Sunday, 30 June 2013

What Price Windfarms?

With the recent well publicised death of a vagrant White-tailed Needletail in the Outer Hebrides I have been thinking again about wind farms and the inevitable conclusion that some birds are bound to collide with these massive and intrusive structures.

Massive wind farm near Tarifa, Southern Spain
The threat to birds first reared its head in the Sacramento valley in California and nearer to home in the area around Tarifa in Southern Spain.  In both cases the turbines are placed in great density in the path of masses of larger migrating birds.  Griffon Vultures were one of the species that were considered vulnerable to these structures.

Griffon Vulture
There have been many similar concerns around the World including close to home especially with large scale developments out to sea.  The most recent of these concerns Jordan a country I know very well.  Many will have visited the wonderful Rift Valley and maybe stayed at Wadi Dana.  This idyllic spot with its biblical village is surely one of the most beautiful places on earth but it now is threatened with a wind farm.  This is a place where the last Griffon Vultures hang on in Jordan and where thousands of migrating birds pass through twice a year.  Many argue that wind farms are very intrusive on some of the World's most wonderful landscapes and this would be true of Dana.  The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature Jordan's largest conservation NGO is reported to be receiving large sums of compensation to support this scheme.  Surely they must do the research first to ensure no harm comes to the wildlife that frequent this fantastic place?

Wadi Dana, Jordan
Conservationists are understandably keen to encourage the development of sustainable energy projects especially to relieve the dependence on dwindling fossil fuels.  Many of the arguments for and against wind farms are still vague and indistinct.  Local nimbyism also clouds the issues.  Many claim that energy generated by wind farms falls well short of claims by eager developers.  Surely it is time the public knew the truth so that clear judgement can be made?  Back to Jordan the Dana situation is just the beginning.  How long before wind farms blot the extraordinary landscape of World Heritage sites such as Petra? 
The Monastery at Petra
In the wake of the White-throated Needletail incident the RSPB has acknowledged that they are concerned about the number of birds killed by wind turbines in Norway and Spain but are quick to point out that larger numbers of birds are killed in the UK each year by flying into windows.  On a flippant note I do not look forward to a Griffon Vulture hitting my window.  RSPB further point out that the domestic cat is a much bigger threat to birds in the UK.  All of that may be true but surely we must ensure that cleaner energy does not come at an unacceptable cost to our heritage be it birds or landscape.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Little Gem of a Bird

I received a call from friend Julian Friese who told me he had a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker feeding a young bird in his garden so I drove the short distance to his house to have a look.  Sure enough after a while a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker foraged up a nearby pine and then answered the call of a juvenile and went off to feed it.  What a super little bird they are.  Not much bigger than a House Sparrow but strident with their piercing call.  This species is declining fast in the UK and this is my first sighting for many years.  It was great to be reunited with what is now a rare bird.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - photo by Mike Clarke

Whilst sitting in warm sunshine waiting for the woodpeckers we also noticed a male Common Redstart feeding a youngster, Spotted Flycatcher, Red Kite and a Kingfisher called as it flew up a nearby stream.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Ultimate Night Bird

Wendell and Julie of the Carmarthenshire Bird Club organised a walk this evening at Crychan Forest in the hope of at least hearing Nightjars.  To kill time about a dozen of us walked along the road trying to avoid an amazing plague of midges and see some birds.  Nothing unusual was noted but there were plenty of Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing.  A Lesser Redpoll flew over calling and we also recorded Song & Mistle Thrush, Jay, Wren, Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Blackbird.

Nightjar - Photo by Roger Tidman

Almost on 10pm we heard our first Nightjar as a male came flying over the track so close you hardly needed binoculars and the white patches on its wings were very clear.  This bird repeated this once or twice and also sat at the top of a pine singing its mechanical song.  On one occasion a female appeared and they moved off together.  Later walking back to the car park two Nightjars flew over the road together and they may have been additional birds.  This was one of the best Nightjar evenings I can remember and however many times I see these fabulous birds I never tire of the experience.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Ospreys and Ynyshir

Osprey photographed by the roadside in Canada

With better weather promised we moved north first to pay a visit to the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Osprey viewing point on the Dyfi.  We had heard and seen so much about these birds and the site that we wanted to see for ourselves.  We were very impressed with the site and the friendly welcome.  The live images of a sitting Osprey in the visitor are very impressive and the best I have seen of any similar display.  The hide was also a friendly place but we were a bit surprised how far away we were from the nest.  At least twice as far as similar places like Loch Garten and the Loch of Lowes in Scotland.  We smiled a bit at this because in Canada we have seen osprey nests on telegraph poles and bridges by the roadside and here the birds tolerate traffic and people walking right underneath them.  Nevertheless this site holds one of only two known nesting pairs of Ospreys in Wales and is worth the effort of paying a visit.  It does occur to me that we need more artificial nest platforms and I think we could increase the number of this species in Wales quite considerably.

Birds on the feeders

Lesser Redpoll

A real attraction outside the hide were the bird feeders with the usual hordes of Greenfinches and Goldfinches but also good numbers of Siskins and especially Lesser Redpolls. We took a short stroll along the boardwalk noting Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings and a Stonechat and heard some Crossbills calling in the distance.

RSPB Ynyshir

We then moved on to the RSPB reserve at Ynyshir.  After a picnic lunch took a walk through the superb woodland where we found good numbers of Pied Flycatchers feeding young out of the nest.  The same could be said for Great Spotted Woodpeckers which made a very noisy presence.  We also noted a few Treecreepers and Common Redstarts.

Male Common Redstart
We also enjoyed walking along the large boardwalk through a very boggy fen with a tremendous display of Yellow Flag Iris and Cotton Grass.

The boggy fen at Ynyshir

Cotton Grass
It was a most enjoyable day and a tremendous boost after the cold weather of the previous day.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Young Birds begin to Appear

Juvenile Goldfinch

The weather this last week has generally been very cold and damp and I have not been out birding.  The garden always holds my attention and I have been watching for the first broods of young to appear at the feeders.  Blackbirds were nesting in a hedge by the terrace but they deserted for unknown reasons but this week I did see the first juvenile Goldfinches proving they have nested nearby.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A Visit to Anglesey

South Stack

I am a member of the RSPB Wales Advisory Council and Sunday morning I travelled to Anglesey with colleague Bernard Llewellyn for not only a Committee Meeting but a site visit to South Stack.  The weather was wonderful and there were crowds out enjoying the sunshine and the spectacle of this splendid seabird cliff.  The first thing that grabs your attention is the noisy Guillemot colony.  The birds are crowded on tiny ledges each sitting on a single egg.  Like everything else this year they are a bit late and there was no sign of chicks yet.

South Stack Guillemots
Looking out to sea a couple of Gannets passed by and it was then I met up with friends Annette and Steve from Essex who had one of their birding groups with them.  They kindly allowed me to look through their telescope at a couple of Puffins sitting on the sea.

Puffins on the sea
Choughs were also very much in evidence and inside Ellin's Tower we could watch a brood of young birds in a nest on a screen from a camera positioned in their cave.  There was also time to be shown a rare plant the Spatulate Fleawort an endemic found here and nowhere else on the planet.

Spatulate Fleawort
After the meeting and an excellent social evening we rose this morning for a site visit to Malltraeth Marsh.  This is a massive habitat creation project and is now beginning to show excellent results successfully attracting wintering Bitterns and with the real hope that they will stay one year and breed.  Lapwings are also being attracted to nest but there have been no signs this year of the sensational appearance of up to 6 Baillon's Crakes in 2012.

Malltraeth Marsh

We enjoyed a stroll through the marsh discussing management options and walking up to higher ground to see the whole expanse of this 600 acre site.  It was then time to head back south still in glorious sunshine.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Badgers up against it again

The vote taken in Westminster on Wednesday on the Badger cull in the West Country supported the action.  This was no surprise as there was a three line whip in operation.  So the politicians continue to ignore the science and make their decision based on keeping their farming and land owning supporters sweet.

Badgers - Thank goodness that Plaid Cymru are not currently in power in Wales

I wrote to my own MP Jonathan Edwards a Plaid Cymru member for Carmarthenshire East & Dinefwr. His reply was lengthy but entirely predictable.  He never once mentions the science and warnings of those eminent men who have worked on Badgers and Bovine TB for the Government.  One can only surmise then that his decision not to support a vote to stop the cull was based entirely on him keeping the dairy industry going at all costs.  His letter made it clear that agriculture comes before all  else.  How sad that this lot of miserable politicians acted so negatively even after the launch last week of The State of Nature  report and the dire message which were contained within it. The message is clear we cannot depend on politicians to do much for our wildlife so what next?

The Beautiful Cothi Valley

I took a drive this afternoon up the nearby Cothi Valley.  It is incredibly beautiful and in warm sunshine its attraction was much enhanced.  Wildlife was difficult to find and I was at the second bridge before I found a Grey Wagtail and a pair of Pied Flycatchers nesting in a nearby box.

Male Wheatear

I moved on the Mynydd Llanwini and as usual there were dozens of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks but not much else except a single male Wheatear and groups of Carrion Crows.  On the way back home I crossed Mynydd Figyn and noted another male Wheatear.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Glorious Hills

I spent the morning clearing out the garage and so went to the rubbish tip or Civic Amenity Centre as they call it around here.  On the way back I drove across the edge of the Brecon Beacons past the superb Castle Cennen.

Castle Cennen perched high on its rock
 I wasa looking for birds of course but in the warm early afternoon sun most were keeping low.  I did see a lot of Meadow Pipits.  Indeed the higher open slopes seemed to have a pair every few yards.

Meadow Pipit
A couple of Red Kites also put in an appearance before I returned home.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Quick Look After Shopping

Whimbrel from another day

We needed to go to Llanelli today so on the way back we called in at Kidwelly Quay.  The weather was wonderful but there were not too many birds.  The highlight was 2 Whimbrel out on the mud and about 30 Shelducks.  One pair of the latter had some ducklings.  Nothing much else except 4 Little Egrets and 2 Bullfinches.