Wednesday, 27 November 2013

High time for a date at Parkgate

Short eared Owl - Tim Melling

Ever wanted to experience one of the best wildlife spectacles in the region? December is the perfect month to do just that, as the RSPB invites people to enjoy a date with nature at Parkgate.

Many local people are familiar with the phenomenon of the high  spring  tides flooding the vast saltmarsh of the Dee Estuary, but few have been there to witness it and the wildlife spectacle that follows. Now, the
team at RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserve is holding free events next week in a bid for people to see this amazing sight for themselves.

The Dee s saltmarsh is home to hundreds of small mammals, such as short-tailed field voles, which attract magnificent birds of prey including short-eared owls and hen harriers. As the incoming tide floods the marsh, the voles are flushed from their homes and move ever closer to the promenade, resulting in a feeding frenzy amongst the owls, harriers and resident kestrels.

John Langley, RSPB Information Assistant, said:  It was only a month ago that I first experienced the tide touching the wall at Parkgate   hard to believe it s possible considering how distant the water is on a
normal day.

 It's a little sad to see the voles desperately fleeing for their lives. I ve heard tales of them scrambling up the sea wall and running around people s feet, but it s a great reminder of how much wildlife is thriving on the marsh and the value of the RSPB protecting such a vast wilderness. If you re patient and you know where to look, you can usually see the birds of prey flying over the marsh, but a high tide pushes everything closer, giving even better views and more chance of exciting action.

Thousands of birds   geese, ducks and waders   are trying to keep on the edge of the water, so large flocks can be seen shifting around trying to find drier ground. Other predators take advantage too   foxes
will be more than happy to snatch an easy meal, whilst even herons and gulls have been seen helping themselves to voles and small birds. 

The extent of the spectacle is dependent on the weather conditions on the day   low pressure and a strong northwesterly wind are the best to drive the tide in fully, but at this time of year the chances of that are quite good. Obviously that s something we won t know until closer to the time but we ll keep our fingers crossed and be present at Parkgate regardless, so hope people will come and join us.

To give people the best chance of experiencing this rare spectacle, the RSPB will be hosting events on Parkgate promenade on the three days of upcoming high tides; Wednesday 4, Thursday 5 and Friday 6 December. These are free of charge and there will be telescopes and binoculars for public use.
Kestel with prey at Parkgate

The events are part of the Wild Wirral  Date with Nature  which is showcasing the outstanding wildlife of the Wirral Peninsular and its coastline through a series of events supported by Wirral Borough Council this winter. Full details and dates of further events can be found on the RSPB website

For more information on the Dee Estuary reserve and its activities, please call the reserve on 0151 353 8478, or visit the website

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Protection begins for England s under-valued marine treasures

This morning George Eustice  - Minister for Farming, Food and Marine Environment - announced to Parliament the designation of 27 marine conservation zones in England s seas.  Today s news follows a four-year process since the introduction of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) to ensure greater protection for our marine wildlife and natural treasures.
Two of the designated sites are located in the Irish Sea: the Cumbria Coast   the sea around St Bees - and Fylde Offshore, an area off the coast of Lancashire. 
St Bees cliffs
A selection process, led by a range of stakeholders, originally identified many more sites worthy of consideration, and Defra has
committed to two further tranches where hopefully the remainder of the shortlisted sites will proceed to designation. Other proposed sites in the Irish Sea, yet to be designated include the Sefton Coast, West of Walney and several off shore sites towards the Isle of Man.
Martin Harper is the RSPB s Conservation Director. Commenting on today s news, he said:  England has seas rich in marine wildlife sites and spectacles. But for too long these treasures have not received the protection they deserve. We re delighted that today s announcement begins to ensure marine protection for our undervalued  marine wildlife, but we have a long way to go before we achieve a network of sites which
adequately represents the breadth and biological importance of our marine wildlife. In particular, we urgently need the important sites for seabirds designated.
We recognise the minister s intentions to designate more sites in future, but this is only likely to happen with investment in gathering the information required to ensure designation.
 England s seas support thousands of species, from basking sharks to cup corals and leatherback turtles to gannets. As a nation we still know precious little about our marine wildlife, and there is still a
shortfall of Government-backed research cataloguing this wonderful resource.
This week saw the publication of the latest Nature Check report, the annual health check on Government s progress on its own nature commitments. Of 25 commitments, progress on marine conservation zones
scored badly, being one of nine commitments assessed as red. Toda0ys announcement is the first step towards seeing improvement on this commitment.

The RSPB is the UK s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will
teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Don't panic and the case of the missing fruit

My second trip to Berlin this year, took me to Spandau, the north west region of the city. My flight from Liverpool was full, and was on time and knowing where I was going certainly helps as I was away from the airport and on the S9 train within minutes. I had first called at the Tourist Information desk to buy a Berlin welcome card, that allows me to travel anywhere in Inner and outer Berlin for the five days I was there. I arrived at Rathaus Spandau and it was only a ten minute walk from the U Bahn or 3 stops on the 130 bus to my hotel. Berlin has wonderful street and place names, I was staying in Steegefelder Strausse, and my train interchange was Jungfernheide.

My hotel was comfortable, but I was wondering how I was going to manage with the receptionist, who knew as much English as I know German. I managed to get the key to my room and looked through my German phrase book to get me through the week.

My first morning I started with Spandauer Forst, with a 9 stop bus journey on the M45 bus to Johannesstift. I took only a few steps into the Forest and there was a mass of bird calling, most notably nuthatch. In the huge forested area I encountered three species of woodpecker, great, middle and lesser spotted. Other delights were hawfinch, bullfinch, crossbill and siskin, crested and marsh tit. I saw both common treecreeper and short toed treecreeper, as well as the more common species like blue tit, great tit and the delightful white headed long tailed tit.  It is quite easy to lose yourself in the many paths, although it was slow going as there were constant tap, tap, tapping from the branches. Hoping I might see a black woodpecker I mostly saw great spotted and it wasn’t always easy spotting them. I was walking down one path and suddenly saw a sound of wild boar trotting towards me, I tried to keep calm, thought of Corporal Jones and looked around for a tree to climb. Fortunately the male boar stopped after seeing me and his band followed suit. After staring at each other for a few seconds he turned right and off down another path, followed by his piglets. I was rather fortunate as there weren’t any trees that looked climbable.

This wild boar was behind a fence
I came across a small lake called LaƟzinssee but not too much bird life apart from Mallards and Coots, viewed from a raised platform. I followed the path called Berliner Mauer Weg, the Berlin Wall Trail, which I strolled along for a while, keeping a watchful eye for wild pigs. I heard some calling and couldn’t make out what it was before looking up I saw about 100 migrating cranes, flying high above the tallest pylons I have ever seen. I made my way back to the bus terminus, after a full day in the forest.

My next day I went to Flughafensee, next to Tegel Airport which is Berlin’s main airport, with planes taking off every 2 minutes. It was quite a large lake but not much on show apart from mallards, cormorants and the odd heron. I did manage to see a green woodpecker in the wooded area.  I walked up to the U Bahn and went two stops to Tegel, where Berlin’s second biggest lake is. Tegel See is a wonderful place which during the summer must be just teeming with visitors. Alongside the lake is Tegel Forst, where I saw the usual woodland birds I saw the day before. On the lake were hundreds of coots and mallards, with little grebe, great crested grebe. Also many diving ducks, tufted ducks and pochards mainly but small numbers of goldeneye too. Nearer to the town were mute swans and most of the Canada geese I saw were ringed.

Mute swan on Tegel See
I can’t ever remember eating an apple before for breakfast, but I did on Thursday. I recall from the Peckers and Lizsters tour that the lunch was made up from the breakfast buffet. I couldn’t ask the waitress if this was allowed because she couldn’t speak any English. I decided to raid the fruit bowl instead rather than make up sandwiches. I took a banana and apple and put the banana  in the pocket of my jumper whilst the waitress wasn’t looking. I tried to do the same with the apple but realised hawkeyed Heidi had spotted me  and I then modified the action to start eating it instead. Maybe because there were no banana skins or apple cores on my empty breakfast plate previous days, she had cottoned on to what I was doing.

Later, minus an apple, I wanted to try Krumme Lanke again, after visiting the area earlier in the year, and I started out earlier. I ended up arriving late after missing my stop at Fehrberliner Platz, thinking I should travel to Hermannplatz.  I was just taken in by the Berlin rush hour because every available space was taken on the train, sitting and standing. The birds around Krumme lanke, with a wooded area surrounding  the lake were numerous. In February I saw the black woodpecker, but not so lucky on this occasion. Lots of great spotted and the odd middle spotted. On the lake were mandarins, mallards, pochards, tufted ducks and cormorants, also great crested grebe in winter plumage. Another lake about twice the size, Schlachtensee, was close by and it took about two hours to walk round. It was getting dark as I made my way back to the U bahn, travelling through my favourite Onkle Toms Hutte station. The English translation is Uncle Tom’s Cabins. A local landlord built cabins for his guests to shelter from the rain in his beer garden in the 19th century. They don’t have station names that that where I live.

