Tuesday, 29 November 2016


Shocking toll of bird destruction along Kingdom of Jordan migration route

Eurasian Golden Orioles (Oriolus oriolus) ©RSCN
Golden orioles - victims of unlawful hunting
  ALMOST 7,000 dead birds have been seized following a hunting violation  almost breathtaking in its scale.

The birds included no fewer than 6,800 blackcaps, 40 golden orioles  and 45 laughing doves.

According to the wildlife protection authorities in the Kingdom of Jordan, the birds were in the possession of a single unlicensed  hunter who was arrested last month..

In a statement, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature said  most of the birds discovered were migrant species that had been hunted during the year in different private areas during their movement through desert.

A spokesperson declined to identify the individual responsible,  but he said  : “The the birds had been  frozen and packaged

"He was planning either to export the dead birds to another country in the region - possibly for them to be sold to upscale restaurants to be served  as a high-price delicacy.”

It  is illegal to hunt down wild birds and animals without obtaining a licence and in areas  where  hunting is not permitted during migration periods.

It is also illegal to kill, possess, transport, sell or display for selling wild birds and animals.

The RSCN has a team of rangers, and it also works closely with police.

It is intensifying inspection patrols in areas through  which birds are known to migrate  and setting up checkpoints to inspect  vehicles.

It is not known what penalties can be imposed on hunters convicted of  of offences.    

The Kingdom of Jordan's  tourist board was represented at the   Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water, near Stamford, in July as part of the country's push to encourage more visits from birders.                            
Sinai rosefinch - national bird of Jordan

"Our country is at the junction of Asia, Europe and Africa," said one of its stand representatives. "More than 430 different species have been recorded.

"The Rift Valley margins hold a superb range of raptors, including  Bonelli's eagle and Barbary falcon while the rocky valleys and deserts are home to long-billed pipit, thick-billed larks, streaked scrub warbler and red-rumped wheatear."

Another great site, located on the coast, is Aqaba, home to a bird observatory  where, in spring and autumn,  visitors can look forward to seeing countless migrant wagtails, warblers, shrikes, flycatchers, chats and buntings.

Between them, the range of habitats have attracted almost 500 different species

The Jordan Tourism Board is keen to attract more birders from the UK

Wednesday, 23 November 2016


Ring-necked parakeets have made themselves at home in a non-native environment (photo: JM Garg via Wikimedia Commons)
IS the spread of ring-necked parakeets a matter of concern?

Already common in many parts of London and the South-east, their UK range is now extending  - partly because of releases and escapes from zoos and private bird collections.

In the words of broadcaster and author Bill Oddie - who feeds them in the garden of his home in Highgate, North London - the species has become "an honorary citizen" of this country.

Because parakeets can out-compete native songbirds for feeding and nesting habitat, some have called for a cull, but this is rejected by the RSPB which favours a wait-and-watch approach.

It says: "The ring-necked, or rose-ringed, parakeet is the UK's most abundant naturalised parrot - it became established in the wild in the 1970s after captive birds escaped or were released.

"It is a well-known resident of the Greater London area, roosting communally in large flocks. 

"The population has been increasing steadily, though it remains concentrated in south-east England. 

"Birds are regularly reported elsewhere in Britain, and are likely to be local escapees.

"The ring-necked parakeet's native range is a broad belt of arid tropical countryside stretching from west Africa across lowland India south of the Himalayas where it is a common bird.

"Despite their tropical origin, parakeets are able to cope with the cold British winters, especially in suburban parks, large gardens and orchards where food supply is more reliable. 

"They feed on a wide variety of fruit, berries, nuts, seeds, grain and household scraps. 

"Parakeets are colourful and frequent visitors to bird tables and garden feeders, particularly during winter."

The charity continues: " Media coverage occasionally suggests that a cull of ring-necked parakeets may be necessary, due to their rapidly expanding numbers and concerns about their potential impact on native bird species such as woodpeckers, starlings and nuthatches, through competition for nest holes.

"The RSPB is not in favour of a cull of parakeets at this time, but believes that it is important that the spread of the ring-necked parakeet is monitored, and its potential for negative impacts on our native bird species assessed.

"Government is obliged to ensure that non-native species do not adversely affect native wildlife, and it has developed a policy framework for addressing the possible risks associated with such species becoming established. 

"This includes the production of evidence-based risk assessments of non-native species already in, or likely to reach, Great Britain. Decisions on the type of action necessary is based on the outcome of these risk assessments.

"Ring-necked parakeets, like all birds living in the wild in the UK, are protected by law. The species can be controlled under licence in England, but only in isolated cases where the birds pose a serious threat to conservation of a native species, are causing serious damage to crops or for air safety purposes."

The spread is likely to continue while zoos such as the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park & National Parrot Sanctuary - located at Friskney, between Boston and Skegness - adopts a relaxed (some would say irresponsible) approach.

It says in its publicity material: " We have approximately 30 parakeets that fly freely around our park and have nesting boxes around the site.

"They have become so accustomed to their freedom that catching them to put them back in a captive environment would be very stressful both for them and for us."

Sunday, 20 November 2016


Yellow wagtail - one of many  ground-nesting species imperilled by dogs

THE threat  posed to birds by Britain's fast-growing dog population has been put  under the spotlight by a county wildlife trust.
Bird and other nature charities seldom raise the question of canine menace for fear of sparking a backlash from their many dog-owning members.

But with the number of dogs in the UK now approaching  nine million, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has bravely decided the time has come to speak out.

In a hard-hitting article (whose author's identity is not divulged), it states: "Imagine you are a small ground-nesting bird.

"Everywhere there are threats from predators. You are constantly vigilant.

"Then suddenly, running towards you, there is a ferocious beast, many times your size and with jaws that could crush, eviscerate and swallow you.

"You are terrified. What's worse is that this beast and others like it regularly come here. In fact, the landscape is swarming with them.

"Instinct kicks in , you abandon the area. It is too dangerous."

The article continues: "Even in the time when wolves roamed these lands, there were never so many of them as there are dogs now. Wildlife has not evovled to deal with such an unprecedented number of predators.

"Areas with regular dog walking can see a 35 per cent reduction in wildlife.

"Dogs are a beloved companion for many people, but to wildlife they are a big and scary predator." 

At its nature reserve in Whisby, near Lincoln, there is a constant niggling worry that the county's last known breeding nightingales could be driven away.

 Wardens on LWT-owned reserves try to discourage dog-owners by educating them about the peril to birds and other wildlife  - but not all dog-owners take kindly to the advice. 

On its website, the LWT makes the following additional points: 

Wheatear - ground-feeding migrant that always flees dogs
  • Piles of dog dirt on sensitive habitats such as meadows and heathlands can change the nutrient levels in the soil, changing the species of plants that grow.
  • Dog dirt on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is classed as a Potentially Damaging Operation.
  • They may be domesticated but dogs are predators. Grazing livestock, birds, mammals and other animals are worried by the mere presence of a dog, even a well behaved one on a lead.
  • There have been a number of serious incidents of sheep on Trust nature reserves being attacked by dogs.
  • Ground nesting birds may be forced to desert their nests if dogs are frequently in the vicinity.
  • Disturbance by dogs, and humans, can cause seals to abandon their pups.
  • Dog dirt contains a micro-organism called Toxicaria canis that can cause blindness in people who come in contact with it. Many nature reserves are used for educational purposes. Dog dirt is a significant hazard to children and adults.
It offers a code of conduct for dog-walkers:

  • Please make sure you are allowed to walk a dog in the place you are visiting
  • Please keep your dog under close control at all times
  • Pick up after your dog and dispose of poo responsibly
  • Respect other visitors, especially those with children
  • Please do not allow your dog to jump up at other visitors
  • Please do not allow your dog or their lead to become entangled with other visitors
  • Please respect signs and requests from nature reserve team
     * The controversial article appears in the Winter 2016 edition of the Horncastle-based  LWT's quarterly magazine, Lapwings. Its website is: www.lincstrust.org.uk
A section of the controversial (and unsigned) article


Friday, 18 November 2016


Waxwings - sometimes found feeding in supermarket car parks
HOPES are high that it could be a bumper winter 2016-17 for waxwings.

