Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Beauty and the Beast

I got a phone call from Brendan last Friday morning. He'd got the madcap notion of driving through the night to the far flung tip of Cornwall to see a Pelican. For a moment I didn't believe he was serious but he was. Like most people I've seen Pelicans before at the zoo. Like most people I've walked past them with little more than a cursory glance as they're just brutishly ugly monstrosities that engulf bucket loads of fish. There was little evidence to suggest that this Cornish individual was any more a genuine vagrant than the ones I've largely ignored at the zoo and yet Brendan seemed to think it was a good idea to to get up in the middle of the night and drive the best part of 300 miles in the hope of getting distant views of one on a reservoir. A truly absurd idea!!!

So needless to say, I met up with Brendan, Chris and Dave a little before 02.30am and we embarked on the long journey South-West. By 07.15 we were parked in a layby looking down over Drift Reservoir just outside Penzance. No sign of any abominable beast bird from here so we drove a little further up the lane to the next pull in where we could see further up the arms of the reservoir. Immediately we could see a large pale shape on the far bank. A large pale shape which became a huge ugly Dalmation Pelican when viewed through the bins.

Note the diminutive looking Grey Heron to the right for size comparison.

After a good preen to make sure it was looking it's best, our lumbering leviathan took to the water.

A clearly freaked out swan launched an attack on it, causing it to flap across the water with all the grace of a stricken airliner.

It was amazing to watch it fishing in as much as it was amazing it managed to catch any fish. Stealth and speed of strike were clearly not the technique as it clumsily flapped and lunged, but catch fish it did.

It eventually drifted into a bay closer to us offering slightly better views before disappearing behind a reed bed.

So the beast was in the bag and some beauty was called for. On the way home was Devon and in Devon there are Cirl Buntings. I recon Mother Nature had a hangover from hell the day she created the poor old Pelican but her inspirational juices were certainly flowing when she produced the Cirl Bunting. A pit stop in Penzance to refuel the car and a nice healthy birders breakfast at McDonalds and we were back on the road. A small detour off the A30 took us to Labrador Bay and just yards from the car park we were soon drooling over crippling views of these little stunners.

Gloriously coloured, testosterone pumped males sang for the females and didn't seem to object to us admiring the performance at all. All this plus an ice cream van in the car park. What more could you want.

So thanks to Brendan and his mad ideas, a great day out was had by all. And whilst I'm on the subject of thanking Brendan, what a sterling bit of driving to Cornwall and back in a day. That job lot of Monster certainly came in handy. 

Monday, 2 May 2016

RSPB - Credit where it's due.

Last week, Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, wrote on his blog that the RSPB would not be changing their stance on 'Driven Grouse Shooting'. Their stance being to continue working with the shooting industry to try and resolve the myriad detrimental affects of DGS on wildlife, the environment and local communities. He reiterated that they aren't and won't be supporting Mark Avery's campaign to ban DGS. A stance that is causing a whole heap of consternation in the broader world of conservation. Martin kindly, and some might say bravely, invited his readers to leave their comments on the subject. As I do my fair share of spouting off on this issue, I felt duty bound to take up his invitation and needless to say a bit of spleen venting was involved. In fact every one of the comments I read shared my frustration at what I perceive to be a lack of backbone by the RSPB on such a burning issue. Decades of talking have had zero impact. Hen Harriers are close to extinction as an English breeding species. Almost all raptors have been eradicated from the moors they once called home, along with any other living species, predatory or otherwise, that just might threaten in any way, the ludicrously high populations of Red Grouse that the over-privileged and blood thirsty will pay big bucks to blast out of the sky with shotguns. Annual large scale heather burning continues to destroy peat bog, pollute water and increase the risk of flooding to communities downstream. There isn't the faintest sign that any of this carnage is abating and yet the RSPB's only strategy is 'more talking'.

Many comments left on the blog spoke of relinquishing memberships out of disillusionment
on this matter. But as dismayed as I feel, if I put this matter to one side, I still think the RSPB do a lot of fine work that deserves supporting.

On Saturday I had a cracking morning's birding at RSPB Otmoor in Oxfordshire, with birding pal and fellow Hen Harrier warrior Sharpy. 10 species of Warbler, Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, to name but a few. Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe filled the sky with  aerial displays and wondrous noises.

Sedge Warbler

Garden Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler

On Sunday the mad wife was running the 3 Forts Challenge. In other words running up and down the South Downs for 28 miles. It takes all sorts. I came to the easy decision that witnessing first hand, the glorious phenomenon of Nightingale song was the better option. So after dropping her in Worthing I drove the short distance to RSPB Pullborough Brooks which must be a strong contender for the title of best Nightingale site in England. Not only do they sing for you tirelessly but their quite happy to put in an appearance too.

Warblers aplenty provided the backing vocals including Lesser Whitethroat and Cettis.

Thanks to some unlikely bank holiday sunshine, it wasn't just birds on parade. Butterflies such as Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Orange Tip were soaking up the rays,

as were some of the reserves reptilian residents. It was truly amazing to watch a 'mating ball' of Grass Snakes twisting and writhing as 3 males vied for the affections of the larger female.

And when it comes to snakes the European Adder takes some beating. I was over the moon to encounter 3 different individuals of this stunning creature.

I even saw Great Crested Newts in the pond outside the visitors centre on my way back to the car park. And talking of the visitors centre, with a bit of time to spare before leaving I had a browse of the books on sale. And guess what I found. Only "Inglorious" by Mark Avery. The book that explains the facts in great detail as to why we should ban Driven Grouse Shooting. If you haven't read it you should.

So although the RSPB can't seem to accept the indisputable fact that the only way to reclaim the habitat and wildlife of the uplands is to BAN DRIVEN GROUSE SHOOTING!!! lets give credit where it's due. For me, this and many other weekends have been enhanced by the fantastic work they do on their reserves along with the many other worthy projects they're involved in around the world. Keep up the fantastic work guys but just try and grow a pair when it comes to DGS.