Contributor profiles

Contributor profiles

The Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme team relies on members of the public and wildlife organisations who collect and send in deceased birds of prey. In a new feature we would like to highlight some of those contributors below, the most recent of which is John Lightfoot. See also Conrad Clayton, Simon Dudhill from the Raptor Foundation hospital, Kim Boog-Penman, founder and manager of the Barn Owl Project Hampshire & Bird Of Prey Hospital (BOPH), Judith Smith from Manchester Raptor Group, Vikki Bird from Kier Highways and John Martin.

Have you submitted a bird to the PBMS? If you have and would like to tell us about yourself, please get in touch at pbms@ceh.ac.uk.

Meet the contributor: John Lightfoot

I was born and brought up in Shropshire and currently live at Stanwardine near Shrewsbury with my wife Wendy and we both have a great interest in our local wildlife here in Shropshire, especially Barn Owls.  We both work full time for Royal Mail.

In 2002 I co-founded the Shropshire Barn Owl Group with Glenn Bishton.  Since that time we have installed over 300 nest boxes for barn owls throughout Shropshire, resulting in 1,214 owlets being successfully produced.

John placing a rehab barn owl in our mobile aviary ready to be returned to the wild.

How did you first hear about the scheme?

I first heard about the scheme many years ago whilst volunteering for the Barn Owl Trust in Devon. I have been submitting barn owl casualties since 2004

How/where do you find most of the birds that you submit?

Most of the barn owls I send to you are road casualties, usually on A roads.  A notorious road for dead barn owls is the A5 near Oswestry which is the road I use to go to work. Also I am contacted via our website by members of the public who have seen a dead or injured barn owl.  We are always interested to see whether there is an identifying ring on the barn owls found as we can establish how old they are and where they are from.

Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of keeping an eye out for birds to submit to the PBMS?

Anyone can look for dead or injured barn owls. They are usually on the side of the road and at first glance look like a white bag. An AA patrol man, whose mother came to a talk I gave in 2012 on Barn Owl conservation, lets us know if he sees any barn owls whilst at work.

What is your favourite bird of prey and why?

Obviously my favourite bird of prey is the barn owl.  My first encounter with a barn owl was as a young man and a barn owl flew out of a barn I was in and on examination I found a nest with young. The birds continued to breed in the same barn until it was burnt down a few years later whereupon they moved to a nearby tree.  This was their second home until the tree blew down in a gale, the barn owls then disappeared from the area.  After that I made it my mission to monitor barn owls in Shropshire and provide them with somewhere to nest. This has proved to be very successful over the years.

Meet the contributor: Conrad Clayton.

Conrad, please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 69 with three grown up children, and six grandchildren.

I've had a varied work career, and still work very part time as a delivery driver for the makers of Doddington cheeses and ice creams, a local family business.

When our children were still at home we lived in Newcastle and were regular cycle tourists. One of the great things about cycling is one gets to see far more than when using any other form of transport. One day whilst out cycling we found a beautiful stoat by the roadside. We took it to the Hancock museum, where we met Eric, the then taxidermist. Over the next 20 or so years we found all manner of animals and birds which we took to Eric for storage/treatment/display.

During the 70's I worked as a social work team leader and several of my team were keen amateur ornithologists, and over time we amassed a collection of stuffed owls, we had, Tawny owls, Long and Short eared owls and two little owls, all of which I found as road casualties. I continued to collect and 'donate' owls and other raptors I found to Eric, until he retired. Sadly the Hancock did not replace him and I had no where to send the road casualties I found, until I discovered PMBS. 

One of the other jobs I have had was reading 'hard to reach' electricity and gas meters, and one day in the 1990's I was fortunate enough to meet a falconer, who explained some of the fascination in breeding and hunting with raptors. There is something truly wonderful about any top end predator, their evolution produces such perfection. 

How did you first hear about the scheme?

To be honest I can't recall.

How/where do you find most of the birds that you submit? 

Currently I find most birds (roadside casualties) on the A1 which I travel most days.

What is your favourite bird of prey? 

I don't think I have a favourite bird of prey, I have always said that if I were to win the lottery then I would take up falconry, I am fascinated by Harris Hawks which hunt as a group.

Of our local raptors the common buzzards we see circling in the sky, or cruising the uplift at the hill top with their keening cries are always a thrill, or our local sparrow hawk skimming the roadside hedge trying to flush out smaller birds, they are all wonderful.

Meet the contributor: Simon Dudhill (holding a peregrine falcon)

Qu. Please tell us a bit about yourself. I’m 56 years of age, married, with two grown up children. I started work in the building trade from school where I worked in the family business for almost twenty five years. An accident at work, in my early twenties, has left me with chronic back problems in later life. It is due to this injury that I had to give up physical work, and after three major surgeries, looked to find a less physical career. I had always been interested in birds of prey and have been lucky enough to be involved assisting in the running the Raptor Foundation hospital for the last five years, caring for, and rehabilitating, sick and injured birds.

Qu. How did you first hear about the scheme? I have been involved with ringing and monitoring barn owls in the Cambridgeshire area for several years now, and it is through a colleague I work with, Peter Wilkinson, that I became aware of the scheme. He knew of the PBMS, as he too has sent birds through for analysis. We use the scheme because it gives us a comprehensive set of results about the deceased bird, even if the cause of death is apparent. I am especially interested in bird’s deceased weights and how long they can survive without feeding. It is usually barn owls that I send for post mortem.

Qu. How/where do you find most of the birds that you submit? Most of the birds I submit come from members of the public admitted to the Raptor Foundation, with the occasional birds coming to us from vets. A high percentage of these birds have come to me with injuries that I am unable to treat. Although these injured birds have had to be euthanised, I am still keen to learn about the birds overall condition. We do have people, from time to time, who contact us having found deceased birds wanting to know what to do with them. I ask them to send them to me.  I also have colleagues in the field who know I am always interested in deceased birds for research purposes.

Qu. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of keeping an eye out for birds to submit to the PBMS? The majority of birds we receive, come to us a result of road traffic accidents and are therefore, found by the side of the road.  Safety has to be of paramount importance, so do not stop on busy roads unless safe to do so or be distracted by looking in the ditches rather than what’s on the road.  A passenger is often best placed to look. Birds that have found food hard to find can be found deceased virtually anywhere.  These birds can be collected and sent to the scheme too.

Qu. I think I know your answer but what is your favourite bird of prey? The Barn Owl and the Red Kite, both of which I spend much of my life monitoring and observing.

 Meet the contributor: Kim Boog-Penman

Qu. Please tell us a bit about yourself and the BOPH. BOPH was inspired by travel in Africa where the wildlife conservation for so many species is relentless. Yet here on our doorstep we too have failing species, often a result of manmade interruption, so began a 5 year journey that now sees us recording local Barn Owl brood and nursing injured or orphaned raptors back to the wild.  Passion for Wildlife and Nature is a gift, so the journey via falconry training and almost 2 years of volunteering, topped up with a Bird of Prey Diploma and an insatiable appetite to learn more about how and why UK nature may struggle, has us pouring hundreds of voluntary hours into doing our bit to help. 

Qu. How did you hear about the PBMS? Often casualties are too sick and don't make it, so this prompted a search for research! Delighted to find PBMS, we are offered the opportunity to preserve the wonderful raptors we find, then pass them easily on for professional exploration. It really helps our process to understand the overall health and / or injury of deceased Birds of Prey.

Qu. How and where do you find most of the birds that you submit? We are more often informed of injured or orphaned birds via vet clinics, RSPCA or direct from the public, though some don’t make it, often direct injury or shock will mean that time is critical to offer support and care. For some it can be too much trauma or the injuries fatal.

Qu. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking submitting birds to the PBMS? We would recommend spreading the word about PBMS as we believe that it is a vital and important resource. Essentially, it broadens the view of the health of our species, which helps deliver more educated outcomes. Plus PBMS make it so simple to get involved and forward specimens, they seem a really great bunch!

Qu. What is your favourite bird of prey? Impossible to favour one species, The Barn Owl is stunning and Red Kite superb, yet for me the Kestrel and Little Owl gets my top vote, am in awe of these delicate birds and moved by their spirit, they really are special.

BOPH Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bophampshire.

 Judith Smith from Manchester Raptor Group

This article features one of our valued contributors, Judith Smith from Manchester Raptor Group.

Hi Judith, you’ve been a regular contributor to the PBMS for nearly 10 years. Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a keen birder and was the county recorder for the Greater Manchester area for 19 years. I’m also the leader of my local raptor group (Manchester Raptor Group).

How did you first hear about the scheme?

It’s so long ago I don’t remember! As a county recorder I probably would have heard about the PBMS through the Association of County Recorders and Editors (ACRE).

How/where do you find most of the birds that you submit?

At nest sites which we visit. Out of the breeding season the farmers/site owners tell me if they find a dead owl or peregrine. As leader of my local raptor group I also get to hear of other birds and direct them to the PBMS!

Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of keeping an eye out for birds to submit to the PBMS?

Put the bird in the freezer and send at the beginning of the working week.

What is your favourite bird of prey?

The Hen Harrier but I don't find any of those!

 Vikki Bird from Kier Highways

Hi Vikki, you’ve been a regular contributor to the PBMS. Tell us a bit about yourself?

I work in the Environment Team for Kier Highways (working on behalf of Highways England to manage and maintain the trunk roads in Cumbria and North Lancashire). One aspect of my job is recording wildlife deaths on our roads to identify hotspots and try to suggest ways in which we can provide mitigation and reduce the number of fatalities in a particular area.

In the past we have identified the A66 Temple Sowerby Bypass and a section of the M6 near Calthwaite as being hotspot areas for owls (in particular barn owls) being hit by vehicles. In order to try and reduce casualties we have undertaken tree planting, with the aim of raising the flight paths for owls as well as other birds and bats.

How did you first hear about the scheme?

A local Wildlife Consultant told us about the scheme when undertaking surveys for us on the M6 as he found 2 long eared owls which he sent off to the scheme. We have been getting increasing numbers of owls (especially barn owls) struck by vehicles and so he suggested that we put these casualties to good use, to inform further scientific study.

We have been sending birds of prey to the scheme since June 2015, and so far have sent 9 barn owls and 1 tawny owl. We also contribute towards other schemes, including; taking otter casualties to the Environment Agency for the Cardiff University Otter Project and polecats to the Vincent Wildlife Trust for their National Polecat Survey.

How/where do you find most of the birds that you submit?

All of the birds we submit are found by the side of the road, having been hit by vehicles (mainly HGVs) where birds of prey fly low in the road.

Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of keeping an eye out for birds to submit to the PBMS?

If you see any dead birds of prey out on the strategic road network e.g. on motorways, dual carriageways and busy A roads we ask that you don’t endanger yourself to pick them up and instead contact the Highways England Information Line on 0300 123 5000 and give them a good description of the location you saw the bird of prey and ideally a marker post and the direction of the carriageway. Our staff in marked up highways vehicles will pick them up safely. On other minor roads only pull over where it is safe to do so e.g. at a layby.

What is your favourite bird of prey and why?

Barn owls – as well as dealing with the dead ones we find on the roads I am lucky to have seen many alive and well in the wild too.

 John Martin

As I get older my sense of safety is increasing.  There might have been a day when I would have stopped on the hard shoulder of a motorway at a well-judged point feigning a breakdown in order to recover the carcass of an animal or bird.  Nowadays repeated journeys between turning places to establish the identity of a carcass on a particularly difficult stretch of highway might be safer due to increased wisdom too!

