Hertfordshire News and Comment
This is the page where you will find news items which we hope will be of interest to birders, especially those in Hertfordshire! Also there'll be articles written by bird club members, sharing highlights from past bird holidays and their local patches.
EU takes France to court over hunting laws
Birding Beyond Hertfordshire: Bulgaria - 21 raptor species in 6 days!
Lee Valley Park Bird Race 1999
Christmas Spot the Bird Competition!
From last month
BirdCrime 1997 reveals continuing persecution
The black owls of Puttenham
The Rutland Water Ospreys
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EU takes France to court over bird huntingBRUSSELS, Dec 2 (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Wednesday it was taking France to court for persistently violating a European Union law on the protection of wild birds, including endangered species.
The Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- said France had breached the law by allowing hunters to operate during bird migration and breeding periods. It had also failed to pass laws to prevent vandals deliberately killing or capturing cormorants and gulls, destroying their nests and stealing their eggs. Paris is already facing legal action by the Commission over its failure adequately to protect wild birds and could face a daily fine of 105,500 Ecus ($124,600) if the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg rules against it.
The " wild birds directive " is the EU's oldest piece of conservation law and was approved unanimously by EU governments in 1979, when France held the presidency of the 15-nation bloc. But Paris and Brussels have persistenly clashed over how the law should be interpreted. In June the French parliament bowed to pressure from the hunting lobby and extended the shooting season for migratory birds by a month, in defiance of the EU law.
France's 1.6 million hunters flexed their political muscle at a mass march in Paris in February, disputing charges by ecologists and the Commission that hunting wild birds during the spring breeding and migrating periods depletes the species. " If you hunt birds in autumn and winter you shoot a surplus of birds that wouldn't make it through the winter ".Laurence Rose of Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds told Reuters.
" If you start shooting at the end of winter you kill the very birds that have been hardy enough to survive the winter migration and are resposible for keeping the population thriving, " he added. Rose pointed out that the black-tailed Godwit, one of the migratory wading birds the Commission said was most threatened by the extension in the French hunting season, was already under pressure because of severe pollution in southern Spain and the disappearance of its feeding grounds in Portugal. " The black-taled godwit is a perfect illustration of why we have the wild birds directive. These are international conservation issues. If one country fails to protect them, the bird population in all the other countries suffers, " Rose said.
Birding beyond Hertfordshire: Bulgaria in autumn - 21 species of raptor in six days
Joan Thompson has recently returned from Bulgaria where she spent time this autumn watching raptors and other species on their southwards migration. Once renown as the easiest place in Europe for birdwatchers to get arrested (the politically sensitive pickle factory at Burgas now seems to be just a fading folk-myth), the country is now an excellent destination for those wishing to experience eastern European birdwatching. Joan tells of some of her birding experiences there:
I had joined an organised trip to the Black Sea, in Bulgaria, to watch migration. Our first night was spent at Burgas before moving for three nights to Karvana and then back to Burgas for the remaining three nights. The distance between Karvana and Burgas was not too great so there was plenty of time to birdwatch on the journey.
Our first stop was at a local raptor point, overlooking part of Lake Atanabovsko. Immediately two Red-footed Falcons could be seen on a telegraph wire and behind that, over the fields, could be seen a hunting Montagu’s Harrier and several Kestrels. Other raptors moving through were Marsh Harriers, several Honey Buzzards, Common Buzzards and Lesser Spotted Eagles together with small groups of Red-footed Falcons, amounting to about 200 birds in all. Most of these birds were passing fairly low overhead, at quite close range.
Lesser Spotted Eagles (Jack Fearnside)
Another stop gave stunning views of a Long-legged Buzzard whilst a third, to look at Great White Egrets sitting in a field, produced yet more Marsh Harriers and our only Goshawk of the trip. Several Hobbies flying over a wood gave us our tenth raptor species of the first day, but the weather deteriorated through the afternoon with drizzle setting in and this continued all evening with quite a breeze blowing.
View of Hotel Biochim, Kavarna
Our Hotel at Karvana went under the peculiar name of Hotel Biochim and was of a much better standard than I had expected. It was built near the top of a cliff and had a lovely view from the various balconies over the sea and town below. Those with rooms on the lower level had noticed migrant birds moving in the hotel lights and soon most of us had gathered after supper to watch small migrants flying low towards the Bosphorus. It was drizzling and they were flying into the wind. Occasional Nightjars could be picked out by their distinctive shape in the lights but most of the rest were merely little yellow jobs as this was the colour they took from the lights. This was the first time that I had watched visible night-time migration and I found it a fascinating experience, even if most of the birds were unidentifiable. Eventually it was time to try and grab a few hours sleep before first light.
Before leaving the hotel in the morning we had very good views of an Icterine Warbler and a really close flying Levant Sparrowhawk, where the black primary tips could be easily seen.
