Monday, 23 December 2013

Apologies and Merry Christmas!

First of all, apologies for the lack of posting in the last couple of weeks. I've had several module deadlines, dissertation work, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties etc etc, allowing little time to go birding or do interesting things to blog about.

I've now set up the BirdTrack things needed to start the University Birdwatch Challange in January, and created instructions so the rest of the Bangor Uni Birding Group can join in. Zac and I have already started sending records in, and I'm hoping to get a mini bird race going in January to encourage others to BirdTrack sightings on Uni grounds.

Also, one of my sisters has got engaged and I've found out I'm going to be an aunty! Best Christmas present I could ever have asked for :-D 

I am now at home for Christmas, having met all my uni deadlines and picked up an extra module, so lots of work to do over Christmas and New Year. 

Hope you all have a very merry Christmas and manage to get out at least once, despite the awful weather!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Do British children get a "real" education?

I've been thinking about education a lot in the past month. As a student, about to get spat out of the top end of the educational system, I look back and consider what I have really learnt from my time in school and university. Ok, so I know how to spell, where to put commas and full stops, when the world wars happened, how to add 2 and 2... but I wonder how important these things really are in the modern society. 

Throughout my time in school, I was always told: Work hard, get good grades, go to university and you'll get a good, well paid job at the end of it. This message might have been true when my parents were at school, when they both got paid to go to university, but, to me, this doesn't seem to be the case any more. I've watched both of my sisters go through their education, get top grades from top universities (2:1 from Cambridge, 1st from Exeter + a distinction MSci from Imperial College, London) and still struggle immensely to get jobs afterwards. Their top advice to me - get practical experience!

I followed the family way and was good in school. Top GCSEs, Head Girl, straight As at A level, consistent 1st class grades (thus far) throughout uni, but I have to say, I'm not sure how helpful all this has been. Looking forward to my future career prospects, I'm fairly certain it's the practical experience, and the people I've met through this, that will eventually win me a job post-uni. Talking to local employers, we don't discuss what modules I'm doing at uni, or what grades I'm getting; we discuss the people I was out ringing with at the weekend, or how the hen harrier nesting season went at Vyrnwy, who I met on Bardsey and what birds I saw. In the area I'm hoping to go into, it's these experiences and connections that are valuable.

So why is it that the grade driven, classroom based system still exists? Isn't it time the curriculum moved with the times, like the rest of us have to? It's no good teaching the latest advances in technology and research, if the students never get time to learn how to practically use them. In my opinion, far more emphasis needs to be put on work experience now. It's no good doing two weeks during GCSE's or A levels and hoping that this will still be relevant on your CV 4 years later when you graduate! At a CV writing workshop this week a student asked - "What if we've done work experience, but can't quite remember what we did because it was a few years ago?". My immediate internal response - "Get out and do some new stuff now, so you can remember!". It frustrates me that most university students simply don't understand or recognise how important practical experience is these days. They haven't had older sisters to learn from, haven't been volunteering to ask the staff what they look for in employees. I've tried to tell this message to as many of my peers as possible, but most just don't get it. They say, and truly believe, "if I knuckle down and get a 1st, then I'll be fine". This is what the modern education system has taught them and so I can't blame them for thinking it. 

I've learnt to think outside the box during my time volunteering with BTO, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, FSC etc, and hopefully this will serve me well in the future. I just hope it's not too late for the current unemployment levels to shake some sense into my friends, and the educational system of the future.

[ I would prefer to have some data and references to go with this blog, but the weight of university work at the moment doesn't afford me the spare reading time. ]

And I would drive 5000 miles...

Just a quick post to celebrate the fact that, somehow, I have managed to drive 5000 miles in 5 months! Although this isn't great for my carbon footprint, it does show the distances I'm willing to travel in pursuit of my passions. I bought my car on 4th June with 62,100 miles on the clock. By November, it was displaying 67,100 miles. In the last month I have covered another 500 miles (Uni birding / twitching and a trip home), so it now displays this! 

5,500 miles in 6 months

Thanks to my little car for all the places it's taken me this summer! Lets hope it gets a bit of a break before next summer.

7th December - Ringing 101

Saturday morning was a brilliant ringing session. After an awful nights sleep, and a grumpy start to the day, I couldn't have asked for a better session.

