Saturday, 26 September 2015

Ask friends & family to help Hen Harriers

Earlier today I sent this email to everyone in my address book & posted it on my Facebook page, Copy & Paste and do the same. If it generates one more signature it's worth it.

Hello Everyone.

Last February I asked you to consider signing a petition to help save one of our most wonderful birds of Prey, The Hen Harrier. The petition reached over 20,000 signatures and brought the Harriers plight to many more people. Unfortunately things haven't changed and the Hen Harrier along with lots of other wildlife are still being killed to protect grouse stocks.

5 male Hen Harriers went missing from nests earlier this year meaning that the nests failed, some think that this is not unusual but let's face it, they were killed. Males very rarely abandon females.

These killings, although not proven in all cases, are the result of persecution by Land Managers & Gamekeepers to protect Red Grouse stocks on shooting estates. Please consider signing this petition to get Driven Grouse Shooting Banned.

We are not asking for an outright ban on shooting, just this highly contentious and environmentally damaging type of shooting.

If after reading this you agree, please sign and pass on to friends and family.

Thanks for your Time


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Hen Harrier Day 2015

I've started writing this blog several times but after reading so many great blogs from other people such as Stuart Pike, Billy Stockwell & Georgia Locock  I didn't see the point in just repeating what everyone else had already written. Yes great rallying speeches from the likes of ChrisPackham & Mark Avery, but what struck me, just like last year, was the amazing and extraordinary voices of the people that gave up their time to attend this years Hen Harrier Day.

Chris Packham as ever delivered a passionate & informed Speech
Mark Avery - A modern day Wildlife Hero
 My experience was different this year as I'd stepped in at the last minute to help marshall the event. This gave me an opportunity to meet some top people and exchange concerns but also talk to lots of supporters as they arrived and try and sell, sorry I mean extract a donation for, a Hen Harrier Day wrist band. People were very generous and they all made it clear that the money raised was going to a great cause & were happy to donate if it was to help BAWC pay for the running of this fantastically important event.

John and 2 of the 4 Hen Harriers that attended HH day 2

The passion & anger was clear from supporters

 I could hear conversations from all around about Hen Harriers and Gamekeepers, but this year the subjects also included the environment and the unbalanced ecosystems that the intensively managed moors create. As Chris Packham said in his speech, we are not yokels, we are educated and well informed. The main difference, to me, between the two sides of this argument are that we see the bigger picture and are concerned about the future and sustainability. Where as the Grouse shooting lobby are just concerned about not changing their way of life, not removing their 'traditions' and of course not eating into their profits. They're not worried about what they will leave for future generations to clean up, and no thought as to whether our children and grand children will be able enjoy sights like the wonderful Hen Harrier.

Brilliant job from Charlie Moores & team organising the event

Since the event I've had several chats on twitter with Country Sport fans who still deny that Gamekeepers are partly responsible for the death of Raptors on the Moors, even after the reports of Annie they say it could have been any one, even that anti hunt groups would shoot her for headlines. How can the interested parties ever work together with these attitudes still in place?

 One other thing that is obvious this year is that the general public are becoming aware of what a Hen Harrier is, still not enough yet though, and the media are talking about it. Articles in the Telegraph and other such like minded papers seem to be shooting themselves in the foot as 'yokels' can see straight through their pathetic attempts to fill heads with nonsense. The RSPB is a really well respected, and deservedly so, organisation and to attack them is very unfair.

Some one is watching from the bushes

 My hope for the next 12 months is that NGO's become a lot tougher. Mike Clarke' talk on Saturday night was good, and his guest blog on Martin Harpers page was a little angrier than some of the RSPB's previous statements, but I still think that trying to negotiate with Grouse Moor owners at the present time is pointless as they seem to have no intentions of altering their ways. Unless all stop killing birds of prey how can numbers increase? We have to push for a ban on Driven Grouse Shooting before it's too late.
Mike Clarke - RSPB standing strong against critisism
Jo Smith from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust spoke with passion but we need to hear ideas and alternatives from NGO's if they are not going to support the ban.
Jo Smith - Spoke with passion but do NGO's needto take a stronger stance?

 For me we need to get rid of driven Grouse shooting not just for the sake of birds of prey but all predators, they like us are just trying to live a life and bring up families. Yes ground nesting birds will suffer losses but who are we to determine what the population levels of wild animals should be? Populations will go up and go down but eventually a natural level will be found. If some species struggle or even go extinct on the moors then that is nature at work, but land owners should not play god and think they can do a better job.

If you didn't attend Hen Harrier Day watch highlights here.

