Birdwatch, June - July 2017

The summer months were intensely hot. By June 12th there was very little about. On a trip to the pond that morning I found that the biggest area was about to evaporate later that day– there was a tiny little pool with the remaining fish all gasping. Equally I saw a Cormorant, probably stocking up with an easy source of food.

Scops Owl Scops Owl Photo: Steve Jones

There had been an influx of Alpine Swifts during those days, also a Cuckoo still calling near the pond 300-400 metres away.

Pond dried up. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

As I’m sure most of you know the longest day marks the sign of change in nature’s calendar and the singing for territory and mate virtually ceases. Nightingale were one of the first to disappear: from my observations this year I would suggest there were reasonable numbers of Nightingales singing in “my patch”. Sadly despite numerous attempts, I have still yet to photograph one.

Eugenie, Will and Steve by the pond. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

On July 15th, two keen bird-watchers, Will* and Eugenie, joined myself and Vivian for an early-morning tour of some bird-watching sites in our part of Hvar Island. They particularly wanted to see the Bee-eaters, so I had sent them a photograph I had taken on July 8th and warned them that good pictures might be hard to take on a single trip: "[Bee-eaters] don’t like you getting too close and also at the moment the sun is so bright difficult to get a really decent shot at this location. I’m also of the opinion they disperse to different locations in the day. Are you familiar with the call of Bee-eater? I can sometimes hear them over my garden in the afternoons but often quite high up when I come to look. So you might be lucky enough to hear them where you are staying....If you can get to Jelsa, although nothing is guaranteed, I should think we can knock off Bee-Eaters and Red Backed Shrike for you. Hoopoe are a little more difficult as are Woodchat Shrikes now, I’ve only seen two Hoopoe in the last month and both in flight whilst driving, and they have stopped calling now like most." (email July 9th 2017).

Turtle Dove, July 8th 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

I also sent through a picture of a Turtle Dove, taken on July 8th, as they are a fairly rare sight in the UK now. The response was pleasingly enthusiastic: "Love those bird shots you took Steve. It's true, Turtle Doves are so rare these days in the UK it'll be lovely to see them." The words of true bird-lovers!

Bee-eaters, July 8th 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

We started our quest in Pitve, moving on to the pond in the Stari Grad Plain, and then to Jelsa.

Steve, Eugenie, Will in Pitve, July 15th 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

We were rewarded with more sightings than I expected, including an unknown wader at the pond. In Jelsa the Bee-eaters were happily swooping over their favourite nesting area.

Will watching the Bee-eaters, July 15th 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It was a great start to Will and Eugenie's brief weekend visit, which was followed up by them spotting the elusive Golden Oriole near their accommodation.

Golden Oriole, July 17th 2017. Photo: Will Rose

Without doubt the highlight of my summer was being able to catch the Scops Owl in daylight, I just happened to pick up a contact call. Before, I had managed several shots at dusk, when it was coming to the power cables outside my house every evening, but the pictures were poor. On July 13th, I had a Scops on wire outside my house during the day, sadly it was off as soon as it saw me, I would have loved a daytime picture.

Scops Owl at night, June 17th 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

Then, on July 18th: done it! Albeit early in the morning (5:15am) as opposed to dusk where it would perch on my electric cable every night.

Scops Owl, early morning July 18th 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

And then over the next couple of days came the real daytime shots. So I was delighted with these. Then I had some doubts as to whether it really was a Scops Owl, as reading about their behaviour Scops is apparently a true night owl, whereas the Little Owl (Sivi ćuk) can also be seen in the day, which I know from seeing them in the UK. Their calls are similar. However, a knowledgeable friend from the UK confirmed that in his opinion it was a Scops – they do have two forms, grey and brown.

Scops Owl July 20th 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

Despite frequent visits to the pond and the airfield throughout the summer it remained very quiet and nothing new was observed. Perhaps you too noticed that numbers of Swallows were slowly building up on cables towards the latter part of July: on July 20th I counted 56 Swallow lined up on a power cable on my way back from Stari Grad ……was it a daytime roost or were they getting ready to go perhaps…?? and I believe the first weekend of August saw a lot move on. This doesn’t mean you won’t see a Swallow after that, but they are seen in smaller groups, as are Swifts and House Martins. Similarly Bee-eaters mainly went in August but I was still hearing them passing overhead as late as 13th September.

Just-fledged Red-backed Shrike, July 27th 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

Photographed in and around Dol during the latter part of July, a just fledged Red Backed Shrike still being fed by parents. I was still seeing these birds around, mainly in single numbers, into mid September.

Red-backed Shrike feeding, July 27th 2017. Photo: Steve Jones

© Steve Jones, 2017

For more of Steve's beautiful nature pictures, see his personal pages: Bird Pictures on Hvar 2017, and Butterflies of Hvar

*Will Rose is an animator and illustrator, mainly for children's programmes, and he uses his interest in wildlife in his professional work: http://wilbojonson.tumblr.com/, and https://vimeo.com/170155454

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Eco Environment News feeds

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    When it comes to sustainability, seaweed is about as shipshape as it gets. Minimal damage to the environment, check. No use of pesticides, check. Diversifies ocean life, check. Uses no land, check. And, in the case of Skye’s seaweed farm, spoils no one’s view, check.

    Kyla Orr and Martin Welch of KelpCrofters check the crop from their boat

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  • Hexton, Hertfordshire: On the chalk hills in early summer, green is dominant – but only until the yellows take over

    The rain-soaked chalk hills are a celebration of green: the green of crimped agrimony leaves and glaucous sedge blades; of horsetail, hogweed and unripe wayfaring berries. Greenery everywhere, energising everything. I hear it in the whitethroat’s scratchy bursts, see it in sunlight on spent cowslips and feel it in the pull of my breath as I climb the hill. I wonder if it’s the heightened sensitivity of the human eye to green light that has brought on this verdant synaesthesia. Whatever the reason, the intensity of colour fuses and confuses my senses, making it hard to spot the green orchids I’ve come here to see.

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  • Captive breeding in Norway has built up numbers endangered by the climate crisis and golden eagles but only a more diverse population will survive in the long term

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  • Many people fear the UK’s draughty old properties are too great a challenge for the technology

    Heat pumps could be the single largest step a household can take to reduce their carbon emissions while saving money on their bills. But many in Britain fear that, even though millions of homes across Europe have benefited from the shift away from gas or oil boilers, the UK’s draughty old homes could prove too great a challenge for the technology.

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    One evening in 2019, Janice Blanock was scrolling through Facebook when she heard a stranger mention her son in a video on her feed. Luke, an outgoing high school athlete, had died three years earlier at age 19 from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

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  • Having created a watchdog for the environment, the government took its teeth out and muzzled it. Can public outrage rouse the Environment Agency to action?

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Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds

  • A landmark treaty to protect the world’s oceans could go into effect soon — but experts argue it must consider climate change if it is going to succeed.

  • The ocean feeds us, regulates our climate and sustains economies. Yet numerous threats are devastating the health of marine ecosystems. In honor of World Oceans Day, we take a dive into efforts that are charting anew course for our oceans.

  • It’s easy to take what happens under our feet for granted.

    Whether you know it or not, thousands of species of mites and springtails are scurrying about the soil like tiny essential workers. By feasting on and excreting decaying matter, like leaves and wood, these critters move planet-warming carbon into the soil, improve its structure and supply nutrients that help plants grow.

    But scientists are digging up new findings that show heat and drought, often exacerbated by climate change, are taking a massive toll on mites and springtails, Sofia Quaglia reported for The New York Times.

    When the soil dries up, so too do their soft bodies. Using data from 38 studies on mites and springtails, researchers found that prolonged dry spells can slash their numbers by an average of 39 percent. And a one degree Celsius rise in temperature can cause a nearly 10 percent drop in springtail populations.

    “They really do bad,” Gerard Martínez-De León, an ecologist at the University of Bern, told The New York Times. “If there are very high temperatures for, let’s say, one week, two weeks, one month, this affects them directly. Probably as much as the lack of moisture does.”

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    “Soil has been like a black box,” Leticia Pérez-Izquierdo, researcher at the Basque Center for Climate Change and co-author of the study, told The New York Times. “And we’re now starting to open it.”

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    Take fungi. A Conservation International study found that intricate underground fungal networks work together with plants to absorb massive amounts of carbon — equivalent to more than a third of the world's annual fossil fuel emissions.

    Conservation and restoration activities that protect soil are becoming increasingly urgent. The United Nations has warned that 90 percent of the Earth’s topsoil — where crops, forests and more grow — could be degraded by 2050, in part due to intensive farming practices. Degraded soil not only stores less carbon, contributing to climate change, but it also is less drought tolerant — which, in turn, makes it more vulnerable to climate change.

    Fortunately, there are ways to break this downward spiral. For example, land management practices like no-till farming, sustainable grazing and planting cover crops can enhance agricultural production, increase soil fertility and boost carbon storage, while reducing the loss of topsoil through erosion. That’s a win-win-win for people and the planet.

    Further reading:

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  • Around the world, more than 3 billion people have been affected by extreme weather over the past 20 years — but those impacts are very unevenly distributed, according to a new Conservation International study.

  • A bold initiative to regrow 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon has made substantial progress despite some unexpected hurdles, according to an upcoming report.

  • On a tiny island in the Philippines, fishermen and green sea turtles live side by side in hard-earned harmony. That wasn’t always the case. Slowly and steadily, they have returned, a story of against-the-odds compromise.

  • On an expedition to Bolivia's Zongo Valley, a team of researchers recently discovered 20 species completely new to science, and rediscovered several species that had not been seen for decades.