Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Fire damages important wildlife area on the Dee Estuary

Fire damage 

Firefighters were recently called out to tackle a blaze on the RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserve which damaged an important area for nesting birds and wildlife.

Thankfully the fire was quickly brought under control and caused far less harm than the previous incident of this kind in 2013 which was started deliberately and destroyed a large swathe of Neston Reedbed and spread to Parkgate Marsh.

However, the incident has raised repeated safety concerns from RSPB staff as arson attacks on the site have been an ongoing problem for a number of years. Due to this, the RSPB operates a wardening scheme with volunteers patrolling the area, on the lookout for any inappropriate or potentially damaging behaviour.

Colin Wells, Site Manager at RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserve, said: “This is a stark reminder of how vulnerable the reedbed and its surrounds are at this time of year. The last few weeks have been relatively fine and combined with periods of strong winds, the conditions on the marsh have become brittle and dry, which meant the fire would have started easily.

“We have a team of volunteers who warden the area in the evenings to try and discourage people from starting fires, which has successfully prevented any for a few years. It was the fast action of one of these volunteers on Saturday evening to promptly raise the alarm and allow the fire to be extinguished quickly before too much damage was done.”

The RSPB are concerned about the damaging impact the blaze may have had on local wildlife living in the affected site, particularly harvest mice and nesting birds.

Colin added: “The harvest mice have lost their habitat and many of them may have been injured or killed. The area is an important breeding ground for birds such as reed buntings and water rails. They have lost their nesting areas.  It’s devastating as we work so hard to create and maintain this site for wildlife and people to enjoy.

We would benefit from having more volunteer wardens to help keep an eye on the reedbed area in spring, so if any local residents are keen to help protect this special wildlife habitat, get in touch with us at Burton Mere Wetlands.”

Police are treating the fire as a potential arson case. Anyone with any information is asked to call Ellesmere Port and Neston Neighbourhood Policing Team on 0845 458 6373.

To enquire about the volunteer warden opportunity, email deeestuary@rspb.org.uk or telephone 0151 336 4932. For more information on the reserve and its activities, check out the website rspb.org.uk/deeestuary

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Shrug off those winter blues at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands this spring

Bluebells of Gorse covert

Now is the perfect time to discover one of the best bluebell woodlands in the region at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands on the Dee Estuary. Each spring, the nature reserve’s Gorse Covert, an area of ancient woodland, bursts into colour with a blanket of blue and this year, the bluebells have not disappointed.

Due to the mild winter, many of the flowers have already begun to emerge and tease admirers with their colour well before their usual May bloom.  Last year, hundreds of visitors to the nature reserve told staff of their delight at seeing such a pristine area of the iconic British flower.

Dan Trotman, Visitor Experience Manager at RSPB Dee Estuary reserves, said: “It’s one of my favourite times of the year, when the woodland floor gradually changes from its dull winter green and brown to the vibrant blue hue, signalling the start of fresh life across the reserve. Over the past couple of years more and more visitors have commented on the extent of the bluebells; people were coming to the reserve purely to see the spectacle. The contrast of the deep blue against the greenery of the trees creates a lovely setting for a relaxing stroll.”

While Gorse Covert and Burton Point can be enjoyed independently by all visitors to the reserve, joining the popular ‘Bluebells and Birdsong’ guided walk will allow participants to discover more about the bluebells plus other interesting flowers and wildlife on the reserve.

Dan added:  “On our event this year, visitors can not only enjoy a stroll into the heart of the bluebell woodland, but there will be the chance toventure up to Burton Point, where there is another impressive stand of bluebells, along with breathtaking panoramic views over Burton Mere Wetlands and across the Dee Estuary to the Welsh hills.

“The walk is a great way to discover more about the wildlife which lives on the reserve. The nesting birds will be singing, adding to the tranquil atmosphere, and you will be given tips on how to pick out the songs of different birds. It’s a great way to spend a morning.”

