Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Frozen Planet 'Faked' Polar Bear Sequence

Ursus_maritimus_Polar_bear_with_cub.jpg, with ...

There's been a lot of uproar in the press about the BBC 'faking' certain sections of their latest, fantastic series Frozen Planet.

I for one don't care a jot and it doesn't make any difference to me that the sequence of polar bear cubs being born was filmed in a zoo!

In fact I'd have been more concerned if it HAD been filmed in the wild. The intrusion and disturbance to wild animals in their natural environment should be minimal when filming these amazing programmes.  The whole research team is obviously well aware of this in the way these programmes have been so painstakingly produced.

The naivety of some people to think that everything they see is filmed 'exactly as it is' in the wild.  I'm already aware, as I was curious enough to find out how on earth they'd been able to film some of the sequences for both this and other programmes, that many of the sequences are shot in the 'lab' or studio.

It's done nothing to detract from an amazing series and I certainly don't feel I was in anyway mislead or that the series should be dismissed as 'fake' or that it's some major scandal.  I also would have felt it was more of an intrusion to have had some disclaimer put up on screen or the flow of the narrative broken by an explanation of how the sequence was filmed.

After all - we're not up in arms at the airbrushing presented to us every day in magazines and adverts and we certainly don't object to all the CGI that is presented on the big screen.

Well done BBC and well done to all the Frozen Planet team for a fantastic series.

Image via Wikipedia
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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Shore-watching From Telscombe Cliffs

Inspired by a certain Urban Birder's new Book, I headed down to the seafront for a good look at what was down there - rather than a cursory glance or distant views that I usually get when out for a run along the undercliff on Telscombe seafront.

The tide was on it's way out, so most of the birds were along the shoreline but I was delighted to see curlew feeding in amongst the gulls.  The first one having a bath in one of the rockpools and then two chasing each other and a few minutes later a fourth flew past.  I kept seeing them all along the shore as they either poked about in the weed or flew past, so not sure if it was the same four or if there were more of them.

Plenty of oystercatcher around in quite large numbers 10-12 at a time and I'm fairly certain those weren't the same group I saw each time, so there were at least 30 of them.  Also at least 3 little egret and a few cormorant - mostly offshore and further along with wings outstretched in with a flock of gulls.

Now I'm just about OK with the more common species of gull but I could probably have spotted most of the species in the book when you start looking at the different ages, plumage, shapes and sizes.  I did pick out - plenty of herring gull, lesser black backed gull and black headed gulls.  My scope would have been useful for making sure there weren't any rarities or passing migrants in their midst and to improve my identification skills.

I did spot three completely black 'ducks' out on the water about 100m offshore.  They just seemed to bob about not doing much and I couldn't make out what they were (needed that scope!)  When I saw them again from up on the clifftop, they were still in much the same place.  I saw one dive and thought I saw a paler underbelly when one of them had a stretch and a flap.  I'm thinking common scoter - they do migrate around the coast in the winter and it's about the only bird I can think it could be (answers on a postcard).

I was just wondering if the peregrine was about when a bird of prey appeared over the cliff, quite far off to the west and being mobbed by a crow.  It circled up over the sea until I lost sight of it without being able to make a positive id.

In the other direction I caught sight of a kestrel skimming along the clifftop before settling to preen on a clump of vegetation.  In the same area a small flock of birds were making brief appearances on the edge of the clifftop - too far away to identify them from down on the undercliff.  When I got back up to the top they turned out to be a few linnet in with flocks of starlings and a few house sparrows, feeding on the ground and washing in puddles, flying up to the rooftops every time a dog walker passed by.  I was trying not to be too obvious while looking at people's roofs and gardens through my binoculars.

The seafront is just one of my local patches and next time I'll take my scope - who knows what I might be missing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Urban Birder - David Lindo

I finally picked up a copy of David Lindo's book The Urban Birder from the man himself when we met up at the London Wetlands Centre.

It's an excellent little book and an inspiring and easy read that tells David's story from his early days as a young and enthusiastic wildlife observer, keen to learn more and soak up every little bit of information he could find, to where he is today, still following his passion.

