Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Seeing the Song

Those of you that know me well will no doubt be aware that I suffer from a hereditary condition called Tinnitus, basically a permanent ringing in my right ear and a significant amount of hearing loss to boot. It makes locating birds on call very difficult as I'm often unable to detect the location the call is coming from and end up spinning around with a hand cupped to my good ear to try and discern the point at which the call/song is loudest.

For me 'silent spring' is all too much a future reality as it is likely that at some point my good ear will go the same way and I'll need hearing aids just to join in with the bitching and moaning good natured banter that is such a feature of local birding.

I share this little nugget of personal discomfort not in search of sympathy but in order to highlight a great birding site that I came across a few weeks back called Earbirding.com. A US site, Earbirding is the product of two US based birders Nathan Pieplow and Andrew Spencer, both of whom are obviously passionate about their chosen subject. Whilst many of the recordings are of yank birds, their posts are interesting and illuminating. For anyone interested in vocalisations as a key to identification and/or recording bird calls and songs, their site is a great resource. I found the section explaining 'How to read Spectrograms' including such concepts as musicality and pitch extremely informative.

I came across them as I was reading about a new Iphone app called Spectrogram that produces live streaming sonograms on your phone using the Iphone voice recorder microphone (or an external mike if you wish to invest). I'm just in the process of adding it into the phone as it needed an operating system upgrade to function that takes a while to download but I'm quite keen to get out and test it and see how well it works.
I haven't quite figured out whether it can capture the data for subsequent analysis or whether this would need to be done via a photograph, nor is it immediately clear how to get available sonograms onto the phone in order to compare but again it's something to work on. This might be the only way I can 'hear' birdsong ten years from now so it's worth the effort in my book.

A short session at one of my favourite migrant hotspots tonight produced a smorgasbord of phylloscopus and sylvia warblers, takking, hweeting and generally flitting and flinging themselves all over the place. Whilst I had nothing more exciting than Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat there was at least 20+ birds involved in a fairly small area. Worth setting the alarm for I think.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Long Tail Sally

Well, Long Tail Sally she built for speed
She got everything Uncle Jim need
Determined to catch some of the blow this morning ahead of the day-shift I was at Newbiggin just after 06:15 to find TC driving like a pensioner into the car-park and the 'hide' already secured by Roger F who must have left Acomb under cover of darkness. You kind of got the feeling it might be a good day when one of the 'masters' was down from the big house at Newton mixing with the riff-raff.

I only had an hour and whilst the supporting cast of Gannetry and Kittiwake numbered in the thousands, quality was sadly lacking with only 2 Great Skuas and 2 Arctic Skuas pulled out the heavy sea.
Reports of a bit of scarce at Spurn (3 Barred and 3 Wood)and a newly found Wryneck at Minsmere just before I clocked off this afternoon had me pacing the ash lagoon banks at Newbiggin rather than looking at the sea. Two Common Whitethroat and  an other warbler later, the phone rang and it was Uncle Jim calling me back to the point after two adult Long-tailed Skua had gone through. 
Forty minutes later, nada, then out of the blue up pops another two an adult and a juvenile at decent distance. I even had a grab at it with the camera but it was just a little beyond my reach.

That might be it for Long-tails for me this year, I've a busy month ahead with my wife's (non birding) brother choosing to get married in September with all that entails.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


Spending the best part of three days on a ferry, the ship becomes a mini patch for the duration. I was a little slow out of my bed this trip so the various stowaways and drop-ins were all picked up by others. In addition to the Willow Warbler and two Wheatear, there were two Turtle Dove  and a juvenile Dunlin.

The Willow Warbler in particular was remarkably confiding, landing in a narrow sluice adjacent to deck 11 in full view of c50 people it proceeded to hop down the sluice past the various feet no more than three inches from it, needs must I guess.

