Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Meet the Committee!

Meet the Committee

Meet the Chairman:

Jonnie Fisk

"I'm 19, from North Yorkshire (though I had the misfortune of being born in London, Thus my first bird- heard only- was probably a Ring- necked Parakeet, a devastating reality). By day I work as a field officer on a N Yorks wet grassland reserve and by night in a restaurant kitchen. In my spare time I enjoy the music of Halls & Oates and googling pictures of hepatic Cuckoos. Don't believe there's more to life than birding."

Meet the Vice Chair:

Josie Hewitt

" I've had an interest in nature for as long as I can remember but in the last 6 years this has developed into a full on passion and one that I hope to make a career out of! I am a very keen birder, dedicated patcher, occasional twitcher and qualified bird ringer. I go out birding or ringing whenever I can and more recently have tried my hand at nest finding, as part of the BTO NRS scheme, however it's safe to say much more practice is needed to home my skills!"

Meet the Trip Officer:

James Shergold

A man of few words..
" My names James. My hobby is birdwatching, I live in the Midlands. Yes I'm interested in birds. As stated above it's my hobby."

Meet the Bird Development Officer:

Jake Gearty

" I'm Jake, 21 years old. I'm currently studying Adult Nursing (2nd year) at the University of East Anglia, I originate from the seaside city of Brighton & Hove, however spend most my time in Norfolk now. I've been a part of this crazy train known as NGB from the start, even before NGB when it was formally known as Young Birders! I've always been a 'birder' per say, my inspirations for the hobby came from my granddad who would take me out birding to the local nature reserves and point out the basics, a few years later I'd be teaching him stuff! My most memorable birding experience was when I first heard the wonderful song of the Nightingale, it still is to this day my favourite bird and was sort of the defining moment that I knew I was probably going to keep at this hobby for many years to come!"

Meet the Blog Editor: 

Dan Rouse

" I'm Dan from the wonderful country of Wales. I'm 19 years old and currently working for the WWT down in Llanelli where I'm a Learning Assistant. I have a huge love for raptors and owls but a soft spot for Wigeon (that call just makes me melt!), I'm a trainee ringer and plan to do a lot more regarding that aswell. I bird mainly Wales, but do the odd bit of twitching thanks to a certain someone and travel to Portugal a few times a year for birding. I love collecting, my collection is mainly pellets, claws and feathers, but I have more books than I need which have formed a collection of their own. I have an interest in reptiles, butterflies and bats! "

Meet the Newsletter Editor:

Jonathan Scragg

"My name is Jonathan Scragg, I am 20 years old and I am currently 2 years into studying Ecology at Lancaster University. I have been a birder for as long as I can remember and my main passion is patch birding, hence why I help to run Patchwork Challenge alongside my work with NGB. Beyond birds I am very interested in butterflies and moths and I currently have a part-time job surveying Bats in the North-West, basically anything that flies interests me!"

Friday, 15 May 2015

NGB Patchwork Challenge: April 2015 results

The comparative league in the NGB minileague shows how connecting with all the returning migrants can give your score a massive boost and take you close to your previous years totals. James Common takes over the lead of this league with a hugely impressive April where he added 21 points, taking him up to a 96% comparative score, the highlight of which must be completing the set of resident British owls by adding both Short-eared and Tawny during the month. Josie Hewitt takes a massive leap up the table into second place with a host of classic summer migrants including Osprey, Cuckoo and Hobby along with a first for patch Greenshank. Exams meant I couldn't visit my Lancaster patch much during April resulting in me dropping down to third, exams being the scourge of many participants in this particular league over the next couple of months. With May bringing longer days and more migrants, surely the 100% barrier will fall in this league during the month?

April is the month in patch birding when you set your alarm for pre-dawn to get down to patch for first light and the promise of #patchgold migrants. Putting in the hours can produce some serious rewards and Joe Stockwell proved that and some on his Ferrybridge patch adding an enormous 65 points during the month! His highlights make for an envious read and include a self-found Black Kite seen coming in-off the sea, a stunning Red-rumped Swallow and a host of commoner migrants often coming in large falls. Anthony Bentley relinquishes the top spot for the first time this year despite adding 41 points himself on his Framtpon patch, his highlight however wasn't a classic migrant species but the second site record of Mandarin! The top 2 have a healthy lead over Jonathan Farooqi who retains his third spot at Druridge thanks in part to his second site Great White Egret and his first patch Bearded Tits in 6 years of trying, a true piece of #patchgold if ever there was one.

The best sighting from the rest of the league was a Hoopoe on Bardsey for Ben Porter who is wasting no time in shooting up the table after his absence at the outset, one can only expect to see his name entering the podium positions in the next few months. There isn't a separate inland section for this minileague but if there were there would be a fascinating fight for the top spot between James Common, Drew Lyness and Jonnie Fisk who occupy positions 7 through 9, separated by just 2 points. All the classic summer migrants appeared on NGB patches throughout the month including Wood Warbler for Jonnie Fisk, Nightingale for Drew Lyness,  Garganeys for Laurie Allnatt and Amy Robjohns, Yellow Wagtail for Daniel Gornall and Ring Ouzels for Michael Murphy and Ashley Baines.

With migration still in full swing May has huge potential for patchers to make some big gains in this league, and with a host of megas being found so far during the month will any NGB be lucky and hit the patch jackpot?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Distracted by birds in South Africa - Megan Shersby

Distracted by birds in South Africa, by Megan Shersby

In the last few years, I have been to South Africa a couple times. Whilst I went there for mammalian purposes (studying the behaviour of zebras and then dwarf mongooses), I couldn’t help but be astounded by the beauty and diversity of the birds I saw there.
My favourite of the small birds had to be the Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis). With roughly the same size and shape as our familiar House Sparrows, their chest is emblazoned with a fantastic powder blue colouration. Going around in flocks (again, similar to our House Sparrows), they provided small bursts of colour amongst the brown trees of the dry season.

Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis)
 At the time of writing, I have not yet seen a kingfisher in the UK. A pretty shocking and shameful absence in my list, and I’ve made it a resolution for 2015 to see one here. However, despite this glaring omission, I have seen a number of kingfishers in South Africa, and they were just lovely birds. I can’t decide whether I prefer the Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata) or the Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis). Both are beautiful birds and it was fantastic to watch them fishing. Now I’m hoping to see a British kingfisher!
Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata)
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Another bird that has a special place in my memory is the Crested Barbet (Trachyphonus vaillantii)! I saw it first on my zebra-watching visit, when we managed to catch one in a mist net. What stunning plumage, and such a character! On my return to South Africa to study dwarf mongooses, I saw this species often. I remember one particular time when I sitting by one of the tree refuges, waiting for the dwarf mongooses to awaken. It was a cloudy day so the mongooses were having bit of a lie-in and I was attempting to plough my way through Les Miserables on my Kindle (a difficult task at the best of times). A Crested Barbet alighted in a tree nearby and we watched each other for a good while, curiousity abounding on both sides and the clicking of my camera filling the silence between us.
Crested Barbet (Trachyponus vaillantii) 
Whilst I didn’t see this next bird very often, my favourite bird photo from South Africa is of this species. It’s the Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus), a myriad of soft pastel colours – cream, beige, blue and of course, lilac on its breast. This particular individual struck a fantastic pose within the sun-dappled branches, its eye framed within a beam of sunlight as it cocked its head to look at us. Thinking anthropomorphically, it almost looks like it is frowning a little at us, as if to ask “Well? What are you doing?”
Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)
Where to start with the birds of prey – there were owls, hawks, buzzards and vultures galore. Annoyingly they were often very far above me, and many of my blurry photos don’t even qualify as record shots, so most still remain unidentified. There is one distinct memory I have of a much closer encounter with a bird of prey. This day wasn’t much different from any other day out with the dwarf mongooses. They got up, they groomed each other and they set off for the day of foraging. However, partway through the day, they were foraging close to one of their refuges, when suddenly an alarm call rang out and they dived into the nearby safety. A fraction of a second later, an enormous bird appeared, swooping down by the refuge, a mere couple of metres from me. Then in a blink, it was gone again. I’d had no time to move, or react in any way; it was all over before I could register what was happening! Luckily (for the mongooses), the bird had missed and the group
eventually resumed their foraging. To this day, I still don’t know what bird species it was, but I know that I’ll have the blurred memory of it forever.
African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus) 

Naturally, I couldn’t include all the bird species that I saw in South Africa, the previously mentioned birds are just a small fraction of the variety.

- Megan Shersby 
Want to read more on Megan's adventures in South Africa? Then CLICK HERE!


Megan Shersby is an aspiring naturalist and science [particularly nature] communicator. She is currently based in Dorset, working as a Seasonal Assistant for Dorset Wildlife Trust at two of their centres. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore the natural world, and can usually be found in nature reserve examining the local wildlife. If that fails, look for the nearest moth trap, as she’ll probably be peering into its depths for the latest catch. You can follow her on Twitter at: @MeganShersby, or via her blog

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Bardsey NGB week 2015

This year Bardsey Lodge and Bird Observatory are once again offering Next Generation Birders a week on the the island for a greatly reduced rate (£12 per night). This is a fantastic opportunity for any young birder, ringer or just general wildlife enthusiast, as it is a chance to help out and gain experience at one of the UK's 19 bird observatories. The dates for the proposed trip run from 22nd-29th August (Saturday to Saturday), but for Birdfair attendees, you may also join from Monday 22nd to Saturday 29th August. This is a good time of year on the island, and we will be able to carry out a large range of activities on the island, which I have outlined below. 

