Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cold enough for winter

Now the rain has stopped we manage to get out with a long walk in our minds after so much food and drink.


We begin at Kidwelly Quay but as soon as we leave the car we realise that the wind is bitter making it almost impossible to steady a scope and tripod.  Hearing that the Long-billed Dowitcher had been seen earlier I searched and searched the flocks of birds under the railway bridge. There were hordes of Redshanks and Teal and even 10 Greenshanks.  A large flock of Lapwings was on the saltmarsh but no sign of our American visitor.


We abandoned a walk on Cefn Sidan and instead went across to Ferryside hoping to catch a glimpse of the recently reported Avocet at Llansteffan.  No luck here either as dozens of dogs were rushing around the beach putting up birds everywhere.  Accompanying owners seemingly ignorant of the mayhem their animals were causing.  We headed home and had time to note 10 Whooper Swans amongst the Mutes at Cilsan Bridge but most of the latter were in the air having been flushed by a lady in red who was walking in the fields.  Not a good day for birds or birdwatchers.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Seasons Greetings

Caught in the Rain

The weather looked a bit like it might get out after a damp start.  I decided to go out anyway.  I stopped first at Cilsan Bridge in the Tywi Valley to check out the swan flock.  I was pleased to find 19 Whooper Swans but sadly with only two juveniles.  They obviously have not had a great breeding season.  The weather was still gloomy so depsite the flock being close no pictures were possible.

Whooper Swans at Cilsan Bridge on a previous occasion

I moved on to Kidwelly Quay and as usual there were hundreds of wildfowl and waders.  Large flocks of Teal were obvious and hundreds of Lapwings and Golden Plovers.  Smaller numbers of Redshanks and Curlew were also present but no sign of the Long-billed Dowitcher which was found again yesterday after going missing for a couple of  months.  Then the rain came with a vengeance.

Golden Plovers

I drove home but stopped briefly again by Cilsan Bridge.  The Whooper Swans were still there but now split into a flock of 15 on feild and 4 on another. Five Goosanders were on a piece of flooded grassland.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Wildlife Photography

Siskin in my Salem garden

I am often asked what gear I am using for taking photographs.  I am completely unsophisticated and merely use a Sigma SD14 camera and a Sigma 150-500mm F6.3 stabilised zoom lens.

Indian Black Ibis - photographed from a boat on the Chambal River, India

I have only taken photography seriously during the last 10 years or so.  Before that I was a fanatical bird ringer until I was struck down with dreadful back problems.  Two spinal operations followed and bending under a mist net was out of the question so that is when photography came in useful and began to occupy my time.  The stabilised lens is a huge benefit as I can avoid lugging a tripod around on most occasions.

Timber Wolf - photographed from inside the vehicle at Banff National Park, Canada

I know I could spend a lot of money on more sophisticated equipment but what I have is a nice compromise and allows me to take it with me all over The World.   Airlines are so restrictive on the weight and size of cabin baggage nowadays. 

Great Green Bush Cricket - photographed oin the terrace of my house in Southern France.

I am so glad that people like looking at my photographs -  it helps to be told they are OK otherwise it is all self judgemental.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Busy before Xmas

I have spent the last two days travelling up to London and amongst other thinks recorded the last ever BBC Radio 4 Home Planet.  The programme has run for 12 years but now the BBC has brought down the axe.  It seems a pity as it is pretty cheap to make and embraces so many members of the public sending in really stimulating questions. This programme goes out on January 3rd at 3pm.

Dunlin but not accompanied by a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

I called in at Blagdon Lake in Somerset today to try again to see the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper which has been lurking there all this week.  Guess what?  Yes it was not there - nor anywhere else it seems. Dipped yet again.  Lots of lovely wildfowl, Lapwings and a few Dunlin.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

This Government is now a serious threat to our wildlife

Over recent months I have been watching the Westminster Government very closely.  Three issues on which they have said much in that time give me great concern for our wildlife. 