Zino's Disaster

A massive forest fire on the island of Madeira has killed several breeding adults and 65% of this year’s chicks of Zino’s Petrel. BirdLife International and SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) have launched an urgent appeal (click here) for funds to carry out emergency conservation work needed before the winter sets in. Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira is Europe’s rarest seabird and one of the rarest birds in the world, nesting only on a few mountain ledges in the rugged central massif of Madeira island. Once on the edge of extinction with numbers down to a few tens of pairs, intense conservation action over the past 20 years, led by the Natural Park of Madeira (Parque Natural da Madeira - PNM) with support from SPEA, the Freira Conservation Project and Funchal Municipal Museum, has seen its population grow to almost 80 pairs.
In recent weeks, forest fires have ravaged parts of Madeira, and on 13 August they hit the heart of the central massif. This area (which is protected as part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network) comprises a very important habitat and supports several endemic plants and animals, including the Zino’s Petrel breeding colony, where many nestlings were still in their burrows.
On 15 August, as soon as the ground and soil had cooled down sufficiently, PNM staff visited the breeding cliffs to assess the damage. The results were shocking: 25 young and 3 adults were found dead, and only 13 young fledglings were found alive in their underground chambers. As well as the dead birds, the fire exacerbated soil erosion, with several nesting burrows having disappeared.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Far From Berkeley Square

Just before I headed off to Bilbao I started a book by journalist Michael Mcarthy called 'Say Goodbye to The Cuckoo. The night before we set off I was reading a chapter pre-dominantly about the mythification of the Nightingale, a bird almost everyone has heard of but very few are familiar with these days or as MM put it it has 'vanished almost totally from the lives of people'

Cut to the top of a scrub covered hill behind Bilbao, a little ahead of our group who had walked back a way to view a soaring Griffon Vulture, I had just found three juvenile Red-backed Shrike and I was easing myself along a narrow track toward some cover to see if I could capture some shots of one or more. A thorn provided an arch over the path, a male Blackbird flew up scolding me for disturbing it. I dipped my head under the arch and stopped catching sight of a reddish-brown bird in a bare Elderberry bush a few feet away.

It may not have sang but it presented itself well, pumping it's tail twice before flying off and vanishing into deep cover further up the hillside. It left an image imprinted in my mind's eye to sit alongside the sweet night-time song that filled the darkness around our villa whilst on honeymoon in Croatia some years back. No gale, no darkness but still a Nightingale in the flesh.

Possible First for Biscay on My Last Biscay

Out in Biscay, with the right conditions when there aren't any birds to watch ( which can be for large chunks of the day) the various cetaceans on offer from time to time add a, rather large in some instances, dose of diversity. This trip didn't match up to some of the past trips I've been done with the number of species falling short but we did get good views of Fin Whale, Cuvier's Beaked Whale, Bottle-nose Dolphin, Sperm Whale and Common Dolphin.
I spent much of the first day at the back of the boat away from the crowds to see what I could dig out for myself. Independently finding and identifying the third Fin Whale of the day by it's distinctive blow some 3 miles off the ship late in the afternoon was satisfying. Though just to balance things up I called a possible Pilot Whale, morphed it into a Minke, before someone who knows their whales from the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme took a look at images (not mine) and decided it may have been a Rorqual whale that has never been recorded in Biscay before a Bryde's Whale (pronounced Broo-des) . It will be interesting to see if the ID is confirmed as this species.
Fin Whale + 3 Bottle-nose Dolphin
Bottle-nose Dolphin
Bottle-nose Dolphin

Thursley Common Images

Black Darter (male)
Black Darter (female)
Common Lizard

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Crouched in the shade of the ferry terminal building after a punishingly hot hike into the hills behind the town.

Flocks of Yellow-legged Gull roosting on various warehouse roofs around the port were the first obvious birds this morning. A Black Tern was seen briefly in the harbour.

Once we had left the dirty streets and moved onto the scrubby track birds started appearing, Black Redstart, a dead Quail an unusual find. Zitting Cisticola was another quick edition with a displaying bird, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap zipped about the low bracken and bramble filled slope.
Further up again the first Melodious Warbler, by this time our small party was a little spread out sonsubsequent birds were seen by some but not all including Griffon Vulture, Common Buzzard, Red-backed Shrike, Nightingale, Serin and Cirl Bunting.
A ferry to board so more soon.

