Wednesday, 30 May 2012

People Power rescues Buzzards

Great news today that Ministers have decided to abandon plans to carry out research into controlling Buzzards on shooting estates by catching and removing them or by destroying nests.  The public outcry was such that the plans have been shelved hopefully for good.

Common Buzzard

Many congratulations to all who signed a petition or wrote to their MPs because your action has helped to make this happen.  We have to stay vigilant now because there will be more threats to our wildlife from this Government for sure.

Monday, 28 May 2012

RSPB Dinas - A Welsh Jewel


My neighbour Ben West and I decided to go to the RSPB Dinas reserve a half hours drive north of home.  This is a great time to visit this wonderful woodland hanging on a large rock and surrounded by fast flowing streams and great crags.  Arriving we wandered along the boardwalk and soon found a pair of Pied Flycatchers using one of the many nest boxes.  A splendid cock Redstart was also behaving as if it had a nest nearby. We stayed a while and then moved on down towards the river.

Pied Flycatcher at nest box

Grey Wagtails were calling and a Dipper flew past heading upriver.  Blackcaps, Garden and Willow Warblers provided a superb chorus and the scent of bluebells was heavenly.  Concentrating hard we could soon pick out Wood Warblers adding their trilling song to the symphony.  More Redstarts were also singing.  We moved back to the car park and stopped a while to watch an adult Dipper feeding a juvenile by a small bridge.

Adult Dipper

Juvenile Dipper
Moving on we left the reserve and crossed the river walking along the small road which leads to a farm.  Tree Pipits were singing from the wires and more Redstarts from woods on the left. Two species which are in decline in the area cheered me up no end.  First a beautiful male Yellowhammer on the road and then a singing male Whinchat from a small tree on a bare hillside.  We added Wheatear and Stonechat as well as more Wood Warblers and Grey Wagtails. 


Tree Pipit
As we walked back a Red Kite and a Buzzard sparred overhead and we reflected what a great morning it had been in near Mediterranean weather.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Glorious Skomer with Friends

Dale Princess

Up at 6am and 2 Crossbills flying over my house before heading off to Skomer with my dear friend Javier Hidalgo and his friends Penny Williamson and Keith and Paulette Murray.  As well as being one of the World's top sherry makers Javier is a superb ornithologist and conservationist particularly in his native Spain.  This was to be his first visit to the island.

The Wick

Arriving at Martin's Haven Choughs were very noisy and an amazing flock of 26 flew overhead as we got ready to board the Dale Princess.  I also bumped into a group of birders from Essex which included old pals Annetta Adams and Steve Grimwade of Swallow Birding.  It was so nice to see them again.  We set off full of anticipation as usual.


Arriving at the jetty the immediate spectacle of hundreds of Puffins stirred the system significantly.  We lugged luggage up to the tractor and walked on to the farm.  More Choughs were very vocal and noisy Oystercatchers chased off predatory gulls.  My friends were staying the night to hopefully witness the spectacular sight of thousand of Manx Shearwaters coming ashore after dark so they had to get there rooms sorted before we could walk.  We made for the Wick where more great Puffin views can be had.  The wind was very strong here but we could enjoy a few Puffins some already coming in with beakfuls of sand eels for their newly hatched young.

Puffin with sand eels
At the Wick we could also observe great rows of Guillemots with Kittiwakes just above them and higher up the cliff nests of Fulmars.  Ravens patrolled the very tops.  We moved on toward Skomer Point and it was Javier who suddenly called Honey Buzzard.  Sure enough there was one of these rare raptors coming in from the west being mobbed by Lesser Black-backed Gulls and we could all confirm its ID before it slipped away under a ridge.  Feeling very satisfied we headed back to the farm for lunch and a glass or two of sherry of course.

Another Puffin with sand eels

I was leaving on the 3pm boat so we all walked back down to the landing stage and spent time watching very tame Razorbills and more Puffins carrying sand eels.

Another superb day of Skomer concluded with a welcome cup of coffee with Annette, Steve and friends at the Clock House.  If you have never been to Skomer go soon before the Puffins leave in mid July.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Has the World gone Mad?

I awoke this morning to the alarming news that DEFRA is to fund research on removing Buzzards nests and indeed the birds themselves from large shooting estates.  No it was not a dream this is real.  Let us interfere and remove a beautiful native species which is currently doing very well so a few well heeled individuals can try and shoot 40 million of an introduced species purely for "sport". I once lived close to a pheasant release pen and every year when they were released dozens were killed by passing traffic. This loss is far more than to raptors.

Common Buzzard

Has Cameron lost the plot?  Does he really feel he is in touch?  More likely he is pandering to his lords and masters.  At a time when the country needs to pull together his government decides to spend £375k on this mindless piece of work. 

