Sunday, 12 February 2017

Those Thought Provoking Hen Harriers

Circus cyaneus, the hen harrier. The bird at the centre of so much controversy, and yet it is a bird that once seen is never forgotten.  It has the power to stop people in their tracks and take them to another place as you will see when you read through this blog post.  

This blog post is, at a simple level, just a collection of thoughts on seeing a hen harrier (I asked a few people to write 100 words on how they feel when they see a hen harrier). But as you read through you will see that it is so much more than that. When I first thought about putting this post together, I knew that people would have great things to say about how seeing a hen harrier makes them feel, but I totally underestimated just how beautiful everyone's words would be. It's almost as if people felt that they really had to do the bird justice, and they all really have.

So please enjoy a blog post that no-one can argue with, no-one can disagree with, no-one can say is wrong; a post about how a single moment in nature can make you feel.  

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There’s no other moment quite like it. No matter how many times I see this bird, I am silenced as I watch in awe. This majestic figure floats effortlessly over the landscape, with the ability to stun all observers. No one forgets their first, the anticipation is immense and moment is treasured. You can almost feel the tension when this ghostly character appears, prey fleeing from the undergrowth. This is soon replaced with excitement as its pristine plumage twists and turns through the air. The Hen Harrier is a special bird.
Daniel Gornall @Dan_Gornall

Picture by Daniel Gornall

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All wild life always captures my heart and my mind. My wellbeing is measured by exposure to nature. A dose of the wild keeps me happy, challenged and inspired. Then you discover an animal that beyond expectation adds some extra wonderment. My first experience of seeing a hen harrier did just that. This handsome creature was a robust, energetic, masterful male, and, I have to admit that I was totally entranced. Its shape, colouring and self confidence in its abilities all hit that soft spot. Electric and exciting. The perfect concoction. A female would have crushed me too. Love at first sight is guaranteed. Believe me. Go see!
Alexia Fishwick @AlexiaRFishwick

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When I first saw a hen harrier I was 10 and it was probably one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me! It soared through the air, barely even flapping its wings. I also felt so angry that people would persecute this graceful, amazing bird. It enlightened my heart to see it hunting for its prey, with no persecution in sight. As we had been on a long walk over RSPB Geltsdale moor, the sight of this magnificent bird would stay with me for life! It was truly magical.
Jack Farrell @NatureBoyJack11

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On 29th May, 2013, whilst on holiday in the Scottish Highlands, I was standing in a lay-by, from which Short-eared Owl and Black Grouse could be seen, when pal Jim called out ‘Hen Harrier’. Heading down the valley towards us, beautifully illuminated in the early evening sun (it was 18h49), was a magnificent male Hen Harrier.  All thoughts of owls and grouse were immediately dispelled as it continued and flew at low level, to pass us at distance of about 500 metres – my most memorable moments of a bird-filled holiday.
Richard Pegler @RichardPegler1

Picture by Richard Pegler
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Yomping up a heather clad hill, reminding myself how unfit I am and that I’m not cut out for fieldwork these days. But the thought of glimpsing a bird I spend so much time talking about, but so rarely see keeps me going. Jumping at every shape coming out of the mist, but no, it’s just a heron. And then there it is. A grey shape emerging and disappearing as quickly as it came, filling me with euphoria tinged with sadness at such a rare sight.
Jeff Knott @jazzy_jeff44

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There I was literally sat on a fence overlooking a rough grassy sludge tank with patches of phragmities choking the last of life from a once productive muddy area. I was in my teens and I was about to take the long walk home with my beloved border collie 'Pele'. Across the fields a ghostlike phantom appeared gently floating above the gathering mist. The brown plumage and white band above the tail immediately told me it was a 'rintail' Hen Harrier. This bird for me is a mythical waif that appears rarely but when it does it's always warmly welcome.
Bill Morton @FrodshamBirder

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Its about buoyancy, about pushing against gravity with feathers, those lightweight, fragile wefts which make wings and things, which throw beauty high into the sky, to frolic, to roll and sweep and slide, to ring up and stall, with the confidence to fall, earthwards fast and then to find that invisible trampoline to bounce back to dance again, to dance in the sky, that great volume beyond our rooted reach, to where our hearts can be flung by the simple thrill of watching this bird.
Chris Packham @ChrisGPackham

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A chilly, early morning on Mull - we'd already heard the bellowing of red deer stags and we were taking the long route back to the car. Suddenly, across a small valley, perhaps 150 yards away a male hen harrier low to the ground. The sheer pleasure at seeing this ghost was overwhelming - all the more because it was unexpected - gave way to admiration of its hunting skills. Remembering to breath and willing it to stay longer, the only disappointment was felt as it disappeared from view. Then elation again at the remembrance.
Paul @vivthesetter

