Good Irish little tern news


This is a little tern video from Sweden.

From the Kilcoole Little Tern Conservation Project in Ireland:

Friday, 22 May 2015

Egg-citing news for Kilcoole!

After a week of hopeful waiting and scanning the shingle with our telescopes, our patience was rewarded yesterday. Just before dark, we spotted a Little Tern sitting among the stones while all the other Terns had gone to roost. She was sitting on two eggs, so we are delighted to announce our first Little Tern nest for the 2015 season!

Last year’s Terns began laying on the 25th of May due to very bad weather the week before. This year, the first nest was laid on the 21st of May, four days earlier. However, even four days earlier, the Terns began nesting later than expected. Perhaps this is due to last week’s gale winds and heavy rain.

We have not come across a second nest since last night, but judging by the courting activity and the large number of Terns, we are expecting lots more! Our largest colony count this week was in and around 200 Terns. Hopefully many of these will choose to stay and nest in Kilcoole.

Susan and Paddy

Young sea eagles ringed


This is a video about young white-tailed eagles.

Warden Hans Breeveld reports that today, in Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve in the Netherlands, two young sea eagles have been ringed at their nest.

Great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, new study


This video from the USA says about itself:

Great Horned Owl Hooting Territorial Evening Call At Sunset

31 December 2012

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) calling for it’s mate on Dixon Branch of White Rock Creek in Dallas, Texas. This particular owl was hooting a territorial call for another owl that can be faintly heard some distance away beginning after the call around the 1:50 mark. The owls call to each other in a duet before finding each other for night hunting and nest building.

Found from the Arctic to the tropical rainforest, from the desert to suburban backyards, the Great Horned Owl is one of the most widespread and common owls in North America. Capable of killing prey larger than themselves, the Great Horned Owl is one of the larger winged predators in the United States.

Often heard but rarely seen the birds are very difficult to photograph since they are nocturnal. This video was shot using Canon Magic Lantern software which allows for extreme low light photography. It was also filmed at a considerable distance giving the owl plenty of space to act naturally. The bird was a couple hundred feet from the camera. It’s important to keep a code of ethics when around large predators such as this. They need a wide berth to not be stressed.

From Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science in the USA:

Landscape Differences around Nests of Great Horned Owls and Red-Tailed Hawks

William Langley

Butler Community College, El Dorado, Kansas

Nesting territories of great-horned owls (Bubo virginianus) and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) frequently overlap, with the owls using nests of other raptors. Records of use over a 22-year period in one locality were used to distinguish nesting sites used exclusively by great horned owls, exclusively by red-tailed hawks, and those used by both.

To determine the occurrence of various landscape characteristics within the proximity of a nest structure, I measured the total area of various land use types, total perimeter length, and the size of patches across six different land use types i.e., agriculture, pasture, residential, tree, pond, and roadside within circular plots around nests used by breeding pairs.

The landscape features surrounding nests of great horned owls differed from those surrounding red-tailed hawk nests in total perimeter length and size of patch. These differences are consistent with the fact that great horned owls hunt from perches primarily at night using sensory modalities different than diurnal hunting red-tailed hawks.

English birds news update


This is a black-necked grebe video from the Czech republic.

From Staines reservoir in Surrey, England, on Twitter today:

Whimbrel 1, Sanderling 1, Dunlin 1, Redshank 1, Ringed Plover 15, L[ittle] R[inged] P[lover] 2, Black-necked Grebe 1

SNP, stop Cameron’s fox hunting plans, petition


This video from Britain says about itself:

21 May 2015

*SIGN HERE TO KEEP THE BAN*

There is no rational or logical reason to chase a fox until it is too exhausted to flee for it’s life. Getting thrills from seeing an innocent animal get ripped apart by hounds is absolutely barbaric.

There are 317,056 supporters so far, keep it going and share the petition to save foxes from this unnecessary torment.

From Change.org in Britain:

Important petition asking SNP NOT to abstain when the vote takes place on whether the UK’s hunting ban should be repealed

John Fitzgerald, Kilkenny, Ireland

May 17, 2015 — With the UK ban on cruel hunt practices under threat, here is a very important petition asking the Scottish National Party (SNP) NOT to abstain on any vote called by Prime Minister Cameron to overturn the blood sports ban in Britain.

The SNP MPs could make the difference between the ban remaining in force and the unthinkable return of fox hunting, hare coursing, and stag hunting to Britain. Please sign this here.

