Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Monty the new group member

I received a phone call off the PR and Marketing department of the John Lewis shop in Liverpool One the other day. Following on from their very successful Christmas advert featuring Monty the Penguin the Liverpool store had 4 of them in their Christmas window displays. Well their staff thought it would be a great idea to donate one to RSPB Liverpool. Here we are collecting Monty from inside the store.

We hope to raffle Monty off at the groups Big Garden Birdwatch event at the Palm House in Sefton Park on Sunday 18th January 2015. All money donated will go towards the RSPB Overseas Territories appeal  http://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/donations/campaigns/ukot/index.aspx. Before  Monty leaves us he will be coming out on a field trip and visiting some RSPB reserves. Chris.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Santa Robin is still alive! A great Christmas story

Santa Robin - Ian Wilson

Thanks to a relatively mild start to the year, a bumper breeding season, and plenty of food available in the wider countryside this autumn, it’s been a good year for Robins, including the extraordinary Santa Robin!

It’s probably thanks to favourable weather that Santa Robin has made it to another Christmas. First brought to our attention in 2012, this remarkable leucistic bird with a Santa beard had already defied the odds by being amongst the 40% of Robins that survive their first year.  It has now survived at least three winters in Derbyshire, making it older than the average Robin.

Robins, in general, have had a successful year, according to the latest British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch results. Relatively mild weather meant that they started off in low numbers in gardens at the beginning of the year because they were able to survive in the wider countryside without our help.

With a healthier population of Robins, and a productive breeding season, Robin numbers soon rose in gardens, reaching an all-time high for BTO Garden BirdWatch at the end of August. This, combined with another warm autumn and plenty of natural foods available, gave them a boost for the coming winter.

Clare Simm, from the BTO Garden BirdWatch team, commented, “It is fantastic to hear that Santa Robin is still out there. Winter is a challenging time for Robins as they struggle to find enough food to survive the cold nights. Gardens are important havens for them, but without help from our volunteers we won’t know how Robins get on this winter. If you spend a few minutes each week watching what the birds get up to in your garden, then you are already doing enough to take part in the BTO Garden BirdWatch. Get in touch with us for a free magazine and information pack on how to take part."

Will this winter be another mild one for Santa Robin and the rest of his species, or will they need our help to survive? Help us find out!

To get your free magazine and information pack, or to find out more about the BTO Garden BirdWatch please get in touch by emailing gbw@bto.org, telephoning 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas at GreenAcres Rainford

GreenAcres ceremonial Woodland hall

Went to the Christmas service at GreenAcres this morning.

As usual all the  staff were welcoming and the centre had laid on  mince pies and hot drinks for those arriving  on  cold, wet , December Sunday.

Celebrant Deirdre Brannigan  led the service,   comforting , emotional and reflective.  A time to remember  our loved ones and a message  that those that have passed are not forgotten, still here.
Lyndale singers
The Lyndale singers  performed three songs during the service,  all beautifully sung and well received.   When they sang ‘o tannebaum’  all we needed was it to start snowing outside the halls  huge glass windows and there wouldn’t had been a dry eye in the house!  

During  the service  guests  had the opportunity to hang a  paper heart message on  the halls beautiful-‘Bruce the spruce’ Christmas  tree in memory of their loved one/s.
Bruce the spruce

Keely Thomson (marketing and community engagement officer) then gave an update on the site since its opening in March, and reported they continue to actively manage the site for biodiversity and had planted  thousands of trees in recent months. They  have made some good partnerships (yes RSPB) and have supported various charities such as  the Willowbrook hospice,  Child Bereavement and Save the Rhino! (https://www.greenacreswoodlandburials.co.uk/news/)

 Roaster Richie

As we left  the hall to journey home.  Richie the warden was roasting  chestnuts on a barbecue outside.  A nice Christmas touch  on a cold day

Thanks to all the staff and volunteers who made it a special couple of hours for myself and other guests.


Poem read by Keely at the service

​The Dash
by Linda Ellis copyright 1996

​I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
​the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before. 

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

​So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Squalls and the Oldsquaw!

Long tailed duck (Oldsquaw)

Braved the weather and dashed out to the marine lake at Crosby coastal park this afternoon, 'twas aiming to try and catch up with the long tailed duck that had been hanging out there.  This Oldsquaw was a long way from the Moray Firth in Scotland.

Down by the Mersey it was bracing, well perishing more like. How these birds survive this without gloves and parka beats me.

