Saturday, 27 September 2014

Close encounters of the nice kind!

Westhay Moor

Somerset was so brilliant, not to mention warm, dry and sunny. We went up Glastonbury Tor, lovely views, Glastonbury is such a cool place full of weird and interesting shops and folk. We walked round Cheddar Gorge, so lovely, but very hard going especially with a sore knee! Stonehenge was really a day to remember too! 

Now for the wow factor!!
We saw all sorts of wildlife  including about 60 cranes, flying – not as close as we`d have liked but we saw them! A great white egret, and fabulous views of a water rail from about 7ft away. 

But the best for me was the following:
We were walking around the reed beds in Westhay Moor   one of the Many nature reserves surrounding us!  As usual the dragonflies were so numerous and all over the place. I saw one perched on the reeds, got really close and was wondering why it hadn`t flown away, when we realised it was stuck through a split in one of the leaves, at first we thought it was dead, then it moved slightly, so we clambered over the fence through the reeds and very carefully opened up the split in the leaf, it sat on my hand for a good few minutes, then gradually started moving it’s wings again. When it finally flew away it brought tears to my eyes!  Wow! what a moving experience!

Cherry and Hawker

Male Migrant Hawker

Thanks to Cherry for sharing her unforgettable experience. And there's a link here, amazingly enough Liverpool RSPB were admiring a female Migrant Hawker at RSPB  Blacktoft sands three weeks ago and 240 miles away! Bit far for a blind date

Interested in Dragonflies: why not become a member of the British Dragonfly Society (BDS) - join and help conserve these fantastic creatures and their wetland habitat:


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Gone Girls: Threatened birds of prey disappear without trace


Two young satellite-tagged hen harriers have vanished in Lancashire in unexplained circumstances. 

The female birds, named Sky and Hope, both fledged this year from nests on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in Lancashire where they had been protected around the clock by RSPB staff and volunteers.

Hen harriers are England’s most threatened bird of prey and this season there were only four successful nests in the whole country. Sky and Hope were among the first chicks to fledge in England since 2012.

Sky was officially named and adopted by pupils from Brennand’s Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn in Bowland. Hope was given her name by members of the RSPB’s youth groups from Macclesfield and Leighton Moss, Lancashire.  

The birds were both fitted with lightweight solar-powered satellite tags, designed to be operational for around three years. Satellite tags are frequently used by conservation organisations to find out more about the movements of species. For example, The British Trust for Ornithology has been following the migration of tagged cuckoos since 2011.  

Scientists tracking the movements of the young hen harriers became concerned when their tags stopped transmitting. Sky’s satellite signal stopped suddenly on the evening of Wednesday 10 September with the data suggesting she was roosting at her last known location, while Hope’s last’s known location was sent on the morning of Saturday 13 September. 

Both of the birds had left their nest sites on the United Utilities Estate several weeks earlier but had remained in the Bowland area since fledging. Searches were made but neither Sky nor Hope have been recovered.

Experts think it is improbable that the loss of satellite transmission is due to technical failure. Only a tiny percentage of hen harriers fitted with satellite tags since 2007 have stopped transmitting when it was known the tracked bird was alive.
Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “In our experience, this satellite technology is normally very reliable and it is rare for them to fail for technological reasons.  Losing two birds in such a short time frame and in the same geographical area is strange.

“Based on the last known data and our understanding of the technology, Sky appears to have suffered a catastrophic tag failure at roost suggesting either natural predation or human intervention as the likely causes for her sudden failure to transmit. However, we would not expect natural predation to stop the tag transmitting data so suddenly. Hope’s tag was transmitting reliably, with no evidence of any technical problems.”

TV presenter and hen harrier campaigner Chris Packham said: “It’s incredibly disheartening to discover that two of this year’s chicks have already apparently failed to survive. It shows how vulnerable hen harriers are and that four nests are nowhere near enough. Without satellite tagging, these disappearances might never have come to our attention but technology is on our side and we will keep watching.”

The disappearance of the birds has been reported to Lancashire Police and the RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward. Anyone with information about either of the birds should contact  
Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or, alternatively, call the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0845 466 3636.

Monday, 22 September 2014


Hi All,

After visiting my doctor this morning, I went to the Widnes Butterfly house, Victoria Park Widnes / intent on taking some photo's.  I was lucky as it was very quiet and had the place to myself for about an hour.

I found it difficult getting a decent manual focus on them with my camera and lens, as the sweat was running into my eyes all of the time and my T Shirt was soaked through with the humidity and warmth that the butterflies have to be kept in to keep them alive.

I started taking photo's with my 100m Macro lens and ended up using my 70-200mm as I found it easier to auto focus and get the whole of the subjects in focus. Also could stand further away and not to disturb them.

I found that the camera flash showed the butterflys colours etc up better than without, as it was a bit of a dull day outside in the cooler air.

At one point I had to get out quick, as I frightened a few and the rest stampeded and Ii would have gotten trampled to death ;-)


So what did Neil see:

The butterfly house is open from Thursday to Sunday, 10.30am to 2.30pm, until Sunday, September 28. (Birchfield rd) Widnes WA8 7SU

Sunday, 21 September 2014

More Welsh wanderings and scrambling

Newborough Warren
Sometimes I think I’m in a dream, sauntering along on a sunny day, singing skylarks overhead, the kronking of raven on the headland, chough chi-owing along cliff faces, even the roar of the overhead jets add to the sensory delights of stunning Anglesey. Heady thoughts of retiring to a rural cottage, watching the seasons unfurl, away from the hustle and bustle of cities….mmh

So here we are again  ’Another balmy, sunny day, another place on Anglesey; this time we’re in bunnyland, well that was what  Newborough warren had been famous for ( as over 100,000 rabbits a year were taken from the warren by the residents) although on the day we only saw one from the path, I’m sure there were lots more about, as one of the first things we saw on the sandy path was a particularly fit looking stoat crossing into the warren, plenty of dinners to be had here it would seem.

Today’s circular walk starts and ends at the lake of Llyn rhos du and incorporates a walk through the Corsican and Scots pines of Newborough forest and a visit to this isle of llanddwyn.
Sandy paths

Newborough Warren is part of a National Nature Reserve, which also includes Llanddwyn Island- the sacred blessed isle of St Dwynwen’s.(Welsh patron  saint of lovers! - Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness - St. Dwynwen)
To the left of the path is the reserve of newborough warren, it’s a massive dune system with a freshwater lake, saltmarsh, mudflats, a long beautiful beach and stunning views of the sea and Snowdonia
Lyn rhos du

Starting at Llyn rhos du’s car park,  a quick look over the freshwater  lake from the new bird hide only revealed coot, little grebe and swooping swallows.
A small herd of white Welsh mountain ponies were grazing on the warren - used to keep the sward in the condition needed by the wild plants that grow there. The song of Skylarks, robin, wren and Meadow Pipits could be heard. A kestrel hovered over the dunes.
The dunes are also home to toads and lizards, confirmed as a sand lizard dashed across our path and a young toad narrowly escaped being trodden on, a case of eyes to the path not to the skies! 

The beach at Newborough is long and sandy, and obviously popular with the locals. Extensive stunning views over to Snowdonia are afforded here. We continued along the beach to LLanddwyn Island passing some of the oldet rocks on Anglesey along the way. The island is more a long thin peninsula that gets cut off from the mainland only on the highest tides- not marooned today!
St Dwynwen's cross  and lighthouse

An atmospheric, serene little place, with its chapel ruins and beacons.
Chapel ruins
There are two beacons/lighthouses built at the tip of the island Tŵr Bach & Tŵr Mawr. The former lighthouse now returned to service after a modern light was placed on top. Off the tip of the island there were some rocky outcrops/islands, cormorants and gulls were sunbathing. On an inlet beach, a party of gulls were squabbling mainly adult and young herring gulls. Two oystercatchers were on the rocks nearby. Three sandwich terns were careering over the sea close to shore. As we walked along the island path, smaller residents were conspicuous, rock pipit and stonechat. A solitary wheatear was popping around the ruined chapel field.
We stopped for lunch on a promontary, fabulous.
Newborough view from island

Tall Pines
Leaving St Dwynwen’s resting place behind us we headed back to the path leading into the forest. This be the home of Red Squirrels, and we were lucky enough to see one shortly after, scampering up a pine too quickly for my camera - by the way don't forget to vote for Bob!

Apparently Newborough forest has a large raven roost, none heard or seen, far too early in the day. However we did see jays and buzzards as the path opened up to the estuary of the afon cefnii - one buzzard having no luck being mobbed by 4 crows! Curlews were calling on the estuary, but here our path turned away, back to Lyn Rhos du - we shall save Malltreath for another day.
Estuary Afon Cefnii, Malltreath

There are interpretation boards along the nature reserve path and trail markers throughout. Good, well-defined paths and the going is generally easy.

The following day saw us back in Wales, but this time in Snowdonia. Our aim was to climb the shapely magnificence that is Moel Siabod (2,860 feet) A mountain that looms large above coniferous forests near to Capel Curig.  On a clear day, the summit offers a fine panorama, revealing part or all of the highest three mountain ranges in Wales. Unfortunately although the day had dawned warm and windless September’s mist hung heavy and we could only just make out Snowdon and Tryfan through the haze as the day waned.
A spectacular start to our walk occurred as a fabulous male hen harrier glided over the heather clad moor and flanks of the mountainside, a Skydancer, ecstatic to see this special bird.

On the route we saw pied wagtails, buzzard, kestrel, robin, goldfinch, m pipit, skylark, wren and stonechat. As we approached the summit another highlight two splendid ravens kronked over the trigpoint, alas gone by the time the weary arrived.
Bill & laura on the summit
Anyone considering the walk should 
know it can involve a scramble up the ridge dependant on the path taken to the summit, amazingly didn't seem to stop the sturdy, foot sure sheep...

Late cuckoo with caterpillar

One more treat for the day - the path down 
the back of the mountain led us through a dip leading into the forest. A beautiful area, colourful, rowan trees heavy with berries, grasses thick and swaying and home to a particularly large black, hairy caterpillar that was about to become lunch for a cuckoo, a late cuckoo, no doubt taking advantage of the warm September weather before making it’s long journey to Africa.
Cuckoo path

Another fine day out, followed by tea in the Glan Aber , Betws y coed an old haunt of ours, still serving great pies after twenty years! 


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Time to celebrate as RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands turns three

Visitors on the path -Ron Thomas

A birthday weekend extravaganza will be held at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands this month to mark the nature reserve’s third birthday – and everyone is invited to join the party.

As a special birthday treat, visitors to the reserve on Saturday 27 September and Sunday 28 September will receive free entry and there will be a variety of free activities for all ages to enjoy, including den building, crafts and guided walks.

Staff and volunteers will be on hand to help people uncover the wildlife which makes its home at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and visitors can also gain tips on how to give nature a home where they live, before enjoying homemade birthday cake.

The reserve is home to many wonderful creatures, from kingfishers and common lizards to dragonflies, and now is the perfect time to witness a wildlife spectacle as large numbers of ducks and geese begin to move in for the winter.

Dan Trotman, Visitor Development Officer for the RSPB’s Dee Estuary nature reserve, said: “The birthday weekend is a fantastic way to celebrate the reserve turning three and a great opportunity for visitors to discover all that RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands has to offer.
“Since opening, more than 100,000 people have visited the reserve, enjoying the chance to get up close to nature and see wildlife they may never have come across before. Thanks to the recent addition of a new trail, people can now explore even more of the site, so whether you are looking for a relaxing walk, taking part in an event or wanting to marvel at the wonderful wildlife, there’s something for everyone.
“We hope as many people as possible will come and help us celebrate our third birthday as it is sure to be a brilliant weekend.”

The birthday event runs from 9.30 am-5 pm on Saturday 27 September and Sunday 28 September, with guided walks led by one of the wardens taking place at 10 am and 1.30 pm each day. On the Saturday, there will be a RSPB pin badge stall between 10 am-4 pm, with the full current range of pin badges to buy.

Please note there will be road closures around Burton from 11.15 am-12.15 pm on Sunday 28 September for a fun run event, so visitors to the reserve are advised to arrive before/after these times.

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 home 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 see:

Burton Mere Wetlands is open daily, with the reception building open from 9.30am until 5pm. The reserve is just 10 minutes from the M56, off the A540 (Chester High Road).  For non-RSPB members, entry is normally £4 for adults (concessions £2), £6 for a family and £1 for children.
For more details and a full programme of activities and times, phone 0151 353 8478 or alternatively email or visit

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The marshland was alive with the sound of ping!

Teal - with 'Bill ring'

Well maybe not a lot of pinging but we found the beardies!  Another beautiful day dawned for our trip, a full minibus and our bake off champion Ann had made us a another strudel cake for the journey
Blacktoft away team

Blacktoft is the largest intertidal reedbed in England and an important wildlife area in the Humber estuary. 474 acres of tidal reedbeds, saltmarsh, mudflats and brackish lagoons. The reserve itself is easy to get round ad its linear, 3 hides to the left of the reception hide first. Townend and Singleton, 3 to the right Xerox, Marshland and Ousefleet.
On arrival at the reserve were greeted by small toadlets on the path, and a stationary hare on the adjacent field. The tree sparrows were on good form, hanging onto the reserves seed feeders. 
Goldfinch on thistle
A charm of goldfinches were picking over  the thistle heads in front of the reception hide, but alas no kingfisher.

We were advised by the warden the best place to see the beardies was the Townend  hide,
View from Townend Hide
so we went straight there,  initial birds noted on the mud and around the reed beds were blue tits, pied wagtails, reed warblers, dunnock, reed bunting  stock dove and moorhens . Swallows swooped over the waters. The red arrows display team soared over head as if to announce the arrival of the beardies, as shortly after they started to flit around the bottom of the reed beds on the left. 
Bearded tit
Up to half a dozen were observed; closest view was when a couple of adventurous birds came onto the mud for a drink, lovely.  

Our first views of marsh harrier followed; close enough to see its cream head plumage.
Marsh Harrier
Mission accomplished we moved onto the other hides, at the Marshland/Xerox hides we were treated to a further visits from a marsh harrier, joined later by a buzzard.   Other birds on the waters, reedbeds, around the island muddy fringes were lapwing, pintail, little grebe,
Pristine ruff
widgeon, mallard, gadwall, shoveller, gt created grebe, wood pigeon,  snipe, redshank, spotted redshank, starlings, ruff and well spotted ‘Manu’ a water rail .

Butterflies and dragonflies roamed the reserve, speckled wood, green veined white, small white, red admiral, tortoiseshell, emperor and migrant hawkers dragonflies
Migrant hawker female 

At the Ouse fleet hide we added golden plover to our list and our first gulls, common, herring, lesser and greater black back.

A little excitement was the observation of a teal with a ’bill ring' which were told identified the bird had been ringed in the Camargue, France
I must mention the Konik,  these ponies  graze their way through the reserve’s reedbed,
Konik ponies
opening up new pools and channels that attract fish and amphibians, which in turn, have provided a banquet for the reserve’s rare and secretive bitterns.
No bitterns today but we weren't disappointed.

We ended the day with Chris and Arnie showing us the best way of getting over a barrier, I’ll let you decide … 
Steeplechaser Chris
Steady Eddie Arnie


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Giving Nature a home at Greenacres

Busy morning at Greenacres
Saturday 6th September was  the RSPB’s Giving nature a home day at the 65 acre Greenacres woodland burial ground in Rainford, St Helens.
Following on from the success of previous RSPB led woodland explorer events, it gave us a further opportunity to raise awareness of this wonderful new woodland   burial ground and to work in partnership to help improve the site for nature and people and hopefully inspire future generations to help nature flourish. The main aim of our shared event was to show local children  some nature on their doorstep, and what they could continue to do at home to attract and help wildlife.
Despite the early rain  over a thirty intrepid explorers - children, their parents and Sam the dog  made it to  the site. RSPB staff volunteers  Katie, Helen and Jayne helped them make bird fat  cone feeders to take home,  search through leaf litter piles in search of small beasties and enter the day’s colouring competition . The children were introduced to Homes for nature that could be built or bought  i.e bird boxes , butterfly, bee and  insect houses, hedgehog and frog  homes, and  various bird  feeders.
Chris Tynan from RSPB Liverpool leading wildlife walk 
Chris from our group led two walks around the grounds identifying flora and fauna along the way. The children were kitted out with loaned binoculars, to assist them in spotting some of the wonderful bird species in the woods including more less well known birds such treecreepers, nuthatches, woodpeckers and long tailed tits.

What bugs that?!

Hardworking Keely and Richard from Greenacres led the children  with their magnifying glasses on a bug hunt in the woods,  and got them  busy tree bark rubbing.  Doing this meant the children had the  chance to earn the much coveted Greenacres woodland explorer badge. 

Back at the hall  we were well looked after by Greenacre’s  Angie who supplied us with the tea, coffee and jammie dodgers from the café hatch. Anna busy with burial ground visitor enquiries all morning  managed to join us later in the afternoon for chat about the site and to see what was going on.

Greenacres  was formally opened in April 2014 and is already the resting place of many souls. The ceremonial building is large modern wooden building that fits in with its surroundings, the chapel area  having  a cathedral high ceiling with large glass windows/doors  overlooking the rich flower meadow.

Ceremonial building

This building and the attached  car parking are situated between 2 woods, Emma and Grace woods, down in a natural dip the area has been landscaped with wild flower meadows  and specimen trees such as silver birch, rowan, and alder. There  are wide  paths, wide enough for a complimentary golf buggy, used to ferry prospective visitors.
The woodlands are mainly mature broadleaf trees including impressive oaks and sweet chestnuts, inside there are bluebell glades and an orchid walk.
A berry heavy well established mixed hawthorn and elder hedge  acts as a screen for the estates (Lord Derby owns the land) Emma wood cottage. Many small birds were flittering  through it and using it as jumping off point to the cottage’s bird feeders!  We observed the ‘ red listed’ tree sparrow( blackcaps,  chaffinch,  blue, great and coal tit and willow warblers. A bird table has been positioned next to the woodland boundary and 2 seed feeders are currently  by the car park, foragers  included robin, gt tit and a grey squirrel –after it had stopped raining! (*Evidence of Red Squirrels on site have been reported)
There are several ponds on site, one of which has a healthy population of fish; a Heron visitor can’t be far away!  Moorhen, shelduck and  breeding oystercatcher  were recorded this year by one of the ponds.
Other/Woodland birds noted at our event Sparrowhawk, jackdaw, jay, nuthatch, kestrels, wren, buzzards, wood pigeons, collared dove, robins, mistle thrush, and crows. Butterflies, whites, red admiral and speckled wood.  A large solitary rabbit was mooching around the back of the ceremonial building.
The weather wasn’t particularly kind on Saturday and many other birds, insects can be found on site, please, see the monthly Wildlife watch reports on the Greenacres website

Future plans working with the RSPB should include the supply of a barn owl platform for the barn (healthy owl pellet found by ceremonial building at event - full of little bones!) and tree sparrow boxes.

The site is open to the public to roam. As long you report to reception, be respectful and keep your dogs on a lead.

Go and a have a look around, autumn colours emerging.

On the bug hunt


Wednesday, 10 September 2014


BMW.............Wednesday wanderings.    10th Sept.     4-7pm

Spent a fabulous few hours at Burton mere wetlands RSPB reserve this afternoon.

Glorious sunshine and really nice light over at the Inner marsh hide. Hide was a bit busy when I arrived but quietened down soon after.

Fantastic array of waders that include 1 curlew sandpiper, 2 little stint, 10 or more spotted redshank, 1 pectoral sandpiper, lots of ruff,  1 red necked phalarope, black tailed godwit, plenty of snipe and at least 7 greenshank ( seen from the screen on the walk over ), 1 sparrowhawk.

Only bird I failed to see was the cattle egret which had been seen earlier.                  Sean.

black tailed godwit         
red necked phalarope &  pectoral sandpiper               
spotted redshank &  phalarope                         
pectoral sandpiper