To mark the celebration of world oceans day in true style RSPB staff in Wales embarked on the challenging task of constructing a giant leatherback turtle from willow – all with the help of a few passers-by.
Throughout the day the turtle took shape, although at some times it wasn’t clear if it was a turtle or a small boat! The wicker effigy provided a great focal point to talk about the real issues affecting the marine environment and gather support by asking members of the public to sign our marine pledge.
The day also saw a plethora of teenagers using video cameras to record messages to the Wales Environment minister, to let him know why the seas are important to them and what they think he should do about it . Some even took the time to write personalised letters to John Griffiths!
At 4 o’clock the campaign was officially launched and the giant wicker turtle imitated in miniature – this time constructed from delicious sponge cake, hopefully its wicker cousin will last longer!
The Welsh Government is currently consulting on one use of Marine Conservation Zones, and the RSPB are calling on members of the public to get involved and have their say . The issues cannot be resolved by a single piece of legislation and needs politicians and decision makers to use the tools they have available to better protect this fantastic resource that is often taken for granted.
For further information click here
There's been some seriously wild weather in Wales over the last couple of weeks (shown rather well on Springwatch!) and unfortunately the weather has claimed some more victims. The two peregrine chicks that were the stars of the show at our Lake Vyrnwy date with nature unfortunately haven't survived.
They were spotted on their ledge on Friday 8 June, but there was no sign of life the following day. The team on the ground desperately tried to catch a glimpse of the chicks over the next few days, but couldn't quite get the perfect angle to see the whole ledge. However, on Tuesday 12 the warden managed to get a good look at the ledge and saw that the two chicks had died.
We're not 100% sure what happened, but we think it was a mixture of things - the chicks didn't appear to be getting enough food, the parents were both away from the nest for most of the day so not keeping the chicks warm and then the bad weather hit.
Due to this sad news, we've had to close our date with nature early this year. It's such a shame when chicks are lost, but it shows that even the most powerful predator is still incredibly fragile.
As I mentioned in my last blog “Intervention” I wondered how the RSPB Ospreys fared compared to the Dyfi Ospreys, after all they are geographically almost in the same location. I phoned Geraint Williams to catch up on their progress. Geraint Williams is the project leader and keeps an Osprey Diary on the Dates With Nature section of the community pages. You can view that blog here for up to date news of the goings on at the site.
The conversation started with a whole load of drama. There was another pair of Ospreys circling the nest whilst the male was away catching fish; Osprey chicks have a play dead strategy in the nest. The parent birds were calling to chicks, and they were indeed doing this as I was talking Geraint. I would have loved to have been there to see it. Alas all I had from my vantage point of the kitchen table was a Grey Squirrel which fell of the feeding station in a mildly amusing way! All was good at the nest by the time we had finished chatting; the male had returned and combined with the female, they saw off the interlopers. The chicks were being fed fish the male bird had brought back.
I started by asking for some background information on the site. Geraint explained that the same pair of Ospreys have been returning to the nest site since its discovery in 2004. There are only two breeding pairs of Ospreys in Wales, the second pair being at Dyfi.
The pair returned to the nesting site on the 18th of March of this year, and successfully bred; the first egg being spotted on the nest on the 4th April. Geraint went on to say that the nest was very deep this year, so the exact timings of the remaining eggs is uncertain, but by the 10th April there were three eggs in the nest. All three chicks hatched successfully on the 11th, 12th and 14th of May, and the time of putting this blog live I am pleased to say, all three are doing well!
So why did the Glaslyn Ospreys fare better than the Dyfi Ospreys? Geraint told me that when the devastating storms hit on the 9th June there were some key differences between both sets of Ospreys. The Glaslyn Ospreys were that couple of weeks older, which meant their feathers, had developed further and were not still downy. It stopped the young birds being quite so affected by the wet. The area suffered flooding, and the staff and volunteers were wading through four feet of water at times to keep an eye on the nests. Glaslyn didn’t get battered by the high winds as much as the Dyfi Estuary did, which was just as well, as the nests are situated about eighty feet off the ground. These small differences in the weather allowed the parent birds to feed continuously during the worse the weather could muster. There was also some interesting behaviour displayed, with the chicks actually being fed beneath the parent bird. Again that sheltering process prevented the chicks losing too much body heat, or getting too wet.
These small, but hugely significant differences can be all it takes between life and death for these vulnerable birds. If the four chicks from both our breeding pairs can fledge, then it is still a pretty successful year for them, which would be incredible considering all that Mother Nature has thrown at them.
It should be about a fortnight before the chicks fledge. I am hoping to pay a visit to the site sometime around the end of July and August to see these magnificent birds for myself. I have only seen Ospreys as they have passed over here and Newport Wetlands, and the sightings were fleeting.
Finally, I would like to thank Geraint for taking the time to talk to me. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of hard work and dedication and most of all the love these people show to our iconic Ospreys in Porthmadog. Please take the time to bookmark and read Geraint’s Osprey Diaries. Let’s wish them all the luck in the world!
Glaslyn Ospreys Images © Andy Rouse
27 vital new ponds have been created at RSPB Malltraeth Marsh on Anglesey to safeguard rare and threatened species, thanks to funding and support from the Million Ponds Project and Biffaward. The grant of £16,500 from the Pond Digging Fund has enabled RSPB Cymru to dig 27 new clean water ponds. A staggering 80% of ponds in the countryside are in poor or very poor condition, so it is very important that new clean water ponds such as these are created, giving the hundreds of species that depend on ponds a fighting chance. The new ponds at RSPB Malltraeth Marsh on Anglesey will mean that lapwing and pillwort – a very rare grass like fern - and many other plants and animals, will have a secure future. For more info go to http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/316598-27-new-ponds-created-at-rspb-malltraeth-marsh
It’s been an interesting few days. We have watched as the terrifying events in Machynlleth as the river burst its banks and flooded the area. My thoughts go out to all those affected.
You may or may not be aware that the RSPB Ynys-hir reserve is in that area, and of course Springwatch is coming from that reserve again this year. Those of you who follow the Springwatch twitter feed will have seen that the whole production village has been flooded. The damage to the wildlife in the area is unclear at this time. It seems the Lapwing colony may have been worse hit, but plenty of other nests survived, including the most fragile looking Goldcrest one.
What did become clear over the weekend were the dramatic events happening at the Dyfi Osprey Project. Those of you who have been watching this story develop on Twitter, Facebook or indeed on Springwatch will know that the two Ospreys had three chicks, which hatched, but sadly one died. The unprecedented storms hit at just the wrong moment for the remaining chicks. One of the chicks succumbed and the remaining one was clearly too weak to feed. The team there made the difficult decision to intervene and chose to feed the chick themselves. The chick soon recovered and was placed back in the nest, where it has been fed by the parents since and continued to pick up strength. This started a discussion on whether the intervention should have happened. The project received a lot of praise, but also some criticism that nature should have been allowed to take its course.
At the same time as this story was developing I was receiving tweets from a Twitter friend who had Magpies raiding a House Sparrow nest in his garden, he was desperate to try and stop it and asked me what he could do. The sad answer I gave him was not a lot. Magpies are intelligent birds; they have found a food source and would continue returning until they had exploited it fully. To his credit he defended the nest for most of the day, and as far as I am aware, stopped the nest being robbed completely. They were at two completely different ends of the scale of stories in the public eye, but this was of course another intervention in the natural course of things.
It is a very emotive subject. Where does intervention start? Conservation by its very nature is an intervention, and intervention is required to protect endangered birds or animals, the Spoon Billed Sandpiper Project is another example of this. These birds have been removed from their natural habitat and moved to WWT Slimbridge to ensure the continued existence of the species.
It could be argued that continuing to feed your birds through the breeding period is another intervention or even feeding them at all! Most seed and insect eating birds have had thousands of years of evolution to hone their foraging skills, are we changing that by providing an easy food for them? The truth is, no one really knows. Mankind has been changing the patterns of the wildlife around it for such a long time those boundaries have become blurred. House Sparrows make a very good example of this. They were farmland and meadow birds first, and followed their human compatriots into the towns and villages as we turned from being agricultural and rural dwellers into the urban denizens we have become today. The rich pickings from spilt seed and grain used to feed the horses suspected to be one of the contributory factors. Would you class this as intervention or was this just the birds adapting to our change of lifestyle as the industrial revolution begun? Direct intervention or not, the birds behaviour changed.
Those working at the Dyfi Osprey Project had to make a judgement call, and in the most horrendous of weather intervened directly with the Osprey nest. The chick was clearly not going to survive without their help. From their own blog it was clear they agonised over the decision for some time before “going in”. This is the position conservationists’ face all over the world, when to make that decision to help and step in and change the course of events. There is one thing for certain; there is currently a small tufty bundle of downy feathers sat on a nest in Dyfi that owes it continued existence to a team of volunteers.
Of course, Dyfi is not the only Osprey project in the area, there is the RSPB’s own Glaslyn Osprey Project, with it's own breeding pair and three chicks. They were subject to the same extreme weather conditions as the Dyfi Ospreys, so how did they fair? From initial reports it seems they have coped better with the storm. I wanted to know why, so I caught up with Geraint Williams, the project officer there to find out, and that will be the subject of my next blog …
Glaslyn Osprey Images © Andy Rouse