Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ringers to the Rescue

It happens more often that you might think. Birds getting into buildings. It could occur for a number of reasons, perhaps they find their way in for a warm, dark place to roost for the night. In extremely cold conditions, a warm dark building has a particular allure. It might be they are chasing food, a small bird, a small mammal. While in some buildings and for some birds this is no problem. Think of barn owls nesting and roosting in farm outbuildings; swallows nesting in stables; robins nesting in sheds. But sometimes it is not in the grand plan. A chase into a building or a warm place to sleep results in a bird becoming trapped amongst human activity. These are no outbuildings, stables or sheds with permanent open access, these are warehouses, factories, offices that are locked each night and a hive of activity during the day. Once in, there is often no obvious escape, either because the doors are shut or the activity puts birds off. In many cases they simply cannot find the way out. 

So what to do? It can be distressing not only for the bird, but for the people too. Many spend hours trying to shoo a bird out, only to get stressed as it swoops high up in a warehouse, perching on rafters and lights. The bird seems to just continually avoid the wide open door where the wind whistles through. Then they try ringing for help. But who you gonna call? Well not ghost busters that’s for sure. 

The beauty that is a female sparrowhawk

As licenced bird ringers we are in a unique position, in that we are legally able to use mist nets and other methods to capture wild birds. More than that we have the experience of how to go about it.
So when Lee received a call mid-week to say there was a sparrowhawk trapped in a workshop in Thetford it was time for us to step into action. Amongst cars in various stages of repair, perched high up amongst the dust, the rafters and the strip lighting a female sparrowhawk sat gazing down. She kicked up dust every time she flew, changing perch as she watched the activity below with a bright yellow eye.

With a strategically placed net, utilising an elevated section of the workshop above the offices, it was not long before we had the bird safely in a bird bag and ready for releasing. We took the opportunity to ring the bird, it is not that often that we catch female sparrowhawks as they tend to be bigger than males and do not readily stick in our small mesh nets. With some biometrics taken and a brand new shiny ring, the last thing we did was show the bird to the workers, who for the morning had simply seen the tail end of a brown streaky bird sprinkling dust on them. Many had never have seen such a beautiful bird so close…

Here you get a real sense of the size of the bird

And so to the great relief of bird and workers alike this trapped sparrowhawk spread her wings and took off into the bright Thetford sunshine, no worse for wear from the experience of the last few hours. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

WhaleFest's Incredible Oceans at the Outdoor Show

The London ExCel centre was brimming, bustling with people, packed with stands covering everything one would need for triathlons, climbing, diving and the great outdoors. It was the Telegraph Outdoor Show. There amongst the stands offering all kinds of kit or exotic locations, amongst the charities clamouring for attention and donations, sat atop of a black out structure was a life sized sperm whale and blue whale. It could mean only one thing. WhaleFest had once again brought it’s passion for the ocean, and army of volunteers, to the Show.  Entering the darkened space it took only a moment for the eyes to adjust and to then widen in awe as from all around life sized whales and dolphins abound. Hanging from the ceiling baby sperm whales, Risso’s dolphin, harbour porpoise, common, striped and white-beaked dolphin to name a few. Along one side a minke whale sits up with a calf beneath, in front sits a beluga. On the opposite side are a narwhal and two bottlenose dolphins. At one end a baby blue whale, and the other a mother and calf orca. The blue and patterned lighting gives the effect of being under the waves, the sounds of whales and dolphins from orca calls to humpback’s singing, gives the feeling of truly being immersed in the underwater world. 

On a table in the middle strange and wonderous artefacts light up the imagination, some of which seem stranger than fiction. A sperm whale tooth, the inner ear bone of a whale, the tusk of a walrus, the skull of a dolphin and of a sea lion are just some of them that awe kids and adults alike. 

Amongst the hustle and bustle of the Show, WhaleFest’s Incredible Ocean stand brings a corner of peace and inspiration. Inside our volunteers show all the amazing artefacts, challenging them to identify them, wowing them with the answers. Others meander looking around at the inflatables that seem as real as us, the light catching them in ways that mean out of the corner of the eye they might appear to move and be alive. All cannot resist taking pictures. All cannot resist regaling tails of incredible encounters they have had in the wild. There is no selling, advertising, endorsing. Just simple inspiration of our incredible oceans and the animals within. 

Photo Gallery by

Blinking and returning to the bustle outside of the cocoon that has become the Incredible Ocean stand, but our presence does not stop there. As if in a dream passers-by encounter mermaids, with fabulous tails and wondrous hair. The message about our ocean continues, but with a bit more of a fact finding mission. Would people like to see the teaching about ocean become part of our national curriculum for our children…. There seems to be a resounding yes in response. 

At one end of the stand we now encounter section of green netting lying seemingly innocent on the floor. Willing passers-by are dressed either as turtle, or a dolphin, or simply in diving flippers and then attempt to climb through the netting in the fastest time. It quickly becomes apparent how easy it is to become entangled and how hard it is to escape…. Now imagine being under water and being unable to reach the surface to breathe…. 

The volunteers end up inside an almost dome of netting within which sit the amazing pieces of artwork artists have created using ghost gear – discarded fishing gear- for the World Cetacean Alliance’s Untangled project. The pieces show how ghost gear can be recycled or recreated into something of value and are being auctioned off to help raise funds for the Net Effect campaign. So from the sadness and reality of entanglement, we see the positives of what the WCA and all its passionate partners and volunteers are doing to tackle the issue of ghost gear and entanglement. A light at the end of the green netting tunnel…..

WCAs Untangled display

As the end of the day draws near, I find myself retreating for one last time into the blueish darkness of the Incredible Ocean display and its inflatable whales and dolphins. Soaking up the calm, and the passion, fuelling me for the train journey home and recharging me until I can once again see, hear, and breathe in these incredible animals in the wild…. Roll on May.

To find out more about the WCAs Untangled Project please click here. And to see all the pieces up for auction go to our ebay site!

Also find out more about the Incredible Oceans outreach programme at the WhaleFest website!