Saturday, 6 May 2017

How Much Evidence Will It Take?

Last year, on 1st November, I attended the long awaited debate on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.  You can read my full thoughts on that debate here.  Over 100,000 people had spoken out against the continued persecution of raptors in the uplands, but the way in which these people's concerns were dealt with was disgraceful. I know, I was there.

There are clear facts regarding hen harriers that cannot be ignored. It is illegal to poison, shoot or trap a hen harrier. They are listed on Annex 1 of the EC Birds Directive and are protected under Schedules 1 and 1A the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This means that it is an offence to kill the birds or disturb their nests.

For only 3 pairs to have bred in England last year, there are clearly dark forces at work, so you would hope that when clear evidence of this comes to light, punishment would be swift, meaningful and send a powerful message to those intent on breaking the law.

Well clearly this is not the case! Less than 8 months since the parliamentary debate mentioned earlier, another event has opened my eyes to the battle we face to get justice and protection for upland raptors. Almost 4 years ago, a man appeared to flush a hen harrier from its nest and then shoot it.  You can see that video here:

Sadly last week (yes it has taken that long) we found out that no prosecution would be carried out against these actions.

I'm not really sure what shocks me the most to be honest, the fact that we have witnessed such a vile event (hats off to the RSPB for sharing it) or the way the event has been dealt with. We know that illegal persecution takes place because the science and status of the hen harrier tells us that; but it is only occasionally that we actually see the crime in the flesh or on a recording, due to the remoteness of the locations where these crimes take place.

This video clearly shows a crime has taken place. This video shows the truth about what is happening to birds of prey. This video shows people linked to that crime and yet nothing will be done.  What sort of message is this sending out.

So something is becoming very clear to me, the people with the actual power to make a difference and stand up to the illegal activity are not going to; or worse still are they not willing to?

It is more and more important for the public NGO, yes us, to pick up the pace, pile on the pressure and question the decision making that is speeding up the rate of wildlife decline.  The problem with wildlife crime is that there is uproar from the masses when something comes to light like this, but then it all quietens down again and it is just the few hard core people determined to protect and seek justice that keep the stories and awareness going.

This one example of wildlife crime is just the tip of the iceberg.  Strong messages/punishments need to be given to show that it is not and never will be acceptable.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Holiday Welsh Birding

Most Easters I spend my time off in the beautiful locality of Denbighshire that is situated deep in the heart of the North Wales countryside; and much to my delight this Easter was no different. At this time of year birding is at its best with the wooded valleys either side of the house bursting with the recent arrivals of species such as redstart, pied flycatcher and even wood warbler. All of the latter and more can be seen from my Grandma's house doorstep, and yet even more fantastic wildlife sights are just a ten minute drive down the road; bringing you to places like Clocaegnog Forest and Llyn Brenig reservoir.

At the moment revision is one of my major lifestyle factors, which therefore pushes birding and other leisures down the agenda quite a few places; however every opportunity I've had to get out and about during this 2 weeks period, I have grabbed with both hands, resulting in some not bad days out.

As always on arrival not much is done, as the activities are a matter of catching up with my grandparents; however late afternoon I did manage a good hour stroll through the wooded hillside. It was fantastic to hear and see chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap flitting to and fro from tree to tree, all of which seemed to be in good numbers for the site. Of course it is important to remember that some of these birds won't yet be on territory, they may simply be passing through the area to their  breeding grounds.

I spent the my first full day in Wales exploring the glorious Isle of Anglesey. The island has a rich and varied coastline, most of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty, making these areas home to an abundance of diverse wildlife. This allows birders and other wildlife enthusiasts a fantastic opportunity to observe some of the most amazing fauna. As can be the case in this location, the wind was strong, but this did not put us off. We started off the visit at a couple of coastal headlands and bays on the run up to RSPB Southstack. I was delighted to come across my first wheatears and white wagtails of the year; both species sheltering from the weather. I didn't bother attempting a sea watch on these exposed bits of coast, but nevertheless, as we left two chough flew overhead chanting their charismatic call and a handful of rock pipit could also be seen collecting nest material.

