Sunday, 30 April 2017

Book review - Cat Wars

'The devastating consequences of a cuddly killer'

Peter Marra and Chris Sartella have put together an eminently readable account of the impact cats have on wildlife both historically and up to the present day. Whilst it is written without sentiment or emotion it raised a storm in the USA which is unlikely to go away...

This book took me quite a long time to read but always held my attention and using a 'calm scientific' approach details the calamitous problems they have caused and continue to cause, largely unchecked. Whether you love them or hate them, if you care about nature and (with birds in the front line) I presume that's why you are here reading this, you should read it.

There are a lot of numbers involved, mostly big ones. Cats have evolved a relationship with man for the past 10,000 years. Much of the data is based on studies in the USA, where in Wisconsin, cats kill a minimum of 7.8 million birds each year. If you think that's alarming, the total killed within the USA annually is likely to be in the order of four billion. But don't be mislead, it's not just about facts and figures, it is a compelling read, charting their effects over the years and speculating where it will all end. Whilst other creatures like small mammals are affected, it's the birds which take centre stage but we are at risk too, as a chapter dealing with toxoplasmosis and rabies amongst other serious diseases, clearly points out.

We take cats for granted and whilst their activities often out of sight or mind don't hold our attention,  the content of this book should. It kicks off in 1894, when a lighthouse keeper landed on Stephens Island (off the coast of New Zealand) with his pet cat Tibbles. (Quotations at the start of every chapter, set the scene and are so appropriate.

Just over one year later, the Stephens Island Wren, a small flightless songbird endemic endemic to the island was rendered extinct. Just one cat (with her litter in utero) was responsible was responsible for the extinction of an entire bird species.

I don't want to reveal too much of the specifics within the book but it's clear that the rise of bird lovers and cat lovers provides a recipe for conflict and high emotions. Detailing the struggles from the perspective of either faction shows just how high emotions can run. Laws have been changed in the USA to protect cats, strategies proposed to 'lessen their impact', yet the problem isn't going away there. Eradication of cats on Ascension island was successfully achieved between 2002 -06 but at huge cost. Some success has been claimed in Australia and New Zealand for instance where measures to ensure the continued survival of endemic species manage to meet with public opinion.

It's not easy to sit on the proverbial fence and have no vested interest either way.  Who's to blame for the problem?  Lots of solutions and strategies are explored with predictable outcomes. Neutering cats has little effect on populations and the only successful way of dealing with the problem is to completely eliminate free roaming feral cats from the environment and require owners of domestic cats to keep them inside. As ever, the root cause of the problem is man. We brought them into our lives, some of us released them into the wild and we let our domestic pets roam free. Is there a solution? This book will arm you with the facts.. it will take a long time and effort by all concerned to find and agree to the answer...

Cat Wars: The devastating consequences of a cuddly killer by Peter P Marrra and Chris Santella published by Princeton University Press, New Jersey 2016.
228 pages, 24 colour photos, ISBN 9780691167411. Hardback typically £16.55

Colemere - Black Terns!!

The prospects for today were awesome, low cloud and a fresh south easterly wind (after a week or more of northerlies) ... it looked as if a cracking Ternsday was looming?? Question was, where to go? Not for the first time I put my faith misguidedly in an early start at Venus Pool,  but by 9.30, NOTHING! So I decided to head North and check the Meres. Colemere was my first destination and literally 10 mins came out from Rob Dowley... TWO Black Terns!

I joined him and spent the next few hours trying to do justice to these two beauties (not easy!) 

Over white water they looked awful so I concentrated on getting them against the distant green background and it was manual focus all the way!

Here we go, with head on opportunities within 50m!

This individual looks like it's primaries have seen better days! Looks like it's in moult which (according to an old paper I've just read) does happen in 2cy birds which (rarely) replace all their primaries in May?

And seemingly getting most of my attention!

Here's the other, neater bird - just as obliging!

And perhaps my favourite moment - once in a while, banking and briefly hovering...

First Hobby of the year over the trees and a Common Tern had also passed through 9.30ish and another (or the same bird) was present until mid afternoon too! A few record shots to follow...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Venus Pool - Yellow wagtail

Yellow Wagtails are now starting to make their presence known and there were three at Venus Pool this evening, 2 smart males and a female. Here's one of the males coming close...

Certainly aren't get the numbers seen in recent years and would be nice to see Shropshire produce a Channel Wag once more!!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Wood Lane - White Wagtail

My first Yellow Wagtail of the year picked up here today ( nice male but on the far bank) plus this White Wagtail. Strictly record shots...

Just the one LRP seen too but lots of places to hide!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Dingle - Night Heron goes walkabout!

A sleepy start to the day and business as usual with the Night Heron showing well but one thing which was blatantly obvious was a mark or strip of material on the right foot!

Contrary to news which seemed to be abounding on twitter later in the day, it's not a ring mark. It's a strip of leaf, petal or some form of vegetation which had become firmly attached to the leg (much akinto the screen protector on your phone!)

And it most definitely wasn't there on Sunday!!

So, with that misinformation put to bed... Sleepyhead seems to have woken now and totally out of the blue, flew to the far end of the pool...

There it was, perched up on the brickwork!

And preparing to go walkabout!

Best foot forward, you can see how the strip of vegetation doesn't extend behind the leg...

And if you haven't seen it, note the missing claw...

Wondering where to go next? Note the leaves.. similar colour to the attached material!

Taking life one step at a time...

And clearly not too keen on the local Mallards!!

Sending them scattering :-)

The final party piece?

A bit uncertain about this 'deep water'?

In fact, clearly pertrified of it!!

I returned in the evening, curious to see if the material had become detached? Looking like more ring marks are now attached in various colours?! You can see the original strip is still attached at this point!

After a bit of a wobbly...

Flying once again to the other end of the pool!

But just look what's disappeared after this particular flight!

Any doubters still out there? Mystery solved, elementary my dear Night Heron!

And with the gates about to be locked, a final tantalising pose!

Yes, we can see you...

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Dingle - Night Heron finale

Setting the scene, this is the only Heron normally seen in this idyllic Shrewsbury garden known as The Dingle!

No superlatives in part one? Bloody hell, absolutely amazing, the Night Heron has not only flown towards us... but landed in a bank side bush in full view! It doesn't look close, does it but it's less than 10m from the bank!

The only questions being asked were, how quickly can I get the converter off and why hadn't I got a shorter focal length lens with me (again)

OK, Converter is now removed but it's still frame filling!!

And walking closer... OMG!

Now there's no alternative, a close up fest beckons...

I'm staying calm!

I was almost relieved when it flew back over to the other side of the pool? Noooo, it''s still too close! (Only kidding) :-)

And if you've never seen a Night Heron's tongue?

I walked around to the far bank - the shot I'd been hankering for - Shrewsbury Night Heron - in habitat!!

Just another ordinary day turned rather extraordinary!!! You couldn't have scripted this?