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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!

Fritillaries

It has been a while since I last blogged, and I shall be doing a big round up from my trip to the UK. But I just wanted to share the snake’s-head fritillary, there are quite a few around my hometown in Leicestershire, and I think they are just beautiful! They are stunning with the sun shining through, the little squares of pink and purple line up like a mosaic, the flowers delicately hang from their stem which rises above the other flowers in the meadow. These are along the verge of a path off a car park, and are a wonderful example of how nature can thrive, even in an urban environment. This time of year the area comes alive with wildflowers, butterflies and birds!

Waxwing winter and a good year for robins, here are the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch

Waxwing

Waxwing

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has released the results of the UK’s Big Garden Birdwatch a long running citizen science project, where those taking part record and log what birds visit their garden for an hour on a particular date, it has become increasingly popular, and this year saw nearly 500,000 people take part, logging 8 million birds.

The results of the study has shown that 2017 was a waxwing winter, they flocked to the UK from northern Europe in search of food. Waxwings can often be seen in winter in the UK, but every seven to eight years, they come in higher numbers because of a shortage of food in Scandinavia. These sleek and beautiful birds, are a dusky pink colour, with a black stripe over their eye. They really are a joy to see and I am sure many people will have been very pleased to have them visiting the garden in search of berries. A little birdwatching tip, car parks with berries are often the best places to see them!

Other species that have done well, include goldfinches, which are up 44% since 2007, I am sure this is a noticeable difference for those who have watched the birds in their garden for many years. Once a less common sight, goldfinches are seemingly all over the place, again they are beautiful birds, with a yellow (gold) wing stripe and a red face. Robins have also seen a jump, the number of robins seen visiting gardens is now at a 20 year high. Starlings are up 10% on last year, a small rise given their dramatic decline, and red listed status, but an increase is still good news.

Goldfinch

Goldfinches

This year was not so good for some of our tits (stop giggling). Blue tits, great tits and coal tits were seen less frequently than last year. This is believed to be because of the weather, prolonged rain meant that caterpillar numbers were low and this had an impact on them feeding their young. Less food means fewer surviving young and thus a reduction from last year. However hopefully they will bounce back this year.

We are still seeing long term declines of our finch species, chaffinches are down 57% from 1979 and greenfinches are down 59%. It is so important that we all continue to make an effort and ensure our gardens are great places for birds.

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

To make your garden more attractive to birds follow this link to the RSPB, they have some very handy tips on how to get birds into your garden!

https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/

Seeing the sky dancer

I was hoping to spot some of the last trumpeter swans, before they make their long journey north. I went to the quiet, flat farmland in Saanich, the perfect spot for wintering swans. After driving a back road through multiple potholes, I arrived at a marsh that reportedly had over 200 swans on it just a few days before. A few pintail and shoveler ducks sat in the waterlogged field, and red winged blackbirds sang on the tops of the reeds, but no swans. I sat and waited for a little while, scanning the far fields with my binoculars, hoping to see the unmistakable white mass of one of North America’s heaviest birds.

By this point the ducks and the red winged blackbirds had fallen silent, I looked across the reed and locked eyes with one of the most beautiful raptors, the northern harrier. The harrier has a distinctive shape, large broad wings, and a long thin tail, this harrier, a brown female, floated elegantly across the reeds looking for prey. I watched in awe at her beautiful, effortless and quiet flight as she went back and forth across the reeds to the field verges and back again, meticulously listening and looking for prey below.

In the UK they are called hen harriers, and are an increasingly rare sight, in this part of Canada however, they are doing ok, they are affected by urban development and intensive farming, but they are not considered as a species of conservation concern. They are often referred to as sky dancers, because of their acrobatic mating display, however, watching them hunt, it is easy to see why they were given that name. They are effortless and graceful in the air, a far cry from the bulky swans I was hoping to see! I was transfixed by this special bird, they really are a joy to watch.

Walking with giants

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ― John Muir

At the end of the bumpy, rocky and damaged logging road beyond the tiny town of Port Renfrew, stand the relics of an ancient forest; towering to the sky, these giants have dominated the landscape for a thousand years.  Even in a place as wild as Vancouver Island, the old growth rainforest is a rare sight and experience. Three hours from my home in Victoria, the mighty forest at Avatar Grove is a pilgrimage for any nature lover.

The wild road to Port Renfrew winds through the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the thick forest on the other, this is one of those places where you can see a whale on your left and a bear on your right (we didn’t, but it’s possible!). Much the forest on the drive is dense, but some is logged, the scars obvious on the landscape, a reminder of how precious the few remaining areas of old growth forest are.

After a long drive we finally make it to Avatar Grove, the entrance is tucked away off the roadside; a simple boardwalk guides us through the dense forest. At the start of the walk you are welcomed by a giant cedar, a tree so tall you cannot see the top through the canopy. It was a lovely winter’s day, cool but bright, the air was fresh, the forest covered in moss and lichen, an indicator of the air quality. Walking through the forest is like stepping back in time, the giant ferns cover the floor, looking like something out of Jurassic Park, the thick moss on the ground adds to the colour of the forest, the tagline should be ’50 shades of green’.

The forest was quiet, with the only sounds coming from trees swaying and creaking in the coastal breeze and small flocks of bushtits and chickadees flitting through the canopy overhead. The trees really are the stars of the show, many of them five people wide, dwarfing any hiker that stands beneath them. A truly magical day in the forest.

Wildlife watching- Searching for beautiful small birds.

The weather has been pretty appalling recently, but finally we saw a break in the rain/snow, so I decided to head out with my camera and watch some of the wildlife around my house. I had high expectations as most of the time the area is full of small birds, however this time, there was, well, nothing. So I waited and waited and finally, a beautiful little bird showed up, take a look at the video to see the beautiful, ruby-crowned kinglet!

Listen to young voices- World Wildlife Day

Today is World Wildlife Day and Youth for Wildlife Conservation is an official partner for the event as the theme is ‘Listen to young voices’. Youth for Wildlife Conservation are a network of youth conservationists (myself included) working together to promote youth in conservation whilst saving wildlife.

 

World Whale Day

It’s World Whale Day and this is a beautiful humpback whale off Victoria, BC. We are so lucky to share our oceans worldwide with these gentle giants. Whales keep our oceans healthy. It’s vital that we do not take them for granted & fight for their protection. We can all do this by giving them space on the water, avoid places with captive whales & reduce our plastic, litter & pollution. They may be big & highly intelligent but they are not invincible in our changing world.

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