Month: December 2015

Year end- 2015

As we head into 2016, I thought I would just write a summary for my blog and wildlife in general for 2015. This year I finally decided to take the plunge and start this blog. It is something I wanted to do for a while but to be honest I was a little nervous about putting myself out there. I had no real expectations and I had not really thought about where I wanted the blog to go. The thinking behind the name was not about blogging daily, but promoting the idea of incorporating nature into our daily lives. When I began blogging in June, I started by looking at wildlife from my window, and focusing on the often overlooked American robin. From then I have covered species such as killer whales, wolves and corncrakes and discussed the importance of wildlife for our health , the need for wildlife education in schools and my personal birding and bird ringing experiences. I did not expect in my first year to be highly commended by BBC Wildlife Magazine in their Wildlife Blogger Awards 2015, that was certainly a highlight for the year, their Local Patch Reporters page is a fantastic platform for wildlife bloggers, and it is certainly worth looking at!

Goldfinch

Before I began blogging I was really in the dark about the wildlife community, especially wildlife bloggers. One of my highlights from this year and from starting the blog in general has been the opportunity to connect with fellow naturalists. I have learnt so much just from reading the huge variety of excellent blogs out there and being able to connect with people through social media.

This year has been mixed for wildlife. Cetacean sightings in the UK have increased and around Vancouver Island endangered species such as the Southern Resident Killer Whale and formally listed species such as the humpback whale have increased in numbers. There was even a rare fin whale spotted, showing signs that populations are recovering and could eventually recolonise the area. This year saw a number of bird species usually found in southern Europe breed in the UK, species such as bee-eaters and Montagu’s harrier could be seen. Whilst native species like bittern and barn owl had a good breeding year across the country. On Vancouver Island, endangered birds such as purple martin had a record breeding year, more endemic Vancouver Island marmot were released from captive breeding into the wild, giving hope for species survival.

However for many species 2015 was particularly negative. British Columbian wolves and grizzly bears as well as UK badgers and fox have endured a torrid time at the hands of unscientific, expensive and ecologically damaging culls and hunts. Endangered raptors continue to be persecuted and funding for renewable energy has been significantly cut, whilst damaging practices like fracking will soon be putting UK National Parks in danger. Mass habitat loss globally, for example fires in Indonesia, continue to force wildlife towards extinction, we are officially entering the sixth mass extinction, and this one can be directly attributed to us.

There is hope though, wildlife is slowly becoming more valued by people, wildlife education continues to grow and the environment is getting more media coverage than ever. We are seeing conservation success stories from all over the globe, showing that when time, effort and funding is put into conserving species, they can recover.

For 2016 I shall be continuing the blog and building on it, I also have other little projects planned, including a Youtube channel, which is scary and exciting!

Happy New Year!

Nature gifts us the endless opportunity to learn about it

Part of the A Focus on Nature advent series, find more blogs from other young naturalists here: http://www.afocusonnature.org/category/advent-calendar/

As a wildlife educator and mostly as a naturalist, one of nature’s greatest gifts is the endless opportunity to learn about it.

The sheer vastness of the natural world and its processes mean that we can study it for a lifetime and yet not scratch the surface. Wildlife always has the ability to shock and surprise us, species are always changing and evolving, and even some of our most familiar species and habitat can do something out of the ordinary. When wildlife watching there is no such thing as a typical day, even visiting the same spot over and over we encounter something different each time. Yes there are patterns, the salmon always come upstream, the birds always come and go in the spring and autumn and the leaves change colour.

But every year we learn something new about even the most ‘predictable’ species. For example this year we saw an early arrival of one of our more predictable migrants, the Bewick’s swan. There are population changes, the rise in the goldfinch is a perfect example of this, for years they were a rare visitor to our gardens, however recently their population has increased and now they are now often seen brightening up our bird feeders across the country. Each year a host of unusual and unexpected wildlife turns up in places we would never expect, few could have predicted that this year an albatross would show up at Minsmere and orca sightings would be high in Scotland, or a beluga whale would be spotted off the coast of Northern Ireland.

This constant change is not only exciting, it keeps us nature lovers on our toes, it is one of the few topics that we can become experts in and yet still not really know much about it.  A naturalist could know everything there is to know about birds in Britain, and yet still have mammals, insects, fish and plants to study, and outside of that, each country has its own unique wildlife, all of which behave in a slightly different way. This is a gift for us because it stops nature from becoming monotonous, it can never be boring, because no matter where you look there will always be another species to examine, observe and study. This is why I believe it is so important for young people to be given the opportunity to connect with nature.

That is one of my favourite things about nature, I feel as though everyday I learn something new, either by discussing it with other people, reading about it, seeing documentaries or mostly just being outside watching wildlife.

Calf number 8 confirmed for endangered Southern Resident Orca population

Two weeks ago I blogged about the significance of a new orca calf for the endangered Southern Resident population found here in the Pacific Northwest. I ended the blog by stating that this calf is a great way to end a positive year for the orcas. However it appears I was talking too soon, as today it has been confirmed ANOTHER calf has been born, calf number 8 for the year. As I mentioned previously the calf mortality rate for Southern Residents was 100% last year, and the population was declining. However this year has been an incredible one for their conservation and another calf is fantastic news.  With more work on salmon and habitat conservation and restoration, their population can recover and thrive in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Picture from the Center for Whale Research (link below)

Picture from the Center for Whale Research (link below)

Center for Whale Research: http://www.whaleresearch.com/

Calm before (and after) the storm

It has been quite a week here on southern Vancouver Island. Huge waves, storm surges, king tides and gale force winds has meant the birding opportunities on my patch have been somewhat limited. Even the most hardened wildlife watcher might have thought twice about venturing out, so for myself, this week was a bit of a no go. Storm season is quite common this time of year on this part of Vancouver Island, in fact out on the exposed west coast of the island, storm watching is a favourite with tourists, however the weather this past week has been a little extreme even for here, as storm after storm has rolled in off the Pacific.

I did manage to get outside in the storms, including an interesting ferry crossing to and from Vancouver, resulting in drinks, food and children being flung throughout the boat, and many green faced and ill people who would not look out-of-place in a horror movie dashing to and from their seats to the main deck. Surprisingly wildlife watching from the boat, which often can be some of the best in the area, was not a high priority. During my walks in the storms I have watched as the  waves crash over the seawall with ease, spraying water over the road and against the windows of the million dollar oceanfront mansions. However the birds and other wildlife have been sensibly tucked away, out of sight and out of the storm.

There was for a short period a break in the seemingly endless chaos, sitting at my desk a burst of light hit the window, after days the sun had finally come out, I seized this opportunity grabbed my camera and binoculars in a frenzy and headed out to find some wildlife on my patch. As I scanned across the bay with my binoculars I was surprised about the lack of activity, surely the birds would be desperate to make the most of the break in the weather I thought, I watched the area seeing only some small signs of life, the odd mallard paddling up and down the beach and double-crested cormorants flying overhead, strangely in a V formation, which I had never observed in cormorants, anyone else?

It was only when the sun began to set that the bird activity began to really heighten, suddenly huge flocks of bufflehead were landing from all directions, and mergansers bobbed close to shore, putting their heads in and out of the water every couple of seconds or so, looking for prey. The wigeon soon joined the large group and hooded mergansers were appearing from nowhere. All these birds are common on my patch, but after a few days without seeing them it was wonderful to watch them all together again. The sound of birds made for a refreshing change, after hearing loud howling winds and crashing of the waves my patch was filled with the sound of peeping waders, a churring kingfisher and dabbling ducks. At this point I put down my camera and just sat, watched and listened to some wonderful wildlife on my patch.

IMG_0091

 

Every Child Wild campaign

Part of the Wildlife Trusts brilliant Every Child Wild campaign. http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/EveryChildWild

When considering how future generations can love wildlife I believe there has to be a change in the way we are educated about wildlife, in schools. Currently wildlife education is severely lacking in most schools. Many young people are not being exposed to the natural world, and this is causing a sharp decrease in the amount of time young people are spending outside in nature. Spending time outside is proven to be great for our health, and is known to aid learning as well as build a connection and love for wildlife. The reality is how can people love wildlife, if they never have the opportunities to experience it first-hand.

As a wildlife educator my job is to teach children about wildlife and nature, from my experience, when wildlife is put in front of young people, they love it. Therein seems to lie the problem, nature is not often put in front of children, especially within the education system. Yes they learn biology, yes they learn about climate in geography, however they do not always know about wildlife around them. It is not the fault of schools; wildlife does not seem to be on the agenda within the curriculum which is controlled by the government, if a teacher wishes to teach about wildlife it has to be an extracurricular activity, something that lacks funding.

Change has to come through the government, which could provide schools with additional funding and allotted time to be put towards trips to local nature reserves, having wildlife organisations come into the classroom or to set up local community gardens, this would make a huge difference to many young people. The government must take the lead and encourage wildlife education in schools, from an early age. They have to recognise that wildlife is important, and that the health of wildlife directly impacts the health of people. At the moment it seems as though wildlife education is only available to a small percentage of pupils. My fear is many children are being left behind, there is a large demographic that does not have the opportunity to connect with nature in their day to day lives. In city and town centres, how can young people easily access wildlife? Each year I see thousands of young people, many of whom do not have the resources to visit natural areas; their only chance of connecting with wildlife is within school.

The change needed does not have to be huge, the funding does not need to be vast, and we do not need to send pupils to far flung corners of the planet to experience wildlife. It can be small and simple; things like looking at the birds in the playground, smelling the flowers in a field, noticing the butterfly in the bushes, feeling the bark on a tree, planting native plant species, 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 locally, having a passion and interest in local wildlife gives a foundation to explore and learn about nature further afield. If young people are given opportunities to learn and practically engage with wildlife, we will create a generation that respects, values and loves the wildlife around them.

Another new calf for endangered Killer Whale population, ending a much needed positive year

It was almost a year to the day when Rhapsody (J-32) a key member of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population washed up dead on a Vancouver Island beach. This was another blow to the population, adding yet more sadness to the death, it was found that Rhapsody (J-32) was pregnant. At that time the calf mortality rate for Southern Residents was 100% and individuals were dying year after year with no replacement to the population. Although it has yet to be determined exactly what caused Rhapsody’s death, it was discovered that she was malnourished. This distinct population of killer whales, found only in the Pacific Northwest and seen frequently in the straits of south west British Columbia and Northwest Washington state, are threatened by a large reduction in their food source, Pacific salmon, mostly chinook, toxins and pollutants in the water, from major cities such as Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle and boat disturbance.

Back then to me, and I am sure many others, it seemed as though the loss of this species was inevitable. It did not make sense that year after year this species was declining in numbers, and this was taking place despite high popularity with the public, huge cultural and spiritual significance to local First Nations and others, and the huge economic input they bring into the area through tourism (although I do not believe the economic value of wildlife should be the key reason to save a species). This population of Killer Whales brought me to Canada in the first place, the research and work I did with them gave me a strong bond with these animals, the idea of losing them was, and still is a harrowing thought. The news around these whales last December was certainly depressing, and seeing a pregnant adult female wash up did nothing to brighten the news.

However jump forward a year and what a difference! Yesterday (5th December 2015) the Center for Whale Research announced another Southern Resident Killer Whale calf has been born, and was spotted off Vancouver Island, the seventh, yes seventh, calf born this year, and all are so far still alive and well. This year the population has had a major turn around! The new calf so far named L-123 (within the Southern Resident Killer Whale population there are three pods J, K and L, and each has a different number for its scientific name) was believed to be born in November and brings to an end an exciting and much needed positive year for the Southern Residents.

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L-123 (on the right) and mother L-103, picture taken by the Center for Whale Research

It should, as always, be noted that the population is still endangered, and their chance of survival will depend on how we deal with the threats listed above. Much more is needed to be done in order to stabilise the population, and save this species from extinction. Their numbers are certainly not stable.

Despite this however, I am celebrating a much needed positive year, after the gloom of last December there can be a lot more hope that Southern Resident Killer Whales can one day thrive once again in the Pacific Northwest.

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