From my new office I now take lunchtime walks and now have more opportunities to look at the buildings of Manchester – both old and new.
I’m particularly interested in the Deansgate Square development at the moment. The construction of four high rise towers is currently ongoing just around the corner and the tallest will not only be the tallest in Manchester, topping out at 201m, it will also be the 5th tallest in the UK.
This is usually a quiet time of year for my conservation volunteering activities but the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has come up with something new for me to do: the English Winter Bird Survey (EWBS).
Whilst I already do a winter survey for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, this new BTO survey is a nationally organised event on the same scale as its Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), which I also do; in fact my survey site for the BBS and EWBS are the same.
My survey site is a grid square out on the edge of the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge, with the base of Bulkeley Hill the start and the Bickerton Poacher pub right in the middle. It’s a lovely location with my two 1km transects having a range of habitats from cottage gardens and rolling pastures to fields planted to crops and steep wooded hillsides.
The methodology for the EWBS is very similar to the BBS with all birds recorded along each transect, split into 200m sections, and the distance from the transect noted (under 25m, 25m-100m or over 100m). The big differences are the way that the birds were first noted doesn’t have to be recorded (i.e. by sight, by call or by song) and the habitat has to be recorded on each visit. The EWBS also requires brown hares to be noted but I think it unlikely I will see any in my square as I have yet to do so in the past five years of BBS visits and during my numerous walks in the area over the past almost 40 years.
The BBS requires two visits to the site, one in April/May and another in May/June but the EWBS requires up to four visits covering December, January, February and March – so giving me something to do in the quieter winter months. The helpful thing about the EWBS is that it can be undertaken at any point during daylight hours, so it doesn’t require an early wake up like the BBS does.
Today I completed by second EWBS visit to my grid square and just like the first, it was a gloomy and cloudy day, perhaps more so. I have to say that there were no real surprises or birds of particular note this time, only a flock of winter thrushes, fieldfares and redwings, brought me to a longer pause, watching them forage in the horse pastures. My first visit was almost equally as quiet but it was brightened by a large skein of pink-footed geese flying overhead as I walked between the end of the first transect and the beginning for the second.
Despite the gloomy weather, I enjoyed being out in the winter countryside and it makes an interesting contrast to when I do the BBS in the spring; the land now at its lowest ebb before bursting into life in the spring. With the seemingly never-ending depressing weather at the moment, the spring can’t come soon enough for me!
For the past five years I have been doing a winter bird survey for the Cheshire Wildlife Trust at its Bagmere reserve. This has entailed at least one visit in November or December and a further visit in January or February each winter. The process involves walking the length of the site recording each species of bird, the number of individuals and which part of the reserve they were seen within. The site is divided into a number of different areas based on the type of habitat – grassland, woodland and fenland. The winter survey complements the breeding bird survey I also do at the site in the four months from March each year.
The spring surveys are lovely, giving me the opportunity to observe the progress of the season with the increasing number of bird species appearing with each visit. In contrast, the winter survey visits, like the one I did today, are often cold, damp, cloudy and fairly bleak. The birds were quiet and subdued, waiting out the worst of the weather until the rush of spring and the time to breed again. However, while a little less than the spring surveys, I managed to find 19 different species today including two new ones for the site; sparrowhawk and kingfisher. The latter was a real surprise as there is little open water in the area through which the survey is conducted, although there is some further into the fenland part of the site.
There was also a bit of relief to todays survey with willow tits found again. These are a red-listed species and are becoming increasingly rare, with Bagmere one of the last locations in Cheshire to have them. Over the last few years of surveys they have appeared less and less, and they weren’t recorded at all during my spring visits last year. Therefore, to find two of them today, identified by their harsh alarm calls (play the second of the recordings here)
Since 2014, I have record 68 species at the site with the number climbing up a little each year. With the work the Wildlife Trust has been doing on the site, including clearing a lot of the willow scrub, it will be interesting to see how the range of species changes in the coming years.
On the 2nd January I had my first trip out of the year and visited the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Martin Mere Reserve. I’ve been visiting the reserve for many years and usually make a trip in the autumn to see the large flicks of pink-footed geese that pass through on the way to their main wintering grounds in north Norfolk. However, largely due to the amount of weekend working I did over the autumn, I missed that chance and this was the first time I’ve been for well over a year.
The weather was cold but very bright and a big change from the recent mild but gloomy stuff we’ve been having and it made the visit all the better for it. There was plenty of wildlife on show as I walked between the various hides from one end of the reserve to the other. I saw over 40 different species; perhaps not the most comprehensive list for the site and I’m sure I would have seen more had I stuck around longer. However, the best sights of the day were a barn owl hunting in daylight and three distant marsh harriers.
Of particular note was the relatively low number of whooper swans. It might just have been the particular day but there were only around 800 present when at this time of year previously I might have seen double that figure. I also learnt that the number of Pink-footed geese that passed through in the autumn was lower than usual. I suspect this may simply be down to the mild weather we have had over the autumn and winter so far and the birds are staying further north. However, there is a bread in me that there is more to this.
Towards the end of the day, I made a quick visit to RSPB Hesketh Outmarsh to see if there was much about. Whilst is was quiet I did get a nice sunset…
I’ve woken on the first morning of the new year hoping to pull back the curtains and see a bright, sunny day but instead there’s more gloom, just as we’ve had for almost the whole festive period. However, I awoke with bright hopes instead of fulfilled plans for the year ahead. The new year brings a clean slate but one which is already being scribbled on.
Just as 2018 was, I’m hoping 2019 will be a year full of time spent outdoors, both locally, further afield in the UK but also abroad. My first trip will be to Botswana in March, returning to the country I first visited in 2017 but this time to the Kalahari desert to spend a week on a camping safari. No doubt I will also have a trip to Sweden to visit family, probably in August, and I plan to have a third foreign trip, potentially in the autumn but I’ve yet to decide where but maybe Eastern Europe.
I’ve also got a return trip to the Isle of Harris which I visited in 2018; this time I’m hoping to get to St Kilda and, possibly, the Shiants too, something I failed to do last year due to the weather. I also hope to have some long weekends away, too few of which I had in 2018, including a trip to Norfolk and possible some of the hills in the South West.
More locally, I will mix cycling, both on road and dirt tracks, walking and running with conservation volunteering, mostly with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers but also doing bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology.
However, it’s unlikely that I will be doing many, if any, osprey or peregrine protection shifts as the main time for this volunteering will coincide with my biggest plan of this year. Since 2012 I have spent two or three weeks per year volunteering for the RSPB on Ramsey Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire. When I was there this last September I was asked whether I could do a three-month stint in 2019. Well, I couldn’t refuse (after getting approval from work), so I will be spending late spring and much of the summer on the island.
With all this planned, I can’t wait to get the year started!
In many ways this year has come and gone in a flash but looking back it also seems a long time since some of the events in the early months. With five holidays this year, I’ve had plenty of time away from home doing many of the things I love; travelling, volunteering, watching wildlife, photography and generally being outdoors.
February held my first trip of the year, to a very snowy Poland, looking for wildlife in the winter landscapes. I wasn’t disappointed, with lynx, wildcat and bison being highlights, as well as my best photo of the year; a crested tit feeding off the carcass of a wolf-killed red deer.
After a great trip to London in March, April was the month of a first visit to the Isle of Harris, where I stayed in the most amazing location, in a cottage on Luskentyre Beach. The only disappointment was not being able to get to St Kilda – perhaps in 2019!
June included another trip to the Scottish islands, this time to Orkney at Mid-Summer; a week spent mixing wildlife, photography, island visits and military history – just about perfect. August held my annual trip to see family in Sweden doing some of my favourite things; canoeing on a wildlife rich river and grilling sausages in the wild.
My final trip of the year was to RSPB Ramsey Island where I spent two weeks volunteering and supporting grey seal monitoring.
At the beginning of the year, I made an aim of 2018 to do more exercise than ever before and carried over two aims from 2017, to do more photography and to take up mountain biking. Well, I did 365 separate sessions of exercise and I started visiting the mountain biking trails at Coed Llandegla but I still need to do more photography.
The latter end of the year has been dominated by work, really ever since I returned from Ramsey Island at the end of September, so my free time has been limited and my general energy to get out of the house much diminished – I must not let this happen so much in 2019!
Overall, it’s been another busy year in my world away from work; volunteering, cycling, watching wildlife and being out in nature, and here’s my year in numbers:
1 new country – Poland
1 stay on Ramsey Island
1 weekend away – Pembrokeshire
2 trips abroad – Poland and Sweden
2 weeks on Scottish islands – Harris and Orkney
2 peregrine protection shifts
3 beer festivals
3 mountain-biking days
8 osprey protection shifts – including 2 night shifts
9 counties stayed in
10 ferry journeys
11 bird surveys
22 species of mammal including three new ones – European Bison, Wildcat and Eurasian Lynx
34 days volunteering – Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers, Glaslyn Ospreys and RSPB
59 blog posts
62 nights away
161 species of bid including eight new ones – Little Owl, Ural Owl, Pygmy Owl, Grey-headed Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike, Great Grey Shrike and Nutcracker
It’s ages since I did a post of images from my daily walk to work across Manchester City centre from Piccadilly Station. Well, this morning I moved into my company’s new office at the First Street development on the southern side of the centre. This now gives me more opportunities to look at Manchester’s buildings, old and new, on a different route to work.
Just a few shots on my way through First Street on my first morning working in the area.