Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Ringing Season

With my passion for all things conservation renewed after Whalefest and with the reports starting to flood in of Black Redstarts, Chiffys, Sand Martins, Wheatears and other Passerine Migrants, I am greatly looking forward to getting out ringing again. This winter has been incredibly slow for me on the ringing front and I am chomping at the bit to get back out in the field.

Whether or not anything can top last years Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler at Titchfield Haven I don't know nor am I really that concerned because much as it was a very exciting bird and I felt very privileged to see it first hand, the main reason I ring is not for the rarities but for the data we can provide on long term population trends.

Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler
At Titchfield last summer we ringed in total 4619 birds across 50 different species. Nearly 500 birds more than the year before. I should add that my input was minimal to these figures and the real credit should go to Barry Duffin and Trevor Codlin whose dedication to that site is unparalleled.

Sedge Warbler
At the end of the day it is the 'run of the mill' species that I am really passionate for. When you think that a Sedge Warbler of around 12g, makes a UK to sub-Saharan Africa migration each year of its life, travelling in the region of 5000km each way, that is a staggering distance and that's what fascinates me. Sedge Warblers were the most numerous bird we trapped at Titchfield last year, with 1225 new birds caught and ringed and that trend seems to be consistent with previous years. To put that into perspective the amount of kilometers travelled by all the Sedge Warblers we ringed last year at Titchfield, would be an incredible 6,125,000km from the UK to Africa in a single year! That is the equivalent of Earth to the Moon and back 16 times! And what makes this even more incredible is that's a single species and a single migration journey from one UK site.

What will this year hold? Will there be any suprises? How will the spring fair for all the breeders? With a good spring forecast and record breeding years for several UK breeders last year, will we see increases in some of our species numbers this year? Well only time will, so in the meantime please enjoy some of the picture highlights below of my first year of ringing.

Happy Birding


Cettis Warbler

Reed Bunting


Titchfield Havens first ever Cuckoo fledglings

Net Ride at Farlington Marshes Hants Wildlife Trust


Garden Warbler



Yellow Wagtail

Male Bearded Tit/Reedling

Coal Tit


Wood Warbler



Monday, 16 March 2015

Whale of a time

Saturday was Whalefest2015, and as you may have gathered from my previous post I was a tad excited! Despite working until 03:00 in the morning, after a couple of hours sleep I was at the train station from my 0705 train to Brighton!

On the way the wife and I planned our day from the schedule I had printed off, and I realized that if I had my way we would literally be in lecture halls all day! As in any good marriage compromise was the way forward so with our plan in place we walked down the hill from the station along West Street to the international centre.

Map showing route from the station to Whalefest2015

We queued for a very short time, being some of the first visitors of the day and we were in. We were immediately faced with a life-size inflatable Orca... We naturally had our picture taken with the model and moved on around the venue to look at some of the stands before our first talk started at 10am. We stood and watched a Pirate band for a while who were excellent in every aspect, great delivery, great musicianship and great dedication.
Life size inflatable Orca, with human size comparison!

There was a vast number of travel operators with stands and knowing where to start was a little daunting. Kay and I were drawn to a Hebridean Cetacean Cruise operator as we are looking to visit Scotland and figured tying it in with Whale and Dolphin(and pelagic birds) seemed a cracking idea. Hebridean Whale Cruises were extremely helpful and run some amazing looking tours, we entered their contest to win a holiday and a cuddly Puffin and moved on.

I bumped in to my friend Trevor Codlin who was volunteering for the weekend and he gave us some great advice for handling the book signing crowds. We headed up to watch Steve Backshalls' opening talk which was rammed. I wanted to see the talk after his so found a seat and waited, everyone else poured out of the theatre hall after Steve had finished and headed to the stalls. Lucky I waited as Steve came out and was chatting to a few people, so I took my opportunity to beat the queues later and get my book signed then!

Steve Backshall and I at Whalefest2015

Steves' Signature in my copy of his book

After this coup we watched John Hargrove, former Orca trainer at SeaWorld and one of the guys who contributed to Blackfish. During Johns talk there was a small protest from 2 American women followed by 3 American women making wild accusations about Johns' work at SeaWorld.... the fact that there were 5 Women in total all of American origin lead many audience members and indeed many staff to believe this may have been a set up by SeaWorld, in a vain attempt to discredit John Hargrove.
After Johns talk we decided to look around some more of the stands, I came across Monty Halls signing Books and DVDs and snaffled myself his new DVD box set and had him sign it for me. The series I really remember Monty for is the BBC series 'Great Barrier Reef' which, if you haven't already, I suggest you go and get! 
Meeting Monty Halls
We then headed back to catch Will Travers OBE. Will is the director of the Born Free Foundation, and a vocal advocate of the 'Empty the Tanks' movement. Wills' speech was unfortunately interrupted by Technical issues but was none the less extremely moving and very interesting.
My friend Dan had asked me to get his son Lewis a Deadly 60 book and try and get Steve Backshall to sign it too, so after half of Steves next talk we went and queued up for the book signing, lucky we did as it was limited to 70 places (of which we were #40) and many people were disappointed. Steve remembered me from earlier in the day and we had another brief conversation as he signed Lewis' book and my own son Bradleys' book.
We wandered round a few more stands and then headed back to the Discovery lounge, we caught the end of Donal Macintyres debate with local MP's and then watched Monty Halls and James Brickell. This was awesome, I love Monty Halls he is just a genuine guy(and played Rugby!) and I really enjoyed hearing about the making of 'The Great Barrier Reef' from him and James(series producer).
After Monty came what I was really keen to see, Gordon Buchannan and Steve Backshall sat having a chat on stage. Gordon is a real hero of mine as is Steve so to have them chatting about one of my all time favourite documentaries 'Lost Land of the....' was a real treat.
After this Kay and I had a final wander around the stands, chatting to some lovely people and enjoying the atmosphere of the event. We rounded the day off on the Beach looking at the Cetacean Graveyard art installation which is quite simply breathtaking and extremely troubling at the same time! Each cross representing a cetacean that has died in Captivity, it was carried on inside the venue as well with over 3000 crosses being erected in total!
All in all, an amazing day! Next year I will be doing both days and partying in Brighton in the evening!!!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Whalefest 2015

Last year I saw through a friend, Trevor Codlin, about Whalefest. At the time it was far too late notice for me to get tickets but my interest certainly piqued! So it was with great excitement that I saw the adverts released for this years programme of events in Brighton.

'In 2011 Ian Rowlands and Dylan Walker had a dream: to create the biggest, most popular event of its kind and touch the hearts and minds of a huge audience, inspiring them to be an army of ambassadors to defend whales, dolphins, marine life and oceans.' In a very brief paragraph taken from the official site That’s WhaleFest.

My ramblings tend to be very ornithologically orientated, however I am a passionate advocate of pretty much anything Ecological or Conservational. With the prevalence of films such as Blackfish and The Cove and the televised work of Sea Sheppard in Whale Wars, Whale Fest is a natural progression in engaging with Naturalists and general public in highlighting the plight of some of the worlds most enigmatic, charismatic and endangered animals.

Cetaceans are apex predators in their eco system, Apex predators play a major role keeping their ecosystems in check, known as ‘trophic dynamics.’ On land, or in the ocean, studies have shown that their removal can have a dramatic impact on the ecosystem and results in much larger problems. Reduction in the numbers of Apex predators results in an increase in meso-predators which causes a decline in prey populations. This is known as the ‘Top Down trophic cascade.’ Apex predators keep meso-predators at a reasonable number and ensure abundant prey populations.In short they are essential to ensuring a healthy and sustainable marine eco system.

Whalefests line up this year is nothing short of spectacular. Guest speakers include; Steve Backshall (Lost Land Series and Deadly 60), Gordon Buchanen(Natural History Film-maker) Monty Halls(Broadcaster) and Michaela Strachan(Spring/Winterwatch).

I have tickets for the Saturday for all the talks and I am very much looking forward to hearing from Gordon Buchanan and Steve Backshall who were both involved in one of my favourite documentary series Lost Land of..... 
Lost Land of the Jaguar