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Friday, 15 May 2015

Late Vacancy

Still have one place available on my next ROUND BRITAIN TOUR of 7-14 June 2015, targetting just over 200 species of bird that can be found in the UK at that time of year including Corncrake, Red-necked Phalarope, Honey Buzzard and Montagu's Harrier. If interested, drop me an email at

Thursday, 14 May 2015

It's all change at the top......

After a succession of new birds (Little Bustard, Great Blue Heron, Hudsonian Godwit, Citril Finch and Moltoni's Subalpine Warbler), 2015 has really taken off Rare Bird wise with some members of the Top 10 adding no less than four new birds in the space of a month! Having seen North Norfolk's latest two additions, Chris Heard now drops into third place and SJMG retakes the crown.....


Monday, 4 May 2015

Bird of the May Bank Holiday weekend - a stunning RED-THROATED PIPIT

When local patchworker John Rainer made a visit to Ludworth Moor (Derbyshire/Gtr Manchester border) to count and check on Northern Wheatears, little did he expect the first bird he sets eyes on to be a RED-THROATED PIPIT!! Not only that, the bird was in stupendous salmon-pink breeding plumage - certainly a sight to behold. The bird had made landfall on the extreme western edge of the Peak District with a party of 40 or so Meadow Pipits on route north and was in a sheep field west of the track that leads up to Robin Hoods Picking Rods at SK 004 910.

John immediately realised the enormity of his find and within minutes placed his find in the public domain. Fortunately for all, the bird remained faithful to the same field for the rest of the day, delighting well over 300 observers before it roosted just after 8pm. Although Red-throated Pipits are annual in Britain with a yield of up to 10 per annum, twitchable individuals are few & far between, particularly in such outstanding plumage. By some surprise, the bird was still present Bank Holiday Monday (4th May), attracting upwards of a further 400 twitchers from far and wide.

It represents the third record for Derbyshire following singles at Rother Valley Country Park from 20-23 May 1985 and Hillyfields, Poolsbrook Country Park, on 23-24 April 1996.

John Raines - the man of the moment

Monday, 27 April 2015

UNDISCOVERED OWLS - the new production from The Sound Approach Team

UNDISCOVERED OWLS: A Sound Approach Guide

This is the latest in a series of lavishly-produced books pioneering identification strategies based primarily on sound recordings. Once again, it is a very impressive piece of work - extremely pleasing on the eye, thought invoking text and crammed full of essential information. This publication concentrates on all of the Western Palearctic's 27 owl 'species' and allows for a comprehensive study of each and every one.

The Sound Approach team is made up of a small band of elite and highly experienced ornithologists, namely Arnoud van den Berg, Mark Constantine, Magnus Robb, Dick Forsman, Killian Mullarney and Rene Pop, and has been actively pursuing such projects since the early 1990's. Magnus is the main man when it comes to recordings and the understanding and production of sonograms, while the others all have their own individual niches to fill - all in all a formidable team. Add to that the professional design expertise of Cecilia Bosman and Mientje Petrus and then you have one production team bar none and this book is working proof of such marvel - it is an undoubted masterpiece.

In just under 300 pages, it's 9 chapters work their way through all of the Western Palearctic Owls and to get the optimum from the text, the book really needs to be read in conjunction with the four CD's that accompany the tome. It is a book from my own heart, adopting the rather liberal approach of taxonomy and running with 27 rather than 19 species, based around both physical & morphological differences as well as vocalisation differences. The book has numerous surprises up its sleeve, splitting Barn Owl into 4 (Common, Slender-billed, Madeiran & Cape Verde), Scops Owl into 4 (Eurasian, Cyprus, Pallid & Arabian), Eagle Owl into 3 and recognising Maghreb Tawny Owl as distinct, as it clearly is by those that have seen and heard the species in Morocco.

