Thursday, March 12, 2015

A day in Breckland.

An absolutely gorgeous day, although a little cold and with a blustery wind throughout the afternoon. Off and out and first to arrive at Lynford Arboretum. The amount of birdsong was impressive and really confirmed that Spring must now be here, whether or not there's the occasional set-back of short duration. A sighting of the first lambs on the journey helped to confirm matters !

As ever the walk down towards the lake held a succession of bird sightings. A walk around the whole paddock didn't produce anything that even suggested Hawfinch, so I retraced my steps and , suddenly, had a brief but not very satisfying view of two birds on top of one of the tangled Hornbeams. That appeared to be "it", so I struck off and explored a few areas that I'd not visited before. There are lots of such areas at Lynford and the place grows on me the more I visit. I was looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which used to be recorded here , but I had no success. All the usual woodland species were around, including some particularly good views of Marsh Tit.  I also had great views of Grey Wagtail along the stream that runs into the lake.  So I gradually wended my way back to the car and breakfast and , as the Sat Nav says indulged in a period of   " Recalculating".  I went back to the feeders at the main entrance area and amidst Nuthatch, Chaffinch , odd Brambling and titmice there it was......a single Hawfinch feeding amidst the throng on the ground.  Tremendous views for quite a period and a definite testimony to disciplined " hanging on in"!.

Given it was now approaching lunchtime I next went on to near Grimes Graves, attracted by the idea of seeing the wintering Great Grey Shrike. But where to start as the directions were a bit vague and imprecise?  As there had been mention of the Ministry of Defence I pinpointed a suitable area only to find it was a firing range with all the accompanying warnings etc. Thankfully I gleaned from a local lady dog walker that there was actually a public footpath across the area ( it could only happen in England! ) and you only had to keep out if the red flag was flying. So hoping that I hadn't missed this most essential of indicators I found the access ( which, in itself, required expert local knowledge as to its location, it was so obscure ) and set off along what proved to be a really attractive route. The open area of grass heath with the odd gorse and birch/conifer dotted around was great and well worth a visit later in the year.  After about a kilometre I suddenly saw the bird fly and then had prolonged views of it hunting, perched and in flight. Tremendous!

I finally moved on to the Santon Downham area.  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker again figured on the agenda, but was never realised.  I was told later that the birds were thought to have moved into an area closer towards Brandon!!  Whilst there was a good variety of common species, numbers weren't high and birding was quite hard work in some senses, producing nothing of particular note!

I've always been fascinated by the Breckland area but confess to knowing precious little about it!  Santon Downham is located within a meander of the River Little Ouse and was the village where HM Forestry Commission set up its administrative headquarters following the planting of tens of thousands of trees which, collectively, form Thetford Forest. On the outskirts of the village lies the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. I don't believe this is in active use any longer and is looked after by a Trust.

It's an attractive small church which nestles within the forest itself.  The north and south doorways to the Nave are dated as 12th Century so the building has seen many, many changes throughout its presence.

  It's a sobering thought to contemplate the landscape that surrounded the church when first it was built and the various jobs that its congregation held and even how many people lived in the area. And what were the local commercial activities that produced sufficient wealth to allow its benefactor to initiate its construction? Apparently the adjacent heathland caused problems at times in that wind blown sand engulfed parts of nearby villages with part of the problem being the instability brought about by the presence of large Rabbit warrens. What with the watery wastes of the Fens to the west and clearly large barren areas hereabouts the bird communities of that period must have been dramatically different to today. Something to ponder and research.........

Incidentally, I'm now about to be in that part of Norfolk where cyber facilities are somewhat questionable at times. My next entry may miraculously be on time or in a few days time.........

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fenland focus !

It's many years since I visited the Nene Washes, east of Peterborough, so I was really looking forward to this visit.  It's not the easiest place to find but, if you've a SatNav, then simply pop in the following post code reference and any confusion is totally dispelled........PE7 2DD.

There appears to be no general access to or trails around this RSPB reserve other than along a flood bank on the boundary, but much of the site can be viewed from the car park. Sadly it was somewhat dry today , but when the site is fulfilling its washland role then the transformation must be enormous both in terms of its appearance and the numbers and variety of birds present.  A list on the reserve noticeboard of the birds present in mid February was mouth-wateringly good!!!  Ducks abound but accompanied by a wide variety of other species. In future I shall ensure a future visit falls within January or February. As it was I had a few duck and geese but also a pair of Common Cranes that were the highlight of the visit. A close second though was a diminutive Long-tailed Tit, its bill full of nesting material, which sat on the superstructure of a bridge across a drainage dyke nearby and scolded me with deliberate intent !!!  The nearest bushes were a distance away but, nonetheless, the bird made no pretence of what it thought of my presence or what I should do. I retired, admonished, to the car and breakfast.  It must be said that it's not just the winter communities this reserve is famed for. It is the most notable site in England for breeding Black-tailed Godwit and also for the reintroduction scheme (in England ) for Corncrake.  I found this intriguing, comparing the physical attributes on site to those where Corncrakes occur on Islay  ( not a nettle bed or Flag Iris in sight here ! ) and would like to come back in mid summer to view the situation.  So a site to visit as opportunity allows.

On then to a site I've visited without success in the past......the Yaxley area.  Part of the Great Fen project, the area is typical central fenland with an impressive birch woodland  to boot. Nice views of a Great-spotted Woodpecker as I arrived augured well, or so I thought.  A Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported from this area in recent times so I set about my quest!!  Visiting and scrutinizing various areas for at least an hour produced nothing but a Red Kite and a Kestrel . And then I found a Common Buzzard "worming " on an area of rough ground, and then another and a Kestrel too. One of the CB's, and then a Carrion Crow, flew towards a bird I'd not seen previously, and there it was, the Rough-legged Buzzard !!   Quite good views were finally obtained, although not in the form that I'd perhaps first expected.

I then moved into what I always personally consider to be "central Fenland" and looked at the area around Welney. Some good views were obtained of Bewick's Swans and a few Whooper Swan, but little else despite scouring a whole series of areas. Much of the Fens is now showing Spring crops coming through and what areas remain are generally being prepared for cultivation. As I travelled towards my selected overnight base near Mildenhall, a female Marsh Harrier drifted across the road and provided an apt completion to a good Fenland day!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Travelling south, flying high and moving far !

