Thursday, 23 December 2010


A real treat today - as I was writing an e-mail I spotted a starling-sized bird with a crest in the sycamore tree. I instantly knew it was a waxwing. It swooped down out of view and I later realised there's a shrub full of rose-hips where it must have been feeding! What an awesome garden tick! Combined with a male brambling yesterday and all five species of winter thrush this week I'm not doing too badly!

While at the recycling place at Avonmouth there were hundreds of black-headed gulls, herring gulls and the odd lesser black-backed gull flocking around the waste warehouses! No doubt cashing in on good grub being delivered throughout the day. Along the road pied wagtails and dunnocks were feeding in the slush - no doubt goodies coming off the rubbish trucks' tyres!

On my way home I spotted some starling-like birds and could see they were waxwings too - just a few, but waxwings nonetheless! And once at home some black-headed gulls and herring gulls were flying low over the neighbourhood on their way to roost.

Everywhere you look there really is something to see - I'm going to miss it all while I'm a away for a few days for Christmas! Have a trusty neighbour to feed the garden birds for me though!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Waxwings, common gulls and winter wonderland

After a morning resting fighting off a cold I set off for work - it still hadn't risen above minus 4.5 degrees Celsius.

The garden had been busy this morning - I threw out the leftovers of a chicken carcass and attracted a dozen black-headed gulls, a few herring gulls and....a rarity in Bristol, a common gull. Despite being common in urban areas in the south-east they stick to the hills in the west.

I went to work via Avonmouth hoping to spot some waxwings that had been seen yesterday. I wasn't disappointed - 7 were resting and feeding on some snow covered berries and I got some lovely views. A few fieldfares were having their share too. The odd lapwing flew overhead.

The trees everywhere were covered in harsh frost and even snow around Avonmouth. The Downs in Bristol looked stunning.

To help get us all in the Christmas spirit we had a carol service in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building at lunch time - wonderful. And then battling in a freezing cold office I left a little early to continue getting over my cold and reminisce on the waxwings!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Big Freeze

Wow! Seems a long time since I last made a post. It's been a busy three months with the Bristol Dinosaur Project, leading bird identification courses and various appearances on tv and local radio!
Despite the big freeze across the UK we seemed to have come off pretty lightly in Bristol receiving only a light dusting. It's still incredibly cold outside though, not rising much above freezing. I've been putting some apples out in the garden which have been welcomed by the blackbirds. I spotted a male blackcap today too, a visitor from Germany while a mistle thrush was cocking its tail and getting a good view of the neighbourhood on top of the sycamore tree outside my flat. Yesterday I spotted 30 lapwings flying south across Henbury, no doubt escaping the snow further north. Be interesting to see how the next few days pan out - it should be getting a little warmer.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Centennial Egg - a piece I did for Miles Barton, producer for the BBC Natural History Unit

Filming for the One Show

I've just been filming with presenter Miranda Kestovnikoff for the One Show talking about about eagle owls and in particular Oscar the eagle owl, who became a star in this part of Bristol. Oscar was living in the wild around Biological Sciences and while we can't rule out him coming from captivity, it is possible he was a truly wild bird.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Reporting on cirl buntings for Radio 4's Saving Species

Yesterday I was reporting on cirl buntings for Radio 4's Saving Species, interviewing the RSPB about their current translocation programme where they are moving young birds from Devon to Cornwall. The show is repeated this Thursday at 9pm and can be heard on bbc iPlayer at this link:

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Seabirds, swallows and sunshine

Wow! Where does three weeks go!
Had an amazing holiday with the dive club down in Skomer - perfect weather, calm sea, wonderful people and great wildlife. I got to do five dives, see my first wreck, some lovely fishes and ring storm petrels and manx shearwater overnight on Skomer - something I've always wanted to do.

On return I ringed some baby swallows at a stable and took part in the annual Canada goose ringing at Chew Valley Lake. I also reported on the translocation of young cirl buntings by the RSPB from Devon to Cornwall - soon to appear on the BBC Radio 4's Savings Species.

Meanwhile, my work with the Bristol Dinosaur Project is going well - I've successfully visited two schools now trying out some ideas and have been getting to grips with the website and HTML coding today. I just can't do the coding so have resorted to using Dreamweaver - I'm too much of a visual learner to do without it!

Have been enjoying watching parties of swifts screaming over Clifton in the past few days. On the weekend  while ringing on the Severn Estuary I saw streams of swifts moving through south - no doubt birds all ready on the move. It only seems like yesterday they were arriving.

Me with an manx shearwater (left) and a baby swallow (right)

Monday, 21 June 2010

It's been all go in recent weeks with the Festival of Nature weekend before last in which thousands of people came down to the harbourside to celebrate nature in Bristol. After a busy week at work with the Bristol Dinosaur Project I was leading a peregrine family event with Mandy Leivers on the Downs on Saturday before enjoying an afternoon at a school fete with my goddaughter. This week I'm enjoying some ringing down on Skomer and hoping to catch lots of storm petrels. The weather's looking good for it so finger's crossed I can get to the island ok.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Featured on Springwatch

Last night I featured on BBC Springwatch colour ringing peregrines in the Avon Gorge with the help of ringers from the British Mountaineering Council and Martin Hughes Games from Springwatch. If you missed it last night log on to the BBC iPlayer at - the story is around 45mins into the show! 

