Sunday, 18 October 2015

Netting some Oycs!

The Bury Inlet is well known for it's impressive numbers of Oystercatchers, these can range from 100 birds to 6 thousand plus! A few members from the SCAN ringing group based in North Wales had ventured down South to carry out the cannon netting for these Oycs. This has been done once a year for at least 15 years, maybe more! So the data set they have is very impressive. Dave Coker and Graham (and of course Ben the dog.) had stayed the day before we arrived to carry out a recce of the site to see the numbers each morning, over the two days they counted at least 5,000 oycs! I was the first to join the two Thursday evening, shortly followed by Steve Dodd, Molly and Josh and then Tara joined us later on in the evening. We then set out in the dark to the beach where we would be catching the Oycs in the morning. First of all it was setting up the nets under Steve's guidance and making sure everything was perfect so when we did fire, there wouldn't be any complications. After almost 2 hours worth of work, we were all set and ventures back to the Lodge to prepare ourselves for the early start.

Now the fun bit..

6am start, we all layered up and set off to do our jobs. Steve, Molly, Graham and Ben set out to the dunes to get the firing box connected and to watch the Oycs. Myself, Josh and Tara were at the Lodge loading up Steve's truck whilst Dave was opening the gate and collecting the key for us to drive down to the beach. We all piled into Steve's truck and set off down the sandy path ready to wait for the go time. It was a long waiting game, we had to stay quiet behind the dunes where Molly was waiting with the firing box for Steve's command. 

After about ten minutes of waiting, the Nation Trust rangers who wanted to help out, arrived and Dave briefed them on what to expect and what to do. Five more minutes waiting the oycs had moved in closer to the net, Steve took the chance and gave the command to fire! We were all expected was 100-200 Oycs which would be the top of the flock. Dave started the truck and raced over the dunes, quickly followed by the NT Ranges in the 4x4 which Steve jumped into and we raced across the sand to the nets. Once we arrived, everyone got into position and moved the birds further up the beach in the nets so they wouldn't be in the water. What I didn't notice was just how many birds we actually caught! Steve, Graham, Tara, Josh, Dave and Molly set out extracting the birds closest to the edge and the rest were covered to lower the panic in the birds. "BIRD!" was being yelled from all over the place and the NT Rangers and myself were collecting birds from everyone, sometimes with three or four being carried at once, which resulted in some very smelly trousers.. Once the first net was cleared, we moved onto the second net and then the realisation hit when I took some more birds back to Amy who was counting them going into the holding cages,  300 odd birds came out of the first net! After some further extracting and myself getting involved with extracting more birds. We reached the final count of 509 birds! Next up was the actual ringing. Everyone was given a demonstration and all took a bird out of the holding cage, aged it (3,5,6i,7,8 were the ages for our Oycs) and put a ring on it. The rings are a lot thicker than our average ring. Since the Oycs will batter them on the coast and to make sure they withstand the salt water. The rings were not easy to put on, but after a few, I got in the rhythm and everyone was working quickly to get through the birds. 

After four hours of solid hard work, we ringed the last bird and everyone reflected on the experience. Of the 509 birds, 42 of them were retraps including one control from Reykjavik, Sweden which was a nice surprise for everyone and a delight to see!Overall, I have fallen in love with Cannon netting and will be going to more of these ringing events across Wales. Wader ringing provided a challenge at first with the different ages, harder rings and a different style of catching than what I'm used to. But, It was so much fun and beneficial to me that I just have to do it again. Plus, It's amazing to see these birds up close instead of being a blob in the distance. What was surprising to me, was some deformities on some of the birds because of waste in the sea, some had wool wrapped around their legs which cut off some of the circulation and deformed the leg. It was such a shame to see, I'm always trying to educate people on the effect we are having to the ocean and this was a first-hand experience of that effect!

Thankyou to the National Trust rangers for helping out with the Cannon Netting process, it was a pleasure to have you along!

