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.