I also featured as the wildlife expert with presenter Faye Dicker on BBC Radio Bristol's Springwatch Wild Day Out at Cadbury Heath on Saturday - listen again on iPlayer for the 2nd hour of the programme at

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Brecon Beacons, baby birds and camping

As summer is in full flow, the countryside is abound with birds busily collecting food for chicks, fledgelings are leaving their nests, country lanes are filled with flowers of every colour.....and I was fortunate enough to take in these wonders in rural Wales last weekend when I stayed with friends near Hay on Wye. Camping on a beautiful farm with highland cattle (and 3 week old calves), rolling hills and birdsong everywhere, it was a delight to be away and out of mobile phone reception! Birds which are declining across the UK were doing well in this valley - singing redstarts, spotted flycatcher, curlews, lapwings, cuckoo, little owl, stock doves along with tawny owls, red kites and buzzards were all around! I even heard a tawny owl calling at 12pm! Birds had nests everywhere - I found a chaffinch nests with four almost-ready to fledge babies and the next day a fledgling goldfinch which I managed to ring! Its siblings were nearby in the hedge! On the Sunday we went to Hay on Wye Festival - a hazy day of culture, marquees, talks and sunshine!

At the end of this week I finished my second week at the learning officer for the Bristol Dinosaur Project at the University of Bristol. I've had a really great transition, meeting lovely people and enjoying getting my head down and preparing for the Festival of Nature in Bristol next weekend. I'll be there representing the project with a brilliant activity for families as well as taking families on a wildlife boat tour of the harbour and chairing a 'dream job' session where children can find out more about how to get into their favourite job.

On Saturday I joined BBC Radio Bristol and presenter Faye Dicker at the Springwatch Wild Day Out in Cadbury Heath, answering listener's wildlife questions for an hour. The afternoon was spent enjoying time with friends in my dive club with a BBQ followed by an evening out.

Today I've had an early start, getting to Craig Cerrig Gleisiad in the Brecon Beacons with Mike to look for ring ouzels. At 8.30am it was already hot and before I had even got out of the car a beautiful singing tree pipit was serenading from a nearby tree. It took some work, but after a good walk we found some ring ouzels along with a spotted flycatcher, pied flycatcher, plenty of willow warblers, a cuckoo and a male bullfinch. On our way back we stopped off near Abergavenny and caught up with some whinchats, stonechats and a very rare warbler normally found on the Spanish Islands called a Marmora's warbler. We snatched some good views and heard its lovely song before it flew off into the heather!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Bristol Dinosaur job

Well, I'm three days into my new job as the Bristol Dinosaur Education Officer. I've got a nice office with four post-docs in the Will's Memorial Building - from one beautiful building to another!! The team I'll be working with are away at the moment but I've got plenty to be getting on with, especially looking at our offer for schools. Bristol has its very own dinosaur, called Thecodontosaurus or Theco for short and the three year project will enable the people of Bristol to learn all about the dinosaur and much more of course! Here's to the next three years!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Peregrines, BBC, Bioblitz and Naturetrek!

Wow - what a week it's been.

Not only was it my last week working for Bristol's Museums, Galleries & Archives, I also manage to fit in two days of tour leading on the Somerset Levels, ringing the Avon Gorge chicks (which was also filmed for BBC Springwatch) and be involved with Bristol's Bioblitz at Blaise Castle Estate.

The tour leading on the Levels was amazing. Myself and Charles Martin, on behalf of Naturetrek, took out 16 clients to Ham Wall, Shapwick and West Sedgemoor. Highlights include seeing 8 bitterns, hearing at least 8 different garden warblers, hearing at least 6 different cuckoos, a spotted flycatcher, a red kite and a displaying curlew! And the soundscapes and landscapes at this time of the year were just amazing.

I finished my job after 7 years as a museum learning officer at the City Museum. I had a few tea parties with colleagues and tailed off my week in a really lovely way. I'll miss everyone I worked with but hope to see my colleagues still once I start work tomorrow as the Bristol Dinosaur Education Officer for the University of Bristol.

The Bioblitz at Blaise - a 30 hour trawl of all nature living there by bringing together naturalists and the public was a roaring success. We scooped up 536 species in total including 2 nationally scarce beetles, 50 different species of lichens and a great crested newt! The sunshine was on our side and leading a dawn chorus at 4.30am was the most amazing experience - I'll never forget watching three foxes foraging across the lawns at Blaise!

Thursday saw the ringing of 5 peregrine chicks in Avon Gorge - we thought there were three and what a surprise to have 5. It all went smoothly and should also appear on the BBC's Springwatch in a few weeks time.

Today, I've just got back from filming with Mike Dilger looking at the ringing of the Bath peregrines and my work on the diet of the falcons. We had four chicks to ring with Ade and I sharing the ringing in front of the camera. The Hawk and Owl Trust did an amazing job of setting up the operation for us. The adult peregrines showed well too - the female doing all sorts of stoops and then brought back a pigeon which she plucked in front of us!! We then finished off at Chew Valley Ringing Station to look at feathers and wings that I've found from the Peregrines' diet. This will be shown on BBC Inside Out West in the autumn!

