Monday, 24 June 2013

There's a swift in my kitchen

It was one of those days at work, the one where you come home and let it all out in a big ‘rant’ and feel a lot better for it. We all have them. For us the location is usually the kitchen as I rant and raid the cupboards for cheer me ups, and Lee stands listening patiently. This time we had ‘talked’ and I had raided, when I noticed a cardboard box sat on the work top. Lee having made no mention of it to this point, I casually lifted the lid curious to see what was inside. Peeking in, I turn and say ‘what is a swift doing in my kitchen?’

A little weak, our swift when we picked him up

In the box clinging to kitchen paper is a small, dark brown bird with beautiful long wings. A swift. Their sound to me typifies the British summer as they scream through blue skies, dipping and diving, twisting and turning. The ultimate high flier, on leaving the nest the swift spends the rest of its life on the wing. It returns only to ‘land’ in order to breed, everything else, eating, sleeping, mating, drinking, preening is done whilst it soars across the skies.

So what was one of these beautiful birds doing in a box in my kitchen? Occasionally as with any species, swifts get themselves into a bit of a pickle and need our help. In this case, this bird had been found in a kitchen sink having possibly been trapped for a couple days. The finders had taken it to the BTO and Lee had brought it home. Week from lack of food and dehydration, we were not sure it would survive the night let alone have the strength to fly. While we were able to give the bird water finding airborne insects proved a little trickier.

The next morning and there was a lot more movement coming from the box and our friend seemed a little more lively. There was only one way to find out whether it was ready to fly.

Out in the open space of the park, with swifts reeling overhead, careening around the houses, came the moment of truth. With a gentle push the bird was airborne. For a heartbeat it hung there, with the two of us ready below to catch it should it fall back to earth…. One, two flaps of those wings and it seemed to gain strength. Rising up like a feathered angel, wing beats getting stronger and stronger our little swift rose up in circles into the blue sky. Suddenly a flash mob of six or seven swifts joined in, and the group soared away over trees and houses....

Wild and free, a swift soars across the summer skies

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Meeting a Legend - Sir David Attenborough!

I am sitting on a wooden bench over looking the grassy field and pools of Cranwich. The wind roars through the leaves of the trees and the reeds at the edge of the pools, the sound rising and falling in intensity like a crowd at a football match cheering when their favourite player gets the ball. Overhead, against a sky various shades of grey, swifts swoop and dive. Despite the unsettled weather there is an air of excitement about the site as we wait for a very special guest to arrive. 

Ask anyone who they most admire in the world of Natural History and documentaries, and there is just one name on their lips. Sir David Attenborough. For over 60 years he has been the face and voice of British natural history programmes, giving us some of the most memorable television moments. For me the moment a blue whale surfaced right next to Sir David as he sat in a small boat is one of the most inspiring pieces of footage. The look on his face and the excitement in his voice, mirrors what I feel when I get up close to those magnificent creatures (

So for him to come to our little patch of reeds in the middle of the Norfolk countryside to do some filming is a dream come true. It was not only the chance to meet him, it was the opportunity to watch him work. 

Having a chat about reed warblers, cuckoos and all sorts (Photo Kate Risely)

The filming for the series Natural Curiosities focused reed warblers and cuckoos, discussing the evoluntionary 'arms race' between the reed warbler host and the cuckoo parasite. From mimicking the egg to mimicking the sound of a whole brood of chicks, the cuckoo aims to trick the reed warbler into raising its offspring for it. The reed warbler responds by guarding the nest mobbing any cuckoo if it gets too close. 

As the morning progressed we watched as David and the team worked, being on hand to offer any advice or help that was required. It was privilege to watch him work, to hear that voice offer explanations for one of natures most curious relationships. 

Sir David at work

and I now have my own most memorable David Attenborough moment, beyond meeting him... 

during one break as we all sat in the long grass keeping out of the reflection in the window of the small hut in front of which they were filming, sitting on the bench where just hours before we had waited in anticipation, David looked at us and said 'you remind me of a pride of lions watching me'

oh to be compared to a pride of lions by the man himself....

Happy Team! (Photo Kate Risely)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The World Cetacean Alliance

Today (8th June) is World’s Ocean Day, a chance to celebrate the ocean and all the creatures that live within it. This year also sees the launch of the World Cetacean Alliance, a new partnership of businesses, charities and individuals dedicated to whales and dolphins. The aim is to create a network to represent these beautiful creatures and bring together all those who fight to protect them. It is only by working together that we stand a chance of saving these amazing animals.

Led by Honorary President Jean-Michel Cousteau, the partners come from all over the world, made up of experts, charities and whale watch businesses and ME! Yes the little girl who met a dolphin, fell in love and has followed her heart ever since. From whale watch guide, to researcher, to marine mammal observer, now a partner in the World Cetacean Alliance. 

Rachael Barber - proud partner of the World Cetacean Alliance

I may be just one individual with a passion for whales and dolphins, but that’s the point - everyone has the right to have their say in the important decisions affecting whales and dolphins, the more people stand up and shout for whales and dolphins, the more likely we are to be heard.

The World Cetacean Alliance is the next step from the Save The Whales Reloaded campaign that was launched at WhaleFest in 2012. The partners will continue to work alongside supporters in order to unite all the people, organisations, charities and businesses who are working for cetaceans worldwide.

The founding partners of the World Cetacean Alliance from around the world

Our first aim is to identify Areas of Concern for whales and dolphins; by using a free online survey and mapping tool we want to encourage everyone, the general public, marine users, conservationists, scientists to identify an area, species, or issue that is of concern to them.

At the launch of the Save The Whales Reloaded campaign three critical issues have already been identified;

- Saving the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin in New Zealand
- Releasing the wild orca Morgan from Loro Parque in Teneriefe
- Protecting the Southern Ocean/Ross Sea from whaling and other destructive practices

Only 55 Maui's dolphin remain - just one of the first three critical issues identifiedã Steve Dawson NABU International

Focusing on these three issues the World Cetacean Alliance intends to raise further awareness in the international community, to identify stakeholders prepared to assist us in finding solutions and to submit more evidence to the relevant authorities of the widespread concern for these.

I am so proud to be involved with the World Cetacean Alliance – I am standing side by side with people who are as passionate about whales and dolphins as I am, and who are willing to stand up and do something about it.

To find out more please visit the Save The Whales Reloaded website, here you can also take the survey and map your Area of Concern.

We can all make a difference, we just need to make our voices heard, the World Cetacean Alliance is the tool to make that happen.