Sunday, 27 December 2015

Short Eared Owls at Frodsham Marsh

Frodsham Marsh is one of my most favorite places to go birding, not just in Cheshire, but out of all the places I've ever birded. It is in my opinion one of the best. Due to a sudden break in this awful weather we have been hit with, I decided to spend a full day at the marsh with my dad. We arrived at about half past nine and immediately noticed how flooded all the fields were because of the recent heavy rain, however the gulls were making good use of that feeding opportunity and plenty of Pied Wagtails also patrolled the edges of the floods.


As soon as we arrived, Bill Morton pulled up next to us, a great mentor to me and a faithful marsh birder (there most days).

We started off at No.6 tank in hope of seeing the Green Winged Teal, however making it out amongst so many Eurasian Teal was almost impossible due to the light which was in front of us making everything silhouetted. We decided that we should come back later and give the Teal chance to come further out in to the middle of the water rather than staying put near the daisy beds.

So our next stop was a place I've never visited before on Frodsham Marsh, and this place was Frodsham Score. We had a great vantage point opposite the Manchester Ship Canal and viewed the grazed grass and salt marsh. We immediately saw the mixed Swan flock of Mute and Whooper feeding alongside Holpool Gutter. We counted 18 Whoopers of which were all adults. No juveniles might suggest that they may not have had a good breeding season.

After further inspection of the score we soon picked out 2 Great White Egrets and numerous Little Egrets scattered all across the edge of the tide. Also on the tide line were hundreds of Canada Geese with a few Pink Footed mixed with in them. Sadly there was no sign of the 2 Dark Bellied Brent Geese that had been seen the last couple of days. Due to the visibility being so good we all got a great panorama of the whole of the score.

And one of the main reasons we were here was because of it being a relatively high tide, so we were all expecting a good show from the wading birds, mainly Dunlin (my phone video will only play sideways when uploaded, does anyone know how I can rotate a phone video).

Before all that action kicked in, we were joined by Frank Duff, also a regular birder at the marsh. We all stood together despite the cold, and waited for the Dunlin to rise in the air, and when they did it was utterly amazing; at least 15,000 birds were in the air, and performed something called the Mersey snake where they murmurate in a snake like shape because of the sheer quantity of the birds. This spectacle carried on for another hour at least before the birds finally settled as the tide retreated. I also learned that when huge flocks of birds are performing in the air you often see them twist and turn and at the same time see the flock going dark and lighter colors, this terminology is called stroboscopic.

As the tide continued to push in, it seeped onto the edges of the score, pushing all the birds in as well and allowing some great views of a Merlin and all the wading birds.

 After a great proportion of the day spent at the score, me and my dad decided to head back to No.6 tank in search of the Green Winged Teal. When we arrived, most of the Teal had retreated back to roost in the daisy beds, however just before we were about to leave some very kind people pointed out that there had been a Short Eared Owl around this area.


 We soon latched onto it and found that there was not actually one but two Short Eared Owls quartering no.5 tank, putting on the best show I have ever seen them do. An absolutely incredible experience, and I also managed to get some great phone scopes.






I got 6 species of bird of prey today including, Kestrel, Buzzard, Short Eared Owl, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Merlin.

Kestrel

By the time we left it was getting onto 3:30pm. I must say a massive thank you to Bill for giving me such a great day at the marsh and I'm sure I'll be back down there before the New Year with more great bird species to tell you about.

I will leave you with a short video of the two owls.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Good Question 28 - Who Said What in 2015?

Firstly, a massive thank you to everyone who has had a go at the quizzes this year.

It is the last Quiz Night Tuesday of 2015 (so I am posting it a bit earlier than normal), and for today's quiz you need to match up the following quotes from 2015 with the people who said them.  So all you have to do is match the quote number with the correct person letter. Good luck. I will post the answers on Christmas Eve. I have switched on comments approval on so you can't be influenced by each other. I will post all you answers on Christmas Eve as well.

The is now closed, so here are the answers of who said what and when.

Well done to the winner, Keith (Holding Moments) and thanks to everyone who had a go.