The picturesque Schlachtensee
My last day, with the fruit bowl having disappeared at breakfast, I checked out of my Hotel and travelled on the S bahn to Tiergarten close to the Brandenburg gates. The park is huge in the centre of Berlin, with a number of small ponds with mallards and mandarin ducks resident. Last time I was fortunate to see a goshawk and I was hoping I would be lucky again as I only had about 2 hours to find them. I was in the park about 30 seconds and a huge female goshawk flew close by and perched on a branch, which had me scrambling for my bins. A couple of cyclists also stopped to take a look. A great view and then it flew out of sight. Sitting on a bench in the park, I saw bird behaviour that was just great. There seemed to be a small patch that many birds were attracted to. The pecking order seemed to be blackbird, nuthatch, tree sparrow, great tit and blue tit. The many nuthatches seemed to take it out on the great tits. I later encountered a number of finches, including hawfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch and siskin.

I made my way to Schoenefeld Airport, after a fabulous few days, everything was on time and even the budget airline were following the German example of efficiency. My bus home was running 20 minutes late, a reminder I was back in Britain.


Wednesday, 13 November 2013


Autumn Leighton Moss reflections - Laura Bimson

On a lovely morning nine of us set off to RSPB Leighton Moss; and what a beautiful day had dawned, a landscape covered in frost shining like diamonds, emblazoned foliage, autumnal hues from gold to russet.
Our merry band met in the centre’s coffee shop, cake and coffee to start our day (someone called Packham on autumnwatch had sold us on the idea!). 

Bearded tits- Laura Bimson
Sustained, we purposefully set out for the grit trays set up for the Bearded Tits, situated in the reed beds close to the causeway path. Here we came across a horde, a collection of scopes and bins with their assorted owners waiting in hope for a glimpse of the famed Bearded Tits.  Most of the watchers had been there in excess of 2 hours!!  We’d only waited for a few minutes when a wren arrived, heralded with great excitement as close on its tail it was followed by one, then two Bearded tits, a spectacular pair complete with multicoloured leg rings. We had lovely views of their stunning colour and moustaches as they collected their grit.

We then made our way to the public hide spotting Mallard, Gadwall, Mute swan, Grey heron and Tufted duck. Then great excitement Neil spotted a Kingfisher streaking low across the water to an inlet, out of site, awesome.
In flight Kingfisher - Neil Prendergast

We decided to move on and walked down the causeway, when coming to a clearing in the reed bed our Kingfisher was again espied!  Obligingly sitting on a branch over looking the waters.  It gave us wonderful
Kingfisher - Neil Prendergast
views of it stunning in plumage, as it turned the blue of its back left you breathless. It dived for a fish as we watched...  Magic. 

Marsh tit - Rhodie Blyth
Following the woodland path down to the lower hide we saw Blue and Great tit, Dunnock, Wren, Robin and best of all a Marsh tit – this cause a bit of an id debate, willow or marsh? Sean eventually confirmed it a Marsh tit later in the day.  At the hide what a treat was in store.  A male Marsh Harrier was sitting on the shore, untroubled, ignoring the Teal that passed perilously close. A commotion, suddenly the assorted ducks near the shore took flight, the Harrier stayed put? Wow, an otter, one of the reserve's family group, twisted and turned, frolicking or feeding who knows, alas only a brief sighting for the group. 
Marsh Harrier - Neil Prendergast
The Harrier then gave us an encore, lifting into the air, it set about hunting over the the trees, and to our surprise it was joined by another, a female, a beautiful aerial ballet ensued, Lucky us!!
Lillian's hide

Time for lunch, and what better place to eat your butties than the comfort of Lillian’s hide and a chance to search for the recently spotted long tailed duck.  It wasn’t long before an eagle eye had located the female bird.   It was only on the water for seconds before it dived down again and again.  Eventually, it decided it was preening time, so we got good views, especially through Ron’s telescope.
Snipe- Laura Bimson
Snipe abounded in the grass feeding with their wonderful probing beaks, Shoveler showed off the size of their beaks, huge!  Teal gleamed in the sunshine, a Water Rail squealed close by, but elusive as ever not seen.

Next, a quick visit to the Grizedale and Tim Jackson hides held no surprises, plenty of duck and snipe, but the hoped for Red deer or Bittern failed to make an appearance.

