Sunday, July 5, 2015

Turkish delight!

Just back after a few days in Turkey on a fabulous trip which was designed to see Brown Fish Owl and Caspian Snowcock, but delivered much more. Organized by BirdWatch magazine and Wildwings it saw us completing 1800 km and birding every hour available.

We saw every "target "species we'd determined, including the above two, but also Radde's Accentor, Upcher's Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler, Kruper's Nuthatch, Finch's Wheatear, White-winged Snowfinch, Red-fronted Serin, Wallcreeper, White-throated Robin , Cretzschmar's Bunting and much ,much more.  If you like travelling up a mountain to 7000 feet in a tractor/trailer at 0400 hours then  this is the trip for you.

Great food, Turkish coffee and tea, wonderful scenery and perfect weather throughout. What more could you wish for?   If this trip crops up again next year , then go for it, don't delay. It's worth every penny!!

I'll be putting out further Blogs on the trip, so watch this space.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Slight pause in entries!

Circumstances dictate that I shan't be able to post Blog entries until after the 3rd July.  Bear with me as I've a long list of prospective entries that I'm sure will interest you!!  See you then.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Public meeting re proposed YWT Visitor Centre at Spurn.

As shown in the photograph below a public meeting is to take place on 17th July, 2015 to consider all aspects relating the the YWT's proposal for a new Visitor Centre at Spurn.

It will be chaired by Graham Stuart, MP.  This will provide an opportunity for questions to be raised, the answers for which will be witnessed by all and can be judged to represent a public record. No fudging, no bluster or changing tack to avoid an issue and, in so doing the occasion will provide a record of what will constitute the basis of the future planning application and a record of what can be questioned and examined further.  It will also provide an occasion when Eon can witness the communities' reactions to them supporting the project. Hopefully the proceedings will be recorded,  i.e. not just a written record, so matters can be referred back to in a literal sense later.

Given that some inconsistencies appear to have arisen within statements issued previously this is a once and for all opportunity for local residents of Kilnsea and Easington to air their opinions and grievances. The YWT have indicated that they have a number of updates to make available and these, and previous responses,can be examined further.  Hopefully everyone will come away with a clearer view of what is intended , knowing also that the situation is unlikely to undergo any further changes.

Thankfully the reported high handed way in which those opposed to the project have been dealt with will now be a thing of the past and the meeting can mark the onset of the proposal being examined in an open fashion.

Should you be opposed to the Visitor Centre but haven't yet signed the petition associated with the proposal may I ask that you do so without delay. Please read the blog from a few days ago ( 500 people can't be wrong!!! ) which gives further background detail , but also provides a direct link to the web site carrying the petition. With increasing opposition emerging it is important that this can be demonstrated on the above occasion. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Is our future Scottish mammalian fauna set to improve?

Earlier this month the report from Scottish Natural Heritage, "Beavers in Scotland", was submitted to Scottish Government Ministers for consideration of its recommendations. The report summarizes over twenty years of work associated with the species, including the monitoring results from the reintroduction project at Knapdale in Argyll shire which has been in operation for five years. Of course the latter are not the only Beavers in Scotland  as there is a free living population of around 150 animals along the River Tay, which has been monitored by the Tay Beaver Group.

Apparently SNH have provided Ministers with four options ranging from complete removal to widespread reintroduction of the species in Scotland. Submitted on the 12th June the final decision(s) are awaited. As might be imagined there are those who are jumping with joy at the prospect and those with more negative reactions. It goes with the territory so to speak!  I certainly hope the outcome is supportive of the continuing presence of the animals, whether there are accompanying management aspects considered utterly necessary or not. Alongside attempts to maintain vulnerable populations of animals, e.g. Wildcat, work to re-establish previous members of our past fauna is an entirely laudable goal in my view, although we perhaps have to accept that there are various aspects of management that may have to be in place.  Such animals have usually been lost due to habitat destruction or outright persecution based on irrational prejudice.

For those of you who would like to see the Beavers associated with the Knapdale project a series of walks are being held again this summer. On each Tuesday from the 30th June to 25th August and similarly on Thursdays up to the 27th August you can attend a guided walk, hear about the project and hopefully see a Beaver too. There's a need to book, but simply ring 01546-603346 and take a look at the website too ( )

The declared policy intentions of the Scottish Nationalists Party relating to land tenure in Scotland are also of parallel interest. Whilst such might be a long time coming, hopefully such a change would embody a little less of the "playing God" with our wildlife heritage in many areas than occurs at present, be it the eradication of mustelids, the "control" of Mountain Hares or the continuing persecution of birds of prey !! Perhaps the future is not so bleak after all.

A tale from a tired " insomniac".

Last night I stayed up until well beyond the wee small hours and am now paying the price!!  Why?  Well, at some point during yesterday afternoon I received an E-mail from Aurora Watch UK advising that overnight 22/23 June  there was a chance of seeing the aurora borealis ( Northern Lights ).  It was a Red Alert message ( the highest category of likelihood ) so with sandwiches made and a variety of TV programmes selected I commenced my sojourn, leaping up every fifteen minutes or so to carry out a check outside.

