Sunday, 11 December 2016

I have moved websites!

I have moved to a fancy new WordPress blog.
Please take a look at my latest blog on the Peregrine Falcons

Monday, 7 November 2016

A Beautiful Early Morning with the Red Deer

Everything seems to have settled down after the establishment of the leks during the rutting season in October. The men have been sorted from the boys, and the boys now seem a little lost and confused. The females calmly graze by their designated protective fellows, and their babies by their side look like they are to getting as much of the grass as they can whilst there is still some sugar in it to help them grow strong for winter.
I got to the park early this morning, before the golfers arrived to chase me off the course, so I could  get a proper glance at the red deer in the early hours. As I arrived the sun was just starting to reflect like gold dust in the sky, with the misty morning dew seeping away after the bitter evening before. The light of a new day warmed the backs of the red deer, as it did it warm my face, so I smiled and peddled on to see what was occurring within their groups today.
Firstly I was greeted by two rather troublesome teenagers, loitering by a fence and clearly up to no good. One glared cautiously as I edged closer, as if he was keeping for any authority that may catch them. The other in the meantime was up to the dirty work, making rather a mess of the fence post, vigorously rubbing his antlers against the wood with every intention of grating it to a toothpick. It was clear that the testosterone filled season was not enough for these two who just weren't satisfied, needing to find something to do other than behaving themselves!

After leaving Kevin and Perry to their fence post I peddled on to find a much more civilised section of the park on the edge of the golf course. There stood three does with a fawn from this year, protected by an older and grand male with what I assumed to be his young disciple. Between them they did not seem too worried about my presence as I crept to a nearby tree where I sat and watched. As I crouched there it was the most peaceful I had been all morning, with the golden light slowly sweeping across the green, and the deer enjoying the fresh due sweetened grass. The squirrels were dancing around the trees, scurrying to gather all the horse chestnuts they could find. The odd Magpie was hopping around, dancing and chattering to himself looking for mischief to get up to. I on the other hand was as motionless as I could be, taking it all in and soaking up every bit of this magical moment that I could

Unfortunately my peace was short lived. They were there! Golfers! No time to dawdle but to scarper home for breakfast - and quickly.


Monday, 31 October 2016

Rutting and Red Deer Conservation

It’s rutting season again! The stags are full of testosterone, chasing the ladies, and calling to warn other males of the unwelcome greeting they will receive if important antics are interfered with. Last week I had a fantastic afternoon watching the males, albeit from a very safe distance, with fascination over the tireless determination used to maintain their territories. Although not all males will successfully mate with a female this year, I am sure the herd will have no trouble this autumn and winter in surviving to produce young in the spring. Whilst the Red Deer are doing very well in Wollaton however, a little reading up on this species made it all too clear that the thriving and fruitful resilience of the our population is not uniform across the continent.
Red Deer are the most widespread large mammal across Europe, however recent genetic studies suggest a number lineages dating back to the last ice age that are both distinct from the Red Deer in other regions, and endangered.  During the peak of the last ice age, Red Deer populations became isolated whilst finding refuge from the cold and harsh conditions. Later, with the warming of the earth’s climate these isolated herds moved to different corners of the continent, creating the isolated lineages across Europe today. The Red Deer that seem so widespread across our continent are probably a number of separately divergent and evolved herds or even subspecies, unique to certain areas of Europe. It is really important to understand the extent of separate evolution between herds like these, as although the distinction between groups may seem trivial, it could have important consequences for conservation of the European Red Deer.
When two populations become isolated for a long enough time from a phenomena such as an ice age, they can evolve unique adaptations to their individual habitats. As two isolated populations may evolve separate adaptive traits through time, it could mean a hybrid between these two distinct and locally adapted populations would not be adapted to either habitat, but be a mish-mash of adaptations suited to the two different areas. When individuals move between populations, problems often arise that mean individuals such as the deer may suffer in the long run if hybrids become a frequent occurrence.
One isolated Red Deer lineage that is both endangered, and unique from any other populations across Europe is the Mesola Red Deer population from Italy. The Mesola population is not only small and suffering from a huge decline in genetic diversity, but is also the last Italian Red Deer population remaining since the retreat of the last ice age. Since monitoring of this population began, catastrophes and inbreeding through a lack of genetic diversity have been identified as important threats to the population’s survival. An option to reduce the risk of inbreeding is to introduce Red Deer from other populations into the Mesola population, to increase genetic diversity within the herd. As discussed before however, we need to be careful to try and maintain the locally adapted traits that make this population unique to any other Red Deer herd across the globe.
Whilst it seems I am approaching the thought of moving Red Deer between populations with some red hot and smoking barge pole, it has to be said that in European Red Deer conservation, translocations to date have been quite successful. In Croatia, two distinct populations have still been maintained with the help of translocations between populations to try and boost the genetic diversity within each herd. Without careful movement of the deer, the Croatian populations may have suffered from inbreeding and so an increase in susceptibility to disease through a lack of genetic diversity. It is still to be ironed out for sure if there will be any long term ecological consequences as a result of translocations, but at the moment things seem to be improved after these conservation efforts.