His enthusiasm for birds and nature simply bounces off the page and there's laughter and a smile on every one as he relates his early adventures pursuing his hobby and gaining a huge wealth of knowledge. No wonder he knows so much about birds (urban and otherwise) when he's been studying them for years and taking detailed notes along the way.

However, the important message is that you can see birds and wildlife in any situation and even the most unassuming, barren and apparently desolate, urban environments can be just as rich a source as some of the birding hotspots.

You don't need huge amounts of expensive equipment and you don't have to travel miles to see a rarity.  They can and do turn up in urban gardens, parks and open spaces - you just need a little patience and as David is fond of saying to 'look up'.

Take a leaf out of his book - grab your binoculars, get out there, get to know your local patch and you never know what might turn up.

Follow David at @urbanbirder

Sunday, October 09, 2011

London Wetland Centre

Finally, my first visit to the London Wetland Centre and what a treat.  Set on the edge of the urban sprawl of London, beside the Thames, surrounded by tower blocks and with an almost constant sound of traffic and planes on their way in or out of Heathrow, this is a surprising oasis of wildlife.

Main Lake from Dulverton Hide

My first sighting on the short walk from the station to the centre, was a small flock of the infamous ring-necked parakeets flying noisily in the trees around the nearby playing fields.  I know these aren't a rarity in London parks these days but they're still a novelty for us out-of-towners.

After a cup of tea and a quick bite to eat (it was an early start out of Brighton), while wondering to head first, I decided to follow the obvious birders (clue = green jackets and scopes) out to the Peacock Tower which, with three levels, has great views over the whole of the reserve.  Now I thought the lot at Pulborough were a noisy rabble, chatting away exchanging news, views and sightings, but there were treble the number in the hide and even more chat going on!
Wader scrape and peregrine tower (left)

Over on the hospital building (left most building in the photo) were a pair of peregrine.  One quite happily perched on the roof and the larger female, slightly lower down on the darker, windowless level.

Apparently their favourite spot and they're seen there quite often.  It's worth noting that the hides have shelves under the windows, so a shelf clamp for the scope is more useful here than a tripod.

On the lake were plenty of wigeon, teal, shoveler and gadwall and at least nine heron.  Several little grebe and a few tufted duck on the far side of the main lake (always nice to see) and out on the grazing marsh a wheatear popped up every now and then and a pair of stonechat did much the same, once they'd been tracked down.

My favourite bird, a snipe was spotted in the wader scrape - the locals know exactly where to find things, so it was just a matter of keeping eyes and ears open and asking if you're not sure.

OK my photo isn't going to win any awards but I'm new to digiscoping and it was hidden away in the bottom of the reeds.

A few swallow were still flying around over the water.  It's still pretty warm for early October.

Green roof on one of the hides
The centre is surprisingly large and well laid out considering it's location and is more open than Arundel.

There's a lovely sustainable garden with some very creative bug hotels - unfortunately I didn't get a photo of them - you'll have to make do with the WWT video of their 'creature towers'.

The World wetlands area with their pens of exotic birds from around the world, are on the other side of the Visitor's Centre, so separated from the 'wilder' areas.  I didn't make it up the Wildside and reedbeds areas this time, as I met up with David Lindo and then attended his talk in the afternoon.

Having purchased his excellent new book "The Urban Birder" - I headed off back home via the packed, standing room only, Sunday bus service to Clapham Junction and then connected with the train back to Brighton - chuckling away while reading David's book.  Not a bad excursion for a day out

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Waders At Pulborough Brooks

Little StintLittle Stint
Lovely day for waders out at RSPB Pulborough Brooks.  Many people had turned up to see the Temmincks and Little Stints, which had put in an appearance for those patient enough to wait and search them out on the far pool on the North Brooks.

Even with a scope they were little more than specks in the distance which were impossible to see unless they moved and distinguished themselves from the similarly coloured lumps of mud.

At one point both were next to a Little Ringed Plover which helped show the comparative size - tiny!

There were enough experts out spotting, to explain the differences between all the waders - which was just as well as they're not easy - variations in plumage, light, age, juveniles and adults make it difficult for the less expert.  It always helps to have a knowledgeable expert around to help with identification.

It was also a busy day for visitors, including small family groups, who were equally keen to see the birds out on the Brooks and welcomed a chance to see them through the scopes.  I usually have a spare pair of binoculars for those who've either forgotten theirs or come unequipped - although they can be hired from the centre and are essential for spotting the birds further out.

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed PloverPlenty of Little Ringed Plover around and a Ringed Plover along with Greenshank, several Green Sandpiper, a Common Sandpiper and several Ruff - I counted six but there had been or were eight.

A small group of Snipe were feeding out in the open near the fingers, which was lovely to see, as they're usually tucked away along the edges and more difficult to spot.  The water levels were just about right - plenty of mud for the waders.

I walked back via Winpenny - no sign of any hobbies but did see two Redstart (a first for me at Pulborough) at what's now been named Redstart corner, between Winpenny and West Mead and got back in time for a good slab of bread pudding eaten with a cup of tea in the afternoon sunshine before heading home.

Images via Wikipedia

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Restoring Our Wildflower Meadow on Telscombe Tye

The Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place has created a new project to collect seed from wildflower meadows to preserve them for posterity.

Our very own John Carden from Friends of the Tye was interviewed on BBC Radio Sussex today to talk about the work that we did last year to seed Telscombe Tye with wildflowers.  The feature starts around 1:00 and John is on about 1:30.

Listen again - BBC Radio Sussex - Sussex Breakfast

We'll be holding another Working Horse event on September 24th to carry on this work and plant even more seed on the Tye.  Look out for further details locally and on the Friends of the Tye website.

Some of the seeds planted for:

Ox-eye daisies
Red and White Rampion
Meadow buttercup
Common vetch
Black medick
Black Knapweed

along with several grass species.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tidying up the Pond

What started out as just cutting back the flag iris, ended up as a complete two-day refurb of my half-barrel pond.

Pulled out all the plants, not that there's much in there, the iris roots were taking up much of the space and had completely outgrown their container.  The water hawthorn is still hanging in there but being swamped out by the roots and the oxygenating plant.  I scooped out all the sludge at the bottom which is a very fine silt along with several pebbles that have fallen in over time and grit from the plant pots.

The pond settled overnight and was lovely and clear this morning until I scooped out even more sludge and stirred it all up again.  I'm sure it will slowly come back and the invertebrate wildlife will return.  Much of it is now in a bucket and can be returned to 'restock' the pond if there's anything interesting swimming around.

The old iris rhizomes have been completely dug out and I've ended up with about a dozen leftover plants having replanted three of them.

I also upset the ants which had taken up residence in the plants, pebbles and under the slabs around the pond as I've completely stripped this back too.  It looks a little bare at the moment.  The before photo would have been a mass of iris leaves and not a lot of water showing, edged with cerastium (Snow in Summer), grass and sempervivum getting rapidly covered by the ant's nest.  I've got some stonecrop growing in another part of the garden which will be ideal around the edge.

While clearing everything out, I discovered a frog and one large gold, well - black and gold fish which, as it was gasping for air on the surface in the silty water, I transferred to my 'new' pond.  It and the water hawthorn will go back once it's settled again.  No sign of the frog today, although the fish has been splashing about in the new pond, whether it's trying to make a break for it or just catching insects I'm not sure.  It's got surprisingly fat considering it doesn't get fed.

The 'new' pond is a large container that will just sit on the patio and get planted up with water loving plants and maybe a small fish or two.  More on that later.
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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Countryside Code: 5. Consider Other People

A series of posts relating to the Countryside Code as published by Natural England to help us all to respect, protect and enjoy our countryside.

Consider other people

Showing consideration and respect for other people makes the countryside a pleasant environment for everyone - at home, at work and at leisure.
  •  Busy traffic on small country roads can be unpleasant and dangerous to local people, visitors and wildlife - so slow down and, where possible, leave your vehicle at home, consider sharing lifts and use alternatives such as public transport or cycling. For public transport information, visit the Traveline websiteexternal link .
  • Respect the needs of local people - for example, don't block gateways, driveways or other entry points with your vehicle.
  • Keep out of the way when farm animals are being gathered or moved and follow directions from the farmer.
  • When riding a bike or driving a vehicle, slow down for horses, walkers and livestock and give them plenty of room. By law, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse-riders on bridleways.
  • Support the rural economy - for example, buy your supplies from local shops.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Countryside Code: 4. Keep Dogs Under Close Control

A series of posts relating to the Countryside Code as published by Natural England to help us all to respect, protect and enjoy our countryside.

Keep dogs under close control

The countryside is a great place to exercise dogs, but it’s every owner’s duty to make sure their dog is not a danger or nuisance to farm animals, wildlife or other people.
  • By law, you must control your dog so that it does not disturb or scare farm animals or wildlife. On most areas of open country and common land, known as 'access land' you must keep your dog on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July, and all year round near farm animals.
  • You do not have to put your dog on a lead on public paths, as long as it is under close control. But as a general rule, keep your dog on a lead if you cannot rely on its obedience. By law, farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals.
  • If a farm animal chases you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead – don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it.
  • Take particular care that your dog doesn’t scare sheep and lambs or wander where it might disturb birds that nest on the ground and other wildlife – eggs and young will soon die without protection from their parents.
  • Everyone knows how unpleasant dog mess is and it can cause infections – so always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly. Also make sure your dog is wormed regularly to protect it, other animals and people.
  • At certain times, dogs may not be allowed on some areas of access land or may need to be kept on a lead. Please follow any signs. You can also find out more by phoning the Open Access Contact Centre on 0845 100 3298.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

RSPB Pulborough Brooks - Volunteers Summer BBQ

Every year the RSPB Pulborough Brooks hosts a summer BBQ as a 'thank you' for the volunteers.  The weather hadn't be great today, so I was expecting this year's event to be undercover or at least the possibility that we were going to get wet.  However, arriving at the reserve the sun was out, although showers loomed on the horizon.

The BBQ was in full swing cooking up the burgers and sausages for later.  We assembled and set off in three groups to survey the heathland area.  Paul - one of the wardens talked us through the changes that have been made so far and the plans for it's long term development.

A number of trees have already been felled and the idea is to return it to heathland over time.  Highland cattle have been grazing in the central fenced area and have done a good job of trampling the bracken and opening up areas.  The black pond at the bottom of the hill is a great attraction for dragonflies, although it's dark, peaty water doesn't look very appealing.

More felling later in the year will clear areas and thin out denser woodland but leaving some specimen trees and a few dead ones for interest.  There are some old oaks around the edge of the heathland, down near the pond and apparently, if you clear everything around them too quickly they can go into shock and die, so the trees will be thinned gradually.

Paul also explained their plans to introduce a series of ponds and streams running down the hill, great for more dragonflies and to channel the rain water which tends to just pour straight down the hill.  Where the vehicle tracks have disturbed the soil you can already see the heather starting to come through.  Give it a few years and the area will look completely different.

They've started coppicing the sweet chestnut again which will improve the area for wood larks and nightjar and you can see the difference between the two newly coppiced areas and the thicker stems in the old coppiced area.

Back to the Visitor's Centre and some us walked down to The Hanger to look out for barn owls.  They've been making a regular appearance between 6-7pm  on recent evenings.  Inevitably with dozens of binoculars trained on the brooks this evening wasn't one of them, although it was turning in to a lovely evening.

Back for food and a brief chat with the others volunteers who were already done with eating.  Many of them are regulars on the working parties, so I rarely see them except for these events.  Finishing off with a few long service awards and thank-yous.

Those of us who were left and still keen, headed back out to the heathland at around 9.00pm to listen out for the nightjars.  We stood at the edge of the new chestnut coppice with a view of one of the favoured singing perches and waited.  Shortly after we arrived one churred close by and then stopped.  A small bat (pipestrelle?) was flying past above our heads.  There were a few distant churrings heard and still we waited.  A couple of people could wait no more and went off home.

Finally at about 10.00pm, just after another person had dropped out - we had a great view as one flew over our heads to the perch and proceeded to churr loudly, readjusting itself and then carrying on for several minutes.  A great end to the evening and worth staying for.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Countryside Code: 3. Protect Plants And Animals And Take Your Litter Home

A series of posts relating to the Countryside Code as published by Natural England to help us all to respect, protect and enjoy our countryside.

Protect plants and animals and take your litter home

We have a responsibility to protect our countryside now and for future generations, so make sure you don't harm animals, birds, plants or trees.
  • Litter and leftover food doesn't just spoil the beauty of the countryside, it can be dangerous to wildlife and farm animals and can spread disease - so take your litter home with you. Dropping litter and dumping rubbish are criminal offences.
  • Discover the beauty of the natural environment and take special care not to damage, destroy or remove features such as rocks, plants and trees. They provide homes and food for wildlife, and add to everybody's enjoyment of the countryside.
  • Wild animals and farm animals can behave unpredictably if you get too close, especially if they're with their young - so give them plenty of space.
  • Fires can be as devastating to wildlife and habitats as they are to people and property - so be careful not to drop a match or smouldering cigarette at any time of the year. Sometimes, controlled fires are used to manage vegetation, particularly on heaths and moors between October and early April, so please check that a fire is not supervised before calling 999.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Countryside Code: 2. Leave Gates And Property As You Find Them

A series of posts relating to the Countryside Code as published by Natural England to help us all to respect, protect and enjoy our countryside.

Leave gates and property as you find them

Please respect the working life of the countryside, as our actions can affect people's livelihoods, our heritage, and the safety and welfare of animals and ourselves.
  • A farmer will normally leave a gate closed to keep livestock in, but may sometimes leave it open so they can reach food and water. Leave gates as you find them or follow instructions on signs. If walking in a group, make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates.
  • If you think a sign is illegal or misleading such as a 'Private - No Entry' sign on a public footpath, contact the local authority.
  • In fields where crops are growing, follow the paths wherever possible.
  • Use gates, stiles or gaps in field boundaries when provided - climbing over walls, hedges and fences can damage them and increase the risk of farm animals escaping.
  • Our heritage belongs to all of us - be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites.
  • Leave machinery and livestock alone - don't interfere with animals even if you think they're in distress. Try to alert the farmer instead.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

BBC Springwatch

If you haven't already tuned into a daily dose of Springwatch, you're missing a treat.  We're in to week two and we've already watched beavers, dippers, otters, red kites, barn owl chicks, blue tits, pied flycatchers, sandpipers, oyster catchers, buzzards on the webcams and a real treat - the first osprey chicks to hatch out in Wales - three of them currently.

I really have to say a huge thank you to the team that pull together this magical TV every evening.  There's a mix of live footage and recordings of what's been happening during the day, interspersed with documentary and features.

The star of the show has to be the Ynys-hir RSPB reserve, which is where they're based this year.  Stunning scenery, a varied environment and great wildlife.  But we also get to see other areas around the UK with a guest presenter each week.  Last week it was beavers in Knapdale Forest, this week puffins and manx shearwaters on Skomer and next week a rubbish dump in Essex!

Thank you BBC and the RSPB.

Join the fun on Twitter with @BBC_Springwatch.  Watch the live webcams for the other 23 hours when it's not on.
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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Countryside Code: 1. Be Safe, Plan Ahead And Follow Any Signs

A series of posts relating to the Countryside Code as published by Natural England to help us all to respect, protect and enjoy our countryside.

Be safe, plan ahead and follow any signs

Even when going out locally, it's best to get the latest information about where and when you can go. For example, your rights to go onto some areas of open land may be restricted while work is carried out, for safety reasons, or during breeding seasons. Follow advice and local signs, and be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Refer to up-to-date maps or guidebooks, for details of open access land visit the maps pageexternal link on this website or contact local information centresexternal link.
  • You are responsible for your own safety and for others in your care, so be prepared for changes in weather and other events. Visit our countryside directory for links to organisations offering specific advice on equipment and safety, or contact visitor information centresexternal link and libraries for a list of outdoor recreation groups.
  • Check weather conditionsexternal link before you leave, and don't be afraid to turn back.
  • Part of the appeal of the countryside is that you can get away from it all. You may not see anyone for hours, and there are many places without clear mobile phone signals, so let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return.
  • Get to know the signs and symbols used in the countryside. Visit our finding your way pages on the website for more information.
  • If you’re looking for ideas, explore our things to do pages.

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