Monday, December 31, 2018

2019 scene setter !!

In a personal sense, the last two or three years have been a mixed bag of happiness, family misfortune and uncertainty. Birding has been hit and miss, although with a few "highs" it must be admitted, , but I'm now persuaded things are as close to " stable" as anyone else might expect and, therefore, I'm really looking forward to 2019 !

With a new, personal recording area chosen ( more later ), surveys selected that, hopefully, I can contribute to , local groups/Societies identified, periods at Spurn already booked and April given over to being in Cyprus cataloguing migration and promoting some of the conservation issues , via this Blog , that affect the island, 2019 could be busy !

I'm currently in the Scottish Highlands until mid Jaunuary and so Blog entries will have a decided northern flavour.   I recognize that Blog entries have been few and far between for quite some time and apologise for the absence of entries. Hopefully past injuries can now be permanently set aside !!  For me, Blogging is not just a means of sharing the enjoyment of wildlife experiences with other people, but a means of promoting sites to be visited, conservation issues and general news of interest.  Achieving just part of that in the forthcoming year will make the effort more than worthwhile.

I'm also enticed by the prospect of taking part in Scott Mason's (BTO ) 100 Birdtrack entries challenge, of finally giving proper coverage for WeBS of all the water bodies in my recording area, going for a 300 + year, trying out a newly selected VisMig site, BTO Owl Surveys , woodland surveys and much more. It's a way of keeping out of mischief if nothing else! 

So here it is, Happy Birding, 
Great way of having fun, 
Here's to the future now, 
It's only just begun.

With deserved apologies to SLADE.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Reluctant Billionaire ..........the 6th Duke of Westminster.

As things stand generally I haven't the faintest fascination with the aristocracy !!  However, in previous times, I confess I had a number of questions that I could always place at the door of the 6th Duke of Westminster and his bewildering stance towards conservation matters.  In many ways the recent book by Tom Quinn goes a long way towards answering these.

Incidentally, whilst the book does cover that period and activities, for those who might expect me to comment on the more lurid aspects of the Duke's behaviour in later life, then I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint !!

During the 1980's and 1990's I managed the RSPB's NW England Region . Within this lay the Forest of Bowland, then the most important stronghold for breeding Hen Harriers in England and within that area was the Abbeystead Estate owned by the Duke of Westminster.  During that time, be it from the point of view of monitoring or protection activities. I firmly believed in a strategy of direct contact with the various Estates and shooting tenants, however difficult that proved to be !    As a result we enjoyed access arrangements with the vast majority of Estates , but never with Abbeystead.

In 1981 there was around 40 ( yes, FORTY ) nesting attempts by Hen Harriers in Bowland overall. This figure reduced both rapidly and considerably, with only one successful attempt in the mid 1980's.  Persecution was rife, despite the denials, and egg collecting was also another pressure in those times. Eventually, however, within the 1990's we achieved a situation where around twenty or   so young was successfully reared each year.  The 6th Duke had purchased Abbeystead Estate from the Earl of Sefton's estate in 1983.  Moorland management had been neglected and the area supported a healthy population of Hen Harriers.  Whilst it still attracted these birds in later years, success was extremely limited as an intensive programme  of heather management was embarked upon in order to produce optimum conditions for grouse shooting.  With no access permissions being granted monitoring nesting attempts from the "fence lines" of adjacent Estates was less than satisfactory. This led us to request such permission on several occasions, but it was always refused.

Now, you might think it obvious why the RSPB wasn't being granted permission and I can't say that I would counter any such conclusion. But what I would say is that , on certain occasions the Duke himself chose to attend such meetings and was always welcoming, extremely polite and attentive to our views. However, he never seemed to embrace "the wider conservation cause ".  This intrigued me no end as media reports  often referred to him as wishing to be seen as a countryman and nothing more. As the book more than adequately explains he was clearly unhappy in his early years and sought solace in the Fermanagh countryside where he was brought up.  It appears that it was in these early years that he developed his love of , and undoubted skill, in shooting.

His schooling and adult life were riddled with self doubt and unhappiness, but his love of the countryside and shooting remained . A wealthy man, able to maintain absolute privacy around himself  and enjoy the pursuit of an obsession, went a long way towards explaining his clear wish not to be involved  directly in conservation initiatives.  But I was still intrigued as he was willing to be aligned to other causes on the periphery of "countryside",  such as Rural Employment  and my suspicions remained.  The oft proffered conclusion by many was that the Estate sought to restrict access so as to pursue management practices that ran counter to the law and, over time, a number of incidents came to light.  I still thought that, however conclusive such arguments might be , there was something else which lurked in the background and was the starting point for such a repeated and entrenched position.

It came as a bit of a shock on reading Tom Quinn's book to learn that the Duke actually hated conservationists, often referring to them privately as "tree huggers" and "pinkos" ( what , a lad from Barnsley I ask, never !! ).  His was a visceral objection to people who sought in any way to regulate shooting and , as an extension, to amend the limits of privilege that he enjoyed.  Whilst it might have been a product of his upbringing and good manners I, nonetheless, don't understand why he even bothered to participate in meetings or become involved in issues against which he was adamantly opposed.  Retiring behind the protection of high walls, Rhododendron bushes and minions is the oft applied defence , which certainly now seems to apply to the position the Abbeystead Estate has adopted.  So, we were never going to make headway, ever.  He did declare on certain occasions his absolute intolerance of Hen Harriers and clearly, in the background to all this , was an intention to resist anything that interfered with shooting or management for shooting.

So, finally the conundrum was solved !

