Helmeted Hornbill

This photograph of the helmeted hornbill comes from this item by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. What an incredible bird, and what a sad story.

These birds have been hunted almost to extinction because of that ivory-like horn, but conservation efforts are hoping to save them.

Do read the incredible story at the above link, of the search for survivors, of the female shutting herself up inside a tree with her young while it develops, relying entirely on the male to feed them, presumably to keep predators at bay. And the photography is superb.

This and many other species depend for a future on a new generation of people coming through that will not tolerate either poaching or habitat destruction.

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Exotic Woodpeckers

Costa Rica has a number of woodpeckers that are unfamiliar to European eyes. I’ve recently managed to identify these two from my archive of photographs from our 2017 trip: Hoffmann’s woodpecker and the lineated woodpecker. Both were in Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.

Pecking upside down in a mass of vegetation, the rather large lineated woodpecker was hard to distinguish as a woodpecker, although its bright red head stood out.

There must have been some luck involved here to get half-decent shots with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. In my experience woodpeckers do not often stay still long enough to be photographed.

Hoffmann’s is named after the German naturalist Karl Hoffmann.

Chiloé Wigeon

An interesting contrast from my previous post on European wigeons are these Chiloé Wigeons, or southern wigeons, from South America, photographed in the spring at WWT Slimbridge. The similarities are evident, and yet they are rather different.

chiloe wigeons 1chiloe wigeons 2

Of course, these photographs were much easier to take as these birds are residents, presumably with clipped wings. It’s a strange facet of the modern world that it can be easier to photograph birds from the other side of the world than their local equivalents!

Wigeon 2

The male wigeon below were at RSPB Marshside, Lancashire, in November.

The brown head of winter contrasts with the iridescent green seen in the mating season. These birds still show remarkable patterning, from the fluffy brown head, the bright white splash on the side, those sharply outlined wing feathers and the detailed engraving on the grey back and side. And what a difference when the sun came out.

wigeon 2 pair

This pair exhibit some differences between male and female, but not so marked as in summer.

Ecoliteracy

Marine biologist Bill Graham writes some excellent blog posts (latest example) on the subject of what might broadly be called ecoliteracy or systems thinking, concepts developed many years ago now by Fritjof Capra and others. I think that one of the problems we have is that neither of these terms has immediate impact on more than the minds of those interested in these things. That be as it may, this is important work.

Bill has the admirable aim of encouraging educators to bring about a generation of children that really understand the interconnectedness of ourselves with all of nature, and ‘think sustainability’.

Here are just a few ideas quoted from this post.

“…much of humanity does recognize our dependency on Nature. In our “me” societies, our hubris suggests that we can control Nature. This arrogance prevents us from admitting that, while Nature can survive without us, we cannot survive without Nature. “

“An ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be defined by looking separately at each of its interconnected parts. In addition, the high complexity of an ecosystem makes it impossible to predict.
The problem is that the society of mankind is unable to grasp this fundamental truth. Humanity fails to see that we are part of the relationship. We cannot stand aside from something that we are part of. If we affect Nature, we affect ourselves. For example, if we pollute the air, we might  suffer climate change.”

“Is there any hope of building an ecoliterate worldview of systems thinking within humans? I think so!! Despite the irresponsible ignorance of a large number of humans, many of our children and future generations do not hold this destructive point of view. Their minds are fresh and responsive to awe and wonder. Through environmental education programs that emphasize Earth’s web of life, they are likely candidates for embracing the idea of relationships and interdependence. By being shown how to identify and protect energy connections in Nature, they become effective stewards of our Earth.”

Bill Graham, blog

The hope for the future sustainability of human society needs people like Bill Graham. Try reading his post, and you might want to follow him.

Bill ends with a series of quotes from a recent article by Fritjof Capra in The Ecologist magazine, including the following:

Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

“The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities, designed in such a manner that their ways of life — businesses, economies, physical structures, and technologies — do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”

Fritjof Capra, The Ecologist, April 2018

Postscript: See also Bill’s excellent essay Are Environmental Conservation Strategies Misguided?

Featured image shows a kingfisher flying through Cano Negro national park in Costa Rica, where there is great biodiversity and lots of kingfishers. Hastily shot with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. What chance of getting a shot like this in the UK? Very small, and you’d be very lucky or extremely persistent.

Lapwings 2

These lapwings were on Neumann’s Flash at Anderton Country Park. Periodically they would fly up with that mesmeric leisurely flap of their large wings, flashing alternately dark and white as they circled around the lake, only to descend onto the water at almost the same point.