Quotes

1.  There's no such thing as bad publicity
G. RSPB chief executive Mike Clarke speaking at Hen Harrier Eve 2015

2.  What I'm discussing is a barbecue on a different scale. Fire is raging across the 5000km length of Indonesia
E. George Monbiot  - Guardian column 30th October 2015

3.  From my point of view, re-wilding Britain represents a real, brave, imaginative and intelligent solution to so many of our problems
D. Chris Packham – Rewilding Britain online magazine 22 Jul 2015

4.  England has a diverse range of habitats resulting in a wonderfully rich and varied wildlife
J. Director BTO Andy Clements – Report on how to improve Natura 2000 sites – 21 May 2015

5.  This is a scandal, the scientific process appears to have been deliberately manipulated to agree with the environment secretary's views
A. Chief Executive of Buglife Matt Shardlow – New Scientist – Neonicotinoids -  27 March 2015

6.  I'm not going to drop my opposition to the badger cull because of the NFU
H. Kerry McCarthy shadow Environment minister – Bristol Post September 2015

7.  Have courage in your decision making to think 500 years ahead not just 5 years ahead. Do what you know is right.
I. Findlay Wilde - teenager

8.  All this is, is a minor technical amendment allowing the exemptions which already allow hunting with two hounds to be extended to conditions very similar to Scotland
B. Former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – SKY  NEWS  with Dermot Murnaghan and Dr Brian May debating the watering down of the Fox Hunting ban – 12 July 2015

9.  This review shows the gruesome extent to which birds are being killed illegally in the Mediterranean. Populations of some species that were once abundant in Europe are declining, with a number even in free fall and disappearing altogether
K. Patricia Zurita Ceo of Birdlife International  - The Guardian 21 August 2015

10.  Earth, the most beautiful and life filled planet we know- why are we vandalising it?
F. Mark Avery – blog – January 7th 2015

11.  Conservationists say there is no ecological reason for this wipeout – no habitat loss, no food shortages, no killer disease – only a conflict of interest between a lucrative business and one of our most impressive predators.
M. Patrick Barkham – The Guardian 13 January 2015

12.  Which is the most important: nature conservation or renewable energy?
C. Peter Marren – Guest blog on Mark Avery's blog 26 January 2015

13.  We’re not running out of hedgehogs because we flatten them. We’re running out because we’ve taken away their livelihood, their food, their commuting routes, their foraging grounds and their residences.
L. Simon Barnes – The Spectator 3rd October 2015

People

A. Matt Shardlow - CEO Buglife
B. Owen Paterson - Former Environment Secretary
C. Peter Marren - Wildlife writer 
D. Chris Packham - Naturalist and broadcaster
E. George Monbiot - Writer
F. Mark Avery - Bird Watch Magazine's Blogger of the Year
G. Mike Clarke - CEO of RSPB
H. Kerry McCarthy - Shadow Environment Minister
I. Findlay Wilde - teenager
J. Any Clements - Director of BTO
K. Patricia Zurita - CEO Birdlife International
L. Simon Barnes - Journalist and author
M. Patrick Barkham - Natural History Writer for The Guardian

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Brambling

About a week ago now, I came across a bird in the garden that I had only ever recorded once before (and that was quire a few years ago now when it was very cold). So it was a delight to see a female Brambling feeding on the tray of our large sunflower heart feeder, travelling in with the mixed flock of Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. 



This particular bird came in to the garden after the first real frost of the year last weekend, and stayed for a couple of days. However, I haven't seen it since, so I think it was that snap of cold weather that brought it in to feed in the garden.


Bramblings in the UK are migrants, they winter here south of the breeding range and in varying numbers depending upon the availability of beech mast, which is there prime food source. It is only really in poor mast years, with bad winter weather that any numbers can be seen feeding in British gardens. 

According to the BTO 2007-11 Bird Atlas, Brambling winter distribution has increased by 21% across England, Wales and Scotland since the 1981-84 Bird Atlas. The distribution maps also show more abundance of Brambling sightings round areas like the New Forest where there are denser amounts of beech trees.

So fingers crossed for some colder weather.

Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, 7 December 2015

When Santa came to Look For Hen Harriers!

On Sunday I was volunteering with the RSPB at Parkgate overlooking the fabulous Dee Estuary; a favoured site for wintering Hen Harriers. The aim again was to raise awareness with the public about the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers and their decline.

Because of the awful weather recently, I didn't expect there to be to many people about, however fortunately the weather cleared up during the afternoon, so the promenade was quite busy.

