Ukraine, Russia, Crimea, Gazprom and Champions League football

700px-Map_of_Ukraine_political_simple_blank.svgThe annexation of the Crimea by Russia, or its secession, raises a whole bunch of questions in my mind:

  • the West may have been too friendly to Russia over the last few years – I expect Russia was saying ‘we’re all on the same side really‘ when it might not be true.  It’s important to know who is on your side, and who isn’t, and treat them accordingly
  • the West has looked as though it is more interested in the Russian economy than in right and wrong – and perhaps Russia is more interested in land and power than in trading with the West
  • when you see Gazprom listed as a sponsor of Champions League football it’ll look pretty odd if things blow up further in the Ukraine and Crimea before the final in Lisbon on 24 May
  • some might wish we had a few more wind turbines scattered around the UK in case Russia turns off the gas pipelines
  • Putin appears to pay quite a lot of attention to wildlife causes – cuddly mammals at least
  • there is one regular reader of this blog in Kiev – hi there!

Three rare birds on my local patch

via wikimedia commons

via wikimedia commons

On Saturday I saw three rare birds on my local patch of Stanwick Lakes. Well, to be fair, they were all much rarer once. And, to be even fairer, one of them is only rare at Stanwick Lakes – you can see loads of them less than a mile away in Stanwick itself.

But then rarity is a relative concept when it comes to birds – isn’t it?  Most rarities in the UK are very common somewhere else. There are loads of all those American warblers on the other side of the Atlantic – it’s just here, on the wrong side, that they are rare.

So, the first rare bird I saw on Saturday was the humble Collared Dove.  It was the first I had seen on my local patch for almost exactly three years – so that is a rarer bird than Bittern, Little Ringed Plover, Arctic Tern and Grasshopper Warbler at Stanwick Lakes.

Collared Doves first bred in the UK in 1955 – they had spread right across Europe in a matter of just 20-30 years.  They were once absent, then rare, then more familiar and now hardly worth a mention. Except at Stanwick Lakes where I rarely see them.

Photo: Martin Olssen via wikimedia commons

Photo: Martin Olssen via wikimedia commons

My second rare bird was a Mediterranean Gull (an immature) which is only my second record for Stanwick and my  first since May 2008.  The Med Gull first bred in the UK in 1968 but is now found widely across the UK and breeds in many coastal counties.  This species will probably be quite common in another couple of decades time.  The bird I saw was hanging around on an island where Black-headed Gulls nest – how long before the first Med Gulls nest there too, I wonder?

Now, my third rare bird, still is quite rare, but only quite rare, as it is getting commoner all the time; Great White Egret.  We are now very accustomed to seeing its smaller relative the Little Egret (more than half of my Stanwick visits these days deliver Little Egret sightings), and we’ll have to get used, I suspect, to checking white egrets to make sure that they aren’t Great Whites (or Cattle).  Great White Egrets first bred in the UK in 2012.

There are nowadays often a few GWEs knocking around the Nene Valley and Pitsford Reservoir.  It will take quite a while before sightings of this large white egret, with black legs and a massive yellow beak, become as normal as  those of a Collared Dove but that is the way it is heading.

There are quite a few other birds I see at Stanwick Lakes which are now much commoner than they once were (Great Crested Grebes, Gadwall, Tufted Ducks, Red Kites,  Oystercatchers and Cetti’s Warblers, to name but a few off the top of my head).  We tend to go on about the declining species, and so we should because they need our help, but there are increases too.

And rarity is a matter of space and time – almost every bird you see, however unusual, is common somewhere else.

What is, globally, the rarest bird you will see today? this year?


Photo: Lukasz Lukasic via wikimedia commons

Photo: Lukasz Lukasic via wikimedia commons



Bits and pieces with quite a raptorish, and a quite Scottish, flavour

Bad news:

Good news:


Not news:

  • The Moorland Association say that Merlins like moorland – an unimpressive study that wouldn’t stand up to much scrutiny but we look forward to the next in the series, the Hen Harrier, that bird most loved by the upland gamekeeper.  How about an analysis of Hen Harrier SPAs?

What is the UK’s most unfairly ignored bird?

There are some birds that are almost universally liked (Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush?) and quite a few that have more of a Marmite effect on people, some love them and others hate them (Hen Harrier, Cormorant?).  There are some species that have their detractors – I think there is something evil about Linnets, of course.

But what of the overlooked species – the ones that hardly ever crop up in conversation? The ones that seem not to generate strong feelings one way or the other?

Here, just for fun, are my five candidates for ‘most unfairly ignored’ UK bird species.  You might have other suggestions for this list but what I’m asking you to do is to vote for which of these species deserve more of our love – and tell us all why in your comments please.


