Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Freeze goes on

There is no respite here with temperatures reaching -11 at night.  There is no sign of a thaw and it really is cold outside.

The birds are ravenous and coming to the feeders in a frenzy.  Hordes of Starlings feeding on nuts are keeping many of the smaller species from their black sunflower seeds so I will have to consider placing feeders in different places.  Marsh and Willow Tits are still coming and Goldfinches were up to 10 this morning.  The masses of birds gathering here have attracted predators too. No Sparrowhawk yet but Buzzards and Red Kites are hovering overhead with a couple of Ravens almost all day.

I have been asked to appear on BBC Radio Wales at 8.30am tomorrow morning to talk about the importance of feeding birds and other wildlife during this hard weather.

It is OK to talk about feeding birds in our gardens but there are many other species in other habitats that are suffering as well.  Only yesterday I heard of a Little Egret which had succumbed and we should be very concerned about Cetti's and Dartford Warblers which will find it hard if this weather lasts long.  We have enjoyed such mild winters in the recent past and welcomed these colonisers from the south. We must hope that they survive these harsh times.

It would be good to hear that wildfowlers have suspended their operations to give birds on our estuaries the minimum disturbance while these arctic conditions last.

All of the above is put into perspective by my son Jeremy who lives in Calgary, Canada.  He called this week to say it was snowing and -36.

Sunday, 28 November 2010


A bright sunny day but temperatures hardly above freezing.  The snow has frozen hard with temperatures of minus 11 last night.

The feeders are so full of birds it is hard to keep up with filling them.  Numbers of Starlings have increased as have Blackbirds and Chaffinches.  Our five Goldfinches are still with us and so are the 2 Willow Tits.  Nuthatches are absent for some reason and we generally have 4/5 coming each day.  I hope they have not succumbed to the cold.

My main bird thought today is for my team Norwich City (The Canaries) who beat Ipswich 4-1. I just need England to avoid defeat to the convicts from down under and my week is complete.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Snow Keeps me close to Home

From 8.30am I was in need of some hard exercise.  I had seen the cricket news of the dismal England performance against Australia and there was so much snow on my sloping drive I needed to take out my anger in getting it cleared.  This I achieved with a lone Raven croaking overhead for company.

I filled up the bird feeders and was immediately rewarded by hordes of visitors but nothing unusual.

I slipped literally down to Llandeilo to attend the AGM of the Wildllife Trust of South & West Wales which was surprisingly well attended given the dreadful weather.

For the second time in a little over a week I was extremely impressed by hearing from Steve Sutcliffe about the herculean efforts of volunteers working on the infrastructure of Skokholm, so that visitors might once again visit that extraordinary island.  Visitors will again be welcome from May 2011.

This what the Wildlife Trusts are all about and such activity bonds people together and produces a great feeling of achievement.  To get the whole show on the road some effort is still needed as well as some more funds.  If you want to volunteer to help finish off the work or you can help in providing finances then email Steve at stevesutcliffe@lineone.net.  For example £1,000 would fit out a room for visitors.

It will be great to visit Skokholm again now safe in the ownership of WTSWW and experience the subtle differences from its neighbour Skomer.  Not to mention the wonderful seabirds and marine mammals.  Just writing this has cheered me up on a cold day.

Friday, 26 November 2010

More on Strange Great Tits

I have received some more photographs of the white and yellow Great Tit from France.  According to my friend Barry Stewart this bird may have plumage characteristics of a condition known as xanthochroism/xanthochromism which is generally associated with yellow dominating overall colours.

Also whilst at Minsmere on Thursday I photographed a Great Tit with an enormous growth on one side of its face.  The bird acted normally and looked lively eventually flying off.  Any ideas what it is or what caused it? It looked awful and I certainly would not like one.

Returned home to Wales this evening having battled through a dreadful blizzard.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Snow showers at Minsmere

Finally today made my pilgrimage to my old stamping ground at Minsmere.  Sunny but freezing cold.

Walked down to the shore via the central path.  The reserve is stunning with evidence of lots of management work making the site look better than ever.  Hoards of duck present the greater majority being Teal and Shoveler.  Distant gulls held at least two Caspian Gulls and a Yellow-legged Gull.

