Cooling Marshes, Kent, 7th December 2014

Monday, 22 July 2013

Arctic arrivals at Cliffe

Mud: they love it, you love it. Cliffe Pools, 21/7/13

Despite earning some unfortunate tshirt tan lines on a sweltering walk round Cliffe yesterday, there were hints of cooler climes with a smattering of new arrivals from their northern breeding grounds. A nice summer plumaged Knot bobbing amongst the common terns on islands at the back of Conoco had me thinking Curlew Sandpiper for a moment but a better look confirmed otherwise. I like this time of year, having to get wader brain on again, ready for those birds in summer dress or moult, usually more conspicuous here in their muted tones of winter.

On Flamingo beach a good flock of 16 Whimbrel roosted amidst the sea of Shelduck that have been busy at Cliffe this season. Over the Thames Viewpoint, five juveniles took one of their first trips out, accompanied by an adult. The river was flat calm, seemingly stuck to the sky, with a faint easterly as comforting as a stranger's hot breath on your neck on a rush-hour tube.

Down the back track two Yellow wagtails flew over and instantly disappeared into the coarse, bleached rough of the coastguard paddocks. Two Pied wagtails sparred energetically. I love this part of the reserve, the view is one of Hoo's best, several miles of marshes and grassland stretching east, pocked with livestock, ditches and forgotten barns, parched in this heat but still buzzing:

View east from Cliffe Pools, 21/7/13

If Boris and those other soulless crones had their way, everything in the photo above, bar a thin sliver in the foreground, would be tarmac and fences.

Seven Oystercatchers on the jetty, two adult Common gulls looked hot.

I spent a while by Black Barns 1 & 2 but despite some muddy fringes appearing, the levels on the pools are still too high for most waders. A handful of hazy shapes on 4 could be picked out by squinting and refocusing; one or two Greenshank among godwits and lapwings. One or two eclipse Shoveler lurked in the reeds too and a healthy brood of Tufted ducks formed a queue behind their parents. In the top corner of Radar, a gathering of 12 roosting Greenshank were punctuated by a single small wader which turned out to be a nice summer Sanderling. I can't remember the last time I saw one so neat. A Green Sandpiper flew over and several Little egrets probed and preened in the shallows - making it look like a good day to be an egret.

Round at the Radar viewpoint I bumped into a birder who put me onto a Turnstone, another bird I associate more with winter on the estuary than anything. A large flock of brick-red Black-tailed godwits roosted on one the main causeway, alongside Redshank, Lapwing, Greylag geese and more Greenshank. As an annoying microlight flew low over the reserve, the whole lot pitched up and wheeled about, revealing the huge, previously hidden flock of Avocet behind. With the numbers present it was like an unseasonal snowstorm had descended, only to melt away in a flash.

The final wader action came in the form of several Dunlin on Radar, while a check along the rear of the causeway from the Saxon Shore Way eventually turned up a Spotted Redshank. This one wasn't quite suited up so was perhaps a non-breeder, still, a nice looking bird. A pretty good haul, things are hotting up...

Six-spot Burnet on Ragwort
Comma on brambles
No Estuary Airport

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Such Great Heights

Ice Climb, Buzzard Injustice and the RSPB

Kong: pissed about the Arctic. source:

So last Thursday, having tuned in to watch the 'Ice Climb' unfold on TV and twitter, I had the incredibly original idea to write a blog about it - or to at least use it as the basis to cover several slightly less well-covered stories that I felt deserving of attention. As it turns out, one or two other people did too, of which the best is surely this wonderful piece from Jules Howard.

Anyway, I wasn't in London last Thursday but I followed the Ice Climb or rather the #iceclimb as it is properly known, with a genuine sense of awe and inner-hi-5ing. It was an incredible feat by those six climbers representing Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign, requiring immense skill and dedication to achieve. Finally, here were some people taking a very public stand on the environment, people with a message they wanted the world to see. It was exhilarating to watch, it was sexy, and by that I mean it's spirit, not necessarily that ropes and harnesses do anything for me (*coughs*) They promised that when they reached the top they would unveil an 'artwork' and I dearly hoped I would be gazing up at sunset at the sight of a giant inflatable Polar Bear clinging to the side of the building ala King Kong; as it was, they unfurled a flag reading 'Save the Arctic'. Their message.

For a little while it seemed like a worthy environmental news story would y'know, for once, make the mainstream NEWS. And it did, kind of, although most outlets I saw managed to skirt round the 'why' part of the story, because apparently it isn't a story - Shell just shuffled their feet a bit and announced it's "not new", they've been slowly polluting the Arctic for years.

In case you missed it too, here it is: It certainly made me pause to consider it for longer than I probably would have on any other day; I looked up some stuff, I got angry and subsequently signed an online petition or something whilst pressing the keys REALLY HARD. And that made me think about their other message - the one that didn't have a flag but said 'what are you going to do to Save the Arctic?'. The answer to that isn't 'sign a petition' well, maybe that's one answer but it's not the only one.

Getting a message across is something that the RSPB are pretty good at but their latest attempt to do so is a first for them. There was lots of talk about it on twitter naturally, so I watched their new TV ad (part of the 'give nature a home' campaign) online, since there was no chance I'd see it on TV unless they somehow managed to segueway it into SkySportsNews. It's great to see a conservation organisation attempting to reach more people than ever before, it shows belief, commitment and passion - the things people want to see and, most importantly, respond to. Funny then that I wasn't that moved by it one way or the other. I can't quite put my finger on it exactly, perhaps it seemed a bit 'flat', perhaps the idyllic middle class setting of it was a rather safe bet...and while I'm rolling, what's with the new lower-case 'rspb'? Strong words and actions are worthy of Capital Letters if you ask me....But anyway, I'm hardly its market - I hope it's a massive success and they get lots of people sending off for the free nature pack and maybe signing up to become members. I love what they do.

But it's no #iceclimb is it? Where were the RSPB's flags when the State of Nature report was released - or were they already flying at half-mast?

Perhaps a comparison isn't even relevant. I guess the answer lies in the result, of what happens when the ad run ends and the media move on - when it's left to us. Ice Climbs are little sparks and maybe TV can be too, it's just not nearly as much fun. Now, lets all dress up as buzzards and build a giant nest on Defra HQ.*

*This is some pretty brutal viewing but I wanted to put a link up showing how a small (?) minority manage our land for private gain. Hard to believe this is the 21s Century. If you find it as sick as I did, you might like to say something:

Given the continuing levels of illegal persecution of birds of prey the Government is called upon to introduce a system of operating licences for upland grouse shoots
Petition -  Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers 

Why stop there?

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Love and feathers

Postcards from a sister abroad...

Hi Peter 
Churp Churp! I am Betty Birdbrain and I recently met your sister, who told me you like birds. As you can tell I am a very beautiful bird, although I am a bit birdbrained and forgot what type I am - it might be a bit of ostretch but perhaps you could tell me? I also sang you a song, which I have attached, along with a photo of me chilling in Porteau Cove, a majestic spot just south of Squamish, in British Columbia. I heard you couldn't make it out here this year so it's to remind you to keep on plotting, and keep your feathery chin up.
I also attach some photos of my friends, Bill the bald eagle who lives in Lighthouse Park, right by your friend Bobby's house, a talonted featherweight boxer, and Ruby the red-cheeked speckle-backed pretty bird. She has been feeling a bit beaky lately but hopefully she'll wing her way through it. Then there's Pecky, who has also flown the nest without finding out his actual name, and Harry the Heron, who enjoys the views of Vancouver's skyscrapers - or at least he thinks he's a heron?! He'll egret it if he can't find out :) 
We all send love and feathers, 
Eyes to the skies, Chirp Chirp 
The BC Bird Gang xx 

BC birds: Great Blue Heron, Northern Flicker, Barn Swallow, Bald Eagle

Thanks Sis! x

Monday, 8 July 2013

Too hot 2 blog

So I'm just gonna catch some rays...

From the best office window we have, at the Centre for Wildlife Gardening, Peckham.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Farnes and back

I got back yesterday from a fantastic couple of days around Northumberland to make the most of a week's holiday from work. In spring and summer the Northumberland coast is home to tens of thousands of sea birds which breed in dense colonies around the nearby Farne Islands; there's no doubting the highlight of my trip...

I knew it was going to be special but it wasn't until I boarded one of Billy Shiel's all-day boat trips from Seahouses harbour on Wednesday that I could appreciate the scale of this seething mass of bird life. Wherever I looked, birds continually fizzed overhead like odd-shaped bullets fired from the sea, the cliffs wailed and shifted with the presence of thousand upon thousand of Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins... In short, it was astounding and simply one of the most remarkable wildlife encounters I've ever experienced:

Grey seals and Staple Island

A wall of auks, the sight that greets you
A Puffin takes flight as a Fulmar looks on
The money shot: Puffin (Fratercula arctica) on Staple Island
Razorbills (Alca torda)
Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla)
Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
A Guillemot (Uria aalge) feeding its chick -
note the white eyering and marking of the 'bridled' variety

Staple Island was the first stop and stepping onto the area roped off for visitors, you instantly came face to face with birds normally seen at distance, flashing by over waves or huddled up on rocks. The steps from the jetty were lined with guillemots, shags and puffins - some on nests, some with young already wobbling between them. It was incredible to be able to peer into this private part of their lives, birds at their most tender and frantic. At one point I sat no more than two meters from a pair of Shags as they courted, each wrapping their slender neck and bill around the other, it felt oddly voyeuristic but it was a privilege and genuinely moving. It was funny too to watch puffins land with full bills of small fish, only to get instantly mugged by roving gangs of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed gulls who've clearly realised that there's no need to go for food when it readily comes to them. To avoid losing their meal, the puffins would either fly off again or charge down the nearest burrow and if it wasn't theirs, emerge slyly and scurry off again with gulls in pursuit - all that was missing was the Benny Hill theme.

After Staple Island the boat crossed to Inner Farne, an island where one iconic bird in particular rules supreme:

Paradise City: Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) on nest 
The courtyard on Inner Farne

The Arctic terns that met us off the boat are a fearsomely characterful mob, the island is theirs and they know it. The sky was full of their elegant shapes and clattering cries and it's true that they nest just about everywhere there. I received numerous pecks to head and just like that guy above, my favourite birding cap is definitely in need of a wash now. What ace birds though: noisy, feisty and with an annual migration that covers some 45,000 miles, true wanderers of the bird world. Amazing stuff. Joining them were Common and Sandwich terns, more auks, kittiwakes and at least one pair of Eider. Passerines on the islands I visited were limited to a single Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtail and two swallows were present also.

In a year which started with Puffin wrecks along the north and east coasts and thousands more breeding sea birds killed or affected by the polyisobutene (PIB) chemical spill in the south west, these islands are a reminder of the wealth our seas offer. Simply stunning.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus), Seahouses harbour, 25/6/13
Looking out to Inner Farne
Sunset over Bamburgh Castle, 26/6/13