I checked out the boating lake first as this was where all the action appeared to be.  Nice little flotilla of tufted ducks were with the more usual mallards, coots and Canadian geese. Big squabble broke out when I unburdened myself of a bag of wheat and some scraps of brown bread. Needless to say hordes of black headed gulls joined in the fray.

No sign of the long tailed here so I made my way to the top of the sand dunes overlooking the marine lake. Success, sea duck espied -quite remarkable considering I’d left my bins behind doh! (You’re not the only one Neil)

·         I hurled myself down the dune to the lake path and advanced on my quarry as it dived, stock still as it surfaced. (The Long-tailed Duck is one of the deepest diving ducks, and can dive as deep as 200 feet to forage- impressive, no problem  at Crosby then).
 Running on water - lift off
Despite my stealth it never really came close to shore and at one point took flight and moved further on, one had to be patient.  Eventually it headed further into the lake, surprisingly towards the incredible hardy windsurfers, what’s all that about, tis winter- Brrr!

Took a look at Seaforth reserve, looked quiet but then without bins there could have been a dodo there for all I knew!

The tide was coming in and with it some pretty dirty heavy clouds; alas I didn't make it back to the car before the hail squall got me…oww.. that stung.   Never mind had the pleasure of feeding the hungry ones and I got my tick!  - Laura 

Crosby beach (Anthony Gormley statue)


Two of our members hit milestone birthdays this month

All our members wish
 Chris and Rhodie  
a very 

Cheers Rhodie x
Quick call the fire brigade-  the hedgehog's on fire!

Many happy returns 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Egrets, Harriers and Crackers for 24

A stormy day at Burton Mere

Our now annual Christmas trip to RSPB Burton Mere wetlands saw approx 2 dozen of the group arriving in a winter storm, and boy did it lash it down, so severe we had to face the austerity of the visitor centre and the hardship of observing the mere through its large picture windows, whilst sipping hot chocolate! Ha
Warm and cosy visitor centre

Needless to say the birds were making the best of it, backs to the wind and driving rain until the squalls passed.  Lots of wildfowl and waders on the water and scrapes, teal, shelduck, widgeon, coot, moorhen, mallard, tufted  duck,gadwall, shoveler, lapwing, black- tailed godwit, pochard, redshank, dunlin, whooper swan, little egret, Canadian and greylag geese
Buzzard on the fence was the first raptor seen, eventually followed  by a  peregrine spooking the flocks,  then a  ring tailed hen harrier quartering the mere edge visible from the visitor centre. Later a great view of a marsh harrier from the  marsh covert hide.

Target bird for many was the cattle egret that has been on the reserve since September, initially elusive, but  good views were eventually gained on our return to the visitor centre after our stroll around the reserve. The egret was having fun running to a fro between the legs of the reserve’s cattle herd.

Our merry, if slightly soggy band of birders then took  a stroll around the reserve, starting from the visitor centre past the old fisheries pools (no kingy unfortunately) down the boardwalk on the reed and fen trail to the Marsh Covert Hide. From here the trial has been extended and becomes the farm and willow trail. The trail runs alongside the mere and reed bed with 2 areas of wooden screens to look through (usually a good place for water rails and closer views on wild fowl)
Screen view looking towards Burton point
The boardwalk path ends at this point as it climbs up towards the back of the mere pools towards Burton point. Here a whole field is dedicated to feeding birds, planted with wildflowers – one of Burton mere's giant meadow bird tables!
In summer this was alive with warbler song including the much sought grasshopper warbler, today it was pretty quiet and people were focusing on negotiating the very muddy path!  This path eventually leads to the old Inner marsh farm reserve path and Burton point. Along the way there’s a spectacular view of the whole reserve stretching to the old barn and sailing club in the distance.

The car park woodland was the most productive for smaller birds, mainly around the feeders. Chaffinch, blue, gt, coal tit, goldfinch, greenfinch, nuthatch, wren blackbird, song thrush, robin, tree creeper and gt spotted woodpecker (shall I mention the supreme foragers -rats!!)

We returned to the visitor centre just ahead of yet another squall, which delayed us temporarily from moving to our next venue the boathouse for Christmas dinner.

A quick pic with Harry the mascot from August’s Hen Harrier day.
Laura and Harry


Twenty-four of us sat down to a 3 course Christmas dinner at the boathouse. Great stuff, well recommended - the boozy Christmas pud to die for!

Happy revellers
Hats on, Cheers!

These are the days of our lives.
Merry Christmas everybody.