Common Buzzard

If you feel like I do then please write to your MP at once extolling your opinion and let us see this ridiculous notion dumped like the forest sell-off.

Buzzard chick in nest
 Where will this end?  Red Kites, Marsh Harriers, Tawny Owls etc!  Government has already allowed the Hen Harrier to face extinction as a breeding species in England largely through inertia and allowing persecution to go unpunished.  If the shooting fraternity feel this research is vital then why are they not paying for it?

Common Buzzard
 I am willing to admit I voted for this lot and the best I can expect is that this "project" is a time wasting exercise that will go on for years and then get forgotten.  My hopes are not high.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Courser and Forest Cameo

Birders at Bradnor Hill - the Courser was still in view on the ground as I took this picture.  As I walked towards them it took flight.

I have been looking at the stunning images of the Cream-coloured Courser at Bradnor Hill in Hereford and knowing I had to go and liaise with a friend in the Forest of Dean decided to go for the bird first.  We found the very attractive if demanding golf course quite easily and arrived at 11.20am.  Right away we noted a male Yellowhammer singing from a nearby tree not something we see often since moving west.  All the faces coming down the hill were grinning so we remained confident and set off.  Kindly golf course staff pointed us in the right direction and warned us to watch out for stray golf balls.  We soon saw the assembled horde with lenses pointed west.  We had to give way to two golfers but finally made it across the fairway.  Suddenly all bins went up and I picked up a beige bird with black wing tips flying up, circling higher then rapidly disappear to the west.  It was great to catch a glimpse but sadly I would be adding no new pictures to any gallery.  I was glad I had seen this species many times before. What was difficult was the walk back meeting expectant faces that found the news hard to take.  That's birding I guess.  A final tribute to the wonderfully friendly and helpful golf course staff and to the golfers for being so positive.

Mandarin at Cannop Ponds

We then headed down via Hereford and Symonds Yat to meet my good friend and neighbour in France Ken Phelps.  He had driven back to UK and handed over 5 boxes of wine which he had transported for us.  We just had time for a stop in the Forest of Dean before heading home.  Cannop Ponds is a favourite venue and I got the chance to photograph one of three spectacular drake Mandarins swimming on the ponds whilst their females sat on eggs in a hole in some tree.  A pair of Mute Swans had three very small cygnets and Beryl's eagle eyes picked out 3 Red Kites high up in the clouds.  Are they nesting here?

Wild Boar in the bluebells

Finally as we left a shape caught my eye in the woods and reversing carefully I discovered a Wild Boar feeding amongst some bluebells.  The animal was quite approachable and I managed a couple of shots.  My first ever Wild Boar in the UK and obviously the first I have photographed here.  What a wonderful hour in this great site.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Glorious Day

I took a quick look round this afternoon in warm sunshine.  Silage cutting was leading to some good numbers of Red Kites hunting overhead near Cilsan Bridge.  At Mynydd Figyn a lone Tree Pipit sat on overhead wires but I was particularly pleased to find a calling Cuckoo as well.  I have found 3 in Wales this year but did not hear or see one at all in 2011.

Red Kite

I spent an hour in a neighbours wood just south of Taliaris.  The birdsong was glorious with Blackcaps being the most numerous.  A single Garden Warbler was also present as well as Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers.  Around the pond there was a pair of Spotted Flycatchers and 6 Crossbills flew over.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Back in my Old Haunts

Black-headed Gull
Yesterday I spent almost the whole day at the RSPB reserve at Minsmere in my home county of Suffolk.  There have recently been some significant developments on the reserve and I had been hearing some negative comments about what was going on so i decided to look for myself.  The shop and reception area and restaurant have been extended to cope with the large number of visitors visiting the site.  With the exception of an extraordinary photo of a woman's backside on the volunteer display nothing struck me as unusual.  The Children's Discovery area is spectacular and essential to introduce our youngsters to the wonders of nature   Then thing that also struck me was the enormous sluice on the north wall.  As a volunteer in the 1960's I helped put in the original sluices known as "the Twopenny" and the "Threepenny" based on their cost and the latest mechanism looks far more efficient.  The new Island Mere hide is fantastic and ensures that more people can see what is going on.  My only criticism was of the people inside who talked too loud generally made too much noise but the structure is superb in every way.

The new Island Mere hide
 I was with my brother-in-law Trevor and he has a basic interest in birds and both of us were not to be disappointed by our visit.  On leaving the Centre we could see  Stone Curlew on the Brecky fields from the north wall something I have not seen here for a number of years.  We moved down to the beach to the chorus of Cetti's Warblers and Reed Warblers and when reaching the sea noisy Common and Little Terns.  Looking from the East Scrape hide we picked out Sandwich Terns, Common Sandpiper and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. Shovelers, Gadwall and and several Avocets were also visible the latter one of the special birds of Minsmere.  All of this in a colony of  hundreds of Black-headed Gulls.

