Monday, 30 December 2013

The Day After Tomorrow

Whilst I'm once again participating in both FootIT and the national Patch Challenge next year, I've decided on the spur of the moment to give myself a little 10km challenge as well. Centred on home the map below shows a 10km radius which is about as far, realistically as I can walk there and back and gives me enough habitat variety not to get bored. With sites from mature broad-leaved woodland such as Beacon Hill and the Wansbeck river corridor, both the Blyth and Wansbeck estuaries, as well as some freshwater lakes and ponds such as QEII, Bothal Pond, Linton Pond, Cresswell Pond and crucially including Newbiggin too I'd like to think it provides ample variety and it will be interesting to see how many species I can achieve.

I've spent much of my birding time in some of these areas this year anyway, I'll add the Pegswood Centred 10km List onto Bubo in the New Year. In the meantime best wishes to all for 2014.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Double Crossed

A week past Tuesday I got one of those pre-christmas offer texts, you know the kind sent out en masse trying to get you to part with hard-earned cash and offering a fabulous destination. Normally I can just ignore them but, I can't exactly explain why, maybe that I've not done much birding in the lead up to Christmas, I responded. A day out sounded good.

A week later as the alarm woke me in the middle of the night and another text alerted me that my taxi for the day was sat at the end of the street a full 15 minutes early I momentarily questioned my judgement.

The journey whizzed by, despite cramped conditions that threatened to trap my aging bones into a living copy of a Pompei victim. We arrived at the former home of Robin Hood and set about the task of locating the prize. After a couple of false trails we broke out of the woodland and made the short walk to where two or three other birders were stood near a muddy puddle on one of the tracks criss-crossing Budby Common.

14 in all (counted as they departed a few minutes after our arrival) the Parrot Crossbills showed relatively well offering a warm glow on an otherwise rigidly cold morning. After no return in the next half hour three of our company including me departed to Rufford CP in search of Hawfinches without success.

Following a lunch stop, one that involved a full Christmas Dinner for one of the party, we made our way to Broomhead Reservoir in South Yorkshire for hopefully a white-winged helping of crossbill. Again with other birders on site we pitched up and were quickly put onto a male Two-barred Crossbill before two males began calling behind and above our heads. These two showed briefly in flight before working along the conifer belt behind us and ending up perched in the open just a little way further along the road.

The light fades quickly in those Yorkshire valleys and they aren't places to linger after dark so we were off north and home in time for tea. Easy, peasy lemon squeezy as the kids might say. An alternative version of this day is available with images of the white-winged red things here.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Where There is a Will...

Following on from news earlier in the week that a gamekeeper in a prestigious Norfolk Estate was arrested and charged with a number of wildlife crimes involving raptors the sad news that a satellite tracked Golden Eagle had been found on a grouse moor in Angus (see here and here) earlier this month.

Rather predictably organisations like Scottish Land & Estates ( who represent the landowners in Scotland) and Scottish Gamekeepers Association (who represent some of the thugs that carry out these crimes gamekeepers) managed to break off from their festivities to issue short statements on their respective websites, see here and here.

Just examine SL&E's statement for a second "Scottish Land & Estates is an enthusiastic member of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland and will continue to do whatever it can to help the police and the Scottish Government". To do whatever it can...

Here we have an organisation representing (amongst others) some of the most wealthy individuals in Scotland who own vast tracts of the Scottish countryside and receive millions in public subsidies for farming and other grants. These landowners employ gamekeepers who spend huge amounts of time in the field and are (quoting from the SGA website) "keen to engage with the public to dispel myths and explain our role in making the wonderful Scottish countryside what it is, so that we are properly seen as Scotland's true conservationists." 

To do whatever it can...

Here are a couple of ideas for Scottish Land & Estates if it really wants its commitment to stop raptor persecution taken seriously:

1. How about a reward for information? Given that the combined wealth of SL&E members is likely to run into hundreds of millions, the public subsidies received by it's members must be in the tens of millions of pounds yet they can't muster a few thousand pounds reward between them to catch the individuals who consistently bring shame and disgrace on the majority of honest law-abiding estates.

2. How about going further? This eagle was found due to satellite-tagging. Both organisations argue vigorously that raptor persecution is declining and not widespread. How about funding a satellite -tagging programme for every Golden Eagle chick hatched in Scotland for the next 10 years? Could probably be done for less than a quarter of a million. It would certainly add a little more pressure on the shoulders of those who seem to be able to lay poisoned baits around the Scottish countryside with impunity.

3. On that latter point, just how many poisoned baits have ever been reported to the RSPB or the Police in Scotland by gamekeepers? Given that these are individuals who are so keen to dispel myths, believe they are the true conservationists and live and work in these remote locations how many of the killers of Golden Eagles, Buzzards and Red Kites have been caught as a result of evidence provided by gamekeepers? Perhaps if the landowners offered a little direction or how about a bonus scheme, seems to work well in the Banking Sector.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Raptor Persecution at the Heart of Game Estates?

Another interesting case of alleged raptor persecution by a gamekeeper, Allen Lambert, appeared via Twitter this afternoon (see here). A fair catalogue of alleged crimes, charged with killing 16 wild birds, including 14 buzzards, one sparrowhawk and a tawny owl.
He is also accused of failure to comply with a firearms certificate, possession of nine buzzards, and four counts of possession and storage of banned poisons and pesticides.

A little rooting around on the internet and unless Stody Estate, Norfolk employs two keepers named Allen Lambert it would appear to be the same keeper as heralded in the 'prestigous' Field Sports magazine shoot review that can be read here.  This gamekeeper charged with these alleged offences was employed by estate owner and former president of the Country Landowners Association and former trustee of The Game Conservancy ( now known as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust) Ian Macnicol. A man at the very heart of the game and shooting industry. Since Macnicol's death his son Charlie is said to manage the estate.

Stody Estate as can be seen from the review is one of those estates that are constantly trumpeted by the GWCT and shooting press as examples of 'good shoots', virtuous and beneficial to local wildlife (especially the bits that can be shot). They have a High Level Stewardship Agreement with Natural England, presumably receiving much public funding as a result. Company records show that the estate has received £1.4m in EU Farm subsidies over the last 10 year period that figures are available for.

For me the simple introduction to Allen Lambert's bio in the Field Sports article is the most telling and revealing piece of information in this "Gamekeeper Allan Lambert joined Stody from nearby Foxley in 1990, and quickly developed a good understanding with his new boss." Yet we will no doubt hear that this keeper employed on the estate for over 20 years was operating without the knowledge and complicity of the landowners, if CLA or the estate bother to comment at all.

If Lambert is found guilty it will highlight that raptor persecution continues to lie at the very heart of many game estates and pheasant shoots despite the best efforts of the shooting mafia to hide this from the public eye. It should also be a compelling piece of evidence if any was needed that the introduction of vicarious liability in England is something that is long overdue and badly needed.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Hating Christmas

December is sticking to the script of recent years as we charge headlong toward another Christmas with my birding coming in snatched short sessions between children's parties, football sessions and school performances and fairs.

Newbiggin this morning in an un-seasonally warm SSW breeze was a continuation of a relatively quiet and settled period. A few Red-throated Divers both on the sea and in the air were the only birds of note offshore. A single Rock Pipit around the north side of Church Point.
The rising tide had pushed some of the Redshanks into the south bay and I counted 85 roosting in front of the Maritime Centre. Earlier in the week I had a flagged/colour-ringed Sanderling in the north bay but today I was a little more surprised to see a colour-ringed Oystercatcher in the south bay.
A quick check tonight revealed my Oyc had been ringed on the small island of Padda just south of Oslo, Norway in July and had moved 898km to be on the beach at Newbiggin.

Inland I pottered around the south pool at Woodhorn putting up four Reed Buntings close to Summerhouse Lane Pond and then picking out six Mediterranean Gulls on the south pool, four adults and two 1st-winters. Six Gadwall were also on the south pool, first I've seen for a few weeks.

Back to the car and around to look through the geese beside the church pool, the three adult Greenland White-fronted Geese were still around, two Pink-feet also amongst the Greylags and Canadas. And that was that.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The 'Surge' at Newbiggin

The storm surge had a huge impact on the east coast, nature reserves in many places took the biggest hit, see here for some of the pictures and stories we've been collating at BirdGuides in recent days.

Yesterday was the first real opportunity I had to get down to Newbiggin and see if there had been any impact on 'le patch'. A walk along the north bay to Beacon Point provided plenty of evidence that here too the big seas of early December 2013 have had a noticeable impact.

Over the last few years the back of the beach butting up against the ridge of land had vegetated with dock and reed mace and other weedy plants. These areas have offered a safe haven for tired migrants to drop into, a thrush here, Yellow-browed Warbler or Goldcrest there, feeding for Linnets and Goldfinches. All of this vegetation was wiped away, removed completely.

The soft soil and sand that made up the banks has eroded further inland in some cases by between 1-2m. Gone completely is every Sand Martin burrow from 2013, on the plus side the removal of the vegetation has opened up more areas for the colony to exploit come spring.
As can be seen from above the land has now retreated back and is cutting into the path in some places. Further south it is within 1.5m of the seaward facing caravans.

 A Grey Wagtail at the south end of this bay yesterday, 8 Purple Sandpipers, 60 Sanderlings, close to 200 Dunlin and 6 Grey Plovers were the avian highlights. 5-6 Rock Pipits and a much scarcer winter Meadow Pipit were also around.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Fakes, Imposters and Bling

Thermals on for the first time this winter and, after misjudging the tide yesterday and arriving at Newburn to find six Teal and jack shit in the way of gulls, I had another attempt this morning. In better tidal conditions 6-700 gulls present, 80% Herring Gull and little to get excited about.  No white-wingers, no yellow legs so I resorted to trying to string various Herring Gulls into something more interesting.

First up was a splendid beady, dark-eyed adult that was a cachinnans-wannabee.

I followed that with a pale 1st-winter that may have a touch of glauc...

Pale argentatus or perhaps Viking?

Then as the sound of gangsta rap rippled up from the mudflats, a young gull desperately wanting to be American.
No cigar!
A couple of blinged up birds, one from Aberdeen and the bird below ringed in Cambridge or Doncaster, further details will follow.

Then, this beauty that really should be something cripplingly rare as it was without doubt the best looking 1st-winter of the day.

Stephen Fryer arrived for the last half hour I was there and he had seen a Red Kite hunting the rough grassland at the west end of the business park. Only my second Northumberland bird this year, this one no more than 200m north of the Tyne was still there for a while as I walked back to the car, before, mobbed by a crow, it slinked off back to the Prince Bishops.