Owls That!

I spent a lot of time wandering the local countryside. I usually see some wildlife of interest on every walk. Sometimes I get really lucky and see something particularly exciting. Today was one of those days.

I was wandering along a country road when I caught a glimpse of this magnificent bird.

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This is of course a tawny owl. Tawnies are well known for being a bird which is regularly heard but rarely seen. Indeed I regularly here tawnies calling locally but I’ve never seen one until now.

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You would expect to see tawnies at night but I found this one at 2:30PM. This is probably it’s roost site- it’s actually sat on a 4×4 in someone’s garden! It certainly looked sleepy, a little wary of my presence nearby but showing no inclination for flying off. I think this was probably the best wildlife encounter I’ve had so far!

In other news, there’s now quite a few greylag goslings on the nursery field, somewhere in the region of fifteen.

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I was interested to see that two of the goslings were much lighter than all the others. In some domestic geese this can indicate gender but I’ve not been able to find anything online about why greylag goslings look so different- it may simply be natural variation.

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I’ve seen lots of interesting invertebrates recently. A lot of people, even those interested in nature, seem to ignore the smaller animals around them but they are fascinated to find out about.

On one footpath I saw several of these creatures that looked like caterpillars at first. With further investigation I discovered that they were actually glow worm larvae.

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Despite the name glow worms are actually beetles, hence the larvae stage. Larvae and even eggs can emit light but generally it’s the females who do so. They emit a greeny or orange light to attract males which have large, photosensitive eyes.

I recently saw this large fly which is apparently a yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria).

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As the name suggests, this fly is often found on the faeces of large mammals where they go to breed. They are actually really important to the animal kingdom due to helping dung to decompose and useful to humans to as they have been used for many experiments.

Another insect find was this dock bug (Coreus marginatus).

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Dock bugs have a more pleasant diet being herbivorous, particularly liking raspberries and gooseberries. Like other members of their family, they can release strong-smelling defensive chemicals if they are disturbed.

I’ve discussed some oak galls here before but never the most famous, oak apples.

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Like other galls, there are not fruit but growths caused by a wasp (probably Biorhiza pallida in this case) chemically inducing them. The larvae feed on the gall tissue and everyone’s a winner as it has no long-term effect on the oak tree.

Well that was an interesting dip into the miniature world around us! I’ll be back next week with much more, including an update on the peregrine falcon chicks.

Fluffy Fledglings

As expected, the peregrine falcon eggs in the Bournemouth nest started to hatch this week. The first came in the early hours of the 24th April and the second came later the same day. You can see the second chick hatching with the first chick behind the adult in this still.

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The third chick hatched two days later, on 26th April. At the time of writing it appears that the fourth egg has yet to hatch- last year the fourth egg of the clutch didn’t hatch at all and given the long gap it seems unlikely it will now. I’ve been keeping an eye on the nest and if you watch the webcam in the morning’s you can often see the adults arrive for a feed.

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The three chicks are huddled together here as the adult hands them pieces of a huge kill. Mostly they are being fed pigeons which is hardly surprising in an urban area but this feed looks really like a lump of meat! Remember, you can watch the nest webcam online here and I’ll be keeping up with the chicks’ progress over the next few weeks.

More baby birds have appeared on my patch this week including this fluffy thing:

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It’s hard to identify from that shot alone but this is in fact one of a clutch of canada geese goslings. I spotted this family on the edge of the fishing lake with four very young babies.

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These are the only young canada geese I’ve seen so far but soon there will be quite a few and they will be collected together into a sort of nursery. Over on the nursery field some greylag geese have already arrived with their very small goslings. 

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You can just make out four goslings in this image. The greylags seem less confident than the canada geese and always stick to the far side of the nursery field. Incidentally, here’s a very clear shot of a different greylag on the fishing lake.

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Greylags are thought to be the ancestor of all domestic geese, though generations of breeding mean their domestic counterparts now look quite different.

