The Status of Red Grouse in Northamptonshire

Red Grouse, Hawsen Burn, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland, 21st April 2014 (MPF/Wikimedia Commons)

Red Grouse, Hawsen Burn, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland, 21st April 2014 (MPF/Wikimedia Commons)

Vagrant. The only county record was of a male shot near Warkworth in November 1892. It’s as simple as that. But its status in the UK is a different thing altogether as this species plays a pivotal role in determining the way in which our country’s uplands are ‘managed’ and the significant, largely detrimental, impact this ‘management’ has on other wildlife and the environment as a result.

There is now a fast-growing movement to ban the so-called ‘sport’ of driven grouse shooting which has given rise to moorland ‘management’.  If you have not heard about this already then read on … and sign the online petition organised by our very own local birder and conservationist campaigner, Mark Avery. Below, is an article explaining why this issue is important to every birder, naturalist and environmentalist in the country.

My grouse with grouse shooting by Dr Mark Avery

Driven grouse shooting is an unsporting and pointless sport that damages the ecology of our hills and depends on illegal killing of protected wildlife.

Some say birdwatching is an odd hobby, but compare it with driven grouse shooting and we all seem completely normal. In driven grouse shooting, a line of people with shotguns wait for a line of people with flags and whistles to drive Red Grouse past them so that they can shoot at them as they fly over.  There is no hunting involved in this – it’s merely using wildlife as living targets. An individual may pay upwards of £5,000 for a day of such ‘sport’.

The record ‘bag’ for a day of such shooting is 2929 birds, shot by eight guns in the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire on 12 August 1915. That’s over 350 birds/gun that day. Modern bags are approaching such levels again.

To generate such high densities of Red Grouse, to justify such high prices; heather moorland is burned into a patchwork of long and short vegetation; Foxes, Stoats, Carrion Crows etc are killed in large numbers; Mountain Hares are killed off too (because they carry a tick which can transmit a virus to the grouse); the moorland is drained and medicated grit is provided to kill intestinal worms. Red Grouse are not reared and released (like Pheasants), but driven grouse shooting depends on intensive management of the prey, their predators and their habitat.

Many raptors are illegally killed because they are unsporting enough to include Red Grouse in their diet, eg Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Peregrine and Hen Harrier. This year is a survey year for Hen Harrier – the last, in 2010, found c650 UK pairs whereas the science shows that there should be c2600 pairs.  English uplands should hold around 300 of those 2600 pairs, and yet in recent years, breeding numbers have rarely reached double figures – this year there aren’t 300 pairs, there aren’t 30 pairs, there are just 3 pairs.

A scientific study on a grouse moor in Scotland in the 1990s showed that when birds of prey are properly protected, as the law requires, then their numbers will rise and they can remove much of the ‘shootable surplus’ of birds on which driven grouse shooting depends. There is a real conflict, you can’t have protection of birds of prey and massive grouse bags. You have to choose! What is your choice?

The grouse shooters say that it’s only a few bad apples that kill raptors, but they don’t deny the massive impacts that bad apples (I believe there are more than a few) have on protected wildlife.  So you do have to choose whether you want an unsporting sport to continue or whether you want the legal protection given to birds of prey to be real. I choose legality and birds of prey over criminality and a pointless ‘sport’!

Grouse shooters contend that other ground-nesting birds benefit from grouse moor management (some do, it’s true, but not all), that the hills would be covered with conifers, sheep and windfarms if grouse shooting were stopped (they wouldn’t – it’s environmental legislation that controls these activities not grouse shooters) and that all those people paying for grouse shooting are delivering wealth to the economy (economists say the figures are greatly inflated and do not take everything into account anyway).  You must choose who you believe.

All that intensive management for grouse, the burning and the drainage, have other important ecological impacts. Grouse moors shed water more quickly than moorland not managed for grouse shooting – and this increases flood risks for masses of people downstream, people who never go grouse shooting and have never heard of a Hen Harrier. Greenhouse gas emissions are higher from grouse moors where burning occurs on peatlands; grouse moor management was criticised by the Committee on Climate Change last year. Water companies spend more money on water treatment in catchments dominated by grouse shooting and those costs go to the customer not the grouse shooter. And aquatic biodiversity is lower in watercourses draining managed moorlands too. Intensive grouse moor management imposes big costs on the rest of society. And so, again, you have to choose – grouse shooting or sustainable uplands?

Over the years of wrestling with these issues my views have hardened. I used to think that grouse shooting was a bit odd but if only we could reduce the levels of wildlife crime then it wasn’t a high priority. As time has passed I have realised that our uplands are the scenes of unrelenting wildlife crime, and all for a hobby (sport, pastime) that is enjoyed by the few and which imposes costs on the many.

I’ve made my choice and it is that we should do away with driven grouse shooting which is why I have launched a number of e-petitions to ban this sport. The current e-petition has far surpassed the total signatures of the previous two and runs until 20 September. If it reaches 100,000 signatures by then this whole issue will be debated in Parliament and that will flush out the arguments and put them even more strongly in the public domain. If you are keen on wrecked uplands and wildlife crime then please don’t sign my e-petition, but if you choose change in the uplands, even if you don’t favour a total ban (and I think you should!) then please sign because this is the strongest way you can make your voice heard. It really is your choice!

Sign the e-petition for a debate in parliament here https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003 .  Every signature counts so please give yours now. For more information then check out my blog at www.markavery.info/blog/ and/or read my book Inglorious – conflict in the uplands for the 100,000 word version of the case against driven grouse shooting. But thank you for letting me have 1000 words here.

Dr Mark Avery is an author, blogger, birder and campaigner. He worked for the RSPB for 25 years until 2011 and for 13 of them was the RSPB Conservation Director.

 

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The Week in Focus, 16th to 22nd July

In complete contrast to last week’s rather bland and dreary weather conditions, the wind swung south as a high pressure system crossed Europe, dragging hot and humid air from the Iberian Peninsula and raising local temperatures to the mid-thirties. A true taste of summer then, with, for good measure, some new autumn migrants arriving at the same time.

The injured Ruddy Shelduck was still at Pitsford Res on 17th, having walked or swam under the road bridge to reach Scaldwell Bay from the sailing club. The female Garganey remained at Stanwick GP on the same date and the drake Goldeneye – now in eclipse – was still at Stanford Res on 19th, while an unseasonal female Scaup visited Daventry CP on 22nd. A Bittern was found at Stanwick GP on 19th – this species is now becoming more frequent outside the winter period – while the inevitable deluge of Great White Egrets commenced on 22nd with an early morning arrival on the scrape at Summer Leys LNR. I would bet my bottom dollar we are in for a double-figure wintering population in Northants during 2016-17.

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd July 2016 (Martin Swannell)

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd July 2016 (Martin Swannell)

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd July 2016 (Martin Swannell)

Great White Egret, Summer Leys LNR, 22nd July 2016 (Martin Swannell)

In a week of few raptors single juvenile Marsh Harriers were at Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 22nd and over the scrape at Summer Leys on 17th, as was an adult

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 17th July 2016 (Ricky Sinfield)

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Summer Leys LNR, 17th July 2016 (Ricky Sinfield)

Peregrine, Summer Leys LNR, 16th July 2016 (Ricky Sinfield)

Peregrine, Summer Leys LNR, 16th July 2016 (Ricky Sinfield)

Peregrine the day before and the same site produced migrant Black-tailed Godwits, with at least thirty-four over on the evening of 17th and six on 20th.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 17th July 2016 (Ricky Sinfield). Part of a flock of at least thirty-four migrating over the reserve.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 17th July 2016 (Ricky Sinfield). Part of a flock of at least thirty-four migrating over the reserve.

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 20th July 2016 (Martin Swannell)

Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 20th July 2016 (Martin Swannell)

There were fewer Common Sandpipers this week, with one at Daventry CP on 18th followed by three there on 22nd, while another was at Pitsford Res on 20th and 22nd.

Common Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 20th July 2016 (John Nicholls)

Common Sandpiper, Pitsford Res, 20th July 2016 (John Nicholls)

The only Green Sandpipers were at Daventry CP, where up to two were present between 18th and 22nd and the only Greenshanks were three at Stanwick GP on 20th along with three juvenile Redshanks there two days later.

Stanwick also produced a single adult Mediterranean Gull on 16th and 18th, which was highly likely to have been the same bird watched ‘anting’ with Black-headed Gulls over nearby Irthlingborough on the latter date. The first juvenile Med Gull of the autumn appeared at Daventry CP on 20th. Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick GP peaked this week at at least sixty-four on 18th, while elsewhere three different individuals visited Daventry CP between 18th and 22nd, the latter date also seeing two at Pitsford Res. An adult, a first-summer and second-summer Caspian Gulls came into the evening pre-roost gatherings at Stanwick GP intermittently between 16th and 20th and a second-summer visited Daventry CP on 18th.

Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 19th July 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 19th July 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Showing no signs of picking up in numbers, this week’s Turtle Doves were restricted to two again at Harrington AF on 20th and a Firecrest was still singing at one locality on 18th, while a single Crossbill flew over Denton Wood the following day and two more were over Blueberry Farm, Maidwell on 22nd.

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The Week in Focus, 9th to 15th July 2016

There was little change in either the weather or the birds from last week. West to south-westerly winds, sunny spells and lower than hoped-for temperatures continue to be the hallmarks of a generally lacklustre summer. Waders continued to trickle through in small numbers while the seasonal build-up of Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick GP continued.

Both the escaped – presumed taverneriCackling Goose and the injured Ruddy Shelduck were both still at Pitsford Res on 10th, as was a Red-crested Pochard on the same date. At Stanwick GP, the Garganey remained until at least 14th and two Common Scoters dropped on to the A45 Lay-by Pit, also on 14th – while a Marsh Harrier flew east on 10th and it, or another, was hunting over the reedbed there two days later. The only other raptor of note was a Peregrine at Thrapston GP on 9th.

Female and eclipse drake Common Scoters, Stanwick GP, 14th July 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Female and eclipse drake Common Scoters, Stanwick GP, 14th July 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Four Little Ringed Plovers were at Summer Leys LNR on 10th and two, along with a Dunlin, were at Stanwick GP on 12th. Stanwick also produced three Ruff on 14th and Summer Leys saw a run of Black-tailed Godwits, with two on 12th, an unconfirmed report of forty the following day and between eleven and fourteen on 14th. Numbers of Common Sandpipers rose from two at Stanwick GP on 10th to four there on 15th, while two were also at Summer Leys on 10th and ten were counted at Pitsford Res on the same date with just one there on 14th. The only Green Sandpipers were singles at Stanford Res on 9th and at Pitsford Res on 9th-10th, while two Greenshanks were at Stanwick GP on 13th dropping to one the following day and Summer Leys produced two adult Redshanks with at least two chicks during the period.

The annual late summer build-up of Yellow-legged Gulls at Stanwick GP continued with numbers there exceeding fifty by the week’s end and there were also four at Pitsford Res on 10th. More Caspian Gulls accompanied the Stanwick Yellow-leggeds and included at least two first-summers and a second-summer between 11th and 15th.

First-summer Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 13th July 2016 (Steve Fisher)

First-summer Caspian Gull, Stanwick GP, 13th July 2016 (Steve Fisher)

A Turtle Dove was seen at Finedon on 9th and two were ‘purring’ in Lady Wood the following day, while a single male Crossbill was at Bucknell Wood on 14th.

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The Week in Focus, 2nd to 8th July 2016

Despite the continued westerly airstream, the weather remained largely dry with temperatures around average at best. Few new migrants were reported during the period.

The presumed escaped Pitsford Res Cackling Goose, showing characteristics of the race taverneri, was still among the Canadas there on 4th, as was the injured Ruddy Shelduck on 6th. The only other wildfowl of note were a Garganey at Stanwick GP on 8th and a Red-crested Pochard at Thrapston GP on 2nd and it was a quiet week for raptors with just a Marsh Harrier at Earls Barton GP on the same date.

Up to three Little Ringed Plovers were at Summer Leys LNR on 2nd-3rd, a Black-tailed Godwit was there on 4th, followed by four more at Stanwick GP on 7th and a Dunlin was at Earls Barton GP on 7th. Numbers of Common Sandpipers remained stable with four at Pitsford Res and one at Summer Leys on 3rd and two at Stanwick GP on 7th. Both of these sites held at least two Redshanks during the period.