A traverse almost the length of Lincolnshire today to visit Frampton Marsh, an RSPB reserve on The Wash. But my mid-morning arrival followed an eye level encounter with the RAF's  Red Arrow  Aerobatic team over Scampton airfield culminating in an awe inspiring climb and "turn over" . Wow!   All the more impressive as the nine man team only went out on their first practice this year on the 3rd March. That's only a week ago  ( I had more driving lessons than that!).   See more details at RAF Red Arrows team .

And more was to come. As I passed RAF Waddington there was an AWACs plane in all its glory  ( you know the one with kind of a large mushroom radar tracking device on its upper fuselage ). Officially designated as NATO's E-3A component it supplies an integrated multi-national flying unit providing rapid deployability, airborne surveillance, command, control and communications for NATO operations ( my description of course! ).

So, following all the diversions I arrived at Frampton Marsh and spent the rest of the day there. I've only been a few times but enjoy the place more and more. Today there was plenty to see with ducks and geese all over the reserve.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese were in several parts of the reserve but with groups flying to the Wash throughout. Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard and Tufted Duck were all in evidence. Waders too were represented by Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff , Lapwing, Golden Plover and Avocet , an absolute plethora of birdlife. In one of the hides is a very interesting display about waders and their migrations.

As can be seen the mileages covered are mind blowing and truly global

Much more was on offer with Little Egret, Whooper Swan ( ca 40/45 ) , a very high overflying skein NE of Pink-footed Geese, besides Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows in the hedgerows. A good place and a good day. Well worth a visit as I guess this is a reserve that has something throughout the whole year.

As I left and travelled through the very intensive agricultural countryside my eye was caught by the following.

There was no accompanying place to stop nearby and no other explanatory material. I found it both fascinating and frustrating as I guess the intention would be missed or ignored by the vast majority of people passing to and fro to the reserve which I felt was a great shame.  No great shakes, maybe, but  an effort by the Parish Council to celebrate something of interest and relevance within their area.  Well done anyway!!

From the dizzy heights of Lincolnshire's airspace, to transglobal migratory highways, all brought down to earth by the depiction of our understanding of time zones and the UK's role in that sphere. Not bad for a county often sidelined into simply being an agricultural "factory".

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ever southward and a couple of bonuses.

Another early start and a convoy type progression southwards amidst traffic.  The weather forecast wasn't too great so I resolved to be flexible and cram as much as I could into the morning.

The evolved road systems in the Castleford / Normanton area are not as simple as I remember them, nor is the plethora of developed "Industrial Estates". Eventually I did locate the area of choice ( Loscoe Lake ), located virtually opposite the new(?) Police Headquarters. From a distance it appears simply as a water filled depression in a field, but it seems it's developed an attraction for birds.  It's difficult to oversee the whole of it so some mild trespassing was necessary to view the entire body of water. But worth it when the flock of grazing Wigeon was located within which was an adult American Wigeon. Probably the best views I've had and worth the effort. Other birds on site were Lapwing, Grey Heron, Tufted Dick, Mallard and Canada Goose plus numbers of BH Gulls. Success was followed by a late celebratory "mobile breakfast" at the Captains Table, another good find!

On to the RSPB Fairburn Reserve after successfully negotiating the centre of Castleford and choosing the correct exit route. Things started well with a good selection of birds ( Pintail, Shoveler, Little Egret, Goldeneye ) but then went swiftly downhill with quite heavy rain developing. After attempting to wait out the predicted eastward moving frontal system I called it a day and moved eastwards myself.  With the weather still not improving exploring North Cave Wetlands wasn't at all productive so I finally decided to delay things until the morning!!

The journey south begins! 8th March, 2015.

Yesterday ( 7th ) was a complete write off with high winds and rain. It provided a good opportunity to catch up with a load of admin work and have a good read!

This morning saw an early departure with the first port of call being Musselburgh on the southern side of the Firth of Forth.  The intention at hand was to try and see the Surf Scoter which has been in the area, and last year too, but encountering two birders prior to 0800 hours already leaving the site amidst mutterings of things being hopeless in this wind didn't augur well. In addition to this the tide was well out. Yep, you have it, the Surf Scoter wasn't in evidence, although scoters could be seen offshore but at distance. A nice selection of duck fed at the mouth of the river, a few waders were around and a Skylark sang so there was plenty to enjoy.

Moving off southwards a breakfast stop had singing Song Thrush, Robin, Great Tit and Dunnock alongside the car  which, at the end of winter, is always uplifting. Less so was to see several dead Badgers alongside the A1 out to Berwick on Tweed.  Moving on I decided to see if it was feasible to pay a quick visit on to Holy Island. Sadly there was only an hour before it was advised a crossing of the causeway was inadvisable, so the idea had to be shelved.

A few waders were around ( Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank ) and a group of 26/27 Whooper Swans rested close to the onshore boundary with the mainland. I parked up for a period but didn't add anything to what I'd seen previously, the expanse of habitat surrounding the island being quiet.

I moved on to Budle Bay where Mallard , Teal and Shelduck fed and numbers of gulls rested, including two LBBG. My journey then took me through one of Northumberland's finest towns, Warkworth. As you cross the River Coquet in the valley bottom and then drive upwards through the streets of Warkworth, witnessing both impressive historical architecture and the sheer atmosphere, you then reach the castle, located within the loop of the river and presiding over the old, original part of town. The first documented records for Warkworth Castle are in 1157 so there is much to explore and enjoy including mediaeval weekends or similar.

And so onwards to Amble. The Sunday Market near the harbour was in full swing, the harbour itself full of Eider, but try as I might I couldn't find a favoured fish and chip shop!!  And then, slightly further into town, I discovered Harbour Fish and Chips, whose product now figure within the top three ever sampled!!!  Tremendous.  I even found the carpark further down the coast where, after savouring my late lunch, I could then walk over the coastal dunes and view Coquet Island offshore.