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The last time I saw a hen harrier was just over Christmas with my son in the tower hide overlooking Wicken Fen at dusk. While a starling murmuration began to build and a parliament of rooks created a cacophony, we were captivated by the grace and steel of a male hen harrier. We watched it fly away from us until our eyes strained and we could see it no more. It was a fitting climax to a great day. But, walking back we talked about the conflict that has engulfed this species and threatened its future. A conflict that has polarised opinion, created anger and passions on both sides and led to seemingly endless debate about its future. But, in the end it is just another species threatened by the actions of humans – and that is why it is why the best adjective to sum up hen harrier is “totemic”. It is a reminder of how our species continues to exploit the millions of other species with which we share this planet which, in turn, threatens our own survival. Save the hen harrier and we may just learn to save ourselves.
Martin Harper @martinRSPB

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Never had I seen a Hen Harrier - or really thought about one, until meeting Finn at our Ecotricity young Green Briton Debate in 2015. It was truly very special to see my first with Finn and his family, last April (2016). The build-up was like waiting for the start of a Show – one that you’ve been dying to see but you’re not really sure what to expect, other than knowing it’s going to be spectacular! It really was! First, we observed a short-eared owl, redshank and water rail – and then, at last – we saw what we’d hoped for, our first Hen Harrier – in fact more than one! They were so elegant as they glided backwards and forwards. It felt as if they were teasing us, as if they knew we’d been waiting a while, just for them - and their shop-stopping performance. Ever since that day I’ve taken to watching the skies - in the hope that I’ll see my next...........................
Helen Taylor @HelenTaylor_eco

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I always go home happy if I see a Hen Harrier. They are rare, they are beautiful and they are exciting. Always on the move, always actively searching for prey, they draw the eye like no other raptor. You have to watch them when they are in sight and you hope for their return when they are gone. Seeing a Hen Harrier makes my day.
Dr Mark Avery @MarkAvery

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Emotions when I see a HH. Joy and wonder are the first words that spring to mind when I see a hen harrier. Nowadays I usually see them at a roosting or foraging site in Essex. The feelings of joy and wonder quickly subsides when I ponder the fate of these magnificent birds when they return to their upland breeding grounds.
Dr Rob Sheldon @_robsheldon 

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I first saw a hen harrier (two actually!) on Sunday 19th July 2015 at RSPB Geltsdale. I'm still not sure what gave me the most joy, the spectacle of the hen harriers themselves or the fact I shared it with my husband and children. But I do remember my heart stirred and soared watching those magnificent hen harriers. However the joy was also mixed with other emotions - sadness at the uncertainty of ever seeing a hen harrier in flight again, and anger at those who wilfully set out to persecute our wonderful birds of prey, and deprive my children of them.
Samantha Farrell @BlackLabrador10

Jack & Lucy at RSPB Geltsdale

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I've never seen a hen harrier. I live in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, perfect upland territory for raptors of all sorts and in five years the only raptors I've seen are a few buzzards, and that felt miraculous. I have booked a holiday to Islay because I can't bear the idea I might die before I see a Hen Harrier in the wild. I'll let you know how I feel when I see one. Right now I mostly feel furious about the lack of raptors in our National Parks.
Nick Miles @nick_miles_

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My first hen harrier sighting was fleeting. It came 20 years ago when I was standing on the summit of Mt Yoash in Israel as part of a team counting the spring raptor migration. My binoculars were trained on the thousands of gliding steppe buzzards & black kites, trying not to lose count, when a lone male hen harrier flapped through my field of vision and was gone. I didn’t think twice about that first one; it was a tiny part of a much wider picture. It’s ironic that these days I treasure every single glimpse I can get, precisely because this species has itself become symbolic of a much wider tragedy.
Ruth Tingay @RuthTingay 

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Drifting through the mist of a January dusk came my first hen harrier. Grey wings quartering the reeds on a grey winter’s day. Years later, starting a job in conservation, my first hill had revealed just how unfit I was. As I recovered, sat in the heather a merlin flashed past. In the distance those grey wings again, now catching the sun as over and over a male hen harrier threw himself into his skydance. With my eye in, two more on nearby hill tops. Hen harriers animate the landscape, their presence thrilling as I share their world.
Andre Farrar @andrefarrar

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Driving along a well-used upland road there it was. Not far over the fence a little way up the moor a ghostly pale grey shape shining bright against the dark end-of-winter heather. We just had to pull over to enjoy the spectacle. Almost in awe I watched as it wafted effortlessly low over the ground like a child’s kite on a short string, taking advantage of little updrafts of air it gracefully kept airborne without stalling. How amazing it looked as it gave a thrilling display of just doing what they do best - precision flying. An unexpected treat!
Dave McGrath @DaveyManMcG