New fly species discovery in the Netherlands


Schistosoma truncatum

Waarneming.nl in the Netherlands reports by e-mail that a fly species, new for the Netherlands, was discovered in the sand dunes of Meijendel nature reserve. Schistostoma truncatum was found on 20 April 2015 by Arie Benschop.

Giant tortoises, new research


This video is about giant tortoises and turtles.

From the BBC:

The truth about giant tortoises

They’re big but tortoises used to be much bigger, and while they may be slow on their feet their minds may be surprisingly quick

Henry Nicholls

Reputation: Giant tortoises live on islands. They can be aged by studying growth rings on their shells, which is how we know they are the longest lived vertebrate on record. Charles Darwin found they moved a whole lot faster than he’d imagined.

Reality: Giant tortoises are a recent evolutionary innovation and used to be everywhere, not just on islands. It’s impossible to age them accurately unless you know when they hatched. They are actually pretty slow. Darwin was probably chasing them.

The largest tortoises in the world are to be found on the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and in the Galápagos in the Pacific. But this truth has given rise to the false belief – often found in textbooks – that their large size is a product of island life. It almost certainly isn’t.

This much is evident from a cursory inspection of the fossil record. A typical Galápagos tortoise has a carapace around 100 cm long. If this is the benchmark for “giant”, it is clear that giant tortoises were not restricted to small islands. They were everywhere.

In the southern USA and Central America, for instance, there was a monster of a tortoise known as the southeastern giant tortoise (Hesperotestudo crassiscutata) that only went extinct around 12,000 years ago.

In Queensland, Australia there used to be a beast that goes by the name of Owen’s giant horned ninja turtle (Ninjemys oweni). Before you ask, yes, it was named after the ninja turtles of teenage mutant fame.

Then there was the real mother of all giants, the Siwaliks giant tortoise (Megalochelys atlas), which was tramping around what is now the Punjab in India until a few million years ago. It was around twice the size of a Galápagos tortoise.

In addition, a 1999 genetic analysis of Galápagos tortoises suggests their ancestors were probably pretty large before they left mainland South America several million years ago.

In fact, it’s been argued that being big was a necessary pre-adaption for the successful colonization of remote oceanic islands. If it finds itself in the water, a giant tortoise will bob along tolerably well, its long neck ensuring it doesn’t take on too much water.

If there used to be so many giant tortoises, where are they all now? A recent study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature indicates that giant tortoises have suffered a far higher incidence of extinction than more modestly sized tortoises and turtles.

“These slow moving and non-threatening animals required minimal effort to find,” wrote Anders Rhodin, director of the Chelonian Research Foundation and his colleagues.

Worse, giant tortoises can survive without food or water for long periods. That meant they could be stored – alive – to provide fresh meat many months down the line.

“Tortoises were, essentially, the earliest pre-industrial version of ‘canned food’,” they suggest. Early hominins opened their shells with stone-tool “can-openers”.

It is only because humans came late to the Seychelles and the Galápagos that we can still marvel at these creatures today.

In these isolated spots, giant tortoises have become reptilian representatives, their extreme longevity casting them as a living link to a lost world. But how long do they live, really?

It is often said that you can age a tortoise by counting growth rings on its shell. Unfortunately, this is only reliable for the first year or two and is useless for aging an animal that is fully grown – which for giant tortoises is at the age of around 20.

The only reliable method of aging a tortoise is to record its year of birth. In a few instances where this has been done for giant tortoises, it is clear they can live for 150 years or more.

Giant tortoises are not known for their speed. When in the Galápagos in 1835, Charles Darwin found that they moved faster than he’d imagined.

“One large one, I found by pacing, walked at the rate of 60 yards in 10 minutes, or 360 in the hour,” he wrote in his Zoology Notes. “At this pace, the animal would go four miles [6.4 km] in the day & have a short time to rest.”

More recently, researchers have been using tracking devices to record movements of Galápagos tortoises in more detail. It turns out they are not nearly so lively, most of the time making small movements around a relatively small patch.

“Our tortoises don’t usually move more than absolute max of 2 km per day,” says Stephen Blake, coordinator of the Galápagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme. “Darwin was probably chasing them.”

They might be slow, but they are also probably smarter than most people imagine.

Research on the South American red-footed tortoise (a not-too-distant relative of the giant tortoises in the Galápagos) shows they use landmarks to create cognitive maps of their surroundings. They can also follow the gaze of another tortoise and learn from the behaviour of others. It seems likely that giant tortoises are capable of similar cognitive feats.