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.