Harry still watches over events

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust show good support this year

Harry is happy to see DWT at this years event

Couldn't resist a chance of a picture in the BUTT

One final note, Just before the 9th of August Tiffany Imogen posted on her website a poem about the Hen Harrier, It is a wonderfully moving poem and gave me goosebumps, please read the poem below.
Sun creeps over thistled moor
and stains the dawn cold,
sanguine gold.
A gangling hare begins
her voyage atop the heather sea,
through bilberry waves and
sphagnum froth she totters and hops,
and stops.
There lies a shadow on the earth.
Look up! Our hare a harrier spies,
bisecting the skies
with aureate eyes
and feathers of darkening cobalt.
Hare retreats; grouse awakens.
Auburn plume and crimson brow,
grouse is wanted by the world.
Hen harrier craves soft flesh
to nourish fragile young,
nestled low in wildling sprigs
exposed to wind and badger bite.
Portly man wants portly fowl
to shoot with steel gun;
a fattened carcass stuffed
betwixt the lips of Dionysus.
Ten thousand moons have
grouse and harrier flown
the heath together.
But man can find profit in Elysium;
he drains life with poison
and powder;
turns wilderness to revenue.
He has thrown our hawks into darkness.
Bright bird of Arcadia
lost upon the moor;
come back.

Monday, 2 March 2015

2 brothers and 79 birds

I received an email from my brother suggesting that if he came over from his home in Catalan, could we do a days birding in Norfolk? It didn't take long to reply with a very excited yes. I always look forward to going out with Stephen, my skills with bird ID are ok but when it comes to Waders & Gulls I'm not as confident as we don't get a great variety in Derbyshire. He runs his own business giving guided day tours and holidays and always seems to spot things that others would miss. (see here)

Stephen arrived on the Monday night and after some catching up and preparing sandwiches and snacks for the day, we then went off to bed as we had agreed a 4am leaving time so we could get to Titchwell for sun up around 7am. Our drive was great, hardly any traffic and in 2 & ¾ hours we arrived at the RSPB reserve. While having a quick coffee in the car park I heard the familiar sound of Pink-footed Goose (1) flying towards us, we looked up and that was Stephens 1st wish list tick sorted. He had arrived with a few birds that he really wanted to see as he doesn't get them where he lives. Grey Partridge, Rough-legged Buzzard, Snow Bunting & Twite along with some sea birds such as Long-tailed Duck & Divers were targets but like me he just enjoys being out birding and gets excited about getting great views of any bird.
Pink-footed Geese At dawn

As we left the car park Blackbird (2), Dunnock (3), Chaffinch (4) & Moorhen (5) were quicly added. We heard more Geese heading towards us but were distracted by a stunning Barn Owl (6) quartering to our left over the reed beds, we watched it drop down several times and all the time the geese were getting closer and closer, the a loud BANG, BANG. Two Pink feet dropped from the sky and hit the mud, a tosser with a gun had taken the lives of these birds for no reason as his dog couldn't get through the mud to retrieve them, a very sad and disturbing start to the day, what a waste of life.
You can choose your own caption for this

The next few bird sightings were enjoyed but we struggled to forget the event that we had just witnessed, including Brent Goose (7) that was also on his wish list. As we walked on towards the beach we added Lapwing (8), Shoveler (9), Teal (10), Greylag Goose (11), Curlew (12), Little Egret (13), Reed Bunting (14), Little Grebe (15), Redshank (16) & Black-headed Gull (17). I took the time to check out all the Redshank in the hope of seeing a close relative. After around 5-6 minutes I was rewarded with the Spotted Redshank (18), White supercilium, greyer body & more delicate bill clearly visible. They can be tricky but I think I've got this bird nailed now, they are certainly a lot easier in Spain when in full breeding plumage. 
Spotted Redshank

Stockier bird with upturned bill, Bar-tailed Godwit
Next came two more birds that can be difficult to split without experience. Godwits are obviously Godwits but getting the Black-tailed & Bar-tailed part right takes a bit of practice. If you get a good look at the tail then that helps enormously but when tail is obscured then the Bar-tailed Godwit (19) is a stockier bird with shorter legs & a slightly upturned bill. I was lucky, the Bar-tailed was feeding right next to a Black-tailed Godwit (20).
Much longer legged with straight bill, Black-tailed Godwit

We made camp and set up the scope on the beach in the hope of getting a few sea birds, tucked in amongst the dunes, to shy away from the very cold wind, we soon started adding more birds, Sanderling (21), Dunlin (22), Turnstone (23), Grey Plover (24)
Grey Plover
Ruff (25) Oystercatcher (26), Common Gull (27), Herring Gull (28)
& Great Black-backed Gull (29) were all working the shoreline, and out to sea we spotted Great Crested Grebe (30), Common Scoter (31), Goldeneye (32) & another bird on Stephens list, the Long-tailed Duck (33). After around 90 minutes we started to pack up, as we were Cormorant (34) flew low over the choppy water & 3 Ringed Plover (35) landed a few metres away. 
Ringed Plover
Behind a small flock of birds were moving up and down the dunes, we saw Goldfinch (36), Linnet (37) & we heard, then got a quick view of Twite (38).

