The same and different

You never imagine your holidays in the rain do you? But when I woke up at 4am local time it was raining hard.  Still a Northern Mockingbird sang outside – I didn’t feel mocked at all.

As well as the birds being different – or some of them anyway – we’ll come back to that – so is the human language.   I’ve had to repeat myself several times for others and ask them to repeat things for me – I don’t know what it is but there’s a slight communications glitch between us.

And the birds aren’t all different – starlings and house sparrows are, by far, the commonest birds I have seen.

I’ve bought a cell phone and a netbook so this blog is, fingers crossed, up and running.  Many thanks to a guy called Mario and the Geek Squad in Best Buy Columbia Heights who got me sorted out – much appreciated.

As I passed time while they did their stuff I was coming up the remarkably slow elevator out of the metro onto the sidewalk when I heard an unfamiliar bird song.  At present, almost all the bird songs are unfamiliar, of course, but this one sounded like it should be a warbler.

In the small group of trees by the Navy Memorial it sang its trill.  There were lots of sparrows in the tree, getting in the way, and then I saw a warbler with two white wing bars and a yellow throat and breast with an orange blob on it – a Northern Parula.  If you are a US birder then nothing to write home about, but since I am not, I am.

And meanwhile, back home, the Guardian has published a comment piece by me on the state of nature conservation.  James Meikle writes a piece about it and the NFU President Peter Kendall gets hot under the collar about it – but doesn’t actually address the points made.


A cure for jet lag?

I spent yesterday evening with a bunch of nature conservationists in Washington Zoo. And then we sat outside in the warm evening air, had a beer or two and talked about nature conservation and about birds. Not so different from Home really.

In fact the topics were very similar – do we do nature conservation for nature’s sake or for ours? How do we get the public fired up? What about marine ecosystems? Do commercially important fish count as wildlife too? What will be the impact of Government spending cuts?

And which spring migrants have been seen? A Blackburnian? A Black-throated green? Lots of Yellow-rumps? Only the species are different.

There were three people I talked to whom I might more usually have met in Cambridge – the picture on Jane’s face when she saw me there! – and several existing US friends and some new ones.

As we sat outside a Nighthawk flew over to add itself to Gray Catbird, American Robin, Chimney Swift and House Sparrow. Yes, dear Reader, seeing nature and meeting friends make a cure for jet lag.


Around the States in 40 days

I got here and the first bird I saw was … a starling. Yep a small flock feeding on some grass in central Washington. But I am glad to see there is still a Northern Mockingbird in the street outside the Tabard Inn where I am staying.


Springing across the pond

It’s late spring here in east Northants.  It’s over a month since I saw my first sand martins, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and willow warblers.  I’ve seen, locally, a good list of spring-bringers – those mentioned already and garden warbler, sedge warbler, reed warbler, grasshopper warbler, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, cuckoo, nightingale, yellow wagtail, swallow, house martin, common sandpiper, common tern and swift.  And all of those within a few miles of where I live.

And what I haven’t seen, has been seen by others – we are just waiting now for spotted flycatchers.  But spring happens in different places at different times.  The few Arctic terns and bar-tailed godwits which are rushing through the Nene Valley on early mornings are still heading for their spring in the high Arctic.  They’ll end up in places where the smell of hawthorn blossom has never been experienced.  Perhaps they’ll see polar bears while they are sitting on their eggs.

And tomorrow I am off to find a new spring.  I’ll be on a plane to Washington DC (thank you US forces for your timing on the Bin Laden thing).  Later this week I hope to be seeing American wood warblers in Rock Creek Park with US birders.  I’m told this is about the best week in the year to see them and so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I’ve read about Rock Creek Park.  The great Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher wrote of it in Wild America and Mike McCarthy wrote of it in the US edition of Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo.  If I get there, and if the technology works, I’ll be writing about it too.


Big Society and Small Government

Yesterday morning I was up early and doing my first Breeding Bird Survey visit of the year.  I started at 6am and it was all a bit dull weather-wise,  but by 730am the sun was out although the easterly wind was quite strong.

I’ve written before about how this volunteer/NGO/government agency/government partnership is a good example of Big Society in action.  People like me are saving the nation millions of pounds by volunteering to do this work – using my considerable expertise – there aren’t many people plucked off Rushden High Street who would have recognised that lesser whitethroat singing.

But the protection that that lesser whitethroat gets, and the regulation and funding that determine that the fields I walked around are full of winter wheat and oil seed rape, are not mine to influence very easily.  That is where government currently does intervene, and since it does, I’d like it to do it well and effectively and efficiently.

And that’s why I am so concerned about the Red Tape Challenge. Although the Cabinet Office and Defra seem to be having second thoughts on tearing up wildlife protection – or at least encouraging the general population to suggest that they tear it up – the (here and here) statements don’t look that reassuring to me.  If government realises that it has made a big mistake then it should say so clearly – hinting unclearly doesn’t really count.

My guess is that in an ill-considered flurry of enthusiasm for Small Government the Cabinet Office stuck up this Red Tape Challenge without consulting other government departments too much.  Or maybe they did consult but everyone is afraid of Francis Maude?  Either way, it isn’t the job of we the people to trust Government when it looks like it wants to do something wrong, says it quite fancies doing something wrong and then doesn’t correct this impression clearly.

Please remember those who are trying to do something about this:

The RSPB are still campaigning on it (hooray!).

Jonathon Porritt is on the right side (although he still hasn’t posted my comment on his blog – he’s probably on holiday (or maybe he just doesn’t care?)).

38 Degrees have now got to nearly 43,000 on their petition.

Butterfly Conservation now have something on their home page – well done! to them.

And, by the way, the collared dove I saw this morning, not the most exciting bird you might say, was the first I’ve seen on my BBS square.  Such are the pleasures of Big Society.