Golden oldies 

So this week saw us mixing with some great conservationists and I’m going to call them the ‘Golden Oldies’ but I mean this respectfully as thats what we have the utmost respect for them!

Monday night we went to watch fellow Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group member Steve Watson deliver a fantastic talk on Peregrine falcons to the Stockport branch of the RSPB. The talk as expected was fantastic, brought to life by fantastic images, unique footage and fantastic anecdotes from a bloke that has spent no less than 30 + years watching Peregrine falcons at Symonds Yat and surrounding areas (I think 30 + yrs makes him nearly a Golden oldie). His detailed data on the productivity, location and individual birds was a great example of first class field work.

The main man ready to share his Peregrine experiences and knowledge

This was well received by a fantastic turn out of 100 or so people but what was noticeable was I don’t think one of the 100 individuals in the audience were under 50 years old! This is scary, where’s the younger generation stepping up to take on the Peregrine conservation baton? It can’t of been the subject as Peregrines are the ferrari’s of the bird of prey world – the Top Gun! Maybe it was the location or timing, a Monday evening in Stockport’s Masonic Hall might not sell it to juniors or their parents to chaperone them or maybe the group need to realise their audience demographic needs a re focus? 

Wednesday saw us out with the Broxton Barn Owl Group replacing old barn owl boxes. We play an active role monitoring barn owl boxes on behalf of the BBOG so it was great to get out and help the group in the field. Check out the pictures below for how the boxes are put up, do you notice anything about the average age of some of the group – more golden oldies.

Chatting to Bernard this is something he is very conscious of, the group is short of young blood to slowly take over the mantle of protecting some of Cheshire Barn owls. Maybe Raptor Aid needs to develop some iniatives to encourage junior participation in local conservation groups! What you can do is get the kids outside and interested in not just birds of prey but the natural world, if they show that spark then keep encouraging and find your local conservation group! 

The team loading the boxes

One of the boxes which lasted over 10 years in great habitat

Lifting the pole to change the box – BBOG use reclaimed telegraph poles for siting there boxes

Fixing the new box – team work makes the dream work apparently

Once up and in the ground it’s important to compact the ground well so the pole doesn’t start to lean in wet weather

Sometimes new holes need to be dug – a big hole requires a big tool, a four man auger!!

Bernard taking all important locations down for any new box sites

The most important tool of the day!

Thanks again to Steve for his great talk, Stockport RSPB for hosting it and the Broxton Barn Owl Group golden oldies for a great day in the field! 

2015 Golden Eagle Survey

The Golden Eagle Survey carried out across 2015 by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups, RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage has just been published and on the whole it’s good news for Golden Eagles with a 15% increase on the 2003 national survey with 508 territorial pairs. There is a BUT though and as the maps and data within the report show there are still parts of Scotland with Eagles missing and a decline in territorial breeding pairs. 

Raptor Aid knows all to well about the dedicated work required for monitoring one of our countries most enigmatic raptors, spending hours walking and watching remote corners of the Highlands in all weathers (even 2 freezing nights sleeping in the  back of a van). The views often make it all worth while but when birds fail to breed it can be down to a variety of reasons. 

The reasons can include disturbance, lack of prey, sudden changes in weather conditions and direct persecution. Sadly persecution is still proving to be a real problem for some suitable regions with good Eagle habitats.

Anyone who has visited the uplands of Scotland has to appreciate the sheer beauty of the landscapes and all that lives there. Hopefully the production of this study will help governments make important decisions for safe guarding the future of the Golden Eagle and many other animals within the Scottish uplands. 

We are proud to be a working member of the Highland Raptor Study Group, with all our Survey data being fed into a national database which makes up the core of work like this survey. We will be back out in the new year to start the new eagle season with the hope of a successful pair or two to monitor and observe.

If you wish to read a copy of the survey feel free to contact us with your email address and we will forward it on.

Another group we are proud to be part of and working with is the Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group who have achieved a fantastic amount in the short time it has been around. They have two fantastic winter talks planned and you can find out more by following the link to their latest newsletter below. 

Autumn 2016 newsletter

The debate

So tomorrow October the 31st see’s the future of driven grouse shooting being debated in the House of Commons by MPs. This is after months if not years of work by Mark Avery and others to get driven Grouse shooting banned because of several issues within the sport all of which merit going under the microscope. 

These points include

  • Burning of moorland & Peat
  • Draining of moorland & blanket bogs
  • Culling of various animals for one species to thrive
  • Use of national & international subsidies to support already affluent landowners
  • Illegal persecution of birds of prey

All of the above can be read up on from various websites via our links page and we recommend you look at both sides of the story but let me put out Raptor Aid view on this hot conservation potatoe.

We signed the petition to ban Grouse shooting first and foremost – now we are under no illusions the Conservative party and their landowning donors will see this or let a ban happen but at least it’s being highlighted that’s one reason why we signed it. The biggest reason we signed it though is because for years we have witnessed the illegal persecution of birds of prey in and around Grouse moors and it needs to stop!

Those of you new to this or having just picked it up since the more frequent news coverage many British birds of prey are shot, trapped, poisoned or disturbed on intensive grouse moors to protect Red Grouse numbers. The Red Grouse is a native game bird famed for its fast flights so has become the ultimate target in many shooters sights, a day’s shooting costs thousands of pounds on some moors. Grouse cannot be reared in captivity and then released so the moors must be managed to encourage and support Grouse populations, this is where moors are burnt to encourage Heather re growth for the Grouse to eat and shelter but also draining of moors for burning and access and predator control to sustain the high numbers of Grouse estate owners and paying guns demand. 

Predator control is allowed for certain species including corvids, stoats, weasels, foxes and rats but there is also a big illegal element with Hen harriers at the heart of it. 

Hen harriers are a species of British Raptor which makes its home on the moors of England (also Scotland/Wales/Ireland) that is if it wasn’t for illegal persecution especially in England. A government funded study showed that the English uplands should hold upwards of 300 pairs of breeding HH, 2016 saw just 3 breeding pairs! Sadly illegal persecution is the driving force for this sorry figure, it has been shown each year for as long as we have been following the issue that Hen harriers are being shot, trapped and disturbed during crucial parts of the breeding season.

How is this known? Bodies are found despite the difficult and vast terrain Grouse moors cover and with the advent and more frequent use of GPS tags on the birds showing the last known movements even without a corpse evidence is there on maps. Only this week one of the two HH satellite tagged with the support of the Hawk & Owl Trust has been found dead under suspicious circumstances and details passed on to the police, this bird will have been barely 5 months old.

It’s not just HH’s though, Golden Eagles in Scotland, Red Kites, Common Buzzard and Peregrine are all still targeted in the name of driven Grouse shooting. This particular issue has been rumbling on long before Raptor Aid was conceived and maybe the only way to stop the killing is remove to problem completely. After watching the recent review committee on the debate grill both parties, from conservationists and shooters/land managers it became clear the latter are not willing to accept the real issue of protected species being killed on a regular basis. 

Surely when you step back and think as an intelligent species some of us get pleasure from a sport that involves killing other species to protect a species to then be killed as a form of sport questions of moral and ethical values must be asked? 

Raptor Aid in the meantime will continue to support the protection of British birds of prey and share this with you with the hope that the tide will change. Don’t forget your voice counts!! 

2016 Raptor monitoring in pictures

Although monitoring never ceases and there’s always data to collect and birds to observe the breeding season for 2016 has finished. This year has been an interesting one with the move back to Cheshire and so work in Gloucestershire with the GRMG has been trickier and also managing a business added its own hurdles but also opened up new doors like working on Golden Eagles in Scotland and  supporting the Highland Raptor Monitoring Group, working with the Welsh Raptor Study Group on Peregrines and monitoring Hobbies in Cheshire.

Ravens are usually some of the first broods we monitor. Although not a bird of prey they are often afforded an honorary status. This brood of five chicks are from a pair we have monitored for 4 years.

Ravens will nest in some pretty big trees as shown here – Raptor Aid has a good head for heights.

The parents are never far away, keeping an eye on proceeding. The largest of the U.K. Corvid family and spectacular fliers.

This is an example of a huge Raven cliff nest in North Wales – sites will often be used year after year. (Copyright Paul Roberts)

Golden Eagle also start early in the year with first checks starting in February/March for territorial birds – what about that for an office!! 

Even if the eagles aren’t present we check sites for activity – here another bird of prey a Barn owl has ended up on the Eagles menu.

The walks away from Eagle territories aren’t to bad either really.

Tawny owls are another early breeder but sadly we also have to monitor road casualties. This was a particularly bad day as we found two dead Tawny owls on seperate roads. Tawny owls will hunt from trees around roads and swooping down can be hit by traffic. 

The Tawny owl nest box scheme with the GRMG however has been very successful, from 28 boxes put up we had 8 breeding pairs from our patch. Here an adult is checked for a ring in order to monitor dispersal and survival.

These 3 Tawny owl chicks don’t have much to worry about with this cache of young rats ready for eating. You won’t be surprised to hear they all fledged and this particular wood had two breeding pairs producing 5 chicks in total.

Sadly though it’s not just Tawny owls we find dead. Here a poor Little owl has dropped into a cattle trough for a drink or bath and been unable to escape. Cattle troughs are a dangerous things for Barn owls and Little owls.

These two newly hatched Little owl chicks also have some food stored waiting for them.The two eggs hatched a few days later. This farm is great for Little owls having no less than 3 breeding pairs within 800 metres of each other! 

A brood of healthy kestrel chicks which we monitor every year at our base. The four eggs below were the beginning of 2016 for this year pair. This usually begins in May with the chicks fledging later in July.

The buzzards above are being monitored in Gloucestershire by members of the GRMG including Raptor Aid. Even the most common species need to be monitored and recorded. 

May and June is a busy month for us again working with GRMG and monitoring Goshawks. Big climbs and plenty of chicks meant we even had the rope in Teddy the dog to supervise.

Big climbs lead to big nest’s! Here a secret location filming Goshawks for a new programme on the species and a certain friend of Raptor Aid’s due out next year! Watch this space! 

We also have to go down to sites and this year saw us join a long standing study on Peregrines which we hope to continue for many years. Above shows a clutch of three Peregrine eggs.

The sites are remote and stunning. We will also record what prey is found on the ledge as this is often a big driving force in the chicks fledging successfully in such rural locations.

We had another slow year on Barn owls. Only one pair found breeding in our 26 boxes we monitor in Cheshire and North Wales. This pair of chicks were in a box within the roof of a stunning old dovecote.

Trust us that box is higher than it looks and those ladders pretty wobbly!!

One of the jewels in the Monitoring crown has to be finding a Hobby nest site. We have now started to try and map as many Hobby sites as we can for Cheshire, a species that is under recorded in our opinion despite some fantastic field workers monitoring them.

Long summer days across Cheshire farmland after many hours in the field can reap great rewards – it’s not just good for the birds but good for the heart and soul.

Next we must collate data for our tawny owls and Hobbies and spend the winter building and repairing boxes. It must be worth noting all of this is done on a voluntary basis under licences with all the data being fed into the British Trust for Ornithology and regional bird recorders. The knowledge also learnt can be shared and passed on with others to learn from and use, after all isn’t that what Raptor Aid is all about. 

Bring on 2017.

Autumnal reflection

Well the first thing to reflect on is the neglect for this blog…… I feel a bit guilty that my last blog was June 30th! So apologies but there has been a lot going on as I will explain below. 

The ringing/monitoring season has finished for another year and now we turn our attentions to maintaining links with landowners, meeting new ones, refurbishing nest boxes and writing reports. It has been a mixed year with the move back to Cheshire, but the Tawny owl nest box scheme has been good, we will start seeing data from the Little owl one next summer and trying to start an on going study of Cheshire Hobbies has been very productive but I will run a separate blog on all this once I’ve got the reports written. All that before the Golden Eagle stuff will start again in the new year, on the subject of Golden Eagles sadly the one nest that we located as active failed, on my return in June the nest was empty with fresh greenery growing through it so better luck next year. We did find signs of birds still on territory those as the below picture demonstrates.

Ash very happy with his Golden Eagle primary found under licence

The raptor ID day I ran for Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre went fantastically well and we will be running another one in May next year. I had a fantastic group, great facilities, stunning countryside and great views of wild Peregrine at the gorge, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Little Owl and signs of Barn owl and Tawny owl sighting and calling on the owl prowl. We will be aiming to run some more local ones next year and owl prowls over this winter so watch this space. 

Talking raptor persecution in a grouse butt

Nest box building workshop


Some of you may know that we also have a team of captive birds of prey that have been incredibly busy this year. It’s only a small team but they do a great job of educating young and old about birds of prey and their conservation. Things will be changing in the near future though with the captive birds being completely separated from Raptor Aid as an organisation but more on that at a later date. Exciting times ahead that’s all I can say! 

We are beginning to push on with contacts and conservation iniatives but it’s a slow process. We recently donated $250 to the Belize Raptor Foundation to sponsor a local participant in their raptor identification programme and we will hopefully have a separate blog post on how that went soon. We are also gathering in rucksacks here in the U.K. To send out to the Philippine Eagle Foundation to help their forest guards which support the foundations work in safeguarding the rainforest habitat the eagles need but also monitor the birds themselves. Take a look at the picture below to see the homemade bags they have to use now! We are planning a trip to the Philippines in December to see the great work of the foundation and then in the new year to help monitoring wild eagles. 

Fertiliser bag ruck sack PEF copyright

Vultures are still under increasing pressure around the world especially in Africa where poisoning is still proving to be a huge problem. A very recent case in Limpopo province saw 51 vulture dead along with two Lions and other species. The Lions had been butchered, their bones for medicinal purposes and the vultures heads removed for Muthi and the belief that their body parts can help in witchcraft. This is another area that interests Raptor Aid and the human cultural aspect in relation to these birds. We must also congratulate Charlie Hamilton James on his recent accolade of Photojournalist of the year award for his work on vultures globally, his images are both powerful and eye opening – well done Charlie on highlighting and raising the profile of this important group of birds. 

Vulture heads for Muthi in Africa copyright C. Hamilton James

In the U.K. the war on raptor persecution continues, again worthy of a separate blog post as so much has gone on from continued illegal persecution including satellite tagged Hen Harriers vanishing, Peregrines being shot and illegal pole traps being set. The petition to end driven grouse shooting which Raptor Aid supported reached 100,000 signature and Some and will now be debated in the commons at the end of the month. It might not bring a ban but at the very least it is really bringing in to the spot light the issues surrounding how British uplands are managed and the whole issue of illegal raptor persecution. On a positive note we are continuing to develop our new nest boxes for self assembly so anyone can buy one, build it themselves and offer a home to a British bird of prey. It is slow progress but we are hoping to have something to work with and roll out a build your own nest box scheme in the new year. 

The website needs a bit of a clean up and update so that is on the cards for the winter months but I have also just started a masters in Anthrozoology (human/non human relations) at Exeter University which is fascinating but after 12 years out of education is a massive shock to the system and brain. One of the reasons for this apart from personal development is because of the ever shifting change in people’s views of animals and their roles in our lives, Raptor Aid as an organisation going forward hopes to be at the forefront of human relationships with birds of prey whether it’s captive birds of prey, muthi trade, illegal persecution and the many other aspects where humans come into contact and conflict with birds of prey. We will be blogging separately on the various topics in due course probably beginning with the ever increasing issues facing birds of prey in captivity within the U.K.

Poor practice of captive birds of prey in Britain is increasing as seen in the above image

Many thanks for stopping by to read the blog and keep following we promise not to leave it so long for the next post.

Busy busy 

I had hoped to be a bit more on the ball with the blog but it’s proving tricky as we have so much going on with both our captive birds and right in the thick of monitoring the wild birds of prey. 

So a lot has gone on since I last blogged, on the captive bird front we are busy with our small team of birds. We very rarely talk about them and that’s partly because we don’t feel the need to advertise and also because Raptor Aid wants to focus more on wild birds of prey and conservation. The captive birds do play an important role though as yesterday we did two flying displays to over 100 children which is incredibly important. You may have seen a Horizon BBC documentary recently on whether zoos are important, I won’t go into my stance here that’s another blog but I do get asked more and more about the ethics of birds of prey in captivity and I to sometimes question the role birds of prey play in captivity. 

Raptor Aid ‘s Goshawk

On the conservation front we are very busy monitoring wild birds of prey, we have been in Wales monitoring Peregrine’s and back to Scotland to finish off the Golden Eagle work – more on this in a separate blog. One thing that I learnt is Scotland and the Highlands in particular is simply stunning! Closer to home the usual Buzzards are breeding, my Kestrels pairs have dropped off but this may be down to me not keeping my finger on the pulse whilst down in Gloucester for the last 3 years. Little owl chicks should be out and about I just hope all this bad rain we are having isn’t having to much of a negative impact on their survival and dispersal. 

Stunning Highlands

Now my attentions turn to the stunning Hobby a migratory falcon that visits our shores to breed. Since returning to Cheshire I had always planned to try and find as many pairs as possible and begin a long term study if possible. This is easier said than done as this species is particularly secretive and elusive around a nest site so lots of walking and watching is in order for the next couple of months. If you are lucky to know of a bird of prey breeding site please keep it confidential but make sure you share it with organisations like BTO or your county bird recorder. 

Stunning Hobby

Other projects include the nest box scheme for schools which is still very much in the planning stages, this is mainly because we have very specific ideas for how the boxes are to be made and the aims of the project. We’ve made some great contacts nationally for the project we just need to get the blueprint right from the start before rolling it out! August sees us running two raptor identification courses, a one day course for Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and a three day course for the Field Studies Council at Malham Tarn, if they are successful we will be looking to run a full diary of events in 2017. Next year could also see the introduction of a very unique day with our captive birds of prey for fans of British birds of prey but it’s very early days yet – watch this space! 

Can you ID this feather

Elsewhere in the bird world raptor persecution is still rearing it’s ugly head in the UK, Hen Harriers are at the forefront along with driven grouse moors but also Red Kites and Common Buzzards are being shot and poisoned and if your a bird of prey reading this (you never know) stay away from the Peak District as that is a real black hole for raptors. I think as of July I will try and make a conscious effort to write a monthly blog piece on the previous months bird of prey news. I probably shouldn’t mention the referendum but what’s done is done now, one thing is certain never has it been more important for our conservation organisations to step up and push to protect our environment and wildlife as we soon won’t have the protective laws of the EU Legislation. 

A trip to the Natural History Museum, Tring

Keep an eye on the blog over the next week as I’ll publish Part 3 of the Golden Eagle monitoring and also a bit more in depth on what else we’ve been monitoring. Thanks for reading! 


Little owls 

We can’t forget about the Little guys so last week saw me check some of the Little owl boxes that we monitor. Cheshire is a fantastic county for this species, a true dairy farming county I remember as a child knowing of loads of Little owl sites in old field oaks where the cattle grazed the pastures short and their cow pats attracted invertebrates. Sadly a lot of these sites have disappeared as more and more farmers have gone out of milk and land use has changed, the Little owl has no doubt been affected by this change in the landscape and locating active pairs has never been more important. One thing we have noticed is there are still pockets of healthy Little owl populations and the farm I visited last week is a great example of this! 

Little owls will readily take to a nest box which is a blessing as often when they are in a natural cavity monitoring breeding productivity is very difficult if not impossible. This particular farm has 4 nest boxes ( 2 in the front fields and two at the rear) placed in field or hedgerow oak, the fields are still grazed by the cattle and I think this is what the Little owls need as this year has proved! It is also worth pointing out that Little owls are very resilient towards disturbance when done correctly AND under licence. 

When checking the boxes I like to try and gauge how productive the pair are by counting eggs. Little owls like the female above will sit incredibly tight and often have to be moved to one side to check under them.

 I started by checking the two boxes in front of the farm, usually this farm has one pair and in good years two pairs and it is the front of the farm that is often the preferred breeding site. The first box I checked to my delight had not only the female sat on two eggs but the male snuggled next to her, this isn’t unusual but I don’t tend to get the male as he will be sat nearby watching, as it had been a wet morning I presume he was taking shelter. Neither bird had a BTO ring on them I had never met them before so both birds were rung and then left in peace back in the box. 

I then headed over to the second box in the front of the farm which is no more than 300 metres from the box with the pair. This box on several occasions has had squirrels in it and when used the resident female I had rung two years previously but to my surprise on lifting the lid I found another pair of Little owls. I removed both birds from the box gently and although they were sat tightly in the box they were not incubating anything but on closer inspection the female had a large brood patch (a pink fleshy area on her abdomen where she incubates the eggs). Neither of these birds had rings on so it was another new pair, I placed an individual ring on each bird and quickly placed them back in the box.

I have had pairs this close before and it goes to show what a great farm this is for Little owls but I couldn’t help and wonder where the old female had gone. Had she perished or had she been ousted by the new pairs? 

I didn’t have long before I found out as I went to check the two boxes behind the farm. Inside the first of the two boxes I was greeted by the old female (she’s at least 4) sat on two very young chicks and two eggs. This was great to see and I left her in peace, I will return in 10-12 days to see how the chicks have progressed. 

The final and fourth box contained a young brood of Jackdaws. I’m really pleased with the outcome of these boxes this year and as you can see from the picture below there are plenty of rodents being brought into the box as its not just invertebrates which the owls depend on.

It often surprises people how quickly birds of prey develop and grow, the owlets above barely two days old will be pretty much fully grown and scurrying about in 4 weeks. The image below shows the male from one of the boxes with an interesting looking eye. I asked a friend and specialist avian vet about the cause of this, his response was possibly an injury or puncture wound to the eye which has healed itself. The owl certainly seemed very healthy. 

It intrigued me as to how big this population might be. It’s time to cast the net a little further and also offer the young leaving these nest boxes somewhere to set up breeding territories so more boxes will be erected.

We’ll report back in due course. Thanks for reading!