I was volunteering with Elliot Montieth alongside Katy from the RSPB, who were all really good to catch up with.


 It was also fantastic to see Hugh Brazier who had come down to the Wirral to try and locate his great great Grandparent's grave and old house, which I am delighted to say he succeeded in doing.



It was great to see Hugh, and I must say a massive thankyou to him for coming down to Parkgate as it was fantastic to watch Hen Harriers together. One ringtail (female Hen Harrier) in particular showed really well on at least 4 occasions. It is reassuring to know that they are still around the Dee, as they hadn't been seen for quite a few weeks after the last time I had been volunteering.

Female Hen Harrier from previous visit to Parkgate

Of course it wasn't just the Hen Harriers, there was also a female Marsh Harrier seen and 3 Great White Egret were counted.

The promenade at Parkgate was already full of Christmas spirit with the tree up.  But all of a sudden a strange festive flock of people dressed in a mix of costumes came cycling down the road (must be all the Hen Harrier action drawing them in)!


It was another fantastic event at Parkgate and I can't wait for the next one, especially in February/March when there should be some high tides flooding the marsh as well. A perfect recipe for a raptor feeding frenzy, so come along if you can.

Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Top of The Naughty List

It is becoming a bit of a tradition for A Focus On Nature to run a series of Advent Calendar guest blogs throughout December. The year's theme for the guest blogs is "the gift of giving" looking at all the ways in which nature gives to us.

I was delighted to take part again and flipped my guest blog to talk about the gift of giving in terms of what we can and should give back to nature. Here is a short extract from it:

"Unfortunately nature can’t tell us what to do, but it certainly can tell us that it is in trouble and it is shouting this message loud and clear. Nature’s tears are building into the worst floods and storms ever seen, Nature’s silence can be heard, yes heard, in the barren waste lands we are leaving behind, Nature’s pain can be heard in the species slaughtered in the name of sport."

There have been some great posts so far and I am looking forward to seeing the ones still to come, but just out of interest, I would really like to hear, what are the gifts that nature has given to you?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Transcript of Westminster Talk


Back in September I had the opportunity to present my thoughts and beliefs on the environment to a group of MPs in Westminster. As a contribution to the climate marches taking place across the world today, I wanted to share the transcript of what I said to the MPs on that day.

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

It's not very nice being at the back of the queue.  To get to the front can seem a very long way off. It's frustrating and tiring waiting all this time just to get your turn. And I'm not talking about checking in at the airport or being last to be picked at school for the football team.

I'm talking about the natural world we live in being at the back of the queue, always last in line. How do I know this – because the science gives us the facts and 50%, yes 50% of Wildlife has been lost in the last 40 years. Please just pause a moment and think about that – 50% of wildlife lost in the last 40 years.

I listened very carefully to all of your leaders’ debates in the run up to the General election and made a tally on how often the natural world and the environment was mentioned. It was mentioned only twice, - just twice, for only a split second and guess where, yes, right at the end of the debates, last in line again.

Some people when they speak use phrases like “this planet of ours“ or “our planet “  - This planet isn’t “ours“ it isn’t owned by anybody. It’s not our right to keep taking from it and give nothing back.
We have learnt throughout History that you will not fall off the edge of the planet and hurt ourselves – BUT WE are hurting the planet, every day, all of us.

Everything we have comes from the natural world, but the natural world is evaporating rapidly in front of our eyes, and if things are to change we need to act. But act quickly, act NOW, don’t leave it until tomorrow as others have done. Change your attitudes and beliefs that someone else will save it.

I’m asking you all to make a pledge today – a pledge to put the natural world first in the queue when you are making decisions. And please pledge to consult my generation as well. No individual or group or organisation knows best, we can all learn from each other by respecting and sharing our knowledge.

There are fantastic organisations that can help you such as the RSPB of course but also youth organisations like A focus on Nature. I urge you to have a look at the “vision for Nature” report that they are publishing in Autumn and see what the younger generation are talking about.

You will have some tough work ahead and you will have to make some tricky decisions but I ask you before making your choices, have courage in your decision making to think 500 years ahead not just 5 years ahead. Do what you know is right.

So thanks for listening and when you get to the front of the queue to have your turn remember the Planet has been waiting a lot longer than you, so please do the right thing and let it go first."

