Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Big Society in Action

It is my turn to arrange a venue etc for the Welsh Ornitholigical Society's Annual Conference.  For 2012 it is planned to hold this event in Carmarthenshire so I found myself this morning heading for the Myddfai Community Hall and Visitor Centre.  The village is close to Llandovery.

The Auditorium

Many may have seen the BBC Programme where Myddfai people with support from specific professionals managed to raise funds and build this state of the art centre.  I went this morning with enthusiasm and I was not to be disappointed.  The welcome I received from the volunteers was so warm I felt I had known them all for years.

The Restaurant

The centre has an auditorium which can seat 200 theatre style,a modern sound system etc, a restaurant and a wonderful shop.  The latter is well stocked with craft products all contributed by local people.  We even bought eggs produced by a village lad and his chickens.

The Shop

I am now really excited about our Conference and cannot wait until next November.  This whole project is a huge credit to all who have contributed their time and expertise.  It is the very epitomy of community spirit and how it should work.  I hope everyone that can will support them to ensure they are there for ever.

The Big Society is alive and well in Myddfai!

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Sky is full of Kites

I visited friends for coffee in the village today and was struck by a couple of Red Kites coming really low and close searching for food.  This is not an unusual sight in our village any more.  Ten years ago when we first moved here you would see a Red Kite once a week now you have multiple sightings every day.

Red Kite

This was easy to understand after I read my latest edition of Boda Wennol the magazine of The Welsh Kite Trust.  In 2001 there were 285 pairs located in Wales and now there are estimated to be in excess of 1,000 pairs.  What a far cry from those desperate days in the 1960's when only a handful of pairs remained in remote valleys.  It is a credit to the Kite Committee and later the activities of the Welsh Kite Trust that the comeback has been so spectacular.  This National bird of Wales can now be seen in most of the Principality.

Red Kite country in Wales

The reintroductions elsewhere in the UK and Ireland have also been equally impressive and according to figures in the magazine there could now be over 2300 pairs nesting in the UK.  This surely represents the most successful reintroduction of a species in the UK.

Young Red Kite

The Welsh Kite Trust can no longer locate every nest and to some extent their job is done.  The organisation has such a marvellous leader in Tony Cross and a highly professional band of volunteers that losing their skills would be potentially catastrophic.  I am so delighted that they intend to continue their work but concentrating more on raptor species that need some help.  Peregrines, Merlins, Kestrels and Honey Buzzards will be the subject of future work.

Honey Buzzard - a small population in Wales

The organisation has existed largely on donations from the Friends of the Welsh Kite and it beholds all of us to accept the requested increase and continue our support for the future.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Woodland Walk

Back in Wales and enjoyed a wonderful walk in Taliaris Woods in fine weather.  Plenty of Crossbill activity although only 6 were seen but plenty of calling in the forest canopy.


Walked to the lake where a few Coot were present which suggests they may have bred again up here. The greatest moment was when a female Goshawk broke cover from the low sallows on the shore and quiettly disappeared into the forest.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Back to Lowestoft

On a beautiful day Patrick and I set off for Lowestoft with the news that Hume's Yellow-browed Warblers were still to be seen.  Eventually we found ourselves behind the Royal Falcon pub staring into scrub on the cliff side.  After a while we were lucky to see this tiny warbler flitting around ivy clumps on Sycamore trees.  A first in the UK for me.  I was also pleased to catch up with old friends Gerald Jobson, Andrew Gregory and Tim Brown son of my dear lat friend Brian.

We then grabbed some lunch and checked out Ness Point where there was still a Purple Sandpiper and plenty of Turnstones.  We moved on to Covehithe and walked down to Benacre Broad and sat in the hide.  Here there were hundreds of noisy Greylag Geese and about 70 Barnacle Geese.  Also 2 Spotted Redshanks amongst the numerous Lapwings.  Suddenly the Barnacle Geese took off and flew off returning a moment later with c20 White-fronted Geese  10 grey geese flying high over the sea later might have been the Tundra Bean Geese but we could not see their heads and bills.

Short-eared Owl taken on Skomer

By now Patrick was anxious to return home as his father David had phoned to say he seen a long-winged owl when he was checking the sheep.  We got back just before dusk in time to see a Short-eared Owl near the sheep paddocks a new bird for the farm.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

More memories of the past

Against my better judgement I was up at 5.45am this morning to accompany Patrick Barker and his friend Etienne on one of their early morning bird ringing sessions.  I used to be a very active ringer but advancing years and two spine operations have seen me turn to photography.  It was a good feeling to see a lovely dawn with mist and eventually sunshine. 