I now feel I could become an overnight broadcaster, a press preview expert and an advisor on the Greek financial crisis ! Of the Northern Light phenomenon there was no sign, not even in the optimum forecast period around 0300 -0400 hours. I confess I "faded" a couple of times and fervently hope I didn't miss the action as a consequence.  Having only seen this phenomenon once during living on Islay I can attest to it being something everyone should make an attempt to see. The colours and sheer majesty of the sky wide spectacle is absolutely amazing.  On the occasion it happened previously it was around Christmas and the range and depth of purple and green colours was fantastic......a far better experience than the solar eclipse also witnessed from here a little later.

Despite this disappointment I shall continue to try and would recommend it to everyone. Obviously the farther north you get the better your chances are, and there are issues with light pollution I guess too. Take a look at Aurora Watch UK  and also and sign up for alerts if you want to try it for yourself. The latter has access to NASA's ACE spacecraft as well as receiving data from a network of magnetometers worldwide. There's an image on their home page showing the current level of activity and a short term forecast too, including details of kp numbers ( planetary index ) .  Don't know your kp number? Here's your big chance and an opening to a lifetime's absorbing pastime. Best of luck!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Last Thursday ( 18th June ) I watched the televised proceedings involving questions being put to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (  Liz Truss ) and her team ( George Eustace and Rory Stewart ). The Labour Shadow Team in place were Barry Gardiner, Caroline Flint and Angela Smith.

Having watched on previous occasions I was encouraged by the number of MP's in attendance which certainly exceeded totals on many previous times within the Coalition Government's term of office. As ever there was a wide ranging series of questions covering air pollution , flood defence, Broadband services in rural areas , farm subsidies and so on.  Given Liz Truss's previous promotion of international food fairs , cheese, farmers' markets and the like one could have been forgiven for thinking the Department was moving towards being a resurrected Ministry of Agriculture!  Whilst such support has clearly not gone away there was a much more balanced approach in evidence out of which came a couple or more useful snippets as to subject areas we might hear more about.

Asked whether she favoured the position of her predecessor, Owen Paterson, an out and out denier of matters relating to climate change, or the views of the Pope, she emphatically endorsed the latter. I was impressed by such an unequivocal declaration , but what it will mean in practice is anybody's guess. It suggests we're moving in a positive direction at last!

As far as the Hunting Act is concerned she outlined her support for a free vote taking place in Government time on whether or not it ought to be repealed. Interesting times ahead.  Whilst the confirmation isn't new or unexpected she confirmed that a pilot vaccination programme will occur in areas affected by TB and that further culls would be carried out of Badgers in the future.

Two questions arose relating to bees and neocotinid usage. As usual there was much referral to a National Pollination Strategy, bee habitats, the evidence relating to pesticide use being incomplete but that restrictions on usage were not yet lifted and so on. As ever the promise of reviews, "further consideration " and the like emerged. There was nothing that was unequivocal, set out in black and white and easily followed as far as I could see. More worryingly was some mention of two applications made via the National Farmers Union that were held to be confidential and commercially sensitive  ( and so we learned nothing about them!! ). The HSE are involved and one suspects there is request for limited use of some pesticides or another.  As an example of the sort of thing that does go on the House learned that some commercial operators using polytunnels to grow crops purchase hives of bees and then destroy them at the end of the season.  Clearly there's much to keep abreast of on this subject still!!   And it's all done in your best interests, folks. Really!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bird migrants and large cities.

Many years ago I can remember flying into Los Angeles and realising that the ambient light from the city and its suburbs spread from horizon to horizon.  Once you see the phenomenon you realise how much light pollution we cause and how much energy we squander.

Whilst in New York my interest in the self same subject was alerted and began again when, shortly after 0530 hours one morning on my way to Central Park , I found a dead Veery in the street near my hotel. Some sympathetic soul had actually laid it out on top of one of those silver coloured bollards and ensured all its feathers were in place. Serene, beautiful, but a victim no doubt of high rise buildings and light pollution ( or confusion).   Looking around New York I became quite intrigued in the subject of collisions by migrants over the  few days I was there.

Now New York is undoubtedly a unique place compared to many others but, increasingly, many other large cities and capitals are "going vertical" as the pressure on space continues to grow.  The photographs on show were all taken by my daughter Rachael incidentally. This is looking south and I suspect is taken from the Empire State Building . Now how to navigate around and beyond such a confusing array of buildings particularly if they're swathed in bright lights?

Some real concerns have been expressed about the problem resulting this very Spring in arrangements being made in New York State to shut off the lights late at night until dawn.  A press release from the BBC news provides some background  (  City lights switched off for migrants. ).

It's a fascinating thing to consider but , also , to try and put yourself in the place of a bird on the move.  The picture below is taken from the top of the Rockefeller building ( 63 floors in 43 seconds by lift!! ) at dusk or just before.  It shows Central Park to the north as a dark expanse of ground. Hardly surprising that migrants pour into the area to find sanctuary , rest and food after battling their way northwards. By then they've avoided some of the worst high rise estate , but not all. Some , like the Veery don't make it.

