the Western Palearctic". 

Within the constraints of space, a section deals with each species individually and a Systematic List provides details of Other Names, Taxonomy and Distribution (215 pages ). Various appendices describe  Endemic Species, Extinct Species, Omitted Species ( with justifications), and National Lists. That for Britain, with 603 species, and compared to all European counterparts and neighbours,  I believe provides as fulsome a justification for Brexit as has yet been put forward !! Just look at the figures!

Following the appendices is a very clearly set out Checklist which I feel WP aficionados will treat with respect, repeated visits and sheer love ! I confess I turned, somewhat immediately,  to Mahgreb Lark, having returned from Morocco only recently and settled back with a certain contentment !

A great book, don't  miss out on a copy, get yours now and   ENJOY !

Memories from Morocco.

Since late February it seems I've forever been on the move.  A holiday in Morocco, a visit to Teesmouth and a visit down to Norfolk. I finally decided it was time I sorted my own "time budgets " out and devoted some time to getting this Blog up and running again.  Rather than try and give blow by blow " diary accounts" for each of the trips I've decided simply to provide some pictures from the Morocco trip and then to skip to the present time, with the intention of then producing regular, if not daily, entries.  I'm sure somebody will say, "well, you've said that before" . I probably have , and with good intent too, but life's realities sometimes get in the way of progress.    So, to Morocco.

A tremendous trip, flying into Marrakesh and then out from Agadir after completing a couple of  extensive circuits, taking in as many of the key habitats and sites as possible and seeing  many of the specialities in the process.

Our first real excursion was up to Oukmaiden, a ski resort where, on our first visit, conditions were as you might imagine, cold ,poor visibility and snow. The second morning was a complete contrast with blue skies and sun but more snow overnight preventing access to really high ground.

Odd Shorelark were around and occasionally posed sufficiently long enough for a photograph!

We were very lucky in that the poor weather had attracted over 100 Crimson-winged Finches into the car park area. Birds were feeding around the cars and then flying up and perching on nearby wires . Not a species everyone is fortunate enough to see without effort, but certainly well worth it.

Now this was something I'd particularly joined this trip to see.....African Marsh Owl. That rather ghostly face and consistent colouring produces a very haunting effect of its own!  Morocco is the only known current outpost for this species within the Western Palaearctic so it has a particular importance all of its own.  I'd not realised that there were around forty known pairs in the area, with another site holding a couple of additional pairs. Good news indeed and a splendid and confiding bird.

I really do love deserts and desert scenery. Don't be fooled into thinking it's all the same. It certainly isn't ! The bottom picture is of the Tagdilt Track ( so called ) traversing an area famed for its specialities.  Again, don't be fooled into thinking that it's a big expanse of "nothingness" with little on offer.......Cream-coloured Courser, Hoopoe Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Thick-billed Lark and many more, none of which are at all obvious at the onset !!  It's cold in the mornings, hot for the rest of the day and tranquil and atmospheric as dusk begins to approach, perhaps marked by the fact that you've just visited a Lanner cliff or a site for Pharoah Eagle Owl, both of which provided stunning views.

And then, towards the end of the trip, a chance to see Bald Ibis, feeding in a quite unconcerned way in a dune area immediately adjacent to the road.

And now a little story !  Whilst moving between major sites our driver suddenly drew into a busy garage area and urged us to get out, which we did , bemused but anticipating something different.  Well, "different" was the sight of a number of Little Swift swirling around above us giving views superior to any we'd had before. And then , with a flourish, we were escorted into one of the repair bays and shown a nest up in the corner of the ceiling.  Birds flew in and out, tools were dropped, cars were washed and conversations continued. We weren't even asked why we were there !  It just struck me how bizarre the situation was contrasted against what would happen in the UK.......