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

North West Bird Watching Festival 2015

 During the weekend, the annual North West Bird Watching Festival took place at WWT Martin Mere, where myself and Elliot Montieth were volunteering for the BTO. We were volunteering for both days, and our mission, if you like, was to hand out young membership leaflets/cards to the younger generation (under 18s), who had come for the event and had an interest in wildlife.

Our job was to engage with these young people, and make them aware of the BTO Young Membership Scheme, and if we could, actually get them to become members, as the BTO are trying to get more and more of the younger audience involved with their organisation. 

The idea of us walking around the reserve engaging with these young people is great, because firstly it is young people engaging with young people, so the young people we're trying to engage with, are more likely to listen more to us. But being young, we are also a great example of the opportunities  you can get being part of the BTO.


The person in charge of us was Kelvin Jones from BTO Cymru. It was great to meet up with him again, after being such an inspirational man in the past few years.  He has generated so many opportunities for me over the last few years that it was my absolute pleasure to be volunteering with him for the BTO. Kelvin looked after the stand whilst Elliot and I were out engaging with the young people.


On the Saturday the event seemed to have a lot less people than previous years, so this made the job of engaging with young people a bit harder, however despite this we still got to have good chats with quite a few people.  Sunday was much busier though and there seemed to be a few more families about which was great to see.


It was interesting to see that of the young people we spoke to, at least half of the them hadn't actually come to WWT Martin Mere for the Bird Festival, there had just been coming for a day out anyway. Many hadn't heard of the BTO but they were interested in what the BTO is doing once we got taking to them. A couple of the parents we spoke to were already BTO members though which was great to see.  All the children we spoke to had a really positive response to what me and Elliot had to say, and seemed to walk away quite interested, however we shall only tell if our work pays off, when we see how many more young memberships we get during the next couple of weeks.



Now because we were walking around the reserve, I did of course manage to fit in a bit of birding and got fantastic views of a White Fronted Goose, and of course the usual Pink Footed Geese and Whooper Swans. There were lots of young people in the hides as well, so as well as giving them a young membership card, I also showed them some birds through the scope, which I hope boosted their interests even more.



Of course you can't beat a full English on a freezing cold day, working hard, and having a great time. It also gave me chance for a good catch up with Mark Avery who was also in there waiting to give his talk later in the day.

On the Saturday we stayed to about 4pm, and at the end of the day we went over to the Harrier Hide to watch the murmuration of Starlings that has been happening over the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately we didn't get the best views of them coming into roost however a couple of other birds did gave us some great displays including an adult female and a juvenile Marsh Harrier, which are always a delight to see, especially when they put on spectacular displays, and quite close in.  Sadly the Harrier Hide got vandalised that evening after everyone had left for the day. I just don't understand why anyone would even think of doing something like that.

Over the two days, we managed to engage with 23 young people, Saturday having 12 engagements and Sunday 11. It was very good to see the amount of children at the reserve, a great sign for the future I hope.

During the course of the weekend I also got chance to meet up with some fantastic conservationists, birders and friends including: Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery, Kelvin Jones, Charlie Moores, Phil & Rebecca Walton, Ron Thomas, Rob Lambert, Lucy McRobert, Phil Gatley, Adele Montieth (Elliot's mum), Iolo Williams, Stuart Pike, Kane Brides, Dave & Grace McGrath, Don Weedon, Hugh Pulsford, Micheal Miles and of course Henry Hen Harrier.

Over the weekend there were also lots of great talks on, however my time was limited to be able to see any, but I did manage to fit one in. It was Iolo Williams talking about "Wonderful Welsh Wildlife". It was a great talk and one that I could relate to because of all the time I spend in North Wales.


 On the Sunday we didn't stay as late, however we still fitted in lots of bird sightings including 50 plus Ruff and a Mediterranean Gull, all of which showed nicely.

The most important thing during the weekend though was the engaging with young people, which I really enjoyed. I can't wait to see the results over the next couple of weeks on how many new young memberships come through. Of course I must say a massive thank you to Kelvin for giving me such a brilliant weekend volunteering for the BTO.

 A fantastic Bird Watching Festival and I can't wait for the next one at WWT Martin Mere in 2016.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Wirral Wader Festival


Yesterday I was volunteering at Red Rocks on the Wirral overlooking the mouth of the Dee Estuary with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust as part of Wader Quest.  There were a number of different events happening all over the Wirral as part of Wader Quest.

My role in volunteering was to engage with the public; finding out how far they had traveled for the Wader Quest event and if they had come because of the event, but the best bit of the role was engaging with the people who aren't so knowledgeable and pointing out how important the Dee Estuary is for birds, especially waders.

The man in charge of me was Kevin Feaney, who I know through ringing.  He works for the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and invited me along to help out, so I have to say a big thank you to him. It was quite a high tide yesterday, and the wind pushing in made it even higher; it wont surprise you that we all got totally drenched!


Kev and I had arrived early, so before we started to set the gazebo up,  he decided to give me a tour of the reserve at Red Rocks.  It was really interesting to see how it came about and the work the wildlife trusts has been doing, as well as the history of the site. I also got to meet the reserve manager who was really interesting to talk to. We spoke about how he is going to manage the site in the future, and about the successful work he and the Wildlife Trust have done for species like natterjack toads. It was also great to see Elliot Montieth again.


Because of the terrible weather,  not too many people turned up; however the few of us that were volunteering were rewarded with some great birding, including over 100 Brent Geese, a Long Tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Common Scoter and a fantastic murmaration of thousands of wading birds including Knot and Dunlin. I was hoping for a blown in Leach's Petrel, however the winds weren't strong enough on this occasion.


Wind, waves and waders.


A brilliant experience and for those of you who couldn't get there, here is a short video of the wader murmurations:

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Good Question 27 - Whose Foot?

Quiz night Tuesday is back again. 

Tonight's question is about a foot and there are two parts to the question. And by the way you can click on the picture to make it bigger.


So, part one:

What species does this foot belong to?

And, part two:

What is special about this foot?

Good luck. I will post all the answers tomorrow night as I have switched on the comments approval function so no-one gives it away too soon.


And the answer is:

The foot in the picture above belongs to this amazing Nightjar I was lucky enough to see in Portugal this year.


What is special about this foot is the comb you can see on the middle toe.  The Nightjar uses this comb to remove any debris from the whiskers you can see round the beak.  The whiskers are used to funnel food into the mouth and help protect it's eyes. Isn't evolution brilliant!

Well done to Professor David Norman for getting the answer totally right.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Goldfinch Survey - Charming to Eat You!

I don't know about all of you, but a while ago I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more Goldfinch in the garden than I remember ever seeing before. After studying the Goldfinch closely, it was clear that they were mainly feeding on the sunflower heart feeders, and not even touching the nyger seeds or other food offerings in the garden.

So I persuaded my dad to let me get a large 12 port sunflower heart feeder so I could do my own garden Goldfinch study.  The feeder needs to be so big, as it will be the only sunflower heart feeder in the garden during the survey to ensure that I can accurately measure how much the Goldfinch are eating. I want to record the volume of food they are eating and compare this against the numbers of birds visiting, national Goldfinch number trends, temperature, weather conditions etc.


Once the 12 port feed arrived, I weighed out 100g of sunflower hearts and measured how much of the feeder this would fill, which then enabled me to draw a scale onto the feeder in permanent marker, making it easier record how much seed is being eaten every day.

On 22nd September, I started recording the results daily; volume of food eaten, weather, min temperature and max temperature.  I also tried feeding kibbled sunflower hearts as well as whole ones to see if that made any difference.

As I now have just over 6 weeks of data, I thought I would take a first look at the results.  The seed eaten on the chart below is all recorded in grams and the Goldfinch numbers are taken from the weekly results I record for the BTO's Garden Birdwatch Survey.  You can click on the chart to make it bigger and easier to read.


So here are some findings from the first 6 weeks:

1. Volume of food eaten. The Goldfinch have eaten a massive 32.2kg of sunflower hearts in just 6 weeks. So this is going to be quite an expensive survey, unless of course any kind bird food companies out there would like to sponsor the survey.

2. Waste! We all know what messy eaters Goldfinch are. From 22nd September until 3rd October, the feeder was hung in the tree and any waste was allowed to just fall on the floor and was not recorded. Even though I know a lot of seeds fall from the feeder, I was still amazed at just how much waste there was on the floor.

Tray attempt 1
The trays you can get with the feeders to catch the seeds really aren't big enough to catch the waste, and the seeds tend to just bounce off, especially on such a tall feeder.

