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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Wallasea Island RSPB

December 28/29th

After my last visit of December 6th I decided on visiting again spurred on by the Rough legged Buzzard, Hen Harrier and Short Eared Owl sightings on Twitter and the grapevine.

On the 28th in the afternoon and wall to wall sunshine I took my wife Christine with me, as we arrived, and virtually the first Raptor seen, the Rough Legged Buzzard flew over towards the far sea wall where I lost it.

Distant views but good enough to identify before it disappeared.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent watching the Shorties or anything else that passed this included 2 Marsh Harriers and a single distant Hen Harrier, additionally Corn Buntings are abundant.

It is an ideal place to take your other half with all the Shorties on view, it is armchair birding as everything is seen from inside the car, you don’t even have to get out, of course its warmer as well.

Another attraction - Dark Bellied Brent Geese

Short Eared Owl hunting

On the way out in twilight we had a Common Buzzard sitting in a tree and then to cap the afternoon off a hunting Barn Owl.

The 2nd visit, again in the afternoon was on the 29th, with the forecast sunshine myself and Paul headed down arriving about 1.20pm.
We picked out a few Marsh Harriers and also 2 Short Eared Owls, not used to them hunting this early; they would never get away with it at Rainham on the Silts with all the Crows present.

At around 1.30pm Paul picked up the Rough Legged Buzzard, we watched it for about 3 or 4 minutes as it soared and hovered up high before landing distantly towards the sea wall.

Far off views again but good to see nonetheless, must admit to being envious of Brian’s shots on his blog as it flew over the car park on Monday, must have been quite a sight.

Also I must admit that Wallasea rivals Harty Lane when it come to watching Birds of Prey, not sure what’s in the crop there but it must be good for Mice and Voles to pull that many Short Eared Owls in, we counted 6 but have heard reports of 9 over the fields.

I suspect as well that given the abundance of Finches/Buntings and flushed Snipe the raptors are likely after small birds as well.

Potential prey also - Snipe

Other birds of note seen were, 1 possibly 2 Ring Tailed Hen Harriers, 3 Marsh Harriers,2 + Kestrels, male Sparrowhawk and a Common Buzzard as we left sitting in the same tree as seen the day before, no doubt a pre roost/roost tree.

2 very enjoyable afternoons and closer than Sheppy…all it needs is some Peregrines….

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Drones and Peregrines

I was introduced to Drones in 2011, I remember thinking at the time, Drones and Peregrines are not going to mix, a territorial peregrine may well perceive them as a threat.
The site was Battersea Power Station, at the time it was the old Falcon, (now replaced) she had not bred for 3 years and it was well out of the breeding season.

I monitored the filming, but previous to this I got them to test the Drone 50 metres from where she was resting, the instructions were not to go up too high, if she reacted drop it as fast as possible.

On this day, December 26th 2011 she did not react, the Drone stayed very low and she just watched it intently, however I have little doubt that if she was in the breeding season with eggs or chicks to protect, a pair’s reaction would be totally different.
Anyone involved with Peregrines will tell you that levels of aggression are high when there territorial, you only have to see their reaction as to when a Buzzard or a Crow comes too near the nest site.

They are not likely to ignore a Drone if it comes too near, very likely they will attack it being no respecters of size, in this the problem will come from the rotors.
If this occurs and they hit it, probably from above, the danger comes from the spinning blades, it is entirely possible that they could lose or break a leg or worse.

If it is a threat and too close to the nest site there aggression will take over.

In London where the density of peregrines is high, Drones will no doubt be used on high rise buildings for filming/surveys etc..if near a pair there could well be problems.

Additionally if in an urban area and a peregrine knocks one down, how about the safety aspect if in a public area? You only have to look at the link below to visualise this coming down in a crowd.

On top of this, if in the breeding season and licence period there is Schedule 1 to think of, if they disturb or stress the peregrines, at or near the nest site they are breaking the Wildlife Laws, this applies whether it be on a building or on some remote rural site.

They are going to be popular, they already are I suspect this Christmas, however before they start appearing everywhere I think we need some legislation, at the very least guards over the rotors.

Having researched the subject in America, they are already having problems of birds attacking Drones, not just birds of prey either. Below is a quote from Aviation from across the pond.

“As costs go down and ease of use goes up, more and more drones are going to enter American skies. Last month, the Federal Aviation Authority reported an increase in drones spotted near other aircraft, raising fears that an errant drone may imperil a manned airplane. But drones don’t just pose a risk to human-made aircraft. They can also threaten birds.

In May, the National Park Service banned drones from Yosemite National Park, specifically noting that “drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use, especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls.” In June, this ban was extended beyond Yosemite to all national parks. Not long after, a tourist crashed a drone into the otherwise-pristine waters of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, reinforcing the risk posed by the technology if used irresponsibly”.

Food for thought....

Monday, 22 December 2014

Charing X Peregrines

December 22nd

These last couple of weeks have been pretty manic in regard to cleaning out the boxes for the pairs that I monitor, the last one, Charing X Hospital, was cleaned out today along with the Balcony it resides on.
With the able assistance of Kyle and Cristina from Industrial Abseiling the balcony and box received its annual clean out.

Nathalie,Cristina and Kyle (apologies if names are spelt wrong)

This is a publicized pairing,well known on the Hospital, they initially failed on the balcony in 2010 due to flooding, hence placing a nest box to assist in breeding.

The pair are directly monitored by Nathalie Mathieu and have succeeded annually since the nest box was placed, however the balcony itself, although ideally positioned and situated has terrible drainage.

Kyle and Cristina cleaning out the Balcony

The outlet drain is positioned down one end, so at the time I placed the box a good distance away from it working on the theory that the water will  run down hill to it,wrong.

Unfortunately when constructed they got the falls wrong, now when it rains it also fills up the balcony saturating the nest box base. The drain is not good either and we have made many attempts to make it work better.

Basically when it rains the whole balcony fills up.

The Peregrines have taken it in their stride and have annually used the box since 2011, in the past I have been reluctant of lifting the box too high due to walkabout chicks, from 12 days they are on the move.

My worry has always been, if I lift it and they go outside, will they be able to get back in?

As you can see very wet everywhere

This year we have lifted it 12mm to give the box the chance to dry out, when it floods again hopefully the chill will not go through to the base of the box and the substrate now being higher.

To try and alleviate the height issue for walkabout chicks, ceramic floor tiles have also been placed near the entrance; hopefully the extra step will do the trick if they do come out.

Fresh substrate with a new scrape in the centre

Box now lifted, heavy duty tiles placed around for access

Ready for 2015

The box is now 4 years old and the pair are used to it, they are safe for 2015 but with the Hospital being under constant threat from closure and development, the future is unknown for all sadly.

For the last 3 years I have used Industrial Abseiling at my monitoring sites, they have provided a professional and excellent service, a good bunch of lads and lasses to work with as well, I can’t recommend them enough.

Hope everyone has a Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Two Tree Island Roost

December 6th

After the mornings visit at Wallasea Island RSPB to round off the day I visited Two Tree on the way home, coinciding the visit with a rising tide.

With the sun now out in all its glory, I timed my arrival with perfection as the waders began to come into roost.

How many would you say in this flock of Knot? 

For an hour I watched them and scanned around looking for something out of the ordinary, nothing materialised but I did have some good flocks with Knot and Dunlin in particular present in numbers.

Flocks were on the move a lot so counts are always going to be your best estimate as they came and went from the scrape to the Saltings and vice versa.

I arrived at the following.

Dunlin – 400

Avocet – 56

Knot – 1200 a rough estimate

Grey Plover – 12

Kingfisher – 1

Bar Tailed Godwit - 35 outside on Salting but didn’t come in to scrape

Black Tailed Godwit – 5

Greenshank – 5

Common Snipe – 42 around the margins

Ringed Plover – 37

Lapwing – 108

The Knot were interesting, I watched a flock drop in(as above)and merge with birds already roosting, as they dropped in I estimated the airborne flocks number, thinking around 600 odd birds.

I decided when I got home to count the flock from a photo, basically to see how far out I was.

Below is the actual number give or take 4 or 5, surprising but they are densely packed.

Surprising isn't it

Friday, 12 December 2014

Rally for Nature and Christmas Bash

Rally for Nature

December 9th

Like many people I care a lot about the Environment, Wildlife and Nature, I have never been politically motivated; indeed this was my first rally at the age of 57.

Much of our wildlife is in serious trouble; Birds of Prey persecution is rife due to this government not enforcing current wildlife laws, in particular on Grouse Moors.
The statistics say it all, this year there were 4 pairs of Hen Harrier in England in 2014, there should be 300 pairs, their breeding habitat is mainly Grouse Moors, illegal persecution is taking place, it simply has to stop.

The idea of the March is to bring the message across, existing laws need defending and implementing properly, and to also establish a Nature act in Parliament.
Prior to the March there were speakers – Joe Duckworth, Mike Clarke, Mark Avery, Stephen Trotter, Caroline Lucas and Kerry McCarthy, all were good but in particular Mark Avery and Caroline Lucas (Green Party) were excellent.

Caroline Lucas - excellent

Gathering for the march

Victoria Tower - couldn't even find a Peregrine.

I lobbied my MP, Dame Angela Watkinson (Conservative) when we got to Parliament, unfortunately she could not see me as she was in a meeting. I have since contacted her again so it will be interesting to see her response.

Hopefully the Rally will signify the start of change.

Christmas Bash

A great night, the photos and the Cobra's say it all.

Birders a gathering

Couple of high foreheads 

Shaun and Lee bonding - nice moment


Cobra kicking in

Great night - 17 of us