Moving back down the walkway Canada Goose (39) flew over heading north and out on the freshwater marsh were Wigeon (40), Mallard (41), Pintail (42), Shelduck (43), Avocet (44).
From over the far side of the reserve a male Marsh Harrier (45) glided low over the water putting up all the ducks & waders as it looked for breakfast. A Snipe (45) zig-zagged through the reserve calling as it flew, a Pheasant (47) called from the reedbed and a Song Thrush (48) sang from the top of a willow.

Other birds seen at Titchwell were Woodpigeon (49), Magpie (50), Carrion Crow (51), Blue Tit (51), Great Tit (53), Skylark (54), Long-tailed Tit (55), Wren (56) & Robin (57).

We left the reserve and as we reached the village of Titchwell we turned right down a country lane where we had heard that large gaggles of Pink Feet had been seen feeding over the last few days. After driving up & down a few times there was no sign of any geese, but we did get some great views of Grey Partridge (58) & Red-legged Partridge (59) in good numbers and very close to where we had pulled up. 

Grey Partridge makes a break for the cover of long grass

Red-legged Partridge scans for Danger

Then a real treat, 4 Brown Hares were chasing around in a field and as I followed them with the camera I spotted 3 sat in the hedge row, I love watching Hares and it was wonderful to see.
Brown Hare ran across our path
Brown hare with black tips to the ears
Burnham Overy Dunes was our next stop where people were reporting regular sightings of Rough-legged Buzzard. I'd never stopped here before but will certainly return to this great site. The 1st new bird was Mute Swan (60) and soon followed by Egyptian Goose (61) in a distant field. I spotted a Kestrel (62) hovering over the marshland.
Kestrel looking for breakfast

 I was photographing it when Stephen called 'Raptors', I took a couple more shots and ran up the bank hoping for the RL Buzzard. We got incredible views of Common Buzzard (63), Marsh Harrier & 3 stunning Red Kite (64), around 10 raptors in total were soaring and chasing each other around and at one point 2 Kite clasped talons and spun earthwards for a few seconds until they released just before hitting the ground. That really got the hairs on my neck stood up, what an experience.

Looking back over a flooded field I saw a bird that surprised me, not because I didn't expect to see it but I was so surprised it was the first of the day, Coot (65). On the muddy edges there were at least 20 Ringed Plover and Stephen pointed out 2 birds that were feeding along side, I wasn't sure at first but then they were identified as Little Stint (66), this was a lifer for me so at this stage I was over the moon.
Little Stint was a lifer for me

3 more birds added to the days list before we left, House Sparrow (67), Starling (68) & Jackdaw (69). No luck with the RL Buzzard but maybe we would fair better at Holkham.
These Brent Geese few over as we walked back to the car

The thought of visiting Holkham beach always gets my juices flowing, not just the idea of seeing something interesting, sea watching can always throw up a surprise, but also because it's such a beautiful place. I always walk down to the shoreline and do a 360, take in the vista and fill up with fresh air. 

As soon as we left the car we saw Pink Feet, Egyptian Goose, Wigeon, Little Egret, Pheasant, Curlew plus a few more species. One new bird for today was Fieldfare (70), around 15 or so was feeding with the Wigeon, I was reminded how stunning these birds are as I had great views through the scope.
A stunning Fieldfare

 As we walked towards the beach a Goldcrest (71) was added from the wood after being heard calling. A blast of very chilly wind greeted us as we left the treeline and it took a couple of minutes to find our spot and set up. Not a lot out there to start with, then Goldeneye made an appearance along with some Gulls, but after around 30 minutes Stephen called out that a pair of Red-breasted Merganser (72) were hugging the waves, he pointed the scope ahead of their flightpath and I had great views, they then landed and I had added another lifer to my list. 
Awful picture but this Red-breasted Merganser was my 2nd lifer of the day
Take time to enjoy the beautiful vistas at Holkham in between birds 
Time was now getting on and we had to start thinking about light, we still hadn't seen the RL Buzzard so headed off to another site where one had been spotted.