Unfortunately a party of people was ashore but few birds were around anyway.  Later the area will be a hive of activity as auks and terns ply incessantly to and fro their feeding areas, including small numbes of the rare Roseate Tern.  Landing on the island is not allowed during the breeding season but trips around the island can be arranged from Amble.  The sea today was somewhat tranquil in marked contrast to the "voyage" Matthew and I had a couple of years ago  ( best to have your fish and chips on your return! ). A nice consolation was a party of four Sanderling on the beach nearby.

Continuing on I then visited Hauxley Reserve but found it both busy and on the point of closing for a year for renovation, the building of a new centre following the previous one being gutted by fire and the incorporation of upgraded trails. The intended opening is in April 2016.

With the day moving on I took the decision to seek out the reported large flock of Pink-footed Geese near Widdrington that contained a Ross's Goose. The reported number had been 3000 but I could only find around 800 which sadly didn't include the vagrant!  Still, it was enjoyable going through them........ And that was it with only a journey left to Washington Services to overnight!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Rambles around the Neuk of Fife. 6.3.2015.

Every time ( at least it seems the case ) I come to this area it's cold, showery and there's a stiff SW wind blowing that does little as far as wave conditions are concerned out in the Firth of Forth. And so it was today!  However I stationed myself along the shore at Lower Largo and patiently began to work my way through the birds that were dotted around offshore.  Small parties of scoter were everywhere, although the absolute total wouldn't have been great. Both Common and Velvet Scoters were seen easily, both on the sea and in flight.  At one point a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew inland up through the centre of the estuary and a small party of distant passerines looking like Skylark similarly made there way westwards with some difficulty at wave height. Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye,  all eventually revealed themselves to scrutiny but little else of interest.  A single Gannet moved out of the estuary at distance and proved to be the only one seen.  After an appreciable period I decided to move on, but not before I'd spent a little time in central Lower Largo itself.

This is the rather magnificent and well preserved statue of Robinson Crusoe looking out over the Forth from the village. It's part of the property where Alexander Selkirk lived formerly, whose exploits included being a castaway on an island in the Pacific for four years, an area now within the jurisdiction of Chile. This is said to have been the main inspiration for Daniel Defoe's novel , "Robinson Crusoe",  in 1719.  Crusoe was the central, fictional character, that of being  a castaway for 28 years , following a shipwreck,  until rescued ( "delivered" ) by pirates. The fictional island in the book was in the mouth of the Orinoco River, but that on which Selkirk survived has now, in 1966, been called Robinson Crusoe Island.  The story, as we all know, has been the subject of sequels, TV programmes, stage and film productions and is still as popular as ever.

After exploring a couple of tracts of woodland, and actually seeing very little other than a Red Squirrel, I went to Kilconquhar Loch.  This necessitates entrance to a church graveyard and then into a very nice "quiet garden area " which has a seat at the water's edge overlooking a large part of the loch. It's lovely and tranquil and, at present, is surrounded by a nice display of spring flowers. Sadly the weather didn't really support much more than a short stay, but there wasn't a great deal around anyway. Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallard, Goldeneye was the main interest together with a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

And then off the Ruddons Point. The advancing tide, wind backed was coming in apace, and soon filled the previously "empty " bay. The wind was strong and little could be seen on the open sea with ease. Birds were about, but barely in view for any period of time. I systematically went through the Eiders at the edge of the Bay, or further in towards the shore, and, eventually found what I had come for, the female King Eider. I spent a long time doing this in the hope that the bird might come close , but to no avail. I got half reasonable views but nothing like those Matthew and I had when we visited a couple of years ago. Nevertheless a number of the necessary pertinent points were gained on the bird in addition to much more aspects on its jizz.. It's dumpier generally, and compared to Eider its tail is very rarely in evidence. The bill and head shape are distinctive, as is the the bill and head colouration. The ground colour and patterning are also distinctive but were hard fought for. After some prolonged , but sometimes frustrating views, I felt sufficiently convinced I'd seen enough which coincided anyway with the group of eiders it was with moving out into the central bay east of the Point.  Ironically , not a lot of other species were around , although a fly by Peregrine put in an appearance twice and wrought havoc amongst the Mallard and Oystercatcher.

As the weather had deteriorated I went back to Lower Largo in the mistaken belief conditions might be a little less severe. The general numbers of birds was lower and most of them seemed farther offshore and difficult to view. I spent the rest of the afternoon seeing some of what I'd recorded before , but nothing new and so eventually called it a day!!

Commencement of a late winter sojourn. 5.3.2015

Darkness still shrouded the landscape as I set off for the ferry. Gradually the first vestiges of light appeared at which point a lone Woodcock quit its overnight feeding area near Ellister and made its way into the confines of the nearby woodland. Arriving at the ferry terminal in gathering light a Song Thrush belted out its song and provided the evidence we all looked forward to, namely that Spring , however raw , was at least under consideration!

I first of all spent some time at the head of Loch Gilp ( at Lochgilphead would you believe! ) where in recent times Caspian, Mediterranean and Little Gulls had been seen. Such was not to be despite going through the assembled gulls gathered on the shore. A single Bar-tailed Godwit picked its way through their ranks and several Oystercatcher roosted nearby, but of the elusive gulls not a suspicion.

The journey across to Crianlarich can be completed by taking the somewhat lonely route on the single track, lochside road which saw me encounter four other vehicles. Despite numerous stops, birds were in short supply.  The adjacent forestry cast a dank, foreboding atmosphere along the route and little life was in evidence. Certainly the area had had more snow in recent times than experienced on Islay, although little now remained. A few Canada Geese and Grey lag Geese, Mallard and Wigeon were out on the loch and proved to be the main constituents of the observations made.

Hitting the main highway that's where Plan A went somewhat awry. A short stretch of new road, a bypass, threw the Sat Nav into utter confusion. At one point I looked at the screen and saw the depicted vehicle moving stoically through a block of forestry!  I didn't know that happened but it brought a howl of laughter. So I fell back on what I ought to have done anyway and that was follow my own instincts. Following the odd adjustment, more stops for birding, but little of inspiration arising, I finally arrived in Fife. Now I haven't the greatest admiration for Fife's road systems so I reverted to the Sat Nav and eventually arrived at my base, Glenrothes, without further mishap.