The coastal fields alongside the road to Southstack held yet more wheatears and choughs (some of which were wearing colour rings; however as I in a moving vehicle and the choughs themselves were half a field away, I failed to get the full ring combination). The wind at Southstack was no better than further down the coast where I had previously been, but I did finally manage to find a sheltered, secluded spot which gave me chance to admire the mass array of seabirds on offer at this stunning RSPB reserve. Guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes were all relatively close in on the cliff faces allowing magnificent scoped views. Puffins had been sighted earlier in the day however after constant attempts to pick these distinct seabirds up, I couldn't seem to do so. As it aways does, time seemed to be escaping quickly so I squeezed in a brief sea watch before moving on to to my last Anglesey destination. To be honest the sea was fairly quiet, none the less a constant stream of gannet and common scoter were worthy of note, with the addition of a solitary red throated diver that steadily flew past heading north.

The final destination of the day was the one and only Cemlyn Bay. This enchanting curved coastal landform is unique with its shingle ridge dividing the open sea from a saline lagoon. The North Wales Wildlife Trust has control of the lagoon which they manage as a nature reserve. In the summer months, the lagoon provides a sanctuary for its famous tern colony which is indeed deemed nationally important as it is home to the only breeding colony of Sandwich Terns in Wales.

As Cemlyn is quite exposed, I decided to take quick look at what the lagoon had to offer. Immediately I was greeted by the exquisite calls of redshank and curlew flying overhead, whilst other individuals traversed the muddy shoreline feeding. On the slow stroll back, I picked up my first 2 swallow of the day heading inland, and then all of a sudden my first Sandwich Tern of the year!! I watched it for 10 minutes as the bird acrobatically swivelled and dived into the foamy sea water for food. Anglesey certainly was an excellent start to my 2 weeks in Wales, and it just kept getting better!

On the long drive back we took the route back over the moorlands due to terrible traffic on the A55.  And what a choice this was; as we steadily made progress through the unique landscape, a bird of prey caught my eye, rotating my head and having the bird in full view, I came to realise that it was in fact a ring tail hen harrier!!  Well, I am sure you know how I felt about that.

Day 2 of Wales brought me to the remarkable birding destination of the Great Orme. This fantastic coastal lump of rock is an avian migrant hotspot.  In the peak migration zones of Spring and Autumn species such as meadow pipit can be seen in their thousands overhead, whilst scarcer species such as dotteral, lapland bunting and black redstart are annually seen. However that day wasn't all about birding, as compromises have to be made to entertain the younger one; therefore the majority of my time up the Great Orme was actually spent under it. I visited the famous Great Orme Copper Mine, where it was fantastic to learn about the old geology of the rocks here and how the copper was extracted. Of course I did manage to fit in a short walk across the headland where it was good to see choughs in almost every field (this time succeeding to observe the colour ring combinations), there was also a constant stream of meadow pipits overhead, with a couple of wheatear thrown into the mix for good measure (one bird which appears to come in off the sea).

 Beautiful view from the Great Orme

Meadow Pipit

My Llandudno highlight came at the end though whilst sea watching.  A large falcon zipped through my scope view, followed by a square winged corvid.... I immediately got my bins on these 2 species and soon came to realise that a Peregrine Falcon was in fact being mobbed by a Chough!!! "Absolute Scenes" I yelled. Despite the experience lasting only a matter of seconds, it was certainly a highlight of my Welsh birding this Easter. Just before we left my first house martin of the year flew overhead.

The following day I visited what I think is one of the most scenic Welsh forest locations there is, or what I know of anyway; the one and only Bod Petryal. This walkway is part of an extensive forest biome made up of primarily coniferous woodland often with a deciduous outer edge. The forest as a whole is more commonly known as Clocaegnog, and known to many birders for the unique and difficult to find diversity the forest holds. In terms of birds, multiple great grey shrikes spend the Winter in tucked away deforested clearings, whilst crossbills are almost guaranteed to be seen. One of the forests speciality has to be the goshawk. This rather secretive species is difficult to catch up with in Clocaegnog due to the forest covering such a large area with not many public access spaces. Nevertheless on occasions you can see them gliding above the forest canopy, or glimpses of them skilfully zipping through the network of tree trunks.

