September, 2010

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South East

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  • Fairburn Ings to Tate Modern, by guest blogger Des Garrahan

    If this is a London blog, why am I telling you about an RSPB reserve up in West Yorkshire? Well I suppose it’s because I’m the new Local Groups Officer for London and I recently started in the role and I’m trying to find out as much about the RSPB as I can.

    A birds eye view of Fairburn IngsSo there I was in Yorkshire, visiting family in Harrogate, not too far from Fairburn Ings. It’s situated alongside the River Aire close to Castleford. A very helpful display board entitled from ‘Coal face to wildspace’ tells me that ‘ings’ is an old Norse word meaning ‘damp or marshy land’. I love display boards, me.

    The landscape round here has been shaped by more than 150 years of mining. All the areas of open water on the 286 hectare (700 acres) reserve were formed as a result of subsidence of coal workings. Many of these were up to half a kilometre underground. About a third of the site has been developed from 26 million cubic metres of colliery spoil, landscaped to create grassland, wetland and woodland. It all adds up to a great place to watch wildlife.

    Female house sparrow with ID ring on leg - from one of our studiesBefore heading out on the trails I popped in to the Visitor Centre where the extremely helpful staff gave me all the information I needed to get the most from my visit. Although it’s an ideal spot to see kingfishers I wasn’t so lucky. I did, however, see plenty of wading birds like green sandpipers from the Pickup hide along with garden birds like tits, goldfinches and sparrows on the feeders.

    It’s easy to stroll round the reserve stopping every so often to see what nature has to offer and if you are an inexperienced birder like me, there’s plenty of handy information scattered around the place on display boards.

    After a couple of hours I headed off the reserve into the surrounding countryside following a splendid 5 mile walk I’d found in West Yorkshire Pocket Pub Walks by Keith Wadd. The walk starts at the reserve and then winds it ways up through Ledsham suggesting you might want to have a beer in The White Horse in Ledston when you finish. All in all I had a great afternoon.

    A couple of Sundays later I’m in more familiar surroundings on the south bank of the Thames -  right in front of the Tate Modern to be precise. It’s the last day of our Date with Nature - Peregrines at the TateI was lucky enough to see Misty (the female peregrine) leave and return to her perch during the afternoon. This certainly caused a stir in the visitors round the stand, quickly followed by a rush for the telescopes. The look of amazement on people’s faces is something to behold. (The look of disappointment when they find the birds aren’t there isn’t so good). They are amazed that nature is this up close and personal in a city.

    Before we packed up for the night (and the season) I’m once more reminded that none of this could happen without our marvellous volunteers who give up their free time willingly to ensure these events run smoothly and help the public get to know so much about our work.

    Des Garrahan

  • London! Not top of the BoP gun crime list

    For a change, London is NOT the centre of gun crime... as far as Birds of Prey [BoP] are concerned.

    Our magnificent falcons and hawks can continue to visit, safe in the knowledge that they're unlikely to become victims of prejudice.

    The RSPB's 20th annual Birdcrime report recorded 384 cases of persecution in 2009, the second worst year for birds of prey; only 2007 was worse with 389 cases.

    This doesn't include attacks on swans or the trapping of finches. This is about the killing of birds of prey. It's recorded not by county, but by Police area. In a league table of Constabularies in England, North Yorkshire, West Mercia, Northumbria and Cumbria came tops. ID ring clearly visible on the left-hand chick's leg

    The Metropolitan Police area didn't escape incident. There was one reported case of a hobby being shot dead in north-west London. It had been monitored by one of our Local Groups. They didn't see who fired the shot, but had been in talks with the Police about a number of individuals who had been shooting nearby with the landowners agreement, despite being made aware of the birds' presence.

    This year, the hobbies returned to the nest site and our Local Group arranged for the chicks, pictured to the right, to be fitted with identification rings as part of a drive to protect them. They're not the most glamorous of creatures - looking more like feathery reptiles. This amazing photo was taken by Alan Harris, a licensed bird handler, allowed to access nests.

    The RSPB is also a member of the London Peregrine Working Group. We ringed some of this year's young and work with the Metropolitan Police to protect nest sites, especially around the breeding period. 

    Hobbies are not normally found in urban spaces so these London birds are unusual. It's unlikely they've set-up home in London because it's safer for them, the most likely reason is that they've been driven here by our changing rural environment.

    If you'd like to help us protect our environment, campaign for climate justice, oppose fuel poverty and seek energy security, then you can join our Big Climate Connection in early November. With a new Government in place, now is the perfect time to lobby new and exisiting MPs.

    If you want a more DIY approach to supporting wildlife while improving your own environment, visit our Homes for Wildlife pages for simple, low-cost ideas.

  • Forever Autumn

    The London sun is fading as I grow old... and just like Justin Hayward sang in Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds, the birds are flying south across the Autumn sky.

    I know it's Autumn, 'cause I'm already sweeping up leaves that have fallen from the trees. the blackberries have been and gone. The skies above my east London house have fallen silent with the departure of the swifts. And, I'm tryting to find my bike lights, ready for my commute to central London in the shortening days ahead.

    This time of year brings great opportunities for seeing some different wildlife as summer visitors go, replaced by winter migrants. Working with Urban Birder, David Lindo, we'd already supported his initiative to create the UK's highest migrant bird viewing platform on Tower 42 in The City. Now there's a new project planned to extend our knowledge of migrating urban birds - based around the iconic Canary Wharf Tower.

    All that steel, glass and concrete has been controversial, but I've always loved the juxtaposition between it and its neighbour - Mudchute City Farm. This combined with the sight of anglers fishing in the old docks, the occassional shadow on the ground of local peregrines sweeping overhead and the wide range of water and garden birds evident around the site always surprises.

    David's hoping to record some pretty unusual migrants on site, attracted down by the well-lit open spaces overnight. Many stop off for a rest before continuing their annual pilgrimages to breeding or feeding grounds. I can't wait to hear what David will discover.

    You have been busy recording sightings for our Make Your Nature Count survey heldd earlier this year. Full details will be published in the week but I can reveal the survey proves what I've often written on the blog - you're more likely to see wildlife in an urban setting than you will in a rural garden! 

    Coming up in October, we've Feed the Birds Day. We'll be suggesting ways you can do more to support wildlife, in whatever outdoor space you have. Why do this? Cause it's a real tonic to look out your window and see some wild critter going about its business, unencumbered by everyday human hassles.

    There's no charge for enjoying the colour, sound and movement of nature. There's no transaction and no expectations. You simply sit, stare and relax. It's free therapy and once you've achieved a state of Nirvana, you start to get drawn-in to find out more.

    Look out for the Make Your Nature Count results and do seek Nirvana by taking part in Feed The Birds Day.  Try it, enjoy it and them sign our Letter to the Future to make sure it's all there for you and everyone else to enjoy next autumn, next winter, next spring and summer, and autumn, winter........ None of us will then need to shed a lonely tear, cause Autumn's not here.