In keeping with what I've mentioned before, and given that it's the Full Moon , the latest offering by North American Indians for this period was "Full Worm Moon". This was because the ground was beginning to soften and worms begin to appear. Soften, eh, Islay ground tends to be saturated by this time, but different areas different circumstances I guess. I think if I was attributing a name and description to this period I'd call it the Full Snowdrop Moon given the many drifts of snowdrops present in various woodland areas. On a clear night with the moon shining at full brilliance, a series of  rather nice reflective patches must stand out in such woodlands as the light catches the drifts of flowers.

Hen Harrier Roost Survey.

Well, another winter has gone round without my finding any new Hen Harrier roost sites. In fact, I'm not at all sure whether, until quite recently, harriers have been present at the height of winter in the same numbers as we're used to.  The RSPB has a couple of roosts they monitor , but no large numbers are involved. I now know of no others although there must be the odd bird present in odd corners of Islay and, of course, there are some birds on Jura ( I haven't tackled that situation yet ! ). Speaking with the Warden at RSPB Gruinart recently he agreed that the numbers were somewhat lower than previously and this had been reflected in the breeding season returns too. This is something I have been saying for at least a couple of seasons, although it's hardly a surprising situation given the concerted efforts that have gone into their persecution on the mainland in the last couple of decades. Thankfully no such actions appear to occur on Islay but, of course, many of our birds move off the island in winter and are subject to the targeted depredations in their winter quarters or on passage.

The trouble we have on Islay is that, with the island sustaining reasonable numbers of harriers still, visitors see a few birds and conclude the situation is quite normal and healthy. Far from it , even to the extent of reduced numbers of passage birds in autumn in my opinion. But such messages and conclusions take time to establish and that is why it's so important for this monitoring scheme to continue. Should anyone be interested in contributing then contact Anne Cotton ( BTO Stirling office ) or Chris Rollie, ( RSPB, Dumfries and Galloway) as they are the organizers of the survey in Scotland and England respectively. Full instructions   and count dates ( Oct-March ) will be sent direct to you each season.

In the meantime I shall plot and plan and pore over OS maps, as previously, in anticipation of what next winter might bring, although this was perhaps  never the time to try and find new roosts anyway!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Islay visitors come of age!

What's that about not counting chickens until hatched...........  Anyway, after solving a few "technical tussles" I'm now confident enough to believe that, finally, all computer systems are operational and advise that it's business  as usual!!  Thankfully, that was just in time to allow me to put out this particular entry.

To many , the name of Gordon Yates will be as synonymous with Islay as with his native Lancashire. He and his family have been visiting Islay since the 1970's and it came as no surprise when talking with him and his wife, Pauline, yesterday to learn that this is their 101st holiday visit to Islay  ( which equates to about four years "residence" by my calculations ).

I've known Gordon for a long time, in fact since the 1980's and 1990's  whilst I was running the RSPB's NW England Region. Our reasons for contact then were linked to the Merlin population in the Pennines for which we'd both a passionate interest and involvement.  But he was prominent in another context too. Gordon, who was originally in banking, set all that aside to concentrate on photographing, and then making films, about birds and other wildlife. He consistently  produced a new "annual" presentation many of which were associated with Islay.  Many of the RSPB's Members Groups in NW England Region had annual events at which such new material was presented and much the same happened with other groups across Northern England and Southern Scotland too.

Islay's birds, particularly raptors, have been served well over the years and the island's reputation must have benefited immensely from his efforts, both from the point of view of people first enthused by his wonderful "self delivered" commentaries, which encouraged them to pay a visit for themselves, but also the many children whose horizons were extended via his visits to schools. Several  "Islay causes" have also benefited from the proceeds raised at public events held over the years, including the Islay Natural History Trust.

Throughout this time his wife, Pauline, has provided  the necessary support that has made all this possible. In the early years the responsibilities of a young family were seamlessly integrated into the visits and filming activities.  Compressing everything into a two/three week visit given the vagaries of Islay's weather wasn't always the easiest of tasks either!   Later, when most people might have considered easing up she commenced to train guide dogs for the blind. So, after transporting Gordon to some far flung corner of Islay, sealing him into a hide, it was then time to exercise the dogs , all of which always seemed so well behaved! This has led, over the years, to a whole succession of dogs being trained before being allocated for duty. A very familiar couple on Islay who still enjoy their regular visits at all times of year. Given the number of years over which visits have been made the sheer amount of information and recollection they can provide is mind boggling! Following each welcome visit or encounter I invariably end up with various questions I wish I'd asked but had forgotten to raise!

Setting aside details of wildlife records and images, I believe Islay owes their efforts a great vote of thanks for informing a countless number of people elsewhere about the island's birds and animals  and for providing continuing friendship to a large number of residents who always look forward to visits, me included! Over the years the films must have persuaded many people to pay their own visits to the island, generate their own wildlife experiences and make their own circle of friends in the process. Well done.

Here's recognizing your coming of age and thanks from all concerned to you both.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Up and running......again!

At various points previously I've commented about the weather up here on Islay, sometimes jokingly. Well, the joke's on me this time as I've just had to endure almost a fortnight of being without any computer facilities due to a rather robust little storm which happened early one morning and "fried my facilities" in the process. Not the breakfast I'd anticipated!

Oh the joys of living in a rural idyllic!!!

All necessary replacements have now arrived and I believe have been installed properly and successfully by this ageing cyberchild.   Watch this space. I've taken the opportunity to integrate both a new computer and printer into the scenario so lots of fun in store.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Further thoughts on the Visitor Centre at Spurn.

A week ago I wrote about the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's proposal for a visitor centre at Spurn. Given I live on an island off the NW coast of Scotland why should I be interested?  Well, as I pointed out in the first article, in addition to birding around Barnsley, most of my early birding was actually completed at Spurn. I'm sure I'll be able to visit again, but now is the time to " put something back in, set against all the wonderful memories of previous times", hence my concerns being expressed on this Blog.  It's a magical place and immensely important for migration studies and it's significance, for a whole variety of reasons, has resulted in it being designated as a National Nature Reserve which, as the landowner, is managed by the Trust.