The RSPB’s top three ways to help your garden birds in Northern England this winter

Lard, ping-pong balls and holly feature on birds’ Christmas list

The temperature is expected to plummet over the next few weeks with ice and snow spreading across the country, and birds that have benefited from a mild autumn will begin to struggle as the weather changes. The RSPB is asking people to top up their bird feeders and provide fresh water and shelter for wildlife in their gardens during the frosty weather.

The nature charity says there are three key things that birds will need this winter: food, unfrozen water and shelter.

Blackcap eating fatcake

1) In chilly weather birds will appreciate a variety of food, but fatty food will be especially helpful. For example, fat balls, or homemade bird cakes made with lard and packed with seeds, fruit or dried mealworms are great treats to put out in your garden. Kitchen scraps will work well, and a recipe for successfully feeding birds over winter might include chopped fat from unsalted meat, cheese, dried fruit, and pastry.

Grey wagtail on garden pond
2) Unfrozen water for drinking and bathing may be hard for birds to find when there’s been a frost, but with a simple trick you can help to keep a patch of water ice-free. The RSPB recommends floating a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the surface of the water. Even the lightest breeze will keep it moving and stop an area of the water freezing.

Fieldfare and song thrush on pyracantha

3) You can provide shelter with careful planting by planting dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or allowing ivy or holly to grow: these all provide great cover for birds to roost in. Nestboxes can also be good roosting sites. Roofs are also a popular spot for birds trying to keep warm. If birds are getting into a hole in your roof and you need to get the hole fixed, consider putting up a nestbox to replace the gap. Find out more about giving nature a home in your garden here: rspb.org.uk/homes

Chris Collett from the RSPB in Northern England said: “People can make a real difference to garden birds and improve their chances of surviving the winter. Birds don’t need much and by providing a supply of food, a patch of unfrozen water and somewhere to shelter from the elements, you will be rewarded with great views of wildlife in your back garden.”

Chris added: “At this time of year it’s also worth pointing out that while birds need fatty foods, you shouldn’t put out fat from a roasting tin, such as turkey fat on Christmas day, as this runny fat can coat birds’ feathers, making it difficult for them to move or fly.”

The RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s biggest wildlife survey, returns on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 January 2015. To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time over Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local park at any one time. They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or in the post. The Big Garden Birdwatch in 2014 revealed that house sparrows were the most recorded birds despite their falling numbers, and for the first time great spotted woodpeckers appeared in the top twenty. The full results can be viewed online at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

The RSPB offer a large selection of bird food and feeders in their online shop rspb.org.uk/shop

Feeling festive at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

'Harry' Mascot of Hen Harrier day


With Christmas just around the corner, there’s a festive song in the air at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands nature reserve – but it’s not only the iconic robin holding a beautiful tune.
Staff and volunteers at the reserve near Neston can be found humming festive favourite ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and are now inviting visitors to join in – with a twist. After rewriting the classic tune to include the winter birds found on the reserve and incorporating it into a fun family trail, the team at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands are encouraging families to enjoy the ‘Twelve Birds of Burton Mere’ trail.

Dan Trotman, Visitor Development Officer at the RSPB Dee Estuary reserve, said: “We are challenging families to come along and follow the trail, discovering all about the wonderful wildlife that calls the reserve home. December is a magical month at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and we are sure you’ll have fun finding the clues and singing the tune as you explore the nature trails. Not forgetting there’s also free Christmas-themed craft activities for families to enjoy throughout the festive period, so there’s plenty of fun to be had.”

The ‘Twelve Birds of Burton Mere’ trail will run until Sunday 4 January (excluding 25 December) and participants can drop-in anytime between 9.30 am and 4 pm. It is free to take part, but the normal admission charge of £6 applies to non-member families.
There is also a special treat for visitors this month as all ages are invited to plant a tree for Christmas on the reserve. This rare opportunity to plant a tree in the Gorse Covert Woodland follows work by the reserve wardens to clear young non-native sycamore trees from the woodland. Now, 50 saplings of oak, rowan, birch and elder have been kindly donated by a local RSPB member to fill the gaps and visitors are invited to help plant them.
Dan said: “This is the perfect opportunity for visitors to physically join in with the conservation on the reserve and help to provide a home for nature.  It will be wonderful for people to know they have helped contribute to a growing wildlife haven and watch as the woodland develops over time.”
The Plant a tree for Christmas event takes place on Saturday 20 December, from 10 am-1 pm, and costs £2.50 per tree (£2 for RSPB members). Booking is not required, but trees will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Normal entry charges apply for non-members to access the rest of the reserve.
Dan added: “Despite the short days, December is a fantastic time of year to visit the reserve, with many of our most secretive residents, such as snipe and water rails, coming out around the pool edges during colder spells. It’s a great time to try and spot them, as well as the masses of ducks and our more familiar woodland birds which you’ll be helping for years to come by planting a tree here.”
For more information on these and other events, visit www.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary for details. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

An evening with Bill Oddie

Cheshire Wildlife Trusts’ next fundraising speaker event – ‘An evening with Bill Oddie’ at Chester Racecourse on 5 March 2015?