Reaching the shore we were able to see a flock of 26 Bewick's Swans standing still facing the bitter wind.  I was also please to see three of the Polish Konik horses grazing the reedbeds.  I was responsible for bringing the first of these hardy animals to the UK.

The day was spent with my dear friend David Hosking and we later bumped into other pals Steve Piotrowski, John Grant, Paul Gowen and Eric Patrick.

After a lunch at the Minsmere restaurant we fled for cover as the snow finally arived.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Arctic cold at Dunwich

A freezing northerly wind greeted us as we set off walking from Dunwich car park.  I have definitely got soft spending most of my time in Mid Wales and Southern France in recent years.  It was very hard going and we got nearly to Walberswick before we found the interesting bird flock.

Seven Shorelarks, 15 Snow Buntings and c40 Twite were quite approachable but once again poor light restricted photography.  Returning with the wind at our backs was a bit easier.  We noted Grey Plover, 3 Dunlin, 10 Redshanks, c50 Teal, 4 Little Egrets and a Green Woodpecker before reaching the warmth of the car.

We took a look from Dunwich cliffs and found a Great Crested Grebe and Red-throated Diver but it seems the King Eider that I was so keen to add to my Suffolk list had gone.

Oh well at least it did not rain.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Waxwings just!

I am in Suffolk for a few days visiting my brother & sister amongst other things but am staying with my kind friends the Barkers at Westhorpe.

Driving to Beccles this morning I was surprised to see 10 Bewick's Swans flying over the A143 near Earsham.

After domestic duties I managed to get into Lowestoft by 3pm in the hope of adding 2 more species to my 2010 Year List.  I found the 9 Waxwings at the junction of Harris Avenue and Yarmouth Road easily enough.  There were of course very tame but the light was dreadful and no photos of any note were achieved.  I then shot down to Ness Point in pursuit of Purple Sandpipers.  It was now almost dark by 3.30pm and a lone Turnstone stood looking thoroughly miserable on the rocks.  No signs of the sandpipers and then the heavens opened so I called it a day.

Goodness me this is worse weather than in Wales lately.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Natural Selection

It would be nice to think that natural selection would remove the absolute idiots from the human race.

I think the picture above is self explanatory - why would anyone think picking up a bear cub was anything but suicidal?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Wow! What is that?

We have a house in France in Lanquedoc and one of our neighbours there Jaap Lubbers has sent me some photographs of an extraordinary bird feeding on fatballs in their garden.

Looking at these closely the bird appears to be a Great or Blue Tit.  Great Tit is the only species which breeds in the area but Blues do appear in the winter.  It is hard to judge the size from the photographs.

Whatever it is it is in an interesting plumage.  I suppose it would be considereda partial albino.

Anyone got any other ideas?

I reckon it might be a Great Tit

Red Kites

A cold day today but a bit brighter.  I took a short walk up the lane by my house.  A pair of Willow Tits were calling in the hedgerows and a number of Redwings have come in during the last few days.

The most predictable bird though was a Red kite overhead.  I see these birds almost every day and I can never pass up the opportunity to admire these wonderful creatures.  It is not that long ago that there were less than a dozen pairs in Wales and that was that for the UK.  Reading my Welsh Kite Trust newsletter the other day I learnt that there are now at least 1,000 pairs in Wales and add these to the birds in the re-introduction areas there will soon be 2,500 pairs throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This must rank as one of the greatest conservation successes with a single species.  Coincidentally I met Peter Davis yesterday who astonishly is now in his 80's.  Peter together with Peter Walters Davies were the bedrock of Kite conservation in Wales for many years and set up the Welsh Kite Trust.  It must give them both a very warm feeling to see so many of those glorious birds today and all birders should be eternally grateful to them for their vision in doing so much for this bird when others stood by.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A Year Tick at the Pembs.Bird Conference

As I normally do at this time of the year I made my way down through Pembroke to attend the Pembrokeshire Bird Conference where I was one of the speakers.

I left home early and along with other Conference delegates called in at Castlemartin Corse close to the Conference venue to have a look at a Crane which had been there for a few days.

It is amazing today that we can see Cranes in the UK relatively easily.  There is the roost ritual at Stubbs Mill, Norfolk and now birds nesting in Yorkshire and Suffolk together with the recent reintroduction in Somerset.  It is still a rare bird in Wales and some of the observers today were seeing their first whilst others like me were happy to add it to their Year List.

Photo - a captive bird at Slimbridge

Friday, 19 November 2010

English Hen Harriers still in decline

What a disgrace it is to learn that this magnificent bird of prey is till declining due to the illegal activities of a number of wealthy landowners and their staff.  Despite the law and the difficulties in policing large tracts of grouse moor these people are raising the preverbial two fingers to the public, and wilfully disturbing these birds at the nest or worse still destroying the birds themselves.  Despite intensive research proving that correct management techniques can reduce the impact of predators on Red Grouse numbers these powerful people ignore the facts and carry on their medieval attitude.

It is so embarrassing when conservationists try elsewhere in the World to encourage the management and protection of globally threatened species.  How can we be taken seriously when this barbaric behaviour takes place in what we would consider a civilised country.

The Scottish Assembly is taking some very positive action against landowners who continue to persecute raptors and ignore the law and we might do well to follow their example in England. In Wales there does not seem to be a problem with Hen Harrier numbers stable.  Many of these English landowners take public money in the form of agri-environment payments but should these not be withdrawn whilst this persecution goes on?

Better still the prosecution of a high profile landowner might set an example to others.  With Natural England and the RSPB very active in the Northern moors why has nobody been caught?

It is true that a minority of grouse moor owners are working with bodies like the RSPB to show how raptors can be tolerated on such estates.  Unless something is done very quickly then Hen Harriers will once again be rendered extinct as a breeding species in England.

(photo by Ian Spence)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Rain, Rain and more Rain

It has been one of the wettest and worst days I can ever remember since our time in Wales.

I have done little today except write but I did find time to look out of the window and see a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders.  This is the first for a while here.

I hope for better weather tomorrow so we can get out.

The Goldfinches are still here too

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Getting Rid of the Family Silver

As a result of governmental cuts there has been a lot of talk recently about the future of the country agencies.  In Wales will the Countryside Council for Wales be merged with the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency?  Across the border Natural England is predicting an enormous reduction in staff and therefore activity.  One plus here is that agri-environment funds so critical for safeguarding wildlife on arable farms is likely to stay.

                                              Cors Caron National Nature Reserve

One issue which concerns me and I have to say other conservationists is the re-emerging of plans to "get rid" of National Nature Reserves.  Remember these are the jewels in the crown of sites in the United Kingdom.  I assume that those in charge think they can save a lot of money by offloading these sites on to others.  Who might these others be?  Well I assume the NGO's such as RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and Wildlfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Let us just examine that for a start.  I assume Government as part of their Big Society thinking assume that by handing over NNR's to NGO's fits perfectly into their policy.  For a start what makes them think that any NGO would be able to manage the sites cheaper?  The costs are likely to be the same although I suppose more volunteers will come on board.  Judging what I have been seeing over the years some of NGO's would certainly manage the sites better.

In times of recession NGO's income is threatened with some members having to give up because of personal difficulties and subsequent fund raising getting much harder.  For some it will be a huge challenge just to sustain what they already have.

The Government be it Westminster or in the devolved countries has a legal responsiblity to protect these sites so I wonder if the NGO's would serve us all better if they refused to take NNR's currently managed by the agencies on board.  This would mean that the agencies would have to allocate realistic resources to ensure their survival.  This is not the first time that this question has been raised and perhaps not the last.

Many NNR's are in private ownership and managed under lease or management agreement arrangements.  I cannot see NGO's being keen to have to take over those relationships either.  In some cases landowners are paid ridiculous sums of money "not to damage" sites.  In these cases it would make financial sense to compulsory purchase the sites for the benefit of the nation.

Whatever happens this is a serious matter.  Many wonderful sites that we may have taken for granted could be at risk.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

King Harrys in the Garden

I was bemoaning the lack of Siskins earlier and they still have not materialised despite many people telling me they have them as usual.  So at first light the pristine and virginal niger feeder full to the brim and still on its pole looked rather lonely as other species devoured everything else across the garden.

