Tuesday 28 February 2023

Waiting for Omid

Currently basically sitting around waiting for Omid (the last wild Siberian Crane in the WP) to start migrating from Iran before a whole bunch of us head out to Azerbaijan to see if we can catch up with it in the WP. This winter Omid was paired up with a captive bred female (Roya) in a last ditch attempt to save this population from extinction. More from Birdguides HERE. We currently have contacts in the wintering grounds keeping us posted and at the moment despite lots of test flights the birds have not started migrating north yet. Some valentine video of the birds bonding here

Not much else happening round here. A return to cold nights means the moths have dropped off again, just Dotted Border added to the year list. The bird territorial behaviour is increasing in the garden with 4 fighting Great Spots this morning , a nice singing Mistle Thrush and a pair of Long-tailed Tits are building a nest in the front garden. Not a lot in the garden this winter- no wintering Blackcaps, Siskins and just a single Redwing lately. Ebird list from today here. There was an article in Birdwatch by Josh this month about how few winter specialities there seem to be in the country this winter which could be linked to the late and mild autumn of 2022 and basically not so many birds bothering to move into the UK as simply not cold enough to worth migrating. On the upside of that it seems to be quite a good early spring for moths with the local CMR team reporting record species counts by this time of year. 

Meanwhile in the mini-zoo we have added our first coral (zoanthids) and a couple more marine fish to the reef tank. Our Giant Atlas moth pupae have also arrived and gone into an emergence chamber in the paludarium. Now on 92 species across the paludarium, tropical fish tank, gecko tank and reef tank. The Pony was put down by a vet in the week (on advice from animal welfare consultants) so that's one species less but still slowly climbing to the 100 target. 

James has planted some broad bean seeds ready to be transplanted into the mini-farm. Otherwise not much happening there yet (also not sure we should bother this year as will be moving out at some point).  

Other than that I did another session at Otmoor yesterday with nothing to write home about and also slowly getting through the Azores winter work and reports. All a bit of a slog to be honest. Be nice to get some excitement. 

Mistle Thrush singing in garden 
Great Spots fighting for territory (above and below) in the garden 

Dotted Border 
Giant Atlas Moth cocoons
New additions to the developing reef tank included the first zoanthid corals, a Firefish Goby and a Blue Damsel (aka Blue Devil fish which I soon discovered why it was called that after it killed its partner by ramming and biting it to death) to add to the Red Scooter Blenny and the clean up crew of various snails and hermit crabs.  

Monday 27 February 2023

Azores Pelagic 2023

There are still a few spaces remaining on the Azores Pelagic 2023. More details HERE and previous trip reports and species logs HERE.

Main target is Monteiro's and Grant's Storm Petrels with a good chance of Swinhoe's Storm Petrel. Other local specialities likely to be encountered include Barolo's Shearwater, Bulwer's Petrel, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Great and Cory's Shearwaters and Sooty Tern. 

Vagrant seabirds are also a target of this trip with South Polar Skua, Brown Booby, Zino's Petrel and Deserta's Petrels having been found on these trips and both Black-capped and Trindade Petrel have been recorded in the local area. Full species list HERE

In addition to the seabirds, twelve species of cetaceans have been recorded. Full species list HERE.

Furthermore an extension to this trip also targets the other Azores endemic species including the Azores Bullfinch and the recently split Azores Chaffinch plus other Azores endemic sub-species (potential future splits) including the distinctive Azores Gull. More details on local birds HERE . 

To book a place please email me on littleoakgroup@btinternet.com or follow booking link and info HERE.  Full cost of trip is £2170 pp (including the extension and international flights). Pelagic only (Terceira to Terceira) is £1488 pp. 


