Monday, 23 February 2015

Gloucestershire glories

Last weekend two of us (Linda and Jen) joined Jeff Clarke and 7 other people for his Birdcraft weekend in Gloucestershire.  It was a weekend of contrasts between Day 1 which was spent in the Forest of Dean and featured cold, but clear, dry weather and Day 2 which was spent at WWT Slimbridge accompanied by pouring rain.  The latter was an effective reminder that Slimbridge is a wetland site.

Panorama of the Forest of Dean from New Fancy
The ancient Forest of Dean lies between the valleys of the Rivers Wye and Severn with Gloucester on the east.  It features 110 sq kms of mixed woodland, a haven for a variety of birds and mammals.  The day began at New Fancy viewpoint which affords excellent views across a large area of the Forest.  We were there to see Goshawks.  It was not long before we saw the silhouette of this beautiful bird in the distance and above the treeline.  If only it would come closer.  A short while later another pair of Goshawks appeared. We could not believe what we were seeing.  After one hour there we had seen 5 of these beautiful birds.  Together with the Buzzards, Carrion Crows, Wood pigeons, Robins, Ravens, Siskins, Goldfinch and Great spotted woodpeckers it was an excellent site and a brilliant start to the day.

Main pond, Cannop Ponds
Our next destination was Cannop Ponds, a pair of linear ponds divided by a small causeway.  These man-made ponds were constructed to supply water to Parkend Ironworks in the 19th century.  They are now home to various duck species with good footpaths around their perimeter.  The first pond gifted us sight of a Cormorant displaying its wings beautifully.  Also visible were several pairs of Mandarin ducks.  The site gave us good opportunities to see many species at relatively close distance.  Total species seen at Cannop Ponds were Cormorant, Mandarin duck, Little grebe, Tufted duck, Coot, Mallard, Herring gull, Lesser black-backed gull, Moorhen, Robin, Nuthatch, Long-tailed tit, Great tit, Goshawk, Blackbird, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldcrest, Siskin, Marsh and Coal tits. 

Day 2 dawned with a heavy frost and temperatures of -3oC, with much ice to be scraped off cars before we headed back to the cricket pitch in search of the elusive Hawfinches.  This time our persistence was rewarded.  We had excellent sightings of 9 of these glorious birds with those impressive bills.  Chaffinch and greenfinch also put in an appearance.  What a way to start the day.  From there it was off to WWT Slimbridge.  En route we noticed crowds of people and thought that perhaps it was a Sunday car boot sale.  Then, we realised that the attraction was nothing material, but the excellent Severn bore which was due to be spectacular as the tides were at an 18 year high.  Sadly, we could not delay to watch this sight.

By the time we arrived at Slimbridge the weather was very wet, but we were not to be deterred.  En route to our first stop we saw a Water rail which showed up several times during the course of the day.  One of the most spectacular sights was that of a large group of Wigeon which moved out of the water and rippled across the marsh like a slow moving carpet.  The Cranes put in an appearance, 4 of them with two showing multiple leg rings clearly.  These rather primitive looking birds are a delight to watch flying across the marsh.  Large groups of Black-tailed godwits put on good displays particularly when spooked by an incoming Peregrine which failed to capture any prey.  Closer to one of the hides we had excellent views of Pintail and Greylag geese. 

Two male and one female Pintail

 There is not enough space to speak of all that we saw.  Suffice to say that by the time we left our notebooks additionally had records of Wood pigeon, Moorhen, Lapwing,  Shelduck, Teal, Bewick’s swans, Little Stint, Dunlin, Pied wagtail, Golden plover, Coot, Mallard, Redshank, Shoveller, Tufted duck, Meadow pipit, Sanderling, and Pintail.  So our Gloucestershire sojourn had ended.  It is an area well worth visiting with Parkend proving to be a useful base.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

to the Huyton poet

But all was not lost, as in the same patch
2 snow buntings were causing a twitter,
So he pressed on the gas and drove very fast
to the place all the birders did muster.

The buntings sat tight,
to the twitchers delight and
all thoughts of that yank were abated.

T'was a tick for  the year, and what's that I hear?
the Laughing gull's back on the pier!

West Derby ANON

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

    There was a young twitcher from Huyton

     Who heard of a gull in New Brighton

     Through the tunnel he sped

      It was only a Med

      No Laughing gull he'd so set his sight on.


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Calling Competition Kings & Queens

For the poets

Closing date March 1st 2015.