At the moment, new research is being undertaken to get a better understanding of the Red Deer species, and hopefully as a result we can continue to protect the distinct populations that remain across Europe. Whilst this exciting research is being undertaken on the continent however, we can still go out and enjoy trying to understand our native population thriving here. Whilst this is on a slightly different level to the population geneticists guiding conservation action in Italy, Croatia and Iberia, we can still enjoy investigating our own Red Deer all the same. If anything, I think knowing about the rich and interesting history of this species makes me appreciate the local animals’ company a little more than before.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Badgers, Bovine TB and Bad Scientific Practice

Bovine tuberculosis is a long term epidemic in the South West of England that spreads fear across cattle farmers as cattle are slaughtered in attempt to control spread of the disease. With the potential of transmission from badgers or cattle to humans the badger cull pilot scheme was launched in 2013 with the aim to reduce Bovine Tuberculosis in the British cattle herds. Since the cull however, people have found themselves stuck between articles stating the apparent success of the cull, whilst other groups are actively campaigning to stop the apparently useless and meaningless destruction of one of Britain’s most iconic species. It is a shame that given the importance of this disease and amount of conflict rising between the two parties however, that clashing beliefs are probably a result of governmental ignorance to scientific practice. Throughout the pilot cull so far, little attention has been paid to scientific evidence and because of it we are still non-the-wiser as to whether the cull could successfully help to eradicate tuberculosis or not.
The threat of bovine tuberculosis in Britain is real. Since 2008, 227,835 cattle have been slaughtered in England as a result of this disease, and at the moment protecting the cattle with a vaccine is not a legal, or viable option either. Approximately 28,500 cattle per year have to be killed after testing positive for the bovine tuberculosis disease, and shockingly many of these deaths will be the result of an inconclusive test, meaning healthy cattle are being destroyed. There is also no legal vaccine due to the interference that will follow with the test either, meaning options for freeing the country of bovine tuberculosis and this economic burden on the industry are far and few between.
After a background of scientific evidence gathered to understand the connection between badgers and bovine tuberculosis, the government sanctioned the culling of badgers in the South West of England in 2013. In Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset, farmers were appointed to control badger populations via both cage trapping, and free shooting. In 2016, the culling areas were then widened to seven locations in addition to these previously existing areas. The number of license holders for the disposing of badgers were later increased 2016. Culling in these new areas will be carried out over the next four years, so you would hope this expansion would be a result of the successful pilot culls surely!? Unfortunately, due to a series of irresponsible errors on the government’s part, the answer to that is no. The disorganisation that has surrounded the cull means that we don’t even know if the cull is or is not successful, and because of this, both sides of the badger cull debate are up in arms.
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Well-grounded evidence behind the cull states that the control of badger populations must follow an all or nothing approach. Heavily reducing the badger population size in our countryside would help reduce bovine tuberculosis. However, culling small numbers of badgers in patchy areas would be unlikely to have the desired effect. Whilst undisturbed badger clans remain relatively stationary so disease does not spread quickly, culling will disrupt this system. Badgers evading the cull or moving into land vacated by the cull will have a larger range that could increase the spread of the disease. To sum it up, not conducted carefully, the bovine tuberculosis problem could actually be exacerbated by the culling rather than solved.
As the badger cull was and still is such a controversial movement, it would make sense that pilot tests were conducted with precision, vigilance and careful monitoring to gain enough information to either support or neglect this as a form of disease control. Unfortunately from the moment culling targets were set, the project was not treated with nearly enough sincerity. Following Independent Expert advice, a target to reduce population size by 70% was set in the three areas for 2013. To achieve this, a range was calculated based on population estimates, to cull between 1876 and 2584 badgers. This meant that if the lower limit of 1876 badgers were killed, there would only be a 1/40 chance that 70% of the population would have been killed. Of course in attempt to cut corners the government took the 1/40 chance in order to “remain realistic” in meeting given targets, and set for 1876 badgers to be killed in these areas. Even before a single badger was shot, not enough effort was being made to ensure the highest probability of success for the badger cull.
 If it wasn’t enough that the cull used a target that was unlikely to sufficiently control the badger population, this target was then given little chance of being met or adhered to. Firstly, culling was carried out by the farmers themselves, making an extra job for workers who may not have the adequate free time to effectively undertake the badger control. It came to no surprise then that in 2013, only between 37-51% of badgers were culled in Somerset, and between 43-51% in Gloucestershire. Furthermore, in 2014, the government discarded the Independent Expert monitoring of population size methods that revealed the previous year’s failures, and left the farming marksmen to assess the population size. In 2014 no published estimates of population sizes were achieved. Lastly, as the final nail in the badger culling coffin, restrictions on maximum cull duration, cull area size and percentage of accessible land, previously considered “unduly inflexible”, were proposed for abandonment by the government, as apparently no longer fundamental guidelines to the cull. It is no wonder that the catastrophe was soon followed by an announcement declaring that “despite killing badgers, cattle slaughtered for TB continue to rise in and around the area.” (DEFRA). Anger has since boiled from both sides, where the cull was neither taken seriously, or responsibly enough to be worth it.
Whilst it seems that there is little hope for the cull, new pilot areas are being rolled out across the country in what seems to be half hearted attempt to address bovine Tuberculosis in Britain. To certain members of the public, this movement has not been conducted to help the cattle industry, but as a means of being seen to be doing. The culling could provide a reasonable means of badger control, just as it is currently conducted with other species like deer and other forms of wildlife. Given the unscientific way the piloting procedure has been conducted however, the success of the badger cull seems dubious if the current practice is not given a serious shake-up. If the cull continues to follow suit as it has in the past three years, we can’t only hope for failure of the cull, but expect that we will not know the effectiveness of the cull at all, and cannot help to guide future wildlife con

