Wednesday, 19 December 2012

@WiltsWildlife - Give as you Live

Today I have signed up to Give as you Live. This site is a great idea; put simply, you spend money on the internet and a percentage is given to the charity of your choice. It's win-win for everybody; doesn't cost anything to use and your charity gets extra cash. The charity I have chosen is Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and my first donation should be going through shortly. I encourage everybody to give it a go, you only need to sign-up, then download a little app, everything else is done for you. Simple, great, and helps out the Trust.

Monday, 17 December 2012

@PatchBirding - Morgan's Hill - Wiltshire Chalk Downland

I have now completed the map of my patch and present it here in all its glory.

Morgan's Hill - Patchwork Challenge Map - Centred on SU0267 Wiltshire
I've been able to enlarge my usual route to include a small village, Calstone Wellington; a small lake, chalk stream and sewage treatment works; a couple of patches of woodland; a golf course; and of course more chalk downland.

This should enable me to up my count by a reasonable amount by including any water, woodland and village birds that I find in the northern section. There is also much more unimproved downland and arable land that is observable, up and down slope, from within the patch boundaries, which should enable me to get a few more sightings that I otherwise wouldn't. In this category will go most raptors, owls and the farmland wading birds. Plus hopefully a few rarities.

I'm all ready. Can't wait for 1st January now. Let's get this on!

Friday, 14 December 2012

@PatchBirding Morgan's Hill - Patchwork Challenge

Morgan's Hill is nationally important for the quality of its chalk grassland and the diversity of fauna and butterflies. However, Morgan's Hill (and the North Wessex Downs in general) is not widely appreciated for its avifauna. 

I intend to show that this is a misconception and that, in fact, the North Wessex Downs is a great place to go birding, and maybe (with a little luck) see something unusual. 

To this end, I have taken up the Patchwork Challenge. Essentially I will record all the birds that I see in an area of 3 OS grid squares roughly centred on Morgan's Hill Reserve (SU0267). A score will be given, based on each species rarity, and then a yearly total is established. Highest yearly total, of all competitors, is the winner.

Now, when you compare my area with some of the other entrants, you can see that there is a high chance of coming last. I'm not going to be seeing many water birds; I'm not going to be seeing many waders; I'm not going to be seeing many sea birds; in fact I may not see anything particularly 'rare' at all. What I will be seeing is mainly farmland birds and birds of open country.

All the birds on the Farmland Bird Index are present, including tree sparrow, corn bunting and turtle dove. Then there will be species such as tree pipit, raven, stonechat, ring ouzel, redstart and cuckoo that turn up at various times. Raptors are in abundance; peregrine, merlin, hobby, red kite have all been seen. Owls; short-eared, barn, tawny. Then you have the 'hit the jackpot' types such as great grey shrike and dotterel. I'll be breaking out the bubbly if I see any of them though.

Have a look at 11. Marlborough Downs for a little more in-depth look at the wider area. The link takes you to the Wiltshire Ornithological Society website, which is well worth perusing.

As usual I will be uploading all my records to BirdTrack and WSBRC .

So, there you have it. Check out the Patchwork Challenge blog, to see what I'm up against (gulp). I will shortly be providing a map of my patch area. This shows the area around the reserve, from which I will make my patch of roughly 3 grid squares.

Friday, 30 November 2012

@WiltsWildlife Morgan's Hill BTO Cuckoo in the Congo

In this, the first BTO cuckoo update in a while, we can see that Lloyd, the Welsh cuckoo that flew over Morgan's Hill back in the summer, is now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He is the most southerly of the remaining cuckoo's being tracked, of which only a handful remain. Many have been lost along the way.

Check out Lloyd's progress here and see how he and the others are getting on. Bear in mind that updates are few and far between now that Lloyd has reached his over-wintering destination. This is because the satellite tracker only sends signals when there has been significant movement.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

@WiltsWildlife - Information and contact

If you have any photos, wildlife sightings or queries regarding Morgan's Hill, please either send them to the Trust, or directly to me on I am particularly interested in bird sightings from the grid reference SU0267 and the surrounding 1km buffer zone. Thank you.

Wildlife sightings can be reported here at the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre.

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust can be contacted directly here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

@WiltsWildlife - View of North Wiltshire from Morgan's Hill

The stunning view from the scarpe slope of Morgan's Hill, looking north over the Wiltshire countryside. Cherhill down and Lansdowne monument are at far right, Calne is out of view to the left. This photo was taken by Stephen Lord during September, from the old Roman road between Smallgrain picnic area and Morgan's Hill reserve.

