Arctic foxes poisoned by mercury

This video is called The Life Of An Arctic Fox.

From Wildlife Extra:

Arctic foxes being poisoned by mercury – If they live on the coast

You are what (and where) you eat – mercury pollution threatens Arctic foxes

May 2013. New scientific results show that arctic foxes accumulate dangerous levels of mercury if they live in coastal habitats and feed on prey which lives in the ocean. Mercury is usually transferred across the food chain, so the researchers checked which items were the main source of food and measured mercury levels in the main prey of Arctic foxes.

3 fox populations studied

The scientists compared three fox populations in different environments. Foxes on the small Russian Commander Island of Mednyi fed almost exclusively on sea birds, with some foxes eating seal carcasses. In Iceland, foxes living on the coast ate sea birds whereas those living inland ate non-marine birds and rodents.

In all three environments different levels of mercury were present in their hair. Foxes living in coastal habitats such as Iceland and Mednyi Island exhibited high levels of mercury.

Long exposure

What does this mean for the foxes? Using museum skin samples from the Commander Islands, the researchers could show that the foxes have suffered exposure to mercury for a long time. The researchers confirmed that the source of contamination was their food, as they measured high mercury levels in the prey of foxes such as seals and sea birds.

Inland foxes much healthier

However, the inland Arctic fox populations of Iceland had low mercury levels. Thus, living inland and eating non-marine birds and rodents instead of eating prey that feeds from the sea protected the inland foxes from mercury exposure. This may have health and conservation implications. The Mednyi Island foxes are almost an opposite example to the inland Icelandic fox population. They live on a small island with no rodents or alternative food source to seals or sea birds. They suffered a tremendous population crash and while the population is currently stable, it is very small and juvenile foxes in particular show high mortality rates. Foxes of all ages exhibit low body weight and have poor coat condition.

“When going into this project we thought that an introduced pathogen would explain the poor condition of the foxes and their high mortality but after extensive screening, we did not find anything”, says Alex Greenwood, principal investigator of the study. Instead, the researchers began to suspect that something else was at play. “If pathogens were not the cause, we thought perhaps pollutants could be involved. We thought of mercury because it has been reported in high concentration in other Arctic vertebrates also in remote areas and mercury intoxication is known to increase mortality in mammals. As mercury can have negative effects on overall health, particularly in young individuals, and as we knew that Mednyi foxes were exclusively feeding on potentially contaminated sources, we wanted to see whether contamination with mercury depended on feeding ecology and hence might have been the crucial factor for the population decline on Mednyi Island”, comments Gabriele Treu, one of the lead authors of the study.

As it turned out, the observed high mercury demonstrated a tight association with feeding ecology and geographical distribution of the foxes.

Mercury pollution must be stopped

In terms of conservation and long term population health for the entire arctic food chain of carnivores, mercury pollution must be stopped.

Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Moscow State University and the University of Iceland just published their discovery in the science online journal PLOS ONE.

Icelandic Slavonian grebe dies in Scotland

This video says about itself:

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe (Podiceps auritus) incubation shift

In Harstad, Northern Norway, a pair of Slavonian Grebes are sharing their responsibility for incubating their eggs. At least 4 eggs are present in the floating nest.

From Wildlife Extra:

Rare Slavonian grebe found dead in Inverness came from Iceland

“Dead duck” turns out be a scarce visitor from Iceland

January 2013. Local RSPB staff have collected a rare Slavonian grebe which was found dead in Inverness town centre. The bird is believed to have collided with an overhead wire. RSPB conservation manager Stuart Benn said, “We received a call from a traffic warden who said that he had found a dead duck in the town. His attention had been attracted by a ring that was present on the bird’s leg. When we arrived we discovered that the bird was, in fact, a Slavonian grebe, a very rare breeding bird in Scotland. However when we checked the ring we found that the bird had been ringed in Iceland.

“This is an interesting discovery as it confirms that some birds from the Icelandic population spend the winter in Scottish waters and that the Moray Firth is important for these grebes as they are for many other species of marine birds.”

Found in town centre

The bird was found by the River Ness near the pedestrian bridge that links Kenneth Street to the town centre. Mr Benn said, “Judging by its injuries I suspect the grebe must have flown into an overhead wire or cable. They are beautiful birds and it is very sad to see it in this state.”

Mr Benn added, “The Slavonian grebe is a very rare breeding bird in Scotland and found only in a handful of lochs in the Highlands. Unfortunately the numbers are going down and the RSPB is making strenuous attempts to discover why this is the case and to try to prevent this very special bird from becoming extinct.

“One theory for the decline is that climate change is having an impact and our Scottish breeding population is slowly migrating north to Iceland which is the closest breeding colony to Scotland.

We have spent some time in trying to improve the birds’ breeding habitat at our Loch Ruthven nature reserve near Farr which is still the best place in Scotland to see Slavonian grebes during the breeding season. Let’s hope the birds manage to hang on and continue to delight the thousands of nature lovers who visit the reserve every year to see these Highland jewels.””

The discovery of the bird has also attracted interest in Iceland. Thorkell Lindberg Thorarinsson, the director of the North East Iceland Nature Center commented, “The bird was ringed in the summer of 2011 as an adult on it´s nest at Lake Vikingavatn, in North East Iceland. The ringing was a part of on-going study on the wintering distribution of Slavonian Grebes breeding in Iceland, which started in 2009. Preliminary results from the study suggest Icelandic grebes share wintering grounds with the other two North Atlantic populations, namely the Scottish and the Norwegian. A group of researchers have recently started a joint study on the population dynamics of those three Slavonian grebe populations.”

Good English whooper swan news

This video about Japan is called The Coolest Stuff on the Planet- The Whooper Swans of Hokkaido.

From Wildlife Extra:

Record numbers of Whooper swans at WWT Martin Mere

Nearly 2500 whooper swans counted at Martin Mere

December 2012. A count of whooper swans confirmed a record number of 2,480 birds at WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre.

Whooper swans spend the summer in Iceland and winter in the UK. Approximately 7% of the population of whooper swans visit Martin Mere over the winter offering spectacular displays that we call ‘Swan Spectacular’. Everyday, the swans are fed at 10.30am and 3pm from Swan Link hide and at 10.45am and 3.30pm from Raines Observatory. The 3.30pm feed also includes a warden’s talk to learn all about these amazing animals.

Probably more on the way

Centre Manager, Andy Wooldridge, said: “We usually get peak numbers of whooper swans in mid to late December so I still think numbers will continue to rise. The highest previous count was 2,100 in 2010 which also coincided with a cold snap. The recent cold weather has certainly encouraged birds which roost elsewhere to visit Martin Mere allowing us to offer a fantastic spectacle during the swan feeds.”

WWT Martin Mere is open every day from 9.30am to 5pm and parking is free of charge. Situated off the A59, it is signposted from the M61, M58 and M6. The Centre is also accessible via the Southport to Manchester and the Liverpool to Preston line by train from Burscough Rail Stations.

Dutch bishop’s Icelandic sexual abuse scandal

Roman Catholic cathedral in Iceland

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

6 November 2012 8:25

Gijsen, the former bishop of Roermond, stands accused in Iceland of covering up sexual abuse. A report of an Icelandic commission investigating sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic church says this.

Joannes Gijsen had become bishop in Roermond, the Netherlands, as one of several ultra-conservative Vatican appointees, against the wishes of most Roman Catholics in the diocese. His position in the Netherlands became untenable because of various issues, including sexual abuse at a seminary founded by Gijsen because he considered existing seminaries to be too liberal. The Vatican then moved Gijsen to Iceland, where there are few Roman Catholics.

Gijsen was the bishop of the Roman Catholic church in Iceland from 1996 to 2007. Then, a man wrote a letter about an Icelandic priest having abused him sexually. Gijsen destroyed that letter.

Overstepping the mark

The Hákonardóttir commission says that Gijsen was wrong. He should have started an independent investigation into the accusation.

In 2010 Gijsen was accused in the Netherland of being a peeping Tom as a young boy masturbated in the late 1950s. The Deetman commission did not call that abuse, but did say that Gijsen had overstepped the mark.