 I would like to give credit to the resources used to write this article, and I would please urge you to carry on reading to form your own opinion on the matter. Thank you for reading.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Summer Swallows!

So the summer has come to a close whether we like it or not, and with the end of the long and sunny days (sometimes!), comes an end to natures family making as well. The Swallows in particular have exploited any nooks and crannies available to nest their young. A local stables has a thriving Swallow population that comes back each summer from Africa, and this year I have been photographing the families, observing the behaviour, and intently tracking their progress as the chicks attempt to fledge the nests.

Any Swallow mother and father in these stables requires vigilance, determination, and a fierceness that will ward off the Magpies in the area looking for an easy snack. Swallow chicks are plentiful with tens of nests in these stables, and so these children provide a nice meal for any scavenger able to avoid the wrath of the swallow parents. Although the Magpie is well over twice the size of the swallows however, this proves rather difficult. The presence of a Magpie around a Swallow nest is made apparent to all, as the rippling and churring chatter of the Swallow parents changes into a sharp, shrill, and shaking screech. The doting parents immediately turn into bombers, swooping and gliding and diving on the Magpie. On one encounter a younger looking Magpie was found at the helpless and unyielding end of a Swallow attack, cowering as multiple parents joined in on protecting their chicks from the scavenger. There is no doubt that Magpies are fatal to any chick within its reach, but for the Magpie, getting so close may sometimes be all too difficult.

  If the Swallow parents are able to ward off predators, the sons and daughters will be ready to fledge the nest and clumsily explore the world outside the nest. One morning we came to the yard to be distracted by a number of siblings ready to fledge the nest. One brave individual had already ventured out of his nest, to nearly crash into us, before desperately clinging to walls, becoming entangled in a cloak of dusty cobwebs, and eventually fall onto a window ledge nearby. The parents would chatter away to their child, encouraging him and giving him every bit of available advice that may help him. Watching them fly as if learning to ride a bike that has recently had the stabilizers removed. Each flap would tilt the unstable body from one side to the other, as the fledgling would clumsily meander its way through the sky. It would not be long before the youngsters could carve their way through the sky like a knife through butter, but until then the fledglings would be very vulnerable to the Magpie who was searching for breakfast.

