Thursday, 17 December 2015

Fracking idiots

Yesterday the Bullingdon club and associates (parliament) voted through a change in legislation to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to take place underneath our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty. This vote is happened though a governmental back door that allows it to happen without having to have a debate in the Commons.

It allows the construction of fracking wells on the border of our National Parks and AONBs. These wells are the size of a cricket pitch and will be able do drill under our Parks and ...AONBs.
A typical fracking well will use around 300,000 gallons of water a day. All this water must be delivered by lorry, and waste water taken away.

If a lorry holds 10,000 gallons of water then each well will require 60 lorry visits per day, 24/7.
All this is happening on the borders of our National Parks and AONBs, whilst they drill underneath. Fracking stations run 24 hours a day.

Environmentally fracking is a complete and total disaster. The amount of gas we will get from it is even unlikely to drive the price down as it is a relatively modest amount compared to the scale of the gas market. Add to this the fact that UK taxpayers will have pay to clean up any pollution caused by fracking if the companies go bankrupt, after a proposal to make UK operators take out insurance against such damage was ruled out by the government

Rob Cunningham, head of water policy at the RSPB, said: "The prime minister promised one of the most stringent regulatory regimes for fracking in the world but his government appears more interested in tax cuts than managing risk. It really doesn't matter if you are pro or anti fracking, this proposal would simply ensure that when things do go wrong shareholders, not taxpayers bear the cost for cleanup if companies go bust or cease trading. If government's response boils down to concerns over cost of insurance it sheds an interesting light on just how safe they really think the technology is."

Why are we allowing this to happen? Is this the legacy you want to leave to your children or grandchildren? 1000s of fracking wells with 10s of 1000s of lorries driving around our countryside 24/7.

As the government reduces spending on renewables to the lowest levels for years and announces it is "kick starting" the fracking industry the future looks very bleak indeed, and this from 'the greenest government ever? Liz Truss and David Cameron are the most dangerously misguided and greedy pair this country has seen in many years. In a time when we are meant to be moving forward and getting away from fossil fuels, this seems the most ludicrous backwards step yet!

Lisa Nandy - Labour energy spokesperson

"We should have a moratorium on fracking in Britain until we can be sure it is safe and won’t present intolerable risks to our environment. Neither MPs or the public have received these assurances yet Ministers are ignoring people’s legitimate concerns and imposing fracking on communities.”

“It is frankly shabby of the Government to sneak through these weak fracking rules without any proper Parliamentary debate. Ministers had previously conceded that there should be the tougher safeguards that Labour has been calling for to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like National Parks. Now they’ve abandoned those promises'

Caroline Lucas - Green Party MP

“Government successfully sneak through (without debate) change to allow fracking under protected areas. Real shame 298 MPs voted for it.”

Ben Bradshaw - Labours former environment minister

“Majority cut to 37 as Tories push through fracking in National Parks with no debate, breaking promise & treating Commons with contempt”

National Trust

“The Trust stands by its call for the Government to rule out fracking in the most sensitive areas – protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and national parks – and make them frack-free zones. There is a need to ensure that regulations offer sufficient protection to our treasured natural and historic environment.”
“There is an urgent need for more evidence about the impact of fracking on the hydrology, ecology and geology of landscapes. This is needed for informed decision-making about any future for fracking in the UK.”

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Year in review

As we speed endlessly towards 2016, I once again find myself reminiscing on the past year.... this year has been an absolute rollercoaster ride and one that in many ways im glad to see the back of! That's not to say this year has been all negative, just insanely busy and stressful.

As many of my regular readers will have noticed, I have been very quiet on the blog front, this has been due to the fact I have had to miss an entire season of ringing and birding, for a very good reason I might add. I have been incredibly lucky to become a father for the second time, my baby girl, Isabelle, was born in September and was a healthy 9lb3oz, only 6 oz. lighter than her bruiser of a brother when he was born. Unfortunately my wife, Kay, was very ill in the lead up the birth which required (rightly so) my presence at home.

I did still manage a little birding, often taking my son Bradley with me in order to give Kay some time to rest. In doing so I added a few of lifers to my list including Pectoral Sandpiper, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Terek Sandpiper, I also caught up with a couple of rarer birds that are always nice to see, including Great Grey Shrike, Grey Phalarope, Great White, Egret Black, Winged Stilt among others. I have cherished this time with him and its been lovely to see his interest in natural things starting to develop.

I am incredibly fulfilled with my amazing family and want to first say a massive well done to my wife.... what a trooper and proving once again the fairer sex is indeed women. I know for a fact I could not have done what she has this year. Secondly I want to say how unimaginably proud I am of my son Bradley. In the last 3 months he has had to deal with a change of epic proportions to his little life, and he has handled it admirably and much better than many adults could have done! Last but not least I want to say welcome to the world to my Daughter Isabelle, you have completed our family and in the best way possible.

And now onto the apologies section for there are invariably quite a few. I am sorry to all my friends, who, unfortunately, have been sidelined for a large proportion of this year while I looked after my domestic interests. Apologies are also due to Duncan, Trevor and Barry for my missing a massive chunk of this year ringing and frankly going off radar for most of the time, these guys work tirelessly with us trainees and without guys like this, the knowledge we gain from their data would not be possible.

