Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Trip away from SS15 – Rochford – 11th May 2021

This morning I had a visit to see a male Woodchat Shrike just to the east of Rochford town centre.

The Woodchat Shrike is a rare visitor to the UK and this particular bird was first reported at this location on 1st May 2021.

Due to the cold spring weather plus some strong winds and heavy rain, I had expected the bird to move on quickly but it has continued to be reported on a daily basis. With good weather yesterday and a good weather forecast for this morning plus an early morning record of the bird today, I decided to make the bus and train journey to see it.

After a short walk from Rochford station, I easily found the location of the bird from directions given on the Internet and when I arrived there were around 10 socially-distanced birders.

Within 5 minutes, the male Woodchat Shrike appeared and perched at the top of a bush some distance away. Over the course of the next 30 minutes or so, the bird occasionally left what was clearly its favoured hunting perch but it always returned to it.

Despite the bird being a considerable distance away, it provided exceptional views in the sunshine with binoculars. I was also able to get a few record photos with my 100-400mm lens fully extended and with a 1.4x teleconvertor (equivalent to 1200mm on my micro 4/3 camera) and then I additionally cropped the best on my PC.

This was my third UK record of Woodchat Shrike (after males at Kelling Hard, Norfolk on 27th June 1993 and at Great Orme, Conwy on 2nd October 2006) and my first record for my home County of Essex.

This record was obviously an addition to my 2021 UK year list, taking it to 111 species. This is still well down on the number of species that I would normally have seen by mid-May due to the absence of winter visits and limited spring visits arising from the Covid-19 related travel restrictions.

The Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) is a member of the shrike family Laniidae. The genus name, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for "butcher" and some shrikes are also known as "butcher birds" because of their habit of impaling corpses of insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians on thorns or barbed wire. The specific name senator is Latin for "senator", so-named because the male bird's chestnut cap recalled the colour of the stripe on the toga of a Roman senator.

The Woodchat Shrike breeds across southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East in open cultivated country with scattered trees and bushes and it winters across tropical central Africa. It often overshoots its breeding range on spring migration and it is a rare, but annual, visitor to the UK. During my trips to southern Europe, I have seen hundreds of Woodchat Shrikes, especially in Andalucia in southern Spain but also in northern Greece and Bulgaria.

Distribution map of Woodchat Shrike (orange = summer/breeding range, blue = winter range)

During my visit this morning, I also recorded the following species at the site ....

Common Whitethroat: 3 singing males at least

Lesser Whitethroat: 2 singing males at least (heard only)

Blackcap: 1 male

Chiffchaff: 1 singing male (heard only)

Reed Bunting: 1 male

Greenfinch: 1 singing male (heard only)

Great Spotted Woodpecker: 2 seen in flight together 

I also saw a single Peacock and 2 Orange Tips.

Whilst waiting for my return train at Rochford station, I saw a Common Buzzard soaring high over the town and heard at least one "screaming" Swift and a singing male Blackcap.

After recently seeing a dead Hedgehog on the rear lawn of the block of flats where I live (see here), I sadly saw another today when I walked over to Asda to catch my bus to Billericay station. This animal was clearly a road casualty.

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Sunday, 9 May 2021

Garden Warbler at Asda!

I didn't have a visit to any of my local patch sites this morning but I did walk over to Asda after the weekly Self-Isolating Bird Club programme followed by a special Skydancer Day - Hen Harrier Day programme had finished.

The northern edge of the Asda site is bordered by some bushes and trees and, as I walked alongside these towards the car park, I heard a bird song which initially reminded me of a male Blackcap.

I quickly realised that it wasn't this species but the closely related Garden Warbler. The bird sang for a few minutes but I wasn't able to see it in the dense vegetation. Nonetheless, it was my first record of Garden Warbler for 2021.

Interestingly, since my last visit to Asda, someone has erected 2 home-made nestboxes in this area of bushes and trees.

Here is the song of the Garden Warbler .... 

.... and here are 2 of my photos of Garden Warbler ....

Photo: Garden Warbler at RSPB Ynys-hir, Ceredigion

Photo: Garden Warbler at RSPB Ham Wall, Somerset

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Record from my flat - Hedgehog

The close of this year's Hedgehog Awareness Week saw my first record of a Hedgehog within the immediate area of the block of flats where I live.

Unfortunately, the record was a sad one given that the Hedgehog that I saw this morning on the rear lawn of the communal garden was dead.

Hedgehogs are predated by both Red Foxes and Badgers. I see Red Foxes regularly in both my street and around the flats and I suspect it was one of these animals that was responsible, unless of course illness or disease was the cause.

Nonetheless, given the massive decrease in the population of Hedgehogs across the UK, it is encouraging that this species is present in the immediate and surrounding areas of where I live.

The only sighting that I have previously had of a live Hedgehog was a presumed juvenile as I walked home down Church Hill from an evening visit to the area around St. Nicholas Church on 29th July 2020.

I am now off to research Hedgehog feeding in gardens ....

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Stay safe, stay well, stay strong, stay connected with nature

Today is Europe Day

Today is Europe Day.

Europe Day is a day which celebrates peace and unity in Europe on 5th May by the Council of Europe and on 9th May by the European Union.

The first recognition of Europe Day was by the Council of Europe and was introduced in 1964. The European Union later started to celebrate its own Europe Day in commemoration of the 1950 Schuman Declaration, leading it to be referred to by some as "Schuman Day" or "Day of the united Europe".

For many people in our country, working in a peaceful co-operative partnership with our friends in Europe remains very important.

Let’s never forget that only 37% of the electorate voted for Brexit and many of those either did not understand the implications due to the failure and refusal to explain them or were taken in by the lies, deception or economy with the truth deliberately peddled by the "Leave" campaign.

Let's not forget that opinion polls following the 2016 referendum and until our eventual departure from the EU consistently showed a growing "remain" view and that our Government blindly pushed on with its ill-informed and ill-judged project to permanently damage the UK.

The UK now sits in glorious isolation as an island in the Atlantic, located lost at sea somewhere geographically and geopolitically between the US and the EU, our former strategic partners. 

There are dark clouds above the “sunlit uplands” that we were promised as the impacts for our economy and society grow by the day, not to mention the threats to peace in Northern Ireland, the slowly growing nationalism in Wales and the now inevitability of Scottish independence.

Brexit is a folly, an absurdity, an aberration …. but regretfully it has happened.


Brexit, as we are discovering every day, has no advantages and just huge disadvantages …. lots of them.

Brexit is a catastrophe which will affect the lives of millions and it is already destroying businesses and livelihoods.


Brexit is going to set our nation back decades.

The self-proclaimed “World King” (that clown and buffoon Johnson) and his band of flag-waving Brexiteer fanatics are wholly responsible for the decline and break up of our nation.

Never mind, at least for now and until common sense prevails and the UK rejoins the EU and the European family, flying the Union Jack will make us all feel so much better and allow us to move on from the worst foreign policy decision in our nation’s history ….

"Your flag is just a little bit small"

More flag news

More on those bloody flags

And if that fails to inspire the population, we could always dust down the Spitfires and battleships and go to war over fish.

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Stay safe, stay well, stay strong, stay connected with nature

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Swift mapper

The UK's Swifts are in trouble. It is estimated that their population has deceased by 57% between 1995 and 2017, primarily due to the application of pesticides and habitat destruction which has affected their insect food supply. The modernisation of many buildings has also resulted in the loss of roof nesting sites. More information can be found at Swift Conservation.

The RSPB have launched their Swift mapper which can be found here. This enables anyone to easily record their Swift sightings and contribute to the national database.

As I did last year, I will uploading my Swift sightings to Swift mapper.

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Friday, 7 May 2021

The Swifts are back!

I saw my first Swifts of 2021 on my visit to RSPB Canvey Wick on 5th May 2021.

This was followed by my first Swifts of the year at my St. Nicholas Church local patch site on 7th May 2021.

These birds really are one of the sights and sounds of summer as they scythe through the sky with their "screaming" calls.

Today I found the following beautiful image on social media .... “Swifts Return” by Norfolk based artist, Niki Bowers.

Having found her website, there is another wonderful image: The First Swifts”.

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More on Hedgehogs

If ever a story demonstrated the impact of the human race on wildlife, this has to be one of them.

Hedgehog Awareness Week aims to bring attention to the decease in the UK Hedgehog population and focus on what needs to be done to prevent its inexorable slide towards extinction.

Photo: Hedgehog at the British Wildlife Centre, Surrey

Whilst the Hedgehog can be found across the UK and can live in a variety of habitats including woodland, farmland, parks and gardens, it is in serious decline. While it is difficult to accurately monitor Hedgehog numbers, it is believed they could have decreased by over 50% in rural areas and over 30% in urban areas since 2000.

Loss and damage of suitable habitat, such as hedgerows and woodland, may be a major factor since this deprives the Hedgehog of both food and shelter. The use of pesticides on farmland and in gardens may also have reduced the food supply of the Hedgehog. In urban areas, the use of impermeable fencing, loss of greenery in gardens and increasing development is thought to be negatively impacting Hedgehog populations too. Another threat is roads, with many thousands of Hedgehogs killed by cars each year.