Monteiro's Storm Petrel
Swinhoe's Storm Petrel 

Saturday 25 February 2023


Did another session at Otmoor yesterday. An estimated 5135 birds of 59 species between the car park and the screens (Ebird list here ). There are actually well over 15000 birds at Otmoor at the moment following a recent WEBS count (here) Highlights for me included a first cycle and an adult Marsh Harrier, Barnacle Goose, a second-cycle Yellow-legged Gull, the usual hybrid Snow-type goose,  Peregrine, 5 Curlew, 1 Dunlin, 4 Redshank, Oystercatcher, 5 Snipe and a couple a thousand each of Golden Plover and Lapwing. 

Really good numbers of Reed Buntings at the ground feeding area- I'd guess 50 or so. Some nice variation in them too between the different age males at various stages of acquiring summer plumage and some tonal and saturation variation in the females. 

Male Reed Bunting acquiring summer plumage with some pale tips to the head still remaining. That broad rounded tail indicates an adult male 
Another well advanced male Reed Bunting. The tail on this bird appears quite pointed (a first-winter feature) but there doesn't seem to be any moult contrast in the greater coverts and the primaries have pale edgings so there is not a lot ware evident so that points towards an adult (a first-winter bird can show more worn juvenile remiges and rectrices, although it can replace all tail feathers). Ageing is not always possible and even sexing of Reed Buntings can be difficult in the autumn and winter. 
First-winter male Reed Bunting. Looks like quite a few features here that point towards a first-winter male- moult contrast in the greater coverts, worn tertials and primaries and a very pointed tail. The head also appears to show a brown crown and not a particularly white collar or submoustahcial stripe which could indicate immaturity too. 
I presume this is more retarded male that is still acquiring summer plumage. As the spring progresses those pale tips on the head ware off to create the more distinctive black summer plumage. Some female birds in autumn and winter can be quite male like.  
A typical female Reed Bunting (above and below) - can't see much in the way of ware or moult contrast so I guess more likely an adult 

Quite a pale looking female Reed Bunting- the photo isn't sharp enough to have a punt at ageing
Another female but one with quite dark ear coverts and crown stripe- not many ageing clues again
and another rather typical female Reed Bunting 

Friday 24 February 2023


Had another day on Sheppey yesterday. I did Leysdown Country Park and adjacent fields and Capel Fleet.  Highlights included the 10 Bewick's Swans again, White-fronted Geese, a few Red-throated Divers, a couple of Hen Harriers and a handful of Marsh Harriers. Also plenty of Med Gulls around and many getting towards summer plumage. 

Adult Med Gull summering up 
2nd winter male Marsh Harrier
Plenty of Common Gulls around too- this one stood out as being a rather heavily marked first-winter 
Sanderling, Turnstone and Dunlin 
The sea was coming over the sea wall at high tide with a fairly strong and cold east wind

Wednesday 22 February 2023


I've always agreed with the principle that if you eat meat you should be willing to raise and kill it yourself in order to stay connected to the process. I agree that there has been a great disconnection between animals and meat which has led to the industrialisation of the meat production process which has led to poor animal welfare and a spiritual disconnection from the food web.

Anyway so I have finally been in a position to raise, humanely kill and eat meat. However the process has been very enlightening and quite emotional. I actually got quite attached to Lazlo, he was almost a member of the family. It actually felt a bit like eating a family member. I actually miss him running around and calling in the morning (and all day and sometimes at night too). At the same time he tasted great and he started terrorising the kids and Jacob stopped going out in the garden because he was terrified of getting attacked. He started attacking everyone too including me so the health and safety and children wellbeing considerations helped in the decision making process.

So overall a very interesting experience and one I would recommend to any meat eater. It's important to be acutely aware of what it is be a carnivore (or predator) and to accept the emotional responsibility of that which in my experience is a tough conflict between emotion and reason. 


Tuesday 21 February 2023

Otmoor etc

Did a couple of sessions at Otmoor over last couple of days. Ebird list here. Highlight was the American Wigeon found by the site warden Fergus yesterday (perhaps the same bird found by Thomas Miller at Port Meadow a few weeks ago) and also a family party of Common Cranes (presumably last year's birds that successfully bred and have now returned). Also good numbers of Curlews and also Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Dunlins in addition to the thousands of Lapwings and Golden Plovers (three to four thousand of each).  

Meanwhile back at the Old Vic there has been a slow but steady few additions to the moth year list.

Two adults and an immature (left) Common Crane
Male American Wigeon - very nice indeed. Another one to add to my collection of awful photos of inland American ducks. 
Lapwings, Golden Plover and Marsh Harrier 
Pochard- good numbers of Pochards from the second screen 
Hebrew Character and Chestnut (The Old Vicarage) 
Common Flat-body
Oak Beauty
Small Brindled Beauty
Grey-shoulder Knot
Boxing Hares (above and below). What with the mild and sunny conditions recently, moths, boxing hares and returning waterbirds I think it is fair to say that Spring (Very Early Spring) has commenced

Monday 20 February 2023

Anti-environmentalism in Oxford this weekend

Interesting developments locally this weekend. A significantly large protest occurred in Oxford city against 15 minute neighbourhoods which are effectively behavioural change plans attempting to reduce car use and introduce more localism in the drive towards net zero. 

The protests are part of a wider resistance to what can be perceived as a drive towards lower standards of living and reduced freedoms for citizens which includes initiatives such as reduced travelling abroad, eating less meat, paying higher energy bills and working and living in smaller spaces (low carbon birding is the intrusion of that agenda into the birding community). The resistance is fueled further by being enforced by fines, social shaming (e..g anti-twitching trolling on twitter) and the lack of a democratic process involved- basically forced behavioural change being imposed by a group of Elites from above using authoritarian tactics.  

It's pretty clear that whatever the motives of the Sustainability Idealists there have certainly been some communication complications in the whole thing. From the perspective of these protesters, sustainability is being portrayed (or rather perceived) as a negative thing, a threat to them and there lies the problem. A change in our collective lifestyle to one which is less addicted to mass consumption of manufactured goods and more about re-connecting with nature and each other is not a threat to us at all- it's quite the opposite. The threat to us is our collapsing capitalist society and somehow these Oxford elites have managed to make themselves part of that and have divided society even further, created more anxiety and polarised things even further. 

Genuine Sustainability (which basically means to not die and keep going as both a collective species and individuals- I would also add not dying inside too which is the greatest threat to most of us - ending up enslaved and soul drained and too afraid to kill ourselves)  does not divide people- it unites them- because if communicated properly, it is the only direction to personal success (and there are many paths that head in that direction) and that cannot be forced on people against their will, it has to be their choice and their own way. It should be a beacon of hope, not a threat. 

A couple of videos below, one from the liberal capitalist BBC and another from Chinese-owned Tik-tok.  

@mattlawsonphotography2.0 The power ser has always been within us. We just had to find our voice. Say no to 15 minute cities!!! #fyp #foryourpage #australia #oxford ♬ The Champion - Lux-Inspira

Saturday 18 February 2023

Twists and turns

There have been a few twists and turns in our relocation project recently. Seems like it is indeed too premature to attempt buying a small farm with commitments to existing investments and family considerations. Also seems unlikely we will be able to do much further down the line too with current interest rates, costs of this imminent relocation and other family members emotional ties with this area. So basically it looks like another life plan is knackered which is a shame because one well positioned base  with self sufficiency potential seems to me to be the most resilient solution for any family. However I guess the most resilient solution for any family is to make sure everyone's emotional needs are met (practical and rational considerations often seem rather secondary) and if that means more grief for me than I suppose that's how it is. 

So a re-routing seems to be the mission at the moment which all seems like going round in a big circle. So if we can't get our own private haven it's back to engaging more in public nature. The farm plan always involved being close to a major public natural coastal resource anyway (e.g. a farm next to Pagham Harbour or the Thames Estuary) so this was always to do with a private/public weighting.

Personally speaking I need to have regular access to coastal birding and mothing as the migration and vagrancy element of nature is what really fires me up and keeps my light going. I think that is vital as if I'm not fired up and excited by life I won't be any kind of use/inspiration/lead/soul to drain for the boys.  So the new plan is for me to spend two days or so a week on the coast, first from my campervan and later when I can afford it maybe buy a small lodge or holiday home (the family can join me too that way). The benefit of me going alone now is Holly was not keen at all on the Thames Estuary (too industrial and gritty for her) but it's always been my dream to retire there so as one obstacle goes up another comes down. I'll then need at least one day in London working and then the other four days of the week I can be back here with Holly and the kids and work from home (I can also work on the road). Meanwhile where ever Holly decides to move to I'll do my best to make that new home as nature-centric as possible, I just hope she gets a decent garden! 

I would have preferred the coastal haven family base so we could be together all the time but like I say it's not my choice to make alone.  Seriously though I must be one of the few blokes on the planet who isn't allowed to settle down and gets forced into a selfish lifestyle by their partner! The madness is I was finally ready to settle down too and was quite enjoying the thought of not having to travel so much. Anyway natural forces know best so I'll go with it. 

It's going to make my personal carbon negative/nature positive footprint objective more difficult too. I was hoping we could use a private farmstead/nature reserve to go to town on that. In order to address that issue now I was planning on concentrating on moving more investment into the Bulgaria project (get more for your money there too). One mature tree is supposed to capture 21kg of carbon a year (one tonne over a 100 year life span as they don't capture so much carbon in early years) and the average carbon footprint of a UK citizen is 10 tonne of carbon a year. So basically each human needs to own about 700 to 800 trees for more or less the duration of their life (80 year life span). Soils, peats, wetlands and marine environments can capture more carbon so an individual could  own those resources too. Of course in addition to private ownership there is collective ownership too- e.g. by giving money to conservation NGOs, volunteering time to recording biodiversity for NGOs/research centres  or investing in private natural capital companies or owning an NGO or natural capital company too (like we do). 

I think we already own about 100 mature trees on the Bulgaria project so personally I would like to expand that to own 700 trees (seems a simple tangible target with established metrics). Then there's the carbon in the soil and grasses there too so that alone should mean I'm getting towards personal net zero. In addition there's all the trees and carbon sequestration resources we help to manage with Little Oak. While we can't add 100% of those resources to offset our personal footprints there must be some calculation to see what our share is of that e.g. there's tens of thousands of trees and wetlands etc planted at Beddington Farmlands alone (a resource we champion) and there must be tens of thousands across our gardens and green spaces we manage too. In addition there's the natural resources we own by investing in natural capital company shares and our 'shares' by supporting conservation NGOs too.

Anyway in the absence of these precise calculations at the moment the best approach seems to do absolutely everything we can to invest in as much carbon sequestration and natural capital as possible and to minimise our carbon consumption. That maximising investment while minimising consumption needs to be a well calculated trade off too (the reason why I've been a mild critic of the concept of low carbon birding in the past is that it simply concentrates on local carbon consumption reduction and not natural capital investment or wider collective natural capital ownership or re-designing global economic systems).  Presumably I'm not far off being nature positive/carbon neutral but also I mustn't forget about the kids (while they are under 18 I guess I am also responsible for another 20 tonnes a year!). Ultimately the solution is simple- just do everything I can without burning out. Meanwhile fundamental capitalist billionaires of the world carry on with their plan to achieve sustainability by driving billions of people to extinction or fates worse than death and they survive an apocalypse that they engineer and control (not sure that's going to work out well for them or everyone helping them do that as it means destroying their own planetary communities that they need to survive too) so there's that slight concern to circumnavigate too- trying to do this against that global destructive force. Fun times! 

So, that seems to be the general direction of travel at the moment- a more complex de-centralised strategy (aka 'I'm fucked') and seems like I'll have to wait for my private personal paradise- in the grave by the sounds of it.   

Thursday 16 February 2023

On the road

Spent the last couple of days on the road, firstly in London for work and then a day on Sheppey today. Visited Beddington Farmlands yesterday evening and met up with Zach, highlight was a Little Owl in Beddington park.

Ebird lists from Sheppey today, Leysdown area here and Shellness and Swale NNR here. As always excellent birding in this area, today's top of the pops was a first-winter Caspian Gull (a personal Sheppey tick), 10 Bewick's Swans (five adults and five young), 86 Russian White-fronted Geese and quality winter  scenes comprising thousands of waterbirds. 

First-winter Caspian Gull (above and below) 

Bewick's Swans (above) and White-fronts and Greylags (below) 

The smallest geese and the largest ducks- not much in it size wise
Brents (above and below) 

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Acleris action

Had a couple of Acleris sp in the moth trap at the Old Vic which I've had a go at identifying using a book (! almost forgot what one was!) -The Common Micro-moths of Berkshire by Nick Asher (an outstanding piece of work). I'm not sure if my CMR team will have any of my putative identifications though and they will probably insist that these Acleris go for gen dent.

It's half term and we have discovered a fresh hell - Fairytale Farm, where we took the kids yesterday. It will never cease to amaze me the weird and wonderful captive biodiversity in these family attractions- this time a breed of pig, the Mangalista which is a wild boar hybrid. Also secretly learnt the meaning of some dinosaurs scientific names.

Had a quick meeting with Nature Metrics here this morning looking into getting some e-DNA kits to help identify some of the species on our project sites which basically will never get round to identifying by sight such as micro-diptera and coleoptera and other micro organisms. That will be interesting to give that a go. They have a turn around time of 8 weeks which sounds good and can help across our projects here, in the Azores and Bulgaria. 

My only other experience with DNA testing (apart from kids!) was when we sent a sample of a presumed Amur Stonechat that I found at Medmerry in 2020  off to Martin Collinson . After many months of of waiting they said they couldn't extract any DNA and on twitter one of Martin's team said 'you get what you pay for'.  I would have been happy to pay and wouldn't really expect not to in a lot of cases so not sure what the attitude was for.  I don't actually agree with the assumption that anything free is poor quality either as there is a lot of outstanding quality work in natural history that people produce for free and open source too. Basically I think anything you are producing should be the best possible quality whether freely or commercially distributed (we produce both here and there are often very good reasons why something should be free, subsidised or commercial)- what's the point of doing anything if you are not going to do it properly.  Anyway hopefully dealing with a commercial company will be a better experience and worth paying for. I recommended they get into charging birders for quick turn around DNA identifications and they said they will look into it- certainly a small niche there- I would happily have paid £150 or so to get an eight week response on that Stonechat. Also lastly on this tangent, when the 2020 BB rare bird report came out they even missed the Stonechat record out (Collinson and BB are same crowd of British birding traditional establishment). It wasn't even down as an Eastern Stonechat and when I chased up they said it was a mistake and they lost the record.  Good job I don't find many rare birds in Britain because in my limited experience it's a shambles. Roll on commercial DNA  birding results and the  Ebird and Ebird validators takeover:-) 

I've gone for Sallow Button, Acleris hastiana (above and below) based on the lack of any prominent scale turfs on the wings (just a tuft on 'shoulder') and the rather distinctive white-headed brown morph. Who knows- will see what Dave says. Update 200223- yes I got this one right- thanks Dave. 

I've gone for  Vibrunum Button, Acleris schalleriana (above and below) on this one based on the three oblique rows of scale tufts, one near the base and two more either side of half way. If I understand correctly this time of year most Acleris in this area will be either schalleriana, cristana, hastiana or the completely unidentifiable ferrungana/notana pair. Update 200223- no I got this one wrong- from Dave 'Not hastiana, but it is difficult to be sure what it is, Peter. I think it could well be kochiella, but ferrugana/notana is also a possibility'

I almost missed it
Satellite (above) and Small Brindled Beauty (below)- new for years

Kuhli Loach- a recent addition to the mini-zoo
The Mangalista Pig at Fairytale Farm