Saturday, 28 June 2014

28th June......4pm. Aigburth, South Liverpool.

Just had great garden sighting.........Cuckoo.........flying south overhead, couldn't believe it.
 As John Dempsey says ......" eyes to the skies ".


PS       Wood Sandpiper at Carr Lane pools Hale.     Sun 29th 1.30pm

Thursday, 26 June 2014

A Midsummer Evening in Lovely Lunt Meadows

 Lunt Barn Owl

On midsummer's night twenty or so members of the group gathered for our first evening trip to Lunt Meadows, and were rewarded with a wonderfully peaceful walk, with some delightful sightings. First and foremost, we encountered dozens of swifts, not way up in the heavens as so often, but flying as low as head height, to make the most of the plentiful insects, and giving us excellent opportunity to admire their aerobatic skill. As we left the arable land and walked along the edge of the woods, thrushes and blackbirds were heard singing constantly, along with the wheezy call of greenfinches, among others. Then the path comes Into the open grassland and reedbeds of the nature reserve proper, and here we saw reed buntings, whitethroat and sedge warblers, as well as a particularly fine linnet posing on top of a reed. 

While the swifts and swallows continued to circle and weave around us, high above we saw 19 cormorants flying in a v formation, as well as a loose flock of starlings heading home to their roost. 
Lunt Meadows, pools & River Alt 
Over the pools, almost hidden by the tall vegetation, we saw the occasional oyster catcher and lapwing, but of course the real hope was to see owls, and right on cue, as the sun began to reach the horizon, a barn owl appeared and began to fly slowly to and fro across the grassland in front of the woods, occasionally dropping down into the grass in search of prey.

The Lunt Little 'un 

The return journey took us past Lunt Farm and back to Sefton village, where we were looking out for a little owl. In the end, some of us heard it, but only a few actually caught sight of the bird perching, before it flew off.  One up to Chris T. !

All in all, it was a lovely outing, and one that will certainly appear on the programme again( if only we could guarantee such perfect weather!).

Anne Pope

(all photo's L Bimson)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Crex Collective - Mulling it over

This years 'Big trip' for RSPB Liverpool saw sixteen birders land on the Scottish isle of  Mull, the 'Crex Collective', as we were known!

Staying at the glenforsa hotel,  
The Crexers in the Glenforsa upstairs lounge (Laura-photographer being eaten alive outside)

Our aim was to see eagles, crakes, otters and anything else that flew overhead or crossed our path! (And to avoid being eaten alive by the great whites of the Scottish insect world, midgies)

Here follows some re-collections, thoughts, magic moments and tall tales from our happy band!

'Chaff McVey'

16 off us set out on the Isle of Mull for hopefully a good days birding.  The weather was good, midgies not so good.  We were excited with the prospect of seeing more Golden and White Tailed eagles and any other birds for our count.  We arrived at a good location provided by a local farmer.  Other enthusiastic birders were already there, they had binoculars and scopes focused on the side of a mountain where a pair of Golden eagles with chicks could be clearly seen.  All 16 of us lined up and trained our bino's to see these spectacular birds and their nest with chicks inside. I stood back from the line to take in all of this majestic moment.  Then I noticed a Chaffinch only three feet from the line of birders on the ground.  There he was bobbing and fluttering up and down to show off, but no one took any notice of him because all was focused on the eagles and their chicks.  But I liked the Chaffinch and named him 'Chaff McVey'. Chaff was a cheeky little fellow, demanding he got noticed, then suddenly he must have had an idea and he flew of only to return within the minute, again he landed no more than two or three feet away from the line of birders, only this time he was wearing a 'kilt' in fine tweed and said to himself "Och I this will get me noticed".  
Chaff McVey
He stood there chest out and started dancing the highland fling, jumping up and down, turning and singing his heart out to a beautiful Scottish melody.  Still no one noticed.  Chaff stood, wings folded across his chest with his beak snared, clearly annoyed after all his efforts.  Then he had another thought and flew off, came back in front of the birders but this time he had 'bagpipes' under one wing and a tube connected to it in his beak.  He said " right laddie's and lassies wait till you hear this".  He closed his eyes, pulled in air, tightened the bagpipes closer to his body and played to the tune of ' Mull of Kintyre'.  When he finished he heard No clapping or shouts for "more, more" only to open his eyes to see no one had noticed him.  I could see a tear run down his cheek flow down his beak and spatter on the ground. He took of the bagpipes and threw them to the ground.  Shoulders slumped he turned and walked away, I thought he has not got the will to fly.  Watching him move away from the crowd, looking back occasionally to hear if anyone saying "did you see that Chaffinch" but to no avail.  I went after Chaff and caught up with him, knelt down in front of him, he lifted his head slowly so our eyes met.  I told him "wonderful, wonderful you were fantastic, I have never seen any bird do what you did".  Chaff smiled and said "was I that good", "Yes, Yes" I replied, you are a star I told him. I told Chaff " because others did not see you perform, I know all the people love all the birds all the same and just be yourself and you will get noticed".  With this Chaff was now happy and was fluttering about, then he flew of singing only to return soon with no kilt on, landed two to three feet away from the birders hoping in front of them.
On the way back to our hotel in the mini bus the other birders was happy and sharing a good days birding, someone said " did you see the Golden eagles taking turns on the nest, what a sight to behold".  I said "did you see the Chaffinch play the bagpipes in a kilt", to which I got no reply, only a few strange looks. Then I put my head back in my neck pillow and went to sleep.
So my favourite bird of the 'Crex tour' was 'Chaff McVey' the Chaffinch who gave me 'Magic'.

