Weekly update from Stuart Benn, RSPB Conservation Manager in North Scotland.
The Eagle has Landed
I had to paint a ceiling at the weekend but, whilst it took Michelangelo four years to manage that with the Sistine Chapel, I was done in a couple of hours. And with the days drawing out, that still left plenty of time to get out on to the hill to see how the eagles were doing.
Although my observations are interesting, they become much more important when added to everybody else’s efforts and it all helps to build up a picture of how eagles are doing across Scotland. And people giving up their time and expertise like this is replicated not just across birds but other wildlife and habitat management too- not to mention the million and one other ways that folk get involved with volunteering.
Getting info and work like this done just wouldn’t happen if it all had to be paid for. Fortunately for us, people volunteer because they enjoy it and a big part of that is the social dimension. I love hearing about everyone else’s eagle experiences, their joys and frustrations and you get to see some great images too. How about this one that I was sent at the start of the week?!
Pic of Golden eagle and rising moon by Ronan Dugan
Unfortunately, Golden eagles are still largely hill birds in the UK – restricted to the places where they are left alone. The situation is slowly improving but we’ve got a long way to go and a look to the continent shows how things could be.
Last autumn, we spent a couple of week’s holiday in Southern Scandinavia and Northern Germany and one of things I wanted to see most was the breeding Golden eagles of Denmark. Yes, Denmark – flat, agricultural and seemingly as far away from our idea of what eagles need as it is possible to imagine.
But it’s true, Golden eagles now nest in Denmark and we watched them hunting across fields – it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and it completely changed my view as to where birds and other wildlife can live if we just give them the chance.
Golden eagle habitat – Denmark style
So, if you were a volunteer at Denmark’s Lille Vildmose you would be able to look up from sea level and see Golden eagles and Cranes flying overhead. Cranes are increasing in numbers in the UK and are moving north under their own steam so we just need to couple that with a more enlightened view towards eagles and, hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can look up and see them both in the lowlands of the Scottish Highlands! What a sight that would be!
In his weekly blog Stuart Benn, Conservation Manager in north Scotland, discusses a little known connection between bird song and house music.
Here in the north, there’s a battle going on between Winter and Spring. I was out on the hill on Sunday and it was as wild a day as I’ve known – storm force winds that made walking a real effort and when it started snowing it was like getting tiny needles blasted into your eyes. Yet, today it’s calm, warm and feeling like May. No doubt there will be more cold and snow before February is out but Spring will win in the end, it always does.
Practically each day I hear a bird singing for the first time this year – Chaffinch, Blackbird, Great spotted woodpecker (not singing but drumming though it serves the same purpose – this is my territory, come in if you’re female and keep out if you’re male). How uplifting those notes are and they sure put a spring in my step.
Great spotted woodpecker by Tom Marshall (RSPB-images)
But no matter how much we listen to those songs, the birds are listening even more intently and research has shown that they can differentiate between songs that sound exactly the same to us. With canaries at least, the more that certain notes are sung (the so-called ‘sexy syllables’), the more receptive the females are. And, of course, that gives a very strong selection pressure for males with more of those elements in their songs and so it goes on.
Emphasising passages of music that had a positive effect is the basis for House and Garage music and all their numerous offshoots. Back in the day, some DJs noticed that people danced more energetically during the instrumental breaks in Disco records. They didn’t know precisely why but it was obvious that people did so they began constructing tracks that consisted more and more of those sections. Eventually, the old structure of verse chorus verse was done away with and all you were left with were breaks and so was born one of the most all-conquering musical genres of recent years.
Gilles Peterson played an example on Saturday – Sin Love with You by JETS (aka Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar) and you can catch it here on YouTube. Just released but it has its roots back in the 70s - how can you not want to dance when you hear that!
Now, we may not know why certain sounds affect us like they do and I’d bet a canary doesn’t know either - maybe it’s just hard-wired within us all as animals. Perhaps it doesn’t do to analyse it too much so whether it’s a bird singing or your favourite music just enjoy it – it’s all good!
Parliamentary Assistant, Allan Whyte, gives us an update on the campaign to protect seabirds and other marine life in Scotland.
We’re all on the sea's side
I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your continued support for the Scottish Marine Protected Areas campaign. Together, we can ensure that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland protect our marine wildlife. We have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have taken this issue to their heart and contacted their MSPs and the Scottish Government.
In mid December 2012, the Scottish Government made an announcement about where the proposed sites for MPAs will be located and what species will be protected. The announcement was disappointing as seabirds have been largely ignored in the process – only the black guillemot will receive any protection.
The reason the Scottish Government has cited for not including other seabird species in the MPA network is that there is existing European protection for Scotland’s seabirds. Unfortunately, this European legislation remains unused for the protection of Scottish seabirds feeding at sea - we remain in a situation where not a single important seabird foraging hotspot is protected.
Protection of foraging areas for seabirds is vital, as the decline in some seabird populations has been devastating. A recent Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report highlighted that Scotland’s seabird population has decreased by around 50% over the past twenty years – further evidence that action must be taken now.
One of the main reasons for the decline in seabird populations is the poor availability of food, which has been largely caused by climate change warming our seas. Whilst we recognise that setting up MPAs for seabird feeding areas cannot counter all the effects of climate change, it will ensure that other factors that can lead to shortage of food, such as badly placed developments at sea, or fishing for sandeels, will not exacerbate the problem.
Although we find ourselves in a less than perfect situation, there is still hope that we can change things for the better and ensure that Scotland’s seabirds get the protection they desperately need.
This summer the Scottish Government will hold a consultation to get your views on the proposals for the network of Marine Protected Areas. This is a great opportunity to let the Government know that Scottish seabirds need better protection. It’s is entirely within the Scottish Government’s gift to designate sites for seabirds. When the consultation is launched we’ll be back in touch with some key points that you can include in your response.
Scotland is one of the most important places in the world for seabirds, and as such, we carry a great responsibility for their protection. We can’t do anything without your support. We look forward to campaigning with you this year to make MPAs work for Scotland’s seabirds.
If you have any questions on MPAs or the process to set these up, please do not hesitate to contact us.