Friday, 25 March 2016

Good Friday, Good Day

After a week of dullness and yesterdays rain today's bright warm sunshine was a delight. I had several things to do but managed to grab my bike and head of to St Nich's Park to check on the Swans.

On my way to work during the week I noticed that the pair of swans on the canal were paired up and starting to make a nest so I thought it best to check in with those at the park.

There was a lot of silt and mud left from the recent flooding but everything seemed back to normal. At the feeding area was a pair of swans with three of last years cygnets. The adults were starting to become aggressive towards the cygnets trying to force them out of the area.

At the pools there was a second pair including BEF last years male, they seemed well settled but there was no sign of nesting, although another swan had started a nest by the river.

In the quieter pools another sign of spring was evident, masses and masses of frogspawn.

Other birds seen in the park included three pairs of Coot all vying for space and nesting rights,

And lastly to top things off the sweet song of a Dunnock serenaded me.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Its all too much! What can little old me do?

This week I found myself getting a little overwhelmed and depressed. News in the environmental arena was grim. There were reports on the badger cull and horrifying statistics about the level of Elephant poaching in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I have been environmentally aware since I was quite young, in primary school in fact. I can remember making mini newsletters on wildlife like the Leatherback Turtle for the rest of my class. Back then childhood innocence made me think that all of these problems were easily solved  but sadly many of the issues I cared about then (Mid-1980's) are still a problem today. Only the ban on CFC's and the Dolphin friendly mark on Tuna were the significant wins.
With so much still wrong with world and issues seeming unsolvable by politicians and those in power it is hard not to feel despair and wonder how we mere mortals can make a difference.

Not everyone has the time or money to do much but as certain supermarkets say - 'Every little helps'. So to help you dispel some of the gloom here are 5 easy ways to help the conservation movement.

Raise money as you shop Easy fundraising allows you to buy from your favourite online shops and for every pound spent the company donates a percentage to the cause of your choice. When I began my palm oil campaign I signed up to raise money for Act For Wildlife. Over the past 6 months I have raised £12.83 for the charity just be shopping online and it didn't cost me an extra penny.

Write to your MP - We all have campaigns that are dear to our hearts so why not express them, Find out who your MP is and write them a letter asking them to support your cause in parliament.

Sign a Petition - In the UK the government have set up a public petition scheme whereby if a petition gets 10,000 signatures the government will respond to the petition and if it gets 100,000 signatures then the government will hold a debate in parliament. Following up on my palm oil campaign I have signed a petition calling for accurate labeling on foods.

Submit your sightings - Many organisations have online recording software that allows you to record your sightings, here are some of the best,
Birdtrack - the BTO's bird recording site
Mammal Tracker - The mammals society mammal recording site and app
iRecord - an app for recording butterflies

Start a Penny Jar - Put aside small change, tally it up and use that money to donate to the charity of your choice.

This is just a sample of the things you could try and I m sure many of you will have other ideas, feel free to add them to the comments list.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Spring is here

Today was a gorgeous sunny day that typified a March spring day. I have been seeing signs of spring for weeks but today after the appalling rain in the week and all the flooding it really felt well and truly.

The number one sign for me was the arrival of the lambs in the fields up the lane. This brought memories of my childhood 30+ years ago when mum would take us up the lane to see them. The lambs were full of energy and charging about with the energy and joy that comes with new life and the excitement of finding every experience new.

In a moment of realism however it is important to remember that these lambs are part of a working landscape and despite their delight at life and our delight in seeing them, in 20 weeks they will be making their way to our plates.

Along the lane the spring flowers were emerging, Celandine, Dog Violet, Stitchwort and Lords and Ladies.

Among these plants were the first ladybirds of the season emerging from hibernation.

Lastly at the top of the lane the Blackthorn is still in full blossom, but behind them the whole walk was juxtaposed by the flytipping of some building material. The walk ended on a sour note because of this.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

An unexpected encounter

After some nice sunny days during the week when I was unable to go out wildlife watching today's overcast weather seemed somewhat of a let down. As usual I went down to my patch and despite the cool wind made my way along the rivers edge, it was fairly quite to begin with. I noted that the Long-Tailed Tit families which are usually seen in numbers of 8-10 where now reduced to just pairs. One such pair was investigating an old willow with a view to nesting.

Not far from here I came across a large number of scrapes in the soil and several dug up bulbs as well as a small hole. One of the pits had some excreta which suggested Badger activity. I have seen Badger signs nearby before but was unsure if 'my' badgers from a sett in a hedgerow some 800 m away came this far or whether other individuals from a different sett were responsible. The problem was where this sett was. There are no obvious locations except on the other side of the river and although Badgers can swim I find it unlikely that this would be the case.

As I stalked up to the rivers edge to see if I could see some Teal that I knew often lurked there I picked up a rustle in the undergrowth. Beneath another willow tree through dense vegetation, the remains of old nettle  and cow parsley stems, I could make out a grey shape. The undergrowth broke up its form remarkably well and I could not make out any distinguishing features. The flash of grey suggested to me a Grey Squirrel although the tone was off and the behaviour most definitely wrong. By being so close a squirrel would surely have bolted for the tree and not remained on the ground. I raised by binoculars and focused them as closely as I could on the shape.

At first little more than a flash of fur could be seen, but it came apparent that the animal was larger than a squirrel, my mind started to run down the checklist of British mammals, resting briefly on rabbit, but again the colouration and movement was off. Finally the creature moved and I realised I had been looking at its back. As it revealed its side I could see a short white tail grey body with black paws and a distinctive black and white face.

Many of you who know me or read my blog will know that Badgers are my favourite species and to see one at 10.30 in the morning filled me both with elation and concern. To see a normally nocturnal animal during the day is usually a sign of illness or injury. From what little I could make out there seemed to be no obvious injuries. I would have loved to have gotten a photograph but it was so deep in the undergrowth that a shot would show little and the action of my getting my camera out would surely have startled it.

Then came the moment that many wildlife watchers have. What I call the moment of engagement. It is good practice not to make direct eye contact with any species as this often unsettles them and cause them to bolt, instead you remain still and look at them askance. In this case as the badger went about its business I saw him turn and look directly. We held each others gaze for a moment and in that fraction of a second we had a connection, I could feel his apprehension  at my presence and could almost see him weighing me up. He did not appear alarmed merely evaluative. I passed whatever test he had given me and returned to his activity. For the next minute or so he remained with his back to me intent on his activity before suddenly he disappeared and everything went still and silent.

Carefully moving position I got a better look at where he was and discovered a small spoil pile beneath the tree. I surmise that he has made a burrow there. I doubt it is a sett more a day lay up as the location is appalling, little space to expand a full sett and too close to the river which floods regularly.

The individual seemed small for a badger and it is my guess that the arrival of cubs in the main sett has caused several of the older youngsters to either leave the sett willingly or been chased out.This particular one hadn't traveled far and was using small holes in which to lay up during the day.

I have seen badgers before, we used to visit a sett at my uncles but this was a more intimate encounter rather than the previous glimpses caught there. And what of the Teal? well they were there as well but as usual they saw me long before I saw them and flew off down river before I barely had time to react.