It is clear that Hedgehogs have decreased dramatically in the UK, almost entirely as a result of actions by humans.

Yet in New Zealand, humans have had an entirely different impact. The Hedgehog is a non-native species introduced by us and it has had, and continues to have, an enormous adverse impact on native biodiversity, especially ground resident or ground nesting wildlife, since it has no natural predators itself and its population has exploded. There are now more Hedgehogs in New Zealand than in the UK and it is considered an invasive pest species that requires culling to protect native animals from serious decline and extinction.

Over the course of human history on our planet, we have failed to understand and appreciate our impact on the environment and wildlife or, if we do, too little of us actually care.

More information on the Hedgehog problem in New Zealand can be found here .... The Guardian - Killing machines: humble British Hedgehog causes havoc in New Zealand 

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Stay safe, stay well, stay strong, stay connected with nature

Visit to St. Nicholas Church and surrounding areas – 7th May 2021

Date: 7th May 2021

Time: from 6:30 a.m.

Weather: dry, sunny, moderate wind, 4°C to 6°C

This was my first day time visit to the site since 27th April 2021 although I did have an International Dawn Chorus Day visit on 2nd May 2021.

After the rainy and windy days recently, it was a lovely sunny morning although it was still cold.

It was a bit of a “slow burn” at the beginning of my visit with few birds to be seen or heard.

However, it eventually picked up and I had 2 particular highlights …..

Firstly, I had my first record of the year for the site of Swift with 2 birds seen flying overhead close to St. Nicholas Church. Unfortunately, both birds were silent so I have yet to hear the typical “screaming” that is such a characteristic, but sadly rapidly declining, sound of summer.

Secondly, after seeing my first ever Common Whitethroat for the site on my dawn chorus visit on 27th April 2021, I saw what I presume was the same bird this morning. I initially heard a singing male Common Whitethroat in the same area of bushes in the central section of the cemetery. It proved difficult to see for some time but then it finally revealed itself since it began commuting to and fro from the bushes in the cemetery to the area of scrub immediately beyond the northern edge of the cemetery. I also managed to photograph this particular bird.

Remarkably, as I was walking home along the track towards Larkin Tyres, I heard another singing male Common Whitethroat in the scrub area just the other side of the fence. I did have a momentary glimpse of a bird flying across the track to the other side and then the song resumed there so I assume that this was my second record of Common Whitethroat of the morning.

I mentioned that few birds were to be seen or heard for much of my visit and this was reflected in the reduced number of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs that I recorded. I saw only 1 singing male Blackcap and I heard a further 6 birds (either singing males or alarm calling males/females). I failed to see a single Chiffchaff and I heard only 2 briefly singing males.

Other notable bird records included a Green Woodpecker flying across the central section of the cemetery and another heard calling in the vicinity of the church, a briefly calling Great Spotted Woodpecker close to my watchpoint at the northern edge of the site and 2 fly-over calling Greylag Geese heading over the church car park in an easterly direction.

During my visit, I saw what was probably the same Red Fox on 4 separate occasions in a half hour period, 3 times crossing the road towards the bottom of Church Hill and finally at the bottom of the grassy strip that runs down from the church car park towards St. Nicholas Lane. On this last occasion, it was clearly carrying a food item. Here are a few record photos:

The grassy strip also provided a close view of a single Reeves’ Muntjac as it slowly walked from one area of scrub and bushes to another. Again, here is a rather blurry record shot ....

I also saw 2 Grey Squirrels this morning, both together in the bushes bordering the church car park and engaged in boisterous interaction of some kind.

Species recorded during this visit were as follows (heard only records in italics):

Common Whitethroat
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Song Thrush
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Carrion Crow
Collared Dove
Greylag Goose
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull

Red Fox
Reeves’ Muntjac
Grey Squirrel

Here are some photos from my visit:

Photo: male Common Whitethroat

Photo: male Common Whitethroat

Photo: male Common Whitethroat

Photo: Blue Tit

Photo: Carrion Crow

Photo: Carrion Crow

Photo: Woodpigeon

Site totals to date (2021 totals in brackets):

Birds = 53  (40)
Mammals = 6  (5)
Butterflies = 21  (5)
Dragonflies and damselflies = 7  (0)
Reptiles = 1  (0)
Amphibians = 0  (0)

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Stay safe, stay well, stay strong, stay connected with nature