Bardsey Lodge and Bird Observatory

Birding- There is a huge amount to write about in terms of the diversity of the island, which I attempted to summarise last year in a blog post here on NGB. I have copied that post and pasted it below, to give you an idea of what Bardsey has to offer. However, I will also mention a few specific things related to the time of year that the trip will be taking place...

The end of August is a great time of year for birding: on the one hand you have the movements of southward-bound migrants already in full swing, with species such as Willow WarblersSwallowsWhite Wagtails and Spotted Flycatchers featuring in their hundreds at times; on the other hand, the movement of seabirds out to sea can also be rewarding, with some of the year's largest Manx Shearwaters counts at this time of year, along with scarcer species like Arctic and Pomarine SkuasBalearic and Sooty Shearwaters and the occasional Grey Phalarope.

The main feature, however, is likely to be that of passerines: scarce and rare species have a tendency to turn up towards the end of August, and in the last few years we have had arrivals of Icterine Warblers (seven in 2011) and Melodious Warblers (six in 2010), whilst WrynecksWestern Bonelli's Warbler and Ortolan Bunting are distinct possibilities. Good numbers of migrants often move through the island on their way south, and include species such as Common RedstartsWhinchatsYellow WagtailsPied FlycatchersTree PipitsCuckoosGrasshopper Warblers and much more!

Western Bonelli's Warbler- found by yours truly on 31 August last year!

Ringing- ringing is a strong feature at any bird observatory, and Bardsey is no exception. During the week we will attempt to undertake a wide variety of ringing methods, and target a range of species. Ringing on Bardsey is hugely weather dependent, and so any of the following activities may be restricted if the weather is windy or wet:
Mist-netting- provided conditions are calm, we would usually open up the nine mist nets around the Bird Observatory garden on a morning, and usually keep them open until midday. If there are movements of migrants through the island, then we can catch over 100 birds here on a good morning.
Swallow and wagtail roosts- late August is the best time of year for trapping roosts of Swallows and wagtails, with sometimes hundreds of the former flocking into the island's reed beds at dusk. Providing calm weather, we will attempt to catch as many roosting birds as we can at dusk using tape lures and 60 foot mist nets.
Heligoland trapping- besides the island's fixed Heligoland trap at Cristin, which will be run throughout the day, we also have a small portable trap, which we set up on the beach to catch and colour ring Rock Pipits, as well as the odd wagtail. The end of August is a very good time of year for this activity, and so it is very likely that we will be using this during the week.
Manx Sherawaters- by the end of August, many of the island's Manx Shearwaters will have chicks in the burrows, and most days there will be a trip to different areas to ring these fluffy juveniles. In addition, we may also go out at night to try and trap and ring many of the adult birds.
Wader lamping/dazzling- provided the moon phase is appropriate and there are waders around to catch, we will probably try lamping around the beaches and wetlands at night to trap any species which are present. Typically we catch Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and Whimbrels, although at the end of August we may also be able to trap Bar-tailed Godwits, Knots, Sanderling or Redshank.
Storm Petrel Ringing- on calm nights during July and August, we will often set up a mist net at the North End, and play a loud tape lure to bring in Storm Petrels from the East Side. It is likely that we would try and catch some during the NGB week, provided the conditions are suitable.

Wryneck- trapped and ringed at the beginning of September 2014

Moth trapping- moth trapping is carried out at various locations around the island throughout the year, mostly using small mv Heath Traps, but also a Robinson trap situated at Cristin. We check the traps every morning between 7 and 9 am, and so any NGBs on the week are free to participate. Late August is a fantastic time of year, and species can include Convulvulus Hawkmoth, The Anomalous, Heath Rustics, Drinkers, Northern Eggars, Canaray-shouldered Thorn, Silver Ys and Brown-veined Wainscot, amongst hundreds of others.

In addition to the above activities that will be carried out during the week, we will also be holding a few events. At some point during the week we shall attempt a Bird Race, either splitting up into groups or just going outright BBFO VS. NGB! The race will simply be which team can see the most species in 24 hours. One night there will be a Quiz held at the Obs, which will comprise questions on identification, bird facts, sound recordings and more! Talks will also be held at the observatory on some nights, one of which will be Steve Stansfield's talk on the wildlife and birds of Bardsey and one about , but there may also be trip reports and other interesting talks.

- You can also apply for the BTO/BOC Bird Observatories Grant to cover the costs of the trip up to £200 Max

There are only TEN places on this week and some have already been booked, so get your names down soon..........

BBFO Sightings Blogs for...
- August 2012 Click here
- August 2013 Click here
- August 2014 Click here

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Waders With The Power To Inspire - Oliver Simms

When people ask me how I got in to birdwatching, the honest answer is that I don’t really know. I sort of started for the sake of it when I was 13. I had always had an interest in animals and enjoyed seeing the larger, more spectacular birds but, struggling for things to keep me occupied in the summer holiday, I seem to remember starting to write down all the birds that I saw. One thing though is certain, two different days watching waders helped cement my passion for birds.

A few weeks after I started listing the birds, a family holiday in the Peak District gave me the opportunity to enhance my ever growing list. I can’t remember how but somehow I had heard that Old Moor RSPB near Barnsley was the best site in the area and I managed to persuade my family to stop “briefly” as we drove back from a trip to York. The “brief” stop lasted over two hours and the only reason I was dragged away was because the reserve was closing. I wrote down 83 species for these two hours, no doubt some of them farcical (Marsh Warbler certainly!), but it was the waders that really stood out for me.

Up until this point, I only really recalled seeing three species of wader (Lapwing, Curlew and Oystercatcher) in my life and all before I truly began birdwatching. For whatever reason, waders were a family that I had seen in my field guide, eye-catching species that captured my imagination and I was desperate to see more of them. Indeed, I had hoped that I would kickstart my wader list at Old Moor but nothing prepared me for the sheer variety of species. In the first hide, some local birder helpfully explained to me how to separate Common and Green Sandpipers, as these became the first new wader species of the day for me.

We then walked round to the “Wader Scrape Hide”, with the name alone causing me  no end of excitement. I was blown away. Amongst the thousands of Lapwing (exciting enough itself for me at the time) were Golden Plover, Dunlin, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Greenshank and, the real prize, a full summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, which an RSPB volunteer had helpfully pointed out to me. I seem to remember being quite disappointed when I was told it was a Spotted Redshank as I had been desperate to see a Redshank not a Spotted Redshank! It was only last year, almost 8 years later, that I saw my next pristine summer plumaged Spotted Redshank.

Redshank - Samuel Langlois
Dunlin - Samuel Langlois
7 months later and my birdwatching obsession had grown tenfold but I had not yet had a comparable experience with my beloved waders. I had visited several sites that I thought would be good for waders including Rainham Marshes RSPB, Rutland Water and WWT Slimbridge but only seen 3 or 4 species each time, though I had seen Redshank on each occasion! I had a free day in the Easter Holidays and decided that I was going to go somewhere by train. I decided on Rainham Marshes and I called them up to see if a 14 year old could join the RSPB without his parents present. An hour later they phoned back to say that I could but I would not be allowed in the reserve unaccompanied due to “open water”.  Furious, I set about finding somewhere else to go and I heard that Two Tree Island in Leigh was good for waders so I decided to go there.

I had never birdwatched in a saltmarsh or estuarine habitat so I did not quite know what to expect but I was hopeful of a couple of wader species. As I walked up towards the hide, I saw what I initially took to be a gull mobbing a Buzzard. I raised my binoculars and realised it wasn’t a Buzzard but a Carrion Crow so I was confused as why the “gull” was so small. The penny soon dropped, this was my first Avocet! As I got in to the hide, the excitement continued as the saltmarsh threw up more and more wonderful waders. There must have been 12 or so species of wader, I’d never seen anything like it! Highlights for me included my first Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and Grey Plover. Looking back, if I had the same day now, the highlight would have probably been the Cuckoo singing outside the hide but, at the time, all I cared about was the wading birds.

Almost eight years since these first experiences, waders still capture my imagination. Whether the excitement of finding a Common Sandpiper on my generally waderless patch, a day on the Norfolk coast watching swirling flocks, twitching a transatlantic vagrant or enjoying Blacksmith Plovers in South Africa, I still take pleasure in these wonderful birds. Although I have seen rarities including Greater Yellowlegs, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Short-billed Dowitcher, one breeding species still eludes me; the Dotterel. I am determined this year to track one down!

Hopefully my story highlights the importance of protecting waders. It is essential not only so that future generations can enjoy them as much as I have but also because they have a special power to inspire a love for all birds and, as a result, a determination to conserve them. Those interested, feel free to the visit the WaderQuest website using the following link: 

Purple Sandpiper - Samuel Langlois

Oliver is a 22 year old Classics graduate from Durham University and, after spending his last free summer as a bird guide and hotel manager in Ecuador, now works as an auditor at the National Audit Office. He previously served as Trip Officer in the Next Generation Birders committee and is now a trustee of Wader Quest. When he is not staring at spreadsheets at work, he enjoys NGB trips to Spurn, hill walking and birding in the tropics.