4 for the list June is a great month for visiting our renowned seabird colonies. Find the right spot and you can pretty well mop up on the key species, sitting on eggs or guarding chicks, or flying back and forth from fishing grounds to nest site. Away from the colonies you can watch seabirds passing or feeding offshore, or, in the case of the Black Guillemot, even close to certain cities and in harbours. Oliver Smart
Though appearing like a grey and white gull, the Fulmar is in fact a petrel, a member of the tubenose family. It is a cliff nester, found all round our coasts where there are suitable high ledges. Look for the stiff, straightwinged flight and grey rump and tail.
Easily our largest breeding seabird, the Gannet is massive (with a six-foot wingspan) and dazzling in its white adult plumage (with black wing tips). Younger birds (above) are browner, becoming increasingly white over several years. The sight of Gannets diving from the air for fish is one of the great spectacles of Brish birding.
A bit like a Guillemot with a distinctive flattened beak, the Razorbill is the closest bird we have to the extinct Great Auk. The plumage is more clean black than Guillemots, which are slightly chocolate and Razorbills tend to nest on lower slopes of cliffs in colonies.
Nigel Pye (Alamy)
The only real challenger the Puffin has for the crown of most attractive British seabird is this little cracker. It lives up to its name during the summer season, but the black is made extra special by the big white wing ovals and the bright red gape, legs and feet. It is a bird of rocky shores, nesting among boulders and can be found close to shore. birdwatching.co.uk 7
arthur jacobs Arthur Jacobs, a stalwart of West Midlands Bird Club since the late 1940s, has died aged 83. He was a popular field meetings secretary from 1961 to 1974, and his home ‘patch’ for many years was Upton Warren, of which he was head warden, visiting virtually every day until very recently.
the biggest stories from the birding world
Floods hit reserves hard snipe nests were wiped out in the spring flood waters
flooding elsewhere in the 150-mile catchment of the River Great Ouse. Jon Reeves said: “The Environment Agency is working hard to identify replacement land for the birds to nest to take the pressure off the Ouse Washes. Until this replacement land is in place, the birds will continue to face an uncertain future.” Other reserves to have suffered flooding include Minsmere, on the Suffolk coast, where Avocet and Black-headed Gull nests were washed away. Fairburn Ings, near Leeds, and Pulborough Brooks, in West Sussex, were also affected.
edwards’s Pheasant now ‘critically endanged’ The Edwards’s Pheasant, a smart blue-black cousin of the bird familiar in the British countryside, has been added to the Critically Endangered list, reserved for only the most threatened species in the world. It has not been seen in its small home range in central Vietnam since around 2000. Conservationists searched intensively in 2011 but found none. If it did become extinct, it would be the first pheasant species to have been lost in the 400 years since proper records began. Concern for the future of this species is such that the World Pheasant Association (WPA) and BirdLife International-Vietnam Programme are working together to organize immediate action. The most pressing need is for intensive surveys in the bird’s native habitat, to maximise chances of locating any remaining populations in the wild. Aviculturalists may provide another way to help 14 Bird Watching 2012
bring Edwards’s Pheasant back from the brink; birds they already hold in captive collections could play a vital role. If the threats to the species in the wild (hunting and habitat loss) are significantly reduced, a captive-bred population could be re-introduced, if agreed as part of an overall recovery strategy. More info on how to help at www.pheasant.org.uk
The wettest April in living memory has had a catastrophic effect on already-threatened wildlife, the RSPB has warned. Several of its 211 reserves suffered severe flooding during the persistent rain, including the internationally important Ouse Washes in East Anglia, home to the largest concentration of nesting waders in lowland England. Up to two metres of floodwater drowned the nests of an estimated 600 waders, including 37% of the lowland Snipe population of England and Wales. Others affected include large numbers of Redshanks and Lapwings, and most importantly of all, Black-tailed Godwits. The RSPB’s Ouse Washes site manager, Jon Reeves, says: “Following centuries of land drainage across the UK, the Ouse Washes is now the most important stronghold for these birds, after they have been largely forced out of other sites. Literally, we have all our eggs in one basket and we’ve lost them. It’s devastating to watch the nests succumb to the rising waters without being able to do anything to prevent it.” The Ouse Washes is used by the Environment Agency as part of the flood-relief system for the River Great Ouse, which flows from Northamptonshire, through Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire. In summer, the reserve is grazed by cattle to create the ideal conditions for ground-nesting birds. However, the Environment Agency has to open sluices to allow water onto the washes to prevent