Roadkill has always interested me.  This developed when I worked in the forestry industry in North Wales nearly forty years ago and occasionally saw dead polecats on the road when traveling to jobs early in the mornings.  Fine male specimens were quickly thrown into the back of the van and the onward journey being constantly reminded of the lifeless passenger by assault on the olfactory sense.

Mustelids have always held an attraction.  As a breeder of ferrets for much of my life the opportunity to closely examine a wild native forebear of the variety couldn’t be missed.  Live specimens rarely come my way; delivered by well-meaning folk who are aware of my passion. 

Realising that my finds may have been interesting to whoever I assiduously recorded dates and locations.  Some years later and as a result of a passing comment to an employee of English Nature I was give contact details of a leading polecat researcher.  I wrote to him and received a lovely reply.  To this day we are very good friends and have jointly worked on a pine marten project in Galloway Forest for the last thirteen years. He encouraged me to record my observations and that advice was really the key stimulus for the purchase of an anorak – a big one at that.

A second chance occasion twenty five years ago saw the purchase of a small paperback publication, “The Provisional Mammal Atlas of Cumbria” containing distribution maps of species records.  I was amazed to see so few records of the commoner species in particular.  I think there were six brown rat records for example.  At that time my new job in Cumbria required much road travelling, some during the hours of darkness, and you might imagine that road casualty records amounted with impunity – they did indeed.

Of course, I wasn’t just seeing dead mammals, birds as well.  The raptor group is well represented in Cumbria and unfortunately these can be seen on motorways in particular.  After twenty five years with my last job I ventured into the world of self-employment and my company now specialised in work associated with protected species.  Twelve months ago I had a motorway contract which was heaven to me.  Correctly attired in yellow with a vehicle fitted with the necessary logos, reflective stripes and flashing lights I could access those embankments where, for years, I had been spotting roe deer, badger tracks and the like.  The contact involved walking long distances checking roadside features and, of course, I was finding casualties on the hard shoulder.  What I did find surprising were the numbers of dead raptors on the embankments out of sight to regular traffic. 

My observations were reported to the Highways Agency regional contactors and I learnt about the PBMS.  One memorable but sad find was two dead long-eared owls on the hard shoulder of the north bound M6 at Tebay.  Seeing one in the wild is a special thing, but handling a carcass and running the long ear feathers through finger and thumb and marvelling at the plumage generally adds a dimension to the fascination of these birds.

In February I noted an increase of barn owl road casualties.  As the motorway embankment vegetation had died back, vole runs were exposed and presumably owls were attracted accordingly.  From memory I recall eighteen barn owls reported as casualties in Cumbria and North Lancashire.  Not all could be collected but many were and forwarded to PMBS.

One of the ‘skills’ I’ve developed during the years of carcass spotting is location recall.  Nowadays I have a small voice recorder close to hand but describing location especially in areas without obvious landmarks can be challenging.  Motorways are relatively easy as marker posts record distances and are seen at the edge of the hard shoulder.  For example, a post bearing 420/8 means that the location is 420km from the start of the motorway and 800m further than 420/0.  There is usually a post every 100m.  If a report of a predatory bird casualty or polecat is forwarded to the PBMS or other recording agency it is always helpful to note the direction of travel.  Fuel costs can be lessened as slower speeds may be useful to read the small numbers!

On other roads power lines, bridges, junctions coupled with approximate distances assist with location fixing.  Of course, carcass spotting isn’t restricted to polecats and predatory birds.  Other mammals and birds may be identifiable and records can be reported to the relevant county biodiversity data recorder or by using, for example, the excellent iRecord website where a zoomable aerial mapping layer greatly assists location fixing.

Good luck and beware – although squashed carcasses can be less appealing than other entertainment when travelling, it can be addictive and you may want to buy a decent anorak!  The collective data can be used to prevent further casualties.

John Martin. 8th March 2016

How can you help?

If you find a dead bird of prey telephone us (01524 595830) or Contact us and see the How to send us a dead bird page.