Month: June 2015

Day 30 of 30. Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Day Wild reaches final day.

We made it! Today marks day 30, the final day of the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild campaign. A campaign aimed at getting people to do one wild thing every day throughout June. The website shows over 12,000 people signed up, although I believe more people have taken part. As a wildlife educator I believe that people need to gain more exposure to the natural world. This kind of campaign really resonates with me and I have to say as a huge fan of the Wildlife Trusts to begin with, this has only strengthened my positive opinion of them. They have really pushed this fantastic campaign on social media, responding to huge numbers of people and really getting the excitement levels up about local wildlife.

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The importance of doing something wild everyday cannot be underestimated; numerous studies show the health benefits associated with being outdoors in nature at least once every day. It is pushing the positive message that is sometimes lost on people, that to do something wild everyday does not mean that you need to go looking for exotic wildlife in the extreme areas of the world . It can be small and simple and equally as rewarding; things like looking at the birds in the garden, smelling the flowers in a field, noticing the butterfly in the bushes, feeling the bark on a tree, successfully identifying a type of animal, bird, insect, amphibian or plant. These small wild acts are the most significant, this is how a real connection with the natural world grows and how children and adults begin to associate with and care about the local wildlife around them. I truly believe a love of wildlife starts at home, having a passion and interest in local wildlife gives a foundation to explore and learn about nature further afield. By taking part in the campaign and doing something wild every day for 30 days I hope it will encourage people to continue to fit nature into their routine throughout the year. Huge congratulations to the Wildlife Trusts for a brilliant campaign and I know it will have a positive effect on many people and their local wildlife.

Have a look at the great work the Wildlife Trusts are doing across the UK here: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/

Wildlife from my window.

It’s Monday, and I hope it is as sunny everywhere else as it is here on Vancouver Island! I decided to spend this Monday looking at wildlife from my window.  I am lucky enough to live on a street that is right next to a small park.  I love having the green space so close by, as it definitely makes watching the local wildlife easier and attracts a wider variety of birds to the area.  Today’s wildlife from my window is going to feature the tiny Anna’s hummingbird.

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Anna’s hummingbird are quite common in Victoria and if I could transfer one species to the UK from Canada Anna’s hummingbird would be it.  This tiny bird (10 cm in length and weighing 3-4 g) is extremely charismatic; you can often find them sitting on the tops of the tallest trees, projecting a loud buzzing noise.  This hummingbird can beat its wings 50 times a second and can move in all directions including backwards.  There are a number of Anna’s hummingbirds I see in my local area, most of the time I see them dart past usually with another following closely behind (hummingbirds are extremely territorial and just seem to like a good scrap).  In fact I have seen hummingbirds take on much bigger species, they chase away other garden birds including American robins and sometimes even crows.  At normal speed they can travel at 25 mph and in a courtship dive (where the male flies high into the air and drops dramatically) they can reach 40 mph.

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This young male (pictured above) was spotted in my local park, he was sat in the bushes buzzing away, very patiently, allowing people to get very near.  What I really enjoy about the Anna’s hummingbird is their resilience, a tiny almost tropical bird is sometimes a little out of place in Canada.  Not only do they live here in the summer they also spend the winter here.  You can see hummingbirds in the snow, in fact I have heard stories of hummingbirds sitting on frozen feeders and windowsills demanding the owner come and feed them.  I have a real soft spot for these tiny, slightly grumpy, lovely looking, hardy birds. They are the ultimate small guys punching above their weight.

Good week for the highly endangered Vancouver Island marmot.

The Vancouver Island marmot is one of the rarest mammals on Earth; the species is rarer than tigers, elephants and even pandas. In the early 2000s the marmot population dropped to just 30 individuals scattered throughout the mountains of central Vancouver Island.  The Vancouver Island marmot, as the name suggests is endemic (only found in one place) to Vancouver Island and is the only marmot species just found in Canada.  The rapid loss of suitable habitat was one of the leading factors in their decline.  The Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation has been working to boost the population through a successful captive breeding program.  The program has been running for over a decade and has managed to increase the current population of wild Vancouver Island marmots to 300. This was a great week for the recovery project as 5 marmots were released into the wild on Mount Washington by staff and volunteers from the Foundation and the group received a funding boost from local government and companies.

The species is still listed at critically endangered and project staff claim that there is still further work to be done. The aim is to increase the population to a minimum of 400-600 wild marmots and to increase the areas of suitable habitat. At the moment there are 3 main locations with marmot populations; Nanaimo Lakes, Strathcona Park, and Mt. Washington. With the continued efforts of the Foundation and the current success in increasing the population, it is hoped that a long term sustainable population of the Vancouver Island marmot on Vancouver Island can be achieved in the near future.

Check out the Vancouver Island Foundation here: https://marmots.org/

 

 

Scorching Saturday birding at Cattle Point.

As Vancouver Island continues to swelter in a heatwave I headed out to a small park named Cattle Point in Victoria, BC for a spot of urban birding. Cattle Point and the adjoining Uplands Park are located in the popular suburb of Oak Bay, the ecosystem consists of Garry Oak meadow surrounded by the water of the Salish Sea. As you pull into Cattle Point you are first drawn to the great view across to Mount Baker, located in Washington State, USA.

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I began walking through the shrubbery and away from the more crowded beach in order to get a better chance of spotting wildlife. Crickets skipped through the grass, butterflies flapped from flower to flower and bumble bees buzzed around my head. The first bird encounter was with an old favourite, the white crowned sparrow. As I continued along the path a flock of bushtit flitted through the Garry Oak above, I always enjoy seeing these charismatic birds, they are often easy to spot as they travel in small flocks and make lots of noise as they go. Their behaviour is very similar to the British long-tailed tit, although the colouring is different as bushtits are grey.

On a post across the meadow I could see a lot of activity. It was from a bird species that I do not often encounter in my day-to-day birding. The brown headed cowbird (see picture below). It seemed apt to see cowbirds at a site called Cattle Point, these birds are slightly larger than sparrows but smaller than American robins. They are characterised by the males’ dark almost blue body and brown head. This pair were interacting the entire time I was watching them, it seemed as though the male was attempting to impress the female, throwing out his wings and shaking them vigorously. Unfortunately for him she was not overly impressed and was moving away as quickly as she could!

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Brown headed cowbird (female on left; male on right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst walking through the park I could hear the distinctive high pitched calls of a bald eagle. Occasionally one would circle around overhead and disappear into the tall conifer trees. As I approached the patch of trees the vocal calls were getting louder and louder, I managed to find a gap in the trees and get a view of the tops. Once you can see the tops of the trees the bald eagle is pretty easy to spot. Their bright white heads act as a kind of beacon. I was in luck as both the male and the female were sat on the top of the highest tree. Female bald eagles are much larger than the males, so when a pair are seen together it can be quite easy to figure out the sexes.

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I was lucky enough to encounter one of my favourite birds; the harlequin duck. These little ducks are pretty common all year in Victoria, but are often quite shy.  I got a great sighting of these 2 females and I believe a non- breeding male as they were feeding along the rocky shoreline. The harlequins are pretty easy to identify, the females have the white spot and white under the bill. The males have a more prominent white marking around the bill, and when in breeding plumage are incredibly striking with a deep blue and red colour.

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Influx from Europe. The changing face of British birds.

This is a more observational blog today stemming from some news I was reading this week. On Tuesday the BBC reported that Blacktoft Sands on Humberside had a nesting pair of Montagu’s harriers. Montagu’s harriers are a bird of prey smaller in size than buzzards with a slim body and pointed wings (similar to the northern harrier found in British Columbia). The significance of this news is that the harrier is not often found in the UK, its usual range is central and southern Europe. In fact Humberside is the most northern location for a breeding pair.

This news had me thinking about the slight shift in species I have noticed in Britain over the last 10 or so years. 10 years ago I was 14 and a keen birder (as I am still today)  and loved going to reserves up and down the UK. On my visits I would see the usual British species, and the very occasional migrant from the continent. It was a big deal if you happened to glimpse an egret or even a spoonbill, these were very unusual and a big fuss was made about them. Now however these birds seem to be a pretty common sight at certain reserves. In fact last time I was at Rutland Water I noted around 15 egrets, and my parents have even been seeing them in the centre of my hometown of Loughborough. This once European species has seemingly extended its range to include the UK. The same can be said for the spoonbill, again a once rare and unusual European species, now you just have to head to certain reserves (for example Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire and Cley Marshes, Norfolk etc.) and you will almost certainly see a flock or two of spoonbills in the marshes or on the coastline. Just to further add to my point a little birdie told me that there are potential bee-eaters (another European species, often found in the south, places like Spain for example) nesting right now at a secret spot in northern England. Again this is a species that 10 years ago you would not have seen, unless one had accidentally turned up in southern England.

I imagine this is an observation most birders have already made, I won’t be alone, but I just think it is an interesting point to highlight. As islands near to mainland Europe it is not unusual to have migrant birds coming to the UK from the continent. However we are beginning to see a number of European birds settle and breed forming populations in the UK.

Here is the link to the BBC story on the Montagu’s harrier on Humberside: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-humber-33243049

Entangled humpback rescued.

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A video has been released showing the rescue of a heavily entangled humpback whale off the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia this week. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the Canadian Coast Guard were alerted to the whale by boaters and luckily were able to track down the individual. The entanglement was described as being one of the worst DFO had seen. The whale was believed to be wrapped in one kilometre of fishing rope and weighed down by 50 prawn traps. Whilst interning with a killer whale research organisation, I was able to witness a humpback being rescued from rope. That entanglement was not as complex as the one shown below, however it still took a huge effort to free the whale. The skill, time and patience it takes by the expert team to disentangle a whale is incredible. It is painstaking work as every rope has to be cut individually at key points to release it from the whale. The use of the camera for this rescue gives a unique look at the work DFO does to rescue whales, and the consequences that discarded fishing gear can have on the whales and other wildlife.

Entanglements in BC are rising, this is believed to be because of the large amount of derelict fishing gear found on the BC coast. It is not just whales that are affected by this, sea lions, seals, otters and marine birds are frequently seen entangled. Work is being done by a number of local groups to try and clean up and remove this fishing gear from the ocean and beaches. The removal of rope and garbage from beaches is actually something we all can do as a community and make a huge difference across the coastline.  A fantastic example of this in the UK has been the 2 minute beach clean founded by Martin Dorey, the idea is to take 2 minutes of your time on the beach to pick up as much garbage as possible, doing something as simple as this can have a hugely positive impact on the wildlife along the coastline. It is also important to report any sightings of entangled animals to DFO.

Link showing some of the video of the humpback rescue: http://bc.ctvnews.ca/dramatic-humpback-whale-rescue-caught-on-camera-1.2437402

For information about watching whales in BC waters check some handy tips from DFO themselves:  http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/mammals-mammiferes/whale-watching-observation-baleines-eng.htm

Have a look at Martin Dorey’s 2 minute beach clean campaign at: http://beachclean.net/

500 miles to feed- the Alderney Track A Gannet project.

One of the wildlife stories that really caught my eye this week was from the tiny Channel Island of Alderney. The conflict playing out on Alderney is becoming increasingly more common; that is the need for large scale renewable energy projects and the potential compromise of wildlife populations as a result.

Alderney is home to the most southerly breeding population of northern gannets in the UK with a population of around 16,000 found in the area. Recently, with an increase in renewable energy projects planned throughout the English Channel, the Alderney Wildlife Trust, Liverpool University and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) teamed up to look into foraging behaviour of the gannet in the English Channel.

They have done this by tracking gannets with GPS tagging, and uploading the data showing the distance covered and time spent foraging. The first GPS readings have started to come in and are showing some pretty remarkable results. One gannet was found to be travelling 500 miles in just one trip, whilst another was found to fly as far as the Thames Estuary. The study is set to run for three years and is hoping to show some key feeding sites and routes used frequently by the gannets and to gauge the potential consequences of off-shore developments.

It should be pointed out that gannets are a British seabird anomally; with population numbers increasing it is one of the few success stories of recent times. However, they are amber listed (at risk), because they breed in large numbers across a limited number of sites. As the birds continue to be tracked it will be really interesting to see the progression and implications of this study. You can follow the gannets by using the website link below. I have to say the project is an exciting breakthrough for the GPS mapping of seabirds; using 3G capability the birds are tracked in real time and will give an insight into seabird behaviour throughout the English Channel. The results are already beginning to suggest that these birds travel much longer distances than expected, and this could be the case for a number of species. It is something that should be considered when planning any offshore development projects.

Follow the study and the gannets here: http://www.teachingthroughnature.co.uk/t-a-g/

Also have a look at the Alderney Wildlife Trust and the BTO because they do great things:  http://www.alderneywildlife.org/

http://www.bto.org/

 

Star Species- Purple Starfish.

Introducing the star species segment, where a number of important and sometimes overlooked species will get the recognition and praise they deserve. What better way to start a star species than with nature’s very own star.

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The nutrient rich coast of British Columbia provides vital habitat for starfish (sea stars). In fact the coast of BC has over 70 different types of starfish, the largest number anywhere on Earth. One of the most common (and one of my favourites) is the Pisaster ochraceus or simply purple starfish or sea star.

The species is a keystone species and a great indicator of the health of the ecosystem. The purple starfish can live for 20 years and eat up to 80 mussels a year as well as numerous other shellfish. By preying on the mussels, sea urchins and other shellfish, the starfish prevent overpopulation and thus keep the lower intertidal zone nicely balanced. Starfish of the Pacific Northwest (and the globe) we salute you.

Sea stars can be seen right across the west coast of North America and one of the best places to find them in high numbers on Vancouver Island is in the Pacific Rim National Park (see Vancouver Island section for information on the park).

National Bird Project- Canada

Every province and territory in Canada has a provincial bird; in British Columbia it is the Stellar’s jay, Alberta has the great horned owl and Ontario’s is the common loon. However did you know that Canada does not have a national bird?

After watching the UK crown the robin as its national bird a couple of weeks ago, I was hopeful that Canada had a similar campaign to name a national bird. I found the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Canadian Geographic have started the National Bird Project, it aims to introduce a national bird for Canada by 2017. Similar to the UK campaign started by David Lindo (the Urban Birder) it is based on public votes.

Currently the leaders are the common loon and snowy owl. Linked below is the campaign which explains how to vote for your favourite bird to represent Canada. With thousands of votes already cast, I hope this campaign can pick up the coverage it deserves, and get the country discussing and debating national birds. I think the focus on birds during the UK vote had a positive effect and showed the public still has a great affinity with local birds. I really believe Canada is a country of bird lovers and this campaign will continue to soar into 2016 and 2017.

National Bird Project Canada- http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/nationalbird/

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One of the species in the running is the great blue heron.

Wildlife from my window.

For my first post I decided to focus on wildlife close to my home in Victoria, BC. In an area rich in nature, there are so many species that it is very easy to ignore those most commonly seen on our doorstep. So first of all the American robin.

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Being from the UK I always find the American robin a little odd, they are given the name robin after the European species because of the red breast. But they behave and look very different to the European robin; they are in fact a member of the thrush family, so it is easy to see why they behave in a very similar way.

I have been watching this American robin (one of many in the local area) for weeks now, this male and his partner; have been working tirelessly to raise their brood.  Earlier in the spring he was courting the female sitting on top of the tree in the front garden chirping away. They then began work to build the nest, which is located in one of the trees across the road. This male spends the day flying back and forth between the park, where he collects insects and worms, before returning to the nest. When I took the picture above he was looking a little worse for wear, which is understandable when raising 5 chicks! I did not manage to get a photo of the chicks, but I still see them so hopefully I will be able to get one soon. They fledged and left the nest very quickly. I am hopeful that there is enough time for the pair to raise another brood or two before summer is out.

I really love watching the local birds and I think common species like the robin give us a great opportunity to observe bird behaviour. I have loved taking the time to make the acquaintance of my natural neighbours.

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