2014 at a glance

2014 - what a year!

Well, that's 2014 nearly over and done with but wow, what a year it's been. I've had some pretty bloody amazing opportunities, visited some fantastic places and met loads of wonderful and inspiring people so I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has been a part of it. 

A special mention must go to A Focus On Nature and the Next Generation Birders as well as all the ringers & birders that have offered their advice and/or enthusiasm over the last year; for without the help of all the people around me, I would definitely not have achieved as much as I have over the last 12 months.

Here are some of my 2014 highlights in pictures:

A very obliging Grey Phalarope in East Sussex
A memorable encounter that I shared with some fellow AFON
members on the Somerset Levels
The group of us that spoke at the AFON #youngbirders workshop
at the BTO
My first ever Stone Curlews which rounded off an amazing day
at the #youngbirders workshop
It was a privilege to follow the breeding trials and tribulations
of a pair of Starlings that nested in my neighbours roof
Ringing some young birds of prey, such as this Kestrel, was
an unforgettable experience
Meeting other young like-minded birders is always good fun
Ringing some Barn Owl chicks and meeting some more great
people thanks to AFON
Finally catching up with a Nightjar at a ringing session
after 6 failed attempts
A trip to the Farne Islands with 7 other young photographers
Cairngorm family 'selfie' - fantastic wildlife, scenery and company (most of the time)
Masses of jellyfish washed up on a beach on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula
Spotted Flycatcher trapped and ringed in Hampshire - a cracking
species to have in the hand
A few days spent at Portland Bird Observatory with some good
birds and cracking company 
I <3 my patch - Nightjars, Dartford Warblers & Woodlark...
what more could you want?!
Met some amazing people on the NGB Bardsey trip
Stunning scenery on Bardsey Island
Some cracking birds on Bardsey too
After 3 years of training, I achieved my C Permit for ringing!!!
There's nothing quite like being out on a marsh in the freezing cold
catching some lovely birds and great company too
What a way to end the year - speaking at the BTO Conference with
5 of my birding friends in front of c.300 people. Very nerve wracking
but an amazing opportunity and experience nonetheless

Thanks again to everyone who has supported me over the last 12 months. I am extremely grateful for all your support and really do appreciate it because without it, I wouldn't have done or achieved half as much as I have managed in the last year, so for that I really do thank you.

So, with only 5 minutes of 2014 remaining, here's to 2015 - I hope it's a good one! Happy New Year folks!

The future is now

BTO Conference & AGM ~ 5th-7th December 2014 ~ 

So this weekend I have been fortunate enough to attend the BTO AGM & Conference and wow, just WOW. What an absolutely fantastic, interesting, inspirational and encouraging event it was!!

All the talks were fascinating, really well presented and everyone was so genuinely passionate about birds, the natural world and the desperate need to conserve it.

My favourite talks were those by James Pearce-Higgins (about birds and how climate change is affecting them), Mark Thomas (about his job as a wildlife crime investigator and the harrowing acts of persecution and egg collecting that still go on today), Dave Leech (always entertaining to listen to because of his immense passion and unquenchable thirst for knowledge), Kate Plummer (some fantastic information on Blackcaps, their wintering activities and the possibility that speciation is occurring now(!!!)) and Viola Ross-Smith (some great data from her gull tracking project and a 3D visual of one of the bird's movements which was outstanding).

I am extremely grateful to the BTO for not only organising this amazing event, but also for inviting myself and 5 other young birders to speak this morning. It was a real privilege and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to share my passion for birds with everyone there and the chance to show the older generation that not only are there young people who have an interest in nature, but that there are young people who are so passionate and determined to do everything we possibly can to protect and conserve the wonderful biosphere that is Earth for future generations.

The young birders (and some siblings).
L->R Harley, Ellis, Ben, Evie, me, Abby, Findlay, Toby & Molly.

One thing that was very noticeable when looking at the audience was the sea of grey or greying hair and then there was really quite an age gap as it seemed there was then a massive jump (bar the small number of people bridging the gap) down to a group of people in their mid 20's and then down to myself and the other young speakers. With the benefit of hindsight the best time to be pro-active about encouraging young people would have been about 20-30 years ago but the second best time is now.

Acting now to try and engage with and inspire more young people is something that I feel very passionately about and I will do my utmost best to help the BTO (and other conservation organisations) to achieve this. After all, you won't stand up and protect something if you don't care about it and we need more people to care - we only have 1 planet, we can't afford to destroy it!

Before I finish, I would just like to thank everyone at the BTO, AFON & NGB for all their support and encouragement over the last few years. Without this I wouldn't be where I am today and I most definitely wouldn't have had the guts to stand up in front of an audience of almost 300 people like I did today.

I hope everyone had as good a time at the conference as I did - I can't wait to see what happens in the next year and I'm already looking forward to next year's conference!

You can find me on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

Hen Harrier Christmas Cards

Harry the Hen Harrier

Findlay Wilde is a remarkable young man. At only 12 years old he is a passionate conservationist, dedicated bird ringer and is more determined to inspire change than many adults would be.

This year, Fin has been actively involved with the Hen Harrier campaign and Skydancer, a project that aims to raise awareness of the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers and earlier in the year he employed his family to create a model Hen Harrier, whom they affectionately named Harry.

Harry travelled with the Wilde family to Hen Harrier Day on 10th August where, in the typically british weather, he helped remind the sodden event-goers why they were there. As well as this, Harry was present at Rutland Water at Birdfair back in mid August. Having been on a bit of a tour, Harry is now spending the winter at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands to remind people of the problems Hen Harriers are facing.

Findlay (right) with Andy Clements (Director of the BTO) and
Harry the model Hen Harrier in the background

It is estimated that there is enough habitat in England to support up to 300 breeding pairs of these wonderful birds of prey, yet only 3 pairs nested this year. This is unacceptable and if we aren't careful, these beautiful creatures could soon become extinct as a breeding species in England. We cannot allow this happen and rather sadly this brings me nicely onto the point of this post.

Findlay is selling Christmas cards which feature Harry the Hen Harrier on the front and all the profits made are being donated to the Skydancer project. The cards are £1 each and I sincerely urge you to purchase as many as you can because the money is going to such a fantastic cause.

The Hen Harrier Harry Christmas card design

Hazeley Heath Ringing

Hazeley Heath ~ 15th November 2014 ~ 

I think it is safe to say that the weather has been most unkind over the last few weeks and so despite the fact I got my C permit almost a month ago, the weekend just gone was my first chance to get out and exercise a proper ringing session on my own.

After a lot of discussions with a fellow ringer, it was decided that all the usual nets would be put up because if it got too busy I could always turn off the tapes and furl the nets.

In the dark on Friday evening, MC and I set the nets. Everything went smoothly and all the nets went up fine and were furled for the night.

My alarm went off at 5.30 on Saturday morning and after packing some food and my hat & gloves, my mum and I headed to Hazeley. Once I arrived, I headed to the nets to start opening them.

There is a small Redwing roost in some of the trees next to one of the net rides so once I began to hear them starting to move around, I put on a tape to try and attract them to the nets. This didn't work too badly and I ended up with a grand total of two. Not quite as many as I was hoping for, but certainly better than none! I then spent the next 8 hours ringing or doing net rounds. It was a great session and I caught some lovely species too - Redwing, Marsh Tit, Lesser Redpoll & Treecreeper were the highlights!

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

When I finally left at 15.00, after my mum and her friend had helped me carry all the kit to the car, the total stood at 104 captures including 46 re-traps. The species totals are as follows (re-traps are in brackets):

Blue Tit - 27 (12)
Bullfinch - 3 (2)
Chaffinch - 2 (1)
Chiffchaff - 1
Coal Tit - 2 (4)
Dunnock - (7)
Goldcrest - 1
Goldfinch - 4 (1)
Great Tit - 6 (10)
Lesser Redpoll - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 3 (3)
Marsh Tit - (1)
Redwing - 2
Robin - (2)
Song Thrush - 3
Treecreeper - 1 (1)
Wren - 2 ( 2)

C Permit Upgrade

C Permit ~ 23rd October 2014 ~ 

Last Thursday I was issued my C Permit for bird ringing by the British Trust for Ornithology. This allows me to ring with the use of mist nets independently, without any supervision.

It has taken me 3 years of weekly dawn starts to get to this point but I couldn't have done it without the support and encouragement of my parents who have done the chauffeuring for most sessions!

I also couldn't have done it without my trainer, of course, and so I am very grateful that he decided to take me on when he did,  as I know he was concerned at the time about taking on a 13 year old trainee due to reliability, determination and interest!

Anyway, yesterday I was kitted out with rings and was lent a 9m net and accompanying poles so that I could get started in my garden. When I got home at about 15.00 I decided to put the net up for a while to see how I got on. It took me quite a while to sort out the guy ropes but I got there in the end and the net went up without a hitch. Fast forward 25 minutes and I'm bombing it out the back door in my socks to make sure that the Great Spotted Woodpecker doesn't get out! What a way to kick off being a C ringer. As well as the Great Spot, there was also a Goldfinch - another lovely species!

I decided to open up the net up this morning as well and caught 7 Blue Tits, 1 Goldfinch and 1 Robin. It is furled now as the wind picked up a bit too much but if it dies down, I may open it again later.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 

Lastly, I just wanted to thank everyone else who has helped me with my ringing so far - there are far too many to name individually, but you know who you are!

NGB Bardsey Bird Observatory Trip

Bardsey Bird & Field Observatory ~ 27th - 4th October 2014 ~ 

A few weeks ago I spent a week on Bardsey Island at the Bardsey Bird Observatory with 4 other Next Generation Birders (Matt Bruce, Liam Curson, James Garside and Susan Jones, as well as NGB island resident, Ben Porter). The aim of the week was to learn about the roles of the Obs staff, gain experience in island life, help with surveying and ringing and contribute to their bird records through birding the island each day.

It was a fantastic experience, everyone got on really well, we saw some lovely birds and I can't wait to return in the future!

Here are 'a few' photos from our amazing week:

Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria) that we re-trapped. 
It weighed 32.0g!
James couldn't stop grinning when he got to release it.
Matt doing a spot of seawatching before a day of birding.
One of many cute seal pups from around the island.
Manx Shearwater chick just prior to being ringed. 
Matt taking the wing measurement of a young Manx Shearwater.
Manxie chick being weighed.
Hoopoe (Upupa epops). What stunning birds! My photo
really doesn't do it justice...
Linnet (Carduelis cannabina).
Merlin (Falco columbaris).
James with a Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus). 
Matt with a Moorhen.
Painted Lady butterfly.
Some scenery. 
One of the many sheep present on the island.
Plant sp that we came across as we climbed the mountain. 
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca).
Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla).
L->R: Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler & Goldcrest. 
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) 
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus).
One of the many moths from the trap.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis).
Panorama with the lighthouse on the left, Solfach beach in the
middle and the mountain on the right.
Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus).
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis). 
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus).
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca).
Little Owl (Athene noctua).
The view from the top of the Obs garden towards the lighthouse.
What happens when you get bored on Bardsey...
The view from Solfach of Ty Capel, Cristin and Ty Pellaf.

On the way home and after we dropped James off at the station, Matt, Susan, Liam and I headed to Morfa Madrhyn for the Grey Phalarope. After some confusion with where the bird was supposed to be, we headed back to where we started and saw a small crowd gathering. We joined them and right there in front of us was the bird! It was very confiding and the light was superb at times which allowed for some fantastic photographic opportunities! My 2nd (now of 3) Grey Phalaropes this year that have showed ludicrously well!

Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius).
Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius).

Many thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! It was an amazing trip and I'd like to thank all the Islanders for making our stay at the Obs so enjoyable, with a special thanks to Steve for being so enthusiastic and encouraging! Another special mention must go to Connor for his incredible cookies and fudge - they were delicious and I think we all spent a small fortune on them over the week. Thanks also to the male voice choir & Steve and Emma for the wonderful food - I think we would have run out of food completely had we not had those two extremely filling meals! 

Don't forget you can keep up to date with my activity on FacebookTwitter and my website here.