turtle disaster Conservationists are embarking on an urgent mission to save the Turtle Dove from extinction. The three-year project, led by the RSPB, will aim to reverse a decline in the population of the farmland birds, deemed the most likely bird to be extinct in the UK by 2020. The Turtle Dove
owl caught on line An owl was rescued by the RSPCA after it got tangled in fishing line and was left hanging precariously from a tree. The male Tawny Owl was spotted on an island in the middle of a private fishing lake in Pebmarsh, Essex, by a passer-by. It is believed he had probably been dangling from the line by the tip of his wing overnight and most of the day. The RSPCA were called and three inspectors paddled a boat to get to the island to cut the bird free from the line and detangle him. He was taken to a wildlife centre for a check-up and later released back to the wild. Inspector Rosie Russon says the owl was very difficult to see as he was camouflaged and ‘playing dead’. She says: “This was a very lucky owl indeed. How the dog-walker spotted him out there, I really don’t know. There’s no doubt he would have died if he had not been seen, probably a slow, lingering death from starvation. He could not have freed himself from that tangle. The fact that he ‘played dead’ saved his life, too. If he had flapped to free himself he would have broken bones.”
Nest destroyed The RSPB and Severn Trent Water have expressed outrage at the destruction of the nest of one of Britain’s most persecuted raptors, with the RSPB offering a £1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. The crime is the latest in a long-running series of attacks on birds of prey in the Peak District, and leaves only one active Goshawk nest in the Derwent Valley, which previously held six pairs of these birds of prey. Mark Thomas, investigations officer with the RSPB, says: “Once again we’re faced with the destruction of birds of prey in Britain’s most visited national park. The sight of Goshawk eggs smashed, only days from hatching, lying on the forest floor is a heartbreaking one and proves that this bird is being systematically wiped out in the north of the Peak District.” Derbyshire Constabulary is encouraging anyone with any information relating to this incident to contact them on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Bird watching news population fell by more than 90% between 1997 and 2010. The project will aim to restore plants the birds feed on to the countryside. The birds’ diet consists almost entirely of small seeds from wild plants, which grow among crops. Changes in farming practices in recent decades mean these wild flowers – including vetch,
Fumitory and clover – are now scarce. As part of the project, the team will work with farmers to plant these seeds on their land. PeregriNe watch A pair of Peregrines have successfully produced three eggs in a nest high up on the front of an Aylesbury town centre building.
The spectacular raptors have been using a special nesting platform installed on County Hall in Walton Street to roost. Everyone is invited to keep a watch on the comings and goings at the nest thanks to two web cameras set up to stream live pictures of the falcons on to Aylesbury Vale District Council’s website,
Essex) hosted a reception at Westminster to highlight efforts to protect nature and the estuary’s communities and businesses from unsustainable development. Plans such as those put forward by architect Lord Foster would cause an immense amount of damage. Not including the supporting
airPort aNger MPs from both sides of the Thames estuary have expressed their opposition to the threat of an airport being built just offshore. Conservative MPs Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood, Kent) and David Amess (Southend West,
infrastructure of roads, rail-links and ancillary services, Lord Foster’s Thames Hub and its imagined runways and terminal would bury up to 20 square km of our best wildlife habitat. The RSPB is also alarmed by the ongoing damage that would be caused by carbon emissions from increased aviation.
