Monday, 20 March 2017

Post 461 - Simply Beautiful, Slightly Breathtaking, Snow Buntings!

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) at Redcar beach
Hey everyone, today's post is 461. It's been a while since I've done a species post like I focused on in my original year of nature so I thought it was time I did that sort of thing again.  I also wanted to cover a lovely species that I've seen over the Winter before they depart as the spring migrations get
underway. These birds are, or well were, still here this weekend as I saw another at the weekend.

Recently, I've been using Rare Bird Alert quite a bit, and trying to see if I can get my list to 200. There hasn't been an 'official' update of my count yet, but I'm sure I must be almost there. Anyway, you may have heard in other posts that I've been doing a lot of 'Bunting Hunting', and I thought I'd do a post on one of the Buntings I'd hunted, but of course only with my camera. If only that was the case across the rest of North Yorkshire :-(

Hopped up on to a groyne post
Well Rare Bird Alert told me that there were some interesting birds on the coast not too far from me at Redcar and I just had to make the trip to see if I could find them. This one is probably one of the cutest birds I've seen yet, and I was able to get really close to them! I was surprised by how easy they were to photograph, they lined up perfectly for me! They were quite used to all the people milling about too and sat tight in their spots until people got quite close. I spent about an hour watching these lovely birds. I am of course talking today about the simply beautiful Snow Bunting!

Here are some facts:

  • They are small birds (even for Bunting size) with their tiny length of about 16cm, and a wingspan about double that at around 35cm.
  • Sexual dimorphism can be seen in these birds, with the males weighing 42 grams and the Females a tiny 35!
  • They have an amber status in the UK, probably as there are so few here, and are of least concern in Europe, and globally.
As , very kindly, did its friends!
  • In 2007, there were 60 breeding pairs in the Summer, so this backs up my statement of them being so few, and they are described as being 'resident breeders'.
  • Their European size can be between about 700,000 to 1.7 million pairs, so this shows that we only get a tiny percentage of them.
  • Their egg size is 22 x 16 mm on average, and it only weighs 3.1g (only 6% of this is shell).
  • From the egg being laid to the bird fledging is actually a very quick process in this bird, incubation lasts literally 2 weeks, and then fledging happens 12 days after that!
  • Their clutch size is usually about 5, but can range to 4 or 6 as well, and sometimes the bird will have two broods, depending on how late in the year they have the first one.
Lovely birds set against a slightly stormy sea (Doris was on the way!)
  • They live about 3 years, so they have to start breeding the first year they can, but the longest a Snow Bunting has lived (that we know about) is almost 9 years! Exactly 8 years 11 months and 2 days.
  • It also has one of the prettiest common names I have ever come across, it can be called, the 'Snowflake'


Thanks to BTO & RSPB for the facts.

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Post 460 - Wonderful World Wildlife Day

World Wildlife Day - This Earth is precious
Hey everyone, Post 460 today and it's the UN World Wildlife Day tomorrow. I was asked by another young wildlife blogger, Thomas (@EWblog) to contribute to a post on young naturalists' hopes for the future. You can read that post here. There are some great thoughts from young people about the future.

Well it's a really important day so I thought I ought to do a post too to help spread the word.

There are a lot of people I admire that have made powerful statements about the world, the environment, our wildlife, about how precious it is, how we must treasure it, care for it and pass that message on to future generations. One of the loveliest, most moving statements I have ever read about this I covered in my Post 404 for Earth Day was by a Chief Seattle - please click through and read the whole message as it is an amazing, beautiful statement about the planet and just as important now as when it was written in the 1850's. A key message from it is:

Chief Seattle 
"You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth."

As many of you know, and the message in my piece for Thomas, is that I have been thinking a lot about Brexit and how it will affect nature. This is most of what I wrote:

Like it or not the UK will be exiting the EU.
One thing I thought a lot about about before the referendum and after it, is how little focus nature has got in the discussions. Most of the talk seems to be about the economy and immigration. I was so concerned I started a petition to try and keep EU nature laws. 

