Double mustelids

It hasn’t been since the spring that I’ve properly used my trail cameras and got stuck into filming nocturnal wildlife with them. When I got my first trail camera it started off with filming hedgehogs in my garden, which are still visiting, then moved onto filming at a local badger sett. It then progressed to filming anywhere I thought something interesting may be lurking. This has also included otters, foxes, garden birds and so on. My favourite time to film wildlife with my trail cameras though is overnight. Partly because one of my favourite animals is the badger and it’s also fascinating to know what’s about behind the scenes.

After spending the last few years actively filming a badger sett which was quite a way from my local patch, earlier this year in July whilst exploring a woodland on my patch I was delighted to come across some strange mounds of earth and a selection of holes. Badgers! I was so thrilled to find a sett so close to my house, just a ten minute walk in fact! Unfortunately over the summer I’ve spent more time away from home then I have at home so haven’t had many opportunities to spend time setting trail cameras up at the sett or spend time sat there. However now I’m back at school, I have more time to do so.

The time I spent on Thursday evening on my patch was a bit surreal. Now, my patch isn’t the most interesting place in the world. It’s an area of woodland and farmland that is just on the outskirts of the city I live and backs onto a housing estate. Nevertheless it’s my patch and I enjoy spending time there so to find a badgers sett on it was one of the best moments ever! On Thursday night though, I set out with the intention to put my trail camera up quick then get home as it was already getting dark. Instead of walking through the woodland I decided to cut off onto the field which runs along side as visibility was getting very poor. As soon as I scrambled under the barbed wire fence and brushed myself down, a barn owl appeared in the sky above me. Amazing, the first time I’ve seen a barn owl on my patch for quite a while.

By the time I got to the top of the field and made my way into the woodland where the sett is, it was pretty dark. Whilst I glared at the tree trying to work out how I was going to sett my camera up, at the base something moved. A badger. It looked right at me. Two metres away. Our staring competition must of lasted about 30 seconds before it furiously smelt the air. This continued for about 4 minutes before it established it could relax. I stood solid. The animal sniffled around in the overgrowth around the sett then came back into my view. It was that relaxed it decided to have a wee before rolling over to scratch its belly.

This experience lasted about ten minutes before it casually returned down the sett. I continued to stand still for around five minutes, just encase it decided to return back to the surface. It didn’t so I quickly strapped my camera to the tree and trembled down the path whilst trying to be as invisible as possible. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Not until I got home and sat down did I get my heart rate back to normal.

I was up early yesterday morning to collect my camera. On my way to the sett  I spotted a Goldcrest. I don’t see them very often on my patch. Perhaps one of the first autumn visitors. I didn’t see very much on my way though. Not because it wasn’t there but because I was so eager to collect my trail camera. I do remember a Chiffchaff was still calling though!

Once I’d collected my trail camera this continued as I sprinted home, impatient to see what I’d recorded overnight. Even though I knew it would only be badgers, it was still very exciting. Are there more animals around compared to the last time I filmed them? Have I captured some interesting behaviour? What direction were the animals going off in?

Just my luck, the batteries had played up over night and only recorded five 30 second long videos. Still, I impatiently and randomly made my way through the clips. What was that? Polecat! A Polecat, I’d recorded a Polecat! I couldn’t believe it! A Polecat came into the frame, sniffed around then disappeared behind the left-hand side of the camera frame. This is the first time I’ve recorded one on my trail camera and recorded one on my patch. However I did know of them being in the area. In fact they have quite a healthy population. Quite a few times I’ve seen road casualties on nearby roads, plus I know local wildlife trail cammer’ Kate MacRae has also filmed them around her garden.

Why am I so excited to see that polecats are active on my patch though? Well only recently have Polecat populations began to increase which has resulted in them spreading across England, from Wales. North Wales was once the only stronghold of Polecats as up until the 1930s they were persecuted by gamekeepers due to being considered as a pest. So with numbers bouncing back, it’s important to celebrate a success story.

Here’s the video I got.

And a badger.

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Back again

Always start your day with PG tips.

Well, I was just brewing up some tea when the radio announced that a Grasshopper Warbler had been caught in Church Field (an area owned by the Spurn Bird Observatory) and was about to be rung if anyone was interested. I haven’t seen one this year so headed on my way up to where it had been caught in the ringing trap there. But by the time I got there, there was some debate between birders whether it was a Common Grasshopper Warbler. As when the bird was first taken out of the trap its feathers were wet therefore the pattern and colouration of them was difficult to notice and it was thought to be a Gropper. However when measuring began, alarm bells rung as features such as the wing length were too long and as the birds feathers dried, white fringing to the tertials and tail feathers became visible. It was a PG Tips.

Back at the Warren, the tea was mashed and so was my brain. A Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. Another one of those birds I’ve read about and glared in awe at in one of my books but never thought I’d see anytime soon. It was the 13th bird to be recorded on mainland Britain, and the second for Yorkshire which was again at Spurn. This is typical though, typical Spurn and why I decided to go back to spend some more time there before heading off back into Sixth Form.

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The Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler  (Photo courtesy of Micky Maher)
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So I’ve been back again and I’m blogging about it again, but I can’t miss a trip to Spurn off here. They’re so important to me and every visit contrasts the last through seeing new bird species, different events and experiences, and most of all increasing my knowledge, interest and enthusiasm of not just Spurn but the natural world as a whole. The wilderness and excitement of being there is a great feeling and I believe it’s important sharing on my blog, which is about natural history, what is inspiring me and firing my

interest. Which is exactly what these trips to Spurn do for me.

From studying the local weather forecast and those on the continent whilst travelling up on the train I knew the next few days were looking good, in particular for vis-migging. The term vis-migging stands for visible migration, so basically birds you can visibly see flying overhead which are migrating. And due to the geography of the land, Spurn deals with a great deal of visible migration of a number of species. Twice now I’ve been to watch the spectacle which is swifts migrating during some of the summer months. I did see some Swifts this time (a large count of three) but eyes were on the migrating Meadow Pipits and hirundines, including Swallows and House Martins. The morning before I arrived I’d also seen that over 2000 Mippits had been recorded flying South and with conditions looking just right, I was looking forward to the following morning.

I must say, Swifts are by far more interesting to see soaring overhead then Mippits which sort of twinkle over. However when the Mippit count neared 1500 along with a Swallow count of over 2000 and over 1500 House Martins, it was thrilling. The shear number of those individual birds in just a number of hours makes you appreciate what’s taking place. These early Autumn migrants making their way through Spurn and marking the year round cycle of recording birds migrate at Spurn which is all incredibly important and valuable.

During my first week good vis-migging followed through until Wednesday. And Wednesday brought some interesting birds from Seawatching including Balearic Shearwater and Great Northern Diver, which were both lifers for me, and a Great White Egret. Which stopped off along Easington Straight then flew down the Humber, after being tracked in action from Hornsea where it flew South just a short time before and obviously followed the coastline until it met Spurn. Later that day, just after lunch a Wryneck was called out at an area slightly north of Spurn which was on the road in front of the gas terminal in Easington.

What an afternoon it was! Another lifer and what a fantastic bird. I knew that my chances of seeing a Wryneck during this trip were high but we got some fantastic views of the bird for about 15 minutes. Feeding and rummaging through the grass then sitting in between the bars of the metal fence. At the same time, four Whinchats turned up. Things were looking good. And they were. One thing after another and a Barred Warbler was called up at an area about half way down the peninsula, towards Spurn point. I knew my chances of seeing the bird were very, very slim as they’re very elusive but nevertheless, I decided to give it a go and off I went. Unfortunately there was no sign, but by far it wasn’t wasted time. It was obvious a few migrants had arrived including quite a few Wheatears, Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers. As well as another Wryneck! Just a few hours after I saw my first one, I was looking through my bins at another. Not just two in a day but a self-found bird. Wonderful, and there I spent most of my afternoon observing the bird feeding on the roads grass banks.

Friday kicked off the Migration Festival weekend at Spurn. Their fourth festival now and forever growing again this year with the number of people rolling up and leaving inspired by Spurn and had hopefully seen a memorable bird. And I imagine it certainly was one for all those around on Saturday. A sodden day yet everyone went around with beams across their faces and why wouldn’t you after all the mig-festers got the opportunity to see the weekend’s star, a juvenile Kentish Plover on Kilnsea Wetlands. Another fantastic new bird for me, and for many others too. On Sunday there was a complete weather contrast and it was quite a pleasant day. There was lots of opportunities for attendees to see some of the vis-migging as well as, like on Saturday, attend one of the numerous events which were taking place all day.

There can’t have been many who didn’t enjoy their time at the Migration Festival. It was a very well organised weekend with none stop walks, talks and opportunities to chat to experts on Spurn itself or whatever they were seeking to learn more about. From the seawatching in the morning and guided walks covering all areas of Spurn which included Easington, Sammy’s Point, around Peter Lane, Beacon Lane, the Triangle, up to the Point and much more. This was all followed by evening events. I’m not going to go into too much detail about migfest as I could probably write a separate blog all about it! It was superb though; Spurn was showcased for the special place that it is. Without a doubt it was also great to see so many youngsters strolling about and enjoying themselves equally. As well as seeing the BTO and the Observatory being in partnership as organisers for the event. They were superb and it was odd chatting to those from the BTO about Spurn as through their fund (the Young Bird Observatory one) I started coming here, and since I’ve been as many times as I’ve possibly been able to fit in!

The week after mig fest always seems to bring something amazing which leaves those who came deeply depressed and further striving to go back soon. Tuesday’s fall after some South Easterly winds didn’t bring that though, as it could have, but there was again an increase in migrants such as Blackcaps, Goldcrests, Spotted Flycatchers and Pied Flycatchers. And the excitement created by the conditions and the thoughts of what may be lurking in the bushes was soon dampened by thick fog on Wednesday morning, which pretty much followed through to the Thursday evening. This made all birding pretty difficult and many migrants flying over were obviously deterred and encouraged to fly straight over. However, Thursday morning was quite promising with reportings of Yellow-brow Warblers popping up all along the East coast. Then, of course, one was called out along the Peninsula. This time I was successful though, another great bird as my two weeks at Spurn drew to an end.

But then the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler turned up, undoubtedly the best bird I have ever seen. Making all that hopeless mopping around in the sea frett all forgivable. Not that it needed to be in the first place as being at Spurn is always amazing and I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else…certainly not school.

There’s no doubt Spurn is going to be on fire over the next few weeks, and I’ve already got everything booked to spend some more time there mid-late October.

And so, since I left Saturday afternoon; Blyths Reed Warbler, Leach’s Petrol, another Wryneck, more YELlow-BROWED warblers, aNOther Barred WArbler, RING Ouzel, GreeniSH WARbler, RICHARDS PiPit, OrtOLAN BUNting AND an LAPland BUntING. MORAL OF THE STORY – NEVER LEAVE SPURN!…ESPECIALLY IN SEPTEMBER!

Political playground

If you’re sitting inside and looking out, what might be there? From one to another it’ll vary. From a little patch nestled in suburbia to a vast open space where the perimeters of your fence don’t cut off the nature around. Wherever though, perhaps you have flowers in bloom being enjoyed by the last odd butterfly, a fruit tree with fruits either ready to go or almost there or maybe hawthorns beginning to fruit so they’re ready in time to provide for those species in search of food on a crispy autumn morning.

Today marks the first day of autumn and I’m delighted. My favourite season, I love it. Next week I’m back to Spurn for some early bird migration action then over the next few weeks, into October, I’m looking forward to seeing the changes on my local patch. Not just the changes in what birds I may see but the behaviour of them and mammals too. Including badgers. At the moment they’re out most of the night away from the sett in search of food, and so they’re prepared for the colder weather when they’ll spend a lot less time above ground and a lot more time below ground in efforts to keep warm. Over recent years I’ve found I always seem to get some interesting footage at this time of the year too as they spend more time closer to the sett.

Those badgers are in safe hands. Well, on safe land. I don’t mean that because I watch them and keep an eye out for them (this does help if they were to be targeted by wildlife criminals) but this land isn’t within any of those ten perimeters where the ineffective slaughter in a bid to control Bovine TB has begun.  So far over the 2013, 2014 and 2015 culls, over 1,600 animals have been killed in Gloucestershire, over 1,500 in Somerset and over 700 in Dorset, which makes a total of almost 4,000. 4,000 too many animals killed yet they continue despite everything. Despite the science, despite the cruelty of the killing and free shooting, and despite the cost which in total sums up to well over £7,000 to shoot one animal. Of tax payers money that is.

‘The science’ is a term thrown around quite a bit by those in opposition, that’s because there’s a lot of core evidence which suggests many different things. Many of the readers to my blog who have followed it from the start will know about my love for badgers due to my multiple posts about them, hours of trail camera footage I’ve shared and much more but this isn’t the only reason why I campaign against the cull. I also do it to oppose our bigoted government whom are letting this ridiculous and injustice torture to take place in the British countryside. A place of retreat and happiness turned into a political playground.

If you condense it down and look at the basics, that includes taking away the ‘cute factor’, it’s a disgrace. Going back, look at the science. The hard science because what’s more reliable? The most recent significant results of a study found Bovine TB isn’t passed on through direct contact between cows and badgers. During their field study, badgers and cattle didn’t come into contact with each other. It is evident most TB is contracted by cattle to cattle contact. The research did find that it could be contracted through contaminated pasture and dung too. This links back to farming practices though, if slurry a farmer spreads over their field includes infected dung then the bacteria is all over another field.

The study, led by Professor Rosie Woodroffe at the Zoological Society London, also found that even when culling cattle and badgers the bacteria can remain on the field for months. Therefore slaughter isn’t the answer, the issue needs to be addressed efficiently. Many have suggested the answer is for DEFRA to take money out of the ineffective cull and put it into educating farmers and improving bio-security on farms. As Wales have done. Bovine TB in Welsh herds is down 14 per cent over the past 12 months, with 94 per cent now TB free and guess what? No badgers have been killed.

Why are more badgers being killed this year then? DEFRA have tripled the number of licenses issued compared to last year. There is a great amount of opposition yet to give the farmers something in efforts to eradicate TB they take us back to what always seems to be the answer within our countryside, kill it. DEFRA, Andrea Leadsom, and the majority of farmers represented by the NFU (and maybe a few more) are obviously content that their ‘strategy’ (AKA slaughter) is and will deliver results. Yet not one animal that has been culled has been tested for TB since the culls began in 2012.

The role out for this year is massive. To reach minimum targets, marksmen are going to have to kill 10,000 badgers between now and the end of November. No one has given any justification for this, yet it’s already taking place. We’re being ripped off and they won’t listen to a word we say. That doesn’t mean we may as well give up because we have to make them listen. They’re not stupid, they know it isn’t going to give them any results, even if they were to wipe out every badger in  England. Why are they robbing us then?

We’ve got the facts though and therefore we’re right. It must end and we’ll win. Please do what you can; whether that’s signing the petition recently set up, support campaigns from the Badger Trust, donate to their cause, take a look at what your local badger group is doing, write to your local MP or anything, it’s worth it.

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