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 !