Certainly then measures to militate against such strikes are welcome.  By way of becoming impressed by the abilities of birds to find their way around and to fly around high buildings, admittedly in daylight, take a look at this film clip. It's absolutely mind boggling!!

World record eagle flight.    Cancel out the commercial bits at the begining and enjoy!!!!!

A first reflection on New York.

If you can make it there
You'll make it anywhere
It's up to you
New York, New York.

Whilst I'd been through New York on several occasions, I'd never stayed there. In May that chance occurred with the wedding of my son, Matthew, being held in Central Park on the 15th . I'm no longer a city person and confess to being  both excited and apprehensive at what might be in store. Matthew and I actually managed a couple of birding sessions in Central Park, met a few American birders and, I have to confess, I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of the things I wanted to see in Central Park was John Lennon's memorial, so here we were at "the famed spot" at 0600 hours one morning, only just previous to some of the wannabes who provide a continuous flow of Beatle songs later.

Whilst I was brought up in the "Beatle era" this visit carried a far greater significance than I've ever really revealed previously. I actually judge the lyrics of the song " Imagine" to be the closest thing to a religious creed that I could embrace and hope that, one day, we can all achieve the heartfelt hopes it contains. .  For me a very memorable experience accompanied, a little later , with some good birds , including Scarlet Tanager.    Running close seconds were a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers, Chestnut and Canada Warbler and Magnolia Warblers.  Later we managed to locate high on the roof of a building on the Park's perimeter the famed pale male Red-tailed Hawk. Oh yes, excuse the holiday birding gear!!

If you're travelling through NYC at a suitable time of year Central Park is certainly a fascinating place to visit with some really good birding habitat  ( the Rambles for example.). I suspect you need to research things well though as, perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't carry an extensive list of breeding birds.

The second place I'd have like to have seen, but didn't manage it, was the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, haunt of Dylan Thomas.  Thomas appears to be far more popular in the USA than in Britain and has featured extensively in school syllabuses there. Now far from you running away with the idea that I'm a big fan of poetry, or of Thomas for that matter, perhaps I should explain the situation. Not all that long ago I came across for the first time that epic poem by Thomas, perhaps even his greatest,

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I then came across a reading of the full poem by Thomas himself and was bowled over by the power and meaning of those few verses.  Whilst Thomas was no Saint he was certainly a very gifted man of words ( and sounds ) and I suppose I simply wanted to pick up on some of the atmosphere associated with a fascinating man. A heavy drinker, a volatile temperament, but bedevilled by ill health , he died at the early age of 39 years whilst in New York. It would have been good to raise a glass to a very remarkable talent!!

I suppose the above poem can also carry with it a motivating aspect that urges, you in later life, not to squander any of the precious time bestowed on us, besides the other more complex elements of its content. On each reading I, for one, am encouraged to be "raging" anew. 

Now you'll have to bear with me as these Blog entries are no longer synchronized to date. I've either to work through a backlog or to insert some entries in amongst current ones. I've chosen the latter. When I returned from America I spent some time down in Norfolk but have chosen to leave out completely the now rather dated entries that would refer to that time. The odd extra American entry I guess can "survive" on a stand alone basis.

Over five hundred people can't be wrong !

Recently the petition Say No to Spurn Visitor Centre (  click and sign please! ) asking people to oppose the YWT's proposal to locate a large, new visitor centre at Spurn has enjoyed increased support and now has 549 signatures.  The sterling efforts of local people at Kilnsea and Easington has brought about a wider promotion of the problem and enjoyed a deserved success.

The above is one example of banners which have been erected in the local area. In this case there is an ulterior motive for choosing this particular image!!    It's erected on what might be described as part of the "complex" which comprises the Blue Bell ( owned by YWT and formerly operated as a Centre and cafe ) and the adjacent property which, as you can see , is for sale.  This is the location that is generally accepted as the most suitable site for an upgraded, modest Visitor Centre. To read more about the background to the issue please read the Blog entries I put out on 17th Jan., 26th Jan., 29th April and 30th April.

I have no objection to the Trust considering that new and improved visitor facilities are needed at Spurn. I believe they are, but that their current solution of an all singing and dancing Visitor Centre is flawed, is in the wrong location and, worst still, is a "white elephant" in the making.  I doubt very much indeed that such would have even entered their thoughts had it not been for the availability of funding via Eon's  Community Fund designed to "compensate" local communities for the largely visual disruption caused by new infrastructure.  Enter the YWT with a proposal involving a built structure that will blight part of a National Nature Reserve, at least in my opinion and that of many other people.  Should the proposal proceed it will result in an edifice to failure! Virtually non existent visitor traffic in winter and reducing numbers at other times coupled with a very limited potential for additional facilities likely to attract repeat visits make for a somewhat dubious business model.  It should also be said that the aspect of Eon squandering money comes into the equation too. A more modest "refurbishment proposal" would release money for conservation works that have never appeared to be in the forefront of management practice over the years, indeed such a need for funds is something that the Trust itself maintains is needed and that will be satisfied from the increased income derived from the presence of a new Centre.

