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.


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.


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.


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!!!


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

Sunday, 25 September 2016

First Ringing Session of Autumn

It has been a while since I did a blog about ringing, so I thought I would give you a summary of this weekends results.  

The forecast for the weekend was a bit unsettled so late decisions were made over the weekend as to  if, when and where there would be suitable ringing conditions.  Saturday wasn't looking the best so we decided to prep one of our winter sites, with a little maintenance of net rides.

  Overnight on Saturday conditions were set to improve so a late call was made and we agreed to ring this morning. After leaving the house at 4:45am we arrived to find the conditions reasonably calm and overcast.  There was a very slight  breeze which had a cool edge to it, reminding us that Autumn is now upon us despite the relatively mild temperature. 

We set 9 nets and whilst walking around there didn't seem to be too many birds moving around, or much song or calls. This was extremely evident on the first net round, as the only birds caught were a couple of Blackcap and a Chiffchaff, plus 3 Goldcrest. As the morning moved on things picked up a little with the odd tit flock roaming round the surrounding woodland. One of these flocks found it's way into the catching zone, along with 3 Treecreeper and a couple of finches. We pondered whether any Yellow Bowed Warblers were in the vicinity.

A few Meadow Pipits were heading overhead, however, none ended up in our nets this time.  The only other highlight of the session aside from the Treecreepers was this very striking juvenile male Bullfinch.

Looking forward to see what else the sites produce this Winter.

Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Quiz Night Tuesday - The Golden Question

Welcome to Quiz Night Tuesday

Tonight's question is all about sunflower hearts and Goldfinch.  Last year I noticed a surge in the number of Goldfinch in the garden from the middle of Autumn. Much bigger numbers than in previous years, so I decided to track the Goldfinch a bit more closely by monitoring their numbers and the amount of food they were eating each day. 

I learnt a lot from the study last year and am therefore going to repeat it more accurately this year in an attempt to calculate the amount of energy Goldfinch get from a garden feeder in the Autumn/Winter months.

So your question for tonight, and it is a very tricky one, is as follows:

How many individual sunflower hearts (individual kernels not kilos) did the Goldfinch eat in the 7 day period from 11th October - 17th October 2015. I will help you out with a couple more facts:
  • we had approx a staggering 120 Goldfinch visiting the garden each day
  • it was a dry, sunny week
  • we were using one massive 12 port feeder for the sunflower hearts
  • and finally, this is what a kilo of sunflower hearts looks like

The person with the closest answer will win...................a bag of sunflower hearts of course.

When you post your answer, it would also be great if you could mention what your thought process was in working it out. You have until Thursday evening to post your answers.

And the answer is:

First of all, for a full explanation on last year's Goldfinch survey, please click here.

So here is how I worked out the final answer.

From from 11th October - 17th October 2015 the Goldfinch ate 7.92kg of Sunflower hearts.
I weighed out 50g of sunflower hearts and counted 1120 kernels
So 22,400 in 1kg
7.92 kg x 22,400 kernels = 117,408 kernels

So the answer is 117,408 kernels.

So the closest to this was Hugh with an answer of 174,804 kernels.

Thanks to everyone for having a go and well done Hugh, a bag of sunflower hearts will be on it's way soon.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Spurn Migfest 2016 - Isn't Migration Brilliant!

Migfest (or Migration Festival to give it a full title) really kicks off the Autumn migration season, and is held at Spurn on the East coast. With the highest mainland avian species list, excluding Shetland and Scilly, there really is no other place like Spurn if you want to see the phenomenon of migration in full force! 

Early Saturday morning I arose from a sleepless night, with just a 3 hour journey separating me from a fantastic weekend teeming with birds; and of course catching up with some great friends. Arriving at 9am, I was soon equipped with scope and bins and coat as well (for those of you that attended Migfest you'll know why a coat was particularly necessary). However, before I ventured into the (let's just to put it bluntly) absolute down pour, I called in at Westmere Farm to collect tickets for the Migfest and hog roast, and to say hello to the fabulous organisers and collect a pager for the weekend (thanks Brian/Rare Bird Alert).

On the journey down to Spurn, in fact just approaching Hull,  my phone had notified me of a KENTISH PLOVER seen on the Humber Estuary. On arrival however, after talking to a couple of individuals and the finder, BTO's Andy Clements (well done), there had been no further sign for at least an hour. As the tide was on it's way in, I decided that my best bet for finding the bird would be Kilnsea Wetlands. So I dashed there from Westmere Farm, seeing a couple of late Swift on the way, and meeting up with a few fellow young birders in the actual hide.

As expected the hide was absolute full of sodden birders, however thankfully I managed to squeeze my scope into the little room there was (jabbing the odd person with my tripod leg, sorry if it was you) and began scanning the scrapes. Due to high tide nearly being upon us, waders were flooding in and giving some pretty special views. Hundreds of Dunlin, Golden Plover, Redshank, Knot, Ringed Plover and a few Bar Tailed Godwit were soon settled making life much easier for picking through the masses.