Incidentally,  I found the book utterly absorbing and well worth the read if only to be educated on the bizarre collection of factors that result in certain individuals enjoying a life of privilege and wealth, not all of which appear logical or justified.  However, wealth brings neither health not happiness, as the book aptly outlines,  despite there being the opportunity to seek solace and privacy, and even excessively indulge ones obsessions. A complex man undoubtedly,  whose interests , as a self declared countryman, might have been extended, and achieved so much more ,by being a leader within a peer group to which very few have access..  But there again, there were grouse numbers to consider and those bloody Hen Harriers. Perhaps today's abysmal situation associated with the persecution of raptors in many upland areas illustrates that the private opinions against conservation of Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster, continue to be silently embraced and even taken further by some within the same cohort .

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A general update !

After an unexplained period of silence I thought I'd better provide some words aimed at clarifying why I've issued no Blogs for the best part of three months. To those who, from time to time, have dipped into the site and found nothing new, I offer an unreserved apology.

Immediately after my last posting in August  I went down to Cornwall, ostensibly to spend some time seawatching in the hope of picking up on some of the goodies that occur  around that time and into September.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the holiday and had some good birds, And then my fortunes changed !!  Following an exploration of the woodland lining the access route down to Limorna Cove I decided to park adjacent to the quay and scale the nearby coastal path, which I guess eventually leads around to Porthgwarra.

All went well initially, with Manx and Sooty Shearwaters and even a distant Minke Whale . despite the weather being drizzly and miserable. After almost three hours I decided to return to the car, but slipped on the footpath during the descent, gave myself a bit of a battering and, in particular, injured my left knee  (  there goes the football career, but I'm relieved of the burden of learning Spanish or Italian !!! ).  The rest is history as they say.   I haven't been very mobile in the aftermath, although  I've still managed to spend three weeks at Spurn, spending prolonged periods in the car seawatching or perched up on the Humber seawall !!

It all seems to have paid off, as things have gradually improved, but it's been a slow process.  I'm determined to see things through as, having tried unsuccessfully to hasten things on a couple of times , I'm now happy to patiently await the final outcome which I'm confident will arrive previous to the New Year.  Not being able to pursue things in a chosen fashion is frustrating, but I've now decided to issue several Blogs on what might best be described as " passive issues"  and hope that these bridge the gap up to the time when I'm fully active again. Incidentally, the rumour that I fell off a cliff whilst twitching is a bit overstated !!

So, watch this space, and thank you for your   patience.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Surprising survivor !

Way back in May ( the 21st ) I wrote a Blog about a Roe Deer which had become suspended on a barbed wire fence at Spurn.  I'm at Spurn again for a period of time and was more than a little surprised to come across the individual concerned again the other morning.

Taking a usual walk down North Fields to the coast and Kilnsea Wetlands I first saw a Roe buck, then a healthy doe and then, out of nowhere, but with a jaunty gait nonetheless, appeared the injured female.   Not something I would have ever expected as I had presumed that, sadly, the individual would have died through infection or an inability to look after itself. But here it was ! Brilliant.

The leg is still bereft of  muscle or tissue and flaps around loosely, presumably because it was also broken at the joint originally.  Despite its awkward gait it kept up with the other two and even negotiated a wire fence, although with some difficulty. I guess this might be the cause of its eventual demise as it obviously can't lift  the "loose leg" when jumping, somewhat ironic really.

But let's celebrate the current situation and pass thanks again to Steve Exley whose sterling efforts at releasing the animal has given it at least another summer of freedom.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Hen Harrier breeding success.......where now lies the future?

I've spent the morning reading the various press releases and responses to the news relating to the outcome of this seasons's Hen Harrier breeding attempts ( 34 young produced ).  Whilst I would be the first to shout with joy at any increase in the number of young produced and to acknowledge the hard work put in by those "on the ground" directly associated with these attempts, many of the accompanying comments are largely  band wagon, facile utterances.

Setting aside their "positive" comments, the shooting fraternity ( once the untruths have been set aside) will be relieved the number of pairs, and young, is so low.  Equally, given their stance on various past aspects, the comments from Natural England ring hollow in my opinion and represent an element of their expressed relief as opposed to celebrating success . The run of the mill response from the RSPB could have been one of two, written in advance, dependent on the eventual outcome.  The truth of the matter is that the situation still is shamefully low set against what should be the real number of harriers in our uplands and their corresponding productivity.  Having been much involved in protection measures in the past I would defend the volunteers and others involved to the death and in no way seek to demean what I know will have been hard fought for. But we have to avoid this being a Pyrrhic victory and certainly shouldn't allow those outwith conservation to talk up the matter.  The fact is key agencies should seize this occasion to wage war on the perpetrators of persecution and commit to this as a consistent, long term strategy.  Set aside the unproductive meetings in smoke-filled rooms resulting in little more than the subject being kicked into the long grass . Enough is enough and the issue should be confronted and presented to the grouse moor owners directly regardless of the furor that might ensue.

As the premier bird protection agency in the UK I wonder,  other than the absolute sterling work undertaken by its Investigations Section, what the general policies and intentions are of the RSPB in this regard in the future.   The seemingly "cautious conservation " policies now pursued by the Management Team and Council, bereft of any campaigning zeal or declared intent, run counter to its past reputation and successes and to the actions many of its members would wish it to take.

The outcome of the current season , and the sheer effort and dedication taken to achieve it all, should be acknowledged as a platform upon which to launch a Herculean effort to bring the current shameful situation to an end.  Much rests with the RSPB in this regard in my opinion.  The future situation with respect to Natural England appears bleak at best and its operational potential drastically restricted.

