Typical senario here over the last few weeks: sunshine and snow clouds!
Shelduck are starting to put in an appearance on the mudflats - 22nd February
SongThrush and Great Spotted Woodpecker are becoming regular visitors to the Hamlet gardens - 22nd February.
Song Thrush with a liking for banana - 22nd February.
A few Brambling were still around on 23rd February.
Little Egret with Curlew seen on saltmarsh, 24nd February.
These saltmarsh dubs must be a good source of food.
Wigeon taking to the water - North Plain Meadow Pools, 25th February.
Redwing still feeding on the few remaining berries along the Lonning hedges - 26th February.
This flock of about forty Redwing had been seen in the immediate area now for a few days.
Teal on Lonning flooded meadows - 26th February.
Spring flowers at the entrance to North Plain Lonning - 1st March
Two Little Egret on the edge of the saltmarsh, near Lonning entrance - 1st March.
By the time we had walked down to the hide they were just coming into land on the wetlands there - 1st March.
Teal displaying in the sunshine - pool infront of the hide, 1st March.
Guest sheep from Haweswater, enjoying the hay - 6th March.
Teal flying into Meadow Pool, on a misty day - viewed from 1st screen, 6th March.
Flotilla of Wigeon, Meadow Pool - 6th March.
. . . and suddenly the Little Grebe, who had been diving nearby, popped up in their midst.
Later on in the day, two of the four Siskin seen feeding on niger seed in the hamlet - 6th March.
Male Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding, unusually, on the ground - 9th March.
Marine protection for the only breeding black guillemots in England
Walking along the Cumbrian coast at this time of year, the cliffs with their sheer drops can look wild and inhospitable; it is easy to think that nothing could exist here. But come spring 8 million seabirds will make the long trip home to their breeding grounds around the UK’s coast; soon the cliffs will be alive with squabbling guillemots, groaning puffins and graceful fulmars.
At St Bees Head in Cumbria an additional treat is in store for visitors as these cliffs are home to the only breeding black guillemot population in England; if you are lucky, you might just catch them descending into their burrows with sandeels and butterfish in bills ready to feed their chicks.
St Bees is a fantastic example of how faithful seabirds are to the sites they use; some seabirds return back to the exact same nests every year. Thankfully the colony here is a nationally designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which means that seabird nest sites are protected from damaging human activities; however the areas that these birds use at sea are not.
It’s a sad truth that this story is the same all around the UK - seabirds are currently protected when on land, but as soon as they leave the shore to hunt for food for themselves and their chicks, they face threats such as net entanglement and disturbance from offshore developments in unprotected waters.
I’d like to thank everyone who Stepped Up for Nature and signed the RSPB’s Marine Pledge throughout 2011-12. At the moment less than 0.1% of the UK’s waters are protected from all damaging activities and there is an urgent need for the development of an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. In November 2011, thanks to your support, we were able to hand-in over 50,000 signatures to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon and show the UK Government that people out there like you care about the marine environment including the fate of our seabirds.
But we must ask you now to take further action.
We were thrilled that in September 2011 it was agreed that black guillemot should be a species for protection within the recommended Cumbria Coast Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). This MCZ would form part of a collection of 127 sites around English waters, for consultation in 2013.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched their public consultation on the designation of English MCZs in December 2012. We now know that Defra only intend to take up to 31 of the 127 sites forward for designation in 2013. What’s more, black guillemot has not been taken forward as a species within the Cumbria Coast MCZ which means that they will continue to have no protection at their key feeding and loafing areas close to their nesting grounds. We are bitterly disappointed by these unambitious proposals.
What you can do to help:
Please join us in letting Defra know that that they need to reinstate black guillemot as a species for protection within the Cumbria Coast MCZ for designation in 2013. Furthermore, that they need to implement a well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas, including MCZs, which offers full protection for all our marine wildlife, including seabirds, without further delay.
You can do this and encourage others to do the same by responding to Defra’s English Marine Conservation Zones consultation.