Perhaps because of a food shortage in their native Scandinavia, sightings of this delightful visitor  have been reported during November from many parts of Britain, especially eastern counties such as Lincolnshire and Norfolk.

Individuals or parties of up to 20 or more have a happy knack of turning up in town centres and out-of-town supermarket car parks if there are plenty of  berry-laden cotoneaster or other shrubs and trees.

The BTO is predicting increasing numbers of arrivals in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, on sandy beaches, shorelarks have also been more conspicuous than in previous winters

Says the BTO: "Up to 100 birds have been seen at Holkham in North Norfolk,  with smaller numbers elsewhere along the East Coast. 

"A few have also reached further afield, including singles on Anglesey and in Hampshire."

Thursday, 17 November 2016


A last breather in Britain before these young swallows make their first flight to Africa
IT'S the second half of November but a few summer migrants are still being reported in Britain.

For instance, no fewer than eight swallows were noted at RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk along with a sand martin and a "mega-rare" cliff swallow - the 10th record for the UK - which was way off its traditional route between North and South America.

The sighting received prominent coverage in the East Anglian Daily Times.

There have also been a few ring ousels lingering in various parts of the country.

With forecasters predicting westerly winds originating from north-eastern Canada, it's fingers crossed for visits from rarities such as yellow-rumped or blackpoll warbler over the next fortnight or so.

These sometimes turn up on remote headland in Ireland  or western Scottish isles, though even less often on mainland Britain.

The cliff swallow - this bird was pictured in California (photo: DonDeBold/Flickr/ via Wikimedia Commons)


Author Don DeBold


Two nests found - the RSPB's Otmoor reserve 

AFTER an absence of more than 150 years, breeding bitterns have returned to Oxfordshire.

While the first booming bittern was recorded at the RSPB's Otmoor reserve in 2013, it was only  with the recent discovery of two nests that it was  established that breeding had taken place.

At Otmoor, which is near Oxford, the RSPB and the Environment Agency have been working together with an army of volunteers who transformed bare mud islands into a wildlife haven, planting more than 150,000 reed seedlings by hand over seven years. 

Now the reedbed has matured, it is the centrepiece of the reserve which is also home to otters, marsh harriers and cranes.

Says the RSPB's Otmoor site manager, David Wilding: “We are delighted - we hope to hear bitterns booming here for years to come. 

"We owe much of this progress both  to a  brilliant team of volunteers and to generous funding."

Agrees Graham Scholey of the Environment Agency: "The return of bitterns to breed is the icing on the cake of what has been a great habitat creation success story.” 

No information has been given on whether the breeding was successful.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016


"Trespassers" not welcome - ABP has recently strengthened the palisade fencing 

A POPULAR birding site  on the boundary of Grimsby and Cleethorpes  could be lost to industrial development.

Palisade fencing has been strengthened  around the perimeter by UK ports giant ABP in order  to block public access.

The site has potential  as a base for decommissioning redundant offshore oil and gas installations.

According to the company's  sustainable development manager, Tom Jeynes, this is one of the options being considered by the company for a  former railways sidings site - known locally as New Clee waterfront -  which lies between the Blundell Park home of Grimsby Town FC and the Humber Estuary.

The land, mostly scrub-dominated, is   of ecological interest, both  because it contains numerous wild flowers and because it is a stop-off point for migrating birds, including occasional  rarities such as red-backed shrike and even bluethroat.

Subject to planning permission being granted by  North East Lincolnshire Council, other development possibilities for the site  include maintenance workshops for servicing offshore windfarms, fish processing factories and additional berthing for shipping.

However, the current "front-runner" is to use the land for storage of cargo - possibly including cars which might involve the construction of multi-storey car parks.

Mr Jeynes was giving evidence at a two-day planning inquiry, being held at Grimsby Town Hall,  into an application by local resident Robert Palmer and supporters for an "historic route" through the land  to be confirmed as a footpath.

ABP is opposing the application because it believes a public footpath would compromise any future development proposals.

Mr Jeynes acknowledged that land had been  used for recreational purposes by "trespassers" gaining access through vandalised palisade perimeter fencing, but he said there had never been public access "as of right".                                                    
Grimsby's dock tower provides a backdrop to one of the numerous Keep Out signs 

He said the land posed a health and safety risk and that there had been cases of arson in which grass had been set alight.

Earlier, Andrew Fraser-Urquhart QC, representing ABP, maintained the company had inherited the site as successor body to the British Transport Commission.

"It is of no consequence that the land is currently vacant,"he declared. "It is part of port operational land."

The inquiry is being conducted on behalf of DEFRA by planning inspector Martin Elliott who has been hearing evidence from further witnesses in advance of conducting a site visit.

He is not expected to announce his decision until early in the New Year.                                         

Behind the fence - potential site for cargo storage?

Monday, 14 November 2016


Alison - important to enthuse children (photo: Andy Davison/ Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)

ALISON Steadman has agreed to become an ambassador for the London Wildlife Trust.

Although the comedy actress grew up in Liverpool, she  has lived in Highgate, North London,  for several years.

In her .leisure time, she loves walking in the capital's green spaces.

 “My love of birds and nature started when I was you."she says.. "We had a small garden which was my dad's pride and joy.

"He grew rhubarb, and I remember looking under the leaves and finding caterpillars - I didn’t know the names of them but I loved them.

"I don’t really see caterpillars in the garden anymore and I find that quite worrying.”

She continues: "“I think it is really important to encourage people to look in the garden and turn over a stone or a leaf and see what’s there. 

"With the internet, you can look stuff up immediately so you know what you’ve found. Once you get children interested in nature, it stays with them for the rest of their life.”

After finding fame with the 1970s TV plays Nuts in May, and Abigail’s Party, Alison began presenting nature programmes in the 1980s. 

“I did a show for children,"she says. "One week it was about ants, and there was a boy of 11 who talked about how they lived, and how they were better organised than us! 

"I loved doing that programme, my agent didn’t think I’d want it but I ended up having an absolute ball.”

In recent years, her enthusiasm for wildlife has seen her travel around the Shetlands for an ITV documentary. 

“We had a great guide called Brydon Thomason who showed us  puffins - they are the most wonderful creatures, I love the fact that they mate for life! 

"It was fascinating to learn about how their bright beaks are used for courtship.”

The work of the Trust that Alison deems most important is getting children enthused.

 “When my son was five, he brought a friend home for tea and there was a huge bumblebee at the window. 

"His friend wanted to kill it with a newspaper. I said ‘no’ and he looked at me like I was mad. 

"It was what he had been taught to do by his dad - children need to be taught that every creature is important and is not just something to be stamped on.”

Alison is also keen to ensure as much of London remains natural as possible.

"These big housing developments can be really unfriendly to nature and we need to do more to keep our green spaces,”  she adds.

*Alison Steadman is the  London Wildlife Trust's second ambassador for wildlife - the other is author and broadcaster David Lindo.                                               
Puffin (photo: CGP Grey/http://www.cgpgrey.com via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, 13 November 2016


Robin - star of supermarket TV commercial

THIS year's acclaimed festive TV advertisement  from upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose is set to  boost interest in birds (especially robins)  and migration.

It depicts the winter migration of a Nordic-hatched robin as it battles against bitter weather and the menace of predators to reach a British garden to find food - in the form of a mince pie - and a mate.

En route, it falls, exhausted, on to a trawler where it is  restored to strength, then released to continue its journey.

A consultant to the makers of the 90-second film was leading UK naturalist Chris Baines.

Are windfarms among the threats to migrating robins?

The subject is probably a bit too sensitive for Waitrose who, in the film, plump instead for the disorienting effects of a different man-made obstacle - the lantern of a lighthouse.

There is talk of the film being adapted for a book or even a computer game.

It can be viewed intermittently on commercial TV in the run-up to Christmas and at :


No prizes for guessing the origin of the mince pie

Below is the content of the press release put out by the supermarket chain to promote the advert.

The epic journey of a robin is the focus of the new Waitrose Christmas TV campaign, which airs for the first time on Sunday November 13th during ITV’s The X Factor results.

The  advert reflects the real-life migration of a young Scandinavian robin on an eventful journey
across mountains and seas.

When he finally reaches his home in a UK garden, the robin is reunited with his feathered companion to enjoy a festive treat - a Waitrose  mince pie - left for him by a young girl who has eagerly awaited his annual return.

The theme is the spirit of connection at the festive season and the joy of welcoming guests, because - in the words of the endline - "At Christmas, there’s nothing quite like Waitrose."

The advert, which has been created by adam&eveDDB, follows the supermarket’s successful spring adverts, which centred around the provenance of good food using innovative filming techniques to bring viewers close to the sources of some of the items produced by Waitrose farmers and growers around the UK.

The epic journey is matched by the equally epic soundtrack by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, adapting his track Cambridge, 1963 from his Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning score for The Theory of Everything.

Rupert Thomas, Waitrose's marketing days: "‘Coming home is a central theme at Christmas when welcoming, hosting and providing a special meal for loved ones is at the heart of celebrations.

"Sharing the best possible food and drink with family and friends is one of the great joys of the festive period and we hope that the determination of our robin resonates with viewers as they follow his journey back to where he belongs.

"It’s a story of love, courage and the importance of enjoyment with family and friends."

Directed by Sam Brown through Rogue Films, with post-production at The Mill, every element of the story was fact-checked by bird experts, ensuring the story is as close to reality and factually correct as possible.

Richard Brim, Executive Creative Director, adam&eveDDB, says: ‘We are really proud of this plucky little fella and his plight to get home for Christmas.

"It’s a warming story that speaks to the spirit of togetherness in the festive season and the joy of just coming home. It feels like a great way to wrap up a great year for Waitrose."

A book telling the story of the advert will arrive in branches and independent book shops from Monday November 14.

The film will feature in cinemas (2D from 14 Nov and 3D in December) while a game, developed by Manning Gottlieb OMD, will give social media followers an interactive experience of the robin’s journey home.

The appearance of a robin features  throughout the rest of the Christmas marketing activity at Waitrose, both in store and online. There will be various robin-related products available in store to coincide with the launch of the advert, including kitchenware, clothing, toys and gift wrap.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016




NIGHTJARS, choughs, marsh tits,  guillemots, red kites, gulls  and pied flycatchers are among the species that will fall under the spotlight at next month's (December 2-4) eagerly-awaited BTO annual conference.

Nightjar - Greg Conway and  Ian Henderson will provide an update on this strange species'  fortunes in Thetford Forest, Norfolk
As well as informative presentations, the event - to be held at Swanwick, near Alfreton in Derbyshire - will incorporate an art exhibition and sales of bird-related gifts, Swarovski optics and secondhand books, plus plenty of birding bonhomie.                                          

An enthusiastic welcome is assured from BTO's ever-enthusiastic director, Andy Clements

The proceedings will be opened by BTO director Andy Clements.

Following registration and a drinks reception on the Friday, there will just be one talk - Tony Cross and Adrienne Stratford will  describe 25 years of ringing choughs.

Chough - Tony Cross and Adrienne Stratford have spent a quarter of a century monitoring the progress in Wales of this rare corvid
Saturday's packed programme will include illustrated talks on the aforementioned and other species, with Ben Sheldon delivering The Witherby Lecture - Coping with a Variable World: Plasticity and Social Learning in the Great Tit.
Nicholas Watts will describe how he has made his farm near Spalding a haven for a range of species including tree sparrows and various raptors
Sunday morning's session will focus on  the decline of curlews, latest migration-tracking data and technology plus  the fate of farmland species, with one of the speakers being  Nicholas Watts, a bird-friendly Lincolnshire farmer.                                                            

The Hayes conference centre in Swanwick - venue for the conference

The full programme and booking details are  on the BTO website at: 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


Cranes - this year, 48 pairs raised 14 chicks
THE remarkable UK comeback of the common crane is continuing apace.

According to the RSPB, the population now stands at 160 with birds in locations as far apart as Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire, East Scotland, Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and South Wales.

It is thought there are now no fewer than 48 pairs - the highest number since the species returned to the UK in 1978 after an absence of more than 400 years. 

Says a RSPB spokesperson: "Standing at a height of 4ft, this graceful grey bird with a long, elegant neck is one of the tallest in the UK.

"Wild cranes were once a widespread breeding species before they became extinct  through hunting and the loss of their favoured wetland habitat around the 1600s.

"In 1978, a small number of wild cranes returned to the UK and established themselves in a small area of the Norfolk Broads before slowly spreading to other areas of eastern England, benefiting from work to improve their habitat at Lakenheath and the Nene Washes."

This year, the 48 pairs  raised 14 chicks to fledgling stage - two more than the average for the last five years.

Over the last five years,  60 chicks have been raised by wild cranes significantly adding to the UK population.

WWT Principal Conservation Breeding Officer Rebecca Lee  says: "It is a dream come true!

"We devised the project so that we could kickstart a population in the west in the hope that it would expand in tandem with those that had already settled in the east, and eventually the two would meet.

“It’s still early days, but it all seems to be happening. Cranes are well on track to become a true conservation success story for the UK.”

More details are at: www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk

* Photo: J.M. Garg via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 7 November 2016


Wildlife at risk - London's Heathrow Airport

THE UK's county wildlife trusts have waded into the row over the decision to approve an additional runway at London's Heathrow Airport.

This is by contrast with organisations such as the RSPB ("Giving Nature a Home") and Natural England which have so far been reticent to speak out. 

In a joint statement, the trusts say: "Vast effort must go into mitigating any airport expansion through investment in soil restoration, peatlands, energy efficiency and renewable energy.
"Given the very great value of a wildlife-rich, healthy natural environment, and the enormous pressure it faces, not least in the South east of England, any airport development must minimise its direct impacts on wildlife and  habitat.

"We need  thorough, evidence-based assessments of these potential impacts as early as possible, so that they can be annulled where possible or at least  minimised with effective mitigation."

The statement  continues: "Given what we know about habitat damage and loss of wildlife, it is  unacceptable for any major development to be approved unless it can be shown that it will have a net-positive impact on wildlife, wild places and the wider natural environment.

"If the Heathrow expansion goes ahead, development on this scale (which will include rerouting of the M25 motorway), will require a massive effort to ensure that important wildlife sites in the surrounding areas are retained and designed into plans from the outset. 

"Where wildlife habitats are lost, new habitat must be created as near as possible to the site and on a much greater scale than the area lost."

The trusts further note  that  access to high quality, wildlife-rich natural green space makes a very important contribution to public health, wellbeing and  the quality of life of millions of people in the South-east

They say there needs to be  "a thriving network of high quality wildlife-rich places possessed of maximum peace and tranquillity". 

* To end on a positive note, the American corporate giant United Technologies, is making significant strides, through its Pratt & Whitney division, to devise jet engines that cut fuel-burn and carbon emissions by as much as 16 per cent, thereby slashing the release of the tiny particulates that are though to cause lung and heart disease. While aviation generates only two per cent  of global carbon emissions, the impact is great because they are released in the upper atmosphere. The new engines should also be much less noisy than those currently in use.

* Photo of Heathrow Airport:  Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons