Sunday, 10 December 2017

Twas three weeks afore christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring...

Despite much scepticism on my behalf I was pleased to wake up this morning to a covering of snow. In this weather, most birds and animals hunker down and hope for it to pass. Those with high metabolisms, however, have little option and must continue to forage for whatever food they can find. The best place for many birds is now in our gardens where ready supplies of food can be found.

It being a Sunday I went down to my patch as usual but took no records. I just revelled in the site of pristine snow, people making snowmen and children sledging. In my short visit, I saw a single Mallard and on the way down a small flock of Fieldfare.

So here are a couple of photos of this winter wonderland.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

A mild winters day

Just a quick patch update today. December may have arrived and autumn slid into winter but today was an almost balmy 10 degrees. The mild weather made my morning visit to the patch much more comfortable.

The vegetation has started to die back and it is once more possible to walk along the length of the riverbank.  There were a profusion of blackbirds, their numbers undoubtedly swelled by German and Scandinavian migrants as well as many Tits and Wrens.

The most interesting sight was a Buzzard. Unable to use the warm thermals to lift them skywards winter tends to see them much lower. The glide on languid wings at tree height and loom out of the shadows menacingly. One such individual did just this, emerging from the trees, alighting briefly on a branch before moving off back into the woods surrounded by alarm calling tits, blackbirds and thrushes.

On other news, my replacement camera has arrived along with a security box. I am still looking for ways to attach the camera and will update you soon on any developments.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The rough with the smooth

Today was the first weekend for awhile when both the weather was fine and I was not thick with cold. I was looking forward to a spot of birding and then checking my trail cam. Sadly, however, my day was ruined. My trail cam has been stolen. This is the second camera I have lost but disappointingly for me, it was my main camera which I have been conducting research with for the last three years.
The monetary loss is frustrating, but for me, the loss of data is more depressing.

The camera was chained up but the thieves obviously went back to get the clippers to cut through it.

I have not decided what to do about this at the moment, I am loathed to put another camera out for now and will research possible anti-theft devices. It is a product of our times I am afraid and sometimes we just have to live with it.

So that was the rough so what about the smooth. That was meeting a young man and his mother. It is a rare thing to meet another birder and it was nice to meet one so young (12) and so eager. He had exceptional eyesight and an encyclopedic knowledge of birds. He has his own blog that has just started see:  and I shall look forward to seeing what he sees... maybe a little jealously.

I work with young people every day and it is great when you see someone so enthused about nature and conservation. That was me, way back when and it is good to know that a new generation is following up behind.

Whilst we were chatting and ironically given my camera theft we saw Half-Tail the Fox lolloping across the field in plain view. He put the feral pigeons and gulls to flight before going out of sight. A reassuring view until I manage to get myself up and running again.

On a final uplifting note, a Male Kingfisher decided to appear just as I was unlocking my bike. He was fishing right by the bridge and showed nicely. It was possible to see the intricate detailing of the feathers on the crown. There is a little white speckling on the front which suggests this could have been one of this years young.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

R.I.P Lillith the Lynx

This week a story in the news struck a little closer to home than they usually do and it directly related to the post I made on the 13th October about reintroducing the Lynx to the UK. I spent my formative university years at Aberystwyth, a place I have come to hold dear. As part of my 1st year Vertebrate Zoology class we were taken to what was then called Borth Animalarium. We were tasked with wandering around and inspecting the animals for physiological adaptations and comparing species evolutionary traits. I can’t say, that at the time, I thought much of the ‘zoo’. I m not against zoo’s per se, something I have discussed in the past but I do expect certain ethical standards to be upheld.
The animlarium, now called Borth Wild Animal Kingdom was in the news of late because their Eurasian Lynx, Lillith, escaped.  The 18-month-old animal escaped on the 29th October having jumped an electric fence. For those that don’t know Borth, it is a quiet out of the way holiday village on the west coast of Wales. It sits between the sea, sand dunes and Borth bog.

Lillith by a baited trap (from

Of course, a single Lynx escape is not much of a concern; a single animal is unlikely to present a major danger to the ecology of the area. They are not going to rapidly spread and cause an ecological disaster.  As I stated in the last post the Lynx was native to the UK and is well adapted to living in the wild spaces of the country.  The park owners attempted to recapture Lillith using baited cages but as anyone who has ever worked with animals will know that the best-laid plans will often go awry, and Lilith posed helpfully beside the cage but didn’t go in.

Eurasian Lynx are not a dangerous species, they live wild in Europe and as far as I could find no one has been killed by one or even injured. They are a shy and elusive species, I can recall a Natural World programme on the Iberian Lynx in which the lead researcher took years to actually see his first lynx in the flesh. Now, as a counterpoint to this Lillith was a captive animal, more used to human contact and not exactly wild, in fact, her lineage is almost certainly one from captive animals.

This story got me vexed when the news came that Lillith had strayed in to a caravan park near Aberystwyth and had been ‘humanely destroyed’.  The order to kill the animal came from Ceredigion County Council and a local marksman despatched her.  It is this ending that has caused me the most concern. The council stated that they ordered this action as they believed the lynx to have become a threat to public safety despite no records of anyone being harmed by the species. Tranquilising, which would have been more suitable was not even considered.

My concern comes from the reaction to this species as a danger. We as a people in the UK have become detached from wildlife and this unfamiliarity has allowed fear and ignorance to take hold. In this country, we have few wild animals that cause human harm and seem unable to coexist now with those that are. Take for instance Australia, this country has many creatures that can kill you but they have found a way to coexist because this is a way of life for them. We are detached and too fearful, I find this sad. 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A quick catch up

It’s been a few weeks since I last made a post. My master’s course has just restarted and my attention has shifted slightly. I am now in a better pattern of work. In this time I have seen a few things and several items have piqued my attention, which I hope I will be able to post over the next few weeks.

The mild autumn has prolonged many species life cycles, this weekend has been the last weekend when I haven’t heard Roesells Bush-Crickets. On Wednesday whilst I was clearing a path I saw three Red Admirals. There were also several Common Darters in flight and last week there was still a Brown Hawker ovipositing.

On the camera front data continues to roll in. I have now definitely confirmed that there are two foxes using the site. There is Half Tail – who obviously has only half a tail and Full Tail who I think is self-explanatory. This week Full Tail had a limp of the right paw. Another reappearance, have been Wood Mice. I had begun to wonder if the new camera was less sensitive and wasn’t detecting them but recently their incidence has increased. Wood Mice have short life spans; in fact, multiple individuals will have lived and died in the period of my study. The population obviously fluctuates and this little patch within site of the camera goes into and out of usage.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Will or Should the Lynx return?

Eurasian Lynx (By miep CC-BY-SA-2.0-DE)

Those that have followed my blog will know that I am interested in the principles of Rewilding. One of the pillars of rewilding is the reintroduction of species to complete an ecosystems assemblage. I am still gathering my thoughts on where rewilding should fit into the conservation landscape and so I am trying to read articles and books as they come up. Last week a short blog post brought my attention to the reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx to the UK.

Reintroductions in the UK have a fairly good record, Red Kites and Sea eagles are good examples of success stories and current projects include beavers, bustards and cranes. Further possible reintroductions include wolves, which has been under discussion for years and the Lynx.
The Eurasian Lynx is native across Scandinavia, Turkey and Russia into Asia and is already the topic of reintroduction programmes in France, Germany Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland (Harris and Yalden, 2008). The Eurasian Lynx first appeared in the fossil record in the Devensian (Pleistocene Ice Age). It was common across Europe and Asia up until the fall of the Roman Empire when human interactions caused their extinction in several places including the UK. The last recorded date was in c.450AD in North Yorkshire Harris and Yalden, 2008).

Distribution Map of the Eurasian Lynx

The Eurasian Lynx lives in primarily deciduous, mixed or coniferous woodland but can be successful in open sparsely wooded, semi-deserts and thick scrub. Interestingly compared to other lynx species they do not prey mainly on lagomorphs (Rabbits and Hares) instead they are specialist hunters of deer and other ungulates which is where they bring them into competition with man, as a potential risk to livestock (Wilson and Mittermeier, 2009).

Lynx are one of the most charismatic species of cat, whilst they may lack the majesty and raw power of Lions, Leopards and Tigers they have a certain subtle charm which is leant to them by their elusive nature. On a practical basis, the Lynx is a good fit for UK ecology. We have all our large predators and deer numbers in the UK are too large, for many species culls are necessary to control populations. The Lynx could be a solution to this problem. Feeding mostly on deer will reduce their numbers and in doing so reduce the damage deer do to woods and young trees. In fact, the presence of lynx is correlated to the limitation of damage to forestry industries (Harris and Yalden, 2008). Male lynx typically have a territory size of 100-450 km2 which overlaps with the up to three female territories which are smaller at 45-250 km2 (Wilson and Mittermeier, 2009). 

These large territories and the possible conflict with sheep farmers would restrict their reintroduction to remote areas. Currently, the Lnyx UK Trust is investigating the viability of reintroduction through, research, education and eventually release. They already have an impressive list of stakeholders and have run detailed consultations and applications for trials in Scotland. This is a once native species which could undoubtedly have both environmental and socio-economic benefits, benefits which include the original articles premise that lynx could help boost tourism in release areas.

A Eurasian Lynx in Bavaria (By Aconagua CC-BY-SA-3.0)

There are of course problems; British people are unaccustomed to large predators in the wild, one of the key problems with attempts to reintroduce wolves. Lynx offer a less dangerous option than their canine but there is still an ingrained cultural perception that needs to be addressed. Whilst other reintroductions have been very successful, in France lynx took large numbers of sheep something they did not do over the border in Switzerland. Sheep farming is a key industry in this country and any reintroduction would need to assuage the fears of farmers.

My last point concerns the general principle, animal and plant assemblages are what make ecosystems work. Many of our habitats are in danger or unhealthy because they no longer support the balance of species that they once did, they lack that holy grail – biodiversity, however at what point do we decide species are needed. The reintroduction of the Beaver has a good case, it is an ecosystem engineer as well as a keystone species and can help control flooding, also it only recently became extinct. For a reintroduction relevance is important and I think the lynx’s ability to control deer numbers solves a problem in the UK, I would dearly love them to be part of our fauna again and would support any efforts to do so but in the back of my mind lurks the fear that perhaps the money and effort would be better spent on saving the species we currently have rather than bringing in old ones. Surely it is cheaper financially and ecologically to stop them going extinct in the first place rather than having to reintroduce them at great cost further down the line.

Harris.S and Yalden D (2008) Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th Edition. Mammal Society. Southampton

Wilson. D and Mittermeier. R (2009) Handbook of the Mammals of the World 1. Carnivores. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Same old, same old

On Facebook this week the Zoological Society of London had a brief post with a fact that both astonished and saddened me. One Elephant is poached every 20 minutes in Africa.

This figure jumped out at me. The trade in ivory seems just as strong today as it was in my youth. It feels as if nothing has changed in the past 30 years. In the 1930’s there were an estimated Five million elephants in Africa today this is now just 600,000.

A quick google search has unveiled a range of infographics that help put the plight of the elephant into focus.

This infographic illustrates the decline of elephant populations in Tanzania. Where once poaching, habitat loss and human conflict resulted in losses up until 1989. Today however poaching is once more on the rise.

This infographic illustrates the steep rise in illegal killings most of which were to provide ivory for markets in the east.

This last infographic shows the route of the ivory trade. As you can see, even today and even with CITIES protection ivory is still traded to Great Britain.

Earlier this year China banned its domestic trade in ivory. This on the face of it would be excellent news but the fact is that this so far has not translated into a reduction in poaching. It is possible that the illegal markets are still viable economically or that people are stockpiling the ivory in the hope that they can control the trade for greater profit.

It all well and good castigating Africa and China for the ivory poaching. It's hard to deny an African man with a family to support the value a single tusk. An integrated approach is needed, not only must trade be curtailed by stopping the poachers but we need to address the socio-economic factors that make it more profitable for poachers to kill elephants to make money. We need to continue to reduce the market like China has by banning the use of ivory. But what about the UK, are we leading the way... far from it. We still allow certain trade in elephant ivory and plans to ban ivory sales were quietly dropped by Theresa May in the last Conservative Manifesto. This is still an important issue and it is possible that the African Elephant could still go extinct in my life-time, one of the last of this planets mega-fauna.

For anyone interested, they really should look up Hugh's Ivory War shown last year on BBC -Trailer
Unfortunately it is no longer available on I-player but there are links and clips.