Chris McMelia.

The entire Mull experience with Shedluck Tours was just amazing.
A lovely group of friends doing what they enjoy. My highlight was when I 'finally' spotted the Short Eared Owl, and the mighty cheer that went up from the group. 

Thanks to the Shedluck Sixteen.
Rhodie Mc

Loch Ba
Loch Ba

One moment I would like to highlight was our walk beside Loch Ba. This is a large freshwater loch, surrounded by woodland, as well as having views out to a high ridge. We were duly excited by one of our first proper views of golden eagles early on, and 
enjoyed a beautiful walk, but the bonus came on our way back to the minibus, 

just as we were nearing the end of the path, when one of the group spotted a small group of crossbills and we were all able to watch them feeding high up in the larches.   
Annie Mc

Loch Buie

Apart from all the wonderful wildlife, scenery and laughs along the way, I was really impressed with the honesty shop on the shore of Loch Buie, what a lovely idea in this remote part of the world.  Restores your faith in human nature.
L Buie
My favourite little bird was the common sandpiper chick which was no more than a few days old with the characteristic little bob which gave its identity away, apart from the alarm calling parents.  It instinctively knew to go for cover, brilliant!

Carry on driver!




Oh Crex you have me vexed
Crex, crex you are my quest
Amid the swards of yellow flag
Your hiding in the grasses
The buttercups and nettles sway
Alas there is no finding you this day

Elusive Corncrake - RSPB images
Oh rasper, croaker of the corn, lift your head and make your call
Your summer home, on sacred ground, once sought by Scottish kings renowned  
Bewitching Iona your beauty sings loud
On this holy isle, peaceful solace can be found
A protected land, bonny and wild
A sanctuary for corncrakes; despite the pilgrim crowds

September will wane, no rasps are heard, our birds have flown to warmer climes
The meadow's quiet, but soon will know more, as wintering geese return to these shores.

And so I must leave you
My quest in defeat
My little corncrake teaser, deceiver
You kept me late
Yet, your call remains with me and perhaps
In a while, I'll return to Iona and we'll make it a date!

Laura, Lowra, Lol or McBimo!  

Monday, 16 June 2014

In Search of the Great Bustard

Gt Bustard - Ged Gorman

Our trip to Austria was planned to fulfil a long-standing ambition to see Vienna, but I looked up 'Birding Austria' as a matter of course.  There wasn't too much information, apparently the Austrians are not greatly into birding, and Swarovski developed their optics for hunters.  There were a few blogs, some of which said there were supposed to be several types of woodpecker in the gardens of some of the palaces, but a lot of the other species reported were not unusual.  However, 60 miles to the SE of Vienna there is a National Park around the Neusiedler See, which runs close to the Hungarian border.  Details were scant, especially to someone with very little German, but a visitor centre was advertised, and mention was made of a road with viewing towers, from which it was possible to see the fabled great bustard, only now being reintroduced to  England after being extinct since 1832.  Neusiedler See was added to the agenda forthwith.

Opportunities for birding whilst driving down were few and far between, and we had some filthy weather, but in Belgium we watched a pair of black redstarts hopping around the campsite in the pouring rain.  I saw quite a few over the course of the  trip, they seemed more common than robins.  (I even saw one in the Spar car park in Saltzburg.)  In Karlsruhe, Germany, our pitch was under a tree with a nest from which issued some very strange noises.  Again it started to rain, and the nest owners came down to feed.  They were fieldfares, and again they seemed more common than here, even haunting motorway services.  We also saw hooded crows as well as the plain black variety.

Next we stopped at Augsburg, where the campsite was next to a lake, poetically called the Autobahnsee.  It was probably originally the run-off collector for the motorway, but it has been prettily developed as a leisure facility.  As well as the usual Canada and Greylag geese, there were 15 to 20 red crested pochard.  Our pitch was under a lamp which was unlit at night, which was fortunate because a pair of blue tits obviously had a nest in the top of it.

In Klosterneuburg, just north of Vienna, we were wakened every morning by a very assertive goldfinch whose home we pitched beneath.  On my (rain-soaked) walk with the dogs I thought I'd found the local woodpeckers, flitting in and out of holes in a grove of poplars which served as a BMX track.  I went back with my binoculars only to discover they were enterprising starlings! I had no more luck at the Schönbrunn palace, though getting there in the middle of a hot afternoon probably wasn't the best strategy.

Non-bird wise, Vienna was wonderful, but after 11 days we finally set off for the Neusiedler See and the national park.  We stayed on the western side, and saw storks and great white egrets flying over.  The next day we drove around the lake, first to the visitor centre at Illmitz, which was much advertised but seemed to be mostly an educational centre for organised groups.  It has an observation tower, and a hide, supposedly to look out over one of the many shallow lakes which dot the region, but they were so far away you could barely make out that there were birds on it.  Approach to the shore itself was strictly 'verboten', so we asked directions to better viewpoints. 
Black winged Stilts - C Daniels
At the first of these there were avocets, and gaggles of greylags.  A group of about 30 walked across a field, each one surrounded by goslings, and there  were more families on the water.  Not unusual maybe, but great to see in such numbers.  A bit further on was a viewing tower, from which we saw more avocets, but also black-winged stilts, one of which was on a nest.

Confusing signs meant we missed the next lake we were aiming for, so we pressed on, heading for the loop of unclassified roads south from the towns of Tadten and Andau. Signage in these small towns is appalling, not in its lack, but in its proliferation.  Boards point to every small business and side street, with no consistency of colour to indicate directions to where you might want to go.  We could find nothing to indicate the right road in Tadten, and nothing was immediately apparent in Andau, but a plan in the town square came to the rescue, and we were able, eventually, to find the nondescript side street which was the start of the 'Flüchtstrasse', (which turned out not to refer to bird flight, but to the fact that it was walked by thousands of Hungarian refugees in 1956.) Once out of town the road was narrow and unfenced, running through open fields.  I was getting the feeling this was all just not meant to be, but the first of the viewing towers eventually appeared, though with nowhere to pull off the road.
I climbed, with considerable trepidation, a very rickety structure, and looked out over an expanse of empty fields in the sunshine.  A typical end to a grand expedition! I swept around with the binoculars for form's sake, and I was compensated with a great view of a red kite quartering a field in front of a small copse.
Hare & Bustard -C Daniels
I finished the sweep and there, standing in a gap at the edge of a grain field was the fabled great bustard.  I watched it for a while as it pottered about, then we drove on to the next observation tower.  This was a much sounder structure, and another bustard was visible among the seedlings of  maize, and just about close enough for a record shot.  The mottled markings on its back were clearly visible in the binoculars, as it fed among the seedlings.  Several curlews were in evidence, and half a dozen hares.  With reluctance we drove on, slowly as the road narrowed, down to the Hungarian border.  We sighted no more bustards, but a red-backed shrike flew across our path.  We stopped at the last observation tower, right next to the border, but all I saw here were pheasants.  There is also a National Park on the Hungarian side, but crossings are not permitted here, except for a few yards to visit the memorial to the refugees of 1956.  The road peters out to a cycle track so we went back up the 'Flüchtstrasse' to AndauPerhaps not the greatest trip in terms of numbers, but it was worth it all for the great bustard!    

Chris Daniels

Step back in time and discover a hidden history at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands trail

There's a hidden history to be uncovered at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands this month. From the picturesque mere itself, created by the family of former Prime Minister, William Gladstone, to the Iron Age hill fort at Burton Point, the nature reserve in the corner of the Wirral is home to far more than just wildlife.

A  Burton History Walk  will be held on Sunday 29 June, jointly led by a local historian and members of the RSPB team, to reveal the fascinating history of Burton village and the surrounding area. The reserve team has also linked up with Burton Manor Cafe  to provide a light lunch for participants at the end of the walk.
Dan Trotman, Visitor Development Officer for the RSPB s Dee Estuary reserve, said:  We focus so much on the brilliant variety of wildlife here that often we forget about the history and heritage that this land holds. Our role is to look forward and plan how we can help more wildlife to thrive here, but looking back to the past can be just as significant and rewarding in a different way.