May I leave readers with one thought!  In 1981 a survey of Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland determined there was around 40 active nests. That figure dropped dramatically ( due to persecution ) in the 80's,  but was fought for and resulted in over 20 youngsters being reared each season into the early 2000' s.  1981 might be a long time ago, 2005- 2010 isn't.  Bowland was a stronghold then and should be so now.  A new era of "thinking" must emerge and a strategy developed across a variety of fronts, each pursued with equal vigour. Scotland does seem to have led the way a little in recent times and emulating their success and pursuing the same goals ought to be a part of any approach taken.  Natural England needs to bone up too and pursue a far less "wet willy" line with moorland owners. The fact that a series of outside initiatives from groups and individuals has emerged ( good! ) is also an indication that the centralized bodies are not delivering to the extent of our expectations.  Worth reflecting on.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A policy that did change !

Yesterday saw various sections of barbed wire had been removed around fields on the Spurn Penninsula, a commendable response from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Ltd. From personal experience such is not a nice job, or a quick one for that matter, so the final outcome might take a little while ! 

Apparently a single strand will remain across the top of the fence line as an experiment ( per a Facebook entry ).  Such is common practice where cattle are present and, given the area has seen both Long-horned and Highland cattle present in the past, one can only imagine this is providing for future management approaches. It must also be remembered that appointed graziers can offer opinion as to the provisions around areas where their stock will eventually be present.  An additional modification that might be considered at some future point is the installation of "deer gates". Simply a location where the fence line height is lowered slightly and wooden protection is placed across the wire which allows deer to leap across the fence more easily and safely, which they soon become habituated to.

However, overall, the area has the developing potential to be safer for wildlife than previously, which is surely what everyone wanted.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A policy in need of change.

I've been staying near  Spurn NNR for a few days enjoying excellent weather and a steady flow of birds !  Sadly this idyll was interrupted last Friday with an incident involving a Roe Deer which had been caught up on a barbed wire fence, and has caused yet another outcry for change!

I witnessed the whole episode, admittedly not visually , but aurally via the radio network that is operated by the Observatory as I was driving back towards Kilnsea.  A report,via the radio system , pinpointed the incident as being north of the new Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Centre along one of the field systems nearby to the Canal Zone.  This wouldn't reach the YWT at this point as a different channel /wavelength is used by them.  Local birder, Steve Exley, sprang into action, went to the site with the intent of releasing the hapless animal whilst Johnnie Fisk ( Spurn Bird Observatory ) undertook to advise the YWT.

The sight was not for the faint-hearted with the animal firmly secured to the barbed wire fence , having stripped off the skin and muscle from its lower, rear left leg. Steve Exley managed to release it but the animal escaped in the immediate aftermath, doubtless to endure a drawn out period of suffering before an inevitable death.  It was some time before I visited the general vicinity when, of course, everything had subsided, although a staff member from the Centre was patrolling the road by bicycle anxiously looking out over the fields, although I doubt the animal would have been mobile.  A sad incident which seems likely to be repeated unless action is taken.

This is not the first time such an incident has occurred.  Previous victims have included Mute Swan, Little Egret, Cormorant and, of course, Roe Deer.  Whilst the Trust use sheep to "manage" some of its grassland areas the fencing specification doesn't need to match that required by the presence of Charolais cattle !!  Some time ago a small number of Long- horned cattle were present in the area but a considerable time has elapsed since then within which the problem has emerged and a sufficient time has passed for the fencing to be modified.

If looked at "from the outside" the simple interpretation arrived at by the public is "why is the Trust utilising  an excessive amount of barbed wire in an area pledged to protect wildlife when it is seen to be putting such wildlife at risk".  The ambiguity is automatic !   If a policy was arrived at in the past and has since been seen to be wanting , then review it and effect the necessary changes. It's not enough to claim to be a guardian of wildlife, but to do what is necessary to promote that role and in its widest context.  Over the past three years I understand that complaints have been submitted and the matter raised generally on numerous occasions.  Sadly nothing appears to have changed . As a custodian and owner of a national nature reserve and adjacent designated areas,  the management techniques employed for these should be beyond reproach and meet not just the formal requirements,. but the expectations of the public too.  Despite the complaints of the past, no explanation has been forthcoming as to the continued need for the barbed wire or why it is retained. Regrettably, the whole issue appears to have been consigned to the back burner and treated with studied indifference !

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

One of Yorkshire's finest.

Tomorrow marks the occasion of David ( Dave ) Standring's  funeral , which sadly I can't attend. Whilst most people in attendance will remember him from within the last 30/40 years,  my earliest recollections are from a time when I was still at school !  He was older than myself, extremely knowledgeable, and. therefore, took on a role of mentor,  a state of affairs that I guess many other people have gained benefit from throughout the years. 

We both lived off Racecommon Road in Barnsley and Sunday mornings would often see a successive pilgrimage begin to form as David called in to collect myself, David Ashurst and Malcolm Rhymer, who also lived nearby,  on the way to Worsborough Reservoir.  We'd invariably meet up with Alan Archer, Colin Bower and Mike Clegg before walking up the valley to Rockley Dam.  Our return journey around midday would then see us catching buses to either Wintersett Reservoir or Wath Ings.  We were also members of the Barnsley Naturalist and Scientific Society , although you could probably cram all the birders in the Barnsley area into  a single minibus in those days!  I benefited greatly from knowing those individuals, their knowledge of the area and what appeared to be infinite expertise. I was introduced to Wath Ings, Spurn and "the moors".  The latter involved a bus journey to the Flouch, beyond Penistone, a walk around Langsett Reservoir, then on to Midhope and Ewden , with a thorough scrutiny of the Broomhead area , before walking down to Deepcar at the end of the day to get transport back to town !  Great days, if not a little exhausting at times.  I found an old diary recently from 1957/58 which catalogues the frequent visits made to Worsborough and elsewhere, Patchwork in the making !!  As you might imagine David was a regular participant in all such activities.

Within this atmosphere one thing always stood out. David's utter curiosity, focus and, above all else , enthusiasm, characteristics that never went away.  Gradually we started to explore more widely. One trip involved Geoff Aynsley ( driver ), Bill Curtis, David and myself and a winter expedition to the Solway in January, 1963.  We "lived" in a Ford car for the weekend, got chased off the newly formed Caerlaverock Reserve, but such was the enthusiasm on show ( doubtless from David ) that the warden ( E.L. Roberts ?) gave us a telling off but then took us on a tour of the reserve in his Landrover ! Little did we know that that weekend would see the start of the two month long severe winter in store for the country. The journey back was a bit of a nightmare ( there were no motorways in place then of course ! ).!

In the early sixties my parents moved house to straight opposite what is now Carlton Marsh. How different it was then !  I began to visit Wintersett regularly and lost some contact with the Barnsley birders ( we're talking of an era when walking or cycling were usually the options on offer ! ).  Shortly after then I moved to London, was abroad, until returning in the seventies. Contact was infrequent , usually at Spurn or Wintersett , but always picked up from a precise point at which any conversation had ended previously.  Such was the case for many years until I moved back to Barnsley around a couple of years ago.  Previous to then I'd had a long chat with David,whilst at Spurn, about my moving back to Yorkshire from Islay and he was heavily persuasive in his case that I could do no better than choose "the old area". He was right, of course , and his enthusiasm won through !

Milestones stand out :  being introduced to Wath Ings, watching Nightjars at Dovecliff, seawatching at Spurn and much , much more.  Whilst recent years have not provided the opportunities for contact that they might have done due to work, living away , family matters and so on, what has carried over from those early halcyon days is the sheer joy and enthusiasm that David simply poured out when birds and other wildlife were the focus of attention and that nobody else could avoid embracing. I suspect many of us were natural converts and have, ourselves, benefited.

Like Yorkshire tea and Tetleys beer surely David must also qualify as one of Yorkshire's Finest

Friday, March 30, 2018

Golden Eagles.....cautionary advice from someone who really knows.

May I urge everyone to read a Blog entry from friend and past colleague, Dave Dick. Whilst it refers to South Scotland and the reintroduction of Golden Eagles , its wise words have much wider applicability.  Such proposals come with a costly price tag attached, money that one imagines might be better routed elsewhere.  Personally I would rather see all such Government monies going in the direction of RSPB's Investigations Section , at least for a period, with a strict caveat that such was spent on new staff and work associated directly with raptor persecution incidents . I'm sure DD would have a view on the matter.

Follow the given link and enjoy  The Zoo Keepers

And as you'll gather from the stare that meets you,   it's best to tell the truth !!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Ban Driven Grouse Shooting .........NOW !

There was a time when I believed an outright ban on driven grouse shooting was premature and that , at least for a period,  a consideration of licensing might be the best way forward. That led me to issuing an E-petition calling for the licensing of both grouse moors and gamekeepers. This garnered over 10.000 signatures and, as a result, earned an utterly lame response from the Government!

I've wrestled with this subject ever since, repeatedly setting it aside in the fervent hope that the seemingly never ending calls for change would result in positive responses.  There has been none !

It is now my absolute belief that there will be no willing expressions for change.  The shooting fraternity has achieved a deliberate objective in decimating the Hen Harrier population . Persecution of that species and many other raptor species continues, despite them being especially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act  (1981), and there is clearly no intention or willingness to see any different circumstances apply.

There are some who say that it's not all estates or shooters who are to blame.  However, other than the very occasional cautionary statement, there are no equivalent calls for persecution to end. So where are the cries of opposition to persecution from within this peer group's members and their condemnation  of this alleged minority accompanied by calls for restraint ?   The shooting fraternity currently has the situation where they want it, having brought the English breeding population to its knees.  Three pairs of nesting Hen Harriers in 2017 when there should be 300  !!    Muted calls for improvement are not enough and, therefore, the time has come for equivalent opposition to be raised against this selfish, self serving activity and without delay !

With the RSPB continually dithering and giving no unequivocal lead to its million plus members regarding actions they might take, it is now up to all of us to register, on an independent basis, full opposition to the negative effects arising from grouse management activities.

Vested interests, commercial greed and Government intransigence are all playing a part in sustaining the continuing persecution of our raptors. It remains our responsibility to press for change , the first action being signing the current E-petition by Gavin Gamble   Ban driven grouse shooting

Thanks for your help.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gavin Gamble's E-petition.

This morning Gavin Gamble's E-petition calling for a ban on grouse shooting currently has 38,237 signatures. Time still remains for signatures to be added. Have you signed ?

Now, a personal admission !  Due to a variety of personal situations last year I'm afraid my level of  application to such things was less than perfect. Recently I checked two current E-petitions to see if I had signed. I believed I had, but I hadn't !!  Setting the jokes aside this is an easy thing which can happen. You believe you've signed, reassure yourself repeatedly, but actually haven't done a thing.

So, folks, if there is any chance you been serious in intent , but hesitant on follow through, could I suggest you just check. It's easy and results in a simple, polite message confirming you've already signed if such is the case.

Gavin Gamble's E-petition, check or sign here   E-petition link

Whilst it's likely only the odd signature will be garnered in this way, better to check now than discover the time limit has expired.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Can more be done for Hen Harriers?

Well, in my opinion, the answer is "Yes", much more !   But let's look at some of the background information.

Being "marooned" in Scotland recently due to the bad weather my mind wandered over a variety of subjects, including raptor persecution.  For example, why is it that the most overt campaigning for change is apparently being carried out by individuals or independent groups  as opposed to the RSPB, and that support from the latter is modest to say the least?  I idly speculated that, perhaps, more draconian measures were being imposed nowadays by the Charity Commissioners and this limited a charity's involvement. An examination of their guidance to all charities makes it clear that political activity is countenanced, but that such should not be the sole activity in which they are engaged.  So why, when raptor persecution  incidents are still occurring at an undiminished rate, is there not an absolute uproar being organized and robust and unrelenting pressure being put on our elected representatives at Westminster?  After all, the oft quoted membership of the Society is a potential force to be reckoned with if collectively organized ! Why does public campaigning for change figure so modestly  in RSPB's activities nowadays compared to yesteryear?  This may be a deliberate choice, poorly communicated to an otherwise expectant membership.

Nowadays I spend most of my time travelling around birding ( lucky me ! ) and bump into a lot of people raising the self same questions and concerns. These are respectable folk, not hotheads, but folk who are disappointed and bewildered.   The usual support and recognition is forthcoming towards the quality of the Society's work associated with research, reserve management, advisory services, policy assessment and , particularly, investigations work. Beyond this there's usually a quiet confession that the Society no longer appears to have the stomach for a major  confrontation and worries are expressed that the "harrier situation" appears to have been sidelined in terms of being a major priority.

Whether the current stance of the Society stems from a belief  that robust campaigning is not the most effective means to employ in seeking change, the support for and the progress achieved by Mark Avery's E-petition demonstrated otherwise. And the RSPB was nonetheless willing to be involved in the final part of the process held at Westminster !  The rather lukewarm support offered towards the current E-petition relating to the licensing of grouse moors, which the RSPB claims to advocate as a solution, is yet another ill defined position.  What is going on and what is the problem ?  Whether the RSPB is prepared to accept the situation or not , there is a credibility problem arising that needs closing down or otherwise the "Protection of Birds"  description becomes a misnomer.  Why does the Society's position relating to raptor persecution in England appear so weak and cautious ?    There are far too many adverse comments arising on the Society's position, which shouldn't be the case given the RSPB is seen by many as the organization who ought to be leading from the front.  Within all this, the sterling work of the Society's Investigations Section goes on undiminished and should be extended, congratulated, but also act as a "beacon" of what ought to be happening in other spheres.  If the current level of activity is deemed sufficient then I confess my personal feelings move towards those of the disaffected, underpinned by a great disappointment too.

Amidst all this the Hen Harrier breeding population in England remains  at rock bottom !!  I'm sure all those responsible for its demise are quite happy at the situation "remaining in the long grass"  and efforts being confined to internecine battles about reports,  membership of Working Groups and so on .
Setting aside the ideas of Natural England as being worthy of attributing to Lewis Carroll's creative genius it's nonetheless encouraging to see the RSPB joining the ranks of  those opposing the licence provisions currently being dealt with in connection with the brood management proposals.  More of the same please !

But, in my view, there is a clear need to demonstrate the depth of feeling and revulsion toward raptor persecution on a once and for all basis , and in a wholly collective sense. The current Government are clearly unwilling to consider action on the matter and, therefore, that position should be exposed as being utterly unacceptable by the organization of the public's opposition.  Recent E-petitions have provided more than sufficient evidence of the depth of feeling " out in the country".   Harnessing collective opinion , including involving the RSPB's own membership in administering the process,  overtly and robustly, could provide a once and for all demonstration of the level of opposition against those responsible and include a clear call for change.  The ultimate objective should be a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, admitting to being absolutely deluged by correspondence on the matter and promising the matter will be dealt with properly!!  This is an opportunity for the RSPB to reestablish its obvious position of being the organization occupying the most formal position where campaigning for bird protection matters are concerned. This, in recent times,  appears to have suffered from some sort of dilution, which most people find both irritating and confusing.

Whilst it doesn't give me any particular pleasure being critical about an organization which performs so well in many other spheres in conservation, there is a need for the RSPB to adopt a more buoyant and  proactive position on this issue. It's not a question of swimming against the tide either, there's a body of support willing you on "out there" , but wondering why things appear so modest . C'mon  RSPB, you're needed,  time for heads to appear above the parapet !!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Gorgeous Galloway.

No, not George, but the place, the weather and the overall atmosphere. For a final day conditions couldn't have been better and certainly have portrayed the area at its best !   I'd promised myself to do a full circuit of Loch Ryan, as previously, as I had odd things to complete this afternoon. 

Red-throated and Great Northern Divers. Long-tailed Duck, Scaup, Wigeon,  Great Crested Grebe, Eider, Goldeneye , Shelduck ,and a nice variety of waders to compliment the haul, provided an apt and satisfying end to a great week.  Whilst there are certain things I've missed, there are other experiences that I shall continue to savor.  Due to the weather, both in Scotland and elsewhere over the past  couple of weeks, I'm loathe to suggest whether some things are on the move or not. Certainly duck numbers aren't high and the LB Brent Geese appear to have disappeared over the past few days ( but Loch Ryan is a BIG place ! ) . Certainly the nice warm weather this morning had countless common birds in song, but I wouldn't be foolish enough to suggest we've turned any corners !!!!

Within the past couple of weeks a variety of things has emerged that link to Hen Harriers.  Being up here , ( with plenty of "down time" at the beginning of the holiday ) , I've mused over a wide range of relevant topics connected with the current political scene, the continuing plight of Hen Harriers,  various involvements by organizations and individuals and some of the shortcomings. Rather than try and cram thoughts and opinions into one single entry I've decided to put out  a "three part treatment" next week, so watch this space as the saying goes.  The only shortcoming I've discovered already is that the recent computer fiasco has taken with it various photographs I had of harriers , so you might have to do without illustrations !!!!  Apologies!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Galloway's hills.

No holiday on the Solway would be worth it without spending time up in the hills.  The weather was marginally better but it's almost as if many birds aren't back yet. Large tracts of the conifer forest are devoid of very much other than the odd Robin and Chaffinch with the occasional chipping Crossbill and Siskin calling.  So was it, but worth it ! There's a particular serenity and wildness to Galloway at this time of year.

