Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Project Splatter.

When first I came across the above title I suspect my reaction was similar to that which has just gone through your minds !!   But I was intrigued too, so I explored a little further.

In essence it's a Citizen Science exercise run as a serious research project by academics. With the ever growing amount of traffic on our roads the levels of roadkill very probably have never been higher. This project aims to collect all such records so that a quantified assessment can be set out and the problem given serious exposure. 

Take a read at the website Project Splatter  ( simply click on this link ) and check out the details provided.  I've elected to download the app ( Android ), which is made available, and which will now enable me to send in records as and when. Whilst I guess we're never going to be able to eliminate the problem of roadkill at least this project is making a serious attempt to evaluate the problem.  And, yes, I know that,  whilst driving along a busy road and seeing a dead Badger on the verge,  it's not even legal to reach for your phone, engage your Grid Reference app and give a precise report of location etc, but ingenuity will overcome that I'm sure !!

A simple involvement as a UK Citizen to ensure the death of part of our wildlife heritage wasn't entirely in vain. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Criticism of Islay Barnacle Goose cull gathers momentum.

Since issuing a Blog relating to the cull of Barnacle Geese on Islay three days ago further details have now been issued on the Animal Concern Advice Line   (Barnacle Goose shooting  ). Simply tap this link and enter the News section.

Apparently the incidents caught on video occurred in February and March of 2018, which may have escaped my notice previously, as opposed to within the current winter season. These incidents have now been referred to Police Scotland for consideration of possible wildlife crimes and firearms offences. It is alleged that one of the shooters involved is possibly known to the Police already.

I would urge readers to visit the above web site, consult the reportage , set out as copy correspondence, and access the video footage, all of which give a more vivid and graphical record than can be achieved by mere description.

In addition to the above, Animal Concern has contacted Scottish MP's and drawn the matter to their attention.  Clearly the 10% "crippling rate" accepted by SNH is not resting easily with the animal welfare organization and presents a further aspect over which SNH's feet are likely to be held to the fire !

At the present time I'm unaware of any public statement having been issued by Scottish Natural Heritage  (SNH ) , which might shed further light on the reported circumstances.

My initial Blog rested mainly on the advocated need for the current strategy, which includes a cull of geese, to be re-visited  and revised. In the excellent paper, published in British Wildlife, mention was made of animal welfare issues, but not in detail and certainly not to the extent associated with the above reported incidents. Clearly the results of the inquiry now being conducted by the Police and the obvious negative PR aspects automatically directed towards the Strategy, it is incumbent upon SNH  to routinely re-evaluate the scheme overall and its operational management ?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Visit to the Aire Valley. 26.1.2019

A long standing arrangement to explore the Aire Valley , near Leeds with Matthew was finally realised and proved to be remarkably productive and enjoyable.  But , first of all, it was a call into central Wakefield , and Sainsbury's , to avail ourselves of a group of Waxwings which are feeding in  the car park's trees . There. in the grey light post dawn, the small flock of Waxwings sat in immobile relief at the top of one of the trees. Had they roosted there I wonder ?   Preening and quietly sitting out they provided  great views and a good start to the day.

On to Calder Wetlands where a couple of Great Crested Grebe, Tufted, Mallard and Goldeneye were present, but little else. We then decided to cut across town to the NE and visit St. Aidans. This is a relatively new RSPB reserve , although the final negotiations have taken some time to complete. It's now fully operational with a  Visitor  Centre and car park and a full complement of access pathways around the site.

First of all we visited Lemonroyd Sewage Farm ( no good birdwatching day should be without one ). At least one of the Water Pipits present there was quickly located together with Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Chaffiches feeding around the beds before everything was disturbed and fled. . Nearby Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit , Wren, Robin and Stock Doves were present . Matthew had a brief view of two Green Sandpiper dropping into some favoured area at the far side of the site to which we attempted to gain access for an overview along a railway embankment, but failed.

The Aire Valley has seen much industrial activity over the years and its topographical features have changed as restoration processes have been completed. The site names of yesteryear still remain though ( Swillington, Mickletown, Allerton Bywater )  although many of the actual wetland areas I knew have been subsumed into newly formed features . St.Aidans is an extensive area ,best overlooked from the hillside on which the Visitor Centre is situated.