Just after lunch I got up to look out of the kitchen window and there on the niger not Siskins but 4 gorgeous Goldfinches.  This species is not common at all in our garden and 4 is probably the maximum numbers at any one time.  They are such bright birds and add some colour on a grey and misty day.

My Grandmother had a case of stuffed Goldfinches on her sideboard and as a small boy I was infatuated by these somewhat faded and pathetic images.  It was then when I asked what they were that my Grandmother responded with the Suffolk name "King Harrys".

I am still anxious for the arrival of Siskins but in the meantime the King Harrys have brightened our day.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Great Day by the Sea

A cold morning but bright so I decided to get up and go down to Ginst Point by the Hurst Hotel to look for the Cattle Egret reported yesterday.  No luck but enjoyed up to 3,000 Golden Plovers coming in to roost and bathe on a wet marsh.  They kept coming in small groups and their haunting calls added to the atmosphere.  There were a couple of Kestrels, c40 Curlews, a Snipe and c50 Fieldfares feeding on hawthorn berries.

After my picnic lunch I carried on through Pendine and set off for Telpyn Point.  The walk is getting tougher each year as I get older.  First down a wooded vally and then further down across two stiles and then a climb up to the top of the cliffs.  The problem with a sunny day here is the light is really in your face but as the afternoon prgresses it gets easier.  Common Scoter numbers were low at around 200 but scoping for an hour I also added 7 Great Crested Grebes, 10 Red-throated Divers, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers, 12 Kittiwakes, 20 Guillemots, 4 Shags and an adult Gannet.

The coastline of Carmarthenshire is dominated by shallow sandy areas of the Burry Inlet but the further west you travel then deeper water and high cliffs dominate.  Seabird records are quite scarce unless you do go west. 

After a great and sunny day I headed home in torrential rain and after supper entered all my sightings in Roving Records for the BTO Atlas.  Make sure that if you are out birding to do the same.  This is the last year and we need to make every effort to get the best coverage possible for the county.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Aren't some of our common birds great?

During my hunt around today I stopped to photograph two common species but which are also two declining species.

First of all was a small group of House Sparrows washing in a puddle at Burry Port.  Their antics were very amusing and found myself watching for at least twenty minutes,

Later on at Kidwelly I also photographed a 1st year Lapwing feeding on the muddy edge.  Just look at the plumage of this bird.  The good light shows the full colours and I just love the pale edges to the flight feathers a sure pointer to its age.  Lapwings are such a stunning bird and if a vagrant would surely attract really big crowds.  What a relief that it is still relatively common.

I remember when my pal Bob Abrams from the United States first came to the UK several years ago he was completely hooked on Lapwings.  His exclamation of pure joy when he first set eyes on one was impressive and made me realise how much we take for granted our commoner species.

I remember Bill Oddie saying to me once "If you want to apprecaiate a bird try a close female Mallard through your telescope and then marvel at the beautiful subtle browns of the plumage close-up".

It is certainly worth spending a little time with our common species because the way things are going some of them will be on a twitcher's list in less than 50 years.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Cricket, Tigers and Birds

What a dreadful day weatherwise today was.  I only ventured out to get logs for the woodburner.

I made my first trip to India earlier this year and now I am delighted to have been asked to head up a tour back there early next year.  This will be a tour encompassing two of my great loves wildlife and cricket.

The tour is being run by Indian Wildlife Tours and runs from February 21st to March 5th.  There will be ample time for birding and looking for mammals like Tigers as well as taking in the matches Australia v New Zealand in Nagpur and also India v England in Kolkata.

Towards the end of the trip we spend some time in the Sunderbans holding the largest number of Tigers in India.  This extensive wetland offers the very slight chance of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper with Asiatic Dowitcher and Great Knot a bit more likely.

If anyone is interested let me know or go to the website http://www.indianwildlifetours.co.uk/

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Twitcher debate goes on and on and on and on................

It seems like the recent TV programme has raised the debate on twitchers and twitching on every internet forum and blog you can find.  Some of the stuff is highly vitriolic and downright unnecessary and I will not get to that level but the whole subject is complex and worth some discussion.

The media seem to love calling anyone interested in birds a twitcher.  I know Bill Oddie resented being called Britain's most famous twitcher.  The truth is there is a bit of a twitcher in all of us.  I know I did a fair bit in the 1970's until I calculated how much money I was spending just to see an immature or winter plumage waif way off course, and often in unnatural habitat.  It was more cost effective to travel and see the birds in all plumages and where they should be. 

Indeed on bird watching trips the participants would not like to be labelled twitchers but it is noticeable that everyone wants to come home with the biggest species list possible.  Also I have met one or two ladies who have been thrilled to have a rare bird visiting their feeders.  The truth is we all like to see a new bird and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What is more troubling is the minority, a band of obsessive listers who care little for the bird, peoples' property or really anything at all except getting their quarry on their list.  I should add that nowadays some photographers are included in this minority.  Not content with their own lists they are constantly attacking other people's lists accusing them at best of stringing and at worst cheating or even being liars.  This highly competitive attitude is more akin to modern day Premiership soccer.  Some of the behaviour of this group is entirely unnacceptable and they should be taken to task by their peers as often as is necessary.

These people seem to be headed up by the notorious Lee Evans (pictured at the BirdFair) ) self appointed and self proclaimed Judge, Jury and Executioner and founder of the UK400 club.  I have known Lee for years - it is hard to believe he is now actually middle-aged.  I wouldn't say he is entirely harmless but he does not deserve some of the stuff that is written about him.  He is I believe deluded about where he sees himself in British birding. We do have two respected bodies in the British Ornithologists' Union and the British Birds Rarities Committee to sensibly adjudicate on the occurrence of rare birds.  Lee and his UK400 club are ostensibly surplus to requirements. They are entitled to exist though and are doing nothing illegal.

What is important is to ignore the fanatics and not feel some sort of stigma when being fortunate enough to find or be shown a rare bird.  They are the icing on the cake for all the effort to record birds which goes on all over the UK.  There are 12 million people apparently feeding birds in gardens in the UK and probably in excess of a million people interested enough to own optics, go out birding and join clubs and societies to further their knowledge.  Many of them will be the same people turning up to see a rare bird in their area. Surely that puts Lee and his band into perspective.

There is no better feeling than finding a rare bird. My last experience was finding a Laughing Gull and a Franklin's Gull within twenty minutes of each other in the Tywi valley close to my home.  The excitement was such that I forgot to go home for lunch. People who know me well will realise just how remarkable that was.

I can imagine the feeling of the observer who found the American Robin in Devon this week trembling inside and wanting to share the experience with others.  I can forgive them too if they live off the experience for months to come. I have been fortunate to see many American Robins including this year and I would not consider going so far to see one in the UK.  Many will make the trip I am sure but not all will misbehave and they will be far from the TV image of twitchers.

The fact is that twitching is irrelevant in the big picture as are many of the pathetic vagrants they chase all over the UK.  The more important issues are concerned with recording ALL birds and assisting where possible with their protection and conservation.  I suspect that many of the vociferous minority do not support the RSPB etc..

So we continue to do everything we can for birds and enjoy the rarities when they turn up. Remember the bird comes first as well as the reputation of all birders in the eyes of the public.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Yanks in the Bag!

Another beautiful day so I headed for Ynyslas north of Aberystwyth.  The place was a tick for me I am ashamed to say but I will certainly return to this windswept but beautiful place.

My quest today was two Surf Scoters which had been cleverly discovered by Russell Jones of the RSPB.  It was easy to find the "Scoter flocks" but a real devil to pick out the birds in question.  After much searching suddenly "Bingo!" there they were amongst a flock of feeding female Common Scoters distinguished by not having a clean whitish face.  When the sun shone brightly you could see the white spots on the face and a trace of white on the nape of the immature male.  Their bill and head shape was distinct from the Common Scoters. I failed to find the Velvet Scoter also seen recently but was happy to nail the Yanks. A couple of Red-throated Divers and 3 great Crested Grebes were also offshore.

There was a major distraction to Scoter watching though.  A lone Snow Bunting fed at our feet and soon Janet Baxter and Kev Joynes and his wife arrived and frenzied photography began.  Later I understand the bird was joined by at least 5 more.  What a joy these birds are and so confiding.  I never tire of watching these Arctic wanderers.

I took my lunch to the beach where the Dyfi flows into the sea.  Here you get fabulous views of the estuary and a chance of more birds.  With autumn passage now all but over I could only find about 50 Wigeon and a few Oystercatchers.

I made my way home via Devil's Bridge and Tregaron and then across the wild moorland to the Llyn Brianne dam.  I was rewarded with many Red Kites, a Kestrel and to my surprise 2 adults and 2 juvenile Whooper Swans on a small lake by the roadside.

Another good day with great birds and tremendous scenery.  I feel so fortunate to have been adopted by this wonderful country.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Nothing but Titmice

I went down to WWT National Wetland Centre in the vain hope of seeing the Yellow-browed Warbler which was located yesterday.  Extremely strong wind meant that passerines were keeping really low so I failed to find my quarry.  I did see a couple of Kingfishers and sizeable flocks of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal.

Walking around the wooded areas the most obvious species was Long-tailed Tits with at least two groups feeding high up in the trees. This species seems to have done very well this year with several large flocks seen on most days in the field.  I have also noticed large numbers of Great, Blue and Coal Tits.  Blues especially seem to have had a fantastic breeding season.  This morning I took time out to carefully count all the Blue Tits around my feeders and in the garden and managed a creditable 42.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Where have my Siskins gone?

A quiet day today.  I refilled all my feeders and spent a few minutes watching what was coming to feed.  Really good numbers of Blue Tits accompanied by plenty of Great and Coal Tits.  Also Marsh and Willow Tit still coming with Nuthatches, Chaffinches and a single Greenfinch.

The most noticeable absence from recent years is absolutely no Siskins.  A spanking new feeder full to the brim with niger seed is still untouched after almost a month.  I have heard a few Siskins go over but amazingly none have come to feed.  Has there been a disastrous breeding season?  Is there an abundance of natural food?  Where are they?

We have been privileged to get a minimum of 20 birds at a time feeding throughout the winter and often local breeders bringing their young to the feeders in late summer.

I do hope this is only a blip because these attractive birds have brought us so much pleasure and indeed our house sign includes a male Siskin on a rowan tree.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gorgeous Morning Walk

After a day indoors at a conference I woke to find the sun shining and so took a half an hour drive up to Mynydd Llanllwni a fairly big  area of open moorland backing on to the Brechfa Forest.  It was magnificent with perfect light and no wind.

You always expect to see raptors here and I was not disappointed.  The usual Buzzards were sitting on telegraph poles as I approached the moor and it was not long before I picked up a Red Kite being mobbed by a male Kestrel,  The latter is now a very scarce bird in Carmarthenshire away from the coast.  Ravens were very vocal and I soon counted 12 of these great crows and a flock of 30 Fieldfares flew "chucking" overhead.

After a fairly short walk in a very wet bog I moved on and as I parked the car by my next walk a juvenile female Merlin was sitting on a post quite close.  As I got out it soon disappeared across the heather.  Walking on again a flock of 6 Golden Plover flew over their fluty calls attracting my attention.  Soon the reason for their flight came into view.  A magnificent Peregrine beating its way high over the moorland.

A wonderful walk with some great birds all in just two hours.

Then it was back home in time to watch Cardiff City v Swansea City on TV.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Welsh Ornithological Society Conference

As Chairman of WOS I have spent the day at Carno, Powys helping to run our Annual Conference.  Today's theme was Wetlands Birds in Wales.  Almost 100 delegates turned up and we enjoyed a number of presentations on habitat creation and on some of the key species of wetlands in Wales.

The day was kicked off by WOS President Iolo Williams with a round up of key breeding successes in Wales in 2010.  The biggest shock of his piece was the announcement that a pair of Subalpine Warblers had built a nest on Bardsey Island. Iolo was unable to confirm whether they had nested successfully.  This would be amazing - two vagrants of opposite sex turning up in suitable habitat. What are the chances of that?

All in all another successful day and many new members for WOS.

Looking at Birdguides this evening I note that some Conference goers finished off the day well with Whooper Swans on the way home

Friday, 5 November 2010

Lidl trying to get off the bottom.

I occasionally sit on the panel of Home Planet BBC Radio 4's Environmental Question Time.  Last Tuesday I led the discussion on Waxwings and their irruptions to the UK.  This year is already looking to be very good with large numbers near Aberdeen and hordes further south on the east coast,  and some even reaching North Wales and Ireland.

Apart from suburban gardens I mentioned how supermarket and shopping centre car parks were often the best places to see these birds because of their love of cotoneaster and rowan berries.

I also referred to an amusing league table drawn up by my good friend Julian Hughes assessing which supermarket car parks were the most likely to be fruitful in a search for these wonderful birds.  It appears that Morrisons's is way out in front with giants Tesco and Sainsburys lagging behind.  Lidl was firmly planted at the bottom of the league suggesting little vegetation on their properties.

But do not give up hope you Lidl shoppers because thanks to Norfolk wildlife photographer Roger Tidman I have just heard of 100 Waxwings in a Lidl car park at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.  Maybe this will lift them off the bottom of the table.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Birds Britannia

Last week I was staying with author and BBC Natural History Producer Stephen Moss and he reminded me to tune in to BBC 4 this week and catch his new series Birds Britannia. This deals with the complex relationship between human beings and birds over time.

What a splendid and very different programme on birds. Looking back at the Victorians' attitude to birds was very interesting and what happened to the Dicky Bird Club?  It seemed to be thriving then encouraging and committing children to look after birds and provide them with food.  Remember there were not the specialist bird food producers in those days and it meant using left overs from their own meals.  I am keen to know what happened to this happy band.  Did they merge with RSPCA which was about then or just disappear?

The programme also revealed the extent of bird feeding today and how people begin to see the birds in their garden are "their property" and dangerously divide species into the ones they like,  - usually Robins, Tits & Blckbirds and those they do not - Sparrowhawks, Magpies and Starlings.

Other highlights of the programme included the reminder of what great books were produced years ago with special emphasis on the Robin, and David Lacks wonderful Life of a Robin just as relevant today as when he wrote it just before The Second World War.

A number of distinguished ornithologists and other academics contribute sound bites of great interest to link the contents together.

How refreshing to have a programme that does not treat all those interested in birds as "Twitchers" and deals with all the aspects that make us all so enthusiastic about all species.

I cannot wait for the next programme.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Wildlife friendly farmers

(Picture shows Brian & Patrick Barker with TV's Jimmy Doherty after receiving their FWAG Silver Lapwing award)

It was heart warming to hear my young friend Patrick Barker this morning on Farming Today.  He was explaining how the devotion of him and his family to farming alongside good habitats and valuable wildlife still achieved a profitable farm, but with all the biodiversity of the Suffolk countryside.  The key to this was the Higher Level Stewardship  scheme of DEFRA which gives support to activities to encourage wildlife on the farm.

Patrick has taken this a step further.  Together with his cousin Brian they have not only created and enhanced the wildlife habitats on the family farm but also monitored the progress.  Brian with his trusty camera and Patrick using his binoculars and getting involved with bird ringing.  Some birds considered really threatened in the farmed landscape have been helped back to sustainability such as the Yellowhammer.  The wild bird cover provided keeps the birds fed and sheltered particularly through the winter period when recruitment of young birds to the population is vital.

The population of Brown Hares on the property is also very impressive.

If we are to encourage farmers to look after our wildlife we need schemes like HLS and we need these to bring in much more land than at present.  What better way to encourage more farmers on board than to have one of their own in Patrick to recruit more to carry out the outstanding work of him and his family.


Working in the garden over the last few days My wife Beryl and I have been accompanied by a couple of Ravens.  Their incessant croaking and honking goes on all the time and we are curious as to what they are doing.  Occasionally they will fly around but most of the time they seem to be sitting in large trees.

At least once a day a Red Kite makes a flypast and then all hell lets loose .  The Ravens become agitated and will fly up and harass the Kite until it leaves the area.  May be the Ravens are setting up a territory already for next breeding season.  Although they do nest nearby we have never had them so close before and that would be nice.

Willow Tit coming to our feeders and just to make ID tricky also a Marsh Tit.  We have seen them both together but not for long.