I’ve got one more baby bird for you today, a young blackbird.

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There are several ways to know if you’ve seen a young bird. Generally their feathers are fluffier than in adult birds, particularly on the underside. They often still have the yellow part at the side of the beak which the parents can’t help but pass food towards. You can also often tell from their behaviour- they are often less jumpy than adult birds and might allow you to approach quite closely. It means you can get clear photos like this one but I always make sure never to disturb the birds too much.

I’ve got good views of a few birds out looking for food this week- they too may have young they need to feed. Here’s a grey heron, perhaps the same one I saw catching a rat a few weeks ago.

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Only metres away I spotted the kestrel that is often hovering for food over these fields next to the river Avon and for once I managed to get a photo of it.

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I am always amazed at how these birds of prey can hover so well, keeping their head absolutely still whilst their wings flap so quickly.

Finally, here’s a bird I talked about a little over the winter but now in it’s magnificent summer plumage, a black-tailed godwit.

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Black-tailed godwits are mainly winter visitors but I think this may be an unusual resident bird. There’s a fairly sizeable population over at Lymington-Keyhaven so it’s possible some birds breed here rather than migrate, especially with the mild winter we had this year.

That’s all for today so I shall see you in May!

 

Nesting Season

As I’d been hoping, the peregrine falcons nesting in the a clock tower in Bournemouth laid their first eggs this week. The first was laid sometime in the early hours of the 16th March.

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Then a second egg was laid at some point on the 18th March.

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Peregrines usually have a clutch of 3-4 eggs so I would expect one more egg to be laid in the coming days. The eggs should begin to hatch around about the 20th April. Getting these glimpses of the eggs was tricky as the majority of the time the mother has been sat on the eggs, keeping them warm.

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Meanwhile I’m really excited to have another nest to be able to share with you and this one is very close to home. Some Collared Doves have decided to nest on the bracket of our satellite dish!

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This is surprisingly a common place for this species to nest. Collared doves are one of the few species that benefit from living close to humans. They actually only nested in the UK for the first time in 1956 and the nest then was heavily guarded. Satellite dishes are actually decent nesting sites as they are well away from predators and if their is bird food around then there is a ready supply of food- like we have in our garden.

The position of the dish means it is very close to one of our windows which means from the right spot we can see directly into the nest.

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As you can see there are two eggs in the nest. This is the usual clutch size of collared doves and their may be as many as nine clutches in a year! They take about 14 days to hatch but I’m not totally sure when these were laid- hopefully they will hatch successfully and we will have some chicks within the next two weeks.

When I’ve been out and about this week I’ve seen lots of birds singing and displaying. The breeding season is here and as a result birds are suddenly very visible and audible. Here are a few of my favourites:

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Blue Tit
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Robin
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Little Egret (with a particularly long plume)
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Great Crested Grebe

This week I’ve noticed that the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosahave come into flower.

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For most of the year these plants are not visible- they are just ‘rhizomes’, a sort of lumpy root under the soil. In early Spring they grow out of the ground and flower from now until May. They are actually ineffective at spreading via seeds and mostly spread through their roots which is why you can get carpets of wood anemones in some woodland.

Finally, let’s end with a fungus!

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I’ve been all through my fungi book but still have no idea what this is. It looks spectacular though!

If you want more regular updates on the peregrines and collared doves then you can follow me on Twitter @dangoeswild1. You can also find the peregrine webcam here– I’ve just watched the male feed a pigeon to the female!

The Hungry Heron

It suddenly feels a lot like Spring. The temperature is booming, around 13 °C here today. There are buds in the trees, recording stations have detected the thrushes starting to head North again and there are Sand Martins in West Africa on their way North too.

You may remember a few weeks I was talked about the grey heron that seems to be spending its time on the grassy floodplain of the Avon rather than on the river itself. It’s now become very clear exactly why it is doing this as I saw it catch and eat a rat.

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It’s easy to imagine that herons only eat fish but they are happy to eat any prey they can get their beaks on. This must be a sizeable meal for a heron and it appeared to be an easy find so it’s no wonder the heron is spending it’s time here at the moment! This second photo shows just how big a meal it was as the heron struggles to swallow it.

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Nearby on the river itself this little egret didn’t seem to having much luck when it came to hunting.

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I haven’t seen much of the roe deer lately- they put in an appearance last weekend and were very busy eating.

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Over the last fortnight I’ve seen a few birds which are unusual for my patch. None of them are especially rare but they are birds I’m not accustomed to seeing around here.We do get the odd jay locally but this is the first time I’ve managed to capture a really clear image of one.

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Jays are the most beautiful of our corvids, with the lovely pink colour and the stunning blue section on the wing. Like other corvids they are very intelligent and have apparently been recorded being able to plan for future needs and being able to take into account the desires of their partner when sharing food in the courtship ritual.

A more unusual spot was this treecreeper. There are probably a few around in the area but they are a challenging bird to spot.

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I watched this individual as it went about it’s usual behaviour. Treecreepers forage up the tree, working in a spiral around the trunk, and then fly to the bottom of another tree to repeat the process.

The biggest recent surprise was when I stumbled across a whole flock of meadow pipits.

 

Meadow pipits are generally found towards the North and the West of the country but move south in the winter, which probably explains why I saw them here. The name pipit comes from the sound it makes and this species used to be known as things like ‘chit lark’ ‘tit lark’ and ‘titling’.

In pretty much the same place as the pipits I saw a pair of stonechats today. I do sometimes see them towards the east of my patch, close to the New Forest, but they were the furthest west and closest to the town centre that I’ve ever seen them.

 

I’ve seen plenty of the local buzzards over the last few days. Yesterday there was on it’s usual fence post.
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Then today I saw a pair engaged in what I think was a mating ritual. It was very tricky to take photos but you can see the two birds here.

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Buzzards engage in their mating ritual ‘before the beginning of spring’ which would today perfectly. It certainly looked like how a buzzard mating ritual is described. The male rose high up in the sky to then turn and plummet downwards in a spiral. Buzzards mate for life so it is likely these are the parents of the young birds which were in the area last summer. It must somewhat ruin the romantic moment when some crows start getting in the way though…

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Cold Creatures

It’s been another cold week here with frosts every day- I think we’ve had more frosts this week than we had over the whole of last winter! It’s cold enough that a large portion of the fishing lake is frozen over. It’s largely surrounded by trees so only the more open end and a section in the centre near the island are ice-free at the moment.

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Hard to show clearly but I think you can see the ice here

Of course this creates challenges for the lake’s residents. The birds are forced into the few ice-free areas if they want to sit on the lake as normal. The great crested grebe managed to find a quiet spot but the canada geese and mallards have been crowded into one small area.

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The geese and mallards have most commonly been seen on the island at the moment. The geese have even ventured a little way in rather than sit right on the shore as usual. I guess this is the warmest place to be-it’s South facing meaning it catches more sunlight and the trees probably trap a little of the heat too.

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The black-headed gulls are less bothered by the ice though and seem to be using it as a handy place to stand. I even noticed a herring gull joining them today, which is unusual on the lake.

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After a few week’s absence the green sandpiper was back on it’s stretch of the Avon this weekend. The running water means it doesn’t have to worry about any ice here.

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I also spotted our neighbourhood buzzard Mary yesterday too, perched on a telephone pole. She seems to prefer to sit on wooden posts like these rather than trees. Out of the many times I’ve seen her I’ve only seen her sat on a tree once!

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This morning I had a quick visit to Hengistbury Head at Christchurch Harbour this morning. It’s a good spot for birds and I saw a lot this morning- virtually of them redshank. I scanned the busy marshy pools for other birds but as far as I could tell, they were all redshank today.

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On the gorse there were a few stonechats flitting around and I was lucky enough to get a really clear photo of this one. Perhaps it was particularly brave or not very energetic due to the cold but it allowed me to get really close.

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It may be chilly but there are already signs of Spring. Shoots are appearing through the soil, some local trees have blossom and the gorse is in flower. We’re in the grip of winter but spring is on the horizon…

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The Green Sandpiper

I was out and about lots between Christmas and New Year so I’ve got plenty to share with you today. The local highlight was a green sandpiper on the River Avon. I’ve never seen one before but this individual was present every time I walked past.

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It’s clearly a winter visitor and is obviously here to feed. The water level seems to be very low for the time of year (we’ve had little rain so far this winter) and I suspect the usual higher river levels would be unsuitable for the sandpiper.

I have also got to know the Avon roe deer herd better. They are very visible now that the grasses have died down significantly. In the photo below you can see five deer and the woods to the right of them is where I think they spend most of their time. There are usually deer somewhere near the woods and I even saw a small group cross the footpath only a few metres in front of me, heading back towards the woods.

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Here’s a closer look at some of the deer. There colour actually makes them tricky to spot against the brown grass but the white tails are the thing that you have to look out for.

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At this time of year deer embryos begin a new stage of development. For the first five months roe deer embryos remain unattached from the uterus and develop very slowly. Now the embryos will be implanting in the uterine wall and will start to develop quickly. Interestingly roe deer are the only species of deer that exhibit this trait.

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Grey squirrels are very visible at the moment and certainly seem to be enjoying the local berries. They are at the beginning of their first breeding cycle of the year- they have two litters the first around February/March time and the second around June/July.

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Buzzards are also really visible at the moment. I’ve been following one individual closely over the last few weeks and I’ve christened her Mary. She spends most of her time perched on posts on some farmland, surveying the area.

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Buzzards are visible in trees and on lampposts all over the local area. I saw two on my twenty minute drive home this evening. They are magnificent birds and it’s lovely to see to be able to watch them so closely.

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It’s a tough time for wildlife with cold temperatures overnight. We’ve had thick frost and freezing fog and this looks to be continuing into this week. The smaller mammals and birds will struggle to survive the colder temperatures and prey will be becoming increasingly scarce for predators. It must feel like Spring is a long way away now.

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Doorstep Discoveries

Today I thought I’d focus on wildlife which is right on my doorstep. Almost everything I talk about in this post was seen within about a mile of my house. I am lucky that although I live in a suburban estate there’s only a very short distance between me and the local farmland and fishing lake.

On a small area of said farmland I have found a kestrel. I’ve seen what I assume is the same individual, a male, on three separate occasions. It seems to hunt on the fields and sits on the trees and telephone poles surveying its land.

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It’s proved a tricky bird to photograph as it perches a long way from the path and is so quick in the air. I did get close to it once when it perched on the roof of a house but frustratingly it was facing the wrong way!

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Another bird of prey I’ve also seen lately is this buzzard.

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Initially I wondered if it might actually be a honey buzzard given how pale it’s breast is. It’s very late in the year to see a honey buzzard though and it seems that buzzard colouring varies dramatically and can actually be really pale.

The local farmland is over-run with corvids at the moment. There are groups of noisy magpies and loads of rooks, jackdaws and crows. The crows often gather in huge numbers and swarm when something disturbs them.

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I’ve noticed a few migrating birds finding the local fishing lake lately. It’s not a great lake for wildlife really and is obviously managed for fish rather than wildlife. I imagine having lots of pike is not good if you’re a bird trying to breed. You can usually see mallardscanada geeseblack-headed gulls and in the summer great crested grebe. I spotted a tufted duck on the lake last week which was unusual and on occasion there’s been the odd cormorant roosting on the shoreside trees.

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Here’s a few photos of some more common birds I’ve seen in the area.

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Mute Swans
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Black-Headed Gull
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Robin
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Blackbird- he’s been gorging on berries so much his beak is dark

I’ve continued to see the group of roe deer by the Avon. The stag was still around today, though with only one doe but they were a fair way from the path. Much closer to the path but on the other side to it and the river were four does. They took a good look at me and decided I was bad news so ran off into the long grass.

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Finally, this is one of the many local rabbits. It’s possible it has myxomatosis as it’s eye looks sore. Either that or he’s just sleepy.

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A Warm September

Last week I left out one of my spots of a juvenile bird. Juvenile birds are often challenging to identify and I struggled to match this one with any particular species. Eventually I discovered the bird was a young little grebe, a first for me.

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At the weekend I spent a beautiful few hours up in the New Forest.

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The heather has mostly lost it’s bright colour now but the weather doesn’t feel too autumnal. Indeed, this week has seen the highest September temperature in the UK since 1911. I very quickly spotted a maturing stonechat enjoying the warm weather.

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I disturbed a roe deer amongst the undergrowth which quickly bolted away.

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Despite appearances autumn is on the way and there were quite a few fungi around. This Common Earthball is looking in prime condition at the moment.

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This is a Blusher (Amanita rubescens) fungus, so called because it gradually turns pink although this one has yet to do it.

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I also managed to spot a dock bug sat on a leaf. The species has various nymph stages and this one is apparently a final instar nymph.

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The local rabbits are very busy at the moment, all the fields seem to be full of them. I guess they are still pretty much at peak numbers until the colder weather arrives.

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Only a few hundred metres on from this rabbit I spotted the young buzzard which I have seen occasionally over the summer. It’s still obviously a juvenile but is now looking more like an adult.

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There are still lots of swallows in the area. It’s difficult to show clearly in a photo but there are huge flocks swooping over the river at the moment. You can see lots of black dots in the picture below and they are all swallows.

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Every now and then one or two settle on the power lines and you can get a closer look at them.

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Lots of birds are visiting the garden at the moment. The starlings appear every now and then in large numbers. In terms of numbers they are probably our most common birds but actually they aren’t present very often.

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Usually when it’s a little quieter and the surge of starlings goes away a group of goldfinches arrive to eat the nyger seeds we put out for them. They are my favourite birds we get in the garden- they have such fantastic plumage.

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There are plenty of rarer visit- not rare birds but ones that don’t visit very often. This week I spotted a blue tit sampling the peanuts.

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The Inglorious Twelfth

Something a bit different today because this is an issue I simply can’t ignore.

Today is the “glorious” twelfth of August, the day when the shooting season of the red grouse begins. Over the next few weeks and months the season opens for other “game” too. Personally I don’t think there is anything glorious about it at all.

Let’s think for a minute about what grouse shooting actually is. Killing defenceless birds for entertainment. I can’t understand how any decent human being could find enjoyment from murdering another creature. Yet this practice still goes on.

It’s worse than that though. In order for there to be enough grouse to be shot, predator numbers need to be reduced. This means foxes, stoats and crows are routinely killed and in most cases perfectly legally too- gamekeepers are given licenses.

Recently Natural England granted a gamekeeper a licence to kill up to 10 buzzards, a legally protected intelligent predator. 10 buzzards may not sound like a lot but it has huge consequences. For a start, it’s almost impossible to ensure a gamekeeper sticks to that number. Natural England will now be swamped with applications for licenses to kill buzzards and with a precedent now set it seems likely they will grant at least a small number. It also means gamekeepers will feel that it’s OK to kill buzzards and the less scrupulous ones will probably start killing buzzards.

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Buzzards are something of an unusual conversation success story. In the 20th century they were wiped out from large swathes of the country but since they were given legal protection in 1954 there numbers have risen to the extent that they can be considered common. Between 1993 and 2013 Britain’s buzzard population increased eightfold.

This doesn’t make them safe though. There are still occasional but regular cases of illegal persecution so surely their numbers would be affected if lots of gamekeepers were also given licenses. It all seem a bit pointless anyway. There are some 45 million factory-farmed pheasants dumped into our countryside each year. A study has found that 1-2% of young pheasant deaths are caused by birds of prey. I don’t have figures for grouse but I it seems likely the latter statistic would likely be similar.

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Last weekend was Hen Harrier Day. Hen Harriers are in big trouble. Last year there were six breeding pairs of hen harriers in the UK- this year there are only three. The main reason for this reduction is illegal killing on grouse moors. That’s not speculation it’s fact with pole traps and a decoy hen harrier being found. The hen harriers Chance and Highlander both disappeared in suspicious circumstances.

It’s bad enough when common birds like buzzards are being killed to support a blood sport. But when it’s a deeply endangered bird like the hen harrier it’s totally outrageous.

There’s a big petition about banning driven grouse shooting  on the government petition website. At the time of writing it needs about 32,000 signatures to be considered for debate in parliament. I doubt that a ban will go ahead any time in the near future; it goes against many traditional conservative beliefs. But I hope it can some effect. It will at least raise the profile of the issue and encourage the government to do more to protect hen harriers and other birds of prey. The RSPB have just withdrawn their support for the Hen Harrier Action Plan which adds weight to the petition’s argument.

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It often feels that being an average person on the street means you can’t change anything. Not directly perhaps but you can at least make your views known.

All the facts and figures in this post come from the following sources:

The Guardian- 4th August 2016

RSPB- Martin Harper’s Blog- 25th July 2016

The Guardian- 2nd October 2014

The Independent- 12th August 2014

 

Pond of Life

I was out in the New Forest again yesterday and as usual there was plenty to see. My first spot of the day was a young buzzard sat on a branch.

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Once again there were loads of stonechats darting around the gorse bushes. I think this is one of my favorite photos of the year so far.

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Eventually I arrived at a viewpoint at Abbotswell where there is a small pond. Small though it may be, I was amazed at just how much wildlife was around the pond. There were dragonflies and swallows swooping over the water, the swallows often dipping into it for a drink.

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goldfinch emerged from the clump of trees you can see to have a quick drink:

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As did another favorite bird of mine which is making it’s debut on this blog, a pied wagtail:

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At the far side of the pond I saw a young green woodpecker picking insects out of the grass, as well as a group of starlings.DSCN0476

Nearer the shore were a pair of common blue damselflies:

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I’m not quite sure what they were doing here. Usually these damselflies mate by forming a heart shape with their bodies. The male appears to be in position but the female is not. I wonder if she was refusing to mate or just struggling to- they were flying and sat like this for some time.

Time for today’s deer photo which is a roe deer stag near the River Avon.

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I was in Wimborne looking at the River Allen during the week and noticed lots of fish swimming around. They were floating facing upstream, presumably picking up food that was heading their direction. I tried to take some photos which proved rather difficult.

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It’s so difficult to tell from a distance and through the water, even though the river is quite clear. Having looked at the fish species which are in the river I think this may be a brown trout but I’m not confident of that.

More locally I found a fungus growing at the bottom of the tree which I later identified as a Spindle Toughshank (Collybia fusipes/ Gymnopus fusipes).

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This fungus attacks tree roots so it’s presence is not good for the beech tree it has appeared on.

We found something intriguing in the garden today. We had some bags of mulch which have been waiting to be used and found these mysterious jelly-like eggs.

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It’s very difficult to identify these but in all likelihood they are mollusc eggs, probably slugs. There’s only one way to find out though so I’ve set up a jar for them to develop in and I’ll be able to see what emerges. They appear to be entirely clear though so I wonder if they weren’t fertilised but only time will tell.

Finally, I can report that the swallows in the webcam nest I was following have now fledged, much as I imagined. I’m not sure exactly when they left but I think it was probably Thursday morning.

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