Oscar Dewhurst – Manx Shearwater

Skomer 05,6-07-12_0269-Manx-Shearwater


Oscar writes: When I was on Skomer, off the cost of Pembrokeshire, I was very surprised to see this Manx Shearwater perched on a stone wall during the middle of the day. They are nocturnal birds that breed on the island, but I was very glad to have the opportunity to see one in daylight.
Nikon D300s, Nikon 200-400mm f4 VR

Sunday Book Review – The Global Pigeon by Colin Jerolmark

9780226002088‘I never paid much attention to pigeons until one defecated on me’ is not a bad opening line for a book. This book is about the interaction between pigeons and people – which of the two gets more defecated upon?

Domesticated pigeons, and urban feral pigeons, are derived from the Rock Dove but are normally ignored by most birders. I never add feral pigeon to my day list, unless it is languishing on 99 at the end of the day.

This book is really much more about people than pigeons – and people can be quite interesting.  The author uses the relationships between men (mostly) and pigeons to explore our human relationship with nature.  Are city-dwellers, for example on the rooftops of Brooklyn, who keep, breed or race pigeons using the birds vicariously to connect with nature? Or is the relationship more to do with with us dominating nature?

Why are we so divided about the place of pigeons in the midst of our towns whether it be Trafalgar Square in London or Venice’s Piazza San Marco? Some want to feed them, some want them gone; both feel strongly about it.

Sun City, South Africa organised a pigeon race where the first prize was $200,000 – that seems to be a reason to be interested in pigeons.

This book is a mixture of ethnography and sociology and explores our relationship with nature.  The more academic explanations of our behaviour weren’t for me, but the descriptions of human behaviour were fascinating. We are, perhaps, almost as interesting as pigeons.

The Global Pigeon is published by The University of Chicago Press and is available on Amazon, as is Fighting for Birds by Mark Avery.


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill





Last day of…

If today is the first day of spring, then yesterday must have been the last day of winter.

I spent the evening of the last day of winter giving a talk to my local mid-Nene RSPB group – as a stand-in for a much better speaker, Ian Newton, who had lost his voice.

There were five reasons why someone might have felt a bid sad about this. First, Ian must have felt rotten so that was a shame. Second, the audience was robbed of a great speaker and had to put up with me instead.  Third, I missed hearing Ian talk.  Fourth, I missed Ian’s company as we had planned some chatting and birding around his visit to my local patch, and therefore fifth, Ian missed the four Sand Martins I saw at Stanwick Lakes this morning (proving that it is, indeed, the first day of spring).

But there were some up-sides too – for me at least.  I enjoy talking to people and I enjoyed yesterday evening.  I also sold eight copies of Fighting for Birds, was told some local localities for Little Owls and had some interesting chats with people.

The talk went down well, as it did at Benson a few weeks ago and this talk will get its last outing next Saturday at the Hampshire Ornithological Society meeting. So HOS, expect to hear about gorgeous Duchesses, expensive bird books (not mine – mine are cheap), Blue Whales, men with moustaches, a graph which doesn’t look like progress and a bit about the Orange Kite.  But I only have three copies of Fighting for Birds to sell so it’ll be first-come, first -served.

Yes, four Sand Martins this morning. And a few Small tortoiseshells too.  Bye, bye winter – thanks for the Smew, Long-tailed Ducks, Barnacle Geese, Snow Buntings etc but roll on spring with a hat-full of warblers, Swallows, Cuckoos, Swifts, Sandwich Terns, Garganeys and so much more.  It’s difficult to miss winter when spring is upon us. The next 10 weeks are the best of the year – let’s hope for good weather, at least sometimes, and great wildlife.



Labour – hopeless on the natural environment

I received an email from Angela Eagle over 10 days ago, as a Labour Party member, excitedly telling me that the party had published eight policy papers ‘that will provide the foundation of our One Nation manifesto’.  I have until 13 June to respond and ‘make sure Labour’s election manifesto reflects your views, beliefs and aspirations for Britain’.

The paper on Living Standards and Sustainability Policy has two paragraphs headed the ‘Natural Environment’.  Neither says anything wrong, but neither says anything exciting or inspirational. Neither actually says much at all. Here they are;

‘The current Government has set back efforts to protect Britain’s wildlife and natural environment, and sought to undermine Labour achievements in office on animal welfare. They have threatened a vote on the repeal of the hunting ban, made a shameful attempt to sell off the nation’s forests, and questioned environmental legislation which has given us cleaner beaches, better air quality, and protected our wildlife.
The last Labour government committed to introducing fundamental change in environment policy. Instead of focussing on individual species or habitats we aspired to take an approach based upon whole ecosystems. We commissioned the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment which has established that 30 per cent of the UK’s ecosystems are in decline and many others only just holding their own against an increasingly hostile background of rising population, consumption and pollution. We will protect Britain’s natural environment, right to roam and wildlife for future generations.



More bits and pieces

Xerces Blue 'memorial', Lobos Dunes.  Photo: Liam O'Brien

Xerces Blue ‘memorial’, Lobos Dunes. Photo: Liam O’Brien

I wrote in June about a day I spent being shown butterflies in San Francisco by Liam O’Brien.  Liam showed me the last site of the now-extinct Xerces Blue butterfly and now sends me this image of a memorial which has suddenly appeared.

The Moorland Association, having met Lord de Mauley to bend his ear, is seeking an urgent meeting with Owen Paterson to discuss the importance of burning on deep peat according to their newsletter.  Maybe they will learn how to spell his name before meeting him (Paterson not Patterson).

Commentary on yesterday’s Budget by some NGOs – RSPB, GreenpeaceCPRE, Wildlife Trusts.

Apparently the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation has confirmed that the man posting a video of drinking deer’s blood in a sick ‘neknomination‘ video is one of their members (only click here and here if you have a strong stomach).  The NGO exists to ‘ensure high standards’ throughout the ‘profession’ of gamekeeping.  I’d advise Martin Harper to watch his drinks when he addresses the NGO AGM.

Interesting letters in the Shooting times reproduced on the Raptor Politics website.  Good to see the good speaking out.

I’m raising money for BirdLife International – although not too much so far…

I still haven’t seen a Sand Martin yet this year.


Vultures and diclofenac

Photo: Goran Ekstron via wikimedia commons

Photo: Goran Ekstron via wikimedia commons

The story about diclofenac and vulture declines is an amazing one.  And it is developing a nasty new twist.

Asian vultures crashed in numbers very rapidly.  In the 1980s the Indian White-rumped Vulture was probably the commonest bird of prey in the world but its numbers (and those of other species) fell by around 99.9% in around a decade.

Biologists from the RSPB and ZSL tried to discover the cause – we thought it was probably a disease – but we were wrong and it was the Peregrine Fund who discovered that diclofenac, a drug used as a veterinary treatment of cattle, was poisoning vultures.  Tiny amounts of diclofenac could  kill vultures.  A single feed from the corpse of  a fairly recently-treated cow would be enough, when scaled up across southeast Asia, to cause the precipitous decline.

Banning diclofenac from India is quite a task – but progress is being made and there are plans to release some captive bred vultures (captive-breeding was itself a great achievement) into the wild soon.  It could be the beginning of a recovery for vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal.  It’s a fascinating story, and I know quite a lot about it from the inside, but we’ll leave it there for now.  Fingers crossed!

The twist in the tale is that diclofenac has just been authorised for use in  Spain and Italy where most of Europe’s vultures live. This is crazy. Utterly mad!

It really wasn’t anyone’s fault that diclofenac killed millions of Asian vultures.  The drug had been tested and passed all tests.  It seems that vultures are specially and particularly susceptible to it.  And it took ages to discover what was happening.  But now we know. And we know that good alternative veterinary medicines are available that work for cattle but don’t kill vultures.

Diclofenac must be banned as a veterinary drug in Europe in any circumstances where it could lead to vultures dying.  Please add your name to this petition, now.

And by the way, if you are taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, then you may be taking diclofenac. Don’t worry – it’ll do the trick.  Just don’t let any vultures nibble you!



I was budgetting for Sand Martins

It’s been a slightly odd day.  I woke very early (even for me) and so had a little snooze mid-morning, listened to the Budget on the radio and then went for a walk at Stanwick Lakes.

As I walked around in the afternoon sunshine I was thinking that, in some ways, I was quite impressed by the Budget and I wished a Sand Martin would fly past.

I don’t warm to George Osborne – the words odious, otiose and oleaginous spring to mind – but he made a very good political speech (I thought).  It is a theme of this blog that even the best organisations and individuals have their bad points and even the worst have their good points. Everyone is a mixture of good and bad – it’s just that the goodies have a good dose of good with a smidgeon of bad and the baddies are overloaded with bad but one can still spot the good from time to time. Osborne made his speech very well (even if I didn’t like much of its content) – it was an assured performance.