We arrived on site at 07:30 (me, Susan Jones, her dad, and Rachel Stroud), to find Steve and Rachel had already set 3 nets. I went with Rachel to set another, and we started catching soon after this.

A busy morning of extraction and ringing bought a total of exactly 100 birds. I got some excellent extraction practise and my ageing and processing is also coming on very well; I can almost smell that C permit now :D

Group catch totals & personal totals

The ringing didn't finish after this session however. Once we had taken down and packed up, we all headed to Llanberis lake to try for some Goosander. We saw 4 males on the lake, and all of them obligingly came over when we fed them bread. Within five minutes, Rachel had hand caught one beautiful male and ringed it. These are stunning birds and it was an absolute treat to see them so close up! 

So 101 birds for the day and a superb start to my weekend!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

29th Nov - 1st Dec - Whirlwind weekend

So Friday was the first day of non-birding related socialising I've had since I returned to University. I'm not entirely sure how I've managed not to do this for 9 weeks, but it felt great to go out with my friends again. We went to see the new Hunger Games film (highly recommend it) and then had lots of people round the flat. Then it was out to the pub for a bit, before me and Chris had to return home around midnight. Chris, somewhat madly, then headed out lamping with Hamza Yassin, but I got some shut eye.

Saturday morning was a 05:45 wake up to pick up Susan, Conor and Jimi at 06:15 for some cannon netting at Rhos-on-sea. Conor and Jimi are both 1st year students and keen to start ringing training, so I was glad they both decided to make the effort to come, despite the particularly early winter start.

We got to Rhos by 07:00 and after a little bit of Turnstone twinkling (a technical cannon netting term), the safety brief, catching up with old friends, some more twinkling and a very long run, the net was safely fired and lifted just before 8am. Only one net was fired, despite having set 3, and a good thing to. This one net managed to trap ~140 Turnstone (target species), ~220 Oystercatcher, 16 Redshank and a Dunlin. This made for some excellent extraction practise and I feel I'm really building confidence with this now. I managed to get most birds out quickly and efficiently, and quite a few were less than easy. This was all done during a fabulous sunrise and by the time all the birds were safely in the keeping cages, it had turned into a gorgeous, blue sky day.

I spent the next 4 hours scribing for the Oystercatchers and weighing the Turnstone. We had a lot of public interest, as this is a very public catch site, and a lot of excellent PR work went on throughout the morning. All in all, an excellent catch and one we all thoroughly enjoyed. A few good retraps and controls came out of it, and an excellent sample has been added to the ever growing SCAN database.

The ringing team with 1 processing team behind,
the other is to the left. (picture by Chris Bridge)
The beginnings of a beautiful day - (picture by Chris Bridge)

Conor and Jimi thoroughly enjoyed their first cannon netting session and both are now starting the process of becoming trainees. It's great to have a few more enthusiastic students on board! 

We had finished and packed away by 12:30 and then it was back to Bangor for lunch, some uni work and a short nap. At 22:00 we (me, Chris and Hamza) headed to Porth Penrhyn for some Woodcock lamping. Rather frustratingly it was another fruitless night. We were back to Bangor for 02:00 and slept like logs.

Sunday was another early start. Chris was up at 06:45 for another SCAN session, but I wasn't going. I had a full day of birding planned with Steve Culley, 4 students and some Bangor Bird Group members. This is the first birding thing I'd encouraged Bangor Uni birding group members to come to, so I was hoping for good weather and good birding, to get these novice students into bird ID. We were out from 08:00 - 18:15 and had an absolutely fantastic day! We went all round the Angelsey coast and got great views of many species. The highlight for me was undoubtedly a marsh flush that produced 80+ Snipe and 13 Jack Snipe! Having only seen one Jack snipe before, it was incredible to have several flush from right in front of me, at the same time. We also had Goosander, Common Scoter, Black Guillemot, Common and Grey Seal, a flock of Brent Geese, Chough, Long-tailed Duck, Pintail, Golden Plover, Woodcock and Tawny Owl, to name a few. Everyone enjoyed the day immensely and it was great to see some non-birders enjoying themselves so much! Massive thanks go to Steve Culley for such a brilliant, jam-packed day.

Everyone enjoying the Brent Geese on Holy Island
All expectantly waiting for Steve to flush a Bittern - No joy.
(Picture taken by Hamza Yassin)
Hungry Herring Gull found a starfish

So after 120 miles of driving, I dropped my car load off at 18:15 and just had time to change, grab some food, meet Chris and Hamza and pick up Susan, before heading to Llanfairfechan for some wader netting. We arrived at 19:00 and I immediately went with Steve Dodd to the pools. Redshank and Dunlin were already flying into the nets, without a tape lure, so the next 4 hours were spent knee deep in water (still haven't replaced my broken waders), busily extracting. This was the first time I'd done any decent amount of night extraction and I think, considering, it went very well. I had to ask Steve and Rachel for a few technique pointers with the first few birds, but the rest seemed to go ok after that. I couldn't help reflecting how far I've come in 22 months.

My first ringing experience was the January SCAN session in 2012, which was the Rhos-on-sea catch, followed by a mist netting session. On these two catches I managed to let 1 Turnstone go, unringed (1 of the 2 we caught that day, despite begin the target species) and snap one of Steve's wader net poles. I haven't made either of those mistakes since, thankfully! Now I'm one of the more experienced SCAN regulars, able to help in most areas of net setting, lifting and extracting, a competent scribe and able to extract from nets at night. I've ringed over 1500 birds of 72 different species, all over the country. I've met many fantastic people, including my boyfriend, through ringing, and it has become a major part of my life.

Once we'd finished extracting and taken down, we returned to base camp and helped ring/process the remaining birds. We got 51 Redshank, 49 Dunlin, 3 Snipe and 2 Wigeon.

A very successful session and another good step towards gaining my C permit. I was asleep by 02:00, after an extremely long and fun weekend, and ready for my 9am lecture.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

23rd - 24th - Slightly disappointing weekend with some nice surprises.

So the plan for last weekend was to have a ringing session on both Saturday and Sunday morning, with a lamping session on Saturday night also. As per usual though, plans change. I have to say my ringing career so far has really tested my ability to be flexible!

So the decision to go ringing with Zac on Saturday morning wasn't made until about 8pm on Friday night (after a Thai Boxing session), when Steve rang to say we'd be doing a mist netting session on Sunday morning. So Chris and I woke up early on Saturday morning and went with Zac to set up his nets. It was, all in all, a very relaxed session with lots of banter, a good catch up and a handful of birds, including Goldcrest, Robin, Blue Tit and Great Tit.

This was followed by a beautiful walk around the Morfa Madryn reserve near Llanfairfechan.

Crazy cloud formations - not vapour trails!
Reflected in the flat calm tidal pool and salt marsh

We then discovered a little stream we'd never properly examined, and Zac reliably informed us that he'd seen dipper on it. Of course, being dipper obsessed, we had to investigate. We spent the rest of the early afternoon poking around the stretch between the sea and the A55 (a surprisingly short stretch, but with a lot to investigate). The three of us then returned to Bangor for some food (Mike's Bites again), and rest, before the next stage of the day.

Chris and Zac happy after food and inspecting the menu for the next meal.

At about 6ish we heard from Steve that we couldn't net at his winter site as the owners were too busy. This was disappointing, but no ones fault, so there was nothing to be done about it. We then began to get ready for a lamping session but decided that neither of us had the strength to go after a busy week, and a look at the weather. Clear skies and no wind, with a half moon, are not conducive to sneaking up on Woodcock. We therefore had a much needed night off !!

Sunday morning was a lie in and some uni work, then we headed off the investigate the rest of the river we had searched the previous day. We got more than a little bit distracted along the way, as a stop at the harbour for some chips proved how easy it would be to hand catch the black headed gulls that are around.

Close encounters of the amusing kind
Fierce competition for the next chip
Just open the roof and let them in
The hand of God - well...for a gull anyway

Without the right permission, we couldn't and wouldn't catch any gulls on this occasion, but it certainly would be a piece of cake when someone does want to / lets us have a go.

We then headed back towards Llanfairfechan to look at the river and discovered a beautiful wonderland! Sandwiched between the A55 and Llanfairfechan road, there is a little slice of tranquil heaven that I'm certain most locals don't know exists. We found lots of signs of dipper activity and roosting spots along with possible perching spots for kingfisher, as well as large Mustelid scats (likely Mink).

We bumped into a local photographer who informed us that he'd never seen dipper there (probably due to his friendly dog) but the field signs suggested otherwise, so we were hopeful of finding them!

