Discover and learn
RSPB Phoenix is for teenage members of the RSPB. If you are already an RSPB Wildlife Explorer you will automatically become an RSPB Phoenix member from your 13th birthday.
As an RSPB Phoenix member you will receive BirdLife magazine every two months, and also get Wingbeat – the only environmental magazine written by teenagers for teenagers - four times a year.
As well as articles about wildlife, the environment and conservation, Wingbeat runs many special offers and competitions.
You also have free entry to RSPB nature reserves and the sure knowledge that your membership is helping to conserve wildlife in the UK and abroad.
Each year, a conference is held for Phoenix members. It's been held in London where we had the chance to visit Westminster, Leighton Moss in Lancashire one of our most important nature reserves and Minsmere reserve on the Suffolk coast to name but a few locations.
This year we are offering the chance for even more teenagers to get involved with the conference, thanks to funding by the National Lottery through Awards for All.
Written by Phoenix members. Our blog has interesting stuff about the natural world and the latest news on what we've been up to.
My stilt painting, inspired by field sketches
This year, I went abroad for the first time! I went to the island of Mallorca, Spain... and it was absolutely phenomenal. I had a ridiculous number of lifers - over 40! And now I have a thirst for Mediterranean birding. Here is a day - to - day account of my trip, hope you enjoy!
After our flight (it was amazing!!), we went to C'an Picafort and had lunch on the beach. Audoin's gulls flew overhead (lifer!). After going shopping, we headed back to the villa, which was absolutely stunning. It had a huge scrub garden, pool and beautiful balcony. What first hit me was the sheer number of spotted flycatchers around! They were as common as sparrows. In the evening we went to Son Bosc, where I saw my first ever bee-eaters flitting around and perching on wires. Wow. They reminded me of little boomerangs, painted like rainbows. I also saw my first hoopoe, with its floppy-winged flight, and a yellow legged gull. At Depuadora Marshes we found an incredibly rich oasis of life, buzzing with the sound of cicadas. We saw marbled teal, black winged stilts, purple gallinules, eleonora's falcon and cattle egrets.
It was a truly scorching day. The temperature during the week was 32-42 degrees the whole time. In the morning, I listened to the choir of cicadas in the garden and see a dapper little sardinian warbler, and a few lemon yellow serins. In the afternoon, we visited S'Albefera, the incredible reserve. This was the moment I realised how incredible Mallorcan wildlife truly is. I felt transported to another word. It's hot and sticky in the midday heat, and cicadas cried so loud I could barely hear a thing. Reeds as high as houses were topped with nesting cattle egrets, making the reeds look like paint brushes. If i closed my eyes, their croaks sounded just like shags at a seabird colony back home. My first squacco heron, a little brown heron, is spotted on a treetop. I see a huge great white egret wading ankle-deep. In the hide, black winged stilts elegantly pick through the water. I watch, with joy and amusement, as a stilt chick chases a clouded yellow butterfly, and looks like a gangly young teen that is just getting used to their long legs. I also saw my first red knobbed coot and purple heron (in flight).
This morning we got up at 5am for an early trip to S'Albefera before it got too hot. Before we left we heard nightjars churring round the garden! At the reserve in the dull light before the sun comes up we watch the place wake up and come alive. A glorious black crowned night heron hunched on a treetop in the morning light. From the hide we see stone curlew huddled like stones in the stubbly field. A balaeric woodchat shrike perches just outside the hide door! A 'grey headed' yellow wagtail perches on a reed-top just outside the hide. but most wonderfully, a LITTLE BITTERN flies right past us then perches at the base of the reed bed and begins fishing right in front of us, barely a few feet away! Incredible! I also see a cettis warbler and breeding plumage spotted redshanks. Downside to the early start: the mozzies are still out and my legs got bitten so much they dripped with blood by mid morning...worth it.
In the very early morning we went to the Formentor Peninsula, with an awesome view of the mountains and sea. Almost immediately, peering over the dizzying edge, a male blue rock thrush popped up. And then a female, and then another male! Crag martins flit around the cliff edge. Pallid swifts mingled with the commoners. . . Bottlenose dolphin backs arch out of the water, a pod moving west. In the scrub below we glimpse olivacious and balaeric warbler. We drive on to the Boquer valley - finally I find a lizard! A moorish gecko scurries up a tree. The heat is picking up and I begin to feel very sluggish. I just manage to glimpse a maltoni's warbler before we head back to the villa!
We went to the Traumentaura Mountains this morning (been really dying to all week!). The walk was a wonderful loop around the water. All of a sudden Nathaniel spotted a huge black vulture over the mountains. Yes! My most wanted bird of the trip - I adore vultures. More and more appear through curtains of clouds (yes, there were actually clouds on this day!), until there are 5 vultures! Further along we even see a griffon vulture too. A wonderful booted eagle glides over. In the evening we go to Ses Salines and see a wood sandpiper and hundreds of minstrel bugs (very pretty shield bugs).
Another wonderful early morning trip to S'Albefera reserve. Yet another lifer too! We could hear a great reed warbler and all the others could see it but not me! We suddenly realised I was simply too short to see it!
So I went further up the slope and there it was. Singing proudly from a reed top. In the cover of trees a nightingale shows itself briefly. Just as we leave, an osprey flies overhead. I am beginning to feel really sad we are leaving soon.Wish so much that we could stay longer.
We went to Son Real today around 4pm after a more relaxed day in the garden. Gorgeous warm evening. Paddled in the sea and rockpooled (hermit crabs and anenomes). It was almost TOO hot to be out walking. Cicadas shout endlessly. I see my first thekla larks pattering around in the scrub and a huge surprise - alpine swifts overhead! Lay on the balcony late tonight and just looked at the stars - it was such a clear night.
It was a sad journey home but a wonderful trip, leaving me such a thirst for more travel and more birding!
Posted by Phoenix Forum
9 August hosts Hen Harrier Day which takes place the weekend before the start of the grouse shooting season. I’m sure you’re aware of the event but it’s a day of celebration and peaceful protest where like-minded people join to advocate the plight of our hen harriers. It’s a controversial subject which sparks much debate amongst wildlife activists and gamekeepers but undoubtedly it’s a hot topic to discuss.
When there is enough habitat in England for 300 breeding pairs of Hen Harriers and in 2014 only four pairs bred, it doesn’t need a conservationist to tell you that something is wrong. This is why ‘Skydancer’ was created (also see rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife/). It’s is a four year project aimed at raising awareness and trying to tackle the looming extinction of these birds in England. They’re having a tough time though as five hen harriers have disappeared this year, forcing the nests to be abandoned and so causing us to lose even more precious chicks.
All the known nests are monitored around the clock but sadly you can’t tell the harriers to stay in one place. Foraging hen harriers and unprotected nests are potentially vulnerable to illegal persecution, which has been linked to intensively managed grouse moors.
In any debate both sides of the arguments should be considered. So in terms of nature lovers we would agree that these raptors need protecting. It would be a tragedy to lose a native species that displays a sky dance that no other bird in the world does. Hen harriers have been described as a national treasure and has as much right as any species to live. I’ve never seen one in my life and many people haven’t, so couldn’t the bird bring some - sensitively managed - tourism to the areas containing them?
Bird of prey recovery can be a huge boost to tourism, as has happened with white-tailed eagles and red kites, but for the few nesting hen harriers which we currently have, it is very important that they remain free from damaging levels of disturbance, which they are protected from by law. A great way to engage with hen harriers is to follow tagged chicks on the Life Project blog.
It’s a fact that they do occasionally take grouse chicks, and their presence keeps grouse 'low' making them more difficult to shoot. Therefore they are in conflict with landowners. They could argue that it’s their land so they can do what they want with it. Grouse shooting is part of their livelihood. A balance, a symbiotic harmony you could say, needs to be made.
This brings me to a positive story- the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project. The Eskdale and Liddesdale Estate owned by Buccleuch works in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB and Natural England. They’ve devised a way to let driven grouse shooting coexist with raptor conservation.
The rural economy has been supported in this area by managing the moors, increasing the number of grouse and making grouse shooting potentially viable again. But don’t fear, all this occurs with investment into moorland management and raptor conservation. So much so that red grouse numbers increased in the first year to around 45 birds per km2 to in 2014 there being 82 birds per km2. But also in the project area in 2014, twelve Hen Harriers nested with ten being successful, giving a total of forty seven fledged young. This was miles better than two nests in 2013 and one in 2011. Isn’t this that symbiotic harmony? This project is one to watch! You can read more on this issue from Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland here.
