Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Turtle Dove Updates

It appears that all three companies including Roxtons have removed advertising of trips to Morocco to shoot Turtle Doves from their websites. Roxtons added the following statement to their website yesterday:

Turtle Doves: Thank you for your posts and comments. The trips have been removed from our website and we are investigating this issue urgently.

 Whilst this is to be welcomed, we should remain vigilant to anything reappearing in the future.

Review: Best Birdwatching Sites in North-East England

This new guide is the work of the late Brian Unwin and completed after his untimely death by friend of Brian's Ian Kerr. See here for my review.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Two-dipped Greenish!

Occasionally I moan about aspects of birding at some of the less salubrious sites that I visit such as Newbiggin, but to be honest given that being regularly followed by horses sporting erections is about as bad as it gets these days I should heed the lesson from my 'mini-twitch' late morning/early afternoon today.

The day started out quietly, another sea-watch session but a rising sun and lack of cloud made for difficult viewing. Sooty Shearwater and a couple of Arctic Skuas were all the first hour offered. By the time JGS arrived I was ready to stretch me legs so we headed around to the golf course. A couple of hours later the only decent birds of the day had been seen by ADMc (flyover Yellow Wags) and I decided to head home. As we chatted at the cars a Wheatear rose up over the willows and went straight over the estate.

In the car a quick check of the phone (whilst stationary guv) showed Birdguides messages about Greenish Warblers at St. Mary's and Tynemouth. Not trying hard enough I thought. I had to meet with a bird club member who was having key issues with the club's sea-watching hide at Seaton Sluice at 14:00 so I decided to head down and give the birds at Tynemouth a go figuring the site had less cover and would probably be the less popular of the two.

After three circuits of Tynemouth looking for parking it dawned on me that it was a Bank Holiday Weekend, add to that the Great North Cycle Ride Finish Line was about 300m from the location of the Greenish and you can imagine the scene. Luckily the pier was shut which seemed to be discouraging many people from walking the 300m stretch where presumably the Greenish had been early morning.

However I quickly seemed to become part of the Bank Holiday entertainment. First up a flame-haired lady of a certain age who was desperate for me to help identify the red-legged birds she saw regularly whilst on a lonely-looking-out-to-sea in a single lady kind of way vigil (Redshanks). Next up Chinese/Korean tourists who needed a picture taken with Tynemouth lighthouse in the background and appeared a little bemused that I was looking for leaf warblers, maybe it got lost in translation my Mandarin is a little rusty. Finally I hadn't been leaning on the fence for long when the two healthy looking lycra-clad twenty-somethings who had been further along the grassy knoll on all fours doing leg thrusts, did their level best to attract my attention by running up and down in front of me. Eventually after I stubbornly ignored them they came over to introduce themselves. Of course they disguised their interest by making a fuss of the dog but I've been around long enough to get the hint. Still got it....

Sadly despite all the comings and goings the one thing that never came and was most likely gone was the Greenish. I hung on but activity levels (birds) were low and when the sound of the Steel Drum band began meandering down from the Priory I decided it was time to leave.

Dozens of bank holiday twitchers mill about without purpose after failing to locate Greenish Warbler.

Enough time for an hour at St. Mary's as a back-up so I headed slowly north. As expected this one, found by Jack Bucknall, was more popular and there was still a few of the great unwashed wandering the willows when I pitched up. Typically though not a sniff until an hour after I left; a Willow Warbler showed well not displaying any ill feeling about its apparent inclusion on one or two lists under a different name. C'est la vie!

Key problem resolved, the couple in question even had the decency to have a Wheatear nailed down on the cliffs for me so that I was at least able to raise my bins at something.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Damp Sparks

Several hours dodging showers whilst trying to make the most of the time in the field this morning produced a few sparks but the fire never got going. Visibility was poor first thing in the rain and the sea was flat calm, hardly the most promising set of conditions for a sea-watch. A single juvenile Black Tern was the highlight of the session, tracking north, it lingered long enough to make a single dip onto the sea before continuing its journey. Two Sooty Shearwaters including a nice close individual less than 100m out made up half the shearwater contingent with two Manx Shearwaters that passed north together a little later. At least four Arctic Skuas were noted, all close over or just off the point. Between times the good-sized flocks of Kittiwakes offered plenty of work scanning for Sab's as several hundred moved south over two hours.

Good numbers of waders on the move as is to be expected, nine Whimbrels noisily overhead not long before I left the highlight. Later up at Beacon Point I spent some time working through the high tide wader roost, several Knot most in winter garb now; bright white Sanderlings standing out against the dark rocks. Over 200 Golden Plovers provided hope, but as is so often the case failed to deliver. Even the arrival of the talismanic JGS couldn't whistle up the rare.

Between times a juvenile Whinchat was possibly the same bird from Thursday now out across the Moor in the juncus. Two Wheatears were around Beacon Point as were two Common Sandpipers, the latter seemingly departing south in typically noisy fashion. Two Arctic Skuas an intermediate adult and a dark individual lingered just offshore.

I managed to slip a visit to Cresswell in the middle of all that, 'the' Spoonbill still present along with 'the' Long-tailed Duck. In keeping with other sites along the east coast Snipe numbers were noticeable indicating a return to the coast, I counted 28 north of the causeway but more were in the field with the Lapwing flock west of the hide. A single Wheatear here too as well as a Yellow Wagtail. Long overdue this year, ADMc picked out a Water Rail just before I left providing my second county year-tick of the day.

More on Moroccan Turtle Dove Shooting

Further research yesterday revealed at least a further two companies here in Britain offering trips to Morocco to shoot Turtle Doves and bypass EU protection laws in the process. The two companies involved are and Roxtons Field Sports.

As word began to spread via social media sites and emails, twitter mentions and posts on associated Facebook pages began to grow both companies took action. It is interesting to contrast their responses. removed the page advertising their tour from their website within an hour of getting some Twitter mentions. Roxtons on the other hand took a different tactic. Rather than remove the tours thay blatantlyy attempted to hide the facts by removing any mention of the word 'Turtle' from their website advertisements, presumably so they can claim that they don't shoot Turtle Doves just other species. Luckily Google hadn't yet caught up with this action and I was able to download a PDF brochure from Roxtons entitled 'Turtle Dove Shooting in Morocco' (see below for an image of the PDF from my computer screen).

Roxtons are the self-acclaimed ' leading providers of the finest fishing and shooting opportunities around the globe' it is difficult to understand how an organisation that obviously prides itself on the quality of its offer could get an issue like this so badly wrong. However I have struggled to find any mention of conservation on the company website despite apparently representing 28 of the Top 50 Covert Shoots in Britain. A somewhat sad indictment of the people running this business. As this story unfolds we would all do well to remember these actions and judge any further statements or actions in light of them.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Some Predator Case Studies

With a hat-tip to MPF see this post over at the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog highlighting the importance of predators in our ecosystems and including a few case studies.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Rusty Chat

A gentle late morning wander around part of the moor at Newbiggin was never going to be uber-exciting given the wind direction. A few Willow Warblers were dotted around the estate willows and the Ash Lagoon scrub as were a couple of Common Whitethroats. Bird of the day was a single juvenile Whinchat perched up on the fence at the bottom edge of the gorse that briefly ignited hope of better prospects.

A small flock of hirundines mainly juvenile Swallows with a few Sand Martins and the odd House Martin fed and perched wherever they could on the east-facing side of the Ash Lagoon. Probably 50-60 in number they preened and were reasonably confiding if you sat still for a while. At least two of the flock had darker reddish underparts showing good contrast with the more typical off-white of most Swallows.

One or two Small Coppers on the wing today too but keeping low in the brisk breeze.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Exporting Rich Killers

For various reasons I had not planned a post today. I'm guessing that most that read here wouldn't be the slightest bit interested in a pocket-size review of the latest kids animated flick 'Brave' (some pleasant melancholic Scottish tunes otherwise bland) nor would you be engaged by my day long fast (no cause except the pursuit of svelte).

Somewhere near the mid-point of Deal or No Deal this afternoon, Noel was interrupted by the soft ping of an arriving email that turned out to be from passionate conservationist Charlie Moores. I began to read about the British company that are advertising trips to Morocco to shoot Turtle Doves. That is right, read it again slowly, a British company...advertising hunting Morocco... to shoot the rapidly declining Turtle Dove.  

Take a look here at the website of Davis & Bowring including their claim that 'numbers shot are carefully controlled to maintain a healthy wild population' then spend a few minutes just reading some of the information on the website of Operation Turtle Dove here to realise how this claim is disingenuous garbage.

Now I used the word 'rich' in the title and I feel that that label is adequately justified when you delve a little further into the brochure and realise that this four day trip carries a cost of 3200Euros excluding air fare, hotel and travel, that is around £2500. Add to that flights, food and hotel stay and it will no doubt be headed towards £4000. This isn't a trip for the average Brit Pheasant shooter, this is carefully marketed at a select client.

At a time when many others are working to conserve the dwindling breeding populations of British Turtle Doves for a British company to be offering the opportunity to blast the self-same birds out of the sky as they migrate south is a travesty.

Based in Kirby Lonsdale this company needs to be made aware of the depth of feeling regarding this abhorrent export in any way possible. The business as well as a sporting agency also consists of chartered surveying and an up-market rural estate agency with links to Savills. I would hope that anyone that has the opportunity to hit them where it hurts by removing or cancelling business contact them and requests they re-think and withdraw this tour offer. Those of us that do not have that option can at least let them know how we feel by emailing 'sporting partners' Nick Mason and Christopher Mason-Hornby (the latter described as 'a passionate rural conservationist' on the company website, a claim that should almost be reported to trading standards given the nature of this venture).

Update 23/08 - the above link to the advertisement on the Davis & Bowring website no longer functions as the page has been taken down. At the moment it is unclear whether this is just an avoidance tactic or whether the company has taken a decision not to run these tours again.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Ba'd Warbler Pics

Autumn in full swing, very little time and even less inclination to write long posts. Birding is the blur between kids, work, cooking and sleeping. Plenty out there to be found though. A couple of different warblers from the last four-five days, the latter reported this morning in the dunes at Druridge Bay CP, not my find but with no one there when I arrived I had to work a little to sort out the exact location.

 Reed Warbler - Newbiggin Golf Course

 Barred Warbler - Druridge Links

Monday, 13 August 2012


Spearheading the campaign to rid the Scottish countryside of Buzzards, Scottish Gamekeeper's Association's Alex Hogg appears to have lost none of his appetite for trying to get his anti-raptor message out. His last blog on the SGA website has Alex once again claiming big losses to Buzzards as well as a couple of other new Pheasant-killers.

Alex writes "The first week I lost a good few poults to the Tawny Owls and Sparrowhawks and then the Buzzards found them and, since then, we have been losing one a day at each pen for the last 28 days.As well as these losses from direct predation, my poults once again are on the verge of leaving me because of the onslaught, hence hundreds more losses, and I can’t do a damn thing about it."

I admit I continue to be puzzled as to exactly how the Chairman arrives at his numbers and is able to keep track of which predators are taking which poults. In fact I'm astonished that he even manages an accurate count of the poults in his release pens to be able to assess the predation.

It is also worth noting the numbers above and contrasting them with Alex's interview on Countryfile recently in which he stated 'we lose 1000 poults to Buzzards a year', I wrote about the apparent inconsistency in his numbers here. Remember that 1000 a year equated back to an incredible 150 poults per week if true. However as can be seen from his latest claims he now claims his losses (if we can trust these latest figures) are SEVEN poults per pen per week. Extrapolated that totals perhaps 42 poults from a pen during the six weeks the Pheasants are sited inside the pens. Now I don't know how many release sites they have for the 3800 poults they release but I suspect it may fall well short of the 23 they would need for Alex's original claims to be anything other than complete Hogg-wash.

What is very clear is that 'anecdotal evidence' like this from so called 'respected' sources within the industry, remember that is what was and continues to be used as a basis for justifying the need for Buzzard Management by these people, cannot be trusted. At best it is spurious, inaccurate nonsense and at worst a deliberately concocted trail of deceit designed to achieve their aims.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Snatches from the sea

Birding the last three days has been in snatched hours here and there, early morning or late afternoon and predominantly staring out to sea in the hope of some quality wafting in on the south-easterly breeze. There are no 'numbers' out there right now, at least not passing close but persistence has rewarded me with an adult Roseate Tern on each of three sessions amongst the more numerous Common & Sandwich Terns.

Skua numbers have been steady with seven Arctic Skuas including one or two loafing on the sea and a pale adult that downed a Kittiwake and sat a few tens of metres offshore for a good half hour on Saturday. Two Great Skuas north, one distant and the other almost over my head. A single Sooty Shearwater yesterday and a few ducks, Teal and Common Scoter this morning.

 Arctic Skua

In the south bay I counted 19 Mediterranean Gulls this morning, including 2 juveniles and one that was much further advanced towards 1st-winter. A colour-ringed adult Kittiwake was also on the beach.

Common Tern (adult)
and together with offspring

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Who Gains?

Following on from my post yesterday about the Shooting Times opinion piece/feature by Roy Green, one of the comments by Alistair Balmain Editor of Shooting Times challenged me to think about why someone of 35 years standing in the game industry would change his position on the RSPB. To be honest I have deliberated over why some gamekeepers are so vociferous in their anti-raptor and anti-RSPB rhetoric. It might be easy to conclude that they are simply 'towing the party-line', ensuring that they are seen publicly to be supportive of landowners (and therefore their employer's) wishes in ensuring that the game businesses are operating at a high as return as possible.

Increasingly though I'm beginning to wonder if there are not other more human factors to play here. I spent the best part of 25 years working in businesses in 'management', for almost all of that time parts of the roles I held were about making changes, making whatever those businesses did more efficient. Working in an industry that was labour-intensive that inevitably often meant looking at how the same amount of work could be done by less people, or automated, or done in a different way that allowed people to be reallocated elsewhere. Almost without exception some individuals involved in the process would display classic resistance to change. They would be very keen to ensure that I knew certain things couldn't be changed, couldn't be done differently and that they, either individually or collectively were indispensable. Often this was, how to put it politely, bullshit, a smokescreen of self-perpetuation designed to ensure that their jobs were protected.

It is only natural I guess to want to protect your source of income, perhaps especially so when it may also involve your home as well as is the case for some gamekeepers. Often this resistance to change goes way beyond the emotional reaction and fear of loss and stems from deeply entrenched cultural views. In an industry where son often follows father, often in small rural communities with little exposure to different world views and cultural values, it is easy to see how individuals become steeped in the accepted way of thinking  in an unquestioning and obedient way.

Factor in the 'unions' or organisations that represent them (such as the National Gamekeeper's Organisation and Scottish Gamekeeper's Association) and this resistance often becomes a more pro-active defence stance of continual reminders of the importance and indispensable nature of the work of their members e.g. predator control.  In the case of the NGO and SGA I would imagine most of their income is derived from individual memberships, less gamekeepers would equate to less members and a less financially sound footing.

So I would apply a great deal of caution when listening to those representing the game keeping fraternity. I would hope that when it comes to making good clear decisions on policy, laws, funding etc that government departments like DEFRA take a step back and make policy on the basis of independent research (if it doesn't exist fund it!) rather than listening to the burly voices of vested and self interest.

Whilst I support the introduction of vicarious liability in England, after all owners should be responsible for managing their employees in an appropriate way, we should also be very clear about the  game-keeping profession and what they have to gain or lose when it comes to the extent of predator control. It is often their voices that are loudest in the calls for removal of protection on raptors.

Friday, 10 August 2012

New Shooting Times Feature Attacks RSPB

The Shooting Times publishes an article today by Roy Green, cited as a 'gamekeeper' Roy was until recently the manager of Buccleuch Sporting the game business of The Buccleuch Estates. Read it, it is nothing short of a thinly veiled blackmail letter from a founder of the National Gamekeeper's Organisation and former employee of one of the largest landowners in Britain. The message is clear, stop telling us what we can and can't kill or we will deny you access to the land we own.

Green is openly contemptuous of the RSPB from the off writing "The likes of the RSPB overlook that this minority successfully manages more acreage for British flora and fauna than all the conservation bodies put together. This work is funded by the same people whose goodwill and generosity the RSPB relies on for co-operation and access."

He neglects to define how this 'success' is measured and perhaps if he had used the word 'some' in front of British flora & fauna it would have been more accurate given the list of unwelcome predators that he and his brethren are employed to despatch.

Green returns to his theme a few paragraphs later " As an organisation, the RSPB has become too powerful and needs reminding that, without the generosity of landowners and managers, much of what it is paid for by the Government purse could not be achieved." 

What lies at the heart of Roy's problem with the RSPB? Roy explains " Globally, practical conservation groups recognise the need and value of predator control for the benefit of other species and the environment. They recognise that fieldsports bring huge benefits to the social and economic survival of many communities. Why, then, does our leading bird charity continually oppose predator control?"

Perhaps by 'practical conservation' Roy is referring to those shooting and hunting organisations that have slipped the word conservation into their name in a bid to convince the general public that the spade is actually a fork. Yes, predator control is used in a limited way at times in conservation but in relation to sensitive species protection or eradication of non-native species not for profit! 

It was not until near the end of Roy's article that I finally found some common ground " Issues such as buzzard or cormorant predation that impact on our ability to finance countryside management should be scientifically studied and solutions found" calls Roy. Who wouldn't agree but I'd go further and suggest that what we should be looking for are solutions that allow natural predators such as the Buzzard and Cormorant to co-exist with man's use of our natural resources rather than solutions that simply seek to remove them from the equation.

Roy does raise an interesting question though when he asks "  In the way the RSPB charges us to visit its nature reserves, perhaps we should also begin to charge the public entry fees to the countryside we manage?" That is a possibility but I imagine a campaign to return to public ownership large tracts of land removed from common ownership and gifted to the forebears of their current owners by the nepatism and daylight robbery of some of our more corrupt Kings and Queens over the years would prove a great deal more popular with the general public at the moment.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Stringer's Stilt

So last night I'm winding down towards an exciting nine and a half seconds with a big Jamaican and the phone goes. It seems that no matter how old you get the prospect of a county tick still gets the juices going and it was obvious ADMC was pumped up and ready to 'bolt' north.

I hadn't got further than the drive when the finder (stringer) was on the phone equally joyful at the finding of Northumberland's first Stilt Sandpiper. A superb and justified return on the time invested in creating a great and well managed wader habitat in the north of the county; if only one or two other sites that used to attract waders of this quality were as well managed then we might be a damn sight more inviting to some of the waders that seem to inevitably flyover and end up in that godforsaken place to the south.

Anyway, we were halfway up the A1 when Stringer called again, this time sounding a little sombre, "just ringing to tell you it's flown off ....(long pause), twice .......(further dramatic pause) ....but it's come back"

Indeed it had and it was thoroughly enjoyed by the handful that managed to make it to Newton before the light died and the mist took it from view; including the NTBC Chairman who due to far too much liquid celebration of matters gold had to cadge a lift off the neighbours to get there. Good enough views to see it was a smart adult but not enough to do a stunner like this justice so...

Alarm set for a time that should be reserved for sensible people intent on performing public services we were headed back, hoping for decent light. Decent it was and again a modest audience along with a bird feeding constantly for nearly two hours, the sun even broke through for a brief few minutes. Those, including myself, who hadn't had the pleasure before were struck with just how slim and sleek this wader is; a splendidly patterned hybrid between Wood & Curlew Sandpiper. Worthy of a place on any rostrum it fed, preened, stretched its wings and put in an almost Olympic performance. Finally that now familiar incredibly poor record shot gallery just because I can....

 with Redshank for size comparison

look at that super from the front!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Nectar-drinking Blackcaps

This morning as I peered through the thin film of sleep to see what the weather held I noticed the back end of a nondescript warbler moving amongst the top branches of the cotoneaster hedge. Unsure if it was a Garden Warbler of Blackcap I padded to the bottom of the stairs and retrieved some bins. Still there for once when I returned not one, but three, Blackcaps, a male and two juveniles/females.

I thought perhaps they were feeding on insects but after a while it appeared that they might also be feeding on nectar from the cotoneaster flowers as they all repeatedly dipped their bills deftly inside the small pink and white blooms. First time I have seen this in Blackcaps though they are cited in BWP as feeding on nectar in Spring and Winter in the Med.


Domestic duties left little time for birding this morning and I guess no one's interested in my Lapwing and Cormorant counts so 16 Mediterranean Gulls (no juveniles) in the south bay at Newbiggin whilst trying to string several large floating branches flushed out by the high tides into Basking Sharks, was the only other noteworthy event to reach my notebook.

An email from Alistair Smith this evening regarding a colour-ringed Sandwich Tern that I observed at North Blyth Staithes on 2nd August. Always interesting to know the origins of some of the birds we see locally and as I hadn't heard of any local colour-ringing on Sandwich Terns I wondered if this individual had come from further afield. Alistair wrote " it was marked at Forvie National Nature Reserve near Newburgh, Aberdeenshire in 2010.  This was one of c.300 young marked that year out of a total of c.900 young that fledged from a breeding population of c.750 pairs.I have received notification of a large number of this year classfrom both east and west coasts of the UK, Ireland and western Europe as well as some apparently spending the summer in Africa."

Just adding as I go along reading BWP that highlights that this age group, let's call it second-summer, often turn up in European Waters reaching colonies in June and some breed at this age. I remember David Steel on The Farnes referring to a second wave of late-arriving terns earlier in the year, though I can't remember which species. Maybe these second waves are all 'young' birds, first time breeders?

Friday, 3 August 2012

More Waders

Another early morning foray to Holy Island in search of waders on the dropping tide, this time in company of ADMc. Water still bubbling and gushing through our toes as it ran from the causeway we enjoyed a cool, calm morning working through the waders and gulls off the causeway and then later Chare Ends. Once we got to Chare Ends we had the sun behind us warming our necks and perfect light though the heat haze developed remarkably quickly.
Pick of the bunch were two adult Curlew Sandpipers offering a hint of red amongst the black-bellied Dunlin. Pushing them close on looks were over 50 Grey Plovers many still in smart summer plumage. Several tens of Knot and a small number of Bar-tailed Godwits also retaining degrees of breeding plumage to add some colour.
Two Peregrines provided distant views.

Wader Central

Further south three Greenshanks were in Budle Bay (we doubled that with a further three at other sites) and the sharp eyes of the passenger picked out a Little Egret in the channel as we whizzed past. An adult Short-eared Owl flew inland and south at Warkworth Gut and with the tide low little else of note around Druridge Bay.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Little Things

After spending much of this morning locked in the complexity of now and the effort it takes dealing with the bureaucratic hurdles of just keeping a car on the road I was ready for some space this afternoon and a chance to walk for a while. As the dog and I dropped down the path to the beach we appeared to be moving against the crowd, a small but steady stream of people moved in the opposite direction. I guess it was the expanding deep black clouds behind us and the first few drops of rain from it, driving everyone to seek shelter. It was warm and I was coat-less, heading in the opposite direction and embracing the rain felt good. In the event the main rainfall moved out to sea and I stayed reasonably dry.

I was looking again for passage waders on a rising tide south-east of Warkworth; two Greenshanks fed separately either side of the wooden footbridge and at least two Little Egrets were still enjoying their summer hangout in the same area. Further down the estuary Redshank numbers continued to build, up nearly a third on a few days ago with some 233 counted as the tide gently pushed them inland. The muscular frames of four Black-tailed Godwits still towered above the Redshanks and a single Knot seemed to have lost all but the vestiges of summer.

It is often the little things that signal the change of seasons, hint at the days to come. As we rounded a bend in the path the first real glimpse of the onset of autumn passage, a young white-arse skipped from the path side down one of the many grass fringed arteries leading into the dunes. It paused on the short, sandy turf to return our gaze before we moved on.