Alan Tilmouth via Iphone

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Just picked up a signal as we loop around Brittany. Sea quiet so far as expected, the real action kicks in this afternoon. Weather sunny but breezy. All Gannets so far with a couple of Great Skuas reported early on so we're dozing at the back of the boat on sun loungers scoping leisurely now and again.

Alan Tilmouth via Iphone

Monday, 23 August 2010

Southern Seawatch

After a lateish start this morning first port of call was Shawell Pits to look for Caspian & YLGull, after a bit of local intel from The Drunkbirder we managed to get decent views of an adult Yellow-legged Gull on the pool. Lots of LBB Gull on nearby Shawell Tip but views were distant.
Next up was Thursley Common, Green Woodpecker the only bird of note but we had a few Black Darter and the boardwalks were crawling with stationary lizards.
A late afernoon seawatch from Sandy Point on Hayling Island added two Black Tern for the trip and a distant inward bound raptor that was most likely an Osprey.
An early night for an early start and hopefully a few good seabirds tomorrow.

Alan Tilmouth via Iphone

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Busy Birdfair & Some Birds

The flashing sign announcing that the A1 was closed between J61&62 this morning made up my mind to head down the A19 instead prompting an almost obligatory stop off at Saltholme.

The long staying Whiskered Tern was duly ticked in an indecently quick time, followed by Little Gull and Black-necked Grebe. The remaining journey to Rutland was quiet with a roadside Red Kite the only further addition.

The birdfair as ever was more about birders than birds, I managed to chew the cud with several old faces and several new including (in no particular order) David Lindo, Martin Garner, Martin Kitching, Mark Avery, Paul Hackett, Nick Moran, Fiona Barclay, Mark Grantham, Dean Eades, Nicola Crockford, Adrian Pitches, Tom & Mu Cadwallender Ipin and a frantically busy Charlie Moores.

Looking forward to a more relaxing drive to Portsmouth tomorrow and hopefully some good birds on the way.

Alan Tilmouth via Iphone

Friday, 20 August 2010

Scouting For Gulls

I've been getting rather fed up of reporting Yellow-legged Gulls and to a lesser extent Caspian Gulls in profusion almost everywhere else in the country except the North East. There is one landfill left in the county and after some discussion with Stef Mcelwee who has been trying to get to grips with the gulls there I thought I would have a drive and walk around the area this morning and see what I could find. The problem with the tip itself is that it is about 30m high and the active part is barely visible, security fences abound a good 20m away from the base of the mound. Impossible to view as there is no vantage overlooking it.

Next stop over toward Backworth south of the pond where some landscaping has taken place and the spoil heap has been covered. Some of the large gulls are roosting here and commuting to and from the tip but again viewing is nigh on impossible, I reckon I could see c.10% of the birds in the roost.
Next up Stef had highlighted some of the gulls are using a nearby factory roof, Again frustratingly viewing was very restricted, although it was obvious that the majority of the gulls from the tip were using this roost around late morning today (see pics below).

The Gulls I could see.

And the Ones I Couldn't...all 339 of them

Travelling between these two sites I found about 100 gulls in a freshly ploughed field, pulled in and set up the scope. I find large gulls spook at the sight of a scope sometimes, three minutes into the flock and whoosh up they go. I was about to curse myself when a greyish brown chunky raptor charged across the field before lifting up into the gulls above and cutting back across above me about 10m away. The immature Peregrine well and truly cleared the field, all the gulls wheeling away back east. I checked back again thirty minutes later to find a still empty field.

As I headed back past the factory entrance I noticed some of the gulls had spilled onto a nearby school field so I had one last stop, again maybe 100 large gulls including a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a juvenile Common Gull. It was raining by now and interesting to note some of the gulls adopting rain postures during the heaviest showers (not in the image).

 Common Gull -juvenile

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Amazing Documentary Video

FB Becomes MD

BirdGuides is pleased to announce that Dr Fiona Barclay has today been appointed Managing Director with immediate effect. Fiona has been running the company for the past three years and this move recognises her
accomplishments across several fronts. These include developing BirdGuidesʼ online news services, transforming operations and in building relationships with key partners; in particular the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Fiona is not only a life-long birder; she is also keenly interested in many other aspects of field natural history including moths, butterflies, dragonflies and bumblebees. Her passion for these subjects is already reflected in the catalogue of articles she has commissioned for BirdGuides online magazine (www.birdguides.com/webzine). A wide range of new mobile digital field guides are also in development, building on the success of BirdGuidesʼ existing iPhone reference apps, which earlier this week achieved number one ranking in Appleʼs iTunes store.

John Cromie, Technical Director of BirdGuides comments: “We are delighted that Fiona has agreed to become our MD. She has worked tirelessly to build the business and we are all excited by developments ahead. Fiona has an intuitive understanding of the new digital mobile technology that is poised to transform birding and field natural history.”

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Back to Bread & Butter

Three days was perhaps pushing it so no surprises the Sykes's Warbler has departed. I did have a look up early morning c.06:00 for an hour, arrived to find about 10 birders none too sure of the exact location. Common Whitethroat was the only warbler in the general vicinity this morning.
The last two of my species accounts for Birds in Northumbria completed today whilst the kids burnt off some energy at soft play, I briefly stopped at Bothal Pond on the way home. 20 Little Grebe dotted  the pond, two Wigeon back and a flyover calling Buzzard the bread & butter sightings.

Late afternoon I had the kids out for fresh air and took a large detour home to skirt the edge of a landfill after talking to Stef Mcelwee about the gull attendance. More reconnaissance required on this one.

After a tip-off from one birder returning home on the bus from the Syke's and passing through my home village I nipped out about 20:30 tonight to the nearby rough un-grazed meadow with a pond community park and had semi-decent views of hunting Long-eared Owl in the evening gloom.
The LEO completed the full set of British Owls within the 1km square occupied by my house (and a few others) which is kind of cool, even if it has taken 15 years and I only have one sighting each of the two Asios.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Sykes's/Booted Warbler

After a dismal afternoon where I found little of note I headed home for tea. An excited call from the on-shift Birdguides op (thanks Steve) about 18:45 had me back out in a flash and off to Hadston Links where Martin Kerby had found a warbler that was being touted as a probable Sykes's Warbler. 
I may as well confess now I have no experience of Sykes's at all and limited experience of Booted so I've no intention of making any comment over the ID.

The warbler showed well to scope views intermittently for about an hour, briefly feeding on a rose for 30-40 seconds and occasionally popping out of various bushes. Booted would be a fourth county record I think and Sykes's a first for the county. All I will say is that it looks quite warm toned in the image below but that wasn't the impression I had in the field and I think that the warmth is more a consequence of the mid-evening light and incorrect camera settings.

I should really save this picture for a mystery bird competition as it has uniquely managed to not capture any of the features such as bill, primary projection etc that may have been useful. In fact it is quite possibly the worst photograph of a rare bird ever, there should be a competition for shots of this quality.

Sort that one out if you dare......

 Twitch Tension (Except Steve who has quite obviously been at the wine when the call came through)

Rather better images including the whole bird can be found at the NTBC Sightings Page 

Friday, 13 August 2010


Somewhere between the green and firm land of sanity and the wind whipped frenetic sea of insanity is the narrow spit of dirty ground, obsession. It's a strange place, frequented by strange people, men (mainly) who stare for long periods into that sea, searching as if looking into their very souls for answers whilst still holding a fragile foothold on the land behind them.
Above the froth and the hubris of the ocean, sirens tempt them with glimpses as they dash between the waves before hurling themselves on their silver wings into high arcing curves with consumate ease. Further out dark shapes lurk, low in the troughs, waiting to entrap the unwary and rob them of anything and everything.....

The man walking his dog, not there through choice, simply attending to his canine companion's needs, must have silently wondered what it was that dragged four, five, ten men from the warmth of their beds to sit 20m from the sea in the face of a brisk northerly bringing the lashing rain that drenched them all. He wasn't alone.

Five hours later after a poor return I was still asking myself the same question. Even after leaving and heading for the slightly less exposed cover of the Mound I had no answers. The rain and the wind offered no let-up and the Mound no birds. Soaked and cold, yet still the call of a Golden Plover and the distant views of a landing flock were enough to see me set off across a golfer- free course where the only thing driving was the rain, on the off chance there might be a Dotterel lurking in their ranks. The lack of Pringle clad pensioners drilling home the distinction between hobby and obsession every step.

Sooty Shearwater 9 north
Manx Shearwater 23 north
Great Skua 3 north
Arctic Skua 5 ish
Great Crested Grebe 1 immature south
Mediterranean Gull 1 north

others saw
Velvet Scoter 1 north
Roseate Tern 3 ish
Swift 13 (allegedly) south
Wheatear 1( flushed whilst in contemplation)

it's still out there....

Thursday, 12 August 2010


I planned to carry on working after I finished my shift today, various things still to do, a few travel guide write-ups, two species accounts for Birds in Northumbria still work in progress and a draft letter all needed. Not quite sure what it was that dragged me to the sea, I still don't think the conditions were all that good, a single Long-tailed Skua, possibly the earliest reported juvenile in the last ten years, the best that east coast birders could find. That is assuming you discount the Masked Booby report, maybe my sub-concious didn't, maybe it was that word 'possible' that once again fired up the grey cells into wanting to search far out in the waves for the possible. I wasn't alone.

As I approached from behind it was like that scene from the Magnificent Seven, a bunch of dishevelled cowboys staring into the distance when the seven are all set up and just staring out into the desert waiting for the Mexicans. That's where the similarity ended I'm afraid as today the 'Mexicans' failed to appear. Two Sooty Shearwaters one of which I didn't get onto, a couple of northbound Med Gulls, one nice summer plumaged Grey Plover, a calling Whimbrel and lots of sea.
However the winds look good for the whole weekend, or at least they do from this trough, so hope is just over the next wave and I'll be back tomorrow.

Edit (23:40)  It suddenly struck me that the word cowboy has taken on a new meaning since I was a lad and they were heroes. I should just highlight that it was not my intention to imply that any of the assembled throng was anything less than experienced, dedicated and thoroughly good at what they do as the later comparison to Yul, Steve and the gang implied. So no hurt feelings please.

Game Estate Owners Seek Out State Benefits

I see that the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust have released their latest report into the economic impact of the activity in Scotland. Their press release and subsequent statements highlight 'grave concerns that without help from the government the industry would not remain economically viable'.

Can I hear cheering from those of us that would like to see a healthy population of Hen Harrier and an end to the current persecution war waged by some in the industry? I thought I should take a closer look to see what ails the industry so and just how desperate their straits are.

It was only after reading the report that I realised that the press release was spun in what appears to be a blatant attempt to con a few quid out of the Scottish Government. Here are a few facts from their report that they chose not to use when highlighting their grave concerns.

Grouse revenues increased markedly in 2009 compared with the average over the previous five years.

Total estate revenues on grouse shooting up from £1.6m to £2.7m.

Shooting Fees up between 32.6% - 34.3%, some 8% above the Retail Price Index (RPI)

Of course the GWCT and it's supporters will be keen to highlight how much good work they do on the moors, how much they put into maintaining the environment and contribute to the conservation of our unique uplands. Just in case you're wondering just how much that is, one more fact from the study.

Average Spend by Estates on non-shooting/moorland environment £11,138 per annum. Impressed? No neither was I.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Mobile Blogging

With a few days away soon including the British Birdfair, a day birding between Leicester and Portsmouth and then a last crossing of Biscay on the Portsmouth - Bilbao ferry I thought I had better get organised to keep the blog updated from the 'field'.

Blogger now has the ability to deal with email and convert it into blog posts. In fact the only real purpose to this post is to test that very facility.

Testing, testing 1. 2. 3.......

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Son Spots Gull

I've spent the odd hour in recent days looking at large gulls. Given that there aren't many up here the chances of turning up anything unusual are slim, michahellis and cachinnans are still largely conspicuous by their absence in Northumberland. However if you don't look you don't find. I've looked and haven't found so instead have a picture of the nearest I got to an adrenalin pumping big gull find on my home patch.


I could almost here my mother's voice saying "Have you seen the state of that neck?"

Today the Bothal Black-necked Grebe was doing flybys at the southern end in the company of one of 23 Little Grebe on the pond. Several Snipe mooched about with the Lapwings on the western shore. Castle Island, once again a mud-free zone courtesy of a high tide coming over the weir this afternoon, still held two Black-tailed Godwit and a Ruff secreted amongst the Redshank.

No news from the Farnes today where the county's first Melodious Warbler foolishly insisted on Brownsman instead of Inner Farne yesterday, causing no amount of consternation for those that might have gone.

Instead I'm off to stand in the rain and look for aurora's, I've probably got more chance of finding one than I have anything remotely Caspian-like.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Picture That Launched a Thousand Birders

Eastern Crowned Warbler - copyright Dougie Holden
 I see from British Birds that one local birder has further reason to celebrate. "The Carl Zeiss Award was established in 1991 and is traditionally presented for the photograph or set of photographs considered to have been the most instructive during BBRC's assessment of rarities over the previous year. Dougie Holden's winning photograph was of the Eastern Crowned Warbler at South Shields in October 2009. Without the publication of Dougie's images the record would presumably have remained as just a Yellow-browed Warbler (which is what it was assumed to be when the shutter was pressed). The fact that it represents a fantasy rarity come true is purely down to this excellent photograph, which led to the bird being identified correctly after it was posted on the web, and then appreciated by the crowds who came to pay homage over the subsequent days".

I spoke briefly to Dougie a couple of times in the days that followed the ECW and we exchanged emails about the use of the image and some of the details as I pulled together the story for a webzine article at Birdguides. What struck me then was how it couldn't have happened to a more down to earth, genuine birder. Sought after by far bigger media than me he still managed to return voicemail messages and have time to discuss it, in a feet on the ground, no nonsense way as if he was talking about a Chiffchaff that just flipped through his garden.
So for once it really couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, congratulations it's well deserved (and will look great on the mantlepiece!)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sooty Instead of Sleep

With one eye on the Biscay trip in a couple of weeks I had four shifts in this week as well as spending Friday working on entries for Essential NewcastleGateshead and Friday night out and about in Newcastle taking photographs, stone cold sober whilst all were falling about around me.So my only chance of squeezing in some proper birds was to drag myself from the bed early this morning and snatch an hour sea-watching.
The Black-necked Grebe that has been playing hide & seek with me at Bothal Pond was caught out by my 06:52 appearance and looked suitably surprised as the car slowed and I peered out of the window.

With the sea very calm and some people falling over cetaceans, I thought that even if birds were scarce I might catch up with the odd fin, though this was not to be. Light was great with a nice dark sea and low heat haze, birds were plentiful.
A single Sooty Shearwater was a new self-found year tick, earlier a single Red-throated Diver moved north. Two Roseate Terns, adult and juvenile came by close as they moved south, an adult Little Gull moving north was further out. Skua activity was prominent with Arctic Skua 2S and 1N, Great Skua 3S and 1N. 58 Manx Shearwater  were a steady flow north between 06:00-07:15, though at one point 23 were on the sea together in a raft about 500m out where there was obviously a fish shoal as several Terns were also in a fishing loop in the same area.
In fact the morning was so pleasant even  a text 30 minutes into work from Durham's county recorder about an adult Sabine's Gull on the sea at Whitburn 08:00 couldn't break the good mood.


One of the reasons behind the now defunct Bird North East blog was that whilst Teeside and Durham were well served by their respective bird clubs when it came to publishing reasonably fresh sightings data on the Internet, Northumberland wasn't.
One of the reasons that the Bird North East blog is now defunct is that Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club have been trialling and have now launched a sightings page. Club members can now post sightings via email direct to the page from the field (after registration) or direct onto the site via the web. Sightings will also be 'gathered' from other sources such as Birdguides to provide a wider overview of what club members have seen and what's around in the county.
The sightings page is now free to view by all and can be found at http://ntbcsightings.posterous.com.
If you want to join NTBC, to post your own sightings and get Birds In Northumbria the annual report as well as 12 monthly emailed bulletin summaries and 8 Indoor Meetings as well as Field Trips all for a mere £ 23, full details are on the website at the link above.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Shoddy Journalism

One of my news alerts brought a comment/blog type posting from one James Delingpole on-line at The Telegraph today. Clearly attempting to be controversial it was entitled 'Anyone Up For a Spot of Red Kite Shooting?'
Please read it, as most of the people that bother to read my blog are reasonably interested in birds and probably even the least experienced will be left incredulous at the unbelievable lack of research and accuracy. Opinion stated as fact and obviously existing in a totally different time and space to the rest of us.
In a nutshell JD blames the decline in the Common Kestrel population on Wind Turbines, Red Kites and White-tailed Sea eagles, no really, he does.

So the 2908 operational wind turbines in the UK, wind turbines that survey work has shown kill roughly c.0.19 Common Kestrel per turbine per annum are one of the main reasons for a huge decline in the last few years. They account for c.550 birds per annum from a current breeding population estimated to be c.37,000 pairs.

As for Red Kites and White-tailed Sea Eagles, Red Kites, whilst pre-dominantly feeding on carrion do also catch live prey and birds do form a part of this. However again study work in Wales for example examined 764 pellets and found 36 species of bird, funnily enough Kestrel wasn't one of them.
His suggestion that White-tailed Sea Eagles are to blame, to be honest, I won't insult even the casual reader in offering an explanation for this absurd piece of nonsense.

Whilst I may be being naive I am simply shocked that The Telegraph can publish and pay for this rubbish, he obviously hasn't got a clue what he's talking about when it comes to birds and favours 'intelligent, old-school country estate management' (an oxymoron if ever I've seen one). Not much point leaving a comment at The Telegraph as it's full of nearly 400, mostly stupid comments by bored young blokes who not being able to terrorise foxes have resorted to fiddling about on the Internet. Do please visit his website above and let him know how you feel about his piece though I'm sure he will just love the fan-mail.

Be warned though it might not get published as JD obviously isn't up to dealing with criticism, I left a comment at 10:04 this morning, he has moderated a comment at 13:34 supporting his views but mine is yet to appear....

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Big Gulls But No Blouses

I haven't cross posted or self promoted one of my other blogs in a while but I've added some content tonight via some great gull guys in Israel that will have larid lovers wet with excitement (from the spilled tea!). Please go and check it out, it's free, bloody good and I don't get a penny for sharing it with you.

go here

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Bloody Technology Explained

Last night's post was of course a gentle poke in the ribs of Stringer, in a homage to his occasional rant style postings, particularly as we have different views on technology in birding and the obvious amazement in his post at what you get for £250k when it comes to technology in modern farm machinery. Hopefully no one actually believed I was out in the fields in 1973 cutting crops with a scythe at the age of eight (it was 1978 and I was picking potatoes).

The slightly more serious point behind the attempted humour of the post was to focus a little attention on Farmland Birds and specifically those amongst us that seem to advocate a return to the farming of yesteryear when farmers were peasants, birds were plentiful and half the land was uncultivated and a wildlife paradise. Farmers of course should be looking after wildlife and the environment out of the goodness of their hearts and because it is the right thing to do shouldn't they?

Many of our familiar Farmland species are in trouble, at their lowest ebb for over 50 years and in some instances possibly the lowest in 500 years. It's all the fault of modern agriculture, squeezing the life out of the land, whether it be through cultivating every last inch, planting at the wrong time or throwing cloud after cloud of pesticide onto crops to increase productivity. That is what many of us seem to believe isn't it?

So what are the alternatives, if some of our food was produced in a wildlife- friendly way, free from pesticides, on farms where Grey Partridges and Skylarks were in abundance we would buy it wouldn't we?
It was called 'organic' food and no we didn't and don't buy it, or at least 98 out of 100 of us didn't buy it as organic food still only represents 2% of food and drink spend in the UK. We didn't buy it because of the price, because there were other alternatives on which we preferred spending our money, Sky TV/Flatscreen TV/Mobile Phone/Satnav/weekend motorbike/foreign holiday/designer clothes (delete as appropriate) or even just saving it for a rainy day.

So when we criticise Farmers for making choices and trying to maximise their income we're being ever so slightly hypocritical. They're simply doing what most of us would do in the same position. However the whole ethical/organic/fairtrade food movement over the last ten years hasn't been a complete waste of time. We now know we want ethical food, we know why it's right and the consequences of not doing it. We now have the choice, as ethically produced food is very much in the mainstream supermarkets, it's just that we don't expect to pay any more for it than we do any other food.

Given that this position is unlikely to change in the near future if we want to halt the decline in biodiversity in the UK I believe there is only one alternative left and that has to be driven by government. Currently two 'stewardship' schemes exist an Entry Level Scheme that covers 60% of land in England and a High Level Scheme covering 1%. This needs to be turned on it's head as a matter of urgency. The ELS should be scrapped and a single scheme akin to the current High Level Stewardship be the only form of environmental payments. Savings made from not administering two schemes should be ploughed back into more generous payments to encourage more farmers into joining. In fact government should make joining compulsory, this would ensure that Farmers are encouraged to achieve minimum standards in looking after the environment and it's biodiversity but are adequately rewarded for doing so out of the tax payer's pocket.

Modern agriculture is here to stay, like it or not, so are the big four warehouses masquerading as shops that most of us buy our food from and so is human nature. The challenge we face is getting the best from the first whilst continuing to push the second to improve standards and achieve a healthy ethical position whilst trying to compensate for the latter's tendency toward self-interest.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Bloody Technology

Sometimes I read other people's blogs and I it makes my blood boil, what is happening to our way of life and environment, these people with their gadgets and technology creating noise, disturbing the countryside and generally just getting in my way when I want some peace and quiet.

Take a look at this as a prime example of things just changing for the worse. Now when I was a lad all the local boys over the age of eight used to be able to make an extra few pennies at this time of year. We'd head on down to the local farm with our scythe and help with the harvest, we could have a kip in the hay after lunch and Quail would lift from our feet as we walked cutting the crops. Put your scythe in the ground upright , leave it for five minutes and you would come back to a Corn Bunting singing from the top of it.

Now you have all these townies appearing thinking it's clever to drive a bloody great piece of machinery through the fields and play with computers whilst they are doing it, and it has lasers to tell you if you've missed any, what's wrong with your bloody eyes mate?
Not content with that it'll tell you how much moisture is in the grain and probably even make you toast whilst you bloody work.

Call me a grumpy old sod but you'll not catch me with any of this new fangled technology, just not impressed by it at all. Anyway must go the Iphone is ringing.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Quiet Weekend

Keeping the mileage down I've been no further than East Chevington this weekend, though I was sorely tempted by Teeside. I have dossed about several other local sites at various times, a great many birds around now though little that is new to shout about. The Edinburgh House Crow turned into a very odd Jackdaw that did a partially passable impression, though brownie points must go to those commentators that had it down as one all along, I have to confess my money would have been on first adult House Crow but that's the joy of birding, you never stop learning and no matter how much you think you know it's all insignificant when compared with what you don't.

East Chevington produced an adult Roseate Tern on the beach early morning Saturday though I spent more time working through the few tens of large gulls on the North Pool with no reward. Arctic Skua  and Red-throated Diver were also in the bay. Med Gulls continue to tempt me to Newbiggin and whilst it's obvious that there is more than one group with up to 22 for example counted by one observer this morning I haven't managed more than 13 myself, though this is down to the laziness of not walking the full beach.

 More keys than an Elton John piano

I did come across White 'EL47' yesterday a colour -ringed individual that is back for it's fifth consecutive year, ringed at Haringvliet, Slijkplaat, Netherlands  it has been well reported with a long list of previous sightings, 46 in total. It also has some notable individuals that have reported it such as Dr Christoph Zockler who is doing such great work with Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

Elsewhere common wader numbers are increasing I have had three figure counts of Lapwing and Common Redshank over the weekend and a decent count of Dunlin too.
Whilst the sea is quiet a Great Skua this morning kept the interest even if it was a false dawn. I spent more time with large gulls at Blyth vainly trying to turn a pale-ish 3rd summer Lesser Black-backed Gull into a YLG without success I failed to find the reported Black-necked Grebe this afternoon at Bothal Pond whilst cycling with the kids.