Raptor watchpoint near the hotel
Our first stop after breakfast that day was Cape Kaliakra which is a rocky peninsular jutting out into the Black Sea. Here there were many Northern Wheatears, lots of Red-backed Shrikes, Redstarts and the odd Tawny Pipit and Calandra Lark. Amongst the raptors was our only Lesser Kestrel – a lovely male – an Osprey, a Short-toed Eagle and a male Pallid Harrier which gave us a stunning fly past. The first of many Red-breasted Flycatchers was seen and more Icterine Warblers. A Hoopoe was seen flying but unfortunately it landed inside a radar station and arms were waved at us in no uncertain terms when we tried to watch through the gates with binoculars! A Yelkouan Shearwater was found resting on the sea and one Arctic Skua flew past.
Later we went to Canyon Bolagae where we saw our first party of European Bee- eaters and another Levant Sparrowhawk. This latter species was really thin on the ground and only four or five birds were seen in total on the trip. Two Spotted Crakes were found in the marsh in the canyon and many Purple Herons flew past. My first European tortoises were seen; two individuals with the smaller one having intentions of mating but the female was just munching away on the vegetation, taking not a blind bit of notice! We just got back to the coach before the heavens opened and it poured with rain very hard.
That evening, whilst in the dining room awaiting tea and coffee, one of our group had a Corncrake crash-land beside him! He was able to attract our attention and we left our tea to get cold and went outside to get excellent views of this normally difficult species. It had landed on an earth bank and was just standing there in the open. I watched it for a minute or two before it disappeared into some nearby cover and was never seen again.
Next day there were intermittent showers and strong wind in the morning, becoming dryer later in the day. We went to Lake Durankulak saltpans where the highlights were Pygmy Cormorant, a single Glossy Ibis and small migrating parties of both Black and White Storks. It was possible to see at least 20 Marsh Harriers hunting over the marsh at a time. Other raptors were thin on the ground that day but two Lesser Spotted Eagles, two Honey Buzzards and a small party of Red-footed Falcons made up for it.
Other sites that day included Durankulak camping by the sea and Sabliewka Twzla Lake. The former gave us many close views of Black-necked Grebes and Mediterranean Gulls with a few Black-headed, our first Slender-billed Gull and many distant Yellow-legged Gulls. On the way to Twzla Lake a huge flock of white birds could be seen in the sky and eventually, when they drew closer, they turned out to be White Pelicans. The bus stopped and we descended to look through them but no Dalmatian could be found in this flock, which we estimated at about 2000 birds. A superb sight, as they eventually passed quite close. Also here a Syrian Woodpecker was identified by call but, as I could only ever get flight views, it was very frustrating as it looked very like a Great Spotted. No good at all for a new bird!
At Twzla Lake 20 Ferruginous Ducks were the stars amongst other more usual ducks. Several Golden Orioles were seen flying between the trees on the way back to the coach. Two Eagle Owls, seen on the way back to the hotel, rounded off the day.
Our last morning at Karvana provided one of those never to be forgotten moments and became the outstanding highlight of the trip for me. The day started with little wind and clear skies. Five of us descended right to the bottom of the cliff down numerous steps that made those at Hilfield look like a doddle. Our target at the bottom was better views of Syrian Woodpecker, which had been seen well the previous morning in trees by the sea front. Before long the Syrian Woodpecker obliged and provided complete views before disappearing into thick cover. At this point a Sparrowhawk flew over and then another and another and a Common Buzzard. At around this point I was torn between getting more looks at the Syrian and wanting to be back up the hill looking down on these passing raptors. A few minutes passed when more Sparrowhawks flew overhead as well as Common Buzzards and then the Syrian flew off and the decision was made to go back up the hill.
Others were already amassed on the verandah and before breakfast a constant stream of passing Sparrowhawks and Common Buzzards was coming past below where we were standing. After a while the first Black Kite was seen and a Peregrine. Unfortunately breakfast time was here but luckily the dining room also had a view over the bay. During breakfast another Black Kite was seen amongst the many Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawks. Breakfast finished and it was back to the low verandah to see what was passing next. After a while the Sparrowhawks started to decrease in number to be replaced by the odd Short-toed Eagle and a really close Booted Eagle amongst the numerous Common Buzzard. The first Lesser Spotted Eagle passed by and then more and more. Even the most distant birds could easily be seen by the naked eye as they passed along the beach. Many of these birds were starting to try and find a thermal over the cliff to the right of us and could be seen circling around as they gained height. It was difficult to decide where to look next as there always seemed to be more than one raptor to choose from.
By around 11 am the number of close birds was trailing off and birds were passing by higher than we were standing. This was the day we were travelling back to Burgas so it was getting time to start the journey. Estimates of the birds passing were as follows: Sparrowhawk 300, Common Buzzard 1000, Lesser Spotted Eagle 150, Booted Eagle 4, Short-toed Eagle 12, Black Kite 5 and Peregrine 1. After we got back to Burgas we discovered that a Danish group had counted 13,000 Lesser Spotted Eagles that day near Burgas which is considerably more than BWP suggests exists!
Whilst stopping for our lunch at a roadside pull-in a European Roller was found and the local Buzzard was calling every time a migrating Buzzard went overhead, which must have kept it busy for a while! After lunch I made a quick sortie into a nearby wood and found a Red-breasted Flycatcher by call, which made me think of Lee Marshall’s bird in Herts in 1996. An additional stop was made at Goritza Woods and this time it was not raining. We had good views of Grey-headed Woodpecker as well as several Middle Spotted. We arrived back at Burgas at dusk and checked back into the Hotel Park. Definitely one which would not feature in package tour brochures but it was very near lots of good birding habitat.
Anna Marett and I had a surprise the following morning when we heard the call of Rose-ringed Parakeet and then saw two birds fly across in front of us; I had not realised they were to be found in Bulgaria. We also saw another Grey- headed Woodpecker which called and then flew and landed on an open branch of a tree. After breakfast we returned to Lake Atanebovsko and this time entered an area of ponds and reeds. I was certainly glad that the Phragmites reeds were not any taller as I would have had to bird using stilts to see over it. Even so it made seeing some of the species, such as Bearded Tits, almost impossible for me. Every warbler was carefully scrutinised as we searched unsuccessfully for Paddyfield Warbler. In fact we were told that it is not known when they depart south so the reason for our failure may have been that they had already left. Any disappointment was easily overcome by the finding of three Little Crakes, an adult male and two juveniles. Little Bittern and Squacco Heron made a good supporting cast.
Whilst we were assembling at the bus several raptors could be seen passing overhead. These were quite high and more like usual raptor watching. There was nothing new for the trip amongst them so we moved on to another area better suited for raptor watching. This spot, on top of an embankment facing towards the inland mountains, produced many distant kettles of migrating raptors but also produced a much closer White-tailed Eagle, the only one of the trip, and another close Long-legged Buzzard. We enjoyed several good views of Short-toed Eagles but there were many distant Buzzards and Lesser Spotted Eagles, although some were closer. This was more like I was expecting raptor migration to be, unlike yesterday which was something very special and much easier on the neck. Today the count was 12 Short-toed Eagles, one White-tailed Eagle, 15 Sparrowhawks, 300 Buzzards, five Long-legged Buzzards, 300 Lesser Spotted Eagle and 10 Red-footed Falcons.
In the afternoon we made our way to Lake Mandra but, after not turning up anything other than a few Pygmy Cormorants, Whiskered Terns and good numbers of Corn Buntings, we went on to Lake Bourgasto. Although we could only view the lake from a distance, it contained about 500 pelicans but not a single Dalmatian Pelican could be picked out amongst them. Many hundreds of Yellow- legged Gulls were flying in to roost and around 3000 Pochard were on this lake, but hardly a Tufted Duck among them.
Our last day produced one Dalmatian Pelican in amongst a flock of White Pelicans. Either that bird or another was seen a short while later when many pelicans were descending onto Lake Bourgasto. Shortly after landing it totally disappeared into the flocks already settled on the lake and was never seen again. However, this site also produced our only Woodchat Shrike and the last raptor species of the trip, a Hen Harrier.
As well as all the fabulous migrating raptors, Bulgaria was a place where birds were seen in their thousands. During the course of six days 182 species were either seen or heard by the group which gives you some idea of the excellent birding which can be enjoyed in this part of the world. All these sightings took place between the 21st and 26th September 1998 and it would have been interesting to stay longer to see how things change from week to week.
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Lee Valley Park Bird Race 1999
On Sunday 10th January 1999 you can take part in the 11th nationally renowned Lee Valley Park Bird Race – and this year it is bigger and better than ever!
Free events take part up and down the valley, and include guided walks led by Lee Valley Park Rangers at Fishers Green, Rye House Marsh and Walthamstow Reservoirs, special field workshops on ducks and gulls by famous artist Alan Harris (booking essential), and a series of talks on the subjects of care of wild birds, binoculars past, present and future and Bitterns in the Lee Valley (by Ken Smith), held at the Lee Valley Park Information Centre at Waltham Abbey. Also at the Centre throughout the day will be representatives from the Enfield Wildlife Rescue (along with some of their rescued birds) and an exhibition of wildlife photographs by the Lee Valley Nature Photographers.
And of course the usual competitions! This year there will be four: Most Birds Seen in the Lee Valley – for teams of 3 or 4 people; Most Birds Seen in the Lee Valley – individual entry; Most Birds Seen at One Site – either Amwell Quarry Nature Reserve, Fishers Green or Walthamstow Reservoirs; or Most Birds Seen at Rye House Marsh RSPB Reserve. Prize money of up to £100 will be for the winners to donate to the charity of their choice. Competitors must register their choice of competition by 1.30pm on 10th January at one of the site information points and your entry form must be handed into the Lee Valley Park Information Centre no later than 5.30pm. Good luck everyone!
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Spot the Bird Competition!
This competition is for members of the Herts Bird Club. The rules are published in the November issue of the Herts Bird Club Bulletin. Basically you need to put a cross where the bird is (yes its still there and hasn't been retouched out) and guess what species is involved. A big clue is that the picture was taken (by Rob Young) on Fair Isle in a September. Non-members are welcome to hazard a guess at the species, just email Jack Fearnside, who will tell you how close you are! (You'll have to take a copy of the picture and use a graphics program to put your marks on!)
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