February, 2014

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • Come Rain or Shine.

    If you've been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the news over the last couple of weeks, then you will definitely know what’s been making the headlines. The good old British weather. The continuation of floods across many regions throughout the UK, and the seemingly constant downpour of rain and battering wind have given us a lot to talk about. Not only due to the problems that are has caused for many people, but for our wildlife as well.

     A once busy public footpath soon becomes inaccessible as the River Anker bursts its banks as a result of this seasons heavy rainfall in Tamworth, UK.

    With my local river bursting its banks, then dropping back down again, then swelling in size once more, it’s come as no surprise to me that I haven’t seen or heard of the kingfishers for a little over a month now. It is more than likely that they will have moved to find a more suitable location to set up a nest that is less at risk to becoming flooded, though I will be sure to keep my eyes and ears open for them! Have you noticed the weather affecting any of the wildlife in your area? If so, please tell us by commenting below.

    One such example of how the wildlife has been affected by our weather recently came to me when I was working away at replying to some of our readers emails for the Natures Home magazine. One such email really stuck out for me, as it highlighted how this weather can impact our local wildlife. It was an email from a reader who had found a dead bird on her patio, and upon first inspection they were perplexed as to its ID. I looked over the attached images and confirmed that it was in fact a wood pigeon chick, barely a week or so old. Initial concerns were about it being too early for chicks to be hatching, but wood pigeons are amongst the first garden birds that will breed and rear their chicks, and have been known to breed in all months of the year. What was more concerning was the fact this poor little bird had fallen victim to the high winds that parts of the country have been experiencing. With more storms forecast over the following days, there was more concern as to how this would affect any other early broods.

    Not only has it raised concerns for our beloved birds, but it got me thinking about the rest of our UK flora and fauna. In the regions that have been badly affected by flooding, how have these natural systems coped? Has anyone seen any signs to suggest how they've been affected? It may well be that we will only really see the impacts on our wildlife and environment as surveys are conducted, and the latest reports come in. One such report that was released by Natural England in January, stated that  48 SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) have been affected with 37 of them said to be of international importance, though this number may well have risen over the past few weeks with continued stormy conditions. With the surge of seawater making its way inland around the coast, not only are there reports of sea birds being washed away by the strong winds and high waves, but important freshwater habitats are at risk as salty seawater leaks its way inland, making the long-term prospects of the wildlife that depend on these habitats unclear.

     This image of a guillemot, taken in April last year, shows just one of several sea birds that I encountered on the beach near Filey Brigg, along the Yorkshire coastline. Reports around this time suggest that storms were the probably cause of the numerous dead birds that had been found washed up on shore. It is hoped that our sea bird colonies survive the worst of this seasons stormy weather.

    I realise that the topic of flooding is one that is very popular as of late, but the importance of getting this information out there is substantial. Only by knowing how people and the surrounding environment are being effected will we be able to really understand how to act in order to protect the best interests of those concerned, both now and in the future.

    If you wish to see more of my photographic work or contact me directly, please visit my website at www.edmarshallwildimages.co.uk like my facebook page (Ed Marshall Wild Images), or even follow me on Twitter @edmarshallphoto!

  • Familar birds in Middle-earth

    Thanks to Nature’s Home volunteer Ed for keeping the blog updated over the last few weeks or so while I’ve been away on Honeymoon. Ed is doing a great job helping me out with the huge volume of emails and letters that you are sending in - keep them coming please, but please bear with the team of myself and Roger and Ed (my amazing volunteers) as we try to keep up!

    While the weather here has been causing problems for humans and wildlife alike, I’ve been enjoying the delights of Queensland, three weeks in New Zealand and then a few days in Hong Kong.

    Although I was on the other side of the world as many of you geared up for Big Garden Birdwatch, the starlings, house sparrows, blackbirds and song thrushes that you will have been hoping would turn up on the weekend were a big part of my holiday.

    New Zealand, where I spent three weeks, has a great number of endemic birds, the vast majority of which I was lucky enough to see thanks to my very patient wife. From kiwis and albatrosses to giant, flightless takahes, black stilts and blue ducks, we were very lucky to catch up with a huge number of birds, many of which are incredibly rare.

    In the wrong place

    New Zealand also has a large number of species that have been deliberately introduced to the islands by man. One of the guides I met on my trip told me that something like 142 species of non-native birds were introduced to New Zealand originally. Settlers from the west wanted to be reminded of home, so they took with them familiar birds such as robins and even nightingales. Unsurprisingly many of the birds were not able to survive in a country with a totally different climate and insect and tree diversity.

    House sparrows were widespread in New Zealand (image by Ray Kennedy rspb-images.com)

    Many did establish themselves though and as well as the species already mentioned, I also saw wild turkeys, Canada geese, common mynahs, yellowhammers, greenfinches, goldfinches, and many other species that really shouldn’t be there. House sparrows were very common in all areas, begging the question of why they are struggling in the UK. I hope our scientists will have a definitive answer soon so we can start to turn around the decline.

    Gibson's (wandering) albatross off Kaikoura - where I enjoyed a pelagic trip to the edge of the continental shelf. I got lots of shots but haven't had time to sort them out yet, so here's one from the same place by Guy Shorrock (rspb-images.com)

    Simon says

    Simon Barnes tackles the subject of non-native species in his column in the current issue of Nature’s Home, so make sure you have a read and let us know what you think.

    From my visit to NZ, I know that mammals have ravaged the avifauna of the islands and many species became extinct due to animals like possums, stoats and cats arriving. The conservation movement in New Zealand is fabulous and great work is being done to return native species to predator-free areas. Inspiring stuff.

    Have your say

    Thanks for all your feedback on issue two of Nature’s Home, Great to read that many of you liked it even more than issue one, so that’s a big relief for me and my team. It’s a bit like the difficult second album for musicians...

  • A Rekindled Love of Bird Watching.

    For the past three years now, I have always considered myself a wildlife photographer first and foremost. When someone asks what I do I always answer with “I’m a wildlife photographer”, but it seems that I have forgotten exactly why and how I came to do what I do in the first place. A simple love of watching wildlife. I, like many others in this sort of work, was always into nature when growing up. I was glued to the television set when anything remotely natural history related came on and the first one off looking for wildlife when I was out and about. Even though I still do a lot of this, I’ve forgotten to just take the time to enjoy being out in the natural world, to watch through a pair of binoculars rather than think in terms of photography, and to just enjoy whatever there is to see. Last weekend saw a great return to my old habits with a trip down to Somerset with a group of fellow nature lovers, conservationists, photographers, all-round great people from the fantastic nature network A Focus On Nature.

    Upon our arrival in Somerset, I was greeted by none other than Stephen Moss, naturalist, writer, TV producer who has worked on shows such as Springwatch, and all-round great guy. Be sure to check out his article in the next issue of Natures Home magazine! Once we had all settled into where we would be staying for the weekend, we prepared for the first day which would be largely based around a bird watching competition....

     One of the members of our team, Simon Phelps, keeping a sharp eye out for new species to add to our list.

    Once out on the Avalon Marshes, our group split into two teams, with each team trying to identify as many different species as possible. The team I was in headed out into Shapwick Heath, a vast expanse of natural habitat dominated mainly by reed marshes, with just enough woodland and grassland to see our species list climb with thanks to birds such as Lesser Redpolls, Treecreepers, and various species of tit. Our opponents went in the other direction to Ham Wall, but we would only find out how they did at lunch so the pressure was on. It leaves me proud to say that our team won with a total of 48 different species (before 1pm!), just beating our opponents to the post who spotted an equally impressive 45 species.

     One of the large wetland areas at Shapwick Heath, dominated by expansive reed beds, perfect for many species of waterfowl, waders, and even the odd Great White Egret!

    All that was left afterwards was to just enjoy the rest of the day, with some of the highlights including Great White Egrets, Marsh Harriers, Kingfisher, and even Bittern! That evening we set up in a hide that was tipped to be the spot where the starlings would be coming to roost. Never having witnessed the event myself, yet always wanting to, you can imagine my delight as the first flocks of starling began to appear, and my immediate sinking feeling when we all watched them fly past us to the neighbouring roost site at Ham Wall. That left us with one more evening to try and see it, all I could do was hope for everything to come together…

    * * * *

    The second day saw us venture out to Westhay Moor to focus on photographing the wildlife that was on offer. A bittern was seen flying around the reserve, but always at some distance. It wasn’t until a passing Marsh Harrier flushed it out of the reed beds that we got our first clear view of it. The excitement was only matched in intensity by the clicking of camera’s, all capturing this odd yet wonderful moment. As the day went on, we headed out onto some boggy meadow in the hope of seeing jack snipe. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to add these to our species list, but you can imagine the surprise when a member of our team (Bob Bosisto) practically walked past a Short-eared Owl! It took flight at the last second and was away before I could even realise what had happened! It was a great way to round off our bird watching and left us in high spirits to see the starling murmuration later that day.

     One of the many shots that I took as this Bittern took flight after being flushed out by the Marsh Harrier (also pictured). I like the portrait composition of this image, showing the dense reed beds that Bitterns so typically hide within.

    We headed to Ham Wall, the location we had seen the flocks heading to the night before, and waited. The crowds started to gather which gave us confidence that we were in the right place, and sure enough, just as the sun was starting to set, the starlings began to arrive.

     The crowd of onlookers grew and grew

     One of the "smaller" flocks of starlings heading from their feeding grounds at sunset.

     I played with some camera settings to get some motion blur of the murmuration itself, this being one of the shots I was happiest with. You can just see Glastonbury Tor on the horizon, being dwarfed by the sheer size of the murmuration.

    The first few flocks themselves were impressive, comprised of thousands of individuals, and it wasn’t before long that they combined to form the infamous murmuration, that was ever growing in size.I was constantly looking this way and that to watch them swirl and twist into all sorts of shapes across the sky. The noise was incredible as well, the sudden whoosh of wings overhead adding to the atmosphere. As the murmuration peaks in size, the flock floats down to the reed beds, pulsating in waves as they skim the surface of the reeds. Then, in the blink of an eye, they’re gone. Anyone who hadn’t just seen what had happened would have had no idea that a million birds or more were sat in the reeds right in front of their eyes. It was the perfect end to an amazing weekend, and one that I hope to repeat for many years to come.

     One of the many spectators watches as the hundred's of thousands of birds settle amongst the reed beds in front of us.

     The star of the whole weekend in my opinion, and one of the most overlooked birds in the UK, the starling.