There was more, of course, much more, and the above is but a mere taster of what comprised the complete menu of absolutely fabulous birds and scenery we engaged with.   Try it and I'm sure you'll come back with a great selection of tremendous memories.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Frank Gardner's quest for Birds of Paradise

When I returned from Norfolk at the weekend I learned, to my horror, that there was a two part documentary being shown on BBC 2 which had already started !.It covers an expedition to Papua New Guinea by Frank Gardner and Benedict Allen essentially to locate Birds of Paradise that the former so wished to see..  Well, perhaps not so different from many other documentaries which television provides until you learn that Frank Gardner is confined to a wheelchair and realise the terrain in which the birds are present in PNG is challenging at best ! For the various reasons I outline below I didn't want to miss the programmes and set to retrieving the first one I had missed through the bewilderingly easy system now available even for non-techos like me!

Like many I had heard vaguely of Frank Gardner and what had beset him in Saudi Arabia whilst on a filming assignment for the BBC which , basically , saw him targeted by terrorists, his cameraman being killed and himself being left for dead after being shot eleven times. He survived his injuries but, as a consequence, lost the use of his legs. Sometime later I was travelling to or from my then home on Islay and parked up in a Lochlomondside car park to have a rest and listen to the radio. I missed some of the programme which, essentially, was dealing with the outcome for people who had survived similar experiences and being left with some form of permanent disability. Frank Gardner was answering questions and I was overwhelmed by his outlook , his optimism, his totally positive and realistic view of matters and even came away myself, as an able bodied person, feeling utterly motivated into taking a more embracing view of life. Whilst I'm sure there had been dark times, his outlook was so reasoned, forward looking and lacking in self pity or rancour as to be extremely humbling. I became a fan.

And now if reportage on security matters is being made on television or radio in his capacity as the BBC's Security Correspondent I listen intently as the content is always reasoned , factual, informative and balanced. As a person he comes over as being very polite, tolerant and fair and someone whose views are very much worth listening to.

He's a birdwatcher too so there's a bit of a connection there!! One of his boyhood dreams was to see Birds of Paradise, perhaps some of the most extravagantly plumaged birds on Earth. This two part series deals with a trip he's made to PNG with Benedict Allen, the explorer and the inevitable challenges which needed to be faced.

By courtesy of Lynx Edicions , "Illustrated Checklist of Birds of the World" Volume 2  Passerines

Now I'm not going to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the first programme  ( and, of course, I haven't seen the second one yet ! ) but there are a lot of accompanying issues and story lines interwoven into the programme's narrative and footage. It's much more than an expedition to see birds, believe me ! A typical FG comment , "there's much to be happy about" !

So, make sure you download the first programme from last Friday and watch tomorrow ( Friday)

2100 hours BBC2 Birds of Paradise : the ultimate quest.

And if you think it ends there I can also recommend a recent book written by Frank Garner, "Crisis" which has figured at the top of the Sunday Times Best Seller list. Next to birding, books in this genre are my next guilty pleasure. It's a gripping read !  OK folks, commercial break over !!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The man who created Potteric Carr Nature Reserve. 7.2.2017.

Potteric Carr Nature Reserve lies on the SW outskirts of Doncaster, South Yorkshire and is a mosaic of open water areas, grazing fields and woodland. It is administered nowadays by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust but was initially the brainchild of a Doncaster resident who gradually brought together the 600 acres or so that comprises the reserve and managed it via an army of local volunteers.

It was a real pleasure on Tuesday to visit the reserve, to have a wander around and to swap reminiscences with the man who brought it all about, Roger Mitchell.  But the story is a little more convoluted than that ( aren't they always ! ).  I first met Roger in the early 1970's I guess when he brought together a "South Yorkshire Conservation Group". He was much involved with the County Wildlife Trust and this group acted out a watchdog role as far as planning proposals that might affect wildlife sites and interests.  We then worked together when, essentially, he was my boss within the newly formed South Yorkshire County  Environment Department within the Metropolitan County system which had come into being in 1974. Those were exciting years that, in many respects, saw conservation and environmental matters come of age and begin to achieve more recognition than previously. I eventually left in 1979 to join the RSPB.