The distance was a bit of a challenge for the Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom I had in my pocket, but the longish zoom made a fair go of it (handheld).

lapwings 2Suitable resizing and cropping gave the featured image at the top, like an impressionistic painting. The characteristic lapwing crest is apparent.

Lapwings are also known as peewits (onomatopaeic), or green plovers. You can see the green clearly in the photograph. Apparently, outside the UK this is called the Northern Lapwing.

Sundown at Martin Mere

One of the delights of visiting WWT Martin Mere, Lancashire, in November is to see the feeding of the thousands of birds – ducks, waders, geese, whooper swans, with flocks of lapwings wheeling overhead, sometimes a starling murmuration, more geese and swans circling and descending gracefully onto the water,…

This is soon followed by the gradual descent of the sun to the horizon behind the mere, as the birds begin to settle for the night.

At such times all seems well with the world.

Black Tailed Godwit

A number of smaller birds were taking their chances in the mêlée of larger ducks, geese and swans at feeding time at WWT Martin Mere. I concentrated my camera onto these small waders, which turned out to be black tailed godwits. As waders go, they are reasonably large, much bigger than the delightful ruffs that were also scampering around.

Interesting features in these photographs are:

  • the comparatively huge feet of the pink footed goose in the first picture,
  • the seemingly transparent leg in the second picture and
  • the seemingly sinister coot in the background of the last one.

Barn Owl

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about owls. I was once quite stunned when an owl flew towards me down a dusky country bridleway, and then passed by within a few feet.

So yesterday it was something special when a barn owl (or Tyto alba) appeared at an RSPB ‘Raptor Watch’ event at Parkgate on the Wirral. Parkgate quay looks out towards North Wales over the marshes that comprise the estuary of the River Dee. The sun had disappeared behind the Welsh mountains, the light was fading fast and it was getting cold. The owl had come to feed.

Backwards and forwards he patrolled over the marshes, perfectly framed in my binoculars. Frequently he dropped down into the marsh grasses, disappearing from view, often just for a few seconds, only to reappear and resume the search. Then it was a longer period – he must have caught something. Suddenly a dark shape flashed by to where he had disappeared, reappearing seconds later, followed by the owl resuming his search. It seems a kestrel had stolen his dinner. This happened once again.

Mesmerised by the graceful spectacle of this huge bird hunting like a ghost in the fading light, it was only the cold that eventually forced us back to our van to warm up. The barn owl was still hunting, almost a spectre in the gathering dark.

I was too entranced to take the time to get the camera out – I knew that it was not up to getting decent pictures at that level of light. So I’ve searched Wikimedia Commons for pictures of barn owls in flight – here are some of the best. Click and click again to see a bigger image.

According to the RSPB, although populations declined in the 20th century, these birds are not currently under threat. Given that they feed on small animals they are clearly vulnerable to chemical farming.

Thanks to Steven Ward, Edd deane from Swaffham, I Luc Viatour, for making these images available on Wikimedia Commons.

Lapwings

These lapwings at Anderton Country Park were too far away for a sharp photograph with my travel zoom, but I rather like the impressionistic picture. You can just about make out the characteristic lapwing crests. (Yes, there are a few ducks and gulls in the mix.)

Amboise

I have previously written of the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Amboise. Recently we again tarried in that crossing point of the River Loire, to be impressed this time by just how photogenic Amboise is. The featured image shows what is left of King Francois I’s chateau, and the bridge over half of the river from the island, beautifully enhanced by modern lighting. Here’s a larger version.

amboise

Go onto the bridge and look to the right and you see the beautiful sunset over a wild part of the River Loire, ‘Europe’s last untamed river’.

amboise sunset

There were plenty of cormorants and gulls on the river, too, but I didn’t get any shots worth sharing this time.

Dear Prince George….

The so-called royal family in the UK appear to support a practice that ensures we do not see many raptors in England – the said raptors are too inconvenient for the gamekeepers responsible for supplying grouse to be shot. Just see what we are missing in this post, written as a letter to the latest royal child being indoctrinated into this backward-looking tradition.

Eyes in the back of my Head

wow2_filtered

I understand that Mummy took you along to a grouse shoot in Scotland a few days, so that you could watch Daddy killing lots of birds which were flying up into the sky.

He was shooting them dead, along with lots of other people. These people say that shooting birds in this way is sport, so I took a look in my dictionary (it’s a bit like the first dictionary you will have at school, but without the pictures) to find the definition of “sport”.

It says Sport: A game or competitive activity, esp. an outdoor one involving physical exertion, e.g. cricket, football, racing, hunting. (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Two words jump out when I think of the grouse shooting you went to see Daddy taking part in. One of them is competitive, the other, hunting.

If something is competitive it usually means there is a contest between two people…

View original post 544 more words

Hen Harriers

Northern_(Hen)_Harrier
Hen Harrier, see credits

The UK habitat will support hundreds of hen harriers. They were once a common sight. In reality there are now very few.

They have been protected by law since 1954. Numbers have not increased since then.

There are many instances of individual hen harriers simply disappearing, even when tracked electronically.

Despite this, the RSPB and many volunteers is making heroic efforts to increase numbers.

The hen harrier is emblematic of the problem in England for all raptors including eagles.

It is believed that gamekeepers on driven grouse shooting moors are responsible for killing the birds.

When evidence was gathered and individuals prosecuted the case was dismissed on a technicality.

Driven grouse shooting is a sport for the rich, or rich wannabees. It has support in high places in the UK establishment.

Essentially, driven grouse shooting is incompatible with healthy populations of raptors, or so gamekeepers appear to think.

If that is the attitude, then ultimately the only solution would appear to be another law – to ban driven grouse shooting. This would have other environmental benefits, such as reduced flooding after heavy rains in the north of England.

Note this is a problem that can be solved with the will to do so. See for example the success with red kite populations in Wales.

These are my impressions from the Hen Harrier Day at Parkgate on 12 August 2018. Hen Harrier Days are usually held on or around the so-called glorious twelfth when the carnage begins. Go to one, and support the RSPB and other organisations involved.

Feature image shows speaker Mark Avery at the event
Photo of hen harrier by Len Blumin, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Red Kites at Rhaedr

According to the RSPB, the red kite was a valued scavenger during the Middle Ages that helped keep streets clean, and was protected by royal decree. However, by the 16th century a bounty was placed on its head. Kites and other birds of prey were persecuted as vermin. By the the early 1900s red kite were extinct in England and Scotland, and just a few were left in remote parts of central Wales. Conservation efforts have been ongoing since then.

This has been particularly effective in central Wales, helped by the regular kite feeding programme at Gigrin Farm near Rhaedra Gwy (anglicised name Rhayader). The success of the programme has been amazing, and a visit to the farm at kite feeding time sees the amazing spectacle of hundreds of kites converging on the farm. The sky is literally full of these beautiful birds. Amazingly, all are descended from a single female, which shows just how close these birds came to extinction in the UK.

red kite 1

 

This shows just what might be achieved in England, where prey birds (including marsh and hen harrier, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, buzzard) are persecuted to this day, particularly in areas where driven grouse shooting is prevalent. See eg RSPB report.

Red kites are regularly seen throughout this sparsely populated area of Wales. These two were following a farmer’s tractor ploughing a field, along with tens of other kites and seagulls.

 

red kite 2

Note that Gigrin Farm has specialist hides available for the more professional photographers.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy ducks are quite large, rather ugly, and somewhat ungainly ducks. They are native to Mexico, Central and South America, but have established themselves also in parts of the US, notably Texas where we they are quite common.

This one in Hermann Park, Houston shows an attractive iridescence in the feathers.

muscovy duck hermann park

The most remarkable feature of these ducks is the blackish or red knob seen at the bill base, with the bare skin of the face a similar colour.

muscovy duck head

Why these are called Muscovy Ducks seems to be a bit of a mystery, as they have no clear historical relationship with Russia.

Jay encounter

Walking home laden with shopping the other day, I was aware enough to notice a Jay standing by the side of the path, almost within touching distance. I crouched to get a closer look, and still it stayed there. Now, Jays, or Eurasian Jays are usually very shy birds, so this seemed unusual. There did not appear to be anything physically wrong with the bird. What to do? Usual advice is to leave them alone if not in immediate danger, so I did.

Too good an opportunity not to take a photo with my phone. Seeing this, the bird ran away a short distance, so probably not much wrong with it. It was still not too far away to get a reasonable shot with my rather ordinary phone camera.

Given the time of year, the obvious conclusion is that this is a young Jay, maybe on its first real flight, and maybe in some sort of slightly shocked state due to its experience, maybe due to traffic on the nearby road.