Tuesday, 20 October 2020



THERE has been a backlash to the news that the Duke of Cambridge has agreed to become patron of the BTO in succession to his grandfather, Prince Philip.

Describing the news as "very exciting", the BTO issued the statement below. 

"The patronage reflects the close alignment between two of The Duke of Cambridge’s long-standing areas of interest - supporting communities to protect their natural environment for future generations and helping children and young people to build their skills, confidence and aspirations.

"These are areas where the BTO is doing a growing body of work.

"With the support of His Royal Highness, the BTO wants to deliver the benefits of public participation in science through nature to many people, including those communities that have traditionally been under-represented." 

But despite the "excitement" of the BTO hierarchy, many in the birding community - including its own members - are dismayed.

This is because of the Duke's longstanding enthusiasm for  shooting grouse and other gamebirds - in keeping with a longstanding Royal tradition.

By close of play today, the BTO's Facebook page had received more than 350 complaints such as these below. 

Kate Willis: "Another grouse shooter that kills for fun and takes his young son along to watch." 

Shona Magill: "OMG Has the BTO lost the plot?"

Stuart Foster: " I can't think anyone less fitting for this. He takes his son shooting for goodness sake!"

Honor Wheeler: "I was considering joining this organisation, but, alas, with royals as patrons, I'm no longer interested."

Stuart Keen: "Oh dear, the BTO have just put a serious dent in their credibility."

Sid Durruti: "I've donated to the BTO over the years. No more."

Andrew Huyton: "I think I'll be cancelling my membership unless HRH denounces grouse shooting at the very least."

Brett Skerry: "Like making Mr Fox patron of chickens."

The BTO has not responded to the protests.

Before the brouhaha erupted, its chief executive Dr Andy Clements, said: "I am delighted that The Duke of Cambridge has become our patron, following on from his grandfather who worked so tirelessly on our behalf. 

"We hope that we will be able to support the Duke's strong interest in protecting the environment through our evidence-based work around environmental issues in the UK."

Friday, 9 October 2020


Target species for Cress Marsh include spoonbill and lapwing

A BUSY winter is ahead at Cress Marsh - the  bird reserve near Grimsby created by North East Lincolnshire Council to provide a home for  waders and wildfowl likely to be displaced by future industrial development in the area.

NELC and its regeneration partner, Engie, are keen to make the site, at Stallingborough,  more attractive  to birds such as Spoonbills, Little Egrets, Cormorants, Redshank, Golden Plover, Curlew and Lapwing. 

To this end, tall vegetation is being  cleared in order to enhance the habitat.

Says NELC's ecology technician, Si├ón Niblo: “Predators can hide in tall grass, and the birds prefer wide open space for roosting, so we have all been pitching in to clear vegetation  from the lagoon at the centre of the site. 

"This has to be done by hand and is no easy task, but it is important to make the ground more appealing for our feathering guests.” 

Sian is currently compiling a log of birds that have been recorded at the site, and, to date, she has 111 different species on her list.

The birds share Cress Marsh with butterflies, dragonflies, deer, foxes  and a herd of cattle which will be there until next month.

Meanwhile, the reserve - known as a mitigation site - has been shortlisted for a national award,  the Innovation in Property and Asset Management category of the local government achievement awards.

the site  was developed after consultation with Natural England, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the Humber Nature Partnership, the Environment Agency and landowners.

The chief feature is a large central lagoon, which feeds seven more water-filled ‘cells’ via pipework infrastructure.                                  

Rosebay willow herb and other invasive plants are being removed by hand


The bird hide that overlooks the main lagoon


Cress Marsh is open to birds - but not to the public

The main lagoon - not too many birds so far but the council hopes to make it more bird-attractive

The Wryneck says: Cress Marsh was an excellent initiative, but ornithologists monitoring the site have been underwhelmed by both the quantity and variety of species recorded. Benchmarked against the RSPB's Frampton Marsh reserve, near Boston, Cress Marsh performs poorly. One factor could be the overhead power cables which pose an obvious collision threat to birds, particularly after dark. It seems an odd oversight that this issue seems to have been disregarded by the various wildlife organisations which were consulted during the planning stage.

Sunday, 13 September 2020



This eccentric 17th Century painting, entitled Concert of The Birds, is due to be sold next Tuesday by auctioneers Christies at their Paris saleroom. The work, by Paul de Vos, is expected to fetch upwards of 250,000 Euros (£231,000). Not often that you see a whooper swan and great spotted woodpecker  in the same image. Somehow, it is hard to believe the music would be all that sweet on the ear.

Sunday, 23 August 2020



Arriving or leaving? Gillmor's white cliffs study of swallows

A SIGNED watercolour of swallows by acclaimed bird artist Robert Gillmor is one of the lots in an online auction which closes on Tuesday August 26.

Also included in the sale is a pencil drawing by Mary Fedden of hoopoes in a landscape.

The sale is being conducted by Salisbury-based Woolley and Wallis (01722 424500). 

The guide price for the swallows is £150-£200  and for the hoopoes £800-£1,200.

The works come from the estate of the late Dame Elisabeth Frink, herself a noted artist.

Hoopoes in a landscape


Toby - only one bad memory from fabulous time at Frampton

A SEASONAL warden at an RSPB reserve escaped injury in a nasty fall from his bicycle.

Toby Carter lost concentration while checking the sky to see if a raptor had put up a flock of waders.

He lost control as he pedalled over a speed-bump and hurtled over the handlebars - with his precious Zeiss binoculars around his neck and a scope in its harness on his  back.

Luckily, his head escaped serious impact with the road, but he was severely shaken and sustained heavy bruising plus serious cuts and grazes to his leg.

The incident happened last summer while the Bangor University Environmental Studies student was working at the Frampton Marshes reserve near Boston in Lincolnshire.

"Perhaps, I got a bit cocky,"  says Toby (20), who is from Leicestershire. "I thought I had already passed the speed-bump - the last of three on the way to one of the car parks.

"I think I'll bear my Frampton scars for the rest of my life!"

Toby made his revelation in a video about what otherwise was evidently an immensely enjoyable spell at Frampton where he saw a huge range of different birds, some of them rare and many, such as golden plover and wigeon  in what he described as "insane" quantities.

He compiled the video to coincide with this weekend's virtual Birdfair in his capacity as an 'ambassador' for the optics manufacturer, Zeiss, a longstanding supporter of the event.  

In his first week at the reserve, he found its 11th recorded red-veined darter, its  second record of lesser emperor dragonfly and second record of otter .

Fortunately, the otter did not make prey of the chicks of Frampton's first pair of breeding black-necked grebes.

Other highlights included maintaining an acquaintance with a long-staying long-billed dowitcher, marvelling at the purring of turtle doves, spotting a squacco heron and studying colour-ringed godwits and other waders to establish their migration patterns.

But there was much more to life as a seasonal warden than just detecting and watching the birds.

Toby, a birder since he was five, was also involved with organising children's activities, such as bug-hunting and mini-raft making, updating the record board, installing signage and producing a weekly blog for publication via social media.

From time to time, he was also interviewed by BBC Radio Lincolnshire.

In a nutshell what  message would he put out about Frampton Marsh?

"It's a fantastic reserve," he says. "Every day at Frampton is a good day - just don't fall off your bicycle!"


Did holidaying couple forget binoculars?

HATS off to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and fiancee Carrie Symonds on their choice of summer holiday location.

The remote wrest coast of Scotland is seldom less than fantastic for watching birds and other wildlife.

With luck, bird species likely to have been visible included eagles - white-tailed, golden or both.

 On their hikes,  they may well have encountered skylarks, meadow pipits, linnets, yellow or grey wagtails and maybe, on the marshier terrain, golden plover, curlew and common sandpiper.

Out to sea, there would have been gannets , skuas, terns, gulls and eider duck as well as herring and black-backed gulls. 

Guillemots, puffins and razorbills might also have been in view - and perhaps the occasional peregrine overhead.

However, their terrier, Dylan, was off the lead so he will probably have chased off sand-feeding waders such as dunlin, knot, ringed plover, oystercatcher, whimbrel and godwit.

At this time last year, she was a celebrity visitor to the British Birdfair at Rutland Water, near Stamford.

The seas hold for her a special fascination and she will doubtless have been scanning the water s for sightings of whales and porpoises.

However, there may have been an omission. Judging from the photographs, the couple forgot to take with them their binoculars.

Unfortunately, the couple who were with baby son Wilfred had to cut short their holiday break after the location was revealed in the Press, making their security vulnerable.

* Photo: Courtesy Carrie Symonds/Instagram


Monday, 10 August 2020


Lammergeier - what a magnificent creature!


A Lammergeier that has taken up residence - at least temporarily in the Peak District - has made headlines this summer. Delving through the ornithological archives, this intriguing item appeared in a 1912 edition of The Ibis, journal of the British Ornithologists' Union.

It is an established fact that the red colouring matter in the feathers of the Bearded Vulture, and also the colouring on its eggs, are due to superficial deposits of oxide of iron, but how the oxide gets there is still, I understand, a moot point. 

As regards the stains on the feathers, two theories have been advanced.

It has been suggested that these may be due to the fact (a) that the birds bathe in ferruginous streams or (b) that the iron is derived from the birds' blood. 

Ornithologist Allan Hume was inclined to think the latter as he emphatically states that the Lammergeier is "a very dirty bird and never washes". 

For the last twenty years or so, I have been closely attending to the habits of this bird and had hitherto always been under the impression that it neither bathes nor drinks water. 

It may, therefore, be of interest to some readers to know that, while out searching for nests of this species in a lonely mountain-glen in the Koti State, close to Sinda, in India, I came across a spot to which the Lammergeyers apparently habitually resort, not only to drink but also to bathe.

One of my native hunters had often assured me that he had frequently seen these birds bathing, but, up to this time I had refused to believe him.

Today (October 29, 1911), he exultingly drew my attention to this fact.

The spot selected by these Lammergeiers for drinking and bathing was at the bottom of a small waterfall, and, during the course of a couple of hours or so, I noticed no fewer than four of them follow each other in quick succession, and, without any hesitation, fly straight to this place.

Three of them drank and the fourth had a bath.

While drinking, the birds sat on a prominent stone which projected out from the middle of the water, and they always took frequent and long draughts. 

The bird which took a bath alighted at first close to the edge of the stream, then walked slowly into it, and dipped its head several times in the water and splashed about with its wings. 

After a short time, it walked back to the edge of the stream, preened its feathers a little, spread out its wings - apparently to dry them - and then took another dip. 

This was repeated several times, and the bath lasted for between ten and fifteen minutes.

I had no bottle or other vessel with me, and was therefore unable to bring away any of the water from this stream with a view to getting it analysed.

It would have been interesting to know for certain whether it contained any iron in solution or not. 

The next time that I happen to visit this spot, I shall not forget to bring away some of the water.

I note that Captain F. Adair - in his book,  A Summer in High Asia (p. 222) - mentions having shot a Lammergeier close to the Tagalang Pass, in Ladakh, when it was "drinking water at a stream".

It seems significant that, in confinement, the Bearded Vulture loses, or does not acquire, its tawny tint. 

Would it be possible to acquire this colouring matter on its feathers from mud-baths? 

I throw out this suggestion because, two or three years ago I noticed a Lammergeyer indulging in a bath of this nature on the ledge of a precipice. 

The bath lasted for about five minutes, and, at the end of it, the bird shook its feathers, raising a thick cloud of dust just as a fowl does. 

The late Dr. Adams appears also to have noticed these birds indulging in such baths.

He writes: "A red or cinnamon-coloured powder is plentifully distributed among the feathers of the neck and breast of young and adult individuals, and would seem to be composed of soil containing iron which they obtain from dusting themselves like other birds - a habit much indulged in by the denizens of bare rocky mountains, from the bear and ibex down to the mountain finch."


Carlton Grove

Simla, S.W. (Punjab) 


* Photo: Richard Bartz, Munich, via Wikimedia Commons