Sunday, 30 November 2014


THERE are hopes that hawfinches, bramblings and redpolls might be among visitors to the new Longitude Wood on the outskirts of Grimsby.

A variety of trees, including hornbeams, were planted yesterday on a former 1950s landfill site almost  opposite St Michael’s Church in Great Coates.

The project is the brainchild of the John Harrison Foundation and the Woodland Trust, with assistance from other organisations such as the Rotary club and North East Lincolnshire Council.

In all, some 3,000 trees have been planted.

The work went ahead without the support of the two local NELC ward councillors who would have preferred a municipal-style children’s play area with conventional slides and swings.

Once the trees have become established, there will be a play area, but it will be in keeping with the surrounding environment.

As often at Grimsby-area community events, cadets were very much to the fore. 

I think that's just about straight - may it have a long and happy life!

It's all  hands to the turf     

The hope is that some, if not all, of the saplings will eventually reach the same height as the long-established tree in the background


 THE item below is extracted from the bulletin board of the Lincolnshire Bird Club website.

I have attended and enjoyed both the LBC annual guest lectures of the past two years - featuring Mark Avery and Stuart Butchart.

But both times I was struck by how few under-40s were present? In fact, quite a high number (including me) were over 60. As far as I could make out (though I may be wrong), there was not a single person aged under 20 in attendance in either year.

Why is this? Are today's young people not interested in birdwatching? Are we not doing enough to encourage them? If that is the case, the prospects for safeguarding the  birdlife of tomorrow don't appear too bright.

But maybe holding the event in the evening discourages attendance by young people.

In future years, might it be worth considering holding the same event on a Saturday afternoon to make it more accessible to people of all age groups?

For the responses see:

Why did two warblers fail to make the cut?
These two sister identification guides are useful for taking on holiday because of their slim pocket-size format.

Oddly, neither include any reference either to the yellow-browed warbler or Pallas’s leaf warbler.

What could be the reason for the omission? Did the authors just forget?

Thursday, 27 November 2014


THE former RAF control tower at Friskney, between Boston and Skegness, has this week failed to sell at auction.

It overlooks huge expanses of saltmarsh and  farm fields.

The building  may now be available privately on application to the agents.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


BIRD life should benefit from a new  community woodland to be planted on the edge of Grimsby.

To be located on the banks of the River Freshney in Great Coates, it  is the brainchild of  the John Harrison Foundation, the Woodland Trust and North East Lincolnshire Council.

The  Longitude Wood will help commemorate 300 years since John Harrison - a Grimsby-area man - made discoveries about longitude and latitude that proved  crucial in the development of maritime trade and exploration.

It is understood the project is proceeding objections from some residents and councillors who favoured development of the site with a skate park. 

Christina McGilligan-Fell, director of JHF, says: “This planting event is a wonderful opportunity to get children involved in the project from the very beginning, and we hope local schools will benefit from learning through their local landscape.” 

Her comment is endorsed by John Tucker, of the Woodland Trust, who stresses the importance of involving children because it encourages an appreciation of environmental values as they grow up. 

NELC  has designated an area of land for the planting, provided funding, and has agreed to maintain the woods. 

Support has also been forthcoming from Associated British Ports (who have also contributed to funding), local Rotarians and Grimsby in Bloom.

Future plans include picnic benches, sculptures and possibly a children’s play area.

In due course, Whitgift School pupils will plant bluebells, cowslips and other wildflowers.

It is hoped that there will be a big turnout of volunteers to help with the planting from 10am on Saturday November 29.

Friday, 21 November 2014


An important habitat where birds such as wigeon, redshank, jack snipe, twite and Lapland buntings are vulnerable to disturbance by dogs

DOG  is man's best friend!

Mostly, of course, they provide joyous and affectionate  companionship to their owners, both children and adults,  including the elderly who might otherwise be extremely lonely,

They are also precious for 101 other resaons - in industry, sport, medical  therapy (especially for the blind and for those with neurological conditions) and much else.

True, there are occasional cases when individual animals cause injury or even death to humans and livestock, but such incidents, invariably headline-making, are relatively few and far between.

But are there  now too many dogs in Britain?

Judging by the increasing numbers seen in public parks and on seaside beaches, the population has exploded over the past 15-20 years.

Especially for birders, this has caused a problem. Dogs are definitely  not birders' best friend. They generate disturbance.

Most birders will have many a tale to tell of  ground-dwelling feeders and breeders being flushed by  canines.

If a local authority creates a new wildlife reserve or "country park", sure as sure, it will soon be annexed as a favoured habitat for dog walkers.

Many of the birds will fly to pastures new. It would have been better if the "reserve" had never been created in the first place.

Among examples in Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, is the resort's so-called  "country park" where one edge of the lake  which used to attract ringed plovers and common sandpipers has now been given a unique special status as . . .  "a dog swimming area".

What can be done about it? Probably nothing - except perhaps reintroduction of the old dog licence fee.

But this won't happen. It would be expensive to administer and politically unpopular.

And the  plain fact is that dogs give immense enjoyment  to  their owners - and there are far more of them than there are birders.

The extent of their devotion was underlined by the comment of one greyhound owner. "A house without dogs is worse than a house without windows."

Most dog owners are  good, kindly  people who  like to share the pleasure of their pets with others. But there a  few who are the opposite. They are  intolerant of anyone or anything that challenges the "rights" of them and their animals.

When an elderly  parish councillor in Ingoldmells, near Skegness, complained about the extent of fouling on the streets of his village, his comments were reported in a local newspaper, and faeces were soon being  shovelled through the letter box on to his doormat. Understandably, he and his wife were mortified.

During this month, the debate  about dogs has been reopened with a vengeance on the bulletin board of the Lincolnshire Bird Club  - specifically in relation to the RSPB's Tetney Marsh reserve, south of Cleethorpes, where dogs frequently run loose.

One contributor, an RSPB leader,  wrote: " The dog walkers are a permanent  pain who seem to think it is their right  totally to ignore the signs for dogs to be kept under close control and not clear up after them.

"The voluntary  wardens do a grand job within the budget constraints put upon them, and they deserve our wholehearted support.

"I personally  have been verbally abused many times after making a simple request about whether  they had  noticed the signs about dogs.

"Some throw balls into the marsh for their animals to retrieve.

"For them, it is great fun - the dogs really enjoy it.

"One woman even told me the ducks were  enjoying themselves, too,  dodging her  spaniel as if it was also good fun for the wildfowl.

"What an idiot!"

Here are  the comments of Peter Short who oversees the fortunes of the Tetney reserve on behalf of the RSPB: "In regards the usage of the site with people with dogs, we have tried many approaches to try and solve this.

"We have approached the Press before and had bits published, but we have also been on the receiving end of Press articles instigated by dog walkers that have claimed that the RSPB is stopping public access to an area that is there right to access and is a public footpath.

"Although the land is private and there is actually no public access,  the Press, as usual, covered it in an unsympathetic way, giving the impression that people could go where they wanted with dogs rather than actually that  they were trespassing.

"They even had a quote from a member of another conservation body who owned a dog who thought that we were out of line.

"Unfortunately the dog lobby is very strong and vocal, and, at times, the odd individual  can be very aggressive."

Peter Short continues: "Ideally we should like to solve the dog walking problem sensibly, and this is being tackled via the relevant authorities who have undertaken a disturbance study and are formulating recommendation of how to manage problems of disturbance.

"This may include introducing car park charges to some car parks or creating specific areas for dog walking with free car parking. There will be other approaches like the recently created Humber Hounds that are promoting responsible dog ownership along the estuary,  and I feel that this is very positive.

"Ideally we should be trying to educate the majority of dog owners and work with them, trying not to alienate them against the conservation cause, but this will take time."

Wise words, indeed,  from Peter Short, but more ideas are needed.

If anyone can suggest a solution, please write to your local MP.

Invariably ignored by dog walkers - one of the signs at the approach to the reserve

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


EVER wondered why starling form huge aerial flocks known as murmurations? Could understanding this spectacular phenomenon  help stop or slow their decline?

These are questions to which  researchers at the Society of Biology and the University of Gloucestershire hope to find at least some of the answers.

It has  been suggested that  murmurations occur because starlings gain safety in numbers, confusing potential predators such as birds of prey before settling down to roost.

Another theory is that they could be gathering to keep warm or to exchange information.

Starling numbers have declined alarmingly over the last few years. Since the mid-1970s, the UK population has fallen by 66 per cent. The species is now red-listed as a bird of high conservation concern. 

The cause of the  decline  is unknown.

 Dr Anne Goodenough, of the University of Gloucestershire, and her team will analyse the data to establish how location, weather, sunset time, and season affect the size, frequency and time of murmurations.

The public are invited to contribute to the survey via :

Sunday, 16 November 2014


The former RAF watchtower at Friskney  - it would surely make a great bird observatory

 TWO superb bird habitats have come on to the market.

The first is the control tower at the former RAF Wainfleet bombing range at Friskney, between Boston and Skegness.

It has expansive views across the saltmarsh and over  The Wash estuary across to Hunstanton in North Norfolk.

Where better to watch short-eared owls, marsh harriers, waders, wildfowl and passerines on the move?

The guide price is £300,000 - £350,000 when it goes under the hammer as lot 36 at an auction to be held by Bagshaw Residential  at Derby on Wednesday November 26:

For additional info, see also the report (including video footage) carried by the BBC on its  regional news programme, Look North, at:

The second location is an area of 4.7 acres which contains no fewer than eight ponds, some surrounded by reedbed.

It doesn't take much imagination to guess what sort of species it might host.

Offers in the region of £25,000 are being sought by  agents Fisher German who are thought to be selling the site, which is on the outskirts of Wainfleet,  on behalf of  the Environment Agency.

Perhaps, it might be snapped up by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust - it would surely be a shame if to were become home to an angling club.

For more details, enter  Wainfleet in the Property Search box at:

Main Property Image
Located on the remote outskirts of Wainfleet, this wildlife site is available for about £25,000


Monday, 10 November 2014


Lucy McRobert - peer pressure concern

 YOUNG people are sometimes reluctant to admit an interest in birds or wildlife for fear of laying themselves open to being bullied.

That was the claim yesterday of Lucy McRobert in a hard-hitting presentation to an all-day  conference in Ravenshead, near Nottingham, that had been jointly organised by the BTO and county birdwatchers.

"Nature is no longer seen as an everyday part of growing up,"said Lucy, a recent graduate in her mid-2Os.  "It is put in a box and regarded as separate and niche.

"Because of peer pressure, young people are reticent to express an interest in  birds because they think they might be bullied - I find that terrifying!
"My own friends don't understand it when I tell them that I will be spending part of a Sunday speaking at a birdwatching conference."

Lucy is creative director of a fast-growing group, A Focus on Nature, that is  seeking both to change attitudes and to encourage students and other young people to make their mark in studying and recording bird-related and other environmental subjects .

Success is being made, but it's sometimes proving a hard slog. Talking to a group of Leicestershire schoolchildren, she was astounded when she picked up a snail by its shell and their  teacher told them: "Don't touch it - it's dirty."

Lucy expressed disappointment  that fashion stores such as Top Shop and New Look lacked the vision and imagination to stock clothes carry bold designs of birds.

"All they give us is cute little swallows,"she said. "What's wrong with, say, the pied wagtail or the hen harrier? That would  be a way to make a statement."

* More details about A Focus on Nature can be found at

* A discussion on the apparent decline in birdwatching among young people also features in a Lincolnshire Bird Club forum at



ALSO controversial was conservationist and blogger Mark Avery, who raised a chuckle when he described London's mayor, Boris Johnson, as an "idiot" for suggesting that the Thames estuary - an area "stuffed with birds" -  should be earmarked as location for a new airport.

Mark was also critical of the record of some corporate giants - he cited ports operator ABP as an exaample -  in seeking to disregard laws created to safeguard wildlife and the environment.

"I've never understood why business is so pathetically inept at underestimating rnajor legislation,"he declared.

But the former the RSPB's former conservation director reserved most of his wrath for gamekeepers for their continued illegal persecution of birds of prey such as hen harriers on grouse moors.

He likened them to "pimps, drug peddlars and thieves" in their readiness to destroy wildlife in the interests of commercial gain.

Mark also plugged his latest book, A Message from Martha, and said there was no guarantee that declining UK species such as turtle doves and tree sparrows would not follow the passenger pigeon into extinction.

Mark Avery (left) and Carl Cornish at the Nottingham conference



EARLIER in the conference, BTO research ecologist Blaise Martay (pictured below) spoke about her work analysing the impact of climate change on birds.

It is a complicated subject and has to been seen in the context of a whole array of other "change-drivers" such as intensive agriculture and movements in insect and even mammal populations.

She suggested that summer visitors  might be especially vulnerable because of restrained flexibility of migration time.

In general terms, bird populations seem to be shifting north - a notable example being the nuthatch.

Dragonflies are also moving north (100km over the past 25 years) while amphibians and reptiles are moving south (but their populations contracting).

Blaise noted that many mammals also seem to be increasing, though climate change was not necessarily a factor.

According to the evidence, aphids are also on the increase but moths are in decline.

Blaise said that the research indicated that, counter-intuitive though it may seem, songbirds tend not to breed so well in warm springs - possibly because their chicks hatch before caterpillars (whose emergence is governed by light) become plentiful.

For unknown reasons, birds seem to fare well in wet autumns. 



THE conference also included informative contributions from Blaise's BTO colleague, Chas Holt, and from Carl Cornish of the RSPB.

Chas, from East Sussex, is a University of Norwich graduate and an expert on nightingales, but the  focus on Sunday was on his analytic word with WeBS (Wetlands Bird Survey) which monitors UK wetland population trends of waders and wildfowl. See

The success of the scheme hinges on counts submitted - 80 per cent online - by some 3,100 volunteers. 

Interestingly, species that appear to be in decline include the pochard - significantly so - and, to a lesser extent, both great crested grebes and litte grebes.

White-fronted geese are also fewer, not least at Slimbridge,  but that may be because more birds are choosing to overwinter on the Netherlands coast.

Chas (pictured below) noted that the UK has 28 per cent of Europe's estuaries. Because of warmer winters, many waders seem to have relocated from those  on our  west coast to those on the east coast.

Meanwhile, Carl outlined some of the ongoing initiatives being  undertaken by the RSPB in Nottinghamshire - for instance, the bird-monitoring schemes on behalf of farmers at the Isle of Axholme boundary with North Lincolnshire.

He also addressed some of the challenges - for instance, the loss of precious bird-friendly wetland  habitat as the result of the impact of the West Stockwith pumping station flood alleviation scheme. Among species that appear to have been affected is Bewick's swan.

Notwithstanding, progress is being made even though, in Carl's words, "its sometimes feels like wading through treacle".



ANOTHER highlight of the days was Robin Brace's fast-paced photographic presentation on Nottinghamshire's best birding sights and some of the rarities seen sice the turn of the century

One of them was a late-autum record of a white-rumped  oceanic species, a Leach's petrel, which startled both Robin and fellow-birder Tony Wardell.

Said the speaker: "My first thought was - isn't that a bit late for a house martin?"

Although Nottinghamshire cannot compare with the Norfolk Coast and other birding hotspots of the East Coast, the Trent Valley is something of a migration conduit.

The county's network of reservoirs and gravel pits have also proved highly productive sites for birders.

Species featured in the talk - with photographs by Lynne Demaine, Nick Crouch and others - included: Ferruginous duck, Caspian tern, little swift, red-rumped swallow, melodious warbler, pied wheatear and penduline tit.

* The conference, which also included several sales and display stands, was introduced by Lynda Milner, BTO's regional representative for Nottinghamshire, who welcomed the 90 or so delegates.The day included an excellent buffet lunch, and the raffle raised £105.

Friday, 7 November 2014


DO birds have the capacity to experience a) the sense of pain and b) the emotion of fear?

Most people would probably answer yes to both - especially if they have seen a bird fall victim to a cat or any other predator?

While on a field trip to Australia, Prof Tim Birkhead, of Sheffield University, once saw a raptor take a cockatoo. “The former’s plaintive cries left me in no doubt that the bird was both terrified and in pain,” he says.

But in his fascinating book, Bird Sense – What It’s Like to Be a Bird, he goes on to describe witnessing another predation event - an attack by a peregrine on a puffin - which caused him to “modify” his view.

Because the puffin is a feisty bird with a powerful beak and sharp claws, the professor thought that the bird might escape - but it did not.

He writes: “Instead, it lay still looking up at its captor, which avoiding its gaze, stared resolutely out to sea.

”I imagine that the peregrine was waiting for its powerful clenching claws to do the business and for the puffin to die. It did not

”It was a stalemate. Five minutes passed with no obvious resolution in sight.

“The puffin wriggled slightly, its eyes were bright and it still looked full of life.”

Prof Birkhead continues: “Watching through my telescope, it was like a traffic accident, simultaneously appalling and compelling.

”Eventually, after 15 minutes, the falcon started to pluck the breast feathers from the puffin and five minutes later  began to eat  muscle from the puffins breast.

”Only after the peregrine had eaten its fill, a full 30 minutes after capture, did the puffin eventually expire.

”Did it feel pain? I don't know,  for, at no point during this grisly spectacle, did the puffin show any sign of distress.”

Bird Sense is full of insights and controversies, most of which have yet to be fully understood and resolved

Prof Birkhead explores whether  birds feel emotions and the extent to which they have a sense of smell and one of taste.
The mallard, for instance, has 400 taste buds (inside its bill rather than on its tongue) - which compares with 10,000 in humans.

He suggests that American robins use both vision and hearing to find worms, but they may also use smell and even “touch sensors” in their legs and feet

The author concludes: “At the present time, we have a good basic understanding of at least some of he senses of birds, but the best is yet to come.”

Bird Sense - What It’s Like to Be a Bird is published by Bloomsbury at £16.99


 THE continuing strength of the market in antiquarian bird books has been confirmed by the results of a sale (November 4)  at Sotheby’s of London

Among titles that sold for sums higher than pre-sale estimates were:

Buller: A History of the Birds of New Zealand (1873): £3,250

Dresser: Bee-Eaters (1884-6): £8,125

Sclater and Salvin: Exotic Ornithology (1869): £8,125

Bewick: History of British Birds (1797-1804): £2,750

Gould: Introduction to the Birds of Great Britain (1873): £438

Walcott: Synopsis of British Birds (1789); £15,000

Yarrell: A History of British Birds (1837-46): £2,250

Full details of the results (including the pre-sale estimates) are at::