Visitors to the reserve appeared to swell as the afternoon wore on, tales of spectacular Starling murmerations brought in the curious.  We trooped out along the path overlooking the reed beds and pools, with the rest of the world we stood with baited breath, 6 starlings flew over - could this be the advance party?  A Peregrine Falcon came into view distant along the treeline perhaps in pursuit of our quarry? We waited, some ducks flew over. We waited some more, but not a Murmur!  Not a one! Our fellow watchers drifted off,  shame,  it was not to be, perhaps Neil was right- the Starlings had gone to Blackpool for the switch off of the Christmas lights!

But it couldn’t spoil what was a superbly happy day out birding with friends. 

Rodders and Lowra
Friendly Robin eating mealies from Laura's hand  - Rhodie Blythe

Monday, 11 November 2013

Fight against the massive bird slaughter in Egypt

Please save our migratory birds

Chris Tynan: What is the point of RSPB providing sites for all UK migration birds to breed for the young to be killed off. Cheers Chris

Laura Bimo : It’s not the first time I’ve I asked you to sign a petition against this barbaric behaviour. It’s sickening, every time I look at my photo’s of the  wonderful Golden orioles we saw in Hungary, It make’s me think  of the fate of their kin - on some mindless individuals dinner plate.

Please share this message with all your bird group's members and  everyone you know, to end the massive slaughter of songbirds in Egypt.
More than 400 MILES of nets are used to catch them during the Fall  Migration to be sold as delicacies to restaurants!
Click on the link to sign the petition below. There are still a few days left to
sign before the petition is closed!

For the Songbirds, Elaine Charkowski

From NABU:
"Dear friends of our birds, Thanks a lot for your great support for our fight against the massive bird slaughter in Egypt!
"Today I want to let you know that our common efforts are already bearing fruits: The German ministry of environment has reacted immediately and demanded an end to the trapping of migratory birds from the government of Egypt. It has also provided 20,000 Euro for urgent activities in the fight against the bird slaughter in Egypt. This money
we are using to organize an international meeting including representatives of the Egyptian ministry of environment to develop an action plan aimed at ending the bird trapping.
"Since October this year, my organization NABU, is already employing an expert in Egypt who is preparing this plan and will coordinate its implementation.
"There is also hope on a higher political level: The new Egyptian environment minister, Dr Laila Iskandar, recently promised to the ambassador of Switzerland in Kairo, to attend to this matter. Currently an internal working group is being set up in her ministry, whose task it is to stop the bird slaughter.
"I have asked the Egyptian ambassador in Berlin for a meeting to hand him the petition. The meeting is going to take place probably in the end of November / beginning of December. All signatures we will receive until then are going to be counted out and handed over.
"Therefore, there are some more days remaining to collect further signatures. So far, we are 75,000. Let s make it 100,000! Please help us, spread this petition again.

Please advise all your friends and relatives to this petition by sharing the following link on Facebook or via e-mail:

Lars Lachmann
Bird Conservation Officer
NABU (BirdLife International partner in Germany)

Merchants sell both live and dead birds at specialty markets in towns along the coast. When customers purchase them live, the merchants kill and pluck them on the spot.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Two thirds of North West homebuyers would consider paying more for a house with a wildlife-friendly garden

Frog home

A survey has revealed that nearly seven out of 10 people in the North West would consider paying more for a property that has a wildlife-friendly garden. 

Together, the RSPB and Rightmove asked 1,548 people across the UK a series of questions relating to gardens and garden wildlife. 

In answer to the question ‘would you pay more for a house with a wildlife friendly garden?’ 16% of people in the North West surveyed answered ‘yes, definitely’, another 9% answered ‘probably’ and 41% said ‘maybe’. 

Of those surveyed in the North West, more than 9 out of 10 (91%) said they were happy when they saw wildlife in their garden, and 83% feel they have a duty to protect wildlife.

Across the region, three quarters of respondents agreed that gardens play a role in helping to save some of the threatened species in the UK.

The survey was carried out to get an insight into people’s knowledge and interest in UK garden wildlife following the launch of the RSPB’s new campaign, Giving Nature a Home, which aims to help tackle the crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. 

Hedgehog home

The charity is urging the nation to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces and hopes to inspire people across the UK to create a million new homes for nature. 

TV homes expert, Linda Barker, is supporting the campaign. She said: “To me, having wildlife in your garden is the perfect finishing touch to any home. Planting wild flowers, digging a pond or creating a log pile for bugs is not just a good way of getting creative and making your garden more attractive, but it will also benefit threatened garden wildlife at the same time. 

“Individual actions will make a difference and start to help tackle the lack of habitats for some of our wild creatures. In my garden I’ve put up a nest box for birds and planted nectar-rich flowers to attract bees. If everyone can do just one thing and gave nature a home in their outside space it would be amazing - together we can make a big difference.”

Sarah Houghton, RSPB campaign manager, said: “The results of this survey are really encouraging. To find out that the majority of people in the North West think having a wildlife-friendly garden is so important they’d consider paying more for one is great news. Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. Gardens provide a valuable lifeline for things like starlings, toads, hedgehogs and butterflies, so we want to persuade people to give nature a home where they live – it could really help make a difference.”

Matthew James, Head of Communications at Rightmove, comments: “The garden has always been one of the key aspects many buyers consider when looking for their dream home, and for some it can even end up being the deciding factor.  For so many homebuyers to say they would consider paying more for one is a very promising sign for the Give Nature a Home campaign. Wildlife-friendly gardens, as well as helping to prevent a further decline in some species, can be a great way for families to enjoy the outdoors and learn more about the creatures that live, quite literally, on their doorstep.”

The launch of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign comes after 25 wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, released the groundbreaking State of Nature report revealing 60 per cent of the wildlife species studied have declined over recent decades. 


Sarah from the RSPB continued: “There are all sorts of jobs you can do in your garden at this time of year that will help give nature a home. From planting bulbs ready to attract bees and other insects next year; building or buying a hedgehog shelter, also known as a ‘Hogitat’, ready for them to hibernate in; digging a pond or tidying-up your existing one; or putting up nest boxes in time for next spring.

“And those who want to rest not work this weekend can still do their bit for nature. Holding off on pruning your hedges is a great way of helping wildlife without actually having to do anything.  Leaving them until around February next year means the berries will be able to be eaten throughout the winter.”

The RSPB is offering free expert advice to people on how to give nature a home in their outside spaces - whether it’s a huge garden or a small planting tub on a balcony. 

By visiting the RSPB’s website people can get their free Giving Nature a Home starter guide, pledge their support by sharing plans, pictures, tips and ideas with others.  The site also gives more information about what the RSPB is doing to give nature a home in the wider countryside.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Enjoy a taste of nature this autumn at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

It’s one of the best places to see wildlife in Cheshire – and now everyone is invited to enjoy a free day out at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and discover nature’s home for themselves.

Situated on the Dee Estuary, which is an internationally important winter home for tens of thousands of birds, Burton Mere Wetlands is the perfect place to get up close to nature and witness some incredible wildlife spectacles.

At this time of year, large flocks of geese and ducks are arriving to escape the cold temperatures of their summer homes further north, alongside whooper swan and vast numbers of threatened wading birds, like lapwing and redshank.

To encourage people who have not yet ventured down to Burton Mere Wetlands to appreciate the wonders of this nature reserve, free entry will be offered every Thursday throughout November.

Visitors can take part in a free guided walk and discover how the reserve helps to give nature a home, before returning to the cosy visitor centre, complete with impressive views and wood-burning stove.

Dan Trotman, Visitor Development Officer for RSPB Dee Estuary reserves, said: “Much of nature becomes less active in the winter months; most mammals and amphibians hibernate, whilst insects die off and spend the next few months as eggs or another less visible form. The great thing about birds is that they are present all year round.

“Of course, there are dramatic changes in the type and number of birds we see in the winter compared to the summer, which is what makes birds so interesting to watch.

“Winter is arguably the best time of year to see birds on the estuary and even if the weather is cold and grey, watch the birds from our cosy visitor centre with its wood-burning stove, tea and coffee facilities, and friendly staff and volunteers.

“These ‘Taster Thursdays’ are the perfect opportunity to come and see the fantastic work the RSPB is doing to give nature a home and hopefully be wowed by the mass of geese and swans,  a kingfisher diving, a peregrine falcon hunting the ducks or even the fox and stoat that we’ve seen recently. There will be a free guided walk starting at 1 pm to help you get the most from your visit.

“Throughout the winter, there will be various self-led activities for families to enjoy, such as the autumn leaf scavenger hunt and our ‘Wild Goose Chase’ to learn about the many different geese that have made their home at Burton Mere Wetlands.”

For more information on the reserve and its activities, please call the reserve on 0151 3538478, or check out the website

Burton Mere Wetlands is the gateway to the RSPB’s Dee Estuary nature reserve, with one of the newest visitor facilities in the country.  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.
Location and opening times:

RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, Puddington Lane, Burton, Cheshire, CH64 5SF.  The reserve is open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9am to 5pm from November to March, and 9am to dusk from April to October.  The reception building is open from 9.30am to 5pm year-round.