Thursday 30 October 2014

A phalaroping we will go!

Earlier this month to celebrate our wedding anniversary Elis and I decided that we should pay a long overdue visit to the RSPB reserves of Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore in Lincolnshire. By coincidence a Grey Phalarope had been there all week, would it stay and be the icing on the cake?

We didn't however go straight to Lincolnshire, we got a bit side tracked and ended up in Norfolk at Burnham Norton, the attraction being a Steppe Grey Shrike, but that seen we were soon on our way again.

Steppe Grey Shrike Lanius (meridionalis) pallidirostris, Burnham Norton, Norfolk., UK 11/10/2014

We went first to Freiston Shore where the phalarope had been seen all week and met some other birders there who were also looking for it. We took and hour or more to walk all the way around the scrape only to find that that the bird was actually on a pool known as 'The Reservoir' and had flown off while we were looking elsewhere. We decided to go and have a look anyway but as we started out for this body of water an enormous thunderclap overhead followed by a cloud burst made us think twice so we retired for the night and hoped the phalarope would return for us the next day.

Freiston Shore RSPB reserve, Lincolnshire, UK 11/10/2014

In the morning we headed straight for the reservoir. Through the slats of the blind we could see a mass of roosting waders and keen to sift through them even though it was against the light I lifted my bins to look at the middle of the group. And what did I see twirling around immediately behind them? You guessed it, the Grey Phalarope.

Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicaria (behind roosting birds). Freiston Shore, Lincolnshire, UK 12/10/2014

By chance we were joined by warden Toby Collett with his children Finley and Neve and we had a really interesting chat about the waders to be found at Freiston and Frampton.

Toby Collett RSPB warden with Finley and Neve.

Toby told us that RSPB reserves have an internal competition for wetland sites called 'The Golden Welly', but I hope he'll write and tell us about that one day so I won't mess the story up by getting it all wrong now.

Grey Phalarope with Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus and Herring Gull Larus argentatus, Freiston Shore, Lincolnshire, UK 12/10/2014

A large flock of Eurasian Golden Plover flew over, some 600 of them so Toby estimated, some calling as they did so twinkling in the sun, a truly beautiful juxtaposition of sight and sound against the clear blue sky across the brooding, misty, early morning marsh.

Eurasian Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, Freiston Shore, Lincolnshire, UK 12/10/2014

The birds in the flock included; Black-tailed Godwits, Red Knots, Dunlins, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Common Ringed Plovers and a single Common Greenshank.

The roosting flock (just beyond the island) on 'The Reservoir' in the morning light. Freiston Shore, Lincolnshire, UK. 12;10;2014

After this we headed for Frampton Marsh and what a lovely reserve it is too. We strolled around at leisure and ended up sitting peacefully on a bench on the sea wall overlooking the marsh with the sun warming our backs as we watched no less than four Little Stints foraging in among the many Dunlins and Common Ringed Plovers that rippled over the wet mud; adding to the atmosphere somewhere behind us a Eurasian Curlew called, unseen.

Little Stint Calidris minuta, Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve, Lincolnshire, UK 12/10/2014

The other waders we saw there were a single Grey Plover, a small flock of Eurasian Golden Plovers, many Common Redshanks, Ruff, a few Black-tailed Godwits and many Northern Lapwings to my delight. A Curlew Sandpiper was reported, but sadly we didn't come across this one.

Northern Lapwin Vanellus vanellus Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire 12/10/2014

As we left we sat for a while in the visitor centre where we reported our four stints and had an interesting chat to the two volunteers, one of whom, Daniel, later signed up as a sponsor and made a donation... thanks Daniel you made a great day out even better.

RSPB visitor centre Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire, UK 12/10/2014

Sunday 26 October 2014

An interesting week in the life of Wader Quest.

This has been an unusual and interesting week for us.

On Wednesday we ventured into London on public transport, not something we are greatly accustomed to doing, and found the experience was far from being unpleasant despite our metropolisophobic tendencies. (Couldn't find a proper name for a phobia about cities so I invented one.)