Burton village was at one time all part of the Gladstone family estate, with the family home at Burton Manor, where we will culminate for lunch at the caf . Gradually the estate was broken up and sold, before the RSPB bought land at Burton Point Farm in 1988, giving us ownership of the hill fort.
This landmark was scheduled as an Iron Age promontory fort of national importance in 1995, and whilst similar to Iron Age forts found on the rocky coasts of Cornwall, Wales and the Isle of Man, it is the only example of this type in this area of England. Unusually, the fort may also have served as a high status homestead during the post-Roman period; few such sites have been identified in this area. The rich history of Chapel Field and Station Road will also be explored as we make our way up into the village centre.

We are really looking forward to sharing the fascinating history of Burton and hope as many people as possible can join us for this interesting walk.

Burton Point is not currently an accessible part of the reserve, so the walk allows an exclusive look at the hill fort, with dramatic views over the vast wetlands, across to the Welsh hills and as far as Hilbre Island at the mouth of the estuary. The circular walk, which requires participants to have a decent level of fitness, is approximately 3 miles in length and crosses grassed farmland in places.

The guided walk starts at 10 am from Burton Mere Wetlands and costs  £9 per person, ( £7 for RSPB members), which includes lunch at Burton Manor Cafe .  To book a place or for more information, phone 0151 353 8478 or email

Glimmer of hope for England's hen harriers

Bowland betty, female Hen Harrier

England s most threatened bird of prey has taken a small step back from the brink of extinction.

Last year, England s hen harriers suffered their worst breeding season for decades, failing to produce a single chick anywhere in the whole country. This year, however, is shaping up to be marginally better with a pair currently raising chicks on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in Lancashire. There is also a second nest on the estate with the female sitting on eggs. 
Bowland used to be the English stronghold for hen harriers and the upland bird of prey is even the symbol of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. However, the current nests represent the first breeding attempts in the area since 2011.

The RSPB and United Utilities have monitored and protected hen harriers in Bowland for more than three decades. Both nests are being watched by dedicated staff and volunteers, as well as CCTV around the clock.

The RSPB s hen harrier monitoring and protection work in Bowland forms 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 (with a grant of  317,700) and United Utilities, with additional support from the Forestry Commission. 
Jude Lane, the RSPB s Bowland Project Officer, says:  After two years of bitter disappointment, I am delighted and relieved that hen harriers have returned to nest in Bowland. However, the species is still in serious trouble and at risk from extinction as a breeding bird in England.

The plight of the English hen harrier stems from the fact that hen harriers sometimes eat red grouse, which brings them into conflict with the driven grouse shooting industry. This particular type of shooting requires large numbers of grouse so some game managers feel they must illegally kill or disturb harriers to protect their stock. 
A legal method that could reduce the number of grouse chicks lost to hen harriers is a management technique known as diversionary feeding. This involves providing hen harriers with an alternative food source during the period when the adults are feeding their chicks. The RSPB - in partnership with Natural England and the local shooting tenant - is currently using the method in Bowland.
Jude continues: Diversionary feeding is a simple, inexpensive and effective technique. Previous trials have shown it can reduce the number of grouse eaten by hen harriers by up to 86%.

For more information about the project, visit

Help wildlife - feed the family this summer

Adult and Juvenile woodpeckers - Jenny Jones

Despite a commonly-held view that wild creatures only need help finding food during winter months, the RSPB is urging people to put out food this summer too. 
Food shortages can occur at any time of year and this can be a major problem for garden birds especially, which are currently trying to find food to feed hungry chicks. Cool and wet conditions such as those experienced in many parts of the UK recently, can make it very difficult for birds to find their staple insect food and in particular caterpillars.

Richard James, a wildlife advisor at the RSPB said  Now is the height of the birds breeding season so there are many busy parents looking for food to feed their hungry offspring.
Birds need to find food for their young brood quickly and don t want to be away from them for too long, so having a supply of seeds, mealworms and suitable kitchen leftovers can really help them out.

The RSPB actually sells a third more bird food in June than it does in December. The charity believes the food may be eaten more quickly than in other months because birds see it as a convenience and, just like some busy mums and dads, opt for the easier option to keep their children happy.

And it's not just birds that need our help at this time of year. The RSPB is asking people to leave out food for hedgehogs too, such as tinned dog or cat food, crushed biscuits or specialist hedgehog food which can brought from the charity's online Never give hedgehogs milk as it can cause stomach problems.

The RSPB is asking gardeners to plant insect friendly flowers too, so butterflies, bees and other insects can thrive. Honeysuckle, dahlia and cornflower are among those that are attractive to look at and nectar rich for insects. 
A year since the RSPB launched its biggest-ever campaign, Giving Nature a Home, almost 300,000 people have pledged to provide summer and winter food for birds, put up a nestbox or plant nectar-rich flowers among other measures to help UK wildlife. 
And it s not just members of the public who have been Giving Nature a Home. Last month, LegoLand launched a wildlife garden made entirely  from LEGO bricks, designed to inspire visitors to attraction to give nature a home.
The set of Emmerdale was one of the first to lend a hand to the campaign, installing a bug hotel, hedgehog house and a nestbox around the famous soap village. Even the grounds of Downton Abbey have been transformed into a home for nature with a wildflower meadow.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said  The response to the RSPB s Giving Nature a Home campaign in its first year has been excellent. It shows the desire that many people have to help the wildlife around them. However, we need even more people to give nature a home.

You can do as much or as little as you like. Simple steps such as putting out food or installing a nestbox can make a big difference. You could even go on to provide ponds, hedgerows and insect homes too to really make your home an excellent home for nature.

Outstanding footage of garden birds visiting garden feeders was filmed by Brian Reid in his garden in Cambridgeshire. It shows starlings, goldfinches, greenfinches and house sparrows taking advantage of the extra food provided for them. Please see this link:  

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Little and large in Yorkshire

Holidaying for the first time on the North Yorkshire coast and being unfamiliar with the area left me wondering how much bird life I might encounter.  I need not have worried.  I had amazing experiences at two contrasting sites.
The first visit was to Filey Dams Nature Reserve.  This is a small wetland site managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  It comprises freshwater lagoons surrounded by marsh and grassland grazed by cattle.  It is the largest remaining freshwater marsh in the region.  The reserve is approached through an estate of bungalows not giving a clue to the gem that lies behind it.  
Filey Dams: Bur-Marigold pond [Pic: Jones]
The reserve has two hides with a wheelchair accessible screen adjacent to one hide.  The first hide revealed Moorhen, Coot, Canada Geese, Mallards and Tufted Duck on the first pool.  The second hide (not accessible to wheelchair users) is the East Pool Hide.  The word had gone round that a Curlew Sandpiper had been seen that morning, but it remained steadfastly hidden while I was there.  However, we were treated to excellent views of two Common Terns.  One gave a delightful exhibition of flying, diving, catching a fish – which it promptly dropped – and then retrieving same.  The bird life at this hide was a little thin, but I suspect this reserve comes into its own in autumn.  Midway between both hides is the Bur-Marigold Pond where there is a pond dipping platform.  This made for a peaceful moment’s rest where we were serenaded by the healthy populations of Tree Sparrows.  On our return to the car park we were delighted to see a newly fledged Tree Sparrow sitting on top of a nest box looking for all the world as if it was saying, “What do I do now?”  You can read more about the reserve at

The second and most spectacular site was RSPB Bempton Cliffs, located midway between Filey and Flamborough Head.  What a jewel this site is.  Our experience was helped by good weather, but I doubt that much can detract from the wonders of Bempton at this time of the year.  It presents a real onslaught on the senses: the sights, sounds and smells are spectacular.  More than 200,000 birds inhabit the imposing chalk cliffs. 
Chalk cliffs, Bempton
At first the sight is challenging; it is difficult to appreciate just how many birds are perching precariously on the cliffs and how many more are in the sea below.  
Gannets and guillemots nesting,
Bempton Cliffs [Pic: Jones}

The balletic movement of Gannets, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, and Herring Gulls was mesmerising and all achieved without any choreography.  How do they avoid bumping into each other? Convoys of Gannets patrolled along the seascape while Puffins performed their clumsy flight as they headed for footholds on the cliffs.  All species were nesting on the cliffs.  It doesn’t take much to realise that 200,000 birds produce plenty of guano and the smells were witness to that!  

Razorbills, Bempton Cliffs [Pic:Jones]

 The RSPB team does much to educate at this site with regular Puffintasia events and Puffin and Gannet Seabird cruises around the cliffs.  Boards are dispersed around the site encouraging visitors to reflect on different elements of Puffin ecology. 

No description or photograph can do justice to this site.  Apart from the bird cornucopia, there is a wealth of wildflowers, invertebrates and soils.  This site is a must to visit if you have the slightest interest in seabirds and their ecology.  

Education board [Pic: Jones}

 Well surfaced paths are feature of
main access areas at the reserve [Pic: Jones}
Accessibility for wheelchair users is satisfactory at this site, but access to southerly viewpoints would be challenging for users of non-motorised wheelchairs

Further information about RSPB Bempton Cliffs can be found at: