Sunday, 25 March 2012

Nesting in the Tree Tops

Spring is here! The daffodils are in full bloom, the blossoms on the cherry trees add a splash of pale pink and white to our streets and the birds have started singing, a sure sign the nesting season is starting. For some birds however nesting has been in full swing for at least a month, one such species is the grey heron.

An unmistakable bird, with long legs and a long beak, the grey heron is typically seen stalking the edges of pools and rivers in search of their fishy food. It is surprising to discover then that they nest at the tops of trees! On a large nest of twigs and sticks, reminiscent of a pigeon nest, grey heron’s typically start nesting in February, laying between 2 and 7 eggs which hatch after 23 to 28 days.

Nest recording for grey herons high in the tree tops

North Notts Ringing Group has been ringing nestling grey heron since the early nineties. Although numbers of grey heron across the UK are increasing slowly and the species is by no means rare, numbers at this colony have seen quite a dramatic decline over the last couple of seasons. The reasons for this remain unclear, hence the importance of continuing to monitor nests and ring chicks. This year, in response to requests from the British Trust for Ornithology, the group is colour ringing the chicks, adding a blue ring with white letters along with the metal ring. Colour ringing should improve the reporting of sightings for this species, which is generally only recovered once a bird dies… but what happens in between? Where do the birds move during their lives? Do they stay in one place? Return to their natal colony to breed? Colour ringing could help provide the answers to these kinds of questions.

Grey heron chick

So this Saturday, Lee and I headed up to Besthorpe Nature Reserve, near Newark to help ring the first load of chicks for the year. With the mist clearing, we headed over onto a small island in the middle of a lake. As Jez climbed to the tree tops, we waited below, recording the contents of each active nest and waiting for any chicks that could be ringed. Quite a few of the nests had small chicks or eggs, but three nests had chicks large enough to ring. Delivered down to us in a bucket, we ringed the chicks, placed a colour ring above the knee of the right leg and weighed them. After a quick photo call, the birds were returned to the nest via the bucket…

Me and my first grey heron chick

In all nine chicks were ringed from three nests. The team will return to ring the remaining chicks over the next couple of months. Its then just a question of keeping eyes peeled for colour ringed birds, over the next few months as they leave the nests and over the next few years to see if they return to breed.

If you ever see a colour ringed bird of any species, please report the sighting to the BTO. Record the combination of colour rings, or the colour and letters on the ring. Sightings can be reported via 

Likewise if you ever find a bird with just a metal ring on then please report that too!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Scribbling down at the farm

For the first time in a quite a while, we returned to Lodge Farm for a mornings ringing. Over the last few months large numbers of siskins and redpolls have been descending on the garden feeders, however the last ringing session on Friday was pretty quiet, by the Farm’s standards and so we were unsure how many would turn up today. Despite this a large team of us assembled, slightly bleary eyed at 6:30am this morning and opened the nets in anticipation.

Twenty minutes in, the first net round complete and the signs were that we were in for a busy morning. With such a large team of people it can get really hectic at the tables where we process the birds, but it remains paramount that data is recorded accurately. To prevent the evitable scrum for the pen, one person is dedicated to the role of scribe, the most important job in the team.

Super Scribe!

For the first few hours this morning I was scribe, collating and recording data on each bird from three or four ringers at a time. This information gathered during the ringing process not only provides an opportunity to study where birds move to and how long they live, through recoveries, but also an opportunity to learn about moult strategies i.e. how and when birds replace their feathers.

Lesser redpoll waiting to be taken out of the net

As the morning progressed, the birds kept coming and by 2pm we had caught and processed 336 individual birds, including 121 birds which we actually ringed. The remaining birds already had rings on and provide even more valuable information. Most of the birds were siskins and lesser redpolls, which provide interesting challenges to aging and in the case of the redpolls identification! Todays were all lesser redpolls, ranging from very pale, grey to rich brown birds.

So all in all a very good mornings ringing…..

Sunday, 11 March 2012

WhaleFest Unleashed... and inspired!

On November the 5th and 6th 2011, I volunteered for WhaleFest, Europe’s first ever Whale Festival. Over 2,500 people came to Brighton over the two days to take part in the event; with 60 exhibitors from charities to tour operators, talks from experts and wildlife celebrities and workshops from underwater acoustics to whale origami. In the ‘great hall’ people could wonder amongst life sized whales, watch amazing footage on a huge screen, explore the belly of a sperm whale, learn how to rescue a stranded pilot whale and even go on a whale watch!

Me next to the almost life-sized Blue Whale!

For my part I was involved with this last activity, taking people on a virtual whale watch with real boats, real life jackets, real water and real footage of blue whales and various dolphins off the coast of Sri Lanka! (well why not eh!).

It was a fantastic event, a real uplifting experience to mingle with so many people all passionate about whales and dolphins and too pass that on to all those people.

The 2011 WhaleFest Virtual Whale Watch Team!

Fortunately the festival was not a one off and WhaleFest 2012 has been confirmed! In the 30th anniversary year of the International Whaling Commission’s adoption of the moratorium on commercial whaling, WhaleFest is returning to the place where this historic decision took place, the Brighton Hilton Metropole.

This weekend, returning and new volunteers met up in order to celebrate the success of WhaleFest 2011 and to chat, and get excited about, WhaleFest 2012. Led by Planet Whale founders and WhaleFest organisers extraordinaire, Dylan Walker and Ian Rowlands, the weekend gave many volunteers the chance to experience one of the big successes of the 2011 event, the film Keiko The Untold Story.

The film tells the story of the killer whale Keiko, the star of the film Free Willy, from being rescued from the isolation of a tiny, concrete pool in Mexico to a purpose built, state of the art enclosure in Oregon and finally to the ocean waters of Iceland, and home. Although many would say the end of that tale is sad, with Keiko dieing from pneumonia in Norway, I found the whole tale inspiring and moving. Although never completely ‘wild’, for five years Keiko was a free whale, free to move around as he pleased and free to interact with wild killer whales. Watching a whale that had been so lethargic and ill in Mexico surfacing amongst wild Orca in Iceland was truly amazing.

And so as the sun set over Upminster in Essex, exciting plans were being made, plans to inspire more people about these amazing animals and to make WhaleFest 2012 the biggest and best event of its kind in world. 

For more information on WhaleFest and Planet Whale visit the website

WhaleFest 2012 27th and 28th October 2012 - be there and be inspired!