We had a short return to Bangor to change clothes, grab the lamping stuff and organise where to meet Alex Jones for dinner and then lamping, and it was back out into the night to check if there was a dipper on the river. A short walk later, going all the way under the A55, and with one welly full of mud and water (I misjudged the solidity of the bank), we found a stunning male roosting under the bridge (pictured above). Ringed, sexed, aged, winged and weighed and safely back on his perch, we headed back to the car and on to Llandudno Junction to meet Alex.

We had a quick meal and then headed to Chris' woodcocking site nearby. Unfortunately, despite woodcock being seen in large numbers at other sites, this site still only had 2 or 3 birds visible. We covered the entire site over the next few hours but this was as close as we got to one:

Poo in a hollow in the ground - Alex Jones picture

Despite the disappointment of another night of failed lamping, it was still an enjoyable night. I got to within 10ft of a gorgeous fox (probably vixen, judging by size) and we somehow managed to flush a heron out of a tree (guess we weren't being as stealthy as planned). It's quite something to see one of these enormous birds appear out of a tree in the dark and head off into the night.

So yet again, it was a long weekend with broken sleep and much fun. Although it didn't go quite to plan, we still got one good mist netting session, a stunning walk, discovered a new river, assessed the potential to ring gulls in the harbour, found a new dipper and saw a fox and heron at close range.

This week has been all about uni work (though Monday was spent in bed as I was ill) but it's back to birding at the weekend. SCAN (wader netting) session on Saturday, and a full day birding around Anglesey on Sunday to introduce some of the new Bangor Uni Birding Group members to beginners bird ID and local birding hotspots. Fingers crossed for some good weather!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

18th - 21st Nov - Busy week

So this week has been mainly dissertation focused, with a lot of Microsoft Excel, screens and little outside work. So far I've sifted through 13700+ ringing records, from the SCAN ringing group, and changed 425 reringed birds back to their original ring numbers. Only 220 to go!

Just 2 of the 7 pages of data I've changed so far.
I have to write down the numbers that need changing so I can keep a track of things and make notes on tricky cases ie. If rings have been too badly worn to get a full ring read.

This is only for an undergraduate dissertation, so I'm really starting to feel for, and appreciate, the amount of work the data analyst at the BTO must do. They must have a nightmarish and unending job! Finding the 1 in 1000 record that is inaccurate and figuring out how to change it is a crazy task! I'm only looking at 30 years worth of Oystercatcher data from one ringing group; can't imagine doing it for all the British species, from all the ringing groups across the country!

As you can imagine, this becomes a little tedious after a while. When it gets to the point where I'm struggling to tell the difference between 2's and 5's, I take a break. For the last couple of days these breaks have been filled with setting up the new Bangor University Birding club.
As the BTO student ambassador, I want to encourage as many students as possible to get out birding. Whether this be finding rarities, learning the songs of common birds, learning the difference between a Blue Tit and Great Tit or just coming out to enjoy the bird song, I don't care. I just want to get people out, and get them appreciating birds. The group got 32 new members in the first 6 hours and I've already got people signing up to trying cannon netting, WeBS counts and full day birding trips.

A Focus On Nature has already set up a University Birdwatching Challenge which encourages students to BirdTrack all the birds they see within the university grounds. I'm going to use the group as a platform to get as many people involved in this challenge as possible. I'm not expecting mega uptake, but 4 or 5 regular contributors will put us high in the league tables, and hopefully be enough to encourage more to join in.

I'm currently in the process of setting the boundaries of this challenge and organising a uni bird race to kick start the whole project.

I've also managed to fit in several lectures and a great Bangor Bird Group talk as well...can't miss the important things!

I'm now looking forward to an outdoorsey weekend with a couple of mist netting sessions and a woodcock lamping night with Chris. I've spent far too much time indoors this week and feel like I'm missing this beautiful autumn.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The weekend - 16th/17th

Saturday morning was another early start for a mist netting session with our trainer. Both of us had had long and busy days on Friday (me doing uni work and going out for drinks with my flatmates, Chris twitching the Orphean Warbler in Pembrokeshire), so the 05:45 wake up wasn't particularly welcome, but it turned out to be well worth it!
We met Steve at the farm for 07:45 and set 3 60ft nets and a 40ft. Whilst we were setting the 40ft, Steve came back from setting his nets, with a large bag around his wrist and big smile on his face. He said that there was a new species for me in the bag, and one that he had only caught in mist nets 3 times. This perplexed me and Chris to begin with, but then it jumped around and Chris knew what it was immediately...a Woodcock!

Nets set and back at the truck, I got the stunning bird out and ringed and processed it. It was quite the handful as they're an incredibly wriggly species, so I was very glad of all my big species handling practise over the summer!

Poor photo in low light, but a stunning bird and nice to see it in daylight at all !

After this lovely start to the day, we had a good session all in all. 63 new birds were ringed and 16 were retrapped. My personal totals were:

                                      Species            Extracted      Ringed
                                      Blue Tit                  7                 11
                                        Wren                   2                   1
                                     Goldcrest               2              [2 retrap]
                                      Dunnock                               [1 retrap]    
                                     Woodcock                                   1     
                                    Song Thrush           2                   1
                                      Great Tit                3                   4    
                                      Chaffinch              3                    4         
                                   House Sparrow                              1      
                                        Robin                  2                    1

I got some great extraction practise and managed to get some pretty tricky birds out. I feel that my confidence with extraction and processing is growing with every session and so is Steve's confidence in me.

After the session, Chris and I went exploring down the local river in hopes of finding more dipper sites. Although we didn't see any dippers, we did find a bridge that looked perfect for winter roosting and had a large, fresh nest that suggested they'd bred there this season. Field signs all down the river proved that they do use it regularly, so we hope to go back to at night sometime soon to check the bridge.

A beautiful autumnal river - fantastic afternoon walk

Chris attempting not to get wet as we cross downstream - I just walked along the tree

Sunday was mainly a work day - I've got a lot of uni work piling up and Chris has lots of jobs to get on with. However, we did manage to get away from the laptops at dusk, and went to recce the Tal-y-bont river for more dipper. We'd already recced it a month before and found 5 dippers up the whole river and several good roosting bridges. However, we hadn't found any dippers under the accessible bridges and so this recce was to confirm that they were roosting under the 30ft high bridge that we suspected they were under.

As the sun set, we found stood on top of the bridge and watched 2 dippers playing in the water down stream. They're such a charming species and so much fun to watch. To our surprise, the first bird to head upstream came out of nowhere, shot below me on the down river side of the bridge and never seemed to reappear from the other side. This process happened for 4 more birds (all from down stream) and confused us thoroughly. We then decided that we'd have to get under the bridge to see if we could see them. There's no direct way from the bridge to the river, so we had to walk through the local village, down to the rail bridge and then through the river, back downstream, for 300m. We never do have normal dates :-D With severely bramble cut hands, and a welly boot full of water, we made it to the bottom of the bridge and stared up into the girders in search of just one of the 5 birds. Either they weren't there, or were tucked safely away out of sight, but we couldn't see any of them. Faeces under the bridge seemed to suggest that the birds land on the rocks at the edge of the river, and then fly straight up to the bridge. This was the only explanation we could think of for our observations.

Unfortunately, this means the birds are inaccessible for lamping, and we'll have to think of a new plan once one of us has our mist net endorsement. We're hoping to get some advice from Steve at some point, but doesn't seem worth it yet.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Thoughts on the state of kids and their removal from nature.

This evening I went to a Bangor Bird group talk by Lucy McRobert on "The Nature of Youth". It promised to be a very interesting talk and I was pleased to see so many students there after advertising it on various social networking sites.

Lucy didn't disappoint. The talk discussed the issue of younger generations becoming increasingly removed for nature. This is an issue close to my heart. Nature has always been a part of my life and I struggle to understand why so many people find it so hard to enjoy being outdoors these days. I spent the summer months of my gap year as a Nature Director at a summer camp in America, and it astounded me how little the kids knew about natural things. I'd tell them the simplest things; like the fact that turtles and snakes were both reptiles and that, although unpleasant, the snapping turtle had to eat the frogs in the pond to survive; and they were gob smacked. They just seemed so removed from the natural environment. Even these basic facts seemed like major scientific revelations to them.

I can't understand why education in general, and the curriculum in particular, has stepped away from active, practical learning and pushed towards classroom based learning that follows a strict set of rules and doesn't allow teachers the time or flexibility to create lessons that integrate the subject matter and practical learning. The lessons I remember most, and that I learnt the most from, when I was in school all involved some sort of practical activity or were simply based outside.
It's hard to think that the grade driven educational system is pulling kids into a world that doesn't give them the time and freedom to get outside and learn through experience, creativity and simply getting their hands muddy!