Should the fledglings make it this far in life, they could learn to soar through the skies, catch food, and communicate with extended family members before setting off on their treacherous voyage. The birds began to leave in early September, but this year’s fledglings have remained for around 3 weeks after their parents set off to Africa. The return journey will take about six weeks, and the final destination of the Swallow will depend on where in Europe they come from. It has been found that these birds are so good at reliably flying along a similar flight path each year from their first migration, unguided by the parents, because there are certain genes involved in determining where the bird will fly to. The Swallows will travel down through western France and eastern Spain from the UK into Morocco. The birds will then cross the Sahara desert and the Congo rainforest, finally reaching their home for the winter. Travelling 200 miles each day, let’s hope that the birds are currently well on their way to a good few months holiday in the sun.

Monday, 9 May 2016

(very) mini documentary on the early family life of the Coots

I know I should probably be revising instead, but have taken the evening off to put a short video together about the new coot families arriving at the lake, whilst unveiling a nasty secret about their family lives...

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Spring is here! (apparently)

 The snow has been falling, the wind blowing, and the rain pouring down onto Nottingham - of course this can only mean its spring. It has been a while since I took a visit to the university lake, and despite the recent strange weather, it is like somebody has waved a wand over the lake, transforming it while I have been home for Easter. The black headed gulls that were so numerous have vanished and taken with them the grey and drab cloth that swamped us over winter. In every corner of the lake a nest has risen out of the water to host a coot family that is soon to arrive. Some new arrivals on the lake who looked like something crafted by the devil himself, and a slightly older friend from last term I was a delight to meet again too. Everything is happening on the lake, and I can’t wait to see what may happen next!

On first arrival, I caught a glimpse of my first nesting Eurasian Coot. There she sat, very satisfied with her arrangement of sticks and leaves piled up high in the water. The lady of the house had to constantly maintain her mound in this shallower part of the lake to avoid her home being swept beneath her with the gentle currents. As usual, I was transfixed by her forthrightness as she was plumping all her leaf cushions, shaking them and patting them down on her bed ready for her babies to arrive. I wasn’t too sure what difference this made as the bed didn’t seemed to change all too much from before she had started organising her nest, but I got the feeling this was a very important task that needed to be attended to.
the Eurasian Coot, very proud of her nest  in the scummy corner
of the lake

While I  felt quite privileged being able to watch this one nest so close, it was not long before I realised coot nests had popped up all over the lake. All along both sides of the lake the water is quite shallow, meaning nine nests in total were made all along the banks of the lake. There was one nest amongst the willow tree branches where the twigs could easily be bundled together, held by the long fingers of the willow branches like a leafed cage around the home. Another had been dumped in a slightly unexpected place, amongst the scurvy and scummy remnants of rubbish, twigs and slime. The gentle currents in the lake pushed surface debris to this south corner of the lake, perhaps making it easy to gather nearby items quickly, before it would be broken down by the slow running water.
The nest tucked into the bank of the lake, and the Coot pruning
her feathers in the rain
believe it or not a family live here!
In contrary to my initial thoughts, it soon became apparent that the coots had no good sense of housekeeping at all in their nest building. While they did spend a substantial amount of time ensuring the nest remained sturdy and intact, this is the point that I stopped agreeing with their requirements of a good home. I came across yet another nest in the lake in one of the grimiest locations they could have chosen. Between some black railings and a few willow branches that had rooted amongst a pile of stagnant rubbish settled my best find of the day. Out from behind the rubbish, emerged three ugly and wrinkly individuals, with heads red like fire with tufts of burnt off feathers, sprouting out these strange evil looking minions’ necks. I laughed to myself as the coot parents doted upon these horrible children, a parent’s love really is blind.

the ugly little chick next to an unhatched egg

While I was happy to see the new arrivals, my heart leapt when I found a slightly older friend who I had met last term. I was concerned after walking most of the way around the lake and catching no sign of the Egyptian Goose family. My worries were set aside however, when then there he was, barely recognisable, a gangly and strange looking teenage chick, bumbling around on the boat ramp. The father was nowhere to be seen, as Billy (which I have now named him) is old enough to only need the care of one parent. The transformation that can happen in the space of a month is still hard to believe. The look of strength in his legs now was phenomenal, fully grown and just waiting for his adolescent body to catch up. His body was now half the size of an adult, and his proper juvenile feathers had come through. It was magical to see him from the fluffy little ball I had first met curled up in the sun. Through frosts, and wind, and snow, rain and sleet, this little chick had grown up so much and it was a wonderful thing to see.
mother and chick, or now teenager
Billy looking very gangly - still has a lot of growing to do!

