Monday, 11 September 2017

A post by a mother...

It is tricky, as a mother, to try to make the right decisions for a preteen lad... 

It is important to teach about commitment and loyalty, grafting and sometimes plain hard slogging.   This is what we did for a year at Warwick Racecourse; patching with the senior member of the team at least twice a week, with a few very exciting, but hard-earned gems brightening up an extremely low-yielding year.  Jack learned that birding isn't just about life lists, and chasing rarities, but about monitoring, record-keeping and watching for trends to help ecologists build a wider picture of our UK wildlife.

However, it is also vital that a twelve-year-old's enthusiasm is held, that he doesn't start to see birding as a chore and that he enjoys and maintains his enthusiasm for ornithology and all things wild as he moves through life.  As the year went on at the Racecourse, we could visibly see Jack's steps starting to drag and the zest beginning to drain out of the poor boy.  So I made the difficult decision to step away from patching and go where the birds were for a bit.

Visits to Norfolk, Portland, Bempton and Flamborough, Spurn (of course!) and  Bardsey Island were planned and twitches to see various rarities around the country were made in the trusty Twitchmobile, even taking Non-birding Dad with us a couple of times.  We managed to catch up with the senior member of the team a few times, but not nearly enough.  Jack has had an amazing few months and his life UK list now stands at 253.

The absolutely brilliant news is that making that conscious choice to 'chill out' seems to have done the trick - Jack is now more enthusiastic than ever.  He is often found vis migging out of the front bedroom window, spends hours looking at Birdguides, books and magazines, loves every minute of our birding trips and he has finally mentioned that word I've been waiting for all year.....patching.

Unfortunately though, Jack does not want to return to the Racecourse on a regular basis.  I think, perhaps, I pulled him out too late and have put him off there for life.  But he at least wanted to start patching again, in a new area.  He suggested Warwick's Saxon Mill and surrounding fields as an idea.  We have been there four times now and are seeing some potential in the site, so watch this space.

As for the Senior Member of the team - well, Jack is missing him.  When he returns from his hols with the lovely wife, we will arrange to meet up and, hopefully, regular blogs can start again.

There's no book that tells you whether you are doing a good job as a parent, and no instructions on how to deal with the growing personality in front of you.  Much of being a mum is playing it by ear and desperately hoping you're not damaging your child for life.  Jack has a great future of birding ahead of him if he wants it (even though he wants NONE of his mates to know that) and I don't know if he'll still want to do it when he discovers different types of 'bird' but, in the meantime, we will support him and try to keep his enthusiasm going for as long as possible!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Mipits Up - Skylarks down

Yup, there may not be much activity on this blog but believe or not one of us still visits the Racecourse on a frequent basis.  Our Racecourse Hobby continues to put in appearances from time to time and seems to cover a large area, we still have not managed to nail down it's most favoured spots.

Finally after seven months we have had a couple of Raven flyovers in the past couple of weeks but still no Sedge Warblers at all this year and our Reed Warblers, if they are still there are keeping an extremely low profile.

Meadow Pipits seem to be everywhere at the moment and have had a really successful year, with at least eleven spotted a few days ago and at least three singing yesterday.  A true success story, whereas Skylarks, although in existence with perhaps five spotted on each visit we have only had a maximum of  two birds in the sky singing so far.

The meadows on the Racecourse are looking particularly stunning this year with many wild flowers, which are attracting loads of insects including Small Skippers.  This is a credit to Jon Holmes at Warwick District Council and his management of the site.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Is this the end?

Warwick Racecourse is part of St Mary’s Lands that comprises of the Racecourse, a nature reserve, Grade II listed Gardens, a football club, golf club and driving range.  It is extremely difficult to work out which part is the nature reserve, as there is no designated area.  However, my understanding is that the whole area of St Mary’s Lands (except Jubilee Woods at the north) qualifies as a Local Wildlife Site due to it meeting specific scientific and community criteria which are all outlined in a Local Wildlife Sites Evaluation form produced by Warwick County Council in 2011.  This paper goes onto mention specific action that could be undertaken to further enhance the site.  Some elements of this have been performed by Warwick District Council while others have not.
It is an area used by a wide range of people including Dog Walkers, Football teams on the football pitches, Race goers on Race days, Visitors to the Grade II listed Gardens, Walkers, Joggers, Cyclists, Drone Flyers, Model Airplane enthusiasts, Caravan Club, Golfers and the Rotary Club (and other Warwick Societies) to use for specific events.
There has been much said about preserving the area and the people of Warwick being custodians to the place for future generations to come but then that comes with a cost.  In order for this to happen there should to be a recognition that the ecology of the site has to be preserved and this may mean areas have to be put aside with no access.  However, as the area is common land, many frown upon any element of it being put out of bounds.
Here lie many problems:  Each year, areas are designated for ground nesting birds but people still walk through the long grass or allow their dogs to prance through it, thus disturbing valuable nest sites for Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.  Should those areas be permanently fenced off?   Areas have been planted to increase biodiversity but should Warwick District Council allow a Warwick Society to hold an event on those areas, thus destroying years of careful planting?  Should model airplane enthusiasts be allowed to fly during peak breeding season or restricted to a smaller area?  Should Warwick District Council give the reservoir over to all year fishing to gain a small amount of income?  How much income from Council Tax payers should be used to maintain the site?
With any kind of Local Government there is an element of local politics, trying to keep those main stakeholders happy and of economics, viability and accountability.  There is a constant balancing act to be made but as we so often see in society, the balance can sometimes swing too far in one direction which can mean in the short term a benefit to a few but over the long term there being a negative impact to many.
It could be argued that most of the people who visit St Mary’s Lands do so because it is a pleasant environment, a green space that is free from the fumes of inner Warwick, full of bird song with greenery and wildflowers.  However, if the natural wilder elements of the Racecourse continue to be heavily disturbed then we will steadily lose different species and we are already witnessing a decline in some.  It obviously won’t become devoid of life completely but it will definitely be a quieter place to walk round and not be as beautiful.  Skylarks in particular may disappear and their song which forms the background of any walk round the Racecourse could be replaced by the buzz of a model airplane instead.  We know which we would prefer.
Unfortunately, despite our efforts, we came across a brick wall with Plincke who never had the courtesy to answer our emails after the Consultation last year.  So, the onus lies with Warwick District Council to whom we have sent some requests but we are not confident they will withstand local pressures and demands from key stakeholders and we fear that some areas which have had years of tender care and planting could be lost.  In no way do we blame Warwick District Council, as they need to try and keep everyone happy but we do blame those parties who feel they have some ownership over the site and can do what they want irrespective of the natural fauna.
We’d love parts of the site to be designated as permanent nature reserves free from disturbance but recognise that this doesn’t fall in the line with local pressures.  We will therefore no longer birdwatch the site that regularly, as the disturbance is just too great to all areas and it is a bit depressing walking the place and seeing a marked decline in species.
So, going forward, this blog will probably be updated less frequently due to less visits being made to the Racecourse.
However, you never know someone in authority may see these ramblings and make changes which may encourage us and other species back again.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Another month another post

Almost a month has gone since our last post and for most of the month we didn't see any improvement to the wind direction which has made it feel like quite a cool April overall.  With this and the fact that the Racecourse isn't really close to any notable migration paths, bird movement ground to a halt for a few weeks and despite the gradual increase in Common Whitethroats, we saw virtually no other change.

However, recent southerlies have brought in our Swifts which, at the last count numbered at least 15 over Warwick and a Whinchat which only stayed for one day on 11/05/2017.  One elusive Reed Warbler has taken up residence on the centre scrape area and a pair of Moorhens bred there this year.  Reed Buntings do seem to be thriving with many seen on each visit and we still await our first Sedge Warblers. 

The main overflow pool (or Septic Pool as we like to call it) has attracted a few Mallards, a pair of Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe recently.  The Little Grebes did attempt breeding last year but failed due to the continual change in water level.  I have contacted the landscapers with a request for a floating island of some kind, but despite a few requests they have not had the courtesy to reply (as yet).

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Trip Report to the Big Apple

 A trip to visit family in New York has been on the cards for a while and so last autumn we decided to make the booking to go just after Easter this year, during school holidays and just as spring migration is kicking off.  A great time to spot warblers, as the trees also are not fully out in leaf.

Besides Australia and Europe, my first experience of birding abroad had been Trinidad or Tobago last year. So, I was slightly nervous of not being so clued up on species but the run up to the holiday had been hectic thus not allowing me any time to do any revision. I did manage to download an app for my phone to use as a guide if need be.  However, upon arrival, it became apparent that we had not lost our ability to categorise birds by family and were immediately ticking off species like Common Grackle, Chipping Sparrow and House Finch.  This was a bit of a relief, as birding in a new country being unfamiliar with species can be a bit daunting.