Photo: Chris Cant via wikimedia commons

Photo: Chris Cant via wikimedia commons

Stock Dove







Photo: MPF via wikimedia commons

Photo: MPF via wikimedia commons

Rock Pipit









Photo: Frank Vassen via wikimedia commons

Photo: Frank Vassen via wikimedia commons

Little Grebe








Photo: Maga-chan via wikimedia commons

Photo: Maga-chan via wikimedia commons









Photo: Artur Mikołajewski via wikimedia commons

Photo: Artur Mikołajewski via wikimedia commons

Reed Bunting








And here is the link to vote.


Defra response to John Armitage’s e-petition

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

John Armitage’s well-supported e-petition has received the following response from Defra:

‘As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response:

The Government is aware of incidences of illegal killing of birds of prey and Ministers take the issue very seriously. To address this, senior Government and enforcement officers in the UK identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Raptor persecution is subject to a prevention, intelligence, enforcement and reassurance plan led by a senior police officer through the Raptor Persecution Delivery group. The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is funded by the Government, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and provides assistance to police forces when required.

Shooting makes an important contribution to wildlife control and conservation, biodiversity and to the social, economic and environmental well-being of rural areas, where it can provide a supplement to incomes and jobs. The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is therefore a positive one and it has been estimated by the industry that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide benefits for conservation.

When carried out in accordance with the law, shooting for sport is a legitimate activity and our position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities. There are no current plans to restrict sport shooting in England. This Government encourages all shoot managers and owners to ensure they and their staff are following recommended guidelines and best practice to reduce the chances of a conflict of interest with birds of prey.

We acknowledge that crimes against birds of prey are abhorrent but it should be noted though that, despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine falcon, red kite and buzzard have increased. While a small minority is prepared to kill birds of prey, and where possible these people are brought to justice, this demonstrates that the policies in place to conserve these species are working.

This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.’

Well, there are a few mistakes in there surely? Not least, the fact that government doesn’t even know that this e-petition is now closed to further signatures.

Shooting makes an important contribution to wildlife control and conservation’ – means what? And this is an e-petition about grouse shooting not shooting in general.  Is this government in favour of wildlife control – it certainly seems that it might be?

The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is therefore a positive one’ - eh? ‘therefore’? Such a lapse in logic would be castigated in an undergraduate essay!

it has been estimated by the industry that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide benefits for conservation’ - but that is for shooting as a whole and this is a petition about grouse shooting.  And does this mean that government simply accepts the industry figures for everything? What about the conservation industry’s views then?

this demonstrates that the policies in place to conserve these species are working.’ - an interesting perspective and, again, this is an e-petition about grouse shooting. Amazing that the response does not even mention the Hen Harrier – the species most affected by illegal persecution by grouse moor managers. The sentence could have ended ‘but we recognise that the fact that around 300 pairs of Hen Harriers are missing from the English uplands, and that this is due to illegal persecution, shows that the policies in place for this species are not working.  Furthermore, the low densities and breeding success of Peregine Falcons nesting in areas dominated by driven grouse shooting also demonstrate that the policies in place to conserve this species are not working well enough. In fact, let’s be honest, sites designated partly for their populations of birds of prey in upland England are drastically under-performing in acting as conservation measures.  In fact, we the government are doing an awful job for nature all being said.’

This is a response that suggests, once more, that Defra doesn’t know what it is talking about.  And also it doesn’t care about the facts.

In fact, it is an apologia for shooting rather than a response to the e-petition signed by 10,000+ voters.

The Defra response takes the approach that there isn’t a problem so there isn’t anything that need to be done about it.  There is a problem, and something does need to be done about it.  Licensing might be a good approach, but there are others too, but we have a government that isn’t even on the right page on this subject.

The government response is extremely helpful to those of us who believe that more needs to be done about illegal persecution of raptors – it shows that this government has its head in the sand.




Leaden lack of progress?

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lead Ammunition Group was set up in April 2010 and has made pitifully slow progress.

The latest minutes of the group include this short statement:

The group received a presentation by Dr Ruth Cromie on the WWT Wildlife Health Unit compliance monitoring investigation and perceived barriers to behaviour change. The study results suggest that there has been no improvement in levels of compliance.

Really? You mean that after last summer’s Game Fair majoring on the importance of sticking to the law (not using lead ammunition to shoot wildfowl because it has been illegal for over a decade) and a well-publicised  campaign by all the ‘responsible’ shooting orientated organisations, there has been no improvement in the levels of legal compliance? What? Really?!

In other words, people with guns are routinely breaking environmental laws because they can. And the organisations representing these people appear powerless to influence their members. The message that those organisations promoted was simple: if you want to keep lead, keep to the law.  Shooters are not keeping to the law, and there has been no improvement over more than a decade.

It’s time to ban the use of lead ammunition in the UK as has been done in many other parts of the world.  Why allow criminal activity to persist?





Rams rampant now

Derby County FC had a variable March.

The month started (1st March) with a disappointing but perhaps not wholly unexpected away loss to Burnley but the home defeat (8th March) by lowly Millwall was definitely a grave disappointment.  The home draw with Bolton on the 11th wasn’t such a great result but an away draw at Reading was definitely a point gained rather than a couple of points lost for the Rams. And then on Saturday local rivals Nottingham Forest lost 5-0 at Pride Park keeping the Rams in a very promising 3rd place in the Championship and putting their goal difference 8 above 4th placed QPR.


It’s almost as though a weight had been removed from the team in mid-March – almost as if they were emancipated – almost as if they could stop feeling ashamed of their home city.

Revocation of Cycle Track Planning Application


This day in 1900

MarthanewcoverIn his book, Hope is the Thing with Feathers, Chris Cokinos describes the death of what may have been the last wild Passenger Pigeon at the hands of the young Press Clay Southworth in rural Ohio.  That was on 24 March 1900 – after that, the only Passenger Pigeons known to man (and woman) were captive ones which dwindled away to the last bird, Martha, who died in Cincinnati Zoo on 1 September 1914.

Chapter 4 of A Message from Martha contains accounts of my visits to a range of sites which were important in the story of the Passenger Pigeon’s demise.  Although the Passenger Pigeon is long gone – Martha died on 1 September 1914 – the places are still there and I wanted to see what they are like now, and imagine what they would have been like a century or more ago.

The story of the shooting of the (perhaps) last wild Passenger Pigeon on a farm by a young boy is told well in Cokinos’s book and I wanted to see where this bird was killed.  Rural Ohio isn’t that different in appearance from rural Northamptonshire so I felt quite at home on the sunny Sunday in May last year.

The Passenger Pigeon that Southworth shot was stuffed and can now be seen in a museum in Columbus, Ohio – I went there too.

Elsewhere in Chapter 4 I tell of the places where John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson saw flocks of billions of Passenger Pigeons, of the monument to the Passenger Pigeon in a beautiful spot overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, of the largest Passenger Pigeon colony ever described and of the woods around Petoskey, Michigan where Passenger Pigeons were slaughtered in their millions and where a young Ernest Hemingway spent his vacations.

But that’s just a little bit of Chapter 4 of A Message from Martha which will be published in the UK on 10 July and in the USA in August.  You can pre-order it from Amazon at £16.99 right now by clicking here.


Oscar Dewhurst – Manx Shearwater

Skomer 05,6-07-12_0269-Manx-Shearwater


Oscar writes: When I was on Skomer, off the cost of Pembrokeshire, I was very surprised to see this Manx Shearwater perched on a stone wall during the middle of the day. They are nocturnal birds that breed on the island, but I was very glad to have the opportunity to see one in daylight.
Nikon D300s, Nikon 200-400mm f4 VR

Sunday Book Review – The Global Pigeon by Colin Jerolmark

9780226002088‘I never paid much attention to pigeons until one defecated on me’ is not a bad opening line for a book. This book is about the interaction between pigeons and people – which of the two gets more defecated upon?

Domesticated pigeons, and urban feral pigeons, are derived from the Rock Dove but are normally ignored by most birders. I never add feral pigeon to my day list, unless it is languishing on 99 at the end of the day.

This book is really much more about people than pigeons – and people can be quite interesting.  The author uses the relationships between men (mostly) and pigeons to explore our human relationship with nature.  Are city-dwellers, for example on the rooftops of Brooklyn, who keep, breed or race pigeons using the birds vicariously to connect with nature? Or is the relationship more to do with with us dominating nature?

Why are we so divided about the place of pigeons in the midst of our towns whether it be Trafalgar Square in London or Venice’s Piazza San Marco? Some want to feed them, some want them gone; both feel strongly about it.

Sun City, South Africa organised a pigeon race where the first prize was $200,000 – that seems to be a reason to be interested in pigeons.

This book is a mixture of ethnography and sociology and explores our relationship with nature.  The more academic explanations of our behaviour weren’t for me, but the descriptions of human behaviour were fascinating. We are, perhaps, almost as interesting as pigeons.

The Global Pigeon is published by The University of Chicago Press and is available on Amazon, as is Fighting for Birds by Mark Avery.