Monday, 14 March 2016

A well earn't break and a trip to the University lake

Today the sun was shining, and having spent the last few weeks shut away, slaving over a dissertation, I decided it fit to take a stroll to see what the university lake had on offer. I was thrilled with what I saw. The first of the chicks for this year was pottering around the shallows, the lesser black-headed gulls were dancing like fighter planes in the wind, and the swans seemed like they had mastered the technique in gaining every ounce of respect from their peers – well most of them had it sussed anyway.
Last week I had been lucky enough to see four Egyptian Goose chicks scuttling around the lake as I was undertaking a practical with the university catching invertebrates. I had not thought to bring my camera, but came back a few days ago to see how they were getting on. I was disheartened to find that only one chick remained from this clutch, and so came back today, willing him to still be alive, having survived the harsh frosts of last week. It comes to no surprise that these doting parents have been struggling to support their children when there is still frost on the ground, and a biting wind in the air. However, after being assured by the the chick's mother and father that the he would be looked after with all the care they could provide, I carried on my jaunt to see mass of gulls at the end of the lake, as something was drawing a crowd.
Checking that I am not up to mischief and am staying a good distance from her chick
the chick sleeping in the sun, with dad grooming his feathers
The Egyptian Goose chick (ironically not actually classified as a goose)
On arriving at the madness of diving, and squawking, and swooping and squeaking, I soon realised what the fuss was about. An older man was providing quite a feast, and each time the little man threw some food out of his trolley, it attracted a swarm of locust like gulls that would dive down to crash land on the grass for a meal. Each bomber would waste no time in redeeming their dignity from the fall, and instead would snatch a snack, or begin to scream to their neighbour to hand over the winnings without a moments hesitation. I laughed when one wave would cease for a moment and the gulls would sore back into the sky, to leave the shell-shocked mallards below. The ducks had a completely different tactic to eating their dinner, as they plodded along through the grass, continuously wiggling their bottoms side to side, in hope of picking up something that the all too frantic gulls may have missed. Once the man left with his food, the fun was over far too quickly, and I left the ducks to rummage through the crumbs to pay the swans a visit.
the man with his bag of food
the black headed gulls diving for food
the gulls flying off after their feast
There were three swans who seemed quite at home at the lake, and even though I couldn’t be sure if it was Elizabeth, Philip and Charlie from Wollaton, I was certain that this family would provide just as much entertainment. First I met one of the parents. He was more in charge of this area of the lake than I thought a bird could ever be, with feathers raised above his back, sitting on the floor – not a duck nor a goose dare to argue with him. At one point a female mallard tottered close in hope of getting a share of food within the vicinity of the swan, before she was hissed away so the swan could carry on his meal in peace. The other parent, alike the first, was a very important figure in this group. She walked around, and ate her food with little disruption from any minion that was inhabiting the area at the time. While this swan was very beautiful, I could not help but be distracted by a younger swan who was last year’s chick, and who just seemed to be a little too distracted to be part of the royal family today. He stood away from any of the food that had been thrown on the floor, and looked at me full of attitude but equally as lacking in the ability to instil any sense of fear in me. He first wiggled his neck low in front of his body, before stretching it high, and then holding it in one peculiar shape that made me wonder if he’d forgotten how to be a swan at all, let alone one exerting any sense of importance over anyone else. It must be said that while I was not afraid of the juvenile, I still kept my distance, careful not to aggravate any desire to chase me away or worse.
The swan seems to have his eye on a Coot who dared to come near

One of my most regal shots of a swan 
The juvenile trying to state his territory, I kept my distance

The juvenile again, showing his size 
The youngster appearing to have given up a little here
After chuckling to myself, with the knowledge that gaining the sense of composure of a swan does clearly take a few years practice, I left the park and got back to my desk. I was refreshed and excited with the thought that this little chick I saw today was the first of many, and that spring was nearly here. Coursework deadlines may loom, but with that comes the bloom of new life that greets us this year.
not so relevant to my story, but I had to upload this picture of a moorhen who was crowching around the side of the lake

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Nightjar project, from the summer of 2015