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Early morning and the light was just enough for me to see through the twisted branches of a Hawthorne hedgerow. A large pale bird was flying low to the ground, it couldn't be, my heart started pounding as I tried to get a better view. I ran along the hedge to a clearing as a moonlit pale grey male Hen Harrier banked left and glided right in front of me, its piercing yellow eyes giving me a stare. It flew away from me and hugged the ground at a height of a couple of feet, then with a slight flick of its tail it turned left again and quartered the meadow. I watched in awe for 5 minutes before it headed for the other side of the reserve and out of view. I was shaking and realised I'd never even thought of lifting my binoculars or camera, the whole experience was raw and unforgettable. I've seen Hen Harriers since and its always a real treat but that first UK bird was so personal as it was on my patch.
Stewart Abbott @birdman1066

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I’d been waiting and watching in the cold for well over an hour on a hilltop in my local Hertfordshire with 2 pals and another birder who I didn’t know. Suddenly my reward appeared in the form of a ring tailed hen harrier ghosting along the bottom of the hill. I’d seen rarer birds but none had given me the sense of euphoria that this one did. It was special, iconic, enigmatic, magnificent. I failed to contain my excitement and had to explain to the stranger that this was my first hen harrier. Needless to say he understood.
Paul Frost @FrostyBirding

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The first time is an unforgettable moment, suspended in a place reserved for monumental things. It rose from the Sitka like a shadow and shot out and upwards, a second later it was joined by another male and they artfully twisted, turned and jubilantly soared. If I had a superpower it would be to fly, in those 2 minutes I did because I'm sure I soared that day too. I was amongst them, or at least my heart was, it still is. I will continue to be an advocate for the Hen Harrier, when you give your heart to something you need to fight for it, to keep it alive, so that others can fall in love too.
Dara McAnulty @naturalistdara

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I was walking alone on the Hebridean island of Eigg this summer when I spied a pallid shape hugging the contours of the moor on long thin wings. A hen harrier – a souped up hot rod assembled from bits of owl, hobby, swift and hawk – like no other bird in Britain. Its owl-like face swivelled, it knew I was there. Then it expertly banked, threatening to land, violently, on a hidden vole, before disappearing over the edge of the mountain. For once, I could simply enjoy it, with none of the usual anxiety: there are no grouse moors on Eigg.
Patrick Barkham @patrick_barkham

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The first time I realised that Hen Harriers existed was when I thumbed through my first field guide, aged eight. I was sucking on a Murray mint at the time as I flicked onto the harrier plate. I thought that the male’s grey plumage was absolutely stunning and immediately my desire was fired to see one in the flesh. I had to wait until I was 18 before I saw my first live one, a ringtail in Norfolk. A few years on from that, I saw my first male wafting over a wintry marsh. I remembered the taste of that mint then. It’s a taste that I hope to forever associate with Hen Harriers.
David Lindo @urbanbirder

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I’ve seen magnificent marsh and Montagu’s harriers in summertime, but sadly, I’ve never seen a skydancing hen harrier. And it’s not because I’ve been in the wrong habitat; it’s because they are so often ‘missing’. The hen harrier is teetering on the edge of extinction as a breeding bird in England. Could this tragedy happen in 2017? I feel intense sorrow and outrage each time another hen harrier is illegally killed, which is predictably common. I yearn to see my first skydancers. More than this, I yearn to see the day that this majestic, beautiful and aerobatic bird is safe in our uplands. Thank you to all who tirelessly work to try and safeguard our hen harriers.
Emily Joachim @emilyjoachim

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And then sadly for those who have yet to experience the sight of a hen harrier in its natural habitat, the thoughts are naturally all about what has taken this bird from them:

The dramatic sight of a hen harrier in flight is something I have yet to experience. With only four breeding pairs in England, this most threatened of our birds of prey has become a lightning rod issue when it comes to the debate over who controls the future of our countryside and the precious wildlife that inhabits it.

All too often is it a combination of ignorance and greed that it leading to the destruction of wildlife at home and abroad and this is most definitely the case when it comes to the hen harrier. 

With a grouse shooting industry valued at over £67 million a year, gamekeepers are coming under increasing pressure to kill hen harriers to protect grouse for their employers. With hen harriers targeting grouse chicks as well as rodents, these birds of prey which are known as sky dancers for their elaborate aerial displays, are not a welcome sight over the grouse moors.

It has been illegal to kill hen harriers since 1954, but like others forms of wildlife crime including badger baiting and hare coursing, illegal persecution of the species continues to take place in secluded wild parts of the country

Since 2000, 20 gamekeepers have been found guilty of "raptor persecution" or poisoning offences on grouse moorland but this is only the tip of an iceberg, as most crimes go unreported, in 2013 alone the RSPB logged 238 reports of birds of prey being illegally killed. 

However, the caring compassionate wildlife loving British public are now making a stand for the hen harrier. Wildlife broadcasters and campaigners such as Chris Packham and Mark Avery have taken the fight to protect this beautiful species to Westminster into the National Parks and into the media. Despite the misinformation and propaganda of the landowning and shooting industry, Hen Harrier day has now become one of the largest wildlife campaigns in the UK, organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime with the support of the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts it brings thousands of people together for events across the country.

2017 will continue to see growing public awareness of the scandal of widespread illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on upland grouse moors. We cannot remain silent whilst one of our most iconic birds of prey faces extinction as a result of the negligence and greed of the shooting industry. 

As a wildlife protection campaigner I will continue to add my voice to the calls for their protection and hopefully will be fortunate to see a beautiful hen harrier in the wild for the first time in the year ahead.
DominicDyer @DomDyer70

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So how are you feeling after reading all that?  A massive thank you to everyone who took part and for helping to create such a positive and heartfelt blog post.

Please join in and use the comments to write your own 100 words about how seeing a hen harrier makes you feel. And come back and visit this blog soon, as I need you all to help with another big hen harrier awareness campaign starting very soon.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, 5 February 2017

RSPB Raptor Watch - Parkgate

Throughout the Winter an RSPB Raptor Watch has been taking place at the end of every month at Parkgate on the Wirral; aiming to show off the vast array of wildfowl, waders and especially the raptors that can be seen at this important estuarine site.

The habitat consists of acres upon acres of salt marsh which is an over wintering haven for many birds of prey. This winter the site has been home to at least two male hen harriers and up to three ringtails. Both the males and ringtails have been giving rather spectacular views, and people have travelled from far and wide to see them.

With so much awareness being raised about the persecution of this species, it is great to be able to show people these birds in a safe environment, before the birds head back to the troubled uplands to breed.


So last Sunday I attended the monthly raptor watch, volunteering with Dan Trottman for the RSPB. There was a steady turnout throughout the afternoon and it was fantastic to be able to show people the comings and goings of the natural world; things they my never have stopped to appreciate before. I am sure people may have noticed a bird sitting on the branch that sticks up in the middle of the salt marsh, but as most people don't tend to wander round with a scope, it is great to see their reaction when you zoom in on a merlin for them and they get to appreciate such a stunning raptor up close for the first time.


Of course, an event such as this is a great opportunity to talk to people about the on going persecution of raptors. I met a lady who had travelled from Burnley in the hope of seeing a hen harrier, so it was fantastic to be able to watch the bird with her and see her reaction. She worries about what is happening to this species, and as she has heard so much about them, she wanted to make the effort to see one. And then it was also fantastic to see the next generation coming through and enjoy watching George who could not contain his excitement every time a raptor was spotted. Sharing my scope with George and the lady from Burnley (and many other people), and sharing the experience of the raptors together was really special.


It's great when a family heading off for a walk with their dogs stop for a few minutes to see why you are there, and then they end up staying for 15 - 20 minutes to watch the birds and ask so many questions.

We were situated at the Old Baths car park.  This area of Parkgate sticks out into the marsh a bit more than the Donkey Stand (where the event used to be) allowing much closer views of the raptors on show. During our time observing from noon till dusk, we were privileged to see jaw dropping views of birds such as merlin, kestrel, marsh harrier, peregrine, buzzard.......

Marsh Harrier

.........and of course the awe inspiring hen harrier.


Wherever it may happen, the experience of being lucky enough to get a glimpse of a hen harrier is extraordinary; it literally leaves me shaking no matter how many times I may have seen one before. However, the first time is heart stopping, and this proved to be the truth when many people who had travelled far and wide, finally got their chance to see one of these birds. The atmosphere was incredible, a group of people all as excited and amazed as each other and all at a loss to understand how anyone in their right mind would want to shoot such a bird (or any bird for that matter).

This event was simply amazing, and I can't wait until next time. Anyone thinking about making the journey over next time.... Just Do It! It is truly an amazing day out.  The next raptor watch is on 26th February and I hope to see you there.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, 30 January 2017

Glaucous Gull at Winsford Flash

After loving every minute of competing in Patchwork Challenge last year, I couldn't wait to get back out on my patch, Winsford Flash, to see what 2017 had to bring.  January always starts well, with new birds being added to the patch list during most visits. As I write this blog, my current patch stats stand at 75 species which equates to 76 points (with some of the expected species still to be seen). 

This year has really started with a bang! On the 22nd January, in some pretty awful conditions, a large, ghostly gull come into view through the scope. It was in fact one of the only gulls on the water. I immediately thought "white winger".  I couldn't believe it, could it be the first record for the site of any white winged gulls!! After a few more seconds of viewing this beast of a bird, I confirmed the identification as a first winter GLAUCOUS GULL!! Birding in torrential rain and hail isn't the best, but it was certainly that sudden heavy shower that grounded this gull for a short time.


I immediately I did my best to fire off a couple of record shots, and literally in the nick of time. Within a heart stopping time phase of 60 seconds this enormous, stand out gull took to the air and headed off west. I phoned up a couple of other people who visit the site regularly, however sadly this bird eluded them. Birding really is hit and miss.

According to the 2007-11 BTO Bird Atlas, the winter distribution of the Glaucous Gull in Great Britain has increased by 9% since the 1981-84 survey.

Every morning, hundreds if not thousands of large gulls pass low over the flash, presumably on the way to feed at Maw Green Tip at Sandbach where white wingers often occur, so who knows what might drop in next.  Again, it just goes to show you don't have to travel far and wide. Putting your efforts into a particular patch will reap rewards.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, 9 January 2017

Environmental Curriculum


Its not the nicest of thoughts, but truthfully all of these brilliant, older, working conservationists aren't going to be here forever, therefore the people that must replace these people the next generations coming through. And how are organisations such as the BTO, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB (to name a few) going to find these people, not just the type of individuals that already have an interest in the environment and want to protect it, but enough supporters and people concerned enough to protect the environment? Well the answer is simple.... Education.

A lady called Mary Colwell has started a brilliant e-petition to get develop a GCSE in Natural History.  I have signed the petition as I would like to hear the subject debated in parliament and ensure that politicians understand how important this is, however, I do not entirely agree that a GCSE is the best way forward.

It is blatantly obvious to me that having environmental education in schools is the best way by far to reach out across the whole of the younger generation and get these people engaged from the point of view that they start forming opinions. I personally attend The County High School Leftwich, and very few, if any, people in my year apart share the same attitudes to the natural world that I do.

The sad conclusion is that not many younger people care, because they don't connect the natural world with everything we take for granted in our material world.  They haven't been shown just how much we rely on the natural world for everything we have.  Imagine how brilliant it could be if environmental science/natural history was incorporated into all subjects within the curriculum in both Primary and Secondary schools. It  could connect the younger generation with the environment and make younger people realise why the environment should be protected.  Of course it won't inspire a passion within everyone, but it may well teach a respect for what many people take for granted.

Where to start? Well I think its important that environmental aspects are taught from a very young age, so ideally Primary Schools.  At this age young people are still forming opinions and it is much easier to engage them before it becomes "uncool" to care and want to protect something. The job of Secondary Education would then be to build on this introduction and reinforce the vital link between our quality of life and the quality/health of the natural world.

I know there are many different opinions on how the environment should be squeezed into the curriculum, and some say it can't be done! Why say that though, that is just putting an obstacle in the way of something that quite frankly must be taught. I believe this can happen.  Sadly though, I don't think it could happen as a single subject that people could opt for in schools, as this would rely on the people already having an interest in the subject.  As a single environmental subject it would not reach out to the people who aren't interested or who have not had an opportunity for whatever reason to engage with the natural world already.  These young people are the important target people. The environment being incorporated across all subjects would reach out to everyone. If it is taught in some way, shape or form, no matter the lesson,  young people would form a good understanding of the impacts the human race are having.

I know this is a very emotive subject, and that change won't happen quickly, but unless we start trying to change things, then nothing happens, and we don't safeguard the natural world for future generations.


Friday, 6 January 2017

Patchwork Challenge - Just a bit of fun?

Patchwork Challenge (PWC) is a great idea.  I took part for the first time last year and have signed up again for 2017. Many people taking part are likely to treat it as a bit of competitive fun that can be taken part in all throughout the year; recording the variety of bird species that vary depending on the season and where your patch is located. I do also like to think of PWC in this way, however there is also so much more to PWC, including all the data that can be recorded and reported as a result of consistently monitoring a set patch.  You get to compare the birds appearing each year and the times at which they appear, and also the birds that may be missing.

Winsford Flash - my Patchwork Challenge patch

The great beauty about PWC is in the name; patch. Your patch is a set area of land, water or both that you regularly visit and record the birds that you see and hear, but there is nothing stopping you recording all the other wildlife you see there.  This is of great importance, as you learn a lot more about a species and the general habitat if you are regularly visiting/monitoring a set site.  For example, I would never have recorded the Common Terms breeding attempt at Winsford Flash last year if I had not been visiting regularly.

Common Terns with their egg at Winsford Flash

PWC is great because it encourages birders to record and stick to a particular area rather than racing off everywhere in search of new bird species for their life lists; which of course I have no problem with, however more useful data is learnt from regularly visiting a particular site.

Now of course, it's all very well recording the birds you see and updating your own personal spreadsheet with the information, however if you don't do anything else with the data then it really means nothing to anyone but you. This brings me onto another great aspect of PWC. The PWC results spreadsheet has a column that asks whether you have filled out a BTO Birdtrack record for the species you have seen.  This is great as it encourages birders to send their records to an organisation that wants the data and knows how best to break it down and use it.  The more information the BTO receive, the more accurately they can monitor things such as the impacts of climate change on migration.  

You decide when you will visit you patch and how long you will spend there, so there is never any pressure on you, but the more time you spend there, the more you will see and learn. So why not choose a patch and join in; and of course learn more about a habitat close to you.

Here are the links you need:

Register for Patchwork Challenge 2017 here.

Enter you data into BTO's Birdtrack here.

One of the breeding pair of Kestrels at Winsford Flash

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Waxwings

This Winter, the UK has and is being lucky enough to be inundated by large flocks of Waxwings that  are heading across the North Sea after a poor crop of berries, their main food source, in the northern forests in places such as Russia and Scandinavia. This year Britain has had a bumper crop of berries therefore it would seem these Starling sized, sandy brown birds are making a wise decision. This Winter has been particularly good for seeing these striking avian creatures;  however they do visit the UK every Winter in varying numbers, so it's always worth keeping an eye on the berry trees every year just in case. 
The main bulk of these Waxwing flocks are to the North of the UK in places such as Aberdeen and Carlisle where flocks of up to 200 - 500 have been recorded. However as the berry crop starts to thin out in these places, the Waxwings are now making their way further south to Northern England and the Midlands with small numbers even further south than this.  I have been waiting (impatiently) for Waxwings to turn up in my county of Cheshire, but of course I couldn't wait that long to see them, so on the last day of 2016 I headed off to North Wales to look for a flock of about 60 birds that had been reported at Wrexham Industrial Estate. 


As soon as I arrived, I immediately locked on to the target flock of birds that were perched above a very vibrant Rowan tree absolutely teeming with berries. The adjacent tree of the same species had been completely stripped already. 



Now it isn't just Waxwings that feed on berries, there are many other species of bird that rely on berries as an important food source such as Redwing, Blackbirds, and Mistle Thrushes, the latter being very territorial as you can hear in this short video taken at Wrexham.

During the first view days of 2017 yet more Waxwings have been reported and this time some turned up in Barnton in Cheshire (just 15 minutes from home). The flock was reported as 20 or so, however on my visit myself and a few other good birding mates counted up to 38 individuals which is quite a large increase in the space of a day. 



Seeing these birds has been a great end to 2016 and start to 2017 and I'm sure I'll be tempted to look for more as the Winter continues. 





So keep an eye out on your berry bushes/trees, you never know what might turn up!

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Friday, 30 December 2016

A Review of 2016


Well I think we can all agree that 2016 has been quite a year…

Looking back over my blog and notebooks from this year, I can see I have been more focused with my time than in previous years. This was always going to be the case as school work ramps up and I can no longer do everything I would like to.

But what stands out most in 2016 ? Was it a Rare bird ? Some incredible technology? A book? An individual? No. For me the biggest thing was CHANGE. And it is the people that have forced this change. People are now more than ever prepared to speak out and challenge things and all those little voices collectively create the roar and explode the "what is possible box" that is necessary to bring about change.

Politics, conservation and birding can really divide the year for me. From the extreme avian events that have blessed British birders throughout the year offering a wonderful opportunity to witness one of the greatest natural spectacles on earth (that is of course migration), to the rather unbelievable events in British conservation and politics that will in some way shape or form British wildlife in the future. Brexit and this year's petition to ban driven grouse shooting to name a couple of examples that will obviously be make several appearances in this review.

I’ll of course also be reviewing some of my personal highlights of the year; memories made and locked in my head for years to come.


January
2016 started off with a bang, as reasonably local to me, on the Wirral, a cracking Siberian sprite in the form of a Pallas's Warbler had turned up. Despite the horrific rain, I and fellow drenched observers were not disappointed as the individual showed wonderfully for 10 minutes flitting delicately through the vegetation with Chiffchaffs. This was a perfect way to finish the Christmas holidays and start the New Year. On the same day I also visited West Kirby Marina hoping to observe the long staying Great Northern Diver, again I wasn’t disappointed as I was given fantastic views of this prehistoric looking bird.


On the 5th of January I posted a guest blog that Ecotricity had kindly written for me. I asked Ecotricity if they would write a guest blog for me about why and how, as a business, they got involved with helping to protect a magnificent bird of prey, the hen harrier. We need people to have the desire to want to protect the hen harrier and understand the suffering that this species has gone through and is continuing to go through. So I want to say a huge thank you to Ecotricity for being another much needed voice for the hen harrier and for taking the extra step forward in financially supporting its protection through the RSPB Skydancer satellite tagging scheme. I hope more businesses will follow this lead and step up to help our wildlife.
Towards the end of January, as I do every year, I took part in the RSPB annual Big Garden Birdwatch. I managed to record a respectful total of 53 individual birds (14 different species) in the hour I had. The species of note being Fieldfare and Redwing that were both present in the garden. These birds were helped into the garden on the day by the local Buzzard circling the field behind our house.

February
On the 3rd February I wrote a guest blog for Buglife about the importance of one of their many projects named “B-Lines”.  The B-Line goal is to create a series of wildflower corridors across the UK to give insects the mobility to move around the country from one wildflower meadow to the next one.  They hope to create and restore at least 150,000 hectares of flower-rich habitat across the UK.   The on going partnerships that are being formed between land owners, farmers and the general public are so important for this project to work.

In February I launched my #Think500YearsAhead thunderclap on Twitter. The purpose of this thunderclap was to tie in with the referendum and raise the importance of long term planning and having the natural world at the heart decision making in both politics and everyday life.  Regardless of the referendum outcome, politicians should be seriously positioning the environment much higher up the political agenda and thinking long term. Nature has no borders or boundaries (apart from man-made ones). Unlike the EU, we are not either in or out of nature. We are part of it, we need it, and it has never been more urgent that nature is put at the heart of decision making.  I am very pleased to say that the thunderclap was a massive success thanks to each and everyone of you that supported it. In the end the thunderclap achieved a whopping 745 supporters (against the original target of 100). The most impressive and important aspect was the social reach of over 2 million!!!!!! 




March

The 8th March saw the last of the Skydancer on the Dee events as those wintering hen harriers would soon be returning to breed in the uplands (where of course they are no longer in safe hands). These particular events were a massive achievement due to the amount of  public engagement seen. 

The weekend of the 31st March saw the official opening of the new Spurn Bird Observatory so of course I had to attend. It was great to catch up with fellow birding friends that are themselves rarities due to the places where we all live. However the main reason I had attended this event was to give something back to the Spurn volunteers, and show how grateful I am for there support. It is truly remarkable to see where the Spurn Bird Observatory Trust has progressed to now, and I 100% congratulate them and support what they are doing.




April

School holidays fell in April so I was delighted to have some time in North Wales at my Grandparents house. On a trip out we were driving over an area of stunning moorland when something caught my eye. We pulled over and spent the next few minutes watching both a male and a female hen harrier gliding perfectly together over the hills. An absolutely stunning chance encounter. 

Hen harriers were also featured this month when I took the Ecotricity team to see one at Parkgate on the Wirral, although 3 Short Eared Owls tried to steal the show!




In April I was anticipating the return of our House Martins, which had returned on 14 April for the last 3 years. But this year they returned on 15 April, but they weren't actually late as 2016 was a Leap Year. How amazing is that, arriving back the same day for 4 years running. Again, that amazing spectacle that is migration!


May

In May another rarity turned up almost on our doorstep, so a 15 minute drive to Sandbach Flash soon had me enjoying the sight of 2 Whiskered Terns showing brilliantly.



May also saw an improvement in the conditions for some moth trapping.  The trap was out and a great new species for the garden turned up in the form of a Mullein.


One of the most vivid memories I have from May is a visit to Frodsham Marsh. Heavy rain had brought hundreds (if not thousands) of swifts low over No6 Tank. You could stand less than a meter away from a buzzing swarm of mosquitoes and the swifts would feed practically above our heads. You could literally feel the air move as the swooshed past. Migration featuring yet again!


May ended with some spectacular views of 4 Spoonbills at RSPB Burton Mere, oh and having to have 5 teeth out in preparation for braces.


June

Hen harriers as you know are very close to my heart and their plight is constantly on my mind, but June this year was the start of a massive run of awareness raising, petition signing and an amazing journey with the most amazing people. My personal efforts were kick started with a blog called "Is This The Year We Say Goodbye?".  This was followed up by the unofficial Hen Harrier Day register which was just a fun way to raise awareness of important events coming up.

The 23 June saw that all important EU Referendum vote. It was fantastic to see the amount of under 18s writing passionately about their thoughts and feelings on the subject, but did anybody listen?  I put my thoughts on it all in blog post called "In or Out" for Nature. I've learnt that we have to keep talking, and keep writing and keep actively adding on the pressure to make sure our voices get heard.


