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Thursday, 31 December 2009

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all of my readers


Well with just over six hours to go, Carmel and I now have to make tracks to where I shall be celebrating tonight and working.

I should just like to say 'Happy New Year' to you all and thank everyone for their support, constant help, enthusiasm and delight in the hobby in 2009 and to look forward to another unpredictable year in 2010.

For me, with 7 new birds (UK) and 12 (WP), 2009 was an exceptional year, but in real terms, a frustrating and somewhat depressing year, with further great reductions in numbers of common resident farmland birds and summer migrants such as Wood Warblers, Pied Flycatchers and Willow Warblers. The World is certainly changing and the UK is feeling the brunt of these changes, definitely from an ornithological point of view. My UK Year list ended on 347 species, about average for recent years, but well below those annual totals of the 1990's - with many 'banker birds' unseen, like Little Auk, Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Hume's Leaf Warbler and Desert Wheatear. Although we seem to get far more unforeseen absolute mega vagrants these days, once frequent scarce migrants such as Bluethroat, Ortolan, Common Rosefinch, Aquatic Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Tawny Pipit and Red-breasted Flycatcher are now hard to come by and involve expensive trips out to see. The twitching scene is continually changing and new innovations may be required to keep the hobby inspiring and active.

I hope that you all have an exciting and enjoyable evening and remember to stay safe

Lee Evans
The UK400 Club and British Birding Association

Just 429 species logged in 2009





































A grand total of 429 species was recorded in Britain and Ireland in 2009, well short of the 2008 record total of 445 species, and as the year comes to a close, this last week has been particularly quiet, despite the onset of severe wintry weather throughout.

The wintering LITTLE BUNTING is still present in the private garden at Dunnet Bay (Caithness), as is the RICHARD'S PIPIT at Crows-an-Wra (West Cornwall) and EUROPEAN SERIN at Rainham Marshes RSPB (Essex). Wintering YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS remain at St Andrews Road, Par (Cornwall) and at Gunwalloe Marsh (Cornwall).

In Worcestershire. the first-winter GLOSSY IBIS remains at Holt Fleet on the east bank of the River Severn at SO 832 632 (park by the A4133 and walk south to view from the end of the first large field), with another three still in Somerset at Catcott Lows NR. Also, in Lancashire the drake RING-NECKED DUCK remains at Preesall Salt Pit with 8 Pochard and 12 Tufted Ducks, viewed by looking west from Back Lane (the B5377 at SD 363 469). Further north, the drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK and first-winter drake RING-NECKED DUCK have moved back to Pugney's Country Park Boating Lake (West Yorks), with another drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK on Brookley's Lake (Staffs) and another first-winter drake RING-NECKED DUCK at Cheddar Reservoir (Somerset) and a female at Cwm Rheidol Reservoir (Ceredigion). The regular drake is also still at Foxcote Reservoir (North Bucks).

The first-winter SPOTTED SANDPIPER, newly photographed by Sean Nixon above, remains in Peldon Bay at Abberton Reservoir (Essex) (please note that access to this area ceases on 4 January 2010) with the first-winter LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (photographed above by Craig Shaw) continues in Port Carlisle Harbour (Cumbria). The wintering BAIRD'S SANDPIPER remains on White Sands Bay beach, Dunbar (Lothian) but the Aberlady Bay Lesser Yellowlegs has been forced out by cold weather.

East Anglia is surprisingly quiet, with the adult GREATER SNOW GOOSE intermittently visiting Holkham Freshmarsh (North Norfolk), a returning ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD in the Coveney area (Cambs) and SHORE LARKS at Snettisham RSPB (2) and in Holkham Bay (3-8).

The adult Red-breasted Goose of unknown origin remains with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the Exe Estuary (South Devon), with the adult female SURF SCOTER in Dawlish Bay nearby. On the Isles of Scilly, the drake NORTH AMERICAN BLACK DUCK remains on Tresco Great Pool.

An unseasonal GREAT SKUA remains for a third day on the River Thames viewable from the sea wall at Rainham Marshes RSPB (Essex), whilst the displacement of LITTLE GULLS continues with perhaps 30 or more still in the Southeast

NORTHERN GREY SHRIKES are in very short supply this winter with maybe only eight individuals, including that showing well on Ash Ranges (Surrey) today and just one in the New Forest (Hants).

There are still a number of GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS lingering inland, including singles on Whitlingham CP Great Broad, Norwich (Norfolk) (a Black-necked Grebe on here also), Stewartby Lake (Beds), Brogborough Lake (Beds) and Grafham Water (Cambs), whilst VELVET SCOTERS inland include single immature drakes at Barrow Lodge Lower Reservoir (Lancs) and Grafham Water (Cambs). An oiled RED-THROATED DIVER is a rare find at Frensham Little Pond (Surrey).

On a local level, there are good numbers of wintering EURASIAN BITTERNS inland, reasonable numbers of wintering WATER PIPITS and up to 9 LAPLAND BUNTINGS in the horse field between High Newton-by-the-Sea village and 'Football Hole' at NU 238 256 (Northumberland). Up to 20 LAPLAND BUNTINGS are at Frampton Marsh (North Lincs)

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas from LGRE to all birdwatchers across the globe


Merry Christmas from Lee and Carmel Evans to everybody that has supported the UK400 Club this year and have supported all of the services provided by the British Birding Association. It is very much appreciated.
Highlights today include a KILLDEER in County Wicklow - present briefly on Greystones South Beach late morning before flying north.
Yesterday, Rab Shand inadvertently flushed a silent GREATER YELLOWLEGS three times at Kinneil Lagoon (Forth)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Eight SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPERS return to SE China

On Monday 21 December 2009, along with Wang Qingyu of Chinabirdtours.com, local birder Lin Chen and our Sunbird South China tour group visited Shanyutan in the Minjiang Estuary, Changle, Fujian, Se China (26°01.7'N., 119°38.7'E.). We spent almost eight hours on the 'island' during which time we saw eight SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPERS - down slightly from the ten birds Qingyu, Shanghai birder Zhang Lin & I saw there in early November 2008.

