Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Argyll eagle action - Scotland's soaring reputation could be shot at?

I used to dream of seeing the bird that has the sunlit eye
You will never forget the first time you see one fly
The sight of a soaring eagle over a Scottish landscape is one to admire
An iconic symbol of courage and strength that has the power to inspire Ewan Miles

White-tailed eagles in the UK ruled our skies for thousands of years with records dating back to c 2450 - 2000 BC but as some of our wildscapes slowly turned into manscapes they were persecuted to national extinction by the early 20th century. By the middle of the century a re-introduction programme was in place to give white-tailed eagles a chance to colonize again. Due to incredible work by committed conservationists, in this present day, the birds are beginning to get a foot hold in our country once more. 

In January 2014 some Argyll farmers spoke out and want action taken on the increasing white-tailed eagles in the district and there were some comments that really stood out. The sea eagles were referred to as 'aliens' which is of course completely untrue. Another comment was their worry of the intrusion of sea eagles affecting the golden eagle. If you look at the bigger picture, they used to live side by side for thousands of years in the UK. The biggest standout comment was "it's only a matter of time before a small child is attacked". This statement is not constructive and worthless to discussion. 

Of course the interest of livestock loss during the lambing season is the concern of farmers. White-tailed eagles are known to feed on dead lambs and potentially weed out weak lambs but there is little evidence of birds targeting healthy stock. Overall, an eagle's impact on lambs and hoggs is minimal. If there is a diverse environment and abundance of natural food then there is no need for eagles to go after domesticated animals. In terms of the worry of birds increasing in numbers, during the lambing season, eagles are extremely territorial so there is never going to be more than one pair working an area. 

Some people need reminded of the simple fact that this is not our world; we share it with millions of species. We are a part of nature, we rely on nature and we all need to learn to live with nature.

Scotland's eagles are an important part of the country as nature-based tourism is valued at 1.4 billion pounds directly towards the Scottish economy. Tourism spending on nature-based activities in Scotland is worth nearly 40% off all tourism spending in the country. Viewing wildlife is the sole reason for millions of visitors to Scotland every year. 

Any negative media publicity or any action on eagle control measures is very dangerous and could tarnish the country's reputation and affect rural economies reliant on wildlife tourism. For example, if I was looking for locations around the world to view wildlife, countries' reputation through media and journalism dictate everything. If I was to focus on whale watching, the nations that would put me off visiting are those that still participate in the brutal whaling industry. If I wanted to view large bird migrations then the massacres in Malta, for example, would stop me from visiting the country which has huge potential for tourism were it not for the large murder of migrants. Publicity of control measures and talk of culling iconic species could have a big knock-on effect for Scotland.      

Let's hope this talk of eagle action is put to bed and we can carry on improving Scotland's great reputation as a world class wildlife destination. Eagles will always mean a lot to me as my early encounters with them inspired me to a lifetime's love of the natural world. Now that is power and value that you cannot put a price on.   

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Screamer the Swift

The children's book 'Screamer the Swift' which came out in November 2013 is about a Swift born in Bath and its migration to Africa. Who would have thought in only a few months the book is 'flying off to Africa'! Yes due to 4 schools in Tayside in Scotland being 'twinned' with schools in South Africa, Uganda and 2 in Malawi the book is being sent to the schools thanks to the generosity of Ibstock Bricks who sponsored the book. Ibstock Bricks make 90 million bricks a year for houses and industrial buildings but also make a 'Swift Brick'. The population of Swifts are falling fast in Britain due to lack of nest sites on buildings. This brick can give the Swift a home and should be placed on every new building in Britain.
'Daniele Muir, Project Officer for the Carse of Gowrie Swift Conservation Project added 'Screamer the Swift is a wonderful book that illustrates the hazards swifts face throughout their lives. We are very grateful to Ibstock for providing the sponsorship to enable us to send the book to each of our Swift Twinning schools in South Africa, Malawi and Uganda, as well as the schools in the Carse of Gowrie'. 

The Junior Carsonians [WRITTEN BY Lewis McGoldrick & Oscar Shrimpton Jr Carsonians Abernyte Sch] are a group of children from schools in the Carse of Gowrie. They mainly do things which make the Carse of Gowrie a better place and help the environment. Lately they have been looking at swifts and how we can help them. A swift specialist, Daniele Muir, came to one of the meetings which the Junior Carsonians held. She told them lots about swifts, for example they only land to breed and they sleep whilst flying. Daniele also told them how we can help swifts and that they are an endangered species. Throughout the Carse of Gowrie lots of walks have been held where you walk around the villages and look for potential swift nesting sites. Lots of schools in the Carse of Gowrie have been given swift nesting boxes - for instance Abernyte Primary School has been given a triple swift nesting box. The Junior Carsonians started working on a movie about swifts as part of a national competition. The short 3 minute film showcased the Junior Carsonians’ work on Swift conservation. Now the Junior Carsonians are going to continue working on wildlife conservation around the Carse of Gowrie.

Swift numbers have dropped by over 60% in Scotland over the past fifteen years and the Carse of Gowrie Swift Conservation Project has helped schools, businesses, community and church groups to conserve existing swift nest sites and provided new nesting locations, to help Carse swift populations expand. The project is being run in partnership between the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group & the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership'. 

John Miles, author of Screamer said 'Is it not amazing that children around the world can get involved with this Swift but the British government will not encourage these bricks to be placed on new buildings! If a children's book can be enjoyed by so many why can the actual Swift disappear from our skies just because a government can't be bothered!!'

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Saturday night out

A good shift up the valley at the weekend monitoring the wildlife in Geltsdales uplands. 4 black grouse and 2 ravens at dusk along with a tawny owl with prey which looked like snipe. Red grouse, woodcock and roe deer seen and a female long-eared owl heard calling in the early hours of the morning.
Superb clear skies along with a strong waxing gibbous moon. Another highlight was a huge burning fireball which is always an incredible sight in the night sky. 

A few photographs from the night...

Up the old water with the river gelt running well...constellation Leo the Lion showing in the frame
Shooting into a strong lunar light...
The connection you get with nature at night in a wild area is something I cant explain...
Frosty conditions in the early hours as the cloud rolled in for the night...
Thanks for looking...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

December update...

My minke whale article for the AFON species advent calender...

Please sign this important government petition to make the Golden Eagle the national bird of Scotland

A new British bird of prey petition aimed at producing more action against countryside criminals...

Starlings shaping at Gretna...
An update from my winter wildlife experiences throughout December back in my native Cumbria. One of my favorite spectacles at any time of the year is the starling murmurations and I am very lucky to live near by a large roost near Gretna. I visited the area three times during the month and it never disappoints with some impressive sky shaping with raptors Peregrines and Sp-hawks in hunting mode. 
At another roost site on the Cumbria/Northumberland border myself and dad watched a 30,000 strong murmuration with small tight balls lifting to incredible heights with a couple of female Sparrowhawks on patrol. As the Starling slowly started to drop lower and lower a Sp-hawk targeted a loose individual and swooped to catch it on the wing only meters away from us...an amazing sight.
Sp-hawk shaping starlings...

Starling murmuration over reed bed....
My homemade Christmas caption
A quote I made on Mull turned into a photo caption by Andrew Jake
Tufted duck drake on Talkin tarn, a few Brambling feeding on beech mast also seen...
On the 16th I headed up to Castle Douglas with Cain, Rach and Frijj to the Red Kite feeding station and it was my first visit since they have revamped it and what a facility it is now...superb. The balcony view point outside the cafe provides fantastic views of the birds and it was nice to see good numbers of 15 plus visiting on a midweek day just before xmas. 
We moved onto RSPBs Mearshead targeting the Starling roost but we just missed it as we enjoyed good views of the Barnacle Geese, Pintail and the roosting Lapwing. 

Red Kites in flight... 
Stunning birds...
HB, Frijj and Rach enjoying the birds
Xmas morning and lovely sunshine as I had a wonder down the river Gelt covering all the surrounding woodland. Good numbers of Fieldfare heading up and down the valley searching for berries. I spotted a distant black grouse cock on the opposite fell side with two buzzards soaring overhead. I disturbed a roe deer in the birch woodland and flushed three Woodcock throughout the morning. Five grey hens in flight heading down the valley on my way back in and and a small group of Redwing overhead. Some great clear skies around xmas time and I did some nightscape photography in the valley as well. 

My house at Geltsdale with a trail of the stars...
Just before the new year myself, Dad and Guy headed up to the Solway scots side to cover a few sites with Mearshead been the most productive site with a female Hen Harrier and healthy numbers of Pintail again. Fantastic views of duck and geese close to the hide in lovely weak light coming in from the west. Teal, Wigeon, Shoveller and Tufties along with Barnies all around. Lapwing flying in tight groups could of represented a nearby raptor on patrol. 

Thanks for looking :)