Tray attempt 2
Next we tried cutting the bottom off a large gorilla bucket, leaving a rim round to stop seeds falling off.  This was attached to the feeder with wire, but it had a few problems, especially with portly Wood Pigeons. Every time they decided to perch on the edge, the rubber would bend and buckle and the seeds would fall out. Most mornings and evenings I would find the bucket tray almost vertical and doing no good at all.

Tray attempt 3
A proper fix needed to be put in place for the survey to work, so in the end I had a stainless steel tray made to catch any dropped seed. The tray has a large enough diameter (compared to the height of the feeder) to catch all the falling seed. It also has a big rim to prevent the fallen seeds blowing away. And of course it has drainage holes.

Any dropped seed can now be weighed at the end of each day and taken off the total of the amount of food gone from the feeder, which since 4th October has given much more accurate results for the volume of seed being eaten.  You can see the immediate impact of the new tray on the graph. On 4th October the volume of seed eaten dropped sharply as the waste could be weighed and taken off the volume of food taken from the feeder.


3. Peak! There was a big peak in Goldfinch numbers the week that started on 11th October. It will be interesting to see if this matches any surges in Goldfinch migration numbers.  I hope the BTO can help me with this.

4. Kibble. Goldfinch prefer a whole sunflower heart, they do not like them broken up. The bars in orange on the graph is when the broken up sunflower kibble was fed.  You can see how steeply the food eaten dropped during the kibble weeks. I am not sure, but does anyone know if the very core of a sunflower heat is more nutritious that the other part? The finches do seem to roll the seed round in their beaks, almost peeling off some of the seed.


5. Temperature. Because it has been so mild and relatively dry (apart from the last week or so) there are no clear trends showing up yet in relation to the weather, so hopefully, I will be able to report more on this in my next update.

6. Other birds. Of course this feeder is not exclusively used by the Goldfinch, but they are the main birds feeding on it and the other garden bird numbers are quite consistent, so they don't really impact the results too significantly.

7. 12 Ports. As there are just 12 ports, there is a limit to how many birds can feed at once, although the tray has allowed for more birds to feed on the fallen seeds. So I wonder if the volume of food eaten will reach a set level even if more and more Goldfinch come to feed once it starts getting colder. We will have to see.


8. Sprawk! Our Sparrowhawk has been a more frequent visitor as the Goldfinch numbers have gone up. They certainly are noisy visitors and I wonder if that is something that is attracting the attention of the Sparrowhawk. Again, I will see how this trend continues.  I also have another blog coming soon on my observations of the Sprawk's behaviour in the garden.

9. Hygiene. Finches are quite susceptible to diseases like trichomonosis, so I ensure that the feeder is cleaned and disinfected weekly to avoid any disease being spread from the feeder.

This post was just a quick introduction to the survey I am doing.  At the time of writing, our Goldfinch numbers have dropped off a little, but there is a lot more information to be collected over Winter. I will post the next set of results once we see a change in temperature.

If you are interested in tracking the Goldfinch numbers in your garden, the BTO are also doing a survey that you can take part in. You can find out more by clicking here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Marsh Awards for Ornithology 2015

Recently, I received a letter in the post from the BTO, inviting me to an awards evening in London at the Mall Galleries. The awards evening was last week, on Wednesday night, and as it was half term, it fitted in perfectly, meaning I didn't have to miss any time off school. This was my third time in London, (all conservation related), and it was great to be with the BTO on this occasion.

The journey down on the train passes through quite a few wetland areas. I really need to get to that wetland area just before the train passes through Stafford Station. I say that every time! A stunning Red Kite was the highlight of the train journey.  Once in London, we had time for a quick wander round Trafalgar Square, which was all set up for the Rugby World Cup.


When we arrived at the Mall Galleries, I got to see Andy Clements pretty much straight away. It was great to catch up. We were then shown into the gallery by Ieuan Evans and shortly after that I bumped into Ellis Lucas, (a brilliant young birder) and had a good look round all the art with him. The Natural Eye 2015 Exhibition was taking place at the Mall Galleries, and it was great to be surrounded by so many wildlife related pieces of art work.