Over 50% of our butterflypopulations have been lost in recent years

First of all their intention to relax planning laws which may see building on more green sites some of which have significant nature conservation value in a local context. There are still plenty of sites in towns and cities on which building can take place and indeed there are apparently plenty of sites already with planning consent waiting for building to commence.  This means once again Government would be better convincing bankers to make funds available to get this process started.  Even John Gummer (Lord Deben) has expressed concern at the Governments policy on this issue.

If  Planning laws are relaxed we could see more building on heathland on the edge of towns and cities.

Anyone who listened carefully to the Chancellor's autumn statement could not miss his promise that environmental and wildlife legislation would be reviewed.  What exactly he has in mind is anyone's guess.  I can imagine some traditional Tory landowners who consider nobody should affect what they do on their land being miffed at some of the current legislation.  Many of the designations on sites in the UK come under EU legislation and it is hoped they remain sacrosanct.  Most designations also allow for some flexibitiy (too much to my mind) and allow development if it can be proved to be in the "National Need".  It beggars belief that politicians think reducing the legal  protection on our best wildlife sites will assist growth to get us out of this dreadful situation that we have been put in by politicians and bankers.

Some of our major ecosystems could be under threat if wildlife designations are weakened.

Now today we here that Badger culling will take place in England despite the overwhelming scientific evidence aginst the effectiveness of such action.  This decision is entirely political and another sop to some of the supporters of the Tory majority in the coalition.  Thank goodness there is currently silence on the review carried out by the Welsh Assembly.

Badgers still not safe
So all in all this coalition which was going to be the Greenest Government is actually a serious threat for the future of our wildlife. I also have not even mentioned the unpunished persecution of Hen Harriers in Northern England or the continuing decline in farmland birds.  Some of us have worked for 40 years or more to get current legislation in place to protect our wildlfe.  The latter is not perfect and could be stronger.  It requires Government Agencies in some cases to bring prosecutions but it seldom happens.  These agencies have now been castrated by successive governments.

Hen Harriers being illegally exterminated in Northern England without any apparent Goverment action - photo by Ian Spence.

If we are to have any relevant wildlife in future it will be down to the NGO's like RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts to be much more vocal and active in enlightening the public what is going on.  To achieve this they will need much more support and everyone who cares should join one of these vocal organisations.  The NGO's mentioned have far bigger memberships than any political party so we should all be voicing our concerns direct to the Prime Minister.  Imagine if he received a 100,000 letters of concern even he might take some notice.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Dipping out again

As I was staying with my daughter in Cheltenham I took an early morning journey down to Chew Valley to try and see the long staying Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  Guess what?  It was not there.  I did see really well a Spotted Sandpiper a rarity from North America but it is a species I have seen many times before whereas the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper I have never seen anywhere.

Spotted Sandpiper photographed in Costa Rica

I did meet a few local birders who could not understand why the bird was not showing.  I tried looking at two recommended positions but still not there.  I did amuse myself trying to photograph a Grey Wagtail and watched a Water Rail hurry across a ditch.  Amongst the hundreds of Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Gadwall I did find a female Goosander.

My friendly Grey Wagtail

Just as I was packing up to leave a friendly birder informed me my target species had been a Blagdon Lake (just a couple of miles down the road) for most of the day but had just flown off.  Serves me right I suppose.  Some birds you are just not meant to see.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Brisk morning by the coast.

A hard frost greeted us this morning and I set off for the coast in temperatures well below freezing.  The sun was glorious so I made for Kidwelly Quay in the hope of finding the Water Rail again and improving my photographs.  The frost must have moved him on because there was no sign.  I did find a nice group of Reed Buntings and a single Linnet feeding on phragmites seeds.

Male Reed Bunting at Kidwelly still showing some breeding plumage

I moved off as it was really low tide and most species were way out.  I headed down to the beach at Cefn Sidan near Pembrey and walked out to the tide edge.  It was an amazing walk with the spectacle of several thousand Oystercatchers and smaller numbers of Sanderling and Dunlin feeding along the tideline as far as the eye could see in both directions.  On the sea itself there were at least 500 Common Scoters. The sensation of sheer space and isolation is hard to find in the UK today.


Exhausted but very stiumulated I headed for home but stopped off at Cilsan Bridge in the Tywi Valley to look for Whooper Swans.  I was not disappointed because there were 18 feeding amongst a much larger group of Mute Swans.