In February, 2013 the peninsula suffered damage due to high tides and further damage followed in March of that year. Previously,in August , 2012 the lifeboat families had been moved from the Point as their means of access along the road down the Peninsula could no longer be assured. On the 5th December, 2013 a huge tidal surge caused a breach in the peninsula and adjoining areas and has since been the basis of a need to seriously reassess how a variety of matters can now operate and proceed.  As owner, the YWT has clearly been central to all this with there being a need to appraise management objectives, visitor facilities etc etc!!!  In part has come the conclusion to build a Visitor Centre.

Spurn is a unique place with limited options for any sort of development. The Trust has declared its preferred option for the location of the new Centre and has gained sponsorship from Eon relating to its costs. There is still a long way to go in terms of all this being finally determined......... and this is one of the central  reasons for my expressing my personal opinions at this stage.  This is the time when peoples' reactions should be made known be it in support or in opposition. Ideally alternatives can be put forward for consideration too.

I feel the currently promoted location is entirely inappropriate as it would bring an unnecessary concentration of people into an area that should not suffer such pressure or, indeed, is able to absorb such pressure. The management of people at key times around the proposed location , e.g. Bank Holidays, cannot fall back on any easily available alternatives and could lead to overspill conditions and habitat degradation.

But rather than look at nitty-gritty aspects of the location question let's take a wider view of the situation. That a Visitor Centre would be a benefit is in no doubt.  Given that Spurn and Kilnsea are a linear entity then the siting problem is perhaps a little more acute than if the area involved was a neat rounded or even square shape. What might be the ideal in such circumstances?  The role of a visitor centre is as a scene setter, a facility provider and a place where visitors can go in order to obtain information and plan their day. We can argue about all this until the cows come home but , at some point, the nettle must be grasped and suggestions made about where such a facility might be located.   YWT have made their pitch, now it should be your turn!!  It's pointless continually beefing about what you feel is wrong and leaving it to someone else to put forward alternative suggestions. If you feel something is wrong then you should also have similar feelings about what is right in my view, otherwise the whole consideration process is pointless.  So, after sounding off , what do I feel?

  • I believe the central Visitor Centre ought to be associated with Kilnsea Wetlands. All visitors pass by the area, footpaths to other key areas radiate from it and the wetland reserve is the very beginning of the wildlife "experience" to be gained from a visit to the area.
  • Several current or potential circular footpath routes exist or could be developed from this location which would reduce the concentration of visitors at a single point farther south. Views of the sea or the Humber are adequately provided for at several locations and wildlife viewing facilities are present and at the nearby Beacon Ponds as well .
  • I do not believe any built environment project should be allowed south of Cubley's Farm, in fact consideration needs to be given to a barrier at some suitable point which limits "exploratory " access and all the chaos that so often ensues.
  • I believe a car park should be built in the Well Field, which will compliment the facilities at the adjacent scrape where a hide is located.. With the existing facilities (including toilets ) at the Blue Bell Car Park the overall facility provision for cars in the area should be catered for at periods of peak usage.
  • the Blue Bell property can provide the base at which modest catering facilities are provided  ( as now ) along with the departure point ( as now ) for the vehicular tours that I suspect form a critical part of the Trust's thinking. Car parking is available immediately alongside these and various footpath routes radiate away from the location to the sea, south to the Warren along the shore and northwards up Beacon Lane.
  • the means to reach the Point by YWT vehicle is provided for and the Lighthouse they have under renovation can be a further focal point for both information giving and modest facility provision. Such can be reached on foot too, given obvious safeguards and advice are followed, with parking facilities being used at the Well Field facility.

In my opinion all this achieves similar outcomes to the current proposal with the minimum of habitat loss, a more than adequate spread of visitor presence and  no reduction in their "experience" on the day.  I'm sure there will be reasons why some people feel the above suggestions are unacceptable  (notably the YWT I would guess ),  indeed , there may be reasons why they couldn't happen,  BUT, in the process, the debate is open and active which is what we have to aim for.  I get the impression that some people feel the current process is little more than a fait accompli and that the Trust are hostile to opposition or new suggestions. Given planning procedures and the like it's not in their gift to consider such anyway and much can be gained by new ideas being submitted into the thinking process.  I would be surprised if they didn't welcome such an open approach as real benefit might be derived from it. We've to recognize too that the attraction of a brand new all singing, all dancing visitor centre can be a very persuasive venture. I'm not even sure I'm convinced either of the real necessity of such if I'm honest, but that's down to personal feelings of nostalgia I guess. Incidentally ,the contention that 70,000 visitors per annum have previously passed the entrance gate to the reserve and would now need to be "managed" more actively than previously requires critical examination too.

This is not something to be rushed through which, in part, is catered for by the petition raised by Gareth Picton (  Say No to YWT's Spurn Visitor Centre location. )  which you might care to consider signing.  It would be churlish to ignore the details provided of the YWT's proposal against which you should also consider your preferences and actions. This can be found at  (Spurn Development Project )

And, finally, this is what it's all about!   If you've ever been to Spurn,  please take a few moments to consider what you feel is the correct way forward and make your opinions known. Comments are welcomed on this Blog if you wish to use the facility.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Big Garden Bird Watch.

Well, I suppose with a birthday on one of the days and the survey having run for half my lifetime it was an inevitable  involvement for the weekend!!   Given that I already contribute to the regularly run, weekly in fact, survey of garden birds administered by the British Trust for Ornithology then this was little more than a form filling exercise after the obligatory hour this morning.

The results were more or less similar to those I've recorded during the week (  Blackbird 1, Song Thrush 1, Robin 1, Greenfinch 3, Chaffinch 4, Goldfinch 3, Reed Bunting 4 ). Not many I admit , but the house is a bit isolated and has only two "apologetic" bushes.

And, yes, to the hawk eyed, this was a photograph taken a couple of years ago, in April, when the daffodils are out!!

So, what were the highlights of this modest list. I can't but be amazed at the speed at which Reed Buntings can move through an area of  tussocks in a largely unkempt garden. Quite remarkable! The other welcome aspect this winter has been the renewed regular appearance of Greenfinches after a long absence given their numbers plummeted.

