Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Let's Enjoy Some Raptors Together

This Sunday (27th November) it is the RSPB Raptor Watch event at Parkgate on the Wirral.  


If you have never been to Parkgate and are fascinated by wild places, then I know you will really want to be there. There are acres and acres of salt marsh off the promenade that are home to a vast variety of birds, invertebrates and mammals.


All you hen harrier campaigners that have not had many opportunities to see a hen harrier; this is the event for you. Both males and ringtails are wintering there at the moment and are very active, giving great views throughout the day.



At last months raptor watch we saw hen harriers, a peregrine, kestrels, buzzards, marsh harriers and a sparrowhawk; but there is also the opportunity to see shorted eared owls and barn owls.


And it's not just the raptors of course; what about a great white egret or two! 


A huge variety of waders are also found across the marsh and you never know what else might turn up.


There are so many of you that would really enjoy watching these great birds, so please go along if you can. 

Monday, 14 November 2016

Phone-Scoping - Super Moon

Over the last 12 months I have been developing my phone-scoping skills (basically taking pictures on my phone through my scope using a simple attachment). 

Most of my pictures have been of birds of course, but tonight we had a "super moon", so what a great opportunity to try phone-scoping the night sky for the first time.




Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Alternative Christmas Advert

You all know about "that" Christmas advert; well here is the alternative one. The gift you can give to our wildlife this Christmas.




Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Don't Dismiss The Public NGO

Yesterday one of the talking points of conservation this year took place, the debate on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting; and it was a debate that I was determined to be at, to see and hear the thoughts and opinions of the people running our country. Something I have not experienced before.  There were lots of issues raised, and I will cover some of them in this post, but others I will come back to in future blogs.

 123,077 angry citizens from a broad range of communities had signed Mark Avery's petition for a full ban on driven grouse shooting, so it is obvious that people believe that there are serious issues with driven grouse shooting. The petition reached the target 100,000 signatures well before the closing date, which was a huge achievement and a sign to DEFRA that people want a change.

Governments forget that the people who signed the petition are actually an NGO, a group of people with a common cause, in this case a group with over 100,000 members.

Now I know I am only 14, and yes I still have so much to learn, and yes I do get ridiculed sometimes for my ideas from other people, including some from the shooting industry, for daring to have an opinion, but I want to address a serious concern I had throughout the debate, before I go in to more details about the points covered in the debate.

Yesterday I tweeted this:

 "As a young person trying to engage in politics, I feel that yesterday's disrespect for a "people's" petition was shameful."

The shooting community were very to quick to pick up on this and all assumed (incorrectly) that this was tweeted because grouse shooting is not going to be banned "yet". Here is an example of one of the tweets back:

‏@rdepledge  
@WildeAboutBirds disrespectful? Petition called for evidence & debate & it got it, but you lost the argument. Harsh reality of life, boy.

So let me make something very clear.  I never expected the outcome to be a ban at this stage and this is not what my tweet was about. My tweet referred to the number of pro-shooting MPs who suggested that people who signed the petition were just ticking a box and not really fully understanding what it was all about. This lack of respect for the people who were concerned enough to sign up truly disgusted me. Was this public bullying? I spent hours, days, weeks speaking to people about the issues at various events across the country. I explained about the decline in hen harriers, even though other ground nesting birds have done well on grouse moors, and asked people to look in to it for themselves. No-one was asked to sign up to anything there and then. So people went away from these events and then chose to find the e-petition and chose to sign it, days, even weeks after meeting them. They were certainly not just ticking a box. That dis-respect from the pro-shooters was disgusting and that was the point being made in my tweet, regardless of the outcome of the debate.

So now that I have cleared that up, these were the other observations I made throughout the debate:

Observation No.1 
A comment often stated throughout the debate was "we are here to debate 2 petitions".  Well no, actually we were there to debate just one successful petition. The one that reached 123,077 signatures to ban driven grouse shooting (you only get a debate in parliament if the petition achieves 100,000). Some of you may be aware, shortly after Mark Avery created his petition, a second was set up by the shooting industry to keep driven grouse shooting. I think it's worth pointing out that this petition only got about 20,000 signatures, yet somehow this petition was also included in the debate.  The inclusion of this second, weaker petition turned the debate in the favour of those wanting to keep it, as most presentations were focused on why it should remain rather than why it should be banned. 

