Tag Archives: conservation

An unusual but entertaining day at work

Earlier this week I was learning about a technique called ‘dynamic light scattering’ (DLS) which is used to determine the size of very small particles, even those as small as protein molecules. My teacher was a scientist called Ken who designs and builds DLS machines. It came up in conversation that he lives close to the southern end of the M40 corridor where I’ve seen lots of red kites and read stories of them stealing food from people, so I asked if he sees them in his neighbourhood.

Red kite (Milvus milvus, Dansk: rød glente), this one was at Hamerton in Cambridgeshire

Red kites are big, distinctive, birds of prey and they’re a conservation success story in the UK, having been almost driven to extinction but then reintroduced in the 1990’s since when their numbers have rocketed. And as it happens they are very common indeed in that part of the world and Ken kindly agreed to upload this video clip to You Tube so I could post a link to it here. This all happened in Ken’s garden and I think it’s highly entertaining stuff,  I think I’d struggle every morning to get out the front door to go to work if I had this kind of show going on in my garden!

Later on, at the end of the same day, a big flock of a few thousand starlings were murmurating over the Cambridge Science Park as I left work to come home. I was keeping one eye on the starlings and one eye on the road when I stopped at a red traffic light on the edge of the Science Park and the starlings were swirling and wheeling around the sky just in front of me. Then a sparrowhawk drifted by but the starlings carried on murmurating until the hawk suddenly accelerated up towards them. Then all of the flocks shrunk down into very tight groups and focussed on taking evasive action. It was a piece of natural theatre going on in the sky which was spectacular to watch. Then the traffic lights went green and I had to move on so I didn’t get to see the culmination of the chase, but it was a captivating end to the day.

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Sustainability

If any of you guys emailed your MEP’s to urge them to vote for fisheries reform, all I can say is ‘Good work!’.

I picked up an email from the European parliament yesterday afternoon and this is the text:

A major reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which aims to cut fishing to sustainable stock levels, end dumping at sea, and base long-term planning on sound scientific data, was approved by Parliament on Wednesday. Overfishing is widely seen as the worst failure of the current CFP, dating from 2002. The new one is to take effect in 2014.

European Commission figures suggest that 80% of Mediterranean stocks and 47% of Atlantic ones are overfished. The reform voted in plenary sets out clear and strong measures to tackle this problem.

“We have shown today that the European Parliament is anything but toothless. We have used our power as a co-legislator, for the first time in fisheries policy, to put a stop to overfishing. Fish stocks should recover by 2020, enabling us to take 15 million tonnes more fish, and create 37,000 new jobs”, said fisheries reform rapporteur Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE). Her report was adopted by 502 votes to 137, with 27 abstentions.

Stop overfishing by ending discards…

Discards – fish thrown back, usually because they are of an unwanted species or size – account for almost a quarter of total EU catches. Most of the discarded species die. To end this wasteful practice, MEPs voted to oblige fishing vessels to land all catches in accordance with a schedule of specific dates for different fisheries, starting from 2014.

Landed catches of fish that are undersized, for example, would be restricted to uses other than human consumption. Member states must ensure that fishing vessels comply with the discard ban.

…and respect maximum sustainable yield

From 2015, EU member states will be prevented from setting quotas that are too high to be sustainable. Fishermen will have to respect the “maximum sustainable yield” (MSY), i.e. catch no more than a given stock can reproduce in a given year. In today’s vote, MEPs sought to ensure that stocks recover by 2020 to above MSY levels and sustain them thereafter. Ultimately this should mean more fish, better catches and hence more jobs in the fishing industry.

Long-term planning to replace yearly quota-haggling

The reform will rely on multi-annual fish stock management plans to ensure that fishing stays sustainable. Taking a longer term approach should improve market predictability, which in turn should help the industry to invest better and plan ahead. Multi-annual plans will be based on more reliable and accurate scientific data, which EU member states will be obliged to collect and make available.

Next steps

Parliament will now start negotiations with the Council and the Commission on the reform plans before their second reading. The Irish Presidency of the Council has repeatedly said it hopes to achieve an agreement the end of June.

Result! And by a big majority too.

 

EU fisheries update – correspondence – 05/02/2013

As you know I emailed our local MEP’s to urge them to vote for the reforms to the EU Common Fisheries Policy and I thought I’d share a couple of replies with you.

The first is from the local Conservative MEP, Robert Sturdy:

Dear Dr Holding,

Thank you for contacting me about this important issue. We are in the midst of CFP reform negotiations in the Parliament and have a real opportunity here to ensure that we get the radical reform that we have campaigned so hard for. The Fisheries Committee has already voted on the package and the plenary vote will be February 6th. This will finalise the Parliament’s position on the CFP.

As you know, there are many issues at stake, including regenerating the ever depleting fish stocks. Two thirds of EU commercial fisheries are over-fished. Discards play a big part in this over-exploitation and the Conservatives voted in favour of an end to discards and an implementation of the discard ban. However, we must ensure that this discard ban is workable and does not end up with us moving from discarding at sea simply to discarding on land. Instead of finding new markets for the extra 1.8 million tonnes of unwanted catches, we should firstly aim to use more selective gears to keep these fish in the ocean. The discard ban should therefore go hand in hand with a tougher approach on selective gear to ensure that the unwanted catches are not caught in the first place.

The Conservative delegation also voted in favour of maintaining stocks above maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020. This will ensure that all fish stocks will have recovered to sustainable levels and fishermen will have had the necessary time to adjust to the new approach. We must work with scientists and stakeholders to come up with workable legislation that conserves fish stocks for future generations and which provides for a sustainable fishing sector. MSY will be an important factor in this scenario.

We are also fully supportive of fisheries management plans that involve all stakeholders and are based on a regional basis. We would like to see an end to the micro-management from Brussels that has bedevilled the sector for decades. Regionalisation therefore lies at the core of the CFP reform package.

My colleague, Struan Stevenson, is the rapporteur on one of the main legislative CFP reports, the Common Market Organisation and as such, he is responsible for steering this through the Parliament. The reforms contained in his report devolve day-to-day management responsibility of fisheries, introduce better labelling on fisheries products for consumers and provide a strengthened role for Producer Organisations. We received almost unanimous support at both the committee and plenary vote and are about to embark on negotiations with the EU Council and the European Commission at the end of February.

Please be assured that I fully support ambitious and radical reform to ensure both a sustainable ocean and a sustainable industry.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Sturdy MEP

I was pleased with the tone and the content of this reply as Mr Sturdy details the Conservative stance with regard to not just discard and overfishing, but technical solutions to minimise the wrong catch in the first place. Just goes to show, common sense can also inform political debate. Who’d have thought!

The second is from the representative of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) MEP Stuart Agnew:

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for your recent email, addressed to Stuart Agnew MEP.  I am replying on his behalf.

Mr Agnew takes a serious interest in fisheries matters and has recently become a member of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee. He takes note of your views and he will be closely studying this package.

The Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster. British fishing waters represent two thirds of the EU’s fishing grounds and were simply given away as part of the terms of our membership of the then Common Market by Edward Heath.  They were designated a ‘common resource’ to which the other member states have access, even those that are landlocked!

Best wishes,

Stuart Gulleford

Political Advisor to Stuart Agnew MEP
Office of Stuart Agnew MEP
UK Independence Party
145 New London Road
Chelmsford
Essex
CM2 0QT

Tel: 01245 266466
Fax: 01245 252071
Email: eastern@ukip.org
www.stuartagnewmep.co.uk
www.ukip.org

It appears that Mr Agnews ‘serious interest in fishing matters’ has rendered him so focussed that he completely forgot to address my point. Obviously he’s a very serious politician indeed.

Mr Gulleford completely ignored my point too, but took the opportunity to indulge himself with a little anti-European tub-thumping. You’ll notice his indignation that even land locked countries are allowed to fish in what he considers to be British waters (and I’m not sure where his assertion that British waters constitute two thirds of all EU fishing grounds originates from. Perhaps in his world Britain still has an empire and we own the North Atlantic). I wonder if he is similarly indignant about people who live in flat countries, such as Holland, being allowed to go to mountainous countries to go skiing. (May be he spends his winters at the foot of Ben Nevis with a placard with the exhortation ‘Dutchies go home – British mountains for British skiers!’  😉 )

EU fisheries update 04/02/2013 – addendum

I just found an email in my inbox from Chris Davies the Liberal Democrat MEP sitting on the EU Fisheries Committee. In it he asks us to write to our MEP’s urging them to vote for the changes to the Common Fisheries Policy in the Plenary vote on Wednesday 6th February. The debate on this is tomorrow, the 5th, followed by the vote on Wednesday.

If you follow the link lower down you can quickly find out who all your European MEP’s are and write an email to all of them. My email to my east of England MEP’s  is appended, please feel free to cut and paste if you wish, but bear in mind it will carry more weight if it is your own words.

This is the text of Chris’s email:

Vital Votes in European Parliament in February

Dear Fish Fighter

A quick note to let you know that the vote of the entire European Parliament on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is due to take place on Wednesday 6 February, following a debate in the chamber at Strasbourg the day before.

The Parliament’s Fisheries Committee voted on the issue before Christmas, and the 13-10 outcome was very satisfactory.  Amongst a number of useful proposals it was agreed that legally binding targets should be set to rebuild fish stocks above maximum sustainable yield (MSY), and to end discards by introducing an obligation to land all catches.

The vote in a fortnight will give all MEPs the chance to support or reject this package, as well as to consider any further amendments that have yet to be tabled. 

The aim of reformers is to maintain the positive momentum, and alert MEPs who may be sympathetic but rarely take regard of fisheries issues to the importance of supporting reform on this occasion.  We’re confident but certainly not complacent.

Once the Parliament has voted we expect the rapporteur (the MEP designated to take a lead) to open negotiations with the Irish deputy ambassador whose task it is to try and thrash out a deal that will be acceptable to both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers.  Compromises will inevitably be reached, but the rapporteur, German social democrat Ulrike Rodust, has done a good job so far and she will be no pushover.  Her negotiating position will be strengthened if reformers can secure a commanding majority on February 6.

I am expecting British MEPs of all political parties to be supporting the reform position on MSY and discards.  However, you might like to email your region’s MEPs and encourage them.  You can do that easily by visiting www.writetothem.com and putting in your postcode.

I shall let you know if hostile amendments are tabled, and if we need further help to try and ensure that they do not win support.

With regards

Chris Davies MEP
Secretary, cross-party ‘Fish for the Future’ group
Lib Dem environment spokesman

And my email to the MEP’s

FOR THE ATTENTION OF:

  • Robert Sturdy MEP
  • David Campbell Bannerman MEP
  • Vicky Ford MEP
  • Stuart Agnew MEP
  • Geoffrey Van Orden MEP
  • Richard Howitt MEP
  • Andrew Duff MEP


Eastern

Monday 4 February 2013

Dear Stuart Agnew, Vicky Ford, David Campbell Bannerman, Robert Sturdy, Geoffrey Van Orden, Andrew Duff and Richard Howitt,

I write urging you to vote to accept the proposed changes to the Common Fisheries Policy at the vote at the EU Plenary meeting on Wednesday. I think this is a hugely important first step towards guaranteeing longer term survival of fish stocks which is essential to protect the ecosystem the fish need to thrive and thus continue to supply humans with food.

Hopefully this piece of legislation will form part of a framework for sustainably fished oceans and thereby secure the fishing industries and livelihoods of the communities that depend on them for survival, and the associated services and businesses that support the fishermen.

Continued depletion of the fish stocks will ultimately be catastrophic for these people so I hope you will vote for implementation of the changes to prevent this and guarantee the future of all the European fishing industries.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Finn P. Holding

EU fisheries update 04/02/2013

In December I published a series of posts about overfishing and discard and moves by the EU to protect fish stocks from overexploitation:

https://thenaturephile.com/2012/12/17/looking-after-the-fishes-and-the-forests/

https://thenaturephile.com/2012/12/17/looking-after-the-forests-and-the-fishes-pt2-v2/

https://thenaturephile.com/2012/12/18/looking-after-the-forests-and-the-fishes-pt3/

The position at the end of December was that the Fisheries Committee had voted to recommend to the EU Plenary that controls on overfishing and discard should be implemented. The Plenary is scheduled to vote on this tomorrow and I received this email update from the European Parliament today in which the German Chair of the Fisheries Committee, MEP Ulrike Rodust, clarifies the position regarding the proposed controls and the ramifications once these are implemented. It makes interesting reading and I’ll report back when I’ve heard the result of tomorrows vote in the Plenary.

Plenty more fish in the sea? MEPs to decide on best way to tackle overfishing

 EU fishing stats 040213

MEPs will this week decide how to reform the EU’s common fisheries policy in order to put an end to overfishing while at the same time tackle unemployment in many coastal areas due to the decline of fisheries. Ahead of a debate on 5 February and vote the day after, we asked German Social Democrat Ulrike Rodust why she is calling for radical change in her recommendation to fellow MEPs.

How do you propose to protect stocks and put an end to overfishing?

My report, which was supported by the majority of the fisheries committee, will bring an end to the December ritual of fisheries ministers negotiating until 4am, neglecting scientific advice and setting too high fishing quotas. As of 2015 the principle of maximum sustainable yield shall apply, which means that each year we do not harvest more fish than a stock can reproduce. Our objective is that depleted fish stocks recover by 2020. One problem we have to tackle is the lack of scientific data: we will have to set up additional research and data collection programmes.

How would you address unemployment and related social problems among fishermen in coastal areas?

The good thing about ending overfishing is that not only nature will benefit, but also fishermen: bigger stocks produce higher yields. We will have to help fishermen get through the transitional period when there will have to be a bit less fishing for some species. What’s more, my group tabled an amendment which obliges member states to give fishing rights preferably to traditional small-scale fishermen. This part of the fishing sector produces more jobs and uses less detrimental fishing techniques most of the times.

Unfortunately, at some European coasts, there are simply too many fishermen chasing too few fish. Member states will have to reduce the number of active fishermen, but they should do this in a socially responsible way.

You propose member states close 10%-20% of their territorial waters to fishing within three years. Do you expect this to be endorsed by the Parliament and the Council?

The fisheries committee has already endorsed a general obligation for member states to create these fish stock recovery areas but without prescribing a certain percentage. My group will reintroduce a clearer obligation for the plenary vote. For the moment the Council does not agree, but our fisheries ministers will have to learn that there is co-decision and that the EP is a serious negotiation partner.

There have been negotiations to reform the EU’s common fisheries policy for more than 20 years. Will this reform finally resolve the sector’s  long-standing problems?

Ending overfishing and discards is indeed a historical change of the EU’s fisheries policy. Today the sector suffers a lot, not only because of the results of continued overfishing, but also because of cheap imports. By the way, many fishermen of the new generation support our plans. And we need the active support of fishermen. Fishing happens far out at sea, so you cannot simply rely on controls only. That’s why in the future fishermen will have a much greater say through the so-called advisory councils.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – the tally

I filled up the birdfeeders first thing this morning, made a jug of coffee, and sat in the window waiting for the birds to flock in. And very little happened. So I waited a little longer. And still nothing happened, and I put it down to the fact the sun was shining, all the snow had gone and the temperature was in double figures.

A dunnock mopping up seed scattered by great tits on the hanging feeder

Then at 9.26am a group of four long tailed tits arrived on the fat balls and from then on the birds came and went in rapid succession. So the plan was to count from 9.26 to 10.26 until at around 9.50 the dog vomited on the carpet so the next 20 minutes weren’t spent counting birds. The finish time was therefore a tad delayed, but the final counts were:

Species                                 Total counted                    Maximum number at one time

Long tailed tit                              18                                                              5
Blue tit                                            18                                                              3 Dunnock                                          3                                                               1
Collared dove                                6                                                               2
Blackbird                                       13                                                               2
Greenfinch                                      5                                                               4
Wood pigeon                                  6                                                               2
Robin                                                 3                                                                2
Starling                                             5                                                                2
Great tit                                            3                                                               2
Chaffinch                                         2                                                                1

A female greenfinch enjoying some longed for sunshine

So all in all, what with the Vesuvian intervention from the dog, it was an entertaining hour and a half.

Looking after the forests and the fishes

No pictures in this post but I want to show you a couple of websites which you may be interested in showing some support for.

Two of the ongoing issues which I’m passionate about are conservation of the oceans and the forests. Down in Tasmania is a very courageous and dedicated lady called Miranda Gibson whose blog I found a couple of months ago, it’s called ‘TheObservertree‘, and in it she describes her last year living at the top of a tree in a forest in Tasmania as a peaceful protest at the destruction of the native ancient forests there. I was really pleased to see this week that Miranda’s stand was highlighted on the front page of the BBC News website:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20723455

Please check out the video and visit her blog to register your support.

And the second issue which is coming up this week is a vote in the European Parliament to reform the Common Fisheries Policy which if passed will ban discard and help to rebuild dwindling fish stocks. For any non-Europeans who may be unaware of what’s happening, the EU has stipulated how much of which fish species can be caught and landed. On the face of it a good thing you may think, but in practice what this means is that all the over catches are simply dumped back into the sea, referred to as ‘discard‘. Which means that many tons of perfectly good fish are killed and then thrown overboard, which is great for short term hunger management of gulls and other fish eating creatures, but completely insane from the point of view of maintaining viable fish stocks for all species!

I’ve been getting regular updates from Chris Davies, a UK Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament (MEP) who sits on the Fisheries Committee, and you can follow this link to the latest communication. If you feel strongly about the destruction of the oceans please send an email to one or more of the swinging MEP’s listed who sit on the Committee and ask them to vote for the reforms.

This is the email I sent to all of them and all the other UK MEP’s who sit on the Fisheries Committee:

As an MEP sitting on the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament I am writing to urge you to vote for the reform to the Common Fisheries Policy this Tuesday.

I believe that it is essential that the reform is passed in order to guarantee the longer term survival of viable fish stocks in order to maintain the health of not only the fish but that of the ocean as a whole. This is particularly the case as, going forward, the seas are likely to become more and more important as a food source. I believe this issue should be beyond party politics and the lobbying power of vested interests as it is much too important, and the fish stocks should not be squandered in the pursuit of short term commercial interests.

I thank you for taking the time to read my email and urge you again to please vote for the reform.

If you enjoy your fish and chips, and want to continue to do so, please send an email or two to let the MEP’s know how you wish them to vote.

Wonderful Wildlife of Wicken Fen

Around 10 years ago I used to do voluntary work at Wicken Fen which lies in the flat emptiness between Cambridge and Ely. Wicken Fen is one of the last and the largest piece of remaining fenland in East Anglia and is home to a plethora of wildlife. It’s owned and managed by the National Trust in such a way that diverse habitats favouring different species are established and maintained. When I worked there we were engaged in various activities such as repairing boardwalks, fences and hides, scrub clearance, which was a good activity for freezing winter days because it involved a huge fire to burn the felled scrub, but my favourite job was building raised ponds with wheelchair access so disabled children could safely do some pond dipping. Which is an activity that everyone should be able to do, child or not. All you need is a net, a jar, a magnifying glass and a pond and a sunny day is turned into a fantastic voyage of biological discovery.

My re-exploration last weekend started from Upware at the back end of the Fen where we parked and joined Wicken Lode. We had counted over 30 species of birds within the first half hour of our walk. If it had been solely down to my good self the number would have been rather less because my skills when it comes to recognising birdsong are a tad limited. Fortunately I was with my friend, David, who’s aural acuity is considerably better honed than mine, and I’m highly envious of his ability to detect the song of distant bird species and identify them. One of the first birds to greet us in the car park was this mistle thrush perched on top of a telegraph pole:

Mistle thrush – Turdus viscivorus (Dansk: misteldrossel)

… and a great spotted woodpecker, also finding a handy perch at the top of a telegraph pole:


Great spotted woodpecker – Dendrocops major (Dansk: Stor flagspætte)

Great spotted woodpeckers make a characteristic drumming sound by doing what their name suggests and it is the frequency of the drumming, of around 40 beats per second, which generates the resonant sound. Anatomical examination of their skulls has revealed the presence of built in shock absorbers which prevent them damaging their brains when they drum. They feed on tree seeds such as acorns and insects which they dig out from under the bark of trees and they can also take birds eggs and chicks which they have been known to steal from birdboxes by drilling holes through the walls and plucking them out.

We eventually managed to tear ourselves away from Upware and head out along Wicken Lode on to the Fen where a Cetti’s warbler (Cettia cetti, Dansk: cettisanger) gave away his location by singing in a way that only Cetti’s can. It’s an amazing sound and I can highly recommend having a listen here. These recordings don’t quite do it justice, but you get a feel for it. Also on the Lode were a family of three mute swans; male, female and one cygnet. Mute swans are always photogenic but I felt particularly blessed when the male spread hs wings and shook himself down:


Mute swans (Cygnus olor,  Dansk: knopsvane)

We turned off the Lode and headed along Harrisons Drove where we came across a field of very impressive bovines. In  order to manage the fen (and at the same time draw in more visitors, no doubt) cattle and horses are used to trim the vegetation back naturally. I’d never seen the cattle before and they are magnificent animals – looking more like a cross between a highlander and a bison than traditional farm cattle:


They must be hardy beasts indeed to survive on the meagre nourishment offered by the fen

Also along the drove I spotted a hen harrier (Circus cyaneus, Dansk: Blå kærhøg) quartering the field, either a female or a juvenile, identifiable by the pale band around the rump just infront of the tail feathers. In my opinion, spotting a harrier, even a fleeting glimpse, justifies an expedition into the fens early on a freezing morning. Alas it was too far away to photograph, but when after another couple of hundred metres we entered a hide overlooking a lake, there were plenty of subjects for photography…

This lake was home to hundreds of ducks – we estimated around 800 from 5 species that we could see… as well as coot and mute swan. Watched over by the longhorns.

I don’t think this lake is there in the summer because looking at the area on Google Maps there is no water, and David pointed out that their were no diving ducks such as pochard (Aythya ferina, Dansk: taffeland – which tranlates as ‘table duck’ which shows what the Danes think of them!) tufted duck (Aythya fuligula, Dansk: troldand) or goldeneye (Bucephala clangula, Dansk: hvinand), suggesting the water was too shallow. But there were large numbers of shallow feeders such as gadwall (Anas strepera, Dansk: knarand), shoveller (Anas clypeata, Dansk: skeand), pintail (Anas acuta, Dansk: spidsand), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos, Dansk: gråand) and wigeon (Anas penelope, Dansk: pibeand). We had seen three flocks of wigeon (and heard them too, they make a great sound) fly over and land on the water just before we got to the hide.  Some of them were on the lake above and lots more were on an adjacent one:


Wigeon. Lots of them! I counted around 60 in this group.

And in between the two lakes were numerous reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus, Dansk: rørspurv) flitting between the hedgerow and the path and pausing to pluck seeds from the seedheads of the reeds, hence their name…

Male reed bunting – one of my better reed bunting shots

And the female:
We saw 44 species of birds that we could identify on our way around Upware and the Fen. And as well as all the birds Wicken is home to a phenomenal diversity of insects, large mammals including roe deer and otter, small mammals including shrews, voles, mice and the predators that hunt them, and reptiles including lizards which can be seen basking in the sun on the boardwalks and fenceposts early on summer mornings. Now I’ve been back and rediscovered the Fen I’ll make sure I get back later in the year and post about the changing wildlife in what is a unique collection of ecosystems.

Milvus milvus

If you haven’t seen a red kite, Milvus milvus, hopefully you will soon. They are truly magnificent birds and are a remarkable success story in the annals of UK wildlife conservation. Several stages of reintroduction of Swedish and Spanish birds into northern Scotland and the Chilterns in 1989 were followed by subsequent reintroductions into other release sites in the East Midlands, Derwent Valley, Yorkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, central Scotland, Aberdeen and Ulster. The later reintroductions have used chicks from UK breeding pairs which is, I think, a good indication of the success of the longer term success of the original program.

The latest numbers I have heard for our UK population is 1700 breeding pairs, and growing. The reason I’m writing about red kites now is because 3 weeks ago I had an email from a colleague to tell me to look out the window because a red kite was flying past! I only saw the email an hour after the event so I missed that one, but another appeared a week later which I did see.

And then on Saturday as I was wandering along the road I live on, this magnificent creature was slowly quatering the gardens looking for worms, small mammals, or carrion:

The red plumage of the underside of the red kite is clearly visible. The pale patches on this one suggest it’s a juvenile

And red kites are big birds, they have a wingspan of 185cm. They weigh between 2 and 3 pounds (1 and 1.3kg), so for such a big bird they’re not heavy and are consequently not particularly strong. They feed primarily on carrion but they are unable to open the carcasses of bigger animals such as sheep so they rely on other carrion feeders such as corvids (crows) to do the initial butchering before they can feed. They don’t take live prey bigger than small mammals such as mice or voles or bird chicks, so don’t be concerned about your cat… or your children!

Whilst cycling into work yesterday morning (25th July) along the cycle path beside our new guided busway a red kite was quartering a field adjacent to that, so with 4 sightings in the last 3 weeks within a 2 mile radius, I think a juvenile may have moved into the area and is finding sufficient food to keep it here. I hope so.

Red kites are often wing tagged on the leading edges of both wings, on the left the tag reveals the location of the birds origin and on the right the year it hatched. The tags are big enough to be seen from a distance with binoculars or a scope and each location and year have a different colour. If you see a tagged bird and you want to discover its origin take a look here at RedKite.net where the tag colours are decoded.

I’ll hopefully be able to report again soon on local red kites.

Bad birdwatching

The title of this post is unashamedly borrowed from the book “How to be a bad birdwatcher” by Simon Barnes (The Times sports writer and RSPB columnist), which I started reading today while I was waiting for my son to finish his swimming lesson. Having discovered what was meant by ‘bad birdwatching’ I can’t think of a better way to describe my fascination with birds and wildlife:

“…the first aim of being a bad birdwatcher: the calm delight of the utterly normal, and the rare and sudden delight of the utterly unexpected”. Genius.

I’ll write a review of the book when I’ve finished it, but please don’t hold your breath, reading a book is a fragmented and necessarily slow process these days.

Please forgive my rambling but there is a point to this. This morning I was planning to head to the lake beside the A14 between Histon and the northern edge of Cambridge to look for grebes, geese, ducks and cormorants. However, in the course of the last week I’ve seen green woodpecker on several occasions in and around the carpark at work on Cambridge Science Park. As I still don’t have a good photograph of a green woodpecker I reasoned an early morning stroll around work may enable me to put that straight. So that is where I headed.

Initially there were no woodpeckers to be seen but on a dull grey morning the trees and bushes were alive with birdsong:


Robin singing his heart out in an alder tree. He wasn’t alone, plentiful dunnock and wrens were doing the same

…as were numerous greenfinch, but this one clammed up as soon as I tried to photograph him. (Whilst taking this picture I was approached by a security man who said my camera looked like a shotgun. With the lens hood on at full zoom maybe a blunderbuss… but not a shotgun, surely!)

Cambridge Science Park is located on the northern edge of Cambridge bordered by the A14 to the north and the A10 to the east, it is around 1km in diameter and in keeping with the rest of this part of Cambridgeshire is as flat as a pancake. It was created in 1970 and some of the old trees and scrub remain between the buildings and the landscaping. These, along with small lakes and streams in drainage ditches form a good variety of habitat which is generally undisturbed.

I’ve worked on Cambridge Science Park for 15 years but I had no idea this  WWII pillbox was tucked away in the undergrowth until yesterday. (The pole in front of the dog has bat boxes at the top so I was very pleased to see the proactive approach to conservation).

Consequently there is alot of birdlife, from kestrels and sparrowhawks to water birds – ducks, coot, moorhen – and songbirds – greenfinch, goldfinch, great tit and I’ve seen goldcrest and lapwing on rare occasions. There are plentiful rabbit too and as a result it’s not uncommon to see foxes out the window hunting for a meal.

The Science Park was vibrant with birdsong during my walk and as time progressed the sun came out and it got warmer. I didn’t see any unusual species but the sheer numbers and volume of sound made for a very enjoyable walk.


One of numerous dunnock livening up the Science Park with their Springtime singing…

…and one of a flock of long tailed tit

A male great tit feeding on one of several bird feeding stations

… a magpie

…and a moorhen

Lots of birdlife to be seen, and all within a 500m radius of where I work. But I still hadn’t seen a green woodpecker. So I decided to head over to the lake within 500m of the Science Park where I know there are waterfowl including greylag geese… and green woodpeckers.

The lake didn’t disappoint. There were moorhen, mallard, greylag geese, great crested grebes – and even a single green woodpecker which was flushed up from the ground and disapperad into some distant and inaccessible trees.


Male, left, and female mallard

Greylag goose

The greylag goose is the bulkiest of the Anser goose genus and is the species (Anser anser) from which domesticated geese originate. Studies of greylag geese led the zoologist Konrad Lorenz to rediscover the theory of imprinting – the phenomenon you are probably familiar with, of baby nidifugous birds (those which leave the nest at a very early age) imprinting on their parents, which can be a human being if that is the first creature they encounter after hatching.

Konrad Lorenz was an interesting man and a glance at his Wikipedia entry reveals he was an Austrian biological scientist, born in 1903. He graduated from Vienna University as a medic in 1928 and received his zoological doctorate in 1933. He joined the Nazi Party and indicated his support for their ‘racial hygeine‘ theories (one of the worst obscenities of the 20th century in my opinion), accepted a chair at the University of Konigsberg in 1940, joined the Wehrmacht as a medic and was shortly after captured by the Russians and eventually repatriated to Germany in 1948. He went on to study aspects of animal behaviour, later extrapolating these to apply to humans, and in 1973 he received the Nobel Prize for medicine for studies on social behaviour patterns.

Returning to natural history, there was a pair of great crested grebe on the lake which I were hoping were going to display:

But this time I was unlucky. When displaying, they swim away from each other then turn simultaneously and swim rapidly toward each other and when they meet they rear up in a necking dance before repeating the whole process. I haven’t yet been able to get photographs of this beautiful courtship ritual, but I’ll keep looking.

I said at the top of this post that there was a point to the ‘bad birdwatching’ reference. I set out yesterday specifically to try to photograph green woodpeckers which I think are spectacular. I only caught a fleeting glimpse of a woodpecker, and no pictures, but I had a lovely time looking and seeing all the other wildlife.

So I guess by Simon Barnes definition I’m a fairly shabby example of the birdwatching fraternity! But I’ll live with that.