It's still 27 degrees Celsius outside so time to enjoy a beautiful evening before I begin my new job tomorrow.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

checking nest boxes

Had a wonderful evening last night checking nest boxes in a wood near Cheddar. The vista out across Somerset was beautiful and had a stunning view of a peregrine gliding along the cliff edge. Most blue tits are still sitting on eggs but the great tits all had chicks; sadly one nest had been predated - the box was on its side and feathers of an adult below. The chicks had only just hatched but were all dead. Still, hopefully all the other boxes will do much better. As I was walking around checking I heard some lovely birds including a garden warbler, chiffchaff, blackcap, willow warbler and song thrush. A woodpigeon clattered her way off a nest while signs of badgers were evident. Some orchids were just coming out too - common spotteds in flower and butterfly orchids just developing their spikes.


As swifts become ever more scarce and publicity about them rises, I seem to be noticing them more and more.I've seen quite a few this year, mainly on migration where they are flying more deliberately in one direction across the countryside or swarming temporarily over a reedbed. On Thursday I was parking up in Clifton and could hear a more shrill scream of a swift and I looked up to see one flying up under the eaves of a large Georgian house. As I watched further it was having a few attempts at this before eventually I saw it disappear into a hole,  its long tapering wings slowly slithering right in! As it continued to scream, another swift flew low along the house - no doubt a potential mate or another swift on the lookout for a nest site. Here's hoping they successfully breed.

A little earlier I had been at the zoo where they've got some swift boxes set up but I don't think there's any nesting yet - the key to getting swifts into these nests boxes can be to play their screaming sounds which makes it sound as though there are lots of them around! As they come to investigate, they realise the boxes are empty and may well take up residence. It takes a bit of persistence but I know from others in Bristol it does work.

There are some good features this month about swifts in the RSPB's Birds magazine and also birdwatching magazine. There's also more information about how you can help swifts at

Friday, 14 May 2010

Radio 4 programme and booming bitterns

My report on the translocation of field crickets at RSPB Pulborough Brooks was very well received on BBC Radio 4 both on Tuesday morning and last night. It can still be heard on iPlayer via
The programme also covers the fascinating insights into Purple Emperor butterfly caterpillars and the relationship between hummingbirds and plants in South America.

I was doing a recce last night with friend and co-leader Charles Martin for a tour we're doing next week for Naturetrek on the Somerset Levels, After checking the hotel in Wells and having a nice bangers and mash in a nearby pub, we nipped down to the RSPB's Ham Wall reserve and met some very nice cows being used to graze the wetlands. Almost immediately we began hearing bitterns booming, at least three or four. Just amazing. Sedge and reed warblers reeled out from the reeds and a hobby flew low, revealing its grey back and red-orange underparts. Back at the car park, while we listened to my Radio 4 report, a garden warbler sang continuously from a nearby copse while a female cuckoo 'bubbled' away nearby and two male cuckoos followed soon after, 'cuckooing' across Shapwick.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Museum eggs

A busy day at work as I wind down - this is my last week in the office ever! Today I was busy sorting out some of the mounted birds, making sure some of them have the right entry number attributed to them. Meanwhile, a new exhibition, 'Art from the New World' is being set up ready for the opening on Friday, We've also got a local artist's work in the front hall - it's an amazing abstract red carpet, with pieces of the 'fluff' made into sand and sand castles! It's a great piece.

Before leaving work I was finishing off an inventory of some of the bird eggs we have in the handling collection - so far I've labelled around 850 eggs just in the past few weeks. It's been fascinating and while sad that these never got the chance to hatch, we rarely get the chance to see the beauty of wild bird eggs up close. Today I had the opportunity to look at golden eagle, red-throated diver, gannet, red-breasted merganser and lesser whitethroat eggs. They are remarkable to see up close and I'm please we're able to document them for future use at the museum. I also found one or two eggs that must go into the main collection, including a mute swan egg collected from Abbotsbury Swannery in the 1870s!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Reporting on Radio 4 Saving Species tomorrow

I'll be reporting on the release of field crickets on RSPB reserves in West Sussex and Surrey for the BBC's Radio 4 Saving Species programme - Tues 11th, 11am

Sunday, 9 May 2010

badgers, peregrines and eggs

It's been a busy week winding down from my museum job before I begin working for the University of Bristol in a few weeks time - I'll be starting as the Bristol Dinosaur Education Officer! Still, I'm getting there clearing out my drawers, files and e-mails! Meanwhile, I'm also doing an inventory of the bird eggs we have in the learning collection - I've been really absorbed identifying and labelling them and amazing to see the huge variety and handle some very old and unusual eggs such as little auk, stone curlew and red-backed shrike.

Last night I went out badger watching with some friends in the Chew Valley - we got sat ready by 8.45pm and at 9pm, while we could still make out colour, a badger poked its head out of a hole and sniffed around. There was a light wind and our scent was being carried in their direction. It disappeared for a bit but reappeared before having a long poo and scuttling off up into a field nearby. As we waited longer, three more appeared, again poking their heads out and gradually coming out further. By 10pm when it was too dark to see them we had seen six or so. We were also treated by seeing them on a thermal imaging camera courtesy of Howard who had brought it along. We saw two or three venturing out in the dark despite not being able to see them with our naked eyes. We also found a bird roosting up in a tree, looking like a white sphere!

