Saturday, 26 May 2012

Prominent Shooter Breaks Ranks on Buzzards

Well known shooter and ex- shooting magazine editor James Marchington has countered claims that there is a widespread Buzzard problem on Twitter this morning.
Breaking ranks with the 76% of gamekeepers who when surveyed stated that Buzzards were a problem (without any coercion or pressure from their employers apparently) James tweeted "this is about 'rogue' Individuals attacking specific pens".

Begs the question then why £375,000 of (bad) research has been commissioned that still won't establish whether a widespread issue exists at all and quite clearly highlights that gamekeepers and shooting interests are in disarray attempting to defend a problem that simply doesn't exist on a large scale.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Benyon on Buzzards

I have been sent a copy of an email from Richard Benyon MP and DEFRA Minister to one of his constituents earlier today on the Buzzard Management issue. Extracted text in bold below:

However I would just like to reassure you that Defra are not seeking to cull buzzards. We never were and indeed everything we do is to increase numbers of species across our countryside. We have responded to repeated requests (under long-standing legislation) for permission to remove buzzards from a site where the applicant claimed they are causing damage. In commissioning research we are attempting to find out using non-lethal means what would be the effect of removing buzzards. We take decisions on the basis of sound scientific evidence – I am sure you agree that is the right way to proceed.

Seems Mr Benyon and DEFRA continue to miss the point of the outrage, not one of the mainstream news outlets, the conservation organisations or the majority of people calling for a halt to this plan have mentioned a cull, something Mr Benyon conveniently ignores.

This research appears to have been commissioned almost as an excuse to get rid of the Buzzards  for the applicant who has made these repeated requests. Mr Benyon appears to be clearly stating that the research is aimed at establishing the effects of removal and not to ascertain whether a problem exists which kind of gives the lie to his final statement of taking decisions on 'the basis of sound scientific evidence'. It would appear then that all one needs to do is claim to have a problem in the future and DEFRA will be able to hand you a quick guide to the tried and tested management techniques to rid yourself of Buzzards!

For those not on Twitter by the way I have had some communication with Northumberland Estates and they have confirmed that they are not the estate on which this proposed research is to be conducted. Anyone with any information on which estate in Northumberland has the alleged problem feel free to drop me a line?

Who Said?

"While we welcome the study, it is a shame the government has had to commission this expensive exercise simply to appease a group of people who believe that xxxxx have a greater significance than any other bird. Such a mentality is dangerous for conservation and scarcely justifies the large cost to the taxpayer"

I had to read this twice and then again just to make sure I wasn't misreading the statement. I have removed one word as you can see and I know many at first glance will assume that the word I have removed is Pheasants as to be honest the statement above kind of neatly sums up some of the arguments against the daft DEFRA proposals.
If I tell you that the statement above came from one David Taylor, Shooting Campaign Manager for the Countryside Alliance, and that the missing word was in fact raptors you might, might just begin to detect a hint of irony.

Whilst we're on the subject of 'Who Said?' a brief morning trawl of some of the Falconry Forums revealed that amongst some who pursue that hobby DEFRA plans had been gleefully received. the prospect of once again taking birds from the wild meeting with hand-rubbing posts ranging from

"wild take could be on the cards but i think it would only be buzzards and spars (sparrowhawks) at the moment i think if it came"
"A few years and the Red Kite will need thinning out!"

Make no bones about it DEFRA by allowing capture and location and nest destruction methods to be used will open the door for the idiot fringe in both falconry and shooting to pursue what they see to be a government sponsored campaign against birds of prey. Oh and yes I have cherry picked the worst posts but it adequately demonstrates these idiots exist, even though they may be a minority and the potential consequences.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

They Shoot Pheasants Don't They?

Following on from yesterday's post it has been refreshing to see a huge response from the media, conservation organisations and hundreds of individuals via social media, all speaking with one voice that the proposals to research 'Buzzard Management' are simply wrong on several levels. The RSPB have come out strongly against the proposals (see here), the Wildlife Trusts have also issued a statement denouncing the plans and there was even a question asked in Parliament this morning on the subject.

There have been several different articles in the mainstream media ranging from the BBC to George Monbiot's take on matters in The Guardian. DEFRA have failed to respond with anything meaningful and as yet none of the shooting organisations have managed to produce a shred of evidence to support the plans despite continuing their usual bluster about pumping billions into the economy.

