Roy's blog

Altruism and profligacy

The jays are flying high again and that’s because it’s October. For the rest of the year they rather skulk around the woods yet you know they are there from their raucous calls. But now the oak trees are full of ripe acorns and that’s what the jays are harvesting. For some reason after they have stuffed four or five acorns into their gullets and they’ve got the last one gripped in their bills they leave the trees and fly high across the countryside instead of low into woods. I saw them yesterday morning when I was out for a walk and they were taking the acorns about three quarters of a mile to a scraggy area of small trees and grassland. This is where they must have been burying the future food supplies. But why do they fly so high, it cannot be that they want to know where they’re going, but I wonder if it’s to avoid predators. Jays feature regularly in the diet of goshawks living in the forests.

What that flight does do is to announce that the acorn harvest is underway. Jays collect prodigious amounts of acorns and spread them over such large areas of the countryside. Several thousands per individual and up to a mile or more away from the harvested tree. Of course most of the acorns are eaten, not necessarily all by jays but also by small rodents, but sufficient remain to allow new oak trees to grow in new places. The jays often hide them in bramble patches and  places with cover and that’s exactly where young oak trees prefer to grow because they get an early break from being browsed down. Jays only reached the North of Scotland thirty years or so ago and evidence of them moving oaks, and in a few places sweet chestnut, is really noticeable. As they fly day by day through the acorn season, the jays work hard in what is really a true act of altruism. Of course for their species planting acorns ensures that there are more oak trees in the future, but they, as individuals, are not going to benefit. But future jays will and so will an incredible number of species that benefit from the growth of oak trees. Even we do in many ways including the photosynthesis ability of oak trees to take in carbon and release oxygen.

As the jays start their autumn harvest, the red squirrels are finishing theirs. They have been so busy through September gathering hazelnuts from the grooves of hazel trees that grow along the bank below my house. They come from the pinewood about 100 yards across the road but there must be others as well from further afield that know that September is the month to gather nuts. Some days as I sit at my desk I watch them scurry back and for. They come round house, run across the lawn, climb up over my woodpile, through the lilac hedge and into the first hazel tree. I can see them clambering around in the upper branches and then in no time they return over the woodpile and across the lawn with a mouthful of hazelnuts. Usually they head off for the pinewood to store their haul of nuts in secret places.

But other days they just potter around on the lawn, choose places that seem to have no merit, then a quick little dig, a nut is pushed into the hole and the grass quickly patted down. Then onto the next. Some days they bury dozens. I never know how they find them again, but they certainly don’t find them all because young hazel trees are always popping up in unexpected places in the garden. And in many places in the surrounding land. The red squirrel is just such a great creator of new hazel trees, and another example in my view of altruism towards future squirrels, but how wildlife and we appreciate hazel thickets. When I was young I remember us, boys, searching for really good hazel sticks to make bows or catapults; while older people in the farming districts did an annual harvest of hazel wands to season for walking sticks and handles for various farm implements.

Last week while I was watching the first of the jays and the last of the squirrels carrying out their annual harvests, I listened with incredulity to a news report on the radio that a bottle of whisky had been sold at auction in Edinburgh for £840,750! I suppose my first question was why – the purchaser is not even going to drink it. My second thought was what a weird world we live in. Such a huge amount of money for an item of no true worth at a time when our planet needs every effort to prevent climate breakdown. That will require massive funds being redirected to conserve and restore planet Earth rather than profligate spending on luxury non-essentials of all kinds. I gather the whisky, which was specially bottled in 1986, had been made in Speyside in 1926. Then, at least, it would have been truly organic, the barley would most likely been grown on a mixed farm, with cattle, sheep and poultry, and horses to draw the plough and do the work on the farm. The rotational crops would have included barley, oats, turnips, potatoes and grass fields for making hay and for grazing. Annually, the fertile soils would have received farm manure and lime. Now those same fields that supply barley, for ever-increasing whisky production, are deep ploughed and instead of organic dung the crops grow due to copious supplies of artificial fertiliser and chemicals. Surely it’s essential we think more seriously about the future for most of present farming systems do not have long-term sustainability unlike the altruistic activities of the red squirrel and the jay.

33-year-old Golden Eagle – longest recorded ringed golden eagle in the world.

Way back in 1985, my diary for 30th June records that I was monitoring golden eagles in the north Inverness glens with my daughter Rona, home from Uni. We climbed to an eyrie near Cannich, which I had monitored for many years, and ringed a single eaglet – ZZ0005. I also attached two small yellow wing tags but the eagle was never identified alive. In fact like most ringed eagles nothing more was heard of it – until out-of-the-blue, I received two emails yesterday. One was from the BTO ringing scheme and the other from Gabriela Peniche, a PhD researcher on golden eagle health at the Dick Vet at Edinburgh University.

The remains of this eagle had been found near Loch Assynt in Sutherland on the 10th August and sent to the lab. It was thought it may have been dead for about 6 weeks and a male. The cause of death was unknown, but there was bruising in the skull and a suggestion of starvation. This is a ‘safe’ area for eagles, free from illegal persecution. My view is that a likely end to a very old breeding adult, of either sex, is to be defeated or killed during a challenge by a young adult to take over a nesting site. That’s how nature works for long-lived raptors.

The BTO Ringing Scheme longevity data gives the present longest recorded life of a ringed golden eagle as just over 16 years – a Kielder Forest chick 29th June 1991 found dead in the Scottish Borders 7th August 2007. In some ways this bird’s death stimulated the South of Scotland Golden Eagle recovery project started this year. In Europe, the Euring database records longevity records for two Swedish ringed golden eagles at 31 years and 32 years, while 23 years is the oldest record in the United States. So ZZ0005 at 33 years appears to be the oldest recorded ringed golden eagle in the wild in the world. There is a record of a captive one reaching 46 years, while very expert fieldwork on breeding pairs of golden eagles on the Isle of Skye by my old friends Kate Nellist and Ken Crane gave an annual adult survival rate of 97.5% suggesting that some adults could reach 40 years of age.

From its recovery location, it may have been the local breeding adult male living in a home-range some 90 kilometres north of its natal site. I know those local eyries from my eagle fieldwork in the 1970s and 1980s. By 2010 Doug Mainland had ringed 18 young at this location since 1990 (when ZZ0005 was five years old). On 17th June 2010 I visited the eyrie with Doug, Derek Spencer and Lorcan O’Toole, who collected one young for the Irish Reintroduction Project. The other eaglet, a male, was satellite tagged and named Suilven: to read more click here. There’s just a chance that ZZ0005 may have been its male parent. This eaglet ranged widely when young, even briefly visiting Skye but when sub-adult returned to an area just east of its natal nest. In the spring of 2015, when Suilven was 5 years old the transmitter fell off (as they are meant to do) and we guess he may still live and breed in that area of Sutherland. It’s lovely to think what a couple of emails can do and how worthwhile was that hike up the mountain in 1985. Bird ringing at its best.

Poole Harbour translocation – year two

Our planning and preparation for the second year of Poole Harbour Osprey Project, a partnership between the Foundation, Birds of Poole Harbour and Wildlife Windows, started at the end of winter when we checked nests that looked fragile the previous year, and others that had been damaged by winter storms. In early March 2018 we rebuilt two that were no longer usable and it was pleasing that both were subsequently used by ospreys on their return. In April we started our regular monitoring of about 50 sites in Moray, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey, and in northern Sutherland and Caithness. This year more than usual of the adult birds were either late or missing, almost certainly due to bad weather in Morocco and Iberia during migration.

Two nests were interfered with by pine martens taking them over in winter, with one of them becoming the den for young martens. Those that did breed had a good season because of the excellent weather, but this year there was a marked contrast between the normal broods and very late chicks due to the delay or loss of breeding adults. In late June our monitoring is aimed at identifying which nests have young, how many and what age. Last summer was the first year of the Poole Harbour translocation and so we only collected eight young to get the project started. 2017 was also the last year of the five-year project to reintroduce ospreys to the Basque Country of Spain and we were delighted this spring that two of the males had attracted females which laid eggs. One failed during incubation but the other pair have young close to fledging.

Checking and ringing a brood of three young ospreys. One of this brood was subsequently translocated to Poole (photo Emily Joáchim)

Two young Ospreys ready for translocation to Poole. The birds are moved when they are five-six weeks old.

Our licence from Scottish Natural Heritage allowed us to collect up to 14 chicks this year, and so the next task was to  plan how and when to collect them from nests containing two or three young throughout our study area, liaising with owners of private land holding osprey nests or on Forestry Commission forests. Our team includes two expert tree climbers, Ian and Fraser, while Emily Joáchim again took on the feeding of the young in special pens at my home. The chicks are fed fresh trout from Rothiemurchus Fishery. We aim to collect the birds in as short a time as possible, but our first nest was a disappointment as it contained only one young. Thankfully Monday and Tuesday 9th – 10th July turned out to be excellent days, with great help in particular from Alan Campbell of the Moray district of the Forestry Commission on Monday. By Tuesday lunchtime we had reached our total, with all chicks in excellent condition. This summer Brittany Maxted came north from Poole to learn this end of the project, and on Tuesday evening Tim drove the young ospreys south in special travelling boxes to a stop-over with Barry Dore and Jakkie Tunnicliffe in Staffordshire, where Brittany and Tim fed the chicks fresh trout for the next stage of the journey.

With temperatures in southern England soaring, Tim and Brittany set-off on the final leg to Poole early on Wednesday morning to avoid the worst of the heat. Thankfully the roads were clear and they arrived at the release pens on private land adjacent to Poole Harbour shortly before 1 pm. Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows had been busy constructing two new release pens to go with the three that we used last year, and we had already decided on the allocation for each pen, with the birds divided into groups of two or three of similar age according to wing length. The largest birds with the longest wings were places in pen 1 and the smallest in pen 5. This should ensure that we can release the birds in stages in a few weeks’ time according to when they are ready.

Having placed the birds in the relevant pens the team retreated to the monitoring caravan where Brittany and the group of volunteers monitor the birds via CCTV images. We were pleased that within a few hours all had fed on fresh fish kindly provided by local distributor Sea Fresh, and were settling in well. In fact the oldest two birds, 013 and 014 were already wing flapping strongly.

Paul Morton feeding the birds. Fish is placed into the pens through a flap at the rear in order to minimise human contact.

Over the past few days the birds have continued to be fed three times per day by the team. Fresh fish is cut up into thumbnail sized pieces and then placed on a paper plate that is passed through a hatch in the rear of each pen. This ensures that the birds are well fed prior to release, but that human contact is kept to an absolute minimum.

All being well the first birds will be ready to be released in about two weeks’ time and in the intervening period they will continue to be monitored closely.

We’re delighted that the second year of this exciting project to restore Ospreys to their former haunts on the South Coast of England is underway.

For the most recent updates on the Poole Harbour Osprey Project, please check out the Birds of Poole Habour website.

CCTV images from each pen allow the development of each bird to be carefully monitored (photo by Paul Morton)

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.

 

 

 

Osprey translocations – one completed, one new start

We’ve have had an incredibly busy few days here in the Scottish Highlands monitoring osprey nests, ringing the young and collecting ospreys for translocation projects.   In the last month we had some pretty awful weather including downpours in the first week in June; afterwards we found that two broods of young had died from exposure and lack of fish.  Careful monitoring in late June showed me that most pairs were active and had young.

Our team came together on Thursday with Tim and me on fieldwork, our ace tree climbers Ian and Fraser; Emily took on fish preparation and feeding duties, helped by my 8 year old daughter Phoebe, Aitor arrived from Bilbao and Moira held the fort and produced great meals and hospitality. Our first day was Thursday – 7 am to 9:30 pm, 340 miles round trip to Caithness and Sutherland meeting old and new friends,  collecting five young  ospreys,  identifying some old breeding adults from their colour rings and a lovely view of an adder.

Friday was the sort of day I dread – it rained overnight and we experienced on-and-off drizzle and Scotch mist throughout the day. Nevertheless we collected 6 young in east Moray and at two nests the male birds had been having trouble catching enough fish and one chick was well below weight.  So removing a sibling resulted in saving the other.  Once the chicks were in their compartments in my garage, with the other young, they were soon eating fresh trout, courtesy of Rothiemurchus fishery.  Next day we visited Badenoch & Strathspey and nests near my home and our total climbed to 15.

Checking chicks at a nest in Caithness

Sunday saw our last day of visits. One nest was an epic climb for Ian up a great Douglas fir and my tele-photos of the ospreys overhead showed the female was different to 2016. It was white ring PE – my old friend Morven which I caught and satellite tagged in 2008 – she winters on the Mauritania coast and her stop over is in an estuary in North Spain. Now one of her chicks will be released not far away near Bilbao. This is her third different nest – I guess she moved this spring because her old mate did not return until 2nd May and she got fed up waiting!  At our next nest we found that one of young was entangled in baler wrap collected from the field as nest material by the male.  I cut it off – if we had not visited the nest for a ringing it would’ve died.  Not the first time I’ve seen this.

Expert tree climber Ian reaches another nest.

Careful consideration is given before selecting chicks for translocation.

Morven (white/black PE) circling over her nest – one of her chicks will be translocated to the Basque Country.

That gave us twelve chicks for the Basque country project at Urdaibai estuary near Bilbao and as I write Aitor and the young ospreys are at Heathrow en route to Spain. This is the completion of the translocation part of our project; five years and 60 young. It was great to learn of the first pair established at a nest this summer, as well as 6 males in North Spain and another in France. In two hours time the other eight ospreys will be taken by Tim and Emily to Poole Harbour, where Paul and Jason have the new accommodation, hacking cages, all organised. A very exciting new project, with the team in Dorset, to restore breeding ospreys to the south coast estuaries; we can say then that the “mullet hawk” has truly returned.

A brood of three young ospreys. The bird on the right will be translocated to Poole.

It’s a real privilege to work on these projects and as I say, in present-day jargon, our principal stakeholder is the osprey itself – that’s why we take such care of them. And then there is the support and friendship with so many people to make these projects work including Jane, Robert, Duncan, Brian, Derry, Alan, Malcolm, Mike, Pete, Ben, Gabriella, Jason and Paul.

The osprey collection team 2017 (Aitor, Ian, Roy, Moira, Phoebe, Emily and Tim) (photo by Mike Crutch)

Appalling rain, sodden ospreys, vulnerable chicks

Yesterday was the most appalling day of rain; it started overnight and just kept just bucketing down all day. By evening the small river across from my house was a raging torrent and as I looked out into the gloom before going to my warm bed, I just could not help but think of the female ospreys on their tree top nests trying to keep their young ones warm and alive. I was sure they would have been absolutely soaked and they would need to be really good mothers to keep the chicks sheltered. And the males would find it really difficult to find fish in the flooded waters. This morning the rain was still pouring down and everywhere was flooded. At least I knew from the weather forecast that it was due to stop at midday, but the female ospreys didn’t and they just had to sit there crouched over the young, open to the elements.

At midday it did stop, within an hour there was a nice breeze, and soon the sun came out. Late afternoon I decided I would go round and monitor the nests in the closest part of Moray to my house. At the first nest, B01 – what I still call Logie’s old nest, the male was perched in the sunshine on his favourite dead Scots pine and his mate was carefully feeding her young in the top of the larch tree. Already their feathers were dry and he had obviously just brought in a fish. The young at this nest are under a week old so I could see her putting tiny bits of fish down into the nest but I did not see her chicks. At the next site, the female was stretching her wings above the nest, quickly brought a small stick back and added it to her big eyrie and then shuffled back to keep her brood warm. Next stop it was domestic bliss in the tall tree by a barley field; female feeding young and her mate perched on the side of the nest – he again must have just brought home a fish. It was beautiful watching them through my telescope against the evening sun.

I next checked on Morven, an old well-known female. She was the last one to lay eggs in this area and when I scoped her nest from my car I could not see anything. But then just the white top of her head poked above the edge of the nest. She was sitting very tight incubating eggs and keeping very low down in her nest. At the next site, the earliest breeder in this area, the chicks must have been recently fed for they were lying quiet in the nest while their mother stood on the edge preening her feathers. My final visit was to the eyrie used for many years by Beatrice; the new female there was sitting high in the nest and she was brooding very small young. Six pairs of ospreys and all had come through the appalling weather safely. These female ospreys really have to put up with some bad weather and I’m always impressed by how well they protect their young from very heavy rain – I’m told we had 2 inches in 24 hours!  But what I do know is that if heavy rain continues for more than two days and nights, young ospreys do die in their nests. Thankfully not this time.

New beginnings

Last month I spent a few days in the Basque country to see how the Osprey reintroduction project was progressing with my colleague there, Aitor Galarza. So far this year they have recorded six translocated ospreys returning from Africa to the estuaries on the Bay of Biscay – all of them males. In April, the male which has been guarding a nest in Urdaibai reserve, exactly where the young Scottish ospreys were released, attracted a female Osprey to stop. All looked good, she was on the nest for some days and blue N1 was excellent at providing fish, but after feeding up she left him and flew on north. A big disappointment but we have seen this happen before in other projects, such as the translocation of Scottish ospreys to Rutland Water in the late 90’s. It’s always a question of patience and suddenly a female will decide to stay and the recolonisation of lost breeding areas begins. The first female to breed at Rutland Water was not one that we translocated, but one that was persuaded to stop off on her journey north by displaying males with nests.

Tim Mackrill was one of those who saw these things happen. He started at Rutland Water as a volunteer when he was at school; then went on to do a degree at the University of East Anglia and subsequently join the staff at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. By this time I knew him as “young Tim” as opposed to my great friend Tim Appleton the founder and manager of Rutland Water Nature Reserve – who to me was “old Tim” – I should have said “older Tim”. We got to know Tim better when he came north to research a dissertation on the fishing strategies of ospreys in the Highlands for his university degree. More recently, I was delighted that he researched the mass of satellite tracking data that we had built up on ospreys migrating from UK to West Africa – including the very first use of satellite transmitters in 1999 and our ground-breaking use of GPS and GSM transmitters with Google Earth mapping and immediate display on our websites. This resulted in Tim gaining his Ph.D. at University of Leicester. I was then very excited that he asked to join my foundation to help us carry out exciting projects on birds and mammals. It’s a new beginning for us and I am so happy that the future looks bright as I get older – we have changed our name to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to reflect our broader reach and it would be great if you would like to help us continue with our bold and proactive projects. Click here to find out how you can help.

Over last weekend, I got good news from North Spain. When Brian Etheridge and I were there in May, Aitor showed us some estuaries further to the west where two males were located. We met Carlos, a local birder, at an estuary holding a single male and encouraged him to get his man-made nest up quickly. Within days we learnt that the male took it over, started adding nest material and then attracted a potential mate – an unringed female – his photo to right. Let’s hope she likes the plentiful mullet and this male, and that next spring she will return – it’s too late to breed this year. Another step in the project started by Aitor and his colleagues to restore ospreys to North Spain. We are proud to be partners.

The New and the Old

Today, I was out early in a beautiful May morning to see one of my favourite sights and that’s the spring gathering of Arctic ringed plovers at my local estuary, Findhorn Bay. The reason I enjoy it so much is that they are so vibrant and full of life. Today’s flock numbered about 1000 birds mainly ringed plovers but also a good scattering of summer plumage dunlin and four sanderlings. They allow quite a close approach and you can see them feeding busily at the surface of the mud and every now and then one of them would jump up with a few flutters of its wings like kids wanted to get started with the race. I know that tonight or a few nights time the flock will take off, head north up over Scotland and then out over the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland and on to their Arctic breeding grounds in Greenland. It’s a privilege to see them on migration as it just gives me a lovely feeling of the world on the move and freshness of new life.

When back home at breakfast I received a phone call from a friend who told me that his father died overnight. His name was Reay Clark, he was 94 years old, and for me it has been a privilege to know him over the years. He was a farmer in Easter Ross and Sutherland, but much more than that he knew so much about farming and trees and land-use and people. He was one of my mentors in the 1980s and 90s when I wanted to know more about farming in the Highlands – I remember talking with him about the importance of cattle in improving the land in so many different ways when I was writing a document about cattle and conservation. In fact, Reay knew exactly what ‘keeping a farm in good heart’ really meant; sadly far too few farmers know what that means nowadays. A couple years back, when he was over 90, I called in at his farmhouse at Edderton and found him surrounded by books with boxes of papers on the floor. He was researching and writing a book about Cheviot sheep and his ancestors in north Sutherland. When published it was a fascinating history of that era in Highland life. I and many others will miss his wise words and friendship.