It was such an fantastic venue. And what's more the venue was filled with some really inspiring people.  Harriet Mead, President of of SWLA (and the artist who created the Lapwing above)  introduced the awards. Mike McCarthy from The Independent was next on stage to present the first award of the night, the Dilys Breese Award Medal, which was won Ben Hoare, Features Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine. You can find out more about Dilys Breese and the history of the award by clicking here.

Next up was the presentation for the 5 Marsh Awards sponsored by the BTO. The awards were presented by Peter Titley, Ambassador for The Marsh Christian Trust, and Andy Clements, Chief Executive of the BTO.


The awards presented were as follows:

Marsh Award for Ornithology - Dr Stuart Butchart (Head of Science, Birdlife International)

Marsh Award for Local Ornithology - Malcolm Burgess & Piedfly.net

Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology - Mark Constantine & The Sound Approach

Marsh Award for International Ornithology - Professor Franz Bairlein
(Director of Institute of Avian Research, Wilhelmshaven)

Marsh Award for Young Ornithologist - Findlay Wilde (me)



After the formal presentations were done, there was plenty of time to chat to people, which I always enjoy. I got to speak to all the other award winners, some of the artists, lots of great people from the BTO and many of the other invited guests.

Speaking to the other winners made me realise just how much can be achieved for wildlife and the environment with the right mix of knowledge, effort and determination.

I must say a massive thank you to the BTO and the Marsh Christian Trust. It was a very special evening, and one I will remember for a long time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

13 Years Wilde - A Thank You

I must say a massive thank you to the following people for the time and effort they put in to writing their honest, emotional, funny and heartfelt guest blogs on what their relationships with nature were like when they were 13:


If' you've not read them all, I would strongly recommend that you do. They are brilliant. 

There were a lot of themes that came out of this guest blog series and I have written a blog about all these themes. It is appearing as a guest blog for Mark Avery today, and you can read it here

It has been an amazing series of blogs and thank you again to all those involved.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Parkgate - Speaking up for Hen Harriers

Last month was the first "Skydancer on the Dee" event of the Autumn/Winter. It is an RSPB project where we set up a stand/marquee at Parkgate (on the Wirral), looking out over the marshes of the Dee Estuary, and talk to people about the serious issues facing Hen Harriers; raising awareness about their illegal persecution. 

Now the main reason we have the event at Parkgate is because Hen Harriers annually winter on the estuary and are seen regularly from Parkgate promenade. So it's a great place for the public to see them, and it is a safe place for the Hen Harriers, as that area of the marsh is managed by the RSPB.

Marsh Harrier

So yesterday was the second event of this season, and I was delighted to be there supporting RSPB Burton Mere's Dan Trotman, who does most of the Skydancer on the Dee work. I was volunteering along with Elliot Montieth; a young birder from the Wirral and a really amazing photographer.  Although I have spoken to him a lot on Twitter, it was the first time I'd met him. We had so much to talk about.

I also got a surprise visit from Bill Morton, THE birder on Frodsham Marsh. It was great to meet up with him and Sparky.  It was also great to catch up with Phil Gatley who volunteers at RSPB Conwy and has a head full of great knowledge.  It was also good to catch up with Gail and her son and seeing them at Hen Harrier Day earlier this year.  It was great showing her son all the birds of the marsh through the scopes.



The weather was actually nice for once, however it did make it quite hazy over the marshland which meant spotting birds was quite difficult.  Unfortunately there hadn't been a Hen Harrier spotted for a while on the Dee, which is a bit concerning, but I heard from Alan Davies that they spotted one at the same place today.

As it was a nice day, there were lots of people walking along the promenade, and it was good to see a lot of people taking interest in our stand and the work being done. I was encouraged by lots of  positive engagements, and a couple of new members for the RSPB.


The birding highlights of the day were 3 Marsh Harriers, 7 Greenshank and a Great White Egret. But just looking out over that salt marsh as the sun starts to set is an experience not to be missed.


By the way, if anybody decides to visit Parkgate, the chippy has been refurbished and a batch of chips is all you need after a good days birding/volunteering!

A great event and I can't wait for the next one in a few weeks time.

Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Portugal, My First Time Abroad!

On the 14th August I stepped on board a Ryan Air plane and set off on my first ever trip abroad. Excited doesn’t even cover it! During the flight I managed to get some great photos of the views using my phone from my window seat on the plane. We were rather lucky as it wasn't too cloudy, and as we were flying from Liverpool, we also flew right over Frodsham Marsh, which was amazing to see from a bird’s eye view.  


