Sunday, 23 September 2012

Bird of the month page updated!

 I had to pick the Eurasian Hobby after this years sighting of them! Make sure you check out the videos if nothing else!

You can find it on the right hand side of the blog!

I wish it was sunnier!

I have just been reading through and catching up on whats on the Raptor Politics site and also Raptor Persecution Scotland blog.

I read a piece on the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog relating to a game keepers diary which had made me thinking back to conversations I have had both recently and in the past relating to my passion, Birds of Prey. I wanted to share them with you in this post because although I'm a glass half full kind of guy when I read and hear things like this it brings me crashing back down to earth.

The RPS article which can be read here relates to a gamekeepers diary. It really doesn't make pleasant reading and as I read it further and the blatant illegal activities grew I thought this can't be true, can you be so stupid to write this stuff down? Yet maybe it is because I have read equally upsetting diaries from Victorian times and the game keepers gibbet is a not to distant memory. This made me think of some conversations I have had with people from all walks of life relating to raptors in the wild.

I have friends who shoot, the majority farmers as I'm from a farming background and I get told the odd story ludicrous story from a rough shoot one in particular that a Barn Owl got flushed over the guns and shot accidentally! Is that really a case of misidentification and if so they shouldn't be shooting or is it something more deep rooted that when man has a gun anything with tooth and claw should be shot dead to help the shoot? Needless to say I never got any further trying to find out if this story was just a pub tale.

I spoke to a farmer who is a good friend of my fathers and someone I respect. He also has links with an urban nesting pair of Peregrines which I had recently found out about. I mentioned I would like to see the pair one day and does anyone monitor their activities each year. His response surprised me when he said "I was hoping you could come and remove them as they make a right mess each year!" I quickly pointed out that they are Schedule 1 birds afforded the highest protection and he should be pleased to have them. He happily let me visit the site which was outside of the breeding season so no sign of the birds but it was an interesting site and also interesting to speak to the maintenance chap who said they were actually no problem at all. It was the pigeons who made the mess and the falcons regurlarly hunted them so they were more than welcome!

I have also had my fair share of run ins with gamekeepers and one local keeper in particular who I'm sure would eradicate me if he could. I have been in the same pub with him a couple of times and have mutual friends and on one of these meetings I plucked up the courage to ask if I could monitor the birds of prey within his woodland. The response I got was sharp, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was never to set foot in his woods and if I were ever to ring a bird of prey he would shoot it! Needless to say I never tresspass and wouldn't want to monitor birds within his woods for fear of letting him know where they are!

My final story was the most recent as it is on my patch that I montior and ring birds of prey on. I bumped into one of the chaps who runs a small rough shoot on the land who I get on well with, he mentioned he had seen a winged tagged buzzard and I explained my mentor had tagged the young from this year to montior dispersal. The next part of the conversation baffled me though! He asked if buzzards had bred in a small copse where they have a release pen, they hadn't so I told him this and he then told me he had been in their feeding the poults when a Buzzard flew up from the ground and into a tree. On closer inspection he found a dead poult but imagine how amazed I was when he said "I had my gun with me but I decided I couldn't shoot it"!!!! So not 5 minutes before we were talking about me closely monitoring the buzzard then he mentions contemplating shooting one! I pointed out that really wouldn't  be clever and it is a criminal offence that I would report immediately to both land owner and police if I heard or found this going on.

I have also read on a falconry forum the call from some members to cull Buzzard because of the effect they are having on their hunting trips and attacking their birds. I've also lost count of the amount of back garden bird feeders who have played hell with me about Sparrowhawks killing their little birds, my own Granma was the last one!

Maybe the extracts from the RPS gamekeeper diary are true then based on my experiences! But it just brings home that birds of prey are still under immense pressure from all walks of life! I believe anyone who comes across such stories needs to keep a calm head and explain things in a polite manner! Whether the authorities will back the persecution up is still to be seen!

Maybe it will be sunnier for some species of birds of prey soon  but education is the main key in my opinion!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Hobby Hunting with Ben & Holly!

I have just recently spent a fab few days at the ICBP helping out at their annual Falconry Weekend and as always Jemima made me feel very welcome as did the rest of the team and it all went very well!

I got to meet so great new people and also some old friends, I ran a little activity area for children as it was also International Vulture Awareness Day on the Saturday so we did lots of fun vulture related activities right outside Delectable the Griffon Vultures aviary! Make sure you visit the Owl evenning are due to begin!

Now I have heard several people at the ICBP talk about Hobby's flying over the centre and even that they breed nearby and it has always intrigued me. The Hobby (Falco subbuteo) is a small but long sharp winged falcon that is classed as a British bird of prey but not one that winters here, at this moment in time I imagine many British Hobbies will have started their migration back to Africa. The migration is based primarily on food supply and weather, the Hobby loving to hunt birds like Swallows and House Martins and Dragons flies and other bugs. Our warm weather wakes up the dragon flies and brings the Swallows and House Martins back to their breeding grounds along with the Hobby.

Hobbies have spread fairly well over the last 10 years or so from parts of Eastern UK across and up into the Midlands and North of England. My area of Cheshire has a few hotspots for seeing them especially when feeding and it is not unheard of to find a number of Hobbies hunting over the same area.

Whilst packing away some fencing with Ben after the ICBP event I heard a falcon(s) calling excitidly. It call didn't quite fit the call I am more use to of the Kestrel but sounded like a group of falcons which I put down to young birds with their parent(s). I thought could it be a family of Hobbies still around?

The next day I was in the horse paddock moving another fence and it was another fine sunny day when I heard the calling again, fast repetitive kew kew kew kew as if an adult was being greeted by hungry young beaks! I mentioned it to Ben a bit later on,  he had heard it the day before and sad as I am I played both the Kestrel and Hobby calls which I have on a phone app. He agreed that it sounded more like aHobby so we decided to go and see if we could get a visual.

I know Hobbies often use old crows nest which are usually on open ground in a tree like Oak. We heard the calling of what I thought was young birds but in the next field on and as we walked along a band of trees we got our first visual, four Hobbies playing and chasing each other above trees in the distance. We stopped under a tree and watched as the birds came in and out of view, sometimes the birds landed and one went up and into a large Oak and out again. An adult bird came in and the young started calling, rushing to meet the bird one youngster looked to receive a food item in mid air. Then the noise subsided and they vanished off over the woods. Ben seemed to get a couple of long distance shots with the camera and we made our way back to the centre.

That evening Holly wanted to see the Hobbies so we made our way across the the fields to the site where me and Ben had stopped. Sadly no sign of the birds this time but I walked a little closer to get a better look with my binoculars at the Oak presumed to be the nest site, sure enough a large stick nest could just be made out in the tree.

I read afterwards in Anthony Chapmans book The Hobby that the birds start to disperse from their breeding sites around 4 weeks later. It is important to point out that the species is protected by law and nest sites should not be appoached during the breeding season to avoid disturbance.

A real highlight for my summer sightings this year!

To find out more about such a stunning little falcon check out what Arkive have to say