Our Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. He said "The country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction".


July

A young hen harrier named Finn was satellite tagged thanks to the funding provided by Ecotricity. More on this later though.



Winsford Flash is my local patch and I have really enjoyed monitoring it as part of the Patchwork Challenge for the first time this year. It is a site that holds so much potential and has so much variety; brown hares do well there as do many other species protected in part by a very well run stewardship farm.  This year I was delighted to discover a breeding attempt by a pair of common terns. They laid just one egg, but the timing was terrible. The egg was right on the edge of a mooring jetty, and sadly got washed off during a torrential rain storm.  Breeding rafts maybe next year? We'll see.


Another personal highlight in July was my first ever visit to Blakeney Point. Such a fragile, yet vital habitat for breeding birds and seals. I had gone there with a clear goal of seeing a Little Tern, but I came away with a massive appreciation of the importance of protecting habitats like Blakeney.


July ended with an amazing weekend at the WOMAD festival. This was my second year at the festival after being part of the Young Green Briton's Debate last year. This year is was great to be there to support Ecotricity's second year of running the debate and meet the new panel. However, WOMAD was also a great opportunity for some great hen harrier campaigning. So me, Harley, mum, dad, Mark, Rosemary, Ruth and a Henry the Hen Harrier spent 3 days engaging with a fantastic mix of people and talking about the issues hen harriers face when they head to the uplands to breed. All the campaigning was done surrounded by great music, great food and great weather.




Theresa May becomes our new Prime Minister. She said "The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours". 


August

A young hen harrier called Finn fledged and started what I hope will be an epic journey. You can read all about the journey to get her tagged here.

Hen Harrier Day turned into Hen Harrier weekend this year. It is fantastic to see how far this event has come since the sodden 570 first stood in that field a few years ago.  I attended the RSBP Rainham event on the Saturday, spending the day interviewing people on their thoughts on raptor persecution and the possible solutions. 




On Sunday we headed to the Peak District where I was giving one of the talks. A huge well done to Stewart for putting together such a great event. You can read all about the weekend here.





On 13 August Dr Mark Avery's petition to ban driven grouse shooting reached that important number of 100,000 signatures. I remember sitting refreshing the web page late into the evening.  This milestone was just another step in the roller coaster ride of the hen harrier journey we have been on this year, but this milestone put us a step closer to that parliamentary debate.

August ended jetting off to Portugal for 10 fabulous days of birding, relaxing, birding, eating, birding, swimming, birding and ringing. Here are just a few of the amazing birds I was lucky enough to get up close to and learn more about.










September
September saw the start of my 2 years of GCSEs and the recognition by me that school was now my main focus. So what better way to start that than heading off to Spurn for a fabulous weekend at the MigFest!! Rarities put on a good show, including a Kentish Plover, but it was the mass migration of thousands of Meadow Pipits that was the highlight for me. I had never before seen such mass visible migration like that before.

October

I managed to squeeze another trip to Spurn in and this time got to see a stunning Wryneck, the first one I have seen in the UK.



Ringing produced lots of great learning opportunities in the form of an influx of Yellow Browed Warblers.


And then there was that trip to London for the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting Debate in parliament. The 31st October was a day so many people had worked hard to achieve, but the debate itself left me feeling a little bit empty inside and concerned about how decisions are made in parliament. You can read my full report here.  However, it was fantastic to be there with the most brilliant group of people.





November
November for me was a time of reflection. It was time to reflect on all the progress made in the battle to stop the persecution of raptors on grouse moors. The debate in parliament at the end of October shocked me, as nothing about it seemed fair and it made me question everything about the way decisions at that level are made.  

Donald Trump was elected as US President.


The UK finally ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, however, Mr Trump promises he will reverse the USA's commitment to it.


I was still feeling angry at the time all the Christmas adverts came out, so I decided to make my own; The Alternative Christmas Advert.



December

And so to December, a month that made me appreciate more than ever the important things in life, as my dad spent a lot of December in hospital.

Waxwings have again teased me from every corner of the country this year and it was not looking good even though Twitter has been filled with sightings and images. However, on the last day of the year I struck gold in Wrexham with a flock of about 60. A great high to end a fantastic year on.






And finally
I just wanted to finish with a few thank yous. No particular individuals, although many of you will know who you are. Thank you to those who have offered support and encouragement throughout the year. Thank you to all the younger generation who are speaking up and having the courage to have an opinion and share it. And a massive thank you to those who openly challenge and criticise my thoughts, opinions and beliefs; you make me work harder, speak out louder and come back more determined.

Wishing you all a very happy New Year and let's see what 2017 brings.