Can farmers help wildlife - yes they can! 
Why did I do this? Well,  The State of Nature report told us that a lot (56%) of species in the UK are in decline. Europe has developed a lot of strong laws around nature, such as the EU Birds and Habitats Directive. We have a choice now when we exit of what to do about our laws. The plan is initially to adopt all EU regulations and then decide which we need and which we don’t. Is that good? Well reading about this I’m not sure. Farmers want the Government to look after them, and that could be a good thing, as they produce a lot of our food. But some of the current practices are not good for wildlife. Pesticides and Bees is one example. There is evidence though you can farm and improve things for nature without farmers suffering

A seasonal treat :-) 
Are the current laws strong enough? Well they are good but at the moment there is a debate about hedge cutting. Birds are protected by only allowing hedge cutting outside of the nesting season but some farmers want to cut earlier which might put some struggling species under more pressure like Yellow Hammers and Turtledoves. And, dare I mention it, there are the issues of Grouse Shooting and raptor persecution, badger culling and the potential of a vote on Fox Hunting all of which I feel very strongly about! So, I’d say we definitely don’t need these laws to be weakened.

The Environmental Audit Committee recommended a new Environment Act. They considered all these issues and made a great set of recommendations.  I’d like the Government to act on this and keep to one of its pledges nicely summed up in the first recommendation:

"In order to meet its manifesto commitment to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”, the Government must, before triggering Article 50, commit to legislating for a new Environmental Protection Act, ensuring that the UK has an equivalent or better level of environmental protection as in the EU."


On World Wildlife Day I’d like to see Government deliver this recommendation and make sure it is enforced!

I think all nature lovers need to keep a close eye on things though. I asked Caroline Lucas a little question about the Government paper on Brexit, I got a simple but worrying reply (Thanks so much Caroline).
On World Wildlife Day I hope you will enjoy nature, go for a walk, see wonderful species and connect with our wonderful wildlife.

 At the same time I hope you treasure it so much that you will stand up for nature and keep an eye on what happens as we part ways with Europe.

I hope very much we keep the strong nature laws and maybe even get much better ones!

#Doonethingtoday on #worldwildlifeday. Listen to the young voices and #standupfornature
Hope you enjoyed,

Zach.


Saturday, 25 February 2017

Post 459 - A Happy Half Term Bunting Hunting :-)

Quite a way to start the day - a wonderful
view of Waxwings
Hey everyone, post 459 today and a little run down of what has been a great half term. It's always interesting to see how the weather turns out this half term. Sometimes I've been able to go sledging. Sometimes I've been able to go paddling in the sea at Whitby in t-shirt and shorts. It can be very varied but I particularly remember that about this time of year as it was my birthday this week. It was a relatively big birthday too as I'm now a teenager!

Well it's always nice to have time to spend going for walks and exploring. I managed to fit in quite a bit already this week and I've still got another day tomorrow to see what else I can see. So where have I been this week?
Russian White Fronted Geese peeking out of a ditch.

As you may have seen I did a little post about my first trip out to to Upper Teesdale on the first day of the holidays.

After that we stayed with the area north of me as there were some reports of birds that I hoped to see. On Monday we headed to RSPB Saltholme. There were quite a few reports of things I haven't seen including a Long Eared Owl,  Russian White Fronted Geese and some other things we hoped to pick up on the coast on the way home.

A wonderful view of a gorgeous bird - Snow Bunting!
 Arriving in the car park at RSPB Saltholme the day got off to a promising start. As soon as I got out of the car I caught sight of 5 Waxwings. The light was great as well so I got a few nice photos of them (for a change!). Going into the reserve we heard that the Long Eared Owl had been driven from its usual roost further into the scrub probably as lots of people were very pleased to see it and photograph it. Still Dad and I had a great walk and saw lots of great birds including Pintails. Teal, Wigeon, Curlews, Lapwings, Reed Buntings and more Shovelors and Shelducks than I've ever seen in one place before.

A Rock Pippet at Skinningrove
On the way back we looked along the road for another bird we knew was hanging around. When we saw a few Greylags we pulled over and had a look around. It was the right decision as we soon picked out the heads at least of a few of the Russian White Fronted Geese that had been reported. Not the best views I've had of a goose but still nice to see.