Although there have been several previous postings on Oriental Birding over the years regarding this rapidly declining species and Chinese Crested Tern in the Minjiang Estuary the site remains poorly known and rarely visited by foreign birders. 'Spooner' is still dependably present from mid-October through to mid-April with the occasional straggler remaining until the third week of May while up to perhaps eight Chinese Crested Terns are equally reliable from mid-May until mid-August when the typhoon season kicks in and sightings become more sporadic though there have been sightings up to late September.

The site is easy to access and is only a 30 minute drive from Fuzhou International airport - an airport that is served with multiple daily flights from Beijing, Shanghai & Hong Kong among others. Foreigners (& Chinese as of 1 January 2010) need permission to visit - a formality and way of earning money (hopefully a proportion of which is spent on the small reserve).

Permission should be obtained in advance of a visit and can be done either via Lin Chen on + 86 13999370883 or Qingyu at wangqingy@yahoo.com.cn. Other birds yesterday included a first-winter Black-faced Spoonbill; two Relict, 25 Saunders's and a single Pallas's Gull.

According to Gill Bunting of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper recovery team there have been reports of eight birds in Myanmar and several more in Bangladesh earlier in December 2009 (contributed by Paul Holt)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The icy grip on Continental Europe spreads west to Eastern Britain


This GREAT WHITE EGRET is currently in Warwickshire (Steve Valentine)




LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER in Port Carlisle Harbour (Tristan Reid)








Adult drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK at Pugney's Country Park (Ron Marshall)












The second-ever wintering BAIRD'S SANDPIPER in Britain (beautifully photographed by Mike Thrower) and drake AMERICAN WIGEONS at Welney WWT (Norfolk) (Dave Fairhurst) and at Castle Loch NR, Dumfries (Craig Shaw)





Much of Europe is experiencing plunging temperatures, heavy frosts and severe winter weather. Today, that weather extended into Eastern Britain, bringing the first snowfall of the winter. The effect of the weather on birdlife so far has been minimal with little evidence of immigration. It has forced a few more Smew and Goosander south, as well as both Bewick's and Whooper Swans west, but there are still very low numbers of Arctic gulls present, and Bohemian Waxwings are virtually non-existent.

Norfolk is at the forefront of the easterly blast but is largely unaffected thus far: The adult white morph GREATER SNOW GOOSE continues to be the main attraction consorting with up to 15,000 Pink-footed Geese close to Titchwell village, in fields south of the A149 not far from the sewage treatment works entrance. Up to 14 SHORE LARKS and 60 Snow Buntings are wintering in Holkham Bay. A wintering Black Redstart is around the chalets on Heacham North Beach, whilst the most reliable Twite flock is that of 30 birds by the wooden bridge at Brancaster Staithe. Up to 8 Water Pipits are frequenting a ploughed field along Old Woman's Lane just east of Cley village, whilst the largest flock of Brambling in Britain this winter are the 186 frequenting the Beech trees in the Helen's Well car park at Santon Downham..Nearby, up to 8 Hawfinches are in the two Hornbeam trees in the paddock south of Lybford Arboretum.

There are at least THREE wintering SPOTTED SANDPIPERS: an adult still harbouring a few spots at Killearn (Clyde) (frequenting the area of Endrick Water by the bridge north of the Blane Water confluence at NS 503 858), a first-winter on the River Test near Mottisfont (Hants) and on the Exe Estuary north of the recreation ground at Topsham (South Devon) at SX 957 887.
The adult winter LESSER YELLOWLEGS is with Common Redshanks in Peffer Burn, Aberlady Bay (Lothian), the juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER on the uppermost part of the beach at White Sands Bay, Dunbar (Lothian) and the first-winter LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER in Port Carlisle Harbour (Cumbria).

Two EUROPEAN SERINS remain at Rainham Marshes RSPB (Essex/London), feeding with Goldfinches at the west end of the reserve in the vicinity of the 1.6km marker, with first-winter ROSE-COLOURED STARLINGS in New Hutton village, near Kendal (Cumbria) and in Forest Hill village, just east of Oxford (Oxon). One male PENDULINE TIT is very occasionally being seen early mornings in Bulrush clumps left of the Hanson Hide at Dungeness ARC Pit (Kent) whilst the first-winter BROWN SHRIKE is still keeping alive on Staines Moor (Surrey).

This winter has seen a record number of GREAT WHITE EGRETS present, with a mobile individual in the Long Lawford area (Warks) (often feeding in the stream by Clayhall Lane), one recently at Himley Hall Lake (Staffs), one very mobile bird in NE Scotland last seen on Forfar Loch on Monday, two birds at Pitsford Reservoir (Northants) (mobile but often in Walgrave or Scaldwell Bays), 2-3 birds in the Grange-over-Sands and Leighton Moss areas (Lancs), one at Banks Marsh (Lancs), 1-2 birds in the Lakenheath and Hockwell Fen areas (Suffolk), a long-stayer at Denge Marsh, Dungeness (Kent), the Loire de L'Atlantique colour-ringed adult at Blashford Lakes HWT (Hants) and the Somerset resident most recently WSW of Axbridge at Rooks Bridge.

Six first-winter GLOSSY IBISES from the Spanish Coto Donana are wintering: 3 NW of Glastonbury at Catcott Lows NR (Somerset) (at ST 400 414), 2 by the access track at Dungeness RSPB (Kent) and one on the east bank of the River Severn at Holt Fleet (Worcs) at SO 832 632, whilst CATTLE EGRETS include 3 together NW of Street and north of Sharpham Park at ST 469 380 (Somerset), 2 birds west of Saltash (Cornwall) at Lower Trewellard Farm, SW of Trematon, and singles in Christchurch (Dorset) and at Lydd (East Kent). As usual, one Salisbury Plain released Great Bustard is wintering with Mute Swans in Somerset on Sedgemoor Drain.

It has been the largest inland GREAT NORTHERN DIVER influx I can remember, with six apiece on Grafham Water (Cambs) and King George VI Reservoir (Surrey), two at Brogborough Lake (Beds), two on Pit 125 in Cotswold Water Park (Gloucs) and singles at Angler's CP, Wintersett (West Yorks), Hoveringham Railway Pit (Notts), Carsington Water (Derbyshire), Rutland Water (Leics) (in Whitwell Creek), Draycote Water (Warks), Alton Water (Suffolk) and Crowdy Reservoir (Cornwall) (where there is also a BLACK-THROATED DIVER). Grafham Water also has a RED-NECKED GREBE (viewable from the dam), whilst the only inland RED-THROATED DIVER is that in Whitwell Creek, Rutland Water. Carrick Roads, in Cornwall, has a good selection of wintering 'sea' birds, with 4 Velvet Scoters, 18 Black-necked Grebes and a Slavonian Grebe.

We have two 'reliable' RING-BILLED GULLS - 'old-faithful' adults at Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend (Essex) (on the ramp opposite Rossi's Ice Cream Parlour along the esplanade or on surrounding lamp-posts) and at Walpole Park Lake, Gosport (Hants) (often at low tide in the adjacent Haslar Creek)

NORTHERN GREY SHRIKES are in surprisingly short supply: in Scotland, one remains on the SW side of Slockavullin, in Birches and scrub alongside the track to Tayness at cNR 820 975, with another in the Lochgilphead area (Argyll), whilst elsewhere, just one has returned to a regular territory in the New Forest (Hants) with others at Dersingham Bog (Norfolk), Pannel Valley NR, Icklesham (East Sussex). A wintering WATER PIPIT is present with Rock Pipits on Barns Ness beach (Lothian) south of the lighthouse, whilst also rare in Scotland is a FIRECREST still present at Gramsdale on Benbecula (Outer Hebrides).

The female Hooded Merganser of unknown origin was back at Saltholme Pools RSPB (Cleveland) on 14 December, with FERRUGINOUS DUCKS in West Yorkshire (commuting between the Nature Reserve lake at Pugney's Country Park and the Calder Wetlands behind The Swan and Cygnet pub), Somerset (on Cheddar Reservoir) and in Dorset (an adult female on The Fleet at Abbotsbury Swannery - view from high ground on New Barn Road - also 9 Greater Scaup in area) The regular female SURF SCOTER is wintering in Dawlish Bay (South Devon) (with another in Hough Bay on Tiree, Argyll and two resident drakes in The Sound of Taransay on Harris) and AMERICAN GREEN-WINGED TEALS at Caerlaverock WWT (Dumfries & Galloway) and Eyebrook Reservoir (Leics). Drake AMERICAN WIGEONS can be found at Castle Loch NR, Lochmaben (D & G) and at Welney WWT (Norfolk), both erratic in their appearances, whilst the only RING-NECKED DUCKS are a female on Hookers Loch, North Ronaldsay (Orkney), a drake at Foxcote Reservoir (North Bucks) and a female WSW of Devil's Bridge (Ceredigion) at Llyn Rhosnhydd - SN 704 757.. The only KING EIDER - an adult drake - can be found with Common Eiders off Burghead (Moray).

Two Pink-footed Geese visited a stubble field below Belvide Reservoir dam (Staffs) yesterday, whilst an adult white morph GREATER SNOW GOOSE was with Pink-footed Geese and 2 Barnacle Geese in stubble north of Kinross (Perth & Kinross) and another of somewhat suspect origin with Greylag Geese north of the Craob Haven turning on the A816 in Argyll. A Blue Morph LESSER SNOW GOOSE is with Pink-footed Geese in the Loch of Skene area (Aberdeenshire) whilst the only RED-BREASTED GOOSE is the regularly returning adult on the South Coast currently with 500 or more Dark-bellied Brent Geese at the north end of the Exe Estuary north of Fisher's Mill Bridge at Topsham (South Devon). Four further white morph SNOW GEESE (remnants of the 31-strong flock seen in mid October) remain at Aldcliffe Marsh (Lancs).

The adult Little Stint is again wintering with Dunlin on the River Deben at Melton (Suffolk) (view the estuary from beyond the boatyard on Dock Lane) whilst many Eurasian Bitterns have returned to favoured wintering reedbeds throughout the Midland and SE region.

In IRELAND, the drake AMERICAN BLACK DUCK (which has been present this entire millenium) is again with Mallard at Sruhillbeg Lough, Achill Island (Co. Mayo) whilst the adult BLACK BRANT is with 108 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Hopeland, Rosslare (Co. Wexford). Nearby, a RED-NECKED GREBE is at Rosslare Backstrand, and the long-staying and sole-surviving first-winter GLOSSY IBIS at Tacumshin.

A SHORE LARK of unknown racial identity was feeding along the shoreline close to the pier at Aphort on Arranmore Island (Co. Donegal) yesterday afternoon.

An adult drake LESSER SCAUP was on Lough Sheelin (Co. Cavan) on Monday 14 December, with the adult female BLUE-WINGED TEAL still in residence at North Bull Island (Co. Dublin)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

AFRICAN PIED CROWS in North Africa

Following on from records in Algeria and Libya, and recent ship-assisted individuals in Iberia, Chris Batty, Andy Clifton, Peter Gluth, Stuart Piner and Andy Holden discovered three AFRICAN PIED CROWS Corvus albus together in the vicinity of the Esso fuel station 360 kms south of Laayoune on Saturday 13 December. Although widespread over sub-Saharan Africa, the northern limit of this species is in the extreme southern part of Mauretania.

Whilst on this very same trip, the lads also smashed my previous high number of CRICKET WARBLERS in the Western Sahara - recording at least 25 of these beautiful and intriguing birds just NW of Auosswerd on 14 December.

I have my next trip to this fabulous birding destination in January or February 2010 and still have places available if anyone is interested.

It is a 10-14 day trip taking in the usual itinerary and offering the following species -:

Moroccan Cormorant, Glossy Ibis, NORTHERN BALD IBIS, Greater Flamingo, Ruddy Shelduck, Marbled Duck, Ferruginous Duck, White-headed Duck, Black-winged Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel,Barbary Falcon, Lanner Falcon, DOUBLE-SPURRED FRANCOLIN, Barbary Partridge, RED-KNOBBED COOT, Purple Gallinule, Cream-coloured Courser, AFRICAN KELP GULL, Audouin's Gull, AFRICAN ROYAL TERN, Laughing Dove, DESERT EAGLE OWL, AFRICAN MARSH OWL, LILITH'S OWL, Red-necked Nightjar, Little Swift, LEVAILLANT'S GREEN WOODPECKER, Thekla Lark, Long-billed Crested Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Desert & Bar-tailed Desert Lark, AFRICAN DUNN'S LARK, BLACK-CROWNED FINCH LARK, THICK-BILLED LARK, Atlas Horned Lark, DUPONT'S LARK, HOOPOE LARK, BROWN-THROATED SAND MARTIN, Pale Crag Martin, Spanish Wagtail, MOROCCAN PIED WAGTAIL, COMMON BULBUL, MOUSSIER'S REDSTART, Isabelline, African Desert, White-crowned Black, Black & RED-RUMPED WHEATEARS, AFRICAN DESERT WARBLER, AFRICAN SCRUB WARBLER, Moustached Warbler, SAHARAN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER, North African Blue Tit, Desert Grey Shrike, BLACK-CROWNED TCHAGRA, FULVOUS BABBLER, NORTH AFRICAN BLUE-EARED MAGPIE, Alpine Chough, Atlas Raven, Spotless Starling, DESERT SPARROW, North African Chaffinch, Moroccan Crossbill, Trumpeter Finch, AFRICAN CRIMSON-WINGED FINCH and AFRICAN NOUSE BUNTING.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A plea for non-reporting of British RUDDY DUCKS

Rather timely and topically, Iain Henderson has published a detailed review of the UK Ruddy Duck eradication programme in this month's British Birds magazine (102: 680-690). It is very selective in the data it presents and the author is clearly convinced and influenced by the facts provided and continues to repeat the nonsensical statement that 'the Ruddy Duck is now regarded as the greatest threat to the long-term survival of the White-headed Duck'.

It explains how the UK population originates from four males and three females imported to the WWT at Slimbridge (Gloucs) in 1948. A captive breeding programme started in 1949 but, following a series of escapes in the mid to late 1950s and the deliberate release of three immature females in 1961, a small feral population became established at Chew Valley Lake (Avon).

Well, Ruddy Ducks are still surviving in the North American pen at Slimbridge in a free state (but pinioned) and still breed each year. I wonder what precautions are in place to prevent further juveniles escaping from that site?

Iain reproduces official statistics provided by Fera, including the selective figures detailing collateral damage. The list of native birds killed or wounded during the programme since just September 2005 include a Common Scoter, Black-necked Grebe and 2 Little Grebes (in fact 29 birds in total of 7 species - which is incorrect, as I have personally witnessed other species killed not included in their figures).

There is no doubt however that Fera have been exceptionally successful in their campaign, totally eradicating some 6,200 or more 'sitting ducks' - perhaps 90% of the pre-cull population.

It openly admits that some birdwatchers and WeBS counters withhold information but that they have got round that by employing their own counters and have received help from site owners and managers. They have targeted the birds at key breeding sites and main wintering sites. The increasing co-operation of site owners bodes well for the final stages of the programme, as does the behaviour of the Ruddy Duck. It also concludes by saying that complete eradication is expected by this spring.

I hereby suggest, particularly if you support my stance on the subject, that you do NOT report any more Ruddy Ducks in Britain wherever they may be, as Fera are likely to follow up any known sightings and attempt to kill them.

Best wishes

Lee Evans

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Pitsford Reservoir Ruddy Duck cull

This took place on the Wildlife Trust Reserve at Pitsford Water owned by Anglian Water on 2nd December. The 7 marksmen each arrived in a large 4x4 vehicle each with a trailer and a boat. An eighth vehicle contained a few other people assisting with the shoot.

It was a very murky start to the morning and the boats roared into the Scaldwell Bay just before 9am 7 abreast. There were plenty of shots ringing out I lost count after 50, dead and dying birds were retrieved from the water using a landing net. Then the Walgrave Bay was swept, with the aid of flushers at the back of the bay. More shots rang out. Then back to the Scaldwell Bay, then a break for a bite to eat in front of the fishing lodge. The day brightened as the mist cleared. Both the above bays were swept again 3 times more, it was now midday. I was amazed and pleased to see that at least 5 Ruddy Ducks were still alive when I had to leave. Did they later succomb as the total culled was 28?

The large number of wintering wildfowl were of course going loopy, many of the diving ducks found refuge over the causeway up towards the dam but a lone yatchsman sailed right down to the causeway late morning and consequently flushed most of the ducks back over the causeway. Any Ruddy Ducks that chose to dive were soon polished off, only those weakly flying off with the other diving ducks stood any chance of survival.

Only the reserve side was targetted, the "public" side of the reservoir was not entered by the shooters. Presumably it either was not worth it or it is too much trouble to keep the public out, the cyclists and fishermen might complain. The fact that the reserve is a SSSI home to internationally important numbers of wildfowl doesn't matter.

Rutland Water also owned by Anglian Water and a SSSI reserve doesn't allow the cull to place there (contributed by Bob Bullock, who served as Northamptonshire County Recorder for nearly 20 years).

Eric Dempsey ceases updating of BINS Information line after 20 years

The BINS line was established in the summer of 1990 and began providing the news service for IRELAND on 1st August 1990. The concept behind the line was to make accurate bird news more widely available to all birders rather than have such news confined to a small elite group as was the case in the 1980's and in early 1990. I hope that in the time since then, I have achieved that. Of course it was also done with the aim that it would pay for itself and perhaps generate some profit.

This autumn (2009) marked my 20th autumn running the line. In those many years I have established some great relationships with birders from all over Ireland and Britain. I have also experienced some wonderful moments; there really is nothing quite like the buzz when you get a call from a birder who is skilled enough/lucky enough to come across a mega. Many of those conversations are etched on my mind and will stay with me for as long as I live (or until dementia sets in anyway!). Knowing that I was about to update with a 'BINS Red Alert' was always a moment to savour.

Since the bird information line began on 1st August 1990, the 9.30 pm update has been done every single night with the exception of two occasions when it was impossible due to technical problems/cable faults. It is also worth remembering that until the mid-1990's, no-one had mobile phones, so the updates were often achieved utilising various phone boxes around the country. The first time BINS was updated using a mobile phone was on 14th September 1996 with the headline being a Greenish Warbler in Killian Mullarney's back garden.

In recent years my birding has taken a totally new direction. With an emphasis on guiding, educational work, writing and broadcasting, the aspect of rare birds has very much taken a back seat for me. With continued developments in this work, the time and commitment required to maintain the BINS line is now no longer a viable option for me. Therefore I wish to announce that from Wednesday 9th December next, the BINS Information line will cease. The last update will take place at 9.30 pm that night.

I would like to thank everyone for their support during the past 19 years. I would specifically like to thank Victor Caschera who maintained the BINS line on a number of occasions in the 1990's and Paul Kelly who has taken on the line many times over the past ten years, sometimes at very short notice. I am very grateful to you both.

With a change in direction, our website will also be redesigned over the next few months to draw attention to the varying services and work BINS undertakes. It will also feature a wider selection of Michael O'Clery's artwork as well as a new photographic gallery displaying our own images. With the emphasis now shifting from rare birds, I would also like to announce that our current December Gallery will be the last that will feature images of rare birds from photographers. With so many superb photographers now hosting their own websites, as well as various Birdwatch Ireland branches displaying images from their own local areas, many of the photographs displayed in our galleries were already in the public forum. I would like to thank all the talented photographers who, over the years, have shared their images with so many people through our website.

All that remains for me is to say that I look forward to great birding ahead and to thank each and every person who has supported this venture over the years. I do look forward to keeping in touch with you all, Regards, Eric Dempsey, BINS, www.birdsireland.com

More debate on the fall of Scilly as an autumn birding destination

My good birding friend Robert Lambert of the Nottingham University Business School did a half-hour radio interview live on Radio Scilly on 19 November on the issue I raised just recently. It can be listened to here at the following link:

http://www.radioscilly.com/files/twitchers_19_nov_2009.mp3

Birders can also access the radio programme by going to the Radio Scilly website and clicking on the ‘Listen Again’ icon. (LGRE)

Championing the cause of the RUDDY DUCK - my thoughts and feelings on the cull







Tom Gullick was instrumental in saving the White-headed Duck. He helped bring over the eggs from Pakistan to augment the failing (down to the last 22-23 birds) population in Iberia not long after he relocated to that country from Britain. The reason that the population became so endangered was because of shooting by the Spanish (WHD are easy targets, just like Ruddy Ducks, as they refuse to fly far in daylight) and degradation of prime habitat. The EU provided Spain with large amounts of funding to improve the habitat and place an embargo on the shooting of this species - and to pay shooters to kill off any stray Ruddy Ducks that may have got there (the first arrived in 1982).
Whilst negotiating with the Spanish government over troop supplies for the Iraq War, high ranking British officials signed up to one of the policy agreements tendering the destruction and eradication of the Ruddy Duck in Britain (funded likewise by the EU) after it was established that the majority of Spanish Ruddy Ducks had originally descended from escaped birds at Slimbridge WWT. The Spanish did supply troops for the campaign but withdrew them later after the Madrid bombings.

The average European Ruddy Duck survives for about 13 years and is highly migratory, dispersing in spring to breeding sites well north of its breeding sites. In its peak, the British population was just over 8,000 birds, but with virtually eight years of killing, now numbers just over 1,500. Iberian White-headed Ducks are also highly migratory, with many moving south to winter in Morocco, but have recovered from a low of 22 in 1977 to perhaps an all-time high of nearly 5,000 birds after being saved from the brink in 1981.

DEFRA organised its culls through the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) and trialled them in 1999-2002, soon finding out that they were a 'sitting target'. At that time, information compiled by the BTO in the form of WeBS surveys were used to establish the locations in which they could target their quarry. A further £3.3 million pounds was funded from October 2005 to carry out further killing until May 2010, at which time it was perceived that 60% of the population would be wiped out.

At the same time, EU Life provided the Spanish authorities with 3.16 million Euros in aid, and over a 12 year span, a total of 159 Ruddy Ducks (including 57-65 hybrid-types) were shot and killed. This programme ceased in 2006.

Two important developments have taken place since 2002 which widely relate to this debate -:
1) Firstly, the gradual warming of the planet is having a serious effect on the movements of Ruddy Ducks. We know longer receive what are deemed as severe winters in Britain just very wet ones and relatively mild. Consequently, it is very rare that large reservoirs or water bodies completely freeze over and Ruddy Ducks have learnt that they only need to travel as far south as Staines Reservoirs and Chew Valley Lake to survive (with peak counts of over 1,000 individuals at both sites in the late 1990's). Subsequently, British Ruddy Ducks have become much more sedentary and form huge flocks close to their breeding grounds (or in many cases, actually ON their breeding grounds). During this same period in Spain, statistics I was provided by the SEO saw a major collapse in wintering numbers there and the EU-Life programme registered just 99 direct kills between 2000 and 2006, just 16 of which were proven hybrids (22 in 2000, 9 in 2001, 18 in 2002, 23 in 2003, 16 in 2004, 7 in 2005 and 4 in 2006). There was no direct link between the Spanish birds and of those non-naturalised birds in Britain and it was felt more likely that they had derived from France, Germany or The Netherlands.

2) Tom Gullick confirms that White-headed Duck populations are flourishing in Iberia, with population estimates between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals. Last year, I discovered White-headed Ducks breeding successfully in Morocco, further confirming the success of this species. Drakes now have plenty of choice for selective pairing/mating, very unlike the precarious situation in 1982-1992, when numbers were still relatively low. Unless both birds are actually the same species, then I would expect natural pair-bonding to take place now, should the Ruddy Duck be allowed to sustain itself side-by-side in Iberia. There is no proof that hybridisation would be rife if numbers of Ruddy Ducks were allowed to increase (by the nature of restricting numbers to a very low number only precipitates interbreeding, particularly as the WHD is the dominant partner).