For many, Bill Oddie OBE will need no introduction. The face of the pioneering early days of live wildlife television during the 1990s, Bill remains a firm favourite with audiences of all ages through his many years on the BBCSpringwatch and Autumnwatch sofas, numerous books, magazine columns and hundreds of other TV appearances. For another generation, Bill will forever be one of the ground-breaking and zany comedy trio, The Goodies.
An often outspoken conservationist, Bill is a national vice president of The Wildlife Trusts and many other nature charities. Bill’s formative years as a birdwatcher were spent in his native West Midlands, just down the M6, before going on to university and the famous Cambridge Footlights. After many years as a comedy writer and performer, countless spots on natural history programmes followed; including several of his own TV series with acclaimed natural history producer and author Stephen Moss.
Bill brought out his acclaimed autobiography 'One flew into the cuckoo's egg' in 2009, has his own range of wildlife and birdcare products and currently writes a regular column in BBC Wildlife magazine.
You can join us for ‘An evening with Bill Oddie’ at Chester Racecourse on 05 March 2015 (7:30pm - doors 6:45pm). 
Tickets are £16.50 per person (inclusive of booking fees and parking) with all proceeds going to supporting our conservation projects here in Cheshire.
Go to website for booking

Monday, 1 December 2014

Our Manu in Cyprus – fighting back for birds


Last August, while looking for a job in one of the websites I regularly visit, I saw a heading that drew my attention immediately: "Migratory Birds Conservation on Cyprus Volunteers".
As a conservation biologist and a keen birdwatcher, I'm well aware of illegal bird trapping all around the Mediterranean area, so I decided to send an e-mail asking for information. A few days later I had already booked the flights.

I arrived at Larnaca International Airport on 8th October at 20:55, and Edith and Gabriel were already waiting for me. About fifty minutes later we met Paulina at home, a nice lodge in Protaras.
 Protaras coast.

Edith Loosli cleaning a female Blackcap

Edith Loosli is the camp organizer and MBCC founder, a Swiss woman who has been fighting against illegal bird trapping in Cyprus for more than 20 years. Gabriel and Paulina, from the USA and Bulgaria, were the other volunteers.

Our everyday work consisted in patrolling the Southeastern Peninsula and Cape Gkreko areas, looking for illegal bird trappers. 

Coast at Cape Gkreko National Park.

We used to work chiefly at night and around sunrise and sunset for two main reasons: 1) it's still really hot in Cyprus in October and 2) the trappers know both Edith and MBCC's work, so we had to be very cautious not to be discovered.
Fortunately, Cypriot landscape is very bushy and we usually were able to spy on the trappers from a quite short distance.
A tree ready for illegal bird trapping! Note the wooden steps and the lime sticks.

Using this procedure, we managed to collect 278 lime sticks, confiscate 3 decoy devices and save 17 birds in the time I spent in Cyprus (until 25th October). Most birds were Blackcaps (13), but we also rescued 3 Willow Warblers and a lonely Reed Warbler.

The question here is: "what do they trap the birds for?" I would say that there are two kind of trappers: 1) the small ones, who want to hunt just a few birds for their own consumption, and 2) the big ones, who want to catch as many birds as possible in order to get money. The latter sell the birds to restaurants, where they are served as a dish called ambelopoulia, and are the most dangerous. It's easy to find plenty of information about this disgusting delicatessen on Google.
Coast at Cape Gkreko National Park.

I think that it's really important to say that police is very reluctant to cooperate, so we usually did our work independently, and only turned to police when the situation was especially risky or when there was a big chance of catching the trapper red-handed.

That said, I'd like to emphasise that Cyprus has not only illegal bird trappers and corrupt police, but many kind people, plenty of astonishing landscapes and countless interesting birds (I got seven lifers!) 
Starred Agama.

Juvenile Masked shrike
Crimson  Speckled Moth

Below you can find a link to the last MBCC report:
If any of you have any interest in taking part in a future camp, please let me know.

All the best! 

