Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2016

After having a good time last year, I had to go to this beer festival again.  This year, it was at Manchester Central (formerly GMEX) and while not as spectacular as last years’ venue (the velodrome) it provided a larger space for this huge event.


Again, I visited on the last day of the festival but this year I was disappointed that some of the beers and breweries I wanted to sample had already gone – no Purple Moose, no Isle of Skye and only one Adnam’s.  The food was quite poor too, compared to last year, with the venue providing the pretty average nosh – what’s more there was no cheese, again!


Well, apart from a few supply and food grumbles, an afternoon spent sampling different beers is never one wasted – and I even won a prize on a pub game (first time for everything).

Will definitely be back again next year.

Doing something constructive…

I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers today and rather than cutting down trees and setting fire to them, something we do often over the autumn and winter, we were planting them instead.  Much of our work to manage sites for nature involves destructive activities so it made a nice change to actually do something more obviously constructive.

Waking to snow on the ground, I reluctantly headed out. We spent the day outside in the cold but sheltered woodland around Brereton Heath Local Nature Reserve, near Congleton.   Working with Cheshire East Council Rangers, the group were helping to improve the woodland by planting understory trees including hazel, hawthorn and blackthorn.  When they have grown into thickets beneath the taller trees, it’s hoped that they will provide nesting habitats for summer migrants such as whitethroats and spotted flycatchers.



Owl’s That!

It’s been a great start to my wildlife year as I’ve already seen four of the five common UK species of owl in 2016.  For many that may not be such a great achievement but I only saw two species in the whole of last year!

On the second day of the year, I saw both long-eared and short-eared owls up on the Wirral and yesterday, an unusually nice day given recent weather, I saw both barn owl and tawny owl at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Martin Mere reserve.  The barn owl siting was particularly good as there were three out in broad daylight, all within the same view.  Barn owls are particularly badly affected by rain so it is likely that they were out making the best use of the first bit of nice weather for a while.

The only other common species of owl left to see this year is the Little Owl and I’m bound to see one or more on Ramsey Island in June; they often sit outside the volunteers’ bungalow in the evenings, meowing like cats.

There is a small population of breeding eagle owls in the UK, either the result of escapes from captivity or immigration from the continent.  I’m very unlikely to see one here but I have had a fleeting glimpse of one in Sweden when it flew across a forest trail in front of the me.

Another positive owl-related development is the recent night-time calling of a tawny somewhere in trees around my house. Over the years I’ve lived here, I’ve very rarely heard owls but for the last few weeks the calls have become a fairly regular nocturnal sound. Hopefully this might be the start of a new territory close to my house. I love to hear the sounds of wildlife while I’m lying in bed – either the calls of owls and foxes through the darkness or the songs of dawn chorus as the light begins to grow.

I wish I had some photos to include in this post but my laptop doesn’t appear to like the images taken on my new camera – need to sort that out!

Mid-winter? The lowest ebb?

It’s been a strange winter so far; well, it’s hardly winter is it? Surely 2015 was just one long autumn with occasional bright day to give hope which was cruelly ripped away again by the now predictable misery of cloud, wind and rain.


With the first signs of spring appearing over Christmas (I saw flowering brambles and hawthorn coming out in leaf), it seems strange that we haven’t even got to the point in the seasons when the northern hemisphere should be at its lowest ebb. The end of January and early February should be the coldest period of the year but up until very recently the signs have been that the usual lowest ebb might not even happen this time around.

Yesterday morning as I left home, well before even the slightest rumour of light appeared on the horizon, a robin was singing from a nearby hedge and as I left my car at the station a song thrush called out from the darkness. I previously wrote a post about the first time last year that I had heard the birds starting to sing as I left home – the date of that post was well over a month later than the first time I heard the initial notes of the dawn chorus this year.

I’m sure my body clock is still waiting for last summer to happen and I think without a bit of proper winter weather it might go completely out sync with the world.

Maybe the weather over the past year and particularly the recent warm few weeks has been exactly that…weather. Alternatively, it could be that El Niño is having an effect, causing our temperature and rain records to be broken. However, it could also be that global warming is starting to take hold, to some extent, and the exceptionally early blooming of flowers and bursting of leaf buds is something we may need to get used to – we certainly will if predictions come to pass.

If global warming means the weather over the past 12 months is a sign of things to come, I might just have to move to somewhere that still has proper seasons.

I thought that the time birds started singing at dawn was more linked to light levels that weather but perhaps the higher temperatures have kickstarted their territorial behaviour early. But what wider effects will changing climate have on flora and fauna? I’m no expert but there are some obvious implications – habitat loss, changing levels of food availability and shifting of migration patterns.

Take just one species – ospreys (okay, they don’t really do the dawn chorus but humour me!) – what could global warming do to them? They have two habitats to rely on, at either end of their migration. Will rising temperatures mean that their food source changes? Will fish stocks deplete or current species move out and new ones move in? We can only wait and see…and hope.

In just a couple of months the ospreys will begin their journeys north from their wintering grounds. In North Wales there is a group of dedicated volunteers who will once again spend days and nights protecting a nest from egg collectors and showing the public views of the birds from a visitor centre. Their hard work is undertaken in the hope that their efforts will help establish a larger and sustainable population of these birds not just in Wales but across the UK.

However, in the long term, if equal efforts aren’t made by everyone, to reduce their environmental impacts and help to restore what has already been lost, it could be that the work of these volunteers, and thousands like them working elsewhere, is permanently undone by climate change; the work of the few undone by the many.

The biggest threat is the indifference of the many leaving the fight to the few; this is not a fight that the few can win, it can only succeed if fought by the many. Without that effort, it could be that missing the lowest ebb of the seasons this winter is just one of a growing number of signs that the life our environment as a whole will irrecoverably ebb away.

(P.S. In writing this, I am, of course, a hypocrite; I do enjoy those two-hour drives each way for a protection shift!)

Long-eared Owl

I recorded a ‘lifer’ today (what twitchers call a bird that you haven’t seen before – not that I’m a twitcher, or a birder for that matter, I’m more of an all-round nature enthusiast!).


Long-eared Owl – it is, really!

I think the above photo shows that I’ve got to the limit of my phone’s photographic abilities – time for a New Year present to myself, I think!

Happy New Year!

I started the year with a walk around my local patch of countryside – driving somewhere would probably have been a bad idea after last night!

There’s been a change in the weather overnight – it’s still wet and windy but there’s now a bit of a chill in the air and there was a light frost this morning before the rain resumed.  It’s been a while since I walked the nearby footpaths and the rainfall over the last couple of months has left the land saturated and it took longer than usual to walk the loop due to a bit of slipping and sliding in the mud.


It might be a quiet start to my year but I’ve got lots planned with more bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and British Trust for Ornithology, local volunteering with CNCV, hopefully some protection shifts with Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Ospreys and a fortnight with the RSPB on Ramsey Island in June.  I’ve also put my name down for a new volunteering opportunity – I fancy a bit of a change and something new to do this year.  On top of all that, I’ve just booked a week on North Uist in April and I’ve got a trip to Sweden in July plus I might get a couple of wildlife holidays in too (possibly Finland and Poland).

Plenty to look forward to and hopefully plenty to blog about too!