My walk was a mixture of winter and summer. It was a warm afternoon but the birds were mostly reminders of winter – there were Goldeneyes, Fieldfares and Redwings.  The one classically summer species was the Chiffchaff, several of whom have been singing at Stanwick for several days and were belting out their songs this afternoon.

Osborne even had a joke in his speech – a well-aimed barb directed at Ed Miliband – referring to the Magna Carta and King John betraying his elder brother.

The Chiffchaffs were the only summer visitors I saw but the resident species were singing away in the sunshine – Great Tits, Robins, Wrens, Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Reed Buntings and Song Thrushes.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed.

I didn’t think it was the greenest Budget ever – with business being let off paying anything like the right price for polluting the atmosphere – Greenpeace thought the same.

I saw 52 bird species on my regular walk – pretty good really, but not as good as the record-making (for me (at Stanwick (in March))) total of 61 on Monday.  The value of your bird list can go down as well as up.

The Budget was fairly radical – and I like that – even if I don’t like its overall content. When you are in power you should use it – and Osborne does.   He is a man who doesn’t seem to care much for the disadvantaged in our Society and his budget reflects that. It’ll be so useful to be able to stick another £10k into Premium Bonds for the unemployed and low-waged.  They must be jumping for joy.

I think that the Budget might leave me a little better off but I’d rather it had been a Budget that increased fairness in Society and had tackled environmental problems rather than ignored them and made them worse. I’d rather have seen a Sand Martin.

I now earn, because it varies, less than half (quite a lot less than half on average) what I earned working at the RSPB.  But I am perfectly happy most of the time.  I admit, I’m at the ‘kids have left home and the mortgage is paid’ stage of life which means that there isn’t a great need to earn stacks of money except to buy a slightly better bottle of Rioja now and then.

Most of us worry too much about money – we’ve got enough, even if we don’t have quite as much as we used to have.  The people without jobs, or with poorly paid jobs, are the ones i really worry about.

The Budget was a well-delivered unfair Budget.  I do wish I’d seen a Sand Martin though.


Good cause


White Stork migrating over east northants? probably mot. Photo: Manfred Heyde via wikimedia commons

White Stork migrating over east northants? probably mot. Photo: Manfred Heyde via wikimedia commons

BirdLife International has a number of fundraising ‘asks’ on the Just Giving site.  All are worth supporting.

There are several teams who are fundraising by competing in the Champions of the Flyway bird race at the Eilat Birds Festival in Israel.  This raises the inevitable question of ‘why fly to Israel to raise money for an environmental cause?’.

Let’s not be too prissy about this – it’s better to raise money than not to raise money, all other things being equal.

So if you want to support this excellent cause then here are a few of my mates who are taking part; Birdwatch-Birdguides Roadrunners team, The Media Birders team, The Birding Frontiers team, Cornell Lab eBirders team and The Digital Stringers team. All these teams, and any of the others, are worthy of your support.

But if you’d like to support the cause without having to worry about all that carbon, then donate to BirdLife International through my Just Giving page. I thought I’d mooch around the house and maybe go for a walk that day.



Bits and pieces


Grey wolf. Photo: http://www.ForestWander.com via wikimedia commons

Grey wolf. Photo: http://www.ForestWander.com via wikimedia commons

How wolves change rivers – a four minute video (although that is the wrong Badger species!).

Vote here for the project you would like to see get £25,000 – I voted for the World Land Trust project on leopards but it wasn’t an easy decision.

I keep forgetting to tell you that the sale of Christmas cards raised £25 for the Badger Trust – thank you.

Martin Harper’s blog on the New Environmental Land Management Scheme – worth a read.

Rumour has it that NE are in a bit of a tizzy about my latest FoI/EIR request – I expect they are wondering how to answer questions about how much of our money is being paid to the Walshaw Moor Estate and what, precisely, it is for.

Defra have not yet responded to John Armitage’s highly successful e-petition which raised 10, 423 signatures on the subject of licensing grouse moors.  It can’t be that difficult to scrape together a few unconvincing words, can it?

After my talk at Oxford University a couple of weeks ago – which I very much enjoyed giving – I was sent this link about apathetic students (but I couldn’t be bothered to read it).

Next week is World Osprey week – has anyone told the Ospreys? There was one seen down the road from me a couple of days ago – must be spring.

Osprey. Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons

Osprey. Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons