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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Final day in Strathspey. 24.4.2015

The day was fine and provided yet more great conditions for birding. How long can this go on for?  It is April and it is the Highlands!

Basically I repeated visits to many of the areas I'd been to previously. Apart from calls heard in woods near to Boat of Garten I never connected with Scottish Crossbill despite trying, although it's not the best time of year I guess. Neither did I  "connect"  with Crested Tit or Capercaillie ( more of which shortly ). Crested Tits move high into conifers at this time and seeing them is a combination of hearing their trilling call to begin with and then actually seeing then afterwards. However, my week had been varied and productive so no grumbles.

Capercaillie viewing is again beginning to be a bit of a test. Last week had efforts at Loch Garten frustrated due to lingering early morning mist. Several days since have seen no birds recorded at all ( don't mention it please ! ) Gossip suggests the RSPB is more than a little concerned by this developing situation and has called in expert opinion to try and pin down the cause. Basically it's thought the area viewed from the Garten hide is getting too overgrown as saplings develop. Neither birds not viewers of birds can see each other.  Does this suggest the lek is being abandoned? Time will tell, but the situation poses both a conservation and facility provision problem. What we don't need is for the latter to "collapse" and a reversion to old habits emerge which saw people bashing through suitable habitats trying to disturb birds.  At the moment patience is the game  ( could it be the season is a little late too? ).

And talking of facility provision  here is the latest venture on offer.  At the far side of the initial car park and ski lift up Cairngorm a new "structure" has emerged.

For me this would be a prime entry for an OTT competition, but there you go . I suppose it needs to be robust in order to withstand the weather conditions, but why something so elaborate?  Many people have known for a long time that a Black Grouse lek could  be seen from the car park and leisurely viewing ( not always successfully ) could be had from the car.  Forestry Commission, Cairngorms National Park Authority and the RSPB have determined that a "facility" is needed with a staff member from the latter present within the appropriate part of the year to provide guidance. A web site I was informed about had a suggestion that a five pound donation was an appropriate contribution for the service.  I think many people's response to this  ( not just that from a Yorkshireman ! ) would be " What ".

I suspect, as time goes by , that the same problem currently being experienced at Garten might also be the order of the day here too if a careful look is taken at the area.. Feedback suggests the grouse are being a little shy at present and no more than two are putting in an appearance !

After a bracing walk in the morning I spent the late afternoon on Cairngorm and around Loch Morlich. Before departing the main car park on Cairngorm it was nice to see a good selection of Reindeer on show. Now I suspect these had "escaped" as they were grazing amongst the cars on the lower car park at one point until their herders ushered them across the moor and through a fence gate that was then securely fastened. Nice to see them nonetheless and their controlled progress across the open hill generated images of herding scenes redolent of Swedish Lapland!!

Can things get any better? 23.4.2015

Although I could have done without the prospect of a further long drive I'd deliberately programmed today due to needing to be in Inverness in the evening.  And so the morning saw me travelling north to Inverness, beyond and continuing up the east coast to Brora .

It's a long time since I was last in this area and, again, I'd forgotten how varied the habitats  were and what an admixture of agricultural land and woodland there was close to the coast with, additionally, the inland hills and moors not being very far away at all. The day was cooler and cloudier, which opened up in the afternoon. Again visibility conditions were excellent.

My target location ...... Sputie Burn ! Never heard of it ?  Neither had I and, consequently, it proved not terribly easy to pin down.  It was, of course, the current location of the female Harlequin Duck that previously had been just up the coast at Brora.. Previous to this holiday I'd regularly followed the fortunes of this bird and the one near Aberdeen, which then went missing only a few days before I set off. The tension rose and all bets rested on this individual.  But where was Sputie Burn ?  Reported distances south of Brora were different according to each of several sources, newly emerged roadworks weren't a help and measuring out the reported locations didn't help much.  A chance report on the pager only minutes before caused me to look rather more intently at a particular stretch of road and there it was. An insignificant burn sneaking below the road past a set of horse riding stables and carrying on to the coast. I carefully drove down a narrow track, along the stream bed itself for a short stretch  ( Ray Mears stuff for my poor Fiesta ), through a narrow bridge underpass to a suitable parking place at the edge of the gorse strewn cliff.  Sputie Burn actually reached its deserved magnificence here, as can be seen in the picture below, and additionally sported a pair of fine Grey Wagtails too. Given the waterfall I'll leave it your own imagination why it's called Sputie Burn!!

I could see the source of the pager report (  Geoff Bailey ), who I'd met the day previous at Portsoy, so my final walk across the beach was less hurried. The bird was feeding out in open water, then flew a short distance and landed on some exposed rocks close into shore, where it remained throughout the whole of my stay.  Well worth all the heart ache !!

