Tuesday, September 30, 2008

BBC Countryfile Calendar Winner

Richard Steel, local environmental consultant, resident on the Wirral and contributer of many photographs to the soon to be published 'Birds in Cheshire and Wirral' (see Sept 3 entry).
Richard's photographic exploit can be viewed on his blog at:
The Puffin is the winning picture.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Woodpigeons v Robins

The Robin, Britain’s national bird, could be about to be replaced if the latest results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch survey are anything to go by. Woodpigeon has overtaken Robin in the top 10 list of garden birds for the first time since the survey began in 1995.

Woodpigeon has seen a meteoric rise as a garden bird in the UK. In 1995 it was at number 11, being seen in 66% of all gardens that took part in the survey. The latest list of garden birds, just published in Bird Table magazine, shows that it is now recorded from 85% of those gardens. It’s not just a case of there being fewer Robins, there are just as many being seen now as there was in 1995. The latest table shows that Robin has maintained its position at number four, a position it has held for thirteen years. It is a case of a real increase in the numbers of Woodpigeons that now visit our gardens in search of food.

Friday, September 26, 2008

House Martins

BTO experts were proved wrong - this was not an awful spring for House Martins.
It looks as if there is very little difference between House Martin numbers in 2007 and 2008. Numbers may be a little lower in southern England this year and many birds arrived back late from Africa but that was about it. See the new House Martin newsletter for further details.


Image from www.birdfood.co.uk

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

State of the World's Birds

In 2002, the world’s governments took an unprecedented step, committing themselves to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. What can birds tell us about our current chances of achieving this ambitious but vital goal? The messages are mixed.

See: http://www.biodiversityinfo.org/sowb/default.php?r=sowbhome

Saturday, September 20, 2008

11.39AM 18th September 2008

This was the time that BTO Council and Management ‘signed-off’ the BTO Strategy 2008-2014. So, following feedback from last year’s Conference, three Council meetings and, probably, a couple of hundred emails, the strategy for the next (rolling) five years was agreed.
The final printed document will appear early next year but snippets should appear soon in BTO News, and the Director will make a presentation at this year’s Conference in December.
In brief the Strategic priorities are:
a) More proactive, innovative and responsive science
b) More accessible data and information
c) Stronger image and increased profile
d) More supporters and greater engagement with them
e) Investment in people
f) Increased and wider income
g) Best practise governance

Although we appear to have taken a long time to get here – the strategy runs to 44 pages - the work is only just beginning – exciting times are ahead.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Birds in hot water(s)

Climate change is a major threat to migratory waterbirds, according to a new report by the British Trust for Ornithology and Wetlands International. Of 235 species of migratory waterbirds protected in Europe and Africa, all except one are experiencing some threat from climate change, and nine species face severe threats that could cause extinction.

Launched today in Madagascar at the 4th Meeting of the Parties of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), the report highlights the need for more international co-operation in helping migratory species cope with climate change and other environmental problems. Dr Andy Musgrove, Head of the Wetland Bird Survey at the BTO, said, “Climate change is of over-arching importance for the conservation of the planet’s biodiversity. This is an extremely important and timely report, drawing together a huge amount of information that not only highlights threats but also suggests many practical ways in which we can help waterbirds across this huge region.”

When animals migrate, they often traverse political boundaries that have no inherent meaning to them, but which dramatically influence them due to the great differences that exist between countries in conservation policy. International co-operation is required to reduce the many pressures that they face and the report shows that many of the existing threats these birds face are being compounded by the effects of climate change.

A summary should appear on www.bto.org in the next few days.

Image from: Avian Demography Unit, Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Cape Town

Monday, September 15, 2008

Crofters blame eagles for rise in lamb losses

The crofters and part-time farmers on the Gairloch peninsula - referring to Sea-eagles as "flying barn doors" - have called a public meeting at the end of the month to debate how to deal with ever mounting losses of lambs; they say that over 200 lambs have been taken this year by eagles.
For those of you who attended the BTO Conference last year we'll remember that this is not the case. Yes, you may get a rogue pair that take lambs, but their off-spring do not then assume the same characteristics; and neither do eagles nesting near by. Furthermore, it is difficult to conclusively prove that the (rogue) eagle actually took a living, rather than a dead (or dying) individual.
This is not to say the farmers and crofters are wrong it is just that, with everything, not all eagles should be blamed for the activities of a few.


Monday, September 08, 2008


An interesting hypothesis.
Electric currents and generated magnetic fields are interrelated –fact!
The scale of electric acceleration via mobile telephone masts, WiFi systems and additional electrical infrastructure has also increased – fact!
That this electric acceleration has changed the natural electromagnetic fields at the earth’s surface –fact! (In a manner that is proportional to the strength of the artificial field generated).
So why are experts dismissive of this hypothesis as a cause of insect and animal declines and changes in migration behaviour. It’s as good, and probably as weak, as some other causes and surely merits an open mind rather than a totally rejected viewpoint.


Picking cocklers!

Under the strict supervision of Environment Agency Wales 50 licensed cockle pickers, paying £992 per year, will be allowed to return to the Dee Estuary in order to harvest cockles in an environmentally sustainable and safe way. Previously up to 400 cocklers would be working the Dee, giving rise to a boom and bust economy as cockle beds were over harvested and then abandoned as they became economically poor – to be harvested again when they had recovered.
It is estimated there are up to 9,000 tonnes of takeable cockles on the Dee Estuary - currently worth between £200 and £300 per tonne – and a third will be permitted to be harvested each year leaving the rest to ensure the crop regenerates and the beds remain viable.
This year’s season runs from September 1 until December 31. From next year the cockling season will run for six months from July 1 to December 31 depending on cockle numbers. No cockling is allowed at night or on Sundays.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Woodies 1 Hoopoes 0

Recently we had altruism reported in birds, now we have football hooligan syndrome.
Green Woodhoopoes live in small groups of up to 12 individuals, consisting of a dominant breeding pair and subordinate helpers. Rivalry amongst neighbouring groups occurs frequently, with raucous vocal displays similar to chanting football supporters; with rival ‘fans’ singing together in exactly the same way. Following bouts of conflict, which can last up to 45 minutes (first half!), scientists monitored the behaviour of loosing ‘teams’. They found that they console and fuss over each other (by preening one another) in the same way that fans may commiserate and drown their sorrows in the pub after a defeat. They didn’t say what the winning team got up to.

CCD and honey mummy.

Another newspaper article the other day hinted at a lack of locally produced honey in our shops this winter – there’s just not a lot of it around! The report caused me to back track a couple of days to another item I’d read for a re-read. David Ashton, a 67-year-old beekeeper in Cumbria, had been quoted that ‘he was the last’. The last generation in his family to tend bees and, why?, not because he was ready to retire but that his bee colonies were dying out.
In America they have something called CCD – colony collapse disorder – where suddenly a colony will up and leave, and then die, for no apparent reason. In Britain we appear to be experiencing a chronic form of the same disorder – a colony dies out over a couple of years. The reasons for this have been cited as: lack of suitable pollen (bees then have to travel further), insecticides, or mites – a virus carried by the varroa mite spreads through bee colonies killing them. Whichever, the end result is the same.
Mr Ashton expounds that we are next – bees (and butterflies) are great pollinators – without pollination we will have no fruit or vegetables and, if we don’t act soon enough things will get much worse before they get better.
In a Garden Birdwatch magazine last year I was amazed to discover that there are only about nine different sorts of bees in this country – and six cuckoo bees (parasitic bees). I decided then I would record all my sightings of bees in a small attempt to help monitor the decline of these very important little beasties.
See: http://www.bumblebeeconservationtrust.co.uk/bumblebees_id.htm

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Birds in Cheshire and Wirral

Cheshire and Wirral provides a wide range of habitats for birds, from the internationally important estuaries of the Dee and Mersey in the west to the high moors of the Peak District National Park in the east. Building on the work of the county’s first breeding bird Atlas of 1978–84, more than 350 volunteers spent over 50,000 hours during 2004 to 2007 surveying every 2×2 km tetrad in Cheshire and Wirral, recording every bird species in the breeding season and in winter. This new Atlas therefore not only updates the findings for breeding birds, but also for the first time provides a similar degree of detail for the county’s wintering species.

Lavishly illustrated with 300 pictures by local photographers and artists, this colour Atlas provides full accounts of 186 species, with briefer treatments for a further 31. More than 500 maps show the birds’ distribution in the two seasons as well as the difference between seasons, and reveal often dramatic changes from the previous Atlas of 1992. For the first time at county level, this Atlas also includes figures for the breeding populations of 65 of the most numerous species, 35 of which also feature abundance maps.

Published Oct 2008. Pre-publication offer £30 (+£5 P&P); thereafter £45.00.