Whilst I avidly read the regular Blogs of Martin Harper (RSPB ) I thought the recent entry, underpinning the scientific integrity of the results of the BGBW, was a bit unnecessary. Incidentally, I think you need to think again on your conclusions re the increase in Blackcaps!!  Increasing presence in winter due to climate change and more people putting food out in winter....... really!   The evidence appears to show ours move off southwards, as has been the case perennially, and part of the Central European population moves westwards. It is these birds that appear in our gardens in winter, a fact ably demonstrated by ringing returns!!

Nonetheless, congratulate yourselves RSPB at involving so many people in the depths of winter in an exercise that

  • involves so many of the population on a single weekend,
  • undoubtedly benefits birds at the height of winter,
  • hopefully leads a proportion of participants to feed birds regularly, 
  • adds support for the conservation of birds generally.
This, in itself, is a great achievement. For a single day/weekend operation in any year the scientific aspects are somewhat secondary in my view. The BTO project  (see BTO Garden Bird Watch )  produces endless results in far more detail than ever a one day /weekend survey might achieve. Whilst the financial outlay will not have been inconsiderable, given TV adverts and so on,  the knowledge gleaned of new volunteers willing to support conservation will be a potential bonus. The additional possibility of them becoming active supporters must also be a primary objective.When endless pressures increasingly emerge that threaten to affect our wildlife, gaining participation in activities of this sort and increasing people's interest in birds is crucial as it will hopefully lead to an increasing body of people who "stand up for wildlife", which I guess is the primary objective of the whole exercise anyway. Well done and I wonder just how many different birds will have been recorded yesterday and today. Rather a lot of well fed happy birds of one kind or another I imagine!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clustrmap restored!

Many thanks to the Clustrmap team for their guidance, advice and patience in assisting me to gain "my" Clustrmap gadget back on this site.  I continue to find the origin of visitors quite fascinating and can offer nothing but thanks to the above Team who took me through the necessary steps to put things right after I managed to foul things up!!   I can recommend them unreservedly.

The abiding message is....If something goes wrong, take their advice first, as opposed to attempting to put it right yourself !!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On the trail of the Greenland White-fronted Goose. 20.1.2015.

Over the years David Stroud, Malcolm Ogilvie and Ian Francis have spent many hours determining the status and distribution of Greenland White-fronted Geese on Jura. Whilst there never seems to have been a large population present on the island, there is much suitable habitat there and it would be easy for rather more than those recorded to be present. Certainly the current population there has reached a very low ebb if periodic counts are to be accepted as representing the true situation. With the concerns being expressed about the reduced population currently wintering in Ireland, on Islay and other outliers, charting the fortunes of even small groups is of importance.

And so yesterday ( Tuesday, 20th ) was dedicated to a search of areas where, in recent times, small numbers of birds have been recorded.  Malcolm Ogilvie and myself, and SNH staff too, have periodically done similar searches in past years with mixed success.  Along with Ed.Burrell ( Wildfowl and Wetland Trust ), who's on Islay for a second winter studying Greenland White-fronts, we all met at Port Askaig and took the ferry across to the island.  The first port of call was Loch a Chnuic Bric on the Inver Estate around which geese feed, but which are probably derived most usually from birds on Islay  immediately across the Sound.  Even this area was devoid of geese ! Oh dear, not a good beginning.  Our spirits were lifted by the presence of both a White-tailed Eagle and a Golden Eagle attracted to a swan carcase on the shore of the loch. We had phenomenal views, with the two birds gliding around and inter-acting, the WTE almost overhead and down on the ground close by. The comparative sizes were really obvious! I don't think we always realise how big WTE actually are......nearby Hooded Crows looked little more than Starlings!!

Moving on we looked at various areas north of Craighouse and then around Lowlandman's Bay, but all to no avail.  Hopes were raised, and speedily dashed,  as various small groups of Grey lag Geese were located and scrutinised! We all agreed that, given the amount of suitable habitat, we could actually be close to birds but unable to locate them ( at least that kept our spirits up! ). With the human population on Jura being very low, there isn't a lot of movement be it by cars or tractors and feeding geese don't seem to get too disturbed. The "bonus" of suddenly seeing a group of disturbed birds in flight is sadly not a common experience, yet another factor that adds to the frustration. So we eventually conceded,  taking comfort from the fact that the weather had deteriorated and it was raining quite badly.  There have been previous occasions when birds have "disappeared",  only to occur on a future visit.  Next time perhaps?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Out and about on "the Patch".

Finally a day that had some prospect!!  Fine throughout but very cold.  A day to take advantage of before things change, although it does appear the forecasts are half reasonable for several days. After all it is January!!

A quick look over the first few fields within the Patchwork Challenge area showed a nice mixed group of Lapwings and Golden Plover, the latter showing up very "spangly" in rather weak sunshine. Other than a group of Grey lag Geese in rough grassland beyond Claddach Loch nothing else was in evidence in that area, which wasn't surprising as it is a little exposed and a rising breeze was sweeping all before it!!  Little else was on offer so it was over to the sea for a period. Northern Ireland was in view, but only as a smudge on the horizon across an expanse of grey, restless sea. Few birds were on the move. Odd Shags moved around inshore and a few Auks  (probably Razorbill ) moved south well offshore, but nothing else could be located. The small numbers of Fulmar were well tucked back on perches out of the wind and, curiously, none were found offshore.

Buzzard, Hooded Crows, a few Herring Gull , a Rock Pipit and the odd Blackbird and Song Thrush was about it until I found a small group of Meadow Pipit feeding in the corner of a part flooded field. And that was it ! Perhaps typical of a bleak mid winter day leaving much still to be discovered!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Spurn the YWT's New Visitor Centre location at Spurn!

Well, OK I know the title's a bit corny, but it might just grab the attention of a few more readers!!