Therefore, there is no proof, despite years of observation, that the non-naturalised Ruddy Duck population has had any deleterious effect on any indeginous species. It seems an absolute crime to me to keep pursuing this goal and a pointless waster of resources and funding that could be much better spent on conservation matters. It would make far more sense to divert these funds in to controlling real dangers to our wildlife, such as escaped American Mink and Red-eared Terrapins, or perhaps control the number of feral Atlantic Canada Geese.
So, in summary, the cull is pointless. It has no end game nor target. The fact that so many WeBS counters no longer submit their Ruddy Duck data, isolated populations are left unscathed and DEFRA themselves openly admit that they are not out to get every last one, then why do we have to put up with this ongoing disruption and disturbance? Germany, France and The Netherlands do not partake in the cull neither, making anialation of the population in Britain futile. Unless the cull is sanctioned and implemented across the whole of Europe, it will be ineffective and a potentially never-ending complete and utter waste of money and resources. European native species are being shot in the crossfire (including a Slavonian Grebe, Long-tailed Duck, at least 2 Smew, several Northern Pochard and many Coot, along with a vagrant drake White-headed Duck!) and temporal disturbance is being granted to the wintering and breeding grounds of a Schedule One breeding species - the Black-necked Grebe. Much more disturbance is being caused to other wetland species. The White-headed and Ruddy Duck stable hybrid zone is also a legitimate scientific hypothesis which also negates the reasoning behind the cull.
I must remind readers too that it is not a given right by DEFRA to carry out these culls. They DO NOT have ANY rights of entry - it is up to the discretion of the Landowner to allow the cull to take place on their land.

The RSPB has such a high profile these days that it is the only bird organistaion that most of the general public have heard of. Therefore, both landowners and county councillors have asked if the RSPB approves of the cull or not, and have then followed their recommendations. Whether or not the RSPB is interested in the views of its membership is unclear, but what is certain is that many local bird groups and individual members have serious reservations about the cull and its aims. If it is the general opinion of ACRE members that the cull should be reviewed, one aim would be to pursuade the RSPB to change its mind.

**The list of countries I claim as not supporting the cull can be confirmed by any search of EU-LIFE reports on the Ruddy Duck eradication programme. These countries are often berated by EU-LIFE for not participating in the scheme. The politics is such that none of the governments of any of these countries owed any debt of gratitude to the Government of Spain in 2003 in direct contrast to the present UK government which very much did.

I'm very pleased to see (from recent observations of culls in progress) that Ruddy Ducks are not shot at when flying as CSL contractors use rifles, thus there is a considerable risk of shot ricochet. Last February, a local site manager commented that their safety and risk assessments were ludicrously lapse, considering what he had to do when controlling Feral Pigeons on the land he was responsible for.
DEFRA in general

Furthermore, are we really to believe anything of the 'world class scientists' approved by DEFRA. In August 2007 at one of their establishments at Pirbright (Surrey), DEFRA deposed of live foot and mouth virus into a public drain which was known to be defective, thus causing the second outbreak of the disease. This really shows monumental incompetence on an unprecedented scale of what is O-Level science. The lack of knowledge, lack of risk and safety assessment and the tax laboratory procedure is astonishing, approaching that of criminal negligence. Many biological scientists (especially pharmacologists) hold DEFRA in contempt. Had the biological agent been anthrax, the death toll would have been in the thousands. The cost to the tax payer in compensation to the farmers was horrific, and it is interesting to comment that the farming industry, regulated by DEFRA, has the highest incidence of suicide than any industry in the UK.
Lee G R Evans

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Childhood Memories of Scilly

David Campbell is 15 years old, is an up-and-coming keen, budding birder and photographer and made his first visit to the magical islands of Scilly during his half term. I stumbled on his website by chance and it bought back many fond memories of my early days on the archipelago (see http://devilbirder.blogspot.com/2009/11/scilly-2009.html for a detailed report of his visit, experiences and sightings).

Whilst reading David's blog, I became quite emotional. 2009 is the first year since 1974 that I have not visited the islands - my first blank year in 36 years. Scilly was once the highlight of my birding year and I would work hard all year to put an entire month in of birding there in October. Sadly, due to a combination of high prices, both in getting there and staying there, and a lack of enthusiasm and welcome from the islanders, Scilly died as a major meeting place and prime birding destination in October 1999. The lack of 'notebook padders' also seriously declined after that year - and by that I mean the number of Tawny & Richard's Pipits, Greater Short-toed Larks, Bluethroats, Icterine, Melodious & Barred Warblers, Ortolan Buntings, Red-backed & Woodchat Shrikes, Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatchers and the like - all in stark decline (not only on Scilly but all over the UK in autumn) - and also the numbers of common migrants to work your way through (Pied & Spotted Flycatchers, Warblers, Common Rosefinch, Linnets, Buntings, et al).

I made one visit in October 2008 (Sociable Plover) and similar brief visits from 2005-2007 and spent my last long stay there in 2004. I must admit that I am devastated by the collapse of Scilly as a birding destination and it is the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of twitching - the islands were where all birding apprenticeships were served, nurtured and matured and where so many relationships blossomed and so many home and international trips were planned. The days of the Bishop & Wolf, the Mermaid and The Atlantic crammed full, with birders spilling out on to the High Street, are just but a distant memory, and the fantastic heavy days of the infamous 'Cressa and Sunset disco mothballed for ever.

I shall NEVER forget my days on those cherished isles and as I almost embark on my half-centenery year, I gaze ahead at the future of birding with some trepidation.

The Azores have now replaced Scilly as the destination to see mega-rare Nearctic passerines, and Shetland, Fair Isle, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides the main places in which 'new' birds can now be added. The Isles of Scilly have a golden heritage however and I am just so glad I lived and birded the islands through those wonderous years - Pied-billed Grebe, American Black Ducks, Blue-winged Teals, Lesser Scaup. Bufflehead, SHORT-TOED SNAKE-EAGLE, American Marsh Hawk, American Rough-legged Buzzard, Little Bustard, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, flocks of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Wilson's Snipes, Long-billed Dowitchers, Upland Sands, Solitary Sandpipers, Wilson's Phalarope, South Polar Skua, Bonaparte's, Laughing and North American Herring Gulls, BLACK-BILLED & YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, COMMON NIGHTHAWKS, CHIMNEY SWIFTS, Pallid, Alpine & Little Swifts, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, CALANDRA, BIMACULATED & NORTH AMERICAN SHORE LARK, AMERICAN TREE & CLIFF SWALLOW, American Buff-bellied, Blyth's & Pechora Pipits, Isabelline & Pied Wheatears, both ROCK and BLUE ROCK THRUSH, WHITE'S, SIBERIAN, WOOD, HERMIT, BICKNELL'S, Swainson's, Grey-cheeked, EYEBROWED and Black-throated Thrushes, AMERICAN ROBIN, Paddyfield, Eastern Olivaceous, Booted, SPECTACLED, Sardinian, WESTERN ORPHEAN, TWO-BARRED GREENISH, GREEN, Hume's Leaf, Radde's, Dusky, Eastern Bonelli's and Western Bonelli's Warblers, MASKED & SAXAUL GREY SHRIKES, SPANISH SPARROW, PHILADELPHIA & Red-eyed Vireos, Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULAS, Yellow-rumped & Blackpoll Warblers, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, OVENBIRD, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, SCARLET TANAGER, Pine Bunting, YELLOW-BROWED BUNTING, YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTING, RED-HEADED BUNTING, Black-headed Bunting, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, BOBOLINK and BALTIMORE ORIOLE to mention just a few of the mouthwatering birds to befall since 1970.

I pray for David's sake that we can somehow rekindle that spirit that I followed (Lee G R Evans)

Friday, 4 December 2009

Arctic Auk sweeps by













One of the latest BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS ever in Britain (Jack Brodie)

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Friday 5 December, released at 1800 hours and produced in close association with Rare Bird Alert Pagers, whilst utilising the Regional Birdlines, BirdGuides, Birdcall and local Websites as well as gleaning additional information from individual observers.

A BRUNNICH'S GUILLEMOT flew west with 3 Common Guillemots close inshore past Cley Coastguards (North Norfolk) at 0955 hours (James McCallum), emulating a near identical occurrence at exactly the same spot on 12 November 2007 (Mark Golley, Andy Stoddart). A handful of LITTLE AUKS today included 4 in the Scapa Flow (Orkney). Elsewhere in East Anglia, it is very quiet, with TAIGA BEAN GEESE now numbering 65 at Buckenham Marshes RSPB (Norfolk), the white morph adult GREATER SNOW GOOSE still in the Holkham Freshmarsh area (Norfolk) and the GREAT WHITE EGRET at Holkwold Fen (Suffolk). Up to 23 SHORE LARKS are wintering in Norfolk at three sites, whilst 8 or more LAPLAND BUNTINGS are in a stubble field at Thornham Harbour.

South Devon is shining through on the 'rare bird stakes' today with the adult RED-BREASTED GOOSE that has been in residence at Blackhill Quarry Pool, East Buddleigh Common, since the end of October finally joining up with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the River Exe at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB, Topsham. Nearby, the juvenile SPOTTED SANDPIPER can still be seen at the top of the Exe between the M5 bridge and the recreation ground, Exeter, and at the extreme south end, the adult female SURF SCOTER has reappeared again off Dawlish Warren. A single LITTLE AUK was also seen on the calm sea there today.

In neighbouring Dorset, an adult drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK arrived with an influx of Northern Pochards at Abbotsbury Swannery this morning, whilst in Hampshire, the juvenile SPOTTED SANDPIPER remains on the River Test at Mottisfont. The first-winter GREY PHALAROPE continues to show well on the Jetty Lagoon at Pennington Marsh (Hants).

After reappearing briefly yesterday, the first-winter GLOSSY IBIS was again this morning half a mile south of Holt Fleet in Worcestershire, visiting the flooded marsh on the east bank of the River Severn (Park off of the A4133 in the disused pub car park and walk SE to view from by the Hawthorn hedgerow). Elsewhere, the two GLOSSY IBIS continue at Dungeness RSPB (Kent), along with the GREAT WHITE EGRET, CATTLE EGRET and at least one male PENDULINE TIT (the latter in bulrushes by the Hanson Hide on the ARC Pit).

The South East also offers the wintering BROWN SHRIKE at Staines Moor (Middlesex) (wellingtons essential), a juvenile ROSE-COLOURED STARLING in Forest Hill village, east of Oxford (Oxon) (in gardens along Mickle Way), 1-2 EUROPEAN SERINS at Rainham Marsh RSPB (London), a GREY PHALAROPE at Amberley Wild Brooks (Sussex) (at the south end by the first sluice on left 200 yards along the Wey South Footpath from the village at TQ 030 135) and the SPOTTED SANDPIPER and 2 juvenile EURASIAN SPOONBILLS at Abberton Reservoir (Essex). A RICHARD'S PIPIT was also seen in a private part of Abberton Reservoir.

A GREAT WHITE EGRET flew over Swan Meadow, Cossington Meadows (Leics), at 1605 hours, the adult drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK remains at Pugney's Country Park (West Yorks) and two COMMON CRANES NE of Whittlesey (Cambs) at Thorney Dyke in the beet field by the River Nene at TF 303 003.

SCOTLAND has some nice offerings with the juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER still in White Sands Bay, Barns Ness (Lothian), the LESSER YELLOWLEGS at Aberlady Bay (Lothian), the adult SPOTTED SANDPIPER near Killearn (Clyde) and the drake KING EIDER off Burghead (Moray). In WALES, a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER remains south of Maesteg (Glamorgan) at Llangynwyd Sewage Works at SS 879 881.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

..and how it looked in July







...and the very same Aberlady Bay LESSER YELLOWLEGS photographed in July of this year when it was still adorning most of its full breeding attire (Mike Thrower)

The plumage changes of an adult LESSER YELLOWLEGS in Lothian - this is how it appear now











The long-staying adult LESSER YELLOWLEGS at Aberlady bay (Lothian) now in complete winter plumage (photographed on 27 November by Mike Thrower)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

BALEARIC SHEARWATERS off Britain in 2009







Balearic Shearwater photographed off the Isle of Wight (Kris Gillam)
The SeaWatch SW website has recently been updated, including all the news from August and September 2009. To view this month's news see: http://www.seawatch-sw.org
News items are as follows:
1) Send us your Balearic Shearwater sightings now! Have you seen a Balearic Shearwater in the UK or Ireland this year? If so, we'd love to hear from you!
2) UK/Ireland Balearic Shearwater report for August and September 2009. Get the latest summary of UK and Irish sightings of this Critically Endangered seabird;
3) SeaWatch SW surveyors have a rollercoaster ride! Find out what the intrepid SeaWatch SW observers got up to this autumn;
4) SeaWatch SW survey produces more rare seabirds! Includes descriptions of Wilson's Storm Petrel and Fea's Soft-plumaged Petrel;
5) Superpod of Common Dolphins seen off Gwennap Head in August! Several hundred dolphins were the pick of the marine wildlife sightings this autumn;
6) Balearic Shearwaters and other scarce seabirds seen from Gwennap Head. An influx of scarce shearwaters and a fly-over Purple Heron kept things interesting;
7) Record influx of scarce shearwaters in Devon and Dorset. Full details of a record-breaking day for both Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters;
8) Amazing new images of the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater. Some of the best photos yet obtained of this charismatic seabird. In addition, a number of news items have been carried over from the last update as the project website was down for a few days shortly after the update was advertised;
9) UK/Ireland Balearic Shearwater report for July 2009. Get the latest summary of UK and Irish sightings of this Critically Endangered seabird;
10) SeaWatch SW survey gets off to a flying start! Find out what the SeaWatch SW team got up to at Gwennap Head during July;
11) SeaWatch SW survey scores an albatross! Full details of the remarkable sighting of a Black-browed Albatross off Gwennap Head on 26 July;
12) Balearic Shearwaters and other scarce seabirds seen from Gwennap Head. A summary of all other significant seabirds records seen from the watchpoint in July;
13) Unsettled weather affects Basking Shark sightings for third year in a row. Latest news about Basking Sharks and other marine wildlife sightings off Gwennap Head14) Marinelife boat-based surveys updateGet the offshore perspective with all the July news fro;
m the Marinelife team in Lyme Bay;
15) Berry Head 2008 report now available. SeaWatch SW observer Mark Darlaston provides a great summary of 2008 sightings from Berry Head;
16) SeaWatch SW sister sites update. SeaWatch SW welcomes Pendeen and Whitburn to the sister site network. Find out how you can get involved;
17) SeaWatch SW represented at first international Basking Shark workshop. Putting the results into policy: find out more about our Basking Shark research;
18) SeaWatch SW results published in British Birds. Full details on our latest publications about Madeiran Storm-petrels and Balearic Shearwaters;
19) Fundacion Migres again produces huge count of Balearic Shearwaters. The team at Gibraltar counted 17,576 Balearic Shearwaters leaving the Mediterranean this spring;
20) SeaWatch SW Assistant Co-ordinators. As the project gets ever bigger, we are pleased to welcome John Swann and Alice Jones to the co-ordination team.
Russell Wynn, SeaWatch SW co-ordinator - http://www.seawatch-sw.org

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Four hours of cold-blooded killing - the murderous campaign continues

Thanks to a tip-off, I made my way down to Staines Reservoirs, where representatives of the governmental body DEFRA were undertaking their first Ruddy Duck cull of the autumn at the site.

Before game started play, 14 RUDDY DUCKS were in attendance, along with a juvenile GREAT NORTHERN DIVER and large numbers of both dabbling (Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler) and diving ducks (Tufted Duck, Northern Pochard and Common Goldeneye) were present.

As usual, DEFRA came armed with 7 motorised speedboats, 7 guns and two stooges, placed at either end of the causeway. They had also been provided with excellent optical equipment, including a quality telescope and at least five pairs of expensive binoculars. It did not take them time to locate their quarry, all huddled close together in a tight-knit group on the South Basin.

As the boats were being launched into the SE corner of the basin, many of the wildfowl spooked and made their way over the causeway and on to the North Basin. This most likely involved the three juvenile COMMON SCOTERS that were located mid-morning feeding very close to the central causeway.

RUDDY DUCKS, unlike other wildfowl, are particularly reluctant to fly during daylight hours, mainly because of their poor flight making them susceptible to attack. They prefer to move by the hours of darkness. As a result, they are an easy target. It was not long before three birds were killed and bagged, followed most likely by two more. Several more sweeps of the reservoir were made, with the intention of killing the last two that remained present.

Coots were trying to escape the mayhem by frantically placing themselves in danger by running up the banks of the reservoir and then scooting along the main causeway and out through the fence and down the steep bank. They were petrified at the loud bangs going off all around them. Three first-winter Great Crested Grebes stuck it out and circumnavigated the outside edge.

Although it took just two hours to kill the first five 'bluebills', the remaining two took an age and I watched in disgust and horror, as the seven boats carefully, quietly and meticulously stalked their flightless prey. The 'watcher' clearly knew that two birds were still alive and there was no way he was going to leave before they had both been wiped off the face of the earth. Both were young drakes. Incredibly, time and time again, both birds dived and outwitted the wildfowlers, coming up behind the punts and then 'paddling' at full speed back towards the opposite end of the reservoir and bank. This was really frustrating the killers and after some consultation and radio-contact, they came up with a plan and slowly penned one of the two desperate survivors into the SW corner. All seven boats circled the bird and when it came up to breath, they all blasted at it at less than 30 yards range. The brave coloniser survived three uptakes of breath but sadly got nailed on its fourth surface, and was killed outright with one shot. It was then scooped up in a net by a delighted, beaming 'sportsman'.

The sole survivor then really made hard work and tricked the wicked brigadiers almost into submission. However, they would not be beaten and hounded the poor bird whilst terrifying Coot, Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe alike until it could gasp no longer and had to admit defeat. It surfaced exhausted like a storm-driven Little Auk and was then obliterated - the 999th Ruddy Duck to be murdered in cold blood at Staines Reservoirs since the carnage began in 2004.

So that was it - a day's work was done. Seven dead Ruddy Ducks in the bag. Success - and time to get prepared for tomorrow's shoot at Pitsford Reservoir in Northamptonshire.

I didn't bother remonstrating with or brow-beating the two henchmen on the gates this time - it was futile. All I can do is pray that some of my Ruddy Ducks survive past March 2010 when this government-backed monstrous campaign falters and comes to its glorious end. It is then that I shall cheer and leap for joy. At least I could drive home knowing full well that seven Ruddies had lived to fight another day (Lee G R Evans)