Another stop off point on the way home was to Redcar where we knew there were reports of Snow Buntings. After parking up and having a short walk towards where we'd spotted someone with a telescope we soon saw them. What a lovely bird! One of the prettiest little birds I've seen for a while. They were very happy flitting about, perching on the posts of the groynes and generally hunting for things to eat and posing for photos.

And an Eastern Black Redstart!
Well after that we headed home only to find out if we'd checked our phones that we could have walked a bit further up the beach and seen a Lapland Bunting too! Never mind, that's for another day.

A colour ringed Herring Gull
After some successful bunting hunting we decided to head out on Thursday, in spite of storm Doris, to see if we could see a few birds that were hanging around York. The first was the Pine Bunting. It was quite easy to find the site where it had been seen. It was quite easy to see the flock of Yellow Hammers it was hanging around with and thanks to someone close by doing a bit of drilling now and again it was quite easy to see the Pine Bunting as I had a good few chances to see the flock moving backwards and forwards to the scrub. Sadly all my photos were too blurry to make anything out due to the wind and rain :-(

Next up was the Great Grey Shrike that was on the other side of York. Well, sadly I am going to have to find one another day as it was seemingly taking shelter as I had a good look with no luck.

A very accommodating Turnstone
Friday saw us return to the coast, really just as the weather was much brighter and also as it was still a bit stormy and it's a fantastic coast to see when the waters quite rough. Our first stop was Skinningrove to see the Eastern Black Redstart. It's been there all winter but last time I went to see it the weather was terrible, but it was New Years Eve. So it was nice to see it in better light at least and I managed to get some nice photos. Hoping around the rocks too were Rock Pippets as well as a few Robins and a Wren. The cliffs had more birds along it than last time I visited too and Fulmars are starting to fill up all the nooks and crannies.

And a few more!
From Skinningrove to Whitby is a lovely coastal route with some fantastic views. The sea was still quite wild even after Doris had done her worst and the waves were crashing in and spraying the road. Whitby was our dinner stop for Fish and Chips, which were fantastic as usual. A little walk around the pier was well worth it too. Apart from many Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Cormorants I came across a flock of very accommodating Turnstones. I love watching these birds patrolling the tideline, exploring all the stones and debris for food. As the tide was in though and as there was nowhere to go they decided to sit up on the pier wall and scavenge crumbs dropped by all the visitors, great for me as I had my camera.

So, it's been a great half term so far and I've still another day to go. Not sure where I'll go tomorrow but hopefully I'll find something else interesting!

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Post 458 - Nature-filled, Picturesque North Pennines AONB

If you look closely there are lots of Black Grouse
in the green field
Hey everyone, post 458 today and a little write up of a great day I had on Saturday. It was the first day of the holidays so our family decided it would be nice to have a bit of a trip out. It only takes us about an hour to get there but it's a fabulous journey.

Here's one up close
It's always a great drive to Teesdale, we have a route that is along lots of lovely country roads where we pass lots of farmland and woods. As we wind our way up into upper Teesdale you start to get into the moors, you're so high up that you can see over all the valley and see the river meandering along the valley floor between the hills, sometimes snow covered, and other times just lush green mats draped over the hilly landscape. It's a lovely dramatic landscape.

We decided to head up past where we normally start our day and go to a site that we were told about. In one of those lovely but spooky co-incidences on that Friday, Chris the Director the North Pennines AONB followed me on twitter (@NorthPennChief). He gave us a few ideas of things to look out for, thanks Chris.

Low Force - without canoes!
On the way up to Bowlees, we saw huge flocks of waders, mostly lapwings and golden plover, but we also saw a very large amount of crows. We passed thorough Bowlees and headed further up the dale and we went for our lunch. We went to a place called Langdon Beck, which I thought was quite authentic, as it was a lovely place, friendly people and log fires in each room, so going into this place out of the cold and wind was a really nice feeling.

Amazing lichens
A great thing we didn't expect to see was a fabulous geology room, where there was a load of rocks and minerals which were fascinating to look at. They had examples of crystals, minerals and ores that you can find in the North Pennines. There were lots of types of Flurospar, some haematite and lots more besides. The whole area is designated a European Geopark. I think I'll be back on the look out for some of the lovely crystals I saw!

After we left there, we decided to go to a spot Chris @NorthPennChief  told us about, and look for some Black Grouse, which we succeeded in very quickly! After about 2 minutes of heading towards Bowlees, I looked at a field and immediately saw 32 of them! I'm hoping to see them when they lek so it's nice to find good sites for them.
Moss covered trees

After this we headed back and had a really nice walk around Bowlees and down by the Tees. Around the visitor centre were usual garden birds such as Chaffinches, Coal tits, etc, but a first for the year was a nice group of Siskins chattering high up in a tree. The woods around Bowlees are lovely. It's higher up than we are at home so there's not much green or flowers around yet but with the lovely clean fresh air there are huge amounts of lichen and moss!

And more lichen!
Carrying on our walk we went across a suspension bridge held about 40ft over a river, which was a little scary. We ended at Low Force, which was an amazing sight as ever, but didn`t go quite to plan from a nature hunting point of view because there was a group of people cliff jumping into it! ;) Very brave  - and not something I`ll be trying anytime soon!

And a Dipper!
One of the reasons we went, was to look for Dippers, but we didn't see any due to the cliff jumpers and loads of people in canoes. But, on the way back to the car, while on the bridge between the visitor centre and the car park, (exactly where we saw the Crossbills last year!) we looked down... and Mum saw one! We didn't get many pictures though, but we were to fascinated by this little fella! Stay tuned for a blog post on this.

Spotting a Peregrine and a Buzzard on the way home, it was a lovely day, as it always is when we go up to Teesdale, but the Dipper was definitely the icing on the cake!

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Post 457 - Great Garden views of Wonderful Waxwings and a probable Ring Necked Duck!

What are those up there?
Hey everyone today's Post 457 and a bit of a mixed post today. It's been a busy time for us so we haven't been out and about as much of late, which is probably as well as the weather hasn't been great! Well this weekend we've managed to get out for a couple of nice walks. Yesterday, as we were on our way out to go for a walk, Dad spotted some quite big birds in the a tree opposite our garden, we thought we knew what they were but we got some binoculars to check and yes, they turned out to be Waxwings! So that's another bird for our garden list, and probably the rarest so far. It was nice to see them and to get on the garden list as I saw a flock of birds when doing the big garden bird watch that were probably Waxwings but they didn't stop and were too quick and far away to be sure.One day I will see these birds on a sunny day and get some better shots!

Waxwings!
Today we went on a short trip to Nosterfield, a Crane had been spotted near my town so we went on a route that took in the fields where it had been seen but, sadly, with no luck. We'd heard reports of a different bird though, which was another lifer. The Ring Necked Duck!

We didn't really go just for this, we stopped by Nosterfield Nature Reserve for a walk and just in case we could see it.  We started off with our usual walk around the reserve and the nearby henge. It's a lovely place. The call of Curlews and Lapwing are the main things I hear at the reserve. We also saw masses of Wigeon and quite a few Osystercatchers. A lovely Grey Heron came in but didn't settle and it was nice to watch it with its big slow wingbeats fly right across our view and off to a neighbouring lake. No Ring Necked Duck though.

The forest floor is coming to life again!
Dogs Mercury almost in flower
After the reserve is a henge we like to walk around as it's covered with trees. It must have been for quite a while as it's got plants like Dogs Mercury growing in it. This is now starting to grow again and have its turn in the sun before the trees get going again, it won't be long before this is flowering. The Snowdrops are out though and it was nice to see them today. The main sounds to hear in the wood were the calls of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few Great Tits and Blue Tits.

After we'd done that we got back to the car and drove to Lingham Lake, which is next to the working quarry. We wondered if the Ring Necked Duck would be there. Well it turned up almost immediately! Well, at least we think it was but both it was quite far away and a struggle to see clearly even with binoculars so sorry the photo is pretty ropey.
But the snowdrops are out in force - beautiful flowers!

This bird had no cheek patches, no tuft and the plumage patterns looked quite good for the Ring Necked Duck. Sadly it wasn't close enough to make out its bill, not helped by the fact it was diving of course!  Well only being about 80-90% certain I'm not sure if I can put this on my list but anyway I thought it was worth learning more about these birds so here are some facts:
  • Seeing as these aren't native to the UK, just a rare vagrant, it was hard to find many facts on them, so sorry again if there isn't as many as usual.
  • As I have just said, the Ring Necked Duck is not native to the UK, and is a visitor sometimes seen resting here in England.
  • They breed and usually live in North America, spending the hotter parts of the year in Canada and going South in the Winter months.
  • They are easily confused with the Tufted Duck and Goldeneye, with mostly the same patterns all along its body. 
The best shot I could get with my camera :-(
(but it was a very grey day !)
  • The way to tell the Male apart is to luck at its cheek, it doesn't have a white patch, and it also doesn't have a tuft on its head, and you can easily tell the Female from other birds.
  • They are omnivorous and so will eat Worms, Leeches, Snails and plant matter such as pondweed.
  • They find all this by either diving or dabbling. We found that they preferred to dive making them very hard to spot!
  • When the Female is laying her eggs, she will actually lay one a day until there are about 8 - 10 ready to be incubated.
  • They are then incubated for just less than a month, and the mother will stay with them until they are able to fly.
Half term is coming soon though, I'm looking forward to having a few more days out, I'll be sure to let you know what I see!

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Post 456 - Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

Blackbirds were the bird I saw most of -
there were nine when we first put the food out
Hey everyone, today's Post 456 and as most of you will know, the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch took place this weekend, it's the largest bird survey in the UK, and is also very important for the RSPB, and I guess lots of other conservation organisations. It helps to monitor bird populations and with half a million people doing it they get a lot of data and can see which birds are doing well and which aren't doing so well. Essentially, all you have to do to help is spend an hour looking out of your window at birds in your garden or you could go to your local park and pretty much anywhere else you can think of. The only two rules are to not count birds that fly over you, only ones that stop in your garden, as others around you also doing the Birdwatch could count them too, and only count how many you ever see at one time, not sightings, or you will probably end up counting the same birds several times.

It's surprising how many different birds you can see in just an hour, but also, other birds you've seen every day in the garden might not always turn up. Chris Packham tweeted that he had four nuthatches in his garden at the same time, Norman, the name I gave to a Nuthatch that visited us a couple of Autumns ago, didn't turn up sadly, but hopefully somebody else saw him :)


Anyway, the birds that I did see were:
Dunnock peering out of the hedge

9 Blackbirds
1 Wren
1 Coal Tit
3 Blue Tits
2 Great Tits
2 Long-Tailed Tits
1 Robin
3 Wood Pigeons
1 Collared Dove
3 Starlings
3 Dunnocks
1 Song Thrush
1 Carrion Crow
6 House Sparrows

I also saw 18 Mallards, 1 Herring Gull, 3 Black-Headed Gull, and what I'm pretty sure was a flock of about 30 Waxwings but these were all flyovers, so we didn't count them.

Zip in grab a seed and zip off again!
Oh and we got a visit from one of the local squirrels ;-)
Little and large - my biggest and smallest visitors.

It was interesting watching the different bird behaviours. There was a Carrion Crow that was just sat at the top of the trees, watching everything happening, surveying the area and occasionally taking off to go and explore something in the next field, but it didn't venture onto the bird table.

The Coal Tit and Blue Tits just zipped in for a few seconds to grab some food, and then flew off straight away taking their haul somewhere to enjoy safely. The Woodpigeons just walked around the bird table eating as much as possible it seemed, and the Sparrows (who dive into the hedge behind if there's any movement or noise) just jump on every so often to grab some, and then go back to the others. The Wren hardly ever stopped doing little circuits of the garden constantly hopping around searching for scraps to eat. It was nice to get a picture of the Wren next to a Woodpigeon, my smallest visitor next to the day's biggest.
Surveying the area.

