Friday, 30 December 2016

A Review of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Donald Trump was elected as US President.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Let's Enjoy Some Raptors Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 November 2016

Phone-Scoping - Super Moon

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

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

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Alternative Christmas Advert

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Don't Dismiss The Public NGO

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

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

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

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

Yesterday I tweeted this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Observation No.4

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Debate for Dancers - Hen Harriers

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

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

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

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

a male HEN HARRIER!!!!

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

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

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

Remember the unquestionable facts:

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, 17 October 2016

Yellow, Red and Gold!

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

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

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


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