Month: November 2017

Bittern numbers booming across the UK

Bittern

One of the UK’s rarest birds is booming again across the country. The beautiful bittern, was once considered extinct in the UK, but now conservationists believe their population is at a record high. Found in wetlands, the bittern is a master of camouflage, conservationists have been able to count the birds by recording their incredibly loud, foghorn like, boom call.

The bittern was at serious risk of extinction in the 1990s, the rise in their population has been because of intensive conservation efforts from a number of groups that have focused on protecting their preferred habitat. Eastern England is still the best place to see and hear bitterns, however other areas such as Somerset and the East Midlands are also good spots to find this elusive bird. Having heard bitterns myself, at Rutland Water, I will definitely attest that is a wildlife experience unlike any other in the UK, and they are a bird that is well worth making the effort to see/hear. They are a fantastic example of how conservation can work successfully and save a species that at one time seemed doomed to extinction.

Almost extinct, meeting Canada’s rarest owl!

To see some footage of the northern spotted owl and an interview with Jasmin from the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program, have a look at the video above!

Ok so I’ll start this blog by admitting that I am an owl addict, I cannot get enough; from watching barn owls in the fields of the Cowichan Valley (and in the UK at Cossington Meadows), spotting barred owls in the centre of town, ringing/banding tiny migrating saw whet owls, audio surveying for western screech owls, or seeing an all time favourite the snowy owl on logs in Boundary Bay, I seriously cannot get enough! But there is one owl I never thought I would come face to face with, the illusive and critically endangered northern spotted owl. So when I was given the opportunity through work to visit the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program in Vancouver, I jumped on the earliest ferry and headed for the mainland.

The northern spotted owl is an ancient temperate rainforest species, found on the west coast of North America, they are a highly specialised species, only found in forests that are around 150-200 years old or older. The northern spotted owl population has been decimated in recent years in BC, as much of our ancient rainforest has been lost to deforestation. Now only small pockets of ancient forest survives, and much of it is isolated and fragmented. This loss of forest has caused the wild northern spotted owl population to decline to just ten, this makes it the rarest owl in Canada and one of the most endangered species in the country.

Another issue impacting the northern spotted owl is the invasion of the barred owl, traditionally an eastern species, barred owls have made their way across the country and are now BC’s most commonly seen species. The barred owl is slightly bigger than the spotted owl and they are a generalist species, that is able to out compete the spotted owls, this has caused spotted owls to be pushed out of suitable habitat and whilst it may not be the main driver in their population decline, it certainly is not helping.

The day started with one of the strangest wildlife encounters I have ever had, on arrival to the breeding program we opened the boot of my colleague’s car and discovered a bat sitting on the lid of the boot. After getting over the initial surprise we scooped the bat into a paper bag and took it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre, we suspect it was looking for a roost somewhere and crawled into the car looking for somewhere warm. I had seen this firsthand with mice, but never with bats! The bat was fine and they will find it a much better place to roost!

Anyway back at the breeding program we met with the lovely employees who work with the northern spotted owls at their facility. They gave us a fantastic tour, showing us the work they are doing to breed and eventually release northern spotted owls back into the ancient forests of BC. The program currently has 20 owls, the initial work has been to learn how to effectively breed the owls. Northern spotted owls are not simple breeders, they are a long living species that does not start reproduction for many years, their eggs take 88 hours to hatch (most birds take half that) and are very susceptible to infection. The next stage of the program is to start reintroductions, with the overall goal to reach a population of 200 wild northern spotted owls in BC.

The highlight of the tour was of course seeing the owls themselves. We walked through the absolute pouring rain to the aviary to see a 23 year old male. The large aviaries are full of branches with many places for a spotted owl to hide, but this owl was pretty simple, he was sat at the back under some shelter, which was a very sensible decision! It was incredible to come face to face with a spotted owl, what was so striking was their markings, not only were the spots very clear, but their darker browns and patterned feathers fit so perfectly with the darker and often gloomy BC forest. It was fascinating to compare them with the owls we mostly see in the forest, the barred owl, their lighter colouring often sticks out in the forest, and this is because they are an eastern species and are more adapted to lighter deciduous forests found there. It was a unique opportunity to directly compare a native and non-native species, and see how the native species truly fits within the ecosystem.

The Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program is doing incredible work to try and save such a stunning species that belongs in the ancient forests of British Columbia. It was such a privilege to get to see such an endangered bird, and to learn about the conservation techniques that are being implemented to ensure that they do not become extinct. I wanted to say a huge thanks to the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program for the work they do and for letting us tour their facility. Without groups of people like them, northern spotted owls would already be extinct in Canada, but hopefully with their hard work we will one day see a sustainable population back in our ancient forests.

To learn more about the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program, follow them on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/nsobreedingp…

NAAEE virtual conference & panel in Washington DC

Last month I had the pleasure of being selected as one of the North American Association for Environmental Education’s 30 under 30. If that was not enough, I was also invited to speak on a panel,  with three other amazing youth environmental educators, so I packed my bags and headed for Washington DC.

I was only in Washington for two days, but on the first day we were given the chance to explore the city and meet with the other participants. As well as the warm weather and beautiful architecture in Washington, one of my highlights  was seeing my first ever monarch butterfly, the large orange butterfly glided right over me, meaning I had a perfect view of it, monarchs are an iconic species and one I had not expected to see on this trip! Another eastern species that I had wanted to see showed up outside the Natural History Museum, the unmistakable blue jay!

On the day of the panel we spent the morning at an Audubon centre on the outskirts of Washington. Surrounded by thick deciduous woodland the area was filled with birds, from cardinals to nuthatches and an array of singing warblers, it was a birders paradise! We were there filming a few interviews about the work we do and about youth in environmental education.

The panel discussion gave myself and other young environmental educators the chance to discuss some of the challenges we face in our field and to highlight and share the work we do in our communities. I loved being able to share the work I and many others are doing across British Columbia. I was amazed by the overwhelming positive response I got for my work. It is rare for young environmental educators from different areas to meet up and share their experiences in environmental education and it was fascinating to learn about what environmental education looks like across North and South America. What really stuck with me was that many of the challenges we face in British Columbia and Canada, are very similar to those faced by other educators across the continent. It was also inspiring to see the number of youth that are involved in environmental education and learning about the incredible work young people are doing to inspire and provide opportunities for the next generation to connect with the environment around them.

The panel was an hour-long discussion, answering pre-set questions about our work and then taking some questions from the audience. At the end we received an award for outstanding leadership in environmental education, which I am so grateful to receive.

The trip was a fantastic chance to connect with others working in the environmental education field, promote the amazing work taking place in BC, but also to learn and discuss ways we can improve environmental education in our local areas. I left the conference with a fresh perspective and full of optimism. I truly believe that environmental education is vital if we are to have healthy and thriving ecosystems and that by actively engaging young people from all backgrounds in the environmental field we can create a better society.

I wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone at NAAEE for their amazing work and for recognising young people, as well as organising the event. Another huge shout out to my panel buddies Leandra, Lula, Ankita and Danni, I had never spoken on a panel before, so being able to share it with such remarkable and inspiring people made the whole thing such a fantastic experience.

To learn more about the work youth are doing in the environmental field, see all 30 of us in the link below:

https://naaee.org/our-work/programs/ee-30-under-30

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