This morning I led a walk at the Newport Wetlands for the Bristol Naturalists Society joined by volunteer wardens Roger and Julie. We had a great time watching the birds and seeing some of the special plants and insects. Some swifts and house martin flew in and fed very close by while pochards, tufted ducks and dabchicks fed in the water. We heard a very distant cuckoo and saw a lovely female marsh harrier. Meanwhile, we watched a peregrine pursue a pigeon and bring it down - a first for many to see. Later, we watched the 2nd year bird just gliding and circling low over the foreshore. Meanwhile, a distant osprey moved in over Cardiff from the estuary.We were lucky to see the caterpillar of a scarlet tiger moth and see the first leaves of a southern marsh orchid. After a quick cuppa, I nipped down to Goldcliff with another member to see the avocets, redshanks and lapwings. We were also treated to a summer-plumaged spotted redshank (splendid bird), a turnstone, male shovelers and many other birds. Finished off watching house martins coming down to collect wet mud by the side of the road!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Early Dawn Chorus at Folly Farm

An early 3.30am start was in order today to meet a group at Folly Farm ( at 4.45am to listen to the dawn chorus. A few robins were just beginning to sing as we set up, quickly followed by song thrushes, blackbirds and the night shift, with two male tawny owls still calling. It wasn't long before wrens, great tits and blue tits started up and later followed by blackcaps and chiffchaffs. It was a pretty cold morning but despite this a group of swallows flew fast and low over the fields and trees on their way north. As we made our way back to bacon butties, we were graced with a beautiful male barn owl quartering a field, followed by some views perched in an tree and then some hunting attempts. The barn owl was a first for most of the group and a great way to finish the walk at 6.30am.

Back in Bristol I was delighted to hear the contact calls of young robins outside my flat - I spotted a parent with food and a little searching later revealed one or two newly fledged chicks with stubby tails and big gapes!
Off to listen for nightingales a little later with friends.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

ringing afternoon

After a nice restful morning, I ventured down to the New Passage, by the Severn Estuary to do some bird ringing. I met with Paul who helps me out and set up the nets in record time. Sedge warblers were singing everywhere!! Despite having them cornered we didn't catch a single one. Instead we caught two blackbirds (which we think were migrants rather than local), four reed warblers (males and females) and three dunnocks, including one which I ringed as a young bird last August. Swallows and house martin flew overhead, a lesser whitethroat sang out from nearby brambles and baby coots could be heard from the nearby pool. A lovely afternoon indeed and we packed up as the temperature dropped and the wind speed increased. Meanwhile, the view from my flat is glorious - all the trees are in leaf and everywhere is looking vividly green.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Reporting for BBC Savings Species

I had an early start today but on a plus side managed to hear the full dawn chorus from my flat as I got ready! Blackbirds and robins were blasting away! I got picked up by Andrew Dawes, BBC at 6am and we travelled down the RSPB's Pulborough Brooks to record the release of some very rare insects, field crickets. It was a brilliant morning and I spent it interviewing contributors involved with the translocation project and met some very nice and passionate people at the same time. I hadn't realised it at the time but I released the very first field cricket at Pulborough for the first time in history!! An awesome moment indeed! The piece is aired on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 11am and again Thursday 9pm.

Meanwhile, a cuckoo called and flew nearby, the scratchy songs of whitethroats could be heard and great spotted woodpeckers drummed throughout the morning.

We then moved on to another RSPB site where we released some more field crickets, including two full adult females - the have a beautiful golden sheen! It was wonderful seeing them being translocated and successfully released.

Here is an adult female field cricket just after release - she's as rare as gold dust, which also looks like what has been sprinkled over her body! This translocated individual was soon looking for somewhere to live in the soft, spongy grass/soil.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Newport Wetlands

Just back from a lovely morning birding with friend Mike on the Newport Wetlands,

We saw a brilliant cuckoo sat on a pylon, tons of sedge warblers singing away mimicking other birds (including willow warbler), reed warblers grating from the reeds, whimbrels bubbling on the mud and whitethroats and lesser whitethroats singing from the hedgerows. We also watched redshanks displaying, while oystercatchers, avocets and lapwings sat tight on nests. Spring's definitely here! Other highlights included bullfinch, wheatear, little grebes and skylarks.

ringing baby ringed plovers

This warm weather has been great for our spring migrants. Now the prevailing wind has gone from north to south, many of our spring migrants should have an extra boost as they make their one into the UK.
After a wonderful bird ID walk I was leading on the Downs yesterday I had a lovely walk with a friend down at Chew Valley Lake. Reed warblers were singing away, busily setting up new territories - my first ones this year.

I then zipped back to Bristol to help Lyndon Roberts ring a family of one day ringed plover chicks - there were four eggs, but two disappeared, and the remaining two hatched!! They were incredibly difficult to see - their cryptic colours hide them very well indeed!

I then went off to try and ring some raven chicks in a quarry - sadly the nest was empty. We think the young may have been predated and saw the parents nearby but they weren't showing any interest. Got some good views of a peregrine though in lovely evening sunlight.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Adders and ravens

For my 30th birthday earlier in the week I took a trip with friend Jo to the Forest of Dean, hoping for some spring migrants. I wasn't disappointed and caught up with a most stunning male pied flycatcher singing and checking out a nest site at the RSPB's Nagshead reserve, Nearby a male wood warbler was singing while the muddy signs of wild boar were evident!! A family of 20 piglets (or are they called boarlets!) had apparently been in the muddy pool a little early. You could see where mum had rubbed her muddy body against an oak tree. We tried to follow their track but to no avail!

