A class day's birding

A class day's birding ~ 1st May 2016 ~ 

Yesterday I had a brilliant day's birding which involved me seeing 1 totally new bird as well as numerous year and patch year ticks.

The day started with a walk around my patch where I saw my first Whitethroat of the year. It was perched up on some bramble belting out some song.

Once home I received a text from another local birder alerting me to a Ring Ouzel on a reserve about 20 minutes away, so, after a bit of deliberating I decided to head to the reserve and check it out. As soon as I got out the car I looked up and saw my first Swifts & House Martins of the year, always a great sight!

Then as we were heading round to where the Ring Ouzel had been seen, a stunning Whinchat alerted us to its presence by flying out of a hedge to pick some insects out of the air. Whinchats are stunning birds - their thick, cream supercilium, peachy breast and cryptic feathering on their back make them one of my favourite passerines. If I'm honest I would've been happy to spend the whole day watching & photographing the Whinchat, but my dad insisted that we keep walking and try to re-find the Ring Ouzel.
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
We then headed round the corner and sure enough there it was! The Ouzel was perched up on a spoil heap and calling profusely. It then flew off towards the hedge that the Whinchat had been in, so we got ourselves into a better position and waited for it to return. After about 5 minutes it returned to the spoil heap and continued feeding. It wasn't close enough for good photos, but that didn't matter since this was my first ever Ring Ouzel & I got some great views through my bins.
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)
After about 20 minutes the Ouzel flew off again and so I decided to go back to the Whinchat hedge and see if the Whinchat was still there. I didn't get very far as I got distracted from some Pied Wagtails that were feeding on a little muddy puddle on the path, so I lay down and took photos of them (they were too close to focus on at times). I stayed there until I'd filled up my memory card, which was only about 50 photos or so since I'd forgotten to empty it before we went out. I headed back to my parents who had my coat and swapped memory cards for one with a bit of space on and headed back to try and find the Whinchat.
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
The Whinchat was still feeding in the hedgerow so I spent a little more time photographing it. Unfortunately by this time the light had changed and so was in a really awkward place which was a shame. Once I was satisfied with my views of the Whinchat I headed back round to my parents to see if the Ring Ouzel had returned. It had and we spent a further 20 minutes or so observing it feeding on and around the spoil heap before deciding to head home.
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)
It has to be said that although the best bits didn't happen on patch, it was one of the best day's birding I've had so far this year. I'm still yet to hear a Cuckoo this year, so hopefully it won't be too long before they're back on patch. I'm also eagerly anticipating the return of the Nightjars and can't wait to spend a few summer's evenings up on the heath listening to them churring and watching them displaying...not much beats that.

Anyway, this is likely to be my last post for a while as I am busy revising for my exams which begin in a couple of weeks.

Waders need love too

Waders need love too ~ 30th April 2016 ~ 

Waders, or shorebirds as they are also known, are found all around the world and come in all different shapes and sizes. Many of the species that breed in Arctic and temperate regions are highly migratory, while those found in tropical areas are usually resident, or only move in response to rainfall.
Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
The smallest species of wader is found in the Americas and is the Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla). It measures just over 13cm and can weigh as little as 15.5g. The largest species of wader is thought to be the Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis), an East Asian-Australasian species, which measures about 63cm and weighs about 860g.
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Both species are migratory: Least Sandpipers breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate approximately 2,000 miles to their wintering ground in South America. Far Eastern Curlews spend the breeding season in eastern Russia, including Siberia and Kamchatka and most migrate down to Australia, but some go as far as New Zealand, stopping off at mudflats in the Yellow Sea on the way.

Waders are very charismatic birds, from the Sanderlings running along the shoreline like crazy wind-up toys, to the Phalaropes spinning in circles whilst feeding...they're just so entertaining you could spend hours watching them!
Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Unfortunately, however, many wader species are in trouble. Due to the great migrations that many species undertake, they face numerous threats along the way, in their breeding and wintering grounds as well as at their staging locations en route. Human activities such as urban expansion, land reclamation and hunting as well as global climate change pose serious threats to waders.
Red-capped Plover (Calidris ruficollis)
Climate change is affecting the seasonal timings of things like ice melt, plant growth and therefore prey availability and consequently this affects all aspects of the birds' lives, including breeding success, ability to get into condition for migration & breeding as well as survival rates. In places like the China Yellow Sea, where the human population has seen a massive increase over the last few decades, land reclamation for agriculture and other activities are having a detrimental effect on migratory waders. This is because they use the mudflats there as stopover points at which to feed up before carrying on up to northeastern Russia from Australia or vice versa. (If you want to find out a bit more about the Yellow Sea stopover sites and the waders that use them, then this is a good place to start).
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
But there is hope. There are fantastic organisations across the flyways doing their utmost to identify the key threats to wader species and working out how to help them. One such organisation that does super work all around the world is Wader Quest.



Wader Quest is a bird conservation charity based in the UK. They organise events around the UK (such as the Wirral Wader Festival) as well as promoting events overseas all in an effort to raise awareness of the threats facing waders across the flyways as well as to raise as much money as possible to support wader conservation projects.
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
Today's Norfolk Bird Race is an annual event that raises money for a particular bird conservation charity and this year's chosen charity is Wader Quest. If you would like to support Wader Quest via the Norfolk Bird Race then you can find the information here. Alternatively, if you'd like to support Wader Quest directly you can find the details on their website here. For just £5.00 a year you can become a friend of Wader Quest, support their hard work and also receive their brilliant newsletter!
Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)
Here are a few other organisations you might consider supporting, all of whom are doing brilliant things for waders across the flyways:

Wader flock, 80 Mile Beach, Australia

Quintessentially British

Quintessentially British: A visit to a Bluebell Wood ~ 24th April 2016 ~ 

Today my parents and I decided to make the most of some nice weather. We headed to Ambarrow Wood, a local wood that is renowned for its annual display of Bluebells, and we certainly weren't disappointed! Here are a few photos from today. Let me know your favourite images in the comments!

1. Bluebells
2. Bluebells
3. Bluebells
4. Bluebells
5. Bluebells
6. Bluebells
7. Bluebells
8. Beech in leaf
9. Wild Garlic
10. Sycamore leaves

African Bird Club AGM

African Bird Club AGM ~ 16th April 2016 ~ 

Last Saturday I had a very enjoyable day at the Natural History Museum in London. The main reason for my visit wasn't to peruse the displays, but instead to attend my first African Bird Club (ABC) AGM. After successfully navigating the underground and the massive queue that greeted us upon our arrival at the museum, we finally made it up to the Flett Events Theatre which is were the AGM was being held.
The first talk of the day came from ABC President, Tasso Leventis and was all about the Vultures of Africa. It focussed on the declines that many vulture species have experienced, the reasons for this and a strategy for reversing the decline. It was a very interesting and thought-provoking talk and was illustrated with some fabulous photos of Africa's vulture species.

Next up was Dr Shiiwua Manu, Director of the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) in Nigeria. He was talking about the research institute itself, how it has developed, aims for the future and a brief look at some of the research that has been conducted there so far.

The last talk before lunch was from Niki Williamson of RSPB and Simon Tonkin of Conservation Grade all about Turtle Doves and the research that is happening in Senegal. The researchers are looking into their behaviour in their wintering areas and working out what the bird's priorities are while they're there. This research highlighted the bird's 3 major activities: foraging, resting and drinking/waiting to drink. This is important because it shows that water is obviously of major importance to the birds and in sub-Saharan countries such as Senegal this knowledge is vital so as to protect important water sources. Simon went on to talk about Fair to Nature foods whereby crops that are used in bird foods, such as millet and peanuts, can be grown in a more environmentally friendly way and so that the famers are incentivised to grow such crops that the Turtle Doves (and other birds) will feed on. It was really interesting to hear about the other threats that this declining species face since shooting/hunting is the one you hear about most often. It was also great to hear about some solutions to the problem and that such strategies are already being implemented in some places and can hopefully be rolled out to more locations across the East Atlantic Flyway over the coming years.
After a lovely lunch, we returned to the lecture theatre for the first session of the afternoon. It began with the Annual General Meeting in which the Clubs' finances, membership fees and other stuff was discussed. I was also elected as the new Next Generation Birders representative, taking over from my friend Ros Green. In taking on this role I am keen to get involved with the club, learn more about Africa and its birds as well as meeting more like-minded people and helping the club to increase their youth/student membership!

Next came a superb talk from Debbie Pain (Director of Conservation at WWT) on the Madagascar Pochard Project. She spoke about the last 10 years of the project; how it began, the challenges faced and the establishment of a successful conservation breeding programme. She then went on to talk about the future of this threatened species, and how a nearby lake has been deemed a suitable location for the reintroduction of the Pochard in order to increase population levels in the wild in order to give the species the best chance of survival. A really interesting talk and I look forward to hearing how the project develops over the coming years!
The second-to-last talk was from Luca Borghesio of Nature Kenya on the Taita Apalis, a species endemic to the Taita Hills of Kenya. Luca spoke about his nest finding and colour ringing projects which aim to help with population estimates as well as helping identify the main drivers of productivity and adult survival rates. He presented some of the data he has collected so far which showed that where breeding success was high, adult survival was low and where adult survival was high, breeding success was low. These correlations seemed to be affected by altitude but hopefully Luca's work will confirm this theory in future and help work out what, if anything, can be done to help conserve this endangered species.
After a tea break came the last talk of the day from Keith Betton, ABC Vice-President. Keith's talk was about the endemic bird species found on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe which lie 200miles off the coast of Gabon. It was great to hear about his trip and about all the cool species that he managed to see...yet another location I need to add to my list of places to visit! It sounded like a great trip and was illustrated with some superb images of the endemics.
The day finished with the raffle draw and a few words from Richard Charles, ABC Chairman.

After the AGM had come to a close and I'd said goodbye to those I could find, we made our way through some of the exhibits to one of the shops to have a nose at the books on offer. With a huge amount of willpower I managed not to buy any books at all on the day - a rare occurrence given my love of reference books!

Anyway after a brief look around the shop we made our way out of the museum and headed back to the tube to begin the journey home.

I had a lovely day and I would like to take this opportunity to thank those behind the scenes of ABC for organising such brilliant speakers for the AGM - it was such an interesting day with lots to take away from it. I would also like to thank you for inviting me to sit on the Council as the NGB representative - I look forward to working with the club in the future!

Hazeley Heath Bird Ringing Demonstration

Hazeley Heath Bird Ringing Demonstration ~ 13th March 2016 ~ 

Ringing demonstrations are brilliant because not only do you get the chance to talk to people about birds, ringing (what, why and how we do it) but you are also in a unique position to engage and inspire people to take more of an interest in birds and the natural world, and who knows, you might just inspire someone enough that they start training to ring!
I feel that being able to see a bird up close in the hand, or perhaps even getting the chance to release a bird after it's been processed, is on another level compared to seeing one up in a tree or flying overhead; it's a tangible experience that will hopefully create a lasting impression.
I think I feel this way because I got into ringing by having the chance to release a Sedge Warbler at Birdfair way back in 2011. I hope that I am now in a position to create that experience for someone else and inspire them to take up birding or ringing or even just to take a closer look at nature from now on. At ringing demonstrations I make a conscious effort to try and talk to the younger attendees and give them the opportunities to release the birds once they are done, after all they are the future so we need to try and enable them to connect with and be interested in the natural world so that they feel a part of it and not separate to it, as so many people nowadays seem to be.
Anyway, on Sunday (13th) I helped my trainer Martin and fellow C ringer Ian with a ringing demonstration at our main site: Hazeley Heath. It is a wonderful site and never ceases to amaze us, whether that's with the species we catch or the numbers that we catch them in - it's just superb.
Well, on Sunday it amazed us in both of the aforementioned ways because we caught around 80 birds (a very good total considering none of us have visited the site for ages) and in that total were some very good species, including Green Woodpecker (not something we catch very often!) and a Marsh Tit!
Now Marsh Tits are a red-listed species and are not very common in our local area at all so the fact that the bird we caught on Sunday was actually the 4th (I think) Marsh Tit we've caught there is a very good sign indeed and makes me wonder whether perhaps they are actually more numerous than we think and are actually just under recorded due to a lack of observers...who knows but it was definitely stole the 'bird of the day' title from the Green Woodpecker!
We had a great day and lots of members of the public turned out to come and see what we were doing which was great! As well as being supported by the Hart Countryside Rangers we were also joined by wardens from the Thames Basin Heaths Partnership Project who came armed with hot drinks and biscuits for everybody, as well as some information about what they do on the Heaths. Oh and to round off a brilliant day, I spotted an Adder warming up in the sun just before we left the site!