I sincerely hope that my future career affords me the opportunity to bring kids out of the classroom and get some practical experiences, that allow them to relate their academic subjects to the natural world. Every child enjoys looking under rocks, building dams, drawing pictures or learning the names of the things around them. By allowing them the time to enjoy these things, and encouraging them to continue doing them throughout their lifetime, I feel the next generations will grow up to be more rounded human beings and have a greater consideration for the well being of the environment around them.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, organisations like A Focus On Nature, RSPB, Scouts, Guides, The National Trusts, BTO etc. will be able to influence politicians and the educational system in a meaningful way, that allows children to be taken out of the classroom or, at the very least, be taught about the importance of nature and a natural environment. Once it is recognised how many benefits can be gained from this sort of education, some of the red tape and health and safety regulations might be lifted enough to allow children to enjoy nature in the way they deserve.

Dip, dip, double dip

So the beginning of this week has been a little frustrating for several reasons.

Firstly, after several nights of broken sleep, I am struggling to knuckle down to university work. I am still meeting deadlines and, so far, have not got below 80% for submitted work, but finding the motivation to research molecular techniques and how to conduct post-hoc tests on general linear models is proving difficult. I find myself relating almost everything I read to the birding world these days, and wondering how I could use it to improve the current ornithological world. These sort of ponderings do help confirm my passion for birding, and that I'm following the right career path, but unfortunately that's not going to help me get my 1st class degree in the short term.

Secondly, I have been out lamping with Chris and Hamza twice this week, but we've had no success. We went out at 2am on Tuesday morning to try for some lapwing and golden plover. We went to a site where we had seen 600+ birds regularly, at high tide, over the last few weeks, but astonishingly there was not a single bird in the fields! Although somewhat frustrating, I found this fascinating as an animal behaviourist. The birds were plainly far more reluctant to roost on these fields in the dark than they were in the day. Whether this is because they can't detect predators as easily, or because they prefer a different form of night time roosting habitat, I don't know. I couldn't help constructing several studies in my head to answer the questions though. We also went to a site near Llandudno on Tuesday night (23:30 - 05:30) to try and catch Woodcock, but despite seeing 3 birds, we couldn't catch any.

Finally, Zac, Chris and I went for the Richard's Pipit at the Spinnies today but dipped.
All in all, I'm starting to think the world is conspiring against me to discourage me from birding, and force me to knuckle down to my degree.

Ok world, lesson learnt...Time to hit the books, finish my degree and then pursue a career where I get paid to do the fun stuff!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Sunday 10th - 05:30 - 01:00 - Long day

So, after 5 hours sleep, it was time to get up and head to a farm near Caernarfon for a 06:45 ringing session. This was the first mist netting session, with my trainer (Steve Dodd), of the winter and so I was looking forward to getting back into net setting, extraction and processing, after a few months with very little of it.

The session went really well with 60+ birds caught. I helped Chris set a 60ft net and also got a lot of extraction practise (20+ birds). I feel my confidence with extraction is coming on well, and I managed to get some birds out that had managed to double pocket and spin etc. We got the usual species: Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren, Blackbird, Robin, plus some other nice species: Redwing, Goldcrest, House sparrow, Nuthatch, Coal Tit.

The highlight of the morning for me was being trusted to ring and process alone, whilst Steve, Chris and Susan went to clear the nets. It feels good to know Steve trusts me to this level now.

The ringing session ended by 11:00 and then it was back to Bangor to change and get ready to drive back to Shropshire for a family bonfire party. We had just enough time to get a decent breakfast at Mike's Bites and then it was back on the road, heading for my home farm.

The weather was gorgeous, so we decided to take the A5 back to enjoy the Snowdonia autumnal scenery. I certainly wasn't disappointed but I'm not sure Chris got to appreciate it as his eyes closed shortly after Bethesda and didn't open again until Llangollen.

Beautiful autumnal colours

We made it home by 14:30 and, after a cup of tea and quick family catch up, were put straight to work. We went out to our plantations and collected ~50 sweet chestnuts, a bag full of pears and another of quinces. Then it was chopping wood, tidying the last 2 rooms of the house, finishing off stacking the bonfire, clearing the yard, moving the cars, lighting the open fires in the house and then all the tea lights down the drive. Needless to say, I didn't go home for a rest!

Tea lights all the way down the drive to welcome people in
A simple idea - Place the tea light in a jar
Just one of the 3 fires inside - all the wood was chopped by Chris

We were just about under control, with jacket potatoes, chilli con carne and Mulled wine on the go, when the guests started arriving at 18:00. Within half an hour the house was filled with 30+ people, laughing, talking and having their fill of mulled wine and snacks. The bonfire was lit soon after and everyone (that was physically able) moved outside to watch the fireworks.

Bonfire freshly lit - lots of old junk going up in smoke!
Chris and Jen (my sister) enjoying the intense heat
The tea lit drive and garden bonfire
Everyone enjoying the bonfire and fireworks
One of about 100 fireworks set off

After the fireworks everyone else moved inside for food but we stayed outside for a bit to put the last of the wood and brash onto the fire.

Then we went inside to eat and socialise, and things all got a bit too much for Chris and my cat, Oscar.

Chris having a cat nap for 20mins

Everyone finally left at about 10pm and, after a bit more catching up with my parents and sister, we finally managed to get away at 22:45. We got back to Bangor at 00:35 and eventually got to sleep at 01:00! It was an incredibly long day but well worth it!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Saturday 9th - WeBS, Presentation and shopping

After getting back to Bangor at 10pm last night, and then having to unpack and sort ourselves out, it was a late night last night. This didn't make getting up any easier this morning! We had a 06:50 start to meet up with a friend and then head over the Llyn Alaw Reservoir on Anglesey to conduct the WeBS count that I'm now in charge of. The reservoir itself is huge and takes about 3 hours to survey. This is not made easier by the fact that the paths haven't been maintained for several seasons and so a bit of bashing through brambles and climbing over fallen trees is required.

The count itself went well but there weren't as many birds around as last month. This was probably due to the high water levels and mild breeze pushing the birds into the sheltered inlets and reed beds, and hence making it very difficult to see them.The water had got so high in places that it had flooded the paths. Chris being Chris had forgotten his wellies so I had to give him piggy backs across the worst bits. It was pretty hilarious though!

This is the proper way to do a WeBS... Promise!
We'd finished by 12pm and then headed back to Bangor via Treborth Garden Centre to get Chris some new wellies. He then got the train to meet Alex Jones in Rhyl and I cracked down to some uni work...finally! I've managed to put together a presentation for Monday that I'm very pleased with, organise the rest of my group for their part of the presentation, and catch up on the 56 emails that had built up over the week... just can't get away these days. Then did the food shopping and cooked dinner.

All that work took me up to 10:30pm, at which point Chris finally came home after having found 3 dippers with Alex, met up with 2 other friends, caught 2 dippers (1 retrap, 1 new) and 2 woodcock! Seems that neither of us can sit still for long.

Now it's time to fill in my Trainee permit renewal form and get to bed. Got a 05:30 start tomorrow for a ringing session, then it's back to my home in Shropshire for a bonfire party, and for Chris to meet my sisters, and then back to Bangor in time for my presentation.

I'm already missing my relaxing week in Scotland but it's good to be back in the thick of things again.

1st - 8th November - Scottish Reading Week get away!

So for the last week I've been in Dumfries and Galloway having a nice, relaxing holiday with Chris and his mum.

I drove to Chris' on Thursday evening after a busy day of lectures, a presentation and packing for the week in my hours' lunch break. We left on Friday 1st and made our way up to Kircudbright via New Abbey (for a lovely lunch)! We arrived at the farm where we'd be staying just before dusk and I was blown away with how beautiful it was. We could see the sun setting behind the Isle of Man and the converted Steading we were staying in was gorgeous. The evening was spent settling in, catching up with the farm owners who Chris and Carol have known for years and lamping. The lamping session wasn't successful because it was totally calm. Sneaking up on birds was impossible but the star gazing was phenomenal and there were shooting stars every few minutes. Despite the frustration of not catching any birds, it was a pretty magical night.

The weather on Saturday was atrocious, so we spent most of the day inside. I attempted to make some progress with my dissertation, but can't say it was entirely least I've written down the exhaustive list of questions to ask my supervisor now. We managed to venture into Kircudbright in the afternoon for a short walk, browse of the shops and some food shopping, before being chased back into the car by some pretty impressive hail showers and lightening.