As a third year student at The University of Nottingham, I have been studying the impact of human disturbance on the breeding of the European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). In the summer of 2015 we surveyed the recreational trail usage in the forest, the wildlife abundance, and breeding success of the nightjar. The surveying of the trails was carried out by myself and a masters student Jack Rayner under the supervision of Dr. Kate Durrant, while the monitoring of nightjar breeding was led by the Birklands Ringing Group.
A little friend we met on one of our surveys
We spent June and August surveying the forest and monitoring the nightjar from around 7am until anywhere between 7pm and 11:30pm five days a week. We cycled around, with our food for the day packed in our bags, and a rake threaded between our rucksack straps. The looks we got from local cyclers was quite amusing, wondering if we were hopelessly trying to garden the forest of Sherwood Pines. We spent half an hour at each survey point, counting all the traffic passing, and the wildlife spotted. The rake was used on the earth paths to track any traffic crossing paths over a 24 hour period, rather like Sherwood Pines CSI. The rest of the time we spent cautiously searching for nightjar nests, and ringing the chicks born in that season. If the weather was suitable, we would set up nets to catch the birds at around 7:30pm. It was fantastic on those evenings to hear the nightjar males making the churring territorial call, and watch the nightjar gliding past us before being caught in the net. The caught nightjar could then be identified, and carefully released back to continue their evening hunt. I thoroughly enjoyed carrying out the field work, and was inspired to find out what is affecting the distribution of these birds.
One of the many bees that were pollinating the heather in
the forest
In previous years from 2001 to 2014, the nightjar of Sherwood pines have been shown to prefer a breeding habitat incurring less frequent human disturbance, however in 2015 we found the nightjar have shown no preference between more or less disturbed areas of the forest. Furthermore, in 2015 there has been a higher portion of nests that fledge chicks, as well as an altogether greater number of nests going on to fledge chicks in areas incurring higher levels of disturbance. Through wildlife surveying we established that predators threatening nightjar breeding such as Corvids and Birds of Prey live in greater densities in the area of the forest incurring a lower level of disturbance. Corvids predate on the nightjar nests, while the Birds of Prey are thought to predate on the adult nightjar. This difference in risk of predation could provide explanation for a lower success in nightjar nests.
A moth we came across quite frequently, not sure which species though? (Please comment if you know!)

A mother nightjar, who is rather  insulted at being disturbed from her afternoon nap

The same mother nighjtar, whatching us with a glaring eye
Historically, nightjar have been shown to be less successful in breeding where human disturbance is greater. In recent years however, we may have found that the nightjar in this forest may have become more habituated to human disturbance, impacting the consideration of the suitability of nightjar habitat in the future.
A buzzard in the early morning, keeping a careful eye on us at work. 

After seeing that Jack and I were carrying out the surveying well, the buzzard left us for more important duties for the day

To Find out more, please take a visit on the Sherwood Pines website!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Crafty Cormorant

Last week I took a visit to the university lake where I met a Great Cormorant. His face looked like the cross between that of a dinosaur and a gnarly troll. Given that previous description, it seems impossible for me to like this bird, but given his crafty and wily nature, his phenomenal resilience, and incredible hunting skills I could not help but enjoy the company of this prehistoric animal.

I first caught sight of the cormorant at the side of a lake, basking with his wings welcoming the sun. It is easy not to wonder why the cormorant undertakes the task of drying his wings, but I could not help but think this myself. As his looks would suggest, the Great grey Cormorant is one of the most prehistoric species, along with the Shags. Unlike the more recently evolved water bird species, the cormorants have not evolved a waxy coating on their feathers, and so understandably will get rather wet after a hunt for his fish or whatever meal is available. After becoming sodden from a hopefully successful attempt to catch dinner, the cormorant will stand on a perch for an hour if needed to dry off any water that may not be shaken off. While this characteristic is reasonably interesting, the wing drying behavioural quirk provided scientists with the ability to carry out an experiment revealing something rather more intriguing.
One of the Coromorant standing minding his own business

A cormorant looking back very disapprovingly at me after folding back his wings, and ceasing
to dry his feathers
Recent research has been undertaken to study the migration behaviours of Roach fish. Through use of the cormorant feeding behaviour, evidence has been gathered to demonstrate the reasoning behind migrations. Once a cormorant has caught a fish, he will regurgitate spit balls at the perch on which he is drying his feathers on. If a fish has been pit tagged (a form of microchip-like identification), all morphometric measurements can be taken of that fish, and so we can understand what size fishes are being eaten by the cormorant. It was found that fish spending more time outside a lake would be less likely to be eaten by the cormorants, but will also be less likely to find plentiful food. In addition to this, it was found that the bigger fish were more likely to get caught. Using this information, and the information of when the fish left the lake to migrate, they found that when the risk of being predated outweighed the food benefit provided by a lake over another stream, the fish would leave the lake. Bigger fish were more likely to leave the lake, and especially so when predation pressures were high and less food was available in the lake.

While the cormorant is currently causing great concerns with regards to impact on current biodiversity, given past distributions I cannot help but admire the resilience of this species. Historically, cormorants were regarded as an irritating competitor for fish by fishermen, and so were nearly hunted to extinction. Since, the Great Cormorant has escalated in numbers to the 1.2 million individuals in Europe today. The Great Cormorant is now thriving in the UK, and now the species is predicted to cause incredible changes in our aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. There are great concerns over the impacts that cormorants may have on ecosystems, with relocation of matter and microbial agents between ecosystems, and the possible food web modifications that may follow the cormorant’s population growth. It is true that in the future we may need to control cormorant populations, however it is still fantastic to see such a prehistoric creature on our doorstep, and I thoroughly enjoyed admiring the bird in the sun all the same.

This isn't much to do with the blog, however I did think the gulls looked 
brilliant sitting in a line along the concrete posts

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Wollaton's Wacky Wildlife

So I have been rather quiet over the last few weeks, putting together a video from the last few months of footage I have gathered from Nottingham. I had so much fun making it, and I hope you have as much fun watching it with the few surprises I have edited in (not your normal wildlife video I promise you!)

Thanks a lot, and thank you to Fat Freddy's Drop for the music, and to the wonderful wildlife who helped create it!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

A trip to Brighton, with a mesmerising murmuration!

A starling murmuration is always a fascinating sight to see, and I was lucky enough on my trip to Brighton to see one at dusk from the pier. The wind was howling, the skies were grey, and the sea was whipping up an angry and salty mist into the air, and I didn’t want to leave as these birds danced in the sky in perfect unison. I also could not help but wonder how these birds coordinated themselves so well. Luckily, I have since found that a group of scientists has managed to provide us with part of the answer.
A Black and White of the Brighton Beach looking from the new pier
A colour picture of the beach at Brighton
A Starling murmuration is a swarm of Starlings that forms at dawn and dusk, as a mass of thousands of birds swoop through the skies. The best time to view these swarms are between November and March, all across the UK. Although piers such as the one at Brighton are particularly good for viewing Starling murmurations, they can also be seen over wetlands and farmlands, so almost anyone could be lucky enough to see one. It is simply a case of being in the right place at the right time.
A black and white of the murmuration, looking from the new pier towards the old pier in the distance
There are many theories behind the existence of these murmurations, ranging from predator defence, to maintenance of warmth, to the development of information exchange. It is well known that animals will group in large numbers as a form of predator defence, and creating these mesmerising illusions of fluidity could confuse dangerous predators such as peregrine falcons, or short eared owls. Animals are also known to gather to decrease heat loss, and to exchange information between individuals. At the moment information is being gathered on Starlings all over the country, but data is not complete enough to fully understand what is going on.
The Starling murmuration powered by the winds created by the crashing waves in the sea
The murmuration, echoing the movement of the waves
While the reason behind the Starling murmurations is not fully understood, recent research has given a fascinating insight into who coordinates the movement of these flocks. A study amazingly managed to develop a tracking algorithm to reconstruct three-dimensional trajectories of each of the individuals in the flock during a turning event. This allowed the researchers to analyse the indivitdual change in movement of each starling as the turns of the murmuration were occurring. From this, it was found that the birds on the outside initiated the steering of the entire flock. With this kind of technology that can be used to analyse Starling murmuration movement, it may only be a few years until we may understand the evolutionary reasoning behind this beautiful phenomena.

While the murmurations really were breathtaking, I can't take a trip to the beach without acknowledging the Herring Gulls that of course were in a great abundance. While they are seen as quite a nuissance by many, I find them really quite entertaining. Its great to be able to get so close to them, and meant I had a great opportunity to get some bird close-ups. Of course I may have had a very different view on the beggars if I had a sandwich in my hand I am sure! 
A juvenile Herring Gull who was sitting on Brighton Pier

An adult Herring Gull, with its mature plumage
A Herring Gull going for a stroll next to the pier, keeping an eye out for lunch