Observation No.2
In this case I am going to name a name. Steve Double MP was chosen by the petitions committee to introduce the debate. Does anyone know why he was chosen to open the debate or who makes the decision on this? In my head, I thought that someone who opens a debate would have to explain about why the petition had been raised and explain fairly both sides of the argument. I was quite shocked by what I heard.  I think he was speaking for himself rather than fairly opening a debate as a representative of the petitions committee. It was the most one-sided thing I have heard, so much so that MP Kerry McCarthy stood up and intervened, making the point that he was being very one sided and shouldn't have been expressing his own views at that point.

Observation No.3
The majority of the MP's attending were conservatives, and the many of these were shooters or had shooting interests and had turned up in force making the debate very one sided.   I felt utter disappointment realising that there were hardly any opposition to support and challenge the issues within driven grouse shooting.  Like I said earlier, I don't understand all the processes so I have been in contact with several MPs including Kerry McCarthy and Angela Smith to ask why they thought it was such a poor show from the opposition (so that I can learn more about the debating process).

So that left the conservative MPs all delivering their 7 minute talks on the same points with the words just changed round a bit.  You can imagine how painful and frustrating this must have been sitting in the gallery not being able to challenge any of the things they said and having so few people representing us.

 Observation No.4

Mark Avery encouraged people, after the petition reached 100,000, to write to their local MPs, and ask them to attend the debate and give reasons why a ban on driven grouse shooting should be debated.  I did that, and was pleased to see my MP attend, until I heard her start to speak. I then realised we were at totally opposite ends of the debate. 

However, I have to say a thank you to her for inviting me and my family up to the Westminster Terrace for a drink after the debate so we could discuss things in more detail.  I know that we aren't going to agree on driven grouse shooting, but it was good to be able to talk openly and honestly, and listen to each other's points of view.

Observation No.5
The final summary from Therese Coffey (DEFRA minister) was basically all of the above, however making it clear that there was not going to be any change in driven grouse shooting.  In fact there was very little that was going to be looked at.

Minor Observation No.6
This is just a minor point, but if over 100,000 people feel strongly enough to sign a petition, then many of them will want to see and hear first hand the debate itself.  Yet there was only 25 guaranteed seats available in the debate room! Having been there though, I accept that the committee room would not have held many more than that.

.........................

The above were some of the observations I picked up throughout the debate and have done my best to explain from my point of view. I am not saying that I am right, but it is how I feel.

So what is there to take out of the debate? Well we can all admit we knew there wasn't going to be a ban on driven grouse shooting from this debate, however we didn't expect it was to be as bad and shocking as it was. However, from when this petition was first started, we have only made progress. Every year we are creating much more awareness, and therefore we are getting more and more momentum. Under the current government it may never be banned, but we may see ways and opportunities to change things for the better.

I will make sure that every hen harrier or other upland raptor that goes missing in suspicious circumstances is shouted from the roof tops and I will call for answers. And I know others will do the same.  And we will be heard; again and again and again! I don't know about any of you, but this debate has made me even more determined to fight for what I believe in.



Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Debate for Dancers - Hen Harriers

As I'm sure most of you hen harrier enthusiasts know, these raptors spend their summers up on the moors for breeding and usually winter in more low lying areas such as estuaries, favouring the salt marshes for feeding. 

Every year Parkgate Marsh along the Dee Estuary gets at least 2 or 3 wintering hen harriers and many other wintering raptors, however it is unusual for the area to get a male (usually it is just ringtails). Nevertheless for the last couple of weeks a male has been seen almost every day from the promenade wall at Parkgate.

Driven grouse shooting is due to be debated in parliament on Monday 31st October, in less than a weeks time, so I thought what better way to spend a morning than searching for this stunning bird and considering what the future might hold for them.

