Swifts are back for the summer and Aylsham Swift Group is helping these extraordinary birds
Our special swifts are back from Africa, heralding summer and the time we can enjoy their short stay. Swifts have travelled from central Africa, crossing the Sahara and navigating storms to reunite with lifelong partners. Swifts tagged in Eastern England travelled an astonishing 14,000 miles after leaving the UK in the summer of 2010 and arriving back the following spring. You may have seen swifts already this year, skimming rooftops in joyful ‘screaming parties’ or soaring above our town.
Walking by the lake on the Blickling National Trust estate, I was spellbound by a flock of seventy or so swifts. In the distance, lightning lashed while at the lake’s edge, swifts feasted on clouds of insects. Watching silhouettes of scythe-like wings and forked tails whirling over my head, I wondered if these long-distance migrants were passing through or nesting nearby. Other times, I’ve seen swifts swoop across the lake and dip their head in the water before pitching upwards and shivering to shake droplets from their feathers.
Each summer, I head out to Winterton to see the little terns nesting. On a warm afternoon in July, I’m heading across the heath to the beach, excited about seeing these remarkable birds again. One year, I arrived too late and most of the birds had left. Another year, the terns were mostly breeding at Eccles. Once, I decided to go after the breeding season, but the beach felt so empty. Winterton is best when the electric fence is up and the terns are back from Africa!
A fortunate encounter with a friendly birder on my local patch one evening pointed me in the direction of a nest of raptor chicks. I often walk past the old oak tree he described but had never thought to scan its tall trunk for nests. Packing away the long lens I had borrowed to photograph a reed bunting, I hurried off to the copse of oaks.
I lift the blinds on the back door and there he is. Every morning, the garden birds arrive for breakfast but while other birds wait in the pine trees or gather on the fence, this fledgling sits between the flower pots. As I open the door, he hurries forward to be first in line for the soaked mealworms I sprinkle on the patio and then under the table where he will be safe. I have grown fond of this blackbird fledgling, although I know he is sick. He can no longer fly like his sibling. Continue reading →
The second rarest seabird in the UK, little terns face a bleak future without our help
At a colony along Norfolk’s east coast where I’ve been helping as a volunteer, RSPB wardens are providing dedicated round-the-clock protection for endangered beach-nesting birds. The RSPB’s conservation work is part of the EU Life + Nature Little Tern Recovery Project involving eleven partner organisations, including the RSPB, Natural England, The National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The recovery project has been crucial in monitoring, protecting and increasing little tern populations across the UK. Continue reading →
Help garden birds through the winter and feel the warmth of nature
The rental property we moved to recently was built on land where an old bungalow used to be. Except for three conifers, the garden was cleared and laid to lawn except for an empty flower bed which I turned over the other week hoping to attract robins and blackbirds with worms.
Human settlement pushes New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguin to the brink
Yellow-eyed penguin feeding chick at Penguin Place, Otago. Image credit: David Brighten
The Emperor penguin is arguably the most familiar penguin in the world, the poster penguin for climate change as global warming melts the Antarctic ice they depend on. Indeed, this magnificent penguin’s survival in such an inhospitable environment is well-reported in films and documentaries such as March with the Penguins and the BBC’s Dynasties.
Migrating turtle doves will be shot down as they fly over Malta.
The Maltese government has sanctioned the slaughter of 5,000 European turtle doves as they fly over Malta in the last stages of their 5,600 km journey from wintering grounds in West Africa to breeding grounds in Europe.
Our fascination with intelligent parrots has a catastrophic impact on wild populations
When we’re looking for an animal to keep as a pet, we think about food, exercise and affordability. But how much thought do we give to where the animal comes from? When we buy exotic birds through online ads or breeders, we may unknowingly support the plunder of wild species. The African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is one such species. Continue reading →
As cat ownership soars, we need a radical change in attitude to save mammals and songbirds from cats’ claws
Despite evidence from camera traps and Cat Tracker devices showing predatory behaviour, cat owners tend to describe their pets as too slow or too gentle to harm wildlife.
But Kitty is equally at home stalking wildlife as she is sleeping on our lap.
As human populations and domestic cat ownership explode, especially in urban areas, more small mammals and birds fall prey. When breeding can’t keep pace with predation, species numbers decline. Well-fed domestic cats might even be compared to trophy hunters in the sense they aren’t hunting for food.Continue reading →
Northern gannets around the UK are at much greater risk from wind turbine blades than previously thought, according to new scientific research
Several wind farms are due to be built in the next five years at locations within 50 kilometres of Bass Rock, the world’s largest gannet colony, located in the Firth of Forth off the east coast of Scotland.
The northern gannet is amber listed according to a UK national assessment of Birds of Conservation Concern. This new study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, highlights the urgent need for further research to inform wind turbine specifications and locations.Continue reading →
New Zealand’s endangered national bird suffered another blow in Northland where dog owners thwart conservation efforts
The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) recovered eight kiwi killed in a conservation area in North Island’s Northland region over a ten week period from May to August. Post mortem examinations revealed they were mauled to death by dogs. Continue reading →
The genetic blueprint for New Zealand’s national bird reveals the kiwi’s adaptation to a nocturnal, ground-dwelling lifestyle around 35 million years ago has meant poorer eyesight, but superior smelling powers
Published online in Genome Biology, the study by researchers in Germany identified genetic mutations that have deactivated genes related to colour vision, as well as other mutations that have enhanced the kiwi’s sense of smell compared to other birds.
The kiwi is an evolutionary phenomenon, and an endemic species to New Zealand, a land that was geographically isolated after its separation from Godwana 80 million years ago. This isolation makes New Zealand ideal for studying evolutionary processes. Continue reading →
Stephen Fry and social media launched this rare parrot to stardom, and now this tech-savvy kakapo is putting fame to good use
Back in 2009, Stephen Fry visited New Zealand’s Codfish Island with zoologist Mark Carwardine to film BBC2’s Last Chance to See, a documentary about animals on the edge of extinction.
Now, with almost 6.5 million views of ‘Shagged by a rare parrot’ on YouTube, their encounter with Sirocco, the flightless parrot, has achieved phenomenal worldwide coverage. Not bad for a species that previously wasn’t well-known even in New Zealand, despite its international critically endangered status.
Today, Sirocco features on the NZ Department of Conservation blog, he has his own Facebook page with 155,000 likes and a Twitter account, as you might expect of a bird. Continue reading →
Research suggests owners are reluctant to accept the cat predation risk to wildlife and a cat welfare approach may be needed
Domestic cats have been introduced by humans across the world and growing cat populations are placing local wildlife under greater pressure. Cat predation compounds the survival problem by adding to habitat loss and food scarcity for some species.
Free-roaming cats on islands have contributed to the extinction of native bird, mammal, and reptile species unable to fend off this introduced predator. In mainland environments, cats are impacting local bird and mammal populations, with large numbers killed each year. Continue reading →
Fewer turtle doves will now survive their epic 3,000 mile migration from Africa to European breeding grounds, leaving conservationists stunned
Hunters have won a Malta referendum allowing them to continue the tradition of shooting turtle doves and quail in spring, from April 14 until April 30. The margin of victory was slim, reflecting widespread Maltese opposition to this tradition. Hunting of these birds is banned elsewhere in the European Union. Continue reading →