How long can you look at a bird, even a lifer?  Well, quite a long time actually I discovered. I looked at it from every angle and, in return, it simply stared back. It did move a couple of times to other rocks but I suspect that was associated with the tide rather than its new fan. A great bird, viewed in perfect conditions in an idyllic location. This is a view looking northwards along the coast. Pretty cool , eh?

I spent the late afternoon at Chanonry Point but sadly didn't see any Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Shortly afterwards I met up with my two daughters, Katherine and Rachael,  took them to an Indian restaurant in Inverness before taking them home, seeing the dogs, having a nice chat etc, so much so that I didn't get back to Nethybridge until after 2200 hours. What a day!!

White-billed Diver bonanza ! 22.4.2015.

With recent reports of White-billed Divers still showing well off the north Moray coast the opportunity was too good to miss so I devoted the whole day to an exploratory visit of the area. I'd never been specifically to that area so it was exciting to discover new spots in the process.

The day was absolutely magnificent, which added value to the process. I went via Lochindorb so that I could add Black-throated Diver to what was potentially a great day to remember.

Common Sandpipers called nearby as I watched two adult Black-throated Divers lazily move around the loch. These are probably the most recorded pair of Black-throats in many respects and bring a huge amount of pleasure to many birders over the summer season.  Ospreys often fish at Lochindorb too so the area can provide some great sightings. Such was the case today although I missed out on the Rough-legged Buzzard which is still hanging around.  Making my way north eastwards I passed a Common Gull colony on the open moor nearby.

Whilst parked up looking at the gulls a male Red Grouse called and paraded nearby showing off his white legs to good effect.

But it was time to move on through a landscape I'd not explored before. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of woodland along the route and idly debated how many crossbills might hide away in the many seemingly suitable blocks which I passed.  Soon I was approaching my target area, Portsoy village. This has only just emerged in the last three seasons or so as a regular place where White-billed Divers can be seen in Spring. Loch Gruinard and off the Isle of Lewis had traditionally been favourite areas but this new contender now apperas to be "the "spot at which to get good views. A local boat trip is also available and some remarkable photographs have merged of birds almost within touching distance!!

Portsoy is a small village on the coast of the Moray Firth with a population of 2000 or so. It's renowned for its mille doatmeal , which enjoys world wide sales and for its Portsoy marble jewellery ( actually serpentine . It has a 17th Century harbour further protected by an 18th Century outer harbour which gives a clue as to the weather that might be experienced from time to time.  However, this was not the day for any second thoughts as conditions were perfect as the view below west from the harbour shows.

On some previous occasions birds have been seen off the harbour wall looking slightly eastwards. Today they appeared to be straight offshore with ten having been reported earlier in the day. These had gradually drifted further out so the best viewing location appeared to be from the elevated area above the harbour.

This spot is immediately off to the left of the above picture with the harbour wall referred to above being immediately opposite ( the 17th Century inner harbour is off to the right ).  During the time I spent there up to six birds were seen including two magnificent adults at the beginning of the session, which were reasonably close, in full summer plumage and showing their bills off to good effect. It was very bright and birds weren't all that easy to see in details at times , although an immature showed itself off a couple of times. Whilst here I bumped into some one I'd worked with some thirty years ago which was a pleasure in itself. Small world!!

Other birds included a single Common Scoter and a couple of Sandwich Terns flying west, a pair of magnificent Long-tailed Ducks in the bay below us ( almost neglected in the viewing frenzy attached to the divers ) , several groups of distant auks, passing Gannet and a few  Cormorants, Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneye. Odd Swallow and Sand Martin  passed by too but the main focus remained on the divers however distant they became!  Eventually their positions and bright conditions provided little payback and people drifted away after what had been several hours of very rewarding birding....and from the coast too!!
A place to return to. Full marks and thanks must be offered to the local birder (s) who diligently put the time in to first discover this phenomenon. As yet it's not part of the Wikipedia entry attributed to Portsoy but I guess it's only a matter of time before an updated amendment appears!!!!  

The return journey was slower due to traffic but almost forgotten in a reverie of replayed sequences from the day. Great stuff !!

Quintessential Speyside ! 21.4.2015

I'd deliberately set this day aside to visit as many favourite sites as I could manage  and so it proved to be. Glen Feshie, Boat of Garten, Carrbridge, Loch Garten, and Abernethy Forest were just some of the sites I went to in great weather too.

Glen Feshie, as ever, proved irresistible and a walk around the Uath Lochans a necessity.

This area is quite extensive and you could spend a considerable time there. I've seen some good birds over the years in this area but this occasion proved to be less than productive with no crossbills or Crested Tits on offer. The added self imposed restriction of not entering certain areas that potentially hold Capercaillie didn't help either. But the weather was good and, at times, the absolute silence was a real tonic in itself. The Feshie river looked as photogenic as ever but I did wonder what its temperature might be!

A visit to the Osprey Centre at Garten provided the information that a second egg had been laid that very morning and incubation was underway. The male bird sat dutifully on a lower branch to the nest and preened having brought in food earlier seemingly unaware that his input will increase significantly once the young hatch!  A walk around the nearby trail produced Common Redstart and Tree Pipit and a twice tantalising soft trill of Crested Tit but with no views emerging.


The afternoon proved to be sunny and warm and provided perfect conditions for a walk on the outskirts of
Abernethy  Forest. A single Black Grouse proved the bonus bird of the enterprise but the conditions more than made up for the lack of birds.  Another good series of memories to take home from Strathspey.

Northwards to Speyside. 20.4.2015.

An early start given the express intention of visiting a Black Grouse lek near Rannoch Moor. Whilst there was no frost it was cold and a mist hung around in the distance. Conditions gradually improved until, eventually, during the afternoon, the sun broke through and conditions improved.

Whilst I don't claim this is a great picture of Black Grouse lekking it provides the essence and excitement of watching these birds at display.  I was also quite a distance away!!   Even so the accompanying bubbling calls being given as an undercurrent to the whole proceedings was fascinating.  After indulging in various tussles with other birds individual males stood and posed with wings akimbo after the habit of bouncers at the doors of a night club!!! The same message prevailed I suppose, " Don't tangle with me or do so at your peril".  As if by some prearranged signal all the birds left the site at 0815 hours with a couple of them flying over my head and providing glimpses of their lyre shaped tails.

After a breakfast stop at Dalnaspidal I continued northwards and, first of all, stopped near Loch Insh. A number of Goldeneye were around , a couple of Goosander, Mallard, Mute swan and a couple of Red-throated Diver. Sand Martins flicked over the loch's surface at the far side and odd Redshank and Oystercatcher flew by.

I next went southwards a little and stopped at the southern point of Insh Marshes. This is  a magical place in Spring with wader calls and flying birds being everywhere.  Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Common Snipe, Curlew and Redshank all put in an appearance over the adjacent marshland with pairs of Grey lag Geese  dotted around at intervals.

Looking southwards, and presiding over the surrounding landscapes, stands the ruins of Ruthven Barracks. This marks the site of an earth and timber 13th Century fortress built on a moraine left over at the last Ice Age. The mound was raised to accommodate the castle and , over time, it had a somewhat chequered history. In 1715, following the Jacobite uprising, the castle was demolished and a barracks erected between 1719 and 1721.  In 1745 a group of Jacobites attacked the site , but were forced away. The following February increased forces and artillery caused the garrison to surrender.  On the 17th April, 1746 around 3000 Jacobites assembled here, the day after the Battle of Culloden.  Bonnie Prince Charlie had fled however, leaving the message, " Let every man seek his own safety in the best way he can."  whereupon the soldiers set fire to the barracks and dispersed.  Even after 250 years the walls still remain intact but little remains of the interior nonetheless being an apt reminder of an epic period of history.


The rest of the day was spent visiting a whole series of sites in the area. Whilst a good selection of species was seen, including Slavonian Grebe in full summer plumage, I failed in my quest to locate either Scottish Crossbill or Crested Tit and so retired to my base in Nethybridge in the early evening.

The Firth of Forth and Loch Leven. 19.4.2015

Contrasted against my last visit to this area on the 6th March today dawned bright with the promise of a repeat of yesterday's wonderful weather. Not so as by 0830 hours the sky had become overcast as cloud moved in , although it remained fine.

Settled in at Lower Largo overlooking part of the Firth of Forth I enjoyed my breakfast alongside views of Velvet and Common Scoter, Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneye. A couple of Sandwich Terns made their way eastwards, their progress being easily followed via the progression of their raucous, grating calls.  as might be expected by mid April the numbers and diversity of wintering waterbirds on the Forth has reduced although, with hard work, groups could be located generally.

Moving to Ruddons Point I discovered  that the tide was fully out, farther than I've ever seen it before in fact, and that some form of camping and caravanning "get together " was being held at the nearby caravan site. It was busy to say the least and with the above combination of circumstances influencing things my shorter than intended visit produced very little.  I tried the nearby woodlands and had a rewarding selection of birds including single Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. all gave out only single brief snatches of song and I wondered if they'd perhaps just arrived the night before?  Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay called from afar and I spent quite a time simply listening to the wall of sound that comprised Spring song coming from a number of Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch and various titmice. Great stuff.

A further time at Lower Largo produced little other than a few Gannet. Many of the duck appeared to have moved further out into the estuary.  The only "newcomer" was a LBBG drinking from the inflowing freshwater burn near to the car park so I moved off to the RSPB Loch Leven Reserve given the day was moving on.

Whilst there was nothing present out of the ordinary a good selection of duck was on show ( Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Pochard , Tufted Duck, Goldeneye ) with some Grey lag Geese and a couple of Pink -footed Geese too. A Ruff, Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing and a very obliging Little Ringed Plover all provided good views amidst a never ending backdrop of movement and sound provided by Black-headed Gulls on the nesting islands located within the lagoons. Skylarks sang overhead and the odd Swallow darted past reaffirming Spring was here even if it was still a little cold. A good day in many respects.

Eastward bound ! 18.4.2015

A pre-dawn start in order to catch the 0700 hours ferry. An uneventful crossing with my journey beginning in warm spring sunshine and great visibility, a potentially uplifting combination when embarking on any journey through Scotland.

After a few shopping errands I started the journey eastwards from near Lochgilphead using the B 840 road , a single track road some 23 miles in length which follows Loch Awe north eastwards.  With the loch on your left and, in the main, forestry on your right I find it a rewarding journey at any season. It's not the fastest solution to your travels and the wildlife seen along the route is never exceptional, but there's a certain tranquillity and "wildness" associated with the route.

From arriving at the mainland ferry terminal and commencing to travel eastwards it was apparent that there had been a significant arrival of Willow Warblers. They were everywhere and the whole countryside was full of their song. This continued until close to my destination at Kinross where numbers fell off dramatically. Whilst a good selection of  species was recorded little else stood out on the journey which, nonetheless, provided a good spread of commoner birds in great weather conditions. The first "hats off" day and almost too warm to be travelling!

Close to Kinross my sat nav gave up on me. This was the first occasion in my experience when the message " You will now have to travel offroad"  appeared. Thankfully I realised where I was which, in reality, wasn't very far from the Travelodge anyway !   Time for a rest, a cuppa  and to watch the Arsenal v. Reading football match !!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Late March/early April update.

Having arrived home in late March the usual period of "catch up" occurred, either with administrative or domestic tasks. On this occasion it was further complicated by my losing my water supply! In the end it proved to have been caused simply by the pump sticking as opposed to anything more complicated.

Time has been spent sorting out what will be a trip out to America in May followed immediately by a period down in Norfolk. But prior to all this an upcoming trip to the Cairngorms and other parts of the Highlands in mid April  has been demanding my attention. A more leisurely exercise planning a short trip out to Turkey in late June completed the immediate demands of travel arrangements with those in the second half of the year as yet being mulled over.

Various work projects have been "sown up" and the reports are now in the process of being finalised.  Within this time it was great to have one of my daughters, Katherine, stay for a period and have the opportunity for a good chat on a whole variety of subjects. All this has meant a minimum of time being available for informal birding but with odd sessions stolen here and there.

As I write this the weather continues to hold , although the temperatures are not yet lifting. I've had a couple of opportunities to get out on the grass moors local to the house. Curlew and Lapwing are now back and in display and there calls are a feature both in the mornings and throughout the better days. Northern Wheatears, both as migrants or now as residents, are in evidence with hopefully more of the latter to arrive. A single Willow Warbler passing through the garden today was indicative of passage being underway.  Meadow Pipits appear to be in much better numbers than in the past two seasons, although Skylarks are in similar numbers to previously. Chaffinches and Goldfinches appear from time to time and Stonechats have suddenly appeared on the moorland fringes after presumably being on lower ground throughout the winter.  Ravens have gone quiet already, but Chough and Hooded Crow are still obvious in their habits.  Discovering a pair of Barn Owls "in residence" was a nice surprise, but a battle royal between them and a pair of Chough  has seemingly resulted in both sets of birds disappearing elsewhere!   Such is life.

Dumfries and Galloway tour. 22.3.2015

A tour around the lochs and forests of D and G in bright but cold weather was uplifting in many different ways.  Carlingwark Loch produced the first Sand Martins of the year. Early morning saw the site devoid of people and the opportunity to hear what is now an improving wall of sound as birds get into the rhythm of Spring song. It was good to see around 30 Goldeneye on the loch although the hoped for Ring-necked Duck proved impossible to pin down.

On to the Ken-Dee marshes where Grey lag Geese and Canada Geese were present, but very low numbers of duck. Disappointment was cancelled out by excellent views of a Red Kite which are now firmly established in the area. The hoped for Willow Tit here or at the nearby Woodhall Loch proved unrealised. Despite more than enough seemingly suitable habitat this bird is now difficult to find sometimes.

The Galloway Forest has been felled in certain areas and is much changed from previous recollections. Surprisingly very little seemed to be on offer even of common species like Chaffinch or Robin. Over the moor to the area above Gatehouse of Fleet where a further two Red Kites were noted, certainly something that thirty years ago would not have been in any way routine.

One of the more attractive aspects of  "the Solway" is the picturesque, quiet corners you can find that remain undisturbed for periods of time. Here, in the valley bottom, along the approach to the Cairnsmore of Fleet the solitude and sheer majesty of the countryside was impressive. Not big sky landscapes but more intimate, personal snapshots of what the fabric of our countryside can comprise. Whilst I spent quite a time around here I have to say I saw very little and increasingly am concluding that Spring is just late getting underway.!!

Later out on the open hill Fieldfare, Stonecaht, Buzzards, Kestrel and Raven were all noted. Driving down to the Cairnsmore of Fleet Reserve noted that the cottage near the viaduct that we stayed in ( at the time of the Iraq conflict I seem to remember ) has now been renovated. It was certainly quaint and out of the way but is probably better to have received a facelift as opposed to fall into disrepair.

And so that was it. My journey of reminiscence was fulfilled, admittedly not with too many birds, but given the visual richness of the Solway time spent in the area is never squandered.

Solway's splendour. 21.3.2015

Out early in what was calm, cloudy, but bright conditions, with even a hint of improvement in the temperatures. Blue skies, broken cloud  and sunshine later was a real tonic despite the received warmth being a bit on the modest side of things. First stop was Carsethorn although, disappointingly, the tide was way out which rather limited the variety of things on offer. A few Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Teal were found but little else. Calling Greenfinches were a nice bonus given the low populations in recent years and a suggestion perhaps that they were finally increasing.  Southerness Point was something of a repeat and hastened my moving on to the RSPB Reserve at Mersehead.

I'd only ever paid brief visits to the reserve since it was set up and so had resolved to spend some time there. A great place with a fine assortment of passerines present as well as waterfowl. Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows were in evidence and a single Chiffchaff sang along the approach road.  Wigeon, Pintail, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Gadwall, Mute Swan as well as numbers of Barnacle Geese were present and seen in good light from the hides. A single Merlin sat out on a fence post and gave good views.

A good tour around past areas brought back memories, but little in the way of birds. The countryside does seem to be at low ebb at the moment, but I suspect the populations of Lapwing and other breeding waders of yesteryear are fast becoming a distant memory to many and haven't even been present at all within the more recent experiences of some.

Northward Ho! 20.3.2015

Realised that the Travelodge I'd chosen is not the best when you're intending to visit the RSPB Leighton Moss Reserve. A frustrating loop northwards and then south got me to the reserve  where I finally got my breakfast.  Visited various ones of the hides and admired the high viewing tower which they're building. It seems the water levels are to be drawn down to expose more mud, encourage the extension of the reedbeds and, thereby, help to improve the numbers and conditions for Bitterns. So a couple of years of increased waders perhaps?  It was always slightly frustrating in the past whilst I was with RSPB to receive letters of complaint when initiatives of this sort were undertaken.  In order to support bird communities within given locations it is sometimes necessary to carry out what seems to be pretty drastic management tasks in order to improve or maintain circumstances. Not everyone sees it that way with the interruption to viewing opportunities being considered a higher priority by some.  Sadly, in this island of ours, we haven't the vast expanses of habitat available elsewhere and we have to try and retain the highest quality of habitat possible within the patchwork quilt of areas we call our "reserves".

There was little of any real note at the main reserve other than an odd Marsh Harrier so I went down to the part of the reserve that abuts the salt-marsh on the edge of Morecambe Bay. The tide was high and waders were gathered together in tight packed groups. Lots of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit were in evidence and a Kingfisher flashed past at one point.

With time pressing I commenced my journey northwards and eventually reached Dumfries.  I'd expected to see rather more geese about but I came across no flocks. I reminded myself that it was approaching the end of March where, as happens on Islay, presumably the birds gather together at particular favourite haunts prior to their departure. And so I arrived on the Solway Firth, an area where , in previous times, I'd visited during many successive winters. It's gone through a lot of changes with many of the wetter patches of marsh randomly scattered around now having disappeared. However, the landscape carries variety and excessive charm and is always a joy to be within.