Scientist awarded posthumously for 'outstanding contribution' to conservation

The RSPB has posthumously awarded its medal to eminent scientist Dick Potts, who died at the end of March. He made a huge contribution to conservation science from the 1970s onwards, particularly through ground-breaking studies into the effects of chemicals on farmland birds, especially Grey Partridges.

His farmland bird research and conservation work was done at the Game Conservancy Trust (now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), where he was director general until 2002. The RSPB medal is the most prestigious award the wildlife charity gives out, and recognises outstanding contribution to nature conservation.

Calling all birders and birdlovers!

Fair Acre Press is running an Arts Council England-funded project called DIVERSIFLY – it's all about people's everyday encounters with the birds that we can easily see and hear in Britain's towns and cities.

It will be creating podcasts involving some of Britain's best known poets, along with the 'Urban Birder', David Lindo.

It will also produce a full colour poetry and art book – involving well-known poets and artists, chosen to reflect the diversity of Britain's human urban populations; plus the book will also include less known, even never-before-published poets and artists from all over Britain, and from all backgrounds and walks of life.

But first, you, Britain's resident bird experts and enthusiasts, are being asked for your help to inspire the poets and artists, with YOUR descriptions of and photographs of your own everyday encounters with British urban birds.

Fair Acre's editor, Nadia Kingsley, will include these in blogs which will remain on the Fair Acre Press website during and after the project is completed.

For more details, or to send writing or photos, click here.

Results of RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

The RSPB has released the following about the results of its Big Garden Birdwatch:

Close to half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey counting more than eight million birds during the 38th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, witnessing some exciting and unusual visitors.

The event held over the last weekend in January revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings. These attractive looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every 7-8 years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia. Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were seen in around 11 times more gardens in 2017 compared to the last couple of years, with sightings as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland.

Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors. Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwing, fieldfare and brambling, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.  

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientists, said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. So to have over half-a-million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing. Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.

“In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case. Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries. With it only happening once every 7-8 years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”

There was also good news for robins, with the average number seen visiting gardens at its highest level since 1986, helping it climb two places to number seven, its joint highest-ever position in the Big Garden  Birdwatch rankings. Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 93% of UK gardens.

The survey also highlighted a downturn in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-11%), great tits (-10%) and coal tits (-14%) on last year’s figures. Dr Hayhow explained: “Numbers of small bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that the prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there are fewer to be seen in gardens.”

This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds. 

Claire Thomas, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: “This year was another incredible year for the Big Garden Birdwatch, with our favourite garden birds like starlings, robins and goldfinches, joined in the gardens up and down the country by more unusual visitors. Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds – throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter. If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing some declines.”

The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children spend an hour in nature counting birds. Blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the ninth year in succession with over 88% schools spotting at least one. The top three was rounded off by starling and woodpigeon.

Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.

For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results – www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

Scottish gull populations numbers decline

Gull populations on a Scottish island have suffered as a result of a declining quantity of fish landed

Research published in the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) journal Bird Study, looked at the breeding populations of Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull on the Hebridean island of Canna, and the relationship between them and the fall in the quantity of fish landed in the nearby harbour of Mallaig.

Between 1985-2000, an annual average of 13,726 tonnes of fish was landed there, but between 2007-2014, this fell to 4,456 tonnes. The number of breeding pairs of Herring Gulls peaked at 1,525 in 1988, Great Black-backed Gulls reached 90 pairs around the same time and the highest number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls was 63 pairs. 

But at the last count, breeding gulls on Canna were 95 pairs of Herring Gulls, 18 pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls and 13 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. This population decline has also been associated with low breeding success, with only a small number of chicks successfully fledging in more recent years.

Dr Viola Ross Smith, gull expert at the BTO, said: “Breeding gulls have a bad reputation, especially in urban areas, but it is worth remembering that all these species are classed as Birds of Conservation Concern, and the Herring Gull is on the Red List. It therefore seems important to identify the causes of population decline in rural colonies such as Canna, and find ways to conserve the birds at these sites, especially since gulls that fail to breed successfully are known to seek breeding opportunities elsewhere, including in towns and cities.”

Bird Watching magazine launches 2017 birding challenge

Do you want to enjoy your best birdwatching year ever?

#My200BirdYear is Bird Watching’s challenge for birders of all ages and abilities, encouraging you to see 200 species in the course of 2017.

They can be anything from the birds you see on your back garden feeders, to seabirds passing offshore as you relax on the beach. There are no restrictions on where you do your birdwatching, and you won’t have to wait for your ticks to be approved by a committee – it’s all about enjoying new birds, and learning more about the wildlife all around us.

Pic: Tom Bailey

Pic: Tom Bailey

Here at Britain’s best-selling birdwatching magazine, we want to inspire you to get out and watching birds, whether it’s on a half-hour stroll during your lunch hour, or a week-long trip to an avian hotspot.

We’ll provide motivation, expert advice, and an online community to celebrate your milestones, your best days of birding, and your most memorable sightings, plus free content and goodies from our partners.

In the magazine, we’ll show you how dozens of species that have eluded you in the past are within easy reach, by mastering basic ID skills and fieldcraft, by being in the right place at the right time, and by taking the chance to watch birds whenever you can.

Sign up here now to get updates, exclusive content, competitions and discounts, plus the chance to go birdwatching with members of the Bird Watching team at key locations.

Get ready to enjoy a life-changing year – one bird at a time!

Bird Watching editor Matt Merritt explains #My200BirdYear

Green Sandpiper tracked from UK to Norway

A cutting edge bird-tagging project has tracked a Green Sandpiper all the way from Hertfordshire to Norway and back.

The GPS tags, which weigh only a gram, have been fitted to the birds over the last four years to find out where the Green Sandpipers from Lemsford Springs near Welwyn Garden City go to breed.

This year, one of the tagged birds was tracked at intervals between April and July, and was found to have undertaken a non-stop 900km flight to Norway, before breeding, and returning to Lemsford Springs. This particular Green Sandpiper appears to have left the nature reserve on April 26th, and arrived at the south Norwegian island of Store Saesöy only two days later, having flown over the North Sea without a break. The bird then continued to travel to its breeding grounds near Trondheim, before returning to the UK in June.

Laura Baker, reserves officer at Lemsford, called the news of the tracked journey “exciting,” adding that the news showed “what can be achieved in conservation when tried and tested methods are teamed up with new science.”

It is this teaming up that has led to Lemsford Springs becoming one of the best places in the UK to see Green Sandpipers. The birds stay on the reserve for up to 10 months every year, due to the availability of open water and freshwater shrimps year round, achieved in part by the planting of cress beds. The team at the reserve are hoping to use their new knowledge of the Green Sandpiper’s movements to further improve the conservation of the species.

Chris Packham calls for ban on grouse shooting

Chris Packham and Dr Mark Avery (copyright Chris Packham 2016)

Chris Packham and Dr Mark Avery (copyright Chris Packham 2016)

TV naturalist Chris Packham has joined forces with environmental campaigner Dr Mark Avery to launch an online campaign to encourage people to sign an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Campaigners say that grouse shooting for 'sport' depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares in large numbers and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including Hen Harriers.

Chris told Bird Watching magazine: “Like many other birders I grew up thinking that the persecution of our birds of prey would become a thing of the past in my lifetime. But sadly that is not the case, indeed in recent times it’s actually begun to get worse.

“And it’s illegal, a crime, and yet even if the perpetrators are dragged into court the sentences are paltry. Why are there less than a handful of Hen Harrier breeding in England . . .  well, it’s simple – they are killed on grouse moors. Why is the population of Golden Eagles not spreading . . . again it’s simple, because they are killed on grouse moors.”

Chris added that attempts to work with shooting groups to reach a compromise had failed.

He said: “For years, conservationists have tried to liaise with, work with, compromise with this part of the shooting fraternity. But this has failed, wholesale, and so I have run out of patience and we have run out of time. That’s why I am a signatory to the petition to ban driven grouse shooting. If you want the UK’s young birders to enjoy the raptors we should have then can I please ask you to think about signing it too.”

The petition can be found at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

Chris has produced videos outlining the campaign which you can watch here:

Video 1 – The Real Price of Grouse

Video 2 - The Real Price of Grouse: An Introduction to Driven Grouse Shooting 

 

Video 3 - The Real Price of Grouse: Greenhouse Gases

VIDEO 4 – THE REAL PRICE OF GROUSE: TRAPS

RSPB monitoring Whinchats

The RSPB has fitted tracking devices to 19 Whinchats at their Geltsdale reserve in an attempt to find out why these migrants are in serious decline.

Whinchats migrate from Africa every year to breed in the uplands of the UK, but since the mid-1990s the number of birds arriving here has halved.

RSPB conservation scientist Malcolm Burgess and three volunteers located and tagged the birds over the summer, and are hoping to use the information gathered to better map the species movements and discover where they overwinter.

New online resource for birding holidays

A new website launched by Blue Sky Wildlife offers birdwatching and wildlife enthusiasts a new way to search for worldwide ecotourism and wildlife tours.

Thirty-four established and award winning wildlife tour operators and companies are already listed on the site, covering 24 countries, which is anticipated to grow to more than 100 within the next six months.

The new website offers the flexibility to search for all kinds of holiday experiences, taking into account conservation, families, photography and trekking. Independent birders who prefer to work through their own personal species list can now search for the right tour operator by bird species name, directly from the keyword search area.

The birdwatching holidays and experiences include everything from photography workshops to a boat trip off the coast of Kaikoura admiring magnificent Wandering Albatross in New Zealand, and from a variety of rainforest adventures in Peru, Colombia or Jamaica to a 30-day mega bird watching tour in Uganda.

“We were inspired to launch this new website as we felt there was nothing like this for the birdwatching and wildlife industry, while seeking to elevate conservation as a selection criteria for birders without compromising on their overall wildlife experience,” said Chris Larsen, of Blue Sky Wildlife.

Blue Sky Wildlife, in association with Birdfair founder Tim Appleton MBE, has aimed to get the eco-tourism balance just right, committing to sustainable ecotourism and conservation. It is also recognised as a Birdlife Species Champion supporting the Birdlife International Preventing Extinctions programme.

For more information visit blueskywildlife.com

Shrinking Knot concern

Knots are shrinking as a response to climate change; and that may not be a good thing, according to research. An international team headed by Dr Jan van Gils of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research found that over the course of 30 years of study at its Arctic breeding ground, the Knot has changed both size and shape, with smaller offspring being produced due to food availability.

The birds then pay the price for this when they arrive in Africa for the winter. The smaller birds are less capable of reaching through the mud for the shellfish that make up the bulk of their diet, leading to malnourishment and death. In consequence, fewer and fewer Knots are surviving to adulthood.

Martin Wikelski of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology stated that it was important to realise that environmental changes in one part of the world can have dire consequences thousands of miles away.

Decoys help Little Tern breed safely

Conservationists are using hand-painted model birds to lure Little Terns towards safe areas to breed. The models were successfully tested on Suffolk beaches last year, as a result of which Suffolk saw its best ever year for Little Tern breeding. The decoys, made of plaster of Paris, are placed in a way to make them look as real as possible and are being used again at Kessingland and Shingle Street this year.

Little Terns are the UK’s second rarest tern, and have been struggling to find safe nesting sites free from predators and human disturbance. As colonial breeders, the sight of the fake terns encourages real ones to land in areas protected by electric fences, wardens, and other measures.

Marsh moves to boost breeding waders

The RSPB is aiming to return Hesketh Out Marsh East to the wild. The work will create a 154-hectare saltmarsh area, perfect for breeding waders. The marsh, situated in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, is already home to some of the most spectacular wildlife in the North West, and the new wetland will hopefully boost those numbers further.

As well as this, the project will benefit those living in the area by breaching the sea wall around the marsh to allow the area to flood naturally and act as a buffer zone or soakaway for incoming tides. Meanwhile, inner flood defences will be strengthened. The RSPB began their purchase of the marsh thanks to a large grant from the Landfill Communities Fund.

Salisbury Plain is home to Hen Harrier roosting sites

The Hen Harrier Life+ Project has identified important new Hen Harrier roosting sites on Salisbury Plain. Following the progress of a Hen Harrier chick fitted with a satellite tag last year, the project tracked the bird to Ministry of Defence land on Salisbury Plain, where the bird remained for several weeks before migrating to mainland Europe.

The MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation has been working for many years to help tenants on MoD land to implement measures to help, and will be using the new information to improve matters further.

The Hen Harrier is one of England’s most endangered birds of prey, with only six successful nests last year in the entire country, mainly due to illegal persecution of the species.