Monday, 26 November 2012

@Wiltswildlife - Morgans Hill Nature Reserve

Morgan's Hill is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nature reserve owned by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. It is predominantly a chalk grassland site, important for it's wildflowers, orchids and butterflies. There is also a rich range of bird-life present on the reserve and the adjacent farmland and grassland.

Download a copy of the reserve map here.  Or view an online Ordnance Survey map here.

Further details on the reserve and Trust can be found here. The reserve is managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the reserve wardens are Tony Coultiss and Nick Self. I can be contacted about the reserve for any reason on the following email address:

Friday, 16 November 2012

EU Proposes massive cuts to UK's agri-environment schemes - Step up for Nature #RSPB

As a warden at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Morgan's Hill reserve, I see first hand the benefits to the countryside that are implemented and sustained by money from the UK's agri-environment schemes. It is a life-line, not only to farmland birds, but biodiversity as a whole.

Later this month we could very well see large cuts in this funding, if proposed EU plans are approved. Find out more information about the benefits of agri-environment schemes here, and more information about the proposed cuts and farmer's reactions here.

If you have a minute, please Step up for Nature, farmland birds and agri-environment schemes with the RSPB by emailing a letter to David Cameron here.

Thank you.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Lloyd - BTO Cuckoo Update

First post for a long old while. A lot of the BTO cuckoos have moved on and into Africa, but Lloyd is lagging behind, with a few others. He's currently going round in circles along the Mediterranean coast of Italy and France. He's probably building up his strength for the sea crossing. Check it out here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

BTO Cuckoo 115597 Name Update

My faithful pal BTO cuckoo 115597 has received a name! Check it out here. He's now called Lloyd, after John Lloyd, a long standing BTO regional representative. All the cuckoos are now named. Good luck to all on migration.

Monday, 9 July 2012

BTO Cuckoo 115597 Update

The latest position of BTO cuckoo 115597 is here, in the south of France, not far from the Alps and the border with Italy and Switzerland. There hasn't been an update for over a week, so I expect another soon. 115597 is no longer the most southerly cuckoo, there is one in Bosnia and another on the border between France and Spain. I wonder if they will loiter in this area for some time whilst building up the energy to cross the Mediterranean. and onwards into Africa? We shall soon see, I don't doubt.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Plant: Pyramidal orchid - Anacamptis pyramidalis

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) observed on chalk grassland at Olivers Castle, Roundway Down, eastern end of Marlborough Downs overlooking Bromham. I have found this great blog, Wild Orchids in Britain, which is definitely worth a look if you are interested in orchids.

Friday, 22 June 2012

@WiltsWildlife Invasive Plant Project @TCVTweets

On Tuesday our TCV Trowbridge group worked at removing Himalayan balsam from the river Wylye to the south of Warminster. We were working under the Wiltshire Wildlife Trusts Invasive Plant Project known as 'Source to Sea'.

@_BTO Cuckoo 115597 Update

Unnamed BTO cuckoo '115597' has already motored on down to the south of France. Check it out, he's the most southerly positioned of all the tagged cuckoos.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Sponsor 'my' BTO cuckoo please

Today I've noticed that one of the unnamed, tagged, BTO cuckoos has flown over Morgans Hill reserve twice in the last 30 days. You can follow 115597's progress here. I'll be donating £10 for his upkeep and board. If you would like to donate you can do so here, and if any kind and generous soul has £3000 knocking around that they don't really need, could they name him 'Morgan' for me. Thanks in advance.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust - Morgans Hill Reserve

Common Spotted Orchid
Yesterday I took up a new role as Assistant Reserve Warden at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's reserve at Morgans Hill on the Marlborough Downs. Morgans Hill is a superb area of mostly north facing chalk downland. It has a stunning array of orchids, wildflowers and butterflies. Unfortunately I didn't see any butterflies yesterday because the weather wasn't great but I was shown a good number of orchids and wildflowers by Reserve Warden, Tony Coultiss.

We spent several hours walking round the reserve discussing the role and generally observing what was happening on the reserve. I was on the look-out for birds whilst Tony showed me round.

There were a large number of yellowhammers, meadow pipits and skylarks. I saw a couple of ravens flying away from the reserve, a grey partridge in the car-park and best of all I spotted a red kite on the slopes just to the north of the site. Absolutely amazing bird and really pleased because that's the first time I've seen one in my locality.

Fly Orchid

Yellow Rattle

Here you can see some of the plants that we observed. The fly orchid is particularly rare and Tony had never seen any kidney vetch on the site in the previous six years. However, he knew

Kidney Vetch
Horseshoe Vetch
that  it  was  present because of the presence of a particular butterfly that only feeds on kidney vetch.

As things progress and I become more and more involved I will return to this subject in the future. No doubt I will have other observations and photos to share.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

DEFRA Backtrack on Buzzards (for now)

Today I am a very happy person, wildlife minister Richard Benyon and DEFRA, yesterday listened to public opinion and stopped the planned buzzard management 'research'. Full details can be found here.

Although the top conservationists took up the mantle and did what they do very well indeed (such as here and here), I have been over-joyed by the response of us 'ordinary' people. I am very proud that I stepped up and did my bit and I extend a very big thank-you to everyone else who did the same, especially those who were very active on Twitter.

However, I was not pleased with the response of Tim Bonner from Countryside Alliance here. Mr. Bonner, I hold nothing back when I say that you do not speak for the countryside as a whole. Many people, myself included, live and work in the country and do not agree with you in any way, shape or form. I make no apologies for subjecting you and DEFRA to a 'trial by Twitter', as you put it. In fact be prepared for more of the same on other issues.

I'll leave you today with the words of Matthew Chatfield which neatly encompass my views on this whole affair. It is an excellent article, on an excellent website. Check it out here.

Now if this was a project to investigate the actual extent of physical and economic damage caused by buzzards on shooting estates, that might be fair. But it isn’t. DEFRA has skipped the task of quantifying this damage and makes the awkward leap from hearing that lots of gamekeepers believe ‘buzzards have a harmful effect upon gamebirds' right across to deciding there is ‘an urgent need to identify management techniques’. What’s missing is firstly, any weighing up of the evidence that these perceived losses are genuine or have any significant impact; and secondly, any consideration of the merits – if any – of buzzards as a native species.

It’s a modest compensation that the project also includes some analysis of the problem, with a requirement to “establish a baseline of predation of pheasant poults both inside and close to release pens differentiating, where possible, between different predators.” But this is the work that should have been done first, before the rest of the study was designed – as it could quite possibly demonstrate that there is no need for it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Step right up and #SaveOurBuzzards

At the time that I wrote my blog on pheasants, here, little did I know that within a few, short days the touch paper would be lit on a DEFRA scandal of epic proportions. The poor old beleaguered pheasants have been well and truly caught in no-mans land. Shot by one side and not even wanted by the other.

I do not have a problem with pheasants as individuals, I love to watch their daily soap opera in my back garden and on my local patch. However, I am worried about the damage that millions of released pheasants may be causing to our countryside and woodland. We have to remember that pheasants are not native to this country and require careful management. Natures balance can be easily upset. Just look at what has happened to the red squirrels.

That is why management of buzzards to protect pheasants cannot be allowed to happen. The buzzard, or any other native raptor for that matter, must not become the 'fall-guy' for the appeasement of the shooting fraternity. Rather they should be looked upon as an integral part of non-native species management. Research in the USA has shown that a healthy raptor population can in fact be part of the solution to upsurges in the pheasant population and the increased ecological damage that this can cause. Let us not forget that a percentage of the released birds make it through to the feral population each season. They are breeding and they are becoming more numerous. I see it every summer in my own back garden.

The good news is that in this age of 'super fast technological wonders' we can all do something about this issue. We can sign e-petitions here and here. We can 'step up for nature' with the RSPB here. We can harness the power of Twitter and Facebook to contact our MP and make our voices heard. We can go 'once more into the breach' with this man here. But most importantly together we can #SaveOurBuzzards. It all depends on if you want to.

I want to, do you?

Friday, 25 May 2012

#SaveOurBuzzards - Update

I spent most of yesterday trying to help #SaveOurBuzzards. Here is what I achieved and found out:

  • The initial DEFRA project tender can be found here
  • Research by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, that seems to refute game-keepers claims, can be found here
  • DEFRA respond with this news post
  • A blog post by Mark Avery can be found here. Some very interesting comments
  • I urge you to sign the e-petition that can be found here
  • I sent a tweet to my MP, James Gray, asking for him to pass on my displeasure to DEFRA. To my surprise he tweeted back within an hour stating that he would write to DEFRA on my behalf. Needless to say I was very impressed with this. I urge you to do the same
  • The campaign has been given the twitter tag #SaveOurBuzzards. This is an attempt to get the campaign trending and reach more people.
  • I have started a petition on the HM Government e-petition website, however it still has to be checked and is not yet live. Other people may well have done this also
More to follow as and when necessary. Thanks.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The DEFRA Buzzard Scandal

Emergency blog post here regarding the DEFRA pilot scheme to protect pheasants by culling buzzards.

Now I won't go into all the details here as the majority will already know about it, but please read this blog post by Myky as it is very eloquently written and contains all the necessary links and information. To Myky, I hope you don't mind my blatant piggy-backing of your post, but I found it to be excellently written.

My main gripe with this issue is that this scheme is being introduced based purely on the 'say-so' of the gamekeepers. No scientific research has been implemented; no data has been compiled; no analysis can be carried out. Effectively buzzards will be culled because of myth, rumour, and the lure of money.  I am very unhappy and angry about this whole situation and I cannot, and will not, accept it. I urge all of you to get involved  as far as you are able. An email or letter to DEFRA could make all the difference.

I'll keep you updated on this issue as it progresses. Thank you.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

BBS - My thoughts

So, that's the first visit done and out the way. I have entered all my data online and set a date for the second visit. Overall I was pleased with how the visit went, considering it was my first time at attempting this survey. There were however some things that I could improve on, and others that I think I will speak to my regional representative about. In north Wiltshire this is Bill Quantrill, who has been very helpful to me so far.

Firstly, I should say that I enjoyed doing the survey a great deal. It was in no way a hardship or chore. However, it was quite hard to juggle clip-board, binoculars and other paraphernalia whilst simultaneously keeping one eye on the bird code list, one eye on the birds and my third eye on the road ahead, in-case of traffic. This illustrates two points for me.
  1. I need to spend some time studying the bird code list and try and memorise it a bit better.
  2. I'm not altogether happy about my chosen route.
This is because due to time constraints and my initial reluctance to speak to farmers and ask for access permission to their land, a large portion of my route consists of walking down a road. I would be happier if I could get access to a few fields which would therefore enable me to walk a route that fitted the criteria better. However, I am not even sure the route can be changed now. I will have to speak to Bill Quatrill about this.

I also need to improve my bird song recognition skills. I am not a complete novice at this, I can distinguish most of the common species and a few of the less common, but it is something that I could improve with a bit of work. Bill has come to the rescue here as he has sent me a CD entitled 'learning bird songs and calls for bird surveys in lowland Britain' by Geoff Sample. The introduction for each species even includes  the relevant BTO two-letter species code. Bingo! Just what I'm looking for. I can now 'kill two birds with one stone', as they say.

Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) penciled in for next weekend and Bird Track (BT) observations ongoing. That's all for now.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

BBS - Aim and purpose

Set up in 1994, the Breeding Bird Survey is designed to monitor the changes in numbers of birds each year across the UK. The BBS results are increasingly being used by governmental and non-governmental organisations to direct conservation policies. A full and in-depth description and overview of scientific methods can be found here.

BBS - Carrying out the survey

There was a frost in rural North Wiltshire last night, but as I got up and made my way to my BBS square the sky was clear, the sun was shining and it was starting to warm up. This was to be my early visit, one of two visits to be made this season. I made two habitat and reconnaissance visits over the last bank holiday to set things up, but this was to be the survey proper.

My survey square is OS 1km grid square ST9880 2 miles north east of Christian Malford and maybe 5 miles north east of Chippenham. To the north it is bordered by the M4 motorway and to the south by the Great Western Railway and the remnants of the Wilts and Berks canal. The majority of the square is covered in arable fields and grassland, some of which is grazed by sheep. There is also one road, a smattering of residential and farm buildings, wooded hedgerows and a small stream.

Put simply, the aim of the survey is to record all species of birds and mammals seen or heard in the randomly allocated square. This is done by walking steadily along two 1km transect lines, split into five 200m sections, whilst recording species in four different range bands. Ideally the transect lines should be exactly 1km long, running exactly north/south or east/west and at 500m apart. In practice this is rarely achievable and so my transects followed the best path possible.

Walking my chosen transects took, in total, 88 minutes. I started at 06:58 and finished at 08:20. My records comprised of 25 bird species, including whitethroat, buzzard and green woodpecker, 6 rabbits, 2 roe deer and some unidentified bird or mammal pellets. They were likely to be barn/tawny owl or buzzard, but they did seem awfully large. Strangely I didn't take a picture at the time as I was so engrossed with carrying out the survey. More the fool me, there's a lesson to be learnt there.

I have planed my second visit, weather permitting, for June 16th.

Friday, 11 May 2012

British Trust for Ornithology Breeding Bird Survey

Tomorrow I will be taking part in the BTO's (British Trust for Ornithology) BBS (Breeding Bird Survey). It is one of several BTO surveys that I participate in and basically involves surveying all the birds seen and heard in a randomly allocated 1km OS grid square. More information can be found here. And the BTO home page here.

The BTO is a superb organisation to get involved with and you can participate in as many, or as few, surveys as you like (you don't have to participate at all if you don't want to). I find that participating in organised scientific surveys really does take my bird watching to the next level and brings purpose to something that I enjoy. I would be out bird watching even without the BTO, so why not contribute to the conservation of all UK birds whilst I'm doing it?