behind the news Robert Thompson
MagNiFiceNt Moths June’s Moth Night is the perfect opportunity to learn more about a varied and vital element of the UK’s wildlife. Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation explains… Chris Manley
elephant hawk-moth Robert Thompson
have a look in the morning to see what has arrived. The excited anticipation of opening the trap will bring to mind the feelings of a childhood Christmas or birthday. There’ll be rustics, footmen, carpets, prominents, tigers, emeralds and hawk-moths – some will be local, born and bred on your patch, while others will be wanderers from different habitats or even different countries. New county records and even new UK species are not uncommon, even from garden-based moth traps. Moth traps are great, but you don’t need to have one to see and enjoy moths. Many species are active in the daytime, while nocturnal moths will also be attracted to lighted windows or outside lights. Moth Night 2012 is the ideal starting point for would-be ‘moth-ers’. Run by Atropos and Butterfly Conservation on June 21-23, this is a three day and night festival of moths, with events taking place across the UK. Attend a moth evening or carry out your own moth recording and submit the sightings online to create a snapshot of moth numbers across the country. See mothnight.info and mothscount.org. ■ See Bird Watching Bookshop, page 84, for great offers on moth guides.
oths, like much of our wildlife, are in decline, but interest in moths and moth recording is increasing rapidly as more and more people, including many birdwatchers, become aware of the diversity and beauty of these insects. Getting into moths has never been easier, with excellent fieldguides, websites and apps, active local groups and a national recording scheme. With a little effort and expenditure, a whole new world of wildlife will be revealed on your patch – bright colours, intricate patterns, intercontinental migrants, fearsome-looking caterpillars, day-flying moths and identification challenges to get the brain working. With some 2,500 species (and rising) on the British list and an expectation of seeing 300-plus species each year in your garden alone, there is a huge amount for you to get your teeth into. Most people start by getting a moth trap – a light to attract nocturnal moths mounted on a box to retain them unharmed until you are ready to look at them. Moth traps vary greatly in design, with costs starting at as little as £40 for those with a talent for DIY, or around £100 for a basic, ready-to-use trap. Put it out in the garden, plug it in and then
HigHland Fling Visit northern Scotland in the autumn and you’ll fall in love, says Gordon Hamlett
he valley was reverberating to roar of rutting Red Deer. As we approached the cottage it was apparent that there was going to be plenty of stag on stag action to keep us entertained. Sometimes, though, you have to be careful what you wish for. The books, well my books at least, didn’t explain that deer don’t come with an off switch. The bellowing continued through the night; all night, every night. This was not going to be a quiet holiday. A trip to the Scottish Highlands in autumn can be very different from a spring visit. The quality of the light is stunning, and coupled with the jaw-dropping scenery, this is a photographer’s dream. Two examples stand out. We were staying on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, as far west as you can get on the British mainland without getting your feet wet.
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Halfway through the holiday, we got up one morning and it was as if someone had flicked a switch. Autumn had happened overnight with a complete palette of reds, oranges and yellows. Another year, there was a bonanza crop of Rowan berries, so many that even the thrushes weren’t making much of an impact. The roadsides glowed scarlet, as if someone had cascaded buckets of brilliant rubies along your every route. Fantastic though the vibrant colours and hormonally-charged deer are, though, you are going to need more than that to entice you up north. So, what about the birds? Summer migrants ship out very early and with woodland birds flocking up, it can seem as if all the small birds have disappeared. The compensations, though, can be magnificent.
Scotland is ideally placed geographically to reap the benefits of the winter migration. Hundreds of thousands of birds are making their first landfall in the area. Skein upon skein of Pink-footed Geese fly over. Redwings and Fieldfares pour in, and you can watch migration in action, as flocks move through the valleys. Seaducks arrive en masse and there is always the chance of a rarity such as a King Eider or Surf Scoter among the large flocks of Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and Eiders. Young Golden Eagles are on the wing and can be particularly easy to see at this time of year; I’ve seen five Goldies and 14 Buzzards using the same thermal. When you catch up with the flocks in the woods, they can be spectacular, too. How do you fancy a flock of 200 Coal Tits with a dozen Crested Tits among them?
Autumn paints the Cairngorms in spectacular colours
Speyside makes an ideal base to explore the Highlands, with a good mix of habitats within easy reach. Most visitors stay in the Aviemore, Boat of Garten, Grantown-on-Spey ‘triangle’. All three locations offer easy access to the main roads if you want to explore further afield. While it can be fantastic to hire a remote cottage miles down the end of a valley, remember that you will have to drive that road twice a day. As the days get shorter, this journey can eat into your daylight hours. Highland miles are not fast miles.
