New blog from Stuart Benn, RSPB Conservation Manager.

Squid Cat Battle

My three favourite radio programmes are Radio 3’s Late Junction and Radio 6’s Saturday double-header of Gilles Peterson and the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show – always sure to provide different and unexpected mixes of music, old and new.  I can’t remember now which one introduced me to London trip-hop outfit Nedry and their cut Squid Cat Battle, a title (like Frank Zappa’s Dog Breath in the Year of Plague) that’s guaranteed to stop any contents skimmer in their tracks and make them have to listen to it, just to see.  SCB comes from their 2010 album Condors whose cover sports a rather stylised representation of one – California rather than Andean, I think.   

So, condors can turn up in the unlikeliest places and that brings me to Earthflight, the BBC series of earlier this year showing the world from a bird’s view.  Whilst I enjoyed the flight shots, the bit that I found most memorable was the scene where dozens of Andean Condors were feeding at the main rubbish tip in Santiago – in fact, amazingly for a bird we associate with wild and dramatic scenery, it was said to be the greatest concentration of them anywhere.  At the time, I’d thought this was opportunism on the parts of the birds – condors eat dead things, rubbish tips are ideal for that so they were just exploiting a situation.  However, reading some of the blogs around the programmes, it sounds like the real reason may be more sinister and that the wider countryside can be pretty inhospitable for the condors with illegal killing being a problem – oddly, perhaps the outskirts of Chile’s largest city is where they are safest.

This is the direct opposite of what has happened in the UK with several species of predator – Wildcats, Golden eagles, Pine martens, Red kites and others have been pushed out by human activity into the most remote areas or, at least, places where they aren’t killed.  Whilst some are making a comeback either under their own steam or by reintroductions, there is still a long way to go before they regain even a fraction of their historical ranges and how much they do so is down to how tolerant people are both individually and collectively.

I’ll write about Golden eagle distribution in a future blog but, for now, if you want to see one on the mainland you’ll have to get away from the populated coastal lowlands which is probably where the seabird I found recently should have stayed.  A couple of weeks ago I was going in to check an eagle territory and, given that I was over 40 miles from the open sea, I was very surprised to find a gannet skull not far below the eyrie.

A few brown feathers lay about next to the skull which told me that they were from a first year gannet which meant that it had died there in late autumn as young hatched that year head south and don’t tend to return until a year or two later when they are more of a mix of brown and white.  So, it looks like it decided to head across country rather than follow the coast (it is known that seabirds do this – it isn’t just canal builders who have sought shortcuts across Scotland) and either died naturally or was killed by the eagles.  So, whilst the trip into unlikely country proved to be a good idea for the condors it wasn’t so for this young gannet.