The Blackbirds were another one that were interesting to watch. Most took it in turns to peck around the floor but now and again they would squabble to get a place on the bird table. They all seemed to get a good amount to eat and even if they didn't get onto the table the flapping and fighting made sure a few more bits of food found their way onto the ground. The Dunnocks happily helped to mop this up too.

This year I only had one Robin. In other years I've watched a few having little battles about territory, but not this year. In fact the Robin was unusually shy and didn't hang around very long.

One of the House Sparrows - they do well in our garden
Anyway, I always enjoy doing the Garden Birdwatch, and I hope you did as well. If you haven't had a chance to yet you can still take part tomorrow as it's on for an extra day this year.

You can find out more at: Big Garden Birdwatch

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Post 455 - Coots, Cannons and a Cool Crisp Morning

A lovely atmospheric dawn at Lingham Lake at Nosterfield 
Hey everyone, today's Post 455 and today's been a long day for me! I woke up at about quarter to 6 and was out by quarter past, Dad & I went to Nosterfield Quarry, as arranged by Jill Warwick and the rest of the East Dales Ringing Group.

Being up and out so early it wasn't even light when we got there. We met up in the car park of the quarry. Today we were hoping to ring some Coots and maybe a few other species using cannon nets, which is a pretty exciting way to catch the birds to ring. We started by splitting into as little cars as possible, as because it's a working quarry and because we wanted to disturb the birds as little as possible so we could get a good catch. Or that was the plan. There had been some shooting in the area recently so the birds were a bit cautious. There were a lot of Coots on the other side of the Lake so a few of us were sent back round that way to see if us being there would encourage the birds toward the area with the food that had been put out.

Lapwings & Golden Plover over the lake
Going back over to this side of the Lake was lovely. It was just getting light and it was incredibly atmospheric being there. It was very still and really quiet with only the calls of Curlew and Lapwing to hear. The sun started peaking through the trees over the mounds of gravel and it was just slightly misty. I was tired, but I really enjoyed being there in the moment.

We didn't know if our plan was working as we watched the birds over the water from our screen but suddenly the peace was briefly shattered by the boom of the cannons. Yes cannon netting is just that. A few cannon are set up to fire big weights which pull a big net over a target area. The calm was soon restored as the Lapwings, Curlew and Golden Plover that had flown up settled back down as cannon smoke drifted across the lake.

It wasn't until we got back round to the netting area that we found out what was caught. in fact 27 Coots had been caught and they were all safely bagged up ready to ring. Not the biggest catch but a good number to ring.

One of the Coots that was ringed. They're lovely up close.
You might wonder why birds are ringed. Well it's all about understanding more about birds lives, how they move around, how long they live, their population levels etc. Collecting all this data lets us understand the birds more and to be able to help them better if they are suffering population declines.

It's a quick process when the rings are put on, the birds are weighed, their wing length is measured, their age and sex is worked out. This time round as well a colour ring was added. Two were recaptured but I didn't see the one I had ringed last year. It had the ring  DAZ which for me stands for Did Attack Zach - they are feisty little birds as you can read in last years post!

It only took until about 10.30 to do all the ringing and then pack up. The big nets had to be put away as did the cannons - they're a bit heavy! Then it was back to the Quarry office for a cup of tea and a piece of homemade flapjack thanks to the Quarry manager Chris's wife.

Packing the cannons away.
Apologies for the crimes against fashion  but you really
needed to dress up warm!
Before we headed home Dad and I popped to the main reserve at Nosterfield to see what was about. The water levels are really low but there was plenty to see. We were only there about 30 minutes but there were hundreds of birds. A Heron, Redshank, Teal, Wigeon, Grey Heron, Curlew, Golden Plover. Rooks, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese. 

Again it was really quiet, we were the only ones in the hide and we couldn't see anyone else on the reserve all we could hear were the call of Lapwing and Curlew. So the morning ended like it had started really relaxing and atmospheric. 

So if you fancy a new hobby and want to help nature - try ringing and birdwatching.  

Cold? Sometimes very! Tiring? Well you do get up early! Worth it? Always!

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.