Looking forward to 2016 now and I am planning a big year birding, I will, with Duncan and Trevors permission be ringing once more and am aiming for my C permit. I am also birding in Southern Portugal, my first proper venture abroad looking for birds. The Ria Formosa is supposed to be a great destination for Waders as well as Passerines. Now that my whole family are able to travel and walk about I will be dragging them on some 'twitches'. This year I am going to focus on Hampshire, with the occasional foray out if its something I particularly want to see.

So for now friends........ Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy Birding from mine to yours!


Wednesday, 19 August 2015


As many would have noticed, I have been AWOL for a few weeks now. Home life is getting very busy at present, baby due in a few weeks and all the necessary build up for that, but on top of that I am moving house. Some timing I hear you cry!!!

I have not been entirely preoccupied with with all of this however, I have found a little time to sneak away to do some Birding and associated wildlife exploration.
07/08/2015: I made the reckless decision to drive to Falmouth and back from Portsmouth in a single day and partake in a 7 hr wildlife cruise with the, frankly amazing Captain Keith of AK Wildlife Cruises. Two days before the cruise the Captain had called me to confirm he would be doing the 7 hour not the four hour and as I had totally forgotten that I had booked the trip at the time I fear I was a little rude on the phone owing to the fact I thought someone was trying to sell me something. Alas the Captain did not seem perturbed by this and so it was at 0900 on the day I met Keith and the other patrons at the gate to Falmouth Premier Marina with eager anticipation as to what the day might bring.

Before even leaving the Carrick Roads we were adding Shag, Peregrine, Fulmar, a plethora of Gulls and Grey Seal. As we emerged into the Channel our first glimpse of Harbour Porpoise were had. Great start! We were soon into Gannets, Manx Shearwater, more Fulmars, Storm Petrels, Bonxies as well as more Gulls. All the time scanning for Cetaceans. We were joined at around mid day by a playful 30 animal pod of Common Dolphin, bow riding and jumping around the boat. After an invitation from the Captain a few of us made our way right up to the bow rail and watched the Dolphins inches from our feet as they danced and weaved around us. 
Afternoon had us watching more Manxies and I was taken aback by the sheer number of birds passing through. Another very close fly past from a Storm Petrel allowed me to appreciate quite how diminutive this Pelagic master is, for those that don't know, its about the size of a House Martin. The Captain then cut the engines quite suddenly while calling for a fin off the Starboard bow, the fin turned out to belong to an Ocean Sunfish or to use its awesome scientific name mola mola. A frankly bizarre looking, deep water, sub tropical fish that comes to UK waters for around 3 months to enjoy the warmer waters and parasite eradication service provided by Gulls. The Sunfish is essential a dinner-plate shape with two enormous stiff fins parallel to one and other on the top and bottom of its body. These fish can grow up to 6ft and 1000kg in weight! They are the heaviest bony fish in the world, although the ones spotted off Cornwall are usually a lot smaller. These individuals, although large for Cornwall, were about 30cm across without their fins. 

On the way back to the marina we saw large feeding aggregations of Shearwaters leading the Captain to speculate that there could be a Minke Whale feeding in the area, as the timings were right and Shearwaters and Minke's feed on the same thing. We did find another Sunfish and more Harbour Porpoise but no Whale this time. There were good numbers of Bonxies moving through as well as Gannets, Fulmars and Gulls. Rissos Dolphin had been spotted the day before but were not evident this trip.

I had a truly awesome day out with the Captain and cannot offer enough thanks to AK Wildlife Cruises. If you are ever in Cornwall on holiday or just fancy a day out I implore you to link up with Keith, he is the nicest bloke I think I have ever met and is fiercely passionate about what he does.
Grey Seal
Common Dolphin

Ocean Sunfish 

Manx Shearwaters

Gannet (central) surrounded by Manx Shearwaters


Friday, 24 July 2015

Citizen Science... Your Nature needs you!

With the EU having a public consultation on the Habitat, Birds and Natura 2000 directives with a view to 'watering down' some of its powers, the UK's wildlife and wild spaces need support like never before.(have your say here link takes you to Birdlife Internationals campaign page!). In these times of relentless development, insatiable human greed and pressure for constant economic growth, it is all too easy to ask 'what can I do about it?'.

Citizen Science....... Citizen science is defined as 'scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions' - Oxford English Dictionary 2014

The problem with citizen science as it stands, is peoples attitude towards it. They either believe its is reserved for the anorak wearing bearded man or that they need special interests in the subject to take part. This is simply not true, you don't have to meet these stereotypes to be able to help out. Many of the projects out there could not only help us better understand the marches of climate change, or declines in species or even the impact we have on certain species but are also amazing fun to take part in.

Project Splatter, is a research effort to quantify and map wildlife roadkill across the UK. The kids will LOVE this! This is something that families can do on long road trips. incetivise the kids to call out what they see, you record it down and submit it..... beats a game of eye-spy or listening to Dads music all the way and takes the kids minds off the mind crippling boredom of the M25.

Big Butterfly Count championed by none other than Sir David Attenborough, requires you to sit in a sunny spot and record what you see. Don't know your Meadow Brown from your Small Tortoiseshell? Never fear, they have even produced a colourful ID Guide to help you out. The also have some great ideas for getting the family involved here. Picnics, Play Dates, BBQs your choice!

Natures Calendar is something Springwatch viewers will be vaguely familiar with. Record when you see certain things during your day to day routine and Natures calendar collect the data and map how quickly Spring/ Autumn moves across the UK. After a few years of datasets it is possible to spot trends on whether Spring is early or late and map these to global trends to see how climate change affects the seasons and local weather. All you need to do is look out for common signs, such as Bluebells and Lapwings and record when and where you saw them..... Easy!

Garden Wildlife Health Found Dead or sick wildlife in your garden? Tell the project, they are looking for diseases particularly in order to mitigate their spread and monitor possible human and domestic implications too. Run by a collective of the ZSL, BTO, Froglife and the RSPB.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch arguably the biggest citizen science project in the UK and open for anyone to participate. From a stone inner city courtyard to a rolling farm in the Yorkshire Dales. 1 hour is all you need to give. Count the birds of each species and send your results in. 8.5 million birds were recorded last year by BGBW participants last year. Small 'garden' field guides are available so you don't even have to have had any experience. Help the kids decide what's what by picking out key ID points, get them to count or alert you to any new species that have slipped into your garden.

EuroBirdwatch if you happen to be reading this thinking hang on a minute James that's great by I live on maninland Europe..... EuroBirdWatch is the project for you. A range of events that monitor and record European Bird Migration to give a large data set and trends Europe wide.

 If the pressure of providing data for analysis is just not your thing then there are very simple ways you can help out without recording data. Plant a small section of Wildflowers to encourage Bees, Butterflies and Hoverflies, this can be done in window boxes or even an old Welly if space is critical. The good folks over at SeedBall have a really simple and devastatingly effective way of doing this so check it out. And for inspiration check out Dave Goulsons books 'A sting in the tale' or 'A buzz in the meadow'.

Place Hogitats to give Hedgehogs somewhere to rest and hibernate. Make Hedgehog corridors through your fences. Build a small pond, or scrape to allow amphibians somewhere to live and give other animals a place to drink.

Bird feeders and boxes are just as simple. If you want to go upmarket you can even get them with cameras that connect to your TV or PC so you can monitor the inhabitants.

Bat boxes will give our declining bat numbers somewhere to roost during the day.

And finally telling any idiot that thinks that Fox Hunting, Raptor Persecution or Seagull culls are justified to GET IN THE SEA will go a long way!

This post has come to fruition following a conversation with a number of friends of mine that always say they want new fun things to do, especially with families. Families have become increasingly sedentary in their lifestyles and are losing their connection with Nature! If you truly feel #itsmynature then help it out! You make think your data is lost in the grand scheme of things, but if we all thought like that we would never get anything done! It only takes one person to get a wheel to move!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Bat Conservation Trust

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was recently given the chance to experience Bat surveying when I met a chap from the Hampshire Bat Group while on an evening Nightjar Walk with Hampshire Wildlife trust. I thoroughly enjoyed using the detectors and seeing the bats hawking insects above our heads.

On my return home and as one of my #30dayswild activities I decided to join the Bat Conservation Trust! Well the welcome pack arrived two days ago and what a welcome it is! Car window sticker, Lapel Badge (love these things :D) loads of informative leaflets. Some amazing postcards with cracking photos, not to mention the fab mag too!

Much as the welcome pack is fantastic, the real reason for joining is the great work the trust do for our Bats! With the biodiversity, birds and Natura 2000 directives all under threat we need NGO's more than ever so I urge, nay implore you to reach out and join the Bat Conservation Trust and support their amazing work.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Hudsonian Suprise

This story will do no favours to my insistence that I am not Twitching this year. However when the report of a Hudsonian Whimbrel literally 10 miles from home came in, I was very tempted. I spent the afternoon at work mulling my options round in my head. Finally an idea sprung to life, ask the community on Twitter what they thought I should do........... GO! Was the resounding answer! Next issue was that I really wanted to spend some time with my long suffering wife Kayleigh, and our 20month old boy Bradley.... simple! Take them along too. She doesn't bird and therefore the idea of Twitching is very alien to her, none the less she agreed and with Brads all snug in his car seat and my kit packed we headed for Church Norton.

If you read my last post then you will realise this is much the same place as I went for the Black Winged Stilt and a two minute walk from the Church Yard where I watched Spotted Flycatchers! I know the site well so within 25 minutes of leaving home we were at the car park..... so glad that Kay came with me, the car park was overflowing! Kay agreed to stay in the car, that was she could make sure I could just jump out and the car wouldn't block anyone while I was gone, it also meant that Bradley could stay asleep!

I walked down to the beach and soon found a group of around 30 scopes all peering out in the direction of the harbour. After asking a couple of the guys present they said the bird was hunkered down in the long grass on one of the muddy islands in the harbour. Every so often the bird would poke its head up out of the grass before dipping back down and slowly moving right. It wasn't long before a few guys admitted that they weren't even sure that was the right bird, but all the other Whimbrel in the harbour had been checked and that was the last one left...... Great! We could be watching a completely bogus bird! We needed the bird to fly....... we waited......... and waited...... I began to scan other birds in the area in case we missed one...... then......... ITS UP! 3 of us spotted the right bird, and proceeded to check off the features. The rump was brown and so was the tail, with no white tips to be seen. The other real difference was the underwing, which was cinnamon-brown and appeared completely uniform in flight as opposed to the Eurasian Whimbrels white ground colour

This bird had come from a different part of the muddy island.... we had been watching the wrong bird! The Hudbrel settled nicely on the front of the island in the water and began to feed and preen allowing us all to take in all the features and ensure that this was definitely the right bird! By this point the group had swelled to around 50 birders on the beach all very happy to get their target. A group of 3 Eurasian birds landed close by allowing a nice comparison.

On the walk back to the car I checked briefly for the Spotted Flys but they weren't to be seen. I will still maintain that I am not twitching this year but some things are definitely the exception to the rule! 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Birds and Bats

Apologies this has taken a while to update. I usually update my blog on a Sunday then upload it on a Monday lunchtime, however things have been very hectic the last week so I haven't, until now, had chance to do so.

Black Winged Stilt

Last week ended on a birdy note, watching Hirundines hawking an insect hatch over Ivy Lake, part of the Chichester gravel pit complex. The reason for my visit to the lake was a reported adult Little Gull but alas this was not present when I was. Numbers of Swifts built steadily as I watched and my final count before heading to Pagham was ca.300 birds, quite a spectacle! I headed down the road to Pagham Harbour RSPB where a Black Winged Stilt had been reported on Siddlesham Ferry Pool. Sure enough the bird was up the back of the pool feeding away quite happily. I had been told by a chap at Ivy Lake that this was possibly last years breeding female from Medmerry. However upon observation this appeared to be a 2nd year individual.

The back of an adult bird is jet black whereas this seemed quite dull, its legs too were dull pink in comparison to the adult and the head, nape and the neck seemed a smudged brownie colour. Although not the speculated breeding female of last year, it is not outside the realms of possibility, given its proximity and age, that this bird could be one of last years juvs. The Ferry Pool was fairly quiet, a few Icelandic Godwits about, Avocet, Greenshank and a number of Shelduck were also present. A little galling then that a Red Neck Phalarope was found at the same site the next morning with the lingering Stilt! However a nice addition to the day was a couple of Spotted Flycatchers at Church Norton, not a species I encounter often in my neck of the woods but a very welcome site.

Saturday saw ringing resume at Farlington Marshes and owing to our success north of the A27, this is where we erected the nets once again. It is Juvvie season on the reserve now and we had a number of fledglings in the nets, including Great Tit, Greenfinch and Robin. We still had numbers of Reed Warbler through the nets which, as they undergo a complete moult in Africa are impossible to age older birds unless clearly Juvenile or previously ringed. This means they go into IPMR as age code 4 meaning: Hatched before current calendar year - exact year unknown. There were a few more unusual catches as the session wore on. One of our net rides was very near to a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major, nest, so we kept a special eye on that net having witnessed parent birds attending to the young with food. We were right to keep an eye on the net as the female parent bird was trapped. Knowing as we did the growing young she had in the nest we processed and released her back to the same spot to ensure the supply to the young birds was not substantially interrupted. She took with her half of Duncans finger having decided he was suitable for a Wood pecking demonstration!
 On our way back from releasing the Woodpecker we saw an elongated shape sitting in one of the net pockets, I was charged with extracting the bird and as I got close I realised it was a Swallow, Hirundo rustica. Jason had the pleasure of ringing the bird. It turned out to be a male with CP, and characteristic tail streamers. Having only ever seen them on a telegraph wire or in flight, occasionally at a nesting site, it was amazing to see this bird up close and appreciate its stunning colouration and perfectly streamlined build. Having been ringed the bird was released back to hawk insects with all the grace and finesse of an aerial ballet dancer!

Tail Streamers
Male Swallow
 Our next unusual bird was a Lesser Whitethroat. Far more skulking than its extroverted cousins, the Common Whitethroat, with all together more subdued plumage. The primaries and coverts are a dull brown/grey to the Commons russet tones. The eye also differs, with the Lesser lacking the distinct white eye ring of the Common. Both species breed on the reserve with the Lesser breeding in smaller numbers. It is nice to see that through our ringing work we know there are at least 2 breeding pairs this year, with the distinct possibility of more that have avoided our nets.

The session continued with a total of 15 different species being caught and ringed, this is a very good diversity of species for such a small site. The notable absence was that of Sedge Warblers. Two weeks ago we had a number of individuals caught, leading to speculation that these were passage birds and we had just had an influx that week.