During that period Roger effectively ran two jobs. The day job and the Potteric Carr job !!  His was a crystal clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and the potential that he saw associated with the reserve. His enthusiasm and drive never diminished and Potteric in some inevitable way found its way into many conversations such that we, as staff, often used to mutter amongst ourselves , " He's on about Potteric, again"!   But that is the real stuff of dreams and the substance of dreams realised.

The reserve nowadays is a tremendous place. Its species list is extensive and breeding species have included Bittern, Little Bittern and Black-necked Grebe. The pathway network is extensive and you need a good, full day to do the place justice. And remember, this is a reserve on the outskirts of a major town surrounded by road and rail networks, a veritable jewel and sanctuary of tranquility amidst the hubbub of modern day activities.

Given it's around twenty five years ago since we'd last met there was much to talk about.  I asked Roger when he'd first visited the site. " Oh, when I was about fourteen I suppose ". No doubt he and his cohorts had crossed a few active railway lines in the process to reach what was then colloquially referred to as  "the swamps".   But a vision of what the area might become emerged and a lifetime's efforts made available to achieve those ends resulting in what can be seen today.  Impressive stuff!  Well done, Roger !

And here's Roger standing next to the new Visitor Centre which the YWT have recently erected along with new car parking facilities. It's a great testament to what can be achieved through dedication, an ability to address the multifarious challenges that emerge with such projects and to absorb some of the  disappointments too. And I can recommend the roast pork and stuffing bread cake ( served with chips , of course, this IS Yorkshire after all ) and from past experience the bacon butty. So make space in your diary for a visit and marvel at what has been achieved!

High tide , high expectations. 3.2.2017.

News that the coastal road closure had been lifted coupled with the fact that the high tide at Titchwell was predicted to be around 1030 hours prompted a rapid change of plan.Whilst I got there early the opportunity had been espied by many other people too as the car park was filling quite quickly.

There was still enough time to make a leisurely examination of all areas alongside the footpath to the beach. Almost in a replay of previously the ditch near the Visitor Centre produced a nice surprise in the form of a Water Rail feeding out in the open in an entirely unconcerned way. The usual array of duck species was on the main lagoon together with a nice group of Avocet.  Finally I reached the coast and chose a quieter spot to the west away from the gathering at the very end of the path !.

  Now to a mere observer of the seascape there were few indicators of the delights that lay beyond !

A telescope scan showed duck to be everywhere. In addition to the large raft of Common Scoter other parties were scattered around,  many with accompanying Velvet Scoters which were easily segregated, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and, best of all, a seeming profusion of Long-tailed Duck were all obvious. I've never seen so many Long-tails off Titchwell, or of Velvet Scoter either.  I eventually found a single Slavonian Grebe amongst several Great crested Grebe dotted about and, then, quite fortuitously, came across a Red-necked Grebe which promptly dived and couldn't be found again. I'm not into counting fleeting views for year lists, but confess to a frantic casting around trying to locate the bird again, which I didn't !!

Odd Red-throated Diver appeared at distance and a single Razorbill, so there was much to search for. It was great, and so was the weather too. A slow return along the path produced nothing new compared to the day I'd spent here previously other than Brambling and Siskin visiting the feeders so it was time to move on. Choseley Barns was a disappointment with nothing there other than a few Woodpigeon  and a great mound of earth which blocks the view across much of the large adjacent field. Yet another deliberate intervention ?

On to Thornham and an exploration of the eastern end of the Thornham/Holme area. There was little to be seen so I travelled around and came into the NWT Holme Reserve just on the off chance of the Ferruginous Duck having returned  ( it hadn't ). Obviously the surfeit of riches from the morning wasn't going to be replicated ! Time was moving on so I thought I'd take a tilt at Golden Pheasant at Wolferton. I was there in good time, secured "the lay by spot" and waited.  At 1730 hours I finally conceded with a tally of a Grey Squirrel, 3 Muntjac and 2 Fallow Deer ! The day had obviously closed down ! It had been a good week nonetheless, so no grumbles, and there was still time for a roast dinner and a pint of Ghost Ship before thinking of the return journey tomorrow and the delights of the Five Nations Rugby.