Tag: birds (page 1 of 5)

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…

Migration madness!

It is that time of year again, the end of summer is migration season, and here on Vancouver Island, thousands upon thousands of birds are making their way south along the Pacific flyway. Rocky Point Bird Observatory is located on the tip of southern Vancouver Island, everyday a dedicated group of banders and volunteers band/ring birds on their migration in order to monitor their populations, track migrations and gain a better understanding of the health and life cycle of a number of species.

The past few weeks I have been helping out with their banding and have been lucky enough to see some incredible birds. The bird observatory bands in two locations, one is located in a marina and is a mixture of forest and shrubs, and the other is on a secluded military base, this area is more wild, with forest, open grassland areas and beaches. The view from the banding station is incredible, and species such as orcas, wolves and bears can be spotted. Last week whilst checking one of the nets near the water, we heard the loud unmistakable sound of a whale breathing, a humpback whale was fishing close to shore, and we watched as the whale swam away surfacing just once more in the distance!

The day was a busy one for birds, as we caught and banded a steady number, at that time it was mostly warblers and sparrows that were starting to come into the nets. We mostly banded the beautiful savannah sparrow, these sparrows have neat brown bars down their back, with a black and white speckled front, and a striking yellow smudge on the top of their eye, which looks like they have some eye shadow on! Other highlights included yellow warblers and the brightly coloured Wilson’s warbler. Along with the songbirds, raptors migrate in large numbers, and Rocky Point is a particularly good place to see them. Hundreds of turkey vultures soar overhead, Cooper’s, sharp shinned, red tailed and Swainson’s hawks can be seen within the flock of vultures. Having seen a lot of raptors that day, we managed to get two in the net, both sharp shinned hawks (pictured), one male and one female. The female is noticeably larger, but the species is still small. Up close you can really see how perfectly they are adapted to predate on birds, built for soaring and speed, with large yellow eyes and long sharp talons. They are very light and agile, you have to hold them by their feet in order to avoid getting sliced open by their talons. As I was packing up to leave I heard a shout from across the field, ‘CRANES’ , having never seen cranes, but always wanting to, I grabbed my binoculars and ran, watching two elegant sandhill cranes fly right over my head, you could hear them calling to each other. Humpbacks, hawks and cranes, I could not believe my luck!

This week out at the marina site, Pedder Bay, we saw the scale of migration that is currently taking place. On average, I have found that banding around 50-60 birds is a good and busy day. However on Wednesday, we banded 198 new birds, a record for the site. The day was hectic to say the least, as more and more birds kept entering the nets. Sparrows were the most common by a mile. Often when banding through migration you see birds come in waves, one week one species or type of bird dominates, then the following week another, and that day was definitely a sparrow day. We had a few of the tiny ruby crowned kinglets in the nets, the kinglets (similar to goldcrests, for UK readers), will soon we travelling through in large numbers. Despite banding 198 new birds, we hardly scratched the surface, walking through the area it was clear that there were hundreds of birds, sparrows were flying out of the grass from all directions, we are still relatively early into the migration season, so it is pretty remarkable to have banded such a high number of birds! The migration of birds is happening right across the northern hemisphere, above our heads millions of birds are making long and treacherous journeys south, if you get the chance to get out and see them I would definitely recommend it. A lot of the birds we are seeing on Vancouver Island, have travelled from northern Canada, and are on their way as far south as Costa Rica!

Looking for a VERY STRANGE seabird

Last week I went to the coast of Vancouver Island, looking for a secretive and strange seabird, the Marbled Murrelet! They held a secret for many years, but what is it?

Marbled Murrelets are moving from their summer grounds out to sea for the winters. These plucky birds are able to survive a harsh winter out in the Pacific Ocean.

Wild days on Pender

Dotted throughout the Salish Sea are the beautiful southern Gulf Islands, despite being close together these islands each offer something slightly unique. One of these islands is Pender Island, and last week I took a couple of days to go and see what wildlife it has to offer.

Driving around the island you cannot help but notice the large number of trails that head down towards secret bays and beaches. Because of the small size of the island, it is very easy to explore. The days we were there were hot and sunny, perfect weather to see turkey vultures soaring above the fields and roads. They are expert gliders, and you can see them making subtle movements to steer, without needing to flap their wings, however their time in the area is coming to an end as soon they will begin migrating in large numbers south, into the USA.

We hiked up Mount Norman, a fairly steep hill located within the national park, at the top, an incredible viewpoint gives you a birds-eye view of the area. The hike is through a mixed patch of woodland, and on the walk the loud call of pileated woodpeckers was echoing around the forest, ravens flew overhead and a lovely downy woodpecker was pecking away directly in front of me, these tiny woodpeckers are black and white, with a bright red patch on the back of their head.

Walking down the trails towards the bays and the beaches, you are never really sure exactly what you’ll find, each beach is different, with a different view, rock formation etc, but one thing that is a constant is the kingfishers. Belted kingfishers are all over the island, the long chatter, described as a mechanical rattle can be heard in pretty much every bay and on every beach. An interesting species to watch, they confidently patrol their territory ready to chase any unsuspecting gull, heron or kayaker that is passing through. They are a large kingfisher that stands at about 30 cm, their size means it is easy to watch them fish, they hover over the water before loudly plopping in and grabbing their prey.

As the nights start to draw in I am trying to see as many summer sunsets as possible, and so I followed a trail down to the water to watch. The bay I found was surrounded by arbutus trees, a large native species, with twisted branches and unmistakable orange/red peeling bark. The bay was quiet, a large fried egg jellyfish (named perfectly, seriously, look it up!) was bobbing in the shallows. From around the coastline one of my favourite birds appeared, a lovely osprey, the white, fish eating raptor. I could not believe my luck as the bird starting to gracefully circle, the sky was glowing pink, the sea was calm and it was going to fish right in front of me, a perfect wildlife moment I thought! But, guess who showed up to spoil my peaceful scene, the confident kingfisher, rattling away. The belted kingfisher came out of the trees and flew directly at the osprey, escorting it out of the bay, before proudly perching back in the trees.

The last bit of wildlife came that night, as owls hooted in the forest behind where I was staying. I decided to go and listen, half asleep and clutching my phone for light, I had a new wildlife experience, bats, now I have seen bats plenty of times, but never in the forest. I watched the bats flying through the trees, weaving around them expertly. Their clicks were audible, I have no idea what species they were, but seeing them in this setting highlighted how incredible they are. To navigate a thick forest, in the dark is beyond impressive, a brilliant end to a wild couple of days on Pender Island.

Searching for the largest woodpecker in North America

This week I went out with my camera looking for the largest woodpecker in North America, the pileated woodpecker. This beautiful woodpecker can be seen right across Canada, and is common on Vancouver Island, they are however, a little tricky to see when in thick forest. If you want to know what I found in the forest, then have a look at the video, and learn a little more about these amazing birds!

Beautiful bee-eaters found in East Midlands quarry

European Bee-eater merops apiaster near Tiskanias River estuary Lesvos 11/05/10

European Bee-eater (picture not taken in Nottinghamshire).

This past week I have had some major bird envy, as just 10 minutes from my hometown in the UK, a small flock of European bee-eaters have been spotted. European bee-eaters are possibly one of the most beautiful birds you could hope to see. Found across mainland Europe and parts of Africa, they are not birds you often think of spotting in a quarry in Nottinghamshire, most excitingly the bee-eaters are showing signs that they could breed on the site. Bee-eaters live up to their name by feeding on bees and other invertebrates such as butterflies, moths and dragonflies.

There have been lots of people visiting the site to see the bee-eaters and I am so happy to see the coverage of them and of wildlife in the area. I may be a little biased, but I think the East Midlands has some of the best wildlife in the UK and can often be a little overlooked, I hope our newest arrivals stick around for the foreseeable future (at least until I am home next so I can see them!).

Swallows by the sea

By JJ Cadiz, Cajay – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4256704

In my opinion there are few birds more magical than swallows. For myself (and many others), swallows are the sign of a changing season, a light at the end of the tunnel from the grey and dark winters. They stay in BC throughout the Spring and Summer and do not just blend into the background, they are a noisy, sometimes chaotic species and truly are a joy to watch.

The four main swallow species I see are barn, tree, northern rough-winged and violet-green swallow. The latter are less common, and I hardly see them in the city. Northern rough-winged are brown with a light front, and I have seen them nesting in small holes in a quarry. The violet-green, as the name suggests, are the most striking and can mostly be seen around wetlands and marshes.

In the city tree swallows are a lovely species, with deep-blue iridescent backs, it is not uncommon to suddenly find yourself surrounded by a large flock, picking off insects around trees.

However the swallow that dominates my coastal neighbourhood is the barn swallow.  I am lucky enough to see the swallows every day on my walks along the coast and beach. For a bird that spends half the year in the tropics, they are very much at home on the Canadian coast. Like little acrobats in the sky I watch them twist and turn in the meadows, manouvering between trees and skimming the grass in search of insects. I watch in awe as they are skim from one end of the meadows to the other, before dropping over the cliffs and down onto the beach. They keep low to the ground, dodging waves, in order to feed on the small insects found on the seaweed and sand. It is really easy to feel a connection to the swallows, they follow people as they walk along, gobbling up each insect that is disturbed by their steps. At the moment it is the adults who expertly dodge your legs and feet, but soon the young will be out of the nest, and learning to fly,  this leads to a few hairy moments where a collision between swallow and shoe seems inevitable. Swallow numbers are continuing to decline in our area, the cause is poorly understood. Despite it just been June, I am really making the most of seeing them before they head off again in a few months on their amazing journey south.

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!

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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