Further down the Nene valley, two Yellow-legged Gulls were found at Thrapston GP on 2nd, while numbers of this species continued to build at Stanwick GP, where there were seventeen on 4th and twenty-seven on 6th, accompanied by a second-summer Caspian Gull on the latter date.

Male Firecrest, Northamptonshire, June 2016

Male Firecrest, Northamptonshire, June 2016

Quality, not quantity, was the order of the week for passerines as four male Firecrests continued to sing at the same site as in June, although song had considerably diminished during the last week, while two Crossbills were seen at Fineshade Wood on 2nd.

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The Week in Focus, 25th June to 1st July 2016

More Atlantic weather systems produced largely overcast skies and frequent showers on the back of a westerly airstream, while traditional ‘summer’ weather has yet to emerge. Finding anything new proved hard graft for most, although a certain high flying raptor constituted manna from heaven for one observer, while others made do with a steady trickle of migrant waders serving as a reminder that birds were on the move.

At Pitsford Res a Cackling Goose, showing characteristics of the race taverneri, was discovered among the Canadas there on 30th, although its chances of being wild are, of course, pretty much zero – nevertheless it’s an interesting bird to see.

Cackling Goose, probably Taverner's, Pitsford Res, 30th June 2016 (Jacob Spinks)

Cackling Goose, probably Taverner’s, Pitsford Res, 30th June 2016 (Jacob Spinks)

The drake Goldeneye was also still there on 25th and so was the Stanford Res bird on 26th – the latter thought to be flightless and so not the same individual as the Pitsford bird as surmised in last week’s report.

This week’s ‘bird of the week’ appeared in the north-east of the county on 25th. While James Underwood was photographing Red Kites and Common Buzzards over his garden, in Corby Old Village, a Honey Buzzard came into view, drifting high west. The moment was captured and the species swiftly added to the garden list, hot on the heels of the White Stork which circled over there less than three weeks previously, on 6th June!

Honey Buzzard, Corby Old Village, 25th June 2016 (James Underwood). Moulted inner primaries indicate this is a female as males undergo primary moult much later in the season.

Honey Buzzard, Corby Old Village, 25th June 2016 (James Underwood). Moulted inner primaries indicate this is a female as males undergo primary moult much later in the season.

The only other raptors of note were an Osprey at Welford Res briefly on 28th and single Peregrines at Northampton on 25th and at Thrapston GP the following day.

Some recent news on last week’s colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit at Summer Leys concerns its being seen four days later at Creek Common, North Hayling, Langstone Harbour, Havant, Hampshire on 30th. Who says birds aren’t site-faithful! On the wader front, four Little Ringed Plovers were at Stanwick GP on 27th and two Ringed Plovers were there the next day, while a Curlew flew over Stanford Res on 25th and one visited Summer Leys LNR briefly on 29th.  More Common Sandpipers appeared this week, with singles at Stanford Res on 26th and 29th, one at Stanwick GP on 28th plus two there on 30th and three at Welford Res on 28th, a Green Sandpiper was at Stanwick GP on 27th with a Redshank there on the same date.

Stanwick also produced the week’s only Yellow-legged Gulls, which included seven on 27th, three on 30th and eight on 1st, along with a second-summer Caspian Gull on the latter date. Beyond that, a Turtle Dove still at Harrington AF on 27th and one at Stanwick GP on 1st was all the week could muster.

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On Tour: a Godwit with ‘Previous’

Barely is spring over and autumn wader passage has begun. June usually sees the first Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits moving south through the county and the group of three found by Kim Taylor at Summer Leys on Friday included one particularly interesting individual, images here by Adrian Borley.

Female and two male Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Female and two male Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Interesting because it was colour-ringed and the combination of colours, along with the position of the rings, enabled some of this bird’s history to be traced and its movements to be revealed. It was, as they say in some quarters, a godwit with ‘previous.’

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

While I’m not a big fan of gaudy ‘bling’ (it looks so unnatural!), I have to acknowledge its use as a tool in providing valuable information which furthers our knowledge of a species and which can be particularly useful in, among other things, future conservation initiatives through the identification of key wintering and breeding areas.

This godwit, a male, was ringed in Hampshire on 5th September 2010. It has been well-travelled during the subsequent six years as the table below – kindly provided by the ringer, Pete Potts – clearly illustrates. Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June History                                                                                                                           Anyone lucky enough to find a colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit can check the colour combination against a detailed key to race, origin and ringing group which can be downloaded from here and observers are encouraged to contact the ringer with details of their observations.

Female Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Female Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

 

Male Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Male Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Found in the morning and still present late afternoon, the godwit trio had departed by the next day. Had this male not been ringed it would have slipped by anonymously, giving no clue as to its age, travel history or possible destination.

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Two Weeks in Focus, 11th to 24th June 2016

The past two weeks have been influenced by weather systems from the Atlantic, with predominantly overcast conditions, heavy showers and thunderstorms accompanying hot air from Europe at the end of the period. Southbound waders at several localities were clear indications that ‘ornithological autumn’ was well underway.

Usually in the vicinity of the sailing club grounds, the injured Ruddy Shelduck was reported from Pitsford Res all week and a female Garganey was seen at Stanwick GP on 13th.

Ruddy Shelduck, Pitsford Res, 22nd June 2016 (John Nicholls)

Ruddy Shelduck, Pitsford Res, 22nd June 2016 (John Nicholls)

As wildfowl numbers began to build at some of the larger bodies of water, ducks on the move included a drake Red-crested Pochard at Thrapston GP from 16th to 19th, one at Pitsford Res on 17th and two there on 21st, while a drake Goldeneye at Stanford Res earlier in the month was likely to have been the same individual present at Pitsford Res from 18th.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res 21st June 2016 (Jacob Spinks). The extensive and sharply defined white under tail coverts along with the pale occipital border of the female suggests hybridisation, as does the lack of any pink in the bill, although the latter may be a sign of immaturity.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res 21st June 2016 (Jacob Spinks). The extensive and sharply defined white under tail coverts and white throat along with the pale occipital border of the female suggests hybridisation, as does the lack of any pink in the bill, although the latter may be a sign of immaturity.

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res 21st June 2016 (Jacob Spinks)

Red-crested Pochards, Pitsford Res 21st June 2016 (Jacob Spinks)

Just one Quail was reported during the period – a male singing in set-aside west of Everdon on the evenings of 21st and 22nd. Ospreys continued to be seen, with one over Borough Hill and two at Welford Res on 11th and singles at Hollowell Res on 19th, Pitsford Res on 22nd and over Welford on 23rd, while single Peregrines visited Clifford Hill GP on 11th, Summer Leys LNR on 20th and Thrapston GP the next day.

Already autumn has begun. Waders were noted moving south and, aside from two young Little Ringed Plovers at Summer Leys, a fully-fledged juvenile appeared at Stanwick GP on 13th and seven new arrivals were counted there on 24th. Stanwick also produced two Ringed Plovers on 13th when two – perhaps the same – also visited Summer Leys. Curlews made news this week. Aside from wandering individuals at Clifford Hill GP on 11th, Lilbourne on 14th and Stanford Res on 21st, a pair with three young was discovered at a new breeding site, which is good news for a species over which national concern has been highlighted this year. A Black-tailed Godwit paid a brief visit to Summer Leys on 13th and three more – one of them colour-ringed – were there on 24th. The colour-ringed individual was ringed at Farlington Marshes, Hampshire on 5th September 2010.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Summer Leys LNR, 24th June 2016 (Adrian Borley)

Common Sandpipers returned right on cue with one at Pitsford Res on 22nd, followed by two there the next day, a Green Sandpiper was at Stanwick GP on 21st and Greenshanks were earlier than normal with singles at Stanwick on 11th and Pitsford on 17th. Just one Redshank was seen at Stanwick on 24th.

For the gullers, the expected annual build up in numbers of Yellow-legged Gull got underway at Stanwick GP with an adult there on 13th, followed by a second-summer on 20th and six were present by 24th.

Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 24th June 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Yellow-legged Gull, Stanwick GP, 24th June 2016 (Steve Fisher)

Black Terns paid a surprise visit to Earls Barton GP on 11th when three were found on Mary’s Lake, while the dearth of Turtle Doves continues with up to two at Harrington sporadically between throughout the period and singles at Grafton Park Wood on 17th and Twywell Hills & Dales on 21st. A juvenile Siskin on a garden feeder at Orlingbury on 14th was unusual and is suggestive of a local origin.

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