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.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Saturday, October 26th - Hoop Hoop Horray on a Grey day! 2 British lifers.

So having caught a cold, and spent the previous night out with friends, I intended to relax today and catch up on some uni work. That plan lasted until about 12:30 when Zac Hinchcliffe rang me. He'd just been told that Alex Jones had found a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) on his patch in Rhyl. According to Zac, Hoopoe are notoriously difficult to twitch, so it only took about 10 seconds to decide we'd go for it. 

It took just 10 minutes to change clothes, pack the car with scope, bins, warm clothes, waterproofs, strepsils and squash, pick up Zac, fill up with petrol and get onto the A55. We were in Rhyl by 13:25 and hopeful we had made it in time to see the bird. 
Alex said that it hadn't been seen for about 30 minutes and so, with dread in our hearts, we headed in the direction of where it had last been seen. After 20-25 minutes, and 10+ birders searching, it still hadn't been found. After scanning the area, I decided that a patch of bushed and trees, much further down the path, looked good (I don't know why), and so I headed off to look. As if by magic, just 6ft from the thicket I was heading for, the hoopoe appeared out of a tree to my left, bobbed down the path in front of me and flicked up into a tree 10 metres away. With shaky hands, and a body full of adrenaline, I got the bird in my bins and rang Zac to tell him where I was. I'm not entirely sure my instructions were 100% coherent or helpful but 2 minutes later Zac and another birder came running round the corner and we all got great views. 

Picture by Zac H - Mine didn't come out very well

The bird was very flighty after these views and disappeared a couple of times before finally landing on a bank near the public footpath, allowing for great scope views.

We left at about 3pm to go and see a Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) that had been showing well for a few days at Gronant. Despite having to wade ankle deep along the flooded paths (not very helpful for my cold), we got fantastic views of the gorgeous little bird. We got to within a few metres and it seemed totally oblivious to are presence, happily spinning and feeding the whole time we were there - how do they not get dizzy!

My best shots of the Phalarope. It's a stunning little bird that was well worth getting wet feet to see. I was glad to see it happily and busily feeding despite our proximity.

Back at the car, the shoes came off, the feet were dried, the nose was blown and we headed back to Bangor. We soon left the sun behind and were hit by strong winds and rain. I've been driving for 3 years, and have done a lot of motorway driving in poor conditions, but these gusts were the first to ever make me scared about the possibility of crashing. I'm battening down the hatches and refusing to drive again until this "hurricane" strength storm has passed.

All in all, a brilliant day with 2 British lifers, my first decent refind and a few good pictures. Well worth making my cold worse for!

October - Back to University

I am now back at Bangor university to complete my Zoology with Animal Behaviour course.
As per usual I've been super busy. I am now the BTO Student Ambassador for Bangor University. This involves trying to get students involved with the BTO and being the general student "go to" for anyone who's interested in birds. So far I've organised a team of 8 to take over a WeBS count at Llyn Alaw Reservoir, joined the committee of the new Birding Society and encouraged 10+ students to get involved with birding, Bangor Bird Group and ringing. It's going well so far and is a nice break from university work.

As well as copious amounts of module and dissertation work, I've also started a dipper ringing project with Chris, volunteered at Treborth Botanic Gardens, given blood, done dawn Visual Migration and mist netting with Zac, cleared paths at Llyn Alaw (off my own back because Welsh Water wouldn't) and helped with cannon netting for SCAN ringing group. 

After these non stop 5 months, my body has finally called it quits and demanded a break! I've caught a cold (very unusual for me) and am now having to take it easy - at least for a few days.

Summer 2013 - Round up

And so with all the summer sun and fun behind me, it was time to return to Bangor University for my final year, studying Zoology with Animal Behaviour.