If you haven't already done so I would urge you to write to your MP and DEFRA condemning their proposals as well as signing the e-petition (I'll add link when the civil servants release it). We can stop this happening here in Northumberland and further afield if we act as one.

If you need any further incentive, how about this quote from the front page of Modern Gamekeeping magazine's forthcoming June edition celebrating the news and looking ahead " the research may finally open the door to lethal control of Buzzards" (see image below, I hope someone will chip in for costs when they sue me).

Let's remember, 40m non-native Pheasants released into the countryside, zero research into the impact on native flora and fauna. DEFRA propose to spend £375,000 of your money to review how to increase the profits for shoot owners protect this non-native species by trialling the capture and captivity of wild Buzzards and the destruction of nests across a huge swathe (2000-2800HA) of Northumberland. They plan to spend this money with only anecdotal evidence that there is a problem and on the basis that 75% of gamekeepers believe Buzzards take Pheasant poults. How many nests will be misidentified? How many eggs will be destroyed?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

State Sponsored Persecution of Buzzards?

I remember the first time as if it was yesterday; you just do don't you? A cold December day in 1988 in the north of Northumberland, we were driving past Bradford Kaims as it swept across the road in front of us and rose up over a nearby wood. The car was careered into the verge and everyone emptied as if we had just found a first for Britain. They were rare in those days. It would be a while before I saw another.


My eldest son and I stood in the shell of the house that was soon to be ours looking through an empty window frame across the hedges to the 'big woods' in the distance. It was 1998 I remember telling him that one day we'd be watching them soaring over the garden from this window.

This year we have three pairs on territories near the house and for the first time I watched with my nine year old as one circled high early in the Spring and soared over the garden, nearly 25 years after that first Buzzard had caused great excitement and warmed the air of a winter's day.

It has come to light today that a government department (DEFRA) took the first steps in allowing the destruction of the nests of these magnificent birds, that have taken over half my life to recover from historical persecution. A bidding process has recently ended for a project entitled "The Development Of Management Techniques to Reduce the Predation of Pheasant Poults by Buzzards". This three year project funded to the tune of up to £375k of taxpayers money will trial so called non-lethal management techniques one of which is " Nest Destruction - Breeding birds displaced by destroying nests during construction, for example, using squirrel drey-poking pole or shotgun from below thereby forcing the pair to move on to find another nest site or not breed that year."

You can read the full project specification here. The trial area is 2000-2400 hectares here in Northumberland where it is claimed that the shoots have suffered significant losses from buzzard predation.

I have struggled to control my anger today, this is unbelievable on so many levels; that these birds of prey have finally reached a point where their population has stabilised and they are breeding both county-wide and nationally for our government to sanction the destruction of nests even as a trial is beyond belief. This is nothing less than a trial of state-sponsored persecution of an incredible and magnificent species. Not content with wiping out English Hen Harriers landowners and shoot managers have colluded and influenced their friends in high places to bring this trial about, to start under the veil of 'research' on the road to ridding their land of our Buzzards.

This Nest Destruction technique described above is the exact same technique often employed illegally by those gamekeepers who continue to persecute other species such as Goshawks, yet here are DEFRA sanctioning the use of the self-same methods and apparently failing to see the irony in labelling it 'non-lethal'.
This is the thin end of the wedge, this trial should not be allowed to go ahead with this method included. Not one nest should be destroyed as part of this proposal, we all need to draw a line in the sand. Where next. Will DEFRA sanction the destruction of Osprey nests 25 years from now when they are taking too many fish from stocked lakes?

That a government department can find £375k to hand over to find ways to prop up the profits of the land-owning and shooting fraternity in these austere times is in itself somewhat puzzling, especially it was only two years ago that the self-same government cut 21.5% from Natural England's annual budget as part of its deficit reduction programme. 

That the same government department have been conned into the possibility of large scale losses even after research by GWCT ( that is the organisation predominantly funded by the game industry to produce science that is supportive of the game industry) produced in the last decade over three years specifically into the fate of released Pheasants could only offer that "Of the 486 radio-tagged birds, we think three were killed by raptors" beggars belief.

The inclusion of the 'nest destruction technique' in this trial needs to be prevented. As I understand it the contact for this project at DEFRA is one Richard Brand-Hardy, you can contact Richard by email at - let's all drop Richard a line and let him know how we feel about the inclusion of nest destruction as a 'management technique'. Whilst you're on copy the email to your local MP and let him/her know how you feel to.

It is also worth noting that the BTO are part of the Project Advisory Group, so if you are a member of the BTO it may also be worthwhile contacting them to make your feelings known about the inclusion of nest destruction.

Coming to the end of writing this post I'd like to end on a positive note, I've been tweeting all day about this and had a huge response, both Birdwatch and Birdwatching Magazine seem keen to take up the cause. Chris Packham is on the case and I've just heard from Stuart Housden the Director of RSPB Scotland that RSPB will issue a statement tomorrow. A big enough response can make a difference, I'll certainly make sure that this is discussed at the next Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club committee session (28 June) and I'd urge everyone who reads to email the contact above and anyone else who can put a stop to this, as soon as possible.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Red-backed Revisited

Early out to Newbiggin hopefully to catch up with Friday's Red-backed Shrike to try and get some better images. Three Wheatears on the golf course and a good smattering of Whitethroats with 6-8 along the Ash Lagoon. No sign as I went north I had more luck on the return journey as I came across the shrike again in virtually the same spot Andy and I had seen it skip across in front of us from on Friday. Better prepared this time I skirted about keeping low and managed a good 15 minutes watching and the chance to have a go with both camera and phone scope.

Later I walked from Druridge Pools to East Chevington, six or seven Wheatears in the dunes, a Cuckoo at East Chevington and a drake Garganey from the Budge Screen the highlights as well as a couple of photogenic Swallows.


Friday, 18 May 2012

It's Raining, It's Pouring

Though the good stuff keeps on coming. First up got a text from Ross Ahmed on Tuesday who is making a habit of finding rare waders around the daunting Lindisfarne NNR, the latest a male Kentish Plover. No chance of getting there till Thursday PM I thought it unlikely that I'd be unblocking this one in the county anytime soon as it seems to be a species averaging two per decade. Frustration was doubled when Tim Dean turned up an adult White-rumped Sandpiper whilst twitching the KP. A series of texts the previous evening suggested that a small party of immigrant birders from Durham had seen this individual but had the misfortune to have it fly off before it could be nailed.

A double shift over at 15:30 on Thursday and within five minutes ADMc and I were aquaplaning north on news the WrP was present but not the KP. Arriving at the causeway we found one Northumberland birder looking like an extra from Glastonbury weekend, cold, wet and bedraggled. Within 30 minutes ADMC had picked out both star turns amongst the hundreds of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Sanderling. The Kentish Plover was a breath of fresh air, an immaculately plumaged male it brought a splash of the Med to a rather grey and overcast afternoon.

Woken by a text from Stewart who was 'smelling rares' this morning, we (that's ADMC and I) were soon back on the road with a rough plan of working down through Druridge Bay to Newbiggin. Starting out at Hauxley we worked through the village to the Ponteland Hide, a singing Lesser Whitethroat met us at the hide. A male Reed Warbler sang right of the hide then flew across the scrub on the south side where a couple of Wheatears stood forlornly in the rain. In the field behind two Whooper Swans and a single Pink-footed Goose. A quick stop at the Tern Hide produced a flyover Dark-bellied Brent adding to the winter revisited theme.
Further south East Chevington added a further four Reed Warblers and a food pass from the Marsh Harriers. An immature drake Goldeneye another leftover from winter. A single Short-eared Owl broke cover briefly. Seven Wheatears at Cresswell fuelled thoughts of migrants.
We tried a short seawatch at Newbiggin but a lone Manx Shearwater was scant reward though another 2 Wheatears here motivated us to try the golf course for the last half hour or so we had available. A few more Wheatears later we headed back to the car, a fortuitous move onto the dry track along the fence and after a few yards a bird flicked across in front of us. Expecting the ubiquitous Whitethroat we lifted bins to a pleasant surprise as a male Red-backed Shrike topped the fence. With precious little time available and a distinctly mobile bird I managed little more than a poor record shot and the thought that we are so much poorer not having this species as a more widespread breeder here in Britain.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Life Goes On

...long after the rares have gone. Monday was windy so the kids and I hit the woods west of Morpeth for a series of short walks, Longwitton Dene, Hartburn Glebe and Bolam. Lots going on though birds were staying fairly low in the brisk wind. A Spotted Flycatcher was a year tick and several singing Redstarts  made good 'spotting' practice though I think the kids were more enthralled by the male Peacock that checked us out and began calling, so close we could see the breath exhale on each call.

As ever on these forays it isn't just about the birds, I try and take the opportunity just to get them to slow down and notice things, though admittedly sometimes with two of them looking in different directions I have to keep up with what they are calling out.

Bugle (?)

Monday night was a productive session to do with new members of NTBC and how best to help them, welcome them etc. Some good ideas and hopefully several new initiatives as a result in the months to come.
Then somewhere in the middle of the night I woke and a quick wander in the garden suggested it would be a good night to get ma skates on and get to to grips with the BTO Nightingale Survey Tetrads. By 04:15 I was wandering the highways and byways  with more singing Redstarts and 3 year tick Garden Warblers for company, though not a sniff of the songster. I finished around six with a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Song Thrush on loud and headed home for a quick hour before an early morning wake up call from Stewart to chew some cud.

Sunday, 13 May 2012


Preparing yesterday's blog post and a message gets pushed onto my phone from the birdguides news app (call me anal but I love the sound of a message coming through as it sounds like it's been squeezed out) not one but two Red-rumped Swallows over Lynemouth Sewage Works. I knew instantly it must be Iain and Janet ringing, so I bundled some clothes on the one bairn that was wandering around the house and headed down.

Stood on the bank was an assorted group of miscreants and individuals you would stereotypically associate with the nearby traveller camp, closer inspection revealed this to be 'the twitch'.

By the time we arrived only one was on show and we managed brief views before it departed north ( and I've no doubt subsequently ended up circling the Tin Church later in the evening). It wouldn't be a blog post without a record shot, sadly on this occasion whilst a decent shot of rump would have ended the post nicely it wasn't to be.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Are You Really On My Patch?

It may be heading for mid-May but we were both still in gloves. The possibility of a warm cup of tea and maybe even a digestive on our return was too much too resist so I slipped off a glove and sent a speculative text message to Stringer, "On your patch looking for Bluethroat" was the tongue firmly in cheek missive.

Rewind a little, Andy and I had decided to head for 'somewhere with a hide' early morning to sit out the worst of the rain and wait patiently for a break in the weather. Hauxley was the choice given us the option of north and south should  a ray of sunshine sneak through. A couple of Common Sandpipers, 7 Turnstones and 3 Lapwing chicks later the rain had stopped and we headed off with a vague plan to head for Newton/Beadnell and exploit the rich seam of under-watched coast. A Lesser Whitethroat briefly sparked up in the bushes as we left around 10:00.

The pool at Beadnell was brimming and disappointingly Temminck's-free. I thought one of three alba wagtails was White but Andy seemed less than convinced. A vantage looking south towards the mouth of the Long Nanny produced distant views of up to 10 Little Terns and c.500 Arctic Terns. We spent some time searching these for anything un-Arctic-like in vain.

By this time my phone had gone and Stringer in best 'land-owner' tradition had responded first up with a phone call and an opening line that inspired the post title and then like all the best birders sharing some quality local knowledge about what he considered to be the best Bluethroat habitat in the area. Football Hole hadn't been in our plans so without the freely offered advice we'd have probably stuck to the tin church and the scrapes. At the very least we have to credit him with a long distance assist!

A few Whimbrels headed north as we approached Newton Point and skirted the NT offices and a single Wheatear on the rocks at the north side as we entered the small bay briefly lifted spirits. Thrashing both bushes (yes there's two of them!) we failed to turn up anything so started heading back towards the scrapes. Eyes on watches as news of a Red-backed Shrike at Hauxley had irked us and we planned to drop in as we returned south.

Rounding the bend in the footpath aside the crop field we noticed a couple of Wheatears further up the recently ploughed strip of earth, then another bright and pale male. Both of us began to scan down the furrows to look for any additional birds and were rather pleasantly surprised to happen upon something a little brighter hunkered down at the crop edge.

Creeping in and out the crop and eyeing us carefully was a throat-pumping, splash of summer-sky blue in the form of a cracking male Red-spotted Bluethroat. After several minutes of unbridled joy I took on the tough task of contacting Stringer with the news. Ensuring I had the number for The Samaritans at hand and keeping the phone several feet from my good ear I delivered the news. Thankfully he later managed to get back and get to grips with the bird otherwise I expect I may have had one less Christmas card this year.

We moved off and after checking a relatively empty scrape at Newton Pool headed south to Hauxley. With what later proved to be dodgy directions we failed in an attempt to get to grips with the Red-backed Shrike. Later in the day a second attempt at the Lanius with better and more precise location details proved more fruitful. Always mobile we managed good views, mostly of the back end as it flew away, and opportunities to get any sort of image were brief and difficult (see below) but worth the effort as spring males are the epitome of smart.

Both birds are still around this morning and will probably show much better today given the improvement in the weather, always assuming that there are no more idiots who think they can trespass at will playing tapes at full volume as apparently occurred at the Bluethroat this morning. It beggars belief that the individual responsible continues to believe his actions 'do no harm'  whilst almost every other birder in the county shares the belief that it is unacceptable and directly responsible for many birders suppressing news in certain circumstances as well as demonstrating a complete lack of regard for the bird and its welfare.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Stroll on Saturday

I spend far too much time in the car driving between birding sites and not enough time on my legs. Time in the field shouldn't equal time in the car. An unexpected bonus couple of hours this afternoon was therefore spent on foot.
Male Redstarts are just stunning aren't they? Twenty minutes along a quiet back road and I could hear the male below singing just ahead before it flicked across the road onto a low branch about eight feet above the ground and quivered. It shot back across into the hedge but was quickly out again on nearby branches and fence. Later another sang from a hidden perch in some broad-leaved woodland.

Away from the road across some rough grassland I came across what I thought was the remains of a Curlew, or at least a few feathers. Close by though I found a skull remnant that was not in the least curlew-like. Be interested in any thoughts on this one, was thinking Buzzard but seem to have got that spectacularly wrong! Though the feathers were almost certainly from a Curlew.

Heading back to the car in some fine spring sunshine I happened on a Short-eared Owl then another. I continued on and ahead of me my first Cuckoo of the year called seductively from the side of the road, before two cavorted through the hedgerow and lane. Back at the car I threw up the scope and waited at the end of the rough hillside they were hunting, I soon realised that there were not two but three Short-eared Owls floating about and pitching into the grass. A scan across the area also produced one of the Cuckoos perched up on a sapling protector some distance away whilst behind me a male began gently singing in earnest.

Friday, 4 May 2012

It's a Hybrid!

Though maybe not the one that is exercising the minds of many birders up and down the country. Perhaps more predictably mine is a duck. With a car that sounds like a drag racer until the exhaust gets fixed next week I decided not to venture too far yesterday so I breezed up the back roads to East Chevington NWT and planned to work my way south.
From the first hide I had decent views of both male and female Marsh Harriers though apart from hods of Swallows the rest of the pool was quiet-ish, only a single Sandwich Tern and a few Goldeneyes worth mentioning at first glance.
At the bottom car park a singing Sedge Warbler entertained for a while, first of the year for me, whilst along the path south a single female Wheatear.
I decided to spend a little more time, fired by news of a Bluethroat somewhere on the east coast further south, I wandered up the east path, had a pair of Stonechats and tried to string a Robin into something better before arriving at the L-shaped hide. I waded through the floods outside (remember boardwalks?) and clattered the shutters open with metal on metal noises reminiscent of a dodgy fifties movie involving Notre Dame. Had there been an ugly fellow with a dodgy back in the corner I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised.

A 1st-winter Little Gull dip-fed with a few Common Terns, I spent a little time searching through several hundred hirundines hoping for something special, though I couldn't even find a single House Martin amongst the swallows and Sand Martins to cast a second glance at.
A few Wigeon loafed a couple of hundred meters north of the island and whilst casually scanning through them I came across a drake with a very grey looking head; roosting at first it took a little while to get a decent look. Was it a drake American Wigeon in early eclipse? What did 1st-winter drake Yanks look like? I spent a little time taking a critical look at this individual and after some helpful discussion eventually came to the conclusion it had to be a hybrid. Head shape didn't look right, flanks were grey at the rear and it lacked the dark green stripe behind the eye. Presumably then a drake American Wigeon x Wigeon hybrid

I banged a couple of images out on the phone to get a second opinion that confirmed my thinking and moved on. On the way back out of the reserve a further 3 Wheatears sat on top of the willows along the channel.
Little of note elsewhere though two Common Sandpipers at Castle Island were another new species for the year.