Red Squirrels and Nuthatches

A short post today containing some photos I took at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk this Sunday. We go there quite a bit as we have an annual membership so we’re getting to see the park in all seasons this year which is quite interesting. This is by no means everything that Pensthorpe has to offer – there are also eurasian cranes, flamingos, corncrakes, turtle doves, waterfowl, bearded tits, birds of prey, otters, so an awful lot of wildlife.

The woodland hide never fails to let me down – there were at least three nuthatches. There are around 5 or 6 feeders and you can get really close but what’s so impressive is how much activity there is – you don’t know where to look. I feel like a nuthatch is an autumn bird because it always seems to be photographed with an acorn in its bill.

 

Here are a few of the red squirrels. Pensthorpe has a captive breeding programme so you can see the red squirrels and their kittens up close before they’re released onto Anglesey as part of a reintroduction project.

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Casual cycling

It has been years since I’ve ridden a bike and, wanting to have an alternative to getting around when my car is out of action or I just fancy being in the open air, I decided to a get a bike.

Reader, I bought a girly bike. A vintage bike. A pretty bike.

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Accidental fisheye lens.

I won’t pretend to be some kind of fitness expert or serious cyclist in lycra. I just want to ride a bike into town sometimes or take a trip along the local countryside cycle path on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Today I managed 6 miles! My thighs ache and I will have to spend the rest of the day recovering. But it was worth it because it was enjoyable and easy-going along the cycle path by the river.

It’s a Pendleton Somerby, in case you’re wondering. I’ve since bought a wicker basket to go with it. Just needs a baguette.

Binoculars I rely on

Finding the right pair of binoculars for a fussy consumer like me is a time consuming business, one I don’t care to repeat again. Luckily, I got an excellent pair for my birthday this year, and so far they have been so reliable and handy for birding.

The Eyeskey Binoculars *** are waterproof, lightweight, and offer very clear vision at 10x magnification.  The reviews are very good for mid-range binoculars so if you’re on a budget I definitely recommend. The depth of vision isn’t as great as other binoculars but for birding the magnification is really impressive.

Comfy adjustable straps ✓

Easy to remove lens caps 

Lightweight design 

Affordable price 

Good magnification 

Comfortable grip 


 

 

*** FYI this is an affiliate link to the Amazon listing of this book.

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Wild Camping

You know about camping. It involves pitching up in the falling darkness, carrying your washbag to the nearby smelly toilet block, being kept awake by fellow campers, and trying to dry out your tent before you have to bed down for an uncomfortable night in it.

But have you heard of wild camping?

Wikipedia doesn’t bother to define it. It’s also technically illegal (though widely tolerated) in most of the UK, so I’m obviously not encouraging you…. If you do decide to defy the law, however, you might want to think about where and how to go about wild camping. Do you want to escape into nature for a few days and/or give your children a true adventure?

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There are a few points to remember:

  1. You have to carry the tent and all your equipment. Wild campers often follow a route across the landscape they want to travel in and therefore have to cart all their stuff around between locations, which are often remote and difficult to traverse. You can buy ultra lightweight gear but it’s pricey, so be prepared to travel light and eat all your tinned food on the first night.
  2. Take a trowel. No toilet block means a rudimentary latrine. Dig this far enough from your tent and find an area with some privacy.
  3. Animals will wake you in the night. Strange rustling sounds of mammals attracted by the smell of your stove-cooked dinner of baked beans on toast will disturb your sleep; don’t be alarmed, and don’t leave any food outside for them. The creatively-minded might decide to set up some camera traps near the tents to capture video or photo of the animals that visit them in the night.
  4. Pitch somewhere protected from the wind. Camping with an unobstructed beach view sounds delightful but just remember that that sea wind has not been deadened by any trees or terrains yet so you will feel its full force. Oh, and don’t forget about the tide coming in!
  5. Don’t trespass. It’s not worth the risk – there are plenty of public footpaths across the country.
  6. No electricity means your smartphone will soon run out of charge and you can’t rely on Google maps when you’re lost. Brush up on your map and compass reading skills.
  7. Pay attention to the weather and don’t set off on a mountain hike in fog or poor conditions. You don’t want to be the idiot that has to be rescued because they climbed a mountain in a storm without proper equipment or food.

So if you want to “get back to nature” and have a proper experience of the stars without light pollution, camping without the annoying families, survival by your own skills and no reliance on phones, then wild camping might be for you. There are sanitized versions where you can camp on the edge of the wilderness in a managed site, or there are more adventurous versions that involve climbing a mountain or wandering deep into a forest and pitching up somewhere where no one can find you. Nature is great for your physical and mental health, the perfect antidote to hectic modern lifestyles, and it’s so much more memorable and interesting than lounging by a Spanish hotel pool.

