Don’t complain about road noise…

After a late Saturday afternoon trip to the pub, I listened to the dusk chorus of robins, wrens and blackbirds while slowly making my way back to the warmth of my house. The accompaniment to these wanderings got me thinking, quite deeply. As I strolled along suburban lanes and across a busy main road, my concentration on those songs, bringing the day to a close, was interrupted by the passing of cars, vans and lorries.

Whether it is the soft but ever-present rumble of the far off A-road or the neck-less, under-developed one burbling past in his Subaru, road noise has an impact on all our lives. Even in the depths of the far off wilds of this nation, you are often never quite free of the background hiss thrown out by our metal dreams.

Many people in this modern world complain of the seeping, penetrating, all-pervasive presence of road noise in their lives; that it disturbs their peace; that it prevents silence. Yet, there is little silence in this world, and if there is silence, there is something missing, and something very wrong. As, if silence exists, other sounds are absent.

Wishing for silence is like wiping the paint from the canvas of a masterpiece. Wishing for silence means denying the chorus at dawn and dusk. Wishing for silence means hoping for a world empty of birds. Instead of complaining about road noise, we should be more positive, more aspirational, more in touch with the non-human world around us; we should be standing up for bird song.

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BTO Breeding Bird Survey – Bickerton Poacher

This week I was given a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) grid square by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and this morning I went out to complete the habitat survey for the two transects (survey routes).

The survey site is out near the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge, close to Bulkeley and just by the Bickerton Poacher pub on the road between Nantwich and Wrexham.  The BBS will require two visits, one at either end of Spring, but I’ll go into more detail about what the surveys entail in a future post.

ImageThe two survey transects are very typical of that part of Cheshire, with large pastures, bounded by hedges, with the backdrop of the low wooded hills.  Unlike much of the county, the land is quite rolling but the Cheshire Plain starts only a short distance away.

Spring really is in full swing now, with the daffodils out in full bloom, leaf buds starting to burst and the birds singing for all their worth.  This survey and the similar surveys I’ve been doing for Cheshire Wildlife Trust have given me a better ‘ear’ for bird song and picking out individual species.  I don’t think I have ever appreciated so much the sheer volume and strength of the combined weight of bird song at Springtime.  Just standing by my car at the starting point of the first transect, by the woodland at the bottom of the hills, the sound was so intense and vibrant – the countryside bursting with life!

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The power of volunteers

I have a few large posts in the offing but I just wanted to highlight two great examples of volunteering and what can be achieved by many people putting contributing a little (and in some cases not so little) of their time.

Late last year, the British Trust for Ornithology, Birdwatch Ireland and the Scottish Ornithologist Club released the 2007-2011 Bird Atlas.  This is an amazing book that details the breeding and wintering ranges of all bird species in the British Isles and not only is it a scientific marvel, it is a lovely ‘coffee table book’ too (if fact it’s almost as big as a coffee table!).  The book importantly also highlights how bird populations have changed over the past few decades and, in many cases, is quite a depressing read.  However, it’s an extremely helpful aid to the work of conservation organisations and fascinating for those of us who like wildlife, statistics and maps!

The most startling thing about it, is that 40,000 people helped to create it by collecting bird survey data and they’re all named in the back – it’s just a pity my name’s not in there and it will be many years until the next one comes out.

ImageThe other great example of volunteering is one that is much better known – the Big Garden Birdwatch. The results of the 2014 survey came out today and again it makes for interesting reading.  Nearly half a million people took part in the survey (sadly down from last year) and 7.27million birds were counted.  The annual survey has now been going for 36 years and data collected over that period can provide very good insights into the state of Britain’s birds.

You can find out more on the Bird Atlas and the Bid Garden Birdwatch at the following locations:


With all the debate around the visual (and other) impacts of wind turbines, I really have to say that they are certainly no worse that pylons.

I visited Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Gowy Meadows reserve yesterday and the pylons shown in the photo above (obviously tinkered with for effect!) really do scar the landscape

I should mention here that the reserve is right next to a large chemical works, which doesn’t exactly provide a nice backdrop either. However, I enjoyed my quick visit and will return.

The ospreys return for another year!