The rest of the flight was just as good and I got some fantastic views of all the urban and rural areas scattered across the UK. I realised just how big our societies actually are. 

We arrived quite late at night in Portugal, so we decided to spend a night in Porto rather than drive all the way up to Paredes de Coura in the dark (and dad hadn’t driven on the right for quite a few years).  Our hotel room had a balcony looking out across Porto and the next morning I did my first bit of birding from it; before even leaving the hotel I had already seen a Black Redstart and a Serin.  


The houses we could see from the balcony had quite a few bird traps set up along the fences, which wasn’t quite so nice to see.  These were probably for the pet trade.


Next morning we headed off to collect our hire car and my next great bird was a Yellow Legged Gull surrounded by tourists as it paddled in one of the fountains in the middle of Porto. 

The drive up to RubiĆ£es (where we were staying for 2 weeks) produced even more new birds; seeing my first White Storks and Spotless Starlings. However, it wasn't just the birds that caught my attention, all of the scenery was absolutely amazing and it was great to see the different culture the Portuguese had to the English in the way they farm and all of those sorts of aspects.


The landscapes were so interesting, as all you could see were hills.  There was no flat land anywhere you looked, the hills even rolled right down to the sea in places where they gave way to amazing wide and inviting estuaries. 

Once off the main toll road, we need to pass through the hills, twisting and turning and never too sure what was round the next corner. And when I say twisty I mean twisty! I noticed that  part of Portugal, was littered with small towns and villages, however unlike the UK having lots of major towns and cities, all the communities were in little small holds, growing their own crops, rearing a few live stock and providing for themselves (which seemed a lot more environmentally friendly).

Everywhere always felt like you might see something amazing, as the amount of wildlife was unbelievable. There seemed to be a habitat for so many species, especially around our villa (which also gave us some cracking views and scenery). One day we were just in the pool when a Hoopoe flew down and joined us.  



The tree outside my bedroom window was full of Serins every morning.



During the course of the two weeks in Portugal, I was pretty busy visiting places, swimming,  relaxing after a busy time at school and of course I squeezed in quite a bit of birding, managing to see a total of 100 species, which isn't bad considering I wasn't supposed to be on a birding holiday! I also got 29 new species, some of the highlights included:

Short Toed Eagle
Rock Thrush
Gull Billed Tern
Black Eared Wheatear
Hoopoe
Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrike
Aquatic Warbler
Blue Throat
Sardinian Warbler
Turtle Dove
Cirl Bunting
Nightjar
Melodious Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Nightingale
Black Kite

Every morning we had a Hoopoe coming to our garden which gave us some spectacular views (and sometimes more than one bird). We had some fantastic views of Pallid Swift in a Portuguese town called Caminha, where we were also watching a Gull Billed Tern, Roseate Terns and a single Montague's Harrier. We also had Turtle Dove, Fan Tailed Warbler, and Cirl Bunting outside where we were staying.

As well as birds, there were some incredible butterflies, such as the Swallow Tail (including a scarce sub species) and also some great moths, including Latin, Scarce Merville du Jour, and Green Silver Lines, we also had Praying Mantis coming to our house lamps.  Every night we joked about putting the moth trap on and simply turned on the outside lights.





Another great place we visited was a waterfall with a deep plunge pool where we swan in the icy fresh water. This pool was populated with so many stunning electric blue Demoiselles.



We spent a day out in the Peneda Geres National Park, but on the way we stopped at an amazing viewing point where you could see for miles and miles.


The actual park had single lane tracks with steep drops down each side, but it was worth it for the views we got and the wildlife we saw up there from lizards to shrikes. Wild ponies wandered along the tracks and long horned cattle were free to roam and graze. Just amazing.

 

In the evenings, we had BBQs of fresh fish, roasted vegetables, breads  and local meats and spent a lot of time talking and relaxing, or going in the pool of course.



An absolutely fantastic holiday, and a brilliant one from the view it was my first holiday abroad. I won't forget this for a long time, and I'm sure there will be more brilliant ones to come.

I will leave you with a few more pictures from the trip.

Salted cod

Ponte de Lima


Harley

Osprey



Exploring





View from the villa