Birds on Scottish island today

Blyth's reed warbler, ringed on Fair Isle in Scotland today

This photo shows a Blyth’s reed warbler, ringed on Fair Isle in Scotland today.

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory reports on Twitter today:

Pallid Harrier and Blyth’s Reed [warbler] still present. Corncrake + Ring Ouzel new + few new Yellow-browed [warbler]s.

British King Charles II used child soldiers, archaeologists discover

This video, recorded in Scotland, says about itself:

The Battle of Dunbar

27 August 2010

On a hill in Scotland, I remember the distant relative whose ill fate became my good fortune.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Skeletons of Scottish prisoners provide evidence of child soldiers in Britain’s civil wars

Troops at the brutal Battle of Dunbar in 1650 may have been as young as 12

David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

Wednesday 02 September 2015

Physical evidence that children were used as soldiers in Britain’s mid-17th century civil wars has been discovered by archaeologists.

Investigations in Durham have identified the remains of up to 28 skeletons as Scottish prisoners of war including a dozen teenage soldiers, five of whom were aged 12 to 16.

They were taken prisoner after English parliamentarian forces defeated the pro-Charles II Scottish Presbyterian army at the Battle of Dunbar on 3 September, 1650.

Scientific and other investigations carried out by the Durham University show that they almost certainly died of malnutrition, disease and dysentery.

One 13-15 year old boy who may have been suffering from scurvy had infections in his leg and foot bones.

A 14-15 year old appears to have been suffering from malnutrition for several years – and had had severe tooth decay and a leg infection.

A 12-16 year old had leg and foot infections – and probably also suffered from rickets.

The Battle of Dunbar was short and brutal. After less than an hour, a 12,000 strong English parliamentarian army, under the command of Oliver Cromwell, defeated the 11,000 strong Scottish covenanting army who supported the claims of Charles II to the Scottish throne.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 Scottish soldiers were killed by Cromwell’s forces who only lost 20 men.

The Scottish army had suffered from desertion, political purges and a severe lack of fighting age recruits. That almost certainly explains the presence of child soldier prisoners-of-war, unearthed in Durham.

Around 6,000 Scots were taken prisoners after the Battle of Dunbar. A thousand were immediately released because they were sick or wounded. The remainder were marched 100 miles south towards Durham where they were to be incarcerated in the castle and cathedral. Around a thousand died on the march – from hunger, exhaustion and dysentery. A few were executed. Some others escaped.

Around 3000 finally arrived in Durham, of who some 1700 then died of dysentery or disease at the rate of around 30 per day.

The identification of the Durham skeletons as Scottish prisoners taken at the Battle of Dunbar has involved detailed scientific and historical research – including isotopic tests showing that the individuals came from Scotland.

“Taking into account the range of detailed scientific evidence we have now, alongside historical evidence from the time, the identification of the bodies as the Scottish soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar is the only plausible explanation,” said Dr. Andrew Millard, Senior Lecturer at Durham University’s Department of Archaeology.

Save Scottish wildcats, new website

This 2012 video is called The making of wildlife documentary Last of the Scottish Wildcats.

From Wildlife Extra:

Scottish Wildcat Action website launched

A new Scottish Wildcat Action website has been launched as part of the first national conservation plan to bring back viable populations of Scottish wildcats

Scottish Wildcat Action, supported by the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund, and its new website has easy-to-use features which encourage people in the Scottish Highlands to report sightings, volunteer with fieldwork, and register their interest to help.

Labour MSP and wildcat champion Rhoda Grant said: “The Scottish Wildcat is part of our heritage that we are desperately seeking to protect. We have a limited time to stop wildcats from disappearing but we also need to reduce the risks from hybridisation and disease from feral cats in the meantime. The launch of the website today will not only help to identify where our remaining wildcats are but it will also help to glean invaluable information on hybrids and feral cat sightings which will allow for the required action to be taken to reduce the hybrids and combat the transmission of disease.