Skydancer project: rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/skydancer/
Hen Harrier Day: henharrierday.org/
Langholm Moor Demonstration Project: langholmproject.com/
Despite the fact that I live as far from the Sea as is possible in the UK and there are no particularly notable habits around me, my local patch is surprisingly varied and interesting. RSPB Otmoor is my nearest nature reserve but as it’s around 40 miles away the walk from my house which encompasses water meadows, woodland and the slowly meandering Evenlode river is where I do much of my wildlife watching. One of my favourite memories is looking down on the flooded water meadows one crisp New Year morning to see eight species of duck on a single small expanse of water, a wonderful sight given that, other than the resident Mandarins, waterfowl is generally rare. During the same spell of flooding I discovered a Little Egret, almost certainly the only one ever recorded on the patch as they haven’t really spread to rural Oxfordshire yet!
Little egret by Graham Catley
What makes the area so special for me is its proximity to the house: from my window I can see the Barn Owl box in an adjacent field which I know this year has supported a pair of Owls and an ongoing breeding attempt. Aged five I can clearly remember going down to the meadows adjacent to the river before school on a clear Spring morning to witness a different Barn Owl rhythmically catching Voles and returning to the nest to feed its own young.
Though nothing exceptionally rare is likely to turn up in an area so far inland, it is the continual seasonal changes not only to bird life but also with regard to the emergence of hedgehogs and other hibernating animals, the barking of deer and the ongoing cycling of vegetation that make the patch so special. At no time of year is the area dull, though sometimes attention to the smaller details of the Wildlife around us is required to fully appreciate nature’s prowess. The continual birdsong and seasonal additions of grasshoppers, Roe Deer and young birds is something I will never take for granted and I feel very lucky to have such a diverse space so close to home which I can watch wildlife in regularly.
Though it may not be obvious at first, often the best places for learning about our environment occur close to home as we are able to gain a greater appreciation for how the different aspects of the ecosystem link together. Even urban areas can be good as they provide such a wide range of habitats and thus a large number of species can be supported, but in order to fully appreciate a local ‘patch’ it is important to observe the wildlife without disturbing it too much; I have found viewing spotted flycatchers from a distance intriguing as all behave slightly differently and it offers a good insight into each flycatchers’ individual preferences and bonds within my patch.
Willowbeck - my little patch.
My local patch is not in the middle of the countryside. It doesn’t have a serene babbling brook where only dippers can be seen bobbing on the rocks scattered through it. It doesn’t have a pristine, native woodland towering up to the sky, where pied flycatchers nest and goshawks hide in the shade of ancient pines.
In fact, it’s about 30 seconds away from a Homebase store. And on the other side, there is a Pets at Home, and a factory that sends the odd whiff of pet food down your way. Nevertheless, this is my patch and it has been for a few years now. It is a small river called willow beck. It has the odd shopping trolley or foster’s can in it, but it’s my tiny patch of wild. On the river, I’ve seen kingfishers trailing their blue behind them, mallards pairing up and snoozing on the banks, and grey wagtails flitting on the rocks. On the tiny patch of frail birch woodland that fringes the river, a kestrel has taken up residence. I watched her all through the winter. Each day I went I’d find her perched on the top of her favourite birch, watching the world tick by slowly beneath her through her liquidescent eyes.
And one summer day, strolling along and nodding hello to the odd dog-walker, I heard a horrendous screeching from the birches. Wandering between the spindly legs of the trees, I look up and notice a large messy platform of twigs. A nest. Beneath it is the odd downy pigeon feather and white droppings that spatter down the tree and on the nettles below like when your painting the new house and attempted in vain to not get the wall paint all over the skirting boards. . .
I crouch down a few metres away to see what lives at this nest, as it is far too high up to see into. Within five minutes, a broad shouldered, handsome bird with soft orange breast-feather barring and dark mantles alights onto the nest. It’s a sparrowhawk nest. Although sparrowhawks aren’t a rare bird, I had never before had the luck of finding the nest of one, so it was a very special find for me.
In the long lazy days of summer, the river runs slow and the small fish (minnows and sticklebacks) flow through its water like raindrops running their paths down the window glass. But sure enough – summer is always over in a flash. . . but I never feel sad at this time, because there’s always things to be joyful about. Mutations of fieldfares and crowds of redwings begin to gather around this wonderful site. Where do I find them? Well . . . on the football field, of course.
My patch is nothing unusual, or some untouched wilderness, and I don’t need a car, bus, train or even a bicycle, to get there. A patch could be anywhere nearby, whether it’s the local park, farmland, a small patch of woodland, lake or beaches. It doesn’t have to have a menagerie of endangered species taking up residence on its land. So what I mean to say is, if you haven’t got your little patch of magic yet: go find it.