Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fun With Gulls

I'm not feeling particularly wordy so I'll just let the pictures do the talking, this is the interesting stuff from a few hours at Newburn yesterday before I had to depart to try and find the dog that went awol (again).  I might add some text as and when.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Not All Doom & Gloom

Picked up on two positive stories in the media this week, firstly the Welsh Assembly have opened a consultation on a proposal to ban the shooting of White-fronted Geese (in Wales).  This would be a significant step forward in protecting Greenland White-fronted Geese as previous research has clearly shown that shooting reduced the wintering numbers and when previous bans have been in place these numbers increased in line with expectations. You can read more about Greenland White-fronts at the excellent and very informative site of the study group here. In addition you can get involved and email/write in with views as part of the consultation which is open until the 19th April here.

When the National Gamekeeper's Association starts getting all angsty about something, it's worth looking at more closely and that is just what happened last week as they issued a call for the temporary ban on the use of second generation rat baits away from buildings, introduced by HSE , to be reversed.

This ban is actually pretty good news for wildlife in my view and specifically for some owl species and raptors such as Buzzards. Indiscriminate use of these second generation poisons across the countryside have led to the slow build up of poisons in the organs of many familiar species, the long-term effects of which are not yet fully understood. Let's face it, constantly ingesting small doses of rat poison is hardly going to have a positive impact on a Barn Owl or a Buzzard is it?

 These rodenticides are not banned in entirety, just now restricted to use within 5m of a building. The NGA argument goes as follows " The HSE's actions were prompted by a longstanding concern that residues of the second generation products are often found in non-target species such as foxes, badgers and buzzards. This is true, because they sometimes consume treated rats, but the levels at which residues occur in these predators are sub-lethal. No-one has ever shown a welfare effect, let alone any link between the correct outdoor use of rat bait and the populations of non-target species, most of which are thriving."

 What puzzles me is that if they accept it's true that residues are often found in Buzzards and Barn Owls etc and they genuinely believe there is no link between the correct outdoor use of rat bait then they need to accept that either there is a huge amount of accidental or dare I say it negligent misuse of these products going on.

As to the 'no one has ever shown a welfare effect' comment, I'm just waiting for a government minister like Paterson or Benyon to stand up and claim they are safe and they would be happy to feed the occasional small 'sub-lethal' dose to their kids...

As others elsewhere have highlighted the other upside is that perhaps there will be more rats, if that produces a good food supply for Buzzards, Barn Owls etc then so be it; perhaps those so keen to claim losses of Pheasant poults might welcome a good safe alternative food supply?

If there is any doubt about the contamination caused by second generation anticoagulant rodenticides  then take a dip into the last report of the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme. Some 91% of analysed Barn Owls had SGAR's detected, 92% of Red Kite livers had detectable levels in 2010. Over 20% of the Red Kites showed signs of  haemorrhaging thought possibly to be associated with rodenticide poisoning. 60% of Kestrels had more than one SGAR present in their livers.

Despite the protestations of the NGA, findings like this clearly demonstrate that the use of these SGAR's in the wider countryside can't be controlled to adequately protect many of our iconic and important bird species. The ban imposed by the HSE should be confirmed and extended following their ongoing review because very simply it removes a potential slow killer of several species that should never have been liberally sprinkled over their habitats in the first place.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

First Half Of Feb

The year marches on, half-term already and the first half of February has slipped by. It's that time when there is a great mix of winter species and the first hints that Spring is rapidly approaching.

In keeping with January I have not traveled a great deal so far this month, most of my birding has been around Newbiggin trying to make some progress on the number of species seen for the patch competition. As expected the number of new species to be found in Feb is in sharp contrast to the first couple of weeks of the year and some of the visits have been rather sparse on the bird front.

So far I've added a further 11 species and now stand at a nice round 90 just ahead of the enforced rest brought on by the combination of school holidays and part of the work crew disappearing to California to look at gulls.

Best so far this month was a Long-tailed Duck north past Church Point on Saturday morning. Everything else has been mopping up typical winter species, a Knot here, a few Long-tailed Tits there etc. Coastal movement of Shelducks provided some newness this weekend.

The start of the month saw me entertaining Martin Garner and Tormod Admundsen after their inspiring talk at Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club. On a very windy day re-finding a couple of Willow Tits near Linton Lane and a Barnacle Goose at Newbiggin were the birding highlights though the fish n chips at North Shields went down well and post-lunch visit to acquaint Tormod with the Kittiwake colony (or at least the site) led to some interesting discussion.
 MG & TA doing Willow Tits

Last week I stumbled on a small flock of Waxwings on the outskirts of Ashington, in poor light I came away with little to show other than satisfying one of the local cavemen I wasn't a paedophile. Still plenty of cotoneaster berries, though they always seem to avoid the variety at this site until there's nothing else to eat. This group commuted over to a puddle next to Kwik-Fit to drink several times before coming back to feed again, thirsty work.

In other news lots of the locals at Newbiggin seem to have been getting angsty about the horses that get tethered all over the village, appearing overnight on grass verges and roadsides. To be honest the horses have been a slightly eccentric part of Newbiggin as long as I've been going and I think it's only since a few newer small estates have been added that some folk are agitating. No doubt there has been the odd animal over the years that hasn't been looked after but I think I'd have to say I'd miss them if they were all forced out to create yet another homogenous town.  These were the product of a quiet birding day.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Birdtrack - The App

At the end of last year I resolved to do more, to try and put a little back. Having joined the BTO for the first time proper and dabbled with Birdtrack in the past, adding records into Birdtrack and hopefully contributing to the science the BTO produces seemed like a no-brainer. Last week with the launch of the Iphone version of the Birdtrack App that got a whole lot easier.

The Android version has been available for many moons and I was keen to avoid the duplication of effort involved with having to copy everything out of the notebook or try and remember all the casual sightings that don't get added to the notebook because you're in the car, or outside school etc.

I'm a week in and I've used the app several times, there are two recording options, 'casual records' and 'add list'. Once you have downloaded a species list for your location, adding records is relatively straightforward, species names are brought up and narrowed down as you type, so 'Bu' brings up a list of Buzzard then Bullfinch, followed by the buntings. A count is optional as is a place name.
whilst the latter may seem odd the app is GPS linked so that it populates a grid reference automatically, great if you're adding in real time (though you need to remember to change it on the map if you've moved away before adding records).

The list option allows you to create a list for a single destination.  There are a couple of options to view 'local species'that have been added to Birdtrack recently, though the definition of local is slightly wider than I expected with records from Barns Ness and Dumfries appearing in my 'local map'.

After a bit of discussion with NTBC Data Manager Dick Myatt the extra benefit to using Birdtrack is that at the end of the month I can download my records on the web in an Excel spreadsheet, remove the dross that won't be of any interest for the bulletin and submit the file once they have been removed. It took me around 10 minutes to produce my records for January which is probably around 20-30 minutes less than it would normally have taken me to extract records and create a spreadsheet.  Win/Win, BTO get my records and getting them to NTBC takes less time. If you're a smartphone user that submits records it is well worth downloading which for Iphone can be done here.