Manu Santa-Cruz

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Save a special home for Nightingales

Nightingale-Nigel Blake

The RSPB is here to give nature a home. Without a home to live in, all of nature is lost. So, when special places for nature are facing a severe threat, we must act.
Today we need your help to protect these special places - beginning with Lodge Hill in Kent.
Developers and the local council are proposing to build 5,000 homes in and around the woods where nightingales sing each summer. This is despite the fact that wildlife protection laws already recognise Lodge Hill as a nationally important site for the nightingale - a species we know to be in steep decline.
But the implications are even more far-reaching than the fate of this wonderful bird.
A must-win for all UK wildlife
If this development goes ahead it would be the single largest loss of protected land in a generation - and could set a precedent that threatens every other protected area for wildlife in the UK.
Without the nature conservation laws that protect special places, our wildlife would effectively be homeless, with nowhere to call their own.
At a time when many UK wildlife species are facing serious declines, that would be nothing less than a conservation disaster.
That's why we're issuing our SOS for Special Places and asking you to help us raise £850,000 for an emergency fighting fund for 2015.
Take a stand to save nature near you
This one case at Lodge Hill could unravel all the hard work our casework team are doing right now to save protected areas across the UK. Each and every one of these cases need your support too.
For example, next to our Forsinard reserve near Strathy in Sutherland, RSPB Scotland is working with partners to stop multiple wind farm developments that would undermine our work to restore this part of the 'Flow Country'.
In Wales, RSPB Cymru is battling to stop protected sites on the Gwent Levels being blighted by a proposed M4 relief road, which would drive right through special homes for lapwings, otters, water voles and one of the UK's rarest bumblebees.
Often, we work with developers to find a win-win solution for people and wildlife. But when, as in these cases, our advice is not being taken on board, we have to stand up and be counted.
Answer our SOS for Special Places with your donation today
We've reached a critical moment for nature. We're not just trying to save one area of woodland, essential though it is for nightingales. We're actually trying to save every special place for wildlife in the UK.
So please make a donation now and help us raise this vitally important £850,000 fighting fund. Let's do this together. Help us stand up for what's right and protect Lodge Hill and the Flow Country, and all the other special places our casework team are battling to save.
Thank you.
Signature of Bob Elliot Head of Investigations
Andrew Dodd
Head of Casework, RSPB

Skydancers on the Dee

Visitors to the RSPB’s Parkgate reserve on the Dee Estuary are being given the chance to see England’s most threatened bird of prey in action.

The reserve is hosting Skydancers on the Dee, a series of monthly events offering nature lovers the opportunity to experience hen harriers at their winter roost site.

Hen harriers breed in the uplands and are famous for the male’s spectacular aerobatic spring courtship display known as skydancing. The birds spend the winter on lower ground, often on marshes, and the Dee Estuary has long been one of the best places to see these remarkable birds.

Sadly, hen harriers are on the brink of extinction in England as a breeding bird. This year there were only four breeding pairs in the whole of England. In 2013, there was not a single successful nest in the country, despite scientists concluding there is sufficient habitat for more than 300 pairs.

Independent research has shown that ongoing illegal killing and disturbance associated with the grouse moor industry is responsible for the plight of the hen harrier.

Dan Trotman, the RSPB’s Visitor Development Officer on the Dee Estuary, said: “It is a real privilege to be able to see these magnificent birds hunting and roosting on the estuary. I hope that when our visitors see them in action, they will be inspired to help us save them from extinction in England as a breeding bird before it is too late.

“The saltmarsh at Parkgate is where the harriers traditionally roost but they roam some distance during the day to feed; recently we’ve been treated to fantastic views of one, sometimes two, hen harriers hunting close to the reception hide at Burton Mere Wetlands, so it’s well worth a trip there too.”
There is also a giant hen harrier spending the winter over at Burton Mere Wetlands. Harry is a six-foot male hen harrier, created by local young nature enthusiast Findlay Wilde. The large-scale model bird has been touring the country to raise awareness about hen harrier conservation. This year, it has made appearances at Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District, Bird Fair in Rutland and mostly recently, on BBC Autumnwatch at RSPB Leighton Moss in Lancashire.

Skydancers on the Dee is on Sunday 30 November from noon until dusk, at the “Donkey Stand” on The Parade in Parkgate. There are further events on 21 December 2014, 25 January 2015, 22 February and 29 March. All events are free and visitors can drop in any time. 

Skydancers on the Dee is part of Skydancer, a four-year RSPB project aimed at protecting and conserving nesting hen harriers in the English uplands. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and United Utilities with additional support from the Forestry Commission. For more information, visit www.rspb.org.uk/skydancer