Raptor-fest The Findhorn Valley is only half an hour or so from the Speyside triangle and is the first port of call for most birders. Apart from being a spectacular drive, this is a good place to see a great selection of birds of prey. Ospreys will head
south by early September, but you still have a good chance of Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine and Golden Eagle. We stopped last autumn at a spot where we had previously seen some Crossbills. There was no sign of them, but while watching a distant Peregrine, a juvenile White-tailed Eagle drifted slowly and majestically over our heads before landing in a tree on the opposite side of the river. Young White-tails roam far and wide and a bird often winters in the valley. Other raptors you might see here include Goshawk, Red Kite and Hen Harrier. There is a car park at the end of valley. You can walk as far as you want but most birders stop here and watch; the more pairs of eyes you have scanning the ridges, the better. Red Deer are easy to see here and you should find some feral goats,
too, or perhaps a Mountain Hare. Listen out for the deep bass ‘kronk’ of a Raven, often a good clue that something has invaded their air space. This is a great place to compare raptors side by side, something you don’t often see. Male Merlins look absolutely tiny against a female Peregrine and positively microscopic when mobbing a Golden Eagle.
That’s Moray The Moray Firth is a great place to look for seaducks and there are a number of excellent places to watch from. As you head north from Speyside though, it is always worthwhile taking the minor road that follows the southern shore of Lochindorb, about five miles north of Grantown on Spey. This is the most accessible area of prime birdwatching.co.uk 23
Reed Warbler will often be found lurking deep in reedbeds
go birding june
Walk 02: Cumbria
milton rigg wooD
Site guiDe John Miles
Native species return to a historic site Oliver Smart
his 156-acre wood belongs to the Woodland Trust, and has a mixed history, with standing stones found on its edge suggesting a more open landscape at one time, while the main oak woodland is around 150 years old. Several areas were clear felled, with Hybrid Larch, Douglas Fir and Norway Spruce being planted. The long-term management is to remove most of the conifers and bring back native species. Spring sees the return of some real classics such as Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and Wood Warblers, now hard to find in this part of Cumbria. There are plenty of other warblers to find with Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow and Garden Warblers present. Both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers are present along with Treecreepers and Nuthatches while there is a good mixture of tits including Marsh and Long-tailed. Birds of prey include Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel with records of Hobby, Roughlegged Buzzard, Peregrine and Goshawk. The two ponds have Mallard, Tufted Duck and
Moorhen, with visiting Grey Herons to feed on the frogs and toads. Roding Woodcock make an evening visit all the better, especially when you can find some mammals with Roe Deer, Badger, Fox and Brown Hare found here, not forgetting Red and Grey Squirrels. John Miles Park in the car park provided just off the A69. It is surrounded by conifers, so look out for the Crossbills that are often there. Follow the footpath, suitable for wheelchairs, out through the conifers and into a Sessile Oak woodland. Here you will find a number of species not found in the conifers. A pond and picnic table is provided. Look out for dragonflies. There are two circular walks, one keeping to the main wood, the other taking you over the railway line and back via the fish farm. Folly Wood is cut off from the main wood by the railway line. This has both conifers and oak woodland, offering a good chance of Woodcock.