As per usual, my visit to Bod Petryal proved fantastic, as soon as I arrived on site, I could instantly hear the chatter of crossbills, which are surprisingly rather camouflage amongst the tree tops. Goldcrests were out in force, with their jingling song seemingly coming from every other tree, whilst their wasn't one part of the walkway where you couldn't find siskins. My target species came mid walk though, when I came across a large female goshawk circling relatively high over the pine forest. It gave brief views before rocketing back into the concealment of trees. What a bird!!!!! The day ended with an obliging flyover from a red kite and 3 passing lesser redpoll.

The stunning Bod Petryal

 Grey Wagtail

One of up to 50 Crossbills present

The final part to a fantastic first week in Wales brings us to the upper course of the River Clwyd. The 2 words upper course can probably give those of you reading a good clue that the species I was after today was indeed the one and only dipper. Parking up in a pull in space adjacent to the river, I began to retrace the cars 'steps' back up the Clwyd. Within minutes out of the corner of my eye I noticed a brown blob whiz past my focal view, soon coming to realise this was indeed the bird I was after. It was fantastic to watch its typical bobbing action behaviour at a relatively close range, however what came next was even more incredible. After 5 minutes of the dipper hopping from rock to rock feeding, I observed it starting to collect mosses from the river bank! This particular bird was gathering nesting material, which for the time of year could have been seen as rather late. I enjoyed watching the bird retreating back and forth from its nest site for at least another half an hour from a safe distance (therefore not disturbing the bird). A fantastic end to a fantastic first week!



I should also mention that whilst I wasn't birding or revising, I spent my time participating in the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS for short) as I do every year. The aim of this ongoing project is to discover more and more information about species' nesting profiles from the start of the season until the end. Due to my Grandmas house being located high up in the Welsh hills, it is generally on average colder than lowland areas, therefore the breeding birds do tend to start their season a little later. None the less, I managed to find a surprising amount of nests of the expected species. The bulk of the nests found were indeed thrushes (an even ratio of blackbird and song thrush, 5 of the former and 5 of the latter); however 3 long tailed tit nests were also found during the course of the week. I was particularly surprised and pleased to find 5 song thrush nests as genuinely speaking, they are quite a difficult bird to catch up with around where my Grandma is based.

Song Thrush nest

Blackbird nest

Song Thrush nest

A brilliant start to my Easter break.

Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Thanks - You Made This Happen

The "Don't Let the Shadows Win" thunderclap was tweeted and Facebooked out today at 11am by 833 people with a social reach of 2,583,718. These tweets/facebook posts were then retweeted thousands of times and lots of people added in their own unique posts saying how they feel about hen harriers.

As a result hen harriers were soaring high for a while on social media and this continued to raise the awareness they desperately need.

A massive, massive thank you to everyone that signed, retweeted, posted and shared.

"Every act of evil unleashes a million acts of kindness. This is why shadows will never win while there is still light to shine." 
 Aaron Paquette

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Final Call - Don't Let the Shadows Win

As I sit down to write this blog post, 689 people have signed up to the "Don't Let The Shadows Win" thunderclap and it has a social reach of 2,452,898. So basically, even if no-one else were to sign, on Tuesday 21st March at 11am, a tweet will go out from each of the 689 people that have signed up and that tweet could be seen by all their followers and the followers of anyone else who retweets it, and that is why a thunderclap can be so powerful for awareness raising. 

So I guess this blog is really a last call and a checklist to try and do everything possible to get #HenHarriers to trend on social media on Tuesday and reach out to people who may not be aware of the unacceptable persecution being faced by raptors in the UK.

