It does not get easier, the sound of the alarm at 3.55am, dragging what can only be described as my carcass from my warm bed to a cold dark car is never a fun experience, and to top it off I am doing it voluntarily. So why am I up at this ungodly hour? Well, it’s bird banding/ringing season, the end of July/start of August is really the beginning of the end of summer. Our birds have mated and raised their young and are now starting to thinking about moving south. Once I have awoken a bit from my slumber it starts to become worth it, as I make the 40 minute drive west into the Canadian countryside, the view is pretty spectacular, dark misty forest to the right and to the left the sun rising over the Straits, with the large looming volcano Mount Baker casting a shadow over the area.
I arrive at the banding station before 5am, the sun is starting to rise, and nets are opened. The birds are banded for research purposes, in order for researchers to get a better idea of their migration patterns and population, data that is used in their conservation. A bird is caught in the net and retrieved then weighed, sexed, aged and banded before being released, a process that takes no more than 10 minutes and does not cause any damage.
The group is out everyday of the week during the migration period, and nets are opened for 6 hours from sunrise. Today I was lucky, 46 birds were caught and released.
It was a day filled with warblers, we had Wilson’s Warbler, a small bright yellow species where males have jet black on the top of their heads; Yellow Warbler, a species that, as the name suggests, is all yellow; Macgillivray’s Warbler, a yellow bodied warbler with a grey/blue head and the Orange Crowned Warbler, a green/yellow species who has a hidden orange crown on their heads, you have to blow the feathers to fully see the orange feathers!
There was a good variety coming through, we had a House Wren and Creeper, these birds are very different to the warblers, both species are brown and slightly speckled. The creeper is a small bird with a long strong tail and long claws, it is perfectly designed to creep up the trunks of trees.
We did have a new species for me, a Grosbeak, this bird was one of the strangest I have seen, I could not think of a UK equivalent. They are finches, but are much larger than the finches we have in the UK. Around the same as a blackbird with a giant intimidating beak, this Grosbeak had a black head and yellow under its wings. Other species included Lincoln’s Sparrow, Pacific Slope Flycatcher and Song Sparrow.
Whilst the early starts are killer, I would definitely recommend going out and helping at a banding station, there are a few across Canada and lots in the UK mostly organised by the British Trust for Ornithology. Seeing these birds up close is amazing, but just knowing that you are playing a small part in their conservation and seeing birds that are about to make the long journey south is incredible. I am doing a lot more banding throughout the next couple of months so will be writing about some highlights as we go along.
1. Amur Leopard
When you think of Leopards what often comes to mind? Mostly it is a spotted cat roaming the dry and hot plains of Africa, but the rare Amur Leopard subspecies is found in the snowy, freezing forests of eastern Russia. This big cat is believed to be the rarest in the world, it is listed as critically endangered with as few as 70 individuals left in the wild.
2. Iberian Lynx
The Iberian Lynx is an endangered species now found in small parts of Spain and potentially on the Portuguese border. It’s range once spread from Portugal through Spain to southern France. This species is highly specialised and it is designed for life on the Iberian Peninsula . The appearance of the Iberian Lynx is typical to the other lynx species, with long legs, tufted ears and a short tail. Due to a number of factors such as habitat and prey loss the species almost went extinct, their numbers are still dangerously low, however recent conservation efforts to save the lynx have been so far successful and the population is beginning to increase.
3. Marbled Cat
Found in the forests of Southeast Asia, this beautiful cat is a small and solitary species. Listed as vulnerable, with less than 10,000 believed to be left in the wild, the secretive nature of this cat makes it difficult to know exactly how well it’s population is doing. They are purrfectly (get it?) adapted to their forest home and feed on a variety of different species, from small mammals to birds and even bats!
4. Clouded Leopard
The beautifully camouflaged Clouded Leopard is found in Southeast Asia, this medium-sized cat is split between two species, one found in mainland Asia and another found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Clouded Leopards are declining due to deforestation, habitat loss and poaching. This is a very secretive species and very little is actually known about them in the wild. They are brilliant climbers and can even hang upside down from large branches!
5. Scottish Wildcat
Deep in the Highlands of Scotland roams a ferocious, secretive and ancient species of wild cat. Do not be fooled by its more domestic appearance, this cat is as wild as a tiger or a leopard. Early settlers told stories of a wildcat that could not be tamed, and saw it as a spirit of the forest. The Scottish Wildcat has seen a dramatic decline and is now one of the rarest species in the UK with certain researchers suggesting there could only be around 100 purebred cats remaining.
So as you may have noticed this blog has been a little sparse lately, this is because I am currently sorting out some changes to it. I have decided that after a year it is time to shake things up a little, so firstly the layout will be a little different but the main difference is the name, I have decided to rename the blog Talk Of The Wild. The name change will change soon, however what will not change is the content, I will still be regularly blogging about wildlife and the environment!
Thank you for visiting and I hope to see you after the change!
If you have followed even half of the news stories over the last two weeks you will have seen nothing but division and separation, but there was one story tucked away within the chaos that shows unity and co-operation, not between two sets of people, but between humans and birds.
The honeyguide is a starling size species of bird found in Africa. The bird feeds on bee grubs and beeswax, however despite it being slightly more resilient to bee stings than other birds, it is not immune and its small size means that feeding from the hive is difficult work. The aptly named honeyguide has developed over hundreds of years a mutualistic relationship (meaning a relationship between two organisms that benefits them both) with local people in order to feed from beehives.
This incredibly rare relationship between wild birds and humans was recently studied by researchers. The honeyguides lead human hunters to beehives, for the local people honey is an important part of their diet, and finding beehives can be time-consuming. With the birds as guides the time is greatly reduced and the hunters can gather honey from the hives for their people. In order to access the hives the people smoke out the insects and use axes to break in and harvest the honey. Now this is something that the honeyguide could of course not do on its own, once the hive has been opened by people, the bird can access its food source. Both the birds and the people have their food and thus both have benefited from using each other. What makes this relationship even more interesting is that there is communication between the two species. Local people use a specific call which is recognised by the honeyguides. Once called the birds often come out of the trees and seemingly understand that the people want the birds to guide them to the beehives. The honeyguides are able to recognise a call and not only know the meaning but respond accordingly. This is something that is incredibly rare between people and wild animals, we can train domesticated species to respond to a call, but for this to happen for untrained wild birds is pretty unique and a wonderful example of the benefits that collaboration can have between two very different organisms.
Found this beautiful Killdeer eggshell, this ground nesting plover has amazingly camouflaged eggs, so much so they often don’t need to build a nest to hide them! Love the pattern!
The largest shark in the world is close to extinction, this week the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) redefined the whale shark as endangered on it’s ‘red list’. The IUCN red list is a comprehensive list of the conservation status of a large number of species. The whale shark was previously defined as vulnerable, meaning that the species was at high risk of becoming endangered. The new definition means that they are now described as being at high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.
Whale shark numbers have significantly declined, their population has decreased 50% in the last 75 years. Their numbers have dropped due to human activity, the sharks have been targeted for their fins, many are also killed after being caught up in large fishing nets. Much of the whale shark’s range has also been polluted and they are susceptible to an increase in shipping. The IUCN and other organisations are pushing for greater national protection of whale sharks throughout their range. At the moment they are internationally protected with strict laws around catching and trading the animal. The tide might be turning however, in recent years whale sharks have become a bit of a tourist attraction in some parts of the world. The increased demand to see the sharks in the wild may force governments to protect the species and put aside conservation areas for their protection.