After a long flight, we just wanted to walk walk walk and therefore decided to take in many of the sights by foot during our first afternoon which included, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central, The City Library, Radio City, Rockefeller Centre and a visit to Central Park and Bryant Park.  Bryant Park, although extremely crowded just seems like a little oasis and we spent a long time there admiring the view of the Empire State building framed by trees.  It was also great to see my first Northern Flicker.

Most of the trip was dedicated to visiting family and sightseeing places like the Met, Moma, Battery Park, 911 Memorial, UN, Brooklyn Bridge and going on the Staten Island Ferry.  However, on Thursday, as we were in the area, we went on an hour bird watching walk round Bryant Park organised by New York City Audubon.  Due to northerly winds, there was not much activity but one of the keen eyed observers spotted an American Woodcock in a flowerbed.  It is amazing how camouflaged Woodcocks can be, as despite about 20 people looking for the bird we could not find it.  After the walk had finished, we decided to go look for the Woodcock again and finally managed to see it feeding away happily in the middle of the bed - an amazing bird to see.

I had limited time to do much birding on my own but did manage a couple of hours which allowed me to clock up species like Eastern Towhee, Palm Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, American Robin amongst others before joining up on Saturday morning with Neil Duggan (who was also in New York with his wife) and doing a tour with Birding Bob.  Doing a tour has its upsides and downsides but does mean taking advantage of local knowledge.  So, it was not long before we were watching Pine Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and the star attraction, an Orange-crowned Warbler. Other birds of interest were a Northern Waterthrush and a Louisana Waterthrush.

Probably the most bizarre bird in Central Park at that time was a Wild Turkey, which I decided to go track down after the bird walk.

So, despite my reservations, I absolutely loved NYC, a great city with great sights and birds but I am glad to be back in the relatively quiet and clean surroundings of Warwick.

American Robin

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Waterthrush
The Turkey

The Luck of the Lad

I cannot believe that it has been a month since we last did a blog post.  It is sufficient to say that the lack of posts does not represent a laziness on our part but a distinct lack of birds with spring gradually easing in, albeit very slowly.

The last few weeks have presented us with Northerly and Westerly winds which have prevented a few of our usual migrants from arriving yet and although we had an early batch of Chiffchaffs in March, we didn't have our next significant migrants till 02/04/2017, being Blackcaps.

Jack and Mum joined me for a very early walk on 09/04/2017, this being their first visit to the patch for the year.  It can't be much fun for a young lad to patch such a quiet birding spot so they have been going to far more exciting places instead, in order to keep up his interest which is exactly what I did at his age.  It was however lovely having them join me again and the luck of the lad (lotl) brought in our first annual Barn Swallows, House Martins, Willow Warblers and a Northern Wheatear during the morning.

The following morning produced our first Lesser Whitethroat of the year, which was in exactly the same territory as last year and a manic Chiffchaff which was Chiffchaffing so fast that I thought it was going to fall off its perch.

Other than the above, our first annual Common Whitethroat turned up on 15/04/2017 and pair of Grey Wagtails finally made their first appearance of the year on 16/04/2017.

So, year to date we have recorded a mere 70 species over 29 visits, which is pretty poor.  However, I have been away for the past week and hope to get back on patch in the next day or two so may find some new arrivals this space.

The next blog post will be a brief trip report of my visit to the Big Apple.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Not much doing....

On 11th March the senior member of our team (me) opted to do the Gull Roost at Draycote with John Judge and Tim Marlow.  They both managed to pull out two Mediterranean Gulls and two Glaucous Gulls out the roost while I was no help whatsoever.
The Twitchmobile
The following day I met up with Tim again along with Jack and Mum and we drove up to north Warwickshire in the twitchmobile (it was a squeeze) for some birding around some sites up there (for a change of scene).  Not a lot seen besides some nice views of Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and an Egyptian Goose.

Since then, I have been pretty much been solidly patching on the Racecourse and around the Charlecote area whenever I can.  However, 3 weeks of finding nothing besides the odd Chiff Chaff is beginning to take its toll......

Warwick Racecourse
Mum and Jack on the other hand continue their relentless twitching form when they managed to squeeze in yet another lifer for the lad in a packed weekend down south......sheer greed haha.....of course we won't mention my shameless jaunt of 1300 miles at the beginning of the month.

Green Winged Teal taken by Jack