Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Building homes for shearwaters – Become a friend of Ramsey

Manx shearwater -RSPB images

Ramsey Island is home to a wealth of wildlife. Please help us safeguard this spectacular island reserve by donating and becoming a Friend of Ramsey.
Bought by the RSPB in 1992, Ramsey Island is a truly spectacular island reserve, lying just one mile off the north Pembrokeshire coast. The island is home to a healthy breeding chough population, important seabird colonies and one of the largest grey seal breeding populations in southern Britain.
This dramatic offshore island has cliffs up to 120 m high, the perfect place for breeding seabirds in spring and early summer. Walk along the coastal heathland and enjoy the spectacular views. 

The island is awash with colour from May to September, with bluebells, then pink thrift and purple heather. You might see choughs and peregrines nesting on the cliffs. And if you visit in the autumn, you can watch a colony of breeding grey seals. There is a small shop on the island and refreshments are available.

Ramsey island warden, Lisa Morgan, explains how nest boxes used in New Zealand are helping us learn more about the migration journeys of Manx shearwaters.
For the last four years, we’ve been studying the annual migration of Manx shearwaters as they depart from Ramsey Island and travel to South America. As part of this work, we now have the opportunity to spy on the daily lives of the island’s birds in fine detail.
To keep track of the birds, small GPS devices can be fitted to shearwaters whilst in their nesting burrows and then removed several days later. However because on Ramsey most shearwater burrows were originally dug by rabbits and then taken over by the birds, the tunnels are just too long! 
Then inspiration struck us. We remembered a project we had visited in New Zealand where another shearwater species, Hutton’s shearwater, was being studied in artificial burrows.
These custom made shearwater residences comprise of a piece of drainage pipe, acting as the entrance tunnel, leading into a wooden nestbox with an all important lid, allowing us easy access to attach the trackers and monitor the birds. 
Once dug into the ground, the boxes are watertight and desirable property for any house-hunting shearwater. We hope to establish a colony of 20 nestbox-living shearwaters on Ramsey, which we can use in our tracking studies in the future.

Anglesey chough  - L Bimson

A special chough

It's been a good year for choughs with nine breeding pairs recorded. One very special chough is a colour-ringed male, hatched on Ramsey in 2000. He started to breed in 2003 and has bred every year since (coloured rings fitted on his leg help us keep track of what he is up to). 
Fourteen years on he is still one of a breeding pair, holding a prime territory on Ramsey’s west coast. He has produced a very respectable 35 offspring so far in his lifetime. By mid-May, he and his partner were busy feeding chicks again, so fingers crossed for some more successful offspring to add to his tally!

Why we need your help

1.    to provide optimum nesting and feeding conditions for both breeding and wintering choughs using traditional grazing
2.    to increase the number of burrow nesting seabirds like Manx shearwater by maintaining the islands rat free status
3.    to study the numbers and life-cycle of seabirds and seals on the island, allowing us to protect these important populations and react quickly to any changes


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Puff and Chuffs; the day we went to Anglesey

RSPB South Stack

Yns mon or the Isle of Anglesey as its known is a wonderful landscape of rolling welsh countryside, mountains and stunning bays. This was our destination for the day, lots of seabirds and anything else that crossed our path.
Despite a rogue shower as we sped down the A55, the day turned out beautiful, stunning blue skies and lovely warm sunshine.

One of the things that perplexed me on route as we passed through housing estates was the absence of what I call common garden birds, (despite Anglesey’s results in the big garden birdwatch) hardly a blackbird seen, a splattering of sparrows and starlings, and not a tit or finch in sight! Mmh, indeed the local residents were predominantly jackdaws, perched on numerous chimneys.

We arrived at RSPB South Stack by 10am; around a dozen of us had resisted the televised Wimbledon men’s final and made it to the island.
This is a spectacular reserve for seabirds. The cliff ledges packed with nesters, down 300 metres, far below the sea crashed against the rocks, yet more birds, feeding, gathering...the noise, the calls, the cries…the smell, guano, well what do you expect, this is a seabird colony of thousands.

The reserve footpaths meander through large areas of pretty heath land along the cliff tops,
Silver studded blue
home to all kinds of wildflowers such as pink thrift, sea campion, gorse, wild thyme, birds foot trefoil and horseshoe vetch.
From the lower car park we headed straight for the cliff tops, we were treated to flights of  butterflies  along the way, painted ladies danced with silver-studded blues , the latter being a  speciality of the reserve. A stonechat couple perched obligingly on the topmost branches of spiky gorse, comely to the eye and always a pleasure to see. This habitat is perfect for smaller birds, rock and meadow pipits, wrens, linnets and skylark’s conspicuous by their calls and manners. 

Approaching the cliffs we observed gannets, wings folded back, plummeting into the sea, guillemots, razorbills and puffins incoming, silvery sand eels grasped tightly in beaks.
We sat near Ellin’s tower. Observing the squabbling, jostling auks. Up to 4,000 breeding guillemots and 700 razorbills, squashed together on narrow ledges. Rock pipits flitted around the rocks below before flying up to the grassier areas and headland where they nested.

A loud ringing 'che-oww' call, alerted us to 3 choughs (9 breeding pairs on site) on the grassy headland, splendid bright red, slightly curved bill and red legs - complete with `ringers’ colour bands.
They sat awhile before swooping and diving in a game of chase, out of sight.
(Did you know, in Cornish legend and it is said that King Arthur was transformed into a chough when he died, the red feet and beak representing his violent, bloody end)

We moved on, towards the steps leading down to the South Stack Island and the Lighthouse. We didn't need to go all the way down, just far enough to see the other side of the cliffs, and here are quarry was found; puffins, Comical parrot-like, waddling around their burrows on bright orange legs. We counted at least 7, were told there are about 20.
Puffins and Razorbill
Looking towards the lighthouse grounds, snug amid the daisies we could see lots of nesting gulls, herring, lesser and greater black backed and black headed.

On the way back  to the cafĂ© for our obligatory cake and coffee , some of us were delighted to see a rock pipit  family, close to the path,  vigilant yet un- perturbed by the mesmerized watchers, as we observed the parents, beaks crammed full of insects and grubs return to their hidden nestlings in the heath.
Rock pipit

Sadly we dipped on the recently reported peregrines with their newly fledged chick

Next stop Cemlyn lagoon for terns, shearwaters and tysties.

Cemlyn shingle spit

Cemlyn run by the wildlife trust is a safe haven for breeding terns. The shallow lagoons of Cemlyn are separated from the sea by a curving shingle spit protected by wire and wardens

An astonishing place, on first impression, visually captivating, vocally clamorous   and then you realise how incredibly close you can get to the birds without disturbing them. This is one to the largest sandwich tern colonies in the UK with 2567 pairs breeding this year –warden survey 2014. Here the elegant sandwich terns  return from  wintering in the warmer climes of West Africa to nest each summer on a series of islands on Cemlyn lagoon; they are joined by  73  Common Tern, 36 Arctic Tern  and 370 Black headed Gull nests, and a single rare Roseate Tern. 
Sandwich Tern
So many babies a joy to see, fluffy tern babies begging adults for fishy dinners. Parent birds swooping over the heads of the watchers on the shingle spit, beaks full of sand eels yet still able to call and announce their arrival to their awaiting mates and chicks! 

On a sunny afternoon this truly was a place to tarry a while, to rest up and sit amongst the multi coloured stones, close your eyes and listen, and glory in the cacophony. For others came a chance to re-discover a long lost childhood skills of skimming pebbles across the waters!
Incoming sand eel dinner

Away from the spit a footpath from the car park takes you to the beach, here you can look out to sea towards the Skerries and the isle of West mouse. 
Towards west mouse

Meadow Pipit

Along the path a bold meadow pipit flew back and forth around the gate, a nest nearby perhaps?


Scanning the waters we located some grey seals, basking on a rocky outcrop or bobbing about as is their nature. 

A female red breasted merganser splashed near to the beach, whilst oystercatchers piped as they scurried over the rocky shore. 

But we were here for a purpose, we were looking for Manx shearwaters, and they obliged, far out to sea, skimming across the waters. Id insight -  a flying cross - wings at right angles to the body, changing from black to white as the black upperparts and white undersides are alternately exposed.(Did you know - It is the longest lived bird in Britain, with one living at least 55 years.)  
Other sought birds for the day, were tysties or black guillemots, again these were found out to sea their pure white patches on their black wings giving them away.

Time for home, mission accomplished, another grand day out. 

Pics: N Prendergast/L Bimson

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Bowland Hen Harrier chicks tagged. Join the Hen Harrier Protest day

Hen harrier chicks have been fitted with high-tech satellite tags as part of a new RSPB initiative to help conserve Englands most threatened bird of prey. 
The chicks, which are approximately four weeks old, are currently being raised in a nest on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. The site is traditionally the stronghold for the English hen harrier and the RSPB
has worked with the water company and its shooting tenants to protect the birds there for more than 30 years.

The hen harrier nest is the first successful one in England since 2012 and one of only three in the whole of England this year. Chicks produced in the other English nests  one of which is also on the United Utilities Bowland Estate  will also be fitted with satellite tags when they are large enough.The satellite tags were supplied by Natural England and fitted by Stephen Murphy, the Agency s lead adviser for hen harriers. He said:  The lightweight satellite tags weigh just 9.5 grams and are solar recharging, giving an operational life of at least three years. These are fitted to birds on the point of fledge using a lightweight Teflon harness back-pack design. This is where technology can really aid conservation as there is no better way of gaining an insight into the complex dispersal of these iconic birds. 

Jude Lane is the RSPB s Bowland Project Officer and is responsible for monitoring the hen harriers. She said:  Once the birds have fledged, we will be able to follow them and gain valuable information about where
they hunt, roost and, with a bit of luck, breed. The more we can learn about these amazing birds, the more we can do to help their numbers recover.

The tags will also help provide evidence of any illegal activity against the birds. A 2011 government-commissioned report revealed that there should be at least 300 pairs of hen harriers across the uplands
of England but that illegal ongoing persecution was limiting their numbers.

In 2012, a dead hen harrier that had been tagged in Bowland was discovered in North Yorkshire as a result of tracking work undertaken by Natural England. Post mortem analysis carried out by the Zoological
Society of London revealed that the bird   nicknamed Bowland Betty - had been shot.  
Jude continued:  I was absolutely gutted when I heard about Betty. I really hope that these tagged chicks don t meet a similar fate and that they live a long and productive life.

The RSPB s hen harrier monitoring 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.

Skydancer has reached the finals of this year s National Lottery Awards in the Best Education Category. To vote for the project visit:

On Sunday August 10 - two days ahead of the opening of the grouse shooting season - hundreds of people will be taking part in a series of events across the English uplands to raise awareness of the plight of the hen harrier.

For more information about the project, visit

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Lovely Lunt scores again

Cuckoo  05/07/14

Another sunny Saturday afternoon at Lancashire wildlife trusts, Lunt meadows reserve Sefton and what should turn up not one but two Cuckoos. Feeding along  the River Lunt between Showrick's and Baines bridges. Nice

Sedge Warbler
Although the Sedge Warblers weren't impressed

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Coast to coast wheelchair challenge raises over £23,000

With over 100 friends, 29 machines and 16 dogs, Roy Taylor successfully completed his 215-mile Coast to Coast wheelchair challenge and raised over £23,000 for the RSPB.

Finish line - Hornsea

Roy - who works for the RSPB in northern England - and his wife Anna, set out from Southport along the Trans Pennine Trail, to reach Hornsea in just ten days. The aim of the challenge was to highlight the problems of inaccessibility in the countryside and raise funds to improve accessibility on the RSPB’s 20 northern nature reserves.

Over 100 friends, family and colleagues gave up their time to take part in the walk and provide support on the way. And helping to make the journey inclusive for all, participants used a variety of methods to get them from A to B, including two wheelchairs, two trampers, two trikes, 17 bikes, one electric bike, four scooters and a buggy.
Roy said: “The friendship, support, energy, humour and kindness of everyone who supported us made the journey an incredibly humbling and emotional experience for Anna and me.  It was an experience which will leave a deep impression on our lives.  We can't thank everyone enough.”

Obstacle course
The journey wasn’t without obstacles, which helped to highlight the numerous issues people with mobility issues, and families with pushchairs, face on a daily basis. Challenges included kissing gates, A-frames, steps, chicanes and wooden sleepers. On a number of occasions, Roy’s FourX – a four-wheel drive wheelchair – had to be dismantled to allow it to fit through the various obstacles. 

Workmen save the day

Roy said: “On one occasion we were close to giving up, as my wheelchair just couldn’t get through a gate which had double wooden sleepers. Luckily a group of workmen nearby came to the rescue and lifted the FourX over the obstacle. We’re so grateful for their help.”

However, they came across a number of innovations which made the going much easier, including different designs of A-frames and gates operated by Radar keys, which allow disabled people (who hold a Radar key) to open gates where needed.

Roy's job now is to complete accessibility audits of the RSPB’s northern nature reserves, produce a report for the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) Executive Committee on how accessibility on the trail can be improved, and ensure that all the money raised is spent on implementing the changes identified on RSPB reserves over the next year.

Roy added: “It is my pledge that the Coast to Coast Challenge will immeasurably improve accessibility - be it for wheelchairs, families or those with other mobility issues - and that RSPB nature reserves in northern England will be exemplars of accessibility in the countryside.”

To date, the challenge has raised £23,890.53 (inc. Gift Aid) including donations from hotels and B&B’s used along the route, a £2.5k donation from United Utilities, who the RSPB works with at their Dove Stone site, and £1000 each from John Laing, who Anna used to work with, and Naturetrek, who Roy has led tours for.

For a daily account of how the challenge went, visit Roy’s blog, or to donate money, visit