Wednesday evening I joined the Hampshire Wildlife Trust walk in search of Nightjars and Woodcock at Havant Thicket. I am not usually one for group birding walks as I find the noise of 30 people walking and talking impedes the experience somewhat, there again, they are excellent at introducing people who, perhaps have limited exposure to such birds to the delights of roding Woodcock and churring Nightjar. This perhaps sounds a little pretentious but hey each have their preferred style when doing something. For me I would go alone or maybe with a friend and walk slowly around the reserve taking in the birds going to roost, the crepuscular animals foraging and the nocturnal wildlife coming to the fray. I hung around the very back of the group and soon I had heard the churring around 60m off the track, I showed a couple of the other participants and they seemed chuffed to be hearing it for the first time. The one part of the walk that fascinated me was the chap from the Hampshire Bat Group. Bats have always interested me but I must admit to being a little intimidated by all the detectors and sonograms. However, I am pleased to announce dear readers that I will in fact be purchasing a Bat detector very soon and starting my journey into another obsession. Although the detector the chap had was around £1000 and showed realtime sonograms that you could record and download, I was using a simply Magenta Bat5 detector and had great fun as Common Pippistrelles whirred overhead hunting. My friend, Trevor Codlin I know, has been a long time Bat surveyor so I am hoping I can chat to him regarding what is involved and some ID/ detecting tips etc…..

All in all I have had an excellent week and look forward to ringing this weekend, weather permitting!

Lesser Whitethroat
Juv Robin
Greater Spotted Woodpecker or 'Fleshpecker'

Juv Greenfinch
Juv Great Tit

Monday, 18 May 2015

Gulls and BTO course

Saturday, the wife and I had 5 houses to view first thing and then our house was being viewed repeatedly in the afternoon. This meant that once we had left home first thing we needed to be out of the house for the remainder of the day. Once the house viewings were done, we wrestled with a few ideas of where to go. We ended up at Hayling Oyster beds. I hadn't checked out the Gull/Tern colony yet this year and was keen to do so.

Gravel bar across the Oyster Beds, Hayling Island
We parked up and walked down the path, my 18 month old son stopping to talk to every dog and owner he could as well as get excited about a tree with Pine Cones. As we were walking we could already hear the din of the colony ahead. Now the main colony is out in the harbour on South Binnes Island, away from disturbance with a no landing policy for boats which is carefully controlled. However in the confines of the Oyster Beds there are a couple of gravel bars that give more space to the ever expanding colony.

BH Gulls and Common Tern
Last year at this time the gravel bars were packed, birds were landing on top of one and other and the Terns had just arrived making it even more crowded. Every patch of viable rock above the waterline was taken. This year there are half the number of birds. Whether they have all chosen Binnes this year I personally do not know and the warden was busy with several parties using his scope and chatting about the birds on the bars to be able to ask this question. What was more bizarre to me at least was the absence of any Med Gulls on the gravel, last year they out numbered the Black Headed Gulls and yet this year there isn't one. I know from friends that Binnes is having a bumper Med Gull season so maybe my speculation is correct that Binnes is indeed the new 'go to' place. This could be due, in part to the way I witnessed the Oyster Beds being used by the public. I saw two families in the far corner of the inlet swimming in the pool and letting their dogs swim in the water too. The birds were all very wary and jittery, frequently leaving their nests after being spooked by the canine headed their way.

Never the less I had a very pleasant time, scanning through the birds that had chosen this inland spot, there were Common and Little Terns present as well as the Black Headed Gulls. A few Meds flew over while I watched and then headed out to the harbour. Through my scope I could see the commotion over South Binnes with an extraordinary amount of birds flying around the island.

Sunday I joined a BTO run course looking at methodologies and skills necessary in order to complete the Breeding Bird Survey, something that I have previously mentioned I intend to partake in next year. The course was being run by Avon Wildlife trust/BTO employee Matt Collis at the Dorset Wildlife Trusts, Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre near Poole. The day started with looking at visual ID skills, something I am (big headedly) pretty good at, it was a very interesting look at breaking down ID features to be able to comprehensively and accurately ID certain species, especially confusion species. I even learned a new word. Speculum: The brightly coloured feather on a ducks wing, present in females as well as males and useful for ID.
Beacon Hill has a mix of Habitats from scrubland

The next section focused on songs and calls, and here, in my own mind, is my biggest downfall as a birder. I was very pleasantly surprised, song wise I am actually not bad, being able to ID 90% of the species asked. Calls however was where I really saw a gap in my knowledge. Matt was brilliant with ways to remember calls and even songs. When we got out on the heath for the practical the first bird anyone saw was a Dartford Warbler sitting on top of the gorse, characteristic long tail and jizz, it soon dropped back down into the scrub as the wind picked up.
There were plenty of Stonechats about, one male seen repeatedly carrying food parcels to either a sitting female of his young. The jarring chat noise that gives the birds their name echoing around the heath is like two stones cracking together. There were also, Goldcrest, ChiffChaff, Nuthatch, Kestrel, Carrion Crows, Jackdaw, BHG, Blackcap, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Wren and Linnet about. Almost all picked up by song and call.

The afternoon session was based around planning transects within your 1km BBS square and best practices etc., and how to go about recording all the necessary information both online and in paper form. Matt was incredibly knowledgeable and his ability to pick out even the faintest bird call/song and know exactly what made it is unerring.
To heathland

To Coniferous Woodland

We ended the day on a practical session practicing transect walking and recording. This was great to be able to practice what we would be doing for our BBS squares before actually doing them. I am planning on making some random 1km squares and plotting transects, surveying and recording what's in them just in order to practice for next year!