We also got some great close up views of a stunning Wood Sandpiper.

I located the odd Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint within the Dunlin flock. However after nothing else particularly unusual I moved on to the mixed Plover and Knot flock. I scoured through the large quantity of birds; Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Knot, Ringed Plover... and then there is was, the Kentish Plover!

I literally shouted Kentish Plover and everyone in the hide soon had their scopes swinging round to locate it, but just like many scarcities it was quite a distance away. The decision was made with the other young birders to try viewing the bird from the top part of Kilnsea Wetlands alongside Beacon Ponds where hopefully the views would be clearer, but still a safe distance from the bird.  The relentless rain made it much harder to get good views from most places, but we carried on regardless. It was worth it, the views from the bank were great.

Kentish Plover admirers!

This Kentish Plover was only the third record for Spurn. What an amazing start to the weekend.

Sadly the Kentish Plover flew off onto Beacon Ponds, ending up just a tiny spec in the distance. I headed off with a couple of other young birders to do the full walk round the 'triangle', an area with a couple of fields surrounded by scrub, perfect for grounded passerines. With the awful conditions I thought there would be a few less common birds around, and sure enough we managed great views of species like Whinchat, Lesser Whitethroat and Redstart.

As always on the Saturday night there is the official evening of Migfest where great food is served, great people gather to talk to and the evening lecture takes place.  This year the evening lecture was about two international observatories; Cape May bird observatory in North America and Falsterbo in Sweden. Both these birds obs were interesting as they are both on spits just like Spurn.  But first of all, for the 2nd year running, the Spurn Young Birder of the Year award was presented. It was fantastic to see the BTO and Spurn Birds Obs  joining forces to support the under 16s in this fantastic young birders opportunity. This year's award was presented in memory of the fantastic and inspirational birder Martin Garner who has sadly passed away since Migfest 2015.

Martin was an inspiration to all generations of birders and it was so right that the Spurn young birder award is now named "The Martin Garner Young Birder Award".  This year the award went to a great young birder (of course from Cheshire!) called George Dunbar.  I feel so lucky to have met Martin last year at Spurn.  I have always heard so much about him from Bill Morton at Frodsham Marsh, where Martin did his birding at my age. Last year I talked with Martin about Frodsham Marsh. I wish that I could have walked round No. 6 tank with both Bill and Martin, even just once.

On Sunday morning I was up early for the sea watch as the weather was so much better. Visibility was fantastic. The sun rising over the cut corn fields round Spurn was just stunning.

 A couple of juvenile Arctic Skua were the first birds I spotted flying south relatively close in. They were then followed by a third bird even closer which put on a great performance as it chased the juvenile Common Terns. The highlight of the sea watch for me though was the Black Tern which flew past at only 10 meters off shore!

At the start of this blog I mentioned that Spurn is the place to come if you want to see migration. My stand out moment from Migfest was just a Meadow Pipit; well not really just "a" Meadow Pipit. The Arctic Skua, Long Tailed Skua and even the Kentish Plover were totally outdone by the amazing spectacle of migrating Meadow Pipits.  Standing on a grassy bank next to the North Sea, I witnessed not hundreds, but thousands of Meadow Pipits flying overhead and out across the sea. Living in land locked Cheshire I have never seen migration so raw like that before, and I will never forget it.

I spent the rest of the morning at the narrows observing the migration of the many pratensis going over. After being grounded by the weather the day before, there was no holding them back on the Sunday.

Isn't migration brilliant!

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Thursday, 25 August 2016

An open letter to Antoinette Sandbach MP

I am posting here the email I have sent to my MP Antoinette Sandbach today. If you have not already done so, would you please consider writing to your MPs asking them to support the ban driven grouse shooting debate in parliament. Mark Avery has a great template that you can use here.


Dear Mrs Sandbach,

Firstly I just wondered if you have ever seen a hen harrier before. I can vividly remember the first time I ever saw one. I was high up on the North Wales moors. The fine rain and mist covered my face in water and the low cloud limited my views over the vast landscape.  Despite the rain and mist, I resolved to walk even further up the moors, but my plans to keep going suddenly came to an abrupt stop. A grey ghost, elegant and effortless, glided past within 10 metres of where I stood. He soared effortlessly on the wind, appearing and reappearing through the sloping hills. An image locked in my head forever.

I am a young constituent of yours and I signed the e-petition on the parliament website entitled Ban Driven Grouse Shooting 

On the 13th of August this petition reached the target of 100,000 signatures, which as you know means that this petition will be considered for debate in parliament. Currently at the time I am writing this email, the petition stands at almost 118,000. That’s 118,000 members of the public calling for the ban on an activity (for I can’t call it a sport) that leads to the persecution of upland wildlife; hen harriers, red kites, buzzards, peregrines, mountain hares, foxes and many other species. The persecution of raptors is of course illegal, and yet it still happens. This year just 3 pairs of hen harriers bred in England when the uplands could support over 300 pairs.  In our constituency of Eddisbury 166 people have supported this petition.