I had a tremendous flock of around 60 Icelandic Redwing in resplendent plumage.  Add to that a Raven giving the whole display scenario. Little else, but the day was still worthwhile although a little empty on excitement !

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Exploring Galloway's Rhins..

After getting this Blog up to date and completing an almost compulsory examination of Loch Ryan , but not being particularly successful in locating anything new, I set off to explore the Rhins.  It's many years since I'd been to the Mull of Galloway one harsh winter and really all I could remember was seeing a small party of Snow Bunting immediately outside the gate to the lighthouse !! Neither could I remember any of the other sites in the overall area.

Sandhead Bay  was the first stop to chase up what had been reported as a 3000 strong flock of Common Scoter with some rarer relatives among them.  Not to be,  as not a sign of any scoters  whatsoever. Odd Eider and Wigeon were in evidence, but little else. Continuing south I had some early lunch at Ardwell overlooking a very picturesque bay.  I did see a small party of Common Scoter , some Wigeon and Eider together with a couple of Stonechat but , again, things were quiet.  Making regular stops and scanning what was a relatively calm sea I was surprised at the apparent absence of divers with only one Great Northern Diver found at distance. Finally I was at Drummore ( is this the southernmost rookery in Scotland ? ) which is a surprisingly large community for such an isolated place, and moved on to the Mull of Galloway. 

As might be imagined at this time of year things were a little quiet. However, rafts of auks were offshore and both Razorbill and Guillemot were seen together with a fly-by Red-throated Diver. Several Rock Pipits were on the coast and a female Merlin started up from the ground and flew north, a migrant ?  Having seen molehills in the vicinity I was surprised to learn of the resident Red Foxes and their diet !

Afterwards I left the Mull of Galloway I did a further four hour stint at a harrier roost  ( until 1815 hours ) and saw not a one !!  Compensation was in the form of 700/800 Golden Plover and exceptionally good views of Raven which came up behind a knoll and stared at me penetratingly  for quite a period ( or so it seemed ). 

So another fine day in all respects !

High and low ground ! 5.3.2018

The inevitable attraction of Loch Ryan called and a visit to a selection of viewpoints was made before deciding what best to do with the day .  On the western side some superb views of two males and one female Long-tailed Duck was had. Even just with binoculars the views were tremendous!  Whilst all the usual suspects appeared, discovering a single and then several other Slavonian Grebe ( 4 ) was  rewarding . Three Knot, a few Shelduck, Rock Pipit were all welcome newcomers.  A relative absence , at least at this stage, of divers is noticeable, but may be down to little more than poor luck on my part !

I decided to go east ! Having got to Newton Stewart, and with visibility and general weather conditions improving, I struck off into the hills within the Galloway Forest Park.  The weather actually deteriorated and visibility wasn't of the best as I ventured as far as Clatteringshaws Loch. A chipping Crossbill and a couple of other indistinct calls were all I earned for a rather cold hour , so I retraced my steps.  I always feel in awe of Alexander Murray as I pass both the humble ruins that were his birthplace and the magnificent monument erected to commemorate one of Scotland's most remarkable sons.   That someone brought up with six other siblings in a tiny stone cottage very much out in the wilds  should aspire eventually to be Professor of Oriental Languages at Edinburgh University is a wonderful story.

A view of Murray's Monument showing the bleak , open surroundings in the vicinity.

Retracing my steps I went southwards into The Machars to visit the wetland area nearby to Wigtown.  Well, imagine my surprise when this scene met my eyes!

The area lies at the confluence of two rivers  ( the Cree and the Bladnoch ) and, at the higher tides within Wigtown Bay, presents this watery view !  The access to the hide was cut off for a while, although little would have been in view initially. Eventually the waters receded and views of several Little Egrets, Grey Heron and parties of Pink-footed Geese and Barnacle Geese were secured. A single Greenshank fed within a flooded area and in the adjacent marsh numbers of Teal, Pintail and Shoveler afforded great views. This is a splendid site ( when not flooded ) and always worthy of a visit. Concluding sightings were a couple of Reed Bunting , odd Meadow Pipit and Skylark and an early "White" Wagtail, the first migrant of Spring ! .

I chose a cross country route to return to Starnraer which typified the quinessential countryside of Galloway's agricultural heritage. Turning a corner I was surprised to come across a very large gathering of Pink-footed Geese, which I scrutinized for any scarcer species without success.

All in all, a mixed day but one with some nice surprises and overall success.

A taste of west Galloway. Sunday, 4.3.2018

Up and out early was clearly the order of the day, although the beckoning weather was rather cold and uninviting.  A full circuit of Loch Ryan seemed a good idea as visibility was reasonable and the wind not too strong. Whilst tempted to stop off at various locations I eventually arrived at a point north of the ferry terminals on the eastern side of this large sea loch. Large ferry boats ply back and forth between here and Northern Ireland and it was fascinating to see the number of large lorries coming off the ferry even on a Sunday morning  ( unimpeded by Customs checks I imagine (!! ), but an indication of the volume of trade in place.  We need to get this whole situation sorted ! )

I confess I felt more than a pang of sadness as views of Great Northern Diver, Black Guillemot, Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Merganser occurred and transported me back to what was routine birdwatching fare on Islay. Working my way southwards down the eastern  side I discovered a roost of Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit besides numbers of Ringed Plover given the tide was now  at its full height.  Numbers of Scaup ( 150?) and Wigeon were scattered along the southern shore  as was a variety of waders ( Redshank,  Dunlin , Turnstone and more Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover ).

Eventually I moved off down to Sandend on the Rhins.  The wind backed tide here was almost overtopping the beach and bringing with it a lot of detritus which large numbers of gulls were picking over. It was clearly impossible to see anything out "at sea" so I moved off and had an explore. Later I moved to an area famed for sightings, and even roosting,  of Hen Harriers and prepared myself for a long wait. Occasional winter showers persisted and it was extremely cold, even in the car.  There were numbers of Pink-footed Geese and Grey-lag Geese around and I eventaully remained until almost dusk.  It paid off as I had a couple of harriers, both ring-tails  with one being a rather dark bird and the other somewhat the opposite!  Merlin, Kestrel and a couple of Common Buzzard completed the raptor sightings  from what had been an enjoyable afternoon.

Finally on the move. Sat. 3. 3.2018

After three days of self imposed "exile" in Dumfries due to the horrendous weather which has hit most of the UK It was time to transfer to my intended  "base" for the second part of the holiday.  I'd achieved nothing within the first part due to road closures locally, but reflected on the fact that, had I been at home , conditions wouldn't have been any better!

I was amazed, and in awe, of the small group of birds in the vicinity of the Travelodge , that , day after day, fed within the short length of hedgerow along a nearby ditchline.  That they could survive the conditions and exceedingly low temperatures is almost unbelievable.  Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Blackbird, Starling, Dunnock and Robin were doubtless welcoming the ever so slight improvement to conditions.

And so, after buying stores I set off westwards along the A75, fully open but with less welcoming roads leading off elsewhere.  I called at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas and was surprised to find it unfrozen.  Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen  plus an assemblage of gulls, mainly Black-headed , the odd Common and Herring and a single LBBG were in evidence.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew away and a Treecreeper industriously worked its way up one of the mature lochside trees whilst a Mistle Thrush , several Starlings and Blackbirds sought food in the open.  I abandoned my intention to walk at least part of the way around the loch as the fine snow continued to fall and create a mist like atmosphere that limited visibility.

Continuing on I parked up near Creetown overlooking where the River Cree flows into Wigtown Bay which, at high tide, presents a huge expanse of water !  Little was in view , although a couple of Goldcrest exploring a bankside tree were both a surprise and a delight. Whilst the weather hadn't improved, the amount of snow was lessening as each mile went by . Shortly after Newton Stewart the first open fields came into view ( hooray ! ) and life started to hold promise !   Continuing on Stranraer, let it be said, is snow free even to the extent of a few crocus and snowdrops adding a touch of colour to an otherwise drab  background.

I couldn't resist parking up at several spots overlooking Loch Ryan and was rewarded with views of Red-throated Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Eider, Goldeneye and a flock of Light bellied Brent Geese  near to The Wig on the western side. A good beginning !  After arriving at my "base" on the Corsewall Estate the rest of the day was taken up by the usual chore of unpacking , cooking and familiarisation of what is an extremely comfortable apartment in a converted stable block.  A welcome shift in fortune after the tribulations of the past week, although a thought must be given for the many folk who have had things far worse. It's got to end sometime, folks !

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Snowy update.

Some years ago , when I lived on Islay, I took a late winter holiday  (March) with the intention of visiting S. Yorks, Norfolk and stopping off in SW Scotland to do some birding. The latter never happened as I was marooned in Dumfries and had to stay at the Travelodge for several days due to severe weather. Thereafter my holiday planning was the brunt of family jokes as you might imagine.

So, in this period of inclement chaos where do I find myself?   Dumfries Travelodge ,of course, even down to the same room as previously ( henceforth this will be known as the Armitage Suite and have a blue plaque outside the door ).   Thoughts of getting out and about are best suppressed.  Although the main road ( A75 ) is open the side roads are not worth risking.  Irony, fate.......who knows? 

Yesterday morning , with light snow falling for quite a considerable time, some of the Rooks remained around the local roost adjacent to the Travelodge for most of the morning. The Jackdaws had moved off immediately and weren't seen again until late in the afternoon when they flew through rapidly as a composite group. The Rooks completely abandoned the roost last night and moved elsewhere. Odd birds have put in an appearance this morning but I guess they're having a tough time. Whilst it's far too early to tell, and certainly not to predict things, it will be interesting to see what the after effects are on small bird populations ( Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, ) given the bad weather is pretty universal across the UK with very few areas being unaffected.   This is the time when garden refuges really come into their own! 

So hopes have been dashed as far as planned intentions were concerned and everything is now pinned on next week in the far west ( Stranraer ) which I'll be moving to on Saturday and leaving this Amber Warning area behind !

Monday, February 26, 2018

East coast outing . 25.2 2018.

Yesterday was the routine monthly outing of the Huddersfield and Halifax RSPB MG. Despite the weather being grey and penetratingly cold at the onset,  the day improved with bright sunshine throughout, although without any discernible improvement to temperatures.  First stop was Scalby Mills at Scarborough which, unfortunately , was somewhat devoid of birds as the high tide, backed by a brisk easterly wind, had over-topped the rocks offshore and continued to sweep into otherwise sheltered areas immediately off the coast.. A few Wigeon were present, a Rock Pipit flew past as did a Shelduck offshore and a Grey Wagtail was present among the rocks of the nearby stream. 

As a consequence we moved on to check Scarborough Harbour which in recent winters has played host to some good birds. Our thinking was , with easterly winds , something would surely have sought refuge within the harbour. Well, our thinking was seriously flawed as, other than a few Turnstone, precious little was in evidence with even gulls being in short supply. It was interesting to see the numbers of people out and about and note the beefburger, fish and chips, cockles or similar and ice cream vendors now appear to work to a twelve month season !

On to an area immediately south of Scarborough, where we overlooked the coast from the car park. Red-throated Diver,  a pair of Goosander which then moved north, a couple of Mediterranean Gulls improved the day as did a very showy Roe Deer. We then moved on to our major venue for the rest of the day, Filey Brig. A little windswept and bracing it might be said, but the day was still bright and a pleasure nonetheless.  A few Gannets were offshore as was a distant raft of auks which were probably all Guillemots if the occasional single bird we identified was an indication.  A couple of Eider, Fulmar, a small group of Purple Sandpiper, a party of Redshank , a large feeding group of Oystercatcher in the car park area, several Cormorants and a Shag improved our day list.  In recent times reports of a Velvet Scoter being present were circulated. Despite an appreciable amount of time being spent searching the only bird we found was a single Common Scoter which, nonetheless was new.

So, an extremely enjoyable day in typical winter weather that produced some nice birds despite the robust conditions! 

Friday, February 23, 2018

The start of a new begining !

The last two years has seen some major changes in my personal circumstances, e.g. moving from Islay to South Yorkshire,  challenging family incidents which, thankfully, have all resolved themselves satisfactorily and  now a series of utterly frustrating events at the beginning of this year that have moved beyond the simple description of "unfortunate"!

Setting aside a bad fall on ice, a less than comfortable journey back home from Scotland and surviving, along with everyone else, a less than clement period of weather thereafter, the main problem was yet to occur. Can you conceive of a set of circumstances where you have two absolutely serviceable laptops that then abruptly cease to function within the same ten days.!!  Desolation followed and a growing realisation of how completely dependent we are on technology nowadays!  Leaving the boring details to one side , a new machine has been bought and I'm gradually becoming acquainted with Window 10 ( tell me it does happen, eventually ! ).

In between times I've managed a period down in Norfolk and trips off here and there but, of course, have not been able to put out Blogs about the visits or indulge in any ranting about conservation issues!  No comments please !  After 2017 this year was meant to be the absolute perfect launch into what might now be considered "retirement". The first six weeks have been a bit mixed but things are now hopefully under control!  I've set up Patchwork Challenge, BirdTrack , Bubo, Bird Journal and got this facility under way again, so it's wall to wall birding from now utterly apt lifestyle for a 76 year old, don't you think? I'm away to the Solway shortly and have a continuous flow of similar "expeditions" in hand. Can't wait!

Finally, this is a shot I got of a male American Wigeon at Clachnaharry Loch, Inverness in early January which has returned for a second winter.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The "High Tops"......but with a difference. 3.1.2018.

Not a lot of opportunity for birding today and the routine spells out locally produced nothing new.

In the afternoon I went with my daughter Rachael to the cinema within the Edencourt Theatre in Inverness. She'd got hold of tickets as a part of my Christmas gifts for a showing of the film " Mountain".  I can't recommend it highly enough ( forgive the pun ! ). It's not a natural history film as such but the scenery shots are absolutely spectacular. There was a real spiritual and artistic aspect to parts of the film with shots of avalanches, "rooftop vistas", ski-ing descents and even erupting volcanoes and close up shots of lava flows.

I confess I found the shots of tent "villages" and columns of people queuing to  access the summit of Everest less than inspiring. The "must have" mentality of conquering this majestic peak somehow relegates the sheer beauty of the surrounding landscape.  And then I reminded myself that to many outsiders the congregating masses of birders comprising a major "twitch " might seem just as offensive.  Live and let live I guess.

At several junctures there was footage of some of the extreme activities now taking place in high places, some of which appear completely absurd.  Solo climbing vertical cliffs almost came across as de rigeur ! Launching off high cliffs within mountain ranges on a bike, plummeting downwards with the whole situation then relying on the deployment of a parachute was spectacular. I confess I really enjoyed the somewhat more mundane filmed descents down precipitous snow fields and through woodlands !

Try and see it at one of your local, privately run cinemas. It is well worth it.

Wrong kind of Grand Slam ! 2.1.2018

With Andy Murray's hip injury making the headlines it wasn't at all compensating to be part of the idiom !

Dawn saw me out with the dogs in what was Baltic weather temperatures. A misjudgement led to my upending, going horizontal and slamming down on the frozen ground with its ample ice covering. Whilst I sustained no direct injuries I did give my head a wallop. Thankfully no aftermath arose from that part of the drama, but the next few hours did increasingly confirm which body bits had made contact with the cold , cold ground !   The worst part is actually getting up from ice covered ground.....not a wholly dignified process and a bit reminiscent of animals taking their first steps after being born !  Morning walking duties completed the rest of the morning was given over to garden birdwatching.

It proved to be quite interesting with Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpoll and a small group of Goldfinch appearing and overflying Fieldfare and Pink-footed Geese being seen.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

And so it begins......2018 !

In retrospect 2017 was both a good and bad year in a personal sense. A great trip out to Morocco in Spring, various trips around the UK and periods spent at Spurn contrasted against a couple of near disastrous family experiences that were far less enjoyable .  Thankfully, all is now improved and, hopefully, 2018 promises to be a more consistently productive and happy year ( once I've got my Speed Awareness Course out of the way on the 23rd January ! ).

So, what of the onset of 2018 ?  I'm up near Inverness, Scotland in what has been cold and icy weather so far, but is gradually set to improve. Walks out during the day ( with the dogs ) has produced little within the nearby coniferous woodlands or adjacent agricultural areas with far more activity in the garden around the feeders. Best of the bunch has been Long-tailed Tits, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Tree Sparrow, Treecreeper and odd Greenfinch with occasional Red Kite and Common Buzzard overhead.

The star performance was from a Long-tailed Field Mouse.  This individual repeatedly appeared out of its "hidey hole"  , ran down to a group of House Sparrows gathered around some food I'd scattered under the bushes, retrieved a supply and sped off !! Except it did it several times leaving the sparrows literally bewildered. What the hell was that ? There was no reaction whatsoever ! Animal theatre at its best.

With daughters accounted for after the Hogmanay celebrations the next day or so proved to be a football filled, crisis-free series of days. A good start !