* Steve Dodd, Is a licensed Ringer with a Cannon Netting endorsement and able to supervise helpers. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

New neighbours: Relocation of Pine Martens

This plan has been in the works for some time now but the news is out and it's official, Pine Martens are being relocated to Wales! Pine Martens which are Britain's second rarest carnivore after the Scottish Wildcat, these smiley creatures have been absent from Wales for decades and now after the £1.2m pine marten recovery project conducted by the Vincent Wildlife Trust, these creatures will be gracing us with their present once more.
To give you an idea of the sheer pleasure it is to have Pine Martens in Wales, at current, there is no known population size in Wales because of how rare these creatures are to us! 20 Pine Martens are uprooting themselves and taking a journey down to Mid-Wales in the Autumn to be re-homed with a possibility of a further 20 being introduced in 2016, the population will hopefully be self-sufficient and hoping to make the move to other forests in Wales and then across the border into England, it's the least we can do after that devastating loss in Twickenham last week.. 

With the success of the reintroduction of the Red Kite in Wales, which is now booming! Scientists and like-minded people are hoping this relocation project of Pine Martens will bring the same amount of success and help with our wildlife tourism, after all almost everyone in Britain has been to Gigrin Farm or places of similar nature, right?! Most people do travel to Scotland to get a glimpse of this fury character, so why not make a shorter journey to Wales? Below is a Fact File off the BBC website, with credit to Getty Images, conservationist and naturalists absolutely lost their minds when a pine marten was found dead in 2012 in Powys. Okay, yeah it's not the start to a Disney like story but this proved that there were Martens in Wales and in Powys to be exact and this was the first confirmed sighting in decades and the first carcass for 50 years!

Vincent Wildlife Trust are currently looking for suitable sites across Mid-Wales to relocate the 20 Pine Martens. Ideal areas would have woodland habitat, few roads and no shooting aswell as a low fox population as their main predators are foxes and golden eagles.. I think we're okay with the golden eagle situation.. Surveys carried out suggests that there could be atleast 4,000 Pine Martens in Scotland! 
Having these cheeky chaps in Wales, will be an absolute delight! My personal opinion is that there is clearly a need to introduce this species elsewhere, with 4,000 in Scotland there is a risk of families becoming inbred but separating the genes and moving them around could well help the species to survive longer. Even with 4,000 it is still a highly threatened species since they cannot just live in Scotland alone, relocation is an ideal way to mix-genes, a species thriving in one location does not been it is stable, there is next-to-no pine martens well none that anybody knows of, in England and Wales which makes it ideal locations for these to be relocated to. It's not as if they are location thousands of Pine Martens to Wales, 20 will be relocated and they can begin to populate and hopefully gain in numbers. The people of Vincent Wildlife Trust have years of experience of bringing species back from the brink, for example the otter and water vole, both of which everyone loves to watch but with personal experience of surveying Water Voles it's clear to see that they do an amazing job and there is not water voles swarming people's homes, there is a gentle increase in the population but the way these species are, they're elusive meaning there is still a thrill to be able to catch a glimpse of any of these species. I will definitely be one of the first people taking the (very small) journey from my home to Mid-Wales in the hopes of seeing a Pine Marten in my home country. 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The wonders of bats

My favourite event of the year happens in both March and September at WWT Llanelli, this has to be the Bat Walks! Generally, they are filled up pretty quick and the night consists of crafts beforehand for the children to make themselves souvenirs to remember their experience, this is followed by the walk itself which is usually about an hour long to cover both sides of the centre, which is followed by everyone's favourite; hot drinks and biscuits!
I love bats, mainly because of the science behind them and how advanced they are and how they've adapted to living. It amazed me as a child that there were mammals that could fly! At this age it sounds silly, but as a 7 year old I assume I was thinking of some kind of flying pig or something, that was until I got some books and started to read about mammals and what they are capable of.

The bats we generally get at WWT Llanelli are Noctules, Common Pipistrelles and Soprano Pipistrelles. These species range from 25kHz (Noctule) to 55kHz (Pipistrelles) although it's easier to keep it on 50kHz so the children don't fiddle with the dial and can pick up both species making it more enjoyable. My job, is to be an educator of wildlife so bat walks are perfect for me since I can pass my love of bats across to a younger audience and hopefully encourage people to do more for bats and make them enjoyable, doing craft activities really helps to do this! We then divide the group of 52 into two groups, we group families with under 5s into one group meaning I have the flexibility to judge whether their little legs are struggling with an hour walk and go easier places or turn back for toilet breaks. We have three children's bat detectors and one expert one which Matt had the pleasure of using, I have my own so used that. Once outside, we headed down towards the Bewick swans since there's a good amount of tall trees which they usually like, this choice resulted in the group seeing some Pipistrelles flying around at dusk so the little one's could watch them aswell as here their little chipper coming through their detectors. 