“The website will offer members of the public the opportunity to be involved in this fantastic project to save this most beautiful of species and will, I am sure, prove to be an invaluable resource in ensuring the wildcat’s survival.”

Dr Roo Campbell, Scottish Wildcat Action Project Manager for the work in wildcat priority areas, said: “Local sightings of all wild-living cats are key in our efforts to save Scottish wildcats and the new website will allow our local communities to report sightings.

“As part of our national work, our team of staff and volunteers will set up more than 400 trail cameras in wildcat priority areas to build up a picture of what’s out there, but public sightings will add valuable intelligence to this standardised monitoring.”

Trail cameras are motion-sensitive field cameras used for monitoring shy species that live in remote places.

The website gives users further tips on how to identify a Scottish wildcat, but the general advice is if it looks like a large tabby cat with a thick ringed tail with a black blunt tip, it could be one of few remaining wildcats.

Hybrid and feral cat sightings are also important to the project, which aims to reduce risks of hybridisation and disease transmission through a co-ordinated Trap-Neuter (vaccinate) and Release (TNR) programme in the priority areas.

Numbers of Scottish wildcat are now so low that it is difficult for them to find and mate with other wildcats, so inevitably they have hybrid kittens with unneutered domestic cats.

This inter-breeding is contributing to the attrition of Scottish wildcats as a distinctive native species. The presence of unvaccinated feral cats, often in poor condition, can also lead to diseases, such as feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), being passed on to wildcats.

Wildcat priority areas identified by Scottish Wildcat Action are Strathpeffer, Strathbogie, Northern Strathspey, the Angus Glens, Strathavon and Morvern. Sightings and volunteers within these areas are particularly important to the conservation of the species but sightings from across Scotland are also welcomed.

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “By working together as organisations and individuals we have a better chance of saving this rare native creature. It is thanks to players of the National Lottery that volunteers will be trained and cameras installed to track the elusive Scottish wildcat. However, it is down to us all to keep our eyes peeled, report any sightings, and give this species a brighter future.”

Behind the scenes at Aigas wildcat breeding centre. Louise Hughes of Aigas Field Centre reveals how she cares for her three wildcat pairs and encourages them to breed: here.

‘Extinct’ insect rediscovered in Edinburgh, Scotland

An illustration from British Entomology by John Curtis, the Bordered Brown Lacewing, Megalomus hirtus (Linn.)

From Wildlife Extra:

Insect thought extinct found in Edinburgh

The Bordered Brown Lacewing (Megalomus hirtus) has been rediscovered on Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh after having not been seen for over 30 years, and feared to be extinct in the UK.

The last record was from Edinburgh in 1982. The new specimen was found by Mike Smith, an intern with Buglife as part of a project supported by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

Mike Smith, Buglife intern says: “Finding the lacewing has been a really exciting start to my project and now we know that it’s not extinct, we can start learning more about it.

“We think it might live on Wood Sage but we’re not sure and so we need to investigate further to make sure that this rare Scottish insect has everything it needs to survive.”

Colin Plant, the national recorder for lacewings, who confirmed the identification, says: “The rediscovery of the Bordered Brown Lacewing in Edinburgh is really good news for biodiversity.

“The discovery gives hope that other rare invertebrates might still be hanging on in areas where their micro-habitats still remain.

“The ongoing campaign by Buglife to preserve habitats remains key to the long term survival of a huge range of invertebrates.”

Further work will now be done to work out how healthy the population at Arthur’s Seat is, as well as searching other old sites where the lacewing had been found previously.

Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES, which has been supporting the internship, says: “It’s really important to support and nurture the next generation of conservation scientists and biologists here in the UK.

“Mike Smith, who discovered the specimen as part of his intern project, has shown what can be achieved by an enthusiastic and dedicated young researcher when given the backing and guidance they need.”

Scotland’s Loch Ness monster and media sensationalism

This 25 April 2014 video is called Skeptic’s Corner 17: Apple Maps Loch Ness Monster. See also here.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

The endless allure of a non-existent monster

Friday 21st august 2015

The Loch Ness ‘creature’ got its first mention as early as the 7th century and ever since it’s fuelled imaginations the world over. Now PETER FROST wades in with some sobering scepticism

In January of 1934 the Daily Mail, just as much of a reactionary rag as it is today, excelled itself with its most despicable and notorious headline.

“Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” it proclaimed above a paean of praise for Oswald Mosley and his fascist bully boys.

In the April of that same year it was the first London newspaper to report on a strange unknown creature in Loch Ness and the first to publish a photograph.

In the Daily Mail you could read about horrible slimy reptilian monsters emerging from the primordial depths to wreak mindless death and destruction.

But when you had finished with Mosley’s anti-semitic cretins, what did the Mail have to say about the creature in the Scottish loch?

Well, some of its story was nicked from the Inverness Courier which the year before was the first to report on the loch monster with an article headlined “Strange Spectacle on Loch Ness.”

The rest of its story and picture it bought from a prominent London gynaecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson. He wanted to remain anonymous and the picture was nick-named the “surgeon’s photograph.”

The Daily Mail paid Wilson £100 for the picture (over £6,000 today) but he was later fined £1,000 (£60,000 today) by the British Medical Association for allowing his name to be associated with it.

In his story Wilson claimed to have been walking by the loch when he saw the creature break the surface. He hurriedly took four photos, only two of which came out and one of them was rather blurry.

Tales of a beast in the loch had first came to national prominence in 1933 when a new loch-side motor-road gave easy access to unrestricted views of the loch.

One of the first sightings from the new road were from a couple named Spicer who reported seeing a 25ft (7.5m) animal with a long neck crossing the road in front of their car before splashing into the loch.

The Daily Mail sent big game hunter Duke Wetherell to investigate and, like many a good Mail reporter before and since, when he found no real evidence, he made some up.

He used a hippo foot umbrella stand from his hotel to make giant foot prints in the loch-side mud. The Mail printed the pictures.

It has even been suggested that the Mail’s man Wetherell created a plastic head and neck and attached it to a toy submarine that much later proved to be the real object in the surgeon’s photograph printed on the front page of the Daily Mail.

The legend of a loch monster is an old one. A 7th century book relates how St Columba told the legend of a man who had been attacked and killed by a water beast in Loch Ness.

Perhaps the commonest theory about the creature in the loch is that it is related to plesiosaurs, marine reptiles that existed in prehistoric times. No less a naturalist than Peter Scott held this view.

Since 1933 over a thousand sightings have been recorded. Most are controversial, with much argument and debate about their veracity.

Many have been proved to be inert floating objects, seals, swimming deer and driftwood. Over the years many hoaxers have eventually come forward to admit their deceit.

A million people visit Loch Ness each year and nearly nine out of 10 say they are there to try and spot the monster. They put more than £25 million into the local economy.

Despite all those visitors and despite the fact that virtually all of them today carry a high-definition camera, if only in their phone, there have been very few sightings and even less reliable photographs or film in recent years.

The best recent pictures are probably satellite images and both Google Earth and Apple Maps have had pictures that some think prove the creature’s existence.

The £1,000 prize for best monster picture of the year wasn’t claimed at all. The 2014 prize was won this January by somebody recording Google Earth images from his laptop in Sweden.

Does Frosty have a theory? Well I have taken the advice of a real expert and, if pushed, I’d put my money on a member of the cryptobranchidae family — more commonly known as giant salamanders.

The Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) can reach a length of nearly two metres (6ft 6in), is fat and lumpy, black in colour and lives in deep freshwater lakes, only coming to the surface very infrequently.

That description matches exactly many of Nessie’s reported sightings.

Whatever it is, or was, there is a very good chance that, like any tiny population in a remote and isolated location, it must be under great threat of extinction.

So with the lack of recent sightings it may be that the last specimen of whatever it was is lying rotting at the bottom of the loch and, as that is 755ft (230m) down, we’ll probably never know for sure.

But I am sure that won’t stop many people heading for Loch Ness for many years to come. I wish them all good hunting.