Etienne and Patrick processing the birds.

We caught about 50 birds mostly Greenfinches but also Linnets, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Wrens, Blue Tits and Dunnocks.  The best bird was a Treecreeper caught by a hedge some way from the nearest mature trees.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Old Times again

No visit to Suffolk would be complete without a visit to Minsmere.  This place has had so much influence on my life that I always enjoy strolling there remembering all the wonderful moments I have enjoyed there.  So today I met up with "The Thursday Club" which included old pals Steve Piotowski, John Grant and Eric Patrick and some new friends as well.

Bewick's Swans

We walked down to the beach by the central path hearing Cetti's Warblers and Bearded Tits on the way.  At the rear of the South Hide a wonderful group of 11 Bewick's Swans were feeding their bugling contact calls echoing over the water.  At the sluice there was a single Purple Sandpiper but we all retired to the East Hide to watch the gull roost.  With a lot of help from John Grant we managed to indenify 3 Caspian Gulls and 2 Yellow-legged Gulls before marching back in the gathering gloom

Bearded Tit

Another great day and I particularly loved to see the Polish konik horses grazing the marshes.  I felt really proud as I brought the first of this breed to the UK in the early 1990,s to assist with wetland management.

Polish koniks or tarpans

The day finished with me talking to the Southwold group of the Wildlife Trust on the Wildlife of Alberta, Canada.  The evening closed with refreshments including a series of muffins and cakes from recipes furnished by my good friend Susan Wallis and my granddaughters Tara and Holly.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Going East

I headed across to Lowestoft with hope of seeing a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler which I had never knowingly seen in the UK.  I had seen one or two in India.  First I went to Dip Farm one off two sites which had this species the previous day.  Well I drew a blank here and really saw nothing much.  I decided to try the second site which was behind Tesco's in London Road North.  Here I really fouled up - I could not find Tesco's.


Fed up I went down to Ness Point the most easterly point in the UK.  I had not seen a Purple Sandpiper this year and this is a renowned site for this bird.  On arrival I noted a few Turnstones but nothing else.  I took a short walk and located 4 Brent Geese and a Red-throated Diver flying south.

Purple Sandpiper

Arriving back where I started I now found 20 Turnstones and thankfully a single Purple Sandpiper.  The latter performed very well and I got some nice pictures.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

On the road


I am travelling at the moment having been in Kent today for an Elmney NNR Meeting.  Not much time for birding but last night we were out most of a very cold evening watching a film crew using the reserve to make a new feauture film of Great Expectations.  David Walliams was present looking very cold but my attention was taken up watching hordes of waders flying over and caught by the massive lights being used to reproduce a very effective moonlight.


Hordes of Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Snipe and Redshanks were all involved.

This evening I am at my good friends the Barkers in Suffolk and I hope to get out birding tomorrow.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Ducks in the Rain

The car was in for service at Kidwelly today so I hoped for a few hours birding.  Gale force winds and heavy rain forced me to stay around the Welsh Wetlands Centre.

Northern Pintail

Firstly I sat in the Heron Wing's Hide for an hour watching the large assembly of ducks.  There were around 70 Pintail, 40 Shoveler and 30 Gadwall.  Smaller numbers of Shelduck, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Tufted Duck were also present.  The heavy rain seemed to cause few problems for the birds roosting and feeding.

Black-tailed Godwits in the rain

In between showers I moved to the British Steel Hide where 150 Wigeon were whistling happily and feeding on muddy fringes of the scrape.  About 60 Lapwings plus a few Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks completed the scene. All that was left was for an ambitious Sparrowhawk to dash across the scrape and make an unsuccessful attempt to nail a Lapwing.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cranes in Norfolk

There are dozens of books on birds published every year but only a few add real value to the ornithological literature.  Such a book is The Norfolk Cranes' Story. This attractive volume chronicles the arrival of this enigmatic species in Broadland Norfolk almost forty years ago after a presumed absence of some 400 years.

Wild Eurasian Cranes

The birds landed up at Horsey and were so fortunate that they chose an estate owned and managed by John Buxton.  The next three decades of his life were spent protecting and nurturing these splendid birds until they became established as a regular breeding species.  Birders may take this species for granted when they watch them in their Norfolk haunts, but this book co -written by ex-RSPB staff member Chris Durdin describes all the heartache of chicks being lost to predators and to nature itself.  I particulary enjoyed the slight tension between John and the conservation bodies in the early days.

Eurasian Crane - captive breeding bird at Slimbridge

Their existance was kept a secret in the early years to prevent disturbance but rumours abounded including the nonsense that these pioneering Cranes were released from captivity.  If you are passionate about birds and other wildlife and their conservation you will enjoy this book.  The story of an eccentric landowner and his committment to ensuring the Cranes' survival is warming at a time when many conservation organisations have become so large and corporate that they are in danger of taking their eye off the ball.

Wintering Cranes in France

As well as a great story this volume serves well as a reference for anybody interested in Cranes.  This species is slowly spreading in Norfolk and elsewhere.  Ironic therefore that a reintroduction programme has begun in Somerset.  With the species increasing its population in Europe and more and more birds wintering in France surely more will arrive naturally and occupy suitable habitat in the UK.

To get a copy of this book go to

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Two Beige rarities in less than 24 hours

Just after dark last night I received messages that an Isabelline Wheatear had been found at Wernffrwd on Gower and so I prepared to leave in the morning.

Wernffrwd, Gower
This species was another that I had not seen in the UK but had met up with it in Europe and Asia.  The drive was less than an hour and the weather glorious.  A small group of birders were watching the bird on arrival so it was easy to get this one.  It did seem to be feeding around the droppings of horses and cattle which I presume were attracting lots of flies. 

Isabelline Wheatear feeding alongside horse droppings
A glorious bird again from the east which provided fantastic views for all. Also noted were a Brent Goose and a ring-tail Hen Harrier.

Isabelline Wheatear

On the way home around 1pm a dog Fox ran across the road in front of the car.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

An Eastern Gem

At last I was in the right place at the right time and I could drive down to Porth Clais on the edge of St.Davids to catch up with gem of a bird. 

Isabelline Shrike

We could not believe how easy it was to find the bird just a few yards up the hill by the car park performing well in a hedge topped with ivy.  The nectar in the ivy flowers was attracting lots of flies and wasps and this in turn was providing food for a superb Isabelline Shrike.  It was possible to watch it down to a few feet and get lots of decent photographs.

Isabelline Shrike with a wasp

Although I have seen this species a lot abroad this was the first time I have seen one in the UK.

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

A great day except for Norwich getting beaten at Aston Villa.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Halcyon days in North Norfolk

Just returned from a few wonderful days in North Norfolk.  Meeting old friends and seeing some great birds that I do not always see every year.

Bar-tailed Godwit with Knot
 For the first three days we stayed in Thornham and apart from mixing with the hordes at Titchwell RSPB Reserve discovered and enjoyed immensely the Thornham Harbour area.  At Titchwell I always enjoy walking on the beach amongst the winter waders.  I was not disappointed this year with plenty of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knots all around me.  On the reserve there were plenty of Brent Geese and Wigeon and Pintail but thousands of Golden Plovers were coming in from the north all the time.

Black-tailed Godwit

Spotted Redshank
At Thornham Harbour I discovered that the main channel attracted waders at low tide giving excellent opportunities for photography.  Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits came very close as did Spotted Redshank and Grey Plover.  A Short-eared Owl hunted the marsh with Marsh Harriers.

Grey Plover

We also walked the footpath to Holme Dunes Nature Reserve.  A flock of about 1,000 Pink-footed Geese were very tolerant and allowed close views as we walked to the beach.  A dozen Snow Buntings flew past us and a larger flock of Twite were feeding on the saltmarsh.  Reaching the sea plenty of Gannets were passing offshore and a few Red-throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes were on the sea.

Pink-footed Geese
Some farmland birds are quite scarce nowadays so I was delighted when checking out the Choseley area to find Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers but most of all covies of Grey Partridges.

Grey Partridges
Moving on to Cley we stayed with our friend Mark Lynton.  Morning seawatching at Cley Coastguards was pretty good on one morning. Eight Pomarines Skuas flew east and also a couple of Little Gulls.  Most interesting was a Balearic Shearwater moving north.  There were also a few Red-throated Divers and plenty of auks with Guillemot and Razorbill being identified.  On the Eye Field large numbers of Brent Geese and Golden Plovers were assembled.

Golden Plovers

Brent Geese

In late afternoon we met up with my old pal Bernard Bishop the warden of Cley and he walked with us out to the hides.  The evening light was perfect and the pools covered in Wigeon, Shoveler, Pintail and Golden Plover.  There were also Black-tailed Godwits, Snipe and a single Ruff.  Overhead a Marsh Harrier patrolled.  It was a special moment and made the better by discussions with Bernard about the latest management efforts to conserve this wonderful place.


It was a great visit with wonderful warm weather and I must not leave it ten years before I return to North Norfolk the Mecca of all birders in the UK.