After spending some time at the pond, we headed down towards to Yard and watched the Pipistelle's come out of their roost and fly above our heads which the children absolutely loved! This is why I love my job, I used to be a shy person with major anxiety (I cried on my first day..) and now I realise how far I've come in just a year, I can now lead walks and talk to the public without getting nervous twitches or having hot flusters, it helps that my job is to educate people, mainly children and a love and passion of mine. The next place to visit on our list, was to the reserve side and down towards Heron's Wing hide where they have rumoured to roost again meaning we have a great population going! This is where the naturalist side of a person really shines through since it's not just bats that like the hide, spiders are rather fond of it aswell meaning the bat poo gets stuck in the webs, which makes it easier for me to find some and pull it out to show everything. Fun fact about bat poo: It's my favourite poo because they usually eat midges and the occasional small insect meaning their poo gets the crushed up shell's in it, which makes it look sparkly! I have to say, the group I had were an absolute pleasure, I didn't have to tell any of them to stick by me (their still with their parents but a girl with a beeping machine and a massive torch is always a better attraction for some reason..), they asked questions and the ages I had were between 2-5 for the children and some very sensible answers came out, questions such as do the bats all live together or do they have their own homes? To you or I, as mature people the question seems rather silly, but for a 3 year old to be wondering about communal roosting is amazing!

Image credit to John Lewis, WWT Llanelli Volunteer Photographer.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Spotting the signs: Water Voles

Recently, I've been helping on the Reserve team at WWT Llanelli to carry out surveys on the land. One of the surveys was that of Water Voles to compare with previous data to see how the population is doing giving that the land has had some work done to it. Nothing says fun like wading through thick mud with water up to your waist and a crowd of people in a hide or walking past wondering what on earth you are doing! We had a briefing before we set out to remind ourselves what evidence we were looking for and be able to link it to Water Voles and nothing other species which find their way onto the land such as rats. The habitat you are generally looking for is near water and plenty of hiding places. River, pond and stream bank are a good place to start and make sure to get your face stuck into the reeds or vegetation and search the banks for signs, well-shaded areas are a bit hit-and-miss but worth checking anyway. 

Some basic kit you will need:

  • Safety goggles - Heath and safety! If you are shoving your face in reeds then goggles are vital since you don't want to tell your friends you were blinded by a piece of tall grass..
  • Clip board and recording sheets- self-explanatory really.
  • A trusty stick to separate the reeds whilst you look.
  • GPS finder if you have one if not the site code and a map will suffice.
  • Basic knowledge or help sheets to help with identifying signs, remember it could be something else not just a Water Vole!
  • And for the squeamish, rubber gloves for playing with latrines..

First up:

If you don't know what Latrine is, let me enlighten you. Latrine is just another word for poop. Water Vole latrine is usually a light brown, or brown colour depending on how fresh it is, if you give it a squeeze you will find vegetation within. Water Vole's will leave their latrine by burrows, runs or next to feeding remains but they can turn up anywhere! The easiest way to describe the size of it is that its about the size of your little finger nail so not very big but they are like tic-tac shapes, if they are pointed on the ends then you may have some rat latrine. 

Feeding Remains

Feeding remains are normally the easiest way to identify water vole activity, they eat their plants at a 45 degree angle by chewing the top with the corner of their mouth. They'll create a feeding remains pile in deep vegetation or their favourite spot to eat but, they can leave piles outside of burrows so if a pile is close to a bank its worth having a look for a burrow. Speaking of burrows..


Water vole burrows are quite hard to spot because of their size! The image above gives you a general idea of the size that you are looking for, the size can vary though so generally look for a hole that about the size of the hole when you put your thumb and middle finger together. With burrows, if you put your finger inside and can't feel the end then you have an actual burrows, if you can feel the end then you have an attempted burrows and should record it separately on your sheet, if your finger goes right the way through then you have yourself a water vole run, These are used to get through thick vegetation via the bank instead of swimming around. 


Footprints are extremely hard to come by but you may be lucky! Because Water Voles tend to use vegetation or swim then you don't usually find any but always worth looking. If you imagine the size of a Water Vole and the image above gives you a general idea of the size of the print, the front paw and the hind paw are different with the front looking almost hand like and very spread out with only four toes and the hind paw is like a hand again with five toes and a longer part of the back. It's always worth looking for other footprints around and note them down on your survey since that could have an impact on your Water Vole population.  
Activity idea for children: I always get my pre-school group to have a look around for prints and a fun thing to do is to make a plaster-cast of it for them to keep. If you don't have any children then you can still make a plaster cast of the print for future reference but it's a novelty piece for your home anyway!

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Fight Goes On

Last week, a response was issues by the Government regarding the petition to Ban driven grouse shooting! The response, was lets say less than satisfactory and very disappointing, it essentially disregarded all the scientific data regarding grouse shooting and said the grouse shooting is authorised by law meaning it is fine for it to be carried out. Yes, there was 6 successful nests in England this year which all fledged young, which is the positive! Then there's the negative.. One Hen Harrier went missing this year and plenty more Birds of Prey who were unfortunate to chose a shooting area as their breeding ground, have turned up dead either by poisoned or shot. In Wales there isn't that many Hen Harriers but the ones we do have are stable which is positive news, however, wouldn't it be amazing to get the whole population either stabilised or even just increasing!

Full Government response can be read here.
Hen Harrier day, which happened in August, was a huge success with people rallying together to show their support for the cause. Inspirational people spoke at the event, people such as Chris Packham, Mark Avery and so many more people who are committing their time to save this precious species. Despite these events being carried out across England, the numbers on the Government petition is only on 19,389. Don't get me wrong, the number already achieved is a massive relief that there are people who are willing to stand up and help defend the Hen Harrier, but, the petition which people signed to show their support for Chris Packham and the BBC keeping him gathered a whopping 700,00 signatures! It would be amazing if the people defending Chris Packham really believed in what he fights for, went on to sign the petition to Ban driven grouse shooting meaning we can reach the target of 100,000 to have it debated in Parliament. 

There are so many organisations and people fighting to save the beautiful Hen Harrier and their work continues despite Hen Harrier day being over. RSPB: Skydancer is a four year project which is ending next month, they have fought to protect the nesting areas of Hen Harriers, work closely with landowners and game organisers to game keepers and hen harriers can live alongside without the conflict, and educating the public on the important of saving the Hen Harrier. Other major companies such as Lush Cosmetics which thrives on being one of the few companies who only uses products which are not tested on animals, they have created a Bath bomb called, you guessed it: Skydancer to raise awareness for the issues and the fight surrounding the Hen Harrier and to raise funds to satellite tag these precious birds. I can vouch that this product is absolutely divine and for a mere £3.95 how can you resist it! After reading Mark Avery's book: Inglorious, your passion to save the Hen Harrier is fuelled and gives you such a drive to be more involved in this. Birds are not everyone's favourite but the complete uproar when Cecil, a lion who was shot in Africa makes you realise that people are affected by people killing or harming any animals, however, people are not helping to support the avian kind on their doorsteps. It is partly to do with the lack of media covered of Hen Harriers, and the only time it is covered in the newspaper is when there is a conviction against someone murdering Birds of Prey, by that time it is too late!!

The battle to save the Hen Harrier is not lost, nor is it won. We need everyone to get involved and share the message to protect these wonderful birds. You can be as outspoken and involved as you like, if you don't enjoy or want to be involved in the major events such as Hen Harrier Day or any conferences regarding saving the species then you can be a silent supporter and sign the petition and get involved with the many ways to raise money to protect the birds which I have touched upon previously with RSPB:SkyDancer, Lush's bath bomb and other merchandise which you can buy with all the money going towards projects to save the Hen Harrier. Show your support and donate to Birders Against and get a very trendy pin badge as a thankyou, you can wear it with pride!

Useful links:

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Grey Phalarope

After having a lack of birding after my return from Bardsey Bird Observatory two weeks ago, things perked up today. I was informed that there was a Grey Phalarope in Llanrhidian, despite someone putting their marker on the map on Birdguides in a totally different place to the name of the pond. I jumped in the car with my bins and camera ready to find this tiny little bird. Having just pulled up to the pond and having a quick look out the window, I couldn't see any birds other than the two rooks perched on a branch. This tiny little bird emerged from the shrub next to my foot and began feeding almost two meters in front of me, I began snapping away at it feeding when it then did spin and I immediately stopped and looked up to watch it continue to turn in circles, one of the best things I have seen!

It came a little closer into the rougher part of the pond and I set about getting that perfect shot without getting my camera soaked in the water. At one point he came a little too close and the lowest part of my zoom (150mm) was struggling to focus which meant putting the camera down and watching and making mental notes of the bird ready to do some sketches of it later on.

A little while past, and it moved a little further away meaning I could get back to taking photos of this cute little bird, its not often you can call birds cute but looking at this little one, how could you not?!
1000 photos later and a few giggles watching it do a few more spins, I decided to let it get on with feeding in peace and ventured back into my warm car out of the rain and fog and head home. Phalaropes are definitely one of my favourite birds and watching this particular one on my home ground just makes birding even better.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Bardsey Bird Observatory 2015

From the 21st to the 29th of August, Myself and 7 other members of Next Generation Birders visited the Welsh island of Bardsey to stay at the Bird Observatory. For the first two days there was only four of us on the island since the other four had gone to Birdfair, Myself, George, Ephraim and David had a two days to have a wander and get to know the island and what Steve and the team expected of us, the first day consisted of just getting to know eachother more but it was the Sunday where everything kicked off! The day started with Steffan finding a Balearic Shearwater which unfortunately none of us managed to get on, by noon we were just having a chat in the common room and doing quick seawatching sessions which resulted in me finding a Black Tern flying about Carreg Yr Honwy which is a small cluster of rocks off Bardsey, David had a look to confirm my ID and then quickly ran outside to find everyone else which failed miserably, by the time people had got the scopes on the area the bird had disappeared, Steve had two Black terns in the morning meaning mine was likely one of the two. Each night were all gathered in the Common Room to do Log, this is just collecting the sightings and counts from throughout the day, its a brilliant way to keep track of everything being seen on one day aswell as the amount of banter going on is brilliant!
#TeamBardsey group photo
Monday arrived and after setting up the nets in the garden and doing a few rounds, the other four and Ben arrived and everyone got stuck in with the moth trap. It was a regular event to rush to the scopes to watch either Common or Risso's dolphins jump or splash around in the sea aswell as listening to the Seal's calling to eachother from all over the island. One evening Steve, Steffan and Ben led a walk for everyone to get to know the Manx Shearwaters of Bardsey, due to the moon and the lack of clouds it meant that there wasn't a great deal of Manxies around but some youngsters were coming out of their burrows meaning we could ring them! Mark and Jeff had set up some Storm Petrel nets and after almost giving up and beginning to head back to the lodge, Mark radioed to say they have two Stormies in the nets! As you can probably tell by the face in the picture, I was ecstatic! The smell of them is just divine but hard to describe.

From Monday to Friday, both NGB teams: #TeamBardsey and #TeamSkokholm were competing in a Welsh Islands Bird Race. #TeamBardsey got off to a great start by racking up some common island birds meaning by day three we were already on 60/70 species and just relying on some more species to be pushed in by the winds. Since there was a lack of Manxies on the night, we decided to go down to the North End to search the burrows for Manxie chicks were haven't fledged yet. The day was a huge success having ringed 5 birds myself! Even the non-ringers were allowed to ring a bird under the guidance of Steve who is an A permit holder for Ringing. Everyone had an amazing time shoving their arms down burrows and pulling the little balls of fluff out and carrying down to where we had set up the ringing station, most of the birds were well behaved with only minor scratches and bites off the birds except one of mine which decided my whole front was the perfect place to do it's business!
 Overall, everyone had a great time on Bardsey and NGB cannot thank Steve, Emma, Steffan, Mark and all the guests who were so friendly towards us and cannot wait to start planning the next NGB trip to the island aswell as a few person trips for myself.