V5 OS 1:50,000 Region 4 Northern England www.memory-map.co.uk 0870 743 0121
3 Carlisle 10m
Grid ref: NY 560 615 Postcode: CA8 2HF. How to get there: The wood is well placed on the A69 just outside Brampton. The turn-off is opposite the turn-off for Naworth Castle and the car park is on the right. Where to park: There is a car park just opposite the turn-off for Naworth, just off the A69. Distance and time: The shorter circular route is around 1.5km on a track through the wood. The longer walk is 3.5km. Give yourself one to three hours to cover the area. Terrain: The main tracks are laid out for you and are very firm and flat. Leaving the wood over the railway line, you join a lane which takes you back to the minor road. Here there is one hill to climb. Walking boots are advisable. Opening times: All year round walks. Facilities: Everything you might need is in nearby Brampton. Public transport: Trains run to Brampton station, 1km away from the longest walk, and buses run from Brampton to Alston and Brampton to Newcastle. Call Traveline: 0870 608 2608. Sites nearby: Go Birdings: Forest Head (March 2010), Talkin Tarn CP (May 2002); Tindale Tarn. Club contact: Carlisle Natural History Society, 01228 618736, www.tulliehouse.co. uk/carlisle-natural-history-society County recorder: Colin Raven, firstname.lastname@example.org Maps: OS Explorer 315, OS Landranger 86.
losT world How tidying up our countryside has created a fatal mess for our wildlife. By Ben Macdonald oday, we stand on the brink of the first mass ornithological extinction in recent times. In spite of the glamorous return of raptors to our skies, the trumpeting of Cranes over wild Broadland meres, or the ghostly march of egrets to colonise our coasts, the countryside is sick, and much of it is dying. Birds familiar to generations, like the Cuckoo or the Starling, may one day be the preserve only of poems or photos, as mythical as the Wolves and Elk that once frequented these shores. It has not always been this way. Today, if we look to the meadows of eastern Poland, or the valleys of the Picos de Europa, we see not only the last refuges of a pre-industrial world, but glimpse how our countryside might once have looked. Here, even villages remain under glorious attack from the natural world. In a landscape free from the need to tidy up, gardens merge with meadows, meadows with orchards, orchards with woodlands. Across these networked landscapes, as yet untouched by pesticides, throng the buzzing lifelines of once common British birds – insects in abundance. What we might term ‘corridors’ are, in these places, simply ramshackle expressions of nature, where habitats, and their associated species, blend seamlessly together. In such places, an inventory of garden birds bears startling resemblance to the accounts of many an early Victorian naturalist – Wrynecks in the ant-filled orchards; shrikes and Corn Crakes in the buzzing meadows. It is a sight both beautiful, for its existence, and painful, for its loss from modern Europe. In these realms, however, remains the rare opportunity to value, and examine, the landscapes and species once familiar to Britain. Many of today’s declines – those of Cuckoo or Willow Tit, for example – seemingly date back only to the 1970s. Others, like Corn Crake, go
back much further. Yet all their stories form part of an industrial narrative, one that takes us back to the very start of that revolution. If we are to reverse these species’ fortunes, we must first understand the long view. Drawing arbitrary lines in the sands of history isn’t always helpful, but we might do worse than 1830. This was when the naturalist William MacGillivray wrote, of the Corn Crake, that “few birds are more common, in so much that there is hardly a patch of yellow iris, or meadowsweet, or nettle or dock, or other tall weed, in which a crake or two might not be found”. Yet even then, as the first railroads were laid across a thronging countryside, the decline of the Wryneck was first observed. In some ways, we might regard this cryptic woodpecker as the first casualty of our modern landscape. Its very existence militates against the march of modern agriculture, the use of insecticides and the incessant need of modern Britain to tidy up, slowly removing the non-woodland trees and undisturbed ground that provide it with its two essential needs – an abundance of cavities and a high density of accessible ant larvae. As we might still see at the scruffy edge of a Polish petrol station, the Wryneck was once an afterthought of rural man, a bird so common as to be termed the Cuckoo’s mate. Even today, as scientist Murielle Mermod wrote recently in Ibis, the international bird science journal, “the persistence of Wrynecks is possible... as long as the essential resources (access to grounddwelling ants and breeding cavities) are present”. Yet even with such simple needs, our breeding Wrynecks were doomed. And, though they are 40 years gone, their UK extinction retains enormous significance, for it anticipates and explains the declines of many more species. Photos of the early Victorian landscape do not exist. Fortunately, the likes of Constable and
68 Bird Watching 2012
Ivy Close Images (Alamy)
Constable’s famous ‘The Hay-wain’, painted in 1821, shows the landscape of an older Britain. Note the range of vegetation types, the profusion of non-woodland trees and, most importantly, the ‘untamed’ character of the landscape as a whole
The situation Ben Macdonald describes will concern every birdwatcher. Habitat destruction is a huge threat to many of our bird species, and while reserves can slow declines, or preserve isolated populations temporarily, what’s really needed is joined-up thinking. The landscape linking those conservation islands and corridors needs to be transformed. This is where we can all play a part. One of the themes that emerged from our recent Best Bird Garden competition was that a little ‘mess’ goes a long way – leaving patches to grow unhindered, with wildflowers, weeds and the insects that go with them, pays an immediate dividend in attracting and supporting new bird populations. You can see the same if you’re on holiday in Spain or Portugal this summer – species such as Corn Bunting, fast declining here, thrive in the sort of scrubby, weedy areas that would bring the clean-up crews running over here. Now we’re challenging you to come up with ideas on spreading that philosophy. It might be as simple as pressuring your local council to leave verges, hedges and open spaces uncut wherever and whenever safety allows, or planting a scattering of non-woodland trees, but it will certainly involve resisting the urge to tidy up and make our landscape uniform, and sterile. We’ll be looking at the best ideas in depth, showing you how to put them into practice, and trying to turn the tide of decline. ■ Send us your thoughts by email or message by using the addresses on page 3.
Gainsborough give us a far more valuable and fully-coloured resource. Their paintings are not only things of enormous beauty, but they show us how similar our green and pleasant land once was to the scruffy, varied wilderness of Poland’s Biebrza or France’s Basses Vallées Angevines. They show us a rampant predominance of untamed land – vast tracts of soil, marsh, wet plains and meadows, broken only by a profusion of non-woodland trees such as Apple, Cherry or Elm. Lawns, fields and other monocultures had yet to be conceived. Looking at them, we can almost hear the Wrynecks complaining harshly from the gardens of nature-ridden cottages. Less nostalgically, we might see that such terms as ‘farmland’ and ‘woodland’ are rendered redundant when describing such a landscape. Here, cavities and ant-rich open land are not the feature of ‘orchards’, or ‘woodland’ – they simply characterise an entire landscape. It is little wonder, therefore, that birds such as the Wryneck were once afterthoughts in such a
habitat blickwinkel (Alamy)
wryneck is extinct as a breeding bird in Britain – and birds as familiar as starling could follow if we don’t act, says Ben Macdonald
place. Diversity of structure – the proximity of A to B; of cavities to soft soil, for example – was once the status quo. Today, such heterogeneity has all but gone. Only in our largest and most untidied realms does it remain. The cryptic Wryneck may have left us, but it gave us the clues we needed, and have often ignored. What both Victorian paintings and contemporary Polish landscapes show are states of semi-natural ‘mess’, in which man’s economic or cultural reluctance to tidy or tame the countryside results in the proximity of diverse habitat types, each benefiting the other. The landscapes painted by Constable are retained in every ancient corner of Europe, just as they are banished from every modern one. In such a context, thinking of Britain as an isolated conservation entity makes little sense. We are a post-industrial nation, sharing our landscape with most of western Europe. Likewise, the Wryneck has not shunned our shores in particular, but industrial Europe as a whole. It is simply a casualty of the two key changes that
have taken place in the last 200 years – a loss of diverse structure, and a loss of food. Such loss of structure is widely remarked upon in conservation. Yet, even today, there is remarkable ambivalence as to whether England’s meadows once truly brimmed with insects. A crippling lack of food, driving the starvation of many nestlings, has become an elephant in the conversation room – mentioned only in passing.
Not just birds Yet, we need look no further than the collections and accounts of Victorian lepidopterists, Britain’s long list of recent insect extinctions, or the fact that many of our lost species, such as Red-backed Shrike, remain common in the insect-rich meadows of an older Europe, to realise that a lack of food forms the single most important difference between the ecosystems of pre and post industrial Britain. On this note, we might see the Wryneck or Red-backed Shrike as early heralds of our countryside’s dwindling diet. Each has
In some ways, we might regard this cryptic woodpecker as the first casualty of our modern landscape” birdwatching.co.uk 69