The ‘Bluebells and Birdsong’ guided walk will be held on Sunday 30 April, from 10 am to 12 noon.  The cost is £6.50 per person, (£5 for RSPB members) and half price for children under 18.  This includes a hot drink in the reception hide, and covers the entry fee to the reserve for non-members.  To book your place, phone 0151 353 8478 or email deeestuary@rspb.org.uk.

For more information on the reserve and its activities, check out the website rspb.org.uk/deeestuary

Wild Challenge with Miranda Krestovnikoff | Get involved!

Rspb images - Taking the Wild challenge 

Find out how you can get involved with this year’s Wild Challenge! It’s free, fun and the perfect way to get up close and personal with nature. With 30 different activities to choose from you’re sure to have a fun filled time.


Wild Challenge is a call - to get up, get out and get wild!

It's a challenge for you to connect with the natural world in brave new ways - to reach out and touch it and meet it head-on, up-close and personal.

All you need to do is create an account and an online profile, and within a few quick and easy steps you'll be ready to get stuck in to your wild adventure! 

You can go as quickly or slowly as you like and we have a wide range of activities to suit your needs and location. There's something to do throughout the year, no matter what the weather brings!

Selected other RSPB activities, such as Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Wild Sleepout, count towards your achievements too!
Wild Challenge replaces the Wildlife Action Awards – an awards scheme for schools and families which we've been running since 1988. Thousands of children have taken part over the years and Wild Challenge's shiny new content and online presence ensures that many more children can get wild and closer to the nature on their doorstep.
If you would like to focus on wildlife gardening and helping nature thrive in your outdoors spaces, check out our Giving Nature a Home pages where you can create a personal plan with six simple activities to help you give nature a home where you live. 


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Sparrows on top, but a bad year for tits

National Top 20

We've been sifting through around half a million people’s Big Garden Birdwatch sightings – a total of over 8 million birds. And finally, the results are in.


This year saw an increase in the numbers of birds visiting gardens. For example, in 2016, starlings were seen in 40% of gardens in 2016, compared with 50% this year. Thank you to everyone who is giving nature a home in their garden: with more birds visiting gardens this year, there's a reward for your efforts.

A bad year for tits

This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch saw a downturn in sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits – all down by at least 10% on last year’s figures


There was an explosion in the number of waxwings visiting gardens this year. A lack of berries in their native Scandinavia prompted an “irruption” of these stunning birds, with hundreds of sightings across the UK, even as far west as Wales and Ireland.

Pied wagtails

These bobbing black and white birds moved up the garden charts to a new high of 29 this year. They are frequently seen in urban areas, dashing about pavements and car parks in search of food, and often gather at dusk to form large roosts in city centres.
House sparrow
Blue tit
Great tit
Feral pigeon
Collared dove
Long-tailed tit
Coal tit
Common gull
Carrion crow



Thursday, 23 March 2017

Mum’s go free this Mothers’ Day at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

view point

Enjoy a family day out at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands this Mothers’ Day (26 March) where mums will be treated to free entry and a free hot drink whilst taking in the wildlife spectacle on offer. Dozens of elegant avocets, one of the nature reserve’s star birds, will be preparing to raise their families, whilst a stroll along the nature trails will get visitors close to budding trees and early spring flowers.
Throughout March families can take part in the ‘Baby Birds trail’ - a self-led quiz to learn more about the reserve’s resident birds and their young ones. Normal admission charges apply to non-members, no additional charge for the event. Available 9.30 am-4.30 pm daily in March.
bluebells in gorst wood
On any day, Explorer Backpacks are available to hire packed with everything needed to discover more about the creatures that call Burton Mere Wetlands home. No booking required, cost £2.50. Families can also have a go at self-led den building close to the visitor facilities, at no additional cost.
Visitors can currently enjoy lunch at the reserve, as the RSPB has teamed up with a local catering van business  offering hot and cold sandwiches, soup and burgers on-site from Wednesday to Sunday every week between 10.30 am and 3.30 pm.

Venue: RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, Puddington Lane, Burton, Cheshire, CH64 5SF

Contact: For further details visit rspb.org.uk/burtonmerewetlands or phone the visitor reception on 0151 353 8478.

Burton Mere Wetlands is the gateway to the RSPB’s Dee Estuary nature reserve. From the comfort of the reception building, visitors can see nesting avocets and lapwings in the summer and huge flocks of ducks, geese and swans in winter.  Water voles and badgers are resident here, whilst the summer months are alive with flickering colours from the countless dragonflies and butterflies.

Four miles up the road at Parkgate, the vast saltmarsh provides internationally important habitat for thousands of wading birds and wildfowl, but one of the biggest draws are the birds of prey and owls; hen harriers, peregrine falcons and short-eared owls are amongst the most captivating winter visitors.  During exceptionally high spring tides, the saltmarsh becomes flooded and the resident harvest mice, field voles and the like can be seen fleeing the rising water.

Point of Ayr lies at the tip of the Welsh side of the estuary, where thousands of wading birds gather to roost at high tide, and a huge variety of migrant birds stop off to feed and nest on the saltmarsh.  Natterjack toads breed in the sand dunes and the critically endangered Sandhill Rustic Moth thrives here.

A programme of events runs at all three sites throughout the year, please visit rspb.org.uk/deeestuary

Location and opening times:
RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, Puddington Lane, Burton, Cheshire, CH64 5SF.  The reserve is open every day except Christmas Day, 9 am until dusk (up to 9 pm in summer). Our visitor reception is open 9.30 am-5 pm, February to October, and 9.30 am-4.30 pm November to January. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

Holiday to Idyllic Islay, 19th to 23rd February 2017 - Led by Aquila Ecology

On the look out, Debra and Andrea - Chris Cachia Zammit 

Descriptive report
In the depths of winter, in the week when Storm Doris gusted in, I was on a bird-watching trip to Islay – great planning! However, we were spared the worst of Doris’s wrath, being subjected to just a whistling wind overnight and waking to a sprinkling of snow in the morning – our last day on the island. The Scottish mainland, though, hadn’t been so lucky, and as we drove back from Kennacraig the snow was falling “hypnotically” – according to our driver, somewhat worryingly.

But that’s starting at the end; to start from the beginning: we had a calm, if rainy, two-hour ferry journey over to Islay, spotting great northern divers, guillemots, razorbills and other species on the water. Our base was Red Lodge, nestled in a vast wilderness of heather, with a river running past. Andrea Hudspeth, tour organiser/wildlife enthusiast/guide/driver/cook, spotted otter signs – the ‘jelly’ they emit from their anal glands (mmm, lovely) on the paths leading to the river – but, despite setting up a couple of trail cameras, we didn’t capture one on film at the lodge, although the chaffinch and robin were only too pleased to display themselves for one of the cameras (or possibly the food we’d left in front of it). Another bird that showed itself well for us from our vantage point at the lodge was a beautiful male hen harrier – which totally disrupted breakfast one morning when the cry went up: “Hen harrier! Hen harrier!” A scramble for spectacles (me) and binoculars (just about everyone) and a rush to the lodge’s panoramic windows followed, and we stood entranced, watching the raptor scouring the heather for its breakfast.

Accommodation at the lodge was warm and comfortable, with Andrea – aided by Terry Williams of our own RSPB group (super spotter/kitchen assistant/fount of wildlife-related knowledge – dishing up really tasty veggie and non-veggie fare at breakfast and dinner and making packed lunches as we were out birding all day, every day (well, apart from the afternoon when it *really* rained, when we retreated to Bowmore’s shops for an hour).

It wasn’t all rain, though – and that’s the beauty of Islay: you can see the rain rolling in, but also the sunlight following close behind it – and rainbows are a daily, sometimes hourly, occurrence.

For anyone who has read this far thinking, “Yes, great, but what about the ****** birds??, here’s a list of what we saw (birds and other wildlife):

Barnacle goose,
Bar-tailed godwit,
Black guillemot,
Black-headed gull,
Brent goose,
Brown hare,
Collared dove
Common gull
Common scoter
Common seals
Common toad
Feral goats
Golden eagle
Golden plover
Great black-backed gull
Great northern diver
Great tit
Grey heron
Grey plover
Grey seals
Grey wagtail
Greylag goose
Hen harrier (adult male)
Hen harrier (ringtail)
Herring gull
Hooded crow
House sparrow
Lesser black-backed gull
Long-tailed duck
Meadow pipit
Mistle thrush
Mute swan
Purple sandpiper
Red deer
Red-breasted merganser
Ringed plover
Roe deer
Song thrush
Tufted duck
White-fronted goose
Whooper swan
Winter moth
Scouring the sea - Chris Cachia Zammit 

And here’s a link to Aquila Ecology’s interactive trip report:

We didn’t have to work hard to see all this wildlife; we spent our days driving leisurely around the island, either ‘spotting’ from the car and then pulling over for a closer look, or driving to a pre-decided spot, often along the coast, and spending some time scanning the waves. Both techniques paid off handsomely, thanks to our guides’ previous visits to the island and their general enthusiasm for and knowledge of the local wildlife.

Golden eagle - Chris Cachia Zammit 
My highlight from the first technique was also my 100th bird for the year: a golden eagle riding the thermals by a distant mast on a hilltop. We stopped for a while to watch it and then drove on, rounding a bend and seeing it again, near where we’d planned to stop and look for choughs. They weren’t around but, hunkered down on a hillside, a juvenile eagle was being harassed by a pair of ravens – bonus!

As for the second technique, well, that brought about a magical encounter – although we had to visit the spot a couple of times and wait patiently for a long time (it’s not always easy, this wildlife-watching lark). Finally, on the penultimate stop of our last day, at Bunnahabhain, with the snow-covered Paps of Jura to our right, Terry whispered that he’d spotted an otter swimming in the sea, quite close to shore. 
Otter - Terry Williams with a smartphone via his scope – impressive use of technology

I eventually trained my bins on it, and it put on quite a show, swimming along parallel to the shore, surfacing then submerging, and finally came onto the rocky beach to eat dinner, a shore crab. It stayed for a while and then slid back into the water and disappeared, and we set off for our last stop before boarding the ferry back to the mainland with a spring in our steps and a song in our hearts (just me?).

A note about the RSPB sites on Islay
There are two RSPB sites on Islay, The Oa and Loch Gruinart. The former is a windswept clifftop, offering a good circular walk to the American Monument (which commemorates the loss of two troop ships in 1918) and down the other side, and Andrea, Chris Cachia Zammit and I saw fulmars on the opposite cliff, feral goats just below us, a pair of ravens, Highland cattle, a large flock of twite and other bird species. 

Andrea & Chris picking up rubbish - Debra Williams
Terry had stayed in the car park with his scope and bins, observing that we were on a birding holiday and not a walking one, and his decision proved to be a good one, not just on The Oa, but also when Andrea, Chris and I later went for a walk along the white sands of Machir Bay (where we carried out an impromptu beach clean). On each occasion, when we returned to the car, windswept but happy, Terry had seen – amongst other species – a number of golden eagles, a hen harrier, and even a kestrel (an extremely rare bird on Islay). We *weren’t* jealous at all…

Loch Gruinart is a more managed site compared to The Oa: there’s a small visitor centre, with displays and leaflets, toilets, and a tea/coffee/hot chocolate machine – which we made good use of on a couple of occasions. We timed our two visits to coincide with dusk, hoping to see the choughs come in to roost, and we weren’t disappointed as these gregarious, noisy birds flew into and onto the barn where they spend their nights. We were also fortunate to observe three brown hares interacting (it’s that time of year, folks). From ‘chough roost’, it was just a short drive to the estuary where the island’s 37,000 barnacle geese fly into roost each winter evening – what a sight and sound!

Debra Williams