My summer had been jam packed with Scotland, England, Wales; North, East and West, birding, ringing, driving, lamping, land management, making new friends and contacts, renewing old friendships, driving, new boyfriend, Bardsey, gardening, driving, new qualifications, farm management and more driving. Despite being fairly exhausting, I had loved every minute of it ! My visual bird identification skills had improved immensely, and my ringing and practical conservation training had progressed far further than I thought they would in 3 months. I'd gained experience in many and varied areas of ornithological conservation, and all this has helped towards clarifying which jobs I would enjoy after university.

I want to use this space to thank everyone who contributed to my epic summer and I hope to see you all again soon!

My Summer in pictures

Sea bird monitoring

Puffin Island ringing

2 trips to Puffin Island at the start of summer. One to GPS tag Guillemots (Uria aalge) and the other to ring this years auk and cormorant (Phalocrocorax carbo) chicks.
Guillemots and Razorbills off the East coast of Bardsey

Counting sea birds in their nesting colonies on the East coast of Bardsey.

Upland surveys at Vyrnwy 

Watching an Eagle - makes a change from Hen harriers and empty moors


Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) pulli colour ringing in the North Wales quarries. 

Sparrowhawk pulli ringing 
in Lancashire along with various 
other passerine species.

Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) ringing
in Mid-Wales as well as more Sparrowhawks
and many Dipper (Cinclus cinclus).

Bonxie and Storm petrel ringing 
on Eilean Nan Ron, off the north
 coast of Scotland. I found 2 
storm-petrels on the nest and 
several bonxie chicks! My field
 skills have improved considerably 
over the summer.

June + August
Manx Shearwater ringing, both adults and chicks during the 4 weeks I sent there.

Late August also involved a long week of wader ringing in Lincolnshire/Norfolk with The Wash Wader Ringing Group.

Beautiful Sunrises, Sunsets, Camping and Locations

Sunrise - Lincolnshire

Sunset - Bardsey
Camping - Eilean Nan Ron
Locations - Above - Bardsey. Also many other stunning places during the summer

 And the rest

Lots of birding and photography


Gardening and farm / land management

Bonfires and a lot
of clearing work / 
general maintenance

New boyfriend and lots
of new friends made. 

 An excessive amount of miles travelled in 3 months. A lot of my exciting travels wouldn't have been possible without my little car. 
It did very well indeed !

Summer 2013 - September Part 2 - Birthday and Bardsey (again)

So after my week at home, it was time to move on again. On the 10th I went back to Bangor to drop all my stuff back at uni, and then it was straight to Chris' for his birthday. We spent the next 3 days ringing, lamping, walking, recceing, celebrating the birthday and I caught up on some uni work, and then it was back to Bangor on the 13th to get ready for Bardsey.

Earlier in the summer I had won some funding from the BTO to volunteer at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. Unfortunately, the arrangements for this placement fell through, and so Steve Stansfield invited me back to Bardsey so I could keep the funding. This would be the 4th week of the summer I'd spent on the island so I felt a lot more prepared for the visit this time. I shopped for the week, so I didn't have to deplete the island stores, bought only the necessary clothing and extra equipment (I bought far too much on the previous trip)and even had time to take orders from the islanders of things they wanted.
I would be the only person staying in the observatory for this week so it was a very different experience to the last time I was there. I was put straight to work as soon as I landed on the island. We took the delivery for the shop up to the obs and spent the majority of the afternoon sorting and unpacking the boxes and stocking the shop. It felt nice to be back with the other staff and we a good few laughs during the day.

The weather itself was not great - well, not great for mist netting anyway. The seawatching was fantastic! From the moment I landed on the island, all sorts of exciting sea birds were passing along the coast. I've never really done any seawatching before so I couldn't believe the kind of introduction I was getting to it. Great (Stercorarius skua), Arctic (Stercorarius parasiticus), Pomarine (Stercorarius pomarinus) and Long-tailed Skuas (Stercorcarius longicaudus), Red-throated (Gavia stellata) and Great northern divers (Gavia immer), Manx (Puffinus puffinus), Sooty (Puffinus griseus) and Belearic Shearwaters (Puffinus mauretanicus), and several petrel and tern species, were streaming past the west coast throughout Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It took me a while to get to grips with identifying these species, but with the careful instruction of the staff members, I was soon able to pick up and identify the majority of these species. It'll be a while before I'm confident enough to call them without help though.
The undisputed highlight of my time seawatching came at ~17:50 on Sunday afternoon. Most of us were sitting on the terrace at the Obs and scanning the sea beyond the west coast. Suddenly Steve (sitting next to me) began to shake and shout "Fea's petrel!!". I have to admit, being fairly new to serious birding, a novice sea bird watcher and a British breeding bird specialist, I hadn't even heard of this species before. Following Steve's breathless instructions, I quickly got onto the bird and it was immediately obvious it wasn't one of the petrels/shearwaters I'd been watching all day. It's back was slatey grey and its flight pattern was erratic and crazy compared to the other species in this Family. I only watched it for 5 or 6 seconds before it disappeared behind the chimneys of the house in front of the Obs, and I failed to pick it up again. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen a Fea's petrel (Pterodroma feae) as I now appreciate how rare they are. I know many of my birding friends want to strangle me for having been so lucky!

Big waves roll in at the North hide

Wrapped up warm for a spot of dawn seawatching

Once the winds abated mid-week, it was possible to get out and about and see what passage migrants had been blown onto the island. We had good numbers of Goldcrests (Regulus regulus), Pied (Motacilla alba) and Grey (Motacilla cinerea) wagtails, snipe (Gallinago gallinago), and various species of warbler (Chiffchaff, Willow and Blackcap).
Wednesday turned out to be the best day of the week! Icky Steve found a Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) at Nant and as Steve Stansfield went up to confirm the ID, he flushed a Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus) that was feeding in the field near by. Both of these were lifers for me and made for a very exciting afternoons worth of bird watching. Also, whilst opening some mist nets at Nant, Ben and I flushed a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) from a tree 4ft in front of us. It almost bounced off Ben's head as it flew off into the plantation. All in all it was a very adrenaline fuelled few hours and one that has really opened my eyes to the world of scarcities/rarities. I've still got a long way to go before I'll be confident to call in these kinds of rarities on my own, but just being exposed to them and discussing ID features is greatly helping my ability to identify them confidently.

The Common Rosefinch - Caught on Friday

The rest of the week went by all too quickly and before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to everyone (for the last time this summer) and head on to the next stage of my university studies.

Mynydd Enlli covered in cloud as I left.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Summer 2013 - September Part 1 - The Wood

So The Wood is the name of my farm in Maesbrook (nr Oswestry), Shropshire. It's a gorgeous late 18th Century farm house with a lot of land, but isn't maintained very well. This means that whenever I go home, there are plenty of jobs to keep me busy in the garden, barns and house.
My main job for the next week was to clear the old vegetable patch in preparation for turning it into an orchard. It had been left for a year or two and so was totally overgrown with nettles, brambles, bind weed, long grass and other weeds. The bind weed made it impossible to strim through, so the next 3 days were spent hacking away with a bill hook, loppers, secateurs and my hands!

Day 1 - 

Managed to clear a path from one gate to the other
Still a lot to do!

 Day 2-

Discovered a Blackcurrant bush
hidden under all the weeds
As I delved further into the overgrown wildness, I was shocked to find there were already several fruit trees planted. Remarkably all of them had relatively decent crops of fruit, despite being totally covered in weeds. I found a Blackcurrant bush laden with fruit, an apple tree and a pear tree.

Blackcurrant bush and apple tree successfully excavated

 Day 3 - 

Finished excavating all the fruit trees and harvested the crop!

Beautiful apple tree - variety not known

Blackcurrant bush laden with fruit.
I left a fair amount of fruit on the
tree so the wildlife can benefit too

Lots of pears that weren't yet ripe
1 and a half pounds of blackcurrants plus
many apples. Not bad for a lazy gardener

So after 3 days of hard graft, multiple blisters, one large pile of raked up weeds and a lovely apple and blackcurrant crumble, it was time to move on to project 2. This time it was clearing out all of the hideous old furniture that had been stored in the barns, shortly after we moved in. Most of it had been sitting in there for 6 years and was beyond the point of repair/sale. Mum and I decided the best thing for it was just to burn the whole lot!! Much, much fun was had :D

Goodbye disgusting old sofa
Mummy very happy to finally be getting rid of all this stuff
Don't think I'd fancy that hot seat
Doors to hell !
Things got so warm that even
the wood got its sweat on

Of course not all of the old stuff got burnt. We found a few treasures that are now "features" in our yard, until we can figure out what to do with them.

This old mangle should clean up nicely.
It took a lot of effort to move out though.

Evenings were spent relaxing, catching up with friends and getting on with Chris' birthday card.
Chris' birthday card. Inspired by a joke about
someone misidentifying a rabbit as a barn owl

Summer 2013 - August Part 3 - Ormskirk, surveys and home

So we left the Wash on 26th August and headed back to Bangor. As per usual, it was a relief and pleasure to see hills and mountains again! We got back at about 7pm and had just enough time to unpack, shower, spruce up and then go out for dinner with a couple of my friends at 8pm.
Chris had to be back in work at Marshside RSPB on the 27th so I drove us both back and birded for the day whilst he was busy.
On the 28th we were up at 04:30 to do a dawn gull survey for the RSPB. This was very interesting survey experience for me and the 3 hours didn't drag nearly as badly as I thought they might. After this, we spent the afternoon ringing and went for an evening walk at Gorse Hill Nature Reserve. Chris is constantly testing me on my bird calls and songs these days, so these walks are a good chance for me to practise. I feel I am steadily improving...just takes practise, practise, practise.
On the 29th, I dropped Chris at his farm shop job at 9am and then headed home to Maesbrook (nr Oswestry). It was good to finally be making it home after a long month of travelling and work, with little to no rest. I managed to rest for all of a day before things got busy again though!
Another 3,000 miles on the clock since I bought the car in early June.

Gorgeous STARL. A new species for me.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Summer 2013 - August Part 2 - The Wash wader ringing

So I got off Bardsey on the 18th after a day's delay due to weather conditions. I was due to leave for The Wash on a wader ringing trip on the 19th. I therefore had less than 24 hours to pick my mum up who had been camping above Porth Meudwy, drop her in Pwllheli to catch the train, drive to Bangor, meet Chris, unpack, wash all my stuff, shower, eat, sleep, dry my clothes, repack and get organised for a week ringing. Again Chris was a major help and I don't think I could have made the turn around without him!
As it was, we were all packed and ready to go by 09:30 on Monday morning and even had time to fit in an enormous breakfast at Mike's Bites before hand.

The next week was spent in Lincolnshire with many Wash wader ringing group members. We tried to catch waders (either by mist net or cannon net) on every possible tide and although the catches were small, we managed a respectable total by the end of the week.
I love wader ringing and these ringing weeks because it gives me a concentrated period where I can really advance my ringing training and meet a lot of great ringers/birders whilst I'm at it. This was my second year at The Wash and I fully intend to go back as often as I can for these week long trips. 

Gorgeous sunrise on Tuesday morning after
a 02:45 start and a failed Grey Plover catch.

Incredible curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit flocks were seen
all week. This is only a small one by comparison.
Whimbel (Numenius phaeopus) -
 The first new species I ringed during the week
Reeve (Philomachus pugnax) - Chris' bird but
a real beauty and a total surprise after
a long night on the marsh.
Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) - New species number 2.
An incredibly nice bird and well deserved after a
hard night on the marsh.
Drying mist nets in the carpark. It looked like some
sort of wig convention and cheered me up
after another unsuccessful catch.