Even before we had left the Centre the Tundra Bean Goose had been located, feeding alone on one of the nearby open hillsides. Soon after other geese ( Grey lag Geese and Canada Geese ) were disturbed from nearby fields, descended on the site and managed to "redisribute " everything !! A walk down into the centre of the reserve provided views of a variety of duck, large numbers of Golden Plover and Lapwing overflying the site and single Curlew and Redshank.. Excellent views were then obtained of two Bearded Tits feeding in a fringing reedbed. We finally made our way back up to the Visitor Centre after resolving to visit again at some future point.  The reserve is new,  with the RSPB calling for suggestions from people of what they would like to see provided there in the future. Access footpaths appear to be already in place and no part of the reserve seemed devoid of people, people running, people with dogs , people on bikes and even someone swimming. They're a tough lot in Yorkshire !  Having said all that , the wildlife didn't seem to be at all affected by this ever-moving presence and maybe the multi use provision is a condition imposed by the local ( Leeds City ) council. Certainly I'll be back, as I can imagine that, early on a May morning, the site is a rewarding place to be , although perhaps before all the lycra begins to flash and flex !!  Given it's a well known fact that the Aire valley is a well established migratory highway, anything might be expected.

Onto the RSPB Fairburn Ings Reserve nearby where a cup of coffee was first priority on the agenda, taken whilst watching the frantic activity around the feeders.  Again, good views of duck as you might expect, particularly Shoveler, and Goosander.  A walk around one of the circuits provided views of  Lesser Redpoll, a good flock of Goldfinch and a variety of tit species including two Willow Tit , one of which was the leucistic individual we been tipped off about at the Centre. Again, a site where you could spend a full day and doubtless ratchet up a very good list of species seen. 

All in all ,a good day , and all before the rain set in mid afternoon !

Friday, January 25, 2019

Islay Barnacle Goose cull under pressure.

In the October issue of  British Wildlife there is a very interesting review of the current strategy to cull wintering Barnacle Geese on Islay  ( " The  Islay  Barnacle Goose management strategy:  a suggested way forward ."   Steve Percival and Eric Bignal.  Pp 37- 44 ).  Without repeating what is an absolute plethora of detail , this is a very welcome intervention, fully referenced, and with a raft of suggestions of what might be considered to provide a better way forward to improve a currently unsustainable strategy  and without the necessity for a cull.   Strangely enough there is almost a predictive quality interwoven in the text set against what has arisen recently this winter and. clearly, the advocated solutions laid out in the paper must now be examined seriously by the Scottish Government.

From 1999 until a couple of years ago I lived on Islay, was a member of the SNH ( Scottish Natural Heritage ) team that censused the geese each winter and, additionally, took a keen interest in the burgeoning population of Grey lag Geese on the island. The latter too, quite legally, has been reduced and contained by shooting  but, if an island wide strategy dealing with the presence and effects of geese there were to be drawn together it is my contention that their presence and effects should be included.

We need to remind ourselves of two main aspects, setting aside the fact that the most recent counts might alter the figures slightly  ( see later comments ).   Islay holds around 60% of the global population of Barnacle Geese in winter as well as around 25% of Greenland White-fronted Geese.  The numbers concerned are of International importance and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the EU Birds Directive there is clearly a responsibility placed upon the Scottish Government to recognize this and to ensure the populations are managed accordingly.  However that presence comes with a cost to local farmers upon whose grazing lands the geese feed.  Since 1960 the numbers present in winter has grown from around 5000 to over 40,000. Such has been countered by the Scottish Government offering subsidy payments to farmers under a variety of agreements which have been amended from time to time.  From 2015 it was decided to try and bring the wintering population of Barnacle Geese down  (eventually ) to between 25,000 and 30,000 and , from that year a cull has taken place with a total of 8200 being shot including 3300 in the winter of 2017-18.

Now at this point it is important for me to say that the intention of this Blog entry is to alert people to the situation and to ask that, if they so desire,  they should read the above paper and absorb the compelling arguments it puts forward, the facts and figures it contains , as well as the proposals for the current strategy to be revisited. There are accompanying issues such as the use of lead shot and animal welfare problems.  It may well be that questions raised by birdwatchers who have visited in winter can play an integral part in bringing about change. Islay itself has very few active birdwatchers and no past history of opposition from the same cohort, so external pressure is a necessity. The RSPB  ( and the WWT ) both resigned from the National Goose Forum a while ago, appropriate action at the time, but something that will do little to assist the progression of change now needed. A joint formal complaint to the European Commission was submitted by the two bodies but, given the current mess in which the UK finds itself , one wonders what influence anything emanating from Europe might have under current circumstances.  I also confess to no longer having the confidence I did in RSPB which appears to have morphed into a very cautious conservation body .  So, watch this space for advice on what to do and lend any weight you can to a call for a new strategic approach.

But the story doesn't end there I'm afraid !