Whooper Swans
A great day made better by the Canaries beating the Magpies 4-2

Friday, 9 December 2011

Birding whilst Xmas Shopping

When do you go birding I am often asked?  I am always birding is my response.  The letter was certainly true as I loped around Carmarthen today dutifully carrying bags and agreeing to the purchase of items I assumed we did need.  There cannot be many towns in the UK where Red Kites hang over the town centre with its glitzy trimmings and canned carols.


Arriving back the car a pair of raucous Ravens chased each other just over my head for some precious morsel.  I do not call that bad when you are meant to be shopping.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Birthday Lunch

Today was cold and windy but bright sunshine.  We were taking a drive to Rhandirmwyn for  Beryl's birthday lunch at the Royal Oak.  In the bright light raptors were very obvious with Red Kites and Buzzards everywhere sailing on the wind.


We drove back across country to Pumsaint but few birds noted except for several flocks of Fieldfares feeding on roadside hawthorns where they still existed.  How sad the majority of farmers around here still do all their hedge trimming in the autumn thus destroying loads of food for wintering birds.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Wandering around the coast locally

I started at Penclacwydd but could not find too much except for a couple trying to convince themselves that Little Egrets were actually Great Whites.  I could not bring myself to point out that all their birds had black bills not yellow.

Water Rail

Had a look around Pembrey and did find quite a few Fieldfares on the local hedges.Moved on to Kidwelly Quay where half a dozen Red-breasted Mergansers caught my eye.  Finally I spent an hour by a dark ditch trying to get decent pictures of a confiding Water Rail.  Only when you look closely through a lens do you realise just how beautiful these birds are.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Big Society in Action

It is my turn to arrange a venue etc for the Welsh Ornitholigical Society's Annual Conference.  For 2012 it is planned to hold this event in Carmarthenshire so I found myself this morning heading for the Myddfai Community Hall and Visitor Centre.  The village is close to Llandovery.

The Auditorium

Many may have seen the BBC Programme where Myddfai people with support from specific professionals managed to raise funds and build this state of the art centre.  I went this morning with enthusiasm and I was not to be disappointed.  The welcome I received from the volunteers was so warm I felt I had known them all for years.

The Restaurant

The centre has an auditorium which can seat 200 theatre style,a modern sound system etc, a restaurant and a wonderful shop.  The latter is well stocked with craft products all contributed by local people.  We even bought eggs produced by a village lad and his chickens.

The Shop

I am now really excited about our Conference and cannot wait until next November.  This whole project is a huge credit to all who have contributed their time and expertise.  It is the very epitomy of community spirit and how it should work.  I hope everyone that can will support them to ensure they are there for ever.

The Big Society is alive and well in Myddfai!

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Sky is full of Kites

I visited friends for coffee in the village today and was struck by a couple of Red Kites coming really low and close searching for food.  This is not an unusual sight in our village any more.  Ten years ago when we first moved here you would see a Red Kite once a week now you have multiple sightings every day.

Red Kite

This was easy to understand after I read my latest edition of Boda Wennol the magazine of The Welsh Kite Trust.  In 2001 there were 285 pairs located in Wales and now there are estimated to be in excess of 1,000 pairs.  What a far cry from those desperate days in the 1960's when only a handful of pairs remained in remote valleys.  It is a credit to the Kite Committee and later the activities of the Welsh Kite Trust that the comeback has been so spectacular.  This National bird of Wales can now be seen in most of the Principality.

Red Kite country in Wales

The reintroductions elsewhere in the UK and Ireland have also been equally impressive and according to figures in the magazine there could now be over 2300 pairs nesting in the UK.  This surely represents the most successful reintroduction of a species in the UK.

Young Red Kite

The Welsh Kite Trust can no longer locate every nest and to some extent their job is done.  The organisation has such a marvellous leader in Tony Cross and a highly professional band of volunteers that losing their skills would be potentially catastrophic.  I am so delighted that they intend to continue their work but concentrating more on raptor species that need some help.  Peregrines, Merlins, Kestrels and Honey Buzzards will be the subject of future work.