The reason we were there was to give a talk to the London Natural History Society following an invite from Kat Duke. The talk was in the Isis Education Centre in the middle of Hyde Park and was a very pleasant venue indeed. We talked about some of the waders we had seen on our travels and how they are being affected by the modern world.

LNHS talk showing the excellent presentation equipment.
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago on screen.
On Friday we did the opposite journey and headed out to Thetford in Norfolk. There we spoke at a seminar at the BTO HQ at the Nunnery. We had been invited to speak there by Allan Archer, who  has agreed to be a Trustee of Wader Quest so we were able to take the opportunity to have a useful chat about our future with him at the same time. We had a fabulous response from the good folk of the BTO and we really enjoyed our visit there immensely.

BTO seminar.
 Black Stilt Himantopus novaehollandiae on screen.
It was particularly good to see some of our friends from the Wash Wader Ringing Group, Nigel, Ruth, Justin, Samantha, David and Lucy who even came in from maternity leave just to see us. It was very pleasing to have their support, particularly that of Nigel as it was his talk about the Spoon-billed Sandpipers that pretty much spurred Wader Quest into being in the first place, who'd have thought that two years later he'd be attending a Wader Quest talk?

Then Saturday morning we dragged ourselves out of a cosy warm bed to set up the Mobile Charity Shop at a car boot sale in the dark and chilled pre-dawn mist. I was not, I confess, over optimistic. However, as the sun rose over the horizon and the temperature crept into double figures, a few hardy souls turned out and fortunately for us they were people who wanted to buy, not just browse. The result being that we had one of our best mornings for some time.

The scene at the car boot site just after we arrived (the cars are behind us; we weren't the only people there!)

Friday 17 October 2014

Charity Status Update! (and other wader Quest news)

Recognition as a charity by HMRC

Finally we have had a response from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs department.

We have been notified that Wader Quest is now officially recognised as a charity by HMRC and as such we will now be able to benefit from Gift Aid and other tax exemptions and allowances.

As a result, once we have worked out exactly what we can and can't do, we will be looking at sponsorships and donations that have been made since March 2nd (our official starting date) until now. We will be contacting existing sponsors to see if they are willing and eligible to sign a gift aid form so that we may benefit from this valuable extra source of income.

That means there is even more reason for those who have not yet done so to sign up as a sponsor of Wader Quest, what with this extra income your sponsorship will bring us and the Prize Draw we are offering (see below) there has never been a better time to do it.

Wader Quest Anniversary Prize Draw

To celebrate the second anniversary of the commencement of Wader Quest we are holding an Anniversary Prize Draw. Anyone signing up as an ordinary, family or life sponsor one month either side of the anniversary on the 1st of November (October 1st to November 30th) will be entered automatically into the prize draw which will be made on the 1st December 2014. The prize is a splendid pair of Optictron 8x30 T3 Trailfinder Binoculars.

Sponsorship income is currently being ring fenced to swell the Wader Quest Grants Fund which will be used to pay for equipment and materials via application to the fund from small wader conservation projects. The first such grant was made earlier this month when we purchased colour rings and measuring equipment which were sent to the Anak Burung Birdbanding Club in Indonesia where, under the supervision of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, they are going to study Javan Plover and White-headed Stilt. We have since been asked to provide some mist nets for a project in Peru a decision about which will be made shortly.

See the JOIN US page for rates, benefits and details of how to become a sponsor.

Trustee news

We are very happy to welcome Allan Archer and Oliver Simms to the Board of Trustees.

We first met Allan when we attended the OSME AGM at the BTO headquarters in Norfolk earlier this year, he joined Wader Quest as a sponsor and has been most supportive ever since. His business acumen will be essential as we drive Wader Quest's development forward as we strive to make a difference.

Oliver we met when he came to volunteer with us in Brazil where he helped us with the small group of children we worked with. He brings a new, young, modern approach to the board and his connections with the Next Generation Birders Club, which he helped to set up and until recently served on the committee of, will certainly help us engage with the younger generation which is an important aspect of what we do.

At the same time we sadly say farewell to former trustee Martin Simpson who stepped into the breach to help us set up the organisation in the initial stages. We wish him luck in his new life in Thailand.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Birdgirl's South American Wader Quest Part 3: Guest blog by Mya-Rose Craig

My name is Mya-Rose Craig AKA Birdgirl.  I am 12 years old and live in Somerset, in the UK.  I am obsessed with birds, passionate about conservation and love writing.  This is the third part to my Wader Quest...

The next part of our journey was a 9 week trip to Peru. That was going to be really amazing.  Early in the trip, we birded the Santa Eulalia Canyon in Central Peru, not far from Lima.  We headed off East from Lima in our “hippy van”, which I loved.  We spent two days birding up the canyon seeing a whole load of endemic birds, before arriving at Ticlio Bog which was at 4,900 metres.  Here we saw the endemic White bellied Cinclodes and Junin Canastero.  However, my bird of the day was Diademed Sandpiper-Plover which we had unbelievably good views of. After searching for it for all those hours in Bolivia, it was fantastic to see it here within ten minutes of arriving and so early in our Peru trip.  This was a good contender for my most magical wader.

Diademed Sandpiper-Plover Phegornis mitchellii © Alejandro Tello, Kolibri Expeditions

Also in Peru I saw Killdeer, another bird I feel confident that I could identify if I found one in Britain, as well as Collared Plover, Pied Lapwing, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Blackish Oystercatcher, the rare Andean Avocet, Peruvian Thick-knee, Hudsonian Godwit, Surfbird, Semipalmated and Baird's Sandpipers.

Blackish Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani© Alejandro Tello, Kolibri Expeditions
Andean Avocet Recurvirostra andina© Alex Torres, Kolibri Expeditions

Alex Torres, Andy Marshall, Helena Craig, Mya-Rose Craig and Chris Craig
At Junin Lake

Peruvian Thick-knee Burhinus superciliaris© Alejandro Tello, Kolibri Expeditions
Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica© Alejandro Tello, Kolibri Expeditions

Surfbird Aphriza virgata© Chris Craig
On the way back from South America, we stopped in Atlanta for a day’s birding at some wetlands.  It was early September and we were looking forward to seeing some American Shorebirds.  The first was Short-billed Dowitcher, which I looked at carefully, another candidate for a British record. I didn’t know that I was going to be watching one at home only a few weeks later!

Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus© Dan Vickers

Mya-Rose Craig, Bill Lotz and Chris Craig © Helena Craig

It was great to see all of those waders and I feel really lucky.  Diademed Sandpiper-Plover is definitely the most magical wader I have seen. 

My Dad loves waders and they are his favourite type of bird.  Because he looks at them so much, he is fantastic at differentiating between them and identifying them.  He has tried to pass on those skills to me and so I love waders too.

© Helena Craig
Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig is a young birder, writer and conservationist, her South American wader quest continues in Part Two.

Please like her Facebook page

Sunday 12 October 2014

Birdgirl's South American Wader Quest Part 2: Guest blog by Mya-Rose Craig

My name is Mya-Rose Craig AKA Birdgirl.  I am 12 years old and live in Somerset, in the UK.  I am obsessed with birds, passionate about conservation and love writing.  This is the second part of my South American Wader Quest...

Next, was another six week trip to Bolivia, again chasing endemics.  Here, we added Andean Lapwing and Puna Plover in the first few days, two very lovely birds.  

Andean Lapwing Vanellus resplendens: © Elis Simpson

Puna Plover Charadrius alticola: © Elis Simpson

Heading from the Paraguay border back towards Santa Cruz, we stopped at a lake in the Andes Foothills.  Sandro, our guide saw a wader a long way off.  He knew it was new for him but had no idea what it was.  We went down to the edge of the water and Dad immediately identified the bird as a Least Sandpiper but then started shouting “ow, ow, ow!”.  Sandro then started pointing at Dad’s trousers and shouting “chiwowa!” and we realised Dad was covered up to his knees in hundreds of red ants and was accidently standing on an ants’ nest.  Dad and Sandro tried to swipe the ants off Dad, but then they both got covered.  Mum and I stayed well away as we weren’t going to risk getting ants on us.  When we then ran back to the van, Herman our driver couldn’t help but laugh at Dad and Sandro, as they tried to get the ants out of their pants.

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla© Trevor Ellery

After this, there were four more waders that we would be trying to search for.  They were special birds.  The sort that you take a huge diversion to see and then spend the day searching for.  The sort that you also feel devastated if you miss.

From La Paz we drove up to La Cumbre, at 5,000 metres, which is at the top of the World’s Most Dangerous Road and enters Cotopata National Park.  I had already felt the effects of high altitude and so had to make sure that I walked really slowly.  This was also the place that I found out that water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude, so doesn’t really get hot.  I’m not going to forget that bit of science in a hurry.  After we spent some time searching in the ice, we had fab views of our two target species, Rufous-bellied and Grey-breasted Seedsnipe.  That was fantastic, as they can be quite tricky to see in other places.

Grey-brestaed Seedsnipe Thinocorusorbignyianus© Elis Simpson

Mya-Rose at La Cumbre; © Helena Criag
Another place that we visited at 5,000 metres was Sajama National Park, on the border with Chile.  At this altitude, it was hard to breathe and walk and I felt headachy.   This was where I tried my first cup of tea, which was coca tea.  I also chewed coca leaf, which I didn’t like at all.  It does really help you cope with altitude sickness, though I think it made me a bit chatty.   Sandro was from the Amazon and he was really affected by altitude even after taking altitude tablets.  His body just wasn’t made to be at altitude, which kinda makes sense.

The famous Coca Tea; © Helena Criag

Mya-Rose and Chris Craig at Sajama; © Helena Criag

As soon as the sun set, it got really cold and we had to sleep with our thermals on and lots of blankets.  There was no way I was having a cold shower, no matter how long we were here.  It was bad enough even washing my hands, so I tried not to!  It was here that we saw our last target seedsnipe, which was Least Seedsnipe and brilliant to see.  

Least Seedsnipe Thinocorus rumicivorus© Alejandro Tello

The other target wader here was Diadamed Sandpiper-Plover which we heard but just could not find.  That was really disappointing after five hours of searching.  I was still looking for my most magical wader.

Mya-Rose’s Wader Quest continues in Part Three.

© Helena Craig
Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig is a young birder, writer and conservationist, her South American wader quest continues in Part Two.

Please like her Facebook page

Trevor Ellery

Thursday 9 October 2014

Birdgirl's South American Wader Quest Part 1: Guest blog by Mya-Rose Craig

My name is Mya-Rose Craig AKA Birdgirl.  I am 12 years old and live in Somerset, in the UK.  I am obsessed with birds, passionate about conservation and love writing. I am really honoured to have been asked to write a guest blog for Wader Quest.  When I was asked, I had to rack my brains for the most magical wader that I have seen.  When you have seen 3,700 birds, it’s quite hard to choose….

In 2012, my parents home schooled me for six months whilst we headed off to South America for the birding trip of a lifetime (or at least until the next big trip!).  I was 9 years old and I loved seeing so many birds and experiencing all those new places.  We went to Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, trying to see as many birds as we could and fitting in schooling in between.

Studying while travelling © Helena Craig

First, we went to Colombia for a six week endemic chasing trip. I thought that we hadn’t seen any particularly special waders there, but I was completely wrong.  On our first day, we had a really early start setting off at 4.45 am. We went to Chingaza National Park on the Eastern slope of the Andes, a couple of hours from Bogota. Here we saw Southern Lapwing, Noble Snipe and Wilson’s Snipe (it’s always fantastic to see something with Wilson in the name).  The Noble Snipe was a new bird for me, so that was great.  We visited in March/April and so there were plenty of American waders.  Back in the UK, we had driven miles to twitch these. The American waders that we saw included Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary, Least and Stilt Sandpiper.  They were great birds but none were world ticks.
Noble Snipe Gallinago nobilis © Trevor Ellery

Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus. © Trevor Ellery
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria. © Trevor Ellery

Then on the northern coast, we saw Collared Plover and Black-Bellied Plover at Salamanca and American Oystercatcher, Double-striped Thick-knee and Willet at Guajira, which is near the border with Venezuela.  Maybe one day I will find a Willet in the UK and I will able to identify it!
Double-striped Thick-knee Burhinus bistriatus. © Trevor Ellery

That’s an amazing group of waders to have seen in Colombia, without trying too much.  However, none of these was my most magical wader.  I was still looking for this.

© Helena Craig
Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig is a young birder, writer and conservationist, her South American wader quest continues in Part Two.

Please like her Facebook page

Trevor Ellery

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Read this before voting for the national bird!

I am disappointed, nay seething! I have just read my copy of Birdwatching Magazine an enjoyable read as ever, but I noted that Lapwing is not even in the top 20 birds selected for the national bird vote! What is the matter with you people? Do you just tick off the first bird that comes to your head? I can see why robin may be up there in the voting, it is a charming enough bird but the fantastic Lapwing has come behind pheasant which is introduced for people to shoot and migrants such as the swallow that spend the majority of their time outside the country!!!

This is a more important decision than people think. It will reflect on how we see our countryside! I am prepared to concede defeat to the robin, that is understandable but do we want people to think that we prize a bird from Asia that is here purely to be killed more than our own Lapwing which is steeped in our culture? Surely not!

Uncharacteristically I have been tweeting a bit lately, not that anyone really noticed, (thanks to those that did) and I have been expressing my opinion that Lapwing should be our national bird. I have mentioned in a recent blog some of the reasons, quoting Emily Brontë and mentioning the likes of Clare, Shakespeare, Green, Shelley and Jonson and you can add to that Chaucer, Gower and Caxton demonstrating the presence of this bird all over our most prestigious British literature.

I have mentioned the colour of its back being the same as a colour with the word British in it; British racing green, this bird is so British is oozes Britishness.

We nearly lost this bird, back at the beginning of last century, but, proving that the government can create legislation just for the sake of saving a bird and not linking it to growth and wealth (present politicians take note), the Lapwing has its own act of Parliament The 1926 Lapwing Act which saved this lovely bird. As with all human activity over harvesting and greed nearly did for it, but this act, overnight, made collecting its eggs illegal.

But there is more to this. Ever wondered why we celebrate Easter with eggs? Next time you eat an Easter egg, or even see one if you don't eat them, you should immediately be reminded of the Lapwing, for it is this bounty (as the ancestors saw it) around the time of Easter when Lapwings are laying their eggs for all to plunder that led to the tradition of your Easter eggs.

If you are a secular Brit you can also take heart that it was the pagans that thought that the common hare laid eggs, due to its sharing fields with Lapwings which would lay their eggs in the ready-made nest created by the hare's form (the scrape it creates to hide in). The pagans believed that the hare was laying eggs, hence The Easter Bunny! Next time you eat (or see) a chocolate bunny at Easter, think of the Lapwing for without this bird it would not exist.

The Lapwing too has more vernacular names than any other that are still in use and just as many that have fallen from use according to Birds Britannica where Mark Cocker says of the Lapwing "Few birds have created as large a cultural legacy in Britain as the most beautiful of our plovers." He also goes on to point out that many place names throughout the country refer to Lapwings, such as Pyewipe near Grimsby.

This plethora of local and vernacular names tells us that this bird is thoroughly steeped in local cultures across the land, so why, oh why, is this bird being over looked?

We nearly lost this bird, but we got it back and now we are losing it again and it seems that no-one even seems to have noticed.

The Lapwing is known as "the farmers friend" due to its food choice being those nasty bugs and creepy crawlies that farmers hate so much that munch on their crops and their roots, and yet ironically it is the farmers that have caused this recent downturn in the bird's fortunes, some friend the farmers turned out to be! (I should point out that I realise this does not apply to all farmers, in fairness some work very hard to preserve wildlife on their land and to them I say; thank you.)

Remember, as with the Scottish referendum, this is something that you will vote on that will be long lasting, not just this week or next week or next year or for the next parliament. This is our national bird we are talking about, what we choose reflects on our attitude towards wildlife, don't just tick off the first bird you think of or see, think about the rich tradition and culture that this country has and look for a bird that reflects that, and in the Lapwing you will find that bird.

Lapwing for National Bird!

Friday 3 October 2014

Wader Quest: Where do your donations go?

There have been some concerns lately about whether donating to a charity of any kind really helps who, or what, it is intended to help.

In the case of Wader Quest we have always tried to make it abundantly clear that all donations and annual Sponsorship fees are ring-fenced for the donations and grants that we make to wader conservation projects. This year direct donations and sponsorship has given us an income of £1174.91 to date. From this we have donated £842.98 to the Hooded Plovers via BirdLife Australia, we have passed £257.37 to our Magellanic Plover project fund and we have purchased colour rings and measuring equipment for a project in Indonesia to the value of £70.81; a total of £1171.16.

We guarantee that 100% of money donated or received through sponsorship goes directly to wader conservation projects not one penny or cent is diverted elsewhere.

If you donate £10.00 then that amount will be passed on to a wader conservation project, even if the payment is made via PayPal where there is a fee we have to pay to receive that money.

Bird fair stalls, merchandising, postage and packing etc. all come from money raised either from merchandising itself or through our mobile charity shop where we sell items donated to us at car boot sales or via ebay. When necessary money from this source can be used to fund projects but not vice versa.

There are still some who suspect that donations were being sought during the travelling phase of Wader Quest in order to fund our trips. This is categorically not the case. ALL expenses for the trips came from the proceeds of the house we sold in Brazil and amounted to over £55k. This included buying pins from the WWT to give to children and groups around the world, paying for the intitial merchandising products for Wader Quest and in 2013 our attendance at the British Bird Fair. Help was sought from backers in order to allow us to make the already very special event even greater, but none was forthcoming except from family and some very special friends, especially in South Africa. Guides around the world were generous and people gave us accommodation where they could.

All donations for the Spoon-billed Sandpipers went through a JustGiving site so we did not handle the money at any stage. This was not the case with the Hooded Plover emergency appeal fund but individual donations were all recorded and donations made at talks etc. were all verified by the treasurer or other committee member of the club concerned.

Our recent trip expenses to The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden were also self funded.

Wader Quest is purely a non-profit voluntary organisation. Trustees have been taken on to oversee what we are doing, to make our aims and procedures totally transparent and beyond doubt, our trustees too are volunteers and do not receive expenses for attending meetings or other expenses that they incur in their activities as trustees and for that we thank them warmly.

We do not personally take a wage or even major expenses from Wader Quest, this is sustainable for us as I have a Fire Service pension and Elis has a job at a conference centre so we can pay our bills.

Wader Quest is a BirdLife Species Champion, this means that a donation of £1,000 a year is made to BirdLife in the name of the company or organisation. Elis and I have committed to pay this from our own pocket for the first three years while Wader Quest is getting established.

Wader Quest is our passion and has become our life's work and so we are happy to subsidise it to an extent to make sure it gets on its feet in order that, as it grows, with your support we will be able to make a greater and more significant contribution to protecting the world's waders.