A little while ago it was reported that SNH had held a "training day" for staff, farmers and marksmen reiterating  ( one assumes ) the laws relating to both Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese ( which is totally protected ! )  and the appropriate approaches to be taken when implementing the cull.  Without being overly cynical one has to ask, in the light of the evidence referred to below, what prompted the sudden concerns re "best practice " and the need for a "course"?  One couldn't write the script in terms of what then followed , as the extract from The Ileach  ( Islay's local newspaper ) reports on.


                 Barnacle goose cull controversy

                    Ileach 46/07 19 January 2019

Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) have published an article, along with three videos of shooters in action , which expresses their disquiet about the shooting of geese on Islay.
According to them, the lethal aspect of the goose management programme should be halted im­mediately. “Barnacle goose num­bers have fallen dramatically,” they say. “The November count having gone down from 48,400 to 30,400, a drop of 37% since the previous year.
“Breeding rates are at an excep­tionally low level with only 3% of the flock being young birds, the lowest percentage in over 25 years. Scotland has a duty to care for these otherwise protected birds instead of killing them.”
They analyse the video footage on their site and question whether the shooters are following the pre­scribed rules.
They ask, “Given the matter of seconds between arrival and shooting how did the shooters even attempt to follow the rules and ensure there were no white-fronted geese, curlew, lapwing or other birds amongst the barnacle geese?”
Summing up ACAL’s concerns on 10 January, John F. Robins writes, “On the grounds that it is cruel, scientifically flawed and could be endangering the conser­vation status of the global popu­lation of barnacle geese, Animal Concern Advice Line asks the Scottish Government to imme­diately stop killing geese on Islay and conduct a full review of the Islay Local Goose Management Scheme.”
SNH whose responsibility it is to oversee the culls defended their methodology.
“Goose management on Islay is carried out in the most hu­mane way possible with the aim of reducing the significant level of agricultural damage caused by grazing geese and maintaining the population of barnacle geese at close to the current level of around 30,000.”
They are however limiting the cull this year to 1000 because the goose population this year has seen a dramatic decrease over pre­vious years.
After viewing the videos, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) commented, “We have requested that SNH run their methodology past the Scot­tish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (SSPCA) as an independent animal welfare authority.
“RSPB Scotland recognises that Islay’s globally significant Greenland barnacle goose popu­lation has impacts on agricultural systems on Islay. We have, how­ever, consistently promoted an approach that combines strategic goose scaring with management support for affected farmers, rath­er than large scale shooting.”
RSPB Scotland believe that SNH’s Islay goose strategy set a “dangerous precedent” for wildlife management in Scotland.
“SNH has not shown willing to adjust policy on this, so we have reluctantly resigned our seat on the National Goose Management Review Group,” said Paul Watson added.
Back in 2015 when the cull was first mooted The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and RSPB Scotland complained to the European Commission in Brus­sels based on our opinion that the Scottish authorities have not met all the necessary conditions, nor had a sufficient evidence base, in order to justify the large cull of a European protected species.
In their complaint they wrote, “We are concerned that the gener­al approach adopted – deliberately reducing populations of protected wildlife species through killing as a low cost-solution where con­flict emerges – may, through the precedent now emerging on Islay, become a standard approach to the management of other pro­tected species and populations in Scotland, and thereafter elsewhere in the UK and possibly further afield.”

Now, I would urge you to take a look at the Animal Concern Advice Line website and navigate through to the videos concerned  ( be persistent ).Clearly the action being pursued by the marksman is unprofessional at best and warrants the above referrals being made. I suppose the last comment to be made, although I doubt the final comment, is that , in recognition of the reduction in numbers of attendant Barnacle Geese this winter on Islay and the low productivity rate arising from last year's breeding season ( 3% )  SNH has announced that the cull will be limited to 1000 birds only this winter ( which might already have been achieved  ? ).

I've a feeling that this might well be a subject to which a future report is required !! 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Scottish sojourn tied off !!

In bringing this Blog up to date I'll first of all offer something akin to advice ,with an accompanying moral attached !

"When moving from one "base" to another don't leave key computer components at your last place of residence".  I'll leave it to you to piece together !

The last days spent in Scotland saw weather conditions being fairly constant and saw little in the way of unexpected bird records during routine birding, other than a Barn Owl on the 8th. A further visit to the Cromarty Firth encountered similar tidal conditions to previously, lots of birds, which included a nice flock of Lapwing and a few Bar-tailed Godwit. Numbers of gulls, ducks and waders were impressive, but revealed nothing exciting, although it was nice to see several groups of Scaup so easily.