2013 winner  -Kites

Seems all the city's sly guys pitched up at the park.
A couple of hundred pariahs, idly climbing spirals
Of dense dusk air, twisting their two-finger tails:
A devil crowd, loafing on thermals, presaging dark.
This is no free-flowing flock, no liquid shoal that wheels
As one in-unison wave: these are scavenger anti-souls
Forming vortices of slo-mo dervishes,
Each spiky silhouette in separate gyration.
Hell-born hoodlums, who thrive on all that perishes.
Some pack out the lifeless branches of a leafless grove:
They lift lapels to check the contents of their pockets,
Correcting brown-coat buttons with a flick of their beak-knives,
Or brush the Delhi dust from their death-black jackets;
Then one by one flap up to join the anarchist claque
That cracks the abnegate sky - that lumbering bomber stack
Of cut-outs, off on a night-raid, stark-hard flags unfurled.
They soar and scorn the din, pharp-parping to damnation,
The busy-ness below, the choke-locked inner ring,
The humans who learned today they're more than half urban.
No: this couldn't-care-less congregation would not lift a wing
If you told them tomorrow is doomsday, and they the last left alive.
Forewarned, they'd still flop off to run their lazy rackets,
Go poke through piles of plastic trash in derelict dives,
Then gather to shrug disdain at the end of the day, or world.

For the Snappers

RSPB Calendar competition 2016

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Polish plugs, pouncers and passengers

I arrived at Gdansk Lech Walesa airport at 12.30 in the morning, my third trip to the city in less than twelve months. I checked in at the hotel just a stone’s throw away from the arrival lounge. I didn’t have the best of starts on Friday. I had forgotten to pack my travel adapter plug, a necessity in getting about. I took a short trip to the departure area at the airport to purchase a new plug, only to discover when I returned to the hotel, I had in fact bought the wrong one, or at least one that doesn’t work in Poland.

I went back to the airport, only to be told by the assistant that as I had opened the packaging I couldn’t exchange it. After negotiating a deal with the manager I ended up exchanging for one that did work, and had to pay the difference.

I made my way to the guest house and immediately looked out of the room window and in the gardens of the adjoining properties were great tits by the dozen, blue tit, robin, blackbirds, jay, two great spotted woodpeckers and two hawfinches. I was starting to feel better after the plug debacle. I ventured over to a wooded area opposite in Jascowa Dolina. After a quiet start, I saw a black woodpecker flying, and in trying to get a better view then was surrounded by a host of birds, including nuthatches, treecreepers, goldcrest, crested, coal and long tailed tits, also great spotted woodpeckers. The usual corvids were flying over, including ravens. Making my way back to the guest house it started to snow heavy.

I woke early next day to see a blanket of snow, and wondered whether the public transport would be affected. I asked the guest house owner and he said “used to snow here, everything keeps running”. I was on a tight schedule to make the bus to the Island called Sobieszewska. I needed to get a bus for two stops, then a tram for 8 stops to catch the 186 bus. Unfortunately I missed it by a couple of minutes, realising not as many buses run on a Saturday. The next bus was an hour and half later. I decided to go for the 112 bus that took me to the island but the other end of where I wanted to be. Looking out on to the Vistula river, I could see long tailed ducks, goldeneyes and goosanders. I heard calling which I didn’t recognise, and using an app on my mobile, discovered it was male long tailed ducks calling. My new travel plug was already having benefits, with my fully charged mobile.

 I saw a raised platform for viewing over a reedbed and pond. I heard bearded tits, but didn’t see them. Walking up towards the tip of the Island, I saw numerous fieldfare, blackbird, bullfinches, greenfinches and siskin. I walked up further towards the Mewia Lacha nature reserve.  I walked up a tall steel tower platform and two Polish birders with telescopes were looking out to the Baltic sea. They only spoke a little English, but they allowed me to look at two waders through a telescope. An oystercatcher and a dunlin, didn’t seem so exciting. I was to learn later though that these two birds made the news in Poland. It is very rare for these waders to be seen there in winter. Further along the spit was more exciting for me, a white tailed eagle sat waiting. I thanked my Polish birder friends. I don’t think I will recognise them again though, they wore balaclavas.
Oystercatcher and dunlin, rare winter visitors to Poland
I then proceeded to walk along the coast line, not that I could see much of the Baltic sand, it was mostly snow. I perhaps underestimated the time it would take to walk towards the other end of the Island. I was stopping occasionally to look to see what was out at sea and to look for amber stones, after discovering about amber being washed up in the coast after my trip to Palanger, Lithuania late last year. I saw a few hundred cormorants flying, common scoters, velvet scoters and more goldeneye and long tailed ducks. There were numerous gulls too. I arrived eventually at the other end of the Island, and the light was already fading. I looked in at the ptasi raj lake and saw immediately one of the most handsome ducks going; smews, with the males being particularly splendid. I caught the 186 bus and arriving back in Gdansk it was snowing again. I was tired now after all my walking exploits on the mixture of snow and sand.

The next day was sunny but colder and it was slippery under foot. I decided to stay fairly local and went to the President Reagana park which is alongside the Baltic sea. I took the bus there although it would have been quicker to walk. Arriving at the park I immediately came across hundreds of siskin feeding from the tops of the tall trees. They were flying from tree to tree and more joined in. I didn’t see a great deal else. There were of course tit flocks, with the highlight being marsh tits. The lake in the park was completely frozen and not a mallard in sight. They had flown to the coast line, further out were long tailed ducks, goldeneyes and gulls. Scoters were further out again. I made my way back to the guest house and on the bus Polish ticket Inspectors (four of them) entered and at least two unfortunates were collared. A Liverpool nightclub bouncer lookalike Inspector took a long time looking at my ticket and asked me something in Polish. I told him I was English and he said “ah British” no doubt ready to add to his commission of ticket non payers and hand me an on the spot fine. Fortunately (for me, not him) he misread my ticket and I was in the time allowed. When I left the bus the Polish ticket pouncers were escorting another poor soul from the bus. I spent a couple of hours at Jascowa Dolina and saw more siskin but not in the numbers as earlier. A middle spotted woodpecker was the highlight. There were at least six buzzards soaring. There was much that I had seen a couple of days earlier with a willow tit calling.

The next day I was back at Sobieszewska and this time I made the 186 bus. It was certainly quieter than on previous visits to the reserve, but when you see, white tailed eagles, smew, long tailed ducks, goosanders, scoters you can’t complain. I saw the usual woodland birds, with many great spotted woodpeckers.
Baltic sea on the left looking towards Mewia lacha nature reserve
My last day was spent at jascowa Dolina again. This was because I had an evening flight and I had to check out of the guest house early. I didn’t want to carry my luggage around, and the guest house owner kindly let me leave my luggage at the reception. Surprisingly it turned out to be the best birding day. Immediately entering the forest I saw a goshawk flying over, it was a fantastic sight. I saw 100+ fieldfare also bullfinch, brambling and more siskin. The buzzards were soaring again and a sparrowhawk spotted later. I located a lesser spotted woodpecker and seven species of tit. The usual woodland birds were seen, and I heard the woodpeckers drumming for the first time. I had read somewhere it is usually the end of January they start, and it was 3rd Feb, so bang on cue. I must have read it in one of Gerard’s books.
Nature reserve off Jascowa Dolina

I made my way back to the guest house and thanked the owner for his hospitality and he suggested I must come again. He certainly was very welcoming and helpful. I made my way to the airport and everything was on time, but arriving in Liverpool, we were kept waiting with the seat belt lights still showing much longer than usual after the plane had come to a halt. The front cabin door opened with the seatbelt signs still showing and two police officers entered the plane and escorted off a passenger. Everyone was guessing what had happened, although I expect the Poles had a better idea because they outnumbered the Brits by 50 to 1, and the escorted passenger was Polish. Then the mad scramble off the plane into the Border control passport area.


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Oh deer, oh deer. Proposed cull of 10 Deer at Leighton Moss

Stag at Leighton Moss

You may have seen the news yesterday on tv about the proposed deer cull at RSPB Leighton Moss
Lots on the forum chat

Difficult decisions

Here's more information from our Site Manager to explain the situation:
RSPB Leighton Moss is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, enjoyed by thousands of people every year. The RSPB wants to continue to attract visitors to the area to ensure future generations are inspired by their natural surroundings. This can only be achieved if we manage the special habitats here for all wildlife, so that species such as bitterns, otters and marsh harriers can thrive.
As part of maintaining this wonderful landscape and managing valuable habitats such as the reedbed, it has become necessary to control the deer population at Leighton Moss. Red deer are a native species and are important to the site. However, the current deer population on and around Leighton Moss has increased steadily in recent years, resulting in excessive deer grazing pressure. This has caused significant damage to the important reedbed habitat, which is impacting on key species of birds and other wildlife.
In order to protect the iconic and internationally important reedbed at Leighton Moss, the RSPB needs to take action to reduce and then maintain the populations of deer. Leighton Moss is currently designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) and as such, we have a legal responsibility to improve and maintain the condition of these habitats.
We review the condition of the habitats on an annual basis and use this to determine our management actions.  It was through this process over a number of years that we identified that the habitat condition at Leighton Moss was deteriorating due to deer browsing pressure.  We are a science-led organisation and base our decisions on the best available evidence. Using a combination of data from habitat surveys, deer counts, aerial footage and fixed point photography, we have concluded that deer are having a significant negative impact on the reedbed.  
Deer have no natural predators in the UK and with relatively mild winters, there is little mortality caused by the frost and snow. Therefore their population levels are not naturally kept in check. The deer population at Leighton Moss and the surrounding area has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s and has now reached a level which is not sustainable for the health of the reedbed and surrounding land. Deer management will help to address this and maintain the health of the reedbed ecosystem, enabling the red deer to thrive alongside a rich variety of important wildlife.
The decision to control deer has not been taken lightly and we are not alone in having to do this. Deer control is a legal and widely undertaken part of countryside management in Lancashire, Cumbria and elsewhere in the UK. We have a legal responsibility to maintain and improve the condition of the nationally important wildlife habitats at Leighton Moss, and the deer control will be carried out as part of a wider landscape scale deer management programme in the area. The RSPB is a science-based organisation and we considered all non-lethal alternatives before determining this was the only remaining option to restore the quality of the habitat.  
Fencing is not a suitable option as we do not want to fence deer in or exclude all deer from the site, but maintain a sustainable population of red deer at Leighton Moss. By using fencing to exclude deer, the problem of deer grazing pressure would move elsewhere in the area. We could also not guarantee all deer would be removed from a fenced enclosure. Scaring is not a sustainable option and could potentially impact on other priority species using Leighton Moss.
Birth control is also not a viable option for use on a free-ranging wild population of deer, such as those in the Leighton Moss area. This would not address the need to reduce the current population of deer at Leighton Moss and hence not reduce the current damage to habitats on the reserve.
Red deer are one of the most popular species for visitors to see at Leighton Moss and that will remain the case following the deer management. We will maintain a population of red deer at Leighton Moss, providing enjoyment for visitors to watch them, whilst striking a balance to ensure we can also enhance the reserve’s important habitats.  We take our responsibility to protect vulnerable habitats and wildlife very seriously and would not be undertaking this action if it would have a detrimental impact on local populations of wildlife.
We appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and to voice their concerns, but we hope this explains the need to take this course of action.

National Nest Box Week is great for birds.

Starting on St Valentine's Day,it's the time we remind ourselves to provide homes for dozens of species, from Blue Tits to Barn Owls.
If you've never built a nest box before, why not give it a go this year? Or if you haven't got the time, it's easy to buy a good one. Go on, take part for Britain's birds!

The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) is asking you to put up a nest box in your local area to help increase the number of suitable nesting spaces for birds. Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are 'tidied' and old houses are repaired.

Anyone can take part whether you're a family with space for a box in your garden, a teacher, a member of a local wildlife group, or you belong to a bird club. You can put up a nest box at any time of the year, though early spring is the best time. It is also a good time to clean out the nest boxes you already have, ready for their next incumbents.

The RSPB reports that the record number of birds found roosting in one nestbox is 61 wrens! So you never know what you might find in yours.

Further information on making, buying and putting up a nest box is available at the BTO site:

NNBW aims to:
Encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife.
The natural nest sites on which many of our bird species depend, such as holes in trees and buildings, are fast disappearing as gardens and woods are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired. Since National Nest Box Week was launched in 1997, thousands of enthusiastic naturalists across the UK have put up boxes to compensate for this loss. It is estimated that there are now 5-6 million boxes in gardens across the UK.

Further information on making, buying and putting up a nest box is available at the BTO :

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Laughing all the way

Lucky Warren caught up with a rare uk visitor today. 

Hiding out with the turnstones, redshank and Purple Sandpipers was a yank, a first year Laughing gull. These gulls normally winter in south America, along way from home. Maybe it just dropped in for Starbucks!

Laughing gull - Warren Sumner

  • Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls with fairly long wings and long legs that impart a graceful look when they are flying or walking. They have stout, fairly long bills.Laughing Gulls are medium gray above and white below. Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eye, and a reddish bill. In winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head. The legs are reddish black to black. Immatures are much browner and more subtly patterned than adults; they take 2-3 years to gain adult plumage.
No doubt New Brighton Marine lake will be knee deep in twitchers tomorrow.