Sunday, 6 January 2019

'One Wild Night' at the Royal Geographic, 14th December 2018

During October, I noticed an event that was taking place at the Royal Geographical Society in London called 'One Wild Night;' it was organised by Steve Backshall and Helen Glover, while Monty Halls was going to be presenting it. Together, they were going to be delivering a series of presentations along with numerous other celebrities and athletes, and all money received on the day for tickets and donations would help the World Land Trust save 8154 acres of rainforest in Belize, home to Jaguar, Tapir, Harpy Eagle etc. 

About a week before the 14th my dad said he'd got tickets for my whole family and so we drove up to London, reaching our seats at around 18:40. Steve started the speeches introducing Monty Halls at approximately 7pm, where the presentations began. 
Between 7pm and 10pm, we heard about 10 presentations all of which were fascinating and inspirational. In brief here they are:

Steve Backshall (naturalist and athlete and, like many with similar interests to me, a childhood hero)

Steve Backshall speaking briefly
Monty Halls (naturalist, broadcaster, travel writer and marine biologist that was the 'compere' for the evening, starting with a talk about the importance of conservation)

Monty Halls
Dr George McGavin (zoologist with a particular interest in insects, that brought the audiences attention on not just the bigger animals but the millions of smaller ones)

Will Greenwood (2003 rugby world cup winner - hilarious to listen to, but his closing line was brilliant in addressing younger people with the following; 'Little things matter. If we all do the little things right, we can change the world for the better.'
Will Greenwood and Monty Halls

Leo Houlding (rock climber and adventurer that travelled to Antarctica and climbed an immense peak called the Ulvetenna with some friends. It looked incredible, though the South Polar Skua that he saw really caught my eye...)

Leo Houlding
Leo Houlding
Sophie Raworth (journalist and broadcaster, who ran the 251km Marathon Des Sables, with a group of friends.)

Sophie Raworth 
Then, a short interval where a speaker selfie took place. 


Picture of the Selfie from the cameraman
Lowri Morgan (presenter and marathon runner, who ran a 350mile marathon across a number of different places; she completed the marathon with fractured feet after a time, which sounded crazy. )

Sean Conway (adventurer, author and even athlete who chased records by following the 3 F's - achieving a world record of the fastest, the first and the furthest in his cycling, swimming and running.)

Sean Conway
Simon Watt (biologist and writer that spoke about why conservation matters as much as anything else like politics.)

Simon Watt

Helen Glover w Heather Stanning and Dame Katherine Grainger (3 Olympian rowers, who spoke about their experiences in the Olympics together.)

Helen Glover, Heather Stanning, Katherine Grainger
Helen Glover and Heather Stanning
Steve Backshall (due to the event running significantly over time, he didn't get time to do a speech properly.)
All the speeches were fascinating, but from a personal point of view my favourites were Leo Houlding's and George McGavin's due to the greater link to conservation and wildlife aspects to the world. After 10pm we had a chance to meet the speakers, and I managed to have quick conversations with Leo Houlding and Helen Glover, while I was privileged to meet Steve as well.

It was a largely fascinating and inspirational night that, hopefully, will make a difference.

Steve Backshall and us
Thanks for reading :)

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Summary of November - Exams...

As I'm now in the school year for GCSEs I had mock exams in the week of the 11th November, but I still found a bit of time to go birding locally.

