Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Dee- lightful time on the Wirral

What do a former member of “The Scaffold”, Esther McVeigh, a Barn Owl called Eric and Eco-Congregation have in common? They all were in West Kirby on the edge of the Dee estuary, at St Bridget’s Church Fields to celebrate the second Wirral Earth Fest. Designed to raise awareness about sustainable living, protection of the environment and the health and well-being of communities, it started on Friday 12th September.. I found that West Kirby has good rail links to Preston except on a Sunday, so I only went to the Saturday event. This was in two fields by the church and school. There was music from a variety of artists, storytelling and delicious food. This ranged from vegetarian paella, Indian ‘thali’ real ale and the inevitable BBQ. I liked the apple press and the bee hive. Despite craft activities, bike powered smoothies and crazy eco-golf, the star of the show for most was Eric, a rescued Barn Owl with Wirral Barn Owl Trust. He attracted a lot of folk to the A Rocha stand since we were next to him. It meant we were able to talk to lots of people including some from St Mary’s in Upton. I had to leave at 4.00pm and unfortunately missed the church service the following morning. I also missed Esther McVeigh. Already I am planning for next year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mellow Yellow on St David's Day

Daffodils reminded me it was the day for Wales' Patron Saint while I visited the Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve at Brockholes. It was a dry chilly morning, some skylarks were already practising their singing above the car park and a couple of hares seemed surprised at seeing visitors so early. I resisted the temptation to twitch the long staying bittern because I was looking for early flowers. In this I was not disappointed. Craving for attention alongside the daffodils were some primroses, cowslips, golden saxifrage and lesser celandine. I am told the reason all these early flowers display yellow is to try to attract the few insects that are around this early in the year. More yellow was noticed on one of the trees where a glorious fungus could not be missed. It was good to see my first yellowhammer of the year especially since this is not a common sight here at Brockholes. Nearby a bird which was losing some yellow on its bill. It was a grey heron, its bill changing to that slight pinkish tinge it has at this time of year. The most important yellow? The sun, encouraging more life to wake up from its winter slumber.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Cley and the East

This was probably the area I visited with the greatest trepidation during my time in Norfolk. I knew about the tidal surge and the tragic helicopter crash which killed members of the USAF. The crash site had been cleared  very quickly by the Americans with only a slight smell of aviation fuel still remaining. The rest of Cley NWT reserve had suffered damaged hides and sea water spilling into the fresh water pools. Much of the salt water had been cleared fairly quickly but most of the hides still needed lots of repair work doing to them. When I was there only one of the hides was open but still had bits of seaweed stuck to the ceiling. I also visited Salthouse where the defences had been breached. The photograph below shows some debris on the barbed wire. The bottom of the fence is higher that the car I was standing by

Wildlife is very resilient but the low numbers of waders on the pools might suggest that numbers fresh water invertebrates had been affected by the invading sea. It was still worth the visit however. A pair of marsh harriers were practising the food pass and good numbers of lapwing and wigeon were roosting close to the hide. A single dunlin scurried around the edge of the water but soon departed on the re-arrival of the marsh harrier. A confiding  house sparrow refused to depart until I took his picture. Further away hundreds of Brent geese continued their feeding. One of the locals said the flock contained a Black Brant but at that distance it was difficult to tell.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

West of Wells - Holkham, Sculthorpe and Titchwell

It is easy to get to Holkham from Wells by foot. The tide was coming in so a check of the beach was a priority. There had not been any reports of either snow buntings nor shore larks so scanning the sea seemed to be the best option. It was quiet most of the time there but I did see a single diver fairly close in. The dark half collar and almost black head demonstrated it to be a Great Northern Diver. It only stayed for about five minutes so I headed back inland to view the fields immediately south of the trees. Hundreds of wigeon, lapwing, a few pinkfeet, more teal, a few Egyptian geese and in a nearby pool a pair of goldeneyes. I was also able to observe the long staying Rough-legged Buzzard.
A trip to Sculthorpe Moor Nature reserve has also become a must for me. Two years ago I was able to photograph a Golden Pheasant there. Sadly this bird is no longer present. There were several marsh tits, nuthatch, long tailed tits, a very obliging water rail, a red kite and I don't think I have seen so many bramblings. The woodland also contained siskins, lesser redpolls and a drumming great spotted woodpecker