 

 

 

Corruption and the illegal wildlife trade

A new report published by The Guardian yesterday has exposed key wildlife trafficking crime groups and the corrupt government officials enabling them.

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The investigation was carried out by Freeland over 14 years and identifies through Thai government surveillance the main crime networks and individual traffickers who have profited around $23bn through illegally trading in animals, including endangered species, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos.

‘The Bach brothers’, two Vietnamese siblings, allegedly control one of the main trade routes in endangered species and are some of the key suspects in the report.

Why and how is this criminal trade so lucrative? It is the fourth most profitable illegal trade, after drugs, people and arms trafficking. A pair of rhino horns, for example, can sell for 200 times the original price in Vietnam and 400 times in China. Around 5% of rhinos are alive today compared with four decades ago, and around 1,000 are killed by poachers each year. Just to be clear – the rhinos are ‘detusked’ and left to bleed to death.

Rhino horns have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and used to treat rheumatism, fever, gout, headaches, and all sort of other ailments, despite having no scientific basis in fact. Rhino horn is mainly made of keratin and has no proven ability to cure anything.

The Guardian report reveals that the known wildlife trafficking kingpin, Vixay Keosavang, has apparently brought his operations to a close, since the US put a $1m reward on his capture. This is the only monetary reward historically offered for a wildlife trafficker, and seems to have been almost instantly effective in halting his business. Since then, however, new players have taken over – the Bach brothers, who are:

well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling; the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

Today, the Guardian has also revealed  that senior officials in Laos have profited through a 2% tax on trade involving tigers, rhinos and elephants. For over a decade, the office of the Laos prime minister has cut deals with three leading traffickers to move wildlife through borders. The statistics are truly shocking:

In 2014 alone, these deals covered $45m (£35m) worth of animal body parts and included agreed quotas requiring the disabling or killing of 165 tigers, more than 650 rhinos and more than 16,000 elephants.

This trade is illegal and prohibited by the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Laos continues to be a full member of Cites, despite having been suspended in 2015 for failure to produce a plan to tackle the ivory trade, and again this year for failure to implement a plan to tackle the ivory trade. This new evidence proves that not only has Laos shown little interest in confronting the illegal trade in wildlife, it has actually profited substantially from taxing the trade.

You can read about the WWF’s efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade here.

If we are to end this horrific trade in wild animals, we need an international approach that must involve robustly tackling the demand, enforcing the laws, and investing in the areas that are targeted by poachers, to promote education about the ecological need for diverse habitats and species, and to enable local communities to protect wildlife on their doorstep.

Most importantly, we need to kill the demand in Asia and China.

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On The Importance Of Insects

Insects are the most common of all animals on the planet, totally around 1.5 million types of insects – that’s three times more than any other animal population combined!

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They are especially important to all ecosystems because they serve two functions: to pollinate and to clean. Many of the foods we rely on are pollinated by insects, and insects also provide an efficient service in cleaning up decaying matter and decomposing animals.

Insects are also eaten by many species, including reptiles, amphibians, other insects, mammals and, of course, birds, so they are a substantial foundation in the food web that most species simply could not do without.

Since the 1950s, however, insect populations have been declining, and conservationists are particularly concerned about the falling numbers of bees, moths, and butterflies. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust suggests that this decline in bee populations is due to a combination of factors but mostly we look to the loss of wildflowers in the countryside and new agricultural techniques. They estimate that we have lost around 97% of flower-grassland since the 1930s, resulting in the extinction in the UK of two species of bees – so far. They also suggest that:

Through the pollination of many commercial crops such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries, insects are estimated to contribute over £400 million per annum to the UK economy and €14.2 billion per annum to the EU economy.

A very important insect, then. But it’s not just bees that contribute to the UK economy; ladybirds, for example, eat aphids, which feed on farmers’ crops.

But those are the cute, fluffy, colourful bugs – what about the ugly bugs? Cockroaches are probably universally despised, yet the 5,000+ known species that do not inhabit urban areas provide a significant ecological service in forests by cleaning up indigestible leaf matter, and by being a food source to desert lizards and some endangered mammals. Mosquitoes, too, despite being potentially deadly to humans, are a vital food source to birds and mammals.

There are some excellent resources on the internet to learn about the valuable role of insects in all ecosystems:

National Insect Week

Amateur Entomologists’ Society

Insects.org

 

 

 

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.

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