  1. 4th November -  Peter Alfrey managed to find a Richard's Pipit on the mound a few days prior to the 4th, and although I missed any early twitches due to Oare Marshes and Viridor, I joined Derek Coleman's public walk on the 4th November. As expected there was no sign of the pipit nor much else, though there were plenty of Snipe being flushed from the grass as we walked through the mud to the lagoons. Despite numerous Meadow Pipit and Stonechat, there was only 1 certain Water Pipit seen. This was a distant view and then a bird flying, but it was nice to meet Roger B (Twitter 'Dodgy birds') and others there. Some other birds seen were 5 Green Sandpipers, 3-4 Tree Sparrow (sadly,) Water Rail, Stonechat, a scattering of gulls and wildfowl. 
  2. 10th November - My only revision break that weekend was a quick vizmig. The highlights were several Redwing, a Song Thrush (nearly taken by one of 2 Sparrowhawk,) 2 Siskin, 2 Coal Tit and a Skylark (2nd garden record) W. The main bird movement were the gulls, and for the hour or so outside well over a thousand birds moved past. Most birds were Herring, with a few black-headed, LBBG and finally the bird pictures below. When I picked it up it seemed all white and slightly bigger though not significantly, with pale wingtips etc. However, it was distant by the time I got any picture and after consulting with experts the consensus was a 2nd-winter Herring. 
  3. LWC Barnes - see blog post here
  4. 18th November - With Autumn rarities really hitting coastlines (Pallid Swift influx, Little Swift in Hartlepool, Rustic Bunting in London and of course the Grey Catbird a month or so prior) I was a bit jealous. Nonetheless I had an Urban Rangers session on the 18th, and a fruitless vismig after a session clearing trees in the woodland produced a single Little Egret high SW. The first of the winter at Morden for me was later snoozing on the river. The best thing though was the development of the marshland that the rangers created in September, which looked great for waders and the like. It was great that Snipe had been seen there that week of the 18th, though I failed in finding any myself. 
  5. 24th November - By the 24th I'd reached a stage of burnout and was shattered, and although I joined Steve Chastell's Surrey Bird Club at Papercourt Water Meadows I didn't really feel like being there. It was nice to meet up with Calum and Kabir there though, but the weather was pretty awful. The Short-eared Owl was a no show, but 2 Barn Owl, a few Kestrel, 2 Snipe, 4 Stonechat and plenty of thrushes were seen. 
Here a few pictures. 

Sparrowhawk nearly took Song Thrush

2nd winter Herring Gull

Hoverfly sp - does anyone know which? 
Stonechat - Beddington Farmlands

Green Sandpiper - Beddington Farmlands

Green Sandpiper - Beddington Farmlands

Tree Sparrow - Beddington Farmlands

Marshland - MHP

Marshland - MHP

Little Egret - MHP

Barn Owls - Papercourt Water Meadows

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A Review of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close most birders have written a summary for their year, so here's mine.

Although 2018 was largely disappointing for birding for me, and I didn't get out as much as I'd like to, there were obvious highlights that still made it a decent year: 

1) Brownsea Island, 2-4th February
    When I joined the Urban Rangers - a group of young rangers between 11-24 years old - run by the GAP (Green Academies Project) at Morden Hall Park in January, I was expecting to learn about the practical and conservation work that the National Trust does on my patch, and how to get involved. With my first session on the 27th January, I was given the opportunity to go on a free trip to Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset, where the group were going to be helping maintain the island's natural habitats. The 3 day trip was brilliant, as I got to know more young people with similar interests, take part in fascinating activities and spend time away from work and on a stunning island. Me being me, I managed to help the team of boys lose every race and game as I was birding. I had the time of my life, spotting Red-breasted Mergansers, Black-throated Diver, Spoonbill, waders, Tawny Owls, Red Squirrels, Sika Deer, a 2cy Glaucous Gull and Red-necked Grebe out in the harbour, as well as enjoying biscuits and BBQs. February was undoubtedly the best month of the year, despite being without my broken camera...

Red-breasted Mergansers and more from a top day on Brownsea
2) Greece, 5th-12th April
    School trips are either great or awful - to me that's if it's indoors or outdoors. But towards the end of 2017 my mum asked me whether I wanted to go to Greece on a Classics trip or to Iceland on a geography trip, and for multiple reasons I decided against my favourite subject Geography and to go to Greece. Over the course of 8 days, in the company of great friends and teachers who sometimes took an interest in what I was seeing, I got to learn about interesting ancient history/myths in some great locations. A non-birding trip abroad resulted in 76 bird species, 16 lifers for my WP list. However these were insignificant to me - some of the birds were so great to watch, with my favourites being the Yelkouan Shearwater, Rock Nuthatch, Crested Lark, terns and gulls, Alpine Swifts, warblers etc.

