Sunday, 30 December 2012

RSPB Troup Head promotional film by Cain Scrimgeour

Cain the Hollywell Birder has released his promotional film he captured on the Aberdeenshire reserve of Troup Head in the summer, for the organisation RSPB. Just amazing footage of the wildlife present, and in particular the iconic sea bird Northern Gannet.

Watch it here...

http://cainscrimgeour.co.uk/rspb-troup-head/

Thursday, 27 December 2012

River Gelt Photography - xmas day

A trip down to the river Gelt on xmas afa before fodder to do some photography along the stretch. Came across an impressive waterfall to start with which is normally just a trickle but emulates the persistent rain in the last few days which encouraged me to go down with the camera and do some slow shutter shots to capture the strong current in motion.

Wildlife sightings included 3 Roe deer, Treecreeper, Woodcock, Grey Squirrel.

A v good xmas day with the family. 5 billion spent on presents in the UK on the weekend before xmas, imagine what the human population could do for our deteriorating planet with all that wasted money on a mythical celebration...shame.

Boxing day and headed to the Scottish coast with friends Andy Mc and Rachel.

Wildlife sightings on the Scottish Solway at Balcary included Peregrine, Raven, 15 plus Fulmars, 30 plus Guillemots  Raft of Common Scoters 50 plus, 5 Whooper Swans, Teal, Buzzard, Linnets and feral Rock Doves.

A strong current from the heavy rainfall in days previous... 
Miranda in the gelt...

1 sec exposure, 200 ISO, 20 F-stop


Water falling up stream...

Lovely bend in the gelt with an overhanging Oak...

Thanks for looking...


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Isle of Mull - Eagle Country

My experiences on Mull in 2012, articles published in... 




Isle of Mull - Eagle Country

It was the first week of March on the wintry island of Mull and I was out in the field to focus on a local pair of Golden Eagles to monitor their early season behaviour. The usual persistence was required to see these elusive birds and once the snow eased off, in classic Mull fashion, blue skies arrived and the sunshine lit up the white landscape.

As the sun appeared so did a pair of Golden Eagles with the male performing some spectacular sky diving displays including holding a tree branch or stick and dropping it in mid air before stooping at great speed to catch it again. Later on the male bird continually patrolled his territory boundary appearing to pass over the exact same tree, taking the same route over half a dozen times. It was a coastal eyrie so potentially there could be a lot more to defend their territory from, for example, Herring and Black-backed Gulls.


Perched Golden Eagle - Terry Pickford

After these events a male Hen Harrier was seen fighting the icy north winds before the Eagles appeared again, with the female Eagle landing on a mature Sitka Spruce and the male coming to join her as copulation took place. Fingers crossed for a successful breeding season for the first time in nearly a decade.

Mull is an island driven by wildlife tourism and sets an example globally of the value that certain species can have. The eagles bring in millions of pounds annually and produce over a hundred jobs on the isle. This second biggest Inner Hebridean island has enjoyed a lot of positive media attention which has helped to enhance the island’s reputation over the years and the eagles’ many TV appearances have put the island on the map for general awareness and tourism. The RSPB and all the conservationists involved deserve huge accolades for the success of the White tailed Eagle re-introduction and the positive effect it has had on a large number of people’s livelihoods, and the economy as a whole.

The island’s reputation was in jeopardy in 2012 after a tiny minority of islanders spoke up claiming the eagles were causing havoc with wildlife on Mull. A 70 year old resident calls for a cull and describes Sea Eagles as dangerous beasts and believes it is only a matter of time before a bird picks up an unattended baby or toddler. Obviously this is nonsense and unfortunately for him and the Scottish papers that printed this, they have embarrassed themselves in front of the nation. The only problem is that less educated people might actually believe it.

Goldie circling in wintry landscape...

A local farmer voiced his concern over possible livestock loss and he later confessed in a community meeting that he simply just didn’t like Eagles. The council also contacted the RSPB regarding worries of declining Puffins on Lunga from Eagle predation and RSPB Mull eagle officer David Sexton put that to bed straight away confirming that Puffins have increased since eagles colonised the island again. A desperate comment by a community councillor expressing the decline of Rabbits in the south of the isle was not taken seriously. Grazing Rabbits are competing with sheep so who is complaining!? Incredibly, some of the outspoken residents run tourist reliant businesses such as B and Bs and catering facilities.

Back to the local Eagles and mid way through spring we had enjoyed some fantastic spells of weather with plenty of sunshine hours and low winds to help increase the birds’ chances of success. I left them alone and monitored them from sea as our boat excursions passed near to the birds’ territory. After a spell of a few weeks with no clues to whether or not the incubation was a success and chicks had hatched, I was slightly concerned. A few days following,  as we were passing the territory on another trip I saw two Golden Eagles in flight as the male bird suddenly started doing strong sky dive displays as another two Goldies approached from a greater height. This behaviour told us that they were protecting something and as one of the birds dropped down to reveal the location of the eyrie, there was a healthy looking eaglet on the edge of the nest cup, flapping its wings to strengthen its flight muscles.


Goldie soaring over the isle...

Mull has no records of illegal persecution of raptors on the island. A significant reason for this is that there is no land managed for Grouse. The west of Scotland is naturally a lot wetter than the east and therefore less promotion of heather so Red Grouse are a scarce species. The island’s reputation as a persecution-free zone further promotes the area for wildlife tourism. The largest Hebridean island, Skye also sustains breeding Golden and White-tailed Eagles. Skye seems to lie in Mull’s shadow when it comes to wildlife tourism and one thing that could affect the island’s reputation is instances of persecution and in particular one record in recent years when a dead White-tailed Eagle was found at the bottom of a cliff. It had been decapitated and later found with traces of gun shots in the bird. The story made the national media and what message does that send out to potential visitors when they know that there has been criminal activities like that undertaken by natives of the isle?  

Towards the end of another season on Mull, I ventured out to see if there would be a positive outcome for the local eagles this season. I picked my usual distant vantage point, blending into the environment to wait for activity. After a good hour scanning, a bird appeared over the sky line and when I got it in the scope it turned out to be a newly fledged Golden Eagle presumably from the local pair! I watched the bird soaring in the Hebridean sky with the Atlantic ocean as a backdrop. The bird suddenly started drifting my way, it got close enough to make eye to eye contact before moving on. Whether it was an association, curiosity or just a co-incidence, what an ending and a huge privilege to watch a successful breeding season of the iconic Golden Eagle and it is just the beginning now for the fledged bird and I wish it a long and successful life.


Eagle country...

The population of Mull used to be at around 10,000, but in the 18th and 19th centuries there was the infamous highland clearance which caused a lot of the landowners to replace their tenants with sheep which had more value to the land. The potato famine and also the collapse of the kelp industry were also the cause. Landowners on the north of the isle built a new stately home during this time and named the house Glengorm which means blue smoke named after all the burning peat used for destroying crofts, with some being burnt minutes after families had left. A lot of the homeless highlanders left the isle from Calgary Pier to attempt to start a new life as far away as America and Australia as Mull’s population dropped by around 75%. The increase in sheep added to the grazing pressure on the land decreasing the available live prey for the Golden Eagles but increasing carrion as a food source. The large reduction in people decreased possible conflict, and disturbance of the Eagles.

This year RSPB Mull Eagle Watch got awarded with only the second 5 star wildlife attraction in Scotland. The partnership project which is run by Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Strathclyde Police, Scottish Natural Heritage, Mull and Iona Community Trust along with local volunteers. This is further evidence of what White-tailed Eagles and general wildlife tourism can do for a rural economy.  


White-Tailed Eagle overhead...

Of the 25-30 Golden Eagle pairs on the island, 9 young fledged in 2012 which is about average compared to previous years. White-tailed Eagles had a bumper year with 18 pairs producing 19 fledged young. It sounds like a healthy figure for one isle to produce but is it just replacing illegally persecuted eagles in the UK for that year or worse a percentage of lost birds? The fledged Eagles in 2012 have a huge challenge to survive in a country with one of the worst illegal persecution records in Europe and a planned severe rise in wind farm sites increases the threat. However, locations like Mull set an example of the value attached to birds of prey and give us hope for the future.


Ewan Miles

Friday, 14 December 2012

Simple Science...

A great article from Ireland showing the positive effects the increasing Pine Martens are having on decreasing invasive Grey Squirrels. Millions spent on killing Greys when Pineys and Goshawks can do it for free...

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/sciencetoday/2012/1115/1224326599383.html

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Armchair birding...

Some strange people in Cumbria say "what a whitey!" which I think when translated means "Oh Gosh that's a pity" I am referring to the colour of the landscape around me as the winter season has kicked into gear.
More local sightings included in this post with some great species seen from the kitchen window with a cup of coffee in my hand. Some football fans get referred to as armchair fans if they never go to the live games, well I felt like that a bit this week but jesus did I get some great bird sightings.

Johns exciting new children s book Kitty the Toon is available and is the first in a fact & fiction story based series aiming to inspire kids about some of Britain's famous bird species. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kitty-Toon-Worlds-Inland-Colony/dp/1904078532/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355068784&sr=8-1

This is one of my favorite sites, by Roy Dennis, a man who has done a huge amount for British raptors in a number of ways. His web site is well worth a look as it emphases the use of modern technology to discover so much about our raptors. You can follow the progress of a number of British species with consistent live updates of their movements. It is also a way to help protect them and should be used in the future as that important bit of evidence that always seems to be missing to catch countryside criminals. If a tagged bird fails on a shooting estate then landowners should be held responsible and prosecuted for illegal persecution of protected species.

The Raptor e-petiton finished this autumn without the support of any organisations which with the members votes would of easily made the 100,000 needed to get a reaction. A few weeks later and the RSPB are asking for £600,000 from the public to help save Hen Harriers.
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2012/12/04/rspb-campaign-requesting-600000-of-public-money-to-help-save-the-hen-harrier/

Sat Tagged Red Kites exploring brave new world and you can follow their where abouts online...
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2012/12/02/sat-tagged-red-kites-explore-brave-new-world/

Some amazing sightings of great Whales off the west coast of Ireland in the last few weeks with Fin, Humpback and Minkes feeding near by.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20580373

Stunning Icicles from overhanging crag...

High up the Old water the Gelt was frozen with some impressive icicles...

Weeks sightings from the Computer room hide have been Ringtail Harrier, 4 Waxwing, juv Goshawk, 9 female Black Grouse (Grey Hens), 2 Black Grouse cocks, Goldcrests in the garden, Buzzards and male Kestrel.

4 Waxwing in the garden on Hawthorn before heading east up the valley...

On Simmerson Ridge up the valley looking west...
Headed up the valley last Sunday to look for activity on a crisp frosty day with not a breath of wind to be felt. Very quiet to start, with just a few Red Grouse up Simmerson ridge. Two young Stonechat also seen sat on the frosty heather. I arrived round at the old water and headed up the valley past the old eagle owl nest to arrive at some incredible ice structures with the flow of the river halted by the big freeze. Amazing icicles on the overhanging crag which can be seen on the photos above.

Working my way west back down the valley I got 14 Black Grouse cocks in flight and a male Peregrine. Small flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing were also seen overhead. As the sun dropped I flushed a woodcock and also watched 16 Jays going into a conifer plantation to roost. 

Middle Gelt...
A trip across the border to see the famous Starling murmuration with Danny and a lovely sunset accompanied it well. A Kestrel hunting the rough Grass and a Buzzard sat waiting patiently as well. Two Sparrowhawks also seen lingering near by. 

More snow arrived later in the week as Geltsdale looked stunning and I love the way the reflective light brightens up bird plumage to look even more spectacular!

Starling Murmuration with nice Solway sunset...

Female Kestrel hunting the rough grass...

Patient Buzzard eyeing up a Starling at Gretna...

Ponies up the valley...
A white winter wonderland up Gdale...


Just as I finish this post I hear about the passing of the legendary astronomer Sir Patrick Moor who died at the age of 89 and gave a life time of encouraging viewers and readers of his books of the fascination of the night sky. His bbc show 'Sky at night' was constantly broadcast by the BBC at a disgracefully late time even though the content is the most fascinating subject there is as I am sure a lot of people will agree. RIP and thanks for everything, clear skies forecast tonight as I am going out for a night shift and will be thinking of the great man.

Thanks for looking...

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Night shifts up Gdale and Martin Mere...

A night shift on the fells earlier in the week as clear skies were present along with a strong moon to light up the way, natures torch! I knew there was a couple of CMEs (Colosal Mass Injection) earth bound so there was a chance of Aurora as well. 

Faint Aurora on the horizon looking from 'the Cairns'
I had a fox barking and also a Short-eared Owl. Amazing atmosphere again as I had the moors all to my self for the night. The aurora didn't last for long and also a constant movement of cloud cover disrupted things. A couple of shooting stars added to the show.

Looking south towards Orion and Sirius the brightest star in the night sky

Back at the house after the moon dropped at 3am the stars visible multiplied
Barn Owl calling as I arrived closer to home after a great night out!

Martin Mere WWT reserve
A trip to Martin Mere on the Sunday with Cain. It was the north west bird fair so It was a busy event and we met Ruth Molloy and Rachel Lainsey down there as there living in the region. 3 Peregrines, female Marsh Harrier and Ruff were the highlights. Watching the Pere's in hunting mode is always a great show and feeding time at the reserve at 3pm brought chaos as all the birds came in very close showing well in the crisp light.
Castle Carrock reservoir with shelter belt of Scots Pine
Recent trips to the village reservoir have produced a female Scaup and a single Pinkie been the highlights along with a juv Cormoront, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Little Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese.

At the back of Tesco on the Eden...
While I popped into the big city of Carlisle I covered my usual stretch of the Eden river where I encountered a female Kingfisher sat close in the willows. Also 3 Snipe and Lapwing on the flooded fields. Big number of 100 plus Fieldfares overhead and 20 odd Redwing. A few Goosander on the river along with Mute Swans. 



Martin Mere Time Lapse...


Keswick Time Lapse from Dusk to Darkness...


Thanks for looking...