Each chapter is highly detailed, often running to 15 pages per species, and incorporates lavish photography, lots of sonograms and useful histories. The text is very readable but with an obvious bias on sound recordings - great detail going in to describe how and when each segment was obtained. A map highlighting the approximate distribution of each species is also included. The majority of the images used to illustrate each species are sumptuous whilst Hakan Delin's evocative artwork is patch-quilted around the text and histograms, complimenting the presentation. Many of the names used to describe each species are straightforward but 'Cucumiau' for Desert Little Owl was somewhat unexpected and Great Grey becomes Lapland Owl in justification for separating it from the Nearctic counterpart 'species'. I must admit to being rivetted to the book at times, the chapters on Hume's and Omani Owls being particularly illuminating - the latter remaining undiscovered before work commenced on this project.

All in all an absolutely essential purchase and a book to be extremely proud of.

Lee G R Evans, British Birding Association, 12 April 2015

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Following an unprecedented influx into Britain last autumn, involving perhaps 25 individuals, several have survived the winter and with this recent spell of warm weather have been emerging. The fourth to be discovered (and my first in the UK) has been showing at Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve in West Sussex since Tuesday.......

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Dear All,
The meeting with the DEFRA Secretary of State yesterday was very useful and we had a frank exchange of views on the following key issues:
Cull Roll Out
We pressed the Secretary of State (SoS) to confirm plans for roll out post May 7th, should Tories return to office.
SoS was not willing to commit herself on this issue, other than to say culling would remain part of the TB reduction strategy.
We pointed out that any plans for cull roll out must involve full consultation with all key stakeholders and a financial impact assessment.
We also discussed the need to engage local communities, the police and local authorities in this process.
We also raised concerns over Natural England (NE) and DEFRA officials being involved in recent farm meetings held in the South West,  to discuss extension of the culls.
We also pointed out that Gloucestershire had fallen well short of its cull targets and even the Chief Vet had confirmed it was a border line decision if this pilot area should continue.
Since leaving the meeting, we have received confirmation from NE via our solicitor at Bindmans that the Gloucestershire cull licence could be revoked, due to failures by the cull contractors. We have used this information in follow up media interviews.
Misleading information from vets and NFU on the impact of culling
We did raise serous concerns about the misleading information on the impact of the badger culls coming from Roger Blowey and the NFU.
We pointed out that any move by Ministers to give credibility to these reports would undermine public confidence in the cull policy further and call into question the integrity of DEFRA and its science based policy process.
We also drew attention to a recent statement by the Chief Vet, that any reductions in bovine TB was due to cattle measures not badger culling or vaccination.
SoS did not make any effort to support the Roger Blowey or NFU claims, but she would not commit to getting Nigel Gibbens to issue a further statement on this issue.
We will follow this request up in writing following the meeting.
Testing badgers for TB
We criticised SoS for not ensuring badgers culled were tested for TB.
We also pointed out that European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had confirmed 232 dead badgers were tested in the UK in 2013 for an EU wide survey. Test results showed an infection rate just over 15% in line with RBCT data.
SoS seemed to have little knowledge of the EFSA survey, but her officials were clearly uncomfortable with us bringing up this issue and they stated the test data could have come from Northern Ireland.
We confirmed we would follow up in writing with a request for more information on the EFSA data including if any of the badgers used came from the cull zones.
We also criticised Owen Paterson for making claims that badgers had a TB disease rate of 40% plus and called on the SoS  to ensure any future culls would involve full testing of badgers for TB.
SoS did not give any assurance on this issue, but it's clear the low level of disease in badgers is causing concern in DEFRA & we will keep pressing on this issue.
TB rates in England
We discussed at some length the picture emerging of falling TB rates in England as a result of tightening of cattle measures.
We also went over some of the historical policy mistakes which had led to the increase in TB over the last 15 years, particularly restocking after foot and mouth.
SoS showed a worrying lack of awareness in this area and a willingness to keep playing the Ireland and New Zealand card to support culling.
We used the meeting to take apart the justification for culling based on the New Zealand and Ireland experiences and left the SoS with key data showing how cattle measures were working (compiled by Jan Bailey).
Annual Testing
We pressed hard on the growing support for annual testing of cattle for TB in England, not only from wildlife groups but also vet, farm and landowning organisations.
We said the NFU excuse that this is too costly, does not hold water after the tax payer has spent £15 million plus on the culls to date.
SoS listened with interest and her officials confirmed a further tightening of test measures was being considered, but they did not go as far as to say this would involve Annual Testing across all of England.
We will continue to press this issue following the meeting, as we are clearly making progress in this area.
Badger Vaccination
We said we were pleased that the SoS had recognised the value of badger vaccination as a tool in reducing the spread of TB in badgers.
We pointed out that the Badger Trust was working with farmers and landowners across the country to increase the level of badger vaccination.
We gave our broad support to the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, but pointed out that we expected key Badger Trust vaccination projects in areas such as Derbyshire and Cheshire to receive funding under the scheme.
SoS  showed a willingness to ensure this would be the case and we will follow up with DEFRA officials following the meeting.
Badger Persecution
We finished the meeting by referring to the DEFRA Risk Registers we recently obtained via the High Court.
We pointed out that officials and Ministers knew that the cull policy had a high risk of increasing badger persecution.
We made it clear to SoS that we had most definitely seen a significant increase in badgers being illegally killed and badger setts destroyed by landowners and farmers since the culls started.
SoS  made it clear that she condemned all wildlife crime and agreed with her officials to issue some form of statement on this issue following the meeting.
Wider views on the meeting
The Secretary of State seemed nervous and at times not on top of her brief.
Nigel Gibbens the Chief Vet was very noticeable by his absence.
The only officials present were her Private Secretary and representatives from the legal and TB policy units.
The Secretary of State took the unusual step of saying at the start of the meeting it would be considered private and off the record.
On walking down Whitehall earlier I nearly bumped into Liz Truss as she headed into Downing Street. I can only think the call for radio silence on the meeting came from the Prime Minister himself.
We gave no commitment not to share the discussions in the media (particularly as ITV & BBC were waiting to film interviews on steps of DEFRA after meeting).
Media Coverage
We have had extensive media coverage following the meeting with interviews on ITV West, BBC South East, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Sussex and in the national & regional press.
We were never going to see a U Turn in the cull policy as a result of this meeting.
However we put the Secretary of State under significant pressure and we made a very strong case for why the cull policy should be halted.
We showed we had the majority of the public, scientists and even politicians on our side.
We knew our facts and we were no doubt better briefed and had a clearer understanding of TB policy than the Secretary of State who is responsible for its implementation.
We made some useful progress on the need for tighter cattle testing controls, more badger vaccination and a stronger response from the Government on badger persecution and wildlife crime.
We also left no one in any doubt that cattle not badgers are the key factor in TB spread.
Badger Trust can be very proud of the fact we are the only wildlife or conservation NGO to have such a meeting with either Owen Paterson or Liz Truss in last 4 years
Our campaigning, lobbying & legal challenges have taken us to a place many much larger and better funded NGO's have not been able to reach.
We fight on.

All best,
Dominic Dyer

CEO Badger Trust

Monday, 23 February 2015

Identification of a TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE

Today, I had the rare opportunity of getting up close & personal with a TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE (Anser rossicus), feeding with a flock of 45 Greylag Geese at Rookwood Golf Course, Horsham (West Sussex), opposite Warnham LNR just off of the A24. Unlike some Tundra Bean Geese, this was a real 'classic', being markedly smaller than Greylag and reminiscent of Pink-footed Goose in size & structure. It had the short, stumpy bill characteristic of the species, the 'ginning' patch and short, thick neck. It did have extensive orange on the bill, but this feature is entirely variable, the bill-base being deep and the culmen somewhat concave.

Taiga Bean Goose (Anser fabalis) is much more Greylag Goose like, both in structure, size & gait; it has a much longer bill, a longer tail and a longer, narrower neck. The head colour is generally paler, contrasting less so with the dark neck, with generally more orange on the bill, some individuals being orange from base to tip.

An exhaustive selection of images follow. Enjoy.....