Tuesday 24 April 2012

Preparing for Belarus

On 28 April I start co-leading an Ornitholidays group to Belarus - a first for me. (Luckily my co-leader knows the place). I'll bring the group out from London to Minsk, and we'll spend 9 days exploring the forests and marshes of this little-known country. In May 2010, our group to Poland visited the huge, primeval forest of Bialowieza where herds of European Bison roam. This great forest is 45% in Eastern Poland and 55% in Western Belarus: now we'll get to see the other half. The photo is one I took of the Polish half of the forest: a watery wilderness that is home to Beavers, Black Storks, Hazel Grouse, many raptor, woodpecker and flycatcher species, and much else. 

During the First World War, all the forest's Bison were shot by German troops, and vast quantities of wood were exported for the German war effort. Bison were re-introduced from captivity, but their gene pool is small: they are all descended from 12 animals. They are easiest to see in winter when they emerge into meadows to feed on hay provided to supplement their diet. Dividing the forest is a two-metre border fence which is impassable to Bison, though other animals can swim underneath in places. In all, it covers an area that equates to a square 25 miles by 25 miles: about the size of Greater London inside the M25.

We also expect to see reminders of an age now gone from Western Europe: horse-drawn hay-carts and more scythes than strimmers. White Storks, back from winter in Africa, nest in the villages; and the mammal list also has Elk, Red Deer, Wild Boar and Muskrat. I'll report on our trip soon after my return on 9 May!

Monday 2 April 2012

Our local OSPREYS are back from Senegal!

The Osprey makes one of the most positive British conservation stories. Hunted to extinction in Britain in Victorian times, it remained absent as a breeding species in Britain until 1954. In that year, a pair of these charismatic fishing hawks - probably from Scandinavia - nested in the Spey Valley. The RSPB encouraged them by buying up a large estate at Loch Garten in prime Osprey-habitat, and from 1959 they have nested annually on the reserve. Numbers built up slowly, and new sites in the Scottish Highlands were gradually colonized. The RSPB kept very quiet about these other Osprey sites, and used the 'honeypot' approach: directing all enquiries and visitors to their well-guarded Garten site. Even there problems occurred: one year an attempt was made to saw down the nesting tree, and the staff have to keep a 24-hour watch on the nest to prevent egg-theft. By 1991, Scotland had 71 nesting pairs, and now Britain has over 250 pairs. Recently England and Wales have had their first nests forwell over a century.

Ospreys returned to the Dyfi Valley - next to the RSPB reserve of Ynys Hir - for the first time last year, raising three young. Archives reveal that the same area was used by nesting Ospreys in the 17th century. In September, British Ospreys migrate to West Africa. Nora, the female, has been back for a few days, rearranging the sticks in the nest and anxiously looking south...., but the great news came in this afternoon that her partner Monty is back too! They've already been spotted mating by the MWT (Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust)'s superb new webcam. The above image is a still from the webcam. Now we look forward to another successful breeding season, fingers crossed!