Month: May 2017

Beautiful barred owls

What a glorious weekend it has been, finally the sun is shining on Vancouver Island, and more excitingly I had an unexpected encounter with some beautiful barred owls. When it comes to owls my record of seeing them compared to other birdwatchers is poor at best. Quite a few times I have been tipped off on the best places to see owls, only to find empty branches and owl shaped shadows in the forest. This weekend however, was different, I was walking through a small patch of woodland, that is well known for barred owl sightings. The barred owl is a widespread, fairly common species of owl found right across the island. They are adaptable and seem very comfortable with life in our towns and cities.

I sensed my luck was in almost from the minute I entered the woods, I could hear some commotion further up the path, it sounded as though 3 or 4 hummingbirds were very upset about something in one of the trees. A good tip for finding owls and other raptors is to see how smaller birds are behaving in an area, when a raptor is present, it is very common to see a number of small birds mobbing it. As I walked down the path I could hear the hummingbirds very clearly, and after reaching the tree I was met with the unmistakable stare of an owl. A beautiful male barred owl sat on the branch, clear as day, undeterred by the hummingbirds, who were taking it in turns to dive towards it. This owl lives in an urban park, and was not fazed as people walked and cycled past.

Another tip for watching wildlife is to not only watch the wildlife but also the people around you. I saw a woman looking up the tree behind me and it turned out that she was looking at a baby barred owl. We swapped what we were looking at (she had not yet spotted the male). High in the tree sat a little fluffy blob, with their head down, trying to get a little bit of rest. I have never seen a young owl before and I enjoyed watching it scratching, yawning and generally just sitting around. Now I know where the owls can be found, I will definitely be going back to visit this family of owls that are very much at home in the middle of town!

Magical evening in the meadow

The Garry oak meadows are in bloom! Walking into the meadows this week I saw thousands of purple camas that merge into a purple mist that covers the floor, dotted with yellow western buttercups and the white fawn lily, smaller flowers like the beautiful shooting star can be found among the tall green grass. On this warm evening barn swallows were skimming the ground for insects and high in the twisted branches of the Garry oaks, a goldfinch sang, illuminated by the bright evening sunshine. The Garry oak meadows are some of the last remaining in the country, in Victoria they roll down to the cliff face, the purple from the camas contrasts with the blue of the Salish sea, it’s a spectacular place to spend time, right in the heart of the city.


UK resident orca Lulu found contaminated with ‘shocking’ levels of toxic chemical

Lulu-John Bowler RSPB Scotland

Last year Lulu, a 20 year old female orca from the UK’s only resident population, was found dead off the Isle of Tiree, after becoming entangled in fishing line. Tests on the deceased orca have found that she was contaminated with some of the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded. The chemicals were banned in the 1970s, however they still remain in the environment.

Researchers now fear that the rest of the population could also be contaminated with similar levels of chemicals. PCBs are believed to impact the animal’s immune system and prevents them from reproducing. The resident population now only consists of 8 individuals and they have not had a calf in 25 years, seemingly dooming them to extinction. They spend most of their lives along the west coast of Scotland, being the top predators in the area they are vital for the ecosystem, but this is also part of the problem. Chemicals build up in the marine food chain, which means top predators such as orcas are particularly affected. Dolphins and porpoises are also susceptible.

Unfortunately there is not really a positive spin to put on this story, the only thing I will add is that this remains an issue for a number of species, both in the ocean and on land. It is vital, particularly as we head into an election, that we make the environment and our wildlife a priority. If you feel as though you want to do something to help, then ask your candidates about their policies on the environment, and demand that current environmental laws and regulations are only strengthened, not weakened, after Brexit.

EJ the osprey covered in spring snow

Just a few short months ago, EJ the osprey was basking under the Afican sun, last week however she had to endure the unpredictability of a Scottish spring, as her nest was covered in a thick layer of snow. EJ can be seen peeking out of what has been described as a snow doughnut, as she incubates her three eggs on Loch Garten. Luckily for the 20 year old osprey, the snow melted after a couple of days, EJ has been returning to the same nest for 15 years and is pretty used to the odd snow shower. Although she, as well as everyone else, must be hoping for some warmer weather as we head into May!

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