Titchwell is not too far from here either. Throughout the week I was able to see the damage that the tidal surge had left from December. At Titchwell the damage to the dunes was very evident. A brisk walk to the shore for a short time of sea watching revealed great crested grebes, thousands of common scoters, more dunlin, sanderling, turnstone, oystercatchers, curlews and a spotted redshank on the way there. Returning to the hides a very close grey plover gave excellent views, while on the fresh water its cousins, the golden plover were less obliging. I had good sightings of avocets, pintail, snipe, little egret, more Brent geese, and an elusive Mediterranean Gull. There was a woodcock sitting close to the entrance path in the small area of woodland. It was a brilliant demonstration of this bird's camouflage application. Even though we knew the location, we still had problems seeing it.

The journey home was brightened by an appearance of a barn owl sitting quietly on a fence post.

North Norfolk - Wells to Strumpshaw

I last visited Norfolk to celebrate becoming 70. In December last year, when I saw an offer to stay at a YHA hostel at a reduced rate for members I took it. Wells is ideally situated in the centre of the north Norfolk coast and by travelling by train, then using a senior citizens bus pass, both my bank balance and carbon footprint are helped. Despite the rest of the country experiencing constant rain, the week I stayed here was comparatively dry. An initial walk from the harbour to the RNLI house is always a good start. The plaintive cries of redshanks compete with the slightly louder oystercatchers as I commenced the journey. Skylarks were singing overhead and on hearing the distinctive sound of Brent geese, I knew I was on the East coast. I repeated this walk a number of times during the week and managed to note ringed plover, bar tailed godwit, little egret, little grebe, curlew, dunlin, sanderling and the usual plethora of gulls. Using my telescope to scan the sea helped me to spot several seals and a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers. Most evenings, I heard a tawny owl in the car park, and several mornings a song thrush was my early alarm clock.

I did rent a car for one day to visit Strumpshaw Fen. I always enjoy visiting there but must try some time in summer to see the Swallowtail butterfly. Marsh Harriers were quite active and an otter made a brief appearance. Sadly too brief to obtain a photo. A distant smew also made a record shot impossible. The sunshine did enable me to see teal, shoveler, mute swans, marsh tits, nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker plus the more common woodland birds. There was even some white dead nettle in flower. The photos also confirm that rare occurrence.. sunshine. 



Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Week of Volunteering

At the start of the year, I thought I'd give a taster of the first full week of my New Year

Go to Cuerden Valley Park (CVP) for staff meeting. Short walk round the lake for a survey of birds. There were a few long tailed tits, a sparrowhawk, 12 goosanders, some siskins, a treecreeper and 7 mallards. Bird feeders were then filled and sightings entered to database.
Home for lunch and started a free on-line course from FutureLearn on "Sustainability". This one is delivered by Nottingham University
In the evening I went to listen to an excellent talk by John Poland on " Rare Plants in Britain" There were only two of these that I have seen; Lady's Slipper Orchid and Yellow Whitlowgrass. It also gave me the opportunity to ask David Earle, BSBI recorder for vc59 South Lancs, about botanical records in Chorley. 

Another visit to CVP where the Park manager took me to an area where he showed me a few elm tree. Last summer we had a sighting of 16 White Letter Hairstreak butterflies and I wanted to search for the eggs. Jan/Feb is the best time, but not today as I had another appointment. The regular Health Walk, normally held each Thursday was having an extra day on a Tuesday to see whether there was any support. I helped lead this, which lasts for about an hour. As you can see from the picture, they were not put off by the rain. I of course also point out any wildlife interest. We had more goosanders, Canada geese, great crested grebe, nuthatch, a tree-creeper, grey wagtail and we saw butterbur starting to emerge near the wooden footbridge. This was completed by lunch so the afternoon was another time to spend on the Sustainability course.

In the morning I went to Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Brockholes reserve to lead a walk for the Preston U3A Birdwatching group. There were about a dozen of us. A couple of buzzards circled above as the group were gathering and we were disappointed that a great white egret had flown away just fifteen minutes earlier. We had an hour and a half looking at both Meadow Lake and also the romantically named No1 Pit. Grey Heron, Mute swans, tufted ducks, mallard, shoveler, cormorant and the ubiquitous coot were noted at the first area. Viewing over the second lake we added snipe, great crested grebe, gadwall, goldeneye, several gulls and moorhen. In the hedgrow nearby we saw chaffinches, robins, great and blue tits, blackbird, two very confiding meadow pipits and several tree sparrows. Lunchtime as usual arrived too quickly so then group departed for a warming bowl of soup.
As I left I heard that the great white egret had been seen near the River Ribble which was on the way to my home. I called in and found two birders who had recently seen the bird. After about a fifteen minute wait I saw it fly. Even better it was flying towards us. I didn't get a photo, so this one is one from Bill Aspin, one of the birders I was with. 

I was home by 2.30pm so again enough time for a rest and refreshment. The evening was occupied with attending the Committee of the Lancashire Badger Group, where I am vice chair.   

This was chill-out day, but I did about an hour looking at my Sustainability online course. I also received an email asking for help tomorrow at the Preston Guild Wheel. An ecologist was asking for help searching for newts in a short section at the north east part of the cycle path. The Guild Wheel is a 21 mile "greenway" that encircles the city of Preston. Created as a lasting legacy for the 2012 Preston Guild it is both a walking and cycle route. Users of the Wheel experience the variety of landscapes that surround the city.

I was having breakfast before going to help at the Guild Wheel when I received a text from Brockholes. "Bittern seen near the Visitor Village 0810". I had to pass there on my way to the newt hunt so I set off early to get about 40 minutes twitching done. The bird disappeared 5 minutes before I arrived and re-appeared 2 minutes after I left. Ah well there will be other opportunities.
Our search for newts was to ensure that none were hibernating in the area. This meant that improvement to the Cycle Path could go ahead. There were about 16 of us under the supervision of an ecologist. The task involved searching under tufts of vegetation, mainly on our knees. Thank goodness we were all adequately dressed for Lancashire weather. There seemed to be enough mud for a hippo to wallow in. We didn't find any newts but we did find, snails, some vole burrows, groundsel in flower, hazel nuts, a few plastic bags and a fluffy die. An early finish meant I was able to return home in time to prepare for my eldest great grandson's seventh birthday.
I was planning on doing a morning birding but unexpected rain forced me to start laundry instead. I still went to CVP to refill the bird feeders.

In the morning I went to my local church, which meets in a converted shoe factory. It's a time when I can have a good sing, learn more about Jesus and enjoy time with my church family. This morning we were reminding ourselves of belonging and community

After lunch, I was back at Brockholes leading the weekly Sunday afternoon reserve walk. It was a cool slightly breezy afternoon. The highlights were, goldeneyes, gadwall, scarlet elf cup and King Alfred's Cakes. A quick dash home for a meal and then catch the train to Southall in London for the A Rocha UK staff meeting.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On Home Ground

In mid October I was invited by the Blackburn Diocesan Rural and Environmental Officer, Rev Chris Halliwell to join the new Bishop of Blackburn when he visited the Brockholes reserve of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. It was also great to have Professor John Rodwell with us. John is an ordained priest in the Anglican communion as well as being a professor of plant ecology at Lancaster University. Bishop Julian was there as part of his prayer pilgrimage round his new diocese, and wanted to include the environment on that pilgrimage. After a short prayer walk, we enjoyed the hospitality of the staff at the reserve with a cup of tea in the restaurant.


The third week in November is always the North West Birdwatching Festival. Held at Martin Mere, A Rocha have been attending since the beginning. We have a stand there on both the Saturday and Sunday. We were also invited to hold a Christian Worship service on the Sunday. The Saturday was quite busy and we had several people signing the petition to save the Atiwa Forest. It was so busy I missed seeing a very obliging tawny owl roosting less than 200 metres away. After the Festival on Saturday I went to the A Rocha group at Sandbach where Ruth Valerio had been speaking. The meeting was well attended and it was good to see several long standing supporters . It was a busy weekend for Ruth as she was the speaker at our Sunday service as well. I had gone there to collect her. This year our service was a little earlier than previous, which meant some of our regulars were unable to attend. The  musicians leading that morning were the young people from Christ Church, Southport and Ruth spoke on " Birds and Bread". One of our visitors was Dominic Cousins who was giving a talk on mammals both Saturday and Sunday. A few of us shared some time with him over coffee in the restaurant after the service. Throughout the day we continued to engage with folk as they enquired about the birding trips to Portugal. We also had several more folks signing the Atiwa Forest petition. The weekend was a great time of meeting supporters and gaining new ones.