A massive thank you to Matt Collis, super birder tutor and to the team at the Dorset Wildlife Trusts, Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre. Be sure to check out their Great Heath Project!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Long Live The Reed Warbler

Most people do not realise there is more Wildlife Trust land North of the A27 at Farlington Marshes, know as 'The North Field' this area is a mix of deciduous woodland, bramble scrub and Phragmites reed with the A27 thundering over the top of it. Traditionally holding a mixed head of resident and migrant birds, this is where we chose to ring on Sunday.

Marsh Depiction
Net ride
We arrived at 05:20 and made our way down to the field. We set up 6 nets in total, one being a large dog leg through the central path. This net has traditionally been the 'top performer' during our sessions north of the road.

Once we had finished erecting the nets we had a cuppa before making a net round.... having a chat while drinking our tea, Duncan expressed that he felt this should be a good session. Understatement of the day! The North field usually yields reasonable numbers of birds but has been a winter site for us predominantly due to ringing on the Point Field taking precedence in Spring and late Autumn & with Titchfield being our residence over the late summer/Autumn. Sunday we had 50 birds which is exceptional for the site. This kept us very busy indeed (lots of extraction experience for Amy and I) there were loads of migrants including Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap as well as the more resident species such as Blue & Great Tits, Blackbird, Songthrush, Wrens and Cettis Warbler. There are now 4 different breeding male Cettis Warblers in the North field and at least 12 on the main reserve according to Jason. A real success story for these little skulkers.
Great Tit

Reed Warbler
The real story of the day unfolded after we had left the site. One of the re-trap Reed Warblers that we had processed during the day had an amazing story to tell that goes to show the value of the ringing performed by all the BTO volunteers across the UK & the rest of the world. She(for it was a female) was ringed originally by Jason on 19.07.08 when she was coded as a 6. She was the caught again the following week at the same site, then not seen again until she was trapped on Sunday. This makes her at least 8 years old this summer.
8 years worth of African migration journeys, 16 times she has crossed the Sahara and 16 times she has survived. If
Blue Tit
we take into account the species lays on average 3-5 eggs each brood, and have the ability to have multiple broods each year, she could have had 80 odd young in her lifetime so far. Her migration is around 3500 miles each way meaning in her lifetime she has traveled 56,000 miles in migration alone! Amazing!

On one of our net rounds I walked down a path with a stile at the end of it. A bird took off from the bottom step of the stile, slightly hawk like and dark mottled brown with white primary and tail spots. It flew west towards the playing fields with a slow zig zag flight. I am 90% sure it was a Nightjar and all the evidence supports this, but having been the only one to see the bird properly and even then briefly I'm not going to count it. Having seen Nightjar in the near dark seeing this bird in broad daylight threw me a little so I didn't get chance to call it to the others.

Overall an amazing session for us and I am looking forward to another session on the North field soon. Next weekend I am away on a course with the BTO but the weekend after we should be clear for another session weather permitting.

Entrance gate at the North Field

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Ringing on the Marsh 04/05/15

05:20 meet at the gates of Farlington on Monday morning for ringing. Although early on, the wind was a little high, it was forecast to drop by around 7am so decided on the point field again. The weather was clear, with a south westerly wind. After the last session that resulted in 4 birds we were all keen to see what migration had delivered to the Marsh.

On the walk around to the field, there were Whitethroat & Sedge Warbler singing from everywhere, a group of breeding plumage Dunlin were fast asleep on the shore of the lake and a couple of Mute Swan took off and headed East towards Hayling. The tide was all the way out and the calls of Whimbrel could be heard from out on the mud.

We set the nets in the usual rides and before we had even guyed the poles a Sedge Warbler ploughed into the net! Things were looking good. Our main species for the Point field are Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Sedge Warbler & Whitethroat. All seemed to be in the field in reasonable numbers, although Mipits seem to peak in Autumn. After a couple of net rounds we had ringed a couple of Linnets, a resident male Cetti's and a female with brood patch... already beating the last sessions total.

This cracking male Whitethroat was next into the nets, although a re-trap, it was a very interesting exercise for us Trainee's on ageing and sexing Whitethroats. As this bird was previously trapped by us we could there and then check the book to know what last years age code was and the measurements of the wing chord etc.. On looking at all the features this bird was aged as a 6 male, meaning it is an adult bird. Upon cross referencing with the stats from last year this seemed to correlate nicely. With a pinkish hue to the breast, the eye colour and the head colour this was confidently identified as a male bird. Upon release he sat on a patch of Bramble only two metres away and began singing as well.

Bird song is an area of my birding that requires improvement and seeing birds as they sing is useful for me to be able to visualize the species and associate it with the song/call. This year songs and calls have become my focus to get to grips with, although I realise it requires more than self taught and Xeno Canto recordings to nail it in the field.
The session before this one, Duncan and I were discussing Skylarks, I was asking how you would go about ringing them. Duncan said that traditional nets don't work and that one of the only methods that has yielded many results is single panel nets low to the ground. This make sense as much of a Skylarks life is spent in near vertical flights whilst singing, or bounding across the floor. It was therefore a massive shock when Jason came back from a net round with a 'small Thrush' sized bird clutched in the ringing grip. I don't think I need to tell you all, dear readers what it was...... that's right..... A Skylark. And in the top panel of a 3 metre net to boot. A similar experience happened in the tail end of 2013, when ringing in the North field. I had been asking Duncan about catching Water Rails, he again said that they occasionally crop up but around 1 every 3 years. On the first net round of that morning, there was.... you guessed it..... a Water Rail. I think next week I may have to start a conversation about ringing Golden Winged Warblers................! To see a Skylark up so close was a real treat and well worth the 5am start, considering they often get confused with Meadow Pipits they are surprisingly big in the hand. The bird was ringed and winged before posing for a few photos. The bird obviously a bit grumpy or maybe even embarrassed to have been trapped and ringed!