The Deetman commission was founded by the Dutch Roman Catholic church to investigate many complaints about sexual abuse, mostly of children, by priests.

From Iceland Review Online:

05.11.2012 | 10:10

Catholic Church Confirms Child Abuse in Iceland

The investigative commission of the Catholic Church in Iceland presented its report on Friday, confirming that Rev. Ágúst Georg, principal of the church-run elementary school Landakotsskóli, and one of its teachers, Margrét Müller, abused their pupils.

The commission questioned 30 of the school’s former pupils and people who had joined the Catholic Church’s summer camps as children. Eight of them stated they had been sexually abused and 27 that they had been subject to or witnessed mental abuse, reports.

Hjördís Hákonardóttir, who chairs the commission, said the report is a serious blow to the reputation of the Catholic Church in Iceland.

It reveals that Joannes Gijsen, who served as Bishop of the Catholic Church in Iceland 1996-2007, destroyed a letter from a man who described how he was abused by Rev. Georg, reports.

In doing so, the commission considers Gijsen to have failed his obligations; he should have launched an independent investigation by specialists into the matter.

In 2010, Gijsen was accused of sexual violations while teaching at a school of the Catholic Church in Holland in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Arctic foxes crossed ice to Iceland

This video is about Arctic foxes.

From New Scientist:

Arctic foxes took ice bridge to reach Iceland

11:28 12 September 2012

by Jessica Hamzelou

FLUFFY, snow-white and dedicated trekkers. Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) are known for their mammoth wanderings across the ice. Those journeys may have taken some to Iceland during the Little Ice Age.

Recent research into the foxes’ genetics has revealed that there are at least five distinct groups – or haplotypes – found in Iceland. But when Greger Larson at Durham University, UK, and his team looked at fox DNA in 1000-year-old bones from archaeological sites in Iceland, they found that all of the ancient Arctic foxes belonged to just one of the five haplotypes.

“It’s too short a time for the [other four] to have evolved,” says Larson.

Instead, his team think the Little Ice Age might provide an explanation. This period of cooling, about 800 years ago, froze huge areas of the Arctic seas. It provided nomadic Arctic foxes elsewhere in the frozen north with a bridge to Iceland.

“Some foxes are known to roam for hundreds of miles on sea ice,” says Larson. “All you need is a little ice, and bang – the foxes are there.”

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B,

See also here.

Tropical dragonfly in the Netherlands

Vagrant emperor dragonfly

Translated from Ecologica & EIS-Nederland in the Netherlands:

Vagrant emperor dragonfly back in Budel

August 30, 2012

On Thursday, August 16 an employee of the ecological consultancy organization Ecologica discovered in Budel (Noord-Brabant) a vagrant emperor dragonfly, very rare in the Netherlands. Interestingly enough, a few days later, on 21 August, a few kilometers away another vagrant emperor dragonfly was seen. Before 1995, the vagrant emperor dragonfly was never seen in the Netherlands, and since 1995 only six times. That this species was now observed twice is very remarkable.

The employee of Ecologica saw at a shallow puddle in Budel a dragonfly with a blue spot at the base of the abdomen: a lesser emperor dragonfly. This animal was unfortunately immediately driven away by common emperor dragonflies. Since the lesser emperor dragonfly is still pretty rare and beautiful to look at, the employee decided to wait if it would come back. Some time later there was indeed again at high speed a dragonfly with a blue spot on the abdomen, but this dragonfly made the Ecologica employee rub his eyes: this time it was not a lesser emperor dragonfly, but a vagrant emperor dragonfly! A few days later, on 21 August, in Boukoul (Limburg), about 35 kilometers to the east, another vagrant emperor dragonfly was seen.


Vagrant emperor dragonflies occur mainly in arid parts of Africa and southwestern Asia. In Europe this species presumably reproduces annually along the Mediterranean Sea, but it is certainly not common. In other parts of Europe sometimes there are accidental vagrant emperor dragonflies, in varying numbers. A good year was 1995 when the species was reported in no less than 14 countries including even Iceland, where usually no dragonflies occur.

In the Netherlands, in that year the species was found for the first time … yes, just like this year, in Budel!