Thursday, 26 November 2015

Scottish Ringers Conference 2015

Last weekend was the Scottish Ringers Conference hosted by the Grampian Ringing Group at Carrbridge in the Cairngorms. This was the first ringing conference I have attended and I must admit I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t sure what to expect! Within minutes of arriving I got chatting and making new friends and that’s how the weekend continued. What an amazing experience!

Carrbridge, Cairngorms National Park (photo Laura Shearer)
The days were filled with exciting talks and presentations about a wide range of ringing projects from passerines to waders to seabirds.  A mid-afternoon break gave us the opportunity to explore the local area and squeeze in a quick birding session- the highlight being an elusive Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus). The evenings were spent chatting to some fascinating people about their ringing projects around the UK. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and can’t wait for the next conference!

Members of the Lothian Ringing Group hunting for a Crested Tit, Carrbridge (photo Laura Shearer)

To report a ringed bird, please contact the British Trust for Ornithology via their website:

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Vis Mig and Urban Drainage

It’s been another busy week in the land of Laura. On Sunday (08.11.15) I joined Visible Migration recorder Dr Clive McKay for a “vis mig” session at Lintrathen in Angus.  Looking across to the Barry Ridge, we started recording migrating Wood Pigeons (Columba palumbus) travelling North-East. Flocks with a couple of hundred birds were moving through. ”Umm have you seen this new flock…” I could barely utter the words as a flock with 1,000 birds travelled right across the horizon. What an amazing sight!

Dr Clive McKay counting migrating Wood Pigeons at Lintrathen (photo Laura Shearer)
After our vis mig we headed across to Montrose to join the Tayside ringing group for their annual social event. Unfortunately as we arrived so too did the rain however I was given the privilege of releasing the last bird of the day- a beautiful blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). Once home Clive tallied up our vis mig totals. 14,080 Wood pigeons! A new record for the site! For more details of the count see:

Beautiful blue tit (photo Laura Shearer)
On Monday morning I attended the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) conference on Amphibians and Urban Drainage in Battleby, Perth. My MSc thesis was based around amphibians so it was great to catch up with like-minded people and discover more about current amphibian conservation projects.

The morning began with talks about Sustainable Drainage Schemes (SuDS) and how many SuDS ponds act as fantastic amphibian habitats. Afternoon presentations included the effects of road deicing salts on amphibians (Pete Minting, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation) and on the use of amphibian ladders in gullypots (Raymond Creemers, Reptielen Amfibieƫn Vissen Onderzoek Nederland (RAVON) and Trevor Rose, Tayside Amphibian and Reptile Group).

Marcia Rae (Highland Council) talking about SuDS ponds as amphibian habitats (photo Laura Shearer)

Improve our drainage schemes for amphibians such as this Smooth Newt, Lissotriton vulgaris (photo Laura Shearer)
It was interesting to discover how small modifications to our drainage can help to improve the conservation of many of our native amphibians. For more information see the ARC website: or become involved in your local Amphibian and Reptile Group

Friday, 6 November 2015

WWT Caerlaverock Autumnwatch

I recently visited the WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) Caerlaverock reserve near Dumfries. The autumn and winter months are a fantastic time to visit as the Solway Firth comes alive with wintering wildfowl. As I approached, the surrounding fields were covered with Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) and I could feel the anticipation building!

Entrance to WWT Caelaverock (photo Laura Shearer)
Upon arrival I had a great chat with a volunteer who explained the layout of the reserve and the recent wildlife sightings. First stop- the Farmhouse tower in search of the Green Winged Teal (Anas carolinensis). It only took a few minutes before I was watching this American visitor alongside some other birders- what an amazing start to the day! 

Walking from hide to hide I was astounded at the amazing set-up of this nature reserve with regular hides providing amazing views of the wildlife! As I wandered around the Peter Scott trail I stumbled upon some bird feeders crammed with Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskins, Chaffinches- even a Great Spotted Woodpecker was in on the action. I could've sat there all day but there was plenty more to see. 

Into the next hide, this time facing onto the back pond. Within seconds of sitting down there was a blue flash as a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) whizzed by! Could this get any better?!! I sat there alone, watching this gorgeous bird fishing approximately 30-40m from the hide for about 20 minutes. What a vista! 
Kingfisher fishing at the "Back pond" at WWT Caerlaverock (photo Laura Shearer)
As 2pm approached, I joined the other visitors at the Peter Scott Observatory for the daily swan feed. Explaining more about the migration of the wildfowl in the pond, the staff were on the lookout for coloured rings around the legs of the swans and the geese. Each are uniquely coded and using a special machine inside the observatory, it was possible to find out the life history of each ringed bird. What an amazing resource and highly addictive too as we all tried to read the rings!

Swan feed as seen from the Peter Scott Observatory at WWT Caelaverock (photo Laura Shearer)

Reading colour rings during the swan feed (photo Laura Shearer)
Each pond at Caerlaverock was bursting with wildfowl and wading birds including Pochard, Shovelers, Teal, Wigeon, Snipe, Lapwing- too many to name them all! As I left the reserve I was thoroughly impressed with the amazing work of WWT and how they engage the public with wildlife. I couldn't wait to visit again!

Fortunately I didn't have long to wait as several days later I was invited to be part of the audience of BBC Autumnwatch Unsprung- filmed live from the reserve. Tom Burditt from the National Trust highlighted their Sounds of the Shores project #shoresounds aiming for members of the public to record their favourite sounds from our coast. The show played several clips including my personal favourites- Kittiwakes and Grey Seals calling. Chris Packham's enthusiasm and passion for natural history was infectious and once again I left Caerlaverock with a smile on my face, itching for a return visit!

In the audience at BBC Autumnwatch Unsprung (in the red coat)
For more information on WWT Caerlaverock see their website or follow them on Twitter: @WWTCaerlaverock

Watch Autumnwatch unsprung on BBC iplayer: