White-capped Bunting – rarity in Kazakhstan

White-capped Bunting 3 Kazakhstan July 2016

White-capped Bunting, Kokpek Pass, Kazakhstan, July 2016

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The debt we all owe to the humble wasp

Our Great Literary Works Would Not Exist Without Wasps

What is the point of wasps? Is their sole purpose to harass human beings trying to enjoy a nice summer? Good question, says Simon Barnes, and the answer is a resounding “no”. If you’re a gardener, the wasp is your “best friend”. Each kills four million tiny insects – “aphids, rose-killers and tormentors of favourite plants” – every season. Wasps are also terrific pollinators: in parts of China where they’ve eliminated wasps they “have to pollinate fruit trees by hand”. But more than that, wasps have made a huge contribution to human civilisation, responsible for The Spectator, for Hamlet, the Bible and Ulysses. How? Because it was the wasp’s nest, that miraculous straight-walled structure of hexagonal cells, that inspired the Chinese of the Han dynasty (which ended in 220AD) to copy the wasps’ technique and develop man-made paper. So yes, wasps can be a nuisance in late summer when, in desperate search of sugar, they ruin your picnic. But we owe them a huge debt. “It’s really high time we started loving the bloody things.”

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Black-bellied Sand-grouse in Flight

Black-bellied Sand Grouse in Flight Kazakhstan July 2016

Kazakhstan July 2016

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Long Distance Travellers

Do they get jet lag, I wonder?


This BBC article is short but informative, explaining about long distance birds (Sooty Shearwaters and the champions – Arctic Terns), Elephant Seals, butterflies (Monarchs of course) and salmon.

The fascinating aspect for me is the inbuilt ‘magnetic map’ these creatures have. I learned lots about this recently in the Tim Birkhead’s wonderful book ‘Bird Sense’ that I mentioned in an earlier post. We human beans are  learning all the time. We don’t even know what we don’t know!


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Red Knots – The Dilemma

I received this request from Audubon begging for money to help the Red Knot. A worthy cause, but it’s equally as important to make the situation more widely known too.


The 20,000-mile migration of the Red Knot — a sandpiper that finds sustenance and shelter in places as diverse as the Jersey Shore, the Arctic Circle, and the Strait of Magellan — is an awe-inspiring demonstration of the interconnectedness of all life.  Equally clear is the devastating impact of climate change, a far-reaching ripple effect that threatens the Red Knot’s very existence.

The Red Knot is struggling to adapt to the challenge of a warming world. As winters in the Arctic have grown shorter, its insects are hatching earlier. But the Red Knot is not adjusting. By the time its chicks hatch, fewer insects are available. Because they can’t eat enough, the birds end up stunted, with smaller bills.

A recent study found that the Siberian-breeding Red Knots arriving in West Africa, the end of their southward migratory journey, have shrunk by 15% over the past 30 years. The smaller juveniles with shorter beaks cannot dig deep enough to eat their regular diet of energy-rich clams. So they turn to seagrass roots and other less nutritious food sources, which are easier to reach. As a result, they are weaker — and much more likely to die.”

Regardless of the hyperbole associated with begging messages, the Red Knot truly has an increasingly tenuous hold on survival. What the message above fails to emphasise though are:

  1. the long-acknowledged crisis of loss of their migration feeding grounds on the eastern seaboard (“east coast” to the rest of the world) of the US at Delaware Bay. This article explains.
  2. The effects of climate change on breeding

Audubon itself comprehensively highlighted the plight of the Red Knot in this article entitled:

Climate-Threatened Birds

Red Knots Are Battling Climate Change—On Both Ends of the Earth

The tiny, threatened bird is an omen for how devastating ocean acidification can be.

You can read the article here

So…why isn’t the whole picture mentioned in more detail in this appeal?

If you want to donate then you can do so here but if not (and I’m not plugging the appeal), then please put the plight of the Red Knot into the public domain. That is equally as important. The more people that know, the better protection the birds will receive.

Video of Red Knots courtesy of www.archive.org

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Coquet Island Live Video

I saw this report of Coquet Island’s Roseate Terns Live Feed at BirdGuides website

It shows a preview of a live feed under the title Coquet Island goes LIVE 21/05/2016 ! – A sneaky peak


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Dubai World Record Eagle Flight

Still on the subject of bird senses in my recent blog Homing Instinct in Birds – How do they do it? this follows a White-tailed Eagle’s spotting success as it is launched from the top of the Burj Khalifa, at 830m (2,722ft) the world’s tallest man-made construction. The bird astonishingly sees her/his handler and makes straight for him. We see this from a camera mounted on the birds back. The last part as the bird dives the last few hundred metres is wonderful.

I found this, courtesy of a friend in British Columbia, at http://www.flixxy.com/world-record-eagle-flight-from-worlds-tallest-building.htm?utm_source=nl at Flixxy.com

The caption reads:

An imperial eagle named Darshan captured phenomenal views of the capital of the United Arab Emirates while taking cues from his trainer on the ground.  The eagle flight was arranged by the nature conservation group Freedom Conservation with the purpose of drawing attention to eagle conservation.  This white-tailed eagle has been critically endangered for the last 50 years.   With a height of 2,722 feet (830 m), the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is currently the world’s tallest building.   A bird’s eye view is the view of one who is so high up as to not focus on the petty or ugly details of the world.  This eagle sees all the way that it should be seen, as perfectly beautiful.   Camera: Sony ActionCam Mini  

The last two sentences could be re-drafted, but the message is clear. Interested though that the caption claims that the White-tailed Eagle (the video doesn’t show it clearly but it certainly looks like a White-tailed Eagle) is critically endangered. According to Wikipedia, always a good conservation status source, the White-tailed Eagle is ‘Least Concern’. Maybe in some parts of the world it is critically endangered but certainly not in my patch in winter, see pix below taken in November 2015 near Almaty in Kazakhstan. Over two hundred birds in the area that day. OK, I know, I’m just lucky!

That’s not to say that these exceptional raptors, and all others, shouldn’t be protected. They most definitely should be protected and cherished. Always a thrill to watch these huge raptors.

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