Sunday, 4 June 2017

Love up trees....

If you need time out and a little heart-warming positivity then sit back and listen to this lovely, funny story by A. L. Kennedy about a man stuck up a tree and a woman who will climb.....

Love Love Love like the Beatles by A. L. Kennedy

Urban peregrines of Bournemouth in the air (any minute now!!)

Urban peregrines nest in all kinds of places and Bournemouth's ace birds nest in a fabulous clock tower. And the time is fledging time! On the 16th May this year's brood of one female and two male chicks were ringed  as part of the long-term monitoring of this species. This involves fitting under special licence a small metal unique-to-that-bird BTO ring, and a three letter colour-coded Darvic ring. We did this while they were still very fluffy and just a bit of their adult feather growth coming though. Nearly 3 weeks on and boy have they grown as you can see here on the live video feed run by Wildlife Windows. One of the male youngsters has already taken to the air and the other two will not be long I am sure. See here quick for the latest live footage of the nest.

Old trees: a fine veteran sweet chestnut

Old trees have a strange fascination for me and this sweet chestnut is not exception! I spotted this beauty, a fine veteran tree, at the fabulous Penshurst Place & Gardens. I asked David Alderman of The Tree Register, an organisation full of facts and figures who have unique record of Notable and Ancient Trees in Britain and Ireland. David told me "the common limes there date back to 1798 and so a Sweet chestnut of this size could be from any time 1550-1750." We measured a rough girth at 1.5m of around 9.5m. It has living bits and dying bits, and all kinds of nobbles and bobbles and even a duck nest in a cavity in the end of a big dead limb. The team on the estate are clearly taking good care of the tree although it did seem very compacted around the base. So while the exact age of this champion specimen is unknown, we can be sure it has a few hundred years under it's belt!  

Nightjars and their bovine neighbours

Up on a Dorset heath there is a small herd of fine white and a few auld Shetland cattle. These guys are not only braw looking beasts but they are also doing some special that gets them a big thumbs up from the ground-nesting birds. Heathland will get swamped with trees and dense gorse without large herbivores to keep the vegetation at bay. The cattle browse in a way that massively benefits the  heathland wildlife.


We were up there to assist with the monitoring of some of the birds, in particular the nightjars. Nightjars are very special birds with a very cool call. Their 'song' is very distinctive and you can hear it when the males start to sing as the evening fades into dusk for nightjars are birds of the night! By night they fly around hunting moths and other flying insects and by day they sit very tight, so incredibly well camouflaged you would walk right past it without knowing. Only here for part of the year, these birds fly all the way to Africa and well south of the Sahara - see a map here, and some of these Dorset monitored birds have made this journey at least 10 times! 

The evening was full of calling males, a few midges and the occasional wheep wheep call of the male in flight. We were extremely privileged to see one of these fantastic birds up close, a one year old female from last year.  Apart from th cryptic plumage, what struck me was the size of those eyes, and we could clearly see the big moth-funnelling bristles at her gape. After reading the ring number and checking on her condition she was quickly released and we caught a glimpse of her as she vanished back into the night.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Evenings are magical!

Evenings are magical. I loiter by the whispering river to watch the swifts hurtle through the zig-zag air and soon I am covered by hundreds of ghost-white flies and the evening is thick with them. And out of no-where, a barn owl, tinged pink in the last of the glow from a superb sunset hunts his way over the flower-thick fields. As I head home I glimpse him once more, this time mouse heavy, a mouse black shape dangling limp from his talons, as he draws a line between a death among the sweet flowers and the lives it will grow, a line that leads to the clamour of hungry owlets.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The woods are a-wash with bluebells!

Get out there when you can for the woods are awash with that amazing delicate yet vibrant bluebell blue (or is it purple..see here). Bird song throngs the forest and I was delighted to hear the thin, wispy call of a firecrest again this morning. Over on a patch of heath, my first tree pipit of the year was in full silver song. And from the hole of a dead sweet chestnut tree I spotted the cheeky beak of a great spotted woodpecker peeking back out at me; Spring is in full swing!

Ravens are Go!

Ravens nest early. And what fine big stick nests they have! The great stick nest contains a very cosy lining or nest cup which keeps eggs and young chicks warm during harsh early Spring weather. On a fine late April afternoon we visit a raven pair we have watched for some years now. We hike in to the forest under the watchful eye of the adults who circle high above us. On a previous visit I had crept in unnoticed to hear the strange, deep-throated chatterings and gulping noises of the young ravens. Guano was splattered on the nest edge just in case I was in any doubt of what was up there.

Our visit to the nest tree is as short and sweet as we can make it: I quickly climb up to the nest (Blake's Hitch on 13mm arb line DRT and my amazing CT foot ascender) and lower three fine, plump bellied pulli in a big old rucksack to the ringing team below. We measure, weigh (1.23kg, 1.05kg and 0.91kg) and ring them and return them back up into their cosy nest.

Our next visit is to a tall, thin Scot's pine. There are good-sized chicks up there shown by a vast zone sprayed white under the tree. The climbing is way more exciting - gulp! - and clinging to a branch I peer around the great stick pile to see four fabulous ravens. This bigger brood of slightly smaller ravens (1.06kg, 0.92kg, 0.69kg. 0.65kg) is significant as it is the first here for some years. This pair built a nest in 2016 (we recognise the female by a particular damage to one wing) but produced no chicks. Hiking back to the car we are happy to see both adults soaring over the wood, and we leave them to their dinner.

That was a few weeks ago. The fully grown youngsters soon leave the nest, sitting further and further out along branches, proving how independent they (almost nearly!) are. By now the young ravens will be testing those shiny new flight feathers out. Today there is a fine warm breeze; I wouldn't be surprised if Ravens are already on the wing!