Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Roseate Terns

Phonescoped adult Roseate Terns from Newbiggin this morning. Three present today is my highest count so far this year though there is still plenty of time for numbers to build. These images were taken using Meopta S2 scope/Iphone and Meopix adapter.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Scottish Gamekeepers On Buzzard/Osprey Incident

As expected the Buzzard predation attempt on the Lochater Osprey nest drew a fairly typical response from the Scottish Gamekeepers Asociation. Via their Facebook page, which incidentally I'm still blocked from commenting on, spokesman Bert Burnett made the following comments:

'According to RSPB last time, this was a rare event..it's now so rare it's happened again. What is rare is that we can get the footage on this event...how many more vulnerable birds etc. are being predated by these apparently benign buzzards.'

'The buzzards are still there watching and waiting their chance to have another go. Couldn't be a clearer case of removing (by licence) a common raptor to save a less and more vulnerable species'

'This incident is not so much about the buzzard attacking the osprey..we've known they are capable of this for years...it's a demonstration on the fact that the RSPB continually lie, stating that buzzards are a benign raptor which only eats carrion and worms etc. Therefor will have no impact on other species of birds....which everyone who works in the countryside knows is hogwash'

If anyone can supply me with a link to where the RSPB call Buzzards benign I'd appreciate it as I've tried finding it but it doesn't appear to exist. Not that I'm suggesting Bert might be lying about this, just that he may be a little confused. I'd like to try and explain to Bert that when the RSPB and others say 'no impact' they are referring to the populations of other species rather than individuals but I suspect it might be a bit of a lost cause.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Silly Season in Scotland

The good folk at Raptor Persecution Scotland flagged up an interesting press release from Scottish Land & Estates about an incident of attempted predation by a Buzzard on an Osprey nest. A typically opportunistic and natural occurrence that happens in the wild is suddenly turned into the centrepiece of a typically opportunistic attack on Buzzards in a laughable press release filled with opinion and little else.

Read the press release  then take a few seconds to ask a few basic questions -

1. "This cannot be passed off as simply nature taking its course" - why not? In fact that's exactly what it is, nothing more and nothing less. Similar events take place across the natural world, it's called predation and it exists.

2. "Buzzards numbers have been growing steadily since the 1980s and are now at record levels in Scotland. The latest official BTO Bird Atlas Survey demonstrates a more than healthy population which is no longer of conservation concern." - all true but where is the balancing statement highlighting that Osprey populations have also grown in the same period allowing its conservation status to be reduced from Red to Amber? Of course it's missing precisely because the fact Osprey numbers are growing at the same time as the Buzzard population completely debunks the 'Buzzards are a serious conservation threat to Osprey myth' that this press release is trying to create.

3. "While previous reports of such predation have been brushed off by those who do not like the reality of what is happening in the countryside, this second video provides the sad but clear and conclusive evidence of the serious impacts of the growing population of buzzards.   There are gaps in scientific knowledge about these impacts"- Let's be clear, there is a huge amount that goes on in the countryside I don't like, poisoning, illegal trapping and shooting of birds of prey, widespread use of lead-shot illegally just for starters but a natural predation event whatever species are involved does not concern me nor does it constitute a 'serious impact'. When it comes to gaps in scientific knowledge perhaps Douglas Mcadam (CE of Scottish Land & Estates) would perhaps be better minded to address concerns over the impact of 35m non-native gamebirds released into the countryside each year, many by his members.

The problem is that he and his ilk don't really care about the 'natural countryside' their concern extends to the impact on grouse or pheasants and the profits derived from the shooting thereof. That's what rankles when they try and hijack a natural event and use it to demonise the species involved in predation. These kind of attacks and attempts to create hysteria surrounding Buzzards are simply part of a bigger campaign to persuade government that they should be allowed to kill Buzzards under licence. To hear SLE conclude that because of the occasional predation of Ospreys by Buzzards "A rational debate is urgently needed in which evidence from land and wildlife managers, such as Euan Webster can be taken into account" is ludicrous, irrational, emotive nonsense. If there is to be a debate then perhaps the need for 'wildlife managers' and the scope of their responsibilities is where we should start, I can think of many species that would benefit from a reduction in the activities (currently legal and illegal) of this particular group.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Druridge Bay - Banks Mining Plans

Yesterday's announcement by Banks Mining that it hopes to create a large opencast mine in the area between Warkworth Lane Ponds and Widdrington village should not really come as any surprise locally, the cycle of opencast and restoration has been happening as long as I can remember.

I imagine most locals interested in birds/nature probably had the same gut reaction as me, a groan and the thought 'why there, why not **** off somewhere else?' I wasn't able to watch the news yesterday so I've waited until today and had a shufty on Iplayer at last night's Look North as well as reading the Journal article linked to above and had a browse on Banks own website.

Banks Mining need to be applauded for their 'launch' of this project, Northumberland Tourism offered a neutral response as did local Northumberland county councillor Scott Robinson. I'd suggest that the response from Northumberland Wildlife Trust would be best described as mildly positive, with Chief executive Mike Pratt highlighting how many of the current Druridge Bay reserves came as the result of mining of one form or another. Not a sniff of opposition apart from a couple of bemused looking visitors accosted in the country park by the BBC.

I remember writing a letter of protest to the local paper as a schoolkid about the proposed nuclear power station in Druridge Bay. Spurred on by my English teacher who happened to live in Widdrington village it was very much a nimby response in hindsight. I'm trying not to react in the same vein to this proposal.

However I'm not convinced of the benefits and I'm not convinced that the 'more jam tomorrow' argument is going to convince me either. Let's put to one side the weighty subject of whether we should all be objecting simply because it's coal for now, though if you want to see a different viewpoint to the economic riches that Banks are promising see here.

There are without question benefits to this kind of project when viewed on a big timescale, perhaps one measured in decades. Without the restoration of East Chevington would we have breeding Marsh Harriers? Would there be anywhere else in the county that you could happily spend a day listening to people trying to tape lure Bearded Tits? Probably not and there are a whole host of commoner species that have benefited in the last decade and some great rarities that have provided much enjoyment for many.

My problem is admittedly more selfish, I'm not sure I want to wait the thirty years before the site gets restored to something that will be 'productive' in wildlife terms. That'll make me about 77 or so, perhaps just getting beyond the point of being able to enjoy it. For others active in the area it might push them into their Eighties or Nineties. So maybe it's for the kids? I think childhood is important, the places you go, the landscapes you occupy leave a lasting impression, at least they did with me. Will the sun slowly setting over the baffle banks stretching off into the horizon provide the same iconic view for my kids as today's vista to the Cheviots?

And what of the wildlife that is there now? What impact will there be on the many thousands of Pink-feet that graze the area in the winter, will they move to other sites faced with a barren landscape? Will we lose them for decades to come? The Long-eared Owls and Grey Herons that have occupied the shelter belts, the Yellow Wagtails that cling on to one of the few coastal areas with cows? I'm not convinced the area needs 'regeneration' in wildlife terms. Sure there are bound to be wins down the line but is the loss of access, the loss of view and the loss of habitat now and for the next 20-30 years a price worth paying?

I also think its important to keep an eye on track record too and Banks have a mixed record when it comes to restoration, less than a mile up the road the former Pegswood Moor opencast  is still not fully restored and benefits to local people not yet realised fully amid continued wrangling by Banks and a county council that seem incapable of forcing them to deliver on their obligations. It's also probably worth keeping one eye on what proposals come forward to avoid a Scottish Coal debacle too, I'd suggest given what has happened up there it is in the public interest for these discussions and agreements to be made public ahead of any decision on a planning application.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Horrific Truth of Gamekeeping Exposed

This is one example of how gamekeepers manage our native wildlife. I've simply heard enough from the apologists that claim these incidents are few and far between. The number of corpses found around this single crow trap ran into double figures. The courts were lenient due to the ill health of the individual involved (Colin Burne of Penrith). The time has come to change the law and outlaw the belief that predators need to be managed, we need to afford all of our wildlife protection, crows, magpies, badgers, foxes, stoats, weasels and buzzards. The General Licence that allows despicable individuals like this to wage war on anything that gets in the way of his 'sport' is a blunt and unnecessary tool that belongs in the past. If you would like to read more about this case see here

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ruddy Shelduck at Castle Island?

A quick call in late morning on the way back from visiting my mother who has been unwell this week. The water level continuing to drop with a large area of dry mud now at the east end, best here were 8 Common Sandpipers the first significant post-breeding group I've had this year.

A little further east, about mid-way to the weir, were two 'ginger' ducks that I instinctively thought were going to be Ruddy Shelducks before I put the scope on them. Perhaps part of the recent mini-influx into the county starting with five that flew south on 26 June at Druridge Pools and ended up at Greatham Creek in Cleveland. These two birds are presumably the same two that flew south at Cresswell yesterday, whether they are part of the earlier five or two different birds who knows.

Ruddy Shelduck and Cape Shelduck (?) Iphone Scoped with Meopix/Meopta S2 at c.200m

The timing (late summer) might suggest suggest this pair are over-shooting moult-migrants from the birds that gather at Emmeer in Utrecht, Netherlands to moult. The origins of this moult flock has been the subject of much debate, particularly by those keen to see the species promoted to either to Cat A or Cat C5 rather than Cat B of the British List (see here for example). So they're not countable (yet?) as a British tick (if you stick to BOU, as all records since 1950 have been treat as originating from feral populations) but the situation locally is also interesting as the last couple of records have been published in the main section of BiN (2009 & 2006) without reference to the probablity of feral/naturalised origin.

Edit 08/07
Sharp eyes (Thanks Stewart) have highlighted that the female shows strong characteristics (greyish head and very white face mask) of Cape Shelduck. The vent doesn't seem pale so it may prove to be  a hybrid. This might also highlight a origin close to home than the Netherlands as as recently as the end of 2012 Cape & Ruddy Shelducks were mixing in a collection at Grange over Sands in Cumbria.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Sublime to Ridiculous?

After Monday's 'perfect twitch' of the sublime Bridled Tern the last two mornings have been back to graft on the patch and one or two other local watering holes. I took a little light-hearted stick from a few ex-birders on Twitter including the Howick moth-fiddler when I happened to mention I'd found a Giant Canada Goose (or at least an individual showing characteristics of one) amongst the feral moult migrants at Castle Island. Whilst it won't make any list anytime soon (or is it a UK400 split?) it filled in half an hour whilst not seeing much in the way of passage waders (see Notebook page for my daily returns).

As things have been a little quiet, I set about resurrecting my original DIY moth trap on Sunday and after a couple of hours in the garage emerged with a MkII version that looked the part. Out on Sunday night and come 04:45 Monday I had the huge total of 14 moths, pick of the bunch and new for the garden was this slightly tatty Clouded Buff last recorded in Northumberland at Kielder in 2009 (via northumberland moths). Sweet.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Bridled Tern - Farne Islands

Northumberland's fifth record of Bridled Tern and the first mainland twitchable one in Britain since at least 1994 was picked out by Will Smith one of the NT warden team on Inner Farne this afternoon. Whilst it flew off north shortly after, around 20 birders gambled on the bird returning to roost and gathered at Seahouses for an 18:30 special sailing on the Serenity catamaran.

The gamble paid off as the tern returned to the rocks close to the landing jetty just prior to departure and lingered there as the boat arrived for c.30 minutes before flying up over the island (and over our heads) out of view for the best part of an hour. It returned to this same position mid-evening and showed very well to the gamblers and the warden team. Big thanks to David Steel and the NT warden team for getting news out quickly and arranging special access and to Andrew Douglas and Stringer for a swift, smooth boat organisation as ever.