Crested Lark

Rock Nuthatch

Yelkouans Shearwaters

more or less a summary of quality Greek birding; Alpine Swift over Athens
3) People's Walk for Wildlife, 22nd September/Wild Night at the Royal Geographic, 14th December

    As I've got older I've started to try and get more involved with not just birding but conservation work as well. I decided to go along to the 'Peoples Walk for Wildlife' in September, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting other people and listening to speeches by people and celebrities, who were all united to protest against the lack of support wildlife gets. I managed to enjoy it with other young birders that I'd befriended from Twitter over the year, and it was a top, hopeful day for nature-enthusiasts. 
This wasn't the only wildlife-related, yet not birding event I went to in 2018. Recently, and I haven't had a chance to write a blog post on it yet, I went to an event at the Royal Geographic in London led by Steve Backshall and Helen Glover, where celebrities would be speaking to audiences to raise money to save an area of land, essential for wildlife, in Belize. During the evening from 7pm-10:30pm, myself and my family enjoyed a range of speeches from Leo Houlding, Lowri Morgan, Will Greenwood, Sean Conway and more. I felt privileged to meet Steve at the end of an entertaining, inspirational night.

People's walk for wildlife

Leo Houlding at the Wild Night with Steve
Wild Night at the Royal Geographic
4) Ebro Delta, Catalonia, 2nd August 2018
   This year my parents booked a holiday for the summer quite late, and it took a while to pick a place that we'd definitely go to. After deciding to go to Catalonia, I researched the best places for birding there, and the place I couldn't miss was the Delta del Ebre. What I saw on a day's trip birding was beyond my expectations, with some incredible birds at a range of habitats. The marshland had waders such as Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Stilts and more, while the paddyfields had Squacco Herons, Glossy Ibis, Whiskered Tern, Little Tern etc, while the coastal area had gulls, terns, waders and passerines. An awesome 4.5 hours of birding resulted in 91 species of fairly common birds for the area, and it was one of the obvious highlights for the year.

Squacco Heron

Whiskered Tern

Little Stint and LRP

Audouin's Gull and 2cy Med Gull

5) Oare Marshes, Kent, 31st October
    I was slightly undecided about my number 5 for the year, and although I was half tempted to put some other days like the twite twitch in January I went for a more recent, more enjoyable day out. Number 2 on my list of places to visit on the UK mainland was Oare Marshes, and with weather looking good for Halloween I was able to have an unbelievably good day with Calum M, who I've become good friends with since meeting in July. It was an outrageously good, yet small site and the birds there - though not particularly rare - blew me away. Getting my 200th UK bird was just a small reason as to why I liked it, and in the future I'm sure to return there just for the sheer Oare of it.
1st winter Eurasian Black Tern

Golden Plover etc

Little Stint 200

However, arguably the greatest highlight of the year wasn't a single trip or holiday abroad. After joining the Urban Rangers at Morden Hall I began to get more and more involved with activities and fun days, and volunteering has meant I have got to know my patch much better. The past year has meant I've probably visited Morden Hall close to 20 times, spending multiple hours there, so close to 200 hours overall. This isn't actually that much, but I've grown to enjoy the commoner species of wildlife more, and finding a new bird there for myself is much more satisfying than a brief glimpse of a rare bird. Finally getting a patch Snipe recently was as good as a UK rare. My patch list for all time has now reached 84 which I'm pleased with (80 for the year,) and the target is to reach an eventual 100. Some of my favourite patch moments were:

- Ticking Black Redstart while at Morden Hall, in an urban rangers session in the paddock. 

- Spending a day out with Sam Levy in August, and finding migratory warblers like Whitethroat, Willow Warbler etc.
- Leading a birdwalk with a member of the nature group at the Fun Palaces event, and getting a flyover Golden Plover
- Finding up to 6 Common Snipe on the newly made marshland (massive success as of yet)

m Reed Bunting

f Grey Wagtail

4/6 of recent Snipe

m Kingfisher

And finally, I managed to tick some bogey birds this year, although I still haven't seen a Little Owl despite trying over 15 times in various locations...

  • Dartford Warbler - 27th January at Beddington Farmlands thanks to David Campbell (saw another in February.)
  • Marsh Tit - 18th February. Saw tons this year due to DofE though my first was on the worst birding day of the year, where I saw 0/400+ Hawfinch...
  • Black Redstart - 27th February. Another patch mega I pulled out, thanks to the volunteering.
  • Golden Plover - 4th March. At Beddington during the Beast from the East. Then saw hundreds at Oare. 
  • Caspian Gull - 17th November. The last blog post says it all.
My 2019 Bogey Bird List is, unless a SEO or Woodcock flies over my house:
   1. Little Owl
   2. Woodcock 
   3. Kittiwake
   4. Puffin
   5. Short-eared Owl
   6. Spotted Redshank

So overall, it's been a mixed year for birding and all my nature stuff. Joining Twitter has been a huge benefit, as I've befriended numerous other people (especially young birders,) that I would never have done otherwise. I've seen some good birds, with a variety of enjoyable trips around Europe and England, as well as several memorable experiences locally. Despite having a poor year for new birds and rarities, I'd say that 2018 hasn't been a disaster so bring on 2019!
Also, thank you to all those that read and reply to my posts, helping me to learn all the time. 

I wish all my readers a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year :)

Thursday, 20 December 2018

LWC Barnes w Alex Liddle - Caspo surprise! 17th November 2018

I was relieved that my exams were finally over on the 16th November, with the final Physics test a success. On Saturday the 17th I decided to have a day off of everything, and went to LWC Barnes to have a walk around. I asked Alex L whether he was around and he was up for it, so he met me in the observatory shortly after 10am. 
We started by going to the WWF hide to have a look at the gulls. There were good numbers of them, consisting of a few Common in the many Herring, BHG and LBB. 
While I packed up my stuff ready to leave, Alex called me to the scope with a few interesting gulls showing. One certainly had characteristics of Caspian, but as I had glasses with the wrong prescription on, as well as low confidence, I was slightly dismissive of it. So we carried on towards the Peacock tower, where we had numerous Snipe (13,) more gulls inc. first winter Common, 2 Peregrines on Charing Cross hospital, ducks and 3-4 Water Pipit that were busily feeding. While Alex was in form finding the first a long way off, I picked up the second on call only before a 3rd flew up with the others. We watched them for a bit, chatted to others in the hide, and then started to head back to the observatory. 3 Chiffchaff were seen on the way back.

We then went to the Headley Hide, where the Bittern was on show, hidden as usual by reeds and a strand of bright green grass that was extremely annoying. I also had a brief view of a Dunlin around one of the islands. 
By around 12:45 we reached the Wildside Hide, where a single Snipe was all to be seen at first. However, within a few minutes Alex had found the male Pintail miles away, and 3 Linnet flew SW calling, while a f Goldeneye was showing well within 15m from the hide. Despite being close it was nearly impossible to photograph - coming up for 3 seconds, down for 10secs and then moving about. 
By around 13:30 I needed to head back home, but from the observatory, after packing my stuff up, the f Peregrine landed on the islands causing a stir. It had a drink, but Alex also managed to spot a nice 1w YLG that promptly flew further away. A nice few birds to end a good session birding. 

1 month and 2 days later: I was having a flick through the photos again, writing this blog post, and came across the gull that Alex had pointed out. However, I had a chance to look at it in more detail and it had some key features for a Caspian Gull, such as the very pale, pear-shaped head (that I'd learnt at Beddington from Roger Browne a few weeks prior,) smallish eye, greyer scapulars . I sent it to Dante Shepherd - gull expert - who replied to confirm it was a first-winter Caspian Gull. It was a pretty big relief to finally tick a bogey bird that I'd had after looking for one for so long, and I feel like I'll find my own ones in the future hopefully. Thanks to those that confirmed it for me, as well as Alex for a top find!

1st-winter Caspian Gull (lifer 201, and probably the last of the year)

Common Snipe

Water Pipit - closer than usual but still distant

Water Pipit

Common Gull

Water Pipit

Possibly a hybrid? Gadwall x ...?


f Goldeneye 

f Goldeneye

tail of a f Goldeneye
f Goldeneye

Black-headed Gull pose

m Pintail etc

f Peregrine
Thanks for reading :)