Friday, 14 June 2013

Spooner and tiger

Bonus bird: Eurasian Spoonbill. Photo per Howard Vaughan/ELBF
This is the lowest point of the low season for gulls - everything breeding elsewhere, no migration, and too early for interesting juvenile birds to start appearing. So with all that in mind, I decided to head to the Thames this morning to do some gulling at my study site - nothing ventured etc. First, to head off what seemed like impending larid disappointment, I called in at Wennington Marshes just west of Rainham for a quick scanning session from the Mound. Having ensured that none of the several hundred swifts on view had any interesting white patches or other physical deviations from the norm, I started scanning eastwards across Rainham RSPB reserve. At about 08:20, I picked up a large white bird arriving from the south and losing height fast - Spoonbill! Circling downwards on rigid rather than bowed, egret-like wings, and with outstretched neck and unfeasibly long black bill, there was no mistaking it even at this considerable range. It then vanished from view, but while searching I also managed to pick up an adult male Marsh Harrier. After calling Howard Vaughan and Martin Holm in the reserve centre the Spoonbill was relocated and enjoyed by quite a few birders: I never did get to see it again because it continued its journey north at 12:05, while I was still gulling.

Cream-spot Tiger moth sheltering on the car ...
Before that, however, while checking the car I was amazed to discover a brightly marked moth hiding under the back edge of the bonnet. It had got in just below the windscreen wipers and was presumably sheltering from the wind, and perhaps also enjoying the warmth from the engine. I'm not an active moth-er but instantly recognised it as a tiger moth; from the description I gave Howard over the phone he suggested Cream-spot Tiger, and on checking the field guide back home later on that's exactly what it appears to be. I took these two images with an iPhone 4S - not for the first time, I'm quite impressed with the detail provided by the built-in camera (these shots are cropped to a width of 800 pixels)..

... and released on a nearby verge.
After that excitement it was time for gulls, and the session did indeed prove worthwhile - full details in the next post.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Quail up close

Common Quail favours weedy grasslands and fields, but can be very difficult to see.
For those enjoying BBC Radio 4's current Tweet of the Day series, I thought I'd share are a few images of today's chosen species: Common Quail Coturnix coturnix. It's a good candidate for a programme which aims to help listeners discover British birds through their songs and calls, as you're far more likely to hear this diminutive gamebird than see it in the field.

When giving its distinctive call, a repeated qwip-qwip, the male puffs its chest out and throws its head back.
Other than when accidentally flushed, many observers rarely see Common Quail in the open, and find it especially difficult to get clear, prolonged views. That's my typical experience in Britain too, but in the Azores, where I took these images, the species can be easier to see.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Song to start the day

  Common Blackbird - song by birdingetc

Here's a burst of Blackbird song to start the day - recorded in my garden using a handheld iPhone. This is the male that allowed me to approach it closely during winter; the female has been around less in recent weeks so may have a nest somewhere nearby.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

In support of Badgers

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Last Saturday wildlife supporters from across Britain descended on central London to show their disapproval for the coalition government's proposed trial cull of Badgers. It was important to be there, and I took along my daughter Ava, also a big wildlife fan, for her first-ever demo. The cull, aimed at combating bovine TB, won't succeed in its aim for several reasons, not least because it will simply be impossible to kill every single infected Badger - while at the same time slaughtering tens of thousands of healthy animals. Ultimately, vaccination of cattle has to happen, and the latest estimates indicate it will cost less than the cull.

The march was a success, with an estimated 4,000-5,000 people taking part (where did the curiously biased BBC, who seemed to have banned all mention of the cull on Springwatch, get its figure of "several hundred" from?). Brian May inspired the crowd with an impassioned speech about the problem of bovine TB and the way to deal with it, which is definitely not by destroying a significant percentage of the Badger population - a shame that we have the intellectually challenged Owen Paterson MP as Secretary of State at DEFRA, and not the highly astute Queen guitarist. Wildlife legend Virgina McKenna and others also spoke brilliantly.

Dr Brian May at Badger March: articulate, impassioned and well informed, his reasoning on the cull was flawless.
Ava and I walked most of the route with Bill Oddie, who I hadn't seen in a while, but aside from Bill, Debbie Jay and Charlie Moores, who I missed while he was busy recording vox pops from participants, most birders I know were conspicuous by their absence. It's a shame more don't take the opportunity to take part in these rare occasions when a show of strength in support of wildlife is needed - it's great to be active and sound off in the Twittersphere, but we also need feet on the streets when the occasion demands it.

Ultimately, hope was pinned on the Opposition motion against the cull, which was debated in Parliament today. Labour did their best, as did nine Lib-Dem and six Tory rebel MPs, but the motion was defeated by 299 votes to 250. My local Lib-Dem MP, Lynne Featherstone, slavishly followed the coalition line and sent me a patheticly lame response when I emailed asking for her support before the vote. After the Lib-Dem fiasco over tuition fees at the beginning of this Parliament I was perhaps hoping for too much, and so it proved, but it really galls me when politicians elected to represent us can't grasp or act on the core issues.

Eurasian Badger (Meles meles): facing pointless slaughter on a large scale in parts of Britain. Photo © BadgerHero
Here is more evidence of that. As the Guardian's George Monbiot recently revealed, Prof John Bourne, who conducted the government-funded study which showed that badger killing is a waste of time and money, recalled that a senior politican said to him: "Fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers." That kind of mangled reasoning by those who run the country, and do-as-they're-told acolyte MPs who help ensure it becomes law, is bad news on all fronts, not just for wildlife.


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