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.
Weekly update from Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn.
Between Winterwatch and The One Show it’s been a mad couple of weeks. But, whilst appearing on live telly and meeting famous people is great, it’s not what the rest of my life is like and it’s not what most other folks’ lives are like either.
I’ve been thinking about that gap between what appears on screen and our own reality recently and particularly in relation to wildlife programmes. Nature filming is absolutely fantastic nowadays and I do enjoy it but, increasingly, it’s becoming what has been dubbed ‘Charles Bronson tv’ – every animal is either having sex or killing something and all in ultra close-up, super slo-mo HD. But unless you are prepared to sit in a hide for weeks and have access to tens of thousands of pounds worth of the latest technical wizardry, your own experiences with nature won’t look like what you see on the telly. But that doesn’t make them any less rewarding – in fact, just the opposite.
During last week I spent a lot of time talking about eagles but that’s not the same as seeing one so, come the weekend, it was off into the hills to see what was going on at the territories I monitor. Many people think that eagle surveying involves tramping for miles over the hills but that’s often the worst thing to do – most of us look down when we walk with just the odd glance up and the chances of an eagle flying by and us seeing it in that time are slim. Much better to get a good vantage point and sit and wait and watch – and at this time of year that means wrapping up well, several hours sat at the one spot tests even the warmest of clothing.
And sitting and watching is exactly what happens most of the time. Over the course of 3 hours or so, an eagle might be in view for less than a minute but you have to be alert to it showing so you enter an odd state of calm and watchfulness. And you also become hyper-aware of what else is going on – deer crossing a distant ridge, the shifting patterns of sun and clouds, a raven’s croak. It is incredibly restful but stimulating and the precise opposite of slouching in front of the tv.
I did see several eagles over the two days – some close but mostly far off and I also got the best views I think I’ve ever had of a buzzard taking exception to an eagle and trying to see it off its patch. Here is my little video of part of the exchange – check that size difference!! OK, it’s not going to win any awards and the quality is rubbish but it was my experience and that’s what counts for most.
Maybe immersion in the natural world is a family trait – my wee brother (who is a landscape photographer) blogged about his own experiences recently and they can be found here. We may have different goals when we set out but, to me, what we get out of it is very similar.
Photo by Alister Benn
Sure, spending hours looking for eagles in the Scottish Highlands is at one end of the spectrum but I get just as much pleasure from seeing what’s in the local woods. Getting hands-on with nature is available to anyone at any time right outside your front door and it’s a lot more real than what’s on the tv!
With the Big Garden Birdwatch fast approaching, Media & Communications Officer Louise Smith explains why this year’s survey will be particularly special for her...
A garden to call my own
I’m really looking forward to this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Don’t get be wrong, I’ve enjoyed it in previous years, not just because it keeps me very busy in the office but also because it’s a nice way to spend an hour.
No this year is different, because this year, for the first time ever, I actually have my very own garden. Ok, it’s not much but it’s mine...
A potential wildlife friendly garden in the making.
I might be the new kid on the block but that hasn’t stopped some local feathered residents stopping by for a nibble on the feeders.
I’ve so far noticed goldfinch, great tits, house sparrows, chaffinch, a lonesome robin and two rather fat looking woodpigeon, so I’ve high hopes that I might record a few sightings during my Big Garden Birdwatch hour. What are you hoping to see?
Providing food and water is a great, simple way to attract wildlife to your garden. High calorie foods are good for providing energy, which is vital for those cold winter nights. I started feeding the birds a few months ago. I’ve got sunflower seeds and peanuts in the hanging feeders and a fat filled coconut shell too – that seems to be particularly popular!
From time to time, just to save it going to waste I’ve also left out cooked unsalted rice or potato, bruised fruit and even mild grated cheese. Ok, the latter I left our purposely because I read that robins love cheese and robins, as well as mallards, are one of my favourite birds. I know, I’m easily pleased.
This is the first time I’ve ever had my own garden, in previous years I’ve taken part in Big Garden Birdwatch from my local park and from my flat window, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the wildlife that uses my new home. And that’s the great thing about the Big Garden Birdwatch, not only are you helping the experts build a picture of garden bird populations, you are also learning more about the wildlife on your own doorstep.
So if you have a spare hour (just think a whole 60 mins of relaxing in the peace and quiet!), why not grab a pen and paper and take part. You’ll find all the details at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch" target="_blank">www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
Hopefully this year will be the biggest Big Garden Birdwatch ever!
Guest blogger ,Stacey Paul, tells us why she is looking forward to participating in Big Garden Birdwatch for the first time.
All eyes on the feeder in Dumfries & Galloway
Feeling inspired by my role with the Dumfries & Galloway Wild Spring Festival http://www.wildspringfestival.com/ I thought it would be fun to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. Even though we aren’t bird watchers generally, tomorrow my whole family; husband and two daughters as well as my Mum who lives up the road, are going to give it a go to see what birds we can spot in our gardens.
Luckily we received our RSPB Birdwatch pack through the post this morning and will be trying to identify a few birds in advance of tomorrow. Haven’t seen many so far but that’s may be because it is snowing heavily. My favourite is the robin and he seems to be pretty hungry whatever the weather. Looking at the identification list it would be great to see a Long-tailed tit or a bonny looking male chaffinch, I hope my binoculars will give me a close up view!
We are so lucky in Dumfries & Galloway as we have Red Kites across in Galloway and half the population of Svalbard barnacle geese flock here for winter at RSPB Mersehead. These reserves along with lots of others will be hosting 100+events during the Wild Spring Festival in April and May and you can follow what we are up to by liking our Wild Spring Festival facebook page.
Looking forward to spending an hour focusing on the birds in garden, hopefully they will be attracted by the delicious wild bird seed mix we have filled the feeders with.