A visit to the Findhorn valley was unproductive and disappointing. The lack of activity generally set against the sheer splendour of the isolation and tranquility was adequate compensation in itself. However, returning over the high ground to the north and coming across the major works in hand installing new transmission lines and the seeming plethora of new access roads cutting across the moorland was a direct contrast to what had gone before. The only new thing here was Red Grouse and a cyclist in training who commendably matched my progression over the twisting road !

A series of calls to various sites on Speyside, the Insh Marshes and the Firth of Forth before returning home provided some nice sightings including Whooper Swan, Northern Eider, Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and a few common waders, but no Red-necked Grebe or Surf Scoter !

Things are now back to normal (22nd ) ,  although sadly the Scottish sojourn didn't produce as much as hoped for. I suspect a "Can do better !" verdict overall in several respects !!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Black Isle and Cromarty Firth. 4th January, 2019.

A more pleasant day, even with a period of sunshine!  With day temperatures at 8/9 C this was northerly sub tropical stuff at this time of year !!!

A full circuit of the Black Isle and a prolonged period watching over the Cromarty Firth.  A vain search for a reserve area on the north bank east of Alness and Invergordon provides an excuse for a further visit !   Munlochy Bay  was fully inundated but , nonetheless, held some Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck with some Curlew and Redshank at the extreme western end.   Chanonry Point was disappointing with virtually nothing in sight other than confirmation that charges are now made for car parking.  First erect some hideous and unnecessary barriers, install a bit of landscaping and then charge the public for looking out over the Moray Firth with the hope of seeing Bottle -nosed Dolphins.  But you could do that before and with a greater sense of the outdoors without the intrusion of some contrived provision !!  Yes, higgledy piggledy parking may have been the order of the day,  but do we want a spoonfed , disciplined countryside which doubtless delights the health and safety brigade no end ?!

So, leaving that behind I cut across to the Cromarty Firth and began to scan the water. A flock of Scaup were present, several Northern Eider , some Long-tailed Duck , with a few males getting excited,  Goldeneye , Red breasted Merganser  and the odd Slavonian Grebe. As ever the inner sanctum of Udale Bay played host to numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck  with lots of waders in evidence on the now developing, more distant mudflats, providing both a challenge and delight when scanning through them.

Late afternoon saw more cloud developing and temperatures dropping.  Definitely no longer tropical !!

Alturlie Point,Inverness. 3rd January, 2019

An extended visit to Alturlie Point alongside the Moray Firth east of Inverness,  (which can be combined very easily with a trip to the Retail Park !! ).

Rather grey and cold with daytime temperatures around 2/3C .  Tide was fully up with the accompanying collections of waders and gulls on the shoreline.   A good selection of corvids in nearby fields  ( Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Rook and Jackdaw )  would have been a good study ground for any beginner. 

Out on the Firth there was a good selection of duck on offer ( Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Scaup, ) with an odd Red-breasted Merganser and a very obliging female Long-tailed Duck. Several small rafts of both Scaup and Goldeneye were farther out too.  Grey-lag Geese fed in nearby fields and an overflying Cormorant added to the picture. Waders were represented by Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew.  Noticeably absent were any small birds as I walked along the road running immediately adjacent to the water.

So, a modest but pleasant array of birds, good views and an easily visited location.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A kaleidoscope of colour. 1st January, 2019.

It's a new dawn ,
It's a new day,
It's a new life.

An' I'm feeling good.

Whilst it was never intended to be a designated birding day, in the end it turned out to be really enjoyable. I'm in the Scottish Highlands, west of Inverness, with yesterday being an unseasonable 15C.   I've a feeling this will change !!

Up early and all the feeders filled in anticipation of a good showing in the garden.  I wasn't disappointed.  But first, in that cold light of dawn, Whooper Swans called from the nearby Firth and a few small skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew out to their feeding areas.

The next few hours were a bustle of activity with Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Siskins, Tree and House Sparrows, a small flock of Long-tailed Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and an odd Greenfinch, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a few Yellowhammers.  Seen at close quarters the colours were great to see and certainly brightened up the day. A Red Kite drifted over late morning adding a little excitement to the proceedings. I enjoyed it , although compared to the undoubted frantic activities of some, the ultimate day total of , ( whisper it ), 23 was relatively modest. Most surprising was a pair of Oystercatcher seen feeding later on the grass verge near to some traffic lights in the otherwise built up area leading to Charleston School.  Unexpected and a real blaze of contrast as I waited my turn at the lights !   

I no longer have a garden and realised how much of a luxury and privilege it can be to really study birds up close. If I'm honest I really enjoyed it, despite it being a low key intro to what I hope will be a bumper year.  

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone.