Tag: nature (page 1 of 11)

Endangered right whales dying off Canadian coast

North Atlantic Right Whale

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whale species on the planet, with just 500 individuals left and this year is already becoming a very worrying year for the survival of the species. Over the past two months, seven whales have been found dead off the Canadian coastline. The whales have all been found in the same area in eastern Canada, between New Brunswick’s Miscou Island, Quebec’s Magdalen Islands and northern P.E.I.

To lose seven individuals is devastating for this species, the loss makes up just over one percent of their entire population, at the moment it is not clear what killed the whales, although two were said to have signs of blunt trauma (likely from a ship) and another had been tangled in fishing gear for weeks. North Atlantic right whales are at huge risk from ship strikes and entanglement. The areas in which the whales are found, are often along busy shipping lanes (such the Gulf of St Lawrence, where the seven have been found dead). Entanglement impacts marine mammals around the world, and researchers have spotted a number of right whales that have become entangled recently. In fact just last week Joe Howlett a Canadian fisherman, died after freeing a right whale from entanglement off the Canadian coast.

North Atlantic right whales are found in both Canadian and USA waters and authorities and researchers on both sides of the border are scrambling to save the population, 2017 calf sightings have been low and it looks as though it will be a year of decline for the North Atlantic right whale.

Entangled right whale

Entangled right whale

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!

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.

 

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!

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