Monday, 29 February 2016

Making an impression...

The wet winter is not seen by many as a positive thing, but one positive that has come out of it is the soft ground which is ideal for spotting wildlife tracks, like this set of badger footprints (left).  Badgers have quite distinctive footprints with one main kidney shaped pad, 5 toe prints and often also 5 claw marks above these as you can see here.  You can see there are two footprints here, badgers tend to step their back foot close to where their front foot was so often footprints are very close together. 

Badgers also do a lot of digging and there is plenty evidence of this around the loch.  These diggings are mainly for foraging as they love earthworms but some could be territorial markings where they dig latrine holes as badgers scent mark their territories.

Monday, 22 February 2016

All Washed Up...

At this time of year every year, people all around the UK and on the North Sea coast on the continent get out and walk along beaches looking for dead seabirds and other wildlife.  This may seem to be a rather macabre thing to do, but it is done for a good reason - to try and gather as much data as possible on the causes of winter mortality of seabirds. This is something that's quite difficult to monitor, because seabirds spend much of the winter out in deeper waters away from the coasts, only starting to come inland around this time of year, gearing up for the breeding season.  Therefore, if and when seabirds die out at sea, the body will be eaten by scavengers or sink to the seabed taking with it any evidence of what caused the death. 

There are many causes of death in seabirds - old age, starvation, hyperthermia (this is usually linked to something effecting their usual ability to maintain their body temperature), and more and more so these days - pollution.  This annual survey, called the Beached Bird Survey (BBS), was born out of trying to assess the effects of oil pollution on seabirds - something that was a very important factor in seabird mortality some 25 years ago when the survey first started.  These days, oil pollution is less of a threat on the whole, with the main pollutant of concern being plastic.

Today I was out walking Coldingham and Milldown beaches, and I am pleased to report that I only found two dead birds - one unidentifiable auk (not much left of it) and a puffin.

If you fancy a beach walk with a purpose, then why not think about getting involved next year.  The UK BBS is coordinated by the RSPB, so contact them for more details. Its important research, and gives you an excuse (should you need one) to go out beachcombing!