I first started birding in the 1950's in the Barnsley area along with Yorkshire stalwarts like Dave Standring, Alan Archer, Mike Clegg ( now deceased ) and others. It was they who took me on my first visit to Spurn and I was captivated by the place. I first stayed at the observatory in 1958 and met with the likes of John Cudworth, Charlie Winn and many others , all of whom, together with my "local mentors", were utterly generous in their advice and guidance to a young birder.  It's hardly surprising that I love the place as it began to generate so many memories. Work and other factors have meant I've spent far less time there in recent decades than I should, but that's life. A fortnight there last September was much overdue and produced Masked Shrike as well!

Moving on over fifty years Spurn has seen many changes and yet, in other respects, its quintessential aspects remain.  Sadly the peninsula has now been breached and even the land mass involved has diminished significantly by continuing erosion. However, the site remains one of the premier locations in the UK to witness bird migration. To stand atop a narrow strip of land, with the North Sea on one side and the mighty Humber Estuary on the other, is not an experience to forgo.  Magical!  

Way back the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust ( YWT ), to its credit, bought the land from the MOD and granted Spurn Bird Observatory tenancy rights to operate as previously. That situation has continued to this day and, hopefully, will remain in place for the future. The Friends of Spurn ( linked to the observatory ) has even bought land themselves near to Kilnsea village and developed cover and habitat for birds and intends to do more of the same. Other projects such as the Kilnsea Wetlands have been developed as a consequence of  coastal defence work and the Beacon Ponds area  ( I'll still call it that !! ) has been improved for birds too. So much that might be called "improvements" has taken place set against other areas which have sadly been lost to erosion given this whole area of the East Coast of Yorkshire is such a physically dynamic environment.

I'd remind everyone that much of the peninsula environment is a designated area and valued not just for birds but for botanical and entomological reasons, as well as a "living site" at which geomorphological processes can be demonstrated.  Sadly a situation has emerged recently that has split locals, birders, conservationists and many others as far as their reaction is concerned. As at many sites of natural history interest the YWT  ( as a conservation organization and landowner too in this case ) wishes to build a Visitor Centre.  Nothing wrong with that one might say as surely we want more people to appreciate our natural heritage, provide support for it, study it and so on.  OK so far!  The trouble is the location chosen is not felt to be the most appropriate, in fact, it's felt to be downright ludicrous.

Thanks to Gareth Picton for providing this image.

Now time is of the essence so I'm not going to indulge in a " he said, she said" analysis, although I suspect the situation warrants it.  The YWT don't appear to have covered themselves in glory in the way that the plans have been revealed, presented and so on and the situation has now reached the predictable outcome of people being very much divided. The Centre is being sponsored and does look somewhat larger than was anticipated. Setting aside the cries of habitat loss, visual intrusion and so on , the simple question must be " Is this the right location for the Centre".  My feelings are entirely negative.  Any Centre should be on the approach to the peninsula in my opinion, even north of Kilnsea village,, from which the various walking routes, birdwatching hides etc etc can be pointed out and explanations given on the intrinsic value and importance of the whole area.  Instead the proposed Centre is  south/central to the overall "site", people have passed some of the opportunities they might usefully explore and , instead, are concentrated at a point with more limited options. Not everyone will want to walk down the Peninsula,  so a majority of attendant visitors will be concentrated in an smaller catchment area. But enter what I feel is part of the current Masterplan by the YWT!  A recent purchase of a special lorry ( with seats ) enables them to offer tours to the Point, for a given price, where no doubt visitors will be encouraged to view the Lighthouse which is under renovation, see the abandoned houses used previously by the lifeboat crew and generally have a little tour down Spurn ( at a price! ).  A bit of an adventure , maybe, but is that the best that can be offered for Spurn given its value and unique significance.  I'm sure there'll be the accompanying commentary about wildlife, but I'm not sure the facility will  provide much other than a journey for the " been there,done that punters ".  All this will be done under the guise of expanding the horizons of visitors , of course, but I suspect the underlying objective is a commercial one!

Alright, accuse me of being cynical, but I genuinely feel the sense of wilderness is being eroded away as much as the resource itself. I sincerely feel the proposed location is wrong in many respects. And  I don't believe either that a sufficient time has elapsed within which the YWT has been able to determine the level of future visitor traffic. I suspect this has reduced markedly since the breach occurred.  Another white elephant development with accompanying intrusion into natural habitat which, in the final analysis, resulted in a nett loss, yet again, for wildlife??   Time will tell.

So, what to do?    First of all, sign this petition which might yet put a halt to this current lunacy.
Proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn      Simply click on this link to be taken to the petition site and then SIGN but also PROMOTE , please!

Passions are inflamed about this and views are clearly entrenched. Not the best environment in which to determine such an issue in my opinion. The YWT appear to be treating the issue as a campaign to achieve success for their project, which I'm not sure is right. If you're feeling a bit sensitive about voting/signing , then don't.   However, don't dally as time is of the essence and there is a need to ensure an adequate opportunity now emerges within which some sensible discussions and evaluations can take place.  I, for one, would like to see the analysis the YWT based its site choice on and all the accompanying factors and objectives involved, but I guess you all know what happens to wishes!!!  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Radio programmes week commencing 17th January, 2015.

Not too extensive an offering, but here goes!!

Saturday 17th January
Radio 4   0607 hours  Open Country
               0630 hours  Farming Today This Week

Sunday   18th January
Radio 4   0635 hours  On Your Farm.

Monday   19th January
Radio 4    2100 hours Shared Planet ( repeat ).

Tuesday   20th January
Radio 4    1100 hours Shared Planet
                1204 hours  A History of Ideas ( Linnaeus and Apes ).

Thursday  22nd January
Radio 4    1630 hours  BBC Inside Science.

And that's it I'm afraid. Happy listening!  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Weather........what a pain !

The last few days have been an absolute pain !!  Severe gale force winds at times with very strong winds throughout, rain, snow, thunder, lightening and variable visibility ( the least of the problems ).  Thankfully I'm immersed in something which has kept me at home so I've been able to avoid the worst effects! But once winds reach 60-70 mph the accompanying and incessant noise is another effect we can all do without!! Living close to the coast is also a disadvantage at such times. The wind can transport salt spray considerable distances and finding windows with a veneer of white across them is a common feature. It's like living in a bathroom!!  Last night's SW winds were bad, although it seems not to have reached a stage (force or direction ) where there has been resultant damage. Ferries are cancelled today as they have been at intervals over the past week.