Avocet at Minsmere
 We carried on  eventually moving up the Central Path.  We bumped into several old friends.  Volunteers John Grant, Phil Parker and Derek Eaton as well as Wildlife Artist Peter Partington.  We stopped a while to look at the Konik horses grazing the reedbeds.  This is a breed I introduced into the UK from Poland as a management tool for wetlands.  The RSPB are now using these hardy animals on several reserves.

Konik horses at Minsmere
After a pleasant lunch we then walked to the new Island Mere hide.  My first impression was how light and roomy the structure is and how its shape gives viewing opportunities for far more people.  Immediately we could see four Hobbies hunting for flying insects and a number of Marsh Harriers quartering the reeds.

Male Marsh Harrier
A cuckoo was calling in the distance and very soon the call went up for Bittern.  We moved into position and could see a Bittern creeping through the reeds.  To our astonishment it suddenly moved into the open and stood up posing for some seconds before flying off across the reeds.

Bittern posing
 Bitterns are not an everyday sight and such close views left all "oohing" and "aahing" and checking their cameras.  If this was not enough suddenly a stunning male Bearded Tit clung to a stem right by the hide inducing more whirring of motor-drives.

Male Bearded Tit
"Is it always like this?" asked Trevor.  Well it can be and rarely disappoints.  I had a most enjoyable visit and the new developments enhance my experience rather than creating anything negative.  I was fortunate to be part of the volunteer team that created this fabulous place.  It is a very different place today but nothing stands still and Minsmere has to adjust to the demands of the 21st century and does so very well without harming the very thing that so many come to enjoy

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Lords for a Day

Lords Cricket Ground

Today I took time out to follow my other great passion by visiting Lords for the first day of the First Test Match against the West Indies.  It was a great day with Stuart Broad taking six wickets.  My bird list from the St.John's Wood ground was Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, Mallard, Herring Gull, Canada Goose, Cormorant and Swift.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Knettleshall Heath

Today together with one of my hosts Patrick Barker and friend David Tomlinson I visited Knettleshall Heath the latest acquisition of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.  It is a well known site having been managed for years as a country park by the Suffolk County Council.  The site came up for sale and SWT acted quickly to secure it for the County.

Knettleshall Heath

There is a large amount of heathland and mixed woodland and borders the Little Ouse river. SWT have immediately introduced a herd of Dartmoor ponies and another of the threatened Exmoor ponies to help with the management.  You can see that there is much to do to improve this marvellous place for wildlife and people.

Exmoor pony
  During our walk watched in awe at a large flock of Swifts and House Martins hurrying north and listened to Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler and Blackcap.  We discovered a pair of Stonechats with the female carrying food a sure sign of nesting and watched a Buzzard and Sparrowhawk soar overhead.

Male Stonechat

On the way back David took us to a field where we were able to watch a Stone Curlew perhaps my favourite Suffolk bird.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Before Breakfast at Elmley

Steve and I were our just after 7am - the weather at that time was superb.  First we stopped so I could photograph one of the many Brown Hares on the property and then some obliging Stock Doves.

Brown Hare
Stock Dove
Moving on we drove across a meadow with 6 wonderful adult Mediterranean Gulls and went looking for Short-eared Owls.  We did have one bird hunting but too distant to get any more photographs.

Adult Mediterranean Gull
Stopping off to get breakfast we just had time to catch a glimpse of a Grey Partridge.

Grey Partridge

Elmley is a fabulous National Nature Reserve with more breeding waders than most other sites in the UK.  Most of the birds found are declining species elsewhere and have been affected by modern farming. It is therefore heartening that this splendid effort is down to the vision and enthusiasm of farmer and landowner Philip Merricks.

Goose-stepping Lapwing chick

Tomorrow I visit a new Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Down in Kent

I drove through the day down to Kent for the Management Committee Meeting of Elmley National Nature Reserve.  Entering the reserve is a bizarre experience.  One minute hurtling along in very busy motorway traffic and then turning off into a green and pleasant land.  Very green and wet with huge open skies.  Immediately there were Brown Hares everywhere and Lapwings and Redshanks all over the place with the former already with large chicks.

A damp Short-eared Owl

After a cup of coffee I was taken by Steve Gordon to see the Swale NNR which almost adjoins Elmley.  We saw lots more nesting waders and a group of 12 Avocets, quite a few Marsh Harriers but best of all a rather damp Short-eared Owl sitting obligingly on a post.  We must get up early tomorrow before our meeting to enjoy more of the spectacular wildlife of this place.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Wild Dotterel Chase

Meadow Pipit

This morning Julian Friese and I set off to walk up to Tair Carn Isaf a hill of nearly 500 metres and one of the regular places for seeing Dotterel on migration.  Sadly we failed to see those gorgeous birds on this occasion but the walk was exhilarating to say the least.  Bright sunshine made the task a little easier and we did note at least 20 Skylarks and 10 Meadow Pipits holding territory.  We also discovered 4 pairs of Wheatears, a Red Kite, Raven and a passing Swift.

One of our Wheatears carrying food.
We moved down after about three hours and moving through Palycwrt we encountered 2 Redstarts, one of which was in full song and also heard a Cuckoo.  Heading further on we stopped by a beautiful wood to hear a Wood Warbler singing  and a Dipper flying along the stream before we moved on to a series of clearfells at Cennen Tower.  A Grasshopper Warbler sang in the distance and we also picked up Garden Warbler and a Common Whitethroat.

Common Redstart

Crossing the Tywi Valley we stopped to listen to a couple of sedge warblers before heading home pretty tired out.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Back in Wales

Predictably the weather here has been awful until today when sunny periods attracted me to Taliaris Woods. There were plenty of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and a single Wood Warbler uttering its trill and "lu-lu" song.  A party of 12 Crossbills also flew over maybe the results of breeding behaviour seen here earlier in the year.  Tomorrow Julian Friese and myself are going looking for Spring Dotterels on local hills.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Oh I forgot!

Narrow-leaved Helleborine

When I went out this evening I spent a few moments appreciating the local flora.  We have seen great stands of French Lavender recently and swards of beautiful Cistus but this evening I was so impressed with dozens of the pristine white Narrow-leaved Helleborines.

Me of Little Faith etc.

Giant Peacock Moth

The last couple of nights has seen constant banging on the lounge shutters caused by the enormous Giant Peacock Moths attracted by our outside lights. First thing this morning I heard the soporific purring of Turtle Doves for the first time this Spring.

Turtle Dove

Today did not give much time to devote to wildlife as it was our French Community "repas de quartier".  We all sit down to lunch in our little road which is very enjoyable.  We were, not just French but British, Polish, American, Dutch and Irish.  We dined to the constant singing of Nightingales and Corn Buntings.

Red-rumped Swallow

When we had departed homewards I noticed a male Woodchat Shrike in my garden so decided to go out as maybe more migrants had arrived.  At first things were very slow except for a Raven and another Woodchat Shrike.  Coming back to Minerve just after 7pm I noticed lots of birds feeding over the town.  Most were Swifts and House Martins but there performing exceptional aerobatics were at least 20 Alpine Swifts but to my utter delight 2 Red-rumped Swallows.  Well it is back to Wales tomorrow and I shall miss the rest of the migration here.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Visiting Friends

Today we made a belated visit to friends Paul & Jan in Pouzolles just north of Beziers.  On arrival Paul and I explored his local patch.  First we checked out some agricultural washing lagoons.  These plastic lined square and fenced off pools do not look great places for birds but as Paul promised there 4 pairs of Black-winged Stilts with the same number of nests all containing eggs.  Three Little Ringed Plovers were also present but no sign of a nest.  We checked out two similar lagoons which by the smell contained sewerage.  Here there were over 20 Shelducks loafing around with a Common Sandpiper nearby.  We stood on a bridge over a small river and I achieved my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year as a Golden Oriole sang overhead.

Black-winged Stilt incubating on a nest situated in a very grotty plastic lined lagoon.
Driving down a small lane a bird caught our attention hawking for insects.  When it settled we could identify a fine female Red-backed Shrike.  We passed a few Rock Sparrows on overhead wires and visited a wonderful scrub covered hill with tremendous views.  We also had time to photograph a pair of Red-legged Partridges of which one had a strange circular ring on its left leg.  Maybe it is a released bird for shooting?

Red-legged Partridges - note the ring on the left leg of the right hand bird.
After lunch we visited a reservoir where there is normally a good population of Red-rumped Swallows. No sign!  What has happened to our birds here?  There are more in the UK than we can find here.  One Crag Martin was present at the dam but the only other birds of note here were a couple of Woodchat Shrikes. Heading back to Pouzolles we had good views of a Booted Eagle before Paul's car ground to a halt.  Luckily a good Samaritan picked us up and delivered us to Paul and Jan's house so they could summon the breakdown service.

Male Woodchat Shrike - one of 2 seen this afternoon

On our way home we searched Minerve again for Red-rumped Swallows but no luck again.  We did find a super male Red-backed Shrike.