So here is how you could help in the run up to 11am on Tuesday:
  • Sign the thunderclap if you haven't signed it yet.
  • If you have signed, have you signed the Thunderclap using all your Twitter and Facebook accounts or just one of them? Please could you sign them all up.
  • Are you able to email the thunderclap link to you address book contacts and encourage them to sign up? This is the link 
  • Could you put a link on any blogs you post before 11am on Tuesday?
  • A tricky one next, but could you get your MP to sign up? You never know!
  • Could you share the thunderclap link on your social media accounts, again here is the link
  • Could you ask just one other person to sign up.
And here is what you can do to help on Tuesday as the thunderclap goes out to create a twitter storm and get #HenHarriers in to everyones social media feeds:
  • From about 10:45am to 12:00 please include #HenHarriers in every tweet or Facebook post you do. If you are not going to be able to tweet live on the day, could you schedule a tweet to go out? The more tweets that go out, the more chance we have of getting #HenHarriers trending and talked about.
  • Put a reminder into you phone so you don't forget to join in.
  • You could tweet about what hen harriers mean to you and about how you feel about what is happening to them.
  • Tweet pictures you have of #HenHarriers
  • Tweet links to blog posts that have information about hen harriers, there are some fantastic blogs out there including the ones from Mark Avery, Raptor Persecution UK and of course the RSPB's Life Project.
But however you choose to do it, please get involved and help speak up for #HenHarriers.

Thank you

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Thunderclap - What's The Point?

So firstly a massive thank you to everyone who has already signed up to the "Don't Let The Shadows Win" Thunderclap. As I write this, 475 people have signed up and it has the potential to be seen by nearly 2.3 million people when it goes out on 21st March.

But really, is there any point in a Thunderclap, will it make any difference? Well, there have been a few interesting tweets this week in relation to these very questions. 

I have of course tried to answer some of these comments on twitter, but it is a bit of a struggle in just 140ish characters per tweet. So I thought it might be better to do a blog post to explain why I still believe a twitter storm and a thunderclap going out are worth the effort.

Now, I do not think for a minute think that a thunderclap alone will necessarily change anything. But I do believe that over the last few years more and more people have come to understand more about raptor persecution because of the regular drip feed of information through all sorts of different media.  

And yes many of the people that have signed the Thunderclap are people that know about the hen harrier story, but by no means all of them. I looked through the list of 473 people just moments ago and there are people from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds and also includes politicians, TV personalities, businesses, birding magazines and NGOs;  but when you dig even deeper than that, and look through their followers, then you see the opportunity to reach the people who maybe haven't even heard of a hen harrier. 

When the thunderclap goes out on 21st March, it is the followers of the people that have signed it that   you hope to reach out to, and I don't believe for a minute that all 2.3 million of them know that only 3 pairs of hen harriers bred in England last year when there should be over 300 pairs.

Action comes in all different forms and an issue needs to be tackled from lots of different angles. The satellite tagging projects, the monitoring of the birds, the campaigns by the bigger organisations and the messaging of MPs all play a part, as of course does the hands on getting out and getting evidence; but not everyone is in a position to do that, so you help how you can.

So the realistic objective of the Thunderclap is to keep hen harriers being talked about in between the bigger, more active things that happen. If #HenHarriers was to trend on 21st March, then even more people would get to know what a hen harrier is and what is happening and even if it is just a few more people, then progress has been made.

But one thing I feel for sure is that it is better to try something than do nothing.  We should all keep standing up for wildlife in anyway we personally can and of course support all the other different approaches being taken by others.

If you would like to sign up to the thunderclap and help it reach even more people, then please click here.  And please make a note to tweet using the hashtag #HenHarriers on the 21st March at 11am. Thank you.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Winsford Flash - Patch Birding

After 2 fantastic patch months of birding already this year, I couldn't wait to get out again and kick March off. I started the morning at the Rilshaw Lane (or bottom end) of Winsford Flash, being greeted by some (certainly overdue) sunny weather that made the reflective water and birds on it look spectacular. 

After the recent heavy and continuous rain, the scrape was waterlogged to the point that it was not even visible; however 33 black-headed gull, 2 herring gull, 1 common gull, 1 teal and a single snipe were still present. With not much else on show, I moved on to view the entire bottom end, but despite my best efforts not much was picked up bar 12 great crested grebe, 120 canada geese, another 70 black-headed gull and 7 cormorant. On the walk back to the car I picked up a few nice woodland species such as nuthatch and bullfinch in their usual areas (2 of the former, 5 of the latter).

The top side of the flash was certainly the most productive side today, and almost instantly on arrival I picked up 10 waxwing heading over the horse paddocks; which is a patch first!! Sadly they didn't settle, but this finding certainly spurred me on for the rest of the morning.

With not much else about in the paddocks I headed over to the sailing club to see what gulls had dropped in, and I was delighted to discover a gathering of about 2000.

 After a thorough grilling of these individuals, the species of note were 3 adult med gulls. The majority of the flock were black-headed gulls, which is expected for the time of year (numbers have been building up for last couple of months).

After picking out what I could from the gull flocks, I decided to walk the spit separating the River Weaver from the Flash. I enjoyed lovely views of 2 kingfisher zipping up and down the river.

I also got great views of more scarce Flash birds such as tufted duck (3) and wigeon (14) on the opposite side (although the wigeon failed to settle on the water and just kept circling).

I got myself into an even better and closer position to scan the gull flock again; however despite the change of scene nothing else was picked out.  A group of about 21 coot had however made their way out of the Flash to feed in one of the paddocks.

Raptor wise, 4 buzzards were up and about making the most of the nice weather and keeping a close eye on each other, and the 2 kestrels were in their usual field site.

On the return walk it was nice to see up to 7 reed bunting hanging about in the reedy, scrub areas adjacent to the waterway with a few singing males also worthy of note.

The stonechat was also still present in the same area as the week before. The real surprise however, came when I reached main scrape... Apart from 9 teal and 4 coot, in the opposite hedgerows I picked out a stunning tree sparrow which is certainly a scarce patch bird.

Another fantastic morning of patch birding. With some of the species now,  I almost feel that we are old friends, especially the Kestrel pair that always turn up to greet me.

And with raptors in mind, please think about signing up to the "Don't Let The Shadows Win" thunderclap due to go out as hen harriers return to the uplands for breeding season.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Thunderclap - Don't Let The Shadows Win

Firstly, thank you so much if you have made the effort to click on a link on social media today about hen harriers and arrived at this blog post.

Less than 4 weeks ago I wrote the blog below and set up a Thunderclap to try and raise awareness regarding hen harriers. If you want to remember just one fact from this post, then remember this one; last year just 3 pairs of hen harriers bred in England when we have the habitat to enable over 300 pairs to breed. 

Hen harriers breed in the uplands and that is where the trouble starts. Hen harriers, other raptors, mountain hares, foxes and corvids are just some of the animals/birds persecuted to protect game birds, which are then shot.  It is a cycle of destruction.

Grouse moors are intensively managed to encourage unnaturally large amounts of red grouse to flourish in time for the "inglorious 12th".  There is no natural balance on these grouse moors and it's wrong.  

Every generation has the basic right to a natural inheritance. It's time we all spoke up to protect the natural world for generations to come, we can't survive without it.


There is a dark shadow that follows and reaches for our hen harriers.

This unrelenting shadow led to us having just 3 breeding pairs of hen harrier in England last year when there should be over 300 breeding pairs.  Illegal persecution has been a huge part of driving hen harriers to the point of extinction as a breeding bird in England.  

Hen harriers have the power to massively move people, as an earlier post called "Those Thought Provoking Hen Harriers" clearly showed.

If an iconic species like a hen harrier can be so close to extinction as a breeding bird in England, what does that say about all the other species of birds, mammals and insects that face a daily struggle for survival. We all have a responsibility to safeguard the natural world for future generations and speak out against the greed, ignorance and denial that is pushing the natural world to it's limits.

So focussing on the hen harrier for a minute, I would ask you all to sign this Thunderclap that is due to go out as hen harriers make their way from wintering sites back to the upland breeding grounds. Birds like Finn (the only bird tagged as part of the RSPB's LIFE project in mainland England last year that is still alive) who have managed, against the odds, to survive so far, unlike many of their fellow tagged birds who never made it to a year old; birds like Carroll.

So what else can you do? Well, this is where I am going to push back on you this time and ask back "what will you do?".  Awareness raising is a great place to start; please sign the Thunderclap and get other people to do the same.

You can of course use the comments section to offer up ideas, thoughts, comments on what more we should all be doing and how best to bring about the urgent changes that are needed.  

Let's bring those shadows into the light where they will start to disappear.

Thank you.

Every act of evil unleashes a million acts of kindness. This is why shadows will never win while there is still light to shine.
Aaron Paquette