My barometer differs with the entry on the XC Weather  (955MB ) with a reading of around 945 MB, but you get the general picture.

Birds have had a rough time of it too. Goldfinches abandoned using the feeders, ignored them and fed on seed and other food I'd spread on the ground, as did Chaffinch,Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and Blackbird.  The "local" Starlings which had taken up station on their favourite chimneys and even begun to tune up a little previous to the bad weather, have simply disappeared. Few birds are seen in conditions like this....the odd Raven, Hooded Crow and Buzzard forlornly try and explore the grass moor area opposite the house, but the strong winds convey them rapidly across the "site" and their attempts are largely in vain.This morning the winds are so strong the birds haven't even turned up!

However, after a final tantrum tomorrow the weather is set to improve. Sunny periods and wind speeds below 20mph over several days. A time to get out , see a few things and rejoice!!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Radio programmes week commencing 10th January, 2015.

Well I hope at least someone found last week's list of some use. Here's the one for the next seven days , starting tomorrow!! However, as an opener , here's something that is slightly different.  Saturday ( tomorrow ) and Sunday on Radio3  between 0700-0900 hours in the morning sees Tom McKinney introducing the Breakfast show. Now, you may not be a classical music enthusiast, but why not widen your interests?  The reason I'm raising this?  Well you need to know that Tom is a birder and I'd be very surprised if there wasn't something on one of the days that linked to our (and his) interests!  Give it a try.

Radio4   0607 hours  Open Country
              0630 hours   Farming Today. The week.

Radio 4  0635 hours   On Your Farm

Radio 4  1240 hours   A History of Ideas  ( How did everything begin? )
.             1345 hours   The Diary of Brett Westwood.
                                   How wildlife has changed over the last forty years. These programmes will also be                                        broadcast on Tuesday through to Friday at the same time and with a different topic                                        each day.

               2100 hours   Shared Planet  ( Corals ).

Radio 4   1100 hours   Shared Planet.  Group discussion on how we should accommodate our own and
                                    nature's interests on this planet.
                1530 hours   The Human Zoo

Radio 4    1204 hours   A History of Ideas  further discussion on the Big Bang.

Radio 4    1630 hours   BBC Inside Science

Radio 4    2100 hours   A History of Ideas.

Happy listening!!

Vicarious liability offence must now be accepted in law ! Hen Harrier debate ( Part 2 ).

In a previous Blog in early January I attempted to assess where we are currently within the Hen Harrier debate. Enhanced publicity, increased support for change, responses from the shooting industry in many senses are little more than "business as usual" nowadays given the debate has dragged on for so long. The conflict is deep rooted based on deliberately maintained prejudice within the shooting industry and, over the years,repeated attempts to improve the situation have failed.  The number of breeding pairs of Hen Harriers in England is now at a very low level and , I suspect, the situation in Scotland might not be as positive as we might believe.

Does all this signal that a new approach is necessary?

                                                         Via IOM Govt and A.Tilmouth.

Repeated calls have been made in the past for ideas that would result in this conflict being resolved. Nothing has emerged that has held sufficient attraction for all stakeholders and the situation trundles on.

It's not that long ago that only a very oblique confirmation was ever made of those who were held to be responsible for raptor persecution despite regular condemnation of the activities.  Let's face it, Hen Harrier deaths are not linked to inner cities, intensive agricultural areas or docklands!  Documented instances, prosecutions  and "disappearances " of birds in upland breeding areas or similar areas frequented in winter have all figured prominently in past times.  And what, might we ask, takes place in such areas ?   Grouse shooting!!   I suggest we put all previous reticence aside and unequivocally direct comments to the owners, managers, staff and clients of such enterprises. Not all will countenance raptor persecution, but I think it has to be recognized that little robust condemnation or actual initiatives for change has arisen from within the industry.  After all, successful prosecutions  show no connections with the local vicar, the postman or the midwife but almost exclusively with gamekeepers. So we know precisely where both the blame can be attributed and the change in direction must come from.  

Attempts to secure improvement within the UK parliament via legislative mechanisms have not succeeded.   The overt opposition by Tory Ministers and others to such possible regulation pays testimony to their absolute intention to maintain the status quo.

With a General Election in May,2015 might an opportunity arise afterwards for change?

A Tory majority Government   ( highly unlikely I believe! ) would certainly result in the status quo being maintained and be bad news generally for environmental and wildlife matters in my view.  The Labour Party shows little appetite for such matters, the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to be a major force and so we might have to look to the minority Parties to push forward initiatives for change. Given that the Tory Party equates essentially with the Establishment, a reduction in the former's representative numbers in Parliament might be the weakened position that allows for progress. As grouse shooting interests are vested largely within the Establishment too, then the opportunity to pursue the adoption of the Vicarious Liability offence in law might now arise.

Why has an imperative to pursue such legislation arisen at this point?  Sadly I believe the likelihood of gaining progress on the licencing issue or the banning of driven grouse shooting is minimal.  The predicted chaos following the 2015 General Election is unlikely to provide the most apt opportunities to achieve the above objectives. By contrast, the offence of Vicarious Liability has been part of Scottish Law since 2012 and this ambiguity with English Law could be vigorously exploited, particularly with the continuing levels of persecution occurring, the very subject area the law is designed to reduce. In December the first successful prosecution was achieved in Scotland. What people may not realise is that, in addition to the successful prosecutions of those involved, if any Single Farm Subsidy payments are received by the Estate or farm these are then withdrawn. In the recent case this is reckoned to have "cost" the owner many thousands of pounds. Such is a very strong deterrent and lends further weight to the Vicarious Liability offence being adopted in law. Unfortunately the RSPB chose not to support the petitioning process for this law and instead laid reliance on the Law Commission review process, which then did little to really improve the situation. Possibly this is now a topic the Society could pursue more robustly, recruiting the help in Parliament of the Green Party whose representation I feel is set to improve. A challenge and prediction combined!!

I feel this should now assume some priority as an initiative linked to Westminster. However, I also feel there is much that the RSPB should be addressing and will consider such options in a later entry.