So on Sunday I arrived relatively early in the morning at Parkgate. I set up the scope and started scanning the seemingly endless marshland, searching for this Skydancer. After the first couple of sweeps I didn't pick anything of interest up, so I reverted to scanning a flock of waders that were roosting on one of the many secluded pools. About half way through the flock, a graceful pale bird flew into vision, I hadn't registered this until the bird had flown out of my field of view. Desperately I trained the scope on the bird's position and my jaw literally dropped when I confirmed the identification....

a male HEN HARRIER!!!!


The bird gave great views for more than a minute; quartering the marsh and flaring all the nervy ducks and waders up into the air, creating a magnificent spectacle; the harrier standing out clearly now as it soared effortlessly through the mayhem it had created.


I got three other great views of this hen harrier during the course of the visit and I couldn't help but worry yet again about the continued and unforgivable persecution of such an iconic bird.  Was the sighting of this harrier a good omen for next Monday?

There is still time to make a difference.  I urge all of you to write to your local MP and ask them to attend the debate. Provide them with why you think there should be a ban on driven grouse shooting and the problems with grouse shooting. The debate is less than a week away, but there is still time to get your MP involved, as we need all the support we can get.

Remember the unquestionable facts:

There should be over 300 nesting pairs of hen harrier in England, however this year there were just 3 pairs, none of which were on driven grouse moors.  Satellite tagged hen harriers have gone missing. The tags have been found on ones that died of natural causes as the satellite tags have continued to transmit. Other tagged birds that have gone missing have never been found, but the tags were known to stop transmitting on or close to driven grouse moors.

The people have spoken and they want to see this debated in parliament.  It is now for the government to decide if grouse shooting should continue. The government have the power to do something about the sustained raptor persecution taking place on grouse moors, even though hen harriers are protected by law.

So please, if you haven't done so already, make sure with just days to go before the debate, that you write to your MP, brief them and make it clear that wildlife crime is not acceptable.

No-one has the right to reduce a native species to the point of extinction. No-one has the right to deprive others of the grace, beauty and spectacle of our stunning hen harriers.



UPDATE

Sadly since writing this post another of this years hen harriers is gone forever. Rowan's body was found though, and the autopsy must have revealed something as the results have been handed to the police to investigate. You can read the press release here.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Yellow, Red and Gold!

During the last couple of weeks, Britain has been hit by relatively strong easterly winds blowing in from the continent. Prior to this we had solid westerlies which seemed to put a bit of a hold on some of our migrant birds moving in and out.

I'm relieved to say that these winds have pressed play on migration again, and many species have been steadily moving through the country and making landfall. As many of you know, the east coast could be described as a different country at the moment with the quality and quantity of some of the bird species and numbers that have been grounded over there.

However, it's not just all about the east coast; whilst I was ringing over the weekend of 8th & 9th October, the variety of species, and amount in some cases, certainly suggested birds were on the move and gave a very autumnal feel to the air.

SATURDAY

On the Saturday we headed up to one of our most used Autumn/Winter sites for the second time this Autumn (you can read the first encounter here).

Conditions were looking good; overcast and relatively cool. Whilst setting the nets up I heard at least half a dozen Redwing go over which was a promising start, as this was the first time I had heard them on the west coast this Autumn.

As soon as dawn was upon us and the sun rising, it was clear to see thrushes were on the move and in decent numbers; primarily Redwing heading over in various sized flocks, sometimes just 5 or 6, other times a couple of hundred. Sometimes I think small numbers of Redwing can look like Starlings but the evidence was clear in our first net round as we caught 8 Redwing.


There was a noticeable lack of warblers present, with only 2 Blackcaps caught throughout the whole session (1 male, 1 female, both juveniles), and 2 Chiffchaff.

For the time of year you'd certainly expect there to be decent sized numbers of Goldcrest present; however only 3 were caught during the entire session.

Moving into mid morning, a constant trickle of Redwings continued to be caught and we ended on 22. Quite a few of the Redwings had passengers in the name of ticks close to their bills or eyes which required removal before release. The other point of interest was the 25% weight difference between the heaviest and the lightest bird.

A vocal Yellow Browed Warbler was very mobile and active which was a delight to see; however it didn't find it's way in to our nets. Certainly other Yellow Browed Warblers have been around the area with Peter Alker (you can read about it on Peter's blog Two In A Bush here) catching one on the 22nd September and another one the very same weekend as we were out.

The last time we caught a YBW was on the 25th October 2014, you can read all about that here.  Another 'invasion' year it would seem for the species'.  It was surely only a matter of time before we had another encounter.

 Other factors of note were the first Fieldfares to go over and numerous finch species passing, including a decent tally of 22 Lesser Redpoll.

SUNDAY

A new day but different site today.  It had a really good feel to be out again, especially when compared with last Autumn when the wind and rain really put a stop to our efforts. So far, after the summer break, it's been business as usual every weekend.

There was plenty of birdsong early on, including that of a Yellow Browed Warbler. Would today be our next encounter? Another 18 Redwing moved our weekend total up to 40 and a good variety of tits, Goldcrests, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs kept us busy most of the morning.

It was mid morning by the time we found a Yellow Browed Warbler in the net, but unexpectedly there were actually two of this tiny bird (about the same size as a Goldcrest).

Goldcrest and Yellow Browed Warbler

I was very fortunate to have ringed this species literally a week earlier at Spurn Bird Observatory (which you can read about here) so to ring another one and see the bird in detail in the hand again was a privilege.


Then just as you are thinking your day couldn’t get any better, and to everyone's' amazement, about an hour later, we caught another 2. Unbelievable!!


So the weekend was really dominated by the Thrushes but perhaps the Warblers stole the show right at the very end.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Irresistible Spurn!

I've just started back at school, now in year 10, and already the pressure is on with the work that I have to complete to achieve my end GCSE grades at the end of year 11. Every moment counts, which sadly, to my disappointment, means there won't be as much time for birding, wildlife conservation and the things I really want to do; however education comes first. And it will of course help me to keep making a difference in the future.

Therefore before all of this heavy school work commences and is in full swing, I was able to have my last big birding weekend for a while, and what better place to spend it at than at Spurn with the team and members of Spurn Bird Observatory. So that is where I spent last weekend.

During the first week in October you are almost guaranteed to get something interesting dropping in and witness the true spectacles of migration, and this was proven almost immediately.  When I arrived, I was able to observe good sized flocks of 20 - 30 Tree Sparrows passing over regularly, calling as they did so.

I've skipped ahead a bit here, Spurn gets to you like that, so lets revert right back to the start point of setting off, which I did so at 5:30am on the Saturday morning, due to us (me and mum) wanting to get there for a good time, knowing there was a 3 hour journey ahead.


Saturday

We arrived at the Obs for about 8:15am. It was getting light with a wind direction of north easterlies, which seemed rather promising for the day ahead migration wise. There were already plenty of birders about, so I couldn't wait to get involved. I did this firstly by visiting the sea watching hut. We walked there via The Triangle, instantly being greeted by a juvenile Marsh Harrier! The sun was behind us, therefore shining straight onto the bird giving outstanding views as it cruised slowly past and out over the Humber, scattering all the roosting waders (mainly Knot), giving us a just an amazing spectacle.


It was evident migrants were already around with Goldcrests and phyllosc warblers calling from every other bush; however they were reasonably elusive due to the relatively strong wind. Whinchats were showing better though, with birds lined up along the majority of fence posts separating the fields; (which were also absolutely teeming with Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipits).

I arrived at the sea watching hut, setting up outside so I had the joys of the migrating avian species going over as well. Several Arctic and Great Skuas flew south along with several Red Throated Diver; however to be honest the sea watching wasn't the best thing in the morning, as eyes were more focused on the passerine movement.

For the remainder of the morning I was lucky enough to take part in some ringing that takes place every day when the weather is suitable. I must say a massive thank you to Paul Collins for allowing me to join in. I arrived to help out at just gone 10am, so the catch rate had decreased from what it would have been earlier; nevertheless we still caught a fair few Tree Sparrow and Meadow Pipit. It was great to see Tree Sparrow in the hand after so long and even more amazing to see the amount going over.


Whilst sea watching later that afternoon, news broke through of a Wryneck showing well at Easington Gas Terminal. This would be a UK lifer for me and was therefore irresistible to go and see (a bird like that always is, even if you've seen one before!!). I got a lift from Iggy (thanks Iggy), who was also sea watching with me at the time, to the terminal where we were greeted by a couple of birders who had seen it briefly.

After a good walk around the site, we eventually came across a group of birders trained on the bird. It showed amazingly well for 5 minutes or so, feeding on a verge of a grass bank consuming ants. However, it also seemed happy hanging out on the rip-rap defending the beach. I managed to get some decent pictures before it flew off into the terminal itself where it wasn't seen again that evening.


You'd think that would be the end of the first day, however it just got better and better, even though it was getting late in the day. After the successful Wryneck watch, I returned to the sea watching hut as the winds had picked up quite a lot, so this type of birding seemed promising. As expected, the sea watching hut was full on arrival, however a few birders had set up shop outside, therefore I decided to join them. As soon as I started scanning the vast North Sea, I instantly came across 15 Little Gull, closely followed by 8 Arctic Skua, already a fantastic start and I hadn't had the scope up for more than 5 minutes! For the next 20 minutes or so, passage was steady and we were entertained by close flybys of Sooty Shearwater, Great and Arctic Skuas.

In one 10 minute period everything you could ever ask for sea watching wise flew past. It started pretty much like this: Kittiwake, Kittiwake, Kittiwake, Kittiwake, SABINE'S GULL. A stunning adult flew past close in giving us lucky viewers tremendous views. Attention was turned away from this spectacular species when Pomarine Skua was called out (a lifer); a stunning adult cruised past, again close in, with the full "spoon" like tail. What a bird. This particular sea watch was sealed when 2 Long Tailed Skuas flew past! This time however quite distant.

A great first day!!!

Sunday

I must say the day started off quite slowly, with strong SW winds. Due to this, all focus was on the sea watching, which produced no where near as many birds as the Saturday, however a close flyby of  a Balearic Shearwater was well worth the hour or so sea watch.

News came through later on of 2 Yellow Browed Warbler at Sammy's Point, a short walk from the Spurn stronghold. I arrived and was immediately greeted by my first Redwing and Brambling of the year that must have just come in with the NE winds. The winds had swung around late morning making the afternoon passerine migration much better. I spent about 2 hours in the paddock searching for warblers; however they were proving highly elusive in the relatively strong wind. Apart from the huge count of Goldcrest which seemed to occupy every bush, a late fly through of a Sand Martin was the only highlight from that particular area along with a few Wheatear.


I arrived back via the Crown and Anchor where I instantly noticed a large group of birders surrounding the Cliff Farm garden. I didn't even need to ask the observers what was present, as before I even had chance to, I heard the charismatic call of at least 5 different Yellow Browed Warblers. They were literally calling from every direction. Absolutely "fresh in" as some people would say.


Most of these birds were moving around with the Goldcrest flocks, which to our relief were all showing well, active, and happily feeding on the outer branches of trees and bushes; which of course encouraged the Yellow Browed Warblers to do so.

I spent the rest of my time watching the passerine movement from this location There had to be over 20 Yellow Browed Warbler that filtered past over the course of the afternoon, therefore to no-one's surprise, news came through that one had just been caught by the Obs ringing team in Kew Villa.

Due to me being close to the area I decided to head over there and take a look, after all, it's not often you see a bird like a Yellow Browed Warbler really close up. I arrived with good time, as the bird hadn't been processed. I felt so privileged when I was offered the bird to ring and study close up (again thank you to Paul Collins).


These are particularly small warblers and weigh ever so slightly more than a Goldcrest, our smallest resident bird, so it's amazing to think that these birds have flown all the way across the North Sea.

I must say that ringing the Yellow Browed Warbler and seeing it in the hand had to be the best end to yet another magical weekend at Spurn. I can't wait until next time, hopefully not too long. Before that though, I have to work hard. I've got one chance to get these good grades, and all the time in the world for birding after that........maybe just a bit of birding though!!!!

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday