Birding Diary #1

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I’m a (very) amateur birder, so it makes sense to record my birding adventures on this blog. It will mean I can remember what I have seen and where I’ve seen it – mostly this will have been in Norfolk, as this is my stomping ground. These ‘birding diary’ entries will mainly be about the locations, the background, and, of course the birds. Don’t expect expert knowledge – I am just muddling through!

Today we went to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, a nature reserve in Norfolk, that houses sand dunes, salt marshes, and a freshwater lagoon. Historically, this is an interesting site because artefacts from the Upper Paleolithic period have been found, as well as military paraphernalia from the world wars. (Yeah, I Wikied it….)

A pair of Montague harriers were spotted nesting on the marshes back in the 1970s, prompting the RSPB to purchase the land, and since then it has been home to all kinds of sandpipers, birds of prey, water voles, plovers, goldeneyes, godwits, oystercatchers, and all sorts.

What I saw:

 

** We couldn’t work out which, but tend towards the opinion that it was most likely a curlew. This video from the BTO has been very helpful in IDing this mysterious bird.

Getting into Birding

I am gradually becoming a birder. It only occurred to me in the last year of so that birds are interesting – interesting because they are everywhere, yet at the same time so elusive.

I did some Comms volunteering last year with the RSPB and that was really the impetus I needed, though I have always been aware of birds and birding because my mother has always been into birdwatching. And so I spent many long and confusing hours perched in hides, failing to spot creatures that others had identified but had only appeared to me to be a blur of feathers in the corner of my vision.

The RSPB bird book my boyfriend got me has been indispensable, as has the time we put in to visiting our local reserves and having a go. Now the good weather is here (hottest day of the year today has been unbearable) I can get out more into the countryside and have some nature days.

So far I can count the number of interesting birds that I have seen on my hands: bittern, marsh harrier, cetti’s warbler, lapwing. There are more but without a detailed list I have forgotten them. I need to buy some kind of log book!

I also need to learn not only to ID birds but to recognize their calls because this is frankly half the battle. Maybe I should turn this briefly into a birding journal? In the meantime, here’s a photo of an egret I took in the south of France recently.

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Who’s Looking Out For Animals In This Election?

* Guest blog post from Politics student James Craske *

Animal Rights. Where do the parties stand?

Human concern for animal welfare stretches back a long way. Despite the regular news of animal abuse, we have come a long way from the prevailing attitude of the Ancient Greeks that animals do not possess reason, to the recent court ruling that temporarily granted chimpanzees legal rights to personhood. Throughout the 20th century, activists have made gains in ensuring that animal health and welfare now finds itself a place in all the major political parties’ manifestos.

But what pledges have they made this coming 2015 general election?

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Labour Party

The last Labour government oversaw the first Hunting Act in 2004, which outlawed the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, and introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the first review of pet laws for 94 years. Speaking in February, Ed Miliband stated that:

‘Labour values tell us that we have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way’.

In continuing the work set about by the previous Labour government, the party has pledged to end the badger cull, defend the 2004 Hunting Act and ban wild animals from being exploited in circuses.

Conservative Party

David Cameron has said a Conservative government would remain committed to offering a free vote to MP’s to repeal the Hunting Act introduced by Labour in 2004 if they are given another term in government. However, a group of Conservative back-benchers are intending to resist this repeal; the Conservatives Against Fox Hunting have worked stoically since 2011 to make sure that the Hunting Act and other reforms have not been overturned. Moreover, they have doggedly criticised the government’s continuing badger cull.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have made a number of pre-manifesto claims to ‘ensure farming support is concentrated on sustainable food productions’. Their commitments extend to improving farm animal welfare and to reducing the use of animals in scientific research by funding research into viable alternatives. Importantly, they differ from the current Environment Secretary Liz Truss, in saying they would only support extending the current cull on badgers if they have shown to be effective, humane and safe.

Green Party

The Greens have made bold and consistent moves to put animal welfare at the top of their agenda. They go further than any other party in outlining a larger vision for society by stating the need to

‘foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat,’

and thus halting the destruction of the estimated 30,000 species we are currently losing each year. The Green Party have made commitments to end factory farming, including a ban on battery hens for eggs, preventing animals from being used for medical experiments, and ending the controversial badger cull. A fuller picture of the Green’s Commitments to animal protection can be found in their 2014 Animal Protection Manifesto. 

UKIP

UKIP have said they would scrap Green targets made by both the UK and the EU. On domestic issues, the party recently stated that they would be the first party to call for a complete ban on halal meat. The party maintains that this pledge is not being intended to stir up racial division, but rather to act on the conviction that the ethical treatment of animals comes before religious practice. However, UKIP’s animal welfare policy seems to be inconsistent and contains a number of contradictions, including the promise to re-instate fox-hunting. Furthermore, within Europe UKIP has voted against a crack-down on the illegal ivory trade, and, as the New Statesman recently reported, UKIP MEP Roger Helmer has claimed that dumb seal cubs deserved to be killed.

‘Rewilding’ Project Could Return Lynx To The UK After 1300 years

Ambitious plans, formulated by the Lynx UK Trust, could see a return of the wild lynx, not seen in Britain for over 1300 years, to certain areas selected for the five-year trial programme. It is hoped that the once native lynx will curb deer populations and restore balance to the British countryside.

Lynx UK Trust assures us that lynx have never been known to attack humans, nor do they attack sheep or cattle, as they prefer the protection of remote woodlands, and would not naturally venture onto open pasture or farms. Farmers remain concerned for their livestock, but they will be rewarded with a compensation package. The threat posed to livestock is low, as lynx in Romania and Poland rarely prey on farm animals.

Once the Trust has gauged public opinion on the return of these extinct cats to the wild, they will launch an application to Natural England. The plan will see four to six lynx, each wearing GPS tracking collars, released into open, unfenced private areas of woodland in Norfolk, Northumberland and Scotland.

There are over 1.5 million wild deer in Britain, and they currently have no predators, so controlling their populations has been extremely difficult. The Deer Initiative believe the reintroduction of the lynx will help to solve the problem of the overpopulation of deer, which eat birds’ eggs nesting in low bushes, and they also damage woodland by overgrazing.

There have been fourteen previous reintroductions of the Eurasian lynx into the wild, which have proven to be hugely successful:

In Germany, 14 lynx were reintroduced to a site in the Harz mountains in 2000 and have since bred and colonised other areas. Another reintroduction, in Switzerland in the 1990s, has also seen animals breed and spread.

The lynx is the third most prolific predator in Europe, beaten only by the wolf and the brown bear. It hunts at night and is notoriously shy, so hopeful ramblers would be lucky to spot one if they are reintroduced. The lynx is thought to have been hunted to extinction for their fur during between 500 and 700 AD.

A representative of Defenders of Wildlife suggests that concerned farmers could take precautions to protect their livestock by getting a dog, as “Lynx have an instinctual fear of canines.” She points out that after the reintroduction of wolves to Idaho, only 30 of the 18,000 sheep in Northern Idaho have been lost to wolves in the seven years the predators have been roaming there.