Ranging west Sutherland

Globe was south of Loch Urigill at start of month, then SE of Scourie on 7th December, as far north of Arkle on 20th; at Christmas was around her parents’ home range, at one time just 4 km from her original nest.

As usual

Two non-GPS signals from the Foinaven SPA

Usual two area locations across Sutherland

Loyal was in home territory from 5th to 8th December in the Moine/Loch Eriboll area, then went to the Kinbrace area until 17th. She then headed NW, roosted just SW of Rhiconich on 18th/19th December, and spent Christmas period around Cape Wrath. A range of 1200 square kms

Ranging is Deeside and Angus

Mackay was just SW of Glen Clova on 4th/5th December and roosting in a wood north of Bridge of Dee on 6th and 11th December. Taking in non-GPS locations the range was 875 square kms

ranging in home range

Roxy’s amazing transmitter is still working and sending data; on 9th and 24th December she made flights south to the valley NW of Broad Law

The Deaf Birder’s Bird and the elusive Lynx

At dawn today it was snowing in the garden, and by the time I was ready to go for my morning walk nearly an inch of snow lay on the ground. I love walking in fresh snow as it gives me a chance to find out what unseen creatures are around. When I reached the edge of a nearby plantation, I could see that a young roe deer had crossed my path only minutes before, leaving a trail of black slots. Further up the track were the distinctive prints of a brown hare, louping up the road. On my return there was nothing new except dozens of tracks, etched in the snow, of a bird more usually obvious at dusk than at dawn. Last week, my wife and I walked this our favourite route just before sunset as dozens and dozens of pheasants were settling in the trees for their night roosts. The winter sun now sets in the southwest and the birds in the leafless birches were outlined against a golden sunset. As we walked, some burst from the branches, others crowed loudly.

Nowadays, the ‘Deaf Birder’s Bird’, as Moira calls them – knowing that I now find it hard to hear the high-pitched calls of small passerines – is the commonest bird in our immediate vicinity, as thousands are reared for hunting. I could try closing my eyes and imagining that the sounds were in fact coming from great trees on beautiful mountain slopes in their native lands of Asia. This morning, though, I reflected on which prints, instead of theirs, I would really like to have seen crossing my morning path. That memory jog always takes me back to the mountain forests of Transylvania, where several times I have followed the tracks of brown bear and wolf, as well as the animal which, in that moment, I realised I would most like to see making tracks in the Scottish snows again: the Lynx. Many of us have talked for years about its reintroduction, ecologically simple but politically, it seems, impossible. We have to be fairer to nature, though: if we can host millions of pheasants, surely we can restore the long-lost lynx? So let’s get on with it and again allow us all the thrill of seeing those exciting paw prints padding along snowy forest tracks in Scotland.

Thanks to Stephane Regazzoni – trail camera shot French Jura

Insect Armageddon

Last evening at home I had a phone call from LBC radio station in London. Sophie asked if I would talk with Clive Bull about the ‘Insect Armageddon’ trending the news yesterday. Why me? – I guessed at this hour I could be found on a phone. Fortunately I had looked at the report by scientists on the 76% reduction in flying insect biomass in 27 years up to 2016 on 63 German nature reserves, so I did know the story – see in the journal Plos One. I also felt strongly connected to this news as I am old enough to remember car trips to the New Forest in the late 1950s when after 20 miles you’d have to scrape the windscreen clear of dead insects and from time to time clear the radiator grill. And that was also true in the Scottish Highlands in the 1960s. Just imagine what the reduction of flying insects really has been in the UK if you used 1950 or 1960 as the baseline not 1989. It’s truly disastrous.

Ornithologists are used to the severity of the declines – 97% of turtle doves gone since 1970. When I heard some singing in Andalusia this past April it reminded me of my childhood in rural Hampshire – what a loss to our enjoyment of the countryside to lose that gentle purring in the hawthorn hedges. Then don’t get me started but look at the appalling loss of grey partridges, corn buntings, yellowhammers, poppies, corn cockles and marigolds to the chemicalisation and intensification of agriculture since the 1960s. To understand these dramatic changes you must read Ian Newtown’s new book ‘Farming and Birds’ in the New Naturalist series. I’m two-thirds of the way through – it’s a brilliant read and a weighty tome (it’s also too heavy to read in bed!) which explores the whole history of farming and birds – the relationships good and bad – but details fully the dramatic changes due to the intensification of farming, the onslaught of a bewildering array of chemicals – insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, artificial fertilisers and the loss of wild plants, insects and soil ecosystems. Although individual chemicals are tested for impacts – the real problem is the cocktail of chemicals from intensive agriculture added to emissions from industry and the way we live, including acid rain.

It shocks me that scientific reports continually document the impacts on wildlife and the threat to future global ecosystems yet society seems unable to rein back the worst aspects of intensive agriculture. When I started working with wildlife in the early 1960s the immediate worry was the rapid declines of raptors such as peregrines and golden eagles. Scientists soon proved this was due to new chemicals used in sheep dips and agriculture. The conservation bodies, government and NGOs, demanded changes and within a reasonable time the offending chemicals were taken out of use, and the problems subsided. Why are demands for change not met nowadays – are the bodies less able or organised, are the politicians more negligent or are the chemical companies and the farming industry much stronger?

My very strong view is that we need immediate change not more research – governments and big business love research it means they don’t have to do anything NOW. And nature if given a chance can bounce back, even on farmland, as I saw when I again revisited Knepp Estate in Sussex. There 3500 acres of farmland were turned over to rewilding some 16 years ago and the return of nature has been fantastic – even turtle doves and nightingales, purple emperor butterflies and a childhood delight grasshoppers exploding as we walked through the long vegetation. My view is that for the sake of future generations and the planet we need to do that on a very big scale – not a field on a farm or a farm here and there, but big places – the South Downs, Salisbury Plain and other big ecosystems where nature takes precedence. In my mind, 40% seems about what is needed but a big hot potato to weigh up Society’s and the Earth’s long term needs against individual farming rights. But it has to be done.

Sea eagles on Sunday!

My friend Mike Crutch of A9 Birds invited me to join him and two Inverness birders, Sam and Debbie, on a day trip to Skye to photograph sea eagles. Although I have been involved in the reintroduction and conservation of white-tailed eagles since 1968 in Fair Isle, I’d never been on one of the amazing boat trips to feed them. I had seen loads of incredible photographs back to the earliest days of the 1990s off Portree.

Weather forecasts were poor in August until Steve Hooper of Wild Skye Bird Trips phoned Mike to say there’s a brief calm period on Sunday. As we drove through the Ross-shire mountains it was looking good and our arrival at Carbost pier revealed a calm sea. Soon the MV Wild Skye was heading through Loch Harport, with a distant view of a sea eagle, before passing the lighthouse and aiming for a section of the great western cliffs of the Isle of Skye. A perfect morning – we could see the hills of the Uists away over The Minch and two porpoises broke the glassy surface.

We headed to the main cliffs where very quickly we found the pair of sea eagles and their exceptional brood of three flying young. This pair of eagles, like many others around the coasts, learnt early on that fishing boats are good for scraps of fish. This was taken up by tourist boats giving people incredible views of these great birds and excellent opportunities for photography.

The boat engine was cut and we could hear the young eagles calling. The adults were looking down from the cliffs as they knew full well what happens next – Steve throws a dead fish well away from boat. “Here he comes” as the male plunged from the cliffs and in a sweep of huge wings grabbed the food from the water to the noise of camera shutters. What a fantastic sight – something I never foresaw when I released those first four young Norwegian sea eagles on Fair Isle in 1968. Close up sea eagle viewing has become one of the most exciting wildlife experiences in modern day Scotland.

In a sweep of huge wings the adult sea eagle grabbed the fish from the water (photo by Roy Dennis)

Listening to Steve’s enthusiasm for the sea eagles I thought of another era at this very same cliff. There were no sea eagles when I first visited Skye in the early 1960s but I knew of their sad history as I’d often read Harvie Brown’s county faunas written at the end of the 19th century. He detailed the sad history of persecution and extinction, as well as individual visits, such as the Victorian collector on 20th April 1868 to this very cliff, who took two eggs and shot an adult. As one of the adults circled out to sea to take a fish from the water with a backdrop of the dramatic sea stacks called Macleod’s Maidens, I thought how times have changed. There are now over a hundred pairs of white-tailed sea eagles in Scotland; they are admired and enjoyed by thousands of people, locals and visitors, and contribute remarkably to jobs and incomes in fragile rural communities.

 

 

 

Successful summer

Roxy reared her first young eaglet in 2017 and in last month has always been within 2.5 km of the nest site

Usual wandering in National Park

Mackay was north of Ben Avon in mid July and on 16th flew to the south edge of Glenfeshie Estate and north Perthshire until 2nd August, when flew to Brown Cow Hill.

July 13th to August 4th