Saturday, 10 September 2016

House Martins and Feeders

Hello all,
First off are the House Martins. When I visited a friend's house recently, we discovered that one of the nests was still in use on the side of his house. This provided us with some excellent photo opportunities; some of the results were better than others. With many of the photos, I found myself thinking "this would be fantastic if the House Martins weren't flying past the nest at 40mph!" Not all were meaningless blurs, however...

 We (Ed and I) have also continued with the coloured bird feeder experiment, and I have been trying out digiscoping to get some closer up photos of the birds. Namely, in this case, a juvenile Goldfinch and a Great Tit


Sunday, 4 September 2016


Hello all,
I have recently returned from a two week holiday on the south coast! There, I reached 150 bird species for 2016, and saw some great wildlife as well.

Bird Summary
The first weekend held a new bird for 2016. On 31st July, a flock of 8 Eider flew past the cliff; their dark colour makes me say that they are eclipse males. This was a good sighting, but the following morning was even better. A morning seawatch produced a new bird for me: a Storm Petrel! It was a little distance out to sea, and at first I thought it to be a swallow, then a bat (?!) before it clicked! Not the best of views, I will admit, but it is nice to have seen a relatively scarce bird. Other species at the seawatch were Black-Headed, Herring, Lesser Black Backed, Great Black Backed and Common gulls as well as a flock of Goldfinch and a couple of cormorant!
The following day included a visit to a small section of Keyhaven marshes. Oystercatcher were abundant, as were linnet, cormorants, mallards, mute swans and starlings. There was also an excellent view of a group of turnstone available, just metres away at some points! Redshank came and went as did Black-tailed Godwit and both common sandpipers and green, which hung around for a little longer. To round off the day, a small group of Avocet flew by!

Thursday saw a visit to a different habitat: the New Forest. Undoubtedly, the star of the show was a Turtle Dove, the first I have seen in some time. Wood warbler was also great along with a Reeve's Muntjac deer, Treecreeper, Sedge warbler, Cetti's Warbler and a Buzzard secondary feather, as well as the chaps in person!

A visit to Keyhaven marshes again proved fruitful. Wheatear and Whinchat both showed well, along with 10 Oystercatcher, c.20 Lapwing, c.20 Redshank, 6 Little Egret, 1 GREAT WHITE EGRET, and a Mediterranean Gull. Near a small flock of Sarnies, as one calls them, there was an adult summer Common Gull, looking very smart if a little chilly, sat on the scrape in front of a group of juvenile Shelduck. A huge count of 51 Turnstone on a groyne out to sea was pleasing, and five Knot on a scrape inland was my 150 species of the year! A Ruff later on added to my totals, as well as a small group of Black-Tailed Godwit nearby. Finally, a Raven flew over, and the total for the day was 58 species!!

That was it in terms of birds, but mammals were also there: rabbits were constant at the place at which we were staying, and a Muntjac in the New Forest was nice to see. There was certainly fox evidence, as well as marine life, namely whelk egg cases and crabs!

Anyway, a picture tells a thousand words, depending on the complexity of the passage, so here we go...

Black Headed Gulls

BHG in amazement!

Common Gull ad.summer
Feral Pigeon

Common Scoter

Common Tern

Buzzard, Tawny, Pheasant, Rabbit, Corvid, Gull

Black-Tailed Godwit
Flock of male eclipse Eider

Little Egret

Sarnies-Sandwich tern

Spot the Treecreeper



Thursday, 25 August 2016

Buzzards and update!

Hello all,
There should soon be a new post on a holiday to the south coast (Christchurch) for two weeks. I reached my target of 150 bird species in 2016!
For the time being, however, the bird colour project is back and a coal tit today was nice as well as two buzzards!

Friday, 29 July 2016


Hello all,
As I promised, here is a post on one of the "Wetland Bird Icon" poll winners-the Bittern.

The Bittern is a member of the Herons and Allies family and have a scientific name of Botaurus stellaris, which references their bull-like appearance and sounds in the first part. Bitterns are on the RSPB's Amber List, and they are of conservation concern. However, it is not all doom and gloom; the overall population of Bitterns in the UK is on the rise.  Here is a distribution map...
Bitterns are a thick-set bird and often look fairly bulky, when you're lucky enough to get a glimpse of one! The Eurasian (or Great) Bittern is the largest member of the Bittern family, measuring in at 69-81 cm in length, 100-130 cm wingspan and weighing 0.87-1.94 kg! The crown and nape are black but the sides of the head and neck are more often a uniform tawny-buff, with black, irregular barring.  Bitterns have a yellowish supercilium and a brownish-black moustachial stripe. The sides of the neck are a rusty-brown and faint barring can just be made out. The chin and throat are buff, with rusty-brown stripes. Meanwhile, the breast and belly are yellowish-buff, with broad stripes of brown at the side and more narrow stripes in the centre. The tail is rusty-buff with black streaks in the centre and black mottling near the edge. The wings are pale rusty-brown, also with irregular barring, streaked and mottled with black. The powerful bill is greenish-yellow with a darker tip to the upper mandible. The eye has a yellow iris and is surrounded by a ring of greenish or bluish bare skin. The legs and feet are a faint, pale green, with some yellow on the feet. Juveniles have similar plumage to adults but are somewhat paler. The feathers on the necks of Bitterns carry the ability to be erected, giving a rather odd silhouette.
Feeding on fish, small mammals and birds, amphibians and insects, the Bittern has a cosmopolitan diet yet requires a special habitat: reed beds. Often, a Bittern is heard and not seen, much like a Cetti's Warbler, really (or Victorian Children as Kate Humble puts it in "Watching Waterbirds")! They live a secretive life, and are best looked for in Winter, when the reeds are thinner and the birds are forced out onto ice to look for food, or in Spring, when males are booming and feeding flights take place. Flushing is a controversial way  of trying to see a bird (don't do it in rare habitat...) but if disturbed, a Bittern often points its bill directly upwards and freezes in that position, causing its cryptic plumage to blend into the surrounding reeds, in an action known as bitterning. While in this position, the shield of long feathers on the throat and breast droop downwards and hide the neck, so that the outline is obscured.

Males are polygamous, sometimes mating with  five females. The nest consists of an untidy platform  30 cm (12 in) across of reeds. The eggs average 52 by 38 mm  and are not glossy but coloured olive-brown, with some darker speckling at the wider end. Four to six eggs are laid in late March and April and incubated by the female for about twenty-six days. After hatching, the chicks spend about two weeks in the nest before leaving to swim amongst the reeds. The female rears them without help from the male, regurgitating food into the nest from her crop, the young seizing her bill and pulling it down. They become fully fledged at about eight weeks.

My experiences of the Bittern
I have only seen a Bittern at one site on one day in my life, and that was at Ham Wall in May. However, by the end of the day, I had begun to ignore the booming, I had got so used to it, but only saw Bitterns about four times, once when they were being chased by Marsh Harriers! WHAT A SIGHT! Absolutely FANTASTIC birds!

Natural England
It is a shame to end on such a miserable note, but it must be shared and the news must be put out there. So-called "Natural" England has announced, in a joint licence with DEFRA, that ten Buzzards are to be culled in certain regions. THIS IS MADNESS. What, pray may I ask, is natural about murdering a native species for the benefit of an invasive and introduced species? Hold isn't even for the benefit of another species! It is, in actual fact, benefiting the gun-wielding madmen who get kicks out of hunting and call it sport as a cover-up! Furthermore, why is the hunting community, a small group of people, being put higher than the birding community, or, in fact, those with common sense! Friends in high places, methinks...
This is yet another ridiculous decision that makes the environmental knowledge of Natural England look laughable. Twitter has exploded with the outrage of those of us who don't support pointless and unfair slaughter, and I'm sure that Natural England will reply with an ambiguous statement that mentions how hard it is working with it partners to make this project sustainable and good for all! Another environmentaly incompetent decision blocks the way to sensible, environmental reforms.


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Polaroid Lenspen Review

Hello all,
Recently, I purchased a Polaroid Lenspen to use to clean my camera and optics. I am glad to report that it is excellent. Using a dry carbon compound to clean, this is a two-in-one cleaning implement that is safe for use on all lenses. Of course, cleaning FMCO Scopes is a delicate task, and one in which there is no point in buying the cheap option, but the Polaroid lenspen is an affordable item that is handy and easy to use. The cleaning compound (at the bottom of the pen, as far as this picture is concerned) should last for 500 uses, and is self-replenishing.

So how does one go about using it? First of all, you need to remove all dust or generic dirt before you start with the actual cleaning bit. For this, you use the brush end of the pen (which retracts inside the body) and lightly sweep away any materials. Sand is especially abrasive, so ensure all bits are off the lens before you start cleaning. Then, take of the cap at the end to show the cleaning nib. Work in circles from the middle outwards, and repeat the entire process if there are still smudges. Then, once you're finished, replace the cap and do one half twist of the cap to replenish the cleaning nib.

Over clean - this will just damage the multi coatings, reducing the light-gathering capabilities of your optics.

Wipe the lenses without removing dirt first - this will scratch the lens

Clean with kitchen roll - it is too abrasive and will damage the lens.

Touch the lenses - pretty obvious but a frequent mistake; the oils on your skin will damage the coatings.

Use detergent/household cleaners - it will destroy your lens!!!!!

Overall, this is a fantastic buy, and has noticeably improved the cleanliness of my binoculars, which I usually just use microfibre cloths on. This  is a must have and an essential, easy to use and highly functional piece of kit.


P.S. You may have noticed the new "Flag Counter." Because it only counts from when it was put on there, it has missed out the previous 23 countries, which includes El Salvador, Singapore and Taiwan! Thanks

Tuesday, 26 July 2016


Hello all,
Those of you who read the Avon Birding blog may be aware of my sighting of a Woodlark recently. I won't disclose the details-breeding can't be ruled out-but I will share a video of the song.

This takes me up to 141 species this year, without visiting Slimbridge! This year, I have tried to find my own good birding sites, but a visit to a certain, large WWT centre wouldn't go amiss; high counts of Green Sandpiper, coupled with Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Avocet, Kingfisher and a chance of  Wood Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper. Then, in winter, flocks of White fronts as well as Bewick's and a chance of Whooper swans should see me over the 150 mark. Of course, any local twitches I might get lucky with will add to my total; perhaps a Yellow-Browed Warbler might make an appearance at Sand Point again?

Which is your Wetland Bird Icon? 
  2 (33%)
  2 (33%)
Marsh Harrier
  1 (16%)
Water Rail
  1 (16%)
  0 (0%)

As you can see, the winner was a joint Bittern-Avocet! There should be a new one soon!


Monday, 25 July 2016

Earth and Marine Science Summer School

Hello all,
As I reminded you, I recently attended an Earth and Marine science summer school in Southampton. We were based at the NOC (National Oceanography Centre) and partook in different activities.

Day 1
This was not, strictly speaking, day one because we had arrived the day before, but this was our first proper day at Southampton. The Earth science section went to Lulworth Cove, the other side of Bournemouth, and I was on this side.

Lulworth cove is a fantastic place, with fascinating geology. The rocks at Lulworth Cove tell a story. The oldest rocks there are Portland Stones, which is a limestone and formed 150mya in water at a depth of 50-100m. This is because calcium carbonate dissolves in deeper waters. Portland Stone is dark and quite hard.

Then, you have the Purbeck bed, with clays and limestones. This was formed in an estuary environment because it has oyster fossils in and oysters only really lived in an estuary. The Purbeck bed has excellent layers and a fantastic fossil bed. It was formed 147 mya and has diagonal bedding after the collision of the Eurasian and African plates to form the Alps 65mya. This caused the bedding to go at a slant.

Next is the Wealden Bed. This has conglomerate, meaning rocks with "stuff" in. In this case, pebbles are present, meaning that the rock was formed in a high-energy environment. On top of this, it has coal in the rocks, which only forms on land. This tells us that the Wealden bed was formed by a river 140 mya.

Then, there is Greeensand. This is sandstone stained green by the mineral glauconite, and it can only form in deepish waters. It formed 125 mya but is easily eroded away.

Finally, there are chalk cliffs from 97 mya. Mainly calcite, chalk forms in the sea.

So why does the water level rise and drop? It is evidence of an ice age there at some point, when glaciers took in the water, then melted again.

Coves are formed when the hard rock (Portland Stone) is finally eroded away, leaving the soft rocks (greensand, chalk) exposed and the circular shape is formed.

Day 2
This was a day in the lab. We started off with rock ID, before moving on to oil reservoirs and the subsurface. However, this was not lab work as one might expect; it was interesting with fun activities. Oil might seem like an odd topic on a nature blog, but oil is in the natural world and the same principles apply to CO2 trapping. So what would an ideal oil reservoir look like? Well, the reservoir rock would be something like sandstone: porous (has holes) and permeable (the holes are well connected. Then, the reservoir rock would have a trap rock of shale, which is impermeable and non porous. This is, as the name suggests, to trap the oil from escaping from the reservoir rock. Then, a geological feature such as a fault line or anticline makes the most of this rock layering. Here, you can see what a fault does with this plasticine. If the green is the reservoir rock and the red is the cap/seal rock, then the green rock is covered from all sides, ensuring no oil escapes, or liquid CO2, for that matter.

Anticlines have their benefits shown in this experiment. The "sad face" structure means the commodity is trapped, as with the air in this experiment.

Then, we created an "ideal reservoir" with items such as rice krispies and plasticine!

Day 3
In the morning, we started off by looking at tectonic plates. With volcanoes, the larger the magma chamber is, the more devastating the eruption will be. However, although small chambers will still be explosive, they won't be as devastating. The deadliest volcano on Earth at the moment is in Yellowstone.
We also looked at evidence for Pangea, one of the previous supercontinents; there will be more supercontinents to come, with the  continents going through a cycle of getting further away and coming back together. A band of fossils run across the planet, and across the continents, showing that the animals once lived in the same place. Also, the continents fit together like a puzzle, and the rocks of the eastern coast of Brazil are the same as the rocks on the west coast of Africa. This shows that the rocks were once in the same place. Finally, evidence of past climates shows that some areas that are now quite far apart were identical.
In the afternoon, we went out on the RV (Research Vessel) Callista, into the estuary of Southampton and slightly into the Solent. After measuring salinity, which didn't really work thanks to gigantic waves being created by industrial oil tankers, we moved on to trawling to look at life in the water. This certainly came up trumps. Many Velvet swimming crabs were caught, along with the usual mussels, as well as a red spider crab, a pipefish, various sea squirts and a young dragon goby. Excellent! Also, worms were caught, and after looking at them under a microscope, we put them back in the sea, unchanged from their terrestrial experience. Then, finally, we did a plankton trawl. PLANKTON IS NOT ALL MICROSCOPIC. Plankton means "wanderer" so most jellyfish, regardless of if they are 1ft or 100ft are plankton. However, the image a little bit below is from 3ml or so of water; imagine how much you are swallowing in a mouthful of seawater!
Pipefish-closely related to seahorses



Finally, on day 4, we gave our presentations. Ours was on Lulworth Cove (thanks Zbigniew, Will, Maisy and Harry for a great presentation)!

Overall, 'twas an excellent couple of days, and below are some photos from Lulworth.


Durdle Dor, just down the coast
Diagonal bedding thanks to Alpine Orogeny 65mya