Friday, 10 July 2015

QUARRY WALK 09/07/15

This has to be one of the most depressing weeks I've ever had as birder. I can handle seeing the Sandmartins demise at Moulton Quarry, it's natural tooth 'n' claw etc though a comment from Trevor on the previous blog made me remember I had some flight shots of the adults with serious infection on their faces/bills. So perhaps parasites were also a combining factor in the colony collapse that is the up and downs of watching nature.
However the Hobby issue at Quarry Walk has been bothering me for a while, I've had several other people who visit the site text,email or tweet they hadn't seen a single Hobby. On my last visit when I also walked up to Summer Leys and a battle re-enactment was taking place at nearby Grendon Lakes. At the same time I kept hearing a rifle shot that was 'silenced'. Not unusual as there is two lads in a blue/silver (two tone split)  Toyota Hilux though they also have a silver Japanese 4x4 too(driver Bearded, passenger older, glasses has a wildlife watching beanbag, rifle & case you see them) who apparently shoot rabbits and at rats, apparently. Here's a map for reference
Map keys A) the actual Reed bed not mud as in the image B) nest 1 C) nest 2 D) nest 3 also worth noting the long straight line running parallel with B, C & D is referred to by locals as the "old railway line" as it once was. This unlike nearby Summer Leys is out of bounds as the gravel company has a long conveyor belt that runs from Hardwater Road to the gravel company.
Now the area shown has always been good for Hobbies. Many years ago as the Hobbies arrived in the UK I had 20 birds in the air, further back in time a Red Footed Falcon was at the nearby Mill. Sadly those Hobby numbers have never been repeated.
This year was heading for a good year I had 8 birds. They were performing their acrobatic and impressive courtship display, even passing food to each other. I saw from my position on the site(see black arrow on the image below) three pairs take over old crows nests, Hobbies for whatever reason like old crows nests. The fourth pair I knew nested but wasn't on the site.
The black arrow is also where you'll find me if I'm on site. I ALWAYS sit here. I can watch warblers, terns and normally Hobbies without disturbance. The Kestrel likes to hunt either side of the mound so I'm in good  cover to photograph it without it knowing I'm there.  There's an earth mound to sit on so you can imagine how much dread filled me when I arrived to find this placed under a stone.

I thought (still do) it was a Kestrel tail feather. That feather was placed under the rock EXACTLY where I sit. The guys with the silenced rifle drive past me on the mound each time they go onto the quarry (week days- late evening into the morning, weekends during the day) to gain access they have to go through locked gates, the gates belong to the quarry company and the farmer at Pasture Farm. Worth bearing in mind in case of any complicity etc I have to bear in mind and hope that this feather was a result of moulting which it is about the right time of year and someone knowing that I sit here and photograph the bird found the feather and thought I might want it and placed it there for me OR two guys drive down (hard path on the right in second image) saw the bird, wound down the window (they always shoot from inside the vehicle) shot the bird and left a feather as a sick joke/message. Today was the first site visit I didn't see the Kestrels at all. The norm would be to see the female (haven't seen the male since March) 7 to 8 times during a site visit.
I sat on the mound for two hours and not a single Hobby sighting. I would've expected to see one bird returning to Nest B. I would've also expected to see birds (just) going to C&D too. And perhaps all four hunting the field/Lakes in front of the mound. But nothing, no calling nothing. It was a perfect day for them,sunny, a slight breeze and loads of dragons in the air even the terns were successful in catching them. Personally I was worried about nest B but at the time more from disturbance, you could hear the faint calling and hardly hard to find/spot. Given the incubation period the chicks would've been about 6-7 days old about now so there should've been plenty of hunting going on. I satisfied myself there was no nesting and went for a closer look.
The tree arrowed is the site of the nest after much searching I realised the nest was actually gone, it overlooks the quarry out onto the railway line from this angle thanks to the swampy area/Reed beds it's 100% inaccessible, at this point I was thinking if I was to involve the police or even report it to the RSPB I was going to need evidence. I never took an image of it nesting a) because it's illegal and b) from the mound you can't see the actual nest, I had to stray onto private land to get the above image. I wish I had just taken one or two record shots or if you prefer evidential shots now though as I would at least have photographic evidence that they did actually nest. I did a bit of 'ducking and diving' onto the quarry site just to see if I could find any evidence, sadly despite a 45 minute search of the area below and around the nest....nothing no gun shell casings, no tyre marks, no footprints, no remains of the crows nest. I went back onto Quarry Walk and walked around the footpaths of Grendon Lakes to site D and did the same as above, did a bit more sneaking around to site C and the same thing. No nests where one had once been. If the Hobbies deserted those nests I would've thought the nests would still be there, after all I see a lot of animals reusing old crows nests. Maybe the Hobbies were disturbed by the battle re-enactment, desserted and the nests pulled apart by other birds for nesting material. But I find it odd the last time I saw all the Hobbies was the day of the reenactment and over the din I could hear THAT silenced rifle and the two men on a weekday and not as the norm arriving at dusk as they did today and what made me more suspicious they didn't stop to talk tonight , THEY ALWAYS STOP TO SAY HI. And let me know whereabouts they're shooting (safety thing) and what they've seen, they can id a Cettis call maybe it wasn't them...hmmmm. I arrived at the site at 8am and left at 21:30 in that time I saw one Hobby just the once (14:39)heading towards nest site 4. I went and checked that nest on the way home and pleased to say at least  that was still there so if disturbance from the reenactment scared off the other three pairs this pair too would've gone in my opinion too. The fact is the fourth site any foul play would've been spotted by dog walkers, walkers, cyclists and birders ie too 'public'
I'm in a bit of a pickle what to do now, I will give the RSPB a call just to log my concerns they DO have a very good and detailed reporting system in place. I have sadly used once before, very professional. Is it worth reporting it to the police? They won't find anything I didn't, probably won't put in as much effort either, there's no evidence so is it worthwhile. I have in my youth had dealings with Northamptonshire police and don't trust them and had to lodge a complaint with the IPCC a few years back whilst reporting (or trying to) an actual theft of juvenile Little Owl's taking place as I was chasing after the thieves only to be asked by the police phone operator "is it an actual crime to steal birds from the wild then" in short no faith in them.


  1. You are right. It depressed me and I haven't spent hours enjoying the place. The time I have spent is through your posts and it looks as if another venue will have to be found.

    1. I've been birding this area since I started birding I love it too much to hand over to criminals.

  2. Oh Dear! This is a very sad saga Douglas and you certainly are doing your best to find out what really happened. I hope if there is any illegal interferance from man, they will be found and prosecuted.

    1. It's going to be hard to prove to be fair Margaret I will do everything in my power to resolve this issue