Has being ‘green’ lost all meaning? As far as the government is concerned, on the basis that actions speak louder than words, then the answer is unequivocally yes. Back in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron famously said he wanted the coalition administration to be “the greenest government ever”, and last year boldly declared that his aim had been achieved. But even the briefest analysis of the coalition’s track record demonstrates otherwise.
The latest example in a long line of government failures in this area is the controversial expansion of Lydd Airport, on the doorstep of bird-rich Dungeness and Romney Marsh in Kent, which has been given the go-ahead (see page 8 in the May 2013 issue). In an area recognised globally for the importance of its birds, this decision “opens the door to real damage … to its wildlife and the quality of life for many of its residents”, as so appropriately put by the RSPB. Nor is this the only airport battle in the offing: plans for a Thames Estuary airport off the north coast of the same county, successfully opposed a decade ago, have also been refloated and publicly backed by the Mayor of London.
The Lydd Airport fiasco follows a host of green ‘achievements’ of which the government can scarcely be proud. The failure to ban neonicotinoid insecticides implicated in the population crash of bees; a U-turn on ludicrous plans to cull Common Buzzards; the highly controversial Badger cull, deferred but now rescheduled; inaction over the introduction of a vicarious liability offence in England for the deliberate persecution of protected raptors – it’s more like a charge sheet than the CV of an environmentally aware prime minister. In an opinion poll last year just 2 per cent of the public believed the ‘greenest government’ claim: this latest environmentally disastrous decision shows that the view of the rest of us is absolutely correct.
By Dominic Mitchell
Photo: Lydd Airport in Kent by Simon Carey (commons.wikimedia.org).
Posted by Birdwatch
Last month (August 2012), long-time Birdwatch contributor Chris Harbard visited Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California, to look for endemics. Here’s how he fared ...
3 August 2012
I'm back in California again and have just spent a day at a very special place, seeing a very special bird, with a very special birder. The place is Santa Cruz Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California. It is special because of the amount of endemism there, a mere 20 miles offshore. It is the only place in the world where you can see that very special bird, Island Scrub-Jay.
Scrub-jays are ten-a-penny (cent?) in California, but they are all Western Scrub-Jays. Despite being common they are delightful, if noisy, birds. Like so many corvids they have a character and charm of their own and I always take delight in watching them. At some time in the far distant past they reached Santa Cruz Island, where they established themselves, becoming isolated and developing separately from the mainland species. They are not found on any of the other Channel Islands and have never been recorded on the mainland, nor have Western Scrub-Jays been recorded there. This endemic species is larger than its commoner cousin and altogether brighter, bluer, blacker and just breathtaking.
As well as the above speciality, the island positively abounds with endemic subspecies (future armchair ticks perhaps?). In the space of a couple of hours I was able to see Orange-crowned Warbler sordida, Pacific-slope Flycatcher insulicola and Bewick's Wren nesophilus; four other endemics proved elusive.
One of the greatest delights was to be greeted by the rare Santa Cruz form of the endemic Island Fox. This tiny creature was almost the first living thing we saw as we disembarked from the boat. It wandered past seemingly untroubled by our group which stood only 20 yards away. Related to Grey Fox, it has a beautiful orange-red colour to its neck and ears, and is smaller than any fox I have seen.
Getting to and from the islands can be exciting and although early August is not the best time, the three hours at sea did produce hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters, one Pink-footed Shearwater, Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots and both Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes, as well as a young Brown Pelican that crashed onto the boat and landed literally in someone's arms.
And the special birder? Well also on the trip was a young lad sporting a fine pair of Swarovskis and a Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology T-shirt which identified him as one of the 10 young birders from across the United States selected for a special event at Cornell that takes place annually. His name was Alex Burdo, a 15-year-old from Connecticut, whose father was taking him on a trip around California to see as many new birds as possible. His favourite bird is the Florida Scrub-Jay (hence the name of his excellent blog Flight of the Scrub-Jay, http://floridascrubjay.wordpress.com), and so a visit to see its rare relative was a given.
We got talking about seabirds, and having mentioned Birdwatch magazine in passing, I then talked about the Wilson's Storm-Petrel photos posted from Maine by 'my editor'. “Oh, is that Dominic?” he replied. “I love his blog.” I was stunned that a young birder from the US would be so well informed, but he is no ordinary young birder. He began birding at the age of five, is now president of the Connecticut Young Birders Club and has won awards for his birding and commitment to conservation. He is exceptionally knowledgeable – and not just about North American birds – and shares his knowledge in a delightfully casual and adult way. But more than that, he is everything that birding should be about, and gives me such hope for the future of birding and birds.
Image: Island Scrub-Jay by Chris Harbard
Posted by Birdwatch
After many weeks and months of hard work, yesterday (3 November) marked the public opening the London Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition. I visited the gallery the previous day and was hugely impressed, both by the variety of art on show and the effort that must have gone into producing the exhibition. Ceri Levy and his team had worked all weekend to put the show together, and they certainly pulled it off.
Ceri is better known as a film-maker. It was during making The Bird Effect that he researched conservation and discovered BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions programme. He was so impressed that he decided he wanted to do more than simply mention it in the film. And so the Ghosts of Gone Birds project was born.
A huge range of artists, writers and musicians have produced work for the project, including groundbreaking artist Ralph Steadman, the Gorillaz’ Jamie Hewlett, novelist Margaret Atwood and Society of Wildlife Artists President Harriet Mead. Each contributor chose an extinct bird to portray. As you can imagine, the Dodo is well represented, but you’ll also find Great Auk, Passenger Pigeon, Labrador Duck, King Island Emu and much more.
The exhibition is truly impressive. The number and variety of work on show is huge – from Harriet Mead’s wonderful scrap-metal sculptures to watercolours, prints, a knitted Great Auk and even sound recordings.
Personal highlights were the wonderful Ralph Steadman room, with 100 new paintings featuring Dodo, Pallas’s Cormorant, Martinique Amazon Parrot and Guadaloupe Caracara, as well as some birds you’ll not have heard of before, and for different reasons, Crime Scene Malta. The latter is a bird shape marked out on the floor with crime scene tape. Inside the tape are hundreds of spent cartridges left behind by hunters, as well as photos of shot birds all taken this year. Most of the birds didn’t survive their injuries. It’s a sobering piece and brings home just how important this exhibition is.
The exhibition runs until 23 November at the Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, London E2 7ES. It’s about a five-minute walk from Shoreditch High Street overground station. Entry is free, so there’s no excuse not to go. Many of the works are on sale and there are posters, colouring books, postcards and so on to buy. Proceeds go to the Preventing Extinctions programme.
By Rebecca Armstrong
Image: Pallas's Cormorant by Ralph Steadman
Posted by Birdwatch
The Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition opens to the public tomorrow (21 October 2011), and I was lucky enough to be invited along to this morning’s press preview.
More than 100 images are on display, arranged by subjects such as Animals in their Environment, Underwater World, Animal Portraits and, of course, Behaviour: Birds. This year’s judges included TV presenter Mark Cawardine and Birdwatch contributor Marcus Varesvuo. They had the task of choosing the winning and commended photos from some 41,000 entries – a job that seems both impossible and hugely enjoyable to me!
The photos, as you’d expect, are amazing. There are a couple of entries from Bence Mate, who we’ve featured in the magazine previously, and special mention has to go the young photographers. With entries from children as young as 10, there are some truly inspiring photos in the young photographer categories.
Two things struck me while wandering round the exhibition. First, the incredible patience of the photographers. Some of them – including the kids – waited hours or even days for the right shot, often in freezing or wet conditions (or both!). When we see the end results we often don’t appreciate the hard work that goes into getting that perfect shot, so reading the information given with each photo was occasionally very eye opening.
The second thing was rather sadder, and encapsulated by the winner of the Behaviour: Mammals category – a swimming Polar Bear. The number of species photographed that are endangered or facing hardships due to human interference such as climate change or oil spills. The overall winner was Daniel Beltra with Still Life in Oil – a striking image of eight Brown Pelicans rescued from an oil spill. These birds were saved; many more aren’t.
The exhibition is on at the Natural History Museum in London and runs till 11 March 2012, after which it tours the world. See www.nhm.ac.uk/wildphoto for details.
The image shown is The Assassin, by British photographer Steve Mills, winner of the Behaviour: Birds category. See http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/gallery/album.asp?id=1657 for a larger version and a small selection of my favourite shots. (Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year is owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine.)
By Rebecca Armstrong
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Posted by Birdwatch
Suffolk. Overshadowed by Norfolk in terms of popularity with birders and probably underbirded as a result. But, from a habitat perspective, its coastal strip has much in common with its neighbour, retaining the same East Anglian charm and allure. Windswept shingle beaches, Marram Grass, saltmarsh and flint cottages – it’s all there and waiting to be explored.
I’m here this week for a break with the family, the weather is beautiful so far – so not a lot of birding time is likely. I am, however, getting some in. Staying in Aldeburgh and off to a bad start from day one. A Black-winged Stilt is reported from the Eric Hosking Hide on Hazelwood Marshes, just two miles away – a hide with views over the flat expanse of the Alde Estuary and one which I have visited on numerous occasions in the past. The stilt’s visit is fleeting. Even the locals don’t catch up with it before it flies off down river, never to be seen again, so I’m in good company.
It doesn’t matter, though. There are still reasonable numbers of other waders to look at, the best of which is a fine, full summer-plumaged, ‘black-as-your-hat’ Spotted Redshank along with two or three others, which aren’t quite up to scratch, plumagewise.
Back on Aldeburgh beach the gathering numbers of fearless Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls provide an up-close-and-personal opportunity to get to grips with individuals of almost all ages for a feather-by-feather ageing analysis. These birds are scavengers, the boldest of which would take food from your hand – if you were allowed to feed them, that is. The local council classifies them as pests and anyone caught encouraging them is likely to find themselves facing a £2,500 fine!
One of my favourite areas is nearby Thorpeness which, apart from some established and interesting old buildings, small houses and lightweight tourist attractions, consists of a cluster of beach cottages hunkered down in the dunes, surrounded by patchy scrub and low, wind-battered trees. The area around the nearby caravan site has also held some impressive birds over the years with Icterine, Marsh, Barred, Yellow-browed, Pallas’s and Greenish Warblers all putting in appearances.
But this is July … and the best I can manage is a Spoonbill at North Warren, the RSPB reserve which extends from Aldeburgh to Thorpeness. It’s distant, it’s hazy but it’s ‘bird of the week’ for me … so far.
Posted by Birdwatch
The Birdwatch team share their birding stories
Want to read my old blog entries? Browse through an achive of all my posts below:
- April 2013 (1 post)
- September 2012 (1 post)
- November 2011 (1 post)
- October 2011 (1 post)
- July 2011 (1 post)
- June 2011 (1 post)
- May 2011 (2 posts)
- April 2011 (2 posts)
- March 2011 (4 posts)
- February 2011 (2 posts)
- January 2011 (3 posts)
- October 2010 (2 posts)
- September 2010 (1 post)
- August 2010 (4 posts)
- July 2010 (6 posts)
- June 2010 (9 posts)
- May 2010 (8 posts)
- April 2010 (14 posts)
- March 2010 (13 posts)