As we walked back on the beach we came across huge swathes of Razor Clam shells, there were thousands of them all over the sand.
Razor Clam shells

Not a great picture but this Red Kite gave us another great tick for Holkham

Salthouse failed to supply the RL Buzzard which was disappointing but the day had been so good that it didn't really matter. It did however give us a Pied Wagtail (73) so worth calling in.

A quick stop at Cley and some more sea watching gave us a frustrating distant view of a diver, as time past the views got slightly better, enough to confirm that it was a Red-throated Diver (74), Mick Reavey reminded me on Twitter that ' think Lord Snooty. Nose in the air = red (in my less than scientific approach to dots out to sea)'. Just before we left we added Lesser Black-backed Gull (75).

Very tired and starting to get hungry (having eaten all the sandwiches) we made one last decision to return to Titchwell to watch the sun set and maybe see the Raptor Roost. I was surprised how many people were here, around 30 or so. 4 Marsh Harriers made an appearance and gave some good views, Rook (76) & Collared Dove (77) were seen before we left and a pocket full of sunset photos were captured.
The light was great as the sun fell

A perfect end to a fantastic days birding

Other birds today were Grey Heron (78), Golden Plover (79)

I returned home shattered at around 8:20pm, whilst sat eating I reflected on what a fantastic day we'd had, 79 species for the day, 34 added to my year list and 2 lifers, it doesn't get much better than that. What a great place Norfolk is for any birder, whether a beginner honing your skills or an expert looking for a rare migrant, it will never disappoint. I had the best nights sleep I'd had for months and yet another great memory of our wildlife to treasure.    

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Review of January 2015

A view over the Duckmarsh

January has been a cold month, but in between the snow and high winds there has been some great opportunities to get to The Avenue and do some birdwatching. This 16.5 hectare site has produced a fabulous range of birds in this winter season so far, from Goldcrest & Blue Tit to Yellowhammer & Buzzard. One of the highlights throughout the month has been the good numbers of Buntings & Finches on site, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch & Reed Bunting. Mixed flocks of around 100 birds can be seen on site at any one time.

 On Sunday the 4th of January we had our first ringing session which produced over a 120 birds, but the numbers of individual species is encouraging news, both visitors and residents alike. 13 Bullfinch, 7 Greenfinch, 3 Willow Tit, 13 Yellowhammer, 20 Great Tit & 21 Blue Tit. Other birds caught were Goldcrest, Dunnock, Robin, Goldfinch, Jay, Reed Bunting, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch & Wren.

 The bird tables & feeding stations have been regularly topped up throughout the year but more intensively in the harsher winter months, this gives the birds a regular top up when natural food is harder to come by.

 A fabulous 50 bird species were seen by the 6th, that had rose to 56 by the end of the month along with 2 mammals, Fox & Wood Mouse. For the first time we have had a record of a Chiffchaff in January, it was first seen in December 2014, it's great that it has stayed around, insects and small spiders are its main diet and it seems to be doing well and finding plenty to eat.
Fox has a good scout around the Reed Beds

 On the 13th I had a trip down memory lane and decided to go for a walk around one of my childhood patches, Williamthorpe Ponds. It was good to see that plenty of birds still visit this old Coal Board reservoir that's now looked after by Severn Trent Water. It's not as wild a place as when I used to go, nice footpaths, well trimmed hedges and tidy woodland are now the norm, maybe one of the reasons I stopped visiting. It did add a few birds to my year list though.
Treecreeper at The Williamthorpe Ponds

 I took a trip to Ladybower Wood on the 20th to clean out the 50+ boxes I look after there, Pied Flycatcher & Redstart are our targets there but we get Blue & Great Tit using then too. This year we also put up some open fronted boxes in the hope of helping some of the good numbers of Spotted Flycatcher we had seen in 2014. A real treat while sitting having our lunch was watching a Peregrine soaring overhead, I had it in my binoculars when it started to stoop and I followed it all the way down, I was very surprised to then see what it was chasing, a Sparrowhawk. What a thrill.
The view from the top of Ladybower Wood
 The 25th saw our first volunteer work party of the year and 12 wonderful people turned out on this cold and sunny day. I took one volunteer, Lynne, to clear debris from the river which took about 30 minutes, we then went to join the others that were pulling up Willow & Alder saplings from our wetland meadow. This is a laborious back breaking job, but at the end of the work party when everyone is aching and covered in smelly mud, we all feel a great sense of achievement.
Saplings & Gauze is burned to prevent any regrowth

With such a great start to the year I’m really looking forward to what the following months will bring.

Here is a list of my 2015 birds so far:

Mute Swan (1) - Canada Goose (2) - Barnacle Goose (3) - Wigeon (4) - Gadwall (5)
 Teal (6) - Mallard (7) - Shoveler (8) - Pochard (9) - Tufted Duck (10) - Red Grouse (11)
Pheasant (12) - Cormorant (13) - Grey Heron (14) - Little Grebe (15)
Great Crested Grebe (16) - Sparrowhawk (17) - Buzzard (18) - Kestrel (19)
Peregrine (20) - Water Rail (21) - Moorhen (22) - Coot (23) - Snipe (24)
Black-headed Gull (25) - Lesser Black-backed Gull (26) - Herring Gull (27)
Woodpigeon (28) - Collared Dove (29) - Barn Owl (30) - Tawny Owl (31)
Kingfisher (32) - Green Woodpecker (33) - Great Spotted Woodpecker (34)
Magpie (35) - Jay (36) - Jackdaw (37) - Rook (38) - Carrion Crow (39)
Raven (40) - Goldcrest (41) - Blue Tit (42) - Great Tit (43) - Coal Tit (44)
Willow Tit (45) - Long-tailed Tit (46) - Chiffchaff (47) - Nuthatch (48)
Treecreeper (49) - Wren (50) - Starling (51) - Blackbird (52) - Fieldfare (53)
Song Thrush (54) - Redwing (55) - Mistle Thrush (56) - Robin (57) - Dunnock (58)
House Sparrow (59) - Grey Wagtail (60) - Pied Wagtail (61) - Meadow Pipit (62)
Chaffinch (63) - Greenfinch (64) - Goldfinch (65) - Bullfinch (66) - Yellowhammer (67)
Reed Bunting (68)

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Please send to all friends and family

Earlier today I sent this email to everyone in my address book & posted it on my Facebook page, Copy & Paste and do the same. If it generates one more signature it's worth it.

Hello All.

I know this is unusual for me but news has been released today of yet another  Hen Harrier being shot.

These killings, although not proven in all cases, are the result of persecution by Land Managers & Gamekeepers to protect Red Grouse stocks on shooting estates. Please consider signing this petition to get Driven Grouse Shooting Banned.

We are not asking for an outright ban on shooting, just this highly contentious and environmentally damaging type of shooting.

If after reading this you agree, please sign and pass on to friends and family.

Thanks for your Time


Saturday, 31 January 2015

Keeping the heat on the Grouse Moors

Every few days I visit the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting website (see here) to check on the number of signatures. As organisations like The Moorland Association, Countryside Alliance and The National Gamekeepers Organisation have tried to keep away from the issue on social media, the petition seems to have stalled I little. The fight for the Hen Harrier and all our Birds of Prey that are persecuted for profit on our Grouse Moors is far from over.

If you are one of the wonderful people that have already signed Mark Avery’s petition (see here) then thank you, but I ask if you could help push up the numbers from its current 20,652 (as of 31st Jan 2015). Make it your mission to get at least get one more person to sign this week, it could be a family member, a neighbour or a work colleague. Just think of the difference that all those extra signatures could make if we individually can get just one more person to sign.

The issue has moved on and has become bigger than Birds of Prey. As the methodology of managing grouse moors is studied, questions about its impact on the ecosystem and the environment have been asked, and yet again the moorland owners and managers are in denial and refuse to accept any responsibility. Profit is their only concern, so we need to make them accept the damage they are causing and change the way they look after our countryside.

On the 10th August 2014 four protests took place around England and I attended the one in the Peak District (see here ) to show that we are not going to stand by and let them continue to destroy our wildlife.

9th August is the planned date for this years Hen Harrier Day and it would be great for as many people as possible to attend, we need to show that our determination to halt bird of prey persecution has not diminished and we are back in 2015 even stronger. So please book the date in your diary and keep an eye out for more details (here) or (here).

Friday, 2 January 2015

A good start to 2015

The snow had almost cleared from the ground, just small patches left where the sun couldn’t quite reach. This is probably my most enjoyable walk of the year, I have had a walk around The Avenue Washlands on New Years Day for the last 8 years and although I don’t see anything rare I will add more year ticks than any other day in 2015. Each tick feels like a new bird, 34 were added in my 2 hour walk including some of my favourites like Yellowhammer, Bullfinch & Treecreeper. Last year I saw 150 species, ‘not many’ I hear you cry, well for me that’s good, I saw 149 in 2013. I spend most of my time on the Avenue Washlands with maybe 10 trips elsewhere in a year. A patch birder I suppose you could call me more than a more traditional birder. I am really looking forward to 2015 and shall aim for 151 this year.