October, 2012

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Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • Telling the difference between the Full Monty and a Hen

    Blogger: Alex Cooper, Conservation Officer

    It’s not often you get the opportunity to see Britain’s rarest bird of prey. So when some friends said they were going to watch a pair near where they lived and asked if I wanted to come along I jumped at the opportunity.

    Part of the reason Montagu’s harriers have never been common in the UK is because they are on the northern edge of their range. Along with other birds of prey they were persecuted in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries. Their population is also thought to have declined during the 1950s due to the widespread use of organochloride pesticides, such as DDT. Their rarity, with only a few pairs in the UK, has made them a target for egg collectors.

    I will not pretend I was able to tell the difference between Montagu’s and Hen harriers, but luckily I was with someone who could.

    As they are so rare it felt rather like being on an undercover operation. In order to protect them from egg collectors their nesting locations have to be kept secret. So when a passer-by asked us ‘if there was any interesting birds around’ we replied casually ‘ no not much at this time of year’. When we arrived there was initially a bit of shock because the field where the birds were meant to be was being ploughed. However, to our relief when we got closer we realised that two blocks had been left uncut, and we assumed an agreement had been reached with the farmer to leave these because this was the location of the nest site. Nesting in cereal crops makes montagu’s particularly vulnerable to toxic sprays and harvesting machinery.

    It was fantastic to watch the female harriers gliding gracefully across the fields and then landing on a fence post and perching. Getting my ID skills in I noticed that they do look a bit smaller than Hen harriers. The females are brown with a whitish rump and later when we saw the male there was a noticeable difference in colour. It was pale grey with black wing bars and wing tips and had a grey rump.

      Hen harrier

     Male Montagu's harrier

     Female Montagu's harrier

     So as not to confuse matters this is a Marsh harrier

    Overall it was an amazing day sat in the sunshine and I felt extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to see such a spectacular member of the Great British wildlife. I would highly recommend getting outdoors this week, enjoying a walk in the countryside and seeing what you can find.

    Images by Mike Langman (rspb images) and photo by Andy Hay

  • Computer says 'No'....

    Blogger - Aggie Rothon

    I’ve been on the phone for thirty minutes. At some point between last Thursday and today my computer has taken one of my files, chewed it up and spat it out, but without telling me why. I don’t understand what caused this sudden rage and neither it seems does the IT consultant that I have phoned, hoping that she will be able to mediate the virtual conversation I am struggling to hold. Unfortunately, the computer appears to be in ‘grumpy teenager’ mode and no amount of encouragement or bargaining by either of us will tempt it to play ball.

    Still, there is some solidarity to be gained from trying to solve the unsolvable in company rather than on one’s own, and if anything can be taken from my otherwise wasted thirty minutes it is the cheerful banter batted between myself and the consultant as we peered together in to the vast and unknowable world that is Information Technology.

    It is easy to waste time in front of a computer screen. The black-hole of error messages, lost files and sudden, unexplained, ‘rebooting’ can suck time away. The vast, complicated web that is the internet, primed to catch you in its never-ending net is the time-wasters nirvana and the town-shy shopper’s heaven.

    So, every hour that I have to spend in front of the computer I try to compensate with two hours in the natural world. I find that no amount of time feeling the weather on your skin, and watching nature and the seasons roll by is ever wasted.

    This morning we had the first autumn frost; it glittered in the early morning light. Half an hour spent outside left my fingers nipped by cold. This is the time for the thin calls of redwings as they dip across the chill sky and fieldfares chattering along the stubble margins. It is the time for the comforting taste of blackberry and apple crumble and the smell of wood smoke curling from neighbouring chimneys.  It is the time for the best sunlight of the year; orange-gold sunsets filtered through hedgerows and copses as you walk home in the late afternoon. It is the time that the trees are gilded crimson and bronze and you can see your own breath disappearing in misty plumes.

    Autumn is a time of great natural beauty and something not to be missed. So as soon as I finish typing this I shall stick to my word. I will turn off this computer and forget my lost file.  I shall return to the village and to the local schools Harvest Festival. There I shall join real voices in celebrating the turning of the seasons and the bounty of the natural world.

    As featured in the Easter Daily Press Saturday 13 October

  • Rainforests in the East - Diary Post #5: Did you see Avatar?

    Blogger: Niki Williamson, Fenland farmland bird recover officer at Ouse Washes.

    The final blog in the series of rainforest stories inspiring people  around the Together for Trees campaign comes from Borneo.  To date Together for Trees bucket collections have raised £ 52,000 nationally, the East have relieved £9,990.43 so far. A HUGE thank you to staff who have taken part in collections, telemarketing and wonderful rainforest blogging.

    I saw it just a few weeks after returning from Danum Valley Forest Reserve in Borneo, and felt instant recognition for the incredible world crammed full of weird and wonderful plants and critters. After all, you could argue it’s really only an accident of evolution that our animals have four legs instead of six and we are not all twelve foot tall and blue.

    A primary forest is certainly an inspirational place to be.  But it’s more than just the assault on the eyeballs of the plant diversity, or the constant cacophony of insect and bird noise.

    The atmosphere is literally alive with things eating each other and mating with each other and striving to live.  My husband’s no tree-hugger, but even he commented that such unfathomable intensity of life seemed to cause tangible electricity in the air, making the hairs on your neck stand up despite the stifling heat. 

    Equatorial forests receive so much of the sun’s energy and create so many niches for life it’s almost like you can feel things evolving around you.

    And at the top of this teetering pyramid of insane chance existences – Borneo’s unique primates.  Not twelve foot tall and blue, but just as spectacular:

    The Orang Utan, the sombre old man of the forest, now only found on Borneo and Sumatra - melancholy, wise, and capable of ripping a human in half with its bare hands.  This one threw sticks at us, and who can blame it.

    The endemic Bornean White-bearded Gibbon - inquisitive, mischievous, and fast as hell.  Their crazy, flailing limbs have specially adapted joints that allow them to fling themselves through the canopy at 35 miles an hour, often spanning 15m gaps with a single swinging leap. 

    And who could ignore the outrageous mangrove-dwelling Proboscis Monkey, the world’s weirdest primate - loud, tetchy, and flamboyant with a cartoon nose that turns red in anger.  You couldn’t make ‘em up.

    Imaginative as the forests of Pandora may be, in the end nothing rivals the forests of Earth for their richness and preciousness.  James Cameron took 15 years to create his forests.  Ours took countless millions of years and are completely irreplaceable.