We then popped over to New Fancy View and spotted 7 or 8 female fallow deer and found a basking adder! My second ever and this time I didn't try to pick it up!!

Later in the week I organised two climbers from the British Mountaineering Council
to visit a raven's nest in the Avon Gorge with thanks to the National Trust, There were two chicks in the nest, around three and a half weeks old. They had unique ID metal rings put on their right legs and were then safely put back into their nest. They should leave the nest in two or three weeks time.

This morning I've just got back from leading a birdsong identification walk for Mandy Leivers and the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project, Last night I was showing images and playing birdsong as preparation for then going out today and putting it all into practice. Blackbirds, songthrushes, robins, blackcaps, dunnocks and chiffchaffs were all singing away. Highlights included a treecreeper and a male roe deer sprinting across the Downs!!

Monday, 19 April 2010


It's surreal looking up to the sky and not seeing any planes or exhaust trails! A remarkable situation of how the effects of a volcano has ground all nothern European flights. It's fascinating following the stories of how people are coping, many taking long car or rail journeys across Europe to get back and also the impact on industry such as fruit and flowers which would normally be exported to the UK but instead are staying put. I've got friends stuck out in India, one's a teacher - no doubt many schools will be missing many of their teachers today. Apparently volcanic ash did settle on cars in the west region over night. I must have a look outside and see for myself!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Dawn Chorus 2 and Med Gull corpse!

Yesterday's dawn chorus went really well - 35 people turned up for 6.30am at Snuff Mills, on the river Frome and the birds sounded great. I arrived at 6am and the sounds were even more tremendous and also heard a few kingfishers. The walk was rewarding with plenty of wrens, robins, blackbirds and chiffchaffs singing away. The bonus bird was a dipper flying at canopy level upstream - they've been a bit scarce at this site in recent years so this was a good spot. Two crows were incubating eggs in nests, green woodpeckers laughed around us and jays accompanied us throughout.

Popped over to meet a friend in Bath for a cuppa before coming home via Chew Valley Lake (swallows over pool) and back home for a rest. Well, almost - I got a tip off that a Mediterranean Gull corpse was down by the Severn Estuary. I quickly nipped down, like a 10 year old all over again on an intrepid adventure to look for something exciting. I found the bird - well, the head and wings. It looked like it had been eaten by the local peregrines. A new species for my feather and skull collection. Amazing seeing the white wings, deep red beak and black head feathers (compare the black-headed gull's brown head feathers!). Finally, it was time for a snooze and a rest!

Tonight there is hazy sunshine across north-west Bristol and lots of lovely birdsong; robins and blackbirds singing away before day gives way to tonight! Time for dinner I reckon.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

dawn chrous

Just been out to lead a dawn chorus walk for the friends of Trooper's Hill ( - a heathland reserve (unique in Bristol) in St George. It was bright, sunny and mild with robins, blackcaps and blackbirds in full gusto! It was great to get out and connect with these birds. Others included wrens, dunnock, chiffchaffs, a green woodpecker and a willow warbler. Additionally, a pair of chaffinches were displaying and had it not been for us coming along, almost mating!!

Spring is definitely here. Off now to see what I can find on the foreshore down on the Severn Estuary - perhaps a sedge warbler or something.

Doing another dawn chorus tomorrow for the friends of Snuff Mills ( along the river Frome.


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Porthkerris coastline

The coastline at Porthkerris:

Scuba diving at Porthkerris

It's been a busy few weeks - two weeks ago I was away for four days with the University of Bristol Underwater Club. We went down to Porthkerris on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall to get our scuba diving skills ticked off and to enjoy some underwater diving. It was an amazing four days both with regards diving and socially with everyone from the club. I managed to get to down to 14.4 metres and saw everything from a conger eel to crabs, starfish and small corals. On one boat dive we went down to a sandy bottom and saw lots of hermit crabs, edible crabs, two thornback rays and collected a number of scallops to eat later. The weather changed by the hour and birds varied from gannets close to shore to fulmars whipping past the cliff edges. Stonechats sang in the bushes above and while getting one of the boats on to the sea a black redstart flew across the shingle.

Since then it's been busy at work, although this Easter weekend was a great opportunity for a well earned break. Did a little bird ringing on Good Friday seeing my first swallows of the year down by the Severn Estuary and ringed a chiffchaff, a willow warbler, a male reed bunting and a wren. This was followed by a really lovely friend's wedding on Saturday and a break at home on the Sunday and Monday!

Just watching some chiffchaffs or willow warblers, possibly the latter, in the sycamore tree outside my flat window before I get ready for work. They are busily gleaning insects from the trees which is just beginning to burst its buds.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Observance of Commonwealth Day

The Observance of Commonwealth Day. On Monday I went to Westminster Abbey for the service to which the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago also attended (and 2,000 other delegates including school children). The service had representation from the different faiths and all the Commonwealth counties. It included key speakers such as Lord Robert Winston - the speeches and activities all related to the Science, Technology and Society theme. At the end of the service the Queen laid a wreath with the help of Savita, Director of the Natural History Consortium and then on her exit from the abbey, Martha from Kenya and Gotham from India were are at the entrance to hand the Queen and Camilla some flowers. David Hill, Uni of Bristol, and I were stood nearby with the flag bearers and the choir as they came out. The results of the Bioblitz will be submitted to Buckingham Palace (BP) with the view to seeing if the Consortium can do a bioblitz of the BP gardens to help promote our work further.

This evening there was a stakeholders event at the zoo for the Bristol Natural History Consortium to celebrate a year of activity in 2009 and the local and national projects (including what we've just done) that will be running in 2010 - the Year of Biodiversity. The museum will be involved at the three main events the Consortium runs - the Bristol Festival of Nature, Bioblitz and Communicate conference. It was a great evening with a fab presentation by Savita and Sara and met some wonderful people from organisations across the city and beyond.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Showreel hot off the press

I'm very excited as hot off the press is my new showreel:

covering a story about peregrines hunting at night, looking for berries in the Avon Gorge and the process of ringing birds at Chew Valley Ringing Station.

A huge thanks to Rob Morgan and Jeremy DeCoursey for all their time devoted to the amazing creative editing and Rob's producing and directing, Theo Webb for his advice and camera work (and camera!) and Claire Thompson for logistical and photography support on the day - I'm incredibly grateful to you all! Thank you.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Bioblitz in Westminster Abbey Gardens

Thursday was an exciting day as I was doing a Bioblitz for the celebration of Commonwealth Day in the gardens of Westminster Abbey - this year's theme is Science, Technology and Society. With Savita Custead, Director of the Bristol Natural History Consortium, David Hill, University of Bristol (and lichen guru!), a consultant from the Commonwealth Societies we worked with Martha from Kenya and Gotham from India to find as much nature in the gardens as possible. We found all sorts of plants, many native, others from abroad, various birds and of course lichens (21 species believe it or not)! Highlights included a pair of Peregrines flying in and landing on the Houses of Parliament just 40 metres away and Great Tits busily singing and chasing each other!

On Monday there will the Observance of Commonwelth Day at Westminster Abbey where the Queen will find out more about what we have been doing. Savita, Martha and Gotham will present the Queen with a wreath and those of us involved will get the chance to mingle with the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla! This is a great way in which all the Bioblitzes happening across the UK can be publicised and be given some national and international recognition.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Leading bid ID course 28th March

I'll be leading a Spring Bird ID course at Folly Farm in the Chew Valley on Sunday 28th March 2010 (with a particular focus on learning bird song).

1pm – 5pm
As the days lengthen and spring is on the horizon, birds are busily preparing for the breeding season – this is an ideal time to get out and explore the stunning 250 acre nature reserve of Folly Farm and learn how to identify the variety of birds singing around the reserve from song thrushes to wrens and chiffchaffs to chaffinches.
Join me in the journey of exploration around Folly Farm with practical and theory sessions.
Cost £35

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Naturetrek on the Levels

Just back from leading an amazing tour for Naturetrek on the Somerset Levels. This tour around the Somerset Levels in late February was a brilliant opportunity to see the diversity and abundance of waterfowl using wetlands during the winter. Touring across the many reserves large numbers of Shovelers, Wigeon, Pintail, Teal, Mallards, Golden Plovers and Lapwings were a highlight. All the expected raptors revealed themselves over the reedbeds on the second day while Cetti’s Warblers sang explosively and Water Rails squealed from the reeds. Otter spraints and diet remains were easily found. The group weren’t disappointed by the million of starlings which are now famous for their huge gatherings as they come to roost in the reedbeds. The flocks came in on a beautiful sunny evening, swirling and twisting to avoid aerial predators. The last few hours of the tour really were an amazing spectacle!! Bitterns showed from time to time too over the two days and we heard some 'booming'. This photo is of an immature female peregrine as she flew overhead giving awesome views!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Meeting Price Edward

Monday was a true adventure with a colleague to Windsor Castle to receive an award from Prince Charles. I picked up the Sandford Award on behalf of the learning team at Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery - a recognition our high quality heritage offer to schools. Prince Edward was very nice to meet and after the ceremony my colleague Rita and I got to have a little chat with him when he began mingling. It was very exciting and a true privilege. The castle itself was beautiful with some amazing artifacts from the bullet that killed Nelson, an Ingot crown to Napolean's cloak!! A very special day indeed.

A trip to the Exe

After Saturday's Somerset delights, it was a mid-morning Sunday start to the Exe Estuary to give the bird commentary on the RSPB's avocet cruise. I went with a birding friend Dave and popped in to Dawlish Warren first to try and track down a surf scoter from North America - this type of duck is rare in the UK. As we scanned out to sea there were lots of common scoters and after 15 minutes or so Dave found the surf scoter - it has a steep Roman-nosed beak and a tail that sticks out of the water! Dave also managed to seek out a red-throated diver and two black-throated divers!

The cruise went well (photos to follow!) and we had some warm, very pleasant winter sunshine. It was so relaxing - I got very sleepy mid-way through (fortunately not when I was doing the commentary!!). The birds showed well including four great northern divers (just metres away from the boat with one only a foot or two away), two slavonian grebes, brent geese, shags and lots of avocets, godwits and other wading birds. There was a kingfsher in Starcross and turnstones busily turning the seaweed - it looked alive from a distance!!

To finish off the day we popped back to Dawlish catching up with the scoters on a now calm sea and spotted a gannet on the horizon. Eight black-necked grebes were on the sea further down the coast while herring gulls chilled out nearby, hoping for someone's hot donut or other scrap!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Somerset Levels' delights

Popped down to the Levels today for a Starling Bonanza with Stephen Moss, family and friends. Was a brilliant afternoon on Shapwick - lovely February sunshine despite the chilly temperatures. Amongst the waterfowl I got to see a striking male goldeneye, a whooper swan (usually upending) and the great white egret. Over on Ham Wall the starlings showed off incredibly well, literally coming down into the reeds in front of us. This was one of the best displays I've seen in many years. The presence of a few sparrowhawks, a marsh harrier and a peregrine (more distant) helped to produce some great twirls and sudden twists in the floating swarm. As most settled, some of the trees looked like burnt logs. There were at least two albino starlings - I spotted one! Just as it couldn't get any better Stephen shouted glossy ibises - flying over the reserve were three of these heron like birds with down-curved beaks. Awesome! The starlings meanwhile were still zooming around with more flocks coming in and others behind. Slowly, the light faded, the birds settled and it was time to head back to Mark for some dinner and socialising.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Phew!! A busy few weeks and culminating in me being ill in bed for past two days! Still feeling much better now. Last week I was tour leading for Naturetrek. With Charles Martin as my co-leader, we spent two wonderful days with 16 clients exploring the Somerset Levels. Despite overcast and rainy weather we saw all the likely suspects (Lapwings, Wigeon, Shovelers...) in good numbers and had a few scarcer birds including Whooper and Bewick's Swans, Long-tailed Duck and a Great White Egret. The Starlings performed well too - swirling in their masses some distance away from Shapwick where we were expecting them; however they suddenly changed direction and flew straight overhead towards Ham Wall. An awesome experience - just the pattering sounds of their wings could be heard as they passed over.

On Saturday I spent the day doing some bird ID tutoring - we visited Marshfield in the morning catching up with Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings; in the afternoon Slimbridge WWT gave good views of Bewick's Swans and many other waterfowl and wading birds!

Sunday was then a fun day out with the University of Bristol SCUBA diving club - we ventured down to the south coast. The first two sites were too murky so we finished off in the brackish water between Weymouth and Portland - I managed to tick off a few skills and see some anemones, crabs and mud!! The nearby pub was a warming reward after before heading back to Bristol.

Today was the launch of the Bristol House Sparrow Project - check out where you can report any House Sparrows you see and help us help Bristol's House Sparrows! We launched the project with St Mary Redcliffe Primary School in Victoria Park, south Bristol.

Monday, 1 February 2010

France and Exe Estuary

It's been a busy few weeks. Last weekend I travelled to Orleans, France - 6 hours south of Boulogne- to deliver some possessions to my brother and his family living out there. The ferry trip was exciting with some great birds including over hundred gannets, a harbour porpoise, 4 great skuas and over 300 cormorants stood on a metal platform! The fields along the journey were very bland - huge expanses of monotonous, open country, rather like parts of East Anglia. There were few birds, although one field had around 8 brown hares chasing each other. In the suburbs south of Orleans I found a female lesser spotted woodpecker - a real highlight, while lots of sparrows were inhabiting a bush nearby. The ferry back was just as interesting with Mediterranean gulls on the lamp posts at the hypermarket and more in the port. Over 10,000 herring gulls were loafing around while over 100 starlings came to roost on the nearby cranes. At least four black-necked grebes were diving in the port and as we left I put my binoculars up, revealing over 100 great crested grebes sitting on the sea just out of Boulogne.

This Saturday I was tutoring a friend and we went down to Bowling Green Marsh to develop more bird ID skills and try out some survey work. The sounds of the wigeon calling was beautiful and the hedges were alive with robins, dunnocks, goldfinches and greenfinches. A weasel even joined in the fun and came too and fro on a log by the lane. On the mud black-tailed godwits gave out their quivering calls while some avocets fed nearby - close enough for a few nice photos.

Later, I was giving commentary on the RSPB's avocet cruise with Charles Martin. It was a full boat with over 100 people, gorgeous sunshine and plenty of wildlife. Highlights included 3, yes 3 great northern divers, 2 black-necked grebes, a grey seal, lots of avocets, a goosander, a tufted duck and the usual shags, gulls and mergansers.

Monday, 18 January 2010

A morning on the harbour

A delightful morning with a school group on one of the Bristol Ferries. We were exploring the Floating Harbour environment - mainly the man-made part but naturally I was sharing the wildlife and plants to be seen! The cormorants were showing well with one or two popping up from under water right by the boat to the delight of the children. As we sailed past the Arnolfini a few coots were feeding - an unusual sight in the harbour (no doubt also displaced by the cold weather) - and four cormorants, some now in summer plumage, were standing on the jetty. The class were really engaged, busily taking notes, drawing down things on their maps and enjoying the smells, sounds and sights of the Bristol Floating Harbour!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

A wonderful day out in the countryside! This morning I was ringing in a garden in Severn Beach while tutoring a friend about bird identification - a glorious morning with plenty of skylarks moving overhead, heading north (presumably back to where they came from prior to the cold weather move). Lots of bluetits and great tits in the net including a control that I ringed on the foreshore in May 2008 as a 1st summer bird. Also caught and ringed my first pied wagtail - a smart bird indeed.

In the afternoon we headed off to the Somerset Levels to look for some reedbed birds and wait for the starling spectacular. There was plenty of winter ducks around. Highlights included a sparrowhawk dashing into a bush full of birds at the same time a cat also made a run for the bush. The sparrowhawk appeared to catch something but I think the surprise of the cat made it let go and it flew off empty handed. Later, an alder tree full of 30 or so busy redpolls feeding away was a treat.

Around 4.25pm the starlings appeared and performed well - swirling and gushing through the air before funnelling into the reeds like black smoke. Meanwhile, a huge long line of starlings crossed the skies before also pouring into the reedbeds on the horizon. A truly wonderful experience, shared by 100 or so other people also descending upon the now popular venue!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Proof that peregrines hunt at night

The evidence at last - 100% proof to support my work on on the diet of peregrines, in particular that they hunt birds such as woodcock at night:

Friends Nick Brown and Nick Moyes of the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project have captured this amazing footage of a peregrine bringing back a live woodcock back to the cathedral at night. More more details available at their blog:

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Despite the snow, I had a lovely day out in Somerset checking out places to go for two tours myself and Charles Martin are doing for Naturetrek next month on the Someset Levels. All the main roads were clear of snow and we managed to get to Wells in good time to look around the hotel where we and clients will be staying. We then ventured into the countryside to log distances between the hotel and places we want to visit, plus pubs for soup lunch!! Everywhere was still very white and near Wells you could see where the snow had drifted into the hedgerows. We even passed a snow plough - haven't seen one of those for many years!! Warm air from the east meant temperatures stayed around 3 degrees Celsius all day - you could see grass tufts appearing in fields throughout the day as the snow began the melt and thin. We didn't go down to any of the nature reserves and from the main roads there was little wildlife to see, just a few kestrels, buzzards, fresh mole hills and a heron standing by a frozen dyke. There were quite number of blackbirds and redwings feeding by the roadside verges which were free of snow however - and bizarrely a song thrush hanging dead from a hawthorn bush. Sadly some of the thrushes were looking weak and we saw at least 4 which had been hit by cars. In Langport centre a tame redwing was pecking away at the snow (not sure what it was eating) - a blackbird was doing the same a little later. After getting our tasks done we headed back to Bristol - near Temple Meads Station over 60 fieldfares were busily jostling in the berry laden trees! Got back around 4pm after a full day out and just in time to see if there were any birds in the garden. Couldn't see any but the apples I had put out had been pretty much eaten! All ready for another week!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Well, with temperatures down to minus 7 degrees Celsius it was another chilly night. I waited to hear whether the museum was open. It was but my line manager advised me to stay put and I had various things to keep me busy. It was an incredibly bright, sunny day and everywhere looked pure white!! Temperatures remains below freezing so little melted.
I also got up rather early to speak on BBC Radio Bristol and encourage people to feed their birds - hopefully lots of people are putting out fruit and other titbits.
Had a fieldfare in the garden which was a first and plenty of redwing flying around. A female blackbird was discreetly feeding on an apple I put out - I'm so pleased she found it as hopefully she laid down enough fat to see her through the night. It's going to be pretty cold tonight too but should be able to get into work - I have a school booked in doing a classification and taxonomy workshop!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Heavy snow hits Bristol!

After weather forecasts predicting heavy snow over southern England, it was no surprise that we had a complete white out overnight! Checking when I woke at 3am there was certainly a lot of snow out there, and even more when I woke at 6am! Checking with my manager, I ventured into work on foot as car was impossible and buses were cancelled. I had a 2 hour walk into work but through Blaise Woods it was beautiful! Even once I was walking through neighbourhoods and down Whiteladies Road it still felt very special - everywhere looked transformed! I got into work at 10am and spent a few hours there before the museum was closed at 12.30pm and we were asked to leave at 1pm. Managed to get the bus to the top of Blackboy Hill and then walked home - again some great scenery and lots of people having fun! Lots of bird movement too - redwings, fieldfares and skylarks overhead, no doubt moving to areas clear of snow! Once I got home I rallied together with neighbours to clear the road hill as cars weren't able to get up and a car park was forming at the bottom! An amazing day - snow always makes it a very different day and an exciting adventure!
City Museum, Bristol

Monday, 4 January 2010

A frozen Bristol

There's something magic about a crisp, freezing day (minus 4 degrees Celsius, pretty cold for Bristol) contrasting with the warm, winter sunshine, subtly melting any frost it may hover over. I popped over to Brandon Hill at lunchtime for some fresh air away from the warm, stuffy office. Wrapped up warm I enjoyed sitting on the bench looking out across Bristol. The freezing fog was lifting and the city loomed below, starting up again after the Christmas break. In front of me three blackbirds happily foraged - despite the freezing weather they seemed to be finding various invertebrates. A female found a worm, although it did look half frozen as she struggled to swallow it down! A redwing darted off into the bushes while a robin stood on the path. As I closed my eyes in the warming light I prepared myself to get back to the office and some afternoon work! When I got back to the car this evening everywhere was being cloaked in fine white crystals again in the early evening freezing temperatures. It was already minus 2 degrees Celsius. The air was dry and I had a fine, brisk walk back to Clifton before trying the icy roads!!