Honey Buzzard - a small population in Wales

The organisation has existed largely on donations from the Friends of the Welsh Kite and it beholds all of us to accept the requested increase and continue our support for the future.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Woodland Walk

Back in Wales and enjoyed a wonderful walk in Taliaris Woods in fine weather.  Plenty of Crossbill activity although only 6 were seen but plenty of calling in the forest canopy.


Walked to the lake where a few Coot were present which suggests they may have bred again up here. The greatest moment was when a female Goshawk broke cover from the low sallows on the shore and quiettly disappeared into the forest.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Back to Lowestoft

On a beautiful day Patrick and I set off for Lowestoft with the news that Hume's Yellow-browed Warblers were still to be seen.  Eventually we found ourselves behind the Royal Falcon pub staring into scrub on the cliff side.  After a while we were lucky to see this tiny warbler flitting around ivy clumps on Sycamore trees.  A first in the UK for me.  I was also pleased to catch up with old friends Gerald Jobson, Andrew Gregory and Tim Brown son of my dear lat friend Brian.

We then grabbed some lunch and checked out Ness Point where there was still a Purple Sandpiper and plenty of Turnstones.  We moved on to Covehithe and walked down to Benacre Broad and sat in the hide.  Here there were hundreds of noisy Greylag Geese and about 70 Barnacle Geese.  Also 2 Spotted Redshanks amongst the numerous Lapwings.  Suddenly the Barnacle Geese took off and flew off returning a moment later with c20 White-fronted Geese  10 grey geese flying high over the sea later might have been the Tundra Bean Geese but we could not see their heads and bills.

Short-eared Owl taken on Skomer

By now Patrick was anxious to return home as his father David had phoned to say he seen a long-winged owl when he was checking the sheep.  We got back just before dusk in time to see a Short-eared Owl near the sheep paddocks a new bird for the farm.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

More memories of the past

Against my better judgement I was up at 5.45am this morning to accompany Patrick Barker and his friend Etienne on one of their early morning bird ringing sessions.  I used to be a very active ringer but advancing years and two spine operations have seen me turn to photography.  It was a good feeling to see a lovely dawn with mist and eventually sunshine. 

Etienne and Patrick processing the birds.

We caught about 50 birds mostly Greenfinches but also Linnets, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Wrens, Blue Tits and Dunnocks.  The best bird was a Treecreeper caught by a hedge some way from the nearest mature trees.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Old Times again

No visit to Suffolk would be complete without a visit to Minsmere.  This place has had so much influence on my life that I always enjoy strolling there remembering all the wonderful moments I have enjoyed there.  So today I met up with "The Thursday Club" which included old pals Steve Piotowski, John Grant and Eric Patrick and some new friends as well.

Bewick's Swans

We walked down to the beach by the central path hearing Cetti's Warblers and Bearded Tits on the way.  At the rear of the South Hide a wonderful group of 11 Bewick's Swans were feeding their bugling contact calls echoing over the water.  At the sluice there was a single Purple Sandpiper but we all retired to the East Hide to watch the gull roost.  With a lot of help from John Grant we managed to indenify 3 Caspian Gulls and 2 Yellow-legged Gulls before marching back in the gathering gloom

Bearded Tit

Another great day and I particularly loved to see the Polish konik horses grazing the marshes.  I felt really proud as I brought the first of this breed to the UK in the early 1990,s to assist with wetland management.

Polish koniks or tarpans

The day finished with me talking to the Southwold group of the Wildlife Trust on the Wildlife of Alberta, Canada.  The evening closed with refreshments including a series of muffins and cakes from recipes furnished by my good friend Susan Wallis and my granddaughters Tara and Holly.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Going East

I headed across to Lowestoft with hope of seeing a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler which I had never knowingly seen in the UK.  I had seen one or two in India.  First I went to Dip Farm one off two sites which had this species the previous day.  Well I drew a blank here and really saw nothing much.  I decided to try the second site which was behind Tesco's in London Road North.  Here I really fouled up - I could not find Tesco's.


Fed up I went down to Ness Point the most easterly point in the UK.  I had not seen a Purple Sandpiper this year and this is a renowned site for this bird.  On arrival I noted a few Turnstones but nothing else.  I took a short walk and located 4 Brent Geese and a Red-throated Diver flying south.

Purple Sandpiper

Arriving back where I started I now found 20 Turnstones and thankfully a single Purple Sandpiper.  The latter performed very well and I got some nice pictures.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

On the road


I am travelling at the moment having been in Kent today for an Elmney NNR Meeting.  Not much time for birding but last night we were out most of a very cold evening watching a film crew using the reserve to make a new feauture film of Great Expectations.  David Walliams was present looking very cold but my attention was taken up watching hordes of waders flying over and caught by the massive lights being used to reproduce a very effective moonlight.


Hordes of Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Snipe and Redshanks were all involved.

This evening I am at my good friends the Barkers in Suffolk and I hope to get out birding tomorrow.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Ducks in the Rain

The car was in for service at Kidwelly today so I hoped for a few hours birding.  Gale force winds and heavy rain forced me to stay around the Welsh Wetlands Centre.

Northern Pintail

Firstly I sat in the Heron Wing's Hide for an hour watching the large assembly of ducks.  There were around 70 Pintail, 40 Shoveler and 30 Gadwall.  Smaller numbers of Shelduck, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Tufted Duck were also present.  The heavy rain seemed to cause few problems for the birds roosting and feeding.

Black-tailed Godwits in the rain

In between showers I moved to the British Steel Hide where 150 Wigeon were whistling happily and feeding on muddy fringes of the scrape.  About 60 Lapwings plus a few Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks completed the scene. All that was left was for an ambitious Sparrowhawk to dash across the scrape and make an unsuccessful attempt to nail a Lapwing.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cranes in Norfolk

There are dozens of books on birds published every year but only a few add real value to the ornithological literature.  Such a book is The Norfolk Cranes' Story. This attractive volume chronicles the arrival of this enigmatic species in Broadland Norfolk almost forty years ago after a presumed absence of some 400 years.

Wild Eurasian Cranes

The birds landed up at Horsey and were so fortunate that they chose an estate owned and managed by John Buxton.  The next three decades of his life were spent protecting and nurturing these splendid birds until they became established as a regular breeding species.  Birders may take this species for granted when they watch them in their Norfolk haunts, but this book co -written by ex-RSPB staff member Chris Durdin describes all the heartache of chicks being lost to predators and to nature itself.  I particulary enjoyed the slight tension between John and the conservation bodies in the early days.

Eurasian Crane - captive breeding bird at Slimbridge

Their existance was kept a secret in the early years to prevent disturbance but rumours abounded including the nonsense that these pioneering Cranes were released from captivity.  If you are passionate about birds and other wildlife and their conservation you will enjoy this book.  The story of an eccentric landowner and his committment to ensuring the Cranes' survival is warming at a time when many conservation organisations have become so large and corporate that they are in danger of taking their eye off the ball.

Wintering Cranes in France

As well as a great story this volume serves well as a reference for anybody interested in Cranes.  This species is slowly spreading in Norfolk and elsewhere.  Ironic therefore that a reintroduction programme has begun in Somerset.  With the species increasing its population in Europe and more and more birds wintering in France surely more will arrive naturally and occupy suitable habitat in the UK.

To get a copy of this book go to

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Two Beige rarities in less than 24 hours

Just after dark last night I received messages that an Isabelline Wheatear had been found at Wernffrwd on Gower and so I prepared to leave in the morning.

Wernffrwd, Gower
This species was another that I had not seen in the UK but had met up with it in Europe and Asia.  The drive was less than an hour and the weather glorious.  A small group of birders were watching the bird on arrival so it was easy to get this one.  It did seem to be feeding around the droppings of horses and cattle which I presume were attracting lots of flies. 

Isabelline Wheatear feeding alongside horse droppings
A glorious bird again from the east which provided fantastic views for all. Also noted were a Brent Goose and a ring-tail Hen Harrier.

Isabelline Wheatear

On the way home around 1pm a dog Fox ran across the road in front of the car.