You can submit your letter email to MCZ@defra.gsi.gov.uk or by writing to the address below:
C/O Post Room
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR
The consultation closes on 31 March 2013.
Why not also add a personal flavour to your letter by describing why the Cumbrian coast is so special to you and why our marine environment needs protecting.
Thank you for your support
Clare Reed, RSPB Marine Conservation Officer (North West England)
Clare.firstname.lastname@example.org; 07702 891480
Mixed flock of Barnacles and Pinkfeet spread out along the channel of the R. Wampool at Anthorn.
Today started off with hazy sunshine after a night of frost – no wind at all! We had to go to Kirkbride, so decided to make a virtue of a necessity, namely searching for swans and geese.
In this respect, the day proved to be eminently successful. A good flock of Whoopers we found at Longcroft, on the roadside field down the turn off to Rogersceugh (RSPB) - but could hear geese calling beyond. So hurrying on to Anthorn, could see a huge gathering of Pinks and Barnacles flying restlessly behind the houses there due to some nearby shooting. A small group of Pinks settled on the marsh front whilst others cleared off over the Wampool to Newton Marsh.
We decided to follow them as they disappeared into the haze and in so doing, chanced upon another flock of Whoopers (42) near the double bend at Angerton.
Pressing on through Newton Arlosh and Saltcoats, saw goodly numbers of mixed geese on the marsh towards Raby Cotes but rather distant – haze making precise counting and ID difficult.
On retracing our tracks came upon the splendid sight of hundreds of gulls following tractor and plough on the Newton Arlosh 'strait' – excellent photographic subject! The frost and the dry weather had brought all the farmers out on every possible agricultural machine. These machines are now so huge that passing on these narrow roads is becoming extremely difficult. But the farmers were all in good mood and waved cheerily - and so were we . . . must be the Spring sunshine!
On returning to Anthorn, we were greeted by the wonderful sight of thousands of Barnacles and Pinks – sunning and disporting themselves in the now filling creeks of the Wampool, slap in front of the main 'promenade' at Anthorn – (trying to pretend that they were wild geese) completely ignoring birders, dog walkers and school buses disgorging their load – enabling us to do some serious videoing whilst simultaneously gorging on smoked gammon sandwiches and tea . . . feeling pretty pleased with ourselves!
Whooper flock at Longcroft.
Whoopers resting and grazing in the sunshine.
Could hear geese in a nearby field.
As we motored along the estuary road came across a huge swirling goose flock which had just lifted off.
Near the roadside overlooking Longcroft Marsh, spotted a small group of grazing Pinkfeet and the restless main flock flying beyond.
On the way to Newton Marsh saw this splendid Buzzard on overhead wires.
Yet more Whoopers at Angerton.
Sure enough, a large mixed flock had landed out near the channel on Newton Marsh.
Heading for home now, we were conscious of much spring farming activity.
Imagine our surprise on returning through Anthorn, to see yet thousands more Pinks and Barnacles in the channel in front of us.
Some were bathing whilst others rested up on the mudflats.
Crow on the lookout from the garden.
Our house, as you may have gathered, is within the precincts of the Reserve, so we always consider that a bird seen in the garden is automatically a bird for the reserve – and we view it accordingly. We also feed the birds in the garden intensively, as indeed does Norman at the farm (North Plain) - only a couple of hundred yards away . . . so, in the immediate area, we have a good number and variety of species – which is excellent.
However there is a downside to all this: we seem to be 'raptor central'. I can't tell you how many birds of prey we get on a regular basis. Some of them you could nearly set your watch by (No! Really!) - and regularly little piles of feathers are to be found here and there, which we endlessly speculate about. We also have foxes and feral cats putting their sixpenn'orth in. OK! while we are at it, we have badgers coming in from the Reserve, which fortunately don't take birds but do rotavate the lawn and orchard in search of worms – their main source of food. We have long since stopped worrying about the fact and just go with the flow now. Ray Mears, on TV the other night, came up with the sentiment by 'Grey Owl', that famous naturalist and conservationist – that we do not own nature, we are part of it!
That being said, I have been known to go out and shout at the Sparrowhawk or the two Buzzards, when I see them sitting in the garden trees. The Buzzards decimate the rabbit population that spend time in the garden. The horticulturists amongst you may say, “Well, that's OK!” But when a dear little rabbit, no bigger than your hand, turns up to nibble the lawn grass – which is pretty well all they do – one forms quite a deep attachment to these little furry folk.
The redeeming feature of all this are the two resident Carrion Crows, who nest and reside in the trees at the end of the garden and who, over the years have raised many successful broods. Last year was particularly good, in their having brought off 4 fledglings who are still hanging around the family nest and act as a sort of support group to the old male Crow in his policing activities, which he enthusiastically pursues throughout the course of the year - not only in the garden but on the adjacent saltmarsh and estuary. Nothing – and I say this from long experience – escapes his attention. He is the ultimate 'Warlord'. Should, for instance, a party of Rooks, often accompanied by Jackdaws (of which there are a good number on the Reserve), arrive on the saltmarsh in front of us, to eat and disport themselves amongst the rich detritus the estuary tides have to offer – he will descend amongst them with his retinue of 'crowlets' and make his corvid cousin's lives intolerable: chasing and jostling; so that they eventually leave in disorder. Whereupon the gang returns to the garden, cawing and strutting – displaying their satisfaction and ownership of the area. This action they metre out, without fear or favour, to any predator or raptor that misguidedly wanders into their marshland kingdom..
We have seen them remove Harriers - both Marsh and Hen; Buzzards; Sparrowhawk and Peregrine. They even harass Kestrels and local Owls of all species – and it's a brave fox that enters into their domain, although they do try it out sometimes on the saltmarsh, but tend to get a good drubbing for their pains and run off to more peaceful areas, further away. Sparrowhawks, though I have to say, are quite brave folk, as they also see the area as their territory too – but, in the end, are driven away.
About a week ago, we observed a real classic, out on the estuary 'sands', a couple of hundred yards beyond the saltmarsh. A Peregrine had just made a kill of a duck( a Pintail, we think) and was consuming the same when our doughty crow pair went out to do their thing. The male Crow stood in front of the Peregrine, a couple of feet away, crowing right into the Peregrine's face and generally making himself disagreeable. This gained the raptor's attention whilst the female cunningly hopped up behind him, eager to gain a tasty morsel or two. At which, the Peregrine spun round, and with a couple of gestures, discouraged the female from her thieving activity. I was watching this through the scope with great interest to see how this would all play out. The Peregrine tolerated this situation for a while but was clearly beginning to suffer from indigestion and made a determined lunge at the male Crow. Now, to use a well known metaphor, this was the 'yellow card' - which predictably the crow did not accept. Bad Plan! This was now becoming serious and and I began to fear for 'our' Crow's safety. But the fearless corvid could not back down, as this would have meant losing all his 'street cred' on the marsh – especially in front of his lady love! Push had come to shove!. Now a Peregrine is a serious animal when it comes to 'shove' and has all the advantages. But I was seriously surprised when it leapt into the air and started flying in ever increasing circles – gaining height and speed. Now I, as a humble human, recognised this as the 'red card', as this is the Peregrine's method of attack. The two Crows also recognised the implications and made a dash for the safety of the garden trees which they gained in some disarray. The Peregrine in close pursuit – buzzed the house a couple of times too, giving us an excellent view of this magnificent bird. The old male Crow, being a warrior of many summers, wisely chose to cut his losses and live to fight another day.
Amusingly, this opportunity arose two or three days later, when he decided to enter into a game of chicken with one of our visiting Little Egret – again right in front of the house on the saltmarsh. The game consisted of the Crow repeatedly standing right in the path of the approaching Little Egret who was peaceably and vigorously feeding amongst the creeks and dubs of the marsh. The game developed with a certain amount of wing fluttering and manoeuvring - the choreography becoming increasingly sophisticated. But the Egret, obviously growing tired of this to the point of exasperation, eventually trampled the Crow who was determined to still hold its ground. Although surprised at this turn of events, the Crow seemed to decide that honour had been sufficiently satisfied on his part and not wishing to receive a second trampling, returned to the garden to preen his ruffled feathers whilst digesting the experience of being flattened by a Little Egret. We suspect that there will be further sequels to this game – with the score being 1-0 to the Egret.
I, as a mere human, can offer the Crow no advice but I do hope that he will watch the Egret's long sharp beak in future or he will, as is his wont, learn the hard way! But in our eyes – his 'street cred' has risen substantially this last couple of weeks and he will be rewarded with an extra ration of fruit cake – his favourite.
Valiant crow seeing off Buzzard.
Peregrine episode - 10 2 13
Peregrine with duck on the mudflats - Scargavel Point
Oh, Oh! What's this?
This requires a closer inspection.
This could be a tasty morsel!
Perhaps a distraction tactic would work better!
Little Egret encounter - 26 2 13
Little Egret hunting along the dubs on the saltmarsh.
Crow arrives to inspect this activity.
Unperturbed the Egret marches off along the saltmarsh.
. . . only to be confronted by the Crow who had flown ahead of him.
As the Egret took no notice of this warning the Crow landed right across the Egret's track.
Tantalising view of geese across the flooded meadows.
We had been aware for a few days that there was goose activity back over on the Reserve and local prominent birders, after much hard work, had estimated that there were in excess of 10.000 Pinkfeet on the Solway. So, in the middle of the afternoon, we decided that we should take a look ourselves . . .
We scrambled off down the Lonning; there was no wind; the sun was out; it was perfect! Stopping off at the first Meadow Pool – good collection of Wigeon and Teal, their plumage splendid in the late afternoon sun. Got off a few photos here.
Hardly had we regained the Lonning than we became aware of the low chatter of geese on the left-hand side of the Reserve, in some rather mixed terrain of meadow, hedges and scrub. Using odd breaks in the hedgerow to get in the odd snap whenever the opportunity presented itself, we proceeded quietly. Clearly there were mixed Barnacles and Pinkfeet – always a good sign. The Barnacles seemed to comprise about 25% of the flock but accurate counting was quite difficult at this stage.
It was good to know that they all were using the farm at this time of the year, as a resting and grazing area - especially the Pinks on their return north again from their wintering grounds in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and the Humber areas . . . initially a purpose for which the Reserve had been set up for. The Barnacles, of course, are a different story altogether, as this particular population use the Solway almost exclusively and stay with us throughout the Winter before returning north to Svalbard.
However, this peaceful scene was soon to be slightly disturbed - as all the flock's heads went up, a sure sign that something was afoot. We were not left wondering for long, as a few moments later, the steady throb of a helicopter could be heard. Now geese do not like helicopters, and sure to form, as it started to approach the Reserve, the entire flock took to the air – calling all the time; splitting into small groups; flying hither and thither and then reforming. This continued for some 7 to 8 minutes, but happily, they began to settle down and, to our great pleasure, headed for the security of the wetlands in front of the hide.
This was going to be our big chance, so adopting 'Indian tracker-like methods' we approached the hide, crouching low behind the hedges and all available cover, in the best tradition of 'bushcraft'. Bingo! There the whole flock were settling down just a couple of hundred yards from the hide. Heads were still up though, so we virtually entered the hide on our hands and knees; opening the windows a fraction of an inch at a time. Judith positioned herself at the best vantage point with her camera and managed a good quarter of an hours photography.
All in all a satisfactory result!
Wigeon and Teal on Meadow Pool.
Enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.
From the Lonning we could see goose activity beyond the trees.
There they were across the floodwater!
. . . a mixed flock of Barnacles and Pinkfeet.
Mostly Pinks though.
Their heads were up at the throb of the approaching helicopter.
They were off!
The flock heading towards the hide wetland.
Some of the flock came over the Lonning.
What a splendid sight seeing them come in to land near the hide, on the wetland meadows!
View from hide of the mixed flock.
A group of Pinks having just landed.
Resting and grazing - free from disturbance.