Best Bird Watching in England

By Sian Williams

If lockdown has made you more appreciative of the birds in your neighbourhood, why not further your interest with a visit to a bird reserve during your staycation?

Birdwatching doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby – you don’t need to buy a huge telescope like you see some twitchers carrying, just as you don’t need to sit for hours munching on sandwiches, praying for that one elusive bird to show up!

If lockdown has made you more appreciative of the birds in your neighbourhood, why not further your interest with a visit to a bird reserve during your staycation?

Birdwatching doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby – you don’t need to buy a huge telescope like you see some twitchers carrying, just as you don’t need to sit for hours munching on sandwiches, praying for that one elusive bird to show up!

A good pair of binoculars (many reserves offer them for sale, or check out second-hand pairs on sites such as eBay), a bird book or app so you can identify what’s in front of you, and a little bit of patience will reward you with an absorbing day out.

Although spring and summer are great for spotting birds during the breeding season, autumn and winter also offer a great deal of variety as many species prepare to migrate.

Bird-watching is truly a year-round activity the whole family can enjoy.

Here are our top nine bird-watching sites in England.

Farne Islands

Farne Islands
Farne Islands. Credit: DomWPhoto

A 20-minute boat trip will take you to the dramatic Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast.

Once home to saints and monks, today the tiny archipelago supports breeding colonies of several species of seabird. At the height of the season (May to June), you could see around 70,000 Puffins!

The islands are also a haven for Eider Ducks, Razorbills, Little Terns, Arctic Terns, and Sandwich Terns. Look out for seals basking on the rocks or swimming, too.

Find it: Boat trips to the Farne islands run from Seahouses. Check out SerenityBilly Shiel’s or Golden Gate. The National Trust cares for the islands; non-members must pay a landing fee in addition to the cost of the boat trip.

Find out more here.

Bempton Cliffs

Known locally as Seabird City, the towering white cliffs at Bempton, near Bridlington, in East Yorkshire, attract up to half a million seabirds every year.

Between March and October, they come to nest and raise their young, making this place a must-see for any bird-watcher.

The cries (and smells!) are unforgettable as thousands of birds swoop around you.

Look out for the Gannets with their startling blue eyes and large grey bills. True romantics, Gannets mate for life – and often the male will offer the female little gifts of flowers.

Bempton is the only mainland seabird colony in England, so you’re guaranteed to see ‘the big eight’ of species that visit our shores: Gannet, Guillemot, Puffin, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Shag and Herring Gull.

Find it: RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Cliff Lane, Bridlington, YO15 1JF

Find out more here.

Coombes Valley

A Redstart
A Redstart. Credit: SussexBirder

A lovely oak woodland in a steep-sided valley, this Staffordshire spot provides an ideal habitat for migratory birds such as the Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Wood Warbler to nest.

A trail leads you around the site – look out for Dippers and Willow Tits in summer, and in winter, hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfare descend to feed on the berries.

A steep climb will take you to open moorland and pasture, where you may see Woodcock and Sparrowhawks.

Find it: RSPB Coombes & Churnet Valley Nature Reserve, Bradnop, Leek, ST13 7EU

Find out more here.

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HCR: The Big Lie continues to poison

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

June 15, 2021

This morning, the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee released a series of emails and documents that show just how hard former president Trump worked to overturn the 2020 election and retain an illegal grip on power. 

On December 14, 2020, which was the day electors in each state certified the votes of the Electoral College, then-president Trump’s assistant wrote an email to then–Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen talking about alleged voter fraud in Michigan. The email was titled “From POTUS”—that is, from the President of the United States—and it included a long list of talking points to offer about why the votes should not be certified. That email had a number of documents that allegedly proved voter fraud.

Minutes after that email went out, another Justice Department official, Richard Donoghue, sent the same documents to the U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan. Forty minutes later, then-president Trump tweeted that Attorney General William Barr would be stepping down and would be replaced by Rosen. Donoghue would become Rosen’s deputy. 

On December 29, then-president Trump’s assistant emailed Rosen, Donoghue, and Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall with a draft of a legal brief to file in the Supreme Court. It demanded that the court declare that the Electoral College votes of six states—ones that Trump lost—“cannot be counted” and asked the court to order a redo of the election in those states.

From then on, Trump and his aides, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, repeatedly pressured officials at the Department of Justice to overturn the election results. Meadows forwarded information suggesting, among other things, that Italians changed U.S. votes through satellite technology and that Trump clearly won the election. Their complaints were so far-fetched that Rosen and Donoghue referred to them as “Pure insanity.”

And yet, the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election continues to poison our country. On January 6, that lie led Trump’s supporters to try to stop the counting of the certified electoral votes by storming the Capitol and threatening the lawmakers there. Just hours after the insurrection, 147 Republicans voted to challenge the election results. 

And some of them remain firmly in the camp of the Big Lie, now downplaying the events of January 6. Today, 21 House Republicans voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’s highest award, to all the law enforcement officers who protected the Capitol on January 6. The measure passed with 406 lawmakers of both parties voting in favor. Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said to those voting no: “How you can vote no to this is beyond me.” 

But some have gone further in challenging the seriousness of the attack on the Capitol. Today at a hearing of the House Oversight Committee, a number of the Republicans spent their time expressing concern for the insurrectionists. Representative Glenn Grothman (R-WI) suggested that as many as 1000 of the people in the Capitol on January 6 were tourists who had wandered into the building inadvertently (the Capitol was closed to tourists because of the pandemic). Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) argued that the Capitol police officers were “lying in wait” for Ashli Babbitt, who was shot as she tried to break into a secure area. According to Gosar’s construction, Babbitt was “executed” by police. He demanded to know the name of the officer involved in the shooting.

Today, Attorney General Merrick Garland released the nation’s first ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. It emphasized that the Department of Justice would seek to prevent violence, not protected expression, and would be evenhanded: “The definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ in our law makes no distinction based on political views—left, right, or center—and neither should we,” it said. The plan calls for streamlined information sharing among law enforcement officials, a focus on the transnational elements of domestic terrorism, an effort to reduce access to recruitment materials and weapons, and screening of government employees—including military and law enforcement—before hiring to make sure they do not harbor illegal and violent views. 

The new plan also takes a longer view, saying that conquering our long tradition of domestic terrorism will require tackling racism, gun violence, and mass murders. Ending domestic terrorism means paying better attention to mental health and creating “the type of civics education that promotes tolerance and respect for all and investing in policies and programs that foster civic engagement and inspire a shared commitment to American democracy.” And, the document continues, “it means ensuring that there is simply no governmental tolerance—and instead denunciation and rejection—of violence as an acceptable mode of seeking political or social change.”

Also today, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, told a right-wing society that he wants to make President Biden “a one-half-term president” by retaking power in Congress in 2022 and blocking Biden’s agenda. 

The president is in Europe, of course, but his spokesperson Andrew Bates illustrated that the administration intends to move beyond the Trump loyalists. In a statement, Bates said: “The President looks forward to continuing to deliver for the American people, continuing to make government work for them again, and continuing to bring our country together—after having reduced cases of the worst public health crisis in over a century by more than 90%, signed historic economic legislation that helped fuel unprecedented job growth for any administration’s first 100 days in office, protected Americans’ health care, and restored our leadership and competitiveness in the world.”

HCR: McConnell won’t permit Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

June 14, 2021

Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that it is “highly unlikely” that he would permit President Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if the Republicans win control of the Senate in 2022.

While it seems certain that, if returned to his leadership role in the Senate, McConnell would block any Biden nominee, the fact he said it right now suggests that he is hoping to keep evangelical voters firmly in the Republican camp. In 2016, after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, McConnell refused even to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. McConnell’s justification for this unprecedented obstruction was that Obama’s March nomination was too close to an election—a rule he ignored four years later when he rushed through Amy Barrett’s appointment to the Court in late October when voting in the upcoming election was already underway—and yet the underlying reason for the 2016 delay was at least in part his recognition that hopes of pushing the Supreme Court to the right, especially on the issue of abortion, were likely to push evangelical voters to the polls.

McConnell’s stance was at least in part directed to the changing nature of the judiciary under President Biden. Last week, the Senate confirmed the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, a truly astonishing first since Muslims have been part of the U.S. since the earliest days of African enslavement in the early 1600s. By a vote of 81 to 16, the Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi, the son of Pakistani immigrants and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

More to the point, perhaps, for McConnell, is that the Senate today confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Jackson takes the place of Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. This post is generally seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Biden has suggested he would appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and Jackson is widely thought to be a top contender.

Aside from its implications for the Supreme Court, McConnell’s stand makes a mockery of Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) insistence on bipartisan support for legislation that protects voting rights. Manchin is demanding that bills protecting voting win bipartisan support because he says he fears that increasing partisanship will injure our democracy. McConnell’s flaunting of his manipulation of Senate rules to cement Republican control of our courts leaves Manchin twisting in the wind.

States, too, are passing voter suppression legislation along strictly partisan lines. The Brennan Center for Justice keeps tabs on voting legislation. It writes that “Republicans introduced and drove virtually all of the bills that impose new voting restrictions, and the harshest new laws were passed with almost exclusively Republican votes and signed into law by Republican governors.”

The Republican domination of the government over the past four years is on the table today as Democratic lawmakers try to get to the bottom of who authorized the FBI under former president Trump to spy on reporters, Democratic lawmakers and their families and staff members, and on White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife. CNN chief congressional reporter Manu Raju tweeted that Adam Schiff (D-NY) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says after speaking with Garland that he still doesn’t know who started the investigation. “We discussed the need to really do a full scale review of what went on in the last four years, and make sure that steps are taken to re-establish the independence of the department,” he said.

While Attorney General Merrick Garland has referred the issue to the inspector general of the Justice Department, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler (D-NY), tonight announced the committee would open a formal investigation into the department’s secret seizure of data. “It is…possible that these cases are merely our first glimpse into a coordinated effort by the Trump Administration to target President Trump’s political opposition,” the committee members said in a statement. “If so, we must learn the full extent of this gross abuse of power, root out the individuals responsible, and hold those individuals accountable for their actions.”

In the midst of the uproar over the news that the Trump Department of Justice investigated Democratic lawmakers, the top national security official in the Justice Department, John Demers, a Trump appointee, has retired. Demers ran the department that had a say in each of the leak investigations.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, organized as a military alliance after WWII, met today. The heads of state of the 30 participating countries issued a communique reaffirming “our unity, solidarity, and cohesion,” and reiterating that, in case of attack, each nation would come to the aid of another. The members reiterated their commitment to a rules-based international order.

While the statement said NATO members remained open to a periodic, focused, and meaningful dialogue,” it singled out Russia as a threat and called for it to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova. It condemned Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.” It warned that NATO countries would, in certain circumstances, recognize a cyberattack as “amounting to an armed attack” and would treat it as such, rising to each other’s defense.

The statement was less strident against China, noting its “growing influence and international policies can present challenges.”

NATO leaders vowed to stand against terrorism and to continue to support Afghanistan despite the U.S. withdrawal. They reiterated that they did not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. In a reflection of the new era, the signatories’ statement called for addressing climate change. It also affirmed “the critical importance of women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and stability, as well as the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls, including conflict-related sexual violence.”

Biden says he promises to prove “that democracy and that our Alliance can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs and the needs of our people.” With this strong statement of NATO solidarity in hand, Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.