Another nice surprise of the day was another re-trap Whitethroat, this time an adult female that I had personally rung the year before. It is staggering to think that she has been all the way down to Africa and back again, a feat most humans would fail to achieve under their own steam! She had a well developed brood patch so she was processed, photographed and released close to where she was found in order to return to her nest asap. She was a very good weight possibly pointing to the possibility of still carrying an egg. Its nice to see returning birds to the marsh, it means the habitat is still viable and hopefully this year they will have a good breeding season here after last seasons wet start.

The Marsh itself is looking great at the moment, the Gorse is just giving over to seed, the vegetation is all flourishing and there are birds literally everywhere. With the vegetation all growing up, some of the rides are overgrowing slightly within a week of us using them so needed some attention. A Stoat proved a distraction for a few moments when I saw it crossing the path in front of us in the distance. Stoats are a very rare occurrence on the reserve so nice to see other wildlife eking out a living as well as the birds!

The session continued with more Linnet, a male and a female trapped together. These were processed and released together as were evidently a pair, a retrap Sedge and a retrap Whitethroat, then a Mipit hit the net. A nice new bird for Duncans study of Meadow Pipits on the reserve. The bird was aged as a 4 meaning it hatched before the current calendar year but its exact age is unknown. Close attention was paid the greater coverts for contrast. After deliberation and processing the bird posed briefly for some photographs and was then released back onto the reserve. 

As we were packing down all the kit and packing our bags to head home a Small Copper Butterfly dropped in below us. This is the first of this year for me and first on the reserve of the year too. Peacocks have been very evident the last two sessions so refreshing to see something a little different.

A cracking session and nice to have some migrants back!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Getting into Surveys

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) asking if I wanted to join a Breeding Bird Survey course in Devon. I have been wanting to get involved in survey work for a while now and this seemed the perfect chance to learn before getting involved for real. I signed up paid my course fee and on May 10th I do the course at Darts Farm.
BTO Logo link to website
The Breeding Bird Survey is, in the BTOs words "The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds. It is a national volunteer project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species in the UK. Wild bird populations are an important indicator of the health of the countryside, and knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation."

This, to me at least, seems like a way of combining my regular birding activities and genuine citizen science to allow me to contribute to something that gives me so much pleasure in my spare time. My 5/10 year career & life plans also require me to have survey experience which also gives the whole exercise a personal development edge as well.

As a man who is, lets be honest, has a tendency to be a little obsessive, I didn't stop there! Dawn Balmer of the BTO added to Twitter that they were looking for volunteers to take on 1km transects in order to survey House Martin colonies. I enquired, was given the local representatives details and requested my square! I am ecstatic to announce that this morning I was given my requested square and can now start the planning stage for my visits.

House Martins on the nest - taken from
"Critically, we do not know why this species is in rapid decline in the UK. Currently, it is ‘Amber listed’ in the Birds of Conservation Concern listings, compiled by the UK’s leading conservation agencies." - Taken from the BTO website

I am so excited to get my teeth into some survey work, and help out with some tangible citizen science. Join in if you can, every little helps and the more we know the better we can protect our enigmatic avifauna!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Back on patch

An evening that I was not working and the wife had friends over coincided last night, so it was with a hop skip and a jump, I took the opportunity to avoid a live episode of loose women convening in my living room to get in a few hours patch birding.

It was around half past 6 I pulled up to the car park at Farlington Marshes. The sun was low but still warm and there was a 15-20kmph NNE wind. The tide was out so I decided to visit the lake last for any waders coming in to roost at dusk, this meant that I started in the scrub area just inside the reserve. There is one thing that bothers me about Farlington, one massive 6 lane thing..... The M27! The incessant roaring of cars, trucks and general traffic is deafening, and hinders ones audible appreciation of all things avian, in English I could here bugger all bird calls. 2 species manage to hold their own over the din.... Cetti's Warbler with their explosive song and good ol' Jenny Wren with the staccato machine gun rattle. The further into the scrub you go and the further from the road, you start to hear more and more. Robins are perched atop on every bush, Blue Tits are chasing each other and busying themselves with food collection (there is a very healthy population of Blue Tits on the Marsh thanks to the nest boxes hidden all round). There are 2 particular species I felt were conspicuous by their absence. Bardsey and Portland Observatories have both been reporting good numbers of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs during ringing sessions, Farlington on Monday evening could boast 1 singing bird of each species with neither actually being seen. This has reflected our ringing numbers on the Marsh as well, with very few migrants coming through as yet. Singles of Sedge Warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff have made up the migrant species caught in recent weeks. Only time will explain this lack of birds at Farlington.

After the scrub I came out at the stream, where there were a good head of Black Headed Gull, I scanned the flock for other Larus species and picked out 2 cracking summer plumaged Med Gulls. Langstone Harbour has been very successful for breeding of Med Gulls over the years, with numbers increasing year on year. Haylings Oyster Beds being well worth a visit around Mid May/June time. Other birds on the stream included Coot (2 on nests), Snipe, Moorhen, Lapwing, Grey Heron, and the usual duck species. Quite dramatically all the BHGulls took off together and it soon became apparent that a Great Black Backed Gull had come in over the reed bed. The BHG's mobbed the GBB showing that size has no bearing on the mob mentality and soon saw it off. No doubt these raids will increase in frequency as the chicks start to hatch and fledge. Down by the hut the Bearded Tits showed well as did Reed Bunting. Although a few Observatories have reported Reed Warblers in their ringing nets, there were no obvious singing birds at the Marshes last night.

The Stream
The fields around Farlington are filled with wheeling Lapwing, and their frankly eerie display call. Many birds are already on nests and have been for some time so it will not be long before we are seeing chicks and fledglings there either. In the harbour were a few Red Breasted Mergansers and Black Necked Grebes looking resplendent in their breeding plumage. I scanned the cattle herds for any migrant Yellow Wags but to no avail. The deeps held the usual Shelduck, Shoveler, Mallards, Gadwall etc... and the point field had Meadow Pipits, Sky Larks, Dunnock, Cettis Warbler, Robin, Green Finches, Linnet and a single singing Sedge Warbler.

I made my way around the sea wall, picking up Little Egret, Oystercatcher and Curlew as I did, when I reached the lake there was a nice flock of Redshank all piping away.

The Lake

Godwit in summer plumage
Some very splendid looking Black Tailed Godwits, just coming into breeding plumage. Up the back skirting the reeds was a Snipe and a Grey Heron. A Peregrine shot in from the South across the fields sending all the birds on the lake up, the Redshanks pipes became so loud they hurt my ears. On this occasion the Peregrine pull up unsuccessful.

The sun had dropped right down as I left the lake and wandered back to the car.


As I was leaving I noticed the tell tale tents made by black tailed moth caterpillars. These are not in the numbers they were a couple of years ago, but only recently was I talking about these with Jason and Duncan and it was commented on regarding their absence so far this year.

All in all it was very pleasant to be out birding again, something that I have truly missed with such a hectic lifestyle at present. I will be taking every opportunity possible over the coming months to get out and bird.       

Monday, 13 April 2015

Farlington Marshes 12/04/15

This weekend looked to be a complete wash out with Saturday looking like a miserable start and Sunday being very bright and windy.

Saturday delivered on its promise of rain but Sundays forecast seemed to change. With the wind looking like it would be favorable in the morning we arranged to meet at the Marshes gates at 05:45. Migrants at the Marshes are still few and far between, with the occasional Blackcap and Chiff singing and a few Mipits flitting about and certainly far too early to start trying for Reed Warblers in the outstanding reed bed at Farlington, therefore we decided to try the Point field again.

Map of Farlington and key areas

 It was crystal clear and very bright but flat calm when we arrived. Gorse is all in flower and the marsh is coming alive.
View from our ringing station

Gorse Flower

View across the marshes towards the Deeps
We set 4 nets in total, 2 in our normal rides and 2 in rides created by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts management of the scrub in the field. As we were setting our final net we heard our first Sedge Warbler of 2015 in the adjacent scrub. We retreated to our Ringing station and waited a while before doing a net round. The first round produced a single female Blackcap, again a first for 2015 and certainly a sign that spring is starting to come although a bit later than last year. After processing she was released back to continue her journey, assuming as we did that this bird was indeed a migrant.

Female Blackcap
The next round brought the Sedge Warbler to our nets. First one on Farlington this year so far and more than likely the Male we heard singing as we put the nets up. The bird was quite light and had a very low fat/muscle score, so had probably dropped in very recently. The tail feathers were clearly abraded but a cracking little bird and one of my personal favourites. We never get quite the numbers through the Marshes as we do in Titchfield, but in Spring/Summer they are a staple of ringing. A male Linnet was also in the Sedge Warbler net, Linnets are very much an under appreciated bird. Fantastic russet brown backs pale fronts and lovely red breast and head feathers on males. There are good numbers of Linnet down on the Marsh and they appear to be pairing up and scouting for nest sites. Some are even carrying nest material around so it shouldn't be too long until we can expect to see Juv birds in the hand as well.
Male Linnet
Sedge Warbler

 Unfortunately at this point the wind started to pick up, this coupled with the fine weather meant that the billowing nets were very easily seen by the birds. Just one more was added before the nets were closed and packed away and that was a cracking Male Greenfinch. Easily identified as a male by checking the primaries. If the yellow/green streak reaches the shaft of the feather then the bird is a male, if it does not then it is female. With the colouration of the bird and the diagnostic primaries the bird was confidently ID'd, ringed processed and then released again, not before posing for a quick snap.

Male Greenfinch

4 birds....... my least amount ringed in a session ever, however 4 cracking birds and the signs of spring, fingers crossed the migrants are coming in now. 24 hours later I walked through Victoria park in central Portsmouth and for the first time this year there are Blackcaps everywhere. feasting on the berries and singing away.

Better Luck this week!