by Kathy James

Archive for November, 2011

Two wildlife show presenters and two new birds for my year list – a good weekend i’d say!

Had a fabulous Friday night at the North Wales Wildlife Trust’s annual Lacey lecture. This time it was over to Wrexham to hear Mike Dilger give a talk on the “Trails and Tribulations of being a Wildlife Presenter”. You may have seen Mike presenting wildlife pieces on The One Show where his cheery, enthusiastic demeanor has inspired many an armchair naturalist. It was very pleasing to see that Mike is just as bubbly and on form in the flesh too (and I am reliably informed by a mutual friend that he hasn’t changed a bit since his days living in Menai Bridge). Mike shared with us many stories, right from his first bird-watching experiences as a youngster to jumping off a ten metre diving board, emulating the awe inspiring dive of the Gannet, for the tv cameras. It was really lovely to know that lots of the people I have met in my time here have also been instrumental in Mike’s development. My birding buddy Ken was one of those who got name-checked 🙂

Saturday took me to Moelfre and as I wound my way around the village I came across a hedgehog! I hadn’t seen a Hedgehog in ages! I escorted this little, and surprisingly fast, fella across the road into the safety of a garden. Now I just keep thinking the fallen Autumn leaves are more of these spikey friends.

Sunday night I arrived back in Derbyshire to visit some of my family and on Monday went for a walk with my sister, boyfriend and my baby nephew strapped onto the front of me. In a forest on the fringes of Matlock I spotted a small bird creeping up and flitting between the trees, sure enough it was a treecreeper! Admittedly, it’s quite hard to focus when you have an 11-month-old little man bobbing around in front of you. Wouldn’t change that for the world though!

Monday night involved a trip to Buxton and an evening with the wildlife royalty that is Chris Packham. Chris was mainly showing us through his stunning photographic collection which you can view at chrispackhamphotos.com. His pictures were truly astonishing and it was funny to hear Chris tearing them apart with his own criticism – the moment he referred to a Cheetah as “that idiot in the background” for ruining the composition of one of his animal portraits had me in stitches.

Most importantly, for me, Chris also voiced his opinions about Tiger conservation and it’s wider implications for conservation issues on the whole.  Without criticising any one party Chris extolled the virtues of a more cohesive conservation program with more powerful effects. I look forward to hearing if Chris has any proposals on how we go about this…

On Tuesday, during a muddy bike ride back from Buxton to Bakewell I was lucky enough to see what Packham referred to as a ‘birders bird’, the Hawfinch. Brilliant. It’s rich brown colouring, white wingbars and chunky features were unmistakable as it dashed across the track in front of me.

Conversely, on my travels home I have stopped to have a walk around a woodland at Manly Knoll in Cheshire and seen virtually nothing! That’s birding for you!

Back in Wales soon,

Kathy x x x


**Seeing StarLINGs!**

This Tuesday the sun was shining and it was glorious to be out if you could avoid being in the shade. The first outing of the day took me to a housing estate in Holyhead where Ken was looking for a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling. We approached the garden where the bird had been sighted from a playing field behind and my ears were ringing with Starling calls coming from all directions. We had several lovely views of the stunning birds in all their irredescent glory singing from atop aerials, however no sign of the rosy. As we neared the garden it was as though there were a few dozen smaller Starlings but it turned out that the bright midday sun was fooling my eyes and turned House Sparrows into irredescent silouettes! We moved on from here and Ken returned the following morning to have stunning views of the bird just metres away from him 🙂

After a quick sandwich (outside of my newly cleaned car) we went to check out Cors Goch, a North Wales Wildlife Trust reserve. We donned our wellies and squelched our way along one of the reserves paths, it was a bit of an adventure into the unknown because I’d never been there before and we didn’t really know what we expected to see. Luckily we weren’t disapointed and saw plenty of Fieldfare and Blackbirds plus a couple of Mistle Thrush and a Snipe flapping around overhead.

Have you heard of Pishing? I’m not really sure if that’s how it should be spelt, but it’s phonetically correct! It’s basically a call you can emit that is unfamiliar to any of our birds. Ken showed me “pishing” in action at Cors Goch – we saw a Goldcrest flitting around in a bush and Ken stood alongside it and made a nigh on continuous “pish” and miraculously the tiny bird (Britain’s smallest breeding bird) crept out from inside the bush to look at what could be making such an unusual sound. I grinned from ear to ear.

On our way back to the car I spotted a female Reed Bunting in a tree ahead and she was soon joined by her male counterpart.

We headed west across the island (directly into the sun – not a good idea) to see if we could find some Short-eared Owls which Ken had watched on previous afternoons. As soon as we arrived at our destination Ken spotted an Owl quartering over the common. It was huge! I didn’t need binoculars. I drove on further down the road and had to stop my car as two Owls tussled in the air right above my windscreen, wow!! Phenomenal views!

We were losing light and so headed on to Llyn Coron to see if I could catch up with the interesting Geese that had been dropping in. In a matter of minutes I clocked three new species for my life list: Short-eared Owl, Eurasian White-fronted Goose and Bean Goose. Fabulous end to the day!

Yesterday afternoon I tried once more to catch up with the Starling roost at Malltraeth, and far from seeing Starlings we think they’d already gone to bed! I was working off-island and was blissfully unaware that the afternoon had been pretty miserable on the island. The bad weather had probably persuaded the Starlings to retire early and we missed the spectacle. Ah well, don’t want to be greedy. Note to self – pay more attention to the weather!

Kathy x


Pallid Swift?!!

What an evening I had on Saturday!? Before a settling down to watch Casualty with a Jamaican-themed dinner and a hot pepper sauce I met my friends Ken (top birder blokey) and Dave (a local businessman offering outdoor activities around Anglesey and Snowdonia http://www.outdooractivesports.co.uk/) at Malltraeth RSPB reserve to attempt to witness the Starling roost.

As soon as Dave and I arrived we were greeted by the phenomenal sight of thousands of Starlings in a formation simultaneaously cornering as they approached a wooded end of a field – breathtaking!

We hot-footed it out of the car and along the footpath towards the cycle path where tens of seperate formations containing thousands of birds came towards us from all across the island. This spectacle lasted around half an hour with enormous groups that took minutes to past and the odd straggler arriving on it’s own. The second most striking thing, after the sheer enormity of the congregations, was the sound as they passed overhead. For information on where to find other mumurations of Starlings check out this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/natureuk/2011/11/awesome-autumn-starling-specta.shtml.

This year whilst working for the RSPB a visitor to the reserve mistakenly brought in this nest of Starlings that builders had found when knocking down a building. As I waited for the RSPCA to collect the little family I tried to keep them alive. I coaxed and whistled to the little ones until they would gape for me and I could feed them. I now have the uttmost respect for amazing Mummy birds! I like to think that these little guys are amazing someone somewhere as they join a murmuration - fingers crossed!

It was a stunning sunset on Saturday (I’m afraid I didn’t have my camera with me – and these things are always better in the flesh anyway, right?) so we decided to walk further into the reserve and lo and behold what should fly across the path in front of us? A glossy Ibis! Ken and I had seen the Mediterranean beauty previously, but this fly-over was an extra special treat.

There were still a few Starling-stragglers flapping their way across the marshes to join the roost and as I turned backwards to catch a few more I saw a familiar sight, at an unfamilair time…the unmistakeable silouette of a Swift. Ken and I were trying to recall the last time we’d seen a Swift and we decided it hadn’t been since August! At this time of year we’d like to think we just caught up with the vagrant Pallid Swift as all our familiar Common variety aught to be catching flies on another continent by now. Unfortunately, with the sun setting we were unable to see any tell-tale details on our mysterious friend. Ken and I will go on hoping it was a Pallid fellow though – any comments on this welcome! We’d love your input.

To put this possible find into perspective, Ken has been birding all his life and has spent most of it chasing around the British Isles on twitches after rareities. His life-list totals around 460 bird species in Britain (he’s never left our fair isle) and he tells me he stopped counting properly at 400. Ken has never seen a Pallid Swift, or perhaps he just has.

Kathy x


Buzzard, Fox, Rabbit, Pheasant, Unidentified Bird, Fox, Unidentified Bird, Pheasant, Buzzard.

The above is a list of the road-kill I saw along the A55 on Monday. I think it’s sad that the most I see of British mammals is their carcass along the side of the road 😦 Thankfully, on this particular journey I saw no Badgers. My friend Ken added to this list when I spoke to him as he’d also seen a Barn Owl lying dead in the road.

After all the road-kill, was a lovely day out in Cheshire. We called in at Tatton Park to see Red and Fallow Deer followed by a walk around Quarry Bank Mill. A highlight for me being Long-tailed Tits twinkling around my head in the trees and bushes as a Nuthatch darted across to a tree on the otherside of the river.

This week’s Bangor Bird Group talk was by local birder, Robin Sandham. It was a brilliant, interactive presentation by a passionate birder. It was great to hear how Rob’s interest had developed from an early age and that he lived to bird and was forced to work! Rob, along with others, contributes to the blog ‘We Bird North Wales’ which can be found at http://webirdnorthwales.blogspot.com/.

Another shout out for Frozen Planet and the gorgeous Emperor Penguins. I was in fits of giggles at them slip-sliding their way across the Antarctic. Very cute!

I’m a bit behind on Iolo Williams’ series Iolo’s Jewels of Wales, but as I caught up with a couple last week I realised it’s a delightful programme! Iolo is a fantastic ambassador for Wales, but let’s face it; the landscape and wildlife he showed us speak for themselves. It was wonderful to hear the sound of birds in Spring and it started me missing their dulcet tones. I already have a seemingly endless list of places to visit in Wales and Iolo has just added to them. Thanks!

The RSPB reserve at Malltraeth is proving very interesting at the moment if you’re looking for a place to visit. Nigel Brown from Bangor University has spotted a group of Whooper Swans and Ken has seen a Marsh and Hen Harrier! Wow. Plus, there’s a phenomenal Starling roost there of an evening (I’m yet to get down there thanks to working in daylight hours).

Speaking of work, this week my work took me to B&Q in Llandudno where I was pleased to learn what the company are doing to promote sustainability and energy saving. I was unaware that the government have specified that as of next year 100% of timber sold here must come from a sustainable source – great news! Cliff Holiday, the Llandudno branch manager happily informed me that B&Q are leaders in this field and have been working towards this goal for the past ten years. He added “even the wooden handles on paintbrushes are from a sustainable source”. B&Q are in fact a founder member of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and already 100% of their wooden goods are FSC or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) marked. It’s great to know that such large companies are taking substantial measures to combat habitat loss and it would make me more inclined to visit them as a customer.

Well have a good weekend and I hope it’s not too windy where you are!

Kathy x


Killer Whale Vs Minke Whale

Hiya,

sorry to keep warbling on about Frozen Planet, but it really is amazing! Without going in to too much detail about last night’s programme (I know you haven’t seen it yet Ken!) there was an amazing sequence of a pod of Killer Whales hunting a Minke whale.

With Whale-watching right up there at the top of my to-do list, I was over the moon this September when a Minke surfaced behind the Scillonian III on my sailing back from the Isles of Scilly. I had seen a Sooty Shearwater tilting it’s way across the top of the waves about halfway back to the mainland, which was particularly special to me because I had so far always missed them passing South Stack. I caught sight of several Storm Petrels heading across the sea as I Iooked southwards from the boat and from this vantage point saw several dolphins surfacing alongside the boat (I’m not knowledgeable enough and wasn’t fast enough to tell you what kind!). Later on I chatted with birders returning from their Scilly pilgrimage about various “twitches” they’d been on. Mid-way through one of these conversations I saw the giant from the deep break the surface and saw the whole of it’s back and tiny dorsal fin pass in front of my eyes. I couldn’t restrain myself. “MINKE WHALE!!” came cannoning out of my mouth and everyone on deck turned to see the beauty surface a second time and even a third. It was an incredible experience I will always remember it.

Ken (my best-bud birder friend) has also had a” whale” of a time this year, not only spotting a Minke on his return sailing from the Isles of Scilly to Penzance (just a week or so before me) but also sighting a six-strong pod of Killer Whales from the Range part of the South Stack reserve back in August! I know Ken was over-the-moon after his Killer Whale sighting and why not?! Ken watched for 20 minutes as the family travelled northwards up the Irish Sea. Once in a lifetime hey?

Killer Whales are more preferably called Orca, I just like the sound of ‘the killer whale’ and from Attenborough’s latest descriptions it seems very apt. Ken’s pod are not a regular occurrence off the Anglesey coast, the few sightings reported in the Irish Sea are from the South-Wales coast. According to collaborative research from UK and Danish universities, there are two types of Orca to be found in UK waters. Both types of Orca have featured on the BBC’s Frozen Planet; one that eats fish and the other that predates other mammals. The study would suggest that Ken’s pod are in the vicinity of the fish-feeding Orcas, however the mammal-eating variety are generally found as close-by as the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland so who knows?! The diet of the Minke more resembles that of the fish-eating Orca, consuming fish, crustaceans and plankton depending on availability and location.

I’m not actually going to pit these magnificent creatures against one another…but just for now I’m more than happy with my sighting and happy to avoid finding out which feeding style the Orca’s that passed so close-by us!

Ciao for now,

Kathy x


Wow!

After my last blog, I was stopped in my tracks by a natural phenomenon each day for the next four days! Firstly, I was driving northwards along the A55 on Thursday evening and as I went down the hill towards Malltraeth marsh a mumuration of starlings fluttered in unison across the road ahead of me. It was the largest flock i’d seen so far this year and it made me exclaim “wow” out loud (and to myself!). I am very fond of Starlings and they are not a bird I get to see much of up at South Stack so these increasingly large gatherings are really exciting for me!

The second “wow-moment” literally did stop me in my tracks this time. As I made my way on foot through a housing estate in Valley I saw a dead Starling in the middle of the road. I paused and looked for signs of life, there were none. About ten minutes later I returned along the route and stood mouth-wide-open when I saw the very same Starling standing up and looking at me. We watched each other for a short while as I was deciding what to do with him; I had a box in my car and I thought I could manage to throw my coat over him. I decided though that he didn’t look injured, probably just a little bit stunned and so I encouraged him out of the road and under some cover. He amazed me.

Saturday’s “wow-moment” arose as I turned the last corner before the South Stack turn off from the direction of Holyhead. The sun had turned into a huge, molten red and orange ball and was dripping into the sea. Once again saying “wow” aloud, I decided that it was incredible that mother nature had provided me with three such experiences in such quick succession. If you haven’t watched the sun set from South Stack, stick it on your bucket list!

Sunday only added to the string of moments. As I once more rounded the corner up towards South Stack I was greeted with something I’d never seen before. Ireland had marched across the sea to say hello! I have often seen Ireland in the distance from Ellin’s Tower on a clear day, but this time it was as though we were on the Isles of Scilly with Samson just across the road. I cannot describe how brilliantly close the Wicklow hills looked that evening as the sunset and unfortunately nor can a photograph illustrate it so well as being there. Wow.

As well as my wow-moments this week I was also happy to catch up with the wintering Pale-bellied Brent Greese at Penrhos Country Park and a fabulous Black Redstart which came to say hello to me as I passed someone’s front garden in Valley.

So tommorow I will once more try to catch up with my bogie-bird the Ring Ouzel and see what Bangor Bird Group and Frozen Planet have in store!

Kathy x


Dynamic Conwy

Wow! I was blown away by the presentation at Bangor Bird Group last evening. Julian Hughes, manager of the Conwy RSPB reserve was there to give us a talk on the reserve’s past, present and future.

The timing of this talk seems very apt as it is now twenty years since the opening of the Conwy tunnel and the reserve is, after all, only there because of this massive industrial project. Julian talked us through the making of the tunnel. The technique was ground-breaking when they sunk perfectly measured, pre-made tunnel sections with precision to create a passage under the water. In fact, there are only five or six tunnels of this type in the world today. The upshot of this feat of engineering was the destruction of an already designated area of SSSI (unbelievable!!) and the problem of what to do with an area of saltmarsh choked in sediment that had been dredged from the bottom of the estuary. Luckily, two gents involved in this planning process saw fit to contact the RSPB and thus RSPB Conwy was born!

It was pleasing to here that one year into opening, and so soon after a massive upheaval of the natural environment, there were Lapwings and Little Ringed Plover nesting.

The reserve has gone from strength to strength in this time ( I managed to catch up with a Little Ringed Plover there early this year brooding her five eggs – gorgeous!) and has enabled 3000 local school children each year to have hands-on exeriences with nature. Wildlife aside, this alone is a momentous acheivement and something to be replicated country-wide. In recognition of this the local people of Conwy have recently awarded the reserve with a ‘Conwy Valley Civic Society Award’ to acknowledge their substantial contribution to the local community.

It was fantastic to hear how dynamic a reserve Julian runs at Conwy and his enthusiasm and ability to really take on board the thoughts of the reserves visitors and volunteers was inspiring.

For those that have noticed the low water level at the reserve in recent weeks; an explanation. Dozens of the RSPB’s reserves have been exposed to an invasive plant species, New Zealand Pygmy Weed. With no native ecosytem to keep it in check, this plant can choke the feeding grounds of our birds and so poses a big problem in these places that we’ve nurtured specifically to encourage birds to find solace. Not one to let a mere plant get the better of his efforts, Julian and team at the RSPB have decided to let the water-level lessen in order to then fill the area with sea water – salt saturation being the only known effective solution to removal of New Zealand Pygmy Weed. It is hoped that an added benefit of this will also be increased food stuff for the Lapwings and their chicks, leading to a higher success rate in the young Lapwings. I hope this will well and truly cure the problem caused by the weed and look forward to hearing that it works!

I can’t leave a post without a mention of the amazing Frozen Planet series on the Beeb. The footage alone is stunning, the narration by the legend that is Sir David Attenborough needs no comment, and the most impressive thing of all…our planet. It never ceases to amaze me! I think this weeks shout out has to go to the Woolly Bear Moth, spending a staggering 14 springs gorging before in is strong enough to fly and mate. If you’ve missed any of the series (two episodes so far) then get on i-player and catch up. It’s a phenomenal series.

Kathy x