And so the Trust insists on its stubborn pursuit of a scheme, doomed to failure by many, in the hope that it will generate a similar level of income as that previous to the Spurn Peninsula being breached.  Occupying such a position inevitably demands that those promoting the cause openly acknowledge the case of the "opposition" and work closely, patiently and co-operatively to achieve a solution. Sadly the strategy adopted is more 1950's than New Millennium management with communication being poor,  local staff being unpopular and divisive and techniques being employed that could be judged to be immature at best!! Erasing critical comments or those exposing inadequacies on one's website is a good indication of weakness and insecurity and hardly inserts rationality into the proceedings!

So what to do?    Sign the above petition, please!!  Later, once the matter moves under the jurisdiction of the Planning Authority, please be prepared to write a letter of objection and do so in heartfelt terms.  Above all else, occupy the high ground and openly and genuinely express concern about what an increasing number of people are questioning as a proposal we all feel is simply not right, sensible nor adequate. Thank you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A slight delay!

What's the worst thing that can beset you when returning from a birding holiday or similar and wanting to bring everything up to date?   I suppose computer failure would figure pretty high up the list, but smashed reading glasses come close!  All is now resolved other than more Blogs than ever to catch up on, more E-mails to respond to and generally more to do than otherwise might have been the case.

Such is life!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A quick update!

I'm now back on Islay after a period in New York and a longer period in Norfolk ( UK ). As ever my ability to have efficient on line access was not what it should have been and an unfortunate lapse in entries has occurred again.  Apologies!!

As a result I've an absolute fund of material I want to commit to Blog entries.  I can't determine an easier way to deal with these other than in date order and then set out the more subject based entries once I'm up to date. Bear with me please.....apologies again.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A period of reflection.......

At 1100 hours today church bells rang out across the UK celebrating VE Day, the end of the Second World War, a conflict that had engulfed many nations across the globe.

I was born in the Second World War. Thankfully, my own father, despite serving in various places abroad, returned safely and our family enjoyed relatively untrammelled circumstances thereafter. Many didn't of course, indeed many millions from different nations never enjoyed a future at all.

After hearing a piece on television I went outside just before 1100 hours. Everything was silent, which didn't surprise me given the distance even the nearest church is located from the house. It would have been nice to have heard some token recognition, but perhaps the silence provided an even greater and more poignant. contribution than ever the tolling of a bell could do. It was warm and sunny and I looked up at the sky, threaded with occasional cloud, and reflected on what the last seventy years had brought myself.  Peace, an ability to travel widely, circumstances that ensured I have never been displaced, an opportunity to be involved in an all absorbing hobby and job..........much to be grateful for. Conflicts elsewhere most certainly , but none that have drastically affected domestic circumstances again in the UK.  Sadly those conflicts still remain in too many places elsewhere and replicate upon others the losses and misery the UK had experienced. A task remains to strive to achieve for others what we have enjoyed over these intervening years. Whilst we can never influence natural events, we should work even harder to ensure tolerance and understanding pervades everything and avoids completely the senseless activities which result in those affected being denied the opportunity to realise their own potential.

As I returned inside a Skylark sang above, a distant Lapwing called over the moor and a recently arrived Common Whitethroat rummaged around in some nettles. Timeless in many senses, but not for all.  I felt both sad and privileged. We most certainly have a need to be grateful in so many respects.  I was reminded of those immortal words below and was thankful to the many who had made this possible. Above all else it made me  understand yet again what "the ultimate sacrifice" really entailed for so many. Whilst the significance of all this is sometimes difficult to impart to succeeding generations we must strive nonetheless to ensure our gratitude remains undiluted.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow
We gave our today.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hen Harriers under siege again!

Within the last few days the news has emerged that three male Hen Harriers have disappeared in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. All were associated with active nests on land owned by United Utilities, who support the work of the RSPB, which  has a staff presence on the company's Estate. Other sources report that, earlier in the season, birds arriving on other private estates within the Bowland massif  disappeared similarly.

Now let's set aside the weak sentiments and ill-disguised accusations of yesteryear and firmly point the finger at those responsible for the deliberate annihilation of these birds. There are clearly those amidst some of the private upland shooting estates,  a minority or otherwise, who are responsible for such persecution. Remember too that two birds "disappeared" in 2014 from the self same area. Forget food shortages, poor Spring weather and the plethora of excuses which have been offered on occasions in similar circumstances and acknowledge that these birds have been taken out deliberately by those who, with their continued accompanying slaughter of their managed quarry species, Red Grouse, can aptly be named  "The Pleasure Killers".

As I spent twenty years ( 1980-1999) overseeing the protection of Hen Harriers in Bowland the news saddens me enormously.  It is now 35 years since beginning that task and still no "lasting peace" is in place, indeed the national situation is worse than at that time.  The overall British population of Hen Harriers has been decimated within the last decade or so and the English population, of which Bowland's birds are a significant part, has almost been eliminated.

Since January 2012, when I altered the name of this Blog, I have written well over thirty entries relating to this problem. There is one piece in particular that I would very much like people to read  (please!).

2012  1st May.  "Hen Harriers in Bowland...........a lament".

That is almost three years ago to the day and summarizes the circumstances which prevailed in the 1980's and 1990's.  The current situation is absolute lunacy, has changed for the worse and demands that tolerance be set aside and a full scale assault  mounted on the problem.  The RSPB has secured significant funding for such work, a part of which I am sure will have been harnessed already to good effect. But is that enough? A duplication of past initiatives involving dressing up as Hen Harriers at country fairs and education visits should be set aside and a more focussed approach announced. As I've maintained on previous occasions this conflict is not just about curbing the activities of the "Pleasure Killers", this is a conflict with the Establishment within whose ranks the majority of grouse moor ownership rests.  There is no doubt in my mind that they view the presence of harriers and their  (overstated ?) depredations on grouse stocks as something they have no intention of tolerating. Compare the situation in the hey day of such Estates and the absence, then, of SSSI designations, access provisions, National Parks and wildlife legislation.  They feel squeezed within their own definition of personal independence and are reacting against what they see as impositions upon their "rights".  Maybe all this is not expressed publicly, but I'm damned sure that it's the position they're coming from.  Remember too, whilst employer estate owners might deny such, they are fully aware of such persecution through media reports  and do have the option of instructing directly their staff that any such activities do not occur as part of their duties.  This is part of the Vicarious Liability debate and provision, but how many moorland owners have we seen endorse such as sensible and condemn the continuation of raptor persecution.  Sorry, chaps, but your silence says it all in my book.

So, conservation organizations, what to do?   Well, get a bit street wise to begin with. This is not the subject of a debate within a Students' Union occasion , it's for real and will determine whether you're labelled in the future as having  "lost " Hen Harriers or not.   There is an almost immediate need to throw down the gauntlet ( Enough is really enough. ), publicise the intention and  then throw all resources available into the fray. I can, however, see why it's sensible to wait until after the election.  Incidentally, this shouldn't be via some limp-wristed statement calling for people to co-operate, but the announcement of a firm intention to locate , prosecute any miscreants and name and shame any specific areas where incidents occur. Play the long game and start "inserting people" into the appropriate local communities and shooting activities. It's time to throw out the Queensbury Rules and bone up a bit!  It has to be followed through and success obtained. The Investigations Section within RSPB does a tremendous job, if this means strengthening their ranks even further, then do it.   This is the sort of practical campaigning action  the membership expects , so tell them about it and not by some oblique reference, but in permitted detail. And if all this means suggesting to keepers and other contacts what I used to offer in the past that, if they chose to follow their own illegal route, then I'd enjoy smiling at them across the Court if ever we got to that situation. Do it and mean it!!

The above represents a difference between desire ( banning grouse shooting,  licencing shooting estates ) and immediate active intention. It's what people expect to see and if it extends into the need to set up a fighting fund, supported by members and others, then I genuinely don't feel people would refuse to come forward. But first, some results!!

In passing I've been asked why male birds can be singled out and deliberately targeted. When male harriers provision their female, ( who is busy incubating eggs or brooding young) , they tend out of habit to fly away from the nest on prescribed routes. Such is not a mystery, other birds do it too, for example , Red-throated Divers when leaving their lochans to go out to their feeding grounds at sea.  So anticipating where birds might be intercepted is not a difficult problem!!  The Pleasure Killers clearly know about it.  Think about it.    The declared intention of RSPB to put nests under direct protection where necessary almost dictates action by these people  is required elsewhere in order to avoid detection. Not a difficult thing to work out or even respond to!!

Again, in passing, may I leave a final thought for moorland owners ( although I doubt any read this Blog ).  Whilst working for RSPB in the 80's I was approached by an anonymous group who offered to set fire to a particular grouse moor if we felt it was necessary. I honestly don't know who these people were and adamantly refused their "help" as I've always maintained it's necessary to be squeaky clean!!  However, I make the point that there are people who feel like that and with the current , unresolved conflict, such as it is, there might be those who would be prepared to turn to such high-handed solutions.  I'd be utterly against such action, however desperate circumstances become. We don't want unilateral action. Such provides the strength to our own arguments against persecution at the present time. Let's not shoot ourselves in the foot, ( a metaphor which I'm sure even our most entrenched opponents will understand!!! ).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

More signatures needed in support of Nightingales.

This is something anyone can support. I've just signed although its highly unlikely I shall ever hear a Nightingale in Argyll in Scotland.  Listen too to the recording. It's not just remarkable to listen to but as a unique event in its own right.

Anything you can do to help........sign, support , promote , will be more than gratefully appreciated.

vDear Friends,
Singer Ziazan says: "Great news! Yesterday I went on a walk where I heard three or four nightingales and one of them sang back to me. We had a magical duet and then he flew away — I don't know if he was flying from me or the starlings who were making a fuss."
We are lucky to have Ziazan's support for the launch of National Nightingale Nights week which is today ! (2-9 May). See her remarkable video here:
Ziazan uses the ancient Bel Canto singing technique once popular across Europe, which enables her to ‘sing like a bird’ with trills and fast notes. Early operas were all originally designed for Bel Canto singers who used to sing ‘like Nightingales’ to demonstrate their prowess. Ziazan is now the only singer using this technique.
For me she is almost as incredible as the birds themselves. At times the bird is imitating her. Tradition has it that Nightingales used to duet or compete with human singers but this has long been regarded as the stuff of legend. Ziazan shows it to be true.
Have a look at our website for more videos, places to hear Nightingales and events to join.
We now only need the BBC's help to make sure everyone in the country gets to hear a Nightingale. Thanks again for signing - can you please now try to get at least one more person to sign maybe by showing them Ziazan's inspiring video ?
We've reached over 2400 - if we get to 6000 there will be one human for each singing live Nightingale in Britain.
Share this link to the petition:
Thank you

Chris Rose
We've reached over 2400 - if we get to 6000 there will be one human for each singing live Nightingale in Britain.
Share this link to the petition:
Thank you

Chris Rose

New warbler species in Central China.

Some good news for a change!!

Newly described species Sichuan Bush Warbler (Locustella chengi)

News items at

Per Alström, Canwei Xia, Pamela C Rasmussen, Urban Olsson, Bo Dai, Jian
Zhao, Paul J Leader, Geoff J Carey, Lu Dong, Tianlong Cai, Paul I Holt,
Hung Le Manh, Gang Song, Yang Liu, Yanyun Zhang and Fumin Lei (2015).
Integrative taxonomy of the Russet Bush Warbler Locustella mandelli
complex reveals a new species from central China, Avian Research, 6 (9)
doi:10.1186/s40657-015-0016-z (OA)

Full paper at

Best regards

Krys Kazmierczak


Update from Malta. Hunting season closed!

Only a little over a fortnight after the referendum which saw hunters' overturn a proposed ban on spring hunting the season has been closed advised the Prime Minister.  A continuation of illegal activities and two blatant incidents caused the peremptory action to be taken by Government. A teenager was injured by some irresponsible shooting and a shot Kestrel actually landed in a school playground.

It seems the previous warning by the Prime Minister that the referendum result was the final chance hunters would get has gone unheeded and in their arrogance they have brought on the situation themselves.  Full details can be seen on BirdLife Malta's website Spring shooting season closed.

It now remains to be seen what these actions result in as any further shooting might be deemed illegal and easy to detect. As a fully declared and actioned deterrent  it should be a signal to the hunters that their days of choice are numbered.  Unless they fully adhere to the law and cease any blatant exploitation of what had been a mandate to continue their activities their actions will undoubtedly have made many people who voted against the ban review the wisdom of their judgement!!  After all the majority which swung the decision was only 2200.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Barn Owl bonanza?

Well, as we all know, spring is the season for renewal, new life and the promise of better things to come. This was a picture taken through my kitchen window a couple of days ago which more than adequately confirms the sentiments.

It might all have ended there in a "local" sense until last evening. Avidly watching the first in a re-run of  "Foyles War", ( why not? ) it gradually became darker outside, but a westward facing window received the last vestiges of light, which lingered for almost an hour. Previous to the programme ending , so quite before 2200 hours, a Barn Owl left the barn and flew off around the house.  Now seeing Barn Owls, even when you have them in residence is a bit hit and miss to say the least.

Some three weeks ago, when my youngest daughter was staying, a late evening task retrieving washing from the yard was accompanied by shrieking and wailing calls from inside the barn. The owls often do this almost as an announcement process. In the confines of an enclosed barn the sound magnifies and it's a pretty scary experience if you're nearby. So, I knew at least one bird was around and new  pellets cast upon the floor confirmed a usage of the place, if not a regular one.  So last evening's confirmation was noteworthy in the sense of confirming a presence again.

Imagine my delight when the bird returned within twenty minutes! I turned off the TV ( political stuff by then ), sat in the dark and awaited the next move. The bird set off again in less than a minute, but returned again within the half hour, thankfully from the west so it was more than adequately silhouetted. Again it left shortly afterwards, but that then seemed to be it and I called it a day as the light was really beginning to fade towards 2300 hours.

So what to make of all this ?  I have had two birds sitting out in the barn once. Most times you go in and there is nothing. I don't know how true the story is, but it was once said that , when Bruce Campbell was conducting a national survey of Barn Owls in Britain for the BTO , he discovered at the end of the survey period, or afterwards, that he'd a pair nesting in the chimney of his own cottage. I'm sure you can already guess what my current thoughts are!  I'd be surprised if there are any young present given the paucity of sightings /evidence previously, but clearly there is a presence of birds and either "young" young or a very well fed owl partner!!  Yippee!! I don't want to explore matters yet as I'm nurturing a thought of entering the barn and seeing a line of youngsters on a beam. In the meantime, watching Barn Owls from the comfort of one's settee and raising a dram to their success is a rather civilized occupation in my view, at least within the commercial breaks of "Foyles War".

A different kind of Maltese hunter.

Last week I had the good fortune to meet a young man from Malta who is currently working for the RSPB on the Osprey project at Loch Garten.  It was lunchtime, and things were quiet, so we had a chat about a variety of conservation issues.  He told me that, as a young boy, his first sighting of an Osprey back home was followed soon after by the bird being blasted out of the sky by a "hunter".  A conservationist was born!!

His name is Nimrod Mifsud. Now Nimrod is not a name you come across very often so I was intrigued. The name, Nimrod, stems from the Aramaic, the language that was spoken  in the 1st Century AD at the time of Jesus. It is ancestral to both the Arabic and the modern Hebrew alphabets.  But it has even greater historical connections in that  Nimrod, King of Shinar ( son of Cush, the great grandson of Noah ) was, by reputation,  a great hunter.  ( I suppose there are other connections we could make too......the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod aircraft  and "Nimrod", one of Elgar's Variations! ). It seems there is good company around!  However, in the eyes of the wider world, being a "hunter" in Malta carries some rather negative connotations, but certainly not in this case!

Inevitably our discussions took us the way of the recent referendum held in Malta on the 12. 4.2015. Sadly the outcome was that Malta rejected proposals to ban controversial spring hunting during which migrating birds ( moving into various areas of Europe ) are shot before they can breed. There was only a 2200 majority with the outcome being 50.44% to reject the proposal and 49.56% to uphold it.  340,000 people were eligible to vote , including Nimrod who travelled home in order to cast his vote !!

Now Malta is not a large place, but it is the only EU country that allows spring hunting, ( so is the hunting I've witnessed on the Greek Islands in spring totally illegal? ).  Quail and Turtle Dove are the prime targets and, whilst stringent conditions apply to the hunters' activities, each successive spring sees a further toll being taken of plummeting populations throughout Europe.  Turtle Doves have reduced by 77% since 1980, a statistic that says it all. A major part of the blame for that loss must fall on Malta whether the hunters' claim of it being part of their traditions is recognized or not. Most of us have to move on and live in a modern world with more enhanced, civilized attitudes. The Prime Minister has warned that, despite the outcome, existing laws will be rigidly applied,  but this appears to have fallen on deaf ears as reports have already emerged of hunters operating illegally.

The above is by courtesy of work/b/martin harper/archive and a guest Blog relating to the outcome of the referendum which must be read. I find it a very impactive message and illustration.

So , what to do?  Despite the efforts of many ( BirdLife International Malta,  RSPB,  League Against Cruel Sports, Bill Oddie, Chris Packham ) the slaughter is set to continue. Can we help further? The first thing is not to lose faith and be as determined as ever to bring about positive change  I'm sure we can do this by putting ourselves behind initiatives drawn up in the future here in Britain, but also by responding to the recent call by BirdLife Malta to assist their future efforts by becoming a member. I'm sure they will be at the Bird Fair in August and I for one will be joining their ranks to assist in bringing about these outdated, selfish and pathetic activities. It remains to be seen what might be achieved via Europe, but as we all know we're at a bit of a threshold ourselves on this one at present besides the worrying review of wildlife and habitat regulations which is taking place at a European level.

In the meantime I suspect there is one Maltese "hunter" who will be pitching his efforts into bringing these mediaeval traditions to an end.  Nimrod, all strength and the best of luck with your endeavours on your return home in the autumn.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Follow up action on the Visitor Centre proposal at Spurn.

So that people won't feel intimidated by writing to a big commercial company ( Eon in this case ) I've set out below a copy of an E-mail I've sent to their Chief Executive this morning explaining why people are concerned with the proposal at Spurn.  It probably comes as no surprise that, following their usual pattern of high handedness, the YWT have advertised senior management posts associated with the initiative previous, at least as I understand it, to Eon making a final decision on funding and before even a screening application has been submitted to the Planning Authority.

Dear all. may I bring the following to your attention? Whilst I am not a Holderness resident, I have had a close affiliation with Spurn over the years. In addition to the local community I must emphasize that there are many, like me, who live elsewhere, but who are concerned and opposed to the current Visitor Centre proposal by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Eon's role in supporting the venture. Last week, whilst in the Cairngorms in the Highlands , I had a conversation with a group of people who were adamantly opposed to the idea but, who, because of their residence elsewhere ( in their case Derbyshire ) would automatically fall outside any local consultation processes. The reason behind all this , of course, is that, for birdwatchers, Spurn is an extremely important location and one to which groups and individuals visit from far and wide. Raising such concerns through this medium appears to be the only viable alternative at present.
My own professional background is in conservation , although I am now retired. I run a Blog, the address for which is given below, and have put out three entries related to the above proposal ( 17th and 26th January and 29th April ) which I would urge you to read. The Blogs set out the reasons for my concerns and , I hope, adequately express why I am in opposition to the initiative and am prepared to encourage other people to be so too. In my most recent Blog I encourage people to write to both the YWT and yourselves if they have concerns. This is why I am writing to you now as I feel it only fair to advise you that I have publicly distributed your contact details in this way.
I am in contact with several local people who have met with your staff to discuss the matter and am aware of the poor reputation YWT has within the local community and the increasing erosion of your own company's credibility. It is sincerely felt that the proposal is a "white elephant" ,based on the optimistic claims made by the YWT , and that the educational and other objectives set out by Sandra Stephens on your company's behalf will be inadequately met and lead to a further erosion of trust and credibility within the local community. Financial support allocated for a venture that is felt to be ill-advised in commercial terms, and doomed to failure, can be seen to be somewhat unfair and exclude other possible candidates in the Holderness area. Such is not felt to be in the wider interests of your company.
I hope you don't object to my actions and comments and, should you have any queries in this respect, I would hope that you would be in touch. Thank you for your time.
John Armitage.

John S. Armitage
Isle of Islay,
PA47 7SZ

Do please appraise yourselves of the facts surrounding this proposal ( see the Blog entries on 17 and 26th January and 29th April ) and consider writing to Eon and the YWT, addresses for which are within the April blog entry.  Thank you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

YWT's proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn, a "white elephant" in the making ?

An examination of the Blogs I wrote on this site on the 17th January and 26th January, 2015 will provide the reasons why, even as someone located many, many miles away from Yorkshire at present, I continue to petition against the proposed new Visitor Centre at Spurn.  Please read them and gain an insight into this seemingly senseless initiative.

Whilst there is no collective, single group opposing the plans there are very many who believe it to be the product of flawed and incompetent thinking.  Were it not for the convenience of a potentially willing sponsor ( Eon ) who, through its East Yorkshire Community Fund, is offering local communities " compensation" for the disruption and intrusion of future turbines in the wider area the Visitor Centre would probably still be a pipe dream. As it is the local community at Kilnsea are opposed to the idea!!!

Now, why all this fuss?  Many people, me included, feel this proposed Centre is unnecessary and a potential "white elephant". Such opposition is just not from birders but from a much wider spectrum.  The Blue Bell ( owned by YWT ) could be a more  realistic and convenient focus of the YWT's operation at Spurn, as was the original intention when they received financial support to develop it previously. I have personally set out in a previous Blog what I feel might comprise a more modest, but more far reaching facility provision that provides for the needs of people visiting the Spurn area.  Whilst other opinions prevail all are united in their opposition to the need for a new additional Visitor Centre.

There appears to be no change to the YWT's intention which, therefore, allows us to examine the situation objectively. It has to be said that some claims by them of who has been consulted and who is "on board" with the proposal have not borne up to scrutiny and much is left to be desired as far as the consultation process is concerned. I believe the YWT have interpreted the potential opportunities associated with the site wrongly and that their position is wildly optimistic at best.  Few people visit Spurn between October to March inclusive and one imagines any Centre would be hard pushed to cover its running costs. In my view insufficient time has elapsed since the peninsula was breached to calculate what a realistic footfall might be. With public knowledge of the breach being widespread the likely level of incidental  visitor traffic, on which such enterprises rely, is hardly likely to increase. After the current process it has to be said that the patronage from birders is more than likely to reduce unless some improvement occurs to what appears to be a badly handled PR situation!

So do we want an under-performing built edifice that is closed most of the year and achieves precious little for conservation in the process?  In view of the basis upon which Eon's compensation is being paid to East Yorkshire communities, i.e. visual intrusion, one might imagine they should be thinking of the good sense upon which their involvement is based and to precisely what they are appending their name and finances.

So what should be done?

There are several aspects to be considered, but I would urge all UK readers to consider the following:

  • please read the blogs on this site dated the 17th and 26th January, 2015 and the current entry.
  • look at the YWT web site and their comments on the proposal ( )
  • please make up your own mind on the matter and, if you have any doubts at all write to the following with your comments and concerns.                                                                                                  this is the YWT's E-mail address                                                                      and
  • if you are opposed to the idea then please sign the petition which has been raised                                 Say No to the Spurn Visitor Centre        simply click on this link to the petition site.

I will issue an updated summary of the situation on this site from time to time so please keep in touch. Thank you.

Now you may think the above is a bit direct and "activist".  Please bear in mind the local community at Kilnsea is small compared to birders and visitors to Spurn. It is essential that a wider spectrum of opinion is heard within the debate than will and can arise from locals. At the end of the day a balanced view needs to prevail and to include those who have visited and enjoyed Spurn over the years.  And if you think the above in any way involves the opportunity to indulge in YWT "bashing",  you are wrong. This week saw them announce they are to upgrade the Visitor Centre at the Potteric Carr Reserve near Doncaster , an initiative that I would wholeheartedly support. My concerns about the Spurn proposal are seminal, as I sincerely believe they have got the situation terribly wrong and that it needs drastic amendment. Please help !  Thank you.