Following in Jack’s Footsteps

We lost track of Jack months ago.

We all thought that he’d gone through some kind of mid-life crisis, but it looks like that mid-life crisis might have turned into a full blown cry for help.

He’s the only Seabird to have really followed his passion and commitment for birds through with real, tangible action and now he’s…well, we don’t know where he is.

I knew Jack (know – he’s not gone yet). I’ve known Jack from before he took the job in the lab. I remember how excited he was when he got accepted for that position, he was thrilled to be working with birds and so ready to make a difference. That was before he found out what he would be testing and where they got the samples from.

We were barely given any notice before he left, we should be grateful I suppose, I doubt his  employers had a chance to even fill his position. Before we knew it he’d booked his flight and he was off, up in the air with the birds, searching for a creature which he hoped he hadn’t inadvertently driven from existence.

We were all jealous of course.

In the first few weeks, when news was scarce, we discussed amongst ourselves how much fun he must have been having out there in West Papua, on his search for Wilsons’ Bird-of-Paradise. We imagined ourselves out there, bargaining for rides on tuk-tuks, renting sleazy apartments and planning our excursions into the jungle. We wanted to join Jack, but our jobs and livelihoods held us in place, envying our team mate from afar.

The time drifted by. Without Jack to keep us together, the team fell apart. I spent my days listlessly spraying Japanese knotweed killer across my back garden. Isn’t it ironic how some lifeforms thrive despite constantly fighting against humanity, whereas others are snuffed out purely because of their beauty?

The knotweed had been a nagging problem at the back of my mind for some time.

I knew that the presence of such a plant would no doubt damage the chances I had for eventually selling up, but that day seemed so far off that it simply wasn’t worth worrying about. I’d left them untouched for years and in that time they’d happily spread throughout the entire back garden, their thick, bamboo-like stems making a jungle out of my once peaceful slice of suburbia.

I’d thought about contacting a knotweed specialist to address the problem but had settled on treating the issue myself. After all, I had a degree in Biology – that should be more than enough to deal with my little infestation. Except it wasn’t. The day that I lost the fight to the knotweed was the day that I booked my flight to West Papua.

My evenings spent fruitlessly hacking away at the knotweed had stuck with me. Each night I’d collapse exhausted in a heap, gasping for breath and thinking of Jack out there – alone. I was done with my job, I was done with knotweed.

The time had come to find my friend.

Summertime Bird Watching: How To Get Started

Bird watching is hardly what you would call a mainstream activity.

During the Winter and Autumn months, birders have to rise during the early hours of the morning in rather miserable weather, in order to get camped down for a good view. However, by the time the summer months come round, a day spent bird watching begins to look like a much more attractive prospect. 

Thanks to the proliferation of green spaces throughout the UK, it doesn’t take long to leave the city and make it out to a convenient place for bird watching. Although the UK is home to a number of migratory species that ‘winter’ in warmer parts of the world, there are still many species of bird that stay in the country for the whole year, making Summer the best time to spot them.

If you’ve just begun your bird watching journey then one of the first questions will be where best to do it. Rural England during the Summer is a perfect place to begin your bird watching journey. Take a country trail or bridal path out into the sticks and you’ll soon start to spot a few creatures. However, should you wish to take a short cut to bird watching success, then you can head to a dedicated bird reserve of which there are dozens spread throughout the UK.

The RSPB, Britain’s leading bird preservation charity, owns huge swathes of land out in the countryside, including 5 large stretches of marshland in Norfolk. Should you wish to learn some more advanced tricks of the trade then you can always head to Rutland Water for the annual Bird Fair, where hundred of British bird watchers gather every year to share tips, photographs and sightings.

All you really need to start bird watching is patience, there are a few other things which you might wish to take with you, should you wish to while away more than just a single hour in the hot sun:

A good pair of binoculars

If you embark on a bird watching expedition it’s best to come armed with at least one pair of binoculars. Because of the distance that you often have to sit from, the bird’s you might spot could be quite hard to make out.

Although you could spend a good few hundred pounds on a pair of binoculars, this pair from John Lewis should serve you well for your fledgling spotting trips.

An effective electric fan

If you stay out in the summer heat, then you are going to get hot. You may find that your spot will be under cover, but that won’t stop the sun getting to you.

Avoid buying a novelty child-sized fan and invest in a serious piece of equipment, so that you can stay cool throughout the day. Northern firm Beatson sell ‘man-coolers’ capable of keeping the air moving, even on hot muggy days (you can find them by clicking here).

Camouflage clothing and netting

The last thing that you might want to do on a hot summer’s day is cover up, but the plain truth of the matter is that bird sightings will be a lot more elusive if you don’t wear some form of camouflage.

You can buy netting and material from a haberdashery should you wish to create your own den, but if you want to invest a little more, you can be a full camouflage light weight suit form Wildlife Watching Supplies right here.

Once you’ve kitted up, all you need to do is head out to a spot and wait – best of luck!

4 Incredibly Intelligent Birds

Birds are often seen as rather stupid creatures.

Terms like ‘bird-brain’ hardly help their reputation as simple creatures, yet they are often capable of far more than we think.

These 4 species of bird have proved beyond a doubt that they are far more than bird-brained:

African grey parrot

The grey parrot is an animal that has been officially listed as endangered in certain parts of the world. Calling it’s home in equatorial Africa, this species has been used extensively by the pet trade partly due to it’s highly intelligent and sensitive nature. Indeed, this species of parrot was even used for a landmark study in avian intelligence that spanned thirty years.

Animal psychologist Irene Pepperburg bought an African grey parrot from a pet shop in the 70s and proceeded to spend the next three decades teaching him over 100 words, a task that was previously thought to be beyond the capabilities of a bird. By the time Alex (short for avian language experiment) passed away at the age of 31, he was deemed to have developed an intelligence equivalent to a 5-year old child.

Pigeons

Hardly the most elusive or rare of creatures, the pigeon is a common species of bird that is often seen as being stupid. Commonly referred to as ‘flying rats’, they’re considered as vermin in many parts of the world and are often subject to cruel acts by the human population – this is particularly tragic when you stop to consider the vital role that they have played in human communication over the years.

Numerous studies and centuries of research have confirmed that pigeons’ memories are extremely well organised. Despite their reputation, it has been proven time and time again that there’s no better bird to deliver messages than the pigeon. They have excellent Geo Location skills combined with an uncanny ability to remember people and their locations.

Kea

A bird that has come under threat over the last few decades, the kea has developed something of a poor reputation in it’s native land of New Zealand. Up until 1986 this large parrot (standing at half a metre tall when fully grown) was hunted for bounty after local farmers suspected them of attacking their sheep. Today the species is considered to be in a vulnerable state with estimated figures lying somewhere in between 1’000 and 5’000.

The kea is known to be a naturally curious and adventurous bird. Affectionately known as the ‘clown of the mountains’ these colourful birds are always eager to pry and pull apart things that they find. They’re even known to tamper with stoat traps, having been caught on camera several times inserting small sticks to trigger loud noises, which they apparently enjoy immensely.

Raven

Seen as a dark omen by many cultures and religions, the raven is perhaps one of the most underestimated common variety birds. Often roosting together in large groups, these animals has one of the largest brains in the bird kingdom. Their hyperpallium is much larger than usual for a bird, giving them incredible problem solving abilities and other cognitive skills such as imitation and insight.

The common raven has been known to combine all of these skills in combination to steal small items. As young birds they are intensely attracted to shiny things (a fascination that dissipates as they age) leading to birds stockpiling odd trinkets such as golden rings, oven knobs and even money!

So, before you dismiss birds as being a little stupid, stop and think about how well you’d measure up with a kea or a raven!

5 Birds of the World We’re Looking For

Part of our mission here at NTS Seabirds is to seek out and find certain species of birds.

Whether these are endangered species that need to be catalogued or simply a particular breed that one of us has a soft spot for – each year we each set our targets and head forth into the world to find them. 

All of us here at NTS Seabirds travel on small budgets, we have full-time occupations and spend our annual leave on expeditions to the disparate corners of the globe – in search of the birds that we long to see. These are the birds at the top of our list this year:

Rainbow lorikeet

A true beauty and wonder of nature. Although this particular breed has been introduced to New Zealand and Hong Kong, it’s more commonly found in Australia, it’s native country. Easily recognisable by it’s vibrant technicolor plumage, one of us is going to have to make a long journey in order to find it in the coastal bush of Australia.

Grauer’s broadbill

First spotted and named in 1909 by British zoologist Walter Rothschild, this bird, sometimes known as the African green broadbill, is something of a black sheep. Although Rothschild originally thought of it as a ‘pseudo’ broadbill, it is today regarded as a genuine member of the genus and one of just a handful of it’s kind that live in Africa.

Austen’s brown hornbill

Named after the famed topographer and mountaineer Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, this large species of hornbill is found in the far flung forests of Asia. Northeastern India, Southern Vietnam and Northern Thailand are all viable destinations to find this species which is known for it’s varied diet that includes fruits, eggs and even bats or snakes.

Slender-billed curlew

Breeding in the swamps and marshes of the snow forests of Siberia, this critically endangered creature is recognised by it’s short small body, brown heart-shaped spots and long narrow bill. The Slender-billed curlew is growing more elusive with each passing day this is compounded by the fact that it is a migratory creature, calling no particular part of the world home. It can be spotted in Western Europe, Canada and even Japan.

Steppe eagle

Favouring the dry, arid habitats of desert and the Savannah, this grand bird of prey breeds in the cooler climates of Romania and Russia before heading to it’s preferred hotter climes. Mostly feeding on carrion, the Steppe eagles are also known to pick off small rodents and other birds. Although this species has now been given the conservation status of ‘threatened’, at the right time of year migrations can be witnessed in Nepal of as many as 15 birds per hour. We can only hope that we’ll get so lucky!

Although we’re yet to spot any of these creatures, 6 months of the year still remain and we’re confident that we’ll be able to spot these birds before 2017 is out.