Driven grouse shooting means that the uplands are intensively managed to support unnaturally high levels of red grouse to then be shot.  Managing this “investment” also means getting rid of any species that are a threat to the red grouse.

The e-petition is expected to receive a debate in Westminster Hall some time later than 9 October.  I hope that when the date of the debate is determined you will be able to attend the debate. When the debate occurs I really need you to represent my views in that debate. I want to see stronger regulation of driven grouse shooting and changes in the way our hills are managed. Do you think you would be able to speak on that subject?

I would be grateful for your response and the opportunity to talk to you about it if you are planning to attend the debate. Please, please attend if you can. We have lost 50% of world wildlife over the last 40 years, so we have to ensure that we are doing the best we can for the natural world. We cannot survive without it.

It really is a simple question you have to ask in the end, what is more important; the money that goes to a tiny number of people on the back of an industry based on killing, or giving something back and restoring the balance of species we should have in the uplands.

I am asking you and hoping that you will be able to attend the debate and would it be your intention to do so? I hope you can represent mine and others views, and if you want to or know you can take part in the debate, I would be very grateful for your response.

Yours sincerely,

Findlay Wilde

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Hen Harrier Day 2016 - A Murmuration of People

Just 3 pairs of hen harriers have bred in England this year when our uplands could support over 300 pairs.

When you have already been part of amazing hen harrier days in 2014 and 2015, you do wonder if they can get any better. Well 2016 proved just how much better things can get.  This year hen harrier day events had been organised across the UK as the awareness of raptor persecution on grouse moors continues to grow.

In the weeks running up to the events, we had been busy preparing some new props for the Edale event, and all this was fitted round a fantastic weekend campaigning at the WOMAD Festival.  Harry had to have a respray, the grouse butt came out of storage and the new 2.5m high letters we made meant another huge van needed hiring.

Saturday 6th August

On the Saturday we were down at RSPB Rainham Marshes for the first hen harrier event of the weekend.

There were 3 fantastic talks by Charlie Moors, Mike Clarke and Chris Packham with Mark Avery compering. All had their own take on hen harriers and what needs to be done, but the main objective of all of them was to see hen harriers protected, the wrong doers prosecuted and a future that includes hen harriers breeding in our uplands. And do you know what, this vision is totally natural and shouldn't be something we are having to fight for.

My mission was to record interviews with hen harrier day attendees on behalf of Rare Bird Alert and Charlie Moores for his Talking Naturally podcast.  It was so good talking to people and hearing their thoughts. My questions included why they were attending a hen harrier day event, if DEFRA was fit for purpose, their thoughts on the shooting community, their thoughts on NGOs and how Brexit may have an impact. I was lucky enough to question a great mix of people including MP Kerry McCarthy, RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke, Chris Packham and many others.

I must also add that RSPB Rainham did a fantastic job of organising the event.

Sunday 7th August

On Sunday we got up early, although not quite ringing early, and loaded up the van ready for the Edale event in the Peak District. On the way over I was thinking back to that first Peak District event and being one of the sodden 570. It is so frustrating though that the awareness is building and yet the hen harrier situation has got worse with just 3 pairs breeding in England this year.

We arrived at Edale early and met up with Stewart Abbot who had worked so hard to organise this event. Next job was to empty the van and get Harry, the grouse butt and the HH Peak letters in place.

 As we were doing this Mark and Rosemary Avery turned up along with other great friends (you know who you are) and we all had breakfast together in the Penny Pot cafe, talking about the day ahead.

And then it was a bit of a waiting game. A slow trickle of people started arriving in the car park, but the trickle soon turned into a steady stream. Henry Hen Harrier was there to great people from the train station, familiar faces showed up, there was lots of great catching up and all this within the beautiful green hills around Edale; hills that hid the over managed, burnt, drained grouse moors just a few miles away. Moors that are managed to rear unnaturally large numbers of Red Grouse and get rid of any other wildlife that may have a negative impact this.  

If the natural wildlife had been allowed remain in its natural habitat, we would never have had to reach this point.

There were 6 talks being given on the day; I was up first, then Hardyal Dhindsa (Police & Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire), Dr Mark Avery (writer, blogger and environmental campaigner and loser of bird quizzes!), Jon Stewart (National Trust General Manager In the Peak District), Natalie Bennett (Leader of the Green Party) and Tim Birch (Conservation Manager with The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust).  All the speakers were brilliantly introduced by Alan Davies from Biggest Twitch. 

This was the talk that I gave (on a wobbly step ladder with only one hand to hold on):

You can find all the other talks on Stewart Abbots You Tube channel and they really are all worth listening to.

After the talks I did some more vox-popping for Talking Naturally and had great interviews with Natalie Bennett, Hardyal Dhindsa, Tim Birch and several others.

It was an inspiring day, a hopeful day and it really did feel this time like a change was in the air.

So just 3 things to ask you to help with tonight:

Please sign up to this Thunderclap to help get #Inglorious12th trending on Twitter tomorrow


Please sign this e-petition to help get raptor persecution debated in parliament


Please ask one other person to do both these things.