Hardcore Scottish resident running for cover
between 2 ridiculously heavy rain showers

The view from my window as we hid in
 the car during an almighty hail storm!

Sunday's weather was a lot better and we managed to get out into the local area. We spent the morning walking around the farm, so I could get my bearings and then went to Belly Mac Feeding Station to see the Red Kites (Milvus milvus) being fed. I couldn't believe how many there were (150+) and was disappointed when it started raining again and they all dispersed. We then went to Cream o' Galloway farm for lunch and then on to Carrick for a lovely sunset walk on the beach.

Sky full of Red Kites - Sorry for awful photo
Chris and Carol enjoying the sunset
Beautiful sunset at Carrick beach

Monday was spent helping with some sheep farming. Charlie and Elain e (The farm owners) have a herd of ~500 Lleyn ewes and these needed to be fluked and sorted into groups of 50 for tupping. It was great fun handling sheep again and doing a bit of farming! I did a lambing season during my gap year and I'd forgotten how much I loved sheep farming. The weather all day was beautiful and it felt great to be driving sheep around the fields with the sun on my face. Farming is so much easier when the weather is nice.

Me in the race. Mist and Meg are excellent
sheep dogs and made my life much easier
This ewe had beautiful markings

The weather on Tuesday wasn't quite as good but it was still nice enough to get out. We went into Kirkcudbright and bought lunch (delicious freshly made sandwiches) and then headed to Mereshead RSPB to look for the large Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) flocks. The reserve itself was very nice, with a range of habitats from short grazed fields, large ponds, reedbed and marsh to deciduous and conifer wood to sand and pebble beach with large mud flats. We saw hundreds of Barnacle geese plus large wildfowl flocks and mixed tit and finch flocks. I also got a surprise when one of the volunteer wardens turned out to be one of the guys I'd worked with at Lake Vyrnwy in July. It was very nice to see him again and catch up on what the late summer season at Vyrnwy had been like. All in all a lovely day.

A very small proportion of the geese we saw

Wednesday was more farming. We fluked, vaccinated and ear tagged 100 ewe lambs, which was great fun but hard work. I'm still a bit weak from a cold I've only just got over, so the vaccinating really took it out of me. It's surprisingly hard work to hold ewes still for long enough to vaccinate them.

Me vaccinating. The facial expression was just for show...I was being gentle really

Thursday was our final full day in Scotland so, after a traps ringing session in the morning, we headed out to Ken-Dee Marshes RSPB for a nice long walk and to try and see some red squirrels. The weather, walk and company were all excellent and I got great views of 2 red squirrels and plenty of tits at the feeding stations.

Willow tit coming in to the feeding station
Greedy Nuthatch that scared everything else away
Awful Red Squirrel picture in low light, but it proves I saw them!

Friday morning was spent packing, tidying the Steading and saying goodbye to Charlie and Elaine. Then it was straight down the A75 and M6 to Ormskirk. We had just enough time at Chris' house to unpack Carol's car, unpack and repack Chris' bags, have a bite to eat and then repack my car and head back to Bangor.

It was a fantastic week away and exactly what I needed after a long summer and busy start to my 3rd year. I look forward to going back up at some point when I don't have to feel guilty about getting behind with Uni work.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Monday, 28th October - Work mode is back!

So I've had another low key day today and am finally getting over my cold. Managed to get a tiny bit of work done in the morning, ready for a presentation on Thursday morning, but was not as productive as I'd hoped. 

After a lecture at 13:00 - DNA Barcoding - I was feeling a bit exhausted (guess I'm not 100% better yet). I had a rest, caught up with a friend over a cup of tea, and then at 17:00 discovered I'd got 80% for my first assessed piece of work this year ! This must have triggered something in my brain because, since then, I've managed to start the stats work for my dissertation. I've been putting this off for 2 weeks now, so it feels good to get going!

It feels great to know I'm still working at the same level as the last two years and, hopefully, if I can keep it up, I'll be looking at a high 1st Class degree when I graduate. Hopefully this will give me the best chance of making my way straight into an ornithological career.

Module marks from the last two years

My module marks from the last two years.
Top section is my first year marks,
bottom section is second year.

If I keep that level up for all 5 modules this year, then I should achieve a solid to high 1st Class Degree.

That's the aim anyway.

  Best get back to SPSS and Microsoft Excel now.