After spending the winter in sub-saharan Africa, the Glaslyn osprey pair have returned to their nest site.  For the last two years I have helped the RSPB to protect the nest during breeding season, reducing the chance of disturbance from walkers and stopping collectors getting their pathetic mitts on the eggs.

Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife, a Community Interest Company run by volunteers, has taken over the operation of both the protection and visitor sites and I have put my name down to do some more shifts over a few weekends, once the eggs have been laid.

I can’t wait to get back to the osprey protection spy cave!

Breeding Bird Survey – Blakenhall Moss

This morning, accompanied by Jack, one of my conservation volunteering colleagues, I did the first of the breeding bird surveys at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Blakenhall Moss reserve.  It was not only the first of the year, but also the first ever at Blakenhall.

Just like the survey I did last week at the Trust’s Bagmere reserve, this was the first of four Spring visits to record breeding activity.  The survey follows a set route, walking at a slow pace and stopping every so often to observe and listen.  After a while you get really in tune with the bird calls and, if not careful, stop looking.  Surveyors record the species and number of individual birds seen, as well as noting any activity that may indicate breeding.  This is the Wildlife Trust’s version of the Breeding Bird Survey and differs from the more onerous methodology used by the British Trust for Ornithology.


The route around Blakenhall isn’t the most straight-forward.  As I’ve blogged previously, the site was taken over by the Trust last year and they have already made significant progress to return to the site to its previous state as a sunken mire.  The site was covered in woodland but the majority of this has now been cleared, with only a ring of trees left around the outside.  The drainage outfall from the site has been blocked and the water level has risen significantly. The higher water level and the fallen trees and brash left over from the tree removal (and winter storms) have made walking the survey route much more difficult.  It was very easy to walk into deep water above welly-top level, so we had to skirt around the edge of the site to avoid the deepest flooded areas.


Unexpectedly, the weather this morning was lovely, with bright sunshine taking the edge of the early chilliness and the forecast rain stayed away.  There was an iciness to the wind but the dip in which the Moss sits provided some shelter.

Spring really is getting into full flow at the Moss with the birds leading the way.  I saw my first hirundine of the year when a sand martin flew past at speed; it won’t be breeding at the site but there was plenty of singing from those that will be.  The chiffchaffs have arrived and are in good voice, their name reflecting their song – chiff-chaff-chiff-chiff-chaff-chaff-chaff-chiff-chiff-chaff.  The loudest of them all was the smallest – the wrens really do punch above their weight when it comes to singing and there are plenty of them at Blakenhall.  The plants are also coming into life with the bluebells having grown more each time I visit and some of the trees just starting to burst into leaf.

The survey took an hour and a half; it could have been quicker but we spent time trying to avoid the deep water.  Over that time we recorded 26 species (two less than at Bagmere last week) and there was one of particular note. We saw a pair of lesser redpoll, small finches that like alder and birch woodland, of which there is quite a lot remaining around the edge of the site. They are a red-listed species and decreased by 10% in England between 1995 and 2010 and are a rare breeder in the area.   I saw them at the same spot a few weeks ago and it is possible that these birds have been wintering here and will move to other areas soon but hopefully they will be breeding at Blakenhall and the next three surveys may confirm this.

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The complete list included blackbird, blue tit, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coot, dunnock, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, greenfinch, jackdaw, jay, lesser redpoll, long-tailed tit, mallard, nuthatch, pheasant, robin, sand martin, treecreeper, woodpigeon and wren. It’s interesting to note the water birds amongst the woodland species as these will not have been at the site this time last year, before the woodland was largely cleared and water levels raised.

I’m no expert in bird calls and this was confirmed by one bird that has got me stumped.  It sounded like a drumming snipe (which is very recognisable) but I’m sure it was a vocalisation and not the drumming sound made by a snipe’s wings.  I certainly need help with this one.  It was also disappointing not to see any marsh tits as I’ve seen these on previous visits to Blakenhall and this would have been a good record for the site – hopefully next time.

We found one bit of evidence to confirm breeding of one species during the survey – a mallard nest – but unfortunately, as you will see in the photo below, the pair will have to give it another try!


Jack and I were in agreement at the end of the survey that it really is a great way to spend a Saturday morning – going for a wander around a woodland in the early springtime listening to the sounds of birds all around.  I can’t wait for the next visit!

Jura Turas Mara

I was brought back one of these the other day…


I bought a bottle last Summer and have been longing for another ever since.  Unfortunately it’s an airport duty free only bottle, so I  don’t often have the chance to get hold of one – they wouldn’t even sell me one at the distillery when I popped in a few months ago!

Jim Murray gives it a 82.5 in his Whisky Bible, which I think is a bit on the low side.  It’s finished in a mix of bourbon barrels, Bordeaux wine and ruby port casks, and these certainly give is a richness not found in many whiskies I’ve tried, although Mr Murray thinks it’s too oily and he might be right.

Still, I really like this one!

Breeding Bird Survey

I’ve just got back from finishing my first Breeding Bird Survey for Cheshire Wildlife Trust – a really nice way to spend an early Saturday morning, although the weather could have been a bit warmer!

I think it was the first survey of breeding birds to be done at the Trust’s Bagmere reserve.  This is the site of a formerly larger mere that is now filled with peat and while it has a small remaining area of open water, the reserve also has fen, marshy grassland and carr woodland.  Bagmere is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Click on the link below for more information on the reserve:

I had to get up early to travel to the site and finish the survey before 10 o’clock and while it was a bit breezy this morning it didn’t really hamper the task. It total, I recorded 28 species during hour-long survey, and that’s quite a few more than I recorded for the winter bird surveys I did at the site in January and February.

While not all of those species will be breeding there, some were flying over rather than recorded within the site itself, I did identify some notable species for the site.  Of particular interest to the Trust will be the presence of willow tits (pictured below), which are a local rarity and have declined nationally by 79% between 1995 and 2010.   It’s very difficult to differentiate these birds from marsh tits, as they look identical to most people, including me.  However, the call of the willow tit is very distinctive and is a sound that evokes images of northern forested wilderness.  I recorded two of these birds, so hopefully they will be breeding. They were recorded in an area away from where I’ve seen them at the site before, so hopefully there will be more.

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The other notable species I recorded was water rail.  This is a water bird (obviously, I suppose), related to the coot and moorhen, and generally very difficult to see as it tends to hide itself away and skulk in the undergrowth around freshwater. Like the willow tits, rails have very distinctive calls, sounding like squealing pigs. This is a locally declining species but has had varying levels of increase and decrease across the rest of the country.  There were at least three rails squealing for a very short time and they stopped as abruptly as they started before I could see them or tell if there were more.

This was the first of four monthly surveys I’ll do at the reserve and the later surveys will hopefully enable a significant number of these species to be confirmed as at least probable breeders on the site.

‘Big Society’ in action…

Yesterday I went along to the first osprey protection training day for the new Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife Community Interest Company.  This team of volunteers took over the running of the Glaslyn Osprey Project protection and viewing sites from the RSPB in September last year.  Over the past couple of years I have done quite a few night and day shifts for the RSPB at the project, based near Porthmadog in north Wales.  After some thought, I decided to continue supporting the Glaslyn ospreys with my time and this Spring I’ll be putting in more hours.  This means I’ll be helping to ensure that no selfish egg-collector  successfully adds to his (or her!) collection with a very rare clutch of Welsh osprey eggs.

After my afternoon with the team, being shown around the protection site and new camera systems, I am truly impressed by what a small group of passionate people can achieve in such a short period of time. They have got a long way in a matter of months, and while they have a lot more hard work ahead, they are already delivering on their hopes and aspirations for the project.

What makes me want to volunteer here even more is the fact that one mindless (egg-collecting) idiot can ruin the hard work of many and can set back a project that has been in development for so many years.  I’m very concerned about the future of nature under the harsh reality of the man-dominated world, but occasionally there are bright lights that shine and we must work hard to ensure that they are not extinguished by a few selfish interests.

I hate the media-dominated empire of politics and David Cameron has used this term for his own ends, but ‘Big Society’ is a brilliant phrase that could positively influence our